The first bomb exploded in New Jersey. The minivan had been one of many
vehicles stretching away from the elementary school, and the detonation
occurred just as the van reached the main entrance at dismissal time.
The blast wave tore through students and teachers and parents. Above the
school on a pole, an American flag fluttered in the warm breeze as metal
and glass sliced open flesh.
She grasped at her stomach, staggering in pain.
The plate glass windows of the diner shattered inward, becoming daggers
that stabbed at the helpless customers. Blood streaked the walls and
people lay sprawled among the tables, bleeding and butchered.
“Sandy?” One of the other waitresses took hold of her arm.
The vision faded. Wincing, she straightened. “I’m okay, really.”
She forced herself to smile at the older woman. “That time of the
month for me. A cramp. I’m fine.”
A customer beckoned from a booth and the older woman hurried for a pot
The pain built. She knew it was not a pain that one could survive.
She didn’t bother to remove the apron or nametag. The diner’s
manager chased her into the parking lot, threatening her job. She gave
him the finger.
As she drove, she struggled to concentrate on the road and ignore the
pain building inside her. Fire trucks and ambulances raced past her car.
She parked several blocks from the elementary school on a neighborhood
side street. A few people stood on front porches, crying. Many others
rushed towards the sirens. She hurried with them onto school grounds.
A wall of air shimmered and she stepped through it. The line of vehicles
stretched away from the main entrance. The van slowed. Children with
backpacks streamed from the school, some holding art projects. Parents
milled about on the warm spring day. She studied the license plate and
walked up to the driver. He was young and thin, with dark hair and a
trace of a mustache.
She could watch, but not intervene, in the past.
“We will meet someday,” she told him, as he reached to the seat
beside him and threw a switch.
The van buckled and inflated like a balloon, rose off the ground and
then popped. The driver’s face melted as he was incinerated. She
watched each piece of metal and plastic and glass as it tore free of the
van and hurtled through space.
The kindergarten teacher had been walking away from the entrance,
leading a few of her tiny charges to a waiting bus. The shock wave flung
her backward and slammed her into the brick wall of the school building.
Metal shards drove into her guts.
The air shimmered. Paramedics hunched over children and adults, tending
to grievous wounds. A man sat on the grass by the flagpole, most of his
left arm and leg gone. Blood flowed onto wet grass. He held a woman’s
The air reverberated with screams.
Sandy knelt beside the kindergarten teacher.
“I thought of you,” her friend whispered, blood spraying from her
lips and coating her teeth. “In my mind, I called out for you. My
Sandy looked at the tiny, broken bodies on the grass. “They are
gone,” she said. “I’m sorry.” Her friend began to cry.
A rescue worker examined the wounds and caught Sandy’s eyes. A
negative shake of the head, and he moved to aid another victim.
“Can you help me?” her friend asked, her time so short. “Please -
so that I can see him again. Help me. Please.”
The blade sprung from the handle. Sandy leaned forward as if to listen
to last words, and no one saw the blade passing between ribs and finding
her friend’s heart.
The pain faded from the schoolteacher as her final tears rolled down her
cheeks. “Thank you,” she whispered, and died.
Sandy palmed the blade. From the people around her, she felt confusion
and sorrow and death.
He left the others in the Situation Room, debating options.
Everyone had something to say. None of it made a damn bit of difference.
Upstairs, the President of the United States hunched over the toilet in
his private bathroom off the Oval Office and vomited. He clutched his
sides and continued to puke until he was coughing up just spittle and
air, and tears blurred his eyes.
When he was sitting at the conference table in the Situation Room,
listening to the most powerful officials in the country babble, he had
been thinking of her.
On the computer screen that dominated one wall of the Situation Room,
blinking white lights pinpointed the bombing sites. Next to each
blinking light were two numbers: the number of dead in red, the number
of wounded in yellow. Each time the President had looked at the screen,
the red and yellow numbers increased.
The President wondered if she was still pretty.
He rinsed out his mouth, rubbed water on his face and left the bathroom.
The Oval Office was empty. He sat at his massive desk and turned on one
of the flat-panel televisions with the remote control. It showed CNN,
reporting on the attacks. He watched the coverage, his hands folded
before him on the desk.
Facing him on the desk were photographs of his wife and daughters, a pen
set adorned with the seal of his Ivy League alma mater, and a telephone.
There were no papers, nor a computer of any sort; he had no calendar –
his aides directed him from appointment to appointment and place to
He had been in office for three years; unlike his predecessors, the
office had not yet aged him.
CNN continued to report from the scenes, but there was no new
information. Instead, there were just the ghastly images, endlessly
repeating. The suicide bombers had struck in seven different states; all
of the bombs detonated within the span of a few minutes in front of
seven elementary schools as the pupils were let out, hurrying to their
Over two hundred were dead, and the toll mounted with each passing
second. Hundreds more suffered in hospitals, many beyond hope. Some were
adults – teachers and parents waiting to pick up their children. Most
were students, all of whom were younger than twelve.
The television crews were at each of the scenes, in some cases even
before the ambulances. One or two cameras at each site fed the carnage
to the nation, while other video crews waited at hospitals. There were
not enough ambulances for all of the wounded, and medical personal had
to be rushed in from surrounding communities. Minivans clustered about
emergency room entrances, leather seats splattered with blood and skin,
people begging for help, and there weren’t enough stretchers to bring
all of the injured inside, or doctors to treat the maimed.
So scary, he thought. CNN had as much information as the professionals
in the Situation Room.
Since the Second Mideast War began, hundreds of suspected terrorists had
been questioned in overseas detention facilities. According to his legal
experts, the interrogations conducted by U.S. armed forces and
intelligence personnel bordered on torture.
But the terrorist attacks continued.
Maybe we’ve tortured the wrong people, the President thought. Maybe we
haven’t tortured enough people.
I have to make hard decisions, he thought. I have to stop the slaughter.
This is for our national defense.
It had been a month to the day since the fatalities on the Golden Gate
Bridge. Three months since the hospital bombings.
All eyes in the nation would soon turn from the carnage to him.
What the hell can I tell them? he wondered.
Bruce Davidson entered the Oval Office. He had gained almost a hundred
pounds since college, a marathon runner’s frame bloating into a middle
age of long days and nights, bad food and little sleep, and no exercise.
“The words of wisdom from my advisers?” the President asked.
His Chief of Staff took a deep breath and looked through the patio doors
to the wide expanse of lawn. “We have the license plates of five of
the vehicles used by the bombers. Most were bought for cash above their
blue book value within the last few weeks. They were all older vans with
lots of miles on them. It’s early. Our people are working on it.”
“What about the schools?”
“No connection found yet, other than they’re elementary schools on
the east coast with dismissal times at 3:20. We’re going to ask all
public and private schools to remain closed for the rest of the week,
while we come up with guidelines to protect them. How far to keep cars
from the buildings, establishing a minimum police or National Guard
presence for a few weeks, things like that.”
“We can’t protect them,” the President said. “This is a nation
of targets. Schools, hospitals, office buildings, apartment complexes.
Nuclear power plants and chemical factories. We can’t defend
Last May, a factory worker had walked into a one-room schoolhouse in
rural Kentucky and shot eleven students to death. Last October, a
teenager brought an AK-47 assault rifle to his high school and opened
fire in the hallways. Two teachers and six students were buried a few
Those were not terrorist attacks. That was just daily life in America.
No one expected the President of the United States to stop that kind of
violence. But one foreigner detonates a car bomb and the entire country
demands action from him.
The fucking media makes fun of me, the President thought. They call me a
simpleton, an idiot. They think I’m dumb. They think I started the
Second Mideast War without justification, and that all of the dead and
dying, on foreign shores and at home, are my sole responsibility. My
fault. All my fault.
He resisted the urge to bring his hands to his head and instead kept
them folded on the desk, with no expression on his face.
All my fucking fault, according to the media.
What would they say if they knew what I am about to do, to try and stop
The enemy is evil, the President believed. Good cannot wait for evil to
strike. Good must seek out and destroy evil. It is the only way.
He thought of her, and felt his stomach roll again. He swallowed hard to
hold back another surge of vomit.
I am the President of the United States, he thought. The decision is
“We can’t protect them,” the President said. “We can’t defend
all of the schools. We can’t defend every hospital and every
“I agree. But we have to make it look like we’re trying.”
“I don’t want to defend. I want to attack.”
“The Joint Chiefs are going to be presenting military options in a few
“We’ve done that. We’ve hit the nations that sponsor these
bastards. That’s not enough. This isn’t about nations. It’s about
good and evil. We need to fight this another way, with other means.”
Davidson’s face turned white.
“Find that bitch,” the President ordered.
The decision was made. He felt suddenly calm, and turned off the
“You’ll bring down this government,” Davidson said. “Do you
“Find her,” the President ordered. “Find her now.”
Excerpted from "Hell Beckons [Kindle Edition]" by Richard L. Becker. Copyright © 2014 by Richard L. Becker. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.