The next morning, Cerone was in the conference room with Josh Bigelow and the full staff of AOP project leaders and direct-reports. They had convened right after the incident and had been going through debriefings and minute-by-minute, step-by-step analyses of yesterday’s simulation ever since. Gene had already met with both Deputy Director Danny Boggs and Service Director Ed Barnes— colleagues from the Reagan protection team—and alerted them to the events of yesterday. While troubled by the seriousness of the situation and the failure of a group of veteran agents, no one was shocked. The suicide bomber had yet to surface on our shores, but everyone believed it was only a matter of time. The same could be said for a large-scale attack on a civilian population either with chemical or biological agents. The question was always “When?”
Cerone’s administrative assistant, Nancy Tanaka, entered the conference room. Apologizing for the interruption and well aware of what had happened in the training exercise, she said Gene had a call from Granada, Spain. A captain from the National Police Corps needed to speak with him. “It sounds urgent,” she whispered.
Cerone knew that his sister Gina had moved to Spain some months ago. He rose and quickly left the room, his brow furrowed with concern. He went to his office, a short distance down the hall, and picked up the receiver of the phone. “Eugene Cerone here,” he said.
A woman’s voice responded, “Un momento, Señor.”
There was a click, and then he heard a deep and heavily accented voice say, “Señor Cerone, this is Capitàn Julian Balmaseda of the Policia Nacional, in Granada, España. Are you related to a Señorita Gina Cerone?”
“Yes,” Cerone replied, “I am her brother. Is Gina all right?”
“I am sorry to bring you such noticias,” Balmaseda said, “but I have to inform you that your sister has been killed in a traffic accident.”
The world went into slow motion for Cerone. He heard the words Captain Balmaseda was saying, but they seemed distorted, echoing as if coming from a deep cavern. The events of yesterday and the concerns about “what must never happen” suddenly moved to a whole other intensity. Yesterday was just an exercise, another scene crafted by the Digital Light Brigade. Yesterday, nobody died—not really. But what did he just hear? Your sister was killed? He asked the voice on the other end of the line to repeat what he said. Gene went through the “What? Are you sure? When? How? But are you certain?” routine.
The result was the same, “Your sister was killed …”
He took down all the pertinent information from Captain Balmaseda and gently returned the phone to its cradle. Nancy Tanaka stood at the open doorway and could see the lost expression on Gene Cerone’s face. His glazed eyes then focused on Nancy. “They said my sister is dead.”
The years of investigative experience then took over, and he began to give directions to Nancy. “Here.” He handed her the notes he had written. “This guy is supposed to be a captain in Spain’s National Police Force. He said the American embassy in Madrid has been notified of an accident involving my sister. Call them and check up on this Balmaseda and confirm what he has said.” Cerone stayed seated at his desk, staring blankly at the open doorway. Only a few minutes passed before Nancy returned to Gene’s office.
“They have the same information, Gene. I’m so sorry.”