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C James

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About C James

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    Nowhere near a cliff
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    Writing, Geopolitics, Travel, technology, history, science, avoiding cliffhangers, lurking.

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  1. I'm actually trying for this Christmas, but I'm getting some annoying and disruptive obstruction from my calendar, which has recently, and inexplicably, taken to telling me that this month is September. I am, however, trying. I need to write about 3 more chapters to finish it, then go back and make certain all the details and clues fit, etc, which will require a few changes (hence why most team members have not seen it yet - I need to make some changes to early chapters, and I don't know all of what they are yet). It has a mystery component (kind of akin to a detective novel), so there are things the reader needs to be able to figure out based on clues in the story (or, they can just read along if they prefer, but it's my job to make sure the option is there). Oh, and of course, I need to go through it with an incredibly fine-toothed comb to make absolutely certain that there's not even the slightest hint of a cliffhanger, or any tension at all, in it. I can't remember if I've mentioned the title yet - it's Going Sideways. Apropos of nothing at all, I see that the Urban Dictionary defines that phrase as; "Used to describe when a tense situation, usually an operation of some kind, suffers a catastrophic breakdown and devolves into near-chaos, usually requiring violence and/or aggression to restore order."
  2. Car keys are sometimes called another name; "lunch". This perhaps explains why I often can't find my car keys right after my lunch.
  3. I'm still working on Going Sideways, and I hope all of you are coping okay with the virus, lockdowns, etc, that have made 2020 a year I, and I am sure many, would like to forget. I expect to be around here much more often from now on - and also I'm spending more time writing. I know my timelines on posting never pan out, but I do hope to have Going Sideways online by the end of this year. (Note to self; it ain't gonna write itself, so quit slacking!). Currently, I'm only on chapter 15 (And need to finish it all before it can be edited, etc, as some later developments need alterations to early chapters). I still expect to bring this in under 20 chapters. Recent chapters have run around 20k words - and my current count on chapter 15 is 79k words. (erm, might need to split it, I think...). I can't say much about the story (Graeme hates spoilers, and he might see this, so...) but I can say that it will have words. Those words will usually have vowels and consonants, often several of them. Hrmmm. What else can I say? No cliffhangers, of course. Oh, and there are things in it that might seem... familiar to some.
  4. No one has told me how long my new story is, either, so how would I know? Seriously though, for once (I'm notorious for massively underestimating), I think it's coming in roughly where I guessed - just under 20 chapters. Of course, I shall refrain from either mentioning or admitting that this is mainly due to the chapter length being around 20k words, about 4 times my usual. Chapter 14 is currently showing as 50 pages, 21k words. My current guess - 2 chapters to go (after the one I'm just about done with, 14.). Then I can send it out to the team. I really can't do so yet, as some key details keep changing, which has required a few changes to early chapters and will do so again. The new story is called "Going Sideways". For those not familiar, it's mainly a southern US colloquialism, meaning things not going as planned, and doing so badly. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Go Sideways Beyond that, the only thing I can say at this point is that, as always for my stories, it will be 100% utterly and totally cliffhanger-free - not even a hint of one, as I'm sure Graeme will be happy to attest.
  5. Circumnavigation was the first series I read on GA. It was several years ago now, but I remember well the interest that reading developed in GA it made a lifetime fan of the site and was the first of many tales to grab my interest. At that time I did not know how to contact an author, nor did I realize what all the symbols about like, etc. meant. So I just read and enjoyed and read some more... Today I am an addict to the stories I read on GA you created a monster an addicted monster with your writing style. I just finished reading "For the Love" for the second time and enjoyed it just as much as the first. I am going to continue searching for your work, among others on GA and continue my enjoyment.

    Mister Will

  6. I'm ashamed to see it's been over 4 months since I returned, and this is my first visit since. I'm so sorry. I'll be back more often from now on. I have actually been writing (though with glacial slowness) and finally have a few chapters. I'm only now at where I thought I'd be in October, and starting to reach out to team members (Frankly, I wouldn't blame them if they told me to shove it, seeing as how I've been so remiss) but it's starting to come together now, at last. And... Wildone, shame on you for disparaging me so; you know I'd never, ever, even come close to a cliffy! And oh no, I can't seem to find my most-used emotion, the angel-halo one, but I'm innocent, I tell, ya, innocent! @ Tallonrider; even I'll admit that my vanishing act was so bad as to be almost a cliffy! @ Anubis; no need for climbing gear. As I'm sure anyone will tell you, I'd never, ever, go anywhere near a cliff or a cliffhanger. <Innocent look> @ KevinD It shouldn't be too much longer before I can post. (meaning, months) because I need to complete most of it first. One reason is plot; minor changes may need to be made to early chapters, depending on how later ones shake out. The other reason, to be honest, is fairness; it would be wrong of me to post anything unless I am 100% sure I'll finish it in a timely manner, and given my absences, the only way I can be certain is to have it already done. And, to one and all, as a sign (as well as a test) of whether my long hiatus is at an end, expect me to drip back by within a week.
  7. Thank you, thank you all so much. To be honest, I was expecting (and couldn't very well object ) some righteous flames for my vanishing act. I have been in contact with some here during my hiatus, and should have at least asked if they'd post a message here for me (my usual browser doesn't work with GA software, so I had to install a different one before I could log in) but I didn't. Sorry. But, I'm back... and yep, writing has begun again. I very sporadically wrote a bit during my hiatus, but it was piecemeal, often on a laptop during free time such as waiting for a plane, but I didn't get very far. Even when I did have free time, I found it hard to concentrate (working long hours didn't help). But, it's moving again, so there will be a story coming soon. It's called "Going Sideways" and barely exists yet, just a few chapters, but it does exist. I'll be reaching out to all of our old team members very soon. What can I say about the story? Hrmmm. I'm not really sure what I can say for fear of spoilers, but it's both adventure and interpersonal, plus I do my usual thing of trying to make it as realistic and accurate in the details as possible. Oh, and, of course, like all my stories, I go to great lengths to keep it utterly and entirely cliffhanger-free, guaranteed! CJ
  8. I can only offer my sincere and abject apologies for my vanishing act. I was spending far too much time online (and writing) and it was hurting my career. So, coupled with a case of writing burnout after Circumnavigation (which was nearly 100 chapters, and was often hard to get the chapters out in a timely manner) I had to retreat from the online world. I didn't even fully realize why I was doing it at the time, it was a compulsion, and it did save me financially. I'm fine now, but it was a bit hectic for a long time. What there is no excuse for is me not returning occasionally. I am deeply sorry, and I apologize. I am working on a story, just a few chapters so far, but it feels good to be writing again. I'll also be answering the posts I see in other threads in the forum (thanks!) and also a lot of PMs I have waiting, during coming days.
  9. Many of us are wondering what your next new story will be about and when.....

  10. Thought I'd start a new thread, just to harass everyone. I think I'm back now... I got into some of why I've been gone in the other threads, but I plan on logging in once or twice a week from now on, though probably no more than that until lightning season is over (it plays hell with my transceiver, which is my only link to the 'net). I hope y'all have been staying away from all cliffs and cliffhangers!
  11. Huh? WHAT?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!? But but but..... I never, every use cliffhangers!!!! ACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've had internet problems, plus life got super hectic. I basically had to deal with a lot of things, including an illness in the family (thankfully resolved, but it was a rough go), so my internet time went basically to zero. I've been away on business a lot, and had a lot of work to do at home as well; I had to create a wildfire buffer zone around my house, so I spent a lot of quality time with my chain saw. Thankfully, Monsoon season is here, and the rain has ended the fire danger, so I'm far happier. To be honest, I think the writing pace of Circumnavigation burned me out for quite a bit; it was a struggle to churn out a chapter a week for a 99 chapter novel. It was also a real challenge to get it all posted by the end of December (December 186th, I think?) Actually, seeing as you bought it up, I'm going to have to admit another of the reasons for my absence; the cliffhangers in your novel made me catatonic for weeks on end! <shudder> I was traumatized... Yep... at best lately, I have a lag state of 300 miliseconds and packet loss. I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get satellite internet (which is my only other option here...). And... things are at last less hectic for me, so I'm really back this time, which means I'll be logging in one or twice a week at least.
  12. I think I heard from him, whilst talking to myself.... And yup... I do have a new story in mind for GA. But Benji... you know that a goat would never have anything to do with a cliff.
  13. C James


    Epilogue It had been a trying six months, time passing in a whirlwind of activity. Two weeks after their return from Israel, Eric and Brandon had organized a biker funeral for Jim and Linda, where Eric had introduced Mad Mike and his bikers to Jansen and Keith. Then, taking Mad Mike aside, Eric had made him a business offer: full employment on generous terms for himself and his entire club. The money was not an issue; Helen and the band had set aside the extra five million the Israelis had provided, intending to use it for things Jim would have wanted. Three days later, Brian had asked Keith to accompany him on a trip he knew he had to make, and a few days later, Brian and Keith had stood in the rain in Arlington National Cemetery, to pay their private respects to Private Earl Johnson. That night, Brian told Keith that, although he’d decided to stay in the Marine Corps, he’d confirmed that he would be posted at Camp Pendleton, which wasn’t too far from the site of Carlisle’s, and living off base. That conversation led, somewhat later, to another, and a month after Private Johnson’s funeral, Brian and Keith moved into their new apartment. Instinct, due to the massive publicity resulting from La Palma, found itself in greater demand than ever before. For Eric, Jansen, and Keith, their lives revolved around the demands of Instinct’s touring schedule, and supervising the remodeling of the building they’d picked for their club. Like any construction project, this one had a few snags, but eventually, the huge north and south halls – each capable of seating over five hundred people – took shape, and the rest of the club soon followed. Phil Breslin, a very recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his recent series that had rocked Washington in a way not seen since Watergate, found himself, due to Helen’s promise, with an inside scoop on the club’s grand opening. Entertainment was no longer his beat – his most recent story had been on the fall of the Iranian regime – but he took the story anyway due to Instinct’s role in the events that had given him his Pulitzer. His byline helped boost the already growing interest in Carlisle’s impending grand opening. The Scar's shattered and rotting corpse, recovered from an ash-covered rocky field on La Palma, had laid to rest any lingering doubt regarding his involvement in the events on the island. One other thing changed for Eric; his relationship with tequila. On rare occasions, when it was just the two of them, and Jansen had locked the doors of their house from the inside and hidden the keys, Jansen and Eric would enjoy a little tequila. With no one stressing out on him, Eric could be himself and have the purest form of fun, and most times he was not the terror he once had been. In Jansen, he had found his soulmate. Opening day for the club was near at hand. Keith, after a day’s scouting to fill the few remaining staff positions, walked into the club office to tell Eric and Jansen some news. “We’ve got a problem. Remember our old boss from the strip club, George Tankardsly? Seems that either he, or more likely the owners of our old club, don’t like the idea of dancers starting up competing clubs, or hiring away their potential employees, especially at higher wages. Anyway, one of my friends gave me a heads-up; George, plus a bouncer, is planning on attending our pre-grand-opening open house and pushing for a cut of our business. Expect some threats, subtle or otherwise.” Eric nodded casually. “Sending a bouncer to scare us, huh?” Eric thumbed the intercom and said, “Horst? Could you come in here please?” Moments later, Horst marched in the door, saluted, and asked, “You sent for me, Herr Eric?” Eric rolled his eyes. “Horst, please, just call me Eric, not Herr Eric, and no saluting.” “Your wish is my command, Herr Eric,” Horst replied, and snapped off a crisp salute. Eric glared at Jansen and Keith, who were snickering loudly. “I know you guys put him up to this…” Returning his attention to Horst, the club’s chief of security, Eric explained the situation. Horst’s expression changed in an instant, and his smile vanished. “My force here is ten men, including five of Felecia’s former troops. However, two are away on vacation. I need no help to handle one man and a bouncer, but I think it would be advisable to put an end to this threat, not merely deter it. I can think of two ways of doing so…” Horst explained his plans. Eric shook his head. “Forget the flying lesson, please. I’d prefer to handle this legally. Let’s go with plan B.” That night, the club, which they had christened Carlisle’s, opened its doors to the public for the first time. The open house served two functions: a training run for the staff, and a PR event to build up a buzz for the grand opening. Most things went well, and the club was soon filled to capacity. Still, it was frantic for the three owners, who had to dash about, handling countless small problems that appeared. Two hours into their first night, Jansen spotted the familiar face of George Tankardsly, accompanied by two very large men, heading for the bar in the north hall. He pointed George out to Horst and said, “That’s him, and he’s brought two goons.” Horst made a few calls on his cell phone, and then on a walkie-talkie. With that done, he followed along, a few paces behind, as Eric strolled down to meet George at the bar. George had just finished telling the bartender that he needed to speak to the owners when Eric said from a few paces to his side, “One of ‘em would be me. What can I do for you?” George glanced pointedly at his two heavily muscled men before saying, “We need to talk to you, alone. I must insist on it.” Eric shrugged. “Whatever. Follow me; I’m heading outside for some air anyway.” When George, flanked by his bouncers, followed Eric out of a side door into the parking lot, he found Eric leaning up against a wall, apparently unconcerned. George pointed at the two bouncers to emphasize the implied threat and said, “I’ll get down to business. You’ve hired Jansen and Keith, and if they are going to work in this town, unless you want trouble, we’re going to cut a little deal–” Eric smiled at George. “Trouble? I don’t think you know much about trouble, yet. Let me introduce you to a few people.” On cue, General Bradson and Felecia emerged from the shadows. George blinked in recognition; they’d been all over the news programs. Eric nodded happily. “Good, I see you recognize them. The General and Felecia, who haven’t nuked anybody lately, are Instinct’s co-heads of security. However, this club is owned by Jansen, Keith, and me, as equal partners, so let me introduce our head of security, Horst.” George’s eyes grew a little wider as Horst, accompanied by eight armed, uniformed men, emerged from the club door. Holding up his hands, George said, “Wait, okay, forget it, I’m out of here–” “Not so fast,” Jansen said, as he and Keith followed Horst’s men into the parking lot to face George. “Nice to see you again, George. This visit wasn’t a good idea on your part.” Jansen nodded to Horst, who said one word into his walkie-talkie. “Now.” The growling roar of Harley engines turning over echoed through the night, first just a few, and then dozens. Then, with Mad Mike in the lead, he and thirty bikers, some swinging chains, began to circle. Above the roar, Eric yelled, “This is just a taste of what we can put together at short notice. You really don’t know what you’re messing with here. If you ever bother us again, you and your bosses will find out just what we’re capable of. You’ve got ten seconds to get off our property.” Flanked by half a dozen Harley-mounted bikers, George and his two men began to run. The message was received, loud and clear; Carlisle’s would not be bothered again. “There is much to be said for an overwhelming show of force,” General Bradson said, with a strong note of approval. Then, joined by his co-head of Instinct’s security, Felecia, he went inside for a drink. Once the doors had finally closed for the night, Eric shook his head and wiped his brow. “That was hectic, but a good hectic. I think we’ll do okay.” Jansen put his arm around Eric. “Yeah, now all we’ve got is the wedding reception here in the afternoon, followed by opening night.” Eric rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I can’t believe Mom’s getting married and holding the reception here. That was a shock. It’s all been so fast; François only popped the question last week.” Jansen nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it’s been a rush in a lot of ways, but we’ll pull it together. The club staff should be able to handle a wedding reception, no problem. Look at the bright side; if anything goes wrong, we can always blame Keither.” “I heard that!” Keith yelled from another room. “Strippers,” Eric said, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling shrugging shoulders. Keith entered the room as he and Jansen shouted in unison, “That’s exotic dancers, you ass!” The laughter went a long way towards easing their opening-day jitters. The wedding ceremony for Jane and François was held at a local church. François had surprised both Jane and himself with his spontaneous proposal, but it had come from the heart. After the wedding, the newlyweds, plus over one hundred guests, descended on Carlisle’s for the reception. The wedding guests included all of Instinct’s official family and more than two dozen of François’ mercenary friends, thus making it a reunion for most of Felecia’s force. Carlisle’s could seat nearly five hundred people in each of its two main halls, so space was not an issue. Keeping the freewheeling mercenaries from overindulging in the open bar proved to be harder. The party dragged on, well past what they’d planned, and Eric began nervously eying the clock. The lines for opening night had already begun to form, and it looked like the wedding party was staying for the show. An hour later, for the first time of many throughout the coming years, Eric took the stage to a round of thunderous applause. Using the one move he knew, he executed a smooth sidestep as he whipped his shirt off with one hand. Then picking up the microphone, he waited a few long moments for the applause to die down. “Welcome to the grand opening of Carlisle’s,” Eric said, as countless camera flashes dazzled him. “We’ve got three bands lined up for you tonight, starting with Instinct. Later, we have exotic dancers for your enjoyment. The ladies will be performing in the south hall and the guys will be doing their thing right here.” Brian, sitting in the front row, joined in the thunderous applause. Except for a few very private demonstrations, he’d never seen his boyfriend’s act. He hoped he could talk Keith into a private encore when they got back to their apartment… Backstage, Jansen and Keith waited, listening to the applause. Eric bounded in off the stage and gave his business partners a wild hug. Sometimes, dreams die the hardest deaths of all. But on those rare and ephemeral other times, when fickle fate is kind, dreams proffer unto those rare and lucky few the greatest life of all. They could not know it, not then, but fate would prove indeed kind, then and in the years ahead, giving life unto their dreams…. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Special thanks to MikeL for advice I hereby dedicate this story to my friend Wildone, who has suffered a horrific accident, but due to his strength, perseverance, and courage has pulled through and is recovering. I wish you a continued speedy recovery, Wildone. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  14. Chapter 51: Changing the Game The wedding party and Felecia’s force arrived at the hotel in Be’er Sheva, almost unnoticed due to it being the middle of the night. Jansen made it clear that he and Eric would be sharing a room, which surprised no one, not even Jane, who had guessed at the relationship almost before it even began. Exhausted, Eric and Jansen climbed into the room’s single bed, and before sleep claimed them, Eric said from the heart, “I’m sorry for everything I put you through. When it looked like I wasn’t coming back, the thing that hurt the most was the thought of never seeing you again.” Jansen, barely able to keep his eyes open, gave Eric a hug and replied, “I get why you did what you did. I think it was insane, but I can understand, because if it was you or Keither that was missing, I would’ve probably done the same thing, if I’d thought of it. Just… talk to me first, if there’s ever a next time, okay?” All Eric had time to do was nod, before sleep claimed him. Eric awoke early, finding that he was using Jansen’s bare chest as a pillow. A light touch, and the change in Jansen’s breathing told Eric that the dancer was almost awake. Eric grinned in the dawn light, and began waking Jansen up in the most personal way possible… Three doors down the hall, Keith woke up, alone in bed, and glanced over at Jon, who was still sound asleep. Keith crept over to the window, where he sat down to watch the sun rising over the Negev, though his mind was not on the view. He found himself thinking of Brian, and gave himself a mental kick for having a crush on a guy he thought was straight. On the floor above, Brian padded out onto a balcony to watch the sunrise, rejoicing in the belief that he was out of imminent danger for the first time since his capture by the Iranians. Stretching out on a chair, enjoying the warm caress of the rising sun on his chest, Brian found himself wondering what Keith was doing. After a few idle daydreams centered on Keith, Brian shook his head in disgust as he thought, ‘Stupid, stupid, stupid. He knows I’m gay, so if he was interested in me, he’d have said something by now. He looked shocked when he thought he’d bumped into my morning wood, so probably straight… but straight or he’s not interested, same difference, so it’d be a lot better if I just avoid him until this is over.’” Moments after making that decision, Brian picked up the phone, giving himself a mental kick for stupidity as he did so, and dialed the front desk to ask for Keith’s room. The ringing room phone caused Keith to jump, and he snatched it up, hoping that Jon could get back to sleep. He need not have worried; Jon was a sound sleeper and had not even stirred. Putting the phone to his ear, Keith whispered, “Hello?” “I hope I didn’t wake you up,” Brian said, and then, trying hard to sound casual, “This is Brian. I, uh, I’m going out to see some of the sights while we’re here and, uh, I wondered if you’d like to go along. Better to go with someone you know than alone, right? Masada is only thirty miles away…” Brian glanced again at the hotel’s information booklet on the table, which he’d scoured to find the most interesting nearby attraction. “It’s well worth seeing. And I–” Keith found himself grinning at the prospect. He liked Brian’s company, and hoped he’d make a good friend. “Yeah, count me in, thanks,” Keith whispered, and then added, “Can I meet you downstairs, maybe grab some breakfast? Jon’s still asleep.” Smiling, Brian replied, “Sure. See you in the lobby.” Jansen and Eric, having sated one hunger, sought out the restaurant to satisfy another. After ordering, Eric looked into Jansen’s eyes and smiled. “No tequila involved this time. That was all me.” Jansen grinned, blushing slightly as he replied in a quiet voice, “Yeah, that was great. Any doubts I ever had are gone. Actually, they were back at the resort on La Palma. I’ve got a theory about you and tequila; it makes you kinda wild and uninhibited, but it’s still basically you, and you only get into real trouble when people start freaking out on you, right?” Eric grinned, surprised that Jansen had caught on so soon. “Pretty much. The only exception was Jerry. Even before I knew what he was, I hated him, more than I’ve ever hated anything or anyone. But, yeah, other than that, if I’m around someone who is relaxed and not stressing on me, I’m usually fine. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I get a hunch what people are feeling, so I think I react to that more than what they say or do. You can ask Chase or Jon; they’ve been around me when I’m on tequila. Sometimes I’ve been okay. The trouble really started at a party Jerry had, when I kind of trashed the place.” Suddenly, Eric figured it out and asked, “So, when did you and Chase talk?” Grinning, Jansen replied, “While you were off on your insane grenade mission. After we got the news that the plane had been taken and you and Brandon were safe, Chase and I started talking about you. I kinda started it, by the way, and we were both pretty pissed with you and Brandon at that point. Anyway, he told me about that knack you have for reading people. Then the subject turned to tequila, and he shared his thoughts on that, saying that you’d always been pretty much okay when it was just you and him when you were on it. I bounced my theory off him, and he said he’d always thought pretty much the same way. I guess now I know how you pegged me and Keither as brothers so damn fast. So, how come you never told me about that reading-people stuff?” With a shrug and a smile, Eric replied, “Because I thought you’d think I was crazy if I said something like that.” Jansen chuckled. “Eric, I’ve always considered you crazy. That wouldn’t have changed a thing.” Eric laughed, and Jansen looked him in the eyes before saying, “So, you know, you really know, that I mean what I’m about to say: I don’t want us to ever end, because I love you.” Eric had no need to check; he felt the truth of Jansen’s words. Not caring who saw or what they thought, Eric reached across the table, took Jansen’s hand, and replied, “I love you too. I knew for sure when I was on Jerry’s plane.” Jansen was about to reply when Keith walked up and, not noticing the joined hands on the table in front of him, asked, “Have you guys seen Brian? He was going to meet me in the lobby; he asked me to go sightseeing with him…” Jansen recognized Keith’s anxious tone, and asked, “How long ago did he say that?” Keith checked his watch, “Almost five minutes ago.” Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Jansen looked past Keith for a moment and then said, “Turn around, he’s heading this way.” Eric and Jansen were sitting at a table for two, so Brian and Keith found a table of their own a few yards away. As they sat down, Jansen whispered to Eric in a serious tone, “I think Keither has a crush on Brian. Does your inner knack, or whatever you call it, work on Brian? Can you tell if there’s any chance the feeling is mutual? Keith said Brian keeps sending mixed signals... Keith tends to fall hard when he’s into a guy. I don’t want to see him set himself up for a train wreck.” Remembering the vibes he’d been getting when he was around both Brian and Keith, Eric had a strong hunch that whatever attractions there were, were mutual. Looking over at their table, however, he could both see and feel the awkwardness. Angling his head slightly as a thought occurred to him, Eric asked Jansen, “I wonder if Brian knows that Keith’s gay? Second thought of the day: I remember Brian grumbling something about his dad being a damn public-address system, so… I wonder if Brian thinks everyone knows he’s gay. Did you tell Keith about Brian?” Jansen shook his head, beginning to grin. “No I didn’t. I forgot until you mentioned it that he wasn’t there when you told me about Brian. I just assumed he knew. Let me get this straight; you think they are attracted to each other, but neither knows the other is gay, but assumes the other one already knows?” Eric grinned and arched an eyebrow. “Nothing straight about it, and that pretty much sums it up. You know what we’ve got to do, right?” Jansen nodded solemnly and then broke into a wicked grin. “Have some fun at their expense, of course. It’s my brotherly duty, after all. Let’s go barge in and join ‘em.” Keith looked up with mild annoyance as Jansen and Eric pulled up chairs at the table, and invited themselves to join Brian and Keith. Brian too was slightly perturbed; he was looking forward to a one-on-one chat with Keith. Glancing at Eric, Brian said, “Good morning, oh thief of grenades. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m grenadeless today.” Brian gave Eric a slight smile, to let the bassist know that he wasn’t angry over the theft. Nodding at the good-natured dig, Eric replied, “Sorry about that, man. Anyway, Jansen and I just thought we’d stop by and cheer you guys up with a story. It’s pretty funny. I just found out that a couple of old friends of mine,” Eric used the term ‘old friends’ to keep Brian and Keith momentarily in the dark regarding the real subjects of the story, “have been dancing around each other for a while, all awkward and clumsy. Neither knew the other was gay, and they never actually discussed it. Hell, one even asked the other out on a date and they still didn’t know. They were both oblivious as hell.” Jansen began to laugh, and Keith shook his head. “A date and they still didn’t know? Either of ‘em? How the hell can anyone be that damn dense?” Keith asked, before meeting his brother’s eye and seeing a mirthful twinkle, one he recognized as a sure sign that Jansen was pulling his leg somehow. Before Keith could pursue that thought, Jansen said, “I dunno, Keither. You tell me; how can anyone be that damn dense?” Eric began to laugh and stood up before chiming in to add, “Have fun on your date today, guys.” Glaring at Eric and Jansen’s retreating backs, Brian snapped, “It’s not a date, shitheads, I just wanted some company to go sightseeing…” thinking that they were making fun of only him and putting him in a very awkward situation with Keith. Brian was trying to think of something to say when he heard Keith ask, “Are they right? About us, I mean?” Brian turned to face Keith, and saw only a hopeful look. Relaxing, beginning to see the humor in the situation, Brian nodded, “They are about me, anyway. I thought you knew. What about you?” Keith glanced at Eric and Jansen who had returned to their table but were looking in his direction and obviously enjoying themselves far too much. “Yeah, I thought you knew, too. They’re never going to let us live this down. You know that, right?” Brian chuckled. “Yeah, they probably won’t. I really thought you were straight.” Keith angled his head, perplexed. “Why? I know I never said, but…” “It was that first morning. I’d heard from both Eric and Felecia that they knew I was gay, so I figured my Dad had pretty much spread that bit of news to everyone. I was kinda pissed about that at the time. Then, you kinda freaked when you thought I’d bumped you with my morning wood. Your eyes looked like they’d pop out of your head, so I figured…” Brian said, letting his voice trail off. Keith smiled. “That wasn’t why… it was the freaking grenade. You held the thing damn near under my nose, remember? And I’d just found out I’d been sleeping next to a live grenade all night.” Brian shrugged, becoming slightly puzzled. “But the pin was in; it was safe.” Rolling his eyes and laughing, Keith replied, “Dude, I’m a civilian. All I saw was a freaking grenade under my nose, and pin or no pin, that’s why I reacted that way.” Brian blushed slightly, remembering. “Yeah, that makes sense. So, what about you? Why’d you peg me as straight?” Keith rolled his eyes again. “Take a wild guess, mister tough guy macho Marine.” Sporting a wicked grin, Brian replied, “Believing in stereotypes, huh? Shame on you.” Keith laughed, and then replied, “So, is it a date today or not?” With a confident smile, Brian replied, “I really didn’t intend it that way at first, due to my little misconception about you, but yeah, I’d like it to be.” “Then it’s a date,” Keith replied with a smile of his own. Helen ordered breakfast in her room, and then called General Bradson and Felecia to ask them to join her. There was still, Helen knew, a lot left to deal with. The General arrived while Helen waited for breakfast to be set up. As soon as the waiter had left the room, Helen got down to business. “The check I was given appears to be good, so that resolves the money issue. However, we still have a few problems. Namely, I’m stuck with two nuclear warheads, and the U.S. Government is out for our heads.” “They staked out a very public position on this. They can’t back down without humiliating themselves, and that embarrassment would extend to the entire administration, to a degree. Complicating the matter is that they already have a public black eye regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Therefore, to the bureaucratic mind, the answer is to double down and hope the other guy folds. That’s my read on why they put you and Instinct on the most-wanted list. This isn’t like the business world; less logic applies. Ego and public image are the primary motivators. They won’t back off because to their mindset, they can’t. They also probably believe that they control the rules of the game,” General Bradson said. Helen nodded. “That’s about what I’d figured. At the moment, my thinking is that we give the reporter everything we’ve got and let him run with it, getting our side of the story out.” General Bradson shook his head. “I don’t think that’ll work. They can stonewall, and they can also cloud the issue by making up new charges. The status quo plays into their hands by ceding the initiative to them. What we could do via the reporter would hurt, but I don’t think it would make ‘em back off. What we need is a game-changer.” The General’s confident tone clued Helen in that he had a plan, so she arched an eyebrow and asked, “What do you have in mind?” It took ten minutes, complicated by agitated interruptions from Helen, for General Bradson to explain his plan. After he’d finished, Helen sat glaring at him for over minute as she considered his plan, before breaking the icy silence. “General, my initial reaction was: you’re out of your motherfucking mind. After giving it a little thought, I’d say my first reaction was overly charitable… however, I do see that if this insane scheme works, it would solve all our problems. My problem is that it seems to require that the other side follow your script. For example, the part about the embassy… you expect them to just offer that up out of the blue?” General Bradson surprised Helen by pulling out his satellite phone, along with a sheet of paper given to him by Levi Gold, which contained a phone number and an e-mail address. He dialed the number, which was a private line to the White House switchboard. When the operator answered, the General said, “This is General Walter Bradson. I am in the Middle East and have in my possession multiple Iranian nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. Unless the current situation changes, I will, within the next seventy-two hours, launch a nuclear strike on Iran. Let me be clear, I need to speak to the President regarding a clear and present danger to the United States of America. This is most urgent.” Helen blanched slightly, but General Bradson calmly resumed eating while on hold. A few minutes later, the operator came back on the line. The General listened for a moment, and then replied, “I’ll be there. In the meantime, I’ll be sending, within the hour, an e-mail to the President’s private e-mail account. It will have my name in the subject line. The President will want to listen to the attached recordings. One is of Deputy Undersecretary Graeme making illegal threats in the name of the administration, and the other is of Jerry Clump, shortly before I stopped him from getting away with the bombs on La Palma, boasting at having seized three nuclear warheads from Helen, and crediting the administration for giving him the opportunity. Oh, and by the way, have a nice day.” General Bradson ended the call. Smiling at Helen, he said, “They already knew that we’re in Israel. I have an appointment at the communications room of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. The President will speak to me over an encrypted comm link, and it was the White House’s idea. The mention of your tape of Mr. Graeme evidently made the impression I was counting on; they want to be sure the conversation is private and then they’ll really turn the screws. The embassy is one place they can be certain that I’m searched and electronically monitored, so there won’t be any chance of me recording the conversation.” Helen exhaled, closed her eyes, and then replied, “Well, you just neatly wrapped up the part I thought was impossible. Count me in. What do I need to do?” “Call that reporter. Tell him to examine Flight Two at La Palma airport, and that he’ll find Jerry Clump’s DNA on the bulkheads and on a knife, and tell him that Jerry Clump died while trying to get away with two nuclear warheads. Tell him to run his story about Deputy Undersecretary Graeme in twenty-four hours. Promise him whatever you need to in order to get him to hold on that long.” Helen nodded. “One question; won’t they arrest you the minute you set foot in the embassy?” General Bradson explained his contingency plan for that, and Helen rolled her eyes, feeling a migraine coming on. After a few minutes, she agreed, and then added in a resigned voice, “I guess that, if worse comes to worse, we can always stay in Israel.” Shaking his head, General Bradson got up to leave. “Don’t worry,” he said on his way to the door, “By tomorrow, this will all be over.” Three hours later, General Bradson strolled confidently along the busy Tel Aviv street and turned left. At the main entrance, he walked up to one of the Marine guards and said, “I’m Walter Bradson.” The Marine had been alerted to expect him, and ushered him inside, where a waiting Deputy Chief of Mission said, “I’ve been instructed to take you to our communications center. However, there are classified devices in that room, so everyone is searched for any electronic devices. Please hand over your watch and any other electronic or metallic object.” General Bradson had left his satellite phone in his hotel room due to expecting the search, which despite the Deputy Chief of Mission’s solemn words was not routine. The General smiled, and handed over his wristwatch, key chain, and then, with a flourish, a ballpoint pen. “Wouldn’t want me taking any notes either, I assume,” he said with a smirk. The Deputy Chief of Mission didn’t react. He had orders, and followed them by leading the General to a small room next to the communications center. The General was scanned to check for any electronic devices by a three-man team, and then took a seat while a technician established a secure link to the White House via an STU-14 encrypted phone system, and then the Deputy Chief of Mission handed the General the phone. “The line is active. Just hang up when you’re done. I’ve been asked to give you privacy.” As soon as the door closed, General Bradson took a deep breath and said, “Hello, Mister President. Thank you for speaking with me.” The President’s tone was formal, reserved, and businesslike. “It seems I had little choice. I happen to believe that you are bluffing regarding Iran, but I’m prepared to put this entire matter behind us. Turn over those warheads in return for clemency, keep this matter quiet, and this whole thing can go away.” “Clemency revocable at your discretion, no doubt.” General Bradson said, his voice firm. “No deal. We acted in good faith, only to have your State Department hacks try to make us into scapegoats. There’s also the matter of your policy in Iran. Sir, I view it likely that much of this was done without your knowledge,” the General said, using a convenient fiction that both men understood, “but there are aspects of this that you may be unaware of. I stopped Jerry Clump, as he was getting away from La Palma with two nuclear weapons. We recorded him before we took him down, and if you’ve listened to the copy I sent, he clearly implicates your administration’s mishandling of the situation with giving him the opportunity to get the bombs, and avows that Helen and Instinct got involved solely to keep the nukes out of his hands. It’s also proof positive that he was alive, despite your public assurances to the contrary. He used one nuclear warhead in an attempt to trigger the destruction of the entire coastline of the North Atlantic. A reporter has a copy of the conversation with Deputy Undersecretary Graeme, and that story will be breaking in twenty-four hours. I have not yet provided him with the tape of Jerry Clump. Also, regarding Iran... I asked you to speak with me today regarding a clear and present danger to the United States of America. That danger has been brought about by you and your policies. Unless you cease your opposition to the gasoline interdiction, I see the use of Iran’s own nukes against them as the least-bad option. Allow me to explain: Israel cannot allow that fanatical regime to become a nuclear power. The Iranian regime is run by religious fanatics of the worst kind, and they make no bones about wanting to wipe Israel off the map–” The President raised his voice to interrupt. “That’s fear-mongering. Israel’s own nuclear arsenal would deter Iran–” “And that, Sir, is where you are wrong. Deterrence only works against the sane. Enough of their regime believes that it is their religious duty to cause a new holocaust – Ironic, considering they deny the first one ever happened – and they do believe in martyrdom. There is also the matter of geography. Israel is just a little bigger than Connecticut, while Iran is the size of Texas, California, Montana, and New Mexico combined. Just a couple of bombs would effectively destroy Israel, but given Iran’s size, it would take a massive strike, more than even an intact Israel can deliver, to do the same to Iran, and that, Sir, assumes that the Iranian regime is deterrable at all. Israel therefore has no choice; failure to remove the threat would be national suicide. There is also America to consider. Iran may well seek to deter us by planting a bomb in one of our cities as a threat. We’ve seen how easy that is, and as you know, we came within moments of losing Los Angeles and New York. If you’ll recall, you fired me for going ahead without orders, but as we both know, even though the public does not, had I not done so, we’d have lost at least one of our two largest cities.” General Bradson let the implied threat of public disclosure hang in the air for a moment before continuing, “Sir, I can offer you countless reasons why a regime that has been the number one supporter of terrorists for three decades cannot be allowed to become a nuclear power. Suffice it to say that, in my judgment, it cannot, and I do have the means to stop it. If need be, I shall do so. Better by far, for all concerned, including the Iranian people, if their regime can be brought down via the current unrest.” “Given where you and the bombs are, your hosts are up to their eyebrows in this and I’ll make sure they pay,” the President shot back in anger. He wasn’t used to any challenge to his authority. “I won’t tolerate any action–” “You really don’t have a choice, Sir. We have one way out of this, and one way only. First, all charges against me, the band, the mercenaries, and anyone else associated with the effort to keep nuclear warheads out of Jerry Clump’s hands will be immediately and publicly dropped. You could use the excuse that you were distracted by the volcanic risk to the country and relied on bad information. To that end, you will issue an apology and announce the public firing of Deputy Undersecretary Graeme, his superiors, and everyone else involved in his clique at the State Department. Not a resignation, a firing. Next, you will declare your opposition to any gasoline shipments to Iran and you will not interfere with the efforts of others to interdict those shipments. You will do this within twenty-four hours or I’ll have no other choice but to release the tapes of Jerry Clump to the press a few hours before I nuke a couple of carefully chosen Iranian sites. Bear in mind that I still have these weapons solely because of your administration’s attempt to shaft us, and I’ll make that explicitly clear. I’d prefer not to have to do that, but I will if I must.” A long silence ensued. General Bradson began to wonder whether the line had gone dead, when he heard the President’s voice, quieter now, almost subdued but dripping menace. “You’re playing a dangerous game, Bradson. I can make sure you never leave that embassy, not alive, anyway.” “I’ll be blunt; I’ve taken measures regarding the eventuality that I don’t return. Unless I am free before the end of the day, the commander of the mercenaries – who by the way has nuked Iran once already – will launch the strike and release all the tapes. You don’t know the means I’ve planned for the strike and you can’t stop it. As you might guess, my hosts, due to being threatened with another holocaust by the Iranian regime, are not adverse to a third party solving their problem,” General Bradson said, and crossed his fingers, hoping that he would not need to follow through on his threat. Another long silence ensued, and then the President, seeing that the path of least political damage appeared to be going along with the General’s plan, said, “I’ll be making a speech to announce the firings, the apology, and the Iranian policy adjustment early tomorrow. Now, how do I know you’ll keep your part of the deal?” Graciously accepting the President’s surrender, General Bradson replied, “Within two hours of your announcement, I’ll render the bombs inert and deliver them to this embassy, Sir. Then, they are in American hands and this issue is behind us, provided that we are never bothered again, and you allow the pressure to remain on Iran until their regime folds.” After the call ended, General Bradson emerged from the room to find himself face-to-face with three of the embassy Marine guards. The Deputy Chief of Mission stood behind them and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could do so, an aid gestured frantically, calling him aside. Ten minutes later and five blocks away, General Bradson made a call from a pay phone, to Bill. Without preamble, General Bradson asked, “Did you get it?” “Yeah, we did. I’ve listened to it, too. Being in the NSA has its uses, after all,” Bill replied. Tapping into a government STU-14 conversation had been fairly easy, given the resources Bill had access to at the NSA. “You know what to do if I disappear or if he reneges on the deal, right? And then later...” Bill took a long moment to consider his reply. If he did what the General wanted, he could end up in prison, or worse. However, what had gotten him involved in the first place was his higher duty. Making his decision, he said, “If there are any problems from him in the near future, I’ll act at once. If not, it’ll be like the leak when we detected the fallout from the nuke in Iran; a well-orchestrated and timed release of the information, in mid-October, I think, right before the election. That will torpedo any hopes he has of a second term. There’s enough here, combined with that tape of Jerry Clump that you sent me, to hang him out to dry and I’ll make damn sure it happens,” Bill replied, relieved that the showdown appeared to be over. He had no qualms over his potential role; his disgust with the administration ran long and deep. General Walter Bradson, USAF, retired, strolled out into the Tel Aviv sunshine with a victor’s smile on his face. The next day, Levi Gold joined Helen, the members of Instinct, Felecia, and General Bradson, as they watched the President’s speech. Helen smiled as the President announced the firings at the State Department, and grinned as her boys began to cheer when the apology and lifting of charges was announced. “It’s finally over, isn’t it?” Eric asked as he bounded to his feet. The members of Instinct raced off to share the good news, and Helen followed, to make sure they didn’t inadvertently say too much. Felecia arched an eyebrow in Levi’s direction and asked, “Would you have really let me take the nukes and zap Iran?” Levi shrugged. “I must answer carefully. I will tell you what we told your Secretary of State, who phoned us yesterday during your chat with your president, and tried to strong-arm us into detaining you and the warheads. We would have not objected when Helen reclaimed her legal property – which was one of the purposes of the legal procedure we insisted upon. From our point of view, the strike you proposed would have served us better than one of our own. We would have escaped much of the blame, and at worst, we would be left with going ahead with our own strike against their underground facilities. Now, let me ask you this; do you still wish to deliver those bombs to the embassy? I can arrange that easily enough, but once they are gone, what guarantees do you have?” General Bradson glanced at Felecia and smiled. “We have some insurance. I won’t say how, but I have a copy, in the hands of friends, of the President’s conversation with me, including his threats. That, combined with the tapes of Jerry Clump, should be enough to destroy him, or at least cost him the election if he chooses to break his deal and run again. Same goes if he doesn’t keep his promise regarding Iran. You have my solemn promise that I’ll hold him to that. I do need one thing from you, just to be sure: An unconfirmed rumor, in a week or two, from the Mossad, that we captured five bombs in Iran, not four. Let them think I might still have one. That should give them pause if they suddenly develop any clever ideas.” Levi nodded in agreement, and in spite of not being a military officer, he saluted General Bradson. “There are those who will condemn you if this story ever gets out, but to quote a passage from Theodore Roosevelt, It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat. That man is you, General, and you, Sir, by your intrepid triumph over impossible odds, have done your country, mine, and the world, a great service.” That was the first time Felecia had ever seen General Bradson blush. Later that day, Felecia stood in the hotel lobby, Horst by her side, as she bade her men farewell. Many, she would never see again. They had their money, and now their freedom. With mixed emotions, she watched the first groups of departing mercenaries filing out the hotel door. After discussing the matter with Jon, Eric, Brandon, and Chase, Helen received their enthusiastic consent. She then went to see General Bradson and Felecia to make them a job offer. The only issue Helen was adamant on was one she reiterated three times: “No more nukes!” Shortly before dinner, Keith knocked on Eric and Jansen’s door. He entered, beaming, when Jansen opened the door, and gave his brother a playful slug on the arm. “You jerks. I’ll get you for what you pulled this morning.” He pointed an accusing finger at Eric, and added, “I hope you guys had a good laugh at our expense.” “Of course we did,” Eric replied deadpan. “Would you expect any less?” Keith flopped into an armchair, and Jansen asked, “So, how did it go? You’re in too good a mood for this to be bad news.” Keith grinned, looking first at Eric and then at Jansen. “Great, actually. We had a blast. We’re going on a dinner-date tonight. Turns out his home base is Camp Pendleton, so he’ll be close by once we get home, and yeah, I heard that we’re okay to go back. It’s been a great day all around. So, partners, does this mean we can still open the club?” Eric toyed with the idea of making Keith suffer for a few minutes, but then he chuckled and replied, “We’ll start looking for a suitable place just as soon as we get back.” Eric cracked open a bottle of Israeli whisky, and the three business partners drank a shot to toast their bright and beckoning future. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Special thanks to MikeL for advice I hereby dedicate this story to my friend Wildone, who has suffered a horrific accident, but due to his strength, perseverance, and courage has pulled through and is recovering. I wish you a continued speedy recovery, Wildone. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  15. C James


    Chapter 49: Falling Blinking in surprise, not yet realizing the danger, Survov stared for the briefest of moments at the woman standing before him. He’d never met Felecia, but the unexpected appearance of a woman’s face astounded him, because there were no females amongst the henchmen. His attention fixed on Felecia as had been intended, Survov didn’t have a chance. Horst, moving with catlike grace, seized Survov from behind, and with one fluid move put his arm over Survov’s shoulder, seized his chin, and pulled it hard, up, and to the left. Survov could only blink in horror as he heard the sound of his neck breaking, and felt the sudden knifelike pain. Horst released him, and Survov fell to the deck, unable to move, speak, or breathe, but still able to see and hear. He would remain conscious for the next minute, feeling himself suffocate to death. The Scar heard Survov’s fall, as did the one remaining henchman aboard. Reacting as they’d been intended to do, both snapped their heads around to look. The Scar opened his mouth to give an order, only to gasp out in surprise and pain as he was slammed from behind by General Bradson. The henchman was not so lucky; a mercenary who had maneuvered behind him snapped his neck. Brandon and Eric watched in surprise, and then relief, as they realized that rescue was at hand. With a bone-jarring thud, General Bradson slammed The Scar to the deck, grabbed him by the throat, and said softly, “One move out of you and I’ll break your neck.” There was no time for celebration as Felecia turned to ask Eric and Brandon, “Any idea where the third nuke is?” Brandon nodded, “Yeah, Jerry said he used it to trigger the eruption.” “I think he was telling the truth,” Eric added. Nodding, Felecia said, “Hold tight for a minute. We’ve still got to take the plane. Any idea how many are in the cockpit?” Brandon and Eric shook their heads, and Brandon said, “I don’t remember anyone but Jerry and that guy,” Brandon nodded at Survov, “going in, but I’m not sure.” Motioning to two of her men to follow, Felecia jogged forward to the cockpit door. She pressed her ear to the door, hoping to hear voices, but the noise from the engines was too loud. General Bradson left The Scar to Horst’s care and joined Felecia, knowing that he would soon be needed. Felecia glanced at her men to be sure they were ready, and said, “Take no chances. Knives only. Fast kill, before they can do anything.” After taking a deep breath and drawing her combat knife, Felecia shoved the door open and rushed through, her men following behind. The door hit the stop with a clatter, and the surprised pilot looked back, just in time to see Felecia. He reached for his gun, but before he could touch it, Felecia drove her knife into his neck, severing his spinal column. Snatching the pilot’s body backwards before he could fall against the yoke, Felecia put her own hand on the controls and yelled, “Cockpit, clear. Walter, get in here!” He was already behind her, and slipped into the copilot’s seat, taking the controls. After a fast check of the gauges he said, “Looks like we’re okay here. Get the body out, I’d rather not land from the right seat.” The pilot’s body was unceremoniously dumped outside the cockpit door, and Felecia, bloody knife in hand, rushed into the cargo bay, smiling as she announced, “Aircraft secured.” Turning to Brandon and Eric, she said, “Lets get you two out of those ropes.” Felecia made fast work of Brandon and Eric’s ropes, and then with a bemused look said to Helen with a wink, “You can move now, you know.” Helen, still somewhat shaken, realized that she was still holding her arms behind her, clutching a rope in place to simulate being bound. Shaking her head at Felecia, Helen said, “Yeah, thanks. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. I really didn’t think this crazy plan of yours would work.” Helen glanced at Survov’s body, and then at The Scar, who was motionless, pinned to the floor by Horst, and added, “I guess it did. Thank you.” “How–” Brandon asked in stunned voice, only to be cut off by Felecia. “I’ll explain in a minute. Business first. Horst, check Frankenstein’s pockets. Take everything, including his watch or anything else that could be electrical or hide a transmitter. Kill him if he even breathes wrong.” Felecia said. Horst, aided by one of the mercenaries, emptied The Scar’s pockets, and then used a tie-down strap to bind The Scar’s arm to his body. When Horst was done, he left one mercenary with a knife at The Scar’s throat, and handed Felecia The Scar’s satellite phone. Flipping it open, she dialed the number for Yuri’s phone, which was answered by Brian. With herself and Horst on the mission, she’d left him in charge at Flight Three. “We’ve secured the aircraft, the hostages, and the bombs. No casualties. Clean the runway of any stragglers, and report so we can land,” Felecia told Brian, before ending the call and turning to Horst to say, “Check those damn bombs. Make sure there’s no timer and safe the things, if you can.” Horst nodded, feeling somewhat out of his depth, and walked towards the bombs. Brandon said, in a shaky voice, “I’m pretty good with electronics. Can I help?” Horst turned and nodded. “Yes. I would appreciate it.” Working together while the others looked on, Horst, with his knowledge of explosives, and Brandon, with his own of electronics, examined the simple timers and triggering charges. “The timers don’t look like they are running,” Brandon said, “but there could be another timer chip somewhere, and these,” he gestured at the two protruding metal stubs, “might be contact terminals, but I don’t know what they’re for.” Speaking for the first time since his capture, The Scar, with the mercenary’s knife still at his throat, said, “Do not touch those assemblies. I have no wish to die. The timers and triggering charges are set to detonate if tampered with. Brandon is correct; there is an internal timer in addition to the external one. The internal ones are running. Only I know how to disarm them. I would imagine that there are perhaps five minutes remaining, but I am not certain.” “Why the hell would you have the timers counting down while taking off?” Felecia asked. “Let us strike a bargain, or we all die,” The Scar replied, ignoring the question. “I ask only for my release, and I shall grant you your lives in return.” “Yeah, right,” Felecia said, and then, motioning to one of her men, ordered, “Start breaking his fingers, then move the bones around a little. He’ll talk.” He hadn’t really expected his play for release to work, so The Scar made a decision. Affecting a quavering, fearful voice, he said, “No, wait. It’s the metal contacts. Jump them with a coin and that disarms the timer.” “I think he’s lying, start breaking fingers,” Felecia said. Eric stared at The Scar for a moment, until his inner sense was sure. “He’s definitely lying. I know he is.” Helen nodded and then told Felecia, “It’s a long story, but when Eric is that sure, I’d believe him.” “Me, too,” Brandon said, and resumed his examination of the timer and demolition charge. Felecia shrugged. “Fine, I think so too. So, can you two safe those things, or should we try the finger-breaking option?” Horst asked Brandon, “Any sign of a pressure switch in the detonator?” “No, not that I can see. There’s only two wires.” “It could be non-electrical, perhaps spring-loaded, but this appears to be a standard detonator cap. I’ve used this model before.” Horst stared at the triggering charge for a moment and then said, “This looks to be very simple. The timer connects to a single detonator cap, which is exposed and can be removed, like so.” As if plucking a grape, Horst reached out and pulled the detonator cap out of the high explosive shaped charge. Brandon cringed, and Felecia said with a chuckle, “Thanks for the warning, Horst. Might as well do the other one.” Horst removed the second detonator cap, and then cut the wires to both, handing the detonator caps off to one of his men. He then pried the now-inert charges off the bombs with his knife. After examining them again, he said on a matter-o-fact voice, “These are safe now. With no detonator cap, they are harmless.” Horst held one of the charges out to Brandon, who took it with more than a little trepidation. “It is quite safe. I do not understand electronics as well as you, but I do know explosives.” Brandon eased the timer up, and saw the wires connecting to the contacts, which led directly to the relay. “Jumping the contacts would have set it off,” he said, and then handed the charge back to Horst. “How the hell did you guys pull this off,” Eric asked, no longer able to contain his curiosity. He then glanced at Survov’s corpse, and then the pilot’s, amazed at how little the dead bodies bothered him. Felecia shrugged, remembering… “It wasn’t easy–” she said, and then began to explain… The original plan, born of desperation, had been five minutes from execution when Helen had shown up at Flight Three. The Scar’s time limit had been almost up, and Felecia had already, acting on the report from her recon team, sent ten of her men ­forward, intending to use the ash and darkness to silently take down the henchmen deployed astern of Flight Two and then storm the plane, hoping for the best. The General and Felecia had given that option a low chance of success due to the probability that The Scar would have a few seconds in which to respond by killing the two hostages or detonating a nuclear warhead. However, it was all they could come up with, until Helen had arrived. Her frustrated, desperate outburst had given General Bradson an idea, and the battle plan had been amended. Surprise had been both the goal, and the previously elusive key. Helen, escorted by the General and Felecia, had dashed south, and between ragged gasps for air and muffled by the towel wrapped around his head, the General had given Helen a few quick instructions. There had been no time to explain fully, but Helen went along, in part due to desperation, but in an equal measure due to the fact that she had begun to trust General Bradson and Felecia. Even though her prior placement of trust in General Bradson had not gone well, she knew that he had never intended to bring harm to her or Instinct. When she was halfway to Flight Three, Felecia had given the order to her ten men, who had been chosen due to being ex-special forces and skilled in the art of stealthy approach and silent killing. The ten mercenaries, working in two-man teams, had made fast work of the five henchmen, who had been deployed in individual posts, facing north. The partial darkness and ash had provided good concealment, made all the better by the henchmen’s preference for keeping their eyes covered. The five henchmen had been taken from behind almost simultaneously, a hand clamping their mouths closed as their throats were cut. Three of the mercenaries had, per their orders, pulled the henchmen’s uniforms on over their own, taking care to rub ash over the bloodstains. They had been ready when Felecia and the General had arrived with Helen. Donning henchman’s uniforms of their own, and joined by three similarly clad mercenaries, Felecia and General Bradson had formed the guard detail that had taken Helen aboard Flight Two. It had once again been the ash that made it possible; with their heads wrapped in towels, leaving only slits for their eyes, they had been indistinguishable at a casual glance from The Scar’s men. Felecia spoke quickly, knowing that there was still much to do, and concluded her tale, saying, “Survov made it easy by deploying his men outside, but we had to wait for Frankenstein to come out, because we didn’t know how he might have the bombs rigged and thought he might have a trigger of some kind on him. I’d asked Helen to keep quiet and ignore him, figuring that would focus his attention. We had to take him by surprise, and I think it’s safe to say, we surprised the hell out of him.” Taking a deep breath, beginning to dread the answer, Eric asked, “What about Jim, Linda, and the Private? Jerry said he had them prisoner somewhere.” Felecia shook her head. “We still don’t know. Frankenstein had all three bombs, so he knows where our friends are.” Felecia paused, and then told Helen, Brandon, and Eric, “Please go visit with Walter in the cockpit for a while. It would be better for all of us.” Helen nodded, and led Eric and Brandon to the cockpit. They all suspected what was about to occur. General Bradson greeted them from the pilot’s seat, “Felecia told me on the intercom that you were on your way. I’m circling over the southern tip of La Palma, so as we come around, you’ll see the eruption.” Brandon slid into the copilot’s seat, Helen took the navigator’s station, and Eric settled into the flight engineer’s seat behind General Bradson, as La Palma came into view. The sight that greeted them chilled them to the bone. Looking north along the main fissure, they could see glowing fountains of lava, topped by roiling columns of ash, which towered into the stratosphere before bending northeastward. To the northeast, they could see the airport, which was just south of the ash cloud, but it was the western side of the island that held their gaze. Jagged paths of light grey ­– the result of pyroclastic flows – led to the sea in half a dozen places, three of which crossed the route they’d taken during their escape. General Bradson pointed through the window. “See where the resort was?” he asked. Brandon peered out, squinting against the glare, and managed to pick out the beach where he’d been married. Tracing the coast south, he saw it, and gasped. “Oh my God… It’s gone…” He was close enough to being right; the land on which the resort once stood was now covered by black rubble, the result of a slow-moving lava flow that had reached the sea. Staring out at the devastation, Eric said in a numb tone, “Jerry did this. First Australia, now here.” Turning to glare at The Scar, Felecia said, “Care to talk now, or do I do this the fun way?” The Scar glared back. “You would not dare. Torture is illegal­­–” The Scar gaped in agony, reeling from the kick Felecia had just delivered to his still-tender nuts. Felecia kicked The Scar again, rolling him over. She flattened his bound hand, palm up, against the deck, and stomped on his fingers, breaking two. After waiting for The Scar to stop screaming, Felecia said pleasantly, “Now we’ve resolved that little matter, let’s have a chat. Now, where are our friends?” Felecia felt no compunction about using forceful methods on a man who had coldly killed tens of thousands of people. To emphasize that she meant business, she wiggled the broken bones of The Scar’s middle finger. The Scar yelled in pain, and then gasped, “I’ll make you pay for this, I swear it­–” The Scar’s protests were interrupted by his own yells, as Felecia tugged on his shattered fingers. “They’re dead, they died in the ambush,” he gasped, and then, with a little more encouragement, he shared the details of that, and a few other things that Felecia thought to ask. Once she was satisfied that she had the truth, Felecia walked to the cockpit, dreading what she knew came next. Felecia crouched down between Eric and Helen. Eric didn’t need his inner sense; one glance at Felecia’s face was all it took. “They’re dead, aren’t they,” he said, his voice quiet and strained. He felt tears come to his eyes and let them fall, unashamed. Felecia reached out and took Eric’s hand into her own, and then, as Brandon turned in his seat, she took his as well. “I’m sorry, but they’re gone. Frankenstein’s goons ambushed them right after they left the hotel with the bomb. They never had a chance. They went out fighting; they took a couple of the goons with ‘em,” Felecia said in a quiet, sad tone. Eric dropped his head to his hand, overcome by a wave of grief and guilt, his eyes streaming freely. Brandon too lowered his head, grieving for the man who had once been his closest friend. Eric, fighting back a sob, mumbled, “It’s my fault, all of this is…” Helen, in spite of her own grief, opened her eyes wide in surprise as Felecia, with a tenderness Helen had never suspected she possessed, let go of Eric’s hand and gently raised his chin until she could look in his eyes. “Honey, that’s just not true. There is no way you could have possibly known all this would happen. I’ve lost a lot of people too. I know how much it hurts, but you cannot blame yourself. If you do, that bastard back there wins, because he’s ruined even more lives. Don’t let him, Eric, don’t you dare let him. “He told me what you two did. I’ve done some crazy things in my time, but coming here like that, with just a grenade… I’m a pro and I wouldn’t have tried it. You put your lives on the line for your friends. There is no higher honor to their memory than that. Grieve for them, yes, but you’ve no reason for guilt. When all this is over, I’ll be grieving too, for them, and the men I’ve lost, including Wilhelm, who was like family to me. Don’t let guilt eat you inside, Eric. Trust me on that if nothing else…” Felecia let her voice trail off as she remembered Wilhelm, and then she said, “What would Jim do if he could be here right now?” “I… I don’t know,” Eric said, in a voice barely loud enough to be heard above the engines. Brandon looked at Eric for a moment, and then said, “Yeah you do. He’d call us both idiots and kick our asses. Felecia’s right, bro. Jim and I… He saved my life back in Phoenix, I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for him, so you listen to me; you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about. You did what you could, including trying to trade your life for theirs, so listen to what we’re telling you; this wasn’t your fault, man.” Eric sat motionless for several long moments, and then replied, “Even if that’s true, we’re still in deep shit, all of us, because I brought us those damn bombs.” General Bradson broke into the conversation with a cough. “I think I’m to blame for that one, not you. Look, we all did what we felt we had to do. That’s all anyone can do; the best they can, with what they know at the time. Okay, let’s put this aside for right now and deal with the problems we still face. Helen, did your tape recorder get Frankenstein’s little spiel back there?” Helen patted her pocket. “It’s been in voice-activation mode ever since we left the other plane. I was hoping that Jerry might say something to clear us.” Helen pulled out the recorder and hit ‘play’, to make certain that it had indeed recorded in spite of the sound of the engines. The Scar’s words were barely audible above the thrum of the engines, but Helen, who was very familiar with studio sound equipment, knew that it could easily be digitally scrubbed. “The audio is rough, but fixing that is easy. What I’ve got helps, but I just wish we had more,” she said. General Bradson glanced over at Brandon. “I saw you do one hell of a piece of flying the day you landed at my air base and we first met. If you can pilot a crippled bizjet to a survivable landing, you can sure as hell keep this big old bird in the air. How about taking over for a few minutes, while I go work on our problem?” Taking a deep breath, Brandon replied, “I think I can handle it. Just come right away if I yell, okay?” Giving Brandon a pat on the shoulder, General Bradson said, “You’ll do just fine.” The General gave Brandon a quick explanation of the controls, confident that he’d be okay, and then said, “You’ve got the airplane. You shouldn’t need anything but the yoke, just keep doing these big lazy circles. If you need to go straight and level, that’s fine as long as you aren’t heading for the ash. Keep us out of that and we’re doing great. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Brandon took a deep breath and concentrated on flying, finding that the C-130 was easier to handle, due to being less sensitive on the controls, than a bizjet. Felecia stood up and opened the cockpit door, holding it open for the General and Helen. Helen stood for a moment between Brandon and Eric, putting her arms over their shoulders and giving them both a hug as she said, “You nearly got your stupid selves killed trying to save them. No one could ever ask for more.” Helen turned and walked out of the cockpit. As she passed Felecia, she looked Felecia in the eye, then glanced back in the direction of Brandon and Eric, and mouthed, “Thank you.” After Felecia closed the door, Eric waited a moment, and then silently climbed into the pilot’s seat next to Brandon, but kept his hands away from the controls. Brandon glanced at him, and then asked, “Are you gonna be okay?” Eric sighed, and then shrugged. For a moment, he tried to put his feelings into words, but couldn’t. In that instant, cheered slightly by thoughts of Jansen and the knowledge that he would be there for him, Eric said, “Yeah, thanks Brandon. I think I’m going to be all right. How about you?” Brandon remained silent for a while, trying to order his thoughts. “It hurts like hell, but yeah, I’ll get through this, we both will.” Before walking aft to where The Scar lay, Felecia motioned for the General and Helen to wait for a moment, and opened her phone to call Brian. Brian picked up the call in a cheerful tone, “I was just about to call you and report. Based on tracks in the ash, most of the goons left behind hightailed it out of here after Flight Two took off. Looks like they headed inland. There’s one or two holed up in the terminal; they took some potshots at my recon, and I’ve sent a team to take ‘em out, which should happen soon. I’ve got sentries posted, and I’ve sent four men back to the hotel just in case any hostiles show up there. I don’t think they will, but they’re desperate now and might try anything. I’d feel better if we evacuated everyone from the hotel and put ‘em on Flight Three.” Felecia smiled. Brian’s words confirmed to her that she’d made the right choice in placing him in charge. It had not been an easy decision; she’d known that placing an outsider in charge might foster resentment from some of her men, but in the end, Felecia had chosen Brian because of his competence and loyalty. “You’re in command, kiddo, make it happen if that’s what you think best. Sounds fine to me. Let me know when it’s clear to land. We’re orbiting over the south end of the island and we can be on the ground a few minutes after you give the word. Do what you can to get Flight Three ready to go; we’ll want to lift out ASAP after we land Flight Two. Get a truck ready too, because we’ll need to move the bombs,” Felecia said. In the aft end of the cargo bay, General Bradson, Felecia, and Helen looked down with contempt at The Scar, who lay on the deck, looking up at them, only his disfigured face concealing his pain. Choosing his words with care, General Bradson said, “You really fucked up, you know that? First, you lost the bombs, then you got ‘em back, now you’ve lost them and your freedom both. You’re done now, you must know that. The first chance we get, we’re turning you over to the United States Government, and I’m sure you’ll get the death penalty.” The Scar gave a derisive snort. “Your trust in your government has progressed from the naive to the moronic, I see. I am not unaware of the legal troubles all of you face.” The Scar paused for a moment, as he realized that he still had a hand to play. “Why was I able to reclaim my warheads, even temporarily? I could not have done so, save for their treachery in dealing with Helen, which provided me with a window of opportunity. I think it would be better for all of you if you released me. Think it through; I have the ability to either clear you or condemn you. I’ll never face the death penalty; there will be years of legal wrangling, starting with jurisdictional disputes. The Australians will certainly wish to prosecute me, as will others. At every trial and hearing, I shall be able to speak. I will do so, and I assure you that my version of events will prove most useful in the American Government’s vendetta against you. However, bear in mind that I have a score to settle with them as well, and would prefer to do so.” Helen, General Bradson, and Felecia exchanged a glance, and the General asked Helen, “What do you think?” Helen shook her head, and turned to The Scar to say, “Jerry, you’ve betrayed me before. Give me a reason I should trust you now.” Seeing Helen’s question as a proffered escape hatch, The Scar replied, “Commonality of needs and desires, my dear Helen. You know me well enough to trust that I will always act in my own best interests, do you not?” Setting the hook, Helen replied with a nod. Grasping at the straw he thought he could see, his haste and ego blinding him to the danger, The Scar said, “Very well, allow me to explain. I am an arms dealer by trade. The publicity surrounding recent events, combined with the revelation that I still live, will place me in an enviable position; my access to nuclear technology – and I still have my contacts, which I used to aid the Iranian program – will be in great demand. My continued existence will be a perpetual thorn in the side of your government. I shall make my continued existence known, as a means of both embarrassing your government and furthering my own ends. I am not a man to hide from opportunity, and as you have seen, I have survived impossible odds before. Your government’s actions have given me a golden opening. After the manner in which your government has betrayed you, surely you can see that it is in all our interests to cooperate. You have taken away my means of extracting revenge directly, but I am still able to do so by becoming a perpetual embarrassment to them, which will serve your ends as well as my own. Only by releasing me and allowing me to act in my own interests, which of course I shall, can you clear yourselves.” General Bradson said to Helen, “That’s probably all we can get from him. Think it’s enough?” Helen thought it through and nodded. “Probably, if played right.” General Bradson looked at Helen, before saying, “Could you please rejoin Brandon and Eric on the flight deck and remain there? Felecia and I have some details to discuss with our guest. We will be with you shortly.” Helen could read between the lines, and gave the General a nod of approval before turning and walking towards the cockpit. Helen entered the flight deck and shut the door as Brandon asked, “What’s going on back there?” Helen hesitated, and Eric glanced back at her. Seeing no objection, he said, “I’ve got a pretty good guess. I think we’ll find out, any second now.” General Bradson looked at the cargo bay door and said, “Oh, Horst?” “Yes, Herr General?” In a light, conversational tone, General Bradson asked, “Do you remember that thing you did just before we landed on La Palma, that Felecia and I asked you not to do without checking with us first? I think now would be a very good time.” Horst remembered it well, and stood at attention. After glancing at Felecia and seeing approval in her eyes, he replied in a pleased tone. “It would be my sincere pleasure to give such a lesson, Herr General.” The Scar, too late, sensed the danger. “What is the meaning of this,” he demanded, and then reminded them all, “You need me to clear yourselves.” General Bradson nodded gravely. “We have decided to do as you ask, and release you.” Felecia smiled as she added, “Your words, via Helen’s tape recorder, will provide what we need. You always were overly fond of the sound of your own voice, and I hope you can appreciate that it will be your own words that save us. Like I told Yuri when I killed him; sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.” The Scar did not spare a thought for the news of Yuri’s death; he was frantically trying to think of something to say, some means by which to change his fate. General Bradson thumbed the intercom and told Brandon, “I’m going to lower the cargo bay door. It shouldn’t bother you, but you’ll see the red right go on. We decided to dump the bodies; no point in your wedding party having to see corpses, especially after all they’ve been through.” The General released the button and hit the switch to open the bay door, and told Horst, “Remove the straps, I don’t want it too obvious what we’ve done. Bounce him off the bulkheads a few times to leave some DNA.” In the cockpit, Brandon felt the C-130 tremble and slow slightly as the bay door indicator light came on. “I wonder how many bodies he’s dumping?” Brandon asked, already suspecting the truth. “There were three,” Eric replied, and then held up four fingers as he mumbled in a bitter tone. “Happy landings, Jerry.” Helen raised her voice to say, “If what you’re speculating ever got out, it could hurt Felecia, her men aboard, and General Bradson.” Eric glanced back at Helen, arched an eyebrow, and replied, “I’ll never say anything about it. I can’t, because I don’t actually know, not for sure. That’s why we’re all in here, right?” As the wind roared into the growing opening, The Scar shouted, “You cannot do this to me!” “Ah, but we can,” said Horst, as he drew his gleaming combat knife. General Bradson walked towards The Scar, shouting above the roaring engines and howling wind, “You were right. Like a bad penny, you just keep turning up. Alive, you’ll cause no end of trouble for us, and you’ll dance around the courts for years before ending up in a nice cushy cell somewhere. There’s also the chance you’ll escape and kill even more people. The world is better off without you in it, so goodbye and good riddance, you piece of shit.” Horst moved fast, his knife flashing out, leaving a shallow, bloody cut on The Scar’s upper arm. Leaving the blood on his knife and setting it aside, he grabbed the straps that bound The Scar and hauled him to his feet, and straight-armed him, shoulder-first, into the bulkheads a few times. Seeing the bloodstains and judging them sufficient, Horst spun The Scar around, driving a hard undercut into his bruised ribs. The Scar doubled over, gasping in pain, as Felecia moved forward and cut the straps away with a flick of her knife. The Scar struggled, fighting to catch his breath so that he could speak, still believing that he could talk his way out, but his time was almost up. Horst grabbed The Scar by the back of his shirt and the seat of his pants. With a mighty heave, he sent The Scar flying in an arc that terminated on the aft edge of the cargo bay door. The Scar hit hard, rolling, and reached out with his hand to grab for purchase, but his momentum was too much to counter, and he parted company from Flight Two at ten thousand feet with no parachute, the fate he had intended for Eric. General Bradson told Horst, “Good job. Now, toss the other three bodies out so we can close the door and get this crate on the ground. We’ve still got a hell of a lot of work ahead of us before this is over.” The wind blasting in his face… and the sickening feeling of free-fall, that was what held his attention for a moment. Forcing his eyes open, tumbling though the air, The Scar was treated to alternating views of the ground, nearly two miles below, and the sky, containing the fast-receding Flight Two, glittering in the sunlight above. Rage filled him, and he opened his mouth to speak, words of grandiose eloquence forming in his mind, his fury burning, but before he could utter a sound, he realized that there was no one to hear him, and never would there be again. General Bradson arrived in the cockpit to relieve Brandon, just as the bay-door warning light shut off. Eric eased out of the pilot’s seat, and General Bradson slid in to take over from Brandon, who had been flying from the copilot’s station. Attending to the first order of business, the General punched a button to record their current coordinates. “There was a bit of a scuffle in the cargo bay,” the General said in a casual tone, knowing full well that no one there would believe him. “Jerry Clump broke free and grabbed a knife, trying to take the plane back. In the fight that followed, he took a blow and rolled out the back. He didn’t have a parachute.” The General glanced out the window, looking at the ash-covered landscape of southeastern La Palma, and added, “He’ll be landing any moment now.” Over the following minute, The Scar managed to stabilize, falling face down, granting him a perfect view of the ash-covered land below. For the first time in his life, his self-confidence deserted him, and he stared in the face of certain death. Fear… he felt it, growing, consuming him as he plummeted, his heart racing, towards the waiting Earth at over one hundred miles per hour. Panic and terror, driven by fear in its purest form, gripped him like a vice in that final few hundred feet. His final act as a living man was to scream…. He, who had brought death to so many with banal disregard, died in the fear he had so oft dealt out with abandon, in one final bitter irony for The Scar. © 2009 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice . Any remaining errors are mine alone.
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