This story is by DJ Nagatani and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Why can’t I just forget the Army and live my life the way I want to? All I know are ordnance and working for the bomb squad, twenty years, that’s half my life. Melissa wanted me to retire and concentrate on our teenage children, Phillip, Joyce, and Bryson. They needed college, and my E7 pay wasn’t cutting it, and so here I am working a nine to five for the City of San Francisco SWAT bomb squad division. Pay’s way better, Phillip entered his Junior year, and Joyce’s a freshman, or maybe it’s politically correct to say freshwoman. Heck, I don’t know. All I know about are bombs.
Been here four years and there has been only one real bomb episode, but I wasn’t on point for that one. Too young on the job; higher-ups weren’t sure if my resume matched my fieldwork as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit. The rest were scares, no exploding bombs; just threats. Alex, our team leader, diffused that one, a home-made job with a timer that was set giving us enough time to get to it and cut the wire. We’re still looking for that culprit, left no fingerprints, no real clues as to his identity. In the Army we always knew who the culprit was, it was the enemy we were at war with. No forensics needed. But here, we’re answerable to every unanswerable question for the record and especially for the media as bombs make big news. Anyway, it’s after 4 p.m. almost quitting time and I feel like a Maytag repairman. Got to pick up Bryson for Little League practice, so I leave 20, well OK 30 minutes early. Oh, oh, here comes Jimmy, I’m busted. “Leaving early Gus?”, Jimmy echoed.
“Yep, picking up my boy for baseball practice and you know how the traffic is this time of day,” I hastily reply as I rush pass Jimmy, the desk Sargent.
As I make my way to my car my cell goes off, and I’d gotten an emergency text of a bomb threat at the Ritz Carlton on Market St. I couldn’t believe the text message until I felt myself mentally shift into emergency mode and I knew what I had to do. As I jump into my Dodge Charger Alex is on speaker saying some bigwig politician is staying there and a note was passed to the front desk that if John Jeffries US Representative doesn’t step outside the hotel onto the front street unattended and alone, the Ritz Carlton was to be blown up. “Jefferies,” yeah, I know that name in the news lately on the House Foreign Affairs committee tasked with handling hotheads like Kim Jong-un. Jumping into my Dodge Charger, I head out avoiding the freeways.
I’m going 50 around the U-turn burning rubber as I overtake cars on 3rd St. heading towards Market Street. I noticed the stunned faces of the trolley riders as I sped by them breaking every rule of the road. I don’t have red flashing lights, so they think I’m just a crazy driver. I must get to 2nd St. and Market.
Out of my Charger, I see Alex towering above the uniforms and badges. He waves me over wearing a dead-serious demeanor. “The note gave us 30 minutes, and that was 6 minutes ago. We’re evacuating a couple of hundred guests and another hundred employees. Hotel’s at full capacity. People were already pouring out onto the Porte-cochere and into the street, running terrified. “Frear this is your gig. Are you up to it? Alex demanded. The note was placed next to a square package tied with twine. It’s sitting on the front desk smack in the middle of the counter,” Alex continued.
“I got this,” I replied, looking him sternly in the eye without blinking. Alex nodded glaring back with bloodshot eyes.
I rushed through the lobby door sizing up the square package. I canceled out that it could be a pipe bomb, too short a package for a pipe bomb. Must be an improvised explosive device and if I’m right, it’s a chemical bomb. Wait, that’s a red herring, this is a professional job, that isn’t the actual bomb just because the note was placed with it. This is a political bomb scene. Keeping a safe distance as I scan the entire front desk lobby area, I noticed the odd appearance of a bamboo branch sticking out from an over-sized designer planter holding an Arika palm. The pipe-bomb is in the middle of the lobby unnoticed blending in perfectly with the palm plant.
“Alex, send in the Remotec Andros, it’s a pipe bomb, and it’s not the package that had the note,” I spoke into my Bluetooth.
“Frear, you can’t use a Talon and blow it up here at the Ritz, are you crazy, there’re too many city-blocks and hordes of people and buildings. I’m sending in the EOD guys to fit you into the Hurt Locker,” Alex responded. The bomb squad under Alex had everything there ready to facilitate on command, and three guys came up next to me, and I moved quickly into the Hurt Locker.
Gus Frear felt the terror putting him inside that other dimension of no return that only pure self-determination had conquered in the Army and asked Alex, “Where’re we taking this joystick and how much time do I have?”
Gus hears Alex’s slow, deliberate voice in his ear, “Once it’s placed into the containment unit we have the helicopter outside on Market St. to take it to the Pacific Drop 82 miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge.”
“And time?” Gus asked without missing a beat.
“Not much, but we don’t know how accurate the note is or who wrote it. Do not attempt to disable the device we’ve no time for that,” Alex warned.
“Never mind ole boy, I’m inside the Locker and the explosive ordnance disposal boys just put up the blast shield. I’ll get that bamboo into the containment vessel. Don’t you worry your pretty head,” Gus jeered.
Using a specialized grabber attached to a twenty-five-foot mechanical arm, Gus expertly secures the bamboo into the arm’s claw and gently lifts it out of the planter; relieved it wasn’t pushed too deep into the potting soil. At the top of the sphere is a large round opening to receive the pipe bomb. Gus worked the robotics behind the blast shield focusing through droplets of perspiration fogging up his face mask. Any agitation could trigger an explosion not knowing the exact make-up of the bomb. Was it rigged to being remotely detonated triggered by radio nearby or is it on a preset timer ready to go off at any second? No matter the composition of the triggering device of the bomb it must go into the container gently, slowly and precisely without any friction before sphere’s cover is slid tightly shut curtailing a bomb explosion.
The EOD boys taking over the robotic controls lifted the sphere onto a mechanical dolly and rolled it outside the lobby onto Market St. where the helicopter equipped with a steel pulley line and disposal floor hatch was parked with blades twirling and engines humming.
Gus watched the robots work seamlessly placing the sphere onto layers of Kevlar, a plastic foam designed for maximum protection on the floor of the helicopter on top of the drop hatch. The pilot too was wearing Kevlar although not an advance bomb suit like Gus wore which weighed a ton and wouldn’t fit in a pilot’s chair. The helicopter sped off whipping wind across the Porte-cochere with people holding onto their coats, scarfs, and bags. All eyes on it with prayers on the faces of evacuees, firemen and police officers. As the helicopter rose to a height of 30 stories the containment sphere strung with a mechanical line was lowered from the copter’s bottom hatch door into the airspace under the big bird. It was safely on its way to the vast blue Pacific to be destroyed miles away from civilization. Radioing ocean craft warnings alerted ship and boat captains to immediately clear the area of the Pacific Drop within a three-mile radius; broadcasting its exact coordinates.
Gus felt a hand pressing through his thick heavy Kevlar suit on his left shoulder, “Good job Frear, you did it,” Alex was smiling.
I never saw Alex smile ever. I wanted to see Bryson hit a few so I just asked him, “Sir, if it’s OK can you get me out of this space suit so that I can take my son to baseball practice?” Alex, motioned the EOD boys to help me out of the bomb suit and I was clocked out legitimately from work; right on the nose 5 p.m. quitting time. “Hey Alex, lend me your cell phone to let my boy know I’m on my way, will you?” I smiled back at Alex.