Calm before the Storm
Travis made me take a sedative to sleep Saturday morning. I awoke around 2 pm and the house was quiet. I figured Cat had drugged the whole house. I wandered down stairs to get a drink and saw David sitting by the pool by himself. I grabbed two glasses of OJ and walked out. I sat down next to him and handed him one glass. He nodded his thanks and took a sip. We sat there silently for quite awhile before he looked over at me.
"It's just not right. We are soldiers, men of honor. No one is supposed to mess with civilians. That's the whole point of being a warrior. It's why I left the Mossad - too many officers beat and killed innocent women and children because they suspected them of being terrorists. The senior officers always pretended to care and slap officer’s wrists, but it kept happening. At first, I thought it was just a few, but I started to notice it more and more. It's just not right. But then, I see this, the terrorists have captured an innocent to use as leverage. He is not a bargaining tool. He is human being. I am going with you on the raid. I must. I need to know the good guys can win. I have already spoken to Captain King and he has approved it. Shane will handle my duties on Cyclone. We go to the gates of hell together."
I nodded, patted him on the back and walked back to the house. Rick was up and in the kitchen starting to prepare food. I walked into the kitchen and leaned against the counter.
"Rick, I have come to care about you a lot. But I am not sure I can keep any of you safe from my enemies."
He stopped what he was doing. "Dale, you and I both lost our families and that nearly destroyed us. Everyone in this house has had some sort of loss, and we have bonded together as a family because of it. Family stands beside each other, no matter the risk. Family never abandons each other. You could fire me and I would still be right here trying to figure out how I am going to feed a staving group of twenty something's. Dale, I love you for all you have done for me, Shane and everyone else. Now, here is some coffee - and quit being mopey. I love you, Dale."
Travis came around the corner at that moment and smiled. "If I keep catching the two of you getting all mushy with each other, I will start to think you’re beguiling my man Rick."
We both laughed and Rick handed Travis a coffee. Slowly everyone started to wake up and come down for coffee. Shane and I helped Rick with the food and the house began to get its energy back. Everyone was still a little reserved and nervous, but Rick, Shane and Greg even had Carl laughing at one point. Rick kept the command center topped off with coffee. The lead operator was a guy by the name of Kyle. I grabbed him and pulled him aside. "Anything new, Kyle?"
"Not really, Sir. We are hooked into the Brits sat system but the satellite won't be into position until close to 1 am. We have gotten a couple of updates from Agent Payne. His undercover guys think they have no plans to move Nick, but we won't be sure until we regain satellite coverage."
"Okay, keep me updated. How long is your shift?"
"We have eight operators, running four operators up for Twelve hours and four down for twelve hours. As we get closer, we will switch to six on six off. Mission time we will all be on."
"Most of your people are staying here in the ready room when they are down?"
"Yes sir. It's a little tight as we are sharing the ready room with a couple of Max's guys."
"Call me Dale, Kyle. Work out a meal schedule with Rick so he knows when to have food ready for your people."
"It's okay. We are used to Chinese take-out and Pizza."
"If I told Rick you just said that, he would probably beat the crap out of you. Also, next shift change I will have Shane take a couple of your people over to Target to grab swimwear - on me. Make sure they know to use the pool anytime. While you're here, I want you to try to enjoy your down time. There is a game room downstairs with a pool table, ping pong, video games, air hockey, make use of it."
"Thanks, Dale; the guys will definitely appreciate that."
“Let me know if anything else changes. If you need anything, see Rick."
I went back to the kitchen just as Rick was finishing up with the food. We ate outside and I relayed my conversation with Kyle to everyone. Rick was more than happy to figure out a way to feed them, but he would have to go stock up on groceries. I made sure Max knew I didn't want anyone leaving without a full security escort. After our late lunch, Rick and Shane went to make arrangements with Kyle. The rest of us hung out talking to Carl; trying to keep his spirits up. Finally, he stood up.
"I can't take this anymore. I appreciate you all being concerned but I need to get to work. I will take the techies to Target and get swim gear. I need to make reservations for you for tomorrow night in DC. I also need, to discretely clear your schedule for the next couple of days. You were supposed to have dinner with Dr. Lowell about serving on the board of the Injured Heroes Initiative. I need to reschedule that, as well as your tour of the Sugar Plums bakery. Clara will handle all the INS schedules but no one is going to remember to do all this."
I looked at him. "Okay Carl, if you feel up to it. But if you need some downtime or need help, you better let me know."
"I know Dale, but I think working will get my mind off what's going on."
Carl went in the house to get started on his work list. Max made some calls and got more security officers and an INS security mobile command center moved to the house. Cal called to check on us a couple of times. Karen stopped by with MCC. She agreed everyone was to be escorted. I was beginning to think I should have started the additions a long time ago. The rest of the evening was quiet and we tried to relax. After Rick and Shane returned from the supermarket with tons of food, we fired up the grill and started burgers for everyone present. The security guys and ops techies were really appreciative. Just then, Travis sat down next to me, leaned over, and kissed me.
"I love you, Dale Ryan."
I really smiled. "I love you, Travis King." We sat there holding hands for a while, as the whole house flowed around us. Everyone headed to bed early. Travis just held me tight as we fell asleep.
I awoke on Sunday morning to someone tapping on the bedroom room. Carl entered with coffee. "Good morning. Its 8:30 and you have two and half-hours before your command group meeting. I have you packed for your trip to DC. Travis, you, John, and Jessica, are expected to brief the Fleet people at eight pm. Hailstorm is going to call in her report of eco-terrorist threatening the oil rig around five pm. By eight, all senior officers and staff needed should be at the ops building and that includes Shane, David and Cat. Of course, Admiral Ryan will be absent because will he be on his way to DC. Rick says breakfast will be ready by nine."
I sat up. "Good Morning Carl."
Travis smiled. "You know, Carl, you make morning sex nearly impossible."
Carl laughed and headed out. We got showered and dressed and headed downstairs to organized chaos - there were people everywhere. Rick was definitely overwhelmed and I asked Carl to call Clara and Ellis and see if they would be able to come. Twenty minutes later, they both arrived and, after saying good morning, and went straight to the kitchen. I could see Rick relax a little and they got breakfast ready for everyone. After breakfast, we started setting up the conference room. Sometime in the night, Kyle's people had set up a feed from the new satellite coverage to the conference room. Everyone started to arrive around 10:15 and Rick and the ladies had coffee flying out of the kitchen. Cal joked that I should open another Starbucks franchise in my house. By 10:45, everyone was present and we got started early.
Kyle took the floor first. "Good morning, everyone. As you know, we are linked into the British Satellite system. The current satellite we are using is one of their newest and affords us some really high quality graphics. They are using rocket thrusters to slow the sats orbit as much as possible. They are lining up two more birds as we speak, so once this one can no longer be kept on target, another will be moving onto range. They will then slow that orbit until the next comes into range. By the time the third leaves orbit, the first should be coming back into range." He looked around to make sure everyone was following along. "Now, we have been monitoring them for a couple of hours. And we have figured out a couple of things." He pointed at the screen with a laser pointer. "First, this guy right here is Nick. So far, as we can tell, they are not torturing him in any way, but he is guarded non-stop. There are always two guards outside the door to the room they are holding him in as well as one inside. Next, there are eight more enemy combatants in the building, of which six seem to be guards - here, here, here, here, here and here. The other two move around a lot, but sleep in the room next to the room where Nick is kept. We are assuming they are senior officers. Now outside, last night when they brought Nick here, there were a lot of guards. It looks like they are not expecting an attack because they have scaled down a little. Three guys patrol the fence on the inland side; two guys at the gate; and two guys on the docks. They change shifts once every eight hours - at 4 am, 12 pm, and 8 pm. The off-duty guards are taken to this building over here. The screen moved to a location further away. It takes them about nine minutes to travel down this road. Should an alarm be raised, we estimate they can make the run in about five minutes. Any questions?"
Colonel Time raised his hand. "Do the guards change positions, ever?"
"We have only noticed the guys covering Nick's room and the gate get relieved to take a leak. The rest just go behind the closest tree or off the docks."
"Okay, that is good to know."
Kyle looked around. "Any other questions?"
No one said anything. Kyle sat down and Colonel Time stood. "The exterior inland guards can all be neutralized at the same time by snipers. The two guys on the docks will be removed by the frog team. The one thing we don't know is how often they communicate by radio."
Kyle raised his hand. “My apologies Colonel, one of the two senior officers does a radio check every hour. Over all, based on our observations, they are pretty lax. In my opinion, they feel very secure and go through the motions of guarding the place.
"Thank you, Kyle, the good news is, that when we start the assault, they will be nearing the end of their shift, so they should be good and tired. The frog teams will deploy from their zodiacs about a half mile out and swim in right under their feet. Once the snipers and frog teams secure the outside of the building, the fourth Platoon will move to the docks and secure the eastern end of the building; the frogs will secure the western. First Platoon will move forward through the fence and take up positions here, covering the south face. Second Platoon will stay in reserve. Third Platoon will establish a hasty ambush along the reinforcement route. Command Team will secure the entrance here on the north wall. That's your people, Dale." I nodded. "Everyone enters the building at the same time. First Platoon will take out these two guards. Frogs will take out these three guards. Command will take out this guard. That should leave the three guards on Nick and the two senior officers. They are on the second floor. Frogs will go up these two staircases here; Marines here; and Command here. Frogs will take the two guards on the door; Marines will rush past and take the senior officer's room. Command will take Nick's room. Three of the guys on Dale's team are former FBI HRT agents. This is what they are best trained for. The other three are Max, Todd, a former secret service agent, and David, a former Mossad agent. Max, Todd, David, your job is to cover Dale's ass. No offense, Dale, but your safety in this is paramount."
I nodded again. "I understand." I was slightly irritated by it, but I knew that wasn't a fight I was going to win.
Time continued. "Once Nick is secure, Marine Platoons 1, 2 and 4 will high-tail it back to the docks and crowd on to the Hailstorm. Two choppers will land here, Dale’s team with Nick will take one chopper, and any wounded will be carried to the other. Those birds will go straight to the Cyclone. Frog teams will rendezvous with Squall on this dock. The rest of the choppers will pick up third platoon and take them back to the Tornado. Any questions?"
No one spoke up so Time sat down and John stood. "While the Op is under way, the naval task force will turn around and orient themselves back to sea. As soon as Hailstorm and Squall rendezvous with the rest of the task force, and all choppers are on board, we run at max speed to our facility in Brendanton, Florida. Once there, Dale's team and Nick will meet up with a corporate flight back here to Norfolk. If there are any wounded, they can be evacuated to Norfolk as well. Commander Mathews will make that call. What questions do you have?"
"When do we brief everyone else?"
Karen looked up. "I went over the details with John and Travis. We will do the briefing Tuesday night. They are going to do a General Quarters Drill. Then we will confiscate everyone's cell phones. Most won't be able to get service anyway until you are close to Mexico. Marines will be guarding all the communication rooms on each ship as well as the bridges."
I stood up. "It sounds like we have a plan. Anyone else have anything to add?" Everyone said they did not and just sat there looking at me. "Make it happen!"
Rick had lunch ready by the time we were breaking up the meeting and everyone stayed and ate. I laughed; wondering how much my food bill was going to be this month. Travis looked at me funny.
"You okay, Babe?" He asked
"Yup; I was just thinking that the biggest expense here might be all this food this weekend." He chuckled too and we finished our lunch. I got ready to head to DC and meet with the AG. Agent Payne flew with me with Max, Todd, Sam and Mike. When we arrived at the hotel Clara called and informed me that Hailstorm report a serious threat from an eco-terrorist group. They were threatening one of three possible oilrigs and we didn't know which one. John got on the phone and we went through the motions of discussing options and decided to launch our immediately available assets. Since I wasn't sure if the Cartel had managed to hack any other phones, I called Travis to tell him good luck and be careful. I walked into the dining room to find Agent Payne talking with Max and Todd.
"You too, trying to recruit him?" I joked.
Max laughed. "Actually, yes."
I looked over at Matt and he shrugged his shoulders. "The pay is better, the job is easier. I am considering it. Besides, if it means I get to work around so many cute guys, all the better."
I about spit my drink out. "Jesus, Matt, you’re gay too?"
Matt laughed. "Not completely out, something Todd and I have in common, but yes."
I looked at Todd. "Todd, you too? Do we have any straight people at INS?"
Mike yelled in from the foyer. "I think Sam and I are in the minority, but yes, there are a couple of us."
I leaned out, looking into the foyer where the two of them were sitting by the door. "Good, we need a couple of token straights. I am ordering room service. Are you guys’ hungry?"
Everyone told me what they wanted and Max placed the order. I asked Max if I could speak with him privately. When we were alone, I told him I wanted to give Matt and Todd time to chat alone. He smiled and we talked about ways to recruit Matt. Max was thinking about creating a second security detail that would cover all the guys - and Cat. He was pretty sure the Cartel would try to do something stupid after we bloodied their noses in Mexico. Dinner arrived and we all ate. I chatted with Matt and told him I would love to have him come aboard, if he thought it was right for him. I invited him to tour our offices and facilities in a couple of weeks. He seemed intrigued, but I could tell he was still hesitant. I would have to get him to loosen up a bit - maybe have a party next weekend to celebrate Nick’s coming home. After dinner, we all watched some TV and then went to bed early. I called Travis and chatted for a minute before I tried to sleep. I knew that was going to be a challenge so I took a couple Tylenol PM and was soon sleeping like a baby.
We were up at seven am for breakfast and coffee. Then we checked out and took the limo to the A-Gs office for a 9:00 am meeting. The meeting was very short. The Attorney General apologized; but told us there was no way he could just hand over a federal witness to the Cartel. He told us to trust the FBI and State Department; they would use the proper channels to get Nick back. We left the meeting and headed straight to the airport.
Everything went like clockwork. We landed at the INS Airstrip and pulled into a hanger. We sat on the plane for a bit and then watched as a limo waited and then pulled out. Karen came on board with some coveralls and baseball caps with the INS air service logo. She also had sunglasses for us. We took a cart to the fleet ops building where Jessica meet us and loaded us into a cart with new coveralls with the fleet ops logo. We went to the Cyclone and unloaded a couple of boxes with foodstuffs and took them into the galley storage on the way back out. Shane stopped us and asked us if we could help move some stuff a couple guys put in the wrong place. We followed him down to my and Travis's stateroom, after looking both ways, we ducked in. The room was super crowed with all five of us in there. I was hoping we would not have to remain that way until after the briefing Tuesday night. The security team changed into marine uniforms and took up positions outside the door. Travis came by a few minutes later.
He smiled that radiant smile of his. "How did the cloak and dagger go?"
"Like clockwork, anyone suspect anything?"
"No, we explained the extra security as a necessary precaution due to the terrorist threats we are dealing with."
"Okay. Am I stuck in the room until after Tuesday night briefing?"
"Yup, make the best of it. After the briefing tomorrow night, the marines are going to take you out to the helo pad and pretend to take you off the incoming chopper."
"Great! More cloak and dagger."
He kissed me. "I need to go to the bridge; we shove off in a few minutes."
"Okay, Captain King, let's do this."
I heard the PA announcements and felt the engines roar to life. A few minutes later I felt Cyclone begin to move beneath me. I resisted the urge to go to the bridge and watch us move out to sea. Max came in and went over the drill for the attack. We were going to have time to doing a training run on Tornado in her cargo hold after the briefing. I reviewed the file on the Larcanzo Family. They were very powerful and had control of a lot of police and politicians. I just needed to find a way to get them off my back. I just couldn't figure out how and was becoming very frustrated. Travis came in a bit later and brought dinner with him. We spent a few hours discussing The Cartel before he went to do a ship wide inspection. By the time Tuesday night came, I was going stir crazy and was in a very irritable mood. I even snapped at Max when he wanted to go over the assault plans again. I listened to the briefing John did for the senior officers. His instructions to confiscate all personal communication devices got a little flak, but he stood his ground. He signed off by issuing them the order to go to general quarters. I heard the commotion and the alarm. Max came in with a pair of coveralls.
"Dale, put these on over your uniform. The pilots on the helicopter have been briefed and are flying in now."
I hastily put on the coveralls and ball cap and we rushed out to the incoming helicopter. Max and I stepped on to the chopper. I ripped off the coveralls and walked back off. I spotted crewmember Wendell coming over to assist.
"Welcome aboard, Admiral."
"Thank you, Wendell; we will be heading over to Tornado in about an hour. Can you make sure the chopper is ready to go, please?"
"Of course, Sir."
I proceeded to the officer’s ready room.
Travis saw me first. "Admiral on deck."
"Thank you gentlemen, please take your seats."
Travis remained seated. "With the Admiral’s permission, I will continue."
"Of course, Captain."
"So as many of you know already, a Mexican cartel has kidnapped an INS employee in an attempt to blackmail INS into using its influence to pressure the department of justice in releasing the location of a federal witness. We have discovered where they are holding the hostage and are going to bring him back." Travis went over Cyclone’s role in the mission. After taking questions, he turned the floor over to me.
"Evening everyone. I want you to know that under no circumstance will I ever allow anyone to threaten any of INS employees or anyone else close to me. The employee kidnapped is a low-level consultant but a personal friend of mine. Regardless of his status with the company or his friendship with me, people that are pure evil are using him as a pawn. I want you to understand that if it were anyone else, anyone in this room, or any member of our organization, from accountants to ship commander, I would take the same action. I know that the officers and crew of Cyclone will perform their duty with honor and integrity."
Travis stood. "Thank you, Admiral. That's all for now. There will be a full mission briefing in the ready room at 22:00 tomorrow. All officers and department heads will attend. See to your stations."
We went to our quarters where I had a video conference with all the Ship's Captains and senior Marine officer. I apologized for the secrecy and explained why it was necessary. After the video conference, I headed back down to the flight deck to head over to Tornado. The training was rigorous and intense. By the time we were done, I was completely exhausted.
That night I was so sore that I crashed, even before Travis was finished with his watch. I never heard him come in but awoke to him holding me. I opened my eyes and realized that I was about to unleash a storm.