Triple Threat: Softcover
Brilliant, beautiful, 21-year-old Katie Brandt, PhD candidate and woman of faith, detects a deadly conspiracy. Suspecting it's only the tip of an iceberg, she dives in, pulling fellow grad student, Joshua West, with her into a high-risk investigation of a cyber-terrorist plot.
Damaged as a child by the foster-care system, Katie takes huge risks to win acceptance and love. But when she risks the life of Josh, an agnostic who isn’t prepared to die, she fears her mistake might have eternal consequences. And that would break Katie's heart, a heart rapidly falling for Josh.
If Katie and Josh survive the investigation, can they span the chasm of divergent worldviews that separates them? How can they awaken a dozing nation to a three-pronged danger that threatens its very existence?
Triple Threat, a conspiracy you might read in tomorrow's paper...but pray you never will.
As Katie Brandt read the printed email message in her hands, the words resurrected a horror from her graveyard of buried thoughts. Once again, she winced and writhed in the water as bullets from the AK-47 pounded her back. But as terrifying as that day five years ago had been, today could be worse. Much worse.
In only a few more minutes, another shooter would open fire with an assault rifle. She read the next line of the message and drew a sharp breath. The printout slipped from her fingers and floated to the floor. The shooter was local…at Seattle Center.
When she dropped to her knee on the computer lab floor to scoop up the paper, the reality of the situation brought an icy chill. Her mom and the twins were three miles away somewhere in the crowd at the big expo…at Seattle Center.
Little Grace and Grady stood in front of her. A gun barrel swung their way and the staccato popping of the rifle—
No! She couldn’t allow the scene to play in her mind. A determination so fierce that it drowned her fear gripped Katie’s will.
I’ve got to shut it down.
Still kneeling, she pulled out her cell, hit her mom’s speed dial number, and waited. Come on, Jenn, answer. Mom...Jenn, she was still deciding what to call her adoptive mother of nearly five and a half years.
Darn it! The call went to voice mail. Riding herd on a class of kindergarteners at the expo, no telling when Jenn would be able to check her messages.
The lab door opened with a sharp click. Whoever it was, she prayed they had driven to the university today, because she needed a ride, and she needed it now. With a little luck it would be a guy. She could use a big, strong guy like…
She grabbed the paper from the floor and looked up into the warm brown eyes of Joshua West, one of the other PhD candidates in the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Department. Josh was perfect.
Katie had previously avoided his friendly overtures, but not today. “Josh, I need a ride, now.” She stood, her heart hammering out a driving rhythm.
The soft look in Josh’s eyes turned to concern, etching twin lines on his brow. “Kathryn, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t call me Kathryn. I’m Katie. Josh, did you drive in today?”
“How fast can you get me to Seattle Center?”
Josh’s frown intensified.
“Please, Josh. I need to get there in ten minutes or…” She couldn’t finish. Not only were Jenn and the twins at the big education expo, but there were thousands of other schoolchildren. She grabbed Josh’s hand and squeezed.
“Oww! That’s quite a grip you’ve—”
“Yeah. I can take you. But seriously, ten minutes? I’ll probably get a speeding ticket...or get arrested for reckless driving.”
“I’ll pay for it as long as you don’t let anyone stop us until we reach the west side of the Center.”
“Pay for it? They won’t let you do my jail time.” He shook his head.
“Josh, please.” She couldn’t help it. She was begging.
Josh’s expression changed. “OK. Kath…uh, Kate, let’s go. Do you mind telling me why we’re in such a hurry?”
We’re in such a hurry? Josh had bought in, completely. Katie grabbed his arm and jerked him toward the door. “We need to run. I’ll tell you on the way.” She yanked the lab door open and sprinted toward the exit nearest the parking area, dragging Josh behind her. “There’s a shooter headed for the roof of Key Arena.”
“What?” He pulled his arm free, sprinted to catch up to her, and grabbed her arm. “Shouldn’t you be calling 911?”
“I will, when we get in your car. But my guess is the help will arrive too late.” Or too loudly.
“There’s my car, Kate.” As they ran toward the late-model Mustang, he unlocked the doors with his key fob. “Why won’t the police respond fast enough?”
“This guy’s a terrorist. I used my research tools and a little hacking to find him. I just realized what he’s up to.” She climbed into the car.
Josh slid in on the other side. The look on his face appeared to question her sanity. But, thankfully, he hit the ignition.
Katie had avoided his question about the police response. Her answer would be inadequate, but she couldn’t say that to a guy who already thought she was crazy.
He shoved the car into reverse and squealed out of the parking space, throwing her forward in her seat. When he shifted to drive and hit the gas, Katie’s head slapped the headrest as she fished for her cell in her shorts pocket.
“I’m calling 911 now. I don’t know if they’ll believe me or not, so get me to the west entrance to the Key as fast as you can. My mom and my little brother and sister are there, and the guy’s supposed to start shooting at 2:30. That’s just a few minutes from now.” She keyed in 911.
“So you’re going there to warn them? Don’t they have a cell?”
“They—” She stopped. If she gave him too much information, he’d probably back out of the whole deal.
Josh’s car had a lot of power. In only a few seconds he had run red lights at two intersections and was now accelerating onto 520, racing toward I-5.
The call center operator answered with the standard what’s-your-emergency greeting.
Katie needed to circumvent the preliminaries. “In a few minutes there will be a gunman on the roof of Key Arena. He’s got at least one assault rifle and he wants to kill—”
“Is this a possible terrorist attack?”
“Yes. We need a SWAT team response, not just a couple of officers. And no blaring sirens.”
“What is your name and location?”
“I’m Katie Brandt, and I’m in a car on I-5 near the 520 interchange.”
“Katie, park somewhere now, and I’ll transfer you to an agent at the FBI field office. They’re only fifteen blocks from the center.”
It was actually twenty blocks, but she didn’t have time for quibbling. “I’m not the driver, Ma’am. I can talk. Please transfer me now.”
“All right. Stay on the line until the agent answers. This is a new phone system and new procedures. If you get cut off during the transfer, dial 911 immediately.”
A click sounded, there was a pause, and she waited for the transfer to complete. Katie hoped she got Agent Peterson. She could trust—
“Kate?” Josh’s voice. “Are they going to help us?”
She looked over at him. “They’re trying. Transferring me to the FBI. Their office isn’t far from the Center. I know some of the agents there, so maybe—Blast it! They cut me off. They’re never supposed to—” She drew a sharp breath and reached for the handle above the door as they flew into a turn.
The tires squealed as Josh’s car slid through a curve at the end of the off ramp.
Katie gasped when he ran a red light on Mercer. She tried to take a calming breath. It didn’t help. She let go of the handle and redialed.
A different operator answered.
The car flew down Mercer Street at a frightening pace, but Katie shoved that concern aside to concentrate on the phone call. “This is Katie Brandt.”
“It’s her,” the operator said to someone else.
There was a lot of noise in the background. Evidently, she had stirred things up at the call center.
“Katie, we’re going to transfer you to the FBI field office, now. You won’t be cut off this time.”
Josh swerved from one lane to another, dodging cars, flinging Katie side to side.
Her shoulder slammed into the door as he veered left onto Broad Street.
“Hang on, Kate. It’s getting a little dicey with all this traffic.”
“So I noticed. Are you going down Denny to 1st Avenue?”
“Yeah. From 1st I can get you to the west entrance of the Key. But—” he paused. “What are we going to do there, Kate?”
When someone came on the line, she chose to avoid Josh’s question. “Agent Peterson here.”
Thank you, Lord!
“Peterson, it’s Katie Brandt.”
“What’s up, young lady?”
“A shooter is up. On the roof of the Key with an assault rifle.”
“What? You aren’t down there, are you?”
“I’m almost there.”
“There’s a shooter at the Key and you’re headed there? Back off, Katie. You were lucky the last time—” Peterson stopped.
She could hear noises on Peterson’s end. He was probably trying to direct other agents even before he finished talking with her.
“Mom and the twins are with the kindergarten class on a field trip with—”
“I know. With twenty thousand other kids at that big expo. Stay away, Katie! We’ll handle this.”
“I don’t think you can.” Her words hadn’t come out the way she intended.
“What? Who do you think you are?” A loud expletive blasted in her ear as Josh steered the car around the sharp corner from Denny Way onto 1st Avenue.
“You shouldn’t have said that, Kate.” The car wheels squealed a final complaint as Josh braked to a stop outside the west entrance to Key Arena.
“I’m going to stop this guy, Peterson. Get here as quickly as you can. We don’t have any more time—” she decided to hang up on Peterson before he found a worse word in his meager cursing vocabulary. Peterson’s furious voice blasted out through her cell.
Too late, and she had accidentally bumped the speaker phone button.
“Sounds like you’re in trouble with the FBI.” Josh stared at her.
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“You’re not just a student. Who are you, Kate?”
She didn’t have time for explanations.
When the car jerked to a stop, Katie flung the door open.
Josh grabbed her arm, trying to stop her. “I don’t hear any sirens yet. You’ve got to wait for the police.”
“We’d better not hear any sirens. That would only make the guy start shooting sooner. But, Josh, the SWAT team won’t make it in time.” Katie motioned to part of the supporting structure near the west entrance to the arena. “Do you see the big arch?”
Josh still gripped her arm like he didn’t plan to let go. “Don’t even think about that. The roof overlaps it too much. You’d have to run up a forty-five degree arch and jump onto a steep roof eight feet above. You’ll slide off and kill yourself.”
She pulled her arm free. “Not if you help me. And keep your voice down.”
“I’m not going to help anyone commit suicide. Especially you, Kate.”
Especially her? She didn’t have time to dwell on hidden meanings. Maybe later. If there was a later for her. Maybe Josh was right and this was crazy. No. She couldn’t let some deluded jihadist shoot little Grady and Grace…and Jenn. Tears filled her eyes. Katie stopped at the foot of the huge arch and wiped them away, hoping Josh hadn’t noticed her weakness.
He ran up beside her and stopped, hands on hips, staring up at the edge of the monstrous convex roof.
She glanced at her watch. 2:25 PM. Five minutes left. She scanned the arch up to the roof of the building. “It’s only about eight feet. If I stand on your shoulders, I could get onto the roof.”
“That’s insane. I would have to stand on a forty-five degree slope and balance while I let you climb onto my shoulders. If I drop you…I’m not willing to risk that.”
She stared into Josh’s eyes. “I can do this. There are things you don’t know about me…just trust me, please...I trust you, Josh.”
He held her gaze. “Kate, you can’t stop this guy. You’ll only get killed.”
“I told you, there are things you don’t—”
“So Kate Brandt is a ninja babe?” Reluctance remained in his eyes, and his hands remained on his hips.
Darn! A tear spilled from her eye. She hated to cry, to appear weak.
Josh’s hands came off his hips and reached for her. His reluctance had melted.
Katie pushed her palms at him. She needed his help, not his consolation. “I can handle this. I won’t do anything stupid.”
“Nothing stupid?” His hands went back to his hips. “Then you won’t go up there.”
Katie looked at his athletic build and strong arms. “Please, Josh. If not for me, then do it for my little brother and sister, for my mom, and for all the other kids out there.” More tears trickled down her cheeks.
“Oh, man. How did I ever let…OK. We’ll try it once.”
Maybe tears were good for something.
“But if you slip and fall off me, Kate, so help me I’ll—”
“You’ll what, kill me? You wouldn’t have to. But I’m not going to fall.”
Katie ran up the arch and stopped, crouching below the overhang. She planted her hands and feet on the five-foot-wide support and slowly stood up. Her feet didn’t slide. They could do this. “Hurry, Josh. I need to be up there now.”
Josh’s powerful legs drove his body up the arch, stopping beside her.
She pointed at a spot two feet below her. “Set your feet just beyond the edge of the overhang.”
Josh adjusted his feet, leaned into the steep slope, and repositioned them again. “OK. Step on my knee, swing a leg around my shoulders, and sit.”
This was not a ladylike thing to do with a guy, but that wasn’t a concern at this point. Only three minutes until the gunman would start shooting…if his watch wasn’t fast. She moved in front of Josh, facing him, their eyes only inches apart.
He took her hand and squeezed. His look softened. “Please, Kate. Be careful up there when you do your ninja thing. You can’t let him have a shot at—”
“Never,” she said, shaking her head. “Not the likes of him.” She stepped up on his knee. Josh felt as solid as a rock. She pushed upward and swung a leg around his shoulders.
He clasped his hands, forming a stirrup. “Here, put your foot in my hands and step up onto my shoulder. When your weight comes off my hands, step onto my shoulder with your other foot and grab my hands to steady yourself. You should be able to stand up. I’ve got my balance now, Kate. Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
“Then go ahead. I won’t drop you.” Somewhere Josh had found confidence.
Using the stirrup, Katie stood on his shoulders, holding Josh’s hands and teetering to gain her balance.
She let go with one hand and placed it on the roof. Then the other hand. But the roof was still chest high. She couldn’t climb onto it.
Katie peered up at the communication building on top of the Key. That was the only hiding spot for the man until he moved into the open on the east side of the building to start shooting down on the crowd. Hopefully, all his attention would be focused on the other side where the people were. If not…
She needed at least another foot to put her knee on the roof and gain enough leverage to lift her body onto it. “I need you to bend your legs, then jump and bounce me up. If I jump when you do, I’ll land on the roof.”
“How did I ever let you—” Josh grunted and took a deep breath. “Just do it, Kate. But keep your body aligned with the arch, just in case. If you fall, I want you to land on the arch, not the concrete below. We’ll go on three.”
“Wait. When you jump, make sure you jump toward the building. When I push off, I don’t want my feet pushing you over backward because—”
“Yeah, because…” Josh growled at her.
“I can see that you understand. You count. We’ll go on three.”
Josh drew a breath. “One, two, three.” He bent his knees and jumped.
She pushed off his shoulders, propelling her body three feet up into the air.
Katie landed spread-eagled on the steep slope at the roof’s edge and clung there, praying she wouldn’t slide backward.
Below her she heard a thud, then the raspy sound of sliding. She looked down. Josh had landed spread-eagled on his back, head downhill on the big arch. He had jumped too hard, but managed to stay on the arch and had stopped his slide.
Was he OK? She gave him thumbs up.
He returned it and was punished for his effort by sliding another foot head-first down the concrete and steel arch. In one quick movement, he swiveled his feet below his head and rolled onto his stomach. He looked up and waved her on.
Good. He was OK.
Katie turned and breathed a quiet prayer as she crept up the roof toward the communications facility. On the far side of the structure, somewhere amid the antennas and dishes, a movement caught her eye.