Chapter 73 of Silent Vector

Chapter 73, in which a much anticipated climax graces the pages of another Cold War novel

CHAPTER 73

A NEEDLE WITHOUT THE HAYSTACK

Alexei Boranov, known to his suburban Atlanta neighbors as Al Barone, has been on high alert since receiving the call from Murrells Inlet. He immediately left his home and, as prearranged, checked into a nondescript motel in Marietta, twenty miles to the north. Delivery is scheduled for 7 a.m., ten minutes from now.

His instructions are simple. Remove the canister from its crate, secure it to the bed of his pickup truck, leave the motel no earlier than immediately before checkout time of 11 a.m., drive to downtown Atlanta, set the canister on the sidewalk at noon, point the nozzle downwind, and open the valve releasing the deadly, airborne formula on the lunchtime crowd enjoying the sunshine and brilliant fall weather of Georgia’s state capital.

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Nick Temple and Ted Durant park in their rented Ford Galaxy 500 in front of Al Barone’s two-bedroom, ranch style home on the east side of Atlanta. They get out, walk up the small sidewalk to the front door, knock, and wait.

“Nothing like the direct approach,” Ted quips.

“I’m betting he’s not here. My guess is he’s taking delivery at a different loc. Let’s see what we can find out.”

Nick takes a quick look around. The commuters have left for work, the neighborhood kids are just starting school, and the quiet residential street is empty. He pulls a lock pick from his pocket and works the front doorknob. It gives way easily and they are quickly inside Al Barone’s front room.

They begin to explore the house. The rooms are remarkably neat and free of any clutter. The two bedrooms’ closets and chests of drawers are empty. The kitchen cabinets have plates, cups, glasses, and the usual utensils, but not a scrap of food. The refrigerator is empty. The two small bathrooms have brand new bars of soap on the sinks but are otherwise empty.

Nick and Ted finish their recon of the house and meet back in the living room.

 “Weird. It’s like a movie set, like no one actually lives here.”

“This guy isn’t coming back and didn’t leave a clue.”

“What’s our next move?” Ted asks.

Nick thinks for a moment before responding.

“Let’s check in with the Fulton County Sheriff. See if we can get a description, vehicle type, license plate number, anything that’ll help us spot him. We’re running out of time, and if you’ve got any better ideas, now’s the time to share.”

“I’m for checking in with the Sheriff.”

The two men leave as they entered, through the front door. They hustle to their curbside car, get in, and speed away well aware at this point that time is on the side of their target.

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Alexei Boranov checks his watch one more time. He is anxious yet resolute. He will follow the directives from Moscow to the letter. And now, at 10:55 a.m., on Friday, October 26th, he leaves his motel room with what anyone would mistake for a simple white propane canister in his hands, closes the door behind him, secures the canister in the bed of his pickup truck with two lengths of rope, and drives away, ready to strike a blow, to advance the glorious cause of worldwide Socialism!

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The three men look at a detailed street map of downtown Atlanta spread out on the Sheriff’s desk.

“If I wanted to scare the hell out of everybody, I’d put it right here, Washington Street, right in front of the capitol building, the heart of the government. A little breeze out of the west today. Not only does he get everyone coming out for lunch, but if he gets lucky he hits everyone still in that building. Its windows are going to be wide open on a day like today. Park your car half a block back down Washington to the west, set the damn thing on the sidewalk, open the valve, and walk away. Are you men sure about this? I’ll be honest with y’all. It seems a little far-fetched.”

Fulton County Sheriff Jim Morgan’s first professional contact with the CIA is a whopper. If these two men are to be believed, then Atlanta is minutes away from a brutal attack. The quick confirmation from Langley of the identity of the men convinced him of their bona fides. The question now is how to stop this Boranov character before he completes his mission.

“We’re sure. We just don’t know where, but if what you say is true about that location, it’s as good as any. Thanks, Sheriff. We’ll take it from here.”

“Look, Temple, there’s going to be a helluva lot of people down there, which I suppose is the point. You can’t just go firing up the place.”

“Our plan is to take him down as soon as we see him, but we could use some help. Who’s the best man on the force with a sidearm?”

“That’s easy. Sam Coad. Wins the shootout at the qualification range every year.”

“He’s probably out in the field.”

“Nope. Works a desk, believe it or not.”

“Can we borrow him for about an hour?”

“He’s all yours.”

The Sheriff picks up his phone.

“Judy. Have Sam Coad come to my office ASAP.”

He hangs up the phone.

“I think that’s it. We’ve got his picture, his description-six feet two inches should work for us in a crowd-and a description of his vehicle. Mind if we take the file with us?”

“It’s yours. You sure you don’t want to muscle up?”

“I’m sure. We can’t risk spooking him before we have a shot at securing that canister.”

“Okay. It’s your operation.”

At that moment, there’s a knock on the Sheriff’s office door.

“That’ll be Sam. Come in,” the Sheriff commands.

Sam Coad–tall, lean, 25 years old, and a uniformed deputy–opens the door and pokes his head in.

“You wanted to see me, boss?”

“Sam, grab your sidearm and go with these men. They’ll explain on the way. We’re about to find out if you can shoot more than targets.”

“Yes sir.”

Nick sticks out his hand.

“Nick Temple. Nice to meet you. This is Ted Durant. We’re both from D.C.”

Nick and Sam shake hands.

“Let’s get moving. We’ll brief you in transit.”

As the three men leave the Sheriff’s office, Nick glances down at his watch: 11:37 a.m.

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The traffic, heavy but moving, is typical for downtown Atlanta on a workday. Boranov looks at his watch as he waits in the right hand lane of Washington Street for the light to turn green. The capitol building is in view on his right. He crosses Trinity Avenue and looks for a parking spot. He pulls to the curb and parallel parks his truck.

Unnoticed by Boranov, a Galaxy 500 with three men in it, one a uniformed Sheriff’s deputy, parks almost directly across Washington Street from him. All three men get out of the car and walk southwest to the corner of Washington and Trinity. They spot Boranov who is untying the canister secured in the bed of his pickup. Crowds of men and women emptying out of office buildings for lunch pass by him, oblivious to the danger.

Boranov removes the last length of rope and lifts the canister out of the truck. He slips into the crowd and walks on the sidewalk on the southeast side of Washington towards the Capitol. Nick, Ted, and Sam Coad turn left at Washington after crossing. They are no more than 20 meters behind Boranov. They instinctively pick up the pace to close that gap.

“I’ll take the first shot as soon as he sets the cylinder on the sidewalk. I’ll go for a head shot above the crowd. If that doesn’t stop him, you two finish him off. My shot should split the crowd. Aim center mass. We can’t have rounds flying around all of these people.”

Boranov stops at the corner of Mitchell Street and Washington. He walks to the side of the corner building.

“That’s it. He’s going to deploy,” Nick says as he pulls his Beretta from his shoulder holster under his jacket.

Boranov sets the canister down. Nick fires off a round just as Boranov is bending down to open the valve. The round catches Boranov in the right shoulder. The crowd screams at the sound of gunfire. People scramble away from the wounded man. Some hit the pavement. Others stare in disbelief. Nick, Ted, and Sam, weapons drawn, stride towards their target.

Boranov reaches down for the valve with his left hand. Sam Coad fires a round that hits Boranov in his left hand. Boranov screams in pain, but he is undeterred. His right shoulder wound is not severe enough to disable his arm. He reaches for the canister valve with his remaining good hand. As Boranov’s right hand touches the butterfly valve on top of the canister, Nick, Ted, and Sam pour a volley into his arms and upper body sending him sprawling past the canister to die on the sidewalk in front of the horrified crowd.

Nick can’t tell if Boranov managed to open the valve to any extent. It has to be checked.

“Ted, wait here. Sam, see what you can do to calm this crowd down, but stay upwind of that canister,” Nick orders.

Nick runs to the canister. Fully aware that he might be exposing himself to a high concentration of a disease that has haunted mankind for centuries, he bends down and torques the valve clockwise. It doesn’t budge. He puts a finger at the valve’s opening and feels nothing. Boranov never got it open. The canister sits inert, its deadly contents secure.

Nick motions to Ted who runs to assist him.

“Check on Boranov.”

Ted walks over to the riddled body of Alexei Boranov. His eyes are wide open, but he is clearly dead. As Ted walks back to Nick and the canister, the first of many sirens begins to wail nearby. Nick looks up and can see police officers streaming out of the capitol, weapons drawn.

“Sam, we need your uniform over here now.”

Sam Coad walks over to where Nick and Ted stand. Nick and Ted holster their weapons. Sam Coad addresses the approaching police officers.

“Sam Coad. Fulton County Deputy. Glad you fellas could join us. We’ve got some cleanup to do here. These men’ll explain.”