The Perfect Storm.
(This is the 20th and final Chapter of the Cyclone Series)
As the fleet raced to Florida, life aboard Cyclone slowly returned to normal. Cat and her medical team were the only ones allowed to have any contact with Mr. Sanchez. She keep me updated on his condition, which was improving, she was confident he would make a full recovery. Nick was doing well, mostly still a little in shock. We made sure he and Carl spent some time together video conferencing. That seemed to help a lot for both of them. As usual, aboard ship, Travis and I actually saw very little of each other and relished the moments when we did. The day before we were due into Florida, I decided it was time to talk with Mr. Sanchez.
I walked into the infirmary and Cat was conducting a training session with the medical staff. She looked up and spotted me. "Okay, everyone take a short break and then we'll pick up in the Officers Ready Room."
The room emptied out and Cat and I talked about Mr. Sanchez for a minute. She was a great friend and was concerned that he was going to be more trouble than it was worth. I changed the subject to Nick and told her I was concerned about how he was handling it. She agreed, so we decided we would arrange for him to talk to a therapist back in Norfolk. We sat there in silence for a minute until I stood up.
"I have to try Cat; it's the only chance I can see to bring this to a close."
"I know Dale just be careful please, he's a slippery snake." She stood and headed out.
It was just Max and me left. I walked into the bay and approached the curtained off bed. I took a deep breath and pulled the curtain back.
Mario looked up at me as I walked in. "Mr. Ryan, it's a pleasure to see you again so soon."
"I can't say the same Mario. So have you given any thought to our last discussion?"
"Yes I have, and quite frankly Mr. Ryan there is nothing I can do to get you out of the predicament you have created."
"Well Mario, you need to view it from my prospective, it's really your predicament."
"I know you are going to tell him I was feeding you information. He won't believe it."
"Are you willing to stake your life on that Mario? I have former agents from the CIA, Israeli Mossad, FBI, and the Secret Service working for me. It's their job to make sure he believes it, and they take their job very seriously."
"Even if he believes you, he will still come after you."
"Oh I know, and I will meet him head on. We are not afraid of that. Don't forget, we just raided a guarded facility, rescued a kidnap victim and had no major injuries, or loss of life; except for your people of course. Mario I truly don't want to see this escalate. Enough damage has been done; it's time to end it.”
“I know Dale. I am not a soldier, the battle back there was more than I could handle. If I give you the name of the INS employee working for Hector, will you call it even?"
"No. You need to figure out a way to stop this."
"There is one thing. I have information, from a source in the federal government, that the US-Mexican anti-drug task force is considering hiring commercial security services to assist them. Your company is going to be approached first. With your assets and personnel, you would surely succeed and Hector does not want that. If you took the contract, you could allow Hector to continue his operation and focus on his competition."
"Absolutely not Mario, but I would be willing to turn down the contract outright. If Hector would agree to a cease-fire between us. I would turn down the contract and would avoid taking any contract the might cross paths with the Larcanzo family, in return, I would expect the Larcanzo family to do the same. We give each other a wide berth and avoid any further contact. As long as each party adheres to that, then it's over. If The Larcanzo family violates the cease fire, I will hunt down every member of the family and exterminate them."
"I would be willing to offer that deal to Hector but I will leave out the threat. Threatening his family, will only outrage him. If you give me access to a cell phone, I will be happy to call him."
"First who is the employee of mine working for Hector?"
"Very well, His name is Roberto Rodriguez; he works in your communication office. Be easy on him. He has family in Mexico that Hector has threatened."
"Thank you Mario. Of course, I am going to have to verify all this first."
"Of course, Dale."
I stood up and walked out without saying another word. Max let the two guards outside the infirmary know we were done. We went to the Flag Bridge and set-up a secure call to Cal and Karen. I relayed the information Mario gave me and told Cal the deal I offered. He wasn't thrilled but understood stopping this nonsense was more important than the potential profit of a big contract. Karen wanted to find out how Roberto was feeding them information so she could figure out a way to stop it. I made her promise she would take no action against Roberto until I had a chance to review the results of her investigation. We signed off and I reached out to Matt Payne. I asked him if he knew about the potential upgrade to the anti-drug task force and he did. He was unhappy that the cartel already knew about it, as it was suppose to be very secret. At least, Mario's information in that regard seemed accurate.
We reached our facility in Florida and Mario informed us Hector would accept our offer; however, he wanted Mario returned to Mexico Immediately. Matt helped us make the arrangements, and we charted a private plane to return him. Cat agreed he was in stable enough condition to make the trip so we transferred him to the plane and sent him on his way. I boarded the INS jet and headed home with Max, Todd, Nick and Cat, while the rest of the gang stayed aboard Cyclone for the trip up the coast. They were expected to arrive two days later.
After arriving in Norfolk, we headed right home. I was amazed at the progress of the gatehouse as it was almost done. When we arrived, Greg, Carl, and Rick were waiting on the front porch and Carl raced to meet the car and threw himself into Nick's arms. The two just stood there holding each other and crying while the rest of us headed into the house, as I gave Rick a hug, I motioned to Carl and Nick and whispered in his ear.
"You should start thinking about the catering for the wedding."
He laughed and followed us into the house. Karen and Carl were sitting in the living room drinking coffee with Kyle. All three stood until I waved them back down.
"Rick, another cup of coffee if you don't mind."
Cat raised her hand, "Make that two."
I wondered how he remembered how everyone takes their coffee and thought he must have notes hidden somewhere and vowed to find them someday.
"Welcome back Dale and Cat." Cal stood and gave us both a hug and then Karen did the same. Kyle reached his hand out to shake mine and I grabbed him and hugged him.
"It's good to be home. It will be better, once Travis and the rest of the gang are back." I got serious for a minute when I saw Karen had Roberto Rodriguez's file on the table. "What do we know?"
"Well, it's pretty much just like Mario told you. Roberto's parents and younger sister and brother are still in Mexico and Mr. Larcanzo threatened to kill them unless Roberto cooperated and supplied him with whatever information he wanted. This appears to have started right after the Scott Fernandez arrest. Larcanzo's people sent photos of the two kids entering and leaving their school as well as at home playing. "
Cal interrupted. "Roberto has been a model employee up until now. He is bilingual, an MIT grad and has been instrumental in many projects."
"Cal is right. His performance appraisals are exemplary, except the last when he scored just slightly lower, he has been a wonderful employee. We also know he lives in a very small apartment and lives a very sparse life. Most of his money goes back to his parents and helps pay for the private school the kids go to.”
I held up my hand to stop them. “What are your recommendations?”
Cal spoke first. “Well, I understand his situation; however, it's a pretty serious violation we are talking about. I think we have to terminate his employment with us."
"Karen do you agree?"
"No, he is a really good kid that was caught between a rock and a hard place. I say we try to help him and give him a second chance. Demote him and reduce his security clearance."
"Okay, I want to talk to him. Have two security officers pick him up at the office and bring him here."
"Now?" Cal was shocked.
"Yes, I want this resolved now. We also need to consider what is going to happen to his family. Find out if we can get them relocated, and set up here. I really don't want to be responsible for their deaths."
"Karen, you have your guys bring him over and I will make some calls on the family." Cal stood and grabbed his cell.
I looked at Kyle. "What do you think Kyle?"
"Dale, I will be honest. We are all susceptible to this kind of blackmail. If it had been my family, then it would be me you'd be having the conversation about. The only difference is I have gotten to know you these past weeks and I would have come to you and asked for help."
"Thanks Kyle, do you know Roberto?"
"Yes, he is one of our best communication techs. Put himself through MIT on scholarships, and working as a dishwasher. His family is everything he has."
"Okay, thank you. Stay for dinner, everyone here has grown fond of you and we expect to see you around more often."
"Thank you Dale, that means a lot to me."
I stood and headed up the stairs to shower and change. Cat followed.
"You didn't ask me for my advice."
"I didn't have to. You would tell me to help the kid."
"I already decided to."
I went into my room leaving a smiling Cat behind. After I showered and got dressed, I headed back down stairs. Cal was still outside on the phone but Karen and Kyle were in the living room. "Is he here yet?"
"Yes, I had them put him in your office.”
"Karen, come in with me please."
We walked into the office and a good-looking young Hispanic male stood to meet us. I could tell he was terrified. I reach out my hand to shake his.
"Roberto, I'm Dale Ryan and I presume you know Karen head of INS internal Security."
"It's a pleasure to meet you sir. It's good to see you again Karen."
"Can I get you something to drink, coffee, tea or a soda? Karen and I are having coffee."
"Coffee is fine sir."
"Call me Dale."
I used the intercom to ask Rick to bring us all coffee. I sat down and looked at Roberto. "I am guessing you know why you've been brought here in the middle of the afternoon."
"Yes Sir, I do." He started to cry.
"Roberto, I know about the threats to your family. I understand the situation you where in. Why didn't you try to let us know what was going on?"
"I did sir."
"What do you mean?" I glanced at Karen with a puzzled look.
"Sir, every time I got access to files or information I shouldn't have, I wrote a detailed report about how I did it and submitted it to my supervisors as a potential security breach. I kept hoping someone would catch on. I didn't know if there were any others Hector was blackmailing, so I was careful not to come right out and say it. I was sure if my reports got sent to Internal Security, someone would have investigated and found out what was going on. I even left a detailed file on my computer explaining everything and begging whoever found it to help me."
"Roberto, I am sorry it took us this long to figure it out. You need to know that I'm going to do whatever I can to help you and your family. First, I need you to continue business as normal. How did the Larcanzo family communicate with you?"
"Whenever they needed me to do something or get information to them, there would be an envelope under my keyboard with the details of what they needed."
Karen spoke up. "Roberto, I am going to need to know every time you got one of those envelopes. As close to the date and time as you can remember."
"I wrote the dates of each one down."
I looked at him. "Roberto, we have a very serious security leak and you where just a small part in it. If you are willing to help us dismantle it, I will guarantee you your job and protection for your family. If possible, would they consider moving to the US?"
"Yes Sir. They have their work visas already and we were just trying to save up enough for them to make the move."
"Well that should make things easier. Karen tell Cal to arrange for their immediate extraction from Mexico and have Carl make temporary accommodations for them. Roberto, if something like this ever happens again, you tell me okay."
"It's Dale, now join us for dinner, I am starving."
"Dale, Thank you so very much, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders."
"You're welcome, now let's go find out what's for dinner."
During dinner, Cal had Roberto call his family to let them know someone from the U.S. State Department was going to come and escort them to a chartered plane to take them to the U.S. The guys warmed up to Roberto pretty quickly. We had decided to keep Roberto's involvement with Nick's kidnapping to ourselves. I watched Kyle and Roberto interacting and thought maybe the sparks of romance where beginning. I wasn't sure if either were gay, but it look like maybe they were. Not surprising, based on the group of people drawn to me. Once again, I chuckled to myself and thought if I ever retire from INS, I could run a gay dating service. After dinner, we all went out to the pool for a couple glasses of wine and let Nick recount the story of his daring rescue. From his prospective, you would think the entire U.S. Marine Corp was there. As the night wore on, everyone became very comfortable around Roberto, eventually all the guys were horse playing in the pool and I could see there was something definitely going on with Kyle and Roberto. Cal, Karen, Cat and I were finishing off a bottle of wine.
"Cal, when do we expect Roberto's family?"
"Tomorrow afternoon, Ellis and I are going to put them up for a few days until, we can figure out a better solution."
"Cal are you sure?"
"Ellis insisted. She has the guest rooms all made up and is eager to have the company."
"Cal, your wife is a saint."
"I know, but don't tell her I said that."
I chuckled. "Tomorrow is Friday, the rest of the guys are due in tomorrow night. Why don't we have a little get together with everyone Saturday night? Just a casual barbeque."
"Dale Saturday night is the big birthday party for Travis." Cal reminded me
"Oh my god, I am horrible I can't believe I forgot."
Karen chuckled. "With everything you are dealing with it not surprising. That's why you keep Carl and Rick around."
We all laughed. After a bit, I headed to bed after seeing Karen and Cal out. Roberto and Kyle where spending the night, and Carl made sure the guest bedrooms where set up for them.
The next morning Carl woke me with coffee and I got ready to head into the office for a bit. Clara was her usual jovial self and welcomed me back. She went over my schedule for the day, and informed me I had a meeting set-up with Matthew Payne right before Cyclone was due to arrive. I spent the day catching up on emails, paperwork and returning calls, all the while I kept glancing over my shoulder, out the window, hoping I would see the sleek hull of the Cyclone coming home and carrying the love of my life. Right before my meeting with Matt, I caught myself standing before the window and staring out towards the horizon contemplating the insane year I've had. From the move to Virginia, to taking over the company, to meeting and falling in love with Travis. Battling Pirates off the coast of Africa, a war with a Mexican Drug Cartel, kidnappings, middle of the night raids and black tie parties. I took a deep breath and thought, ‘as long as Travis is by my side I would do it all over again.'
Clara interrupted my sentiment. "Dale, Agent Matthew Payne with the FBI is here to see you."
"Thank you Clara, can you tell Mike that I would like to have a limo take me, Travis and the other guys back to the house after Cyclone docks?"
"Okay, night Clara, see you and Shelley tomorrow evening?"
"You bet, night." She ushered Matt in and closed the door behind him.
"Hey Matt good to see you, have a seat. Before we begin, I can't thank you enough for all your help. If there is anything you ever need just, name it.”
“Thank you Dale and that is kind of why I am here. Karen and Max have been trying to recruit me and Todd has been pushing me to as well. And I am ready to take that plunge.”
“That fantastic Matt, I couldn't be more thrilled.”
“Thank you, but the reason I asked to meet with you is because Karen has offered a position as lead Protection Agent on the Ryan family team.” He smiled. “I am all for that, but in light of the recent security breach, I suggested we create an internal investigation squad."
"How did Karen feel about that?"
"She loved the idea and suggested I propose it you. It would basically be, secondary duties for a few key people. A couple of the Protective Agents, as most of them have the best law enforcement background, a couple of Kyle's tactical operators, and couple of the computer geeks from IT, and one or two guys from communications. Any time Karen or anyone suspects an internal breach; we would quietly and quickly investigate and get to the bottom of it."
"I like it. I am thinking you and Karen already have the personnel picked?"
"Yes and no, Karen wants me to be the lead investigator with Todd and Frank, a former DEA agent, in Karen's Office. We would give Kyle the choice of his people with him in the lead, Karen will review the IT and Communications peoples files to come up with some candidates."
"Okay, I will take it to Cal, John and Mike, our executive committee. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't go for it. However, I want to throw one thing at you, I want you to use Roberto Rodriguez from communications."
"Isn't he the one that was leaking info?"
"Yes, under duress, but that issue has been cleared and I expect everyone to give him the chance he deserves. Not to mention, the kid was able to crack through tons of security protocols to get the info. He knows how to bypass a lot of security, so I think that his knowledge is invaluable."
"I can see the point there. Okay Roberto it is."
At that moment, the entire room lit up from outside, and I stood and saw Cyclone pulling into port while firing an amazing flare display that made her look like an avenging angel. Matt and I both just stood there watching with huge grins on our faces.
Once the flares stopped, I looked over to Matt. "Okay Matt, get with Karen once you get settled in and draw up a full plan and get it to me. Now let's go meet the guys and then come back to the house with us for a glass of wine."
"Can't say no to the boss."
We both chuckled and headed out. Mike met us downstairs with the limo and drove us to the dock. It was getting pretty dark, but the docks where well lit and we could see all the bustle as Cyclone was ending her most recent journey. We waited on the dock for a bit until I saw Travis, Shane, and David approaching. Travis Scoop me into a hug and kissed me passionately.
I giggled. "Captain, not in front of the crew."
"To hell with it, I miss you and love you."
We all settled into the limo and headed back to the house. During the drive, I told everyone about Matt joining the INS team and I saw Todd Grin. Max puffed his chest out a little with pride. I made Matt tell them about his proposal. We were going through a green light at a busy intersection, when we heard a huge crash and the entire car skidded sideways a few feet. We were all thrown around the car like rag dolls. Travis was thrown on top of me across the back seat. Max and Todd where up and out of the car in a split second. I heard the most terrifying crack in the world and the glass window beside Travis on the driver's side exploded inward. I looked past Travis, who was still laying on top of me, out the window I saw Doug Mathis standing there with a gun. The entire world came to a stop as I heard gunshots from all around me. I watched in slow motion as Doug jerked back and forth, as each bullet hit him. I don't know how many shots were fired, but it seemed like hundreds to me. After he went down, I tried to get up but Travis was still lying on me.
"Travis, Babe get off me, it's all over. Travis?" I felt a wet stickiness on my hand that was on his back and looked at it. It looked like I was wearing a red glove. "Oh my fucking God Travis, someone help him!!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Max jumped into the car while yelling into his radio. "Sandstorm, Sandstorm, King is hit."
I heard the most horrifying screech of metal against metal as the car lurched forward and separated itself from the front of Doug's truck just as Todd Jumped in. Matt and David grabbed Travis and laid him down on the floor of the car, while Shane and Todd held me back. Max was on his cell phone.
"GSW to the back, no exit wound, male mid twenties, have a trauma team standing by and contact Dr. Catherine Mathews please." He handed the phone to Matt.
"Agent Payne FBI, patient is unresponsive, breathing rapid and shallow, weak but steady pulse, ETA....Mike what's our ETA?"
"ETA two minutes."
I could hear sirens getting louder and then the world started to fade and went black.
I woke up sometime later very disoriented. I saw Max standing by the door to a hospital room. I was in the hospital, it all started to come back to me. I screamed "Travis!"
Rick and Carl appeared out of nowhere. "Dale, calm down its okay."
"Where is he, what's happening?"
Cat came around the corner. "Dale, you went into shock. You've been out for about four hours now. You had us a little worried for a minute."
"I don't care how is Travis?"
"He's in surgery. It's going to be a long process, the bullet entered through his back. Luckily, it didn't hit any vital organs but a sharp bullet fragment is dangerously close to his heart. They have to remove it, and it is going to take a long time to do that. So, I need you to relax. He's going to need your strength for a quite a while, if he is going to make a full recovery." She injected something into my IV and I drifted back to sleep.
I awoke again later, "How's Travis?" I could hear the scratchiness in my voice.
Everyone turned to look at me, and Carl sat on the bed beside me. "He's in recovery Dale. They got the fragment out, they are confident he will be just fine."
"When can I see him?"
"In a couple of hours. They are going to move him into this room."
I started crying and the emotional avalanche poured out. Carl reached over and held on to me. Rick ushered all the people out of the room except Shane.
Cat came in a bit later. "Dale, they are bringing Travis up now. He's awake but very groggy and weak."
I wiped the tears from my eyes and Shane and Rick helped me up. I finished dressing, just as two orderlies rolled Travis, in a bed, into the room. I waited patiently as a nurse hooked up IVs and monitors to him. Cat read his chart and checked his dressings. When they all left the room, Shane, Rick and Carl followed them out and closed the door behind them.
I sat on the bed beside him and took Travis's hand. His eyes fluttered open He smiled at me. "Hey beautiful man."
His voice was very hoarse.
"Hey sexy," I smiled back.
He squeezed my hand a little, "Hell of storm we've been through, but with you by my side I can handle any weather thrown at me." He smiled and drifted back to sleep. I sat there holding his hand with tears coming down my face and I knew, then and there, that I finally found my home and family.
''(This is the END of the Cyclone Story. I sincerely hope all the readers have enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thank you to all the readers for your feedback and encouragement.)''