Night ops suck, thought Lieutenant Colonel D.M. Elliott as he sat in over a foot of snow. He looked at his watch and noticed it was 0200. Of course this is my job, what I get paid the big bucks for, he continued to think as he peered out of his hiding place. It was mid-March and it seemed like the winter would never end.
|Dragonslayer's Saga, Book 4|
A few flakes of snow drifted down. He hated the snow. His Spanish blood preferred a more temperate climate. But here he was, sitting in the mountains in the middle of the night, in the snow. He could think of a far better place to be right now: curled up with his lovely wife, Colonel Eagle Tryggvesson, who was tucked away, warm and happy in the Knightâ€™s Keep.
â€œHey, I think I hear â€™em,â€ came a whisper from behind him. It was his partner, Captain Jake Collins. D.M. blinked a couple of times trying to get his eyes to focus through the night vision goggles. They werenâ€™t much use; the cloud cover was hiding the moon and stars. Flipping them up, he decided to let his own senses do the work. His ears worked overtime to find where the target was located.
â€œWhere?â€ he whispered over his shoulder. Jake put his hand on D.M.â€™s arm and made a motion, trying to direct him to the noise. After a few more minutes of listening, he zeroed in on it. His target was moving very slowly through the dense forest, trying not to make noise in an environment nearly devoid of it. Being silent in the snow was difficult, however.
Carefully, he raised his HK-417 rifle and did his best to look down the barrel. He could hear the popping of footsteps on the snow. In the near darkness, he saw a faint shadow advancing toward him. His finger curled around the trigger and he slowly let out his breath. The figure moved closer. As his breath finally left his body, D.M. gently squeezed the trigger. A bright flash and loud report echoed through the valley.
â€œFuck!â€ the shadow said, in a distinctly down-under accent. He was so close; there was no time delay from the sound of the rifle to the crack of the chalk round as it impacted on his armor. Their little game of capture the flag was finally over. Captain Mark â€œKippieâ€ Te Ika was dead.
D.M. stood. â€œHah! Got ya, Kip.â€
â€œSon-of-a-bitch; I thought I was awfully close.â€
Jake crawled out of their hiding place, a red flag shoved in the neckline of his armor. â€œYouâ€™da had to go through me as well. I was the keeper of the flag.â€
â€œWell, we gave it our best shot.â€
D.M. keyed his radio: â€œAll teams, end exercise, repeat, end ex.â€ He walked into the clearing and waited until everyone arrived. â€œGood game, everyone, I think we all learned something from this.â€
â€œYeah, donâ€™t leave Kippie to defend the bloody flag!â€ Major Tige St. Ivor said. He was the other one with a down-under accent. Having been with the team since the beginning, he was the second in command of the A team. Tige was also the second ranked sniper in the unit.
â€œAw come on, I drew the short straw,â€ Kippie protested. He preferred offence to defense. As the third sniper in the unit, he found himself not always behind the scope of his rifle at a distance. Fortunately, he was laid-back and adaptable, making his rather dubious arrival on the team much easier.
â€œCome on, guys, letâ€™s head home,â€ D.M. said as he flicked the switch on his rifle, turning on the flashlight. He took point and led the rest of the unit toward the Knightâ€™s Keep.
Static crackled in his ear, â€œLone Wolf, White Feather.â€
He keyed his radio, â€œWhite Feather, what are you doing up this time of night? Are you okay?â€
â€œIâ€™m going to the medical floor, somethingâ€™s wrong.â€
â€œShit!â€ D.M. hissed. â€œHang on, Iâ€™m coming!â€ He took off running, the rest of the unit right behind him. If Eagle was in trouble, they were going to be there for her. They hurried along the trail, flashlights bobbing, lighting their way. D.M. was now pulling away from the group; his six-foot-six frame and nearly three hundred pounds plowed through the snow; he was desperate to get to her. His foot caught a log, and he fell face first into the snow. Tige came and helped him up. The colonel kept on going, driven to get to his love.
Major Cabbott Westmoreland was a few paces behind him. He heard the radio traffic and knew what it was like to have a pregnant wife. His wife, Cara, had a miscarriage scare a few months earlier and was relegated to bedrest. This was nothing to be taken lightly.
D.M. ran as hard as he could, his legs pumping through the snow. The frigid air burned his lungs as he fought to breathe. He had to get to her. Eagle was four months pregnant with their first child. It was a pregnancy that wasnâ€™t supposed to happenâ€”yet. Sheâ€™d been on birth control pills for quite some time, and had only been off them a few weeks when she got pregnant. It was too late when she discovered. Her original plan was to have an embryo removed and transferred to her cousin, who would carry and raise the child for her, allowing Eagle to continue with her job on the team for a few more years. Unfortunately her plans got changed.
They reached the main entrance to the building and D.M. burst through the door. He gasped for air, his lungs felt like blocks of ice. Staggering over, he pushed the button for the elevator. The rest of the unit came in and grouped up with him. They were out of breath as well. The base was situated nearly six thousand feet up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the air was thin. Most of them were used to it, but with the bitter cold, it added a level of difficulty.
The elevator arrived and they piled in, taking it to the fourth floor. As the doors opened, D.M. dashed out. He stopped, there was no one about. â€œWhat the hell? Where is everyone?â€ He looked around frantically. Finally he found a technician. â€œWhereâ€™s Eagle?â€
â€œThey took her to surgery, Sir.â€
â€œOh God.â€ He turned around and went back to the others. They were waiting in the hall. The medical floor wasnâ€™t equipped with a waiting room, so they waited where they could. D.M. leaned against the wall. Jake and Cabbott joined him.
â€œThey took her to surgery,â€ D.M. said softly. His stomach churned with apprehension.
Jake slid over so his arm was touching D.M.â€™s. It was an unobvious way to show he cared about his friend and was there to support him. â€œEagleâ€™s tough, Iâ€™m sure sheâ€™s gonna be all right.â€
â€œI wonder what happened? She seemed fine last night. She kissed me as I went out the door and said she was gonna go to bed.â€ He started to pace the floor.
â€œHard to tell with women and kids,â€ Cabbott said as he slid down the wall and sat on the floor. Heâ€™d make sure he called Cara to see how she was doing.
Two hours later, Lieutenant Colonel Dr. James Miles came out. He was the resident orthopedic surgeon, and by no means was he skilled to deal with an obstetrical type of an emergency. â€œD.M.?â€
The colonel spun around and immediately went to him. â€œWhat happened, Jim? Is she okay?â€
Jim took D.M. by the arm and led him around the corner away from the rest of the unit. â€œIâ€™m sorryâ€”â€
â€œOh God, no!â€ D.M. felt ill.
â€œD.M., Eagle had a miscarriage. There was nothing I could do to save the baby. I think it was already dead.â€
D.M. dropped to his knees, anguish filling him. â€œIs she okay?â€ He couldnâ€™t bear to lose her; she was his everything.
â€œI did what I could for her. I even called a colleague of mine for some long-distance helpâ€¦Sheâ€™ll be moved to a room shortly. I think sheâ€™ll be okay.â€
Jim put his hand on the colonelâ€™s shoulder. â€œI dunno, sometimes things happen and babies die. I plan on sending the remains out for an autopsy.â€
D.M. looked up. â€œThanks,â€ he said weakly. Now he understood how Cabbott felt. Except he was lucky, Cara had kept the baby and was due the middle of May. D.M.â€™s whole world felt like it had been turned upside down.
Jim figured D.M. wanted a few moments to get his composure. He turned to leave; then stopped. â€œUmm, Iâ€™m not sure if you are interestedâ€¦â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œThe baby, umm, it was a girl.â€
He got to his feet and nodded. Going back around the corner, he rejoined the others. They all stood when he appeared. Eleven worried faces regarded him.
â€œWhat happened?â€ Jake said. He was probably almost as worried as D.M.
â€œShit!â€ Cabbott said, smacking the wall.
Jake stepped close to him. â€œIs she okay?â€
â€œJim said she should be fine. I canâ€™t see her yet; theyâ€™re moving her to a room.â€ D.M. shook his head slowly. Jake put his hand on his arm, trying to give him some comfort. He knew the only one who could really give him comfort was Eagle, and he couldnâ€™t be with her right now. Tige came forward and gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. â€œWeâ€™re here if you need us, mate.â€
â€œThanks. I appreciate it.â€
Half an hour later, Jim came down the hall. â€œYou can see her now.â€ He saw everyone in the unit make a move. â€œUh, just D.M., sorry, guys.â€ D.M. followed him down the hall and into a room. â€œYou canâ€™t stay long, she needs to rest.â€
D.M. quietly walked over to her bed. Eagle had her eyes closed and she looked peaceful. Her shoulder-length golden blonde hair lay tousled on the pillow, her white bangs parted to the sides. He leaned down and gently kissed her on the forehead.
Her eyes opened. â€œHi,â€ she said softly. He noticed her eyes were glassy from the anesthetic, not their normal brilliant blue.
â€œHi,â€ he replied, at a loss for words.
â€œI donâ€™t know what happened.â€
â€œShhhh, rest, my love.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry.â€ She started to cry.
He carefully took her in his arms and held her. A few tears rolled down his cheeks. He almost couldnâ€™t bear to think what his life would be without her. They were bound together by a love so fierce, neither could comprehend living without the other.
Eagle wiped her eyes and sniffed a few times. D.M. grabbed a tissue and offered it to her. â€œThanks,â€ she sniffed again. â€œIt was a girl.â€
She reached up and ran her fingers through his hair. It used to be a beautiful raven black; now with the stress of his job, there were quite a few gray hairs mixed in. And he bore a white scar on his left temple from a bullet crease heâ€™d gotten on a mission. His dark brown eyes twinkled in the dim light of the room.
â€œI know. Jim told me,â€ he said softly.
â€œHe wants me to go to Reno tomorrow and be seen by an OB-GYN doctor.â€
â€œYou mean later today? Itâ€™s almost 0600.â€
â€œI guess thatâ€™s what he meant.â€
He straightened up. â€œYou rest. Iâ€™ll check with Jim and see what he wants to do.â€ D.M. touched his fingers to his lips and pressed them to her forehead. â€œIâ€™ll see you in a little while, my love.â€
Jake perked up as he saw D.M. coming down the hall. â€œWell?â€ He eagerly awaited some news.
â€œShe seems like sheâ€™ll be okay. I guess Jim wants her to go to Reno and be seen by someone there.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take her, you know I will.â€
â€œThanks. Iâ€™ll go too.â€
â€œJust let me know when.â€
D.M. looked around the hall. Not one team member had gone upstairs; they were still there, waiting. He managed a slight smile. â€œYou guys are the best. Weâ€™ll be okay. Why donâ€™t you go up and get some sleep? Donâ€™t bother with the training schedule, I have to tend to Eagle.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll find things to do, donâ€™t worry,â€ Tige said as he picked up his rifle and headed to the elevator. The others filed along behind him. D.M. was left with Jake; he refused to leave his friend.
â€œJake, why donâ€™t you go to bed?â€
â€œIâ€™m staying with you, you need support.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what a jock strap is for.â€
The captain chuckled. â€œWell, yeah, maybe. Okay, Iâ€™m here for moral support; is that better?â€ Jake was about five foot eight and roughly one hundred eighty pounds. He had dark brown hair and dark hazel green eyes. His rather notorious past as a criminal made for a rough beginning between him and D.M.; in fact they absolutely hated each other for nearly the first year the team was together.
Vacations were supposed to be fun, thought Army Specialist Matthew Hartford as he strained against the ropes that bound him. The rough sisal rope dug into his flesh and he thought he felt a trickle of blood run down his hand. There was a blindfold that kept him from seeing anything; a cloth gag pulled painfully at the corners of his mouth. He was so thirsty.
It sounded like such a good idea. He and his four other friends from Ft. Huachuca, Arizona wanted a retreat from the pressures of army life. They just wanted a nice little vacation to Cabo San Lucas to enjoy the sun, fun, and nightlife. What a mistake. Considering they normally worked for the Army Intelligence Center, they should have known better. The Department of Defense had removed the travel restrictions to Mexico only a month earlier. They should have waited.
Deciding one night to go out after dark, four of them strayed into a bad neighborhood and were taken captive by a drug cartel. The one member of the group, and the only female, had decided she wanted to stay in that night. Now Matthew was really wishing heâ€™d stayed in too. His head hurt due to repeated blows from a pistol butt, and he was confident his jaw was broken. He could feel the dried blood crackling on the side of his face.
How he longed for a shower, to wash and be clean. His stomach growled; he dreamed of diving into a big thick steak and washing it down with a cold beer. It didnâ€™t seem as if it was going to happen anytime soon. Matthew felt something crawling on his arm; he jiggled it, trying to get whatever it was off.
Next to him on the dirty floor was Specialist Pete Kent. He was also bound and gagged. The other two men, Specialist Thomas Blake and Corporal Don Di Arnesto, were somewhere else. In fact, Matthew wasnâ€™t even sure the men were in this same house. Once they had been abducted and shaken down, the cartel members separated them. He wasnâ€™t sure how long theyâ€™d been captives; one of the blows to his head had knocked him unconscious. Four, five days maybe? He couldnâ€™t tell. All he knew was he had to get out of here; he had to fight.
It was late afternoon and D.M. was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital. Jake flew them down so Eagle could be seen by a proper obstetrical doctor. Sheâ€™d been behind closed doors for over two hours. Jake came down the hall carrying two cans of soda; he offered one to D.M. â€œYou know, itâ€™s sad that I know about this place.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œThis is where we brought Cara.â€ He eased into a chair, popping open the can. â€œDo you think if weâ€™d gotten her here earlier she wouldâ€™ve been okay?â€
â€œJim said the baby was dead.â€
â€œOh,â€ he said softly.
The door at the end of the hall opened and Eagle came out, accompanied by the physician. She walked slowly. Both men stood. â€œShould you be walking?â€ D.M. said.
â€œNo, she should not,â€ the doctor said. â€œBut your wife is stubborn.â€
Jake chuckled. â€œI wonder where she gets it from?â€
â€œMy mother,â€ Eagle said as she carefully sat down.
D.M. looked at Jake. â€œSee, wasnâ€™t me.â€
â€œYou two are made for each other.â€
â€œUmm, Sir?â€ the doctor interrupted.
â€œYes? Sorry, Doc.â€
â€œI examined her, and surprisingly your orthopedic surgeon did a good job of ensuring everything was removed. He should be commended. I have, however, advised Eagle against getting pregnant again.â€
â€œWe did an ultrasound and sheâ€™s got some abnormalities in her uterus. Any more pregnancies will probably result in miscarriage.â€
D.M. looked at Eagle. â€œDid you know about this?â€
She shook her head.
â€œIs your cousin still game?â€
â€œYes, as far as I know.â€
He looked at the doctor. â€œI guess we get to make a test tube baby, huh?â€
â€œYou have a recipient?â€
â€œHer cousin, Sigrid.â€
â€œWell, when youâ€™re ready, we can certainly help with that part. We have an extensive fertility lab.â€
The colonel put his arm around Eagle. â€œI guess itâ€™s not as much fun as making a baby the old-fashioned way, but at least you wonâ€™t be at risk.â€
â€œWe were gonna do it that way in the first place.â€
That night, Eagle was sitting in bed reading a book. D.M. came in and started to undress. He watched her out of the corner of his eye. She seemed to be handling everything with a sense of stoicism. In fact, she seemed rather unfazed by the whole ordeal. And tonight, she was ignoring him, which was unlike her. She always enjoyed watching him undress.
He finished taking off his clothes and wiggled back into his robotic arm. D.M. had been the very first casualty on the team. Having taken a .50 cal round to his left shoulder, heâ€™d lost the use of his arm. It was still there, and he had minimal feeling in it, but it was of little use.
D.M. put his MIT education to work and fashioned a robotic arm that went over his own arm. A computer was implanted into his chest where he was missing most of his left lung, allowing him to wirelessly interface with the arm. It was part of him now, an extension of his own body.
â€œAre you okay?â€ he finally said.
She looked over the top of her book. â€œYes, Iâ€™m fine.â€
â€œYes, Iâ€™m fine, really.â€
He stood at the end of the bed. Kneeling down, he leaned forward, kissing the tops of her feet. â€œI love you, and Iâ€™m here to talk if you want to.â€
â€œI know,â€ she said with little emotion.
â€œDo you wanna talk about it?â€
D.M. crawled up on the bed next to her. â€œI was talking to Jim, and he said you might have some problems dealing with this.â€
â€œIâ€™m okay, D.M.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not sad you lost the child?â€
She closed her book. â€œYes, Iâ€™m upset. But spending days bawling my brains out over it doesnâ€™t change the situation.â€ She paused. â€œI have to be strong for you and for this unit. It was an accident that I got pregnant in the first place. I guess I shouldâ€™ve been more careful.â€
â€œIâ€™m just worried youâ€™ll be depressed over it. You were nearly halfway along.â€
â€œThere was no changing the outcome. The last ultrasound I had two weeks ago showed the baby was fine. Jim doesnâ€™t know what happened, but the baby died. I couldnâ€™t control that. At least now I know I shouldnâ€™t get pregnant.â€
D.M. sighed. â€œWell, as long as youâ€™re okay with everything. Please promise me if you start to feel bad, youâ€™ll talk to me?â€
He leaned over and kissed her. â€œGood-night, my love.â€
Matthew awoke to the creaking of a door. He wasnâ€™t sure what time of day it was, the blindfold was thick, and evidently their captors were keeping the drapes drawn in the room; it always felt dark. He was so hungry and thirsty; he couldnâ€™t remember the last time he ate.
Footsteps sounded on the floor. Matthew thought two men had come in. Then there was the sound of dishes clanking. Were they bringing them food? Or was this a hoax? His stomach growled fiercely. The men spoke in Spanish.
Despite living in Arizona for the last two years, Matthew only managed to pick up a few of the words. He was an Iowa farm boy for most of his life. His parents owned one of the most beautiful farms around, until an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease forced them to cull their entire stock of prized Holstein cows, and the farm fell to foreclosure. With no jobs in the area, Matthew decided to join the army. He was a good son, and regularly sent money home to help his folks. They now lived in a small apartment in Des Moines; his parents hated it, but it was all they could afford.
A pair of arms grabbed Matthew under the armpits. He was manhandled to his knees. Oh God, whatâ€™s happening? he thought as he fought to keep his balance. One of the men said something to him in Spanish. He didnâ€™t understand. The man repeated; Matthew shook his head. The man grew impatient and hit him on the side of the face. Matthew cried out through the gag. The pain was nothing like heâ€™d ever felt before. He could feel the broken pieces of his jaw grating together, the muscles going into spasm. Matthew fell to the ground on his right side. He needed to try and defend himself. Kicking out with his bound legs, he managed to hit one of the men in the shins. It was a solid hit; Matthew could feel his toes stinging from the blow.
â€œÂ¡Ano americano!â€ the man shouted, calling Matthew an American asshole. He kicked him several times in the stomach. Matthew groaned in pain. Next to him, Pete Kent could do nothing but try and lie as still as possible. He could not help his friend and he knew it.
â€œÂ¡Vaya a matar a este bastardo!â€ the man said to his partner; he wanted to kill this bastard.
â€œSevy, no no. Â¿Y si Emesto Garza lo quiera vivo?â€ the other man told his partner, Sevy Melendez, that Garza the local cartel cell leader might want him left alive.
â€œVeremos,â€ Melendez said as he left the room. He was going to see Garza and find out.
A few minutes later, Garza and Melendez returned to the room. There was much discussion going on and Matthew wished he could understand. His friend, Pete, was fluent in Spanish, but he was gagged, and of no help.
Pete listened to the conversation. He was horrified. Thoughts flew through his head; he wanted to react and try to do something, but that would put him in jeopardy as well. And then their captors would know he understood Spanish, which could be a threat to them. No, no, he had to stay calm, listening and praying that no harm would come to them.
â€œTodo este americano ha hecho es luchan contra nosotros,â€ Melendez said, telling Garza that all the American did was fight them.
â€œÂ¿Entonces Ã©l es un verdadero problema?â€ Garza replied, asking if he was a real problem.
â€œBien,â€ Garza said lowly as he pulled out his pistol. He stepped over Matthew, lined up, and pulled the trigger.
Specialist Thomas Blake awoke to a loud crack. What was that noise? Was it a gunshot? His mind was fuzzy; dehydration was taking its toll. Next to him, he could feel Corporal Don Di Arnesto. He jolted awake too. They werenâ€™t sure where Matthew and Pete were, but hoped they were okay.
The door opened and they heard men come in. Fear gripped them; neither moved a muscle. They were wrestled to their knees. â€œYou, Americans. You behave if you want food,â€ were the coarse words of Ignacio Vega, the second in command of the cartel cell.
Both men slowly nodded. Neto Mendoza removed Thomasâ€™s gag and offered him water. He drank like heâ€™d never had anything better in his life. The water was truly terrible tasting. It had a peculiar odor and tasted of salt. But it was water, he hoped.
And then a surprise. Thomas thought he heard the noise of a bowl or something. A few moments later, a spoon was being shoved at his lips. He got a faint whiff of what he thought was rice. It certainly smelled like it. He opened his mouth slightly and the spoon was rammed in. Yes, it was rice! Food! Something! He was so hungry that cardboard probably would have tasted good. Quickly he chewed and swallowed, opening his mouth for more. After four spoonfuls, his gag was just about to be replaced. â€œMy friends,â€ he managed to squeak out.
Thomas figured heâ€™d better not press his luck. He was happy for the little bit of food and water heâ€™d gotten. The men moved on to Don and repeated the process. Perhaps the cartel was keeping them alive for ransom? If that was the case, he hoped someone would come for them soon.
The next morning, both teams were in the dining room. They sat around the large oval table and chatted noisily about various events and happenings. Eagle came in. The room immediately fell silent as they stood. She carefully took her seat at the head of the table.
â€œAs you were, gentlemen.â€ Grabbing the teapot, she poured a cup.
â€œGood morning, Maâ€™am,â€ Cabbott said softly. His position as B team leader meant he now sat next to her on the left side.
â€œGood morning, Cap,â€ she replied, looking over at him. He stood six-foot-two and had nearly black hair. His eyes were normally a medium brown, but when he got agitated, they burned a fiery red. At nearly two hundred fifty pounds, he was a force to be reckoned with.
To Cabbottâ€™s misfortune, heâ€™d suffered a horrific parachute accident that left the majority of his lower body shattered. After many surgeries, he was back doing what he loved, although he was always mindful of his physical state. Despite being a major now, they still called him â€œCap,â€ as it had become something of a nickname.
Jake leaned forward slightly. He sat next to D.M., so he wasnâ€™t far from Eagle. â€œHow are you feeling?â€ He kept his voice low, afraid to upset her.
â€œIâ€™m fine, Jake.â€
He nodded politely and sat back. Eagle looked around the table at everyone. They all seemed to be concerned about her. â€œAll right, enough. Yes, I had a miscarriage, yes, Iâ€™m a bit upset about it, but we must carry on as a unit. We have training to do, and quite possibly a mission coming up.â€
â€œWhere to, Maâ€™am?â€ Tige said. He was five-foot-ten and weighed about one-eighty-five. His blue-green eyes forever had the â€œthousand yard stareâ€ from years of killing. Tige kept his medium brown hair fairly short. Heâ€™d come from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, more or less by accident. The major had arrived in the U.S. as a sergeant, sent to train at Ft. Bragg. In a barroom altercation, heâ€™d killed a man and ended up in a military prison. Heâ€™d been assigned to the team as part of a sabotage plot by Admiral Westland, who was trying to put an end to the team Eagle fought to form. Tige was the oldest on the team at age forty-four.
â€œMexico?â€ Kippie repeated. He scratched his head, his black hair showing a few gray hairs from his rough living. At age forty, Kippie was one of the oldest members of the unit. He stood six feet tall and weighed just under two hundred pounds. A native-born Maori from New Zealand, he moved to Australia at age fifteen. Heâ€™d been kicked out of the SASR because of his post-traumatic problems. Going rogue, Kippie killed six innocent civilians as he let his emotions rage. The government wanted him dead, but Tige managed to broker a deal that brought Kippie to the Dragonslayers.
â€œWhat kind of mission, Maâ€™am?â€ Lieutenant Jon Red Knife asked. He was one of the newest members of the team. Heâ€™d come from the Seventh Cavalry where he distinguished himself in many battles in Afghanistan. Jon was a Lakota Sioux, standing about six foot and had a face that looked as if it was chiseled out of red rock. He was solidly built, weighing two hundred ten pounds. Eagle partnered him with Kippie since they got along well.
â€œIâ€™m not exactly sure.â€ She looked at D.M. and Cabbott. â€œAfter breakfast, Iâ€™ll have the team chiefs meet in my office and weâ€™ll discuss this. I should have more info then.â€
They both nodded.
Cabbott secretly hoped it wouldnâ€™t be a long mission. Cara was due in another month and a half, and he wanted to be there for the birth of his first child. They werenâ€™t sure if it was a boy or a girl; they wanted to be surprised. He didnâ€™t care either way, heâ€™d just be happy for a healthy baby. He turned to Max. â€œHowâ€™s your Spanish?â€
â€œÂ¿Mi espaÃ±ol es sÃ³lo la penalidad, usted consiguiÃ³ un problema con ello?â€ Max replied smugly, folding his arms. He was another member of the â€œsix-footâ€ club and weighed about the same as Jon. Captain Max Hauer had been with the team since the beginning and proved his worth as a translator/interpreter. Speaking seven languages fluently, he was a handy addition. He was partnered with Cabbott as his spotter. Max had dark sandy brown hair, green eyes, and a mustache that Eagle despised.
D.M. chuckled. â€œParece bueno a mÃ, Max.â€
â€œOkay, what did he say?â€ Cabbott said, confused and finding himself in a crossfire of languages.
Lieutenant Erik Sutton piped up. â€œSir, Captain Hauer said his Spanish was just fine, and did you have a problem with it?â€ At age twenty-two, he was now the baby of the unit. His uncle, Admiral Connors, told him about the team, and when Erik graduated West Point, he wanted to join the Dragonslayers. He quickly learned it wasnâ€™t all that it was cracked up to be. Erik stood six-foot-three and weighed one hundred eighty-five pounds. His youth meant he still had not developed the bulk of muscle the other members of the unit boasted. He kept his medium blond hair cropped short. His amber eyes were piercing. â€œAnd the colonel said he thought it sounded good to him.â€
Cabbott leaned forward and looked down the table at him. â€œYou speak Spanish?â€
â€œYes, Sir. I took four years of it in school.â€
â€œBueno, mÃ¡s el merrier,â€ D.M. replied. â€œThe more the merrier.â€
Lieutenant Ryuu Kurosawa figured it was his turn. He rattled off something in Japanese. All stopped and looked at him. He was another new member of the unit. At five-eleven and two hundred twenty-five pounds, he more than earned his call sign: â€œSumo.â€ A former navy cook by trade, heâ€™d nearly completed SEAL school before having to take a humanitarian assignment because his father was ill.
â€œHey look, buddy, my Japanese isnâ€™t that good yet,â€ Max said. Heâ€™d been taking lessons in all the other languages the team members spoke.
â€œI said that I agree, Sir.â€
â€œAhau whakaae,â€ Kippie added, smiling.
Tige looked down at him. â€œKip, donâ€™t start with the Maori now.â€
He shrugged his shoulders. â€œI was only agreeing.â€
Eagle rested her elbows on the table. â€œI donâ€™t recall scheduling language class to coincide with breakfast, gentlemen.â€
D.M. looked at Eagle. â€œWhat, my love, not gonna join in the party?â€
â€œBeklager, ikke spiller!â€ She giggled.
Kippie cocked his head. â€œMaâ€™am? Did you just say something about spilling beer?â€
She laughed and shook her head. â€œNo, Kip, I said sorry, not playing.â€
After breakfast, D.M. and Cabbott reported to Eagleâ€™s office. They both stood looking out the wall of glass. She had not yet come in.
â€œSo, you think thisâ€™ll be a job for both teams?â€ Cabbott said.
â€œDunno. I guess she wants to meet and discuss the parameters.â€ The sun was out and the reflection off the snow was nearly blinding. D.M. was happy being in the comfort of the building. Mexico, hmm, itâ€™s warmer there this time of year, he thought, watching a deer walk across the runway.
Eagle came in and sat down at her desk. Without a word, she turned on the computer and went to work downloading the mission brief. â€œAll right, come here you two.â€
They stepped behind her desk and looked over her shoulder.
â€œThereâ€™s four U.S. military personnel who were taken hostage by a splinter faction of the Sinaloa cartel.â€
â€œI thought there was a ban on travel to Mexico?â€ D.M. said as he read through the information.
â€œIt was lifted a month ago; evidently a bad idea since we now have four friendlies in their hands.â€
â€œSo all we gotta do is get â€™em back?â€ Cabbott asked.
â€œAnd eliminate as many cartel members as you can. The Mexican Government canâ€™t seem to put these guys down.â€
â€œAh, I love hunting drug lords,â€ the major said with a smile. It was one of the few pleasures he truly enjoyed.
â€œI think we only need to send one team. Cap? Howâ€™s your team coming along?â€
â€œGood, Maâ€™am, theyâ€™ve been training hard.â€
â€œThink theyâ€™re ready for a job?â€
He rubbed his chin. â€œErik and Ryuu are still a little green, but I think theyâ€™ve shown they can kill and handle the consequences of it.â€ He paused. â€œHow long are we projected to be gone?â€
Eagle smiled. â€œYou should be home long before the baby arrives.â€
â€œAll right, weâ€™ll take it. Where in Mexico are we going?â€
â€œMark my words; you boys will not be making a vacation out of this.â€
â€œWhere?â€ He was playing along with her.
â€œI donâ€™t want to see a single photograph of you guys on the beach; that is, unless youâ€™re in full battle rattle.â€
She handed him a folder. â€œCabo San Lucas.â€
â€œI canâ€™t fuckinâ€™ believe we get to do a job in Cabo San Lucas!â€ Lieutenant Ross Murphy cheered. He was at the controls of the Warhawk, their transport helicopter. Ross was a former Marine Cobra pilot who joined the Dragonslayers after witnessing the amazing abilities of Captain Collins during an exercise at Twenty-Nine Palms.
Jake had flown the Badger attack helicopter and eliminated anything that said USMC on it. Ross wanted to fly with the best, so he volunteered for the team. He was the smallest in the unit, an inch shorter than Eagle at five-foot-five and tipped the scales at a scant one-sixty-five. As the only black man on the team, heâ€™d taken some heat from his assigned partner, Lieutenant Louis Guerrier.
â€œDonâ€™t get all excited, Ross. This is still a job, and we have to do it. There are four American service members being held and we need to spring â€™em,â€ Cabbott said as he studied a map of the area. They were over halfway through their 1300-mile journey.
â€œYes, Sir, I know. At least weâ€™re out of the snow for a little while. That sun is gonna feel mighty nice.â€
Cabbott looked out the window; the sun was bright and he could feel the warmth of it on his face and black flight suit. â€œYeah, these olâ€™ bones will be happy with some warmth.â€
â€œHave you ever been to Cabo?â€
â€œNo. I hear it used to be really nice before the cartel muscled their way in.â€
Ross made a minor course correction and checked the fuel gauge. They would be landing to refuel in another hour. â€œI came down here with my girlfriend one year. It was absolutely fabulous.â€
â€œMust not have been that fabulous, you donâ€™t have the girlfriend anymore.â€
â€œOh, it was a nice time. But she dumped me six months later and decided to date one of the other guys in my squadron.â€
â€œOuch, that mustâ€™ve been uncomfortable.â€
â€œIt was, because she was cheating on me with him for three months before she broke it off.â€
â€œNow that really sucks.â€
â€œSad to say, they got their just desserts.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Cabbott said.
â€œHe knocked her up; they were two weeks from getting married when he got deployed to Afghanistan. Hajjis blew him out of the sky.â€
â€œOh shit, thatâ€™s not cool.â€
â€œNow sheâ€™s got a kid to look after and no death benefits because they werenâ€™t married.â€
Cabbott checked the nav computer. â€œThatâ€™s why I married Cara before we went to Yemen.â€
â€œAnd she almost became a widow too.â€
He pointed a finger at Ross. â€œDonâ€™t go there.â€
In the back of the Warhawk, the rest of the B team chatted about the mission. Considering most of them were new to Special Forces, and new to working together, they got along well.
â€œHey, Louis, you remember to pack enough sunscreen?â€ Max joked.
Louis flipped him the middle finger. â€œHa ha, das not very funny, leaf me alone.â€ He was a volunteer who came from the Army Rangers. â€œDonâ€™t be no cooyon, Captain,â€ he said deliberately in Cajun.
Lieutenant Louis Guerrier stood five-foot-eleven, and weighed about one hundred ninety pounds. He was average size for the team. What made him stand out from the rest of the others was his unusually pale skin and disturbing light gray eyes. He looked like heâ€™d come off the set of a horror movie. With his love of killing with edged weapons, some on the team wanted to re-christen his call sign from Butcher to Freddy Krueger.
â€œAw, just kidding, you know that. Howâ€™d you manage to grow up in Louisiana and not get burned to a crisp?â€
Louis chuckled. â€œWhere I grew up, de trees was so thick in de swamp, youâ€™d be lucky if you saw de light a day.â€ He rubbed his bald head. â€œThere was no need for suntan lotion.â€
â€œSo, Louis, you eat much gator?â€ Erik teased. Despite being nearly twenty years younger, he couldnâ€™t resist the occasional jab at the seemingly uneducated Cajun.
â€œYes, I did. And yes, it tastes like chicken,â€ Louis replied; he was anything but uneducated. Having attended four years of college, he was studying toward a degree in criminology. His deep Southern back-bayou upbringing gave him a rather coarse personality. He wasnâ€™t a typical Southerner.
Jake was in the lab. He studied a complicated wiring diagram. Something wasnâ€™t making sense. In his trials, the nanos in his experiment did just what he asked of them; they changed colors. Now for some reason, they were simply ignoring him. He scratched his head in frustration. Grabbing the laptop, he typed in a few commands and watched; nothing happened. â€œAll right, guys, what gives? You worked a little bit ago, why are you fucking with me now?â€
â€œPerhaps youâ€™re not speaking to them in their native nano language,â€ D.M. cracked as he walked in. Originally the lab had been his to use for experiments, but with Jakeâ€™s growing interest in science, heâ€™d graciously decided to share. Now the captain spent as much, if not more time than D.M. did in the lab.
â€œSmartass. I had it working a while ago.â€
â€œNow itâ€™s not?â€
â€œNope. Theyâ€™re ignoring me, giving me the nano middle finger salute, if you will.â€
D.M. chuckled and sat down next to him. â€œMay I have a look?â€ He motioned to the diagram. Jake passed it to him. He looked it over and then carefully inspected the tiny circuit board and wires that controlled the nanos. â€œHmm.â€
The colonel reached into a drawer and took out a pair of glasses. Putting them on, he leaned closer to the project. Jake watched him. â€œSince when do you need glasses?â€
â€œMagnifying glasses. My vision is just fine, but I needed a little help seeing all your tiny wires.â€
â€œDo you think one came loose?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m checking for.â€
â€œShush!â€ D.M. picked up a very fine probe and began testing wires. After a few minutes of careful probing, he sat up. â€œI donâ€™t see any loose ones.â€
Jake rubbed his forehead. â€œThen what is it?â€
He followed the wire back to the computer and unplugged a standard USB connection. Opening a port on the front of his robotic arm, he plugged in the cable. â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Jake said, confused.
â€œGonna see if I can interface with them.â€ He closed his eyes and began to think, his brain working in concert with the computer in his body. Jake watched, wondering what the colonel was doing. He couldnâ€™t fathom how D.M. could function with a computer and his robotic arm. Even though heâ€™d helped him make the arm and the technology, it was still a mystery how he got it all to work.
A few moments later the swatch of material, which was embedded with nanos, went from dull gray to hot pink.
â€œHey, whatâ€™d you do?â€ Jake said.
D.M. opened his eyes. â€œAh, it worked.â€
â€œYeah, whatâ€™d you do?â€
He unplugged the cable and put it back into the laptop. Then he accessed the program Jake was using. â€œYou must have accidently deleted a line of code.â€
â€œAw shit, I wonder how I did that?â€
â€œI dunno. Mistakes happen.â€ He picked up the material. â€œIs this still your Phantom Cloak project?â€
â€œYeah, got more bugs to work out. Maybe in a few months Iâ€™ll have a good working prototype. Capâ€™s graciously offered to test it for me.â€
â€œAfter flying through a raging blizzard to save his wife and unborn child, I think he more than owes you.â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™d do it again if need be. Weâ€™re all family here; we have to watch out for one another.â€
D.M. stood and patted Jake on the shoulder. â€œKeep up the good work, Jake.â€
Max grabbed a beer and sat down next to Cabbott. They were on the balcony of their room enjoying the fresh sea air, and reviewing photos of the operation area. It was early afternoon and most of them slept in from their long flight.
â€œSo, whatâ€™s your assessment?â€ Max asked.
â€œI think we need to gather some more up-to-date intel. The stuff we have is almost a week old.â€
â€œCanâ€™t believe a drug cartel would hold four hostages for that long. Donâ€™t they usually kill â€™em pretty quick?â€
â€œMmm, yeah. They made a demand of the U.S. Government of fifty million dollars, which they arenâ€™t gonna pay. Why I wanna get something up to date.â€
Max looked at a photo of the target area. â€œThatâ€™s the building?â€
â€œTwo story, standard block construction; nothing fancy. Should be fairly straightforward if they havenâ€™t left any surprises.â€
â€œAnd then thereâ€™s that.â€ He studied the photographs some more. â€œIs this a junkyard?â€
â€œYeah, big one to the south.â€
â€œThat should make the approach pretty easyâ€”well provided thereâ€™s no junkyard dogs.â€
Cabbott chuckled. â€œAnd then thereâ€™s that!â€
A knock on the door got their attention. â€œYou wanna go see who it is?â€ Cabbott said.
Max got up. â€œYeah, sure.â€ He went inside, grabbed his .45 off the nightstand, and went to the side of the door. â€œWho is it?â€
â€œRoss and the rest of the crew.â€
He opened the door and let them in. â€œMorning, all.â€
â€œAfternoon, Sir,â€ Ross said as he came in. They were all dressed for the beach.
Cabbott came from the balcony, a pile of papers and photos in his hand. â€œAnd whatâ€™s this?â€
â€œWell, Sir, we were hoping to have a little time to hit the beach. The weatherâ€™s fantastic,â€ Erik said.
â€œBeach? Youâ€™ll do no such thing,â€ Cabbott replied. There were groans from the group. â€œEagle gave me express orders that we were not to be on the beachâ€”unless we were in full battle rattle.â€ He paused. â€œHowever, she did not say that we couldnâ€™t partake of the fine pools the hotel has to offer.â€
There were cheers from the group. â€œI will ask that you be ready to go by 1900. We have intel to gather.â€
â€œThank you, Sir!â€ Erik snapped to attention and saluted.
Cabbott returned the salute, although far more flippantly. â€œAnd the order of the day is you will all behave. We are here on official government business. Stay out of trouble, and please, refrain from anything more than casual banter with the ladies; we need to be focused.â€ He looked around at the men standing in front of him; they were eager and ready for some fun. It was his responsibility to keep them in check, now he realized how Eagle felt. â€œDismissed.â€
They cheered and tore out of the room in a noisy stampede. Max stayed behind. â€œAnd what are you gonna do, boss man?â€
â€œI was thinking Iâ€™d grab a book I brought, get one of those Bali beds by the pool, and relax.â€
â€œThat sounds like a nice day.â€
â€œWhat are you gonna do?â€
Max rubbed his fingers over his mustache. â€œOddly enough, I was thinking about taking a walk and checking stuff out. Get a feel for the area.â€
â€œIâ€™d advise against it. Youâ€™re obviously American, and the cartel will know that; youâ€™d be easy prey. And I canâ€™t afford to lose you.â€
â€œMmm, true. Maybe Iâ€™ll hang with the guys in the pool.â€
â€œThat would probably be the safest bet. And you can make sure they behave.â€
â€œThanks, making me the babysitter, huh?â€
â€œWelcome to the club. More rank means more responsibilities.â€
Army Specialist Pete Kent felt his head whip around as the butt of the handgun smashed him in the jaw. A man standing above him shouted in Spanish. Pete knew he was in trouble. Blood drained out of his mouth, and the pain was intense. Deciding to vacation in Cabo so soon after the travel ban was lifted had not been a good idea.
The man shouted some more and left the room, the door slamming behind him. Pete was alone. He wondered where his friends were. When they were first taken captive, they were together. After a few days, they had been split up and Pete didnâ€™t know if they were even in the same building. And a few days ago, he lay on the floor while he heard his friend Kenneth take a bullet.
His three other friends, Thomas Blake, Don Di Arnesto, and Kenneth Hartford came down with another army friend for some much-needed R&R. They decided to go out after dark and see the sightsâ€”a definite mistake. All he hoped for was that the one friend who decided not to go out with them contacted the police and reported them missing.
Cabbott lounged comfortably on a cabaÃ±a by the pool. He couldnâ€™t be out in the sun due to all his scars, so he found a place with shade. Opting to wear a thin white long-sleeve shirt, heâ€™d rolled the sleeves up to just below his elbows to hide the scar on his right arm that heâ€™d sustained in a car bomb blast in Yemen. He wore a comfortable pair of tan trousers and figured since he was by the pool, flip-flops would do for footwear.
The major wasnâ€™t particularly proud of his body; he was in excellent shape, but he wondered how his wife tolerated all his scars. Of course it helped that she did therapeutic massage for a living, although that wasnâ€™t how they met. Cara used to work at the Wild Horse brothel in Reno. D.M. sabotaged him one weekend and hooked him up with her. It was the best time heâ€™d had in years, and they quickly fell in love.
Heâ€™d called and checked in with Eagle, informing her of his plans. Then he called Cara to make sure all was fine on the home front. The book heâ€™d brought to read was anything but interesting; it was a treatise on leadership and tactics. Being a new team leader, he wanted to be as prepared as possible, but the book was seriously boring. Cabbott looked around; there werenâ€™t many people out, and the rest of his team wasnâ€™t far away. He could hear them splashing in the pool and most of them he could see.
Closing the book, the major decided to take a little nap. He didnâ€™t normally sleep in public places, but after a couple piÃ±a coladas and a dry book, he was sleepy. He set the book aside and snuggled down into the plush pillow.
It wasnâ€™t long before he drifted off. Dreams of his wife filled his mind: her beautiful blonde hair fell in tendrils about her shoulders, her brilliant blue eyes sparkled, and she wore a smile that would melt the coldest, hardest man. Never did he think heâ€™d be so lucky to have a woman like her. She tamed his inner beast.
His dream continued. Cara was gently caressing his arms and face; it felt so real. Then he started to wake up. As he opened his eyes, there was a woman sitting next to him on his left. He was startled, but not to the point of reacting violently. â€œWho the hell are you?â€ he said, sitting up slightly.
â€œIâ€™ve been watching you all day. You look lonely,â€ she replied. The woman was beautiful, but not his type. She was very tan and her dark brown hair hung in loose curls over her shoulders.
â€œIâ€™m not lonely. And who are you?â€
She offered her hand. â€œIâ€™m Lydia Flemming.â€
He took her hand, but didnâ€™t give his name.
â€œAre you here for business or pleasure?â€ she asked.
â€œBusiness. Youâ€™re American,â€ he said abruptly.
â€œYes. I was down here with friends and theyâ€™ve gone missing.â€ She caressed his arm. â€œAnd Iâ€™m banking your business partners are the ones over there.â€
â€œHow do you know?â€
She brushed her hand over his left shoulder, his tattoo was barely visible through the cloth. â€œYour matching tattoos; you guys are military, I bet.â€
Cabbott sat up all the way. â€œAnd who exactly are you?â€
Lydia reached in her purse and took out her military ID card. She handed it to Cabbott. He looked it over carefully. â€œStaff Sergeant Lydia Flemming, U.S. Army.â€ He handed it back. â€œAnd what do you do for the army?â€
He let out a little laugh. â€œYou shouldâ€™ve done better intel gathering and found a different vacation spot.â€
â€œI blame that on my four missing co-workers. They wanted to come here. So who are you?â€
â€œMajor Cabbott Westmoreland, Special Forces.â€
â€œMajor? Oh, uh, sorry, Sir.â€ She moved back slightly.
He smiled. â€œYou didnâ€™t know. Hmm, I was having a wonderful dream about my wife when you woke me up.â€
â€œYouâ€™re married? I thought that most operators werenâ€™t?â€
â€œIt ainâ€™t easy, but I am. Got a baby on the way too.â€
â€œAre you here to help free my friends?â€ Lydia said.
â€œYup.â€ He looked toward his team. â€œI guess I should introduce you to the rest of the team.â€ Putting two fingers in his mouth, he whistled. The others looked in his direction. He waved them over. Most were in the pool and swam right up to where he was sitting.
â€œWhatâ€™s up, boss?â€ Max said, eyeing the rather pretty young lady.
Erik took immediate interest in her. â€œHello,â€ he said in a fairly deep voice. He thought she was beautiful.
â€œWell, guys, it appears we donâ€™t camouflage very well. This young lady managed to make us.â€
â€œOh she did, huh?â€ Max said.
Cabbott laughed. â€œWell, sheâ€™s intel, so I guess she was just doing her job.â€
Erik hopped up and sat on the edge of the pool. â€œIntel, huh? Sounds fascinating.â€
â€œCome on, Baby Face, sheâ€™s not in your league,â€ Cabbott said, shaking his finger at him. â€œSheâ€™s Staff Sergeant Lydia Flemming, U.S. Army.â€
â€œOh,â€ he said lowly.
â€œLydia was part of the group that got snatched. She was smart and didnâ€™t go out with them the night they were taken.â€
Max hefted himself out and sat on the edge of the pool. â€œYou have any idea where they are? Or more info?â€
â€œIâ€™ve been talking to a police detective here; his name is Matias Delgado. He has some leads, but the police are terrified of tangling with the cartel.â€
â€œWeâ€™re not,â€ Cabbott said as he swung his legs around. â€œLet me introduce you to the rest of the teamâ€¦Thatâ€™s Captain Max Hauer, and the lieutenants: Louis Guerrier, Ross Murphy, Erik Sutton, and Ryuu Kurosawa.â€
â€œWho are you guys?â€ she said, looking at all of them.
Max pointed to his tattoo. â€œWeâ€™re the Dragonslayers.â€
â€œSo youâ€™re them, huh? Iâ€™d heard rumors about some of the missions your team pulled off. There was a big one in Colombia with the Rangers.â€
â€œWell, weâ€™re part of â€™em. Weâ€™re the B team,â€ Cabbott said. â€œThere used to be only six, now thereâ€™s a dozen of us.â€
Lydia stood. â€œSo you think you can rescue my friends?â€
â€œWeâ€™re gonna do our best.â€
â€œI wanna help you out.â€
â€œNo, youâ€™d only get in the way.â€
Cabbott gave her a hard stare. â€œNo.â€
Ignacio Vega unlocked the door and pushed it open with his foot. He carried a tray with three bowls of rice and a large bottle of water. It was his job to feed the prisoners. On the floor in front of him lay Specialist Thomas Blake and Corporal Don Di Arnesto; both bound and gagged. Vega sat the tray down and wrestled Thomas so he was sitting up.
He took the gag out of his mouth. â€œYou shut up, okay?â€ he said roughly. Thomas nodded. He was so hungry and thirsty. They were fed one meal a day, usually rice and water.
Vega took a bowl and spoon. Hurriedly, he shoved the rice in Thomasâ€™s mouth. Thomas ate as quickly as he could; he knew he would only get as much as Vega felt like giving him.
After a couple minutes of shoving rice in the prisonerâ€™s mouth, he grabbed the bottle of water and let him have a drink. Next he moved on to Don and repeated the process. Then he went down the hall to where Pete Kent was housed. He pulled him up and loosened his gag.
Pete was miserable, his jaw throbbed and he could hardly close his mouth. Vega took the spoon and shoved it in Peteâ€™s mouth. He cried out in pain. Vega was not in the mood. He smacked Pete with the back of his hand; he cried out again. The door opened and Rodolfo Flores came in. Heâ€™d heard the noise and was going to make sure the prisoner was silent. With a swift kick, he dug the toe of his boot into Peteâ€™s abdomen. The specialist gasped and coughed a couple of times. â€œSilence!â€ Flores bellowed and stomped out.
Pete knew they were being tough on him for a reason; heâ€™d fought pretty hard, injuring one of their men. The other member of their group, Specialist Matthew Hartford had really put up a fight, and it most likely got him killed. Heâ€™d been in the room when the gun went off; after, he heard only the sound of a body being dragged out.
Cabbott changed clothes. It was 1700 and he was meeting with Lydia to go to the police station. After further discussion with Max, heâ€™d decided perhaps she might be of some help, since sheâ€™d already established a rapport with the detective. He might be more comfortable talking to someone he knew. Max came out of the bathroom. â€œWhen is she coming by?â€
â€œShould be here any minute.â€ He looked at Max. â€œHey, I think you might wanna close the barn door.â€
The captain looked down. â€œOh shit! Thanks, Cap.â€ He tugged his zipper. â€œThat wouldâ€™ve been embarrassing.â€
There was a knock on the door. Cabbott went to the side. â€œWho is it?â€
He opened the door and let her in.
â€œYou guys ready to go?â€ She was dressed in jeans and a conservative shirt.
â€œIn a minute,â€ Cabbott replied as he pulled on a light jacket, tucking his .45 into the shoulder holster.
Lydia eyed the side arm. â€œYou guys always pack?â€
Max pulled his pistol out and checked it, then put it in his shoulder holster. â€œAlways!â€
They left the hotel and went to the police station. Lydia called ahead and asked Detective Delgado to wait for them. They were shown through a small office area to a private office. Detective Delgado stood and greeted them. â€œHello, Ms. Flemming, you come to see me again?â€
â€œYes, I brought some friends; they have the capabilities to free the others.â€
He looked at Cabbott and Max. â€œI am Matias Delgado, pleased to meet you.â€ He offered his hand.
â€œIâ€™m Major Westmoreland, and this is Captain Hauer.â€ Cabbott shook hands and then reached inside his coat, removing several photos. â€œWeâ€™re looking for any new intel for this areaâ€”specifically the cartelâ€™s house.â€
â€œMy officers donâ€™t even dare go down that street. I have lost three already. Iâ€™m sorry I canâ€™t give you much information.â€
â€œWould your department have any heartburn with us going in and getting our people back?â€
â€œNo, amigo, as long as you donâ€™t level the whole neighborhood. There are innocent people living there too.â€
â€œI can assure you thatâ€™s not our style. We tend to be very discrete, killing only our targets.â€ He unfolded another piece of paper. â€œWe donâ€™t have any photographs or even names of our targets. I was hoping you might be able to help us with that.â€
â€œSi, el comandante, I might be able to do that. If you can give me a few minutes?â€
â€œSure, sure, take what time you need. I much prefer to be target specific.â€ Cabbott eased himself into a chair; he motioned to Lydia. â€œHave a seat, it may be a while.â€
Matias hurried out the door to go search through files. Max leaned against the doorpost. â€œYou think heâ€™s gonna give us something concrete?â€
â€œHopefully. I mean we know the houseâ€”supposedly, so all we need are faces to eliminate.â€
Lydia looked at both of them. â€œYou guys really donâ€™t have a problem with killing, do you?â€
Max shook his head. â€œNope. Uh, Cap? How many have you killed?â€
â€œUmm, well, last time I actually counted, one hundred ninety.â€
Lydia gasped. â€œOh my God!â€
He chuckled. â€œYeah, I have that effect on people.â€
Twenty minutes later, Matias returned. â€œGood news; I found a recent photo of Ignacio Vega. Heâ€™s the number two man in this area. He was arrested for drunk and disorderly a couple months ago. The other photos are much older, but I hope they will help.â€ He handed a folder to Cabbott. â€œThey arenâ€™t a particularly large part of the Sinaloa cartel, but they are more than willing to use violence.â€
Max leaned over Cabbottâ€™s shoulder as he flipped through the contents of the folder. â€œWell, if we have our way, you wonâ€™t lose any more officers.â€
â€œI appreciate that. Any idea of when youâ€™ll move on them?â€ Matias said as he settled behind his desk.
â€œNot sure. We wanna get as much intel as we can,â€ Cabbott replied; he didnâ€™t want to provide more information than necessary, just in case there was a leak in the police department. He stood, giving Lydia a gentle nudge. â€œThank you for the information, Detective.â€
â€œYouâ€™re most welcome, el comandante.â€
They returned to the hotel and met with the rest of the team. Cabbott and Max started to put on their armor. Lydia was still hanging with them; she refused to leave. Cabbott came out of the bathroom in his slinky suitâ€”a tight, white body suit that had small tubes running all over it. Jake designed the suit to be worn under their body armor to keep the wearer either warm or cool depending on the exertion level and external temperature.
â€œWhat on earth is that?â€ Lydia said.
â€œSlinky suit. Keeps you warm or cool,â€ Cabbott replied as he began to put on his armor.
She walked over and picked up a piece. â€œThis is plastic, how can it protect you?â€
â€œItâ€™s very special plastic. Tested to protect up to .50 caliber.â€
â€œYes, way,â€ he said, picking up his breastplate. â€œSee all these scratches? Theyâ€™re from AK rounds.â€
She reached out and touched the scratches. â€œWhy havenâ€™t we heard of this armor?â€
â€œBecause the man who owns it wonâ€™t let the technology out. Itâ€™s just for us.â€
â€œRather selfish of him.â€
Cabbott shook his head. â€œNot really. He was kind enough to make thirteen suitsâ€”and he paid for them.â€
â€œHow much does this stuff cost?â€
Max came out of the bathroom and started putting on his armor.
â€œHow much did D.M. say each suit of armor costs?â€
â€œUh, I think something like $75,000 now.â€
â€œHoly shit! And he paid for them himself?â€ Lydia said.
Max attached a thigh plate. â€œHe invented the technology, this is his baby. Weâ€™re just happy he decided to share.â€
Cabbott struggled with his backplate; Max helped him. â€œD.M.â€™s the generous sort; he knew we needed something to protect us.â€
Lydia sat down on the sofa and watched them. â€œWhoâ€™s this D.M. guy?â€
â€œLieutenant Colonel D.M. Elliott. Heâ€™s leader of A team and also second in command of the unit. His wife, Colonel Tryggvesson, is in charge of everything.â€
â€œAnother one of the interesting oddities of our unit.â€
Lydia shook her head. â€œOdd is right.â€
Max chuckled. â€œWe wouldnâ€™t have it any other way.â€
There was a knock on the door followed by the call of: â€œRoss and crew.â€ Cabbott opened the door. The others were standing, dressed in black coveralls and carrying duffel bags.
â€œReady, guys?â€ Cabbott inquired, holding the door for them.
â€œYes, Sir,â€ Ryuu replied, carefully sitting his bag on the floor. â€œI got the thermal scope.â€
â€œYes, Sir, I got mine too.â€
â€œAll right, letâ€™s go,â€ Cabbott zipped up his coveralls. The others had their gear ready to go; it was debatable if they would return to the hotel that night.
â€œCanâ€™t I go with you?â€ Lydia asked.
â€œNo. Much too dangerous. Weâ€™re gonna recon the place and then decide if we wanna go or not. I donâ€™t want unnecessary people around if bullets start flying.â€
â€œBut theyâ€™re my friends!â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Lydia. Weâ€™ll be gone most of the night. Your best bet is to check with us in the morning. I should be able to tell you something.â€ He picked up his duffel and motioned for her to leave. â€œI promise weâ€™ll do everything we can to get them back; you have my word on it.â€
â€œAngel, Butcher,â€ Louis said softly over the radio. â€œWeâ€™re in position.â€ It was 2100 and the teams were deployed around the target house. They used their thermal scopes to observe inside movement.
â€œCopy, Butcher. Do you have eyes on?â€ Cabbott said. Heâ€™d put Louis in charge of his element because of his experience; Ross was technically the senior member, but he didnâ€™t have the skills Louis possessed.
â€œAffirmative, eyes on.â€
Louis and Ross were to the west of the target, Ryuu and Erik were staked out to the east. Cabbott and Max were making their way through the junkyard, coming from the south.
â€œButcher, any movement?â€ Cabbott said. He was on point, slowly making it through the mass of junked cars.
â€œSome. I see five in one room. Oneâ€™s in another, and two in a different room.â€
â€œSumo, Angel. Whatâ€™s your take?â€
â€œI concur with Butcher. I see eight total.â€ Ryuu was in charge of his element. Erik might also have been senior, but he didnâ€™t have all of Ryuuâ€™s SEAL education.
â€œCan you determine hotels from tangos?â€
Ryuu looked through his thermal scope. â€œLooks like three on the floor. The rest are sitting up or moving.â€
â€œCopy. Keep eyes on.â€
Cabbott picked his way between some wrecked cars. He stopped. Max nearly ran into him. â€œWhat? What?â€ Max said, looking around.
The major took off his helmet and took a few sniffs in the air. â€œI smell death.â€ He was blessed with one of the most sensitive senses of smell of any human.
Max took a few sniffs but couldnâ€™t smell anything. â€œThat super nose going to work again?â€
â€œShhh. Donâ€™t disturb the air.â€ He continued to let his nose work. Changing direction, he followed the scent probably a hundred yards until he stopped at an old school bus. â€œIn there.â€
â€œYeah, I smell it now. Pretty rank.â€ He quietly worked to get the door open. After a few minutes of wiggling and working, the door opened. The stench of death hit them with force. â€œOh, fuck,â€ Max said, trying to cover his mouth and nose. He was getting sick to his stomach.
â€œYou stay out here; Iâ€™ll go have a look.â€
â€œOh God, Cap, how can you stand the smell?â€
â€œIâ€™m used to it.â€ He stepped into the bus, taking out a small flashlight and turning it on. Shining it down the aisle he could see a body. â€œI got one.â€ He advanced a little farther, the stench was overpowering. Cabbott pulled his shemagh over his mouth and nose. The warm Cabo sun had made the body start to decompose rather quickly.
He stopped at the foot of the body and shined his light over it. â€œMale, early twenties, white, military haircut, gunshot to the head. Bound and gagged. Looks to have been killed two, maybe three days ago.â€
â€œThink itâ€™s one of the hostages?â€
â€œYeah, probably. Why Louis and Ryuu only reported three in the house.â€ Cabbott came out.
â€œWhat are we gonna do?â€
The major closed the bus door. â€œIf they killed one, they may kill more. The way I see it, we donâ€™t have much time.â€ He headed toward the house. â€œI wanna recon a little and then probably go in.â€
Cabbott checked his watch; it was 2200. â€œWe need to make a clean break of this place. Weâ€™re gonna have to go back and get Lydia. She needs to exfiltrate with us. No complications that way. We slip out quietly together.â€
â€œRight, how do you wanna do that?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll leave the others to continue observing. We get her, and make her wait in the van while we do the job. Then we ex-fil to the airport and get the hell out of here.â€
â€œWhat about the dead guy?â€
â€œIâ€™ll leave a message for Detective Delgado with instructions. The body will get shipped back to the States. My concern is with the living right now.â€
â€œOkay, that sounds like a plan.â€ They continued through the junkyard until Cabbott found a suitable observation point. They watched for nearly an hour before he contacted the other teams. â€œButcher, Sumo; Angel. Report.â€
â€œAngel, Sumo. I see the three hotels down on the floor. The other five are still in one room; looks like theyâ€™re playing cards or something.â€
â€œAngel, Butcher. Affirmative. Very little movement.â€
â€œOkay, both teams, I need you to stay put. Bull Dog and I are gonna get the other package and return. Once we do, operation will commence.â€
â€œRoger, Angel. Sumo and Baby Face will hold position until further notice,â€ Ryuu said.
â€œRoger, Angel. Butcher and Mamba will hold as well.â€
Cabbott turned to Max. â€œLetâ€™s make tracks.â€
They returned to the hotel. Max waited in the van while Cabbott got Lydia. He hurried to her room and banged on the door. â€œLydia, open up.â€ A few moments later she opened the door.
â€œGet your shit together, youâ€™re coming with us.â€
â€œI thought you said you didnâ€™t want me along?â€
â€œChange of plans.â€ He stepped in the room, closing the door. â€œWe need to move tonight; the cartelâ€™s already killed one of them.â€
â€œOh God! Who?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. I didnâ€™t have time to search for ID. But we need to get the others out before the cartel loses their sense of humor.â€
Lydia hurriedly packed her things. Cabbott grabbed the suitcase, they ran down the hall and out to the van. Max drove them to a location near the house.
Cabbott turned to Lydia. â€œAs commander of this mission, I order you to remain in the van. Should you disobey a direct order, I swear Iâ€™ll bring you up on charges. Is that understood, Sergeant Flemming?â€ His voice was firm and harsh. He was in no mood for disobedience.
The major keyed his radio. â€œAll teams, weâ€™re on location. Make ready.â€
The other teams radioed back that they were ready.
Cabbott took a suppressor out and screwed it onto the end of his HK UMP submachine gun. This was close quarters work and he needed a weapon that could be wielded in tight spaces. With a 25-round magazine which shot .45 cal, it was a fierce little firearm.
Opening the door, he hopped out of the van. Max joined him. They picked their way through the junkyard and arrived at their location. A chain-link fence topped with a strand of barbed wire stood between them and the house. Max wiggled through a crush of cars and got to the fence. â€œHey, Cap, got an opening here.â€
â€œHang on, Iâ€™m coming.â€ He made his way over. â€œAwful small opening.â€
â€œWe can fit through that.â€ Max knelt down and prepared to climb through.
Cabbott stopped him. â€œWait.â€
The major took out his thermal scope and turned it on, surveying the house. â€œShit.â€
â€œButcher, Sumo; Angel. Report. I need tango positions.â€
Ryuu grabbed his scope and looked at the house. In the last few minutes, the cartel members had evidently gone to bed. They were bunked in the same rooms as the hostages. â€œAngel, Sumo. I see four in one room and four in another. I canâ€™t tell the tangos from the hotels.â€
â€œAngel, Butcher, I canâ€™t tell either. This just got seriously fucked up.â€
â€œAffirmative on that one, Butcher. All teams, proceed with caution. Try to enter quietly and surprise them. I hope the hotels will stay downâ€¦Move out.â€ He tapped Max on the back to continue. They climbed through the fence and waited at the back door. â€œAll teams, weâ€™re in position at the back door.â€
â€œAngel, Sumo. Weâ€™ve joined up with Butcher and Mamba. Weâ€™re ready at the front door.â€ Ryuu looked at the other team. â€œYou guys go right, weâ€™ll go left. Only fire if they have a weapon pointed at you. Keep your line of fire fairly high; I think our hotels are on the floor.â€
â€œRoger,â€ Erik whispered. Even with his armor, he was scared. After his last outing, having been sprayed down with an AK, he was well aware of how bad being shot had stung. And heâ€™d had issues dispatching the terrorist Louis shot. Could he kill this time? His stomach churned.
Ryuu reached forward and tried the doorknob. Locked. â€œShit!â€ he hissed. Handing his UMP to Erik, he dug around in one of his leg pouches. â€œAngel, Sumo. I have to pick the lock.â€
â€œRoger, Sumo. Notify when you open,â€ Cabbott said as he reached forward and tried the back door. It was locked as well. Max took the hint and got his lock pick. Carefully he went to work. After a couple of seconds, the door popped open. â€œAll teams, we have access to the back.â€
â€œCopy, Angel. Iâ€™m having some trouble,â€ Ryuu replied, still working the lock. It was more difficult than he remembered in training; damn Mexican lock, he thought. After another minute of jiggling, the door opened. â€œAngel, Sumo. I got entry.â€
Cabbott gently pushed the door open and slipped inside. Max was right behind him. They went down a short hall and took up a position. He wanted the new guys to clear and secure the rooms. Ahead, he heard the other teams entering. They werenâ€™t noisy, but his ears could hear them.
Louis and Ryuu were the first to enter the rooms. They flicked on their flashlights and stormed in. Men sprang up from beds, grabbing for weapons.
Ryuu had the room with two tangos. He swept in, submachine gun leveled, and opened fire. One man fell. Another man managed to get off a few rounds. They smacked him on the breastplate. Erik was on Ryuuâ€™s right elbow. He opened fire and sprayed the area with lead. The other tango fell. Ryuu shined his light on the floor. One hostage lay on his side, a trickle of blood coming from his back. The other appeared to be fine.
â€œClear!â€ Ryuu called. He hurried over to the man, pulled his knife, and cut him free. â€œU.S. Special Forces, weâ€™re here to get you out.â€
The man groaned and pulled the gag from his mouth. â€œIâ€™m hit, Iâ€™m hit,â€ he said loudly.
â€œWe gotta get you out of here,â€ Ryuu said as he helped him up. He looked back at Erik; he was frozen.
â€œBaby Face, gimme some help.â€ He cut the other man free and got him to his feet.
Erik was having problems. His heart pounded, and he felt sick. This was too much for him. They waited for the all clear from the other room.
Louis engaged the three men in his room. He managed to drop two, and Ross finished off the third. They hurriedly untied their hostage. â€œClear!â€ Louis called. He cut the hostage free and guided him toward the door.
The man yanked the gag from his mouth. â€œWho are you guys?â€ He stumbled as he tried to walk.
â€œThank God. Whereâ€™s Matt?â€
â€œWho?â€ Louis asked.
â€œMatt Hartford. He was with me a few days ago. He fought â€™em and I heard a gunshot. Iâ€™m pretty sure heâ€™s dead.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. We need to clear the scene.â€
Cabbott and Max swept the house looking for anything of interest. The others took the hostages down the street to the van.
â€œI donâ€™t see much,â€ Max said as he came out of a room and met back up with the major. â€œI found a couple keys of coke stashed in a dresser, but nothing else good.â€
â€œRight then, letâ€™s get out of here.â€
They hurried down the street to the van. Max climbed into the driverâ€™s seat, and they made the just over a mile drive to the airport in record time. Lydia was in the back tending to the wounded man.
Erik sat next to Ryuu. He was feeling ill. Had it been one of his bullets that wounded the hostage? Heâ€™d gone into the room and opened fire like a Wild West shoot-out. His finger just clamped down on the trigger out of fear and he sprayed the room with lead. He felt horrible.
The major knew he had one wounded; heâ€™d heard the man cry out. He turned and looked back. â€œLydia, how is he?â€
â€œHeâ€™s been shot in the shoulder. Itâ€™s not bleeding too bad.â€ She had the medical bag and found gauze to hold on the wound.
â€œWeâ€™ll be at the airport in a couple of minutes. Pack his shoulder with more gauze and find some tape,â€ Cabbott said.
Erik got up and helped her; he was feeling guilty for what had happened. He hoped the man wouldnâ€™t die. How could he have been so stupid? He overreacted in a stressful situation and it nearly cost the life of another U.S. service member. Did he really have what it took to be a part of the team?
The van reached the airport and they grabbed their gear and the hostages. Ross preflighted the Warhawk while the others loaded. He would have to put down once while still in Mexican territory to refuel. There was no way the Warhawk could make the nearly 800 miles to the border and San Diego. Once back on U.S. soil, they would offload the hostages and Lydia, then return to the Keep.
Eagle rolled over and snuggled up with D.M. Sheâ€™d just finished relaying the mission debrief from Cabbott. It sounded like they had done a good job.
â€œSo when will they be home?â€ D.M. said softly.
â€œAny more missions coming down?â€
â€œNot that I know of. Why? You itching for some action?â€
He nuzzled her neck. â€œI canâ€™t say the thought hasnâ€™t crossed my mind of late.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, dear, there isnâ€™t anything going on right now.â€
D.M. rolled over so he was facing her. â€œHow are you feeling, my love?â€
â€œNot too bad.â€
â€œNot too bad?â€ He caressed her leg, wondering if she would be in the mood. Perhaps it was too soon. Should it be the case, heâ€™d wait for another time. He missed sharing his love with her.
â€œMmm, maybe not for that, butâ€¦â€ She reached down, sliding her hand up the leg of his boxers, caressing him. He moaned, his body becoming alive with feelings. How he longed to make love to her, to be one with her. It had been so long. But she was not ready. Eagle was at least making a concession by giving him some pleasure; it wasnâ€™t the same.
â€œYou donâ€™t have to, you know,â€ he said.
She moved her hand with more purpose. â€œI want to. I love you, D.M., and itâ€™s not fair that you have to suffer because I am.â€
â€œSuffer?â€ He put his hand on her cheek. â€œPlease talk to me, my love. Tell me whatâ€™s wrong. Weâ€™re in this marriage together. When you hurt, I hurt.â€
â€œIâ€™m fighting a battle youâ€™ll never understand.â€
He reached down and took her hand away. â€œTalk to meâ€¦I beg you to talk to me. Let me fight the battle with you. It was my daughter too. Donâ€™t you think Iâ€™m grieving?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what to think right now.â€
D.M. took her in his arms and held her close. He wanted so much to help her but she wouldnâ€™t let him in. â€œEagle?â€
â€œWill you go talk to Major Lindman?â€
â€œBecause I think youâ€™ve got some issues with grief.â€
â€œOf course I do; I just lost our child.â€
He growled lowly. â€œAnd you havenâ€™t let yourself properly grieve; youâ€™ve held it all in.â€
She sat up. â€œSo what do you expect me to do? Turn on the waterworks and have a good cry at the drop of a hat?â€
â€œNo, no, damn it, thatâ€™s not what I mean. Your heart needs to heal from this. Youâ€™ve gone through a terrible ordeal, probably worse than being held as a POW. You have to reconcile your emotions.â€
Erik stood on the hangar deck, his face pointed toward the prevailing breeze. Theyâ€™d been home four days, and he was still having problems. He didnâ€™t want to call his uncle and tell him he couldnâ€™t hack being with the team, but he found it becoming more of an option. Heâ€™d be shamed by the admiral, sent to some lowly army position, and branded a failure.
Cabbott appeared next to him. Erik was startled by his sudden arrival out of nowhere. The major was the master of stealth. â€œSomething eating at you?â€
â€œLiar. Whatâ€™s the first of our core values on this team?â€
â€œNow, would you like to try again? Truthfully?â€
â€œI question my ability to do the job.â€
â€œWhat? To kill?â€
â€œTo do any of this, Sir. Maybe Iâ€™m not cut out for this line of work.â€
Cabbott leaned against the wall. â€œYou have a good conscienceâ€”a strong conscience.â€
â€œIs that a bad thing?â€
â€œNot necessarily. A strong conscience keeps you from falling into the darkness this job encourages. But a good conscience keeps you from doing the job altogether.â€
â€œAm I doomed to failure on the team?â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t think so. You just have to learn to let the darkness out once in a whileâ€”like turning on a beer tap. But mark my words, young Erik, the darkness is a strong force; donâ€™t let it suck you in.â€
Erik chuckled. â€œYou sound like some kind of Jedi master, teaching me the way of the force.â€
The major folded his arms. â€œIn a way, I am teaching you. Itâ€™s not an easy task to go from killing men to going home to your wife and kid. Why do you think Eagle makes us wait several days after a mission before we can have leave? Itâ€™s to help us put the beast of the darkness back in his place.â€
â€œI donâ€™t feel the beast. Iâ€™ve only felt fear these last two missions. And I think my fear caused one of our own to get hurt.â€
â€œThe wounded hostage?â€
â€œYes, Sir. I came in the room, freaked out, and leaned on the trigger. Lead went everywhere.â€
â€œYou need more time, more drills and exercises to take the edge off your nerves and train your body to react instinctively. Erik, it doesnâ€™t happen overnight.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Sir for being such trouble.â€
â€œNo trouble. You just donâ€™t wanna face your uncle and tell him you canâ€™t do this, do you?â€
â€œNo, Sir. I was brought up knowing that failure is not an option.â€
Cabbott smiled. â€œSo was I.â€ He gave him a gentle nudge on the shoulder. â€œCome on, young Jedi, let me introduce you to the dark side.â€
They went down to the training floor and Cabbott took off his blouse. He knew blood would be spilled; that was how it was going to goâ€”it had to happen. Opening a drawer, he took out a small plastic box and placed it on the counter. He then found a pair of martial arts gloves and pulled them on. Erik was doing the same. Cabbott opened the small box and took out a mouth guard. Eagle made them mandatory when training due to all the loose and knocked out teeth. The major didnâ€™t mind, heâ€™d been the victim of one of Tigeâ€™s kicks and had to have a tooth put back in. He shoved the guard in and stepped to the middle of the mat. â€œYou ready, young Jedi?â€
Erik walked out and faced him. â€œI guess so, Sir.â€
Cabbott came forward and hit Erik in the chest. â€œYou guess so? What the fuck kind of response is that?â€
He was purposely trying to anger the lieutenant. He hit him again, harder. Erik did not engage.
Cabbott held up his hand and took out his mouth guard. â€œAll right, kid, letâ€™s get the ground rules laid out. Thereâ€™s no rank here; itâ€™s just you and meâ€”mano y mano. You need to grow up and be a man. If I put you on the mat, Iâ€™m gonna call your uncle and tell him youâ€™re a pussy. If you put me on the mat, Iâ€™ll personally dial the phone so you can tell my father Iâ€™m a pussy. Now which is it gonna be, kid?â€ He put the guard back in his mouth and smacked his fists together; he was ready to fight.
Erik didnâ€™t immediately put up his fists; he was still thinking about what the major said. He didnâ€™t want to fail. He couldnâ€™t face his uncle if he did. Now he was standing in front of his team leader who wanted to beat his brains out.
The major stepped forward and punched Erik in the stomach. â€œCome on, Baby Face,â€ he growled, and advanced on the lieutenant. Erik blocked a few of Cabbottâ€™s hits and then managed one of his own. It didnâ€™t take long before the major made a jab and hit Erik right in the nose. He staggered back and wiped his hand across his face; blood dripped freely down his chin.
â€œWell? Whatcha gonna do about it, huh? Baby Face, Iâ€™m gonna make your face into baby food if you donâ€™t do something about it,â€ Cabbott taunted. â€œPussy!â€
The lieutenant growled and launched an attack. He was angry at the major for teasing him. He came forward and hit Cabbott in the chest and followed with an uppercut to his face. The lieutenantâ€™s glove caught Cabbott just above the eye and gashed him. Blood ran down his forehead and dripped to his cheek.
â€œAh, now youâ€™re gettinâ€™ somewhere. Feel the rage, channel the rage, use the rage.â€ He managed a few more well-placed hits; Erik was now bleeding from several gashes on his face. Blood dripped to the mat, making it slippery.
They continued their battle, Erik fought hard; he was beginning to gain the advantage over the major. He made an attack, his fists connecting with Cabbottâ€™s jaw and abdomen. As he stepped forward to carry on his attack, he slipped on some of the blood and went down. Cabbott took the immediate advantage and pounced. He had his knee in the lieutenantâ€™s chest and his left hand back, ready to strike a blow.
The major looked down and saw the expression on Erikâ€™s face. Through all the blood he could still see the lieutenant was angry.
â€œGood, youâ€™re still mad, arenâ€™t you?â€ Cabbott said, a few drops of his own blood dripped onto Erikâ€™s chest. â€œControl the rage, understand the rage, and know when to turn it off.â€ He lowered his hand and stood up.
â€œAre you gonna call my uncle?â€ he squeaked.
Cabbott offered his hand and helped the lieutenant up. â€œNo, you slipped, Iâ€™m not gonna call him.â€ He patted him on the back. â€œWelcome to manhood.â€ He spit out his mouth guard, went over to the counter, and took off his gloves.
â€œIs that what it feels like? The beast?â€ Erik said, taking off his gloves. Blood dripped freely from his face. He didnâ€™t even feel the pain; adrenaline still coursed through his veins.
â€œThe rage that burns inside you? And you donâ€™t feel better until youâ€™ve seen blood, and your opponent is down?â€
â€œYes, Sir,â€ he said meekly.
â€œYup, thatâ€™s the beast.â€
â€œRather frightening feeling.â€
â€œYou better not be feeling fear, kid; this is a grown-up emotion. This is the emotion that allows you to take a life and not think twice about it. You need to nurture and cultivate it; the black rage is what lives in the darkest part of a manâ€™s soul. Use the adrenaline rush to fuel the rage, and youâ€™ll be just fine. Show us you need a better call sign than Baby Face.â€ He grabbed a towel and wiped his brow. â€œOh, I guess we should see Doc Miles and get patched up.â€
That night at dinner, Eagle looked at Cabbott and Erik. Both had steri-strips and sutures closing multiple facial wounds. She turned to the major. â€œIâ€™ll see you in my office after dinner.â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ Cabbott replied in a cheerful voice. He knew he wouldnâ€™t be in any trouble after he explained himself. He was confident with the way they both looked; Eagle was thinking something else. No one on the team made comment of their injuries; they figured there was a reason for it.
After dinner, Cabbott reported to Eagleâ€™s office. â€œYou wanted to see me, Maâ€™am?â€ He was being politely formal.
She stood and came around her desk. â€œMajor, would you please explain why your face looks like a pound of ground beef?â€
He chuckled. â€œApologies, Maâ€™am; I was making a man out of Lieutenant Sutton.â€
â€œAnd whatâ€™s that supposed to mean?â€
â€œErikâ€™s been having issues with emotions. He was thinking heâ€™s not cut out for this kind of work. And he didnâ€™t want to tell the admiral he was failing.â€
â€œI thought you said he was doing fine?â€
â€œHe is, but his mind was getting in the way. His conscience was working overtime trying to convince him that heâ€™s a good guy.â€
â€œAnd what is the reasoning for the beating?â€
â€œI brought out the beast in him. He needed to know thereâ€™s another side of life, and itâ€™s not all love and roses.â€
â€œAnd beating each other into a bloody pulp accomplished that? Iâ€™m not impressed.â€ She frowned.
â€œI am sorry, but yes, that seems to be the best way to bring out the rage we need to survive in this line of work. He needs to toughen his mind or heâ€™ll never make it.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not planning on any more of this type of toughening are you?â€ she said.
â€œNo, I think he got a taste. Now we need to keep the momentum going.â€
â€œBy doing what?â€
â€œCan you adjust the training schedule to give us more live-fire exercises?â€
â€œOh, I think I can do that. You wanna be lead on the fun and games?â€
â€œSure, Iâ€™ll run â€™em.â€
Eagle sat down at her desk, grabbed a copy of the next dayâ€™s schedule and drew a few lines through various training elements and rewrote the schedule. She whipped the page up. â€œHere ya go. Post that in the dining room, please.â€
â€œThanks, Maâ€™am, I appreciate it.â€ He turned to leave.
â€œCaraâ€™s probably gonna be more pissed off than I was.â€
â€œIâ€™m fairly confident of that!â€ He opened the door. â€œBut hey, I still got all my teeth.â€ He managed a wide grin.
â€œAll right, everyone, this is gonna be a hostage scenario similar to the one we experienced in Cabo,â€ Cabbott said as he doled out chalk marking ammunition to the teams. â€œItâ€™s gonna be the B team versus the A teamâ€”you guys are the tangos.â€
Tige elbowed D.M. â€œRight, this is gonna be fun.â€
â€œUmm, Cap?â€ D.M. spoke up.
â€œWhoâ€™s gonna be the hostage? We need a live hotel for the exercise.â€
â€œUmm, oh, shit. Hold that thought!â€ He hurried upstairs and went to Eagleâ€™s office. She was doing paperwork when he came in. â€œMaâ€™am?â€
â€œI was wondering if I could use you for an exercise?â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am. I need someone who has armor to play hostage for us.â€
â€œOh, so Iâ€™m relegated to just being a hostage now, huh?â€
â€œNo, no, thatâ€™s not what I meant. Well, I do need you for a hostage. But if you wanna play, we can swap out and use one of the other guys as a hostage.â€
â€œThatâ€™s fine, Cap, Iâ€™ll be down shortly.â€
Half an hour later Eagle strolled onto the training floor dressed in armor and carrying her helmet. The rest of the team was off in the â€œkill houseâ€ area practicing entries and room sweeping tactics. She waited patiently until they came out. â€œOkay, your hostage is here,â€ she said.
â€œRight, if youâ€™ll come with me, Iâ€™ll find a nice place to stash you. And A team? Come with me as well,â€ Cabbott called as he headed inside the training area. He led them in and found various places for them to hide.
As the officer in charge of the exercise, he knew where everyone was, but he wasnâ€™t going to tell B team anything; this was a learning experience. They were going to learn from their mistakes.
â€œHey, Cap?â€ D.M. said.
â€œMay I have the honor of guarding the princess?â€
Cabbott chuckled. â€œYes, Sir, you may guard the fair maiden. Although technically, you are the bad guy.â€
â€œDonâ€™t matter; letâ€™s see â€™em try and get through me!â€
â€œMake â€™em work for it, Sir.â€ He pointed to the room he wanted them to hide in. â€œRight, exercise will kick off in five mike.â€
â€œRoger that. And donâ€™t you help B team.â€
â€œI have absolutely no intention of helping them. They need to learn for themselves. In fact, Iâ€™m gonna send Erik and Ross in first to clear the rooms. They really need practice.â€
â€œCool, letâ€™s do this.â€
Cabbott trotted out of the kill house and met up with B team. â€œRoss, Erik, youâ€™re gonna be lead for your teams. You guys go in and clear the rooms.â€
Erik understood what Cabbott was trying to do. In a way, he appreciated the majorâ€™s efforts. He didnâ€™t want to fail either.
â€œAll right, guys, you got two mike before exercise kickoff. I suggest you get together and form a game plan.â€ He stepped back and joined Max at the bench.
â€œFeeding them to the wolves, huh?â€ Max said.
â€œYup. Theyâ€™re gonna get their asses kicked the first couple of times. They need to learn.â€
â€œOh, I totally agree. They need training, especially since theyâ€™re our team!â€
â€œWhy do you think Iâ€™m doing this?â€ He checked his watch and keyed his radio. â€œAll teams, begin exercise, repeat exercise is on.â€
They watched as Erik, Ryuu, Ross, and Louis entered the kill house. A few moments later there was an eruption of gunfire as they engaged the A team. Another minute later they walked out, covered in red chalk marks.
â€œWell, that was a record. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever seen a team wiped out that quick,â€ Cabbott said as he looked at his watch again. He keyed his radio. â€œAll teams, regroup. Exercise will begin again in two mike.â€
Ryuu grabbed Erik and pulled him aside. Cabbott watched them, wondering what was being said. Judging from the gestures going on, he figured it was a strategy meeting. Good, looks like theyâ€™re working together to figure out the problem, Cabbott thought as he checked his watch. In another minute heâ€™d send them back in and see what happened. He knew A team would be busy moving to new positions, so the exercise would start from scratch. It was exactly what he wanted them to do.
Four hours later, and many trips into the kill house, Erik walked out with Eagle. Cabbott stood with his arms folded. He was happy they finally figured it out. â€œAbout fucking time, Iâ€™m getting hungry.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t fight fair, Sir.â€
The major chuckled. â€œWell, Iâ€™ll be sure to tell the terrorists to play fair when we attack â€™em.â€ He shook his head. â€œHave you learned from this?â€
Eagle hurried over to Cabbott. â€œCap? We done?â€
â€œGood, I need to pee!â€ She dashed off.
He stepped to the middle of the training area. â€œBoth teams, gather â€™roundâ€¦Okay, I think that was a good exercise for both teams. B team, you did well, finally figuring out how to rescue the hostage without injuring her. A team, you did a fine job on defense and creativity. Jake, hiding in the ceiling was pure artwork!â€
â€œAh, Iâ€™m an artist at heart,â€ Jake laughed.
â€œI think more of this is in order so B team can get up to speed on operations.â€
D.M. and Jake walked down the hall toward their rooms. They playfully bashed each other against the walls in a fairly sedate game of male bonding. Jake was happy; heâ€™d made another breakthrough on his Phantom Cloak experiment. D.M. helped him with a particularly tricky wiring sequence. His project was nearing completion. It was the middle of April, and the unit had not seen much action. He stopped at his door. â€œHey, man, see ya in the morning.â€
â€œRight, â€™night, Jake.â€ D.M. opened the door and stopped. Their room looked like a bomb had gone off. Stuff was everywhere. Eagle was normally rather tidy in her housekeeping, but it looked like a bull had rampaged through it. He wondered what happened. Then he saw it. In the middle of the living room floor was the tiny white baby rattle Cabbottâ€™s daughter, Sierra, had given Eagle as a baby shower present. It was smashed to bits. Oh shit, he thought, meltdown. A loud noise came from the bedroom.
He hurried into the bedroom. Eagle was on the bed, kneeling, smashing the headboard with her fists. Her face was red and she was obviously not in her right mind.
â€œEagle!â€ he called, making a grab for her. She let out a loud, primal roar and smashed a fist into the headboard again. He grabbed her around the waist and wrestled her to the bed. Eagle let out another loud roar and fought him. D.M. did his best to contain her. He tried to get her arms restrained. Eagle got an arm free and slashed him across the left cheek with her nails. He ignored it and struggled to get her arm under control.
After a few minutes, he got her completely pinned down. She continued to fight. He held fast until she exhausted herself. Then the tears started. Eagle cried so hard it hurt. D.M. released his hold and wrapped his arms around her, taking her in an embrace. He knew why she was crying; he cried with her. All the grief that was locked up inside her was finally coming out in one big emotional blizzard.
Eagle cried for nearly ten minutes. D.M. held her, his own emotions finally flowing free. It was time to heal from the terrible ordeal theyâ€™d gone through. She sat up, wiping the tears from her eyes.
â€œAre you okay?â€ he said softly.
â€œFinally time to grieve, huh?â€
He helped wipe more tears from her face. â€œItâ€™s okay to grieve, you know.â€
â€œAlthough you do have a rather destructive way of showing it.â€
â€œItâ€™s okay, youâ€™re entitled to be upset. I wondered how long it was gonna be before you finally gave in to your emotions.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t want to.â€
â€œFighting it just made it worse; you know better.â€
â€œI thought I was tougher.â€
He picked her up and sat her in his lap. â€œYou werenâ€™t the only one crying, my love.â€
She looked up and saw his eyes were red. D.M. was an extremely stoic man. Sheâ€™d only seen him show that kind of emotion a few times in all the years sheâ€™d known him. He was the strong and fairly silent type; his broad shoulders were there for her to cry on.
â€œThink weâ€™re gonna be okay?â€ she said softly. She looked at his face, seeing the scratches on his cheek. â€œSorry I hurt you.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be fineâ€¦You take what time you need, and when youâ€™re ready, weâ€™ll try again.â€
She caressed his face. â€œÃ€ la test tube next time.â€
He chuckled. â€œYeah, the not-so-fun method.â€
â€œWell, that part wonâ€™t be particularly fun, but whoâ€™s to say we canâ€™t simulate the act?â€ She gave him a devious smile.
D.M. leaned down and kissed her. â€œIâ€™m here when you want toâ€¦Remember, thatâ€™s my favorite part of the â€˜honey-doâ€™ list.â€
â€œI know. Itâ€™s my favorite too.â€
He played his finger on her nose. â€œWell, my love, you donâ€™t have to be a stranger to me. We do share the same bed every night.â€
â€œOh, I wonâ€™t be.â€
Three days later the team was packing to make their routine trip to Reno. It was Friday afternoon, and they were all excited. Cabbott had kept them busy with training and exercises. They were tired and needed some R&R.
â€œHey, you wanna go to Reno this weekend?â€ D.M. said as he grabbed a suitcase out of the closet.
â€œCome on, weâ€™ve been training our asses off; weâ€™re entitled to a little fun.â€
She sighed. â€œFun?â€
He grabbed her and threw her on the bed, lying on top of her. â€œYes, fun.â€ He kissed her. â€œAnd I have a surprise for you too.â€
â€œYup. And you have to come with me to get it.â€
â€œI do, huh?â€
He rolled off her and got up, continuing to pack. â€œYes, you must. I promise youâ€™ll be quite surprised.â€
She let out a little growl and went to get her suitcase. â€œDid you book us a hotel?â€
â€œNot the one you did last time, I didnâ€™t care for that place. The service had much to be desired.â€
â€œI can assure you, my love, this place is much nicer.â€
â€œGood,â€ she said smugly. â€œAnd I hope the hotel has a spa, I could use a massage.â€
D.M. bit his tongue. â€œUmm, well, Iâ€™m sure one can be arranged.â€ He finished packing and closed his suitcase. Checking his watch, he looked out the window. â€œJake said they wanna leave at 1800.â€
â€œWhat time is it?â€ She had her back to the clock.
â€œIâ€™ll be done in a couple of minutes.â€
He flopped down on the bed to watch her. â€œI guess weâ€™re gonna drop Cap off at his house; he finally got the helo pad finished. He said itâ€™s got lights and all.â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s good,â€ she replied nonchalantly. A few minutes later she zipped up her suitcase. â€œOkay, packed.â€
D.M. climbed off the bed and grabbed both suitcases. â€œGot everything?â€
â€œHow about we head up to the deck and get loaded?â€
They met Jake on the hangar deck. He took their bags and stowed them in the Warhawk. â€œAh, gonna have a weekend out, huh?â€
â€œYup,â€ D.M. said.
â€œGonna take herâ€”uh, umm,â€ he stopped, realizing his slip and trying to cover it.
D.M. gave him a hard stare. Jake managed a little nod in acknowledgment of his error. Eagle looked at both men wondering what was going on. They were up to something.
A few minutes later the rest of the unit that wanted to go into town showed up. They climbed in and sat down quietly. Eagle took her place in the copilot seat. Jake looked around; it appeared that Cabbott was the only one missing.
â€œGo figure, the one guy whoâ€™s in a hurry to get home to his wife and kid is late,â€ he said, starting up the rotors, and just as they were coming up to full speed, Cabbott ran out and jumped in.
â€œSorry, was trying to get Cara off the phone. She just doesnâ€™t realize that in a half hour Iâ€™ll be home in her arms.â€ He closed the door and sat down.
â€œWe got everyone?â€ Jake called.
â€œI guess so.â€
â€œRight, letâ€™s go!â€ He lifted them into the air and headed to Reno. Jakeâ€™s long-time girlfriend, Monica, was in town for another convention, and he was looking forward to some serious quality time with her this weekend.
Half an hour later they were touching down at Cabbottâ€™s house. Jake opened the door. â€œHey, Cap, nice landing pad. Iâ€™ll forgive you for all the times I had to land in the dirt.â€
â€œYouâ€™re welcome. I know itâ€™ll come in handy.â€ He hopped out. There was no need to pack a bag; all his necessities were at the house.
D.M. got up and grabbed their bags. â€œCome on, my love.â€
â€œUh, why are we getting out here?â€
She followed along behind him, clueless as to what he was up to. He walked between Cabbottâ€™s house and the one next-door. Turning to the right, he stopped, put the bags down, and dug around in his pocket.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ she asked.
He said nothing and continued to dig in his pocket. Finally he pulled out a key and handed it to her. â€œYour hotel awaits.â€
â€œHuh?â€ She took the key, looking at it.
â€œWell, I know how unhappy youâ€™ve been staying at hotels every time weâ€™re in Reno. Now you have a house to crash in and can do whatever you want.â€
â€œYou bought a house?â€
â€œYou bought a house right next-door to Cap?â€
â€œYeah. Problem?â€ He smiled broadly.
â€œUmm, no. Just seems a little strange.â€
â€œWell, when the time comes that you wanna retire and bring little Gryffin home, youâ€™ll have a place.â€
She wrapped her arms around his waist. â€œMy husband the practicalist.â€
He chuckled. â€œIs that even a real word?
â€œI dunno, works for me.â€
â€œWell, go on, have a look. I took the liberty of getting some furniture, but if you donâ€™t like it, feel free to decorate to your heartâ€™s content.â€
She unlocked the door and went in. It was basically the same floor plan as Cabbott and Caraâ€™s house, and sheâ€™d been in there a few times, so she was familiar with it. It was sparsely furnished, but tastefully done, and kept with the Santa Fe style of the house. â€œLemme guess, you paid cash for this?â€
â€œSure, why not?â€ he quipped. â€œI was thinking about buying the other two so the whole cul-de-sac would be Dragonslayer housing.â€
â€œAnd who would inhabit the other two houses?â€
â€œWell, if Jake manages to finally get a ring around Monicaâ€™s finger, thatâ€™ll be one house.â€
â€œWhat about the other?â€
â€œWhoever gets hitched next. And from what Capâ€™s been telling me, Max has been seeing a lot of his sister.â€
â€œOh, yes,â€ she giggled. â€œThatâ€™s right, he has the hots for Vanessa.â€
â€œI was watching them at Capâ€™s wedding; they make a cute couple.â€ D.M. carried their bags upstairs. â€œHey, come check out the bedroom!â€
She went upstairs and found him standing in the master bedroom. It was beautifully decorated; in fact, it was just how she would have done it.
â€œItâ€™s beautiful, D.M.â€
He chuckled. â€œYeah? Youâ€™re gonna laugh.â€
â€œWell, as much as Cap asked your help with stuff for Cara, I asked her help with doing some decorating.â€
She laughed. â€œCap did say she and I have similar tastes. I guess he was rightâ€¦And gee, we get to be neighbors too.â€
â€œI thought it was a good idea.â€ He put his arms around her and gently touched his lips to hers. â€œWelcome home.â€
Cabbott put his hand on Caraâ€™s stomach. He was lying on the bed with her. She had less than a month before she was due to deliver. After her miscarriage scare, sheâ€™d been relegated to bedrest; something that drove her nuts. Her mother came from Denver to help out, but Cara was fiercely independent and it was difficult to keep her in bed. The major was grateful for the help, since he couldnâ€™t be home all the time with her. He nuzzled his cheek over her belly.
â€œHey!â€ he said, pulling his face back quickly. â€œWhat gives?â€
Cara laughed. â€œHa ha, sheâ€™s telling you that you need a shave.â€ She rubbed her tummy.
â€œShe? I just got kicked by my kid! What makes you so sure itâ€™s a she? Maybe itâ€™s a he practicing his soccer kick. Did you cheat and have someone tell you?â€
â€œNo, no. I just feel like itâ€™s a girl. Iâ€™m carrying the same way I did with Sierra.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll be happy with a healthy baby of either gender.â€ He rubbed her stomach and kissed it. â€œI wonder what Eagle and D.M. are doing? Odd of them to get out here, they normally go into town.â€
â€œHe bought the house next-door for her.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t he tell you about it?â€ Cara said.
â€œNo, not a word. Wow, thatâ€™s a shock.â€
â€œI knew about it.â€
He looked up at her. â€œWell, duh, you live right next-door to them now.â€
â€œAnd he asked me to help decorate the house too.â€
â€œHe did, huh?â€
â€œYeah. He asked me to figure out how much furniture would be and then gave me a huge wad of cash to get it all.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t that weird you out? I mean you were shopping for another woman.â€
â€œNo, not reallyâ€¦D.M. said Eagle and I are quite a lot alike.â€ She held up her ring. â€œAnd you did say that you asked her help in choosing my ring and other things for me.â€
â€œTrue.â€ He kissed her. â€œSo you fixed the place up nice?â€
â€œI think so. Just enough furniture and household goods to make it comfortably livable; Eagle can take it from there.â€
â€œYeah, but you werenâ€™t supposed to be up.â€
â€œI only went out for a couple of hours, and most of it was sitting down looking at catalogs and pointing to what I wanted. Mom and Sierra helped do most of the actual decorating. They had a good time.â€
â€œSounds like I need to take you ladies out to dinner for everything you did.â€
â€œI think I can handle that.â€
â€œHmm, dinner with three beautiful women, howâ€™d I get so lucky?
She pulled her fingers through his hair. â€œHmm, howâ€™d I get so lucky to have such a handsome husband?â€
â€œHandsome from the chest up maybe.â€
â€œDonâ€™t say that. Youâ€™re handsome all over. I love all of youâ€”scars included.â€
â€œMmm, I used to be so much better looking. I wish you could have seen me back in the day.â€
Cara put her arms around him. â€œYouâ€™re the sexiest man Iâ€™ve laid eyes on. If I had to describe my idea of a perfect man, itâ€™d be you.â€
â€œJust trying to make me feel better?â€
â€œNo! I really mean it. Cap, Iâ€™ve never been so happy in my lifeâ€¦Sure our marriage is a bit unusual, but weâ€™ve been able to make it work.â€
Cabbott sighed. â€œIâ€™m sorry for that. You have to understand my thinking, which is male, and not always the most logicalâ€¦When I first met you, I was head over heels crazy about you. I couldnâ€™t believe that there was a woman in this world who wasnâ€™t afraid of me, who understood me better than anyone else. And the more I got to know and love you, the more I wanted you in my life. I didnâ€™t wanna risk losing you to another man.â€
â€œThatâ€™s so sweet of you, Cap.â€
â€œBut I also wanted you to have the things in life that you couldnâ€™tâ€”with trying to scrape by on your pay. Youâ€™re much too good to have been working at a brothel.â€
â€œWell, if I hadnâ€™t been, weâ€™d have never met.â€
â€œAh, true. Iâ€™m sure your mother is happier. Her little girl isnâ€™t turning tricks anymore.â€
â€œSheâ€™s ecstatic. And sheâ€™s enjoyed all the time sheâ€™s spent with Sierra; theyâ€™ve gotten to know each other much better.â€
â€œI only wish I could spend more time with you guys, and that, I am truly sorry about.â€
She caressed his chest. â€œYou will. And I support what you do as long as you wanna do it.â€
He kissed her. â€œThanks, babe.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll be fine. I can handle the house.â€
Cabbott sat up. â€œUmm, I got a crazy idea.â€
â€œYou like having your mom around, donâ€™t you?â€
â€œSure, itâ€™s been nice.â€
â€œConsidering Iâ€™m gonna be gone lots, why donâ€™t you ask her if she wants to pick up stakes and move here? We got a spare room.â€
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t mind?â€
â€œNaw, your momâ€™s cool.â€
She leaned forward the best her round belly would allow and kissed him. â€œIâ€™ll ask her and see.â€
Monday morning found the team carrying out their breakfast ritual. The TV was tuned to the news and they were watching with interest. Some right-wing American-born terror organization had bombed a daycare center heavily used by Capitol Hill personnel.
â€œWhat the bloody hell?â€ Tige said as he watched.
â€œThatâ€™s not cool, those were innocent kids,â€ Ryuu commented. â€œThey shouldâ€™ve picked on someone their own sizeâ€”like me!â€
The dining room door opened and Lieutenant Frank Elliott rolled in at high speed. â€œMayday! Mayday! I got some hot ticket items this morning.â€ He stopped between Eagle and D.M.; he handed her two tan folders. â€œOne has to deal with thatâ€”â€ He pointed at the TV. â€œThe other one is a request for recovery assistance.â€
Eagle opened the first folder. â€œPlane crash?â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am, a flight from Reno to â€™Frisco went down about thirty miles northwest of here. They said there were 180 people on the plane. It ran into fog and went down in pretty rough terrain. The army asked if we could help with the rescue operation since we know these mountains pretty well.â€
Eagle looked at the other folder. â€œAnd what do you have to say about this one, Frank?â€
â€œNot much, other than they want them stopped immediately. Innocent kids shouldnâ€™t be getting killed.â€
She looked around the table. It was going to be a difficult decision. The men she sent on this mission needed to be nondescript, and that left her few options.
â€œLouis, Erik, meet me in my office after breakfast. The rest of you, get with Jake and Ross to fit the Warhawks for a rescue mission. Survivors will be taken to trauma centers in Reno.â€ She slid the folder to Jake, since heâ€™d be in charge of the operation as the senior helicopter pilot.
â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ Jake replied as he hurriedly finished breakfast.
Eagle strolled into her office, Erik and Louis right behind her. She stopped behind her desk but didnâ€™t sit down. â€œDo either of you have the unit tattoo yet?â€
â€œNo, Maâ€™am,â€ they replied.
â€œOkay, hereâ€™s the deal. Iâ€™m sending you two because youâ€™re the most nondescript men I have. You donâ€™t have tattoos, and because this is a right-wing type organization, youâ€™d be the most logical to fit in. I doubt sending Ross or Ryuu would go over very well.â€
She finally sat down. â€œIâ€™m gonna download your mission brief and will hopefully have it to you by mid-morning. You need to start packingâ€”civvies only. I hope to have you out of here by nightfall.â€
â€œMaâ€™am? Whatâ€™s exactly expected of us?â€ Erik said.
â€œInfiltrate and observe for now. You may be undercover for several weeks.â€
â€œAnd if we find something?â€ Louis asked.
â€œYouâ€™ll be given an FBI contact to feed information to. Once they feel they have enough intel, theyâ€™ll move on the organization and hopefully take them down.â€
â€œWhy doesnâ€™t the FBI put a man inside?â€
â€œWell, letâ€™s just say weâ€™re getting a reputation as being the resident experts on dealing with terrorist operations.â€
â€œHow deep do we need to go? Iâ€™m sure there are plenty of illegal things going on.â€
Eagle rubbed her chin. â€œProbably fairly deep. They need to feel they can trust you. Iâ€™d hope you wonâ€™t have to take any lives in the process.â€
â€œBut?â€ Louis said.
â€œBut if thereâ€™s no other way, I hope you use good judgment in the situation.â€
â€œGood luck, gentlemen.â€
They snapped to attention and saluted. Eagle stood and returned the salute. â€œGet packing. Iâ€™m gonna go help with the rescue effort.â€
They left her office and went separate ways. Eagle hurried to her room and grabbed her medical bag. She ran down the hall and went to the hangar deck. One Warhawk was just lifting off, and she could see D.M. and Cabbott holding the winch while Jake frantically tightened the bolts. â€œDid Sam go with the other crew?â€ she asked.
â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ Jake called from his rather precarious position hanging out of the crew door.
â€œIâ€™ll be the medical asset for this bird.â€
â€œDid the army send any help up there?â€ Jake asked.
â€œI dunno. You should call Ross and find out when he gets on scene. The brief was very brief.â€
Jake finished tightening the bolts. â€œOkay, everyone, letâ€™s go.â€ He climbed forward and started the engines. The rest of the crew scrambled in, and soon they were in the air. â€œMamba, Kingpin. Whatâ€™s your take on the situation?â€
Ross was just arriving on scene. He made one wide circle to survey the area. Below he could see wreckage. Surprisingly, the Airbus 320 was in good shape considering it had crashed into a fairly steep, rocky mountainside.
â€œKingpin, Mamba. Plane is basically intact, no fire, no major debris.â€
They were lucky. The pilot managed to put the plane down in a good area. There were minimal trees, and the rockface was worn smooth from millennia of rain wearing at it. â€œGround Zero, are you ready to go down?â€
â€œRoger,â€ Sam said. He turned to Kippie. â€œYou okay on the winch?â€
Sam checked his harness and flipped the medical bag over his shoulders. Reaching out, he grabbed the winch cable and snapped in. â€œRight, letâ€™s go.â€
Kippie carefully lowered Sam to the rocks. Once he was down, Sam disconnected and hurried off. He found a gap in the fuselage and wiggled in. The inside of the plane was poorly lit. In the chaos, he could hear moans and cries of the wounded. At least the plane had crashed upright so the passengers were still safely restrained in their seats.
Starting at the front of the plane, Sam found the pilot and copilot dead. Moving back to the first rows of passenger seats, he quickly checked for pulses and found one alive and three dead. Pulling off his medical bag, he went to work on the one living patient, a middle-aged woman. She was barely conscious and had a large gash on her head. Sam did his best to quickly bandage the wound. He had many more to check. Behind, he heard another team member coming inside. He glanced over his shoulder and saw it was Ryuu.
â€œHey, these ones are beyond help, go back a few rows and start checking.â€
â€œYes, Sir,â€ Ryuu replied as he squeezed past Sam and continued to the next few rows of seats. He didnâ€™t have a medical bag; all he had was gauze, tape, and battle tourniquets stuffed into his pockets.
â€œWho are you?â€ a male voice asked.
Ryuu couldnâ€™t tell who said it. â€œWeâ€™re here to help you,â€ he said, not giving out any information.
â€œAre we gonna die?â€
â€œNot if we can help it.â€ He reached in his pocket and grabbed a few packs of gauze. Tearing them open, he handed them to one man who was bleeding from his forehead. â€œHold that on there as tight as you can.â€ Ryuu checked the woman next to the man; her breathing was shallow and ragged. â€œSam?â€
â€œI think this one has chest trauma, her breathing doesnâ€™t sound good.â€ While Ryuu wasnâ€™t actual medical personnel, heâ€™d been working with Sam to gain the valuable skills to become the B team medic.
Overhead, the second helicopter arrived. A few minutes later, Eagle, D.M., and Cabbott worked their way into the plane.
â€œSam? What have you got?â€ Eagle said as she came down the aisle. There was a loud creaking as the fuselage moved on the rockface.
â€œShit!â€ Eagle hissed. â€œYou think this is safe?â€
â€œDonâ€™t have much choice; we gotta get â€™em out of here,â€ D.M. said, steadying himself against a seat.
â€œI got one here thatâ€™s not really bad off, sheâ€™s got minor head trauma. Ryuu has one back there that he says might have chest trauma,â€ Sam replied as he kept working.
â€œRoger that,â€ Eagle said, continuing to triage patients. D.M. and Cabbott were waiting for instructions. She turned and looked back. â€œIf you two could start helping out the less injured, thatâ€™ll give us some room to work, and I donâ€™t trust the safety of this wreck. Did the army send anyone up?â€
D.M. poked his head up over a seat. â€œThereâ€™s a rescue helicopter inbound, they got a basket litter.â€
â€œOkay, get the ambulatory and minimally injured ones out and up in our birds. Weâ€™ll leave the more injured for the army to take.â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am!â€ D.M. said as he started going row by row helping those that could, to get out. Heâ€™d noticed there were a lot of dead.
Ryuu made his way to the back of the plane. Sam was working in the middle. Max and Jon came to help. They carried or guided the patients out and got them strapped into harnesses. Kippie and Tige were up on the winches. When they were full, they headed to Reno.
Soon the army helicopters arrived and were dropping litters for the more critically injured patients. D.M. and Cabbott worked to get the severely injured patients out. There were many broken bones, mainly legs and spines. They did their best to splint the fractures with whatever they could find. Normally they were organized and supplied to deal with combat injuries; now they had to deal with a mass casualty situation and they werenâ€™t prepared.
Eagle worked to free one man. His legs were badly broken, and sheâ€™d had to apply tourniquets to stem the bleeding. Both of his thigh bones were fractured and sticking through his trousers. She almost felt ill trying to treat his wounds; they were gruesome.
Cabbott came to her. â€œYou need help?â€
He looked at the injuries and groaned. He knew exactly how much pain the man was in. Fortunately, the man was mostly unconscious, perhaps not feeling the pain so much. â€œRight, this is gonna be fun,â€ he said, trying to fight back the nausea. A few years ago, Cabbott had looked down and seen his legs just like that, and now this was bringing back horrific memories.
â€œCan we even get him out?â€ she asked, looking at how the bones were badly jammed into the seat in front.
â€œGonna take some work.â€ He looked up. â€œUh, D.M.?â€
â€œCan you spare a few minutes?â€
The colonel was busily trying to free a young woman; heâ€™d done his best to splint her left leg and dressed a nasty wound on her face. â€œIâ€™ll be there in a minute.â€
Jon stood by to take her outside to an awaiting helicopter. D.M. finally got her freed and lifted her up. Jon got his arms under her. â€œI got her.â€ He maneuvered around and headed for the opening in the fuselage.
D.M. hurried back to Eagle. â€œOh shit,â€ he said as he looked at the state of the passengerâ€™s wounds. He glanced up at Cabbott, noticing he looked pale. â€œYou okay?â€
â€œNot right now.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you go help Sam and Ryuu?â€
â€œUh, yeah,â€ Cabbott said as he turned and went to help the others. His stomach was churning, hands shaking. Images of that fateful day flashed in his head. He fought to keep everything under control. It was almost a losing battle. Over and over in his head he could see his legs: the blood, the bones, the incredible pain. The major thought heâ€™d put that aside; now the old feelings were welling up inside again. He could feel the pain all over, and it was making him sick.
Cabbott took a few more steps down the aisle and then his knees buckled. The mind was overpowering the body. No, no, this canâ€™t be happening, he thought as he slumped to the floor, I canâ€™t lose this battle.
Eagle saw him. â€œCap? Whatâ€™s wrong?â€ She had a pretty good idea about what was going on. Jon returned. â€œJon? Can you get Cap outside? He needs some air.â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ he replied and went to get Cabbott. He helped him to his feet and guided him outside. The major sat down, his whole body tingled, his breathing erratic. â€œWhat happened, Sir?â€
Cabbott put his head in his hands. â€œI flashed really bad.â€
Jon knelt down, putting his hand on the majorâ€™s shoulder. â€œThe guy with the fucked-up legs?â€
â€œThe wounds in your legs might have healed, but the mind doesnâ€™t.â€
He looked up. â€œThank you, Iâ€™m quite aware of that.â€
An Army Blackhawk helicopter hovered overhead. D.M. and Max carried out the badly injured man. The stretcher basket was lowered and they carefully secured him in it. D.M. waved at the winch operator and the man was brought up. They watched as he was taken inside the helicopter, and then it headed off.
Jake and Ross had left the scene, delivering their load of casualties to the hospitals, and returning to the base to refuel. As the noise from the helicopter died out, D.M. and Max went over to Cabbott.
â€œHow are you feeling?â€ D.M. said softly.
â€œItâ€™s pretty rough in there.â€
Max knelt down. â€œYou can hang out here; most of the casualties are out now.â€
Cabbott nodded. â€œThanks.â€
D.M. went back inside to continue helping.
Max stayed with Cabbott. â€œCanâ€™t blame you man, that was really rough to look at.â€
â€œNow imagine seeing that on your own body.â€
He shuddered. â€œOh, God, I hate to even fathom that thought. Didnâ€™t you pass out?â€
â€œI was knocked out in the beginning, but when I came around, I stayed conscious the rest of the time.â€
â€œAnd the pain was indescribable,â€ Cabbott said, shifting his position on the hard rock.
â€œAfter that first Yemen mission, I thought I was gonna die. Iâ€™d never felt pain like that before.â€
â€œNow imagine month upon month of pain.â€
â€œOh, I still get some pain, but probably not like you.â€
Eagle finally climbed out of the wrecked fuselage nearly four hours later. The unit rescued 25 casualties; the rest had perished. Their uniforms were stained with blood. She sat down on a rock to catch her breath. The rest of the men were slowly bringing out remains. Army helicopters hovered over the site. One had dropped a load of body bags.
The men placed the remains in the heavy plastic bags and loaded them into the basket litters. It was tough work. These were people who werenâ€™t expecting to die today. As far as they knew, that morning, they were going to board a plane, and in just over an hour, arrive in San Francisco, nothing out of the ordinary. Today however, fate had intervened, and they would not complete their journey.
Jon and Max came out of the plane carrying a body. â€œHey, we got one more survivor,â€ Jon said.
Eagle stood up. â€œWhat?!â€ Sheâ€™d gone over all the bodies twice to make sure there were none alive that she could have missed.
â€œI was in the back bringing out a body and I heard a noise. I went back to look and found a dog.â€
Cabbott came over. â€œA dog?â€
â€œYes, Sir, looks like a medium-sized dog. Itâ€™s trapped in its carrier and wedged under a bulkhead.â€
The major turned and headed toward the plane.
â€œCap? What are you doing?â€ Eagle called.
â€œGonna see if I can rescue it.â€
â€œAw, let him go, heâ€™s used to rescuing animals,â€ Max said as he took a knee to rest.
â€œWhen he was a kid, he worked for a wildlife rescue place. Said he saved all kinds of critters.â€
Eagle watched Cabbott disappear into the plane. â€œHeâ€™s the last person I would expect to be warm and fuzzy.â€
Max chuckled. â€œNaw, heâ€™s really a champion of the animals. As he puts it: â€˜They canâ€™t fight for themselves, so heâ€™s there to stick up for them.â€™ Shocked me too when he said that.â€
Cabbott climbed through the wreckage in the back of the plane. He heard a soft whimpering. Moving a few pieces of debris he discovered the carrier with the dog.
â€œHey, little one, look at you. Are you hurt?â€ He squeezed into a small opening and got within armâ€™s reach of the crate. The dog continued to whimper and cry. Cabbott hated to hear an animal in distress. To him, it was as bad as a crying baby.
â€œCome on, little one, Iâ€™m trying. Gimme a break.â€ He inched closer, his fingers just barely able to squeeze the latch on the door. â€œArrrrruugggghhh,â€ he growled, fighting to get the cage open. He got closer and finally got his fingers to squeeze the latch. It popped open, but the door only moved a couple of inches, not enough to get the dog out. â€œFuck!â€ He flopped down in frustration. The fuselage groaned as it moved. How was he going to get the dog out?
After a few moments of thinking and getting his strength back, he wiggled in as far as he could. His shoulders were jammed against debris and part of the bulkhead. Getting his fingers in the wire of the cage door, he got a firm grip. Summoning up what strength he had left, he yanked as hard as he could. The wire bent and the door came off.
â€œAll right!â€ Cabbott cheered. â€œCome on, pup!â€ He began to wiggle backward. The dog poked its head out and looked at him. â€œCome on, itâ€™s okay, come.â€ He struggled and finally got out. The dog didnâ€™t move from its crate.
â€œAw come on, pup, please?â€ He stood up. A low groan came from the plane; it was sliding again. â€œPup!â€ He whistled and clapped his hands. The dog came out partway. More groans came from the fuselage and Cabbott could feel it moving. â€œCome on, little one, we gotta get out of here.â€ He whistled more. The dog came out but was still too far for him to reach.
Cabbott took a few steps back and bent over, clapping his hands again. â€œCome!â€ The dog came forward. â€œGood pup, come on, letâ€™s go.â€ He backed up more. The fuselage slid again.
Outside he could hear Eagle hollering for him to get out.
â€œCome on, pup, we gotta get out of here.â€ The plane slid and Cabbott got the distinct feeling it wasnâ€™t going to stop. He ran up the aisle, hoping the dog decided to follow. There was no looking back. The plane continued to slide, the noise deafening. Cabbott reached the opening and dove out. There was a loud screeching as the plane picked up speed as it headed down the rockface. He turned to see the plane disappearing over the edge. â€œShit!â€
â€œCap!â€ Eagle hollered. She couldnâ€™t believe heâ€™d be so crazy to risk his life for a dog.
He sat up. â€œSorry, thought I had a chance.â€ He turned and looked back to where the plane disappeared. Well, gave it my best, he thought.
Max walked over and offered his hand to help him up. â€œYa gave it a try.â€
Cabbott sighed. â€œYeah.â€ Overhead, one of the Warhawks had returned. The army helicopters had taken a load of bodies back to Reno, and were due to return shortly. Eagle radioed for the unit to get picked up. The army could handle the rest of the recovery effort. The Warhawk hovered a short distance from the cliff.
â€œWhite Feather, Kingpin.â€
Eagle grabbed her radio. â€œGo ahead, Kingpin.â€
â€œUh, what happened to the plane?â€
â€œOnce we got everyone out, it started to slide.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s with the dog?â€ Jake said.
â€œRepeat last transmission, Kingpin.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a dog on a ledge about fifteen feet from the edge of the cliff.â€
Cabbott spun around. â€œYes!â€
â€œLemme guess, you wanna get hitched up and go get it?â€ Eagle said.
â€œAgh!â€ Eagle gasped, tossing him the radio.
â€œThanks, Maâ€™am,â€ Cabbott said, keying the radio. â€œKingpin, Angel.â€
â€œGo ahead, Angel.â€
â€œCan you drop a harness?â€
Jake moved over and Tige lowered out a harness. Cabbott quickly got into it and grabbed the cable. â€œKingpin, can you get me down to the dog?â€
Cabbott snapped in and gave Tige a thumbs-up. Slowly he was lifted into the air and out over the cliff. He looked down and felt rather uncomfortable; it was a long way to the bottom. Scanning the area, he found the ledge and the dog. Jake brought him over. Soon, Cabbottâ€™s feet were on a narrow ledge. It took him only an instant to grab the dog. Tige was watching. He raised the winch, bringing them up. Cabbott handed the dog off and crawled inside.
â€œWhat? We adding a mutt to the bloody team?â€
â€œHey, it was in the plane. It deserves to live too.â€
â€œSheâ€™s not gonna let you keep it.â€
Cabbott looked the dog over. It weighed about thirty pounds, had a short tan coat, and a few black markings. It didnâ€™t appear to be injured. He noticed it was male. Checking the collar, he found no name. â€œShould we call you Lucky?â€
Louis and Erik walked down the concourse. Theyâ€™d landed at the airport in Richmond, Virginia, and were heading to collect their bags. Due to the time it took on the rescue mission, they had not been able to leave until the next day. â€œYou think we can pull this off?â€ Erik asked.
â€œNot gonna be easy,â€ Louis replied. He had a good idea of what they were getting into. While the rest of the team was working the plane crash, he was busy doing research on the group they were infiltrating.
â€œWhatâ€™s it called again?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll discuss that at the hotel.â€
â€œOh, right,â€ Erik said.
Louis wasnâ€™t very happy taking someone so new to Spec Ops on a mission that required deep work. But Eagle was right, considering the job, Erik was a logical choice.
A splinter faction of the Aryan Nation, the White Patriot Party, or WPP, had been â€œofficiallyâ€ forced to deactivate in the 1990s due to many of its founding members being murdered or jailed. Instead, they went deep underground, recruiting more members, growing in strength. Now it was reputed to have nearly three hundred affiliates or more. Their method of delivering messages to the U.S. Government was namely violent in nature. The WPP tended to mirror the Aryan Nation in its stance on race.
Oddly enough, Louis was having a problem with that. Despite his long-time racist issues, heâ€™d worked hard to put that behind him and become friends with Ross. He now realized that it wasnâ€™t the color of the manâ€™s skin that made the man; it was his words and deeds. Ross was an extremely polite, honorable man, going to great efforts to befriend Louis. In the beginning, it was hard to deal with Eagleâ€™s decision to team them up together. Over time, they put differences aside and became a well-trained partnership.
Louis grabbed his bag and dropped it next to his feet.
Erik was still waiting for his. â€œCan we get something to eat?â€
â€œYeah, I suppose so.â€ He looked at his watch. â€œGonna be suppertime soon.â€
â€œI should have grabbed something during our layover.â€
â€œYou eat a lot, kid.â€
Erik laughed. â€œIâ€™m a growing boy! The colonel told me the secret to getting big like him.â€
â€œOh he did, huh?â€
â€œYeah, gave me a formula to follow.â€
Louis shook his head. â€œYou ever give any thought as to why D.M. is so big?â€
â€œHe works out a lot and eats, right?â€
â€œBut he said I should be able to get buffed up.â€
â€œTo a point, yes. But heâ€™s genetically predisposed to his build. Look at Frank, heâ€™s big too.â€
â€œOh, donâ€™t be so despondent. Youâ€™re young and still have a lot of filling out to do. With age, youâ€™ll buff up more.â€
â€œNo, youâ€™re not keeping it!â€ Eagle said as she stomped down the hall toward her room.
â€œButâ€¦â€ Cabbott stammered. Heâ€™d just returned from walking the dog.
â€œNo buts, Major.â€
â€œI called the airline and told them we had him. Theyâ€™re gonna try and contact the relatives of all those who had pets on the plane; there were only five animals on the flight.â€
â€œDid they say how long that will take?â€
â€œUh, maybe a week?â€
She growled. â€œThis is no place for animals.â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am, Iâ€™m aware of that.â€
â€œAnd what happens if they donâ€™t find someone to take the dog? What then?â€
â€œWell, uh, then I have two options.â€
â€œYes, none of which involves the dog staying here.â€
â€œI know, I know. One option is to turn it over to the local humane societyâ€”â€
â€œOr the other option?â€
â€œI ask Cara if sheâ€™d like a dog for Sierra.â€
â€œYou think sheâ€™ll agree to that? Sheâ€™s gonna have her hands full with a newborn pretty soon.â€
â€œMaybe so. Then Iâ€™m back to option one.â€
â€œYou got two weeks to find a home for Rover there.â€
â€œYeah, I kinda named him Lucky because heâ€™s damn lucky to be alive after all that.â€
â€œWell, Lucky needs to be on his best behavior; I better not find or hear of any accidents in my building.â€
â€œNo, Maâ€™am, I take him for walks three times a day.â€
â€œAnd what about food?â€
â€œJake flew me into town and I picked some up.â€
â€œAll right, two weeks, no more.â€
Cabbott smiled. â€œYes, Maâ€™am!â€ He headed down his side of the hall. Eagle continued on. She opened the door and found D.M. lounging on the sofa.
â€œI donâ€™t believe it,â€ she said.
â€œCap and that dog.â€
He chuckled. â€œYeah, funny. Capâ€™s the ultimate killer, and heâ€™s got a heart of gold under all that viciousness.â€
She sat next to him. â€œPerhaps we should call him Jekyll and Hyde?â€
â€œSuits him. When we were at the house, I was watching him playing with Sierra; heâ€™s a real good dad.â€
â€œAnd turn him loose with a weapon and heâ€™s a killing machine from hell.â€ She snuggled up with him. â€œI bet youâ€™ll be a good daddy too.â€
He kissed her on the top of her head. â€œExcept I just canâ€™t do diapers.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t you help raise your youngest brother?â€
â€œYeah, canâ€™t do diapers.â€
â€œThe smell and sight of baby shit turns my stomach somethinâ€™ fierce.â€
She laughed. â€œYou? The mighty warrior?â€
â€œEvery warrior has his downfall; mine just happen to be snakes, needles, and baby shit.â€
Eagle laughed harder; she couldnâ€™t believe heâ€™d said that. â€œI knew you were afraid of snakes, but I didnâ€™t know about the needles.â€
He pulled her close. â€œI suffer in silence.â€
Erik opened the door to their motel room and carried their bags inside. It was a nothing fancy kind of place, just somewhere to stay until they could find an apartment.
â€œWell, itâ€™s not too bad,â€ Erik said as he tossed the key card on the table and hefted the suitcases onto the beds.
â€œItâ€™ll do. Better than sleeping in a foxhole.â€
â€œYou ever had to do that?â€
â€œSure. In Iraq we had to dig holes to sleep in. The only problem was the ground was so hard they looked more like shallow gravesâ€¦And for some unlucky bastards, they were.â€
Erik sat down on one bed. â€œWhatâ€™s it like?â€
Louis started to unpack. â€œWhat?â€
â€œItâ€™s dirty, loud, chaotic, miserable, and ugly. Whatâ€™s more to know about it?â€
â€œMmm, definitely no glory there.â€
â€œFuck no!â€ Louis smacked his fist on the bed. â€œCome on, man, youâ€™ve been in some combat now, you should know better. War and battle are just a rich manâ€™s way of making poor men die.â€
Erik flopped back on the bed. â€œOkay, try this one: â€˜The military donâ€™t start wars. Politicians start wars.â€™â€
Louis chuckled. â€œWilliam Westmorelandâ€¦Gee, I wonder if heâ€™s kin to Cap?â€
â€œDunno, maybe we should ask.â€
He got up and grabbed a file that was in his suitcase. Sitting back down, he opened it. â€œWe need to discuss strategy. This organization is very tight-knit. Getting in may not be easy.â€
â€œIs it ever?â€
â€œNot like storming a compound and killing everyone. This has to be done with finesse.â€
â€œOh, yes, I understand. Iâ€™ll do as you say, and hopefully weâ€™ll survive this,â€ Erik said as he sat up.
â€œThey donâ€™t play nice. Thereâ€™s a report in here about a couple of FBI agents that tried to infiltrate. The WPP found out, and they were discovered floating in a river.â€
Erik blanched. â€œWell, we better be real careful, huh?â€
â€œConsidering weâ€™re going in unarmed, yes.â€
â€œSo do we have a cover?â€
â€œThe WPP has roots in paramilitary, right-wing factions such as the KKK and Aryan Nation. They like people whoâ€™ve done some work for the military and donâ€™t have particularly strong morals. Theyâ€™re seriously racist, and against anything but pure white man, white woman marriage.â€ Louis flipped though a few pages. â€œOur cover is two ex-army guys who have a chip on their shoulders about how the wars have been run and the good men weâ€™ve lost.â€
â€œLemme guess; good white men?â€
â€œI see where youâ€™re going with thisâ€¦Something youâ€™ve worked hard to get out of your mind.â€
Louis nodded. â€œIt was so easy to be that way, a hater of blacks. Now I understand thereâ€™s a difference. I hated the gangstas for how they treated me; they beat me up and tormented me. I hated them not for their color but for who they were, and soon the color just bled in with it and I found myself hating â€™em all.â€
â€œAnd now after working with Ross, you find that youâ€™ve been wrong all these years?â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t easy.â€
â€œHeâ€™s a nice guy.â€
â€œYes. Iâ€™m almost ashamed to be doing this.â€
â€œOld habits die hard. Shit, kid, youâ€™re not old enough to have too many bad habits.â€
It was later in the evening and Jake was working in the lab. He was putting the finishing touches on his grand project. The Phantom Cloak was designed to be a fairly simple, cost effective way for snipers to camouflage in the field. Heâ€™d been working on the technology and capabilities for quite some time, now he was almost finished.
He sat at the counter typing on the computer. Cabbott came in, dog in tow. â€œYou said you wanted my help?â€
â€œYeah, care to test drive the prototype?â€
â€œUmm, I donâ€™t think D.M. would take kindly to having a dog leave a present in his lab.â€
â€œWe just came back from a walkâ€”errr, run. I let him off the leash and he took off after a deer.â€
Jake chuckled. â€œYou do look a bit red in the face.â€
â€œWell, rest assured Lucky wonâ€™t leave any presents in the lab, heâ€™s gotta be empty!â€
â€œYeah, yeah.â€ He closed out the program and disconnected the cables from the cloak. â€œUh, for this test you donâ€™t have to get geared up, probably just roll up your sleeve so we can attach the control panel.â€
â€œOkay, easy enough.â€ He dropped the leash and rolled up his right sleeve. Jake affixed the control panel and the heart monitor to his arm.
â€œAll right, lemme grab the cloak. I guess you can just lie down on the floor.â€
â€œSure.â€ He went to the middle of the floor and slowly got down on his stomach. Lucky trotted over to him and licked his face. â€œHey! Knock it off!â€ he laughed.
â€œOhhh, Cap, someone slippinâ€™ you some tongue?â€
He wiped his face. â€œIâ€™d rather it be Cara!â€
Jake came over with the cloak; Lucky growled and barked at him. â€œHey, you wanna restrain that mutt?â€
The dog obliged. Jake approached and carefully laid the gray cloak over Cabbott.
â€œNow I just have this draped over you, but it has straps for attaching to your body so it moves with you.â€ He reached down and plugged the cable into the control panel. â€œOkay, the activate and deactivate code is 1-1-1.â€
â€œEasy enough.â€ Cabbott opened the control panel and punched in the code. A small LED light came on. â€œOkay, seems to be on.â€
â€œPut in the code for white: 0-0-1.â€
â€œOkay.â€ He carefully pressed the small buttons.
Jake stood and watched the cloak change to white. He reached down and smoothed it out to conceal the major the best he could. Stepping back, he observed. â€œGee, you look like a big flaw in the floor.â€
Cabbott lifted the cloak up and peered out. â€œLovely.â€ Lucky came over and shoved his head under the cloak trying to get to him. â€œI said lovely not Lucky.â€
Jake laughed. â€œYou made a real friend there.â€
â€œEagleâ€™s pretty peeved that I rescued him. I couldnâ€™t let him die if I could help it.â€
â€œHeard from the airline yet?â€
â€œNo. They said it could take a week.â€
â€œHow about trying pattern 4-9-2?â€
â€œRight.â€ He entered the code. The cloak took about twenty seconds to change from white to forest camouflage. â€œHowâ€™s that?â€
Jake walked around checking the color saturation of the cloak. â€œLooks good. Maybe tomorrow we can do a field test. See how it does in the real world.â€
â€œJust let me know when.â€
â€œCool. Now enter the deactivate code.â€
Cabbott did as instructed; the cloak changed to a dull gray again. He sat up and slid it off. â€œDo you think you could figure out a way to teach the nanos to see the surrounding area and then change to match it?â€
â€œShit man, I dunno. Thatâ€™s a tall order.â€
He stood. â€œJust food for thought.â€ Taking off the control panel and heart monitor he handed everything back to Jake. â€œI like the idea of this; itâ€™s pretty light and easy to use. As long as the wearer remembers to turn it off properly, itâ€™s a good solution.â€
â€œWell, the next is a full field test with slinky suit and uniform. The normal soldier wonâ€™t have our armor so heâ€™ll have to rely on what heâ€™s got.â€
Cabbott grabbed Luckyâ€™s leash. â€œWell, Iâ€™m impressed.â€ He went to the door. â€œGonna call Cara and then hit the hay. See you in the morning.â€
â€œHave you told her about the dog?â€
Cabbott grimaced. â€œEh, well, Iâ€™m working on it. And it may not happen. The airline could call any day and say they found someone to take him.â€
â€œYeah, guess itâ€™s best not to get your hopes up.â€
â€œâ€™Night, Cap,â€ he said with a little laugh.
Six days later, Erik and Louis were walking down the street. They had moved to a small town not far from the West Virginia border, where the WPP was reputed to be. It was a very small town indeed; they wondered how they would manage to fit in with the locals. It was obvious they were outsiders.
â€œHow are we gonna get in? This is such a tight-knit community,â€ Erik said softly.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m thinking Iâ€™ll have to let some Cajun out and see if I can charm these Dixie rebels.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t fit in. Everyone here knows everyone. Outsiders might as well be wearing large bullâ€™s-eyes painted on them.â€
â€œGive it some time. We got that nice old lady to rent us a couple of rooms; now we need to find work,â€ Louis said as he scanned the street. Main Street wasnâ€™t much to get excited about; there were maybe a dozen stores that were open, the rest were boarded up. It was a town that had passed its prime. He stopped as they reached a corner. â€œHmm, that place looks promising.â€
â€œWhy do you say that?â€
â€œKid, you need to sharpen your powers of observation.â€
â€œThereâ€™s a help wanted sign in the window.â€
Erikâ€™s cheeks flushed. â€œOops.â€
â€œYou know anything about hardware?â€
â€œGuess that means Iâ€™ll probably get the job.â€
â€œYou know about nuts and bolts?â€
â€œWorked in one while in high school.â€
Erik waved his arm. â€œBon appetite.â€
Louis looked down the street each way and then crossed. Erik followed. They went into the hardware store and Louis stepped up to the counter. â€œAfta noon, Sir. Ah sees ya gots a help wanted sign up.â€
â€œYou boys new in town?â€ the man said. He was in his late sixties and rather small in stature.
â€œYessa. Got outta de army not long ago.â€
â€œBoth of ya?â€
â€œWell, I only got one position open. Either of you have any experience in hardware?â€
â€œYessa, worked in one in Baton Rouge when I was younga,â€ Louis said with a little smile.
â€œYou from Louisiana?â€
â€œRotten Log Bayou.â€
â€œGotta name, son?â€
â€œLouis Guerrier. This hereâ€™s Erik Sutton.â€
The man offered his hand. â€œNice to meet you. Iâ€™m Pete Green. Been runninâ€™ this store for the last forty-five years.â€
Louis shook his hand. â€œPleased ta make ya â€™quaintance.â€
â€œYou boys gotta place to stay?â€
â€œYessa, weâ€™re a stayinâ€™ with Miss Polly up de road a piece. Real nice lady.â€
Pete chuckled. â€œAh, you boys better watch it, sheâ€™ll feed you up till ya bust!â€ They laughed. â€œWell, Louis, Iâ€™ll give you a try. What do you do, Erik?â€
â€œUh, I can do odd jobs and such.â€
â€œWhere you from, son?â€
â€œActually I was born in Richmond and grew up mostly in Norfolk.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a local boy, huh?â€
â€œLocal enough, Sir.â€
Pete rubbed his hands together. â€œWell, in that case, lemme see what I can do.â€ He grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down a name and address. â€œGo see Tom, he can probably find something for you to do.â€
Erik nodded politely. â€œThank you, Sir.â€
â€œAnd Louis, call â€™round here tomorrow morning about eight-thirty and weâ€™ll get you started.â€
â€œMuch obliged, Sir.â€ They left the store and walked back up the street toward the boarding house. â€œWell, that was a lucky day of job hunting,â€ Louis said.
â€œIâ€™ll go see that guy tomorrow and hopefully heâ€™ll have something for me to do.â€
â€œThatâ€™d be good. See, weâ€™re starting to fit in already.â€ Louis surveyed the area. The town had a population of a couple thousand, and was surprisingly clean. Main Street ran east to west, a railway to the south, and farther south was a small river. A larger interstate wound its way above the town to the north at the base of the mountains. Most everyone in the town was polite; they greeted them or nodded in acknowledgment.
They crossed the street at the boarding house. Miss Polly was sitting on the porch swing. She was a plump, elderly woman probably in her mid-eighties. Her mass of gray hair was piled on top of her head in a haphazard beehive. She wore Coke-bottle glasses and usually some sort of floral dress. Miss Polly was never caught without a glass of iced tea. She was a jovial woman who was happy to mother anyone who showed up on her doorstep.
Miss Pollyâ€™s boarding house left a bit to be desired. It was an old three-story house from the early 1900s. The gray shingle roof was worn, as was the white paint on the wood slat-board siding. There were small patches of grass on either side of the concrete walkway. A couple of stairs led up to a wide, comfortable porch. The centerpiece of the porch was the swing, a few other chairs and a little round table dotted the area.
â€œAftanoon, Miss Polly,â€ Louis said with a polite nod.
â€œFellas,â€ she replied, her voice raspy. â€œHowâ€™d the job hunt go? Find somethinâ€™?â€
â€œYes, Maâ€™am. I saw Pete Green in the hardware store, heâ€™s gonna give me a go.â€
â€œWhat about you, cutie?â€ she said to Erik, her speech slurred slightly. Both men were confident that there was something else besides iced tea in her glass.
â€œMr. Green gave me a name and address to see about tomorrow. Heâ€™s an awfully nice fellow.â€
Miss Polly took a long drink of her tea. â€œWhatâ€™s the fellowâ€™s name?â€
Erik pulled the piece of paper out of his pocket. â€œUmm, Tom Aiden. Thatâ€™s who I was told to see.â€
A car stopped at the curb and a middle-aged man got out. He wasnâ€™t dressed particularly well. His clothing was dirty and oily. Erik thought the man looked like he worked at a garage.
â€œWell, well, look what the dog dragged in,â€ Miss Polly said in a low tone.
â€œHello, Momma,â€ the man said as he hopped up the steps to the porch, leaned over, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. â€œGot some new borders?â€
â€œYes, this is Louis Guerrier and Erik Sutton. They got out of the army not too long ago.â€ She pointed. â€œAnd this is my son, Jim Bob Holden.â€
Jim Bob sat down on the swing next to Miss Polly. â€œSo what possessed you fellas to move here?â€
Louis folded his arms. â€œWe was lookinâ€™ for some clean country livinâ€™ away from it all.â€
â€œClean, huh? Clean white livinâ€™?â€
â€œGuess ya could say dat.â€
â€œWe like it that way here. Howâ€™d you guys survive in the army with them?â€
â€œWasnâ€™t always easy,â€ Erik said, easing into the conversation.
â€œMmm. Me and some friends have a little group here that doesnâ€™t take kindly to the other colors.â€
â€œOh?â€ Louis said. He was trying to be interested, and he was sure he knew where this was headed.
â€œWe usually meet after church on Sunday.â€ Jim Bob reached over and snatched the glass from Miss Polly, taking a drink. â€œFuck, Momma, you gotta put so damned much vodka in this? You could light a barbeque with it.â€
â€œShut up, you puss, this is a real manâ€™s drink,â€ she retorted.
Erik and Louis laughed. It was obvious mother and son didnâ€™t exactly have the best of relationships, but there was something that held them together
Jim Bob stood. â€œIf you wanna join us, church is at nine. Then we have a fellowship lunch, and then those who want, head off for another meetinâ€™.â€
Louis stood and approached him. â€œAh think we might tak ya up on de offer.â€
Cabbott walked down the hall toward his room. It was just after lunch and normally the unit had fifteen minutes to do anything they wanted before the afternoon training session started. He was going to get Lucky to take him for a short walk. His cell phone rang and he dug it out of his pocket. Looking at the number, he felt a sinking feeling.
â€œHello? Yes, this is heâ€¦Uh huhâ€¦You did? Ohâ€¦Uh huhâ€¦â€ He listened, his heart still sinking. â€œWhat? They donâ€™t? Why? Ah, I seeâ€¦No, no, Iâ€™m okay. I have a couple possible homes for himâ€¦Yes, thank youâ€¦Good-bye.â€
He hung up and let out a loud cheer. The airline found relatives of the owners and they didnâ€™t want the dog. Frantically, he dialed Cara.
â€œHey, babe! How are you feeling? Uh huh, goodâ€¦Hey, uh, what do you think about getting Sierra a dog? Oh? How come? Why do I ask? Uh, um, well, uhâ€¦Yeahâ€¦We had to respond to that plane that went down in the mountains; it wasnâ€™t far from us. After we were done, Jon said he heard something in the back of the plane. I went in and found this cute little dogâ€¦Yeah, heâ€™s a real good dog, house trained, and even knows quite a lot of obedience commandsâ€¦His name? Well, his collar didnâ€™t have a name, so Iâ€™ve been calling him Luckyâ€”considering how lucky he was to make it out of the plane aliveâ€¦Yeah, babeâ€¦Youâ€™ll think about it? Uh, huhâ€¦I love you! Call me later, okay?â€
Ross laughed as he grappled with Ryuu. It was almost pointless to wrestle him; he was much larger and well trained. Ryuu decided to have fun and started telling jokes to make the battle harder. The more Ross laughed, the worse he fought. Other members of the unit were also working on hand-to-hand combat.
Cabbott came by and observed. â€œRyuu, what are you doing?â€
â€œTelling jokes, Sir.â€
â€œI thought you were supposed to be working on fighting skills?â€
â€œWeâ€™re not exactly evenly matched.â€
â€œYes, and your job is to teach him to fight against a much larger foe.â€
â€œIf thatâ€™s the case, maybe the colonel should step in.â€
â€œDonâ€™t be a smartass, just do as youâ€™re told.â€
Cabbott moved on to Tige and Kippie. They were in full combat, feet and hands a total blur. It was obvious that both of them were playing for keeps. Tige made a sweep with his leg and dropped Kippie to the mat. In the blink of an eye, Kip was back up, fighting. Tige glanced over, Cabbott nodded in approval, continuing on.
Eagle appeared at his side. â€œHow goes it, Major?â€
â€œPretty good, Maâ€™am. Theyâ€™re taking practice seriouslyâ€”more or less.â€
â€œWho is the less?â€
â€œRyuu was cracking jokes, distracting Ross. I had some words with him.â€
â€œMmm, good. Heâ€™s a fine troop, but he can be a little childish once in a while.â€ She paused. â€œAs can someone else.â€
â€œYou and that dog.â€
â€œOh, yeah. The airline called me after lunch and they found the relatives of the dogâ€™s owner.â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t want the dog.â€
â€œSo which option are you going for?â€
â€œI asked Cara.â€
â€œSheâ€™s thinking it over.â€
Eagle looked at her watch. â€œYour time is running out.â€
â€œI know. And if she says no, then Iâ€™ll regrettably turn him over to the humane society.â€
â€œMax said youâ€™re quite the lover of animals. Did you have many when you were a kid?â€
â€œDad was game, but Mom absolutely forbid it. So I worked at an animal rescue. It was an eye-opening experience. I saw just how cruel man can be to animals.â€
â€œIs that why youâ€™re so cruel to man?â€
He chuckled. â€œYeah, probably.â€
That night, Cabbott was getting ready for bed. His phone rang. He poked the button for speaker. â€œHi, babe!â€
â€œHi, Cap, howâ€™s it going?â€
â€œOkay. I only got a couple of bruises from training this week; we did lots of field ops.â€
â€œAt least the weather has been nice for it.â€
â€œYeah, gonna be a nice weekend too.â€ He snapped his fingers. â€œLucky, go to bed.â€
â€œIs that the dog?â€
â€œNo, babe, I got a hot hooker in here named Lucky; of course, itâ€™s the dog!â€
â€œDo you think heâ€™d make a good pet for Sierra?â€
â€œSure. Heâ€™s not too big, maybe thirty pounds, short haired, and well behaved. Just donâ€™t let him off the leash around deerâ€”I had a rather spirited run after him.â€
â€œHow old is he?â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m guessing four, maybe five; heâ€™s got a lot of life left in him.â€
â€œYouâ€™d bring him home this weekend?â€
â€œSure. Eagleâ€™d be happy to get him out of the building. This is a no pets allowed kinda place.â€
â€œWell, okay, weâ€™ll take him.â€
â€œYes!â€ he hollered. â€œI promise youâ€™ll love him; heâ€™s a super good dog.â€
â€œAll right, Iâ€™ll see you Friday night.â€
â€œYou bet! I love you, babe.â€
Eagle walked down the hall toward their room. Sheâ€™d been helping one of the scientists work on a project. Her knowledge of genetics was helpful in dealing with gene splicing and replication. Opening the door, she trudged down the stairs. D.M. was sitting on the sofa reading a book. â€œHi,â€ he said softly. â€œYou look whipped.â€
â€œBrain-drained more like.â€ She sat down next to him. â€œWhatâ€™s with the shirt?â€
She pointed to his shirt. â€œThat.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with it?â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t aware you were a fan of Metallica.â€
He leaned over and kissed her. â€œCome on, love, Iâ€™m not all old cars, classical music, and caviar.â€
â€œOld cars, yes.â€
â€œBut the classical music, no way, and Iâ€™ll take oysters over caviar any day.â€
She wiggled over curling up with him. â€œYouâ€™re not the only one; I donâ€™t like caviar either.â€
â€œBut youâ€™ll eat lutefisk!â€
â€œWell, uh, I grew up eating that.â€
He ran his fingers through her bangs. There was a deep nagging in him that longed to make love to her. It had been such a long time. He wanted to ask, but heâ€™d sworn to himself that he would wait until she was ready. Although, how would he know if he never asked?
â€œHow are you feeling?â€ He caressed her stomach.
â€œA bit tired.â€
â€œOh,â€ he said with disappointment.
D.M. sighed. â€œI, uh, umm.â€
â€œWhat?â€ She had a good idea what he wanted, but she was going to make him say it.
â€œI was wondering if you were feeling up to a little lovemaking? Itâ€™s been an awful long time.â€
â€œIâ€™m sorry. I know itâ€™s been a while. I needed some time to heal and get myself together. Doc Miles put me back on the pill and told me I better wait at least a month before we do anything.â€
She looked up at him. â€œWell, itâ€™s been a month.â€
He perked up. â€œSo does that meanâ€¦?â€
Eagle smiled and caressed him.
He moaned. Tonight was going to be a good night.
Cabbott sat on the bench seat in the back of the Warhawk. Lucky sat on the floor between his legs. The major was giddy as a schoolboy. He looked out the window and could see his house approaching. Butterflies flipped in his stomach with excitement. Reaching down, he patted the dog. He hoped it would work out. Lucky was too good of a dog to turn over to a shelter. Heâ€™d make a fine friend for Sierra.
The helicopter landed, and Max opened the door. â€œYour wife awaits!â€ he called over the noise.
Cabbott stood and leaned forward. â€œHey, Ross, can you wait a few minutes?â€
â€œSure, no problem, Sir.â€
â€œThanks!â€ He turned to Kippie. â€œCan you hold Lucky until I whistle for him?â€
â€œOkay.â€ He took the leash.
Cabbott hopped out and headed toward the house. Cara came out with Sierra to greet him. He hurried over to them, taking Cara in his arms and gently kissing her. Next he leaned down and kissed Sierra on the cheek. â€œHey, Little Miss!â€
â€œI got a present for you.â€
He stood up, put two fingers in his mouth, and whistled. A moment later, Lucky jumped from the helicopter and made a beeline for him. Sierra let out a shriek of joy. The dog ran up to Cabbott and stood on his hind legs. He reached down, grabbed the leash, and then gave Ross a wave. The helicopter lifted off. D.M. and Eagle had decided to stay at the base for the weekend.
â€œA dog? For me?â€ Sierra said as she knelt down.
â€œHeâ€™s a pretty special little guy. I rescued him from a plane crash. I couldnâ€™t find out his name, so I call him Lucky.â€
â€œHeâ€™s so cute!â€
â€œYou must promise me youâ€™ll take good care of him. Soon Mommy will have the baby to look after, and youâ€™re gonna have to help her out and be a big girl.â€
â€œI will, Daddy.â€
Cara slid her arm around Cabbottâ€™s waist. â€œYouâ€™re right, he is a cute dog.â€
â€œOh, stupid me! I should have taken a couple pictures and sent them to you.â€
â€œThatâ€™s okay, I trust your judgment.â€
â€œWell, shall we go inside and make the little guy comfortable?â€
â€œYeah. Guess we need to get him some dog food.â€
â€œI only had a small bag; he ate it all.â€
â€œYou can take Sierra and do that,â€ Cara said.
He playfully snapped to attention and popped a sharp salute. â€œYes, Maâ€™am!â€
Louis and Erik followed Jim Bob out of the church fellowship hall. Theyâ€™d tolerated the hour and a half service with the promise the meal afterward would be a feast. That part was certainly true; these people loved to eat. All had very full bellies, and Louis was wishing he could take a nice long nap. Jim Bob unlocked his car. â€œIâ€™m gonna drop Momma by the house on the way to the meetinâ€™ place.â€
Miss Polly came out, and Jim Bob helped her into the front seat. â€œCome on boys, get in.â€
They climbed into the backseat and patiently waited while Jim Bob dropped Miss Polly home and then continued on to the old warehouse where the WPP met. Louis scanned the area for anything unusual. Besides being away from most of the town, he could see nothing. They got out and Jim Bob led the way. He opened the door and ushered them inside.
The warehouse was dimly lit. It was obvious someone had jury-rigged some electrical to it and several lights hung in the rafters. It wasnâ€™t a huge building, perhaps ninety feet wide by two hundred feet long. There were metal chairs set up in front of a wooden stage with a podium and table on it. It wasnâ€™t anything fancy, that was for sure.
Jim Bob found a seat toward the front and settled down. Louis and Erik joined him. They were rather surprised that it had only been just over a week and they were being shown the â€œheadquartersâ€ of the WPP.
Several men were milling around talking. Jim Bob looked at his watch. â€œItâ€™ll start here in a couple of minutes.â€
â€œOh, okay,â€ Louis said as he did his best to count the number of men in the warehouse and try to memorize facial features. Some were at church where Jim Bob introduced them. Among the crowd, he recognized his boss, Pete Green. Others were new faces. He counted 23; nowhere near the reputed 300 members. Was there another location? This didnâ€™t seem right to him.
A man sat down next to Erik. â€œHello.â€
â€œHi,â€ Erik said tentatively.
â€œYou guys new?â€
â€œIâ€™m Joe Earl Fletcher.â€ He offered his hand.
â€œErik Sutton.â€ He shook it.
â€œYâ€™all are new in town, huh?â€
â€œLooking for some quiet living.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll find it here; this is a good, clean place to live.â€
â€œSeems nice,â€ Erik said softly as he watched a man walk up on stage and stop behind the podium. All around the warehouse, the men immediately ceased their conversations and took their seats.
Joe Earl nudged Erik. â€œThatâ€™s Cole Butler, heâ€™s the president of our little organization.â€
Louis leaned over. â€œWhatâ€™d he say?â€ he whispered.
â€œThatâ€™s the president, Cole Butler.â€
â€œOh.â€ He nodded and turned his attention back to the speaker. They listened as the president reported on several impending â€œstatementsâ€ that the group was planning to make. Most were fire bombings of politiciansâ€™ cars and houses, but one caught his attentionâ€”the proposed assassination of a prominent black senator.
The meeting only lasted half an hour and then the majority of the men left. Louis watched six men head toward a small office. He recognized a couple of the men as being the president and vice president, and several of which he understood to be top leaders. That must be the inner sanctum, Louis thought. He wondered what it would take to get into that circle.
Cabbott rolled over in bed, looking at the clock. It was 0100. Heâ€™d been awake on and off all night. Something was keeping him from getting rest. What was it? Heâ€™d called Cara before he went to bed and everything was fine at home. It was the 12th of May, and she was due the next week. Everything was going according to plan; there were no missions in the bucket, so he should be there for the birth of their child.
He sat up and looked out the window into the blackness. A gentle rain pelted against the glass; he couldnâ€™t see it, just heard it. Reaching over, Cabbott turned on the light and pushed back against the headboard. Something stuck in his mind, something Jon had said at dinner. Being Native American, Jon occasionally had dreams and visions. Heâ€™d predicted Caraâ€™s pregnancy by saying he had a vision of her touching the sacred white buffalo. This time it was a dream of two deer running through a forest with Cara walking behind them. What on earth did the Indian mean by that?
The phone rang, it was his cell phone. He grabbed it, looking at the number, it was Cara. â€œHi, babeâ€¦What? Now? You sure? Shit! Iâ€™m on my way!â€
He hung up, jumped out of bed, and frantically dressed. Grabbing his phone, he tore out of his room, down the hall and around the corner. He sprinted, then slammed to a stop at Eagle and D.M.â€™s door, and pounded on it. He waited impatiently.
â€œWhat the hell?!â€ D.M. said as he sat up. Eagle sprang up as well. He struggled and got out of bed, running to the door. â€œWhat?â€
â€œBaby coming!â€ he said, almost out of breath.
Eagle came to the door. â€œCap, whatâ€™s going on?â€
â€œAre you sure?â€
He pointed to the phone. â€œShe said her waterâ€™s broke.â€
â€œGo find Jake or Ross to take you,â€ she said, smiling.
â€œThanks!â€ He tore off down the hall and around the corner to get Ross.
Jake was coming out of the elevator after finishing his shift in Security Control. He had to take evasive action to keep from being flattened by 250 pounds of charging major.
Cabbott blew by Jake, skidded to a stop and spun around. â€œJake!â€
â€œWhat the fuck, man? You almost took me out.â€
â€œCan you fly me to St. Maryâ€™s?â€
â€œYes, baby time!â€
â€œShit! Congrats. Gimme a couple minutes to get changed. Can you go up and start preflighting?â€
â€œYes!â€ He dove into the elevator and disappeared.
Half an hour later Jake was looking for a place to land. â€œYou know, Cap, every time I have to fly you out for an oh shit, the weather just has to suck.â€
â€œSorry, I didnâ€™t order the rain.â€
â€œYeah, I know. Cara make it to the hospital okay?â€
â€œCynthia drove her.â€
â€œThatâ€™s her mom, right?â€
â€œYeah, sheâ€™s been staying with us; helps out a lot since I canâ€™t be home all the time.â€
â€œShe gonna leave after the baby comes home?â€
â€œMmm, I asked Cara if she wants her to stay with us, since Iâ€™m not home much.â€
â€œDude! Thatâ€™s just gonna kill your hubby and wife timeâ€”if you know what I mean.â€
â€œNaw, weâ€™ll be fine. I had Cara give her the bedroom the farthest from our room.â€
â€œSmart, very smart.â€ Jake didnâ€™t want to land in the designated helicopter landing area, in case it was needed for real emergencies. After hovering for a few minutes, he found a fairly empty parking lot nearby and set the copter down.
Cabbott had the door open and was gone in a flash. Jake shook his head and laughed; heâ€™d never seen Cabbott so excited. It was a good thing. After everything the major had gone through, he was more than entitled to a generous helping of happiness.
The captain secured the Warhawk and headed inside the hospital. He knew where he was going, heâ€™d been there enough, and he wasnâ€™t even a father.
â€œUncle Jake!â€ Sierra cried as she ran toward him.
â€œHey, Little Miss. Way past your bedtime,â€ Jake said as he picked her up. Cynthia stood a few yards back. â€œHello, Mrs. Smith,â€ he said politely.
â€œThe babyâ€™s coming!â€ Sierra cheered.
â€œYeah, I know. I just flew your dad down.â€
â€œWhere is he?â€
â€œHeâ€™s in with your mommy.â€
â€œI wanna go!â€
â€œUh, sorry, sweetie, I think you should leave that to Mommy and Daddy. I donâ€™t think they let little girls in the room.â€ He set her back down.
Finding a comfortable seat, he watched TV for a while; Sierra played with some toys. He thought about his relationship with Monica. Things between them were going well, just very slow. It was difficult for them to have time together since she lived in Houston and wasnâ€™t in the market to move. He wanted so bad to make her a permanent part of his life, but she wasnâ€™t ready. Jake wondered how long sheâ€™d wait; would she ever commit to marriage?
After a couple hours, Sierra climbed up in Cynthiaâ€™s lap and fell asleep. Jake figured nothing was going to happen anytime soon so he wiggled around until he found a comfortable position and went to sleep. He dreamed of Monica and when he would see her again. It was clear to him that he loved her.
Cabbott held Caraâ€™s hand while she went through labor. Because of her previous miscarriage scare, they decided to err on the side of caution and have her deliver in the operating room. Sheâ€™d been in there nearly three hours.
The surgeon was at the end of the table making sure everything was progressing. â€œSir?â€ he asked.
Cabbott peered over the drape at him. â€œHmm?â€
â€œWould you like to see the baby being born?â€
He shot a quick glance at Cara. â€œUmm, no, thatâ€™s okay. Iâ€™ll stay up here with Mom.â€
The surgeon chuckled. â€œNot good with blood?â€
â€œOh, itâ€™s not that; I see a lot of blood in my line of work, it doesnâ€™t bother me. I just prefer to stay at this end.â€
â€œWhat do you do for a living? Ambulance crew?â€
â€œI have a rather unique job in the military.â€
Cara cried out as a contraction racked her. Cabbott held her hand; she squeezed it so hard he thought she was going to break it. He grunted in pain.
The surgeon held up his index finger. â€œOnly give her one to hold onto, otherwise youâ€™ll be down seeing orthopedics for busted fingers.â€
â€œAh, thanks.â€ He worked his fingers loose and gave her one back; Cara grabbed it, locking down like vice grips as another contraction coursed through her body.
â€œCome on, Mrs. Westmoreland, push!â€ the surgeon called from behind the drape. Cara let out a loud, primal scream and pushed. â€œAgain!â€ She took in a breath and pushed again. She was getting tired.
â€œCome on, babe, you can do this,â€ Cabbott said, trying to give her some encouragement. He felt rather invisible during the whole process; he was there, but he was only a minuscule part of everything that was going on. There was nothing he could do except provide moral support for the woman who was going through the labors of childbirth.
Cabbott would have to endure another hour of Cara clenching his finger. Finally, there was the gurgling cry of a baby. Cara gasped for breath; she was exhausted. The surgeon poked his head over the drape. â€œWould you like to see your daughter?â€
â€œA girl?â€ Cabbott said.
â€œYes, Sir, a healthy baby girl.â€
It was nearly 0600 when Jake was awakened. â€œPsssssssttt! Pssssssttt, Jake!â€
The captain opened his eyes. At the end of the hall he could see a man dressed in full surgical attire standing in a doorway. â€œCap?â€
â€œYou got your phone on you?â€
Jake stood and fished it out of his pocket. â€œYeah.â€
â€œWhat?â€ the captain said as he came closer.
â€œYou canâ€™t come across the line here, but hang on, Iâ€™ll be right back.â€ He disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a bundle tucked in the crook of his left arm. â€œCan you get a picture of me and my little girl?â€
â€œA girl? Congrats, man!â€ Jake held up his phone and took a couple candid pictures of the proud daddy and daughter.
Cynthia had awakened Sierra. â€œDaddy! Daddy!â€ She ran over to him.
â€œWhoa, Little Miss! Donâ€™t cross the line, sweetie,â€ Cabbott warned as he motioned with his foot.
â€œIs that my sister?â€
Cynthia leaned over to get a better look. â€œOkay, what are the particulars?â€
â€œHow much does she weigh? How long? You know, the particulars.â€
â€œOh, duh! Uh, weight, seven pounds thirteen ounces. Length, uh, twenty-one inches.â€
â€œDid she tell you her name?â€
â€œShit! Cara didnâ€™t tell me!â€
Jake shook his head and held up his phone and got Cabbott in the frame. â€œSmile, Daddy!â€
Cabbott smiled behind the surgical mask. He gently held the baby up so Jake could take a good picture.
â€œYou gonna call your parents?â€ Jake asked.
â€œYeah, I will in a little bit.â€
â€œFine, just fine. Sheâ€™s happy this is over. The bedrest was driving her insane.â€
Jake stepped a little closer. Cabbott pulled the blanket back a little farther so he could see the babyâ€™s face. â€œSheâ€™s cute, man, look at that dark hair.â€
â€œThe surgeon said that usually falls out and a different color comes in.â€ He grinned. â€œI kinda hope it goes blonde.â€
The captain chuckled. â€œYou lucky bastard, youâ€™ll be surrounded by three beautiful blondes.â€
â€œYou knowâ€¦Hey, can you make sure you send these off to the unit? Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™re all dying to see.â€
Eagle took her seat at the dining room table. The rest of the unit settled down. They were going through the morning ritual of passing coffeepots when their cell phones started to go off. The colonel removed hers from her pocket and looked at the incoming message. â€œAh, we have a daddy!â€
â€œWas it a boy or a girl?â€ Ryuu asked.
â€œA girl according to what Jake sent,â€ she said, looking at the photos. â€œDonâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever seen Cap with that big of a smile.â€
D.M. leaned over. â€œHow can you tell? Heâ€™s got a mask covering nearly his whole face.â€
â€œOh, I can tell, trust me.â€
Jon chuckled. â€œThatâ€™s two for two.â€
Eagle looked at him. â€œWhatâ€™s that supposed to mean, Jon?â€
â€œI have the occasional vision or dream. The first one I had was when I saw Cara touching the sacred white buffalo; I knew she was pregnant. The second one was just a few days ago when I dreamt of two white-tail does running through a forest and she was walking behind them.â€
â€œSo you knew she was having a girl just from that dream? Kinda strange.â€
â€œThey were does running, not bucks, or a buck and a doe. You just have to know how to interpret what the Great Spirit tells you. He has a lot to say, you just gotta listen.â€
â€œDo you have dreams of anyone else in the unit?â€ she asked.
â€œOnce in a while; nothing particularly noteworthy.â€
â€œCan you do me a favor, Jon?â€
â€œIf you have any dreams about missions, please tell me, especially if they are grave in nature.â€
â€œOh, yes, Maâ€™am, certainly.â€
D.M. took a sip of coffee. â€œYou want me to put Cap on maternity leave?â€
Several of the others chuckled.
â€œGive him a week,â€ she replied.
â€œRight. No missions pending, are there?â€
â€œHave you heard from Louis or Erik?â€
â€œVery little. Theyâ€™re trying to be careful. Louis said they attended a WPP meeting over the weekend.â€ She poured another cup of tea.
â€œNot much. Louis didnâ€™t wanna talk long; heâ€™s afraid of being heard or monitored some way.â€
â€œMmm, okay. At least theyâ€™re all right.â€
Louis and Erik sat on the porch of Miss Pollyâ€™s boarding house drinking a few beers. It was early evening. â€œI wonder how everyoneâ€™s doing?â€ Erik said, keeping his voice low.
â€œGot a text. Cara had a girl.â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s cool; anything else?â€
â€œNo. We have to keep plenty of distance.â€
Jim Bobâ€™s car pulled up and he got out. â€œHey, you fellas wanna go shootinâ€™?â€
â€œAre we huntinâ€™ somethinâ€™ or just shootinâ€™?â€ Louis said.
â€œBunch of us just wanna go out and shoot some cans and stuff. We do it once or twice a month.â€
Louis contemplated for a few moments. They had apparently been well received by the WPP; many of the members were interested in their military skills. He didnâ€™t think this was a setup to kill them; at least he hoped not. â€œWell, you wanna go, Erik?â€
â€œUmm, if you want to.â€ He was leaving it to Louis to make the decision, figuring he would have done a risk assessment, taking into consideration what could possibly happen to them.
Louis stood, finished his beer, and went to the door. â€œYeah, can you give us a couple minutes?â€
They went inside and disposed of their beer bottles. The evening air was growing chilly and Erik wanted to grab a jacket. Louis followed him into his room. â€œOkay, we gotta be really careful tonight.â€
â€œI figured. Thatâ€™s why I let you make the decision.â€
â€œWe canâ€™t be too military, if you know what I mean. If we look too good, theyâ€™re gonna start asking lots of questions we donâ€™t wanna answer.â€
â€œRight, should I shoot less than adequate?â€ Erik said.
â€œDonâ€™t put too much into it, kid.â€
â€œOkay, I can do that.â€ Erik grabbed his jacket and they went out to Jim Bob.
â€œCoo! Letâ€™s go blast some shit!â€ Louis cheered.
They hopped in the car and Jim Bob drove them up into the hills. Pulling into a small gravel parking lot, they saw five other cars.
â€œCome on, fellas. You should know most of these guys, theyâ€™re in the club,â€ Jim Bob said as he got out and opened the trunk. Most of the men referred to the WPP as â€œthe clubâ€ when out in public to avoid suspicion. He pulled out three rifle cases and two handgun cases, handing them to Louis and Erik. â€œI think this should be enough for us.â€ He grabbed an ammo can and closed the trunk. Jim Bob led the way to a clearing. The sun was beginning to set, shadows from the trees and brush casting long, dark smears across the dirt. There was a makeshift table set up and nearly a dozen men standing around it. Assorted firearms littered the table along with magazines and ammo.
â€œHiya, fellas!â€ Jim Bob called.
â€œBrought Louis and Erik, huh?â€ Tom Aiden said. He was a tall, gaunt man in his mid-forties; his hair was black, and he boasted a bushy mustache.
â€œHello, Mr. Aiden,â€ Erik said politely. This was the man who kept him employed doing odd jobs.
â€œEvening, Erik. Out for a little fun?â€
â€œYes, Sir. I like to punch a bit of paper once in a while.â€
â€œYou any good?â€
Erik laughed. â€œNo, not really.â€ He looked around to see the president, Cole Butler watching.
Jim Bob opened one of the gun cases. â€œLou, you ever see one of these?â€ He handed a rifle to Louis.
â€œMmm, Winchester model 70.â€
â€œYou know your firearms.â€
â€œDid some â€™coon, deer, and gator huntinâ€™ in my younga days. My pappy had one a dem.â€
Jim Bob handed him five rounds of ammo. â€œGo have some fun, Lou.â€ He pointed to their makeshift range.
Louis nodded and went forward to the firing line. There were several pieces of old, green shag carpet on the ground to use for shooting mats. Someone had filled a few sandbags and there was one at the end of the carpet to use for supported shooting. He knelt down, placing the rifle on the carpet and then settled farther onto his stomach.
Taking the ammo, he loaded the rifle and closed the bolt, chambering a round. The rifle had an eight-power scope attached. Louis took off the protective plastic covers and peered through it. He worked to adjust the scope to a comfortable viewing magnification.
Several men took up positions on the firing line. Louis glanced over at them. He still felt uneasy about the whole situation, but he had to try to build their trust. A few moments later there was an eruption of gunfire. The lieutenant took his time, sighting in the target and carefully squeezing the trigger. The round went downrange and hit an old sawed-off tree stump. It wasnâ€™t where he wanted it to go; he was aiming at the beer can on top of it.
Ejecting the spent case, he loaded another and made a couple of adjustments to the elevation on the scope. Taking aim, he let off another round. It hit the stump higher up, but in the center just below the can. Louis made another adjustment and loaded one more round. He slowly let his breath out, his finger gently tightening on the trigger. It was a nice rifle, but a bit finicky on the trigger pull. He could feel his heartbeat slow somewhat. With a little more effort, the round blasted from the barrel, went downrange, and knocked the can off the stump. Louis smiled to himself; not bad, he thought, three rounds to a rough zero on an unfamiliar weapon. He hadnâ€™t lost his touch; although he didnâ€™t want to seem too good at shooting.
Looking over his shoulder, he noticed several men watching him. Cole Butler brought his hands up and started to clap. Soon the others were following his lead. It was obvious he was impressed by Louisâ€™s skill.
â€œWell, Lou, it looks like youâ€™ve had a lot of practice with that rifle,â€ Butler said.
â€œHunted a lot with my pappy.â€
â€œYou sure shoot mighty sweet, son. You just bested olâ€™ Cledus there, heâ€™s been our sniper for the last two years.â€
Louis looked to his left. There was a middle-aged man with scraggly hair and a greasy mustache. He was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans that were stained and torn.
â€œHowdy,â€ the man said. â€œYou shoot awful good.â€
The lieutenant nodded. â€œUh, thanks.â€
* * *