Special Agent Vito Castiglione looked up from the spotting scope as the door opened behind him. Special Agent Cara Hernandez walked into the room and stood next to him, peering out through the black mesh laid over the gap in the curtains.
“Aren’t you supposed to be keeping eyes on the objective?” she asked.
“Nobody’s budged out of that place in the last thirty-six hours,” Castiglione said dismissively. “We’ve got the whole place tied up tight. Besides, have you seen the pictures of this guy? I don’t think we really have much to worry about.” The fact that he was admiring the view presented by the willowy, olive-skinned Special Agent next to him was beside the point. She was much more interesting to look at than the dull, expensive house across the street.
She rolled her eyes at him, exasperated. He just leered back.
“Yes, I have seen the photos,” she said. “Still, you should at least pretend to be taking this warrant seriously.”
“What’s to take seriously right now?” Castiglione replied. “He’s a pasty-white billionaire wanted for bribery, money laundering, and influence peddling. He’s hardly Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. The whole point of putting an Enhanced SWAT team on him is to send a message, and none of the cameras are here yet.”
“The cameras might not be,” Hernandez replied, glancing over her shoulder, “but there are other people here who don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor.” She nodded toward the door as her tone dropped. “That one in particular,” she added as she turned back to the window.
Castiglione looked over his shoulder at the door behind him as a short, severe-looking woman, who appeared to be in her late fifties, walked in, flanked by two men in plaid shirts and jeans, who nevertheless had that aura of barely-restrained violence that he’d come to associate with special operators. Castiglione hadn’t ever served in the military; he’d been a SWAT cop in Chicago before he’d signed on with the Bureau. He generally disliked the special forces types, just on general principles. They usually thought they were gods among men, and looked down on “humble” law enforcement guys like him.
But a glance from the woman in her simple but businesslike suit got him turning around and putting his eye back to the spotting scope hurriedly. He didn’t know who she was, but if she was walking around the FBI’s cordon with that kind of impunity—he didn’t even see a handler, and Special Agent Dover was usually a stickler about such things—she had to have some serious pull.
“I assure you, Special Agent Castiglione,” the woman said, her voice full of ice, “that having an Enhanced SWAT team here is most certainly not simply to ‘send a message.’ The only reason you and your team are here instead of the HRT itself is because you were closer.”
Castiglione spared a glance at Hernandez, raising an eyebrow. She shrugged fractionally. Apparently, she hadn’t heard any of this hyperbolic bullshit, either.
He didn’t comment, but just kept his eye to the scope. The house, a massive, three-story colonial mansion, was as dark and apparently abandoned as ever. There weren’t any armed commandos in the windows or waiting under the trees.
It wasn’t the first time that Castiglione had heard this sort of thing about a high-profile warrant. He was sure it wouldn’t be the last, either. It went with the territory; Agents-In-Charge always wanted a takedown to look as good as possible, so they always talked up the target. Castiglione had been on more high-threat warrants that had been aimed at harmless old men who had ripped off the wrong people or angered the wrong politicians than he ever had been for terrorists or truly dangerous international gangsters. It was all part of the song and dance, and he’d long since gotten used to it.
“Are all units set and ready to go?” the woman asked. It took Castiglione a moment to realize she was talking on the radio.
Hernandez looked around quickly at that. “Um, ma’am?” she ventured. “We were told that we had two more hours before go time.”
“Plans change,” the woman said flatly. “And we’re not waiting on the news crews that your Agent in Charge already alerted. Go time is now.”
Castiglione looked out, just as the first of the big, black-painted Bearcats roared up to the walk in front of the mansion, the green-clad SWAT shooters hanging off the sides.
He put his eye to the scope and scanned the windows once more as the SWAT agents dropped off the sides of the Bearcats and ran toward the front door.
Special Agent David Lahey’s opinion of the overall operation wasn’t that different from Castiglione’s. He’d seen the briefing; Bevan was a skinny, pale billionaire who looked like he’d never lifted weights or even been in a fight in his life. He had no record of violence, and was wanted entirely for financial malfeasance. There was no reason, as far as they’d been briefed, for a full SWAT team to kick in his door, but those were the orders coming from the Regional SAC.
All that taken into account, Lahey didn’t especially care. Sure, he probably wasn’t going to get a chance to actually shoot a perp, or do much more than hustle the man out in handcuffs, while whatever household staff he had cowered under M4 barrels against the walls. But kicking in doors was always a rush, and Lahey wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. A chance to play was a chance to play.
He didn’t even chafe under the weight of his gear and weapon as he sprinted up the yard toward the columned porch in front of the door. His boots pounded on the boards of the porch as he moved to the door, his M4 leveled at the doorknob as Special Agent Kistler hit it with the ram.
The door cracked and slammed open, as Kistler rolled out of the way and Edbury tossed in a nine-banger. The distraction device detonated with a series of deafening concussions and brilliant flashes, and then Lahey was following it in, plunging through the gray billow of smoke from the pyrotechnics, his M4 leveled.
The entryway was huge, the arched, white-painted, vaulted ceiling with its chandelier hanging above the grand staircase rising almost two stories overhead. It was also, apparently, empty, as Lahey and Brown spread out, sweeping the vast space with their muzzles. The rest of the team flowed in behind them, taking up dominating positions around the entryway, covering the doors leading toward the rest of the lower floor and the staircase leading up.
For those first few moments, it almost looked like they had hit a dry hole. Lahey wasn’t too concerned, though. He had already been sure that Bevan was going to be as deep inside as possible. Given his wealth and resources, he was expecting to have to pull the man out of a safe room. That was going to be fun. He started to move toward the first door, keeping half an eye on the staircase. This was going to be an easy run, but that was no reason to get too complacent.
None of the armored, green-clad agents saw the devices behind the doorframe before they detonated. The two nearest agents almost disappeared in the ugly black clouds that suddenly filled the entryway, the bone-shaking thuds of the detonations shattering the windows across the front of the building. There wasn’t a whole lot left of either agent to hit the floor, even as automatic fire started spitting from carefully concealed, barricaded positions to either side of the grand staircase, raking the open, black-and-white checked floor of the entryway, bullets thudding into plates, flesh, and tile alike.
It was all over very quickly.
Castiglione stared in mute shock at the smoke billowing from the shattered windows of Bevan’s house, even as the chatter of automatic weapons fire reached their ears. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down.
“What…” Hernandez sounded like a little girl, her voice filled with every bit of the shock that Castiglione was feeling. “What happened?”
The severe older woman was swearing viciously as she pulled out a phone. “Get me the backup team,” she snapped as soon as someone answered. “Bevan was ready for us.”
“What the hell just happened?” Castiglione asked, his voice suddenly hoarse. He realized he was shaking; only his position behind the scope kept it to a minimum. He was glad he wasn’t standing up. The gunfire had died away. He wasn’t naïve enough to think that the entry team had come out on top, not after those explosions. “Bevan’s a white-collar fraudster…how did he…?”
“You shouldn’t have assumed that,” the woman snapped. “Leave it to the FBI…you lot are too used to dealing with that kind. I should have called the local SRT team, the guys who actually go after gangsters and druggies. Bevan is a lot more than just an embezzler and influence peddler, and he’s got much more dangerous people behind him.” She listened to the phone. “Make it fast,” she snarled.
But whoever she was calling for was probably going to be too late.
It took a moment for Castiglione to recognize the sound that was starting to vibrate the house around them. He was still too rattled from watching half his co-workers disappear into that house just before the front blew up. Only as the window in front of him started to rattle did he realize that something had changed.
The thunderous growl rose to a roar, and the entire house shook as a massive helicopter flew overhead, barely fifty feet above the roof. It swooped down onto Bevan’s front lawn and rotated to present its flank even as it came to a hover. The side doors slid open.
Castiglione was coming out of his shell-shocked paralysis, but it still took him a second to identify what he was looking at. There was a man in the door, semi-crouched behind some kind of device…
“Get down!” he yelled, just as the door gunner opened fire, flame spitting a blossom of destruction from the heavy machinegun’s muzzle.
Whoever had equipped the helo hadn’t been screwing around. While the FBI Bearcats were equipped with enough armor to hold against 7.62mm armor piercing rounds, the .50 caliber machinegun mounted on the swing arm packed a considerably heavier punch. The 357-grain, Saboted Light Armor Penetrator rounds hit first one and then the other armored car with catastrophic flashes, punching right through the one-and-a-half-inch steel plate to turn the vehicles to scrap and the men and women inside to torn and shredded meat. The vehicles shuddered under the onslaught, smoke and fragments flying from the impacts.
A moment later, the gunner shifted fire, raking the houses across the street where the FBI’s support vehicles were parked. The rounds that had torn through the armored Bearcats ripped through siding, insulation, and drywall much more easily.
The last thing Vito Castiglione ever saw was Special Agent Hernandez falling backward, half her skull blasted away in a shower of blood and the white dust of shattered drywall, just before another round ended his life.
Four men in civilian clothes over their chest rigs and body armor, short-barreled rifles in their hands, hustled Jason Bevan out to the helicopter. Bevan himself was wearing body armor over his short-sleeved shirt. One of the shooters was propelling him with a hand on his upper arm. Bevan looked a little green; his eyes were glassy. Some of that was because of the chemical enhancement he’d taken to get him through the stress as soon as it had become obvious that the FBI was pulling a raid, ahead of schedule. His informant had dropped the ball on that, and once his mind cleared up, Bevan was going to do something about that. He knew people. He had people who owed him.
But not all of his demeanor was just from the drugs that had his security detachment’s faces set in stony contempt. He’d gotten a good glimpse of the mangled remains of the FBI SWAT team as they’d come out the front door to run to the helicopter, and not even the haze of depressants he’d taken to steady his nerves could quite block out the horror of the shredded meat and pools of blood slowly spreading across his expensive floor. Bevan wasn’t a good man by any stretch of the imagination, but he wasn’t acculturated to violence, not that kind. He was a money and tech guy. Seeing that kind of carnage up close had upset his stomach in a way he’d never quite experienced before.
It didn’t matter to his security. They hauled him out, across the lawn, keeping his head down as they ducked under the still-spinning rotors and shoved him up into the bird, which was almost immediately pulling for altitude as the crew chief got Bevan strapped in.
“We’ve got to stay low,” the crew chief yelled to the security detail head. “They’ll be on the alert for us, now. We’ll have to set down in the next ten minutes. There’s going to be a motorcade waiting at the LZ.”
“They’ll be looking for the bird,” the detail head, a massively-built man with blond hair, almost white, cut close to his skull.
“Which is why we’re going to thermite it and go out with the vehicles with you guys,” the crew chief replied. “Damned shame, but it beats spending the next fifty years in a black site.”
“They’d get us out, but I’m right there with you,” the security chief replied. Then they subsided as the pilot dipped the bird’s nose and raced north across the northern Virginia woods, holding just above treetop level.
It was a fast, rough ride. The pilot stayed nap-of-the-earth the entire way, racing away from the rising smoke around Bevan’s mansion and into the woods. Only a few minutes later, they were flaring above a small farm with a red barn and silo. There were half a dozen vehicles of various makes, models, and colors already waiting at the edge of the pasture as the helicopter set down on its wheels and the PSD hustled Bevan out and toward the SUVs.
Another man, just as massive as the blond man propelling Bevan toward the vehicles, except he was bald and very black, was holding a door open. He wasn’t as kitted-out as the four men around Bevan, but his demeanor picked him out as a shooter.
“We’ve already got a plane waiting, Mr. Bevan,” he said. “Only about half an hour from here. We can be out of the country in two hours.”
“Let’s go,” was all Bevan said as he ducked into the Ford Expedition. The big black man shared a look with the blond, who just shrugged before moving around to get into the passenger’s seat.
Behind them, the crew chief popped a thermite grenade and tossed it into the helicopter’s open door before running for the trucks. A moment later, the helicopter was fully engulfed in flames, belching black smoke toward the sky as the vehicles raced away, splitting up into different directions even as the Expedition with Bevan in the back seat headed for a small private airfield not far away.