Disclaimer: See Chapter 1 for all disclaimers. firstname.lastname@example.org
Third Time’s the Charm
An airplane straining against the traces of night, sprouting wings to dreams--playing tunes upon the mystery of life. A tyranny of memory too short to kill the illusion, too courageous to heed the whispers of maledictions.
All too soon Monday morning rolled around bringing with it Kendal’s very early morning flight. The tall brunette leaned back in her seat by the jet window as the predawn city lights of Tagulla, Georgia faded in the distance behind her. An emptiness seized her as she watched clouds settle below her plane headed toward the dark. She knew she was leaving her heart behind.
Gods, she hated having to depart! Monday morning. We slept off and on. But not all that much. As the seatbelt sign clicked off, the man beside her opened his newspaper, folded it and began reading. She shut her eyes. What a weekend! There weren’t words to describe it. Of all the things that change the course of a person’s life, this weekend was right at the top for her. She had Savannah back and life seemed worthy again.
Most of the weekend she and Savannah had made love, wildly, passionately, gently, tenderly, devotedly. She grinned. It had been majestic. She was exhausted, a little sore and very relaxed, and at the same time energized by it. Savannah would be in much the same condition. Kendal hoped she’d have a good day. The blonde had said the drug cartel’s attorneys would try last ditch motions that they hadn’t tried yet, but in the end they’d settle down and begin selecting a jury.
Kendal looked at her watch. It was still on east coast time. She reset it. Savannah would be going into court in three hours. She’d be headed to her office right now where she’d go over her notes for the trial. It would take her at least a half hour to get there. The others would be in early, too, she’d said.
The goodbye was the worst part. Kendal had wanted to take a cab so they could say goodbye at the townhouse, but Savannah wanted to spend every possible minute with her. So they’d showered together and the blonde had dressed for work while Kendal dressed for her interview. Then Savannah had driven Kendal to the airport for her predawn flight.
They’d kissed frantically but cautiously in the protective darkness of the car while parked in the parking lot, knowing a police car had trailed them. Inside the building they had held out, trying to be discrete. At the last minute they flew into a frantic hug and tears had streamed down both their faces. It had been hard to tear themselves apart.
Kendal opened her eyes and watched the shadow of the plane play on the darkened cloud tops. Then she shut her eyes again and brought Savannah’s face to her mind. It had the same smoldering gaze that she’d gotten from the blonde across the roof top of her car in the parking garage. She imagined Savannah with that mischievous, seductive, sexy look full of promises she intended to keep. She licked her lips and settled more comfortably in her seat. Oh, baby, she thought, letting her imagination have full rein.
When she opened her eyes again, she was surprised to see that she had dozed and nearly an hour had gone by. She hoped she hadn’t moaned or embarrassed herself in any way. She glanced at the man beside her, but he was still reading his paper over the drone of the plane’s jet engines. Dawn was continuing to break around them. She got up to stretch her legs. She walked back to the phones in the rear of the cabin. Following the instructions, she soon heard the phone ring.
‘District Attorney’s Office, Savannah Vollier speaking.’
‘Hey, babe,’ Kendal said softly.
‘Kendal!’ Savannah sat up excitedly. ‘I was just sitting here feeling sorry for myself cause you were gone. I miss you so much already.’
‘I know. I miss you, too.’
‘I worry about you and about....’Savannah sighed. ‘You’ll be careful, won’t you? I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you.’
‘Nothing’s going to happen. Don’t worry, baby. Just remember that I’m not a member of your family yet. When we’re joined, when I become a member, I will NOT be a police officer.’
‘Okay, but I still wish you weren’t one now.’
‘I know, but honey, the Threes won’t affect us. I won’t give you reason to leave me again. I feel like the world’s luckiest person now that I have you back in my life.’ She let her enthusiasm get away from her when she added, ‘With all this luck, even if I weren’t quitting, which I am, it would be ‘third time’s the charm’ for me.’
Kendal knew the minute she said it, that Savannah would feel strongly and her fear would be rekindled. She swatted her forehead. What had she been thinking? Why had she said that?
‘No, Kendal! Don’t toy with this...’ A frown settled on Savannah’s face.
‘I’m not toying with it, babe. I promise. We’ve been over this, okay? Just keep reminding yourself that I’m quitting and hanging up my uniform for good. The trials start on Friday. Once they’re done, so am I. I’ll never again be a member of a police force. Then you can announce our joining to your family and when you do, I’ll have a totally different profession. Okay?’
‘Yes. I don’t mean to sound so kooky. It’s just that the Threes...’
‘Don’t give it any strength, sweetheart. Put all your belief in us. Cause we’re going to have one heck of a fabulous life. Are you ready to head to court today? Are you nervous? Are you well enough protected?’
‘I’ll be fine, honey.’ Savannah’s voice moderated. ‘I’m going over my notes now. Gods, I want to drive this horrible man into the ground! We all want that so badly. Don’t worry about me, though, okay? I’m surrounded with all kinds of folks out to protect me.’
She knew the police car had to have trailed Savannah to work. ‘They’d better be watching over you....’ Kendal’s world fell back into place when she heard Savannah’s voice mellow. The brunette added breathlessly, ‘If I were there, I’d put my arms around you and not let go for the next hundred years.’ How in the world would they get through all these trials till they could be together again?
‘You would, huh?’
‘Oh yeah. I’d put my lips on that place on your neck where you always react and I’d nibble my way...’ She found herself grinning as they spoke then noticed others moving around her and turned her back so they couldn’t hear how personal their conversation was becoming.
Oh, she was in love all right. So much that she thought she might be able to fly back to Savannah without benefit of an airplane at all. Before she knew it the stewardess was tapping her on the shoulder, telling her she needed to go sit and prepare for landing. Reluctantly, they both said their goodbyes and she hung up.
Texas-the lone star state, of such immense vastness former mounted travelers heading their steeds out with the first light of dawn would find it giving way to darkness a number of times before the wide sweep of land was finally traversed. Hot, dry land, blessed not only with memories of the longhorn steer, miles of bawling cattle but the men of the future, men of Mission Control and Apollo 13 where forever after the astronaut’s voice hung in the silence, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ Now this is muttered in disparate voices like a truth from a cabala. But the girth gall of life requires a different saddle. Is it truth that suggests that what one seeks might best be found within?
The plane landed as the first hours of daylight were warming the roofs of the city, but plenty of heat had been left over from the night before. It was already hot and sticky in Houston. The blast hit her in the face the minute she walked out the airport doors. She wasn’t really a hot climate type of person. But the job required living there so she knew she’d have to get used to it. Two years of this. That was how long the job was scheduled to last.
This would be the deciding meeting for her. She was to interview again with the General, a retired officer still maintaining enough direct ties to the military to get the group functioning. He’d show her around. She’d spend three days visiting some training sessions of the ground specialists assembled specifically for this job. These were the individuals that would be working in the greatest degrees of danger. They would do whatever was needed. They might infiltrate drug cells, pose as dealers, help round them up, put them out of business or whatever was called for.
It was her chance to get the feel of the leadership position from the ground up.
Kendal was aware that her greatest challenge if she took this job would be running interference between the factions that would compose the larger group. Any time representatives from groups came together: military, DEA, FBI, CIA, DOE, police forces from various countries, etc., they each had their own loyalties and agendas that they would have to put aside for the benefit of the greater good. She, as the team leader, would have to have enough pull to get them to at least try. Otherwise, inner squabbles or power moves stood to rob them of any chance at success.
And she was a realist, pragmatic enough to know that if things went badly enough, there was the ever-present power politics any of the factors might be willing to exert against her personally. She didn’t worry about it; she just knew it was possible. If they became convinced she was working against them somehow, it was not out of the realm of reality to think they could get her shipped to the working equivalent of Siberia, or even get her fired from her job.
None of these groups were above flexing their muscles if thoroughly enough provoked. But considering her current circumstances, that unspoken threat carried no consequences for her other than for what career she might enter next.
These were all organizations that were used to operating below the radar, wielding tremendous amounts of power. Her job would be like walking a tightrope. She had to have a solid knowledge of each and every participant and how they might react then use that knowledge to blend them into a workable group.
But she already was familiar with and got along well with two of the future participants. ‘Ducky’ Petersen from the FBI was a friend she had met while they were both going through target training at Quantico. He was a rising star now in the southwest office of the bureau. He was an intense but fair-minded individual, and they had worked well together all those many years ago. She looked forward to working with him again.
Jacqueline Moray had been the DEA representative in the last task force they were just finishing up with. Working with her as the DEA representative on this new project would be another plus since their last project had finished on such a high note. Her organization was very pleased with the outcome of that foray and she had been one of the easier participants to work with.
Kendal seemed to have a degree of talent in handling other agencies, not so much because she was easy-going, which she usually was, but because she seemed to have a sixth sense regarding motivations and that gave her ammunition to head off displays one way or another. She was not above playing hardball herself and had no fear of putting the hammer down if the need arose. And the General had assured her that her position as head of the team would be absolute and not subject to the vagaries of the other forces. But that remained to be seen.
I’ve gotten around some of the toughest, most pugilistic, hard core, power hungry representatives to get my last job done. In the end they worked together well because they saw the benefits to themselves and their organizations. She smiled wanly, The only person to ever bring me to my knees was a little blonde Assistant DA from the south. She wasn’t on the task force, but she very nearly devastated me. She thought of Savannah and sighed. But now they were back together and she understood and forgave Savannah for sending her away in the first place.
Kendal ran a hand through her hair and brought her mind back to her last project. They had been highly successful once they found the Alaska connection. Then every group was clamoring to do their part. It’s amazing how success can temper groups’ agendas and make them more amenable to working together. Nothing succeeds like success. It won’t be an option in this new gig. Success will have to be there almost from the beginning, or it’ll run the risk of going downhill rather rapidly. I’m hoping this group of fellas can start us off right.
This visit was to be with the core, the on-the-ground specialists, the smallest part of the group whose successes she hoped would become the driving force for them all.
She wiped the beads of perspiration from her brow and climbed into her rented car. With the air conditioning blasting on high, she started her drive over the couple hour route to the out of the way Sand Hill training facility. As she drove she thought of the upcoming meeting. So, who were these mystery men she was heading out to watch train?
After 9/11 she knew there was a debate in Congress about who would be in charge of America’s Special Forces, the CIA or the Department of Defense. But this wasn’t really a Special Forces team, was it? It was double the size, fifteen strong. And the General had said they’d be a private organization. So, what was their command structure and where did she figure in it?
She’d quizzed the retired General about it, but he’d been unusually vague. He’d said the team would be from a private company and would be available to conduct collaborative planning with her team, but he didn’t say who held the reins with regard to ultimate responsibility for the men. Except that she knew it was not supposed to be her or her team. He’d made that much clear.
But who would hold the responsibility for any failures? That was the sixty-four thousand dollar question, wasn’t it? The Armed Services had too much of a CYA [Cover Your Ass] history for her to feel entirely comfortable with their part. Yet, their support would undoubtedly be necessary to get the project off the ground. It was all a gamble.
It had bothered her, because the General had been very open about everything else. That’s what made her wonder if they might not be a paramilitary group. She knew there’d always been a civilian factor in such forces, and in most cases they had immediate civilian oversight. But the jobs of those teams had been to provide experts in every area of civil government. That wasn’t the job of this group.
Of course she wasn’t naive enough to think there weren’t secret special ops units of retired specialists, authorized to wear local garb, ignore standard rules of engagement and apply unorthodox tactics. That idea had been around a long time. Enough novels had been written about them, surely, and she decided fiction had to give way to fact somewhere along the line. But she had no direct knowledge.
She rubbed a hand over her face. One thing she knew for sure, the men on this team were not active service soldiers. They weren’t Seals, Rangers, a Delta Force or a Special Ops support unit. Those military groups had proud and accomplished service records on their own. But this was a completely new unit, formed as a joint mission to combat drug traffic both in the country and outside it. Many of these men were ex-Special Forces members, he’d told her that, but they were all now retired.
Of course, she was aware how a private company could provide deniability for any covert or clandestine operations they might undertake. They wouldn’t have the uniform or the card identification that gives soldiers combat status and supposedly gives them Geneva Convention protection if they’re captured. But in this case the enemy, although it could be, most likely wouldn’t be a military force, either. It would be international drug cartels, and they had no code of ethics whatsoever other than violent ‘might makes right’, sheer power grabs with automatic weapons and bales of money to back them up.
She glanced ahead and saw the paved side road she needed to take. Just inside the road, at a gated entry was a uniformed man inside a small booth. His uniform was for a private security company, Global West Security. She’d expected an Army uniform and found it odd that it was otherwise, but then remembered there was also a testing airfield off this road used by private corporations for prototype aircraft. She showed the identification she’d been given, he checked the list and the gate was lifted for her. Interesting.
She drove a short distance to the facility. It was small, tucked out in the tulles just down from an old military airport, the one they now used for small group training maneuvers along with the secretive prototype aircraft testing she’d considered moments earlier. The Texas version of Area 51, she snickered, with its own little astral world maybe? Little green men out amongst the longhorn cattle? What an imagination you have, girl.
It was an unassuming group of buildings. There were a few cars in the lot as she drove up to the main office with what looked like a barracks and a scattering of other buildings down the drive behind it. But it was clear that it was not a fully operational base by any means. Inside the windows she could see people moving about, many in uniform, from various forces. Why the variety, I wonder?
She got out of the car and looked at the surrounding area. There were no cattle at all. Most of the terrain was rolling hills with thick mesquite brush and long grasses. In the far distance was a dark stand of short trees that seemed to run across half of the horizon. Maybe a river, she mused.
There was a long airstrip in the flats not far down the road. That whole area appeared to be surrounded with cyclone fencing and rolled razor wire on top. A tiny smattering of hangars were there, dwarfed by distance.
The sound of a jet taking off could be heard as she adjusted the tail of her blouse, worn untucked, making sure it covered the holster on her hip. Satisfied, she slipped off her jacket, putting it back in the car. Already it was too hot to wear a jacket. Checking her watch, five minutes early, and taking a cleansing breath, she headed for the entrance. She looked forward to meeting the General again.
The main office building was about the size of a long, one floor ranch style house. The door opened to a narrow hall with other rooms further along its length. She could hear muffled voices down the hall. Double checking the room number she’d written down, she found it and went inside, finding herself in a tiny outer office.
A man in Army uniform sat behind a typical government desk and was typing on a typewriter with a speedy version of the two fingered hunt and peck system. The papers in the machine looked to be about eight pages thick. A keyboard and computer sat further down his desk. A ceiling fan made soft noises like a very far off helicopter and she could hear the rattle of the air conditioning system as it cranked on and off. She announced herself to him.
‘If you’ll have a seat, please, ma’am,’ he pointed to one of the two empty guest chairs in the room while he moved into the adjoining office to announce her arrival. The room was cramped though it only contained one tall file cabinet, the man’s desk, typewriter and computer, his chair and the two chairs where she was sitting. He stepped back into the room, smiled and continued with his typing. She assumed the General had been detained in some way.
A half hour later, she was ushered into the adjoining nondescript office, bigger by far than the outside room. She was surprised to see a barrel-chested, crisply uniformed man rise from behind a desk on which, in ultra-neat arrangement, were two stacks of a few folders each and one well-worn riding crop. Two large flags stood in stands behind his desk, one the US flag and the other the Texas flag and beyond that was an upright coat rack with his hat hanging on one hook.
She did not recognize this man, but she recognized the type. He had no smile of greeting, in fact his face had a thinly disguised look of belligerence. His slowly offered hand said one thing, but his demeanor said something entirely different. Am I in the wrong office? she wondered.
He leaned over his desk to grasp her outstretched hand. She could feel his reluctance. She cast him a smile that was not returned and found herself shaking an unusually quick grip with Colonel Antinous, a big step down in her mind from the retired General she was supposed to be seeing.
The Colonel was a brazen man in his late fifties, about her height, with hard eyes and greying hair worn in a military crew cut. From the visible band of pressed hair around his head, she surmised he wore his hat most of the time.
The man stood back up so straight and rigidly that it left him with a multiplicity of chins he might not otherwise have had. He worked unsuccessfully to keep any residue of emotion off his face. He swept an exceedingly cold glance over her. She was no stranger to any of this. She’d seen it before. This man did not welcome women into his domain, and certainly not on an equal footing.
‘Captain,’ he said woodenly, ‘welcome to Sand Hill Facility.’ Beyond a doubt, it was the least welcoming welcome she had ever received.
‘Thank you, sir. It’s a pleasure to be here.’ Is it, I wonder? she mused, watching his barely disguised displeasure at dealing with her. This sure doesn’t feel right. Her office would be in this very building, from what the General had said, even though it was technically a project separate from the military. It had an airstrip that the representatives of the various factions could use without outside sources knowing. She’d probably have to deal with this fellow on a daily basis.
She gave an imperceptive sigh. The military had been marginally involved in her last multitask unit and their particular element had been one of the most difficult to handle solely because of their lead representative and his underling.
‘Those two should wear tee shirts that say ÔDoes Not Play Well With Others’, she’d told Dwayne in confidence after a particularly difficult meeting. He’d laughed at the time, but she wondered if it wasn’t still true. Then she’d dealt with one Master Sergeant Irus ‘Chubby’ Kadjer. He was their lead and a man with a giant chip on his shoulder regarding women. The difference that she could see between him and this man was that ‘Chubby’ was skinny as a rail. But he’d had this Colonel’s attitude in spades.
‘Sit down, Captain,’ the Colonel ordered, glancing at the chair.
Kendal stiffened at the order but kept her face neutral. She could get along with him if she had to, she reminded herself. She could get along with most anyone so long as everyone understood the position they each held. Make that clear first and things usually improved quickly. She’d learned that early on dealing with Dwayne.
The General had said she would not be under any armed forces command at any time, and that should certainly include this man. The Army was to have a representative on the team, but they would not chair the group or hold unusual sway. She wondered about the Colonel’s understanding of that. Apparently he did not get it. She could see it would be a large learning curve in his case. They’d need to get that sorted out right away.
The bypassed, she thought as she observed him. Sent out here to the tules. Wonder who he pissed off? Everything about him shouts: ‘The one passed over in a career that’s my whole life.’ She wondered where the genial grey-eyed General was. Has he been taken off this project? It’ll make a difference, if he has. This fellow’s a spoiler in a project that’s already bound to be exceedingly difficult.
‘I expected to meet with Retired General Andrew Thenas,’ she said, sitting and crossing her legs. She folded her hands comfortably in her lap and let her purse slide to the floor beside her. She purposely kept a casual pose to clarify that she was not military and not under his command. She did not intend to be at attention around him. And I don’t need to kiss your ass, either, so quit expecting it.
The man put his hands behind his back in a modified parade rest and remained standing. He’s like a cartoon General. She recognized his stance as a power play to remain hovering above her. ‘The General was called out of the country at the moment. He asked me to handle this for him.’
He reached down and picked up a folder from his desk, opened it and slowly and carefully thumbed through its contents, page by page as though he had forgotten she was there. He had not forgotten, of course, and she had to work to keep a grin from forming on her face at all his obvious ploys. She waited patiently. This man had a serious problem with female authority.
Finally she got tired of the delay. ‘The General informed me that there would be up-to-date reports in from the various organizations regarding what is known at the moment about current drug trafficking. I was to look them over, he told me.’
The Colonel dropped the folder, picked up his riding crop and looked her straight in the eye. ‘Well, that is one of the tasks. In fact, this position requires that the person in charge be able to handle a multitude of important tasks at one time. Perhaps too many.’
Now she was alert to his every word. What is he up to? And what does he mean by ‘perhaps too many’?
‘The General described the tasks including that one,’ she quickly inserted. ‘They didn’t strike me as being too much for one person to handle.’
He held the crop in one hand and tapped the other as he talked. ‘Be that as it may, it has been decided that this position will require shared responsibility.’ Tap, tap. ‘I’ve appointed Master Sergeant Kadjer to serve in that capacity, since he’s already had the opportunity of working with you.’ Tap, tap.
I’m to be under the constant demands of the military, of Sergeant Kadjer in particular? Whose bonehead idea is that? ‘No,’ she said quickly, uncrossing her legs and leaning forward. He quit tapping and grasped the crop firmly in both hands. She noticed his surprise at her refusal.
‘That was not the job description that I was given when I talked with the General. He specifically noted that the armed forces wanted to be kept up to date regarding any trafficking near or around their bases, but they did not want to hold a position in this group any greater than any of the other participants. A shared responsibility, as you call it, would certainly change that and would do nothing but hinder things. Too many cooks, as they say...’
The Colonel remained mute, staring at her, his brows furrowed.
Kendal rose, ‘So, if that’s a permanent change that’s been made, I’ll lodge an official thank you/no thank you with the General. Since he’s the one who approached me, I feel it’s my duty to contact him directly on the subject.’
The Colonel hid a grin at that. The General wasn’t available for her to contact, now was he? And she’d have to go through his office to officially reach the old man.
She was very aware that there were only the two of them in the room. She’d had experience with this kind of man before. Anything said could and would be misconstrued to sound like she was simply pulling out after all their expense and hard work getting her there. He wouldn’t make her look good, she was sure of that. So she’d file her official notification by making direct contact with the big guy.
‘The pay remains the same,’ he sniffed. ‘And, of course, you would officially be in charge of the project.’
Ah, the trusty ‘Woman as a Showpiece’ trick. Is this what the General had in mind? Not a chance. Not the way he talked to me about this job. No. It’s completely counter to everything he said. It wasn’t uncommon to offer a woman what turned out to be a showpiece job while the real decisions were expected to be made behind the scenes by men. It had to have been this fellow’s idea. Why? She’d consider that for a minute. Regardless, it t’ain’t gonna happen on my dime. Time for a little reality therapy.
‘No,’ she replied cooly. ‘Pay is not my concern at this point. It’s the shared responsibility. If I’m in charge, then I expect to be fully in charge with no strings attached and no bullshit, just as the General outlined. Otherwise, I’m not interested and need not take up any more of either my time or yours.’
He was so easy to read. She saw his surprise again that she had dared answer him so stridently. She watched his face. I know what it is. You read my folder and thought if a woman could deal successfully with drug cartels, it must be easy, didn’t you? That’s how you guys think. You’re stalled out in a backwater tide pool and you need acclaim to rise to your coveted rank of General before you retire. You couldn’t wait to jump on this. Take over this venture, put in your own people, and reap all the rewards of success easily won. I’ll bet anything that’s what you’re thinking. Well, success doesn’t come that easily and you’re not gonna get it, not with me as a participant, at least.
She could tell him that the price of success for any undertaking dealing with drug cartels would be immeasurably higher, if attainable at all. Aside from managing group dynamics and politics, the cartels themselves were the best financed, most vicious of opponents, dangerous to infiltrate, harder still to round up, and operating with ten more wannabees standing behind every leader.
She was taking a personal risk just by applying for this job. It was NOT a sure thing and could end up being a career killer, a giant failure, a dead end. She’d already risen fast in the Edgeway Police Department. Her current promotion was scheduled to put her in charge of one of the three large sections of their city. Not a job she had looked forward to, in truth. She grinned inwardly, but I’m stopping the police angle of my career anyway, so I have less to lose than he does.
The Colonel put his hands and crop behind his back and stood sprattle-legged as though he were Patton before troops on a parade ground. His cold eyes stared at her.
Stars, this man is straight out of a WWII B grade movie! Did I just unsuspectingly step into some film noir scene? She was tired and determined now that she had wasted her time. This project was not to be at all as it had been described by the General. She didn’t need this much aggravation. She could have spent another day with Savannah, if she’d known. That thought made her grumpier. Her brows furrowed.
‘I’ll let the General know,’ the man sniffed arrogantly, ‘that you’ve changed your mind.’
Is that pompous so and so bluffing, cause I’m not. ‘No thank you, Colonel,’ she reached down for her purse and gripped it under her arm before standing upright before him, ‘it’s my responsibility. The General will want to know why I won’t be accepting after he went to such trouble talking my Chief into releasing me for this job. I’ll inform him directly. He gave me his numbers.’
The Colonel’s head shot up at that. He hadn’t been expecting her to be able to contact the General directly. For a man of his rank, he has darn little foresight, she mused as she watched his reaction. She turned to take a step to the door and heard him clear his throat. ‘Perhaps, if you would sit, Captain, we could go over the various aspects of this job other than leadership. You’ve come a long way to back out now.’
Ah, so he knows the General wouldn’t approve of what he’s doing. She turned and let her eyes, darkened with her rapidly rising annoyance, bore into him. ‘I am hardly backing out, sir. Shared leadership is not an option that was mentioned or that I’d consider. In fact, the General assured me this was NOT to be a military project. The fact that you’re making it one, raises all kinds of doubt in my mind as to its outcome.’
The Colonel’s face narrowed and his belligerent stare increased.
Now she was annoyed as well. You pompous little twit! If you’re actually successful at taking over the General’s position, I have no desire to have to deal with you and your joint leadership crap. This thing doesn’t have a chance in hell of succeeding with those kinds of odds against it right at the start.
‘Shared leadership would make it easier for you,’ he said condescendingly. ‘We’re only thinking on your behalf.’
‘Easier? Hardly! No, this isn’t for my benefit. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it’s a very poor one, frankly and I’ll tell you why. You don’t lead something like this with joint command...not successfully. The buck has to stop somewhere. If you want the job done, turn it over and back off to let it get done. Otherwise, I, for one, am certainly not interested.’
‘Just what is it you think you bring to this project?’ he demanded.
‘Drive...and the fact that I believe in success, Colonel, and rarely settle for less. That’s why the General contacted me in the first place. It’s all in my file there.’ Read it and weep, buddy. Know what you’re losing, not that you’d recognize it if it rose up and bit you in the behind. I’ve got a pretty decent track record with drug dealings, AND dealing with disparate groups. And so far I’ve been exceedingly lucky at knowing which way to jump. Right now this is shouting for me to turn around and walk away.
The Colonel didn’t move.
‘I see your mind is set. Well, I want no part of this. A team such as you’re proposing has NO chance of success.’ She turned.
‘So YOU say...’ he sneered defensively.
She turned back and drew herself to her full height. ‘Indeed, sir. That is EXACTLY what I say, and I have the experience to know.’ She noticed that she stood a touch taller than he did. He noticed, too, grabbed his hat and jammed it on his head, making him taller. She would have laughed out loud if she weren’t so annoyed. What a transparent little twit you are.
‘It would NOT be a military undertaking,’ he fumed, tapping the crop erratically now against his other hand. ‘You would be in charge with help from Master Sergeant Kadjer. That’s all.’
‘Nonsense! The way you’re talking about structuring it, it would be a military undertaking with me in a puppet leadership role. I don’t do ‘puppet roles’. Whether it’s behind the scenes or in front, when an Army officer holds the reins, it’s a military endeavor. And as I see it, that option is totally unworkable.’
Her thoughts went to Dwayne. She’d been hoping to bring Dwayne in on this two year project. I can’t believe I’m still the only one that recognizes Dwayne’s talent and what he’d bring to something like this. Even he doesn’t see it. But I’m happy to make use of him to fight crime.
He was supposed to be flying in Wednesday night to spend Thursday with her to see if he had any interest before the two of them headed off to testify in LA. She’d already cleared his visit with the General, who would add him to the group on her recommendation. She’d have to call Dwayne now to stop him from coming.
The General had spent considerable time convincing her Chief of Police that it was in the national interest that Kendal head this group. She had made no solid commitment but her bosses back home were making silent arrangements to fill her position. Well, they’ll need to do that whether I take this particular job or not. I am quitting.
The Colonel’s condescending voice shook her from her musings, ‘So you think success depends on YOU and ONLY you heading this project?’
‘Oh, no sir. I’m sure you could find someone else that could do it. But not with the Army in charge. However, the General did tell me he had talked with a good number of candidates already and felt I was the best qualified. I’m sure he’ll be disappointed in the military’s change of plans after he put so much work into selection.’
A thought popped into her mind I get it! You don’t just want shared responsibility, you NEED it so you can pass off any failures to someone else taking all the successes for yourself, isn’t that right? This must have looked like a match made in heaven for your purposes. Well, it won’t happen with me. And you forgot one little thing, you’ve never dealt with cartels. She shook her head. What a waste. This project is dead in the water. ‘I’ll make my own apologies to the General. Goodbye, Colonel.’
‘Wait.’ She could see his eyes harden. He must have thought that being a woman, she’d just meekly let him walk all over her. What a dolt! She was tired of his nonsense, tired in general and not just a little cranky. She put her hand on the doorknob and gave him one last glance. ‘Yes?’ Put up or shut up.
His look was overtly hostile. This was the point where he either had to let his great scheme go or let her go. And he knew how sold the General was on this annoying female. He cleared his throat, ‘The General will undoubtedly have the final word on this,’ he growled. He turned his back and faced the window, his crop turning angrily in his hands behind his back.
‘I see.’ She paused to consider. So the General IS still in charge of this. Unfortunately, this was the only time she’d have until her months of testifying were over. Did she want this job that badly? She’d thought she did, but it certainly wasn’t starting off well. The leadership question would have to be answered once and for all. And that couldn’t happen till the General returned. Still, she was confident of what his opinion would be and she WAS here now.
She sighed. Helluva way to start. ‘In that case, perhaps.....hmm, perhaps I WILL stick around and get an overview of the project. Just in case.’
She walked back to the chair and sat, ‘But I’ll be calling my office to make it very clear that I have not accepted this position and WILL not until the debate over leadership is firmly settled.’
‘As you wish.’ He turned to look down at her, his face, now holding a ruddy hue of anger. He most certainly did not like this. ‘Perhaps the best way to get you started is to just have you enter the fray. If you’ll wait in the outer office, I’ll have someone come over and start you on the tour.’
‘The General said there was a file I should read immediately...the file on known drug situations.’
The Colonel’s eyes went to one of the files in precisely neat order on his desk. ‘Perhaps you should wait until you’ve talked with the General again and final decisions are made.’ His face was stern.
Ahh, you’re still hoping to work your plan. How, by scaring me off? ‘Fair enough.’
He pushed his chair with his knee and sat down. His hand rested on the phone, ‘I assume you want the full package. It should take about three days to get a good idea of the training. I also assume you’ll be staying here in our small barracks when you’re not in the field.’
She raised a brow. ‘You have women’s quarters?’
‘I didn’t know you required special accommodations, Captain. With training groups like this, facilities are facilities.’
That’s strange. He wants to put me in the barracks with this all male team? She smirked. ‘Very well. I can manage.’ She doubted this was what the General had in mind for her on her visit here. Or the Army either, for that matter. But she didn’t really care where she slept.
The Colonel was surprised at her ready acceptance, but caught himself quickly, ‘There will be target practice, of course. Did you bring your gun?’
For practice or for protection where I sleep? ‘If you read the folder, you’ll see that I’ve been thoroughly trained in gun use with the Police Academy and with FBI training, sir. I’m very familiar with handling a gun, and, quite good, actually. I’ll be happy to do some shooting with the boys. And yes, I always carry a gun.’ Her hand went to her waist to check on the item.
‘That training is nothing compared to this,’ he replied smugly, then spun his chair and turned his back on her as he leaned into the phone while gazing out the window. She stood, staring at the back of his hat. Apparently, she was dismissed.
Charming man, she decided and walked out.
She sat in the waiting room wondering why in the world she had stayed. She should have just caught a plane back to Savannah. She knew he was going to keep her waiting there a long time. And she could imagine the instructions he was giving the team commander regarding what kind of a tour to give her. If it could be made difficult, she was sure it would be. She wondered what influence he had with this team if they were, in fact, a ‘private company’.
She’d always loved playing games with the big boys, though, and wasn’t too concerned about the kinds of physical things they might try and have her do. She was in very good shape physically. Although she was pretty tired today. In years past she would barely have noticed. Now she did. Suck it up, she told herself, knowing why she was tired. Her mind flashed to Savannah and she chuckled. You were so worth it, my love.
What she did not find humorous, however, was the dispute regarding leadership, and that, along with the man she’d just met, gave her a host of second thoughts. Did this bad start foretell anything for the future of this group? She hoped it meant that things could only get better from here on out.
The contorted thoughts of malefic spirits provide an odyssey with perils. Is there mystical significance to the blood-crusted tests that lay like hurdles across everyone’s path? What of tests of mojo, unseen by shading one’s eyes, or of fingers scorched by the fire? It is said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. But does it?
She was surprised to see a jeep pull up before the front doors almost immediately. A man in a flight suit came racing in. A soldier passing outside the door called out ‘Sarge.’ He stopped and said something to the man before he turned his attention her direction. ‘Captain Deetrie?’ he finally asked.
‘I’m Cyrus Cee,’ the team commander smiled warmly and put out his hand. ‘Would you care to join us?’ What a looker! the man thought as he faced the tall woman. She’s a beauty. And he was the man to know. He’d made it a minor accomplishment to ferret out the better looking women every time the fellas had gone bar hopping.
They shook hands genially, though he held her hand a little longer than necessary. ‘Did I hear him call you ‘Sarge’,’ Kendal asked, softly pulling her hand away.
‘Uh, yes, ma’am. It’s my nickname. Most everyone calls me that. I’d be pleased to have you use it, Captain, if you’d like. It isn’t every day we have an opportunity to welcome such a lovely lady as yourself to our training sessions.’ He leaned toward her in a confidential manner, ‘Calling me Mr. Cee always makes me think of my father, no matter how old I get.’ He chuckled charmingly then turned serious, ‘But make no mistake, ma’am, I’d like you to call me Sarge, but we are not military. We work for a private company.’
‘Really?’ she asked. ‘What company is that?’
‘Global West Security,’ he replied instantly. That was the company from the entrance gate. She made a mental note to check that company out when she got a minute.
‘Will you be the representative on the team?’ she asked the man. ‘The General didn’t mention it. Let me clarify, on the task force team?’
‘I know what team you meant, and, uh, no, ma’am. As I understand it, I’ll meet with you privately if you choose to head the group. We will not have a representative on the task force. We will be hired by your task force, not be members of it in that sense. In fact, no one is to know our individual members at all except the task force leader. It’s a part of the security, ma’am.’
‘I understand the need for security. In my line, we call it going undercover.’
Now she was more confused than ever regarding these men and who was responsible for their actions. Apparently this man could not answer that question. ‘I’ll check with the General with my other questions. Thank you. Uh, I’d like to call you Sarge, I believe.’
‘Great. But, uh, do you mind if I call you Captain Deetrie, ma’am? I’d be more comfortable with that and I want the fellas to remember you outrank Ôem. Never hurts with these guys to know who’s boss.’ He chuckled warmly to show he was halfway teasing about the men.
She shrugged. ‘Not at all.’ She looked at his outfit and wondered exactly what she’d be joining. ‘Lead the way, Sarge,’ she smiled. ‘I hope I’m dressed appropriately.’ She slipped out her sunglasses and slid them on.
He was stunned by how much she looked like a model with her long, loose dark hair swept back, her outfit beautifully tailored but with simple elegance, her flawless tan and comely mouth open just enough to show her perfect white teeth, her long legs that seemed to go on forever. Gods, she’s gorgeous! His gaze spread past her shapely figure in her white blouse and dressy black pants to fall on her flats. ‘You’ll need boots.’
‘I have some in my duffle.’
‘Never mind, we’ll provide Ôem, ma’am. You’ll need the right kind.’
‘Very well.’ He held the door. ‘Does your team have a name, Sarge?’ she asked as they walked outside into the morning heat and sunlight.
‘Uh, they’re just a bunch of well trained grunts, ma’am.’ He flashed her a warm and charming smile, ‘but unofficially I understand we’re called the Ghost Shades. I’ll wait here for you if you want to put your purse in your trunk.’ He touched her on the arm, ‘It’ll be safe there. No one’s allowed anywhere around here without clearance.’
She nodded. She’d stick her wallet in her pocket and purse in the trunk. She was trusting but not foolish....she hoped.
Sarge was of a slight build to leave such a formidable impression, she mused, glancing at him from the side of her eye as she hurried to her car. She could feel his eyes on her. A few inches under her height, he was a charming, not handsome really but well built, muscular man obviously of experience with a smile that was provocatively Circean. Which meant he was more than a bit of a flirt and undoubtedly held a noteworthy track record in such skills.
He was wearing a flight suit and while she was a private pilot, small craft, she had not done any sky diving. Still she always faced such matters with aplomb. She felt she could handle that if that’s where they were headed. Maybe.
She had once considered going into the Smoke Jumpers as a youth but had entered the Police Academy when the time came instead. She’d had no training in jumping or in operating a parachute but the thought of it didn’t particularly frighten her. She’d always loved the excitement of danger, although the older she got, the less pronounced that edge had become.
She mentioned she was only here to observe, but Sarge informed her that it was pretty standard procedure for those who sat in command of their group to make a jump with them. Most of their insertions were by air-to-land or air-to-water jumps.
Wanting to participate where she could but a little unsure of this, she hesitantly agreed. The group proceeded to put her through a crash three hour training session. Afterward the men drew out Army rations and proceeded to eat lunch, and though she was offered one, she was afraid to eat, fearing her nerves would leave any meal she consumed where she assuredly didn’t want to leave it.
She walked around and tried to call Savannah on her cell, but the small blonde was back in court already. Unavailable.
A half hour after that she found herself in the belly of an air transport, wearing jump boots with a jump suit over her clothes, waiting to make her first ever jump. She sat at the end of one line, facing the other line of men, all with backs against the bulkheads.
Sarge remarked that they normally trained and jumped from a Chinook helicopter, but it was in for regular maintenance today. She was glad. She didn’t know if her legs would carry her down the open back ramp of a tandem rotor Chinook copter to where she’d have to leap into space. It would be bad enough going out the door of this plane. Because this would not be a static line jump. She’d have to pull her own cord.
She silently wished for the inexperience of her youth once more, since some grown-up part of her insisted on recognizing the dangers and was making her unusually nervous. She sat sweating in the heat as they waited on the simmering tarmac, and deep down she questioned if she really had the nerve for this kind of thing any more. She thought she did, but...
Well, if everybody else in command has done it, I guess I can hardly say no.
She glanced at the grizzled faces of the men, many of them surprisingly hairy. Beards, mustaches and long hair abounded and she wondered if they’d been in the Middle East. These were not the young, innocent faces of recent service inductees. These men were older in comparison, men in their late twenties and into their thirties and some beyond that. They had done their duty, had passed unbelievably rigorous selection that had belled or knocked out seventy percent of the applicants for starters. They had served in probably the worst, most dangerous places in the world and were alive to not tell about it.
She wondered how many of this shadowy brotherhood had been involved in black ops. Yet for all that, they looked too young to be retired. She wondered if they really were. Plausible deniability. And all that.
There was a definite roughness about each and every one of these alpha males surrounding her. She would not want to have to meet any of them as opponents. And they would not be an easy group to win over. Most had long hair, that was clear, and some had theirs tied in a modified pony tail in the back, much like Colombian drug lords she’d seen. Is this a team of killers? she wondered. If they weren’t, they surely looked the part.
Then she rebuked herself. Dealing with drug dealers, whether this group, a police SWAT team or Special Response Team, required being dangerous, well trained tactical units who were prepared to kill at a fraction of a moment’s notice if necessary. It was clear these men could survive on their mental and physical toughness alone.
That they had done so was etched in their faces.
As the plane rattled into the air, she shifted the very heavy pack uneasily and pulled on one of the straps to tighten it, then stopped. She couldn’t make it comfortable. And, adding discomfort, they were forced to lean forward awkwardly because of the packs.
The team was all watching her and she knew she couldn’t back out, not if she wanted to lead these men even from behind a desk and get them to do the impossible when nothing but the impossible would suffice. Not that they weren’t used to doing the impossible. They undoubtedly were.
Nerve enough or not, your time’s up now, girl, she told herself. The choice is no longer in your hands. She wondered if the Colonel was really trying to kill her off. Sue them, Savannah, she thought. If anything happens to me, you sue them, baby! I signed that stupid release under duress.
‘Halo jumps,’ Sarge explained with a wink over the noise and joggling. He knelt before her. ‘High altitude jump, low opening of the chute. We all try to fall at the same rate. We’ll modify it a little for you, though.’
‘Don’t do anything on my account,’ she told him. All the men smiled, though some outright smirked. This whole jump was on her account, wasn’t it? They didn’t care. They’d jumped plenty of times. It was nothing to them.
‘A small change, Captain Deetrie,’ Sarge grinned, noting her straining to hold her pack. ‘In normal circumstances you’d have your same hundred pounds of gear: the main chute, reserve chute, full pack, two canteens and an M-16 kept in a protective case. We left off the M-16 and one canteen this time for your convenience. Won’t need Ôem.’
His blue eyes drifted over the two rows of men then back. ‘In most drills we’d stay together, consolidate quickly on the ground, night or day, and continue the mission. This jump’s just a skirt,’ he grinned, ‘short enough for interest but long enough to cover the important stuff.’ He wagged his brow in a rascally fashion.
And for my benefit? she wondered. To scare the pee waddin out of me?
For all his charm, Sarge was enjoying her discomfort. She could see it in the twinkling of his blue eyes. She knew there were a number of the others that were finding the discomfort she was trying to hide extremely enjoyable. Her hands were sweating but she didn’t want to wipe them on her suit. Not while they were watching. And the vibration of the plane was jarring her teeth, not that they wouldn’t be chattering from nerves in any case. When did I become such a total wuss?
Sarge wandered back to the front. Kendal could hear her heart pounding in her ears as they flew higher. Lord, the pack’s heavy and awkward. She tried to keep her eyes from going any wider than she knew they already were. She wasn’t wearing her sun glasses now. She had no particular fear of heights, but she had no training other than what they had given her, either.
She wondered what the General’s response might be if he knew she was doing this. Would he find it funny? Or would he be upset? Or had he made this jump himself? Of course, he probably had, if what Sarge said was true. Well, regardless of whether he’d approve or disapprove, he wouldn’t find out about it from her. Good or bad, she believed in loyalty to her men. It was a given in her line of work.
One of the younger men named Bobby but called ÔBrains’, probably no more than twenty-six, pulled her to the side to give last minute instructions. ‘You’ll go out ahead of me. I’ll stay near ya,’ he told her. ‘We’ll free fall for a while. Then I’ll signal for when you should pull your chute.’ Her hand automatically went to the rip cord. His eyes were deep hazel and absolutely sincere, ‘You remember how to work the chute and land?’
‘Yes,’ she managed to say.
‘And what to do if the chute doesn’t open with the cord?’
She nodded. Pray, she thought sarcastically. And start now!
The noise changed when the big door was opened and she swallowed to ‘pop’ her ears. The temperature and pressure had both dropped dramatically. Well, at least I don’t have to sit and worry about it for hours, she told herself. She looked out the open door ahead. Please don’t let me leave finger impressions on the door opening. She had visions of them having to bodily toss her out once her feet were at the base of the door.
Sarge put on his head set and called out a wind speed then he held up one finger. Everyone nodded. In a minute the call was made and they all stood and moved into a line, heel to toe, leading to the big bay door. They were approaching the drop zone.
Oh, God, oh, God. Kendal prayed her legs wouldn’t give out as she rose. Brains directed her to the back of the line. She jiggled nervously in place, looking at the line. These men showed little interest in the jump. She forced herself to stop her nervous movements and tried hard to look like she belonged there.
The line started moving and some turbulence had everyone shuffling their feet, adjusting their balance. No one seemed concerned. Just another day at the office. The line was faster than a mess line on cabbage night. Her heart was nearly pounding out her chest at each call of ‘Go’ from Sarge. At the same time she didn’t want the line to stop for fear they’d all see her knees were shaking. Not exactly the picture of professional confidence she was going for.
Then she was there and had to stop. Her stomach knotted. She stepped to the open door, the man in front now falling through the air ahead of her, and her eyes met Sarge’s who stood to the side ticking them off. There was amusement there and it surprised her how much she resented that. He expected her to balk. ‘Going or not?’ he smirked.
She squared her shoulders. ‘What the hell?’ she said, winked and jumped out the door. She saw the surprise on his face and heard him mutter, ‘Holy moly’ as she leapt. He was sure she wouldn’t do it. He was probably relishing the idea of bringing her back to land inside the plane, shamed before them all by her refusal. The young man behind her shot the leader an annoyed look and jumped directly afterward.
She thought it would feel like her stomach was falling out from under her. But it didn’t. Instead Kendal found herself floating, supported by the surrounding air pressing against her. The young man floated up to her and by signaling suggested different arm and leg positions. She imitated him and had a wonderful time flying slightly forward, then backward. She even went up a little then down. The ground did seem to be getting awfully close, however.
Then he was pointing and she grabbed her rip cord. Pulling it, she instantly felt the shock of it snatching her back up into the air, heavy pack and all. It was a jerk that went from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. Recovering quickly, she looked up as instructed to see if she had a full canopy. She did, thank heavens, and her lines weren’t tangled.
She heard the voices calling to each other, noting the target. She was coasting down and it wasn’t far. She played with the steering lines and managed to hit the ground like she had practiced with a fairly decent landing, falling to her knees at one point, keeping her legs together and popping right back up to control her collapsing chute.
It had been a huge thrill and she felt the most incredible high. She actually wouldn’t mind going again. She tried to wipe the smile off her face, since everyone else’s expression was bored seriousness. She wanted to whoop and shout and dance around. But instead she congratulated herself and began collecting her chute as calmly as she could force herself to. I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it!!! she sang to herself silently as she bundled the item.
Glancing around she saw their large truck rumbling over the ground headed toward them. Then looking over she saw a car parked outside the fence. Inside was a uniformed man with binoculars looking their way. She looked directly at him and flashed the largest grin she could manage and a thumbs up with one hand. Take that, you sonuvabitch, she thought as she felt the air blowing over her smiling teeth. So the Colonel wants to see how his little joke went.
She went back to gathering her chute like the others were doing. Brains was suddenly nearby gathering his chute. She hadn’t seen him move there. He kept his back to the car at the fence. ‘They’d be in big trouble if anyone knew they had you do that,’ he said, looking around to make sure he wasn’t being overheard. ‘Commanders never jump unless they want to. It wasn’t right.’ She turned to look around her, and when she looked back, he was gone and another team member came quietly beside her. She looked for him and saw Brains across the field. How did he do that?
Once they gathered their chutes, they all climbed on the back of the open truck. She undid her pack, dropped it on the truck floor and stood by the rail. The driver started them back toward the hangars. She saw the dust of the Colonel’s car heading back to the office buildings. Kendal couldn’t resist. ‘WAHOO!’ she shouted throwing her head back. She heard some of the men chuckle.
‘That was a thrill and a half! I’ll bet all the other Commanders loved doing that.’ The others suddenly found the landscape interesting.
‘Ya know, fellas,’ her eyes went to each man, none of whom wanted to look directly at her, ‘I’m not Armed Services or from a private company. I am a Captain in a police force and I wasn’t born yesterday. Now I know that one of the things that makes you all so well suited to be on a team like this is your judgment. The things you do are harder, riskier, more demanding and a whole lot more dangerous than most people could ever imagine.’
‘You got that right,’ someone muttered.
‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘That’s why you’re here. Because you really truly are made of the right stuff.’
Several looked back at her with interest. She paused, then added, ‘But not if your choices are foolhardy and unnecessary.’
Again she ran her eyes around the group. She smirked. ‘Of course, I was the one that stepped out of the open door up there. So I won’t say a lot about foolhardiness. Except to say this. If I join General Thena’s team as its leader, I’ll expect to be able to trust you implicitly cause we sure as hell won’t be able to trust the enemy, the drug runners. I’ll expect us to get results and we can’t if we’re fighting each other. I’ll expect to be able to follow you out of an open airplane door if necessary and know your judgment is solid and as considerate of my safety as it is of your own. In turn, I’ll do my damnedest for you, even if its from behind a desk. I’m a police officer. And every way I can, I WILL cover your back. Understand?’
A variety of ‘Yes, ma’ams,’ were heard, although she wasn’t entirely sure they were convincing ones. Kendal turned to the man heading the team. ‘So, Sarge, how many Commanders have made this jump?’
‘Uh,’ the man smirked, ‘I have, of course. And let me see, uh, Major Godfrey and you.’
‘How many commanders have you had all together?’
‘Well, ma’am,’ Sarge hedged, ‘Actually our people were just recently pulled in and put together into this one. We haven’t been together that long. So functioning as THIS team, there’s me and you, uh, and....’
‘And what about Major Godfrey?’
‘Uh, he was our jump instructor, ma’am.’ The man grinned. ‘But he was in charge.’
‘Uh huh.’ Her face became solemn. ‘Did you lie to me, Sarge?’
‘No, ma’am. I did not, ma’am. So far one hundred percent of the three people who have stood to serve as Commanders of this team have made this jump, including you. I said it was standard. I believe that qualifies as standard, ma’am.’
‘I believe that borders on something else, Sarge,’ she said, a touch of warning in her voice. But her face wanted so badly to smile. ‘And I should probably be angry about it.’
The General had been very high on this man but she wondered about him. He was obviously willing to pull one over on her, knowing she might end up in the position of being his ‘boss’. What was it about these military and ex-military men? Were they so afraid a woman might have a good idea? Could they only seem big and strong to themselves if they put women down?
Or maybe she wouldn’t be his boss. That was part of the problem, wasn’t it? Who was in charge of this group of men? What if they chose to run amuck. Who could pull them back? She would have to find that out once and for all. She’d force the General to give her a more accurate explanation.
She looked out at the hangar they were rapidly approaching. Ease off, she told herself. Sometimes it’s the least respectful that turn out to be the most creative and effective. So long as one can control them without holding too tight a rein, and I’ll certainly find out about that. Besides, much as she wanted to, she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. ‘But, I for one actually enjoyed that jump and would love to go again.’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ Sarge replied. ‘Unfortunately we’re not doing ‘elevator training’ today.’
‘And that is?’
‘Continuous jumping, running back to get another chute when you land and running back to jump again. We’re not prepared for that.’
‘Too bad. Sounds like fun. So what else is on your schedule for me today?’ She raised a brow, ‘and you should know that I can be a real bitch when it comes to pay backs. Just thought I’d give ya fair warning.’
She watched the hardened features of the man soften at the corners of his mouth. ‘Yes, ma’am. We’ll have night maneuvers tonight. By the way, helluva first jump, Captain Deetrie,’ he grinned sheepishly. ‘We wanted you to be able firsthand to run a test on us. It’s what we call an instant CC--, um, character check, ma’am. One simple little step outside and you know instantly what’s hidden inside all of us.’
You mean you wanted to test me with this little CC of yours.
Sarge laughed and the others joined him tentatively until she acknowledged it with a nod.
‘So how’d we do, uh, Captain?’ Sarge asked.
‘I’d say your test has one heck of a first step, Sarge,’ she acknowledged.
‘Yes, ma’am, that’s a fact. It’s the first step tells all.’ He looked away but she saw the reluctant appreciation on his face along with the rest of the men. They were old hands at jumping, but she had passed their ‘guts’ test. Still she wondered how strong Sarge’s connection was with the Colonel and how much sway that man had over this one. Would Sarge continue this nonsense? Would she have to pull rank? COULD she pull rank? Guess I’ll find out soon enough.
As the truck rolled to the tarmac near the hangars it was forced to pull over and wait as a small jet came barreling in for a landing. The plane stopped short on the runway then quickly turned by where they were and taxied to a nearby hangar.
It was something straight out of a science fiction comic strip. With ultra long, sleek, narrow, tongue-depressor shaped wings mounted on a fat cigar shaped body that tapered to a point at both ends, jet engines molded around the split tail, wraparound front windows and porthole style side windows, it was definitely science fiction at its finest. And it was small, a little smaller than a regular corporate private jet.
‘What is that?’ Kendal asked, mesmerized.
‘Those guys fly the prototypes for all the new inventions, ma’am,’ the man next to her replied. ‘That one’s really something. Roger says it can coast easily at speeds you wouldn’t believe.’
‘And Roger is?’
‘He flew the plane we jumped from.’
‘Ahh. Do they let you look at them? Close up I mean, or inside?’
‘Flash will. He pilots that one.’
‘Flash?’ Kendal felt the speed of the truck pick up now as it headed away from the area to the gate checkpoint that led back to the road to the offices and barracks.
‘Real name’s Gordon. Everybody calls him ‘Flash’.’
She had nothing to do till maneuvers. ‘Hey, stop the truck!’ she called. The man closest to the enclosed cab pounded on the top and it came to a halt.
‘See ya back at the barracks, Sarge.’ Kendal hopped off the truck and looked back at the startled leader. ‘Gotta go see a horse about a man.’
‘Better get some rest. Night maneuvers, Captain,’ Sarge glanced at his watch. ‘Twenty-one hundred hours. We’ll wait at the barracks for ya.’
She nodded then turned and jogged back towards the hangar with no further explanation. She could feel all the eyes on her but this airplane was one she had to see. She heard the truck start up. She didn’t watch it leave the field. Her attention was on the sleek little aircraft and the man just stepping out the door of the craft.
He was as handsome a man as one might ever meet...tall, very fit, blonde tipped tousled hair, deeply tanned with a smile that showed a line of beautiful white teeth. His deep brown eyes and long lashes redefined sexy. His boyish hair style was wild, dark at the roots with frosted tips but it was unclear whether the tips were bleached by exposure to the sun or came from a bottle. He kept his smile on her.
Her gaydar nearly pinged off the charts.
‘Hey,’ she called. ‘That is one fantastic plane you’ve got there.’
‘It is,’ he agreed, looking Kendal over. His lilting voice was deep and tinged with a touch of Texas twang. She could tell from the way he kept his grinning gaze on her that he was getting the same feedback from his gaydar.
She recognized that this was a classified area and decided to use her title, ‘I’m, uh, Captain Kendal Deetrie.’ She put out her hand.
‘Gordon LeuCothea, but I prefer Gordon. I just saw the team. I didn’t know those guys’d been fixin’ to jump today.’ He reached his hand out and they pressed their hands together in a firm, welcoming shake.
‘Uh, call me Kendal, please, Gordon. It’s nice meeting you.’
‘I saw you out there jumping with them. You there for a reason? I didn’t think they were into training women.’
‘Oh, uh,’ It was likely he’d see her doing other things with the group over the next three days. And if she took the job, he’d probably see her often. She understood it was best not to talk much about the particulars of her job, but since this was classified territory it likely was safe enough to mention it. ‘Well, I’m considering a job with them.’
‘The Ghost Shades?’ he asked in surprise. ‘They’re hiring a woman? Hold on..Captain, you said? Is Sergeant Cee quitting?’
‘Sarge? No. Not that I know of. Uh, you and I might be neighbors, actually. I might be doing some work with their company.’ She ran her hand along the outside of the plane. ‘Wow! What is this covering?’
His brows shot up. ‘Ahhh, you are sharp eyed. It’s a brand new invention....strong, light, flexible and impervious to fire. I assume you have clearance cause no one’s allowed here that doesn’t have it.’
‘Yes,’ she smiled encouragingly. She reached inside her flight suit and brought out her wallet with her identification card they’d given her to use at the entrance. He looked it over. She continued, ‘Like I said, I’m thinking about working back at the base area.’ He handed back her card, she slipped it inside and put her wallet away again.
‘As a secretary?’ he asked, ‘None of the secretaries do sky diving that I know of. And they sure wouldn’t jump with the Ghost Shades.’
‘No,’ Kendal grinned. ‘Are you being a bit chauvinistic, maybe, Gordon? Sometimes one needs to expand one’s thinking.’ She grinned teasingly.
Gordon tilted his head and looked at her. ‘A Captain, huh?’
‘Yep. So this material is a new invention? It looks thin. Is it strong enough to withstand flight pressures? It doesn’t come apart in stressful situations?’
‘Oh, it’s strong, believe me. And it doesn’t come apart. In fact, it’s even......’ he walked over beside the drop down stairs to the door of the plane and reached around inside. He shuffled around until he lifted out a man’s bulletproof vest. ‘You’ll appreciate this, Captain. It’s even the latest material for these little scarves.’
‘Scarves?’ It looked like a vest to her. ‘And please, call me Kendal.’ She walked over and looked the item over. He handed it to her and she held it. It was as light as a scarf. ‘Really light!’ she muttered.
‘Your identification card said ‘Captain’. Is that in the Army or Air Force? You weren’t in a uniform in your picture.’
‘No, police. Undercover detective. I have my badge if you need to see it.’
‘No, no,’ he declined. ‘But I knew that old Armed Forces dog don’t hunt in your case. You just have way too much EDGE, to be armed services.’
‘Oh, yes, it’s a good thing, rare but good, trust me. It’s not cornbread English, but I know about these things.’
‘Okay.’ She gave him a playful look.
‘Military has trouble breaking the mold, if you know what I mean. I take it a gritty cop like yourself would be really interested in that vest. It’s so tightly woven and strong that it stops almost every handgun bullet out there, they say. You could swim in a sea of bullets and not be harmed by them. Even those very, very nasty ones.’
‘Really? Gee, that’s better than the vest I brought, and mine’s state of the art. What about rifles and...’
‘There you are. See, I just knew you had your very own vest.’ He laughed delightedly then added, ‘Darlin’, most gals don’t have bulletproof vests in their wardrobes.’ His eyes twinkled and he put his hand on his chest, ‘Edgy.’ Then he caught himself, cleared his throat and lowered his voice, ‘So, rifle bullets, uh stops some I think,’ he shook his head. ‘But for the high-powered, I’m pretty sure you still have to wear the heavy armor for that.’
‘Too bad. It’s still a great improvement,’ she handed the vest back and looked at the plane. ‘If this material is so light, doesn’t that affect how the plane handles? I mean, you have so much thrust with those jet engines...don’t you need more weight for balance and control.’
He looked at her carefully before speaking, ‘Pay mind now, you sure you’re not from some competing manufacturer?’
‘Not hardly,’ she replied, ‘Cross my heart,’ she moved her fingers in a quick X across her heart.
‘It’s a right good thang.’ She saw his sparkling eyes and thought he was teasing, but wasn’t entirely sure. He continued in a softer voice, ‘Cause those fellas you were with could make someone disappear without a trace, Captain or not, if that someone tried to steal any ideas from here. I could get them to do things for me and, believe me, they’re a kick ass squad.’ He leaned closer and whispered, ‘I’ve heard things about them...’
‘Well,’ he fluttered his hand, ‘like they say, they’d have to kill me if I talked.’ She wondered for a brief moment if that was seriously true. Then he grinned widely, ‘My company is on very good terms with the armed services.’
Kendal laughed. ‘In that case, I could be in trouble. I can think of at least one Army officer right now that wishes they could make me disappear.’ When he shot her a quizzical look, she laughed again. ‘But I’ve got an in with a retired General, so they don’t dare.’
‘Retired General Andrew Thenas. He’s the one that recruited me. I’m here for my final interview to see if I want the job. Do you know him?’
‘I do. And, I swan, you’re the Captain they’re talking about hiring to run the whole shebang? It didn’t occur to me that it would be a woman.’
‘Expand your horizons, Gordon,’ she grinned.
‘Well, I’m gonna hafta. I’m impressed. I heard the General thinks you hung the moon. He even picked out an empty apartment for you with us and had it outfitted for your stay.’
‘He did, huh? Well, the officer I mentioned has placed me in the men’s barracks with the team.’
‘Sounds like something that big dufus, Colonel Antinous would do. That guy’s a case and a half.’
‘Maybe he thinks he’s doing you a favor puttin’ you in amidst all that testosterone.’ He wagged his brows.
Kendal laughed, ‘Well, I doubt that. Do you work for Global West Security?’
‘No, I’m with Arrow Heights Aeronautics. The folks at the gate down there are with Global West.’
‘Ahha. So, how do you control this sweet thing?’ She reached a hand to the plane.
‘Sweet thang, darlin’,’ he grinned. ‘Ya gotta start thinkin’ and talkin’ like a Texan if you’re gonna be workin’ in these parts.’ He bumped her teasingly with his shoulder.
‘All right, sweet thang, then,’ she chuckled, rubbing her hand on the plane’s side.
‘Well, control IS the biggest bug they’re working on so far. There are some countermeasures and hidden weight. Course, I haven’t flown it all that many hours yet. I’ll be doing a lot of birding around here over the next few weeks trying to put her through her paces.’
‘She’s a beauty.’
‘Do you fly?’
‘Yes, small craft. So, is there a chance I can see the controls of this little jewel, or is it top secret?’
‘Yes, and yes,’ he smiled. ‘I’m not supposed to, but for someone that might be in charge of the whole shebang, I doubt that they’d mind. Especially when they know you’re the General’s special Captain.’
‘I’ll bet the General’s a big fan of this little beauty.’
‘He is.’ His intense brown eyes shimmered with merriment. ‘Me, too. It is a going jesse, I will say that. Of all those I’ve tested, I like it the best.’
‘It’s very unique.’ Gods, he’s handsome as can be. Brad Pitt has nothing on him. He must have ladies and fellas both falling at his feet.
He laughed, ‘It is that. And it’s fast! Come on aboard.’
Kendal climbed up the two folding stairs to the skeleton ribs of the inside. She saw where some of the counterbalance might have been placed as she moved up to the cockpit. The plane looked as though it was intended to hold passengers when they finished it. As she sat in the copilot’s seat, it was more like facing a large, wrap around computer game board than a plane cockpit.
‘This is the science center of the thing, but I’ll bet the religion of flying this baby is something else again,’ she said reverently.
‘It is,’ he agreed softly. They both sat looking at the panel. He fired up a few of the panels so she could see them light up.
Kendal ran her hands gently over the gauges before her. ‘Wow!’ she breathed.
‘There aren’t words enough for it,’ Gordon said respectfully.
‘No.’ She watched the instrument board wind down as Gordon turned it off. For a minute they just sat and looked at the panel. She asked questions about the various guages and Gordon answered. Then they got up and headed to the door.
‘Are you picked up on radar with that new material? I was thinking of the stealth planes and the materials they’re made of.’ Kendal paused at the top of the steps, Gordon behind her.
‘Well, but some of the stealth invisibility is the angle of the surfaces. But the answer for this plane is, they COULD be made to be invisible to radar. This one isn’t. To avoid radar with this baby you have to do the old fashioned thing.’
‘Fly under it,’ she replied and he nodded his head. She headed down the stairs and they walked around the plane. She talked about the piloting she’d done over the years at home as her eyes slid over the new invention. She moved on to tell him about the jump she’d just made.
‘Your first jump ever?’ he asked incredulously. ‘Well, girl, where’s the champagne?’
‘Not this time. It was business as usual with these fellas. But it was a thrill and a half for me.’
‘I’ll bet. I’ve jumped. Yeah, it’s a kick. But I’m gonna get some champagne in case we run into each other again. Then we’ll drink to your first jump.’
‘I’d like that,’ she grinned. ‘Thanks for the thought.’
Gordon led them to the stools by the workbenches in the empty hangar. She wondered where the mechanics were. They sat. They had skirted the issue of being gay, so he finally asked her outright. When she replied affirmatively, he laughed and held out his hand again.
‘Welcome to the Redneck Riviera. As far as diversity is concerned around this place, I think we’re it.’ Then they both laughed and talked a little about their significant others. She felt completely comfortable with Gordon, as though they had known each other for years.
‘Are ya hungry? I’ve got me some microwavable burritos up in the office. C’mon, let’s go zap Ôem.’
‘Thanks. I could eat, now that my jump is over. I was afraid to before.’
‘I’ll bet.’ He chuckled and got them each a beer from a small fridge at the end of the bench. They climbed the stairs to the locked office. He withdrew a key and unlocked what turned out to be the first of two doors, the second with its own key. They entered a room with no windows. That surprised her. The office itself was quite small and could only be accessed from inside the hangar. She saw the markings for an alarm system and there were running monitors showing the inside of the hangar and others showing the front and the back outside.
‘Why so much security?’ she asked, ‘Is it because of the nature of your work?’
‘Oh, you betcha,’ he replied. ‘The phone is secured, the files are booby trapped to incinerate if they’re disturbed improperly. The plane has a very sensitive alarm. The hangar has its own security cameras and alarms and this office is as secure as any place can get. An armed guard is always on the grounds. He has an office at the end of the hangar section.’
‘Yeap,’ he zapped their dinners and put them on paper plates. They sat in the two office chairs and ate, the doors both open even though it let heat into the air conditioned office.
‘Listen, I’ve got to go down and secure the plane. Use the phone, if you want to while I’m gone,’ he offered. ‘It’s encrypted and if you have another secured phone, it can make your call totally secure. But it’s only as good as the least secured phone being called.’
‘Thanks.’ Kendal placed a call to Savannah’s cell phone. She was at the office. ‘Use your secure line there in the office, honey,’ Kendal suggested. ‘I’m calling from a secured line here.’ She hung up and in a few minutes Savannah called back.
They spoke for a little while about how good they felt considering how tired they were from their marathon lovemaking session all weekend.
‘You still wearing those lacy Victoria’s Secret undies?’ Kendal grinned. The blonde had a matching set she’d slipped on that morning.
‘You oughta know, tiger. You helped me into them as I recall.’ Savannah settled back in the corner of the small room they used for secure calls. It had no outside windows, but had a large window looking out into Nelson’s office. She could see him still working at his desk. She brought her feet under her in the big chair and glanced idly out the window at him as she talked. How she wished she was in Kendal’s arms.
‘So I did,’ Kendal recalled with a low, sexy tone of voice. ‘Wish I was there now to help you slip out of them.’
The moan that came over the line caught Kendal’s full attention. ‘Mmmm! Me, too,’ Savannah purred, ‘I can almost feel your fingers readying to peel them off.’
‘Gods! Hold that thought! I’ll be right there.’
Savannah chuckled and cleared her throat. She looked through the window as her boss glanced up at her. His face had a totally serious expression. ‘I can hardly wait,’ she whispered. She turned from his look and began to fan her face with her hand. ‘We’d better think of something else, okay?’
‘Not sure I can. Or that I want to.’
‘If your boss was sitting in the room not that far from you watching you, you could,’ Savannah offered.
‘Okay, okay. How was your day in court?’
‘Pretty much as expected. But guess what I’ll be doing Thursday afternoon?’
Kendal chuckled, ‘Let’s see. Thursday? Going to a memorial service in a blue polka dot dress maybe?’
‘Exactly. The judge announced that we’ll be adjourning so the town can honor my father and brother. He’s giving us the whole day off. Can you believe that? In the middle of an important trial like this?’
‘No, I can’t believe it. Are you surprised?’
‘Not really. I told you my mother knows everybody in Georgia.’ Then her mind went to the drug lord. ‘Do you know what Quilabus had the nerve to say to me when I walked by him in court this morning?’ she asked.
‘Hard telling. What?’
‘He had that smirk I plan to take off his face by the time this is over. I think I’ve got enough evidence to put him away for a long time. I hope. I wish it was a little stronger, of course, but I plan to make the most of every bit of it.’ She twisted the cord around her finger. ‘Anyway, he said with that smirk and a warning look in his eye, ‘Look after yourself, counselor.’’
Kendal instantly shot up from her chair. That could sound innocent enough, but Kendal knew exactly what the man was doing. ‘Damn! He’s trying to threaten you, honey. I hope you told the judge.’
‘I told Nelson and he took care of it. I swear, they are all alike, those drug dealers...their macho talk and their stupid little games. Gods, I hate their arrogance!’
Kendal sunk back into her chair. She hated being so far away. ‘I know. That kind of person thinks they’re above everything and nothing can touch them.’ This drug dealer’s threat worried her. A lot. She didn’t want Savannah frightened, but she did wish she’d be more concerned.
‘Tell the police who guard you, honey. Don’t let that threat go unnoticed.’
‘Uh, yeah, sure. They know. Anyway, I plan to put Quilabus in jail for a good long time, like I said. He’s got his high-paid defense lawyers with their slick hair dos, their five thousand dollar silk Italian suits and their fancy, expensive one piece handmade shoes that don’t have a seam to tax their precious feet. But we’ve got our facts in pretty good shape and I’m watching every technicality like a hawk. I’m going after him as hard as I can with what we have. I couldn’t stand it, if he got off.’
‘Honey, be careful, please.’
‘I will. Don’t worry. So, how was your interview with the General?’
‘Oh, uh, the General wasn’t here. I don’t like the Colonel much that I met in his place, but I met the neatest guy at the air field. He’s a test pilot named Gordon. I’m using his phone, in fact. And you’ll never guess what I got to do this morning? Course, you can’t tell anybody else about it.’
‘Whoa! Hold on there. Should I be concerned about this Gordon fellow?’
‘No, love. He has a partner...Charles. Anyway, it’s just so nice to meet a kindred soul.’
‘Okay, I’ll try not to be jealous. So what did you get to do this morning, my sweet lady love? Something fun, I hope.’
‘Yeah, it was. I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about it. Remember, we discussed this kind of thing already. So keep it to yourself, all right?’
‘Of course, darlin. You know I will.’
‘Okay. Skydiving. Can you believe it? I caught them at just the right time.’
‘You jumped out of an airplane? Is that what you’re saying? Kendalllll!’
‘Uh, yeah. But I had a parachute. They gave me training. It was fun.’
‘Kendal Deetrie, is that why you wanted this job....so you could do all those daredevil things? Is that what it’s all about to you? Especially when you know how careful you have to be about the Threes?’
‘No darlin’,’ Kendal grinned. ‘But if we’re talking daredevil, let me ask you, who got stopped in their fast little sports car for speeding? It wasn’t me.’ She grinned.
‘That doesn’t count,’ Savannah stated firmly. ‘They watch for my car.’
‘Uh huh, and why is that?’
‘Cause it’s me. You know I drive very carefully. You even said so yourself.’ Savannah’s voice lost its edge. ‘Really, be careful, honey.’
‘I will. I’m a guest. They aren’t going to try and knock me off. Don’t worry. Moreover, I’ll be working behind a desk once the job starts. That’s what the General said. This is my only time to be out in the field training with the guys.’
‘But the Threes, honey. Promise me you’ll be very cautious.’
‘I will. But remember, it doesn’t apply to us. We aren’t joined yet.’ But they had given themselves to each other physically and emotionally. And they truly did feel, if not joined, certainly promised. ‘Besides, you’re the one being threatened, Savannah.’
‘I told you, they do that all the time. So, what are these guys like that you’re spending time with? You haven’t talked about them much. Are they military?’
‘No. Not....officially. They work for a private company. Again, I have to be careful what I say. There’s not much to tell, anyway. They’re just folks doing a job.’
‘Good.’ Kendal chuckled at that. Savannah continued, ‘You just be careful with those games you’re playing.’
‘I will, sweetheart. We’re going out on night maneuvers tonight.’
‘You’re not jumping from a plane in the dark?’
Kendal could hear the worry in Savannah’s voice. ‘Uh,...’ She hadn’t thought of that. ‘No, I’m sure not. I’m sure it’s not that.’
‘Okay.’ The blonde hesitated then added, ‘I want you to have fun, but please, please be careful. Remember I love you something awful and I don’t want you hurt. You’re my one and only One, forever, you know.’
‘Sue them if they hurt me.’
‘That’s not funny, Kendal.’
‘I know.’ Kendal sighed, looked around then whispered, ‘I love you, too, baby. More than you’ll ever know. You be careful.’
‘I’m always careful. When are you supposed to sleep if you have night maneuvers?’
‘I’ve gotta head back there and get a couple hours snooze when I hang up. Gordon should be back any minute.’
As though summoned, his handsome face appeared at the door. He stood in the doorway smiling and she returned the smile. He had two cold beers in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
‘Will you call me tomorrow?’ Savannah’s voice floated over the line.
‘Uh, I’ll sure try. I don’t know what’s on tap for then. Or where I’ll be. But I will if I possibly can.’
‘Good enough. I don’t want to hang up, but Nelson keeps looking this way. So, go get some sleep and call me tomorrow. Sleep well, honey. I love you.’
‘Night, babe. You be careful. I love you, too.’ Kendal hung up but the smile wouldn’t leave her face.
Gordon moved inside and sat beside her again, plopping a fresh beer in front of her. ‘If you don’t tell anyone, I’ll give you a ride before you leave these parts. I sometimes fly in to a friend’s private airstrip and pick up Charles on the weekends and bring him here. I’m sure tongues wag at that.’
‘I’d love to fly in that beauty out there. I’ll make the time. Does it matter what time of day we go?’
‘Nope. Whenever you can get away and I’m free. Testing’s about all I do and you can’t do that every minute. Time can go veeeerrrrryyyy slowly here.’ He shook his head, ‘Talk about watchin’ the grass grow.’
‘You won’t get in trouble, will you?’
‘No. It is a big no no, but Jonas will look the other way. Like I say, I took some brass up already at his behest.’ She loved the way he added some Texas twang to the word ‘behest’ making it sound more like ‘be hay yest.’ He opened the bag of chips and set them on the desk between them.
‘Jonas Kahn, the head of this project. He’s a sweetheart and oh...’ he put his hand over his heart and rolled his eyes, ‘the man has soulful eyes that drive you insane. Long, gorgeous lashes. Unfortunately, he’s as straight as they come.’
Kendal tsked. ‘What would Charles say if he could hear you talk like that?’
Gordon popped a chip in his mouth with a look of stoical indifference, chewed and followed it with a swig of beer. ‘Oh, he’d agree the man has gorgeous eyes.’
‘That’s probably all he’d agree on.’ She nudged him.
Gordon grinned widely then threw a sheepish glance, ‘You got that right. He wouldn’t cotton to any galavantin’. But then, I’m not fixin’ to do any. You’ve met Charles then, raht?’
‘No. But I think Savannah’d use me for target practice if I got mooney over someone else at this point.’
‘Not officially, but unofficially, yes. We’ve made future plans.’
‘Tell me about her. When did you meet?’ Gordon’s look was totally sincere and her heart warmed. Savannah seemed to be always near the forefront of her mind and the chance to speak of her freely was a pleasure. From the man’s expression and eagerness, she could tell that he loved his job but hated all the time he had to spend alone. And she was more than eager to answer him. ‘If you’ll tell me about Charles.’
‘Okay. Let’s see. Gosh, it was almost a year ago that Savannah and I met at a convention in my hometown in the Northwest. She’s unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. Prettier, smarter, cuter....’ She was going to add ‘sexier’ but wanted to save that information for herself. That was theirs. She could still feel the faint residue of Savannah’s teeth and nail marks left on her, and grinned without saying why.
‘So you’ve been going together a year and now you’re talking about moving in together?’
‘Well, no, not exactly.’ The very recent memories of the time she’d been sent away by Savannah without knowing why returned and she swallowed to force the surprising swell of bad feelings down. It had been a long, dark, horrible time for her. She’d felt such a pervasive emptiness that she nearly fell into an emotional abyss, lubricated by alcohol. She was thankful Dwayne had been there to force her out of it.
She cleared her throat. ‘No, there were a few months when we weren’t together. We still loved each other, but....it’s a long story. It was sort of a misunderstanding.’
She didn’t want to talk about the Threes right now and how that worry had already affected their lives or the darkness that had marked her days when they were apart. She swept her eyes to the opened doorway while she dealt with the rise of despair. The ache of isolation she’d felt at that time returned and was raw enough to cause her considerable remembered pain. We got it worked out. Savannah’d been hurting every bit as much as I had. We’re happy now. Let it go. But a small part of it still tormented her. What if it happened again? What if Savannah left her again. Stop! That’s not going to happen!
She forced a smile and looked his way, ‘Anyway, we’re back on track now, and making plans for the future. What about Charles? Where did you two meet?’
Gordon laughed, ‘Charles is such a horrible driver. He likes to make steady eye contact with whoever he’s talking to.’ He whispered to her, ‘he’s such a girl.’ She gave him a scornful look and he laughed, ‘not like you. Anyway, he ran into me, literally. Ran that horrible old heap he used to drive right into my car when I was stopped at a light. He was talking with his hands again and not paying attention and didn’t notice that the light had turned red....’
She listened to several humorous stories about Charles before Kendal decided she really had to get some sleep.
‘Here, let me drive you back,’ he suggested. ‘May as well throw a little fat in the good ole boys’ fire. They maht even put an article in the little regional nyewspaper.’ He flashed her a handsomely racy smile, ‘it never hurts to keep Ôem guessin’.’
He finished locking up and they both climbed into his car as the armed guard walked down toward the hangar. Gordon waved and drove to the gate.
He pointed as they left the manned gate at the airfield, ‘I’m just down the road in the apartments they have set up for the pilots and mechanics, number 3B.’ She looked and saw buildings down the road from the airfield, the opposite direction from the barracks.
He continued, ‘If you get a chance, come by after your maneuvers. I know it’ll be the middle of the night, but you can come by anytime, night or day, and we’ll chat. Don’t worry Ôbout waking me up or anything. I want to take advantage of having someone I can really talk to while you’re here.’ Then he perked up some, ‘I know. Come by and use my shower. From what you said about where they’re keepin’ you, it’ll give you some privacy. Night or day, now. I mean that. I’ve even got a couch you could sleep on.’
She agreed that she’d call on him when she could. They drove into the base as far as was allowed. She knew there were plenty of eyes in the office watching as she crawled out of his car and leaned down at the open window to thank him. She threw a full wattage smile his way to help seal the deal. He grinned handsomely, winked and drove off.
Kendal entered the old barracks to a surprisingly few noises. She thought they’d be snoring loudly. She wondered if that was something they trained to not do. Could you even train for that? She saw Sarge sleeping out with them in the first cot. She found her cot in the small officer’s roomed-off section, giving her some degree of privacy.
She balanced her Glock in her hand for a minute, her lucky pistol, deciding, then slipped it under her pillow. She doubted there’d be a problem, but she always liked to be ready for anything. She pulled off her outer wear and climbed in. Before she knew it, she was sound asleep.
The dream involved Savannah and she had the same sexy look as in Kendal’s daydream on board the plane earlier that morning. She was standing, chained in the third of three large cages on the ocean shore, her arms open as far as her chains allowed and wearing a scorching, come-hither look. Kendal was tripping over herself, clambering to go to her even though her feet were mired in something keeping her back. Behind the small blonde and unbeknownst to her was a roiling storm. Kendal knew she had to reach Savannah before the storm did.
Then somehow the blonde whispered in her ear, ‘I won’t let you go, Kendal. I’ll hold you with both hands this time.’ It was like the answer to a prayer and Kendal awoke with a smile, even though the dream itself was more than unsettling.
Dreams, the gateway to inner reality, housing the storehouse of one’s creativity, insight, inspiration and guidance. Ancient Greeks built healing temples, dream temples for their god, Asklepios. The Ojibwas had their rites of passage, their dream vision quest. And modern man stumbles along, too often consciously ignoring what MacBeth called the ‘chief nourishers in life’s feast.’ But more is remembered by man than even man knows. ‘Let me sleep on it.’ Indeed. As in everything, however, one must consider the portent.
The water in the basin was cold on her face. After the dream, she’d felt somehow free of some of her fears of abandonment, even though parts of the fantasy were downright weird and troubling. She’d had only a couple hours sleep and found she felt more tired than when she first fell asleep. Shoulda stayed awake.
She knew the team would be expecting her very soon. She’d heard them moving about in the outer room when she first awoke, then opened her eyes directly thereafter and one man was standing at the doorway of her little room and all else was silent. It had been creepy, actually. She nearly drew her gun on him, but was glad when she didn’t.
He told her that Sarge had called a meeting outside and they’d be expecting her when it was over. She thought, perhaps, it was a chivalrous way to give her a chance at the facilities without any kind of interruptions.
She looked out at the neat and tidy empty bunks and marveled at how quietly fifteen men could manage to appear and disappear. She hurriedly climbed into the clothing they’d left her, a camouflage outfit with flack jacket along with thick socks, leather gloves and heavy Army boots along with a small pack with a canteen of water. She wondered briefly if she’d turn to mush wearing all that heavy clothing in the heat of night here.
Inside was air conditioned. Outside wasn’t. There was a rifle and a knife with its sheath also with her clothing. She decided to use her shoulder holster and strapped on her own gun buried deep underneath her clothes. She wasn’t leaving it here unsupervised. Not her lucky gun.
Sarge greeted her as she stepped outside into the instant heat and they all climbed into the back of the same truck from earlier in the day. It was cramped because it had a motorcycle strapped down in it already. A Harley.
It was hot even though it was dark and she wasn’t used to it. Even the breeze as they moved was hot. The men sat silently around her. She yawned then took the time to examine the rifle they’d given her in what little moonlight there was. She was surprised to see that it was loaded with live rounds.
‘They go hot,’ Sarge said, answering her unasked question. Her eyes must have shown puzzlement, because he continued, ‘They always do.’
Live ammo? All right. ‘And I will, too, apparently,’ she replied. Then she snickered, ‘Aren’t they worried about that?’ After all, these boys were supposed to be crack shots. They knew what to expect from each other but they had no idea what kind of a shot she was.
‘You are an additional challenge, ma’am,’ he agreed. ‘But if it’s any consolation to you, there’s not likely to be any gunfire at all. This is a stealth team and that alone curtails most gunfire use. Their job is to get in, get the job done and get out without others knowing they’ve been there. Even targeted sharpshooter shots utilize silencers. Gun fire brings trouble. That’s an absolute last resort to them. If you hear a shot, something’s gone terribly wrong.’
She pinched her fingers in her flack jacket and pulled it out. ‘Then, why this?’
‘For when things go terribly wrong.’ There was no expression on his face to read. She sat back and stared at him for a minute.
Holy shit. This ought to be fun, she said to herself.
Continued in Chapter 3
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