PYRAMID POWER – snippet 11:
The afternoon was sultry. Yet the new body that had fallen out of the pyramid onto the street outside was cold enough to have come out of a morgue. Condensation began to form on the brass breastplate and the solitary grieve. The helmet radio chattered and the GPS tracker came on.
In the PSA operations control room in Washington, there was a loud cheer.
PSA Director Helen Garnett leaned over the shoulder of one of her assistants, who was studying the information coming onto the screen. “I take it we’ve made contact finally, Jim. Which agent is it?”
Assistant Director of Operations James Horton was leaning over the woman’s other shoulder, studying the same screen. “I think….”
The woman sitting in front of the console provided the answer. “It’s Agent Sternal, ma’am. No question about that. But he’s not responding to our signals.”
“Why not?” demanded Garnett testily. “I thought the man had been properly trained. There’s no excuse for—”
“Uh, he’s dead, ma’am,” said the operative. She pointed at some data in one corner of the screen. “Those are his vitals. Flat as a pancake. Agent Sternal is dead, ma’am.”
Garnett straightened up and stared at Horton. “Dead?” she said, as if it were a word she’d just encountered.
Inside the inner perimeter the medics who still did patrols there might have gotten to the man faster if the PSA had thought to set up a liaison with them. As it was, by the time Agent Sternal was found the corpse was well on its way back to ambient temperature. The man was so well dead that all they could do was load him into a field ambulance and drive out.
The ambulance was met at the outer perimeter by a team of PSA operatives, but not until the paratroopers stopped it first. The PSA vehicle and its four occupants had been forced to remain thirty yards away. Cruz and Mac’s story had got around, and the paratroopers were in no mood to put up with the PSA trying its usual bullying tactics. The lieutenant insisted that the perimeter was under the control of the 101st—and the PSA could damn well wait in line.
For their part, the PSA operatives were insistent that no one except them was to handle the matter of Sternal’s reappearance. No one there, on either side of the controversy, had any doubt that telephone calls and emails were being exchanged like gunfire between offices in Washington, the Pentagon—and the various offices maintained in Chicago by all parties involved.
The two agents still in the PSA van got out, and one of them tapped the agent-in-charge on the shoulder. “GPS says he’s in that vehicle, Senior Agent Moran.”
“Let’s get him, then,” said the agent. “I’ve had enough of this crap.”
The four of them went across to the field-ambulance, where the lieutenant from the 101st was consulting with the EMTs. Senior Agent Moran flashed his ID at the driver. “We’re here for the man you have in the vehicle.”
The driver blinked, and looked at the lieutenant.
For his part, the lieutenant didn’t blink. “The hell you will,” he said pleasantly. “Professor Tremolo will handle this.”
Moran gave the lieutenant’s name plate a quick glance. “Evans, is it? Well then, Lieutenant. Evans, let me explain to you the facts of life.”
“Fuck you,” said the lieutenant, every bit as pleasantly. “The only ‘fact of life’ that matters here today is that we are paratroopers and you are punks. If you give me any shit at all, you’re dogfood.”
Moran gaped at him. “You—you—” He took a shaky breath. “You can’t!”
“Don’t be silly. I told you. We’re paratroopers. That’s what we do. And I guarantee you we’re a lot better at it than you are.”
Evans turned his head slightly. “Sergeant Andersen, if any of these PSA agents makes a threatening move, kill him.”
“Yes, sir,” said the nearby sergeant, stolidly. “Private Henderson, lower your weapon. The lieutenant said if they make a threatening move.” He gave the PSA agents a glance. “Which they won’t.”
A bit reluctantly, the rifle barrel of one of his soldiers came down. Maybe two inches.
Moran was still gaping at Evans. Then, realizing how foolish he looked, snapped his mouth shut.
“I’ll have you cashiered for this,” he hissed. “At the very least.”
Evans shrugged. “Maybe. But I doubt it, and you want to know why?” The lieutenant jerked a thumb at the ambulance. “Because this operation of yours is already coming apart at the seams, that’s why. You Pissants might have gotten away with breaking half the laws on the books, if you hadn’t gotten caught in the act and if your operation had succeeded. But you did and it isn’t. In Washingtonese, do you know what word that translates into?”
Moran stared at him. “What?” he finally asked.
“Wa-ter-gate,” said Evans, drawling out the syllables. “There’s blood in the water, Pissant—and it’s yours, not mine. So guess who the sharks are coming after? They ate a president, once, after snacking on a bunch of flunkies and plumbers. You think they’ll choke on a quarter-ante agency director—much less a penny-ante field agent?”
Moments later, the PSA vehicle departed. The lieutenant turned back to the ambulance driver.
“So what did he die of?”
The medic shrugged. “Hypothermia, maybe,” he said, wiping the sweat off his brow. “The only other thing obviously wrong with him was a broken ankle. But he had frostbite.”