The bruise on the young goalie’s cheek got girls high school soccer coach Brooke Burrell’s attention. Brooke tries to keep her advantage as the most decorated woman agent ever in government service at bay while dealing with the suspected abusive father – although she’d love to punch his lights out. Her digging reveals the reason for his abusiveness and it connects to a massive international terrorist attack.
When the father is found dead, Brooke is accused of the murder. Suddenly, she is forced to defend herself in court, and in the court of public opinion – while trying to stop the insidious plot to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the globe in one terrifying instant and bring the western world to its knees.
One year ago …
Federal Agent Brooke Burrell was out for blood. Crouched low, with her sidearm in both hands, hunting her prey as she darted between the maze of cars stalled on the city-bound lanes of the Manhattan Bridge. Her bruised ribs, under her nearly perforated Kevlar vest, complained with almost every footfall.
All the while her eyes were locked on the blue-and-white ambulance commandeered by the son of a bitch who shot her. He had killed so many while almost destroying New York City in a terrorist attack. The murderous bastard wasn’t going to escape this time.
In the driver’s seat of the ambulance, Paul Grundig was frustrated with the traffic. Then he heard something over the unit’s police band scanner that made him rethink his plan to get to the Wall Street heliport, which was his back-up escape point. There, he had a helicopter waiting to take him to Teterboro Airport and his chartered jet standing by to fly him to Turks and Cacaos and a new identity.
The radio squawked, “All units, the federal authorities have closed the Manhattan Bridge in pursuit of an ambulance believed to have suspects fleeing the attack on Big Allis. All non-assigned units are ordered to converge on the bridge.”
Paul looked around. So far, no cops were charging the ambulance, but that wouldn’t last long. He looked in the back at Girbram. He was lying on a gurney, having taken a slug in the leg. He would only slow Paul down.
“What are we going to do?” Girbram asked.
“We?” Paul said as he put the barrel of his gun on the sheet over Girbram’s heart and fired.
Paul went out the driver’s side of the rig and looked for a way off the bridge.
Brooke saw him get out. She was hidden from his view by the back of the ambulance. She stepped lightly with her gun pointed straight up. People in the cars around her ducked, some mesmerized. Some idiot beeped his horn.
Paul instinctively turned in the direction of the beep and caught a glimpse of someone moving between the cars to his rear. He ran towards the middle of the span.
Keeping low, Brooke followed him from the far side of the cars. When she peeked over the hood of a car, Paul had disappeared. She stood and scanned the area but saw no sign of him among
the people who got out of their cars to see why the traffic was at a standstill. She ran over to the edge of the roadway and up ahead saw Paul climbing down the slanted girders of the bridge. Smaller lattice-like straps of steel across the girders made for a simple ladder of sorts.
Brooke closed her eyes. For a second, she considered just calling it in and letting the cops handle this, but a sociopathic killer like Paul would not give up, and he’d use the people in the cars as human shields at some point, and maybe get away. Then she thought about all the death and pain this son of a bitch had caused, and before she had a chance to stop herself, she had holstered her gun and was over the side and climbing down, fitting her foot into the latticework while holding onto the grimy girders.
Paul jumped the last few feet from the girder down onto the pedestrian walkway. The M train rumbled down the middle of the bridge that carried the subway line, as well as cars, between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Paul looked back and, seeing the woman’s arms and hands holding onto the steel cross-girders as she descended, took a shot at her.
The bullet hit the beam and shattered in front of Brooke. She slipped and fell the last five feet to the ground. It knocked the wind out of her for a moment. Her vest took the brunt of the red-hot, scattered lead, but a fragment pierced the fleshy part of her left arm. Her sleeve became wet with blood, but it wasn’t too deep. She groaned as she shook away the pain and unsteadily got herself up. A runner who was jogging by stopped to help her.
“Thank you. But take cover. Get everybody down.” She pulled her US Treasury windbreaker aside, flashing her tin clipped to her belt. “I’m a cop, and there’s a guy with a gun up ahead. Get everyone down.”
Another shot rang out and skidded across the concrete of the walkway. There were only a few pedestrians on the walkway. The jogger crouched low and yelled at those who were walking to get down.
The wide-open walkway provided no cover for Brooke. The cyclone fence that separated the walkway from the train tracks had many pad locked service gates, one was a few feet from her. She took out her gun, aimed, turned her head and fired three times at the lock.
With great pain shooting through her, she kicked the gate, and the perforated and mangled lock gave way. The gate swung open and she got out of Paul’s line of fire as a bullet whipped by where she had been standing a split second before. The long chain-linked fence between her and Paul offered a small amount of cover. He couldn’t get off a clean shot through the chain link from an angle.
From the cockpit of his news and traffic helicopter directly above the bridge, pilot and traffic reporter, Tom Colletti, called out over the NYPD radio frequency. “The woman, er …” He tried to remember the code name she identified herself with. “… Stiletto! Stiletto is pinned down in a gun fight right below me, in the middle of the Manhattan Bridge. She needs help.” He didn’t notice the red indicator light still flashing above the “recording” button of the copter’s high-resolution gimbal-ball-mounted camera.
Paul couldn’t get a clear shot through the wire of the fencing at the shallow angle, so at the next gate he also shot the lock off. Once inside the subway’s right-of-way he advanced along the trackside towards Brooke’s position.
Brooke was taking cover behind a tool shed alongside the tracks. As she peeked around the corner, a shot ricocheted off the edge of the structure. Instinctively, she groaned and fell against the shed as if she were hit.
Paul saw her get hit and stepped up his pace. With his gun stretched out in both hands, he carefully approached the shed that Brooke had used for cover. He was four feet from the side of it when she suddenly rolled out on the floor and fired as soon as she cleared the shed. Paul couldn’t drop his weapon fast enough to take a good bead on her on the ground and his bullet angled over Brooke’s head. But Brooke’s shot was also a little off the mark. Instead of being dead from a solid hit, center mass, Paul grabbed his side.
“Drop the gun!” Brooke yelled over the loud buffeting sound of the helicopter directly overhead. “Drop the gun or I will drop you where you stand.” She struggled to her feet in three separate painful moves, while keeping the gun shakily trained on his heart.
“Okay … Okay.” He dropped the gun. “You know, we can still make a deal.”
Brooke’s blood began to boil. “How much? A million?” She fired into his leg, and he fell back onto the tracks. “A million for Nigel? Or two million for Charlene Logan?” She fired into his other leg. “Make it three million for Cynthia.” She fired again into his thigh. “Or make it five”—she fired again into his other thigh—“for my staff—the nineteen people, mothers and fathers that will never go home again.”
She saw Paul was in agony. But couldn’t see the small .32 caliber pistol he was hiding under his body which was aimed at her, from the hip, so to speak.
With the chopper above, neither heard it, but she caught it out of the corner of her eye. It was a silver blur for a split second, then the speeding M train slammed into Paul just as he got a shot off. Brooke averted her eyes from the moment of impact. When she opened them a second later, she said, “And that was for Joe Garrison.” The man that Paul had pushed to his death under the wheels of the Lexington Avenue subway train, starting this whole nightmare.
Then, as though she had just seen something she couldn’t make out, she tilted her head sideways. The look on her face was one of someone trying to remember what she had just been thinking. Then she coughed. Blood trickled down from her lips. Her last conscious thought was of her husband and the child she was hoping they’d have but would now never hold.
A cry escaped her lips and she collapsed.
Three days later …
At New York Presbyterian Hospital, Nurse Phyllis Pasquarella was holding up her iPhone and showing her day-shift replacement the most impressive selfie that she’d ever taken. It was of her and the president of the United States standing right next to her at her station on the fifteenth floor. Both women’s eyes were wide in excitement as the very man she had stood next to in the picture was now on the TV addressing the nation.
A tall navy officer interrupted, “Excuse me …”
One look and Phyllis said, “Room 1501, first room on your right.”
He didn’t expect the trepidation and fear that hit him the moment he saw her, in this room, in the bed, hooked up to all manner of machines. His eyes moistened. She was sleeping. There were IVs in her arm and a soft plastic oxygen cannula under her nose.
The navy man looked down to see the Medal of Freedom pinned to her blanket. It had been awarded to her personally by his and her “boss,” president of the United States, James Mitchell, who’d been there an hour earlier. He was sorry he’d missed the moment, but his thirteen-hour flight from Diego Garcia had fought head winds over the Pacific. He was also delayed by a Pacific squall that prevented him from leaving his submarine for the first twenty-four hours after he found out his wife was wounded leading the counterattack against the terrorists.
Now, with just the two of them in the room, Commander Brett “Mush” Morton, captain of the USS Nebraska, leaned over and kissed his wife’s forehead, smoothing back her hair gently with the tips of his trembling fingers, trying not to disturb her.
The doctors had told him over the phone that she wasn’t even aware of the bullet that nicked her femoral artery in the gunfight on the bridge. Adrenaline, he thought. Then he thanked God that the first SWAT cop on the scene was a former military medic and immediately stemmed the rapidly fatal loss of blood that a femoral injury normally brings about.
The beeping of the respiratory monitors punctuated the low sound of the TV as the president, now speaking at the memorial service for those who died in the attack on New York, continued on his theme about courage … about her.
He put his hand on hers. He felt the surgical tape from the PICC IV needle in her arm under his fingers. The president finished his remarks and a lone bugle played “Taps.” Even with the TV behind him, Mush could hear it echoing off the buildings across the way from City Hall.
Her lips were dry and parched. He poured some water into a cup and, with his finger, lightly moistened her lips. She stirred. Brooke’s eyebrows raised, then her eyes half opened.
He smiled and said softly, “Hi, babe. You had us all worried here.”
It took a second for her eyes to focus, but then she closed them again as a broad grin covered her sleepy face. “Mush, you’re home!” she managed through a breathy sigh.
“For good. I’m going to take care of you. Be there for you. Be there for our family.”
She hitched her head in a gesture for him to come closer.
He leaned in, kissing her on her cheek.
She swallowed dryly then said in a weak voice, “We’ll have …have to work on that …”
Excerpt from Forgive Us Our Trespasses by Tom Avitabile. Copyright 2022 by Tom Avitabile. Reproduced with permission from The Story Plant. All rights reserved.
Tom Avitabile is a writer, director, and producer with numerous film and television credits, a professional musician, and an amateur woodworker. He has an extensive background in engineering and computers, including work on projects for the House Committee on Science and Technology. His novel The Devil’s Quota became a Barnes and Noble #1 bestseller, as did The Eighth Day, the first installment of his Bill Hiccock “thrillogy” that includes the novels The Hammer of God and The God Particle, and the first Brooke Burrell novel, Give Us This Day.