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John Gilstrap

Threat warning

CHAPTER ONE

Colleen Devlin tried her best to blend in with the commuting crowd, hoping that the long black coat and the stocking cap pulled tight around her ears wouldn’t provoke some cop or citizen do-gooder to intervene. After all the training and all the talking, it was finally time to pull the trigger. Literally.

The frigid wind off the Potomac River braced her for what lay ahead, as if by chilling her skin she could likewise chill her nerves. It wasn’t that she was afraid of dying-if it came to that, she’d do what she had to do-but rather that she was afraid of failure. Brother Michael had prepared them for the variables of battle, the thousand complications that render the most careful planning useless once the violence begins. If that happened- when that happened-she prayed that she would have the resolve and the resourcefulness to adapt. It was about keeping her head.

The Army of God was counting on her. They’d blessed her with their faith, their trust in her abilities. There could be no greater sin than to let them down.

She moved as she imagined a commuter would, her eyes ahead and her stride purposeful, a lone pedestrian on this cold November evening, strolling on the sidewalk, separated from the sea of oncoming headlights by a waist- high Jersey barrier. If it were two hours from now, or two hours ago, the traffic here on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, one of only two crossings on the Capital Beltway that linked Virginia and Maryland, would have been breezing along at sixty miles an hour, creating a windstorm of its own. Here at six-fifteen, however, the rush-hour traffic moved at barely a crawl, a walker’s pace, as the money worshippers left their resource-guzzling offices via their resource-guzzling automobiles to eat dinner with their families in their resource-guzzling homes. Colleen’s eyes watered from the cold, distorting the approaching train of headlights into as many shimmering stars, an endless serpent of greed. They were all Users. And they were in for one heck of a surprise.

Colleen’s Bushmaster 5.56-millimeter assault rifle felt like raw power, slung muzzle down from her right armpit. She affected a limp to keep it from poking out through the vent of her coat. Loaded with a thirty-round magazine to which a second thirty-round mag was taped for quick reloading, her most devastating damage would be inflicted in the first fifteen seconds. The first mag would be spent in three-round bursts aimed at the drivers’ half of the windshields, followed immediately by the second mag, which would be expended in a spray-and-slay raking motion. These shots would be unaimed and random, with the muzzle always a tick or two below horizontal to increase the likelihood of scoring hits.

The remaining two mags in the pockets of her well-concealed ballistic vest would be used only in support of her escape. If that didn’t go well-if capture seemed imminent-she’d… well, she wouldn’t need more than one bullet for that, would she?

This is what God must feel like, Colleen thought, and then she was instantly sorry for the blasphemy. But it was true. People would live or die at her whim. The ultimate power lay in her hands.

Her Bluetooth earpiece buzzed, startling her. She pressed the CONNECT button. “Yes,” she said.

“Are you in position?” It was Brother Stephen. The fact of his call meant that he had taken up position on the opposite end of the bridge, the Maryland end.

Colleen felt her heart rate double. “I am,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“I’ll see you at the Farm when it’s over.”

The line went dead. It was time.

Colleen threw open her coat and brought the weapon to her shoulder.

Man, you should have seen the look on the first driver’s face.

Jonathan Grave shifted his B MW M 6 into neutral to give his clutch leg a rest. “Next time I say yes to tickets,” he said, “remind me that I hate traffic.”

Next to him, Father Dom D’Angelo shrugged. “I offered to drive.”

“You drive a piece of shit.” He flashed a smile. “No offense.”

Dom laughed. “The diocese looks askance at priests who drive sports cars.”

“Surely God wants his representatives in better wheels than a Kia,” Jonathan said. “I think I read somewhere that Satan drives a Kia.” The car in front moved six feet, and Jonathan eased forward to keep up. “Isn’t rush hour supposed to go the other way?”

“I have a theory that rush hours just are,” Dom said. “There’s no why or rationale to them. Monday Night Football doesn’t help.”

The Washington Redskins were scheduled to do battle with the Dallas Cowboys tonight at FedEx Field, and Jonathan had scored a couple of club-level seats. A lifelong ’Skins fan-despite their shameful failures in recent years-Jonathan remained forever hopeful that a winning season was possible. Clearly that wasn’t going to happen this year, but games against the Cowboys were like Super Bowls unto themselves. A win against them could counter the humiliation of a four-and-twelve season.

Well, almost.

“If I had to sit in this traffic every day, I think I’d-”

Sharp, staccato hammering drew his attention to his left. The instant he heard it, Jonathan recognized it as automatic-weapons fire. Close range, 5.56-millimeter ammunition-the same NATO round used in every U.S. theater of operation since the 1970s. He reacted reflexively, cupping Dom’s neck at the spot where it joined his skull and pushing him toward the floor. “Down!” he shouted.

Dom said something in protest, but Jonathan didn’t care. He scanned the horizon for an escape route for the BMW, established that there weren’t any, then slapped the transmission into neutral and pulled the parking brake.

To his left, on the opposite span of the bridge, he saw a man die. He saw the spray of powdered glass, followed an instant later by the spray of pulverized brain matter. Then it happened again to a car adjacent to the first one.

“Stay on the floor,” Jonathan commanded. Not waiting for an answer, he shouldered open his door and rolled out onto the roadway. One clueless idiot blew his horn at him, clearly unaware that he was part of a mass murder in progress. Jonathan ripped open the zipper to his jacket with his left hand while his right hand found the grip of the customized Colt 1911. 45 that always rode high on his hip, cocked and locked. He drew it.

Across the way, on the southbound span, the shooter continued to unload dozens of bullets into the line of commuters, and on Jonathan’s northbound stretch, people were just beginning to catch on. They leaned on their horns and several rammed each other in their haste to get out of the way. Panic blossomed around him, but for now he didn’t care. If he could shoot the shooter, the panic would subside on its own. If he could not, then maybe it would be justified. When there’s nowhere for victims to run, a man with a rifle can inflict amazing damage.

This particular shooter was not moving. Jonathan couldn’t see him yet, but he could tell from the ripples of gunfire. He weaved through the jammed traffic, scanning the horizon for a target. As he passed a pickup truck, the driver threw his door open and yelled, “Hey! What do you think-”

“Stay out of my way,” Jonathan barked. “Get down.” What about this situation did people not understand?

As he turned the corner on the far side of a paneled van bearing the logo of a pastry company, Jonathan got his first glimpse of the shooter. He was tall and skinny and draped in one of those flowing black coats that seemed to have become the uniform of murderers. From his bone structure, he could even have been a girl. Jonathan’s mind registered that he was young and white, but the glare of headlights made features difficult to discern.

But that didn’t matter because the shooter was changing magazines, and he was not especially adept at it. The muzzle of his rifle-a Bushmaster, Jonathan now saw-was pointed harmlessly to the sky as he fumbled the effort to flip his quick-load mag. The shooter would never be more vulnerable.

Jonathan gauged the distance at forty yards, too far for a reliable shot to the head, so he took aim at the center of mass-the shooter’s chest-and he squeezed off two rounds.

Colleen had never seen anything so beautiful. It was just as Brother Michael had told her it would be. It was

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