Follow the adventures and misadventures of one of the Original 13 Joes, as he contemplates the end of his career and searches for love. Watch out for action, because Cobra can strike at any time!
Disclaimers: As set forth in previous chapters...
Breaking the Bank II
Wall Street, Lower Manhattan
Lisa and Patricia made their way to the employee lounge on their floor where a cluster of late workers had abandoned their work to watch the hostage situation unfolding in Washington Heights.
The picture on the television screen was coming from the NBC studios, where the face of the anchorman David Ushery continued to report.
"And we're back," Ushery said, "here at News Channel Four, following a breaking story in Washington Heights. Our reporter, Shawn Robbins, has been following the story in the field, where a large and well-armed group has begun a stand off with the NYPD and local authorities. We're now in the second hour of the incident, which witnesses claim began around three-thirty this afternoon when the Banco Hipotecario Dominicano was taken over by the gunmen."
"Apparently, the Army was called in when the New York Office of Emergency Management was advised by an FBI agent, who was managing the scene, that he had spoken to the hostage takers," Ushery continued, reading from some prepared notes the producers had put together. "However, limited information is coming from the scene."
Ushery reached for a small earpiece that was in his right ear, as he listened to the producers in the studio. "Okay," he said. "We're going back to Shawn Robbins, who's at the police perimeter along Audubon Avenue, at One-eighty-second Street. Shawn, are you there?"
The television view switched to the command center, where a thick line of blue uniforms had assembled. Shawn Robbins filled the cameraman's picture.
"I'm here, David," Shawn said into his microphone, which was tapped to provide live feed to the studios from the News Channel 4 mobile unit. "There is still very little information coming from the FBI agent who's been running the hostage negotiations. And, wait, David. Something's happening. It looks like the Army vehicles that arrived a short while ago are pulling out onto Audubon Avenue. The Army looks like it's pulling out! What do you make of this?"
The screen switched back to the studios. "I have no idea, Shawn," Ushery said. "This is very odd behavior on the part of the authorities. However, we have a mobile crew heading for the Empire State Building. Perhaps the OEM spokesman can shed some light on this very serious situation."
The NBC field cameraman kept taping as the Joe vehicles rolled by, heading south on Audubon Avenue towards the bank, and then turning west on 181st Street to pass right in front of the building. After the vehicles left, the beat cops standing nearby, including Officers Yokas and Boscarelli, began clearing the local reporters out.
"Come on, people," Bosco shouted over the din of the crowd. "No more statements are forthcoming. The brass is ordering this area cleared for your safety. Get moving!"
Shawn refused to budge, waiting for Bosco to practically go nose-to-nose with him. "Pardon me, Officer, but the people need to know what's going on."
"Pardon me," Bosco said sarcastically. "But you can find out what's going on five hundred feet farther east of this command post!"
"But why can't we observe here?" Shawn asked, standing firm and motioning for the cameraman to stay still.
"Because someone in that damn bank has a TV and you shit-for-brains newsies are showing them everything that's going on out here!" Bosco said, nearly exploding. The veins in his neck were starting to pop out, as the impulsive patrolman considered pulling out his handcuffs and forcing the two NBC employees to take off. "We can't go in to save those civilian lives if the bad guys can see us getting ready on the six o'clock news! They'll kill the hostages before we can get close!"
Shawn gulped while Bosco, short as he was, came as close as possible to the reporter's face. The policeman's expression was firmly set, as Bosco's upper lip twitched and his hands clenched into fists.
"Are you gonna move your ass, or am I gonna handcuff you to the bumper of my RMP and drag you out of here?" Bosco growled, putting his palm up to the lens of the camera, covering its view of the command post. "Does N-fucking-B-C want to be known as the New York channel that got fifty hostages killed inside that bank?"
"Well," Shawn whispered. "Since you put it that way, we'll pack it in." He patted the cameraman's shoulder and jerked his thumb towards the mobile unit. "Let's go, Mike."
The view quickly shifted back to the NBC studios when the field camera feed was disconnected. David Ushery pulled a handkerchief from his suit jacket and dabbed at himself for a moment.
"This is really getting serious," he said. "The press is being cleared out of the danger zone, and the Feds know a lot more down there than they're telling us. Stay with us right here on News Channel Four as we follow the story. After the station break, we'll be speaking with Ida Siegal who's been sent to the Empire State Building. We'll be right back."
Lisa and Patricia traded looks of shock, their eyes full of hope that Steeler was okay, or at least that he was part of the departing Army convoy.
Banco Hipotecario Dominicano
552 West 181st Street, Washington Heights
"Gregor, this is Linna from the second floor," Linna said into her NEXTEL walkie-talkie. "The Army vehicles have pulled out. They came down Audubon from the command post and turned west on One-eighty-first. Your plan worked; the Joe Team is running with their tails between their legs!"
"Don't be so sure about that," Gregor said, watching the Army equipment drive past from the first floor lobby. "The Joes have never been so easy to coerce. Even if they knew we were Cobra troops, they wouldn't go away so easily. Continue observing the street. The work is almost completed down here."
"Are we going to kill any more hostages?" Linna asked, a murderous grin forming on her face. "I would like to be the one behind the trigger when we make our next example."
"I'll keep that in mind, Linna," Gregor said, watching the Tele-Viper Corporal unroll a spool of wire and connect a remote control receiver to it. In the back hallways the Techno-Vipers that penetrated the bank's main vault were carrying the last heavy canvas sacks of its contents out to the loading dock. "For now, just follow your orders."
Incident Command Post
Duke walked into the cavernous personnel space of the ESU truck, pausing for a moment to remove his borrowed NYPD combat helmet and shake out his blond hair. Already inside the truck, Sparks was setting up the surveillance station the Joes had brought from Brooklyn.
Built to support the operations of a full ESU platoon, the Mack / Saulsbury truck was designed to be Spartan and functional. Racks for assault rifles hung from the walls above the padded seats for passengers. Emergency equipment cabinets lined the opposite wall, where everything from climbing rope to Hurst pneumatic extraction equipment and ammunition to flash-bang grenades was compartmentalized and stored.
Sparks was setting up shop on a fold-out table, which had just enough room for the digital audio and video recorders, a laptop computer and the interface with the wireless antenna that was temporarily attached to the truck's roof.
Signals from the "Big Ear", the parabolic surveillance microphone that Low Light was training on the bank, were already being recorded so that any discernable chatter the Joes could use for intelligence would be available to review. The video was the next step.
"How's it hanging, Sparks," Duke said, watching the communications specialist twist a co-axial cable into place.
"Low and outside, Top," Sparks replied with a smile. "We're ready here. I took the liberty of calling Brooklyn for a signal discriminator. I have a feeling that they've got handheld radios or cell phones in there to stay in touch. The sooner we can cop their transmissions, the better."
"Good thinking, Sparks," Duke said. "Who's bringing up the gear?"
"Stalker said Clutch is driving it up in a Humvee," Sparks replied. "He also sent along three more bullet stoppers for you. Hollow Point, Red Spot, and a new SWAT operator, Wide Scope, are rolling up here. Stalker said he snagged Wide Scope right off the bus from Kennedy Airport."
Duke recalled a memorandum that had crossed his desk concerning Wide Scope's temporary assignment to Brooklyn from Wright-Patterson for urban warfare training. "I hope Stalker takes good care of Lamont, Wide Scope's police dog," he said.
"I wouldn't know anything about that," Sparks said. "Did the vehicles make their trip around the block?"
"Yup," Duke replied. "I sent the vehicles and their NYPD drivers off personally. I hope the tangos inside take the bait and relax."
"Well, Top," Sparks said, flicking on a power switch to bring the laptop computer to life. "I'm good to go. Wiretap is going to penetrate the closed-circuit television system and try to send us the security camera video right here. Soon, we'll be able to see and hear what's going on in there."
"Good," Duke said, clapping Sparks on the shoulder. "Carry on."
Northern sidewalk of 181st Street
Across from the BHD building
Lieutenant Falcon, Footloose, Wiretap and Steeler crouched in an alleyway northwest of the bank, out of sight of the lobby and well angled from the view of the second floor's gunmen.
The Joes cradled their assault carbines as Steeler and Falcon looked across the abandoned street at the quiet bank. Low-emission amber streetlights and white halogen bulbs in the bank lobby snapped on automatically as the sun dipped below the tops of the buildings and darkness began to fall.
"Where's the box, Wiretap?" Steeler asked, scanning the street with night vision binoculars.
"It's the gray utility box hanging on the front face of the building, near the center," Wiretap whispered. "At least, that's where the building's security company said the trunk wires run."
"Okay," Falcon whispered. "This is a tough one. We know there's four pairs of eyes up on the second story, behind those broken windows. Smoke will get their attention. Somehow we need to distract them long enough to cover fifty meters of open ground."
"What about making a big to-do along Audubon Avenue?" Steeler asked. "Get the NYPD and fire guys to run their sirens for a good minute or two. Everyone looks that way, and we cover the ground lickety-split."
Falcon held up his tactical walkie-talkie and reached it over to Steeler. "Tell my brother about the plan. We need to haul ass."
The banshee wail of a dozen sirens from NYPD patrol cars, FDNY fire trucks and ambulances, and ESU vehicles rolled down Audubon Avenue as every piece of equipment assembled at the incident command post cranked their emergency horns together.
"There it goes," Falcon whispered. "If you guys need to talk to God, do it now."
Steeler peered at the second floor windows and could see the head of one of the terrorists leaning outside to figure out what the noise was all about. Everyone seemed to be looking towards Audubon Avenue, as expected.
"Let's go," Steeler said. In pairs, the four Joes sprinted out of the alley and across the street, covering the roughly fifty meters of open space in about fifteen seconds. Their heartbeats pounded in their ears, as they expected to hear weapons fire from the bank with each passing moment.
Long before the siren sounds faded away, the four Joes made it to the outer wall of the BHD building and flattened themselves against it. One by one, they inched towards the bank's closed-circuit television trunk box, with Steeler and Falcon covering up and outward with their rifles.
They reached the CCTV box quickly, and Wiretap pulled out a set of heavy-duty metal snips. He cut through the padlock that secured the trunk box in one attempt, and opened the cover to reveal the long vertical circuit board and rows of co-axial cable connections for the bank's security video system.
"Dude, you'd better be careful in there," Footloose whispered, taking his eyes off the aiming sight of his rifle for a moment. "Becoming a crispy critter during an incident isn't very high on my "things to do before I die" list."
"I know what I'm doing, Footloose," Wiretap replied. "Before I went full active duty at Fort Huachuca, I did this stuff as a Chicago Police SWAT technician. That's why the Joes brought me on board."
"Hey man," Footloose said. "It don't make no never mind to me. I just want to see this thing through in one piece, dude."
"Pipe down, Footloose!" Falcon hissed. "Keep your eyes peeled for trouble and let the man work!"
Wiretap unslung a portable unit from his back that looked like a smaller version of the trunk box he had just opened. Working quickly with both hands, he extended a number of co-ax cables from the portable, connected them into the "main" line in the trunk box, and then tapped the live power feed so the building's own electrical system kept the portable box going.
Once all the connections were made, Wiretap extended a small wireless antenna and sent Sparks a test signal. When the LED test indicator flashed green, he knew the video connection was good. The electronics expert returned the trunk box cover to its normal place and tied it shut with a plastic flex-cuff.
"Okay, troops," he whispered. "We're done here. Let's get the hell outta Dodge."
Falcon nodded and gave the second floor windows a final glance. He keyed his radio to advise Duke that they were on the way out. "Falcon to Duke," the Special Forces officer whispered. "Recon team is exfiltrating."
The streets had become considerably darker without the sunlight to illuminate them. As the twilight sensors in the streetlights flickered the lamps on their tall poles, the Joes stuck to areas of dark shadow to maneuver back to their alley and safety. Once again moving in pairs, with Falcon and Steeler in the lead, the men scurried across West 181st Street as fast as their legs could carry them.
Meanwhile, up in the bank's second floor offices, John's sharp eye caught one of the Joes moving. Because the team was already approaching the alleyway, he assumed that they were trying to set up a sniper position.
"Gregor, this is John," the Alley-Viper said into his NEXTEL, motioning to get Linna's attention. "I see some SWAT movement on the northwest sidewalk."
"Teach them not to play games with us," Gregor said over the line. Linna cracked a toothy smile as she raised a loaded RPG-7 rocket launcher and pointed its tip out the window.
"Back blast area clear!" Linna said, shouldering the launcher and aiming it straight at Wiretap's head. "Fire in the hole!"
Falcon and Steeler had made it into the alleyway and were aiming their rifles to cover the bank when Footloose heard a loud hissing sound. In the corner of his eye, the spaced-out infantryman caught the tail flash of Linna's RPG.
Driven on instinct, Footloose leaped forward, shouting "Cover!" to Wiretap as a warning. He reached his arms around his comrade, pulling them both down into the street, behind a parked minivan.
The RPG round hit the front end of the minivan, blasting the vehicle into a fiery pile of debris. Footloose tucked his head under one arm and used his free arm to push Wiretap's face into the pavement, just as the RPG's blast concussion washed over them. The infantry trooper felt a sharp sting in his right arm, and when his vision cleared, he could see the side of Wiretap's borrowed ESU jumpsuit torn open, the shredded fabric turning a dark color.
Falcon and Steeler had ducked behind the brick walls of the alleyway and were able to avoid most of the blast effect when the RPG went off. They quickly returned to the opening and saw Footloose and Wiretap lying piled one atop the other in the glow of the burning minivan.
Steeler shielded his face from the intense heat of the fire, sprinting out to help his buddies, while Falcon fired a couple of warning bursts at the windows.
Major Pulaski didn't waste any time checking them out where the two men lay. He hoisted Footloose up over his shoulder and scrambled into the alley with him. Once the infantryman was safely in the alley, he sprinted back for Wiretap and dragged the injured soldier behind cover. Soaked through with sweat, Steeler fumbled through his web gear, trying to find his radio, while Falcon kept laying three-round bursts onto his targets.
"Whoa!" Sneak Peek yelped, averting his eyes from the light-intensifying filter of his periscope when the minivan several stories below erupted into flames. Low Light took his eyes away from the Starlight scope attached to his 7.62mm sniper rifle momentarily, cursing under his breath.
"That was an RPG!" Sneak Peek exclaimed, reaching for his radio microphone to report the weapons fire to Duke. "I think they were shooting at our recon team!"
"No shit, Sherlock," Low Light whispered, returning his eye to the rifle scope and tracking the barrel of his M-21A back to the windows occupied by the terrorists. "I can't find a target. That RPG left a chemical vapor cloud behind that's obscuring my scope. What do you see?"
Sneak Peek cupped his hands around the periscope's eyepiece as he stared into it, searching for movement in the green glow of his night vision set.
"All four tangos are moving around like headless chickens in there," he said. "Looks like they have lots of overturned furniture lined up in layered cover. You're not gonna pop any of 'em with that peashooter right now. There's too many barricades of material between you and them."
"Damn," Low Light swore. "I should've brought my Light Fifty. This bullshit would all be over by now."
"Duke!" Steeler shouted into his radio. "Men down! Send the paramedics! Footloose and Wiretap are hit! We need a medevac at the north end of the alley on One-eighty-second Street!"
At the command post, Duke waved at NYPD Lieutenant Meigs, as a number of FDNY firemen started scrambling to get to their vehicles.
"Meigs!" Duke shouted. "Send Caffey and Zambrano's ambulance over to my recon team! I have two men down over there!"
"You got it, Master Sergeant," Meigs replied, jerking his thumb at Sully and Davis. "And I want you jokers to escort the bus over to the hospital. That ought to keep you two out of my hair for a while."
Officer Ty Davis groaned but didn't argue the point when he joined Sully in their RMP.
"What did I tell you about following orders?" Sully said, starting the RMP. "I'm getting tired of saying that I told you so."
"Give it a rest, Sully," Davis said. "At least we're both alive to regret it."
It took Bobby Caffey and Kim Zambrano less than three minutes to skid their ambulance to a stop next to the alley where Falcon and Steeler were moving their injured buddies onto the sidewalk. The two paramedics rushed out of the ambulance with gear bags at the ready.
Kim skidded to a stop next to Wiretap and started looking him over, yelling over her shoulder, "Bobby! What have you got?"
Bobby crouched over Footloose, taking his vitals as rapidly as possible and checking his fluttering eyelids with a penlight. "I think I have a broken arm here, Kim," he said. "And he's fading in and out of consciousness."
"Mine's got a bleeding head lac and large shrapnel wound in his right abdomen under the rib cage," Kim replied. "We're gonna need to move both of 'em to Mercy General right away!"
Falcon and Steeler ran to the ambulance, pulling out the rolling gurney and a folding stretcher. They helped the EMS crew as much as they could, steadying their buddies while Kim put a cervical collar on Wiretap and pressed sterile dressings against his wounds.
Steeler and Bobby used the folding stretcher on Footloose, since it didn't appear that he needed bracing for his neck. In less than five minutes, the two patients were loaded up and ready to go.
"I'm riding with them to Mercy General," Falcon said to Steeler. "Gotta make sure our secrets stay that way."
"Do it," Steeler said, helping the lieutenant into the back of the ambulance and shutting the rear door behind him. As the paramedics departed amid a wail of sirens, Steeler turned on his heel and walked back towards the command post.
"This is NBC Nightly News, and I'm Tom Brokaw."
The face of NBC's well-known evening news anchor took the screen only for a short while, as the Nightly News producers dumped the entire program's plans to keep following the local story in Washington Heights. The veteran news anchor quickly turned the show over to the local affiliate, WNBC, where David Ushery still sat at his assigned place to report on the incident.
"In the latest news from Washington Heights," Ushery began. "We've just gotten a report from Shawn Robbins in the field. The standoff has escalated to a critical situation. Apparently, some sort of rocket was fired from inside the bank, blowing up a vehicle parked on West 181st Street and injuring two NYPD police officers that were observing the building. The names of the officers haven't been disclosed, nor was their destination."
"Are you getting any reaction from the FBI agent on the scene?" Ushery asked.
"Nothing," Shawn replied. "The cops tightened the perimeter around the command post and nobody's talking. We don't even know if they've heard from the gunmen inside the bank again. No matter what's going on, I have a feeling that this is going to become an Orange Alert for the city!"
David Ushery was visibly shaken from the video feed that had come in from Chopper 4, an Aerospatiale Squirrel traffic helicopter that was orbiting the bank with its powerful light intensifying camera. The handful of news copters in the air all captured the exploding minivan on video, lighting up the street like a Roman candle.
"We're switching to Ida Siegal at the Empire State Building," Ushery said after listening to a producer in his earpiece. "Ida, are you there?"
The television feed changed from the WNBC studio to a shaky pool camera set up behind the NY OEM spokesman's podium. The division's press secretary was hastily paging through notes while Colonel John A. Thomas, the military liaison with OEM, stood to one side, just off the edge of the dais where the podium stood.
"This is Ida Siegal," a cool, female voice said off-camera. "And I am reporting from the New York Office of Emergency Management. We're about to be addressed by the agency's press secretary, who is supposed to be reading a prepared statement before taking questions."
The press secretary walked to the podium and adjusted the microphone, softly clearing his throat to get the room to fall silent.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press," he began. "I am going to read a brief statement from the Crisis Action Team of the Office of Emergency Management, and then will take a limited number of questions from the press corps."
The press secretary nervously shuffled his papers and cleared his throat again. "As many of you probably know, an incident involving the Banco Hipotecario Dominicano began around three this afternoon. A number of gunmen seized the building and took the bank's staff and afternoon patrons hostage."
"Lieutenant Meigs of the 55th Precinct of the NYPD is the senior police official on the site, and FBI Special Agent Jay Price has been the Federal hostage negotiator at the bank. He's also taken charge of the situation, and the OEM Crisis Action Team has been briefed by the Special Agent as the incident unfolded."
"This situation has been deemed an Orange Alert incident, according to OEM guidelines, which allows us to mobilize additional State assets, such as the New York National Guard, to aid in securing the area, and protecting lives and property."
The press secretary nodded in the direction of Colonel Thomas before continuing. "Colonel Thomas, the OEM liaison with the National Guard and Reserves here in the city, has reported to us that an undisclosed unit of the Guard, part of a well-trained security group, mobilized this afternoon and responded to the site. However, that unit was forced to leave after Agent Price was threatened with the deaths of all the hostages by allowing them to stay."
"The OEM Crisis Action Team has briefed the Mayor's Office, and we have complete faith in the abilities of Special Agent Price and Lieutenant Meigs to bring this to a reasonable conclusion. I'll now take one or two questions."
An older man stood up from the back of the rows of press seats, and was recognized by the press secretary. "John Lewis, with the /New York Times/," the reporter said. "Is this being classified as a terrorist incident?"
"We're not sure at this time," the press secretary replied. "Agent Price has indicated that the hostage taking has some elements that match known profiles of terrorist actions. However, this could also be a massive bank robbery under the guise of a standoff. All we know is that the criminals inside are well armed and seem to be organized. Next question, please?"
Ida stood up and waved from her seat to be recognized. "Yes, sir. This is Ida Siegal from WNBC Channel Four. If this is a so-called terrorist incident, what do you know about the gunmen inside? Are they affiliated with some group or faction?"
"The group hasn't identified itself, as far as the reports from the field have indicated," the press secretary said. "Also, no organized element recognized as a terrorist group has contacted New York to claim credit."
"A follow-up question, please?" Ida asked.
"Go ahead," the press secretary replied with a slight nod of the head.
"If this is simply one well-organized bank robbery, why the standoff?" she asked. "Can you explain the hardware that blew up the minivan and injured two of the city's SWAT officers?"
"I'm afraid I have no comment for you on that issue, at this time," the press secretary said tersely, as an assistant entered the auditorium, motioning for Colonel Thomas and the press secretary to end the conference. "I'm afraid we're being called into a briefing," the secretary lied. "We'll have an update for you as soon as we can. Please advise your camera helicopters and news crews to respect any safety perimeters being enforced by the NYPD or FDNY. They are to protect everyone."
As Colonel Thomas and the press secretary left the room hastily, still cameras continued to flash and reporters shouted out questions while OEM assistants and security guards urged the crowd to stay calm.
Duke tapped Sparks on the shoulder and smiled when he saw the video monitor in front of the communications specialist come to life.
"I think Wiretap batted us a homerun, Top," Sparks said, adjusting the focus of the monitor.
"Good," Duke replied. "Now tell me what we have in there."
Sparks worked his equipment for a while, paging through the signals coming from the remote electronic feed that Wiretap had installed. After a few moments of studying the video screen, Sparks' face fell.
"Come on, trooper," Duke said, resting his hand on Sparks' shoulder. "Give me the skinny."
"We have feeds from all of the functioning security cameras in the building, Sparks said. "Unfortunately, all they're showing me is empty rooms and no movement."
"Why is that?" Duke asked.
"Well, the whole idea of tapping into the CCTV security cameras is a SWAT technique," Sparks explained. "They use the building's own systems to locate and count hostages and perpetrators. However, our bad guys are smart. They either broke the circuits or cut off the key areas by some other method, so we can't watch them."
Sparks frowned as he paged for a second time through the available cameras, looking for anything useful. "I don't have any cameras in the back of the lobby where gunmen would be positioned to guard the hostages. I also can't switch to the vault, stairwell, second floor front offices, or loading dock cameras. But we already know from the blueprint layout and the observation team that those places are where the bad guys should be working if this is a bank heist. I can't determine if there's a dirty bomb in the vault. I can't count the tangos, or see them moving."
"So, you're trying to tell me that we just got two of our men DX'ed by those shit-for-brains tangos and have nothing to show for it?" Duke asked, clenching a fist in frustration. "Wiretap and Footloose are going to the hospital for cameras full of /empty rooms/?"
"I'm not going to bullshit you, Top," Sparks said. "I had hoped we'd get the feed or at least catch some movement. But they outfoxed us. The signal discriminator isn't getting any conversations between the tangos of any substance. They're just giving each other periodic all clear reports. So far, other than Sneak Peek's rough count on the second floor, we're coming up goose eggs."
"Actually, we're not totally in the dark," Duke said. "I had my suspicions when we got the scenario to start with. These guys are too good to be bank robbers. And even well organized bank robbers are bound to miss something. This smells like a orchestrated Cobra operation."
"You think you can convince the Fed and the NYPD people out there of that?" Sparks asked. "They would relinquish control of this op to us and then we can go kick some ass!"
"I don't know what I can get through to those thick-headed locals," Duke said. "But I'll try to convince them before it's too late."
Agent Price frowned when he answered his cell phone and heard Gregor guffawing in a loud, taunting laugh. He was almost sick to his stomach and the bile rising in his throat made it difficult to speak.
"Did you like my little fireworks show?" Gregor asked, the tone of his voice mimicking the evil sneer he was likely to have on his face.
"Hell, no. I didn't like it," Price responded. "You tried to kill four cops!"
"They paid the price for defying my demands, Price," Gregor said. "I thought you were in charge. Did you not assure me that all of the men in your command had their instructions? Should I kill more hostages to impress upon you the value of proper communication?"
"No," Price said slowly. "Your message was loud and clear."
"Not to worry, Agent Price," Gregor said. "Our statement has been made. Although I feel you have been too tight-lipped to your superiors when I told you who we were. The news hasn't identified us yet. That is wholly your doing, but now it is of no consequence."
"I will release all of the hostages at six forty-five exactly," Gregor continued. "You will not interfere with my fighters and their departure from the bank. Remember that I still control the dirty bomb. If we're allowed safe passage, the bomb will not go off. Your bomb squad will have time to find and disarm it. Can we be agreed on this?"
"We can agree on that," Price said, wrinkling his brows when he saw Duke shake his head vigorously from side to side. The top kick wasn't eavesdropping on the call; he had only caught Price agreeing with Gregor. "We'll await the release of your hostages."
"Very well," Gregor said, hanging up his phone. Stupid, gullible bastard/, he thought. /Boy, are you gonna be surprised...
The Tele-Viper Corporal who was monitoring the news channels in his portable SIGINT backpack finished soldering the final connections for the equipment he had been working on. He brought two wireless detonators to Gregor and explained what each was for.
"Very well, Corporal," Gregor said. "Give this one to Linna upstairs. I shall keep the other myself."
When the Tele-Viper disappeared into the bank's main stairwell, Gregor silently signaled for the Alley Viper Commandos to abandon their positions behind the hostages. As the armed men joined the Techno-Vipers in the stairwell, all of them hustling up to the second floor's fighting positions, Gregor cleared his throat to address the civilians in the lobby. He locked and cocked his sub-machinegun for dramatic effect, making sure the hostages knew he had it and was ready to fire.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Gregor said. "Your ordeal is almost over. And you have been most cooperative. I regret the need to have eliminated one of you, but you can blame that on the incompetent military and police people outside."
"At precisely six forty five," he continued. "You will all be released. You may leave through the front entrance, which will be unlocked. However, your exact cooperation is required until then. Any deviation will result in all of your deaths, without exception. Do not turn around, as my people depart the building. Stay away from the stairwell and loading dock at the rear of the building. Stand completely still and make no attempts to signal the police outside. If you adhere to these rules, you will be allowed to return to your homes, families and normal lives."
After Gregor left the lobby and hostages behind, the frightened civilians never realized that he was the only gunman left after his comrades had gone upstairs. Still, the fear of death gripped each and every one of them, and they obeyed Gregor's rules, despite the lack of anyone to make good on the threats.
"Duke, this is Sneak Peek," the Ranger surveillance expert radioed. "We have movement on the second floor. Thirteen new heat sources have arrived and fanned out to overlook the intersection of Audubon Avenue and One-eighty-first Street. It looks like they're planning to fight it out if we storm the lobby."
"I read you, Sneak Peek," Duke replied. "Stand by one. I'm sending you some help."
Duke walked over to Snake Line, Hit & Run, Wide Scope, Shockwave and Red Spot. He brought them together and had them take a knee while he talked to them.
"Okay, guys," Duke began. "This is starting to smell like our Cobra friends could be behind this deal, not just some random psychos. That means our risks are higher, and those tangos inside can be capable of anything."
Duke dabbed at his forehead with a paper towel and looked down Audubon Avenue towards the bank. "I want you guys to go up on the roof with Sneak Peek and Low Light. Try to figure out a way to hit the second floor first and work our way down. That should wipe out the biggest concentration of firepower while we have the NYPD get the hostages out on ground level. I'll have Sure Fire come up with a plan to secure the bomb and the vault."
Duke paused for a second and then nodded to himself, thinking that his situational assessment was right. "We'll play this like the Iranian Embassy job the SAS pulled in London. Get up there and give me some options."
"Right, Duke," Snake Line said. As the most experienced SWAT operator among the group, the former LAPD patrol sergeant and tactics instructor was best suited to study the building for assault options. He turned towards the entrance to the building where the observation post was set up and opened the door for his comrades. "Let's go people," he said. "Time's short."
Snake Line took the night vision binoculars away from his eyes after watching the seventeen tangos on the second floor rearranging furniture in the offices where they occupied the strong points over the street. He checked his watch and noted that it was time for him to report in.
The former Los Angeles County SWAT officer tugged at the boom microphone that hung in front of his lips and whispered into it. "Duke, this is Snake Line. Do you copy?"
Meanwhile, down on ground level, Duke was trying to convince Lieutenant Meigs and Agent Price not to directly assault the bank without taking precautions to protect the assault team and insure the dirty bomb couldn't be detonated. He was loudly explaining the concept of loose radiation and its dangers to the law enforcement officials, and the entreaties were falling on deaf ears.
Duke answered his radio as soon as he heard Snake Line's voice over the net. "This is Duke. Go ahead, Snake Line."
"It looks like we have no possible route inside if we stick to a ground assault," Snake Line reported. "With seventeen guns on the second floor, set up with layers of barricades to counter the rooftop snipers, they can cover the intersection and wipe out anything that moves toward the main entrance."
Duke nodded his head. "I figure the loading dock is booby-trapped," he said. "Since it empties right onto the main stairwell, if we try to enter there and go directly for the vault, the entry would set everything off and the game would be over really quick. The key is the second floor, or something we don't know about yet."
"How about an aerial descent?" Snake Line asked. "I know we can't use choppers. They would tip the bad guys off as soon as they showed up overhead. But why not abseiling?"
"What do you think?" Duke replied. "You're the man with the bird's eye view."
"I think that we could launch grapnels just above the occupied windows," Snake Line suggested. "If we zip-line down with guns blazing, we can assault the second floor and retain the element of surprise. Once we clear the second floor, our ground element can sweep across the intersection and secure the lobby unmolested. Then we can get Lightfoot in to disarm any mantraps and hit the bomb in the vault."
"The plan seems sound," Duke said, glancing at the bank's blueprints. "It's critical that you go in first to tie up the defenders, otherwise the ground pounders will get caught in a cross fire." The Joe top kick thought over the scenario for a few more seconds and made a command decision. "Okay, Snake Line. You're going to make it happen up there. Stand by for my signal to execute."
"Roger that," Snake Line replied, breaking the radio connection. He turned to look at the bank again when Sneak Peek motioned to get his attention.
"They're not going to release the hostages!" Duke asserted, shaking his head as Agent Price relayed Gregor's final message to the Joes' top sergeant. "My snipers say that there are still tangos inside, on the second floor. This smells too fishy to send the cops in yet. My men are going to give me a plan for a multi-pronged assault to secure the hostages and clear the tangos' strong points."
"Your communications man said that you have no material intelligence about those guys in there," Price said. "I've spoken to the leader and he made me assurances. I will not go with an assault operation. It's too big a risk compared to the threat."
"And you're willing to believe the rantings of a criminal over my team's facts?" Duke said, his face turning red. "My guys are all experts. We're getting a better read on these guys. You're playing right into their hands! Can you afford to take the bad guy's word?"
"I'll take any gift that I can get in this situation," Price said, impulsively waving for the ESU platoon commander to move his assault team forward. "Let's start evacuating those hostages!" The NYPD sergeant nodded and marched his men towards the bank entrance, not even noticing that the hostages hadn't moved a twitch in the windows.
Duke picked up his night vision binoculars and tried to see past the truck parked in front of the bank. He noticed the door wasn't opening. No civilians were coming out on their own.
"Agent Price!" Duke called out. "Lieutenant Meigs! Stop those ESU guys! It's a trap!"
From the second floor, John and Linna watched the ESU sergeant in charge of the police assault team sprint around the truck and reach for the bank's entrance door. They traded evil smiles as Linna picked up a remote detonator and twisted the plunger.
Duke broke from the cover of the building across from the bank with Agent Price on his heels just as the ESU team began to cluster up near the bank's entrance. The hostages were frantically screaming for help as a rumble echoed through the bank lobby.
Linna had detonated a large concentration of plastique and Claymore mines that the Cobra Techno-Vipers had set just outside the bank's stairway entrance, enough to instantly kill the hostages in the lobby with thousands of steel ball bearings. The instantaneous blast wave blew out all the window glass in the lobby as well, sending sharp and deadly shrapnel towards the ESU platoon.
The NYPD team was caught in the open with nowhere to run. The flying shards of broken glass were as hard as sharpened steel when they cut through the unprotected flesh of faces and limbs. The ballistic nylon and Kevlar body armor protected the cops' vital organs, but not much else. None of the policemen escaped without injury.
"Jesus Christ!" Agent Price screamed in horror. "Oh my God! It WAS a trap!"
"Sure Fire!" Duke yelled, reaching for an NYPD riot shield and leveling his M-4 carbine in its tactical sling. "Let's go! Get your team moving! Body shields and weapons up! Cover the EMS people and get to those cops! YO, JOE!"
"Holy shit, Doc!" Carlos Nieto shouted, practically leaping out of his skin when he saw the orange fireball of the explosion. "Did you see that?"
"I don't think anyone could miss that around here!" Doc Parker replied, turning the key in Adam Five-five-three's ignition. "Get in the back and grab the gear. I'm rolling us closer so we can evacuate those cops!"
As Sure Fire's team of Joes charged out from cover, Parker drove his ambulance forward, despite shouts and gestures from Duke for the EMS medics to stay back. He sped forward and squealed to a stop at an angle near the bank entrance.
"Come on, Carlos," Parker shouted into the back of the rescue rig. "Let's go earn our pay!"
"The NYPD is assaulting us with a second wave!" Linna reported from the second floor of the bank. "Get the money out of here, Gregor!"
"We're leaving now, Linna," Gregor replied on his radio. "Cover our escape! COBRAAA!"
Behind the bank, at the loading dock, Gregor shifted the large tractor-trailer into gear. He floored the accelerator pedal, causing the vehicle to lurch forward. Sparks flew from the protruding side mirrors when Gregor misjudged the width of the truck alley and ran the cab too closely along the alley's brick wall.
The cops in the ESU observation team posted outside the truck alley ran out of the way as Gregor's truck barreled out onto 180th Street. Both Gregor, in the driver's seat, and Ivan, in the passenger's seat, fired machine pistols at the policemen to keep their heads down. With a squeal of brakes, the truck careened into the middle of the broad roadway and heeled over as Gregor steered it to the west.
The ESU sergeant that was Sully's old acquaintance dusted himself off and shook his head while glancing around to see if his men were all right. He grabbed for his radio microphone to report in.
"Post Bravo to Command," the sergeant radioed, trying to keep calm. "At least two of the perps are rolling west on One Eightieth Street in a fifth wheel. Don't know if they have anything from the bank aboard. One of my guys is down. Send a bus. Send help!"
Duke had been eavesdropping on the NYPD command channel when the ESU observation team reported the truck's departure. He quickly turned to Steeler, Hollow Point, Crankcase and Clutch.
Pointing his finger at the quartet of Joes, he barked, "You guys! Get your asses in the AWE Strikers and head west! Two of the tangos have a truck and are trying to escape. If one of them has the detonator for the dirty bomb, we have to secure it at all costs! Get going!"
"We know these streets and the back alleys," Bosco shouted, elbowing his way past a fuming Lieutenant Meigs to address Duke directly. "Officer Yokas and I can take your guys through a route to cut them off before it's too late!"
"Okay, Officer Boscarelli," Duke said, jamming his pointer finger in the beat cop's chest. "Do what it takes to stop that truck and get the guys inside into custody. I'm temporarily deputizing you! Get the hell outta here!"
Steeler and Clutch leaped into one AWE Striker, while Crankcase and Hollow Point took the second. As Bosco and Yokas peeled out onto 182nd Street in their RMP, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, the Joes started up their vehicles with the roar of their powerful motors, shouting, "YO, JOE!"
Lieutenant Meigs charged up to where Duke stood and angrily pointed a finger in his face. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked. "I'm the only one who can detail my cops to go into harm's way!"
"Yeah," Duke growled, batting Meigs' finger firmly aside. "And look what happened. You sent those ESU guys in and now they could all be dead! Why didn't you listen to me about the way Cobra operates? They never make good on promises, unless it benefits them! If you spent thirty seconds putting two and two together, you assholes might have figured out that I was right!"
"We had to go for the hostages!" Meigs said. "The Mayor would have kicked my ass if we didn't try!"
"You and Price are glaring incompetents!" Duke argued angrily. "The Mayor isn't here! Cobra's been playing you right into their hands!"
"Show me some respect!" Meigs yelled. "You're required to obey a superior officer!"
"I don't see any of those around here," Duke said, turning away. "Just a higher-ranking blowhard, and an FBI agent who's puking out his guts instead of doing his job."
"Sir!" a beat cop shouted, running over to where Meigs and Duke had squared off. "The fires at the loading dock and inside the lobby need to be controlled before we can send anyone in to search the vault. Those folks on the second floor are already trying to put holes in the EMS crew and the guys providing covering fire in the intersection."
Lieutenant Meigs deflated somewhat, realizing that his tactics weren't working. "Master Sergeant," he said slowly. "What do you suggest?"
"I have a plan," Duke said. "I can suppress the tangos upstairs and get your firemen to the building. They have to clear the way for my demolition specialist to get to the vault. We still have the bomb to worry about."
"We should confer with Agent Price," Meigs insisted, "He still needs to okay your plan."
"There's no time!" Duke said, sweeping his hand in the direction of the bank. "The shit's already hit the fan! We have to move now!"
Lieutenant Meigs shook his head and wondered how his superiors would react to his bungling. "Okay," he said with a sigh. "Let's do it your way. I'll tell the firefighters to get ready."
Banco Hipotecario Dominicano
West 181st Street
"David, this is Shaun," the WNBC field reported nearly shouted over his cellular phone. "You have to go to a news flash! There was an explosion! The whole bank blew up!"
"Shaun, hang on," David Ushery replied from the news production booth. "We'll record something now. Tell us what's going on there."
Shaun waited until he knew the call was bring recorded at the WNBC studios before speaking. "This is WNBC's Shaun Robbins at the crisis unfolding here in Washington Heights. We're about one block east of the building that has been under siege for hours. About three minutes ago, a massive explosion rocked the neighborhood, surrounding the bank with fire and smoke.
"Apparently, the criminals are still in the area, as sporadic gunfire can be heard at the site. A large vehicle was also spotted fleeing west from the bank, and a number of police cruisers and Army jeeps took off after it.
"The NYPD and military are trying to clear a path for the firefighters, so they can get the blaze under control and search for civilian survivors. But, as far as I can tell, the whole lobby of the bank must've gone off. I doubt there are any civilians left to recover..."
18:50 hours, atop the neighboring building
"All units, this is Duke," Duke said on the Joes' tactical channel. "You know your jobs. We have to eliminate the tangos and go right for the vault after the bomb. The police and fire fighters will come in after we hit the second floor. Everyone will go on my order."
Sneak Peek crouched behind his combat periscope and motioned for Low-Light to prepare. "Low-Light," the spotter said, "I've got a tango in White Two-Four showing us a piece. Care to take it off?"
"I see him," Low-Light whispered, squinting into the scope of his M-24 sniper rifle. "Consider him neutralized."
On the second floor, fourth window from the left, one of the Cobras poked his head out of the broken glass window in order to spot and fire at the FDNY ambulance workers trying to triage the policemen sprawled out all over the street below. He leveled his AK-74 and sighted down the posts until his eyes locked onto Doc Parker and Carlos Nieto, struggling to get the bulky gear off a badly hurt ESU cop.
A single crack echoed across the street, and the Cobra shooter slumped over, blood and brains squirting from a neat 7.62mm bullet hole in the side of the head.
"Duke," Snake Line said, turning to the Joe top sergeant. "We have to go now. There are too many tangos to plink at from outside."
Duke nodded. "Alright, Snake Line. Get your zip line deployed."
Snake Line, the burly, ex-LAPD SWAT officer, turned to Red Spot and patted his laser rifle. "The building is brick, Red Spot," he said. "Can you burn me a hole two inches wide for the grapnel hook?"
The rookie Joe trooper flashed a smile. "You got it, Snake Line. If Low-Light can hit the hole, I can sure as Hell burn it." He leveled his laser rifle and steadied it on the edge of the roof. After making a few adjustments in his scope, the laser trooper engaged his weapon, set to maximum burn.
Red Spot's laser hit the brick just above one of the unoccupied second floor windows, neatly cutting a hole through the outer wall and into the building, just big enough for one of the Joes' folding grapnel hooks to pass through. "Ready to hook up," Red Spot reported. "Our entry point is White Two-Seven."