I can get to the office in less than 20 minutes on a typical day, but this was anything but a typical day. I had no idea that the Metro Police could set up so many roadblocks so fast, it was very impressive, I must have had to flash my badge a couple of dozen times. And I was going into the city, they were being much more thorough with outbound traffic, dragging people out of their cars at gunpoint, bellowing at them even as they forced them to lie face-down on the blacktop.
The toughest part was not knowing what was going on. The clowns on the radio were making stuff up, as usual, so I listened but I tried not to pay too much attention. And although I knew a lot of people who would know what was going on, I couldn't get through to a single one of them. Most of the time I couldn't even get a signal on my cell. I might as well have been trying to call in on my shoe.
When I finally got to the office, I slipped into the tail end of a briefing that featured a high-res video that still hasn't been made public. (I keep expecting it to appear on YouTube, where it would make Mr. Grimes' effort look like it was shot with an Instamatic but somehow, we've managed to keep it off the street. So far.) In the two hours it had taken me to crawl my way into town, the tech guys at HQ had managed to splice together clips from the videos they had confiscated from the news networks, along with some footage that I later learned had been shot by the father of a Future Educator who happened to be a camera nut. There were even some shots from a couple of nearby security cameras, and they were all stitched together so seamlessly that you'd think you were playing Final Fantasy on your Xbox. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not a game. Most definitely not a game.
So right there in the briefing room, just a couple of hours after it happened, I got to watch the instant replay, over and over again, of the mini-missile slicing through the air in the final seconds before it hit the President. Seeing it at that speed, just floating along like it had all the time in the world, it was hard to remember that it was really moving at more than five hundred miles an hour, about two-thirds the speed of sound, maybe a quarter as fast as a rifle bullet. They kept calling it "the Hellfire," and I could see the resemblance, the tail fins, the forward stabilizer struts, the blunt nose. But a Hellfire is a good five-feet long, and our guys were estimating that this puppy was no more than a foot, end-to-end. I whistled the first time I heard that, I didn't mean to do it out loud, but Keaton must have heard me, he glanced at me from three seats away with a haggard look that said: I know. These guys are good.
Just before the briefing ended, word came in that a few citizens had reported an incident involving what appeared to be a model airplane that had been buzzing in circles over the Potomac end of Rock Creek Park, near the Boat Center, for maybe ten-fifteen minutes by the time the President walked up to the podium and began to address the Future Educators. One of the witnesses claimed to have seen something shooting from the plane, but the others just reported a muffled pop and a puff of smoke, they figured that something had gone wrong with the plane, a suspicion that was reinforced by the fact that the plane had immediately gone into what appeared to be an uncontrolled spin before it plummeted into the river.
"A Predator," Keaton muttered, just loud enough for everybody in the room to hear him. His head shot up as if he had surprised himself, but he looked around the room with eyes that looked more sad than surprised. "I'll be damned," he said, "if they don't have themselves a goddamn Predator."
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