Preview: Critical Mass

No one at Great Basin National Park noticed the rusted white pickup truck drive in with the faded red popup trailer attached to its rear bumper.  The driver was a nondescript man, not too tall, not too short and wearing a blue flannel shirt, blue jeans, baseball cap, and sunglasses.  He parked in the visitor’s parking lot, strolled in to the administration building and purchased a day permit from the helpful staff at the front counter.  After trading a few friendly jokes with them, he left the building and drove to a public campsite fairly close by.  He spent the rest of the day grilling a few hamburgers and hot dogs on a small portable camp stove while occasionally drinking water from a cooler in the pickup’s bed.  Two hours before the park was due to close, he carefully packed up his grill and set it in the bed next to the cooler.  He attached the water bottle to a clip on the side of the cooler and pressed a small hidden catch on the side.   A tiny light blinked twice and his cell phone beeped.  He thumbed out a text before opening up the back of the popup and extracting a small bundle.  The mini-copter was easy to assemble and within 30 seconds, he had screwed in the blades and started the engine.  He chuckled as he gained altitude and sped away from the campsite, only then garnering the attention of other visitors and employees who were attracted by the sound of the lawn mower engine.

He was five miles away before the pickup and everything around it for a mile and a half vaporized in a bright flash and a small mushroom cloud.  After ditching the mini-copter near Highway 50, an electric blue Camaro picked him up and headed for the nearest airport. He was on a flight heading east before the first 911 calls were made. As he settled back in his First Class seat with his drink, he grinned to himself.  This is going to be fun.

Simon Blair rolled over and kissed the bare shoulder of the attractive brunette woman lying in the mission style bed next to him.  He and Cassie didn’t get many opportunities to sleep in on a Saturday and he was bound and determined to take every advantage.  “Good Morning.” He whispered in her ear.  “Hungry?”

Cassandra Carter rolled over and smiled up at him with large brown eyes.  “Good Morning, Handsome. What time is it?”

Blair looked at the clock radio on the night stand.  “A Quarter past Eight.”

She bolted upright. “Oh God, I’m late.” She jumped out of bed and began throwing her clothes on.  “I have to be in the office at Nine.”

“It’s early morning on a Saturday.” He replied, amused by her frantic efforts.  “Can’t you call in?”

“We’re prepping for that capital case on Monday.”  She said, buttoning the last button on her tan blouse and slipping on a mid-length gray skirt.  “I’m the lead prosecutor.”  She leaned over and kissed him.  “You of all people should know about being on time for work, Mr. Special Agent.”

He slumped onto the bed.  “I do but it doesn’t stop me from wanting a normal life where people relax on the weekend.”

She fixed her short black hair in the wall mirror over the dresser.  “How do I look?”

“You’re missing something.” He said.  “An engagement ring on the left hand would complete the ensemble.”

She smiled again.  “We’re already living together and it’s going great. Let’s not rush things.”  She picked up a small brown leather briefcase.  “I’ll grab some breakfast at the office.” She paused.  “Don’t sulk, Simon.  There’s nothing that I want more than to spend the day lounging around with you but I have to go do that Justice thing.”

He nodded.  “I know but I still reserve the right to not like it.  What’s the point of our lives if we don’t get a chance to enjoy them?”

She gave him a deep kiss and put a hand on his face.  “We’ll have more time after the case is over.”  She promised.  She stole a glance at her watch.  “I’ll be back by Six.”

He stared at the ceiling for a long time before getting up and ready for the day.  He put on a t-shirt and sweat pants and puttered around the apartment before plopping in front of the big screen television on the large overstuffed sofa.  The living room was decorated conservatively with framed art mixed with photos of them in various settings.  He stole a glance at two small bookcases. One was filled with books on each of its five shelves while its companion held a collection of comic books on four shelves and some of his old college football trophies on the last.  “Uncle Charley, I could have been a contender.” He muttered in the Brando voice that Cassie hated.  “Damn knee.”  He sighed and clicked the remote, flipping through several channels before settling on the news.  He grabbed a comic book and flipped through it without doing much reading.  He had a great day planned and Cassie’s murder case rendered all his plans moot. “What to do, what to do.”  He said to himself as he set the comic book aside and turned back to the television.

“Reports are still unclear about an explosion at the Great Basin National Park yesterday afternoon.  Preliminary reports indicate that an Air Force KC-767 aerial tanker suffered an unspecified malfunction and crashed into the visitor’s center.  We’ll keep you updated as more information becomes available.”

“Damn.” He said to the screen.  “This day just gets better and better.”  He clicked off the television and leaned back in the sofa, considering his options.  All his plans centered on spending the day with Cassie and those were dashed.  A rumble from his stomach made up his mind on the first priority of the day.  A quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast soon calmed his stomach and he once again found himself with little to do.  His impending boredom was shoved aside by the trilling ringtone from his cell phone.

The cell phone’s caller ID listed the incoming call as Code 47.  He recognized the call instantly as a Government call from the Agency on a non-secure line.  He flipped open the clam shell handset and raised it to his ear.  “Blair here.  Go ahead.”

“Have you seen the news? The plane crash in Nevada?”

“Clyde, it’s Saturday and my day off.”

“Can’t be helped and I can’t say much more on a non-secure phone line.  Bottom line is that Director Baker wants you and I out there to look into this incident.  I’ll be there to pick you up shortly.”

“Son of a bitch.”  Blair sent Cassie a text and walked to the bathroom.  A half hour later after showering, shaving and changing into a fresh white shirt and gray slacks, he strapped on a shoulder rig and slipped his Forty-Five automatic pistol into the holster.  After putting on the gray suit coat, he clipped his gold badge to his belt and headed back to the kitchen with a prepacked garment bag under an arm.  He downed a quick cup of coffee before he heard the knock on the door.

Clyde Meadows was waiting on the other side of the door. Meadows was a tall muscular black man who had been Blair’s partner for going on three years and was more at home in front of a computer screen doing analysis than stomping around in the field chasing criminals.  Most people underestimated Clyde’s fierce intelligence and arsenal of education due to his kitchen appliance build, often to their detriment.  “All right, Captain. You ready to go?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”  Blair retorted.  “I don’t see why they need us at a crash site.”

Meadows looked around for a second.  “I’ll fill you in once we are wheels up. Come on.”

A couple of quick badge flashes got them waved through the TSA checkpoints and they were at the Gulfstream that had been requisitioned for their use.  They settled in quickly and waited for clearance from the tower.

“We got a whole corporate jet to ourselves?”  Blair remarked as he finished buckling his safety belt.  “We didn’t rate this highly when we went to Costa Rica last year.”

“This is a special case.”  Meadows opened a briefcase at his feet and pulled out a file folder that he handed over.  “This will tell you what we know so far.”

Blair scanned over the reports and a small scattering of photographs.  His eyes widened as he read the last document.  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Meadows shook his head.  “I wish I was but it’s the real deal.”

“So, the plane crash is a cover story for someone nuking a national park?” Blair said.  “It doesn’t make any sense.  Great Basin is at the ass end of nowhere. What’s the point of setting off a nuclear explosive in a place that has no political or social value?”

“That’s where we come in.” Meadows said.  “Rather, that’s where you come in.  Everybody in the know knows that you have a knack for seeing things that most people would miss.”  The floor beneath their feet began to tremble as the plane began to pick up speed.  “God, I hate flying.”

“Easy, Big Fella.” Blair said, looking out the windows.  “We’re just taxiing to the runway.  Remember, it’s just like being in an elevator.”

“I don’t like elevators that much either.”

Blair turned his attention back to a photograph that caught his eye.  It was an aerial view of the blast zone.  “This is odd. There is a clearly delineated blast radius. I’ve never seen such a clear pattern.  Are they sure it was a nuke that exploded?”

Meadows nodded.  “Everything seems to point toward a nuclear event except for a lack of EMP and some super dense fallout that only extends to the edge of that mile and a half blast radius.  Either way, that park’s closed for at least five hundred years.”

“Everything inside that circle is either blasted, melted, or irradiated to the point of being unrecoverable.”  Blair said.  “It’s going to make it almost impossible to get any useful forensic data.”

“We’ll find something.” Meadows said.  “We always do.” He took the folder back and locked it back in his briefcase.  “I feel bad about the poor bastards that inside that zone.”

“No survivors?”

“Don’t think so. Nothing alive in there but ghosts.”

The cabin tilted as the plane overcame gravity and lifted off the runway.  Blair leaned his seat back and closed his eyes.  It was going to be a long flight.

Inside the terminal, a thin petite woman wearing sportswear took off the headphones to her music player and unclipped a cell phone from her waist as she watched the red and white corporate jet take off.  She dialed quickly and raised the handset to her mouth.  “They just took off.”

She clipped the cell phone back to her waist band and casually walked to the terminal exit.