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Excerpts - Nine Minutes Eleven Seconds - Chapter 3

Blue Smoke


Nine Minutes Eleven Seconds
Excepts

3

The black Suburban streaked up the B-W Parkway, headed north out of D.C. in mid-morning traffic. Windows blacked-out, bristling with antennas, the unmarked SUV weaved in and out of the HOV lane with impunity, passing cars left and right at high speed. 

Lead Special Agent Niles rode in the backseat of the fast-moving SUV, phone cradled to his ear. “I keep tellin’ you, Dixon: no need to send a car every time we have a sit-down – FBI has its own damn cars.” He purposely emphasized his Southern accent, with its distinct Louisiana drawl, so his last word sounded more like ‘caws.’

Dixon laughed. “Yeah, but our caws go faster.”

That made Niles chuckle. “See y’all shortly.” He pocketed his phone and glanced at the instrument panel. “Eighty-five…?” That was pushing it, even for him. “I’d like to get there in one piece, if y’all don’t mind.”

The driver and his partner riding shotgun ignored him.

Niles returned his attention to the file open on his lap. The title page of the dog-eared document stared up at him: ‘The Evil that Men Do.’ 

He tapped the author’s last name thoughtfully a few times, his fingertip tracing lightly across the letters, then he turned the page and began to read.

Perimeter security at Fort Meade, the sprawling Army installation that is home to the National Security Agency, is always understandably tight and deliberately intimidating, but the four heavily-armed Marines manning the first checkpoint waved the Suburban through without stopping the vehicle to check the occupants. Same thing at Checkpoints Two and Three; just waved through. Niles half-smiled; that’s why Dixon always sent the car.

The Suburban pulled up in front of the headquarters building, a ten-story cube-shaped tower covered with black one-way glass. A Marine Corporal waiting in the driveway opened the rear door, “Agent Niles, welcome to Fort Meade. Follow me, please.”


The Marine Corporal stood by in the reception area as Niles stepped through the body scanner and exchanged his Glock and smartphone for a clip-on visitor badge.

Niles and the Corporal strode briskly through the main tower lobby to a bank of elevators. The Corporal placed his palm on a scanner and punched in a code on the keypad. The middle elevator’s doors whirred open. The Marine waited until Niles entered the car, then snapped to attention, “Thank you, sir.”

Instead of going up, the elevator began to descend, rapidly picking up speed, faster and faster, for a good thirty seconds.

“Jesus!” Niles exclaimed as his ears popped; the drop got him every time. He’d lost count of how many trips he’d made in this elevator with no buttons or screen, but he’d never gotten used to how thrill-ride fast he was transported to the SCIF who knew how deep underground. 

When the elevator finally eased to a stop and the doors opened, two well-armed Marines were waiting for him.

“Welcome back to the Fort, Agent Niles,” said one. “This way please.”

The Marines escorted Niles at a rapid clip down the long, softly-lit subterranean corridor to the end, stopping in front of an oversized, reinforced steel door. Niles removed his glasses and stepped up to a wall scanner. The red beam swept across his eyes. 

“How’s that baby?” asked Niles.

“Getting big, sir,” beamed the Marine. “Starting to crawl.”

A green light blinked and the door locks were released.

Niles donned his glasses. “He’ll be lookin’ for a little brother soon.”

The Marine cracked a smile, “Yes, sir. Working on it.” He signaled his fellow soldier, who pulled the eight-inch-thick door open with both hands. 

“Good to see you again, sir.” The Marine motioned to Niles, “They’re waiting for you.”

“Good to see you, too, son.” 

The Marines stood at attention. Niles stepped past them into the chamber. 

The two soldiers pushed the door closed until it locked with a heavy click, then took up position on either side.  

January 2025

xx

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