January 9, 1993 3:15 P.M.
Irene said goodbye to Admiral Morrison and Boris as she stepped out of the staff car. She turned and began to walk up the tree-lined path toward the entrance to her apartment as the admiral’s official limousine pulled away, turned the corner, and headed back toward the highway.
Deep in thoughts about the strange events of the day, she didn’t notice the early buds on the trees brought out by the recent prolonged stretch of unseasonable warm weather. Instead, totally preoccupied with thoughts of her quick helicopter flight down to Washington and her first meeting with the President of the United States, she pondered over troubling images that the meeting had produced.
A few blocks away a speeding van raced along Jefferson Davis Highway, careened wildly out of control, and bore down on a nearby busy intersection. Brakes squealed, horns blasted, and people screamed. The sleek black staff car with white fender flags that displayed the four-star rank of Admiral Morrison approached that intersection. The driver, seeing the havoc and its potential danger directly in front of him, braked hard and left smouldering black skid marks on the road.
A police cruiser’s ominous siren bellowed its warning wail. Strobe lights flashed as it plunged its way through scattering traffic on the highway. It swerved in and out of cars driven by unnerved drivers as it mimicked the crazy maneuvers of the van it chased.
The admiral’s driver managed to bring the big limousine to a safe screeching halt just short of the highway.
Thankful their seat belts held, the admiral braced himself and watched as the approaching high speed chase closed swiftly on the road in front of them. He readjusted himself in his seat and said, “Probably another looter. A lot of people – ”
His words were cut short in mid-sentence as the floor of the limousine erupted and hurled him, Boris, and the driver, through the roof of the car. The force of the explosion tore the staff car apart, dismembered its occupants and hurled pieces of jagged metal and body parts all over the intersection.
The explosion generated a shock-wave that radiated outward and upended the overloaded van as it cut directly in front of the disintegrating staff car. The van’s side imploded as the force of the blast propelled the decapitated limousine engine into it.
Struck broadside by the heavy engine, the van became momentarily airborne and was nearly demolished. It rolled over, landed on its roof, skidded across the intersection, spilled its contents, and tore through stunned onlookers as they stood and gaped at the chaotic scene in front of them. The overturned van continued its grinding slide across the sidewalk leaving a fiery trail of sparks, broken bodies, TV sets, VCR's, silverware and other household items in its wake before it finally came to a stop in a hotel lobby where its gas tank ruptured and ignited.
An eerie stillness descended and belied the crescendo of noise that accompanied the cataclysmic activity that had just unfolded. It lasted only moments. Shock gave way to comprehension. Cries of the wounded and horrified shouting of onlookers, rose in harsh discordant sounds of disbelief and despair as the impact of the surrounding carnage and destruction took hold.
The wail of a siren droned down as a police car, its multicolored flashing strobe lights muted by heavy smoke and dust, screeched to a stop behind a tangled mass of cars and trucks. Uncontrollable vehicles had crashed into each other as their drivers failed in their frantic attempts to avoid flying debris and the skidding juggernaut that had crossed their path.
In the moments before the explosion, Irene, still lost in her thoughts, had remained unaware aware of the rising sounds of screeching brakes and the approaching police siren back on the highway. But then the overpowering sound of a powerful explosion jolted her out of her deep contemplation. The spine jarring impact of the thunderous blast shattered the normal stillness of the afternoon and caused a shockwave of inexplicable, nervous anticipation to rise up within her. Primal, fearful instincts commanded her. She turned at once and began to run back toward the sound of the explosion.
Bizarre thoughts tumbled through her mind of nuclear bombs, the White House, the President's lies, and a sinister premonition that involved the President, the CIA Director and her friends. “Oh, I hope Boris and the Admiral are okay!”
She feared the worst and ran toward the intersection where a devastating, chaotic sight materialized. Her apprehension increased as she focused on several wrecked vehicles and twisted illogical debris laying everywhere she looked. Acrid fumes from burning gasoline, engine oil, and other gaseous by-products of the explosion, assaulted her senses. Smoke, dust, and repulsive stenches of burning flesh were nearly enough to make her turn away, but she had to know if the admiral's car had been involved.
She fumbled through her pocket book, found a handkerchief, held it over her face and confronted the devastation. She peered hard through the hazy smoke at grotesque shapes of twisted pieces of cars, trucks, and smoldering body parts scattered over the intersection. The staff car was nowhere to be seen.
“Thank God! Whatever happened didn't – ” The thought froze in her mind as her eyes focused on a familiar object. “Oh, Oh . . . Oh my God! What have they done?”
There in the street, still attached to a black fender, eerily visible in a shaft of sunlight shining down through rising smoke, she forced her tearing eyes to focus on the soot smudged, partially burned, gently fluttering flag, with four stars on it.
Riveted to the sight in front of her, she began to retch uncontrollably. No one paid attention to her. Just one more onlooker repulsed by the carnage in the intersection. Finally, the retching subsided. She turned away from the fluttering flag that assaulted her senses, her limp arms dropped to her sides, her handbag dangled from its strap held in her hand, and her mind groped for some sense of meaning for what must have happened. Instinct took control.
“They killed them!”
And then she realized that she had been just moments away from having been caught in that explosion.
“They want us dead! They wanted to kill me too! I've got to get out of here!”
She began to function again and looked nervously around to see if anyone was listening to her. Everyone was either scurrying away or mesmerized by the tragedy that had unfolded in front of them. Now in mortal fear for her own safety, and without taking a backward glance toward her apartment, she moved away from the grotesque scene and headed in the opposite direction. Her mind numbed from shock, she forced herself to accept the horrible truth.
As she walked along the sidewalk, dodging others, she mumbled to herself. “Why? Poor Arnie and Boris are dead. Dear God, please help me. I’ve got to get away, but how? Where can I go?”
With no plan, and not daring to set a foot in the intersection, she followed the easiest route away from the hellish scene that she believed was surely the evil work of the devil – or one of his disciples. She walked as if in a trance past familiar buildings with well-manicured garden approaches and made her way against the flow of people moving toward the tragedy.
Three blocks to the north she entered Stouffer’s restaurant and found her way into the ladies room. Still shaking, she sat quietly in an end booth where she tried hard to regain control. Her mind raced. They killed Arnie and Boris – they don’t want anyone to be able to expose their lies – I would have died too! Why! Why! Why!
Unable to grasp any rational reason, she resolutely pushed away the overwhelming agony of the haunting image of the partially burned flag with the four stars and began to relive the events of her visit earlier that day to the White House:
The President’s words echoed in her head.
My fellow Americans, I want you to know the threat to our cities is over. There are no, I repeat, there are no atomic bombs threatening any of our cities. We have established that it was a cruel hoax perpetrated by a low level diplomatic representative to the UN who had operated as an independent agent.
In spite of his diplomatic status he is being detained and we are in direct consultation with his government. It is important now that you give maximum support to maintaining law and order in our great country.
So, I say to all you good citizens of this great and resilient country, go in peace back to your homes. And in the immortal words of one of our greatest leaders, who saw us through a most difficult period in our history, I say once again to a great and courageous people, we have nothing to fear except fear itself. Good night and God Bless us all.
Then the President smiled at the admiral and Boris, and looked past them for a fleeting instant directly at Hubert Hamilton, the director of the CIA . . .
Irene gave no consideration to the clarity of her emotionally driven recollection wherein the entire sequence of events that had moved by so fast then, could now be recalled down to the most minute detail. In a deep, emotion driven response her mind continued to replay the day’s happenings:
Hubert Hamilton made his exit right after the President looked at him.
The President walked out of his office followed in turn by the Vice President and several others.
She, the admiral, and Boris left the White House.
Admiral Morrison's staff car waited at the side entrance.
The admiral’s comment in the car as they pulled away. Words fail me. I just don’t know what to say. He made it sound almost as if he were telling harmless little white lies.
White lies! She said. This is what I would expect in the Soviet Union. I'm devastated. I must go to my apartment. Please drop me in Crystal City?
The heavy traffic coming back into the city, so many people returning to their hastily abandoned homes and leaving the outbound lanes unused.
The trip from the White House to her Crystal City apartment in record time.
The admiral, sitting bare headed with his unruly, normally well-groomed, white hair askew, not seeming to have much more to say.
Boris, speechless, shrugged.
Her tenseness giving way to becoming pensive.
The admiral said, Oh, here we are Irene. Have a good night’s rest. I would like to meet with you and Boris in my office tomorrow.
Yes, Admiral, she said. That’s a good idea. I'll see you then.
She said goodbye, closed the door, walked away and didn’t look back.
She snapped back to the present and the danger she might have to face when the ubiquitous 'they' learn she hadn’t been killed in the explosion. The thought of Arnie and Boris so uselessly sacrificed caused her to fight off a wave of nausea as she said aloud, “For what?” She caught herself, looked around and made certain no one was there to hear her. She didn’t want to explain her sudden outburst to any nosy others.
Ten minutes later, a different appearing lady emerged from Stouffers. Gone was the fashionable hat and the up-sweep. She had loosened her long auburn hair to flow naturally around her face, down her back, and inside her coat. Wearing her sunglasses in her hair, she thought, This will have to do, few people know me looking like this. Then as she looked around she said, “Oh, there's a phone booth.”
The operator gave her the number. She deposited the required change and dialed the Annapolis Yacht Club. Several anxious minutes passed while the person who answered located the man she wanted to speak with. She gasped as he came on the line and said, “Yes, this is Bob Berria. What did you say your name is?”
“Irene, Irene Michals,” she said, “I know your brother Frank – I must speak with him! It's very urgent! Please, can you help me? I’m desperate. I must speak with Frank!”
Bob heard the anguish and near hysteria in the voice on the other end of the phone. He didn't know to what extent his brother may have been involved in the atomic bomb scare that the President had just revealed to be a hoax. At the same time he sensed a connection and said, “Miss Michals, I don't know how I can help you. Can you tell me why you want to speak to my brother?”
“Please, Mr. Berria, your brother and my dead husband were good friends at the university.”
Baronofsky's name triggered into Bob's mind. “You’re Professor Baronofsky’s widow?”
“Yes, yes, you know about him then, and that he reportedly died here in an explosion, but really he was killed in the Soviet Union last summer.”
Bob was aware of both details, and that he was talking to the widow of the man responsible for the events that had led to the death of his father. His mind raced now as he tried to understand why this distraught lady wanted to find Frank, but before he had time to think, he was jolted by a new revelation.
“Your brother – he worked for Admiral Morrison who has just been killed – killed by the same people who I'm sure want to kill me too.”
“Admiral Morrison, dead! How do you know this?”
“I just left him when . . . when . . . when his car blew up. It was terrible – Boris Kaminetsky, he was with him. He's dead too. Please . . . please help me find your brother . . . There's no one else I can turn to.”
The frightened pain in the woman's voice penetrated deep into Bob's emotions. For a moment, his mind flashed back to Vietnam as he recalled the anguished cries of fallen comrades. Hearing a genuine plea for help again grabbed the emotional center of his brain. He reacted almost automatically, as chivalrous men have done countless times down through the centuries.
“Miss Michals, I'll do what I can to help you.” He heard an audible gasp followed by a burst of sobbing. “Please get hold of yourself! I need you to be calm. Tell me. Where are you?”
“In . . . in, Alexandria . . . Crystal City . . . by Stouffers.”
“What's happening there? Are things getting back to normal?”
“There's a lot of traffic. I think people are trying to get back to their homes.”
“Do you think it's possible to find a taxicab?”
“I don't know. I can try. Where do you want me to go?”
“Not far, to the airport, it's a short cab ride from where you are. When you get there, go to the main terminal. Find a gift shop, and make a cash purchase of a bright kerchief. Then walk over to the civilian terminal, and have a seat in the waiting area. When you arrive there, put the kerchief on. I'll have someone come to meet you. Don't call again unless you run into a problem. If you have to call, use a different phone and don't use a credit card – especially at the airport.”
“Yes, yes, I understand. I'll do that. Thank you.”
Irene had no problem finding a taxi. There were more taxis than passengers, and the driver of the one she got into seemed pleased to take her to the airport where business would be better.
Thirty-five minutes later, seated in the civilian terminal waiting room wearing an orange kerchief, she tried not to notice the other people. They paid scant attention to her. Aside from its intended purpose, the kerchief altered her appearance in a way that made it less likely that anyone might recognize her. She also noticed that there was only one other lady seated in the waiting area, and she was wearing a small hat.
She settled down, hoping some how to break out of this nightmare. She thought about the reassuring sound of Bob Berria's voice as he took total charge of her actions and wasted no time on formalities. Thank goodness I had seen the news report of his arrival back in the United States and that he was still here. He seemed cool at first when he understood who my husband was – and didn't seem to respond to my telling him that Fyodor hadn't really died here, but he reacted quickly when he learned Admiral Morrison was killed. He must have known him also, I guess that's a natural conseq –
Startled, she looked up as she heard a man's quiet voice speak her name. A moment of panic ran over her, until she heard the man that spoke her name continue to speak in a subdued voice.
“Bob Berria, asked me to meet you.”
A tall brown haired man with military bearing, dressed in casual clothes, sat next to her and leaned close to keep their conversation private.
Irene looked searchingly into the man’s friendly eyes and felt a sense of compassion there as she said, “Yes, I'm Miss Michals. I'm so glad you're here.”
“I'm glad I found you. Bob asked me to bring you to him. I have a small plane here. I hope you don't mind flying in one.” Jim Boland said, as he helped Irene to her feet and gently guided her along with him.
“No, no, not at all! Anything, to get away from here.”
They exited the terminal and walked out on the tarmac toward a group of private aircraft. Jim's plane was parked on the end of the first row. He helped Irene climb aboard as he said, “My name is, Jim. I sail with Bob aboard the Dragon lady. He asked me to do this air taxi job on a top priority basis. So in a little while we'll be setting down in Annapolis where his boat is berthed.”
“Thanks for coming for me. I’m very grateful to you.” She didn't elaborate and noted that Jim didn't press for any details. He and Bob must be very good friends.
The plane, a twin engine amphibian, was ideally suited for Jim's excursions, considering that he spent a lot of time aboard the Dragon Lady. Weather and water conditions were good to excellent for flying and for making a water landing in the Chesapeake Bay opposite the Annapolis Yacht Club.
Jim made last minute preparations with the tower as he made the plane ready to roll out on the runway. Irene sat nervously in the seat alongside him, anxious to get away from there. She had thoughts that at any moment somebody from the government would stop them. There was little or no air traffic as things hadn’t yet got back to normal, so Jim was cleared for takeoff almost immediately.
They roared down the runway. Irene’s heart beat faster than ever as she told herself, We’ll be safe as soon as we leave the ground.