An excerpt of Terror Red, a thriller by Colonel David Hunt and Christine Hunsinger (available April 16, 2013).
Colonel David Gibson is a recently retired Special Operations Officer. Together with political consultant Christina Marchetti, he must take down a terrorist organization bent on hijacking planes, blowing up cities, and much more. Their pursuit of these heavily financed, ruthlessly trained killers hurls Gibson and Marchetti into a whirlwind of death and destruction. If they can’t stop this murderous conspiracy, America could well be plunged into World War III. But can they stop them in time?
New England Christmases are picture-postcard perfect, full of glittering, sparkling, twinkling everything. On December 26, everything turns gray: sky, snow, ice, moods, people; everything is Soviet-Union-stand-in-a-breadline gray. The shift is sudden, jarring and depressing. Brains hibernate, bodies autopilot and the countdown to St. Patrick’s Day begins.
Today is December 26.
“I don’t understand how you can work for that guy. He’s completely sold out, you know. He’s turned his back on everything the Democratic Party stands for. He’s such a politician,” my sister whined.
I fiddled with the dial on the heater, hoping in vain that switching it on, off and on again would turn the slightly warm breeze to tropical wind. Freezing my butt off driving my sister to Logan was not my favorite hobby.
“I’m a political consultant. I work for politicians.”
Three years ago, I was working for the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. I was splitting my time between two campaigns, and it looked like we might actually win both. And then the crazy started. One of my guys threatened to kill his opponent in a televised debate on gun control and was arrested. Two days later, my other guy showed up at a fund-raiser dressed as Elvis. Apparently he had gone off his meds and was hearing voices. A week after those charmingly eccentric incidents, I packed everything I owned into giant, lawn-sized Hefty bags, threw them in the back of my car and left town.
Christina Marchetti, political consultant to the hapless and troubled, as well as the queen of running away. I gritted my teeth and laid on the horn. Traffic was crawling toward the airport. Five minutes ago it had been swerving wildly at unsafe speeds. Given Boston drivers, in another five minutes we might all be driving sideways. With any luck, we would arrive at Logan before I bludgeoned my sister with an ice scraper. I was on vacation until New Year’s Day, and although part of my job was to worry about the fate of the Democratic Party and its agenda, I figured it could wait a few days. Right now all I wanted to do was get my sister on her plane, go home to my apartment and slip into a coma.
From the bottom of my pocketbook came the muted theme music from the TV show The West Wing. That was how my phone rang when it worked. Yes, I was officially a dork.
I rooted around and found it, hit the button and said hello.
“Hi.” It was the singsongy voice of Mary Katherine.
Mary Katherine Connolly was typical South Boston: 100 percent Irish, devoutly Catholic, pretty face and amazingly competent. She is Senator Kerrigan’s constituent service coordinator because she speaks the language of the district’s natives; also because she’s from a political family and knows where all the bodies are buried. She basically runs every other department and function of Kerrigan’s office. Make no mistake. She’s in charge.
“Hey, what’s up?” I said with a pout.
“I can hear that you are still in your Happy Christmas mood, so I will make this short. Received another update on the terror alert. It’s gone up again, but I can’t really quantify how. Since we did away with the color coding it all seems very vague to me, but I thought I should call you. There is extra emphasis on this one because President Carson is spending the holidays in Maine with the Wheeler family.”
The terror alert rose and fell three times a day. When I started working for Kerrigan, I cared. Now I ignored it. After all this time, with nothing happening, I embraced the myth that we were safe.
“Okay, so we’re at persimmon? Or is it magenta? Go ahead and let the senator know.”
Kate laughed and we disconnected.
Colleen picked up right where she’d left off.
“He’ll never be President. My generation expects a lot more than Senator Brian Kerrigan has to offer.”
Brian Kerrigan was the sanest politician I’d worked for, and while that wasn’t saying a whole lot, I’d take it.
After the Pennsylvania debacle, twenty-six years old, spectacularly humiliated, close to broke and with limited options—my car had autopiloted its way in the direction of home. The eight-hour drive north had been just long enough for my brain to convince itself that the bizarre and embarrassing moments that make up my life would somehow be easier to deal with if I lived closer to my family.
My family is bizarre and embarrassing, in a lovable sort of way; we make a sport out of driving each other insane. We’re loud and messy, but the truth of it is we’d be lost without each other.
Eventually I’d wound up living in Boston, one whole, if rather small, state away from my family. Part of my mental calculus definitely included that if I lived in Providence, every time I ran to the store in sweatpants and a ratty old T-shirt some relative would call my mother and tell her I wasn’t dressed appropriately.
I didn’t have any relatives in Boston, so way fewer tattling phone calls were bound to happen; distance was a good thing, in that absence makes the heart grow fonder; I could see them on my terms; and I was way less likely to discover that the cute guy I was talking to in a bar was a second cousin. It was a good plan, but there were flaws.
My sister Colleen had moved to Washington, D.C., but in typical New Englander fashion continuously found reasons to fly back home. Flights to Boston’s Logan Airport were cheaper than those to Providence. Naturally, it became my job to pick her up and get her back to Rhode Island.
I could hear the evil little karma trolls laughing.
Snow and rain blowing sideways, ugly gray sky, no clouds, no sun, nasty New England day. We are driving down Route 128 southbound, eighteen miles from Logan Airport just outside of Boston, a poorly designed, always jammed piece of asphalt that is the lifeblood of the southern part of Massachusetts. Wicked cold, a few people walking around and those brave souls are bundled up to their ears. Cars sliding all over the road, what the hell are you doing out in this type of weather kind of day? My bet is that God saves the good weather for Christmas Day, then gets pissed off and gives us a day like this.
A Ford Escort just came up on my tail and wanted into the backseat. Then he passed me in the breakdown lane. The breakdown lane in a Ford Escort, for Christ’s sake? If I were not carrying such valuable cargo, I would demonstrate for him just exactly how to drive. My vehicle is an oversized, powerful Cadillac Escalade with twenty-two-inch tires and a few other tricks up its shiny black sleeves. It’s a thing of beauty. The only thing missing on this car is a ram, and at these speeds I may not need that. We in the car are safe, but the rest of the population had better think twice.
My cargo is the best damn woman in the whole world, my mother. For the first time since my father’s death last year, she’s finally cutting loose; which to her means going farther from the house than the local supermarket. Dad’s death took a part of all of us with him. I bet it is harder for Ma than for me.
But she is dealing with it, and this trip to D.C. with her friend Martha is a great start.
“David, you know your aggressive driving bothers me, son. What happens if a deer comes running out, or a bear, or squirrel, or a bird flies straight at us? ”
I want to say, I will kill them; it is what I was trained to do, have done and will do again. I have been to a dozen driving schools and been in enough firefights in and around roads with things blowing up that this little excursion is simply not a problem.
But instead I say, “Ma, I got this. Please trust me, and I love you.”
“If you are so smart, wired and connected, how come you didn’t know where bin Laden was hiding? ” chirps my wicked, sarcastic mom.
“Who do you think told SEAL Team Six? ” I say with a smirk.
Multiple pieces of popcorn come flying from the backseat, one even hitting me in the head. They are eating popcorn in my car? They must have packed snacks for the plane ride. Airport security is going to love that.
“You two lovelies will pick up all the kernels in the backseat before you leave.” Usually I don’t allow food in the car, but since it’s Mom and Martha, okay.
The banter is cut short by a call coming in on my Bluetooth. It’s an unknown number, which means either the government or one of the boys is calling. I tap the screen on my Kensington 1600 system.
“Dave Gibson speaking.”
“Gibster, Kor Dog here. Where are you now? ”
“Tony, how are you? I am south of Boston.”
Tony is a contract officer with the CIA. Tony and I have worked together, officially, a couple of times. He loves to call and update me just to see if my information is as current as his. Most of the time it’s as good; sometimes it’s better.
“Look, the terrorist chatter is getting very loud. We keep hearing about the East Coast. Why the hell would they still care about the East Coast, Colonel?
“You mean besides Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and D.C.? Tony, you are losing it. I’ve got my own problems. It’s the day after Christmas, I’m retired and I’m driving my mother to the airport. Let me know when it’s more than chatter. Thanks for the call.”
Since 9/11, this business of interpreting terrorism chatter has become a growth industry. More often than not, everyone’s guessing, and there seems to be another looming crisis every week. I’m glad he called, but there is no there there, yet.
I know the world has its problems, but right now I’ve got my own. I’m really not looking forward to this. I hate airports. They’re messy and crowded; half the people are depressed because they’re being left behind by someone, and the other half ar close to certifiable because their best something—girl, guy, whatever—is coming off the plane and who knows how things have changed since they’ve been gone. I gained this insight in the service of our country, in the United States Army Special Forces flying in back or on the floor of transport planes for more years than I can count. Colonel David Gibson, technically retired.
Another reason I hate airports is that, for some stupid reason, they always make me think of my father.
My father, who besides being a genuine hero of World War II, having the brain of a genius and being an Olympic-caliber swimmer, was also the best man I ever met—period. But he could be more than painful about things like getting to an airport on time. He gave me enormous love and support in whatever I did, and I miss him every day. Lately I sometimes feel lost without him. I am probably a bit too old to be that way…but there is just something about fathers and sons.
Took me years to realize that there was a one-sided competition going on and that I was trying to be a better man than my father. Hell, I was trying to be better at anything than he was. I may have been a better officer in the Army, but he had World War II and I had Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia, all in and out of uniform. His was a war we won that they made movies about; mine just lasted too damn long for anyone to care.
I usually manage to avoid the airport thing, but for Mom, anything. She has lost her husband and two sons. It’s just me and my sister left, so I will stand in a bucket of cold water in front of the United Airlines ticket counter if it will help my mother.
The car in front of me taps the brakes and slides to the left. Cold-ass December with a little snow falling only makes bad drivers worse. Now we stop while the idiot in front tries to get his vehicle back to straight as opposed to sliding.
I hate traffic. I hate all forms of traffic. Traffic is a line, and after twenty-nine years in the military I have a strong aversion to and a deep hatred for lines. Hence, hating traffic is unavoidable. Boston traffic is so bad it should be illegal.
Mom and Martha are nattering nonstop in the backseat, the radio is playing Bob Seger which makes me want to drive fast but I’m trapped in traffic on my way to the airport.
Happy holidays. You have got to be kidding me!
Colleen was going on and on, traffic was still sitting still and I was making a list of creative ways to kill myself.
- Freeze to death in snowbank.
- Leap from moving vehicle—except the car wasn’t moving.
- Spontaneously combust.
The list was originally supposed to be all of the things I’d rather do with the hour and a half of my life that this trip was devouring, but the list took a nasty turn south when Colleen launched into a cataloguing of the psychological ramifications of being related to me and the rest of our family.
For Christmas I had given Colleen a sweater. She’d given me a book called Finding Yourself: A Guide. I’d never had finding-myself issues. If I needed to find myself, I looked down. I was usually there.
This last week she must have tried to engage me in the how-it-sucks-that-we-don’t-have-a-real-family-anymore conversation about a hundred times and kept repeating, “It’s such a shock to find out your whole life is a lie.”
Mutter, eye roll, big sigh: Come on! Get over it already; it’d been ten years since our parents divorced.
Colleen is four years younger than me. She’s five-foot-five and what she calls voluptuous. She’s trendy and chic and her clothes only cover half her body, half the time. I’m six feet tall, skinny as a rail and not even the eighty-five-dollar bra from Victoria’s Secret can get me close to voluptuous. She’s dark-haired and olive-skinned, “Just like Sophia Loren,” says my Italian father. If Sophia Loren had a butt the size of Cleveland—but no, I’m not bitter. My red hair and pale complexion come from my mother and make up the Irish side of the genetic coin. Colleen and I are both difficult and argumentative and will fight to the death for the last word.
Recently, my mother had given me a lecture on the finer points of sisterhood and guilted me into the trying-not-to’s: trying not to argue with Colleen, trying not to get angry with Colleen, trying not to comment on the size of Colleen’s ass. Today it was causing me physical pain. Colleen had been a philosophy major in college, which she figured entitled her to share her opinion on everything. Trouble was, Colleen was convinced her opinion was the only opinion and she’d argue with you until you either gave in and agreed with her or attempted suicide with the closest implement that would open a vein.
I was about to rummage around in my pocketbook for a nail file when we reached the end of the Ted Williams Tunnel and traffic magically cleared. Five minutes later, we pulled into the parking area of Logan Airport. In ten more minutes she’d be on a plane and I’d be back in my car and on my way home, free to enjoy the rest of my vacation.
“David, what is it exactly that you do? ”
Ever since I’ve retired, Martha has developed a fascination with my work. She’s taken up reading spy novels and such and asking me bizarre questions. Last week she wanted to know if it was really possible to kill a person with a pencil eraser.
“Your mother and I were wondering what to tell people when they ask.”
“Oh, no, Martha. You leave me out of this,” my mother says.
“Oh, hush. David, we know you did do some rather seedy things in the military, but what exactly do you do now? Is it the Masked Marvel comic book idea you had when you were twelve, or is it more the Mad-Mercenary-laying-waste-of-African-villages type of work that we have been reading about?”
I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. “Martha,” I say in a very serious voice, “I live in a very dark cave and only come out when it’s time to feed. If I tell you any more than that, I will have to kill you.”
Actually, I just finished a job in South Africa, and it didn’t involve erasers or caves. The South Africans have some great special forces and a world-class intelligence service. It was a real pleasure doing executive protection contracts for a handful of European fat cats on holiday. I will use some of the South Africans on my next job coming up in Belgium. The job is boring but the boys will make it fun.
Sometimes I get to do some work for Uncle Sam; usually it’s just looking someone up or checking on something for the FBI or CIA. This time I spent a few days checking out recent bombings as a favor to our embassy, while in Cape Town doing some executive protection for a European firm.
Last year at this time, just before I retired, I was running around the mountains and setting up operations with the boys from Langley and our special operations forces. It was a hell of a way to end a career. We did good.
I really miss it. I miss the soldiers; how they laughed, cried and loved to hate most of us in the officer corps. I miss the things we did together, the impossible tasks solved in the middle of the night. I miss the women I loved and left—who probably only loved me because I was leaving.
I don’t miss the endless meetings, nor the poor pay, nor the times of senseless killing. Most of all, I do not miss the incompetence of some of those who presumed to lead without the slightest idea of what that meant. They were supposed to be leading soldiers into battle when instead they were promoting themselves and playing politics.
I concentrate on the radio to drown out the nattering in the backseat. The news break at the top of the hour announces that government sources are reporting a large amount of intelligence chatter concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. The government is considering raising the terror alert status. Nothing more specific, so I know more than they do. Raising the alert status is just plain silly; the whole alert thing is a joke anyway. But after hearing from Tony, I’m wondering if this is more than just the standard crisis of the week.
“David, isn’t that our exit? ” asks Ma. She’s right. It is.
I move the 2008 black and beautiful Cadillac Escalade through the tunnel and park. As I open the door, cold, damp wind from Boston Harbor makes me pull my coat on tighter, and I tell my passengers, “Button up, ladies, it’s cold and nasty out here.” I get the bags out for Mom and Martha. Damn, but she is looking good in the brown beaver full-length coat and hat I gave her for Christmas. Knock ’em dead, Ma.
“Damn it, Mom. You are only going to D.C. for five days and this bag weighs more than the two of you put together.”
She and Martha start talking about how many magazines they each brought, how many games of Sudoku they would play and whether or not they had their mall sneakers with them. I tune out. I’ve heard this before. They carry small bags for everything, bags to carry bags, bags in case they go shopping, bags to hide things…this is only one of the many things I don’t get about women.
Logan Airport is backed up to Boston Harbor by some undesirable parts of East Boston and a tangle of highways and tunnels. Bound by water on three sides, it’s had no place to expand over the years, and the use of airplanes has increased slightly since Logan was built in the early 1920s. So it’s been built up, gotten denser, used every square foot of dry land it can find. It’s the physical size of a small city’s airport, but with the traffic and international flights of a major destination. Clustered, confusing and rarely quiet, very little of Logan is wasted on “beautification.” It’s too busy working.
The airport is crowded and messy and the air is full of anxiety. Logan Airport may have been pretty once, just not in my lifetime. Dirty concrete walls, floors of old worn-out rugs and linoleum, tall support posts and windows with no real view. The ticket counters with people on both sides not wanting to be there. The building and the people just look tired. I herd my mother and Martha to the check-in counter. They look scared. I give them credit for trying new things at their age.
Then Martha almost blows it. “Marge, I don’t think we should go. I don’t think it’s safe.”
“Martha, don’t start with that again.”
“Mom, Martha, you are both going to have a great time. Just relax. There is nothing to be scared about. We are now in an airport that is safer than it’s ever been. As long as I am here, you are safe. And when you leave my side, I will extend the famous Colonel Gibson protection bubble over you both. Now please relax. You’ll be fine.”
“David, you promise me that I will be okay,” Martha demands.
“Damn, of course not, Martha. You will be the only one in trouble on that entire plane.”
Martha is calmer now, but it could still go either way. My mom changes the subject to something both women can get behind.
“David, do you have plans for New Year’s? ” I know where this is going. I ignore her.
My mom and Martha are ready to make their way through the metal detectors and be off. I am ready to get the hell out of here.
“You two lovely young women are all set. Have fun in our nation’s capital and stay away from biker bars.”
Martha looks skeptical.
I hold up my hand and say, “All you have to do is get on that shiny cigar-shaped instrument. Now, please, enough of this. Get going.”
I hug them both and they finally confront their fears and move to the security gates for their flight.
As I move through the crowd, my phone chirps. When I check, there is a message waiting. Must have missed it in the tunnel or in the parking garage.
“David, Tony here. Much of the ‘chatter’ we’re hearing is about the Muslim Brotherhood, the Northeast and the time frame is this week.”
Okay, so that is a little more specific. Probably nothing to get excited about, but I should hang around until Mom’s plane is in the air.
I had my head down against the wind, was trudging through the gray slop that only yesterday had been magic Christmas snow, and my less-than-stellar mood tanked even more.
We blew through the door to the terminal on a gust of wind and stood there stamping our feet trying to ward off frostbite. The Calvin Klein cashmere coat my mother had bought me for Christmas was trendy and chic and a pointed message that I needed to start wearing grown-up clothes. What it wasn’t was hike-through-the-tundra-approved. Neither were the chunky-heeled, funky boots that came with the coat. I was just now discovering that they weren’t waterproof, but on the positive side, they were giving me blisters.
Why didn’t I just drop her at the door and drive off?
We did the airport shuffle: checking bags, locating IDs, losing IDs and finding them again. At the security checkpoint we started the good-byes and then did a whole other thing instead.
“You have to come and visit. We’ll go out. I know all the cool places in D.C. now. There are some majorly hot guys who would just die if I set them up with you.”
Yeah, that was just what I needed.
Actually, it probably was, but I had given up men for Lent last year and was not looking to change that. While my permanently single status presented certain issues regarding what to do on Friday nights, which cousin or gay friend to bribe into escorting me to weddings and which chick flick to rent for New Year’s Eve, I mostly liked being alone.
“It’s been a year since you and Mac broke up.”
Of course Colleen would choose this moment to probe gently at my psyche with a sledgehammer. My right eye began to twitch. Eighty-one days until St. Patrick’s Day.
Jack McKenna was a Boston city cop. We’d met at a fund-raiser for the newly elected Boston mayor, where one too many glasses of wine, Mac’s crooked grin and his quick wit charmed and captivated me. Against all my better judgment and all the strict rules I’d had against dating men whose professions included a high probability of death—cops, firemen, military guys, armed robbers—we became a thing.
Mac was all guy, all in charge, all the time. It was one of those whirlwind things where you couldn’t catch your breath and often couldn’t find your pants and it was over as quickly as it had begun.
The throbbing started behind my left eye, a sure sign that a migraine was on its way.
Colleen and I did finally hug and say good-bye and I promised to find time to visit. It was just a small lie, the kind that kept us from arguing and me from throttling her right here in the airport. It was the good kind.
Exhaustion, a headache from hell and the thought of walking the nine thousand miles back to my car made me turn left instead of right. I needed pie.
I noticed a familiar face next to the information booth at Terminal B on my way in. His name is Peter-something. The last name will come to me, or I’ll get it as I get closer and can read his name tag.
The last time I saw Pete, he was trying not to look scared while rappelling down the side of a building. I was looking down at him. That’s what rappelling instructors do…look down on their students and tell them that no matter what they think, they are not going to die.
Pete is now a trooper with the Massachusetts State Police, working the holidays and looking pretty bored. He doesn’t see me approach the booth. I get right up next to his gun hand, just in case he gets nervous.
“So, Trooper Johnson, you stopped wetting your pants over heights yet? ”
The quiet, menacing tone of my voice makes him try to step away as he turns to face me. His face registers recognition and relaxes.
“Colonel Gibson. Sir, how are you? ” The rest of it sounds like blah, blah, blah.
“Drop the bullshit, Pete. It’s just me saying hi. So, hi and how the hell are you?”
We make it through the basics. I’ve recently retired from the Army and have my own private security company. Pete Johnson is married, three kids, house in Revere. Things are good.
Pete’s radio squawks; some kind of problem on the runway. Then an announcement is made in a deafening volume over the loudspeaker. The airport is being shut down. No one is to leave. Seconds after the radio call, televisions all over the airport flash news alerts and special reports. Fox News has live pictures of the flight I just put my mother on. It is sitting at the end of the runway.
I beelined for the airport Cheers, which is modeled after the Hollywood version of Cheers, which looks nothing like the real pub located on Beacon Hill. TVs lined the wall, each one tuned to a different twenty-four-hour news station. People talked, bags rolled and banged, the automated no-smoking announcement went on at regular intervals. The sounds combined to form a wall of white noise that was oddly calming and successfully drowning out my crabby mood. Cup of coffee number two doused the headache, the pie and ice cream did away with the pit in my stomach and gradually my shoulders lowered from their holiday-induced, defensive, braced-for-drama position.
Hoping to catch the score of the Celtics game, I scanned the wall of televisions. My eyes focused on the Fox News Alert graphic sliding across one of the screens.
Probably another Los Angeles car chase they’d broadcast for six hours until the idiot running from the cops ran out of gas or plunged into a crowd, killing a family of four. My weakness, when it came to TV, was that I would sit for hours in front of it afraid that if I turned it off I’d miss something important. I fought the urge to get sucked into ridiculousness and lost.
The Fox News Alert graphic was still there, but now there was a caption that read LOGAN AIRPORT and live footage of an airplane on the runway.
The work part of my brain kicked in. Kerrigan sat on the Joint Committee on Intelligence, and Massachusetts was his home state. No matter what this “incident” turned out to be, my vacation was on hold for the foreseeable future while we coordinated statements and drafted next steps.
“Hey! Turn that up,” someone yelled from the other end of the counter.
A round and wrinkled waitress long past caring grabbed a remote and yelled back, “Keep your shorts on.” The New England hospitality made me smile. I was fumbling through my purse looking for a pen and my BlackBerry when the sound came up.
“…details are sketchy at this time, but sources are saying that US Airways Flight 1872 taxied to the end of the runway fifteen minutes ago and came to a stop. There has been no contact with the plane since. Authorities are not commenting on the situation so far, but there is some speculation, since the recent rise in terror alert status, that this will be treated like a…”
Terror alert. Flight 1872. Colleen’s plane. Crap.
I threw money on the counter and almost ran out of the bar.
I rounded the corner trying to find the information booth I’d noticed earlier and almost smacked into a crowd of people. Most of them looked scared, some were crying, others were yelling out questions to the two state police officers who were manning the booth.
Just then a healthy dose of denial showed up.
This is not happening. This is really not happening.
My eyes landed on the man at the front of the line. He looked to be early forties and was obviously military: all muscle, bone-straight posture and an air of being in control. He was leaning over the counter talking to the police, and the police were talking back, obviously exchanging information with him. In the midst of what looked like mass hysteria and pandemonium, he was calm.
Copyright © 2013 by Colonel David Hunt and Christine Hunsinger.
For more information, or to buy a copy, visit:
Colonel David Hunt has spent almost thirty years fighting our nation’s wars, from Vietnam to Bosnia. He is a New York Times bestselling author and has been a commentator with Fox News for ten years. Hunt lives in Maine with his family.
Christine Hunsinger grew up in New Hampshire, where she began volunteering on presidential campaigns. Since then, she has worked for Republican, Democratic, and third-party candidates. She currently serves as Communications Director for independent Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, where she lives with her children, Jacob, Zachary, and Kaileigh.