Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 7 & 8

CHAPTER SEVEN

 Trade Off

Martin said, “It’s time; we need to contact them on the bulletin board and agree to an exchange.”  The true demands of the abductors had not been given to either Interpol or Europol.  Martin had posted on two boards one was the decoy bulletin board the agencies were following extensively.  The other was the real contact board, known only to Martin’s internal security team and Serenity.

Martin had arranged for his CFO to be the courier carrying fictitious bearer bonds to a non-existent meeting that law enforcement was overseeing.  The second posting was the one in earnest.  Martin knew that only he could be the courier, supposedly carrying the real ransom of the NCC-5 coding.  Within an hour, Stiles had arranged for a response to turn up on the first board, with help from the Die-Hex/Corp.’s IT department, distracting law enforcement.  The real response came a few moments before that response so that the timing would coincide on the first board.  A meeting was arranged for the next day at five in the afternoon.  The kicker was that it was in the port city of Valencia, about one hundred eighty miles as the crow flies to the east-northeast of Madrid.  Colby had Stiles set up the company business jet and put it on stand-by.  All Marc and Eyan could do was load up a company SUV with all they had acquired and depart for Valencia, a three-hour, fifteen-minute drive, as it turned out.  They needed to get there and survey the lay of the land ahead of the meeting.  Soon after they were on the road, the Sat phone rang and Marc answered it.  There had been a new message from the abductors, saying that Colby was to go alone to small coastal enclave on the northern outskirts of Valencia, named Port Saplaya. There, he would proceed to the North beach side of the marina to the grassy area, out in the open, and wait to be contacted.  As soon as Marc terminated the call, he patched his computer into the Sat phone and clicked on the Google Earth icon.  Seconds later, he had located the enclave and was surveying the general vicinity.  He pulled up his e-mail program and asked Stiles back at Villa De Martini if Die-Hex/Corp. had any holdings or business in the Valencia area that may be of help.  In what was returned instantly, Marc was informed that yes, indeed, they had shipping and receiving facility for their Mediterranean parts suppliers with one large, and two smaller, seaworthy craft and one other business property.  He said he was making contact with them as soon as possible, so that they might facilitate anything Marc and Eyan might need.  He also passed on all their contact information.  When they drove into the city, they grabbed some fast food and then proceeded to Die-Hex/Corp’s sub-location.  It was just south of the Port Americas Cup Marina and a large commercial shipping compound.  When they had arrived, they were greeted by Hector Delgado, the manager.  He said, they had been told to suspend operations and do anything they could to assist.  He continued, saying that there were three other people working at the facility, if they needed further help.

Hector remarked that he had a one-ton cube-service truck, and a half-ton pick-up, besides the watercraft. Marc was genuinely impressed with Stiles organizational skills.  He was always one step ahead of the program.  And he had selected management personnel that seemed to know their own core competence.

Marc had all of their equipment transferred from the SUV to the cube truck.  It had all the local markings that were of Faxsilteck/Shipping, and not Die-Hex/Corp., as the SUV had.

Madrid

Things were progressing as planned; Jok, from Interpol, had become a fixture in the control room at the estate, as things progressed.  He may as well have had his cell phone surgically implanted.  He was constantly engaged in useless conversation.  At dinner, Martin had suddenly become ill and retired to his third floor domicile.  About an hour later, his personal physician arrived and was shown to his private quarters.  After thirty minutes, the doctor came back downstairs and announced that Mr. Colby was suffering from intense bout of GERD, compounded by severe exhaustion.  Jok, once more disappeared into “Cell Neverland.”  Stiles, on the other hand, was exceedingly happy with the way things were progressing.  Martin was now out of the limelight and preparing to fly to Valencia; Jok was downstairs, still chasing the fictitious cyber-tail.

Within the hour, Martin had made his way out a private exit to the garage area of the estate and got into the back seat of an employee’s vehicle. He was successfully able to exit the property without being seen.  Soon they were nearing the private air terminal at Madrid’s Barajas airport.  The driver entered the mag-card gate to the private hanger of Die-Hex/Corp and he then drove into the hanger through the automated garage door at the rear of the hanger.  The aircraft was pulled from the hanger just before Martin boarded the aircraft for the thirty-minute flight.  He moved to his seat, sat down and loudly exhaled, he was realizing he was not used to this type of stress and the faster it was over with – well, all the better.  He could hear the jet engines begin to spin-up as he buckled his seatbelt.  It began to taxi, when he felt a jerking motion in the cabin as the aircraft came to a halt.  The pilot opened the cockpit door and said, “We’ve got a problem, sir,” as he reached for the cabin door lever, and opened the door dropping the steps.  Before Martin could unbuckle his belt, agent Dara Petersen was standing at the cabin door saying, “Going somewhere, Mr. Colby?”

Colby, somewhat embarrassed, spoke up saying, “Agent Petersen, what a humbling surprise.  Won’t you have a seat and I’ll try to bring some light to this unfortunate fiasco.”  She stepped into the cabin of the aircraft, keeping her back to the bulkhead and her eyes on both Colby and the pilot.  Colby asked the pilot to return to the cockpit, while he and Petersen had a conversation.  Petersen sat down in the opposite seat between the door and where Colby was seated.  Colby reiterated that the abduction and everything that Interpol had reported was factual.  He began to layout the variations from what she knew, bringing her up to speed with his team.  When he came to the true demand of the abductors, he then asked her what her security rating was within Europol.  At that query, a questioning expression – nearly imperceptible – flashed across her face.  She said, “Mr. Colby, I am a senior advisory agent to the anti-terrorist team and, even more, a member of Europol’s first alert security detachment for WMD’s.  Are you seriously questioning my clearances?”  Now he could tell by the tone of her voice that she was becoming a bit perturbed.  He said, “I’m not trying to be smug, but please, try to understand the problem that I’m facing.  This could deeply affect the financial security of a large portion of the globe including both the EU, and U.S.  Have you been briefed on a Nano Security Firewall system referred to as NCC-5 Code?” Her reply was, “No, not in depth, but I’ve had rudimentary information cross my desk; it’s a Bio code that renders positive identification of individuals without exception, although I’m not certain how.”  Colby replied, “Well, that’s an extremely simplified vision of it, but it’ll do.  The Coding used in tandem on multiple individuals will create an exponential firewall.  This wall can virtually be used to secure anything that is either controlled or created by a computer.  It’s now in use in almost every nuclear facility on the planet, not to mention securing all the warheads being stored for the U.S. and NATO, as well as bank vaults, and repositories.”  Petersen once again spoke up saying, “But how does this code tie into your granddaughter?”  “My company, Die-Hex/Corp., developed the NCC-5 Code,” he said. He didn’t need to say anything else.  Dara was a quick study and had already arrived at the conclusion.  She said, “So, do know who the real extorters are?”  Martin said, “We’ve made educated guesses but they’re still just that.”  He stood up and walked to the cabin door and said, “Are you along for the ride?”  She said, “Can I call for assistance or anything?  And, yes, I’m in.”  Martin answered saying, “No, but thanks any way, I think we have it handled.”   As he closed the cabin door and slapped his hand on the cockpit bulkhead then returned to his seat.  The engines began to rotate once more.

On the way to Valencia, Colby filled her in on the progression and events coming up, and said that Marc and Eyan had gone ahead to map out the plan.  Dara asked where he had come in contact with Marc and Eyan and, more importantly, was he sure they were qualified?  Martin said, “Do you remember the stand-off situation with the American President a couple years ago?” She acknowledged saying, “Of course, it rocked the world back on its heels.” He said, “Marc and Eyan were the two shooters called in by the Secret Service.  Marc was the one that actually took out the gunmen holding the pistol to the President’s head.”  Dara said, “How did you get this information?  It was never released that I knew of.  We — well, Europol – never knew who the shooters were.” Martin said, “I have some, let’s say, well-placed friends in my circle that rarely fail to help me out, especially when I make it a personal request.”  Dara did not display the slightest reaction, but she was both surprised and certainly intrigued with the information.

A few minutes later, the aircraft began its decent and moments later, the familiar screech was heard as the tires touched the runway.  They taxied to the private executive terminal and shut down.  Before they had covered the twenty-five yards across the tarmac to the terminal, Eyan and Marc had emerged from the entrance doors and were walking briskly toward them.  As they approached, Marc quietly said to Eyan, “I didn’t realize that she was part of this equation.”  Eyan had no time to respond.  Martin could see the look in Marc’s eye, and decided to nip it in the bud saying, “Agent Petersen has agreed to assist us in our extracurricular activity.  Are there any complaints?” Marc, a bit surprised, smiled and said, “Real talent is always appreciated.” Martin said, “She’s up to speed and I’m quite sure she’ll be of added value to the team.” As they entered the terminal, a young man of about twenty-five walked up to Martin and said, “Señor Colby, I am Santana Callas, your driver.  Your car is this way, Señor.”  Martin and Dara walked outside and got into the full-sized Mercedes sedan parked next to the curb.  As soon as Marc and Eyan pulled around from the parking lot and joined them, they all quickly made their way across town to the Mediterranean Shores.  The boutique spa was just one more of Colby’s holdings.

It was 10:00 p.m. by the time they had all gotten their rooms and were beginning to re-assemble back at Martin’s suite.  Marc was the first to return, he asked Martin how Petersen suddenly became part of the team.  Martin reiterated the confrontation at the hanger, and then said, “I haven’t a clue how she knew what was going on.  My driver at the estate, Miguel, drove me to the airport in his car.  I was down in the back seat all the way there.  I just don’t know how she knew.  He’s an ex-National Policia Sergeant from the Drug Enforcement Division.  He’s been through a two-week course at Skills Driving Academy and also has had escape-and-evasion chauffeur training in the States.  That training also covered client security, like watching for cars tailing and vehicle sequestering, but he obviously just didn’t see anything.” Just then, both Eyan and Dara arrived at the suite.

Marc started the briefing, beginning with an overview of the Porto Saplaya enclave and the grassy area that Martin was to wait on before being contacted.  One of the first questions that emerged from Marc was, “Martin, could this be a setup to take you out of the picture?  The reason I ask is, after surveying the grassy area today, we found at least four perfect locations that could be used by us or them to dispatch a target with one shot.  I’m sure this could be why they picked the area. They could see any one coming for at least a hundred meters; it’s on a jetty out in front of the marina on the seaside.  If this is a take-down, you need to be aware that Eyan and I are going to be useless to protect you from being abducted.”  After a short pause, Dara spoke up saying, “The code – what’s been done with it?  Will they know it’s bogus right away, or will it take them some time?” Martin said, “People, the whole point of this is to get Laurel back.  I just – I don’t really care if I’m in danger or not.  As for the code – anyone who knows my company developed it – well, would probably know in a heartbeat that it’s fake, but I have to take that chance.”  Dara said, “We can’t let you just walk into harm’s way without a backup plan in place.” Eyan chimed in, saying, “We need a fast boat just in case they take you aboard a vessel of some kind.  We have the shore side covered.”   Martin said, “The Spa has a cigarette boat they use for advertising.  It’s made for offshore competition racing but, most of the time, it’s used for taking special guests for thrill rides.”  Eyan said, “That should do the trick for anything they might come up with.  We also have the SkipJac from Faxsilteck.”  The SkipJac was a converted dual-screw, 62-foot fishing trawler with an open hold behind the main deck cabin.  It looked like anyone of a hundred other working boats that are constantly moving up and down the coastal waters.

The plan was beginning to take form; Marc was to take up a position of cover across the marina inlet to the south within the marina’s boat storage area.  Hector Delgado would skipper the Cigarette boat.  He and Dara would motor in and moor it near, or at, the fueling dock of the Saplaya Marina.  Marc’s vantage was a mere 40 meters across the inlet to Colby’s purposed position.  Dara was to be eye-candy with Hector on the go-fast boat.  Eyan was to be on a dual-outboard, 18-foot runabout, anchored just to the north of the marina jetty, about one hundred meters off shore, playing fisherman.  Stiles was to arrive during the night and would take up position on shore in the parking lot near the exit, just in case things went inland, instead of to sea.
CAPTER EIGHT

Fail-Safe, Or Not

They all tried to capture a few hours’ sleep before setting up the operation in the pre-dawn hours.  They all wanted to be in position before the sun shed light on the plan.  Stiles was the perfect driver; he had spent several years living in Valencia as a younger man.  He arrived about three in the morning from the airport.  He would drive a non-descript rental car and watch the entry road to Port Saplaya from the nearby off-ramp of the expressway.  The meeting was set for five in the afternoon.  The communications equipment they had secured a few days earlier was now in use by the team. All had the ear pieces and voice-activated com gear and, all but Martin, had the Sat phones as a backup, just in case separation range became a problem.

It had been an uneventful morning and was approaching 4:30 in the afternoon when Hector and Dara idled into the marina on the cigarette boat.  Even at idle the two V-10 engines of the craft with their non-fettered exhaust, created a guttural tone which was impossible to ignore, when it was in reasonable proximity.  As the craft moved passed Marc’s position, Hector was in the skipper’s seat; Dara was lying on her stomach, head propped up on her arms.  She was on the aft deck on a large towel wearing a thong, sunglasses and not much else.  Her top was untied and most likely Hector had applied the vast amount of tanning oil on her back.  For the first time, Marc took a hard look at her; she was stunning.  She had always been wearing conservative pants suits, either black or brown with a white blouse.  Her hair was always pulled back and rolled into a bun.  As Hector was tying off the mooring lines, she reached back and tied the top strings of her bikini, but not before displaying a vast amount of cleavage.  Marc was more than a bit distracted as he watched her.  She must have spent all of her off time, and half her salary, on tanning salons.  She was dark golden brown but the dead giveaway was that there was not a single tan line visible.  She stood up and began to help Hector secure the boat.  She had a sculpted body and moved around the craft like a gazelle.  With her hair windblown, and hanging down to the middle of her back, she appeared amazingly sensual.  When she had suggested the pleasure boat at the dock while planning the mission last evening, Marc had nearly laughed aloud.  He wasn’t laughing now; just staring.  He snapped back to reality as a large inboard boat at the private docks fired off its engines.  This was very unsettling to Marc.  He never allowed distractions to interfere with business.   As he once more glanced over his shoulder in her direction, he wondered how he could have been so close to this beauty the last few days and not even noticed her potential.

He heard a crackle over the ear piece then Eyan’s voice saying, “We have two inbound boats with at least six bogies aboard; four in the large craft, two in a runabout, over.”  Marc tapped his microphone twice with his index finger indicating that he understood the message.  The jetty protecting the marina was about 300 yards long with a right-angle exit.  Marc’s position allowed him vision straight out the jetty, but not beyond.  A few minutes later a medium-sized cabin cruiser, maybe 28 to 30-foot, entered the end of the jetty.  Marc keyed his mic saying, “Heads up; we have visitors from the sea.” Letting everyone know, especially Stiles, who was nearly a quarter-mile from the waterway.  Martin, and his driver, Miguel, who had flown with Stiles, were parked in the northwest quadrant of the development, hopefully out of sight.  Marc’s com clicked once more and Eyan said, “The small boat just anchored off the jetty and they’re now fishing.  But I don’t think they’ll catch much with no bait on their hooks.”  The cruiser slowly edged its way up the jetty toward the marina.   As the boat approached Marc’s position, he pulled out his smart phone and engaged the HD video camera.  He wanted to get as much footage as possible of the people on the boat.

They pulled into the slip right next to Hector and Dara and one of the men jumped to the dock and quickly went into the mechanic’s office. The others were busy tying off the craft, when he returned with the guy from the office, and the two men began refueling the diesel tanks on the vessel.  Dara, to all of their delight, got out of the boat and walked to the office.  Hector was the only one whose attentions were not on her; he was busy trying to detect any movement in the cabin of the cruiser.  She emerged from the office with a bag of chips and walked back to the boat dock.  She asked the attendant to add the chips to the tab along with the fuel they had taken on.  Marc watched as she carefully teased the group and kept their attention, while Hector managed to look from another angle into the cabin from the dock.  After she got back into the boat, Hector asked the attendant if he could moor the craft at the end of the fueling dock, as he was waiting for some friends from Saplaya villa to join the boat.

As soon as Hector and Dara had moved the cigarette boat 60 feet down to the end of the dock, he reported on the com that he was able to see at least one other person below deck on the cruiser.  Both Eyan and Marc acknowledged the information.  Marc looked down at his watch; it was about ten minutes before five in the afternoon.  Martin had not yet started for the marina.  As Marc’s index finger started to press the transmit button on his com unit, Miguel keyed his unit and said, “Señor, Colby is en route to his meeting.”  Marc keyed in and said, “OK, everyone – heads up and watch for the unexpected, if that’s even possible.”  A few minutes later, Marc spotted Martin walking from the far end of the triangular patch of grass that bordered the jetty on Marc’s end.

When Martin had reached the middle of the field, the cabin cruiser fired up its dual turbo-diesels, cast off its mooring lines, and then began to back out of the fueling docks.  The field of grass across the inlet from Marc had a cement walkway with boat tie-offs every twenty-five feet or so.  There were several picnic benches spread out on the grass along the cement embankment.  Martin had been briefed by the abductors to sit at a specific bench.  Marc had positioned himself directly across at a right angle to the table so as to not to have the cruiser in his direct line of fire.

Eyan had been watching the runabout with the two men for at least 25 minutes.  He raised his anchor and began to go through the motions of securing his fishing gear, knowing he was being watched the whole time.  Marc heard his com click, then Eyan say, “I’m going to see if these guys have had any luck fishing.”  He paused, and then said, “Wish me luck.”  Marc once again tapped the com mic twice with his finger in acknowledgement.  Eyan, idled the boat toward the runabout, waving his right hand as he approached.  All the while, he steered the craft with his knee, while his left hand was appropriately coveting a Glock 21 fitted with a Retten-14 silencer.  He was about 20 feet away, when one of the two men reached into a bag on the seat of the craft.  Eyan could see the grip of an Uzi emerging.  His training automatically kicked in, along with the fact that he was a lefty. The Glock came up to firing position so fast that even Eyan was surprised.  The first round struck the man with his hand on the Uzi before it had cleared the bag.  He dropped to the deck, never having seen it coming, with a rather large section of his skull now missing. The second man sitting in the captain’s chair had secured a hand gun and was raising it to fire, as Eyan squeezed off a rapid double tap, one impacting the man’s shoulder the other was center mass.  Eyan keyed his com and simply said, “Two down.”   No one answered his conveyance, but all understood.

The cruiser was now edging up to the embankment; two men jumped ashore and held the mooring ropes tight.  This was what Marc was hoping would not happen.  They didn’t tie off to the normal docking positions, instead stopping at an obtuse angle.  Marc’s vision of Martin was totally blocked.  Two other men went ashore.  He heard a scuffle and some guttural tones, then they pulled Martin aboard the craft; the others ashore jumped on and the engines began to bellow loudly.  The paradigm was quickly shifting.  As the boat began pull away from the shore, Marc alerted the team saying, “We’re headed out to sea.”  Hector and Dara had already untied their craft and were backing out of the slip as Marc gathered his equipment and was moving toward the water’s edge.  As the craft maneuvered close to the edge of the embankment, Marc jumped onto the fore deck, tossing his equipment to Dara as he moved to the cockpit of the craft.

The cruiser was just clearing the right angle exit of the jetty when Marc exchanged positions with Hector, assuming the driver’s position.  As Hector began falling into his seat, Marc began throttling up the cigarette craft but he only accelerated a short distance, and then backed down the throttle staying within the confines of the jetty.  He had an idea that could help keep Martin safe and, at the same time, keep them within striking distance.  As they reached the right angle exit of the jetty, Marc brought the craft to a halt.  He keyed his com unit, summoning Eyan to their location within the jetty.  He did this, knowing that the people aboard the cabin cruiser would be watching for any craft in pursuit.  The cruiser was now under full power and heading eastward out to sea.

As Eyan approached, Marc signaled him to come aboard.  Eyan responded quickly — dropping the anchor of the boat and jumping on the large craft in one swift movement.  Marc turned to Hector, and asked what the cruising speed and range was for the cigarette boat. Hector quickly looked out to sea, noting the calm weather condition, and then said, “Right now, with the four of us aboard, maybe 135 miles an hour and we can easily travel 300 miles, or more.  The Balearic Islands, Ibiza or Mallorca were all in range to the east.”

Marc took inventory of the boat’s capabilities. It was equipped with the latest running gear and weather radar with extended range.  The craft had everything they might need for what he was planning.  Marc sat back down and asked Dara to switch seats with Hector.  He knew the area, and could help get Marc’s plan into action. Marc explained that he wanted to ID the cruiser on the boat’s radar, then pull out and travel at a right angle so as to not alert them that they were being followed.  He estimated that the cabin cruiser was good for – maybe – fifty miles per hour at cruising speed.  He pulled out of the jetty and turned southward, away from the cruiser.  Marc then accelerated to fifty miles an hour. Hector was glued to the radar as soon as the cruiser was at the apex of the radar’s ability; Marc slowed down until it disappeared off the screen, then turned to a 15-degree angle to the path of the cruiser and began to pour on the speed.

They were now traveling at around 80 mph.  Within three or four minutes, the other craft reappeared on the radarscope.  If the other craft saw them on their scope, it would appear that another boat was traveling out to sea, but in a slightly different direction.  Also, if they had lost radar contact with the cigarette boat heading south, they would have no way of knowing it was the same craft reappearing on their screen.  Hector regularly piloted the converted trawler to the off-shore islands and knew most of the ports well.  He plotted the course of the cruiser and said that he believed that it was headed for a port on the southern tip of Ibiza.  Marc surmised that if they pushed the craft hard, they could pass the other boat and then cut back to the port in Ibiza, and be at anchor before the other craft arrived.  Marc began to accelerate a few moments later; they were skipping wave tops at 125 miles an hour.  Marc had piloted many small craft in the Navy and even a few fast ones while on missions with the SEALS, but nothing with this much power.  He tapped his com unit and asked Hector if he knew how much horsepower the boat had.  He nearly swallowed his tongue when Hector said, “1,224 horsepower for each twin-turbocharged engine.” He was thinking — 2,448 horsepower.  It was easily the most powerful earthbound vehicle he had ever piloted.  He had another inch and a half of throttle, but thought better of it.  Twenty minutes later, he backed off the throttle and began his turn back to the north, toward the port.  Hector had not lost track of the cruiser.  It was on the same heading as it was when it departed Victoria.  Marc checked out his gauges, noting that his fuel was just short of 1/2 full. He asked Hector when he estimated the other boat would arrive.  Hector thought for a second, then said, “Perhaps twenty or twenty-five minutes.”  Marc asked him to direct them to the port fueling docks.  It was now approaching six in the evening.  It was mid-summer in the northern latitudes. They still had almost two hours of daylight and another hour of twilight to work with.  The fuel tanks were being topped off when Hector said, “They’re changing course and slowing down, and the direction doesn’t correspond to this port.  Their heading is now north, up the western side of the island.  Hector signed for the fuel and cast-off the lines, then they turned toward the port’s exit and briskly made way.

They quickly rounded the lower point of the island and hit open water.  Marc once again pushed the craft back up to over 100 mph.  Within five minutes, they were approaching visual proximity of the cruiser.  Marc brought the craft down to 25 mph; the bow dropped and began plowing the water.  Hector was busy studying the radarscope, then suddenly reached for some binoculars in one of the many storage compartments.  He rose up and began scanning out over the bow of the craft with the binoculars gripped tightly.  Hector said, “Stop here.”

He could see the cabin cruiser slowly plowing into a protected harbor next to a large private yacht and proceeded to drop anchor.  As they approached the harbor the name on the yacht was revealed as Orion’s Cradle.  It was at least a 30-meter hull by design; and had sharp angler features; it most likely was laid down in one of the Nordic countries.

Dara moved to the forward cockpit and adjusted the frequency of the two-way radio.  She then called out for emergency assistance. Within a few minutes, a National Policia port substation had responded.  She identified herself as a Europol agent giving her assignment number, which would confirm her identity.  She then requested information regarding the ownership of the yacht and port of origin.  Within minutes, she had a rundown on the information.  The ownership was listed to a Swedish textile corporation.  Marc glanced over at Eyan, only to see him shaking his head.  She was very good at her job, and always seemed to be ahead of the curve.

Hector requested a ship-to-shore connection when Dara was finished with her conversation. He put a call into Stiles and filled him in on the location and situation. Stiles said he would be airborne within the hour and that he and Miguel would acquire a boat and join the group before midnight.

Marc asked Hector to relay a request for Styles to bring the remaining equipment in the cube van with them on the flight.  The harbor that the yacht was anchored in was used by a few resorts and a small enclave of very high-end private villas with some scattered retail shops near the water’s edge.  As night began to fall, they made a decision to wait for darkness, find a protected area within the harbor to moor the craft, and then go ashore.  A while later, after securing the boat, Marc and Dara, following a walkway along the water’s edge, made their way to one of the restaurants and ordered food for everyone while sitting at the bar area watching the yacht.  Eyan and Hector stayed aboard the boat, just in case something happened aboard or around the yacht.

As they sat there, Dara plied the bartender saying, “That’s a beautiful ship, does it belong to someone that lives here?”  The barman responded saying, “It showed up three days ago, but no one knows anything about it. No one comes ashore; the only activity was they unloaded that cabin cruiser from the rear deck with the onboard crane two days ago, and then it disappeared until this afternoon.  Everyone’s been talking about it.” He moved off down the bar to serve another customer.  Dara said, “The more we learn, the stranger it gets.”  Marc turned to her and said, “How did you know something was up with Martin back at the hanger in Madrid?”  She smiled, and said, “A girl has to have her secrets.”  She went on to say, “It was Miguel.  We were watching everyone at the Villa, but he left over two hours before he normally left work.  And when he turned in the opposite direction of his home and entered the expressway, I knew something was up.  I just followed them to the airport.  Then Colby rolled over as soon as I went aboard the airplane.”  Marc said, “I’m happy you’re working with us, rather than against us.”  Just then the food came and Marc paid for it, as they were gathering up the sacks.  Dara said, “Me, too,” displaying a subtle smile.  Marc paused a millisecond, then returned the smile.

Walking back to the boat, Marc said, “That bathing suit today on the boat worked to perfection.  Those guys couldn’t keep their eyes off you.  For that matter, it was a bit difficult for me.”  Dara replied saying, “Well, I knew I couldn’t dress as I normally do when I go to the beach.  I had to wear something, but I really hate tan lines.  It’ll take at least two weeks to get rid of the lines I got today.”  When Marc looked up, she wasn’t smiling, she was dead serious.

When they got back to the boat, Eyan was on the two-way radio talking to Stiles.  When he finished, Marc tossed him a bag with his food in it.  Eyan said, “I think I have a plan to help us see what’s going on over at the yacht.  I had Stiles get us some dive tanks and gear and some gallon zip bags.”  Marc was with him all the way. Dara on the other hand had a quizzical expression on her face, along with Hector.  Marc turned and said, “The zips keep a pistol and ammo dry down to about twenty feet, even deeper if you keep the bag inverted.”  Eyan continued on saying, “I think we need to dive as soon as possible.  Who knows what’s going on over there and the sun comes up early this time of year.”

It was not a small harbor, but it was shallow.  The yacht was anchored about 120 meters off shore but still within the harbor.  The draft of the ship and common sense precluded it from moving closer into shore.  Not long after midnight, Stiles and Miguel were near.  The radio was turned down and the squelch was turned up to weed out the static and skip interference.  Marc heard a small boat entering the harbor; he keyed his radio and said, “Stiles.”  Stiles keyed his radio twice, and then said, “Private com.”  Marc slipped on his ear receiver and touched his throat mic, then directed them to his location.  Within the hour, after a meeting of the minds, Marc and Eyan were in the water silently swimming toward Orion’s Cradle.

As they approached the ship at a depth of twenty feet, the moonlight was penetrating the water enough to clearly see the anchor chains.  They surfaced next to the stern chain; they were shielded by the ship’s hull from the bright moonlight.  They silently took off their air tanks and attached them to the chain.  After moving up to the teak sports deck that was mounted just below the fantail, they undraped their weapons discarding the zip lock bags.  At this point, as a group, they had come to the conclusion that Martin, along with his granddaughter, had been taken as hostages until they were sure the NCC-5 coding was the real deal, which it wasn’t.  Now, the only avenue left to pursue was to try a bold move and hopefully surprise them in a swift and silent assault.  Stiles and Dara, along with Miguel, were in the small runabout that Stiles and Miguel had arrived in.  They were moving as quietly as possible, trying not to be obvious, toward the yacht and also the harbor entrance with running lights on.

Marc rose up, looked across the deck quickly, and then ducked down just as fast, indicating to Eyan that he saw no one on the fantail.  They moved to opposing sides of craft and looked once more, quickly, down each side deck walkway.  Still, there was no one in sight.  Both moved up over the rear railing onto the fantail, then took cover behind the nearest object of opportunity.  Marc looked over to starboard and saw the runabout, moving toward the yacht.  He raised his green laser pin light and flashed it at the craft; they had prearranged the signal before starting the operation to confirm their boarding of the yacht.

From Naval experience, both Marc and Eyan knew that a craft of this size would have at minimum eight or ten people as crew members.  Also it would be nearly impossible to sequester anyone aboard without everyone knowing.  With that conclusion, they decided to treat everyone aboard as a hostile.  They began working their way toward the bow, each covering the other as they took turns moving.  They reached the main deck cabin; the lights were off.  The yacht’s design was ultra-modern with plethora of windows; the moonlight was shining brightly and flooded into the cabin as they peered in.  Marc saw no one, but Eyan noticed movement on one of the large couches.  He keyed his com once, getting Marc’s attention, then he indicated that he saw one person, putting his hand horizontal then tipping his head on it, as if he were sleeping.  Marc nodded his head in acknowledgement, and then signaled Eyan to join him on the starboard side of the craft, to take full advantage of the shadow of the moon.

As they moved up the starboard walkway beyond the first cabin, a slight amount of light was filtering out of one of the smaller windows.  Marc moved to the window; it had wooden shutters that were only partially open.  He could see three men at a galley table, playing cards.  Looking around the room, he could see several weapons; two automatics that appeared to be Uzi’s were lying on the table next to the men.  They each were wearing vest harnesses with snap-in holsters that were populated with what appeared to be Glocks.  Not your typical sous-chef attire he was thinking, as he noticed one of the men was wearing traditional all white galley clothing.  The two others he recognized as being on board the cabin cruiser in Valencia, when Martin was abducted.

Just then, they heard a door latch rattle, and then a screeching sound as the door opened.  It was on the deck just above them.  They both instinctively moved to find cover as a man walked about ten steps to a rail deck ladder, and began to descend to the lower deck. At the same time, the door to the galley opened. It was not more than three feet from where Eyan had taken cover behind a deck box.  The man on the ladder said, “Hugo, Mr. Lagôs said for you to get some strong fresh coffee going.  He needs something to help him stay awake.  This code stuff is not making sense to him.  Oh, and take some down to Andrea; we wouldn’t want him falling asleep watching our guests.”  Hugo replied, “Ya, Ya.  How come it’s always me?” as the door to the galley slammed shut behind him.

After the man on the ladder had returned to the cabin that he had emerged from on the upper deck, it was once again quiet.  Marc, realizing the runabout was now in a holding position about fifty yards off the starboard side of the yacht, keyed his com unit, and said in a low whisper, “Were going below deck now.  If you hear shots, use your own discretion.”  He once again heard a double click from the com unit on the runabout, acknowledging the transmission.

They watched the man called Hugo through the window.  A short while later, he poured coffee into a thermal container and a ceramic coffee service, placing the latter on a silver tray.  He said something to one of the other men, then handed him the tray, while at the same time, raising his backhand in a threatening gesture.  Both Marc and Eyan moved back to cover before the man emerged from the galley door.  Once the man had negotiated the rail stairs, he disappeared into the cabin above.  Marc returned to the galley window and peered in, searching for Hugo, once again.  His interest was piqued when he realized the man was gone from sight. Then he heard a metallic sound, as he detected the motion of a door being closed on the far side of the room.

Marc quickly turned to Eyan, saying, “He’s taking the internal hallway to their location,” as he moved to the galley door.  He pulled the door open; the man at the table did not look up immediately, thinking it was his friend returning from the coffee delivery.  When he did look up, the look of surprise was erased from his face, as a crimson spot appeared just above his right eye, as the dull echo of Marc’s silenced pistol reverberated around the room.  They moved through the room swiftly reaching the center corridor, Marc turned toward the front of the ship and began moving cautiously, Eyan following.  Marc heard Eyan whisper, “I’m going to the deck cabin to take care of sleeping beauty.”  Marc noted Eyan’s remark as he moved off down the corridor in search of Hugo’s trail.

As he reached the end of the hallway, it branched in both right and left directions. To the right was a set of stairs going up, on the left was another set going down.  He paused, and then heard a door opening from down below, echoing up the staircase.  He descended the stairs and moved toward the first door.

At the rear of the craft, Eyan slowly entered the dark deck cabin from the main corridor.  He moved to the darkened wall to his right, to allow his vision to adjust from the lit hallway.  His night vision began to return, as he scanned the cabin getting his visual references from the opposing end of the room.  The man was still in dreamland.  Eyan made his way between the furniture and across the room, picking up a throw pillow as he did.  He wrapped the pillow around his pistol, looking up just in time to see the man reach to a coffee table for his weapon.  Eyan fired two rounds in quick succession; the man fell limp where he lay.  At the same instant, Eyan was hit from behind with what felt like a baseball bat.  He went down to his knees and rolled forward.  To the assailant’s surprise, Eyan returned to his feet as quickly as he had fallen.  The man looked to the coffee table, seeing the automatic pistol.  He began moving toward it.  Eyan spun around, exposing his side to the man, raising his left arm, then quickly projecting his elbow backwards into the man’s chest.  He then reversed direction 180 degrees, dropping to his knees, placing his left knee under the man’s back as he fell.  There was a guttural moan as several vertebrae shattered, as the man fell limp.  Eyan instinctively looked around the room for more suitors, there were none to be seen.  He dropped the man, picked up the Uzi automatic pistol from the coffee table rather than searching for his pistol in the dark, and then ran toward the main corridor, in search of Marc.

Marc was now moving from doorway to doorway, stopping and listening for voices.  There were five doors off the hallway, including one at the end.  He had worked his way down one side and was now moving back up the other.  He was at the fourth doorway when he heard voices from within.  He was near the staircase when he heard Eyan on his com checking in.  Marc looked toward the stairs; he could see Eyan’s legs at the top of the landing.  He keyed his unit, and said, “Down the stairs – quietly – I’m just below.”  After Eyan had descended the stairs and taken up a back-to-back surveillance position with Marc. Marc said, “There are at least two of them in there.  Stay close.  I’m on the right; you’re left, just like we used to teach the recruits.”

Marc put his hand on the doorknob as he started to slowly twist; the handle accelerated out of Marc’s control, clicked, and the door began to open.  He could see Hugo, the chef’s white uniform coming into full view, just beyond the door.  Marc, realizing the door was opening, instinctively pushed hard on the door, shoving the man backwards into Andrea’s back; the guard was just taking a drink of very hot coffee.  Marc lunged in the room briskly, his pistol in his right hand.  With hardly a flick of his wrist he put one round in Hugo’s right temple as the gruff bastard lay on the floor.  He took one more step and raised his right arm and shoved his silencer onto the nape of Andrea’s skull, and said, “So tell me, Andrea, how many people are on board?” as he reached up and grabbed a hand full of hair, holding the hot silencer barrel to the back of his neck.

Eyan moved swiftly over to where Martin and his granddaughter had been secured to wooden chairs with electrical tape.  He removed the gags from both and opened his four-inch folding-lock-back knife.   He cut the tape away from their arms and legs.  Martin moved to his granddaughter, dropped down and engulfed her in his arms, shielding her from the events going on in the room.

Marc, growing short on temperament, motioned to Eyan to pick up the thermos of hot coffee off the table and said, “Open that up, I think Andrea needs something to keep him awake.”  Marc pushed the man into one of the chairs that had held the captives. And then, picking up the same roll of electrical tape from the table, then bound his hands and feet to the chair. He quickly ran it around the man’s head several times and once again grabbing his hair pulled his head back and wound the tape through the back of the chair, forcing his head back, saying again, “How many, Andrea?”  The man only snarled then spat at him.  Marc reached over to the table and picked up a rag about the size of a wash cloth.  He folded it in half and placed it just below the man’s eyes, covering his nose and mouth. Marc began dripping the hot coffee over his nose and mouth. It’s one thing to introduce water in this way, but scalding hot coffee is a horse of a different color.  The membranes of the nose are as sensitive to heat and cold as they are to being overwhelmed with liquid.  In less than one minute, Andrea was so panic-stricken, that he almost couldn’t say the word – “twelve.”

Eyan was at the door watching for anyone that might be patrolling the boat.   Martin and his granddaughter, Laurel, were huddled to the side of the room.  The men were discussing the planned egress.  They were going to retrace Eyan’s path returning them to the stern of the yacht.  The yacht had not dropped the side boarding stairs, so the best bet was to take the youngster to the teak sports deck off the fantail.  There they could transfer her to the runabout.  Marc keyed his com unit and called to Stiles. There was no reply; the com unit could not push through the steel bulkhead from below the waterline.  He would try once more when they were higher up within the ship.  Marc said to Martin, “Once we get Laurel to safety, Eyan and I will try to take this Lagôs guy down.”  Martin, with an astounded look said, “Antowan Lagôs is on this ship?”  Marc said, “I didn’t know his first name, but that’s what they called him upstairs.”  Martin’s reply was, “He was one of the key researchers on the development team for NCC-5 Code, until he just suddenly resigned and then disappeared.  No one seemed to know why – he just called in one day and never returned to work.”  Eyan chimed into the conversation saying, “Guys, we need to move on out of here before someone sounds the alarm.”

Marc moved to the doorway, as Eyan stepped out into the hall and turned toward the steps; Martin and Laurel following close behind.  Marc waited for them to start up the stairs behind Eyan before backing down the hallway to the base of the stairs, and then turned and then began his ascent.  Marc said, “Hey, there’s at least eight of those guys’ still lurking around, so keep an eye out.” Eyan replied, “Oh, make that seven – Sleeping Beauty had company.”

They turned to the right and began moving back down the central corridor toward the fantail. Eyan was still in the lead.  His senses keyed in on a loud noise just up ahead.  The door to galley was still cracked open about three inches.  That’s where the noise was emanating from.  He could hear a voice calling out; it was not in English, but the tone was clear.  It was the alarm being sounded that he had warned of.  He picked up speed, moving down the corridor until he reached the galley door.  He quickly glanced in, and then pulled back, saying, “Clear.”  As he waved the others by him, he was saying to Marc, “Take the lead – I’ll block the door and follow.”  They moved on past the door; Marc keyed his com unit and call out for Stiles to bring the runabout around to the fantail for a pickup. They entered the rear deck cabin and began to weave their way through the furniture, when Stiles said over the com, “ETA, we’re one minute out.” Marc began to hear sporadic gun fire from behind them as they raced toward the rear of the craft.  Eyan yelled out from behind them as he emerged from the corridor into the cabin, “They’re coming around on the starboard, outside walk…”  Marc was now clearly able to see that no one was between them and the rear of the craft.  “Stop!” he yelled to Eyan. “Cover the corridor; “I’ll take care of the one’s outside.” Eyan, waving his arm, ran over to the area of the earlier skirmish with “Sleeping Beauty.”  The sunrise was casting an eerie light into the cabin, but it was sufficient for him to locate his Glock lying on the floor.  He also noticed an extra clip of ammo for the Uzi on the coffee table, which he retrieved.   He had just picked up the clip when the table burst into splinters from a round fired from the corridor.  He dropped down and rolled to the end of the couch and came up with the Uzi doing what it does best, throwing vast amounts of lead very quickly. One man fell forward into view upon the floor, but he could hear more coming down the hallway.  He looked to the fantail; he could see Marc down behind a large support bracket for the cabin cruiser dry dock.  He was returning fire up the starboard side of the ship.  Martin’s head was partially visible; he was standing on the teakwood sports deck off the back of the yacht. He turned back, focusing his attention on the corridor.

Marc was on his third magazine of ammunition trying to keep the balance of fire even.  He was trying to buy the time necessary for Martin and Laurel to escape onto the runabout.  He fired two more rounds, when he noticed the pistol’s slide now in the lock-back position.  He looked down, reaching to his vest for his fourth of five mags, while ejecting the empty mag from the pistol.  He heard a gunshot from behind, and then he saw a pistol sliding toward him from the portside of the ship across the deck, stopping about two yards out in front of him.  As he looked up, he saw a man falling to his knees, while grasping at his throat making a gurgling sound as he fell forward onto the deck, blood gushing from the open wound.  He looked back to see Dara moving toward him and firing several more rounds.  She was now firing over his head, down the starboard walkway as she moved to find cover.  Marc tripped the slide release on his pistol after slamming in a full magazine and said, “Are they clear?” Dara said, “All clear,” as she moved up to his position behind the storage container pulling a shoulder bag off.  “There’s more mags in there,” pointing to the bag.

Eyan had retreated to the rear door of the cabin and jumped out through metal frame of a large sliding glass door that had proved it was not bullet proof.  He took cover to the right of Marc and Dara. She held up a full magazine of ammo.  But he waved it off; he had all his magazines still on his vest, as he held up the Uzi that he had confiscated.

They could hear the runabout’s engine cavitate as the craft turned sharply to move away from the yacht.  Now the job at hand was straight forward.  Marc said, “Let’s stay on the outside and make our way back to the upper deck where we last saw Lagôs.” Eyan looked at the man on the deck, now in a large pool of blood, and said, “With him down, that makes seven; five more to go – I’m beginning to like these odds a little better.”  Eyan once again looked back into the deck cabin, double-checking to see if anyone was a fool enough to be coming through there.  It was clear.  They started moving back toward the bow, one taking cover and watching, while the others were moving forward. They reached the bottom of the ladder next to the galley door that they had been near earlier.  They were preparing to go up the stairs when Marc heard a familiar sound.  The “twanging” sound produced by the spoon being released on a hand grenade.  Eyan was onboard as quickly as Marc; he opened the galley door and jumped inside.  Marc spun around with his right arm reached out and caught Dara’s midriff and pulled her in on top of him as he followed Eyan into the galley.  The grenade bounced once on the stairs and then fell to the deck, exploding just below the galley window.  The cabin’s quarter-inch steel bulkhead was more than strong enough to withstand the grenade blast.  The concussion of the explosion was still extreme.  Without the bulkhead, anyone within five meters of the exploding ordinance would suffer a multitude of potential injuries such as burst eardrums or capillaries in the eyes and nose could very well rupture.  The ill-effects from the shrapnel would be life-threatening, but this was not the case today.

Dara had been man-handled like a rag doll by Marc pulling her through the doorway.  They were now on the floor; Dara sprawled out on top of him face-to-face.  Both were somewhat isolated by the ringing in their ears, but their eyes were locked intensely on each other, nearly touching noses.  Marc had the desire to kiss her, but thought better of it.  Dara, sensing something in Marc’s eyes, moved on her own impulse, kissing him.  When she had finished, Marc began to say something, but Dara raised her hand and placed her index finger over his lips, mouthing the words “business first,” with a distinct look of desire upon her face.  Eyan had been far too busy getting to his feet and trying to shake off the ringing in his ears to notice the brief, but punctuated event.  However, Marc had certainly made note of it.

They quickly assembled a plan. Eyan would stay in the galley and keep watch on the ladder and upper walkway.  Marc and Dara were to move through the craft and ascend to the upper deck from within.  They were hoping to contain the remaining people in the cabin above.  It’s much easier to gain control of people in a confined area – it was one of the first rules of urban warfare.

Marc and Dara moved swiftly up the corridor toward the stairs at the end.  Marc was somewhat surprised at Dara’s training. Every step she took was a calculated move; not unlike all the training he and Eyan had endured first as SEAL recruits, then as instructors, teaching others those very same techniques.

Marc used a bobbing method to take a quick look around the corner at the end of the hallway; it appeared clear both ways.  He moved to the ascending staircase to the right and began moving slowly up as Dara covered their position on the lower deck.  As Marc’s head reached the upper level deck, he turned around on the staircase being able to see that there was an exterior exit door directly ahead and only one direction to travel on that deck.  He raised his head and quickly looked down the hallway; still no one in sight.  He then moved up to the deck and around the protruding handrail and started down the corridor; Dara was bringing up the rear in a back-to-back configuration.  Marc moved down the corridor.  There was a door to the right and, as he approached it, it swung open into the hallway.  A man stepped out, never looking up the corridor in their direction. He began moving away in the opposite direction.  Marc moved quickly up behind the man, drawing out a knife from his vest as he did so.  The crewman, now hearing Marc’s approach from behind, reached up with his right hand and grasped his Uzi that was slung over his shoulder.  Marc’s reaction was to reach out his left arm, wrapping it around the man’s neck as he plunged the blade swiftly into his kidneys. Then, with equal deftness, he brought it to his throat severing both carotid arteries. The crewman had managed to squeeze off five rounds, stitching the overhead deck like a sewing machine, before collapsing to the floor.

Marc turned to Dara, pointing at the door that the man had emerged from saying, “Does he have any more friends in there?”  The door was still open wide; it was the internal entry to the ship’s wheelhouse.  Dara using a similar version of the bobbing method reported that the wheelhouse was empty.  Marc keyed his com and said, “Eyan, scratch one more.”  Eyan did not respond, but Marc did hear the familiar double-click of acknowledgement from Eyan’s com unit.  Marc took this as a sign that someone was in close proximity to Eyan or he would have responded verbally.

The end of the corridor had an exit door, the same as the opposing side they had come from.  Only one other option was to be taken.  It was the door to the left or rear of the craft, about ten feet from where both Marc and Dara were standing. Unlike the door to the bridge, this one did not have a half glass.  Marc would only be guessing as to where it led, although he suspected it was the door to the room that the opposition was sequestered within.  The answer to his question was not to be pondered long.  Before they had reached the doorway, a hail of gunfire erupted from within the room.  Both Dara and Marc dropped to the deck as the corridor filled with airborne debris.  Once again, the Uzi’s were doing what they were meant to do.  No one near the door, or even standing in the hallway, would have survived the maelstrom.  The opposing force was now only four-strong, but Marc knew that when people are cornered, they typically fought well beyond their normal ability.

Marc had a few tricks of his own to introduce to the party. The door and wall was extremely porous at this point, Marc reached down and pulled two concussion grenades from a belt pack and held them out in front of him, saying to Dara in a subdued voice, “Pins, please.”  Dara, from her position on the floor beside Marc, reached over and pulled both pins.  Marc got to his feet and peered down the hallway; Dara was now also up and close beside him.  He whispered once more to her to saying, “Throw something toward the door.”  She quietly picked up a brass plaque that had been attached to the door that read “Stateroom,” which was now sporting at least two holes, and tossed it at what was left of the door – clanging to the floor as it hit.  Gunfire was once more the instant result.  Using the noise to cover his movement, he swiftly found holes large enough for the grenades, inserting both in what seemed like a micro-second to Dara.  He stepped back in Dara’s direction, placing his body as cover and throwing his arms around her at the same time.  The grenades, when detonated, give off a blinding white light and a concussive blast.  If the area is confined, the blast effect will be intensified.  What had remained of the door was now in pieces in the corridor.  The interior wall had changed shape, resembling a balloon.  They both moved to the entrance where the door had been, and stepped into the room.  Marc keyed his com and said, “Move!  We’re in the cabin.”

He could see across the cabin, through the smoke, that an exterior door had either been blown open or someone had used it to escape.  His training kicked in as he visually scanned the room.  As the smoke began to clear from the blast, an Uzi began to fire from a position near the wet bar.  The firing stopped, abruptly. Dara had abbreviated the man’s ability to participate with two shots to the man’s unprotected, center mass.  Marc registered a mental-note-never piss this girl off; it could easily be hazardous to one’s health.  He then heard shots being fired from beyond the external open door.

Eyan had been at his station just inside the galley door watching the outside area of the vessel, along that side of the craft.  The two remaining men, one of which was Lagôs, tried to make a break for alternate cover just before the concussion grenades had detonated.  Eyan was occupied, blocking the rear door to the galley to protect his backside.  He now found himself pinned in behind a large upright refrigerator, when the two entered the galley and shots were fired.  Eyan soon found out that the newer thin walled refrigerators were not good protective cover when a round penetrating the unit, struck him in his upper right arm, about an inch outside of his protective vest.  The bullet had just enough momentum to penetrate, and then lodge in the muscle of his upper arm.  There was little or no bleeding; the bullet was so hot that it was self-cauterizing, but it hurt like hell.  Shots were still being exchanged within the room.  The two men seemed to be hesitant to leave the safety of the galley.  Eyan had blocked the corridor entrance with almost everything that he could move in the room.  One of Eyan’s strengths was that he was ambidextrous and was as fluent using a firearm to his right, or left, with the same lethal dexterity.

Eyan keyed his com and said, “Marc, I’m pinned down in the galley with two of these guys between me and the door.  I took one in the arm; it’s not bad, but I could use some help.”  Marc said, “We’re on our way, now!”  Marc headed for the door instinctively looking for Dara to follow, but she had already turned and was on a collision course with Marc as they approached the external exit door.  Marc arrived first, did a quick look out and around and said, “Cover me, I’ll go first.”  He bolted across the deck to the top of the rail stairs leading to the lower deck.

Eyan was now quickly running out of time and ammunition.  The men were shredding the area with gunfire; he was running out of things to put between him and the bullets.  He rolled out a stainless-steel waste container that was in a slot against the wall.  When he looked into the void he could see there was a stainless-steel door the same size as the container.  He reached in and pushed on the door, it opened into a service utility room.  Eyan didn’t need a printed invitation.  He reached up, emptied the remaining ammunition from the Uzi in the direction of the men, and then proceeded through the opening.

Marc and Dara had made their way down from the upper deck at this point, and were assessing the situation from just beyond the galley doorway, which was now closed.  Marc keyed his com unit and said, “Eyan, we’re outside the door, but totally blind.  Give me a sit-rep.”  Eyan, getting to his feet, said, “I’m clear, found an exit.  These guys aren’t going without a fight.”  Marc keyed his unit saying, “No need for us to stick our heads in harm’s way. If I had a frag, I’d drop it through the window and be done with it.”  Eyan, finding the exit door leading to the main corridor, said, “I could smell propane before getting out of the room, two-bits says a flash-bang will do the same as a frag.”  Marc said, “Can you get clear?”  Eyan said, “I’m in the main corridor, quick-timing it for the fantail now.”  Marc turned to Dara and told her to make for the fantail also, then keyed his unit once more and asked Stiles for a pick-up at the sports deck.  He then looked up, seeing Dara moving onto the fantail from the side deck.  He pulled out his last concussion grenade and pulled the pin, dropping the grenade just inside the window that was no longer functional due to the first fragmentation grenade dropped down the stairs earlier.  He turned toward the rear of the craft, dropping his vest in one fluidic movement, and ran faster than even he thought possible down the side deck.  He was counting off the seconds, as he ran.  When he reached the count of four, he launched himself over the side rail and was mid-air in his dive, when the blast occurred.

The upper two decks of the yacht erupted into a massive orange ball of fire, ejecting debris in all directions.  Stiles had returned the runabout to the rear of the yacht before Marc had called, anticipating their need of a speedy extraction.  As soon as the falling objects subsided, Eyan looked up at Stiles and said, “Get this boat moving, now!”  Stiles was a bit tentative, he looked back at the yacht, then slammed the throttle fully open and pulled away.  Both Eyan and Dara were visually searching the ship for Marc as they moved off encircling the yacht.  Marc swam toward the fantail. When he arrived and realized his ride was gone, he swam over to the anchor chain and recovered his scuba gear.  He turned toward the shore and submerged down to about twenty feet then leveled off and began a sustained swimming pattern.  As he was moving away, he could hear multiple explosions resonate through the water.  As he approached the go-fast boat at anchor, he swam up and surfaced, pulling off his mask, fins and other gear.

Miguel Sandoval, Martin’s driver was on the cigarette boat, watching the events of the morning unfold.  Just then, Marc threw the first items of his gear onboard, startling Miguel.  He had not noticed Marc near the rear of the craft.  Marc climbed aboard and asked Miguel to pull the anchor, as he sat down in the driver’s cockpit.  He started the engines and as soon as they were clear he pulled out toward the other boats that were now circling around Orion’s Cradle, which was by now fully engulfed in flames.  Marc, at idle, moved the craft out into the area where the other boats were and cut the engines.  No one seemed to notice them joining the search, for what Marc knew, was for himself.  As the runabout moved around the bow of the yacht to Marc’s starboard, he said in a mocking voice, “Who are we looking for?”  The only thing on the runabout that was unattached was the seat cushions/life preservers.  Eyan promptly picked one up and threw it, hitting Marc in the shoulder.  Marc said, “Sometimes I forget you’re ambidextrous.  How’s the arm?”  Eyan said, “No push-ups for a couple weeks – I’m OK.”  Dara, on the other hand, didn’t say a word but with the look on her face, Marc could have written a book.  She was as smart as they come and amazingly competent, but the main thing that intrigued Marc was her independent style, she had an almost indomitable spirit of life which she carried like her badge.

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving Wishes

Some wishes for the Thanksgiving week, but first — some wrap-up.

We now have survived what was the biggest Sucker Punch to come down the pike in some time. It took the majority of America’s collective breath away, as we stared in disbelief at the stunning news that while you could win the popular vote, you can go down in flames — thanks to the members of the Electoral College who, by the way, are supposed to cast their vote(s) to correspond with the majority of voters in their State, except for the states of Nebraska and Maine. Interesting to note that there have been more proposals introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral  College, than than on any other subject.  A no brain-er there.

What we saw was an imperfect system — spitting out an imperfect election.

My sense is that we are strong enough to withstand the next four years – we are better than that. But, it will be a time when we will need to be “game on.”  We cannot stop being vigilant. We cannot get too busy to pay attention.  We cannot stop working to get imperfect things working a little better – a little more accountable – a little more responsible. We will need, also, to pay attention to those across the seas who do not share our democratic ideas.  Those that would intentionally inflict harm — both in the physiological form — and in the electronic format.  Both are true threats to us.

We must, too, hope that our allies continue to believe in our strengths and allegiance to them, in spite of what they may see — or hear.  In short, we must believe in ourselves and believe that we can — and will — move forward and make a difference.

There is more light … than darkness.

I would like to wish each and every one of you who take the time to be a part of this conversation — a wonderful Thanksgiving week.  Cherish those around you.

Shalom, peace ….

Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 5 and 6

CHAPTER FIVE

New Beginnings     

The new dive shop was off to a good start.  As in the past, Robin had things moving like a well-oiled machine! Marc and Eyan were just now recovering from the incumbent jet lag.  They were going through the books in the office, when an e-mail notification popped up, confirming the second payment from the mission contract.  They were happy, to say the least.  They jointly decided to take an impromptu vacation.  Marc said, “Eyan, ya know, I’ve always wanted to go back to Hawaii and see the place Dad and I lived in. I was so young, but the memories of those days are amazing.  It would be interesting to revisit my past.”  Eyan was a bit taken back; he had never seen this side of Marc.  Eyan said, “Well, I’ve never been there as a tourist; it’s got to be a different point of view.”  Marc turned to him and said with total conviction, “Eyan, I can tell you, it was like being a kid in a candy shop.  You can’t really understand what it was like, day after day, the endless time spent on the beach.  Every day was a new adventure. The ocean was different, the girls were infinite, and every day or two they both changed; it was positively dynamic.  The girls all wanted to spend time with the “Islanders.”  We were all more than happy to be what they wanted us to be.  Anyway, it was a hell of a way to grow up.”  Eyan was just sitting there, amazed at the mental pictures Marc’s reminiscences were painting.  Eyan had experienced such a different childhood, living in a Mormon community in southern Utah.  But he could relate. When Marc spoke of girls from other places, they were so different than the girls that he had as neighbors.  In his case, it was the opposite sex that was the intriguing force.  How strange it seemed in retrospect.

It didn’t take long for them to get online and book first-class tickets to Oahu.  They went through the process and got to the part about the return flight.  They looked at each other, both knowing the answer was when they were tired of it.  A few days later, they were getting ready for the trip, making sure that all was in order.  Marc checking his e-mails once more noted one from McBride.  As Marc opened the e-mail, he realized that he had nearly forgotten the last part of the agreement of the mission, when he read the message:

Thank you for your professionalism and expertise, but most of all, the return of the unexpected package.  Malcolm sends his warmest regards and a sincere thank you McBride and the people of S.A.

The next e-mail was from the off-shore bank, indicating a new deposit of $100,000 in U.S. currency. Marc printed both messages and handed them to Eyan when he walked into the office.  Eyan collapsed into a chair, shaking his head, muttering something unintelligible, as a wide smile broke out on both of their faces. Instead of a $50,000 bonus, it was a $100,000. In a period of only fifteen days they had earned and divided $300,000. They had netted $125,000 U.S. each, after expenses.

Two days later, they were checking in to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa about 5:00 in the afternoon.  The weather was clear and cool in the early evening and the woman at the reception desk said the daytime temps were seasonally warm in the mid-day sun, perfect for the beach bums they were intending to portray for a while.  The two had rented adjoining suites near the top of the resort’s main building. The view of the private bay was awe-inspiring; if not, the view of bikini-clad ladies was.

After they had settled in their rooms and showered, it was nearing eight in the evening. Marc called for room service to send up a bottle of Oban scotch.  The sun had gone for its nightly dip in the Western Pacific. Eyan had asked the bellman to unlock the door between the suites.  He knocked twice as he entered Marc’s room, even though the doors were both standing wide open.  Marc was standing on his balcony when he heard Eyan enter the suite.  He called to him saying, “Out here, bring a glass.” A moment later, Eyan emerged on to the balcony, with glass in hand.  Marc pointed to the bottle on the table, and said, “Boy, I wish I could afford to drink this stuff all the time.” Eyan poured a couple fingers neat, and tasted the scotch.  He turned to Marc and said, “I never tasted anything like this in Utah, that’s for sure.”

They both downed a second drink while watching the cloudless western sky fade from bright orange to nearly black, peppered with bright white stars.  Marc said, “Let’s go down and get something to eat, while we can still find the right elevator button.”  Eyan laughed, and they headed out the door for the hotel’s Azul restaurant.  After dinner, they moved to the Hokule′a bar for some entertainment.  As they entered the room, it was near capacity–they were three deep at the bar.  Eyan found a small table at the edge of the outer terrace and laid claim, while Marc caught the attention of a waitress. When she brought their drinks, Marc showed her his guest card, so that she could bill them to the room. She said her name was, “Kai.”   Marc, smiling said, “A pure soul.”  Kai looked back at Marc with a surprised expression, as she was walking away from the table.  There were lots of tourists doing the vacation thing, but nothing seemed to catch Marc or Eyan’s attention.  It was nearing 1:00 am.  The people in the bar were beginning to wander out in twos and fours, as things began to quiet down.  Kai began bussing the tables.  As she finished cleaning a table next to theirs, she asked Marc if he wanted another round, explaining that guests of the hotel were given special consideration, and no one would mind if they wanted to take their drinks up to their room.  Marc said, “I don’t really think I need another, but thanks for the heads up.” Kai said, “You’re welcome.” She really had a beautiful smile, bright white teeth and long brown hair but the thing that really stood out was her bright blue eyes. Marc said, “No, you’re the welcome one, Miss Purity.”  She turned to him and asked, “What’s up with the purity thing?”  Marc’s reply was, “Kai, that’s Hawaiian for pure one.”  She said, “Yes, but how would you know that?” Marc said, “I may be a Haole now, but I grew up an island boy.”  The first thing she said was, “Where?” Marc was a bit surprised at her question.  He said, “Ewa Beach, down at the end of Popoi Place, next to Ewa Beach Park.  Ever been there?”  She grinned and said, “Only about half of my teen years.  It was the best party beach on the south side.  I lost my, well, that’s a different story.  It’s a bit beaten up these days, but the beach is still the same.”  Marc, trying not to laugh, said, “You’re not the only one to give it up to that beach.  We have more in common than one might think.”  Marc was thinking of his own first encounter with the mysteries of the opposite sex.  Kai had a smile on her face and said, “We have to be off property fifteen minutes after shift, but I could be in the guest parking lot at 9:00 in the morning if you would like to see the old haunt?”  Marc replied, “Works for me.” Kai said, “Red jeep,” as she walked around a table, toward the bar.

Marc and Eyan rolled out of the sack about 7:00 in the morning.  Eyan was ready for some sun time at the crescent beach downstairs.  Marc was through the shower and down to the restaurant for a quick breakfast before meeting Kai in the parking lot at 9:00.  In the light of day, most of the night time beauties encountered are not as striking as one remembers from the night before.  But in this case, Marc was pleasantly surprised.  Kai was even more striking in the light of day.  She was obviously a cultural island beauty, a blend that was easy on the eyes.

The morning was just what you would expect – warm breezes and plenty of sun over your shoulder.  As Kai turned onto Fort Weaver Road, Marc began to see a few things that seemed familiar, but so much had changed over the years.  As they came to the dead end at the entrance to the old Puuloa Rifle Range, Marc pointed to the sign reading “Popoi Place.”  Kai turned to the right and drove to the end of the cul-de-sac and stopped, looking over at Marc.  Marc was staring at an older, small wood-framed house on the east side of the street.  He said, “It’s true you know – everything looks so much smaller than you remember.”  Kai said, “Hey, do you want to go next door to the beach for a while?”  Marc, with a smile said, “Yeah, that’ll dredge up some memories, for sure.”  They spent the next few hours setting under a palm watching the surf and talking about time spent by both on this small beach the size of a football field.  The place was indelible in Marc’s mind.  As they sat there, so many of the experiences of his youth came flooding back into his memory.  He was thinking that he had been unbelievably lucky as a young man to be privy to such experiences.  Until this point in time, he had never realized it.  He had always thought it was just the way life was.  He now was beginning to see things in a different light. The longer they sat there, the more his thoughts began to coalesce.  The sea had always had a calming effect on Marc, but being at this beach, had culminated in a catharsis for him.  He now knew that the dive shop was not the future he had been seeking.  The mission in Lesotho had been the most gratifying experience in his life and, overtly, he and Eyan had been running from it.  It was now obvious to him he had been running in the wrong direction.

After Kai had dropped him back at the hotel before her shift, Marc made his way back up to his room and showered off.  Eyan had made some new friends on the beach and was back up refreshing his own persona, when Marc stuck his head through the door to the adjoining suite and said, “Anybody home?”  Eyan spoke out from the bathroom saying, “Yo, in the head, be right out.”   As Eyan emerged from the hallway, Marc was pouring himself a drink from the mini bar.  Eyan said, “Make yourself at home.”   Marc, said, “Don’t I always?”  Eyan replied, “Always.”  They both started laughing out loud, as Eyan joined him in a drink.  Eyan said, “I met these two girls on the beach today and we’re going to meet at the bar at about 10:00.  Are you interested?”  Marc said, “I think I’ll pass tonight, but thanks anyway.”  Eyan looked over at him and said, “Kai?”  Marc said, “No, it’s been a long week and I just want some down time.”

Later that evening, Marc was on the balcony sipping on a scotch, when the e-mail reminder tone on his smartphone chimed for about the fourth time.  He walked over and picked up the phone and began to go through the messages. The first few were the normal bullshit, meaningless ads and people or information that he had no use for.  Then he came across one of interest, a Martin Colby had left a message, asking for a call back.  He had mentioned that Harridan Baker had referred him and had supplied him with Marc’s e-mail address.  Nothing else was in the message, with the exception of Colby’s contact information.

Marc jotted down the information and noted that the email had come through only 40 minutes prior.  He closed out of his e-mail and then opened his browser and began a search for the country code of Colby’s contact number.  First was 91 – it was Spain.  And then came 34 – a number in Madrid.  Marc then checked the time it was there.  It was near 10:00 p.m. in Hawaii; the time shift was 12 hours ahead, making it almost 10:00 a.m. in Madrid.  Marc spent all of about two seconds debating if he was going to return the call. He could feel the anticipation as to the nature of the call.  He was thinking to himself, “I’m a frickin’ junkie,” as he heard the line click and a voice say, “Martin Colby speaking.”  Marc said, “Mr. Colby, Marc Bracken, returning your call.” “Mr. Bracken, thank you for your timely response.  Mr. Baker said you were a dependable sort; that is a character trait that I admire.  Marc replied, “Mr. Colby, how can the Serenity Group be of service to you?”   Marc had no idea where that came from, but it sounded good – so he just went with it.  “Mr. Bracken, I have a unique security problem that I am told you may have the answer to.”  Marc said, “Mr. Colby, when it comes to personal security, there are few things that Serenity, as a group, has not encountered.  We pride ourselves in the fact that our services are unique, based on our experience.”  Colby said, “Mr. Bracken, my need is immediate.  When can you arrive at my location?” Marc said, “My associate and I are currently in Hawaii.  As soon as we can secure a commercial booking or, if your need is at all costs, we can charter a jet service. Which would you prefer?”  Colby said, “Cost is not an object of concern, Mr. Bracken, but time is.”  “Mr. Colby, if you have a pen available, please write these numbers down.”  Marc proceeded to give Colby their off-shore banking information and asked that a deposit of $25,000 US, be made as soon as possible to the account to ensure their instant response to the situation at hand.  After exchanging mobile contact information, Marc ended the call.

He placed a back-door call to Harridan and checked out what information he had.  Harridan said that Colby was a man of considerable influence throughout the Mediterranean, and was extremely wealthy.  He had done business with the man twice before and said, “He pays like clockwork, mate.”  As Marc was changing his clothes to go down to find Eyan, another e-mail showed-up.  It was an automatic notification from his bank, listing a deposit made to their account; the man and his cause were real.  Marc was more than a little curious about what they would need to accomplish to earn the fee.

Fifteen minutes later, Marc was waving at Eyan across from the entrance to the bar for him to come over.  He quickly briefed him to the situation and asked him to meet him upstairs in ten minutes.  He then went straight to the registry desk and requested information on emergency charter aircraft.  As Marc was exiting the elevator, his cell phone began to buzz.  When he looked at the caller ID, it read “Silver-Crest Flight Services.”  He answered, and then arranged the charter flight to Madrid via LAX.  They needed to pick up some supplies back at Redondo Beach – like passports and such.  Marc, at this point, had no idea what was going to be needed for the assignment.

Six-and-one-half hours later, the mid-sized corporate jet, was on approach to LAX International Airport.  Both Marc and Eyan had tried to get some sleep on the flight, but neither had been successful.  The dive shop was little more than 10 miles from the airport.  Marc had called ahead and had Robin round up the items they thought might be helpful when they hit the ground in Madrid.  He was waiting at the private terminal when they taxied in to be refueled.  Forty minutes later, they were wheels-up en route to Madrid via Montreal with a pit stop in the Azores.  Sixteen hours later, they were on final into Barajas Aeropuerto in Madrid proper.  As they walked into the private executive terminal, there was a man in a dark suit wearing a chauffer’s hat with a sign reading, “Señor Bracken.”

CHAPTER SIX

No Time To Spare

As Marc and Eyan arrived at Villa De Martini, the driver used a two-way radio to talk to the security personnel at the gate.  They turned into the drive just as the rather large wrought iron gate began to slide into a pocketed twenty-foot high wall that surrounded the Villa.  The car twisted and turned up the drive about one hundred yards, before entering a large courtyard.  Off to one side of the large area, was an eight-car garage. Three of the doors were open and the autos were being washed and detailed.  Mr. Colby obviously liked red cars; all were a variation of the color – the Lexus LFA being the most striking alongside the Maserati. As their Bentley pulled up to the main entrance to the Villa, the front doors opened and three men walked out.  They all shook hands and two of the men dressed in less expensive suits walked toward a black Fiat, parked near the side of the circular drive.  The third man stood on the sculptured granite entrance, directing his attention toward the Bentley, as the chauffer opened the door.  The man walked over to them and said, “Welcome, gentlemen.” Marc said, “Mr. Colby, I assume.”  The man with a slight grin said, “No, I would be Mr. Stiles, Mr. Colby’s assistant.  Miguel will take care of your baggage.  If you would, gentlemen, please follow me.”

As they walked through the entryway into the estate, both were taken by the sheer opulence.  Eyan glanced over at Marc who acknowledged with a slight nod of his head.  They proceeded into a foyer with several double doors on both sides.  At the end of the room was a set of immense double doors, each about six-feet wide, which were closed.  Mr. Stiles, arriving at the doors said, “If you would have a seat, gentlemen, I’ll inform Mr. Colby of your arrival.”  A moment later, the door opened wide and a booming voice filled the room as Colby came through the door saying, “Come on in, gentlemen.  We have lots of territory to cover and not much time to do so,” as he disappeared back through the door.  Marc shot to his feet and began to follow with Eyan on his six.  As they walked into the room, Marc was taken by the disorganization.  Nearly every available inch of table top, was covered with maps and large photographs of many different people.  At the side of a large desk was an eight-foot wide by four-foot tall, freestanding white board, adjacent to a similar-sized cork board.  Both boards were covered with multi-colored writing and pinned photos, respectively.

Colby said, “I don’t exactly know where to start but, in short, my granddaughter has been abducted and is being held for a ransom that I can’t meet!  Let me explain, the demand is not money.  If it were just that, it would be simple.  I own several companies; the parent company that started it all is Die-Hex/Simi.  One of its R&D branches has developed a Nano-bio-organic chemical called Nano-Cypher Code Five.   NCC-5, as it is known, can sense at the molecular level instantly any variation to the human body DNA that does not happen naturally, once a person is coded.”  He paused, then saying, “For example – almost any type of device used for controlling access to restricted areas or files, or virtually anything needing security, can be defeated in some way.  By utilizing this screening method, it’s absolute proof of the entity’s identification.  It scans the entire chemical make-up of the body.  This system has now been in place around the globe for the last eighteen months in places like the Louvre in France, and treasuries in over twenty countries.  If this code was synthesized, the world’s secrets would be laid bare for the taking. This coding NCC-5 is what they are demanding.  I have managed to keep the true demands a secret.  The abductors, during their first communication, instructed us that no agency be apprised of the real demand.”

Marc could now see the dilemma Colby faced.  In his world, money was not always the answer, but it was always the cause.  Marc said, “OK, I see the paradox.  Now, how can we effectively change what’s in play?”  Colby went on to say, “I have been unable to keep Europol out of the loop’ due to the fact that she was abducted in full daylight on a busy street.  They actually knew about it before me.  What you see around you is the concerted efforts of both law enforcement and my own security team, combined.  We have managed to control some of the information and keep it from the masses.  Hopefully, it will give us an edge in dealing with these people.  That’s where you two come into play – you’re my insurance.  I need most of all to get my granddaughter, Laurel, safely returned.  And the second thing is – no one can ever know who these people are.  But the third, and equally important thing, is no one can know that they were after NCC-5 code.  Are we absolutely clear on this?”  Marc looked over at Eyan.  He needed only to peer in his eyes for a second to know that he was onboard.  He turned to Colby and said, “I think we understand what is requested, but understand this, we will not murder people for the sake of their silence.”  Colby said, “They have said that she will not be returned alive without the code.”  Marc was hoping it would not come to that, but he also knew things at this level often got very messy before they were resolved.

“Mr. Colby,” Marc said, “We will need to contact our support group and bring in special supplies for any perceivable contingent.  We will need an operational deposit of $100,000 US to our account.  If we are called upon to successfully complete this mission, we will require additional funds of $400,000.”  Colby, without hesitation, agreed to the sum.  Eyan standing off to the side of Colby looked at Marc with some surprise.  Marc was turning out to be a shrewd business partner.

Colby said, “Gentlemen, let’s dispense with the formality, shall we?  Please call me Martin.”  Now on a first-name basis, Martin said, “Stiles, would you show these two to their rooms and, in an hour or so, we can have some dinner and then get down to some serious work.”  Stiles directed them to their second level rooms that, like the hotel, had a connecting door.  After they showered and changed before going back downstairs, Marc knocked on the adjoining door.  Eyan twisted the handle and opened the door.  As Marc walked in, Eyan said jokingly, “I think we should call our support group and find out who the hell they are.” Marc had to grin, as he sat down in a large tufted chair that most likely cost more than he made in a year in the Navy.  Marc said, “Eyan, I don’t know exactly where this is headed but, in all honesty, we’ve each made more money in the last six weeks than both of us combined in our lifetimes.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were on their way back downstairs to meet Martin.  After dinner, they retired to the control room the same room that they were in earlier. Martin had come to referring to it as such soon after his granddaughter was abducted.  Behind the white board, in a corner, was a small bed.  Martin sometimes chose to catch naps there, rather than go up to the third level to the private section of the estate.  Martin Colby was a man of many talents but most of those lie within the intellectual side of life, not the physical.

After a full briefing on the facts of the situation, Marc and Eyan were beginning to realize that there was nothing straight-forward about this mission.  Martin had arranged for them to use a smaller room directly off the control room.  They began their preparation for whatever was to come.  The room was fully set-up with computers and phones and such. Martin told them to simply ask Stiles for anything else they might need.

As soon as they sat down, Eyan began his usual quest of putting together a list of potential items of need.  They were traveling barefoot, as it were, considering their flight was straight from their Hawaiian vacation.  As they began to run scenarios, a list of items slowly began to emerge.  Eyan began to look for potential local suppliers in the Madrid area.  The rural area had over six and a half million people within it.  This, translated, meant that nearly anything that was needed was available for the right price.  Marc and Eyan had decided that if they were going to pursue this line of work, it was time to begin collecting the tools of the trade.  Within a few hours they had collected enough information about both the items of need and the addresses of potential suppliers.  They were now both suffering from extreme jetlag and decided to retire and get an early start in the morning.

After taking care of the basics the next morning, they set out to find the equipment.  First stop was at Madrid SkySat.  They picked up what the store manager referred to as a “corporate-bundle-pack.”  It was comprised of 4 Iridium 9505-a satellite phones with accessories and extra batteries.  Next they were off to a personal security store that catered to the rich and famous.  As they entered the store, the first thing that both Marc and Eyan noticed was at least six different rather large men placed around the store, wearing cheap dark suits and dark sun glasses indoors.  Each of the men sported a telltale bulge in their jackets.  Marc was a bit confused at first, as he began to look over the items in the store.  He saw nothing of quality, just cheap hand guns and spy gadgets mainly for want-to-be private eyes.  As they turned to exit the shop, one of the suits approached them and began to speak in Spanish.   Eyan started to speak back to him in broken Spanish, when the man reverted to English saying, “Are you gentlemen looking for something special?” in nearly-perfect English.  Eyan said, “We saw your web page and we were led to believe that you may have some item we’re in search of.”  The man said, “Do you represent an estate?” Marc spoke up, not understanding the question saying, “No, we own a global security firm and are under contract temporarily in Madrid.  We are in need of some rather sophisticated equipment and we’re searching for suppliers.”  The man looked over at Marc and said, “Could you be a bit more specific as to the equipment, sir?”  Marc stepped closer to the man and said, “For starters, we need a couple specialized sniper rifles, like a Timberwolf .338 LM with match grade ammo and voice-activated communications equipment. Shall I go on, or are we wasting time here?  The man said, “Weapons such as these are very expensive to buy and the paperwork is also costly.”  Marc said, “If you can supply the items we need, I am certain that money will not be a problem and, if you can deliver quickly, a bonus is possible.”  A smile came over the man’s face as he asked Marc, “How are you intending to pay for the services and equipment?” Marc said, “Would wire transfer work for you?”  The man motioned with his hand, guiding them both to the rear of the retail area.  He looked up at a video camera next to a door that had no handles.  He put out his right hand, thumb up.  Marc couldn’t escape the mental vision.  The man looked like a hitchhiker going to a funeral.  The door buzzed, and then clicked open.  Once inside the room, it was like walking into another world.  There were racks upon racks of nearly any type of firearm.  One hour later, after finding nearly everything on their list, they were ready to finish up the business at hand.  A man, who had yet to introduce himself, asked, “Where shall we deliver these items?”  Marc wrote down the address of the Colby estate.  When he read the address, he looked up noticeably surprised and said, “Please excuse me, I’ll return in just a moment.”  Less than a moment later, he returned with a second man.

As the two walked up to them, the new man sent the other man away.  He said, “My name is Ruiz, Ricardo Ruiz; I own this establishment.  Would you please convey my sentiments to Mr. Colby?  I have often been in his service; we supply his security detail with many of their needs.”  He then reached out and offered his hand to Eyan first, and then Marc who introduced themselves. The man had a firm and powerful handshake.  He continued, “Mr. Colby is a very influential business associate.  In the future, if you desire anything which I might provide please call the private number on these cards.” He wrote a five-digit code on them before handing one first to Marc, and then one to Eyan.  He then said, “The number is your private pin-code, it will tell us who you are and it is linked to your information we now have on file. It will simplify any transactions in the future.”

As they were moving toward the exit, Marc stopped, feigning a cell phone call, just long enough to snap a picture of Mr. Ruiz, with his phone camera.  Then they proceeded back to the estate.  On the way, Eyan asked Marc why he had taken a picture of the man.  Marc said, “Was I that obvious?” Eyan replied, “No not really, but then, I have a phone just like it that doesn’t work on this cell system. How did you get it to ring?”  Marc looked over and said, “The ringer volume.  Just touch it once quickly, then act quickly and nobody seems to know the difference.  I wanted the photo for our files. The ones you’re going to start keeping on all of our contacts.  This Ruiz fellow could be very useful for future jobs in Europe, just like Harridan was in Africa.  The picture was so that we could positively check him out and know exactly who we’re dealing with.”

As they pulled into Villa De Martini, there was a bustle of activity. The unmistakable drab Interpol vehicle had returned but now there was a second, slightly different one.  There was also a sleek black BMW SUV with markings on it that indicated it belonged to Die-Hex/Corp.  Marc and Eyan entered the control room a few minutes later and interrupted what was obviously a very intense verbal confrontation between Martin and an Interpol agent, judging from his dress.  As the two approached the group, Martin turned away and broke-off the discussion, looking over at both Marc and Eyan.  Stiles assumed the conversation and began to introduce the group, notching down the caustic atmosphere a bit.  Stiles said, “Jok, this is Marc Bracken and Eyan Hester.  They are part of our new in-house security team.  Gentlemen, this is Jok Blake and his associates, Mike Mann and Kirk Mangen.  They are with the local Interpol detachment, working with the Cuerpo Nacional De Policia. And this is Senior Agent Dara Petersen with Europol.  We have just been informed that agent Petersen will be assuming lead position in the investigation.”  Marc had really not noticed her standing there.  He had been absorbed by the interaction between Martin and Jok. After the introductions had been made, Martin rejoined the conversation saying, “Please excuse my intolerance.  I think that stress and fatigue are playing a role here and we need to get back on track.”  Marc spoke up quickly saying, “Has there been anything new or changes in what we know?”  For the first time Petersen dialed into the conversation, saying, “I understand Mr. Colby has been contacted for the third time warning us that the clock is running and time is short.  The reality is – will Mr. Colby release the bearer bonds, or not?”

 

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Serenity: Full Circle – List of Characters

As Serenity weaves it story, we thought it would be helpful to provide a list of characters because you are reading the story chapters a few days apart.

Here’s that listing:

LIST OF CHARACTERS

      NAME                                 DESCRIPTION                 CONNECTION

1-Marc Bracken Lead character Primary/Retired Capitan
2-Dara Petersen Terrorism/World Security Europol/Senior Agent
3-Matt Sheridan Dead Opening, Hook
4-Eyan Hester Marc’s partner Primary/Retired Capitan
5-McBride  Job, Envoy B.S. Africa. Contact
6-Gen. Marshal Thomas D.C. Black-Op’s Contact D.C. Military Contact
7-Colonel Mike Bach Commander on Coronado Runs SEAL Team #8
8-Harridan Baker Mozambique Connection Australian Expatriate
9-Robin Evans Dive Shop Manager Runs State Side Business
10-Thomas Harridan’s  Handyman Mozambique National
11-Samatar Nadifa Lesotho, Mission Primary Somalia, Warlord
12-Malcolm Benges Governor General British South Africa
13-Kai Bar Maid Hawaii
14-Martin Colby Mega-Rich Tycoon 2ndJob Owns Die/Hex Corp.
15-Ashton Stiles Colby’s Right Hand Man Ex R.A.F. & Corp. Pilot
16-Miguel House man For Colby
17-Ricardo Ruiz Madrid Arms Dealer European Arms Supplier
18-Jok Blake Primary Interpol Agent Anal Retentive/ Spain
19-Mike Mann Sub-Interpol Agent Spain
20-Kirk Mangen Sub-Interpol Agent Spain
21-Hector Delgado Mgr. Faxsilteck/Shipping Valencia, Spain
22-Laurel Covas Colby Granddaughter Abducted Child
23-Miguel Sandoval Estate Protective Driver Ex-National Policia
24-Santana Callas Driver/ in Valencia Works for the Spa
25-Antowan Lagôs Renegade Employee One of Two, Abductors
26-Andrea Crewmen, Orion’s Cradle Abductor
27-Hugo Cook, Orion’s Cradle Cook / Abductor
28-Mike Schell Owner/ SeaBourn Charter Prosthetic/Right leg
29-Nicklaus Marquand Retired, U.S. Politician Father of / Thomas
30-Lanae Marquand Daughter in-law Son’s wife
31-Max Marquand Grandson 12 Year old Grandson
32-Thomas Marquand Nicklaus / Son Works@Cairo/State Dpt.
33-Akil Bishara Ricardo Ruiz / Nephew In Cairo

 

34-Jacob Rubin State Department/worker In Cairo
35-Omar Akil’s Close Friend In Cairo
36-Asysa Omar’s Daughter In Cairo
37-Asilah Akil’s Mother In Cairo
38-Ara Akil’s Sister/Eyan’s/Lover Cairo
39-Arnesto Garcia Corp. Pilot (Martin’s) Madrid, Spain
40-Jon Meeks C.I.A. Operative Buenos Aires, Argentina
41-Carlos Duarte Human Smuggler / Cartel N. Sonora, Mexico
42-Rafael Arturo Carlos’s  Cousin   Right Hand Man
43-Mulla Jamil Afghan / Terrorist/Leader Taliban / Anarchist
44-Rashid Abdul Second in Command Taliban
45-Miguel Tellez International Arms Dealer Mexicali, Mexico
46-Victor Ramirez Miguel’s Assoc. Mexicali, Mexico
47-Jose Garcia Hotel Night Manager Rocky Point, Mexico
48-Peter Johnson Mike’s Assistant ( Pete ) Serenity Group Member
49-Elena Brinson C.O.O. Die/Hex  IPD Stockholm, Sweden
50-Stan Stenberg Senior Security Manager Stock, Sweden Div.  D/H
51-Jene Mallette Black Op’s-Gun for Hire Sweden Compound Raid
52-Yeon Kwan Maj. Gen. D.P.R.K. Sweden Compound Raid
53-Viktor Karlsson Smarmy Caucasian Sweden Compound Raid
54-Bob Roberts CIA Operative/Sub to Jon On Serenity / DPRK
55-Cliff Johnson CIA Operative/Sub to Jon On Serenity / DPRK
56-Han-bin North Korean Operative DPRK / Friendly
57-Myung-hoon North Korean Operative DPRK / Friendly

 

Copyright © 2016; All Rights Reserved

Serenity: Full Circle – Chapters 3 and 4

CHAPTER THREE

The Real Business

Early the next morning, Marc spent two hours on the phone, setting up an offshore banking account.  Just before noon the next morning, the phone rang in Marc’s office.   He and Eyan were pretty much just sitting around, waiting for it.  Marc answered, saying, “Bracken speaking.” He heard a voice say, “Mr. Bracken, McBride here.  Have you rendered a decision on our proposal?”  Marc’s reply was, “Mr. McBride, I believe we have, but there are a few things I need to know in advance.  For instance, how soon does the agreement need to be fulfilled, and what intelligence can you supply?”  After a short silence, McBride said, “We need to get together, say an hour from now at your office?”  Marc agreed, hanging up the phone.

During the meeting, all the questions were answered.  They had a window of opportunity that stretched out four weeks.  As for the intel, he was handed a full dossier on the target.  After agreeing to the terms, McBride reached into his valise and produced a military-grade satellite phone.  He then proceeded to transfer the upfront payment to Marc’s newly-established account.  After the transfer was completed and verified, McBride handed the encrypted phone to Marc for later communications.  McBride then departed the office.

Marc turned to Eyan and said, “Are you ready to go to work?”  But Eyan was already working at Marc’s computer, browsing firearms’ web sites.  Eyan looked up at Marc and said, “You know, we’re going to need some help pulling this off, don’t ya?”  Marc said, “Yeah, I know.  I’ve been putting together a mental list of the possibilities. Once we get a positive location we can figure out what type of insertion will be most effective.  Right now I’m thinking perhaps a night H.A.L.O. (High Altitude Low Open) into position.  I haven’t figured out our extraction yet, but once we have good intel, we’ll know more.  What we need is someone who has the connections in British South Africa.  Can you remember that guy’s name when we worked that protection detail down in Mozambique?  Was it Harold or Henry?”  Eyan chimed in and said, “Harry?”  That triggered Marc’s memory, “Harridan, Harridan Baker.” He said, “We need to get in touch with him if he’s still on the map.”  Marc reached into his pocket and retrieved his cell phone and began pouring through the recently dialed index until he found a number that had a D.C. area code.  General Thomas, he thought. He seemed to know a lot of people that work in the shadows.  It was as good a place to start, as any.  When Marc was able to get a call back from General Thomas, he was more helpful than he had been previously.  He gave Marc two names and contact information of people who might know Harridan Baker’s current location, or at least a way to contact him.

Eyan caught Marc’s attention a bit later and they discussed what type of firepower they thought they might need to carry out the assignment.  Eyan had put together a list of long-range sniper rifles and also a few potentials for close-quarter automatics, just in case things got “up close and personal.” And last, there were always the old standbys – the Glocks – for their sidearm needs.  He also was searching for military-grade parachutes for the insertion.  There were so many things that were just “there” when working for the government.  Now, they had to find them on the Internet, or through other military contacts. They also had to keep in mind that this was a covert mission, knowing that all their contacts would want to know what was going on.  Eyan was both relieved and surprised to find out that H.A.L.O. jumping was quickly becoming a segment of the elite sports jumper’s market.  There were new rig suppliers popping up on the Internet almost daily.  The new chutes were higher tech, and more reliable, than anything that Marc or Eyan had used while in the service.

The next day, Marc received a package from a bonded special courier service. The package contained the banking papers from the offshore account.  The funds were indeed in the account. Eyan began to acquire the items of necessity for the job while Marc diligently began putting the puzzle together.  One of the contacts that General Thomas had given him turned up “pay dirt.”  Harridan Baker was still wandering around the southern territory of Mozambique.  Harridan was living on the coast, just south of Maputo across the bay, in an area referred to as Catembe.  Harridan ran a small security business as a front to his more vigorous endeavors in the black market and/or its black ops trades.  It really didn’t seem to matter to him, as long as the money was right.  Harridan was an expatriate of Australia and was totally at ease with the choices he had made in life.  He was often prone to bouts of excess – be it women or drugs of choice – but, somehow he was uniquely competent and reliable. Marc had found his web site after only a few minutes of surfing on the Internet and had requested a call back or, in this case, a phone number and time that he could be reached, given the time zone differential.

Marc checked out a second web site to determine the time difference between San Diego and Mozambique.  It was sixteen hours ahead of Marc’s California location. It was now a few minutes before 1:00 p.m. in California, Mozambique was pushing 5:00 a.m..  To Marc’s surprise, within ten minutes of sending his e-mail, a chime sounded on his computer.  It was Harridan, replying to his query.  The message listed his Skype information and invited Marc into his contact group.  A very short message also said, “Open-24/7.”  Marc had been using the Internet video phone system between the two dive shops.  It was an amazing business tool.  Marc pulled up his Skype program and punched in Harridan’s information and hit the call button.  A few seconds later Harridan’s smiling face appeared on Marc’s screen.  Harridan said, “Hello, what can I do for ya mate?” with a deep Australian, accent.  Marc re-introduced himself.  Then Harridan replied, “Yeah, I remember you – and the sandy guy,” referring to Eyan’s blond hair.  Marc went on to tell him that if he were in the market, there was a job he needed help with.  All that Harridan said was, “When do we start, mate?”  Marc explained the general situation and the basic items that they would need to get the ball rolling.  All of this, of course, was rudimentary information.  He did say that an aircraft and a helicopter would be needed and several specialized weapons would also be a part of Harridan’s responsibility in the job.  After about thirty minutes, Marc agreed to wire transfer $20,000 U.S. to Harridan’s account to get things off the ground.  He also arranged for Harridan to meet them at Durban International Airport in British South Africa, about 300 miles down the coast from Maputo, Mozambique.

Over the next few days, they took care of the loose ends of both the dive shop and shipment of the crated supplies they would need to get to Harridan.  Marc had decided that once the obligation was fulfilled, they needed to basically evaporate from the area. This is where the helicopter would come into play.  Both Marc and Eyan had all of the papers necessary for international travel.  The security work that they had done for the federal government had often required commercial travel abroad, necessitating conventional passports.  After landing in Durban and clearing customs, they made their way to the baggage claim area where they were also to meet up with Harridan.  Fifteen minutes later, the three were on their way to a nearby hotel where Harridan had set up shop and procured rooms for all.  As usual, he had been right on the mark.  Harridan was a pro.  The hotel was not something most tourists would frequent and was out of the mainstream, as not to garner any attention.  It was close to the airport and had several avenues of retreat, if it became necessary, to pull up stakes and quickly vanish.

Now that they had physically re-established contact with Harridan, it was time to brief him on what was to be done.  Harridan had several contacts in the region and had procured the necessary aircraft needed for both the insertion and extraction.  As they were going through the plan, there was a knock at the door.  Harridan could see the concern on Marc and Eyan’s face.  He stood up quickly saying, “Relax mates; it’s only Thomas, me sidekick,” as he walked to the door.  When he opened it up, Marc recognized the man’s face from the job in Mozambique a year or so earlier, as did Eyan, as he moved into view.  Marc looked up at Harridan and said, “No more surprises, Harridan, please.”  Harridan looked at Marc and said, “Marc, we’re all professionals here.  Trust me – I didn’t get this old and creaky being stupid – but you have my apologies, mate.  I should have warned you about Thomas.”  Thomas was from Maputo. Like many from the area, his skin was so dark that it appeared to have a slight cast of purple in the bright sunlight, and his eyes were piercing blue.  Marc had remembered him partially because of these distinguishing features.  Thomas was a man of few words.  When he entered the room, he moved swiftly to a chair at the table and quickly sat down saying, “The freight boxes are at the hanger, boss.”  Thomas was Harridan’s “main man” and he did all the heavy lifting when it came to the physical side of the jobs – a bit like Eyan and Marc’s arrangement.  The primary difference was that Marc and Eyan split all proceeds down the middle, and they were sure that this wasn’t the case with Harridan and Thomas.

Marc opened the file folder that he had been given on the principal target.  His name was Samatar Nấdifa.  He was Somalia-born, but had made the East coast of Africa – from Somalia down to British South Africa – his home.  He was forty-four years old and, according to his file, he had been responsible for the death of far more people, than the years he had lived.  McBride had given instructions at the onset of the mission for Marc to contact him on the satellite phone when they were in-country for information regarding Nấdifa’s current location. McBride said the man they had shadowing Nấdifa had just reported in less than three hours previously with current GPS coordinates of the target.

Marc pulled out his maps of the area and pin-pointed the location.  Nấdifa was at his compound in the highlands near the Katse dam water project in central Lesotho. From Durban, that location was approximately 150 miles to the WNW, as the crow flies.  McBride also said the man indicated that the compound had had several deliveries of fresh food supplies such as a beef quarter and live chickens and a truck load of firewood.  He said that in the highlands, fresh supplies like these were indicative of an extended stay, but added, “I’m only guessing.”

Early the next morning, they all converged on the hanger at Durban airport and began going through the hardware that Harridan had rounded up.  All of the crates that had been shipped from the States had arrived, with the exception of the parachutes that had been ordered directly off the Internet from the manufacturer.  Harridan had acquired all the weapons that Eyan had listed.  The only thing he was having trouble getting his hands on was the special ammo for the M107 LRSR (Long-Range Sniper Rifles), but these items were to arrive before noon today.  The airplane was a Piper Navajo, PA-31T3 a modified turbocharged twin.  It had the capability to deliver them to the insertion area in full gear to an altitude of 25,000 feet, nearly five miles up.  The craft had been fitted with oxygen cylinders for the pilot.  This was necessitated because of the depressurization prior to insertion.   Both Marc and Eyan would be outfitted in their “H.A.L.O.,” equipment that had full-face oxygen masks.  They had extra cylinders available for the mid-flight high-altitude portion of the insertion, and they would switch out their cylinders, just before the jump.

When they were fully suited up for the insertion, each would have nearly one hundred pounds of gear when they exited the aircraft.  They split up the items needed for the mission.  Marc would be carrying an automatic rifle and a LRSR, along with his side arm, plus survival gear, and food and water for several days. Eyan had a similar load, sans the sniper rifle, but carried a single M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) and most of the ammo for the excursion.

Unlike when they were in the service, real-time satellite information was not available.  But thanks to on-site GPS information from McBride, and the added use of Google Earth, they were able to pin-point the location of the compound in its rural environment fairly easily.  The Kingdom of Lesotho is a rather poor country.  It has little to export and even less commerce to support its nearly nonexistent infrastructure.  Very few roads in the rural areas were paved.   This necessitated a helicopter for extraction; otherwise, getting out of the country would take a day or more over washed-out mountain roads.  The border check points could become a problem after the necessity of commandeering a vehicle.  The chopper could be out of the country with all aboard in twenty to thirty minutes.  Marc had Harridan acquire two black-market satellite phones so that once they were ready for extraction, they had reliable communications.  Harridan had been a pilot in the Australian military and had piloted both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft in Vietnam.  He would fly the chopper to a location just outside the border of Lesotho, bringing along extra fuel canisters.  Once at the location, he would refuel the aircraft and wait for a call on the satellite phone from the insertion team for extraction.  At this point, he would only be about forty miles from their location by air.  He could be on station for pick-up in about fifteen minutes from the extraction request.

About 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Marc, Eyan and Harridan drove to the airport and filed a flight plan for JBM Hertzog airport in Bloemfontein, about three hundred miles to the west, over-flying Lesotho’s watershed high country.  They got aboard the Piper Navajo and were wheels up ten minutes later.  About twenty minutes later, Marc asked Eyan to hand him his camera bag. He retrieved a 300 mm. lens and then affixed the lens to the camera and began taking pictures of the compound, and an area about a mile and a half to the east.  Once this was achieved, Harridan radioed JBM Hertzog and filed an amended flight plan back to Durban, citing a low oil pressure reading on his left engine.  Once back at the airport, Marc left both Eyan and Harridan finishing up the installation of the oxygen cylinders for the pilot’s seat in the airplane.  He returned to the hotel, and then fired up his laptop and downloaded the pictures he had taken of the compound.  Using Harridan’s computer next to his, he pulled up his Google Earth program and began to compare the locations. Google Earth is an amazing program and the amount of information one can derive from it, is pretty much limited by one’s ability to use it.   Once Marc zeroed in on the area to the west of the compound, he ran the curser along a ridge line allowing him to see the varying elevation of the ridge, then checked the elevation of the compound. The ridge was several hundred feet above the compound.  He opened the ruler function and checked the distance from the ridge to the back side of the large building at the center of the compound. The distance was a bit over three thousand feet.  As he moved the curser down the back side of the ridge about three hundred feet, he saw a rectangular area on the screen that had a variation in color.  As he moved the curser over the surface, the elevation remained constant, it appeared to be flat.  It was an old agricultural field; it was obvious.  More importantly, it was a perfect target for the insertion and a potential extraction point.  Marc began to locate other potential extraction points on the photographs, numbering them and verifying them on the Google program after marking them.  As Marc looked at the new pictures, he noticed several variations from the Google program.  There had been two new buildings constructed on the compound to the right of the main building.  They appeared to be for storage or perhaps a barracks for men.  Marc tweaked the photo on his laptop increasing the size of the image. As it enlarged, it was clear that the buildings were for personnel.   He could see a well-worn path between the two buildings and the main house, and, also at least eight or ten men in the courtyard around the compound.  There were several vehicles on the compound – two trucks, a couple cars, and what appeared to be an older Army jeep with something on the back that Marc couldn’t quite make out.

An hour later, Harridan arrived back at the hotel.  As he walked in, Marc asked him where Eyan was.  Harridan’s reply was, “The other stuff we’ve been waiting for arrived.  Eyan was inspecting the chutes when I left.  He said he was going to cut off the registration tabs and repack the chutes before returning to the hotel.”  When Eyan finally returned, he walked in and threw his jacket on the chair next to table.  He turned and reached into the mini refrigerator on the counter for a beer, asking the others if they cared for one.  Harridan raised his hand, motioning for Eyan to toss him one.  Marc looked up saying, “Yeah, I’ll have one.”  As they were drinking their beers, Marc asked Harridan, “Are you familiar with this general area?”  He replied that he was.  Marc asked, “Are there any places that we might be able to sight in the Sniper Rifle without drawing too much attention?  I need to have it zeroed in before we hit the ground.” Eyan said, “By the way, I checked all the weapons for serial numbers, they were clean.”  Harridan said, “All you needed to do was ask, mate.   I would never supply traceable weapons for a job.”

The next morning Harridan made a few phone calls and, after finishing the last, he said, “Want to take a ride, mate?  I think we’ve got a spot ya can exercise your trigger finger.”  They stopped by the hanger to pick up the rifle and drop off Eyan.  He wanted to finish up loading the spare weapons magazines and recheck the list of items for the mission.  It was a forty-five-minute drive to the location Harridan had picked out.  When they arrived, the conditions were nearly perfect. The wind was maybe two miles per hour at their backs; Marc pulled out the Nikon spotting scope and began to search for a visible target near 1,000 meter in distance.  After finding a large flat vertical rock, he pulled out his range finder and sighted the stone face.  He was surprised that the stone face was closer to 1,066 meters.  After a moment of thought, he decided to use it, regardless of the extra distance.  He assembled the M107 and dropped to the ground after asking Harridan to spot for him.  He snapped in a ten-round magazine loaded with eight .50-caliber DU (Depilated Uranium) rounds.  He had previously had fully-loaded ten round magazines malfunction on occasion with this type of rifle and ammunition. As a result, he only used eight rounds from then on.  Having a magazine malfunction after the first round was fired was a recipe for disaster!  He chambered the first round and adjusted his prone position; Marc had a systematic method before firing. He briefly closed his eyes; then slowed his breathing, taking notice of the cadence of his heartbeat.  Once he had them all under control, he squeezed the trigger, just after a heartbeat.  The fifty-caliber rifle produces a resonating guttural sound when fired. When Marc’s bullet struck the stone-faced object just 1.3 seconds after exiting the barrel, Harridan’s reaction was, “WOW!”  The rock he had fired at was approximately five feet wide and maybe seven feet tall.  The bullet had struck the stone causing a fracture about two feet down from the top.  As the dust cleared, a sizable chunk slid off.  Harridan could see this as it fell to the ground.  Harridan looked at Marc and said, “That’s a bloody cannon, mate, not a rifle.”  Marc said, “It’s the DU round that makes the difference.”  Harridan replied, “What the hell is a DU round?” Marc said, “The projectile’s jacket is steel, not copper, it’s mixed with titanium and the body is composed of depleted uranium.  Harridan said, “Does it really matter where you hit with that thing, as long as you’re close, mate?”  Marc laughed, saying, “The object is to hit what you’re aiming at.  But it doesn’t hurt to have this much kinetic energy on impact.  Harridan asked, “Where were you aiming on that stone, mate?” Marc replied, “Center, center.” Harridan said, “You hit about 18 inches high.”  Marc adjusted the scope, and said, “Center,” and then chambered another round and began his sighting procedure, and then fired.  This time the stone stayed intact.  Harridan said, “I can see a cavity, looks to be slightly right and a few inches high.”  Marc fired three more rounds using the cavity as target, adjusting after each shot.  The last shot had just made the hole larger; that was good enough for him.

CHAPTER FOUR

The Lesotho Mission

It was 3:00 a.m. and, as usual, Marc’s luck was holding; it was a clear and moonless night.  The drone of the engines had just changed pitch as Harridan had gone into a climb mode setting, altering the prop-pitch.  They were now moving up from 8,000 feet to 25,000 – the insertion altitude. They each activated the oxygen flow as needed as they passed the 10,000-foot mark in their ascension.  As they passed over the border between British South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho, Marc and Eyan were putting on their final items for the jump. As they completed this, each checked out the others rigging, front and back.  Marc moved to the mid-section of the cabin behind the pilot’s seat and raised the modified hatch on the floor of the aircraft, exposing a square opening.   Marc sat down with his feet through the hatch; Eyan was spread-legged behind him.  Harridan watched his GPS device with an air horn in his left hand, as they approached the coordinates.  He pushed the button twice in quick secession warning them, and then pressed it hard and steady, as they arrived over the drop coordinates.

As soon as they had cleared the aircraft, both activated their night vision goggle display that was snapped to their helmet face shield.  Quickly after exiting, Marc spun around, orienting his vision back toward the aircraft as he plunged into the abyss. Doing this brought Eyan’s image on to his NVG display.  He put both hands out palms first, with his thumbs pointing at each other forming a box with his head in the middle.  This indicated to Eyan that he had visual contact with him. Eyan returned the gesture as his verification.  They had decided not to use the voice-activated radios until they were able to check the frequencies for chatter.

They had exited the aircraft about a mile west of the compound.  It was a very dark night, but the night vision goggles would allow them to see anything that emitted light on the ground once they were below two thousand feet.  A little more than one and a half minutes later, they deployed their camo-printed parachutes and began jockeying for the preferred landing zone they had hoped to hit. They landed sixty feet apart, on a sloped grade about one hundred and fifty feet to the west of the field that Marc had pointed out on his photograph of the area. When they touched down, both remained in audio-stealth mode, using hand signals.

The parachutes fell limp upon the ground and the air was crisp, and very still. They turned their backs toward each other and began a systematical search using their NVGs.  The area was devoid of activity.  Using hand signals indicating that the area was clear, they quickly began repackaging their chutes into manageable bundles.  They moved to a craggy rock outcropping, about a hundred yards to the east, and found several small divots that would easily conceal the discarded chutes.  They moved up the hill about fifty yards, to the ridge that overlooked the compound.  It was about four hundred feet below and nearly three thousand feet away.

The area near the ridge line was riddled with scrub brush from three to five feet high in clumps. They began setting up the position; Marc separated out the ammunition by the colored-coded tape indicators.  They had used this method for years to facilitate their security assignments.  White was the DU armored rounds, blue was anti-personnel and red were tracers.  Marc assembled the M107 sniper rifle and inserted a blue-indicated magazine, then dropped the bipod assembly and lowered it to the ground position.  Eyan set up the night vision binoculars on a mini-pod and began his observation of the compound.

Marc pulled out his contact packet from his vest, being careful not to disturb the disposal pull-ring near the top of the spline.  He opened it up to the photograph of Nấdifa.  Everything in the quarter-page sized pouch would incinerate within four seconds if the ring were pulled from the spline.  The only other things they carried on their person was local currency; it was a fail-safe that had served them well in the past.

For the next two hours before sunrise, they assessed the terrain around the compound and immediate area.   Marc pulled out the Sat phone and called Harridan to brief him on a possible extraction LZ and to pinpoint their exact ground location.  The first choice LZ was to the east side of the field they had photographed from the air.  The field itself had too many dead trees protruding upwards of ten feet or more – a deserted orchard most likely. They had been lucky not to have made it to their targeted LZ during their insertion. A night-time drop into a wooden spiked field would have been a deadly misfortune.

He went on to tell Harridan to approach from the east behind the ridge, up the valley.  He would most likely not be seen, nor heard, from the compound using this method of approach.  The sun was beginning to push the night away as they made quick work of their morning rations, a power bar and a swig of water.  Eyan said, “We’re on,” as he spotted the first movement at the camp. They both moved into the prone position, with Eyan peering through his Steiner 10×50 laser range-finder binoculars and Marc, through the electronic powered scope on the M107.  In the newborn daylight, Marc could now see in detail the items around the camp.  One of the trucks from the photos he had taken was no longer there. Then he saw something that sent a chill down his spine and puckered his back-side.  The military-type Jeep that he had seen in the compound pictures had a M106 recoilless rifle mounted on the back of the vehicle.  He had remembered seeing them in pictures and action footage of the Vietnam war and also once in Utah at Alta ski resort.  There, it was used for avalanche control.  It fired a single 105 mm rocket-propelled projectile about two feet long.  It was a crude weapon by today’s standard, but was amazingly accurate and efficient in the hands of trained individuals.

As they observed the compound, they began to realize that picking out the primary was not going to be as easy as first thought.  None of the men at the camp wore anything that resembled a uniform.  Eyan doubled-checked the range to the compound from their location; it was 984 meters, or just over six-tenths of a mile.  Even with the high-powered visual equipment, getting a good look at the men’s faces was not easy – Marc’s scope was better suited for this function. As they were searching for Nấdifa, Marc saw the small orange light blink on the Sat phone even before it buzzed softly.  He knew it was Harridan, picking up the handset and answering the call.  Harridan reported that all was well, and that he was on station at the prearranged border location.  After the call, Marc resumed his surveillance, but something in the back of his mind kept tickling his senses.  Eyan looked at him quizzically, as Marc removed the magazine from his rifle and began stripping out four rounds.  He noticed Eyan looking at him and said, “I’m going to load this mag with the second and third rounds DU armor-piercing.  After taking out Nấdifa, I want most of all to put that recoilless out of action.”  Eyan said, “I’ll vote for that.”

Ten minutes later, the compound was buzzing with activity. There were at least ten men moving around the camp going through their morning ritual of cleansing.  A few moments later, two other men appeared at the back of the main house; the flurry of activity seamed to halt.  One of the two men raised his arm pointing at one of the smaller buildings at the back of the camp.  Marc using the scope, could see the man’s mouth moving, apparently shouting orders.  The men, dropping what they were doing, started moving in the direction of the building.  Eyan, working as Marc’s spotter using the binoculars with a much wider range of view, saw a white pickup truck approaching the camp from the opposing direction.  He alerted Marc, knowing it was out of his range of vision. Marc had been concentrating on the two men on the steps at the back of the house; neither seemed to be Nấdifa, as he compared them to his picture on the ground next to him.  He repositioned himself to allow the scope to move to the truck.  It appeared to be the one which had been missing earlier.  There were two men in the cab that he could see, and something in the bed that appeared to be covered with a canvas.  The truck pulled in to the compound, and then around to the rear of the main building and then came to a halt.

As the dust cleared, and the men exited the vehicle; everyone else in the camp turned their attentions toward the truck.  Marc, observing the first of the two men, was sure he was not the primary.  The second man emerged from the passenger side of the truck with his back facing Marc, as he once again adjusted the scope’s focus.  As the man turned to walk around the back of the truck, he hesitated just slightly and looked up toward Marc and Eyan’s position on the ridge.  Marc dropped his head down slightly, and then quickly realized the man could not see him at this distance, caught-full vision of his face and steely gray eyes.  It was him.  Marc was still taken by Nấdifa’s action of looking up, nearly straight at their position on the ridge, as if he knew they were watching.  Marc spoke to Eyan saying, “Target acquired,” as he flicked the safety switch off on the rifle.  As Marc adjusted his index finger to the trigger, he began his ritual routine of breathing and heart cadence.   Eyan said, “Hold,” as he saw a man pulling the canvas from the bed of the truck, and then reaching down and pulling a man, bound and gagged, from it.  The man was Caucasian, well-dressed, and in his fifties.  As he hit the ground, several of the men began to cluster around him and some kicked and spat at him.  Marc switched to binoculars to observe the event saying, “This could be a speed-bump.  Now what the hell do we do?”

They watched as the men dragged the man across the court yard to the building the other man earlier had pointed out.  While Marc and Eyan were busy watching elsewhere, the men had pulled out what appeared to be the contents of the room, preparing it as a holding cell.  They pushed the man inside and shut the door, and then forced a retaining peg against the handle, locking it.  Marc resumed his position behind the sniper rifle and said, “It’s tea time somewhere; let’s do this.”  He once again relaxed into his modus operandi and began to count his heartbeats, as he brought the hairlines of the scope on Nấdifa’s right center chest, and began to squeeze the trigger.  Nearly as quickly as the bullet exited the rifle, it struck Nấdifa in less than a second at this range. It nearly severed the left shoulder from his body as it continued on taking the leg off a follower, standing close behind Nấdifa.  Before the ejected cartridge had fallen to Earth, Marc had acquired a second target.  It was the man giving orders earlier from the main house, assuming he was also a person of rank.

Two of the men ran toward the Jeep with the recoilless rifle mounted upon its back, as Marc began to re-acquire it as a target.  Before he could bring his weapon to bear, one of the men had jumped into the vehicle and began to move it toward the main building for shelter.  Marc once again changed his target back to the pickup truck that had just arrived.  He aimed at the engine compartment and fired. The DU round passed through the hood and struck the engine block; it showered all the men in the immediate vicinity with metal fragments.  Several of the men ran toward the remaining pickup truck, as Marc noticed movement at the side of the house.  The rear of the Jeep came into view, but before Marc could react, the recoilless fired a rocket in their direction. It hit the ground about fifty feet below their position on the ridge, as they tried to melt into the ground they lay upon.  The Jeep rolled forward, seeking cover once again to reload.  As Marc took stock of the event unfolding, he saw the truck, with several passengers in the cab and bed, spinning its tires in the dirt as it moved swiftly toward the road that exited the property.

Marc re-grouped mentally, thinking that as long as they were retreating, it was just fine with him as he allowed them to escape.  Eyan said, “I have three bogies on sight; two with the Jeep, and one near the holding cell at the left side of the building.  Marc ejected the magazine, knowing that he had a DU round in the breach.  He reached for one of the magazines marked with white tape.  He now had nine DU rounds available.  He fired at the corner of the building that the man was using for cover.  A millisecond later a large chunk of clay crumbled, spilling onto the ground.  He saw the man drop his gun and begin to run erratically in the opposite direction. The Jeep appeared once more at the same corner of the building and was preparing to fire again.  Eyan with the Law rocket launcher on his shoulder squeezed the firing mechanism very quickly, sending the rocket toward the jeep, but the range was beyond its capability.  It fell fifty meters short. The recoilless fired once more but not before Marc had made a mental note of its firing position.  Once again they huddled close to the earth as the round struck to their right on the ridge right above them, showering them with rocks and debris.

Marc heard Eyan say, “SHIT” rather loudly.  As he glanced at him, he could see him grasping his right hand, already covered in blood.  Marc returned his thoughts to the task at hand.  He adjusted the M107’s scope to the position he had noted seconds before, and made ready to fire, when the Jeep and its weapon reappeared.  He suddenly said, “Hell with this,” sighting back to the right at the building, as he began pulling the trigger, firing repeated rounds into and through the building, guessing at the position of the Jeep concealed behind it.  When he had fired his sixth round, there was a secondary explosion and the entire corner of the building collapsed in upon itself, the jeep and its occupants had been transformed into a mangled pile of rubble.  They both stayed still and watched for several seconds, Marc reached for his binoculars to aid in a wider search for anything that was still animated.  A minute later, they began to collect any items that could indicate their identities or origin and began to move off, down from the ridge.

Marc once again pulled out the Sat phone and hit the redial button.  As Harridan answered, Marc said, “Change of plans, land as close to the compound as you can, we’ll be waiting.  Oh, by the way, we have a passenger, so get rid of any extra weight you can and we’ll do the same here,” as he disconnected.  When they reached the compound, the only thing remarkable was the stench of death; both Eyan and Marc knew the odor well.  Once there, they approached with caution, with the smaller automatic rifles at the ready.  After a quick recon, they moved to the building with the holding cell and knocked on the door, saying, “Anybody home?” After a few seconds, a voice from inside said, “Yeah.” Marc opened the door, a man sitting on the floor in the corner said, “I hope you’re the good fellows?” Marc replied, “If not, you’re in a world of shit, buddy.”  The man had a remarkable sense of humor considering the circumstance, and said, “Been there, done that, no thanks.”  Marc helped him to his feet and out the door into the stench-laden fresh air.  He looked around, with squinted eyes and said, “So, where’s the rest of the army?”  Marc said, “You’re looking at it,” and grinned.  The man, regaining his sight in the bright daylight, peered around in disbelief at the destruction and carnage and said, “I’m glad we’re on the same side.”  With a more serious look on his face, Marc said, “We’ll get out of here as soon as the chopper gets here.  Until then, I think we should take cover and stay vigilant,” they moved to the perimeter of the compound where a culvert afforded some protection.

Harridan flying an OH-6A-LOH-series helicopter seemed more like a crazed bumble bee, zigzagging down from the upper ridge to the west, than the extraction vehicle they were waiting for.  Marc had to grin as he watched Harridan; he was one-of-a-kind – amazingly qualified and dependable as hell. Then Marc and Eyan, with his hand now bandaged, piled up the equipment they couldn’t load on the chopper because of the extra passenger.  He strategically placed three incendiary grenades in the pile and fired it off as they ran to the chopper.

Ten minutes later, Marc was pointing out the border of Lesotho, as they swiftly crossed over it into British South Africa.  After landing in Durban, Marc turned to the man as they were walking to the terminal and said, “Oh, by the way, do you have anything for identification?  These guys can be rather sticky about these things, you know.”  The man smiled saying, “I think I have it covered.”  Marc, being curious, but respectful, said, “OK, just trying to give you a heads up. How’d you get into that mess in the first place?”  His reply was, “I was walking back to the office from lunch.  The next thing I remembered, I awoke, hands tied, with a dark sack over my head.”

As they entered the terminal, almost all of the people in the immediate area turned toward the door as they entered.  They began whispering among themselves.  Marc and Eyan looked at each other, as if to say, “What the hell’s going on?”  Just then, a local magistrate approached and said, “Sir, are you, OK?”  Both Marc and Eyan looked at each other as he said, “Yes, quite all right, thank you.”  A second magistrate approached.  This one had stripes on his sleeve and said, “Governor General, sir, may I be of assistance?”  At this point, both Marc and Eyan were looking for a quick avenue of escape, but people were beginning to mass around them.  Marc turned to the Governor General and said, “Sir, may we have a private moment alone?” The Governor, with a quizzical expression on his face, said to the magistrate, “We need some privacy; please find it for us.”  A few moments later, in a room off the concourse, the Governor said, “Now, what can I do for you?”  Marc replied, “Governor….”  The Governor interrupted, “It’s ‘Malcolm,” he said. Marc continued on, “We have many reasons to remain anonymous.  It’s not because we’re wanted by law enforcement.  Actually, it’s more because we need to be anonymous to do what we do.  So, if it’s just the same to you, can we just disappear?”  The Governor reached into his inside pocket of his tattered suit coat and pulled out his card.  He wrote a private phone number on the back and handed to Marc, saying, “Nothing more be said except, thank you!  Oh, and if you are ever in need of assistance, just call,” as he pointed to the side door and said, “Good-bye and thank you once again.”

When they arrived back at the hotel, they all began packing their things and, as they were finishing up, Marc said, “Harridan, I certainly don’t know how we could have pulled this off without you and your contacts, so maybe this will say thanks better than words,” as he handed him an envelope with a bonus of twenty thousand dollars – cash U.S. – in it.  Marc looked over at Eyan and said, “I’ll take that out of my…”   Eyan cut him off mid-sentence, saying, “Marc, when a job like this happens, and it all works, I have no problem in sharing the wealth,” as he turned to Harridan, putting his left hand out (the right hand was a bit sore at the moment), and said good-bye.  When Harridan looked inside the envelope, he was a bit overwhelmed but, like any other person in their right mind would, took the money with a smile saying, “Working with pros is always a pleasure, mates!  And, if you get back in this part of the world, I’d love to do it again, aye!” as he moved toward the door.  He and Thomas were driving a pickup truck with the leftover debris of the job, back up to Mozambique.

Two Days Later                                           

As Eyan and Marc were walking down the jet way from the aircraft, Marc’s e-mail chimed on his Smartphone as it began to come back to life with the trans-Pacific segment of their journey completed.  While they were traversing the concourses en route to the baggage claim area, Marc was filtering through the backlog of messages, when he came across one that was unique. It said:

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of the event. This will be reflected in our previously discussed remittance.  Please accept it as a token of our gratitude.” 

Marc read the message to Eyan as they were approaching the area. Eyan said, “If we’re lucky enough to get this far, I’ll take what we get and run to the bank.” They both were laughing about it as they approached the turnstiles.

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