Hailstones from a Leaden Sky
Chapter 15 – Shiva’s Messenger
Hailstones from a Leaden Sky
The ambulance pulled into position and as usual in a stand-by assignment, the paramedics started a game of cards in the back. They weren’t surprised when solitary Allen declined joining in and preferred to sit in the cab. Seemingly dozing behind his sunglasses, in truth, he was instead watching as people were processed through the gamut of detections and indignities to filter into the square. His carefully pre-selected parking spot afforded an unobstructed view of the main security cordon and a vista of the stage through the rearview mirror.
Numerous times, he caught sight of Agent Beth Withers performing her circumnavigations of the protected regions. Her intricate familiarity of the environs doubtlessly exceeded his by a stretch. His advantage was that after his plan was established, his concentration could narrow to within finite parameters. The range of possible threats for her to guard against encompassed the entire sphere surrounding the site where the president would be vulnerable. Hers was a daunting task that he didn’t envy and when Shiva’s Messenger was successful, it was one where she would face recriminations. He suffered a twinge of guilt over that but this was set in motion long before he even met the lovely security fed.
On several occasions as she neared the emergency vehicle, he casually obscured his face with his nose tucked behind his pocket novel. While her head craned everywhere to see everything, her busy eyes never managed to lock sunglasses onto the one place that would have triggered a suspicious recognition.
In the rearview mirror, Allen could see Judith and he knew her well enough by now to almost hear the thoughts running through her mind in anticipation of the event. Her eagerness to participate in such a well-attended function would be conflicting with a desire to convey the right message. The throng of media in the midst of their preparations would be both a source of ecstasy and consternation. They represented a rare opportunity to expound her message—if still taping at her turn.
Allen saw Judith’s hand nervously searched her pockets for the absent notes. It seemed she actually heeded his last advice. Yes, he thought that she did speak better when not prompted by her prepared text but his suggestion was based more on his wishing to spare her the exhaustion of working on a speech that she wouldn’t have the opportunity to give. As if in thanks for that small kindness, Judith Forrester waved at him and smiled.
Allen’s mind did a fully automatic lurch that jerked his body alert. How could the congresswoman have possibly detected him here? He adjusted the mirror slightly and recognized the trim curves of a tailored dark suit as seen from a delightful angle. The politician was actually greeting Agent Withers where she had taken up station in the wing of the stage, with her rearview towards his mirror.
Having Beth now on the platform was a sure indicator that the show was about to start. The timing for the next phase was nigh.
“Guys,” a look into the back of the ambulance confirmed that the paramedics were still engrossed: he interrupted the card game, “I need to find somewhere to take the boa out for a hiss.”
One of the medics simply waved an offhand affirmative and Allen dissolved into a mingled throng.
The senior congressman for the district was the master of ceremonies and lead speaker for the event. Thomas Albertson was one of the president’s best cronies and was the driving force behind this visit. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he introduced himself with a self-flattering diatribe that was flowery enough for his own eulogy.
Allen turned his attention away from the podium. He moved to the spot where a dumpster partially hid the maintenance door into the Akron Financial Tower Building. This was the tallest structure that bordered the square and there was sure to be a sniper posted in that excellent vantage. There had better be one there or this whole set-up was going to be fruitless.
Unobserved, he slid his fingers into sheer surgical gloves. His master key duplicate gained him entry and he quickly traversed the maintenance passageways to the elevator. Although he entered in the alley door, the building rested on sloping ground and he was technically in the basement. All access to this level required a maintenance key.
He pushed the button to call the only elevator and as he entered it, he used another key on his ring to select the lift console to service mode. His finger depressed the top floor button and Allen ascended in the conveyance that would now only respond to local commands.
Now came the technical part that had required a study of the control schematics and some electrical rewiring. He quickly opened a junction panel and disconnected two wires from the service mode enable unit. He reconnected these to a set of leads coming from a remote location that he had personally installed. The elevator now wouldn’t respond to any buttons until the remote switch was toggled and it would remain in position until Allen decided otherwise. With his modifications completed, he closed the panel and removed the service mode key and the controls looked normal.
Shiva’s Messenger emerged into the upper hallway and found the roof access stairs. His oath’s fulfillment lingered just outside, where it was flirting with his destiny.
On the stage, Judith Forrester felt a secure confidence in her appearance even while fighting her urge to fidget as the cameras swept the stage. Perhaps she could thank her rascally young aide for that. While women wore makeup and fussed over their clothing in order to look good in the eyes of other females, it took a male’s attention to drive in the confirmation. Allen’s sincere sounding offer of intimacy, for whatever his true intentions, was a beneficial form of flattery she was now drawing on for encouragement.
Tom Albertson is such a cretin! As her main party adversary prattled on, Judith paid no heed to his words. She’d heard so many of his eloquent speeches that she had a theory about his method. With a deck of cards, each containing one of his trite phrases, Albertson’s speechwriter needed only a quick shuffle and deal, to put a fresh oration into his hand. Albertson represented everything she despised most in political panorama. With anything involving graft or backroom back scratching, Tom invariably had his snout pushed into it all the way to those curly hairs poking out his ears.
The congresswoman was more interested in hearing the next person on the agenda. Giorgio Martini was a representative of the World Trade Organization, the bureau that embodied the notion that the downtrodden people in emerging nations were just animal fat to grease the shafts of multinational industry. She had read some papers that he had penned. Judith wanted to know if he was the same megalomaniacal despot in person, as he was in his prose.
Allen carefully opened the door and peeked at the concrete roof deck outside. As anticipated, the coast was clear. He skirted the stairwell enclosure wall, to look around at the edge closest to the square. Sure enough, a sniper was in a prone position overlooking the area. Taking several deep, calming breaths and extending a tendril of his awareness to the primal throb of his heartbeat, Shiva’s Messenger was now primed for peak functioning.
From one pocket, he extracted a soft cloth. After twisting off the cap, he liberally doused it with ether from a bottle pinched from the ambulance garage. Taking careful steps, Allen prowled like a jungle cat. He was poised to spring if his quarry detected his stalking. The POTUS sniper heard only the chattering of routine voices in his headset, until it was too late.
With the element of surprise working perfectly to Allen’s advantage, he threw himself onto the prone man and the impact of his weight knocked out the agent’s wind. Pinned with his hands forward on his rifle, the hapless man’s arms were ineffective in offering any defense. Allen clamped the anesthetic rag onto the Secret Serviceman’s mouth and nose, holding it firmly in place until the struggles had subsided. Shiva’s Messenger gave him a few more seconds of the ether just to make sure. So far so good—the federal man hadn’t even seen the assailant’s face before he was rendered unconscious. There were still no witnesses.
Allen took the rifle from the limp hands and removed the POTUS detail headset for his own use. The lurking assassin could now hear the security network as he repositioned into the much better location he’d pre-selected at the corner. He checked the weapon and tested its balance. Of the finest quality, this rifle was obviously well loved and carefully tended. With a smile, he guessed with relative certainty that it would be sighted-in to pinpoint accuracy. The new sniper looked into the scope.
Giorgio Martini ladled out his thickly accented dreary drivel. Judith had expected to find him detestable and now her opinion was completely vindicated. Obviously, Giorgio considered himself to be of the nobility and the underclass owed him their due. It was a surprise that his speech hadn’t used the term feudalism yet. What the WTO did around the world was nothing short of criminal but this man’s draconian views were heinous beyond even that. As Judith watched, Martini finished his prepared text and turned away from the podium.
Congressman Albertson rose quickly from his seat and thanked Giorgio with a friendly handshake. Judith could almost see Tom’s eyes lighting up like a cash register’s display, as he vigorously pumped the WTO rep’s arm like it was the handle of graft well.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” Tom paused dramatically in his moment of reflected luminance, “here comes the moment you all have been waiting for.”
The public address system began a rousing chorus of Hail to the Chief. Amid a fanfare of applause and the strains of the signature song, a man with sandy hair in a tweed suit emerged from the curtains. There he was, Larry Weeds, the President of the United States of America. With a big toothy smile, he waved expansively with both arms open. The trailing knot of the POTUS detail surged like high water cresting over a Levi: they flowed into the stage wings and washed into the crowd beyond.
The assassin’s blue eyes checked his watch in a habitual manner without even noting the time. Time was insignificant. This specific moment would be indelibly etched into history. He lined the crosshairs on the president’s forehead. Just as Kennedy had filled the scope in his dream at the hot spring, so did this president’s face. Time slowed. He tightened his finger on the trigger. John’s blood quickened and his thoughts raced. ‘Am I really ready for this?’ His mind responded with a complete surprise.
The vice-president won’t be there. He’s the worst of the lot.
“Judith said that!” John suddenly recalled a snippet of the conversation with the congresswoman then compared it to one his father said. ‘Kill a president for the right reasons.’ John Fitzgerald was confronted with a ruinous predicament. Was killing a president only to promote a worse vice-president the right reason?
“Father, what’ll I do?” Frantically, John tried to reconcile pulling the trigger but it was to no avail. Judith was correct and the reluctant assassin had to find another way, regardless of how much effort had gone into this scenario. Make the statement anyway!
Larry Weeds took Tom Albertson’s hand. With no discernable arm movement, the greeting was a just protracted handholding. The president smiled with genuine warmth and looked directly into his very dear friend’s cheerful eyes.
John moved the rifle in a fluid motion that brought the crosshairs to rest on his precise target. He squeezed the trigger, and with time seeming slowed, it was as if he could almost trace the track of the bullet as it streaked. That first shot hit Congressman Tom Albertson exactly in the center of his hairline like a supersonic hailstone. The lead precipitation blew blood and grey brain matter out of a freshly created hole in the lower back of his head. The Ohio politician crumpled to the floor with a literal death grip on the American president’s hand.
A bedlam of excited words, like a recording from an elementary school recess but with post-pubescent voices, erupted from the earpiece. The Secret Service’s training regimen includes radio discipline but in these first seconds each sought to tell, that which all others already knew. It was simply background music to Shiva’s Messenger as he fired a second aimed shot that took Giorgio Martini in the peak of his forehead. The bullet, like a WTO infusion of capital, entered his skull like a developing nation. Also similarly, the slug mushroomed inside and explosively tore a much larger exit hole at the base of his skull, as profiteering in a ravaged economy does. Buffeted by the shock of his terminal globalization, the vacant remains of Giorgio Martini heeled backwards off his chair.
Beth was sprinting towards Larry Weeds when Martini’s head burst like an exploding cantaloupe. That wasn’t her first concern. The president was still standing and stupidly staring down at his lifeless friend on the ground. He still held the dead Tom’s arm aloft. Agent Withers stepped hurriedly in against the president’s back to shelter what the size of her body would allow. She wrapped an arm around his waist and tried to march her charge to the safety of the stage wings—but he thwarted her effort.
The president turned his head to the girl’s determined face and he panicked. Larry Weeds dove for the floor onto hands and knees but sprawled on his face, as his outstretched palm slipped in the blood, gore and tissue that used to be Albertson’s living brain.
The remaining speakers, save Judith, dropped off their chairs to cower on the floor where in fact, there was no cover from the elevated gunman. Rushing recklessly from her seat, she attempted to do something for the WTO representative who was already beyond all help. She cradled his head but found the back portion of it gone and his unblinking eyes stared lifelessly into hers. Gently closing his eyelids, Judith set the devastated skull back down and she rose to her feet.
Secret Serviceman Bart Jefferson spotted the second muzzle flash and observed Beth Withers covering the president. Other agents were also scurrying to assist her. Bart shouted into his headset for men to accompany him to the Akron Financial Building. The bulk of the POTUS detail was already in action to make a swift getaway for their charge.
Up in the sniper’s nest, John took aim at his next victim, who was trying to hide under a chair. District Attorney Evan Masters was a rising young comet in the Republican Party. His entire life had been devoted to soaring in politics and he knew what manipulations were required to get him there. Since his heart was comprised mostly of ice and rock, he had no problems in doing whatever was necessary. In his luminous wake were the vaporized remains of the people that had fueled his meteoric ascent. His chosen trajectory might’ve been the seat that Judith now held but now at the very zenith of his career, Evan was only headed for perigee with a stainless steel cadaver tray in the morgue.
John Fitzgerald, a different kind of shooting star, sent his next lead projectile through the cowlick of Evan Masters’ hair and it exited out much larger hole punched in his forehead. Since he was already cowering on his hands and knees, the DA’s lifeless husk had only a short freefall to the splashdown on the stage deck.
Completely in the zone, John concentrated on his breathing. He swung his muzzle gracefully to trace the actions of his next target. This one took extra care, as the sniper had to wait for the victim to adopt a conducive pose for his precise shot.
The periphery of the scope showed him that several Secret Service John Wayne types had their service revolvers out and were trying to pick him off of the 14th story roof. Shiva’s Messenger seriously doubted that any of them had given thought to what gravity was going to do with lead bullets as they tried to climb up the 14 floors. If one of the agents managed to allow enough of an arc to actually hit him, it wasn’t a problem. The bullet wouldn’t even have the inertia left to penetrate his skin.
His only real worry would’ve been the snipers on neighboring buildings. However, with his position being higher and by moving to a place where he was effectively shooting down and around the corner, none of those could even see him.
Congresswoman Judith Forrester cast about at the stage in pandemonium. The gruesome scene caused her to grasp her head with both bloodied hands in horror. She looked at the rooftop to see the source of the deadly metal precipitation in time to watch a slight puff of gun smoke. A slamming impact on Judith’s upper chest, threw her against the rear of the stage. With carnage all around, it was now her turn. Is this what it feels like to die? Judith slid down the wall into blackness.
In the audience, people screamed till breath was gone, only to gasp and then shriek again. Many dived for a nonexistent cover. Camera crews defied their personal danger to film a cataclysmic event that would shape their future careers. Pulitzer Prizes could be made of this stuff.
“Can I dare risk repositioning the camera?” One such location producer with accolades on his mind, considered the difficulty in a shot at the shooter. The mount wouldn’t swing to such an oblique angle. They could tip the whole unit but it would be shaky. He took a glance over at his competition. I could have an exclusive. “But I’ve also got a great location for so many other compelling visuals.”
“I’ll give you two thousand dollars for that camera.” He spied a woman holding a video camera.
“No way. This could be valuable.” She patted her unit.
“There are professional crews here so yours is worth squat. But I’m in news and know exactly what will sell and who’ll buy it. “I’ll make it four thousand.”
She traded the item for his driver’s license and promise.
He wedged the camera against the truck to steady it as well as possible and zoom to the maximum. The assassin’s hands on the rifle and the scope at his eye obscured most of his face. Much could be done to enhance digital imagery but the subject was a long way away and it wasn’t a professional mega-pixel camera. “It’ll be nearly as fuzzy as the Zapruder 8mm film from Dallas but I’ve got it.”
On top of the Akron Financial building, John had now tagged everyone that he intended to shoot, except the president. He was completely satisfied with the precision of the weapon and in his own deadly accuracy with it. Raising the rifle, he found the triggering mechanism of the sunlight-recording instrument under the flowerbox on third floor balcony in the opposite building.
“Sorry Agnes, but I didn’t say that it would be completely unobtrusive.” The people needed to see his signature on this event. John fired and hit his target exactly as aimed. The steel clasp flipped back and released the hinged bottom of the box. The carefully prepared 20 x 3 foot wide, cloth banner that unfurled down the side of the building held a single short sentence.
‘Shiva’s Messenger has spoken.’
John scanned the stage once more through his scope to assess his triumph. Several Secret Service agents had taken the president by the arms and were pulling him upright. The stunned politician was only marginally cooperating and the progress of getting him off the platform had come to a temporary halt. I won’t kill him yet, but I can give a nasty flesh wound. John recalled the bear that rushed him near Fort Nelson. I’ll be the wasp that stings the butt and we’ll see what rash actions it provokes. He centered the crosshairs and firmly squeezed. Wait! A screen of charcoal turned his vision to monochrome.
A pulled trigger can’t be pushed back. An interposing body obscured his target and the firing pin struck the primer. A POTUS detail agent, performing the ultimate duty, had leaped in front of a bullet to protect the president. With a shriek of anguish, Beth Withers collapsed under the onslaught of an unintended slug.
Bart and his men roared around the Akron Financial Building and into the front foyer. They had picked up a few of the local police strays along the way. At the front of the elevator, Bart glanced at the indicator that showed the lift at the top floor. With terse instructions in the radio, two teams were dispatched to ascend the stairwells and check floors on the way up.
Satisfied with his speedy preparations, Bart stabbed his finger into the elevator call button, half expecting it not to respond. Surely, the assassin would have wanted it for a rapid decent from the nest. He was surprised when the light bar showed the lift answering.
The Senior Secret Service agent pulled his weapon and aimed directly where the doors would slide open but it was empty. Ten men crowded into the small space and ascended to the topmost floor. The roof access door was securely locked but it sundered to a solid shoulder. Like buffalo stampeding from a narrow canyon, the herd of agents and officers thundered up the stairs and forked at the roof deck to circle back around the stair shed on both sides.
“Don’t shoot!” Bart rounded the corner and noticed the sniper had relocated to different position. His order came just a fraction too late. A shot echoed and the rifleman’s prone body jerked as a slug hit the upper thigh. The rifleman didn’t even twitch.
“Hold your fire!” The Secret Service senior officer hollered again. Jefferson ran to the roof’s edge and pushed his boot under the sniper. Seven other feet volunteered in the effort of rolling the man. There was the still peacefully sleeping face of Jack Logan.
“He’s one of ours.” The Secret Services senior officer stared a volley of bullets at the eager beaver cop who obviously wanted his name in the history books for shooting a presidential assassin. “And you,” Bart pointed an accusing finger at him, “are going to send him a case of good liquor as an apology for the needless leg wound.”
Shiva’s messenger stood up and fishing into his shirt pocket, he removed a spent shell casing in a small plastic bag. The brass didn’t match either the form or caliber of the strewn others but it didn’t have to. It carried a specific missive that would be received exactly as intended. This small shiny item would be read as clearly as the 20-foot banner.
He sprinted back to the roof access door but looped around to put the rifle back with its true owner. That ploy as a deception might gain me a few vital seconds. He then bolted down two flights of stairs to the floor second from the top. John jimmied open the elevator door and grabbed the rope sling he’d secured under the elevator cab during his last shift at the building. He jerked free his pry bar and the door slid shut, enclosing him in silent semi-darkness.
The clever assassin toggled the remote switch to enable the elevator and listened in his headset to a Secret Service commander ordering his men up the stairs. The lift began to descend and with thumbs up and holding the rope, he was hitching a free ride down.
As the elevator stopped at the main level to pick passengers up, one floor down a rider was now dropping off. John heard the many heavy feet shuffle in above and it covered any sound of his levering doors open into the basement. As the conveyance carrying Bart and his men sped upwards, the assassin emerged into the basement hallway.
While the pursuit team headed up to the roof, the assassin moved quickly to the rear entrance and slipped out the alley door. He stripped off his gloves and tucked them into his pocket. ‘Never toss your latex gloves: they carry a full set of your prints inside.’ The ambulance driver returned to his duties.
“Sniper is on the run!” Bart called into his headset. “I repeat—sniper is on the run. No one is to get in or out.” He looked quickly around the rooftop area and counted seven spent casings. Seven? His mind raced back through events he had seen, heard and caught on his earpiece radio. There should be only six.
“Get a forensic team up to this rooftop immediately.”
Agent Jefferson peered over the building’s lip at the mayhem below. He couldn’t help but to be morbidly impressed by the ideal location Shiva’s Messenger had chosen. Outlines of crimson blood haloed the deceased when viewed from this angle like macabre artwork. One ragged brushstroke of red, slashed across the canvas of the stage, showed where Larry Weeds had been dragged through Tom Albertson’s gore.
The president was already on the way to safety but how could he have been miraculously spared amid such a deadly ambush? The POTUS should have been killed first. What possible point could there be in orchestrating such a masterful plot and then not snatching for the biggest brass ring?
“You decided to play ball instead of watching it on TV.” Bart looked at the banner, where it was fluttering in the slight breeze.
Even with the president still alive, the effect of this attack would be devastating on the Secret Service. Bart shuddered to think about the supreme shit-storm that was black on the horizon. He was a 23-year veteran and he had never seen one that would match it. There was no umbrella big enough to protect everyone from the looming deluge. Beth Withers was probably going to get washed away in the flood of reproach. If she survived her gunshot wound, Beth was going to have to face another series of blasts and nothing could protect her.
“Hell,” Bart vocalized his thoughts, “I may end up standing in the kill zone myself.”
Screams had jolted the paramedics away from their card game. Their reactions honed by countless emergencies, they flew into action assessing the casualties and administering intervention to the only two who could be saved. With only simple, single injuries, both women were rapidly packaged onto the gurneys and wheeled to the awaiting ambulance.
“Let’s roll!” Slamming the back door, the lead medic shouted.
Allen Wright already had the engine running and his gloved hand on the steering wheel. Selecting ‘wail’ on the siren, he drove away with all possible speed. Now almost a veteran driver with the experience of numerous emergency calls, he only slowed once to be ushered through the police cordon. In the back, the conscious woman was protesting. Live and kicking ones always made the most fuss, so the attendants hadn’t loosened her gurney restraints. The patient could only curse to professionally deaf ears.
After discharging their duties to the Emergency department staff, the ambulance crew was finished with their shift. The assignment ended abruptly and in chaos, but the event was over and they were now off watch. Having missed just about everything while they were absorbed in their game, they glued themselves to the set to see it. Nobody expected the aloof driver to join in, and he didn’t disappoint.
Shiva’s Messenger now couldn’t think of a single thing standing between him and an entirely successful getaway. He would drive to somewhere quiet and destroy the remaining evidence in his car. Allen Wright, like Allen Powers, could vanish leaving only his names and the few people he had brushed briefly past. He had nothing left to do in Akron except to look at it in his rearview mirror.
[A Murudeva asks for a cosmic dance duel.]
“Can’t you just give me strait instructions?” Instinctively, Allen began his breathing exercises. A police cruiser had squirted off an on ramp and was accelerating like a nitro-fueled dragster.