Toxic New Year: The Day That Wouldn't End
What began as rural Virginia’s premier New Year celebration turns into a day of horror when the enemies of Alex Destephano's grandfather, Congressman Adam Patrick Lee, bring the war to his Virginia estate killing, maiming and destroying everything in their path.
An Unlikely Terrorist
Behind the heinous attacks is the last person one might expect – a man known not for the threat he poses to the American people, but for being one of the nation’s heroes. What would lead held up as an American hero to turn on his own?
An Ending You Won’t See Coming...
Alex finds herself thrown into a conspiracy involving corrupt politicians, mafia vendettas and a terrorist plot that threatens to upend and destroy the lives of thousands. To top it all off, she must continue to navigate her complicated relationship with her ex-husband, the head of police, and his new wife.
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Release date: June 12, 2015
Publisher: Bluestone Valley Publishing
Print pages: 401
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Toxic New Year: The Day That Wouldn't End
The day dawned dark and dismal. Gray clouds permeated the sky as snow fell heavily in the Virginia countryside. Veteran Secret Service Agent-in-Charge John Cole looked down from his perch in a tree stand as he rubbed his hands together for warmth. “Looks like we’re gonna get the ten inches they were talking about,” he predicted to his partner, Rob Henry, who was struggling to get out of his sleeping bag.
“Yeah, ‘fraid so,” Rob answered in his Southern drawl as he checked his watch. John reached for the worn plastic coffee carafe, poured a cup, handed it to Rob and grinned.
“Man, that was quite a party last night, wasn’t it?” John exclaimed. “I’ve seen some hellraisers in my time, but have never seen anything quite like last night.” He stopped and laughed. “Although it did provide entertainment for a long, cold night,” he added, as he sipped his tepid coffee.
Rob smiled his slow, lazy smile and laughed shortly, “Yeah, those folks from Naw’lins sure do know how to party, no question. You think they’re the ones who caused the power failure?”
John shook his head, “Don’t know for sure, but wouldn’t be surprised. They were pretty wild, to say the least.” He was silent for a moment and added, “I guess it could’ve been an accident and someone tripped the switch or something, but what I don’t understand is why the generator didn’t come on immediately. Those forty minutes without power have made us vulnerable. Call into the Command Center and remind them to do an additional perimeter sweep as soon as possible. Search for any type of breach to the farm perimeter fencing and the water front.”
“Yes sir, I’m on it,” Rob answered as he quickly grabbed the phone.
John nodded, “It also bothers me that the auxiliary power didn’t work. I don’t understand why, but there must be a problem in the gas line. Have the agents check the fuel lines to the emergency generator and search all of the outbuildings, just in case.”
“Yes, sir,” Rob replied. “I’d hate to lose power again today with hundreds of people showing up for another party. That would disappoint a bunch of folks.”
John smiled and nodded, “Yeah, it would. We’ll be off in a couple of hours, just in time for Miss Kitty’s New Year’s Day Bloody Mary Brunch, and we’ll catch up with the folks from last night and see if they’ve figured out what caused the power failure.”
Rob nodded and said, “Good idea, sir.”
As Rob spoke with the Command Center, John looked through his field glasses and frowned as he remembered the power failure. Anything could have happened in those long minutes. Someone could have snuck in … almost anything could have happened.
“Looks like a few folks are up down there. I am sure half the guests are still drunk this morning, especially those wedding guests of Commander Francoise,” Rob opined as he hung up the phone.
“Yeah, probably so. Are the agents checking the perimeter?” John wanted to be sure the place was secure before the next few hundred people arrived.
“Yes, sir,” Rob replied. “They’re leaving shortly. They’re waiting for an ATV that’s somehow tied up with party preparations.”
“What?!” John was incredulous. “Who said that? They can’t use Federal vehicles to get ready for a party.”
“Agent said Miss Kitty insisted. Said it was okay. Something about putting up a tent and needing to move parts of the tent with the ATV.”
John shrugged his shoulders and cursed to himself. “Why the hell didn’t they use a pickup?”
Rob laughed again, his face disappearing into happy crinkles. “No idea. Maybe those Naw’lins people are doing it,” Rob speculated. “Yeah, I think those New Orleans people are the very worse. They’d steal Federal property in a heartbeat if it had to do with a party,” he ranted.
John shook his head and said nothing. He’d have a talk with Lighten just as soon as he got out of the tree house. Congressman Lee should know better.
“Yeah, well, they cut their teeth partying. It’s a way of life down there,” Rob continued happily. “I had a buddy in the military who was from Louisiana, near some swamp or bayou, and the stories he’d tell about drinking and hunting ‘gators’ would keep you laughin’ all night long.” Rob smiled as he remembered back to his military days.
John was getting impatient with the banter. “Check again about the ATV,” he ordered. “If necessary, get Lighten or Miss Kitty on the phone. We need that vehicle … now.” John remembered back to last night when Lighten and Miss Kitty, code name for Adam Patrick Lee and his wife Kathryn, had refused to go into the safe room in the estate after the power failure. He was still angry about that and intended to address it with Congressman Lee before the next party. Damn these folks. We can’t do our job if they won’t let us.
“Taken care of, sir,” Rob assured. “I talked to Miss Kitty. It’ll be back in five minutes.”
John nodded. “Thanks, Rob. Keep your eyes peeled for trouble.”
“Yes, sir,” Robb said as he reached for his binoculars. “Lighten and Miss Kitty can really entertain. It was a throw down party, to say the least, but I’m looking forward to scrambled eggs, a Bloody Mary, fresh coffee, and a warm bed,” he laughed. “Responsibility for the safety of New Orleans’s finest and the leadership of America has worn me out,” Rob grinned, happy at the thought of some shut eye.
“Wait,” John held his finger up, “Do you hear that?”
Rob listened carefully, his hand cupped around his ear. “Sounds like a truck on the farm behind us. Maybe the caterers got lost. The log said they should arrive around 0700 or so.”
“No, no,” John cautioned as he rubbed his ears to try to hear clearly. “It sounds like someone running in the woods. Sounds like sticks breaking.” He turned his head toward the sound again, his white hair the color of the falling snow. The iciness of his blue eyes intensified as he listened.
Rob adjusted his field glasses to view the pasture and forests in the distance. He listened, but shook his head. “I don’t see or hear anything except the wind blowing through these tall pine trees and the chattering of my own teeth. It could be a deer or some other animal,” he speculated.
John’s face was grim and his eyes alert. “Check with the Command Center in the main house and see if there’s anything on the monitors and camera feeds. Also, get visuals to be sure the perimeter has not been breached. I know I heard something,” he added, as he peered through the snow into the woods and continued to listen.
John grabbed Rob’s field glasses for a better view, as Rob adjusted his earwig and spoke briefly into his microphone, “Base 1, do you read?”
After a series of clicks, the sound of a man’s voice answered, “Base 1, Reading you loud and clear.”
“Seth, anything unusual going on down there?” Rob’s voice was low and quiet.
Seth Farmer, a long-time electronics and security specialist, stared at the numerous readouts and camera monitors in front of him, “Nope. Nothing but deer and a bunch of cattle too dumb to move out of the snow into the barn. All’s quiet. Why? Whatcha got?”
John interjected abruptly, “Thought I heard something in the woods down by the creek. It could be the caterer’s truck, but I don’t think so. It sounded more like someone or something running through the woods.”
Seth listened carefully and replied, “We don’t see anything here. No visuals. The gate cameras and sensors aren’t picking up anything yet, so I don’t think it’s the caterers. You got anything else?”
“No,” John replied, “but if I hear anything else, I want you to send up a quad copter with FLIR camera to check perimeter surveillance.”
Seth scratched his head and replied thoughtfully, “I can do that, but don’t know how useful it’ll be in this weather. If we get much more snow, the optical sensors won’t work because of the snow and ice.”
John sighed. Security at Wyndley Farm was the best money could buy and then some, but in lousy weather, most of it was useless. After the attack upon Congressman Adam Patrick Lee and his wife in New Orleans before Thanksgiving, Congress had appropriated the necessary funds to design and build an extraordinary state-of-the-art security system for the Lee’s Virginia home. The main house was equipped with a security system which included internal and exterior video surveillance, electronic keypad locks, heat sensors, infra-red technology, and a safe room, while the perimeter security was nothing short of amazing.
The Lee estate consisted of over 1200 acres of farm and woodland deeded to the Lee family in a land grant by the King of England in 1756. The perimeter of the estate was surrounded by a hurricane fence six feet tall with razor wire at the top. The fence was embedded with sensors measuring motion and vibration, which often resulted in false positives when animals or branches picked up activity. The security around the outer perimeter, on a good weather day, was so sensitive that it picked up the sound of a cow chewing her cud. The location of the least quiet sound was indicated on a topographical map display on a monitor; agents could quickly investigate by ATV or 4x4s. The system also displayed three-dimensional color images of any suspect behavior and transmitted them to the monitoring system in the house as well as to a similar mobile system Rob and John had in the tree house.
Seth laughed and said, “It may be some of those drunks left over from last night’s party who just woke up in the woods and are tryin’ to get home.”
Rob laughed, “Yeah, could be. There were a lot of scrambled brains around here last night. It was a heck of a party.” He paused and shook his head, “American’s finest showing their tails. To tell the truth, I was a bit envious, sitting up here in the tree watching those senators and congressmen throw back, not to mention the New Orleans police brass. ”
Seth laughed in agreement. “Yeah, for sure. It was a great party and I still wonder if the guests caused the blackout. By the way, John, we checked the backup generator and still see no reason why it didn’t come on.”
The ever vigilant John Cole nodded, listened to his agents banter back and forth and interrupted, “Guys, don’t forget today is a holiday and terrorists love to attack on days Americans consider sacred. This farm may have state-of-the-art security, but none of it works perfectly all the time and the weather will be a serious factor if we get a lot of snow. There are only eighteen of us protecting over a thousand acres, so let’s be vigilant.”
Seth quickly became serious. “You’re right. I think I’ll take a walk and look around. If I see anything, it surely won’t be a false positive from some malfunctioning scanner. Anything from up there you think I should check out first?” he questioned.
Cole scanned the area with his monoculars, which sported a tactical scope of 10-25 zoom capacity. He preferred the monoculars over field glasses because they were lighter in weight and allowed him one eye to safeguard spatial and situational awareness or “local” events. The high zoom capacity also provided him the ability to discern scopes for sniper shooting and other fine details.
“Yeah,” Cole replied. “There’s a crop of trees near the creek that could provide good cover if someone wanted to sneak over to the barn. The tree branches could allow them to jump the razor wire and get in.” Cole deduced. “Is there someone inside who can cover the Command Center?”
“Yeah,” Seth replied. “Of course no one is as good with the electronics as me,” he boasted cheerfully, “but I guess I can trust them for a few minutes,” he added in a teasing voice. “I’m on it.”
“Thanks, man. Are you driving? Is there an ATV you can use to search the perimeter,” Cole replied.
“Negative,” Seth reported. “All the vehicles are in use for party preparation. I’ll be on foot.”
A deep frown flickered over John Cole’s face, and Rob thought he heard him curse again under his breath.
“We’ll watch you from here in the treetops,” Rob assured Seth. "We’ve got the best view, you know, and of course, the best weapons available.” Rob was silent for a moment and then said, “Come on up when you are done. We have some great, cold coffee we’ll share.”
“You got it,” Seth agreed. “I’m outta here.” he said, as his temporary replacement opened the control room door.
Yassar Ahmid was frozen and hungry as he moved pieces of sharp metal around in his truck bed. He searched for the shiniest and sharpest pieces in the pile as he daydreamed of killing the congressman who had insulted his country and defiled his faith.
Yassar was a tall man, a Syrian, powerfully built and a rising star in the Al Qaeda terrorist group. Yassar, a child of privilege, had been educated in London and Princeton. He hated Americans, hated the West, and had committed heart and soul to jihad and the destruction of the West.
He stared at the metal that was so cold it froze and stuck to his fingers through his thick work gloves. He visualized it as it penetrated unsuspecting American flesh. He removed his gloves and blew on his fingers for warmth and muttered, more to himself than his companion, “I’ve never seen weather like this before. I never will again,” he added caustically, as his voice became loud. He pulled his lightweight corduroy jacket around his broad shoulders and put his gloves back on his frozen hands.
Yassar was normally mild-mannered, but today he was in a foul mood. He hated the US and he hated cold weather. He turned to Stark and said, “When we march victorious through Washington, D.C., I will command the forces in Florida and I will never be cold again. I will never set foot in this cold, dismal place again,” he hissed, his body heated by hate.
Former CIA agent Jacob Stark ignored Yassar’s diatribe, laughed easily, and said, “Hey, man, it’s not so bad. They’re only predicting a foot or so of the white stuff. Where I’m from, this piddlin’ amount doesn’t even count. Besides, we’ll get out of here before it gets much worse. Did you hide the truck outside the perimeter?” Stark was a big man, tall and powerful like Yassar.
Yassar glared at his companion, his voice impatient as his dark eyes flashed at Stark. “Of course I did. It’s down behind the lake in a grove of trees. I covered it with a green tarp. But, I’ve got to get some gas. The tank is almost empty.”
Stark jerked around and looked at him, “Empty, what the hell do you mean? How could the tank be empty, we topped it off last night,” Stark retorted, his voice confused and incredulous.
Yassar’s posture was defensive, his upper lip pulled into a snarl. “Yeah. The tank was full, the important word being was. Now it isn’t. I’ve got to get gas and get back here before the people arrive … or we will never get out of here. So, traitor,” he snapped, “why don’t you flex your muscles and move some of this metal?” His voice was tinged with sarcasm as he threw a heavy piece of lead into the container.
Stark stared at him, but said nothing. He shook his head, “Just be careful. One misstep or movement could blow the mission, and I assure you if that happens, your reputation as a rising star in the brotherhood is over. Finished. History. Curtains. Now get movin’.”
Yassar grabbed his weapon, his face livid. “I’ll be back after I get the petrol. I’ll put the truck back in the trees where they will never see it. They will never know. The infidels think they’re so smart, living like monkeys in the trees. How stupid they are. Do they really think we do not know they are up there?” He spat his disrespect into the accumulating snow as he heaved a huge piece of shrapnel into the crate.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Stark warned, his blue eyes bright against his tanned face. He raised his hand in cautionary warning, “Don’t underestimate them. They are sharp and well trained,” he advised. “One of the agents served with me in Afghanistan and nothing gets by him. You must be careful. There are police and SWAT all over this place and I promise you, these guys can hear an ant crawl ten miles away. One of them has super sensitive hearing,” he warned.
Yassar held his tongue. He didn’t like criticism or instruction, particularly from someone he considered inferior. He sneered at Stark and turned his back in disrespect.
Stark said nothing, but clenched his teeth tightly. He was a traitor and it was cutting him into pieces. It sickened him to work against men who were like brothers to him.
Stark tapped Yassar on the shoulder and said, “I’m serious, Yassar, this farm has state of the art security and there are cameras, optical scanners, sensors, audio, and whatever else you can think of. One wrong move and they’ll send up a drone, take a couple of images, and you’ll be in Gitmo before you can spell ‘jihad’. Mark my words, dude, I’m serious.”
Yassar gave him a bored look. “Americans are stupid traitors. Isn’t that true, Stark? And they speak of morality and ethics to us! What a joke. I would never consider defying Allah and turning against my brothers,” he goaded Stark.
Jake Stark was silent.
Yassar capitalized on the silence. “Men like you, who are cheap and can be bought for money, are the downfall of the West and make it easy for us to win jihad.” Yassar’s mood had become ebullient as he thought about the results of the mission. “Death to America! Soon we will triumph and the entire world will worship Allah.” Yassar raised his rifle in a salute to his cause.
Stark had had enough and spoke sharply, “Shut your piehole, Yassar. Get the gas and get the hell back here so you can finish loading shrapnel. Watch yourself. I don’t want you getting us caught and ruining this mission. I don’t want to die today,” he ended, as he looked at Yassar.
Yassar shot him a dirty lok. “I don’t need you, traitor. I have enough fire power to blow you up, all of your friends, and most of this farm.”
Stark was done talking and said, “Get out of here, Yassar. Get the gas and get back. Don’t get caught and blow the job.” As he watched Ahmid disappear into the tree line, he heard a crackling of tree branches and Yassar’s boots tromping through the snow.
It was a beautiful snowy New Year’s Day and Alex loved snow. Wyndley Farm was quiet, as it should be after the night of revelry that celebrated the ending of confirmed bachelorhood for NOPD Commander Jack Francoise. Alex yawned and stretched as she snuggled lazily into her grandmother’s recliner and watched the pristine snowflakes fall softly on the barren fields around her.
The sunroom was three sides of glass and offered Alex a magnificent view of the North Anna River that ran behind the main house. She could see the tree line behind the river and the fields on either side where three of her grandmother’s prized racehorses were lazily munching hay. The view was serene and reminiscent of all that was beautiful and wholesome in America.
For the first time in over a year, Alex felt at peace. As she continued to watch the gentle snow blanket her childhood home, her thoughts turned to the evening before. She smiled dreamily to herself as the images shifted through her mind. It had been a beautiful wedding.
Monique had looked exquisite in her lovely ivory wedding gown. The gown, designed by New Orleans designer Yvonne LeFleur, was magnificent and timeless. I thought I would never get all of those buttons buttoned. How in the world could any dress have that many buttons?
Jack had looked equally debonair in his black tuxedo with the matching ivory cummerbund. For the first time in his life the enormous, burly police commander looked at ease and comfortable in his ‘monkey suit,’ as he preferred to call formalwear. I think Jack must’ve lost some weight. He looked really good, Alex smiled to herself.
Robert had looked equally dashing as he stood beside Jack as his best man. Alex had to admit that her former husband, Dr. Robert Bonnet, was a pretty hot catch. Nope, I’m not thinking about this today. I’ll figure out what to do about our relationship later, but not today. Her mind returned to the wedding.
Historic Fork Church located in Western Hanover County had provided a perfect location for what Robert had called the wedding of the century. No one in New Orleans had ever believed the decidedly single, often brusque, short-tempered police commander would ever wed, much less snag a beauty like Monique. Until very recently, Jack had only been married to his job, but the beautiful, dark-haired, fragile Dr. Monique Desmonde had quickly changed his mind. The two, friends since high school in New Orleans, had begun dating in the summer of the previous year.
Alex continued to think about the previous evening. Fork Church, the home church of Patrick Henry, had been decorated in colonial style for the wedding. Live wreathes of pine, holly, and evergreens adorned the windows and the scent of burning bayberry candles permeated the air. The church was packed as a hundred or so of Jack and Monique’s numerous friends had journeyed up for the nuptials.
Many of New Orleans’s finest were in attendance. The men in blue under Jack’s command had formed a sword arch under which the newly wedded couple passed. There had also been representatives from the FBI and CIA. Several members of Congress had attended as well, some because they knew Jack and some because they wouldn’t miss Adam Patrick Lee’s New Year’s Eve party for all the appropriations they wanted for their constituents in Congress. And, of course, the reception had been beautifully planned and orchestrated by Alex’s infamous grandmother, Kathryn Roseau Lee, who was easily identified as the best hostess in D.C. and Virginia.
It had been wonderful time. And, in just a few short hours, her Grandparent’s Traditional Bloody Mary New Year’s Day Brunch would begin and that was always an enormous hit in the countryside of Virginia.
Alex glanced at her watch. It was still early, a little after 07:30. It would be three hours before any guests arrived, hopefully four hours. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her beloved horse, Dundee race toward the fence with her ears up in an alert stance.
On a whim, Alex rose from her recliner, headed toward the pantry, picked up a five-pound bag of apples, pulled on her boots, and decided to go to the barn. As she zipped her down vest, she wondered if she needed her Gore-Tex down pants, but decided she didn’t. She shivered when the first blast of cold air hit her face. Boy, it is cold out here. I better put additional blankets on the horses.
As she walked down the lane in front of her grandparents’ home, her home as well, she felt a deep sense of contentment as she inhaled the smells of winter. The apples she carried scented the air and she inhaled the aroma of wood fires burning in homes around her. She loved Virginia and she loved her grandparents’ home.
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