There was another round of smiles in the emergency center as the remaining lights came on. Offsite power was back. Tarelli returned from the radio room, and Steve saw the red golf shirt on his second-in-command was soaked with sweat.
“Plume's breaking up well,” Tarelli reported.
“Is there any chance of another release?” Steve said. “Any way we could burp out more gas?”
“I don't think so. Basically, ARAFS is running fine, and we're not moving steam around any more.”
“So what's the in-plant situation?”
“Well, it could be a lot worse. Still airborne in most of the reactor building, but rad levels are dropping.”
“Good.” Steve knew it might be hours, or days, or weeks before the staff could re-enter some areas without masks or anti-c’s. But things were headed in the right direction. “Let’s get a plan together to clean up. Then we’ll figure out what happened.” And where did we go wrong? Why didn’t the diesel start? A loose connection from the last overhaul? Dripping coolant causing a short? And the STurDI systems: Poor maintenance? Did we push a work crew too hard? – did they make mistakes? Did we train them right? So many questions.
Rounding a Brixton residential corner in his squad car, Joel saw a vehicle blocking most of the street. The car was dented, and two men were arguing beside it, with a cluster of people nearby. Even before he had climbed out, the police officer could hear the men screaming:
“... stupid fucking thing to do! Watch the road!”
“Fuck you! If you'd kept going ...”
“Phil, stop it!” a woman said. “Let's take the other car and get out of here!” A young girl beside her was crying.
Joel approached the two adversaries. One had a pronounced height advantage. “You'll be paying!” the taller man said.
“Hell if I will! I show you what...” The shorter man lunged and took a clumsy swing that caught his opponent in the chest.
“Stop! Now!” Joel ordered, as the men reached out to grab one another. The policeman shoved himself between the two combatants. “NO ... MORE!”
“He wrecked my car!” the shorter man said, pointing to a second dented vehicle in a driveway.
“Looks like you did each other’s,” Joel said. Get them calmed down. “Now just relax.” Cautiously, he put his arms down. “You've had an accident here. I can see that.”
“He backed into me!” the taller man said.
“Daddy, I'm afraid!” the little girl cried. “Let's go!”
Joel looked hard at the taller man, and spoke with authority. “Right now, at this moment, I don't care who did what. We can sort that out later. I'll take your names, and then you go. Understand?”
The man's fierce glare softened a little. He nodded. “Okay.”
Joel looked at the other adversary.
“Yeah,” he said, waving his hands. “Fine by me.”
“Thanks.” Wendell stepped aside for his replacement, then weaved his way through clumps of personnel. Weariness flooded over him. For a while at least, he could give in to the fatigue. Wash up. Get a drink. In the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face. The chill felt good. Looking up, he saw his reflection in the mirror, his copper hair darkened with sweat, his blue eyes dulled by shock and exhaustion. Wendell stared back at the taut face, following a drop of water as it streamed past the freckles on his cheek. In a little while, when things had really calmed down, he would try calling around to find Karen.
At his desk, Wendell checked the log book. The last entry was his own:
“2:42. Lost backup offsite power (east line). LD says down a few miles from plant. Dispatched operator to check onsite readings. W.A.”
He thought back to the moment. He had just finished writing when the lights had gone out. The night's events then became a jumbled collection of images enveloped in tension, anger, and fear. Darkness. Alarms. A scram. An isolation. No diesels, STurDI-1, STurDI-2. Wendell grimaced. The water over the fuel had kept boiling away…
Wendell closed his eyes and thought of what lay ahead. Questions. Endless reviews. Hearings. And when that was finished? He was twenty-eight years old. He had been at
The truck came to a halt at the outskirts of Brixton, six miles from Fairview Station. On one side of the street, framed by the brightening eastern sky, were new suburban homes, while across the road a plowed field stretched back toward a distant line of trees. Not far beyond those woods, Carol knew, a plume of radioactive gas was drifting invisibly towards them. It was more than a mile wide now, its radiation level creeping down towards five milli-rem per hour.
Carol studied the well-kept houses, each with a wide driveway of asphalt and a yard of fresh sod. The neighborhood looked as peaceful as one would expect for an early Sunday morning. But the sound of blaring sirens that seeped through the windows told a different story.
Minutes passed, and there was only the occasional background click from the geiger counter. Carol wished the cloud would arrive so she could quiet her mind with work. She had asked over the radio if
The radio came to life, announcing the state of
“Fine,” Carol murmured. Searching for a distraction, she peered over at the nearest house, and was surprised to see a woman, gray hair draped across the shoulders of her bathrobe, staring out from a window. Her face spoke of terror. Carol looked back into the frightened eyes. It’s all right. It’s going to be all right.
FIGURE D (Radiation)
Time: 5:15 a.m.
Time From Start of Event: 144 minutes
Reactor Level (above Fuel): 211 inches (stable)
The impending sunrise colored the sky as Paul waited beside the patrol car, hands thrust into his jacket. Up ahead there was a huddle around another of the vehicles. All were parked along a plowed field, beyond which lay a well-lit intersection where a street branched off and turned up a hill. Homes lined both sides of the inclined road. There was nothing unusual about the place, Paul thought. A typical small subdivision. Except John Donner lived there.
The map was spread out on the hood, and Liz studied it along with Kreveski and Taylor Winn, now relieved of his stakeout duties. Behind them, two uniformed policemen and a plain-clothes detective also peered at the sketch. Liz had studied the officers closely when she was introduced. Steadiness and calm were needed now, not some gung-ho types. The men seemed to fit the bill.
Kreveski pointed with a weathered finger. “Donner's home is here -- eight houses up, almost to the top, on our side of the road. It's a small one-story with an attached garage. The neighbors on either side are blocked off by a wooden fence about my height. The suspect's yard is open to the back. There’s a strip of field and then these woods.” The senior agent moved his finger from mark to mark. “We've got two officers in place: one in the woods behind, and the other in our car across the street.” He turned back to the three policemen. “Two more of you go up the hill.”
“Me and Frank go,” the detective said. He looked at the third man. “Bobby, you stay. Keep an eye on us.”
“Now here's what you do,” Kreveski said. “One goes up the far side of the street, behind the houses.” The agent pointed across the intersection.
“Frank, you got that,” the detective said.
Liz turned to the officer. “Understand, you and the guy sitting in our car up there are the first backups. Anything goes wrong and you move in. Quick.”
“Detective,” Kreveski said, “you and I will go up to the house just below Donner's.” He gestured at the nearest line of homes climbing the hill. “Then I'll move on into his backyard if I can.”
“Walt, I figured I'd do that,” Winn said. “You and Liz can make the arrest out front.”
“That's how I had it figured, too” Liz said. Senior agent gets it.
“No, let the old hunter do the sneaking around,” Kreveski said with a grin. “You two bring him in. It'll look good on your records. Doesn't matter to me -- I'm about done with all this stuff anyway.”
Liz looked over at Winn. The tall, black agent shrugged. “It's what the man wants.”
Liz folded up the map. “That’s it then. Let's go.”
Paul remained at a discrete distance, hearing enough to know that Donner's home was out of view, near the top of the incline. This will really be something. An officer headed toward the intersection, stopping to peer around the house on the corner. After a moment, he darted behind a large tree near the street, then sprinted across the pavement until he was again screened from the hilltop. The policeman gave a quick wave and disappeared. Two more figures now moved away. In the lead was an older man wearing a dark blue windbreaker with FBI in bold yellow letters on the back. The two came to the corner home's back yard, turned, and started up the hill. Nearby, a dog began barking.
Liz stood with Winn and the remaining officer, watching Kreveski and the detective fade into the twilight. “Won't take him long,” Winn said, as he adjusted the wire running from his earphone to the walkie-talkie in his overcoat. “Walt can move pretty quick when he wants to.”
“Good.” Liz cradled her own radio, drumming her fingers against the case.
“Quite a feat, you finding this guy,” Winn said. “It was hard to keep from going after the bastard right when he drove up.”
“I can imagine.” Liz looked at the darkened hillside. “The evidence just came together. I had a lot of help.” She took a few slow, deep breaths. But her concerns remained. Was Donner suspicious? Would he come to the door? His house lights were on, and Liz assumed he was following the news about Fairview Station. Maybe he'd just give up quietly. Act confused and play dumb. ...Yes ... that's probably how it would go. She grabbed her purse off the car hood and slung it across her right shoulder. Opening the bag, she felt for her revolver.
Kreveski picked his way along the edge of the back yards, the detective close behind. The dog near the bottom of the hill continued to bark. “One more house after this, and then Donner's,” the agent whispered. “It's a little white place. You peel off as we pass by the next yard. Cover the side fence.”
The detective nodded, and the two moved ahead in a crouch. A dozen more steps and Kreveski signaled the officer to take his position. The senior agent then crept forward to the rear of Donner’s lot, behind the metal garden shed of a neighbor. The small outbuilding was pressed up against the tall wooden fence that separated the two yards. From the corner of the shed a few loose strands of barbed wire stretched up the incline across the back of Donner's property. Another high, wooden fence marked the uphill edge of the lot. Kreveski peered into Donner's back yard. The twilight revealed a deck attached to the rear of the house, with bushes surrounding it, and a tree nearby. No lights were visible in the rear rooms, and the curtains were drawn, but there was a faint glow. He ducked back and keyed his radio. “Kreveski. In position. Looks quiet. Over.”
“This is Rezhnitsky,” came the response in the earphone. “Understood. All posts in position. We're coming up. Repeat, final team is coming up.”
Liz opened her purse and crammed her walkie-talkie in next to the revolver. Resting her hand atop the bag's loose flap, she looked at Winn. “Let’s do it.”
The remaining patrolman followed the two agents until all had reached the corner house, then he peeled off as Liz and Winn headed up the sidewalk. “You think Donner had something to do with
Liz peered up the incline at the homes lining both sides of the street. “It had to be him. Too many coincidences.”
“Crazy thing to do.”
“Risky, yes. But hard to say crazy. We just got the right information at the right time.” Liz thought back over the case, and shook her head. “I don't know. They must have believed he could get away with it.”
Halfway up the hill, a terrier that had been asleep under a porch suddenly rushed out, barking. His chain yanked him back.
“Shhhh,” Winn said. “We're the good guys.”
Waiting by the cars parked around the corner, Paul soon lost sight of the two agents. At the intersection, the lone police officer dashed out and took cover behind a large tree close to the street. He could probably see Donner's house from there. What would the arrest be like? Would they kick the door down? Would Donner fight back? After all, he was a dangerous fugitive. He'd smuggled drugs and killed an FBI agent. Paul debated whether he should move in closer but thought better of it. He’d stay out of the way. Both the FBI's -- and John Donner's.
The lights of an approaching vehicle glared in Paul's eyes. The patrol car cruised by the entrance to the cul-de-sac, where the officer behind the tree gave it a signal, then continued beyond Paul before pulling over. A patrolman and a man in street clothes got out. “Where's the FBI?” the man asked Paul.
“They just headed up the street to make an arrest.”
“I'm the chief of police,” the man said. “Who are you?”
“Paul Hendricks. I came with the FBI. I can identify the guy they're after.”
“Just stay here,” the chief said. The two men headed towards the intersection, but stopped before they passed the corner house when the officer behind the tree motioned for them to go no further.
End Post 35
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
Vitaly peeked through the front curtains.