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    C James
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Changing Lanes - 34. Miscommunications


Chapter 34: Miscommunications


 



 

 

After a quick glance at his navigational display and then his watch, General Bradson said, “Time for another call,” and flicked on his satellite phone. Helen answered on the first ring. “Hi, how do things stand?” the General said, still observing caution regarding the open phone line.

Taking a deep breath, Helen answered, “The boys and I will do it, provided they and I approve of the collateral you mentioned. How will you be doing this?”

General Bradson gave Felecia a thumbs up and a grin, and then answered, “I’m bringing it to you. Then, you will call a press conference and immediately thereafter you will be reimbursed in full by our Uncle.”

“That sounds acceptable,” Helen replied, wondering what was going on. Then it occurred to her that there was no way the General could get to La Palma, any more than she could leave. “There is a problem here; the airport is shut down–”

General Bradson smiled and replied, “Don’t worry; it won’t be, for me. I’ll be there in a few hours. It would help if one or more of the group is there; meeting someone famous and having them make the offer would help greatly.”

Cringing inside, knowing who it would have to be, Helen said, “Through his own pigheaded stupidity, Eric is near the airport right now. If I can get a hold of him, I’ll have him stay put. Can you guarantee his safety?”

“Yes, but I’ll let the boss answer that too,” General Bradson said, and handed the phone to Felecia.

Helen repeated her question, and Felecia replied, “Under the circumstances, considering what he’s offering us, he’ll be perfectly safe. You have my word on that.”

Not fully convinced, but planning to be there herself with Eric kept at a safe distance at first, Helen said, “Very well, I’ll have Eric meet you. I’ll be there as well.” The only guess Helen had, based on knowing that the General was in a plane and her assumption a plane could not land, was that the General would be parachuting in with his friend.

Helen tried Eric’s number again, and after verifying that she could make other calls, and knowing Eric’s ways, she at last deduced that he’d shut off his phone. Hoping that Jansen had a cell phone with him, Helen hurried out the door, heading for Jansen and Keith’s suite.

 

 

Eric, with Jansen by his side, walked down the small hotel’s ash-encrusted stairs, a sad look on his face. Jansen threw a comforting arm over Eric’s shoulders and said, “You tried. At least now you know the names of the pilots to ask for when we get home.”

Eric, shielding his eyes from the ash that the rising wind was kicking up, replied, “Thanks, Jansen. I just wish I hadn’t dragged you all the way out here. When we get home, I’ll–” Eric stopped talking while Jansen fished out his ringing cell phone, and glanced at the ID before answering it. Jansen’s face went blank, and he handed the phone to Eric. “It’s Helen, calling from Keith’s phone. She needs to talk to you immediately, says it’s urgent.”

Eric took the phone and was shocked to find out that Helen knew where he was, and even more surprised that she wanted him to stay there for a few hours. His eyes opened wider still when she told him that she couldn’t get into details over the phone, but that someone would be arriving at the airport in a few hours. Eric pointed out that it was closed, but Helen told him to just be at the airport and that she would meet him there.

Snapping the phone closed, Eric returned it to Jansen and filled him in on what Helen had said. With a puzzled look, Jansen replied, “But the airport is closed. It’s not just there’s no planes flying, but shut down with barricades across the entrance. We drove right by it.”

Eric nodded, well aware of the seeming impossibility. He couldn’t think of any reply to Jansen’s comment, so he said,” Whatever’s going on, it must be serious: Helen didn’t even yell at me for being here. She never misses a chance to yell at me…”

“So, what do we do now?”

Eric shrugged, and as he returned his phone to standby be said, “Wait for a call I guess, and be back here in a few hours. There’s a town not far from here, and unless they’re shut down by the ash, there’s a bakery that makes great sandwiches. I ate there on my first trip here, when I ordered the cakes.”

“It’s a date,” Jansen said with a grin.

Eric and Jansen spent the next few hours strolling around the nearly deserted, ash-covered streets of Santa Cruz De La Palma. For Jansen, it was his first time in a foreign city, and he ignored the ash as he just enjoyed the feel of the unusual town, its old colonial Spanish architecture, and cobblestone streets. The sandwich shop was closed, so they walked on, with their shirts pulled up to the bridges of their noses to keep out the ash. Eric couldn’t help but smile; Jansen’s joy was infectious, and he loved the way the dancer could still enjoy himself in spite of the ash. From Jansen’s happiness, Eric found his own.

 

 

On board Flight Three, over the Western Sahara, General Bradson said, “About an hour out of La Palma, we’ll need to level with your men. We’ll tell them they’ll have a million each, in a numbered Swiss account, confirmed to their satisfaction, by the end of the day. I’ll stay with you after the turnover, and I’ll get you and your men to safety. I’ll also make sure that the U.S. Government leaves you the hell alone. You’ll be out, all the way out, just like you wanted for your men. Now, I’ve got to ask, what’s your story? I know you were regular Army; you call the Marines jarheads and you talk like a drill sergeant, and I remember some of your colorful epithets for officers. You’re a pro, so why did you become a mercenary?”

Felecia paled a little at the memory, but reluctantly decided to tell something she’d kept secret for years. “You’re right, I was in the Army. I’d just been bumped up to E-8, Master Sergeant. The Army was my life, until one night on the DMZ in Korea. I’d just returned from a patrol. I found one of my troops in the barracks, beaten and bruised. She’d been raped. I went to the Colonel, but–”

The story caused a memory to click in the General’s mind. “I remember reading the report. The guy you were reporting was the Colonel’s cousin and you didn’t know. The Colonel didn’t file charges. His official notes claimed the soldier was lying, trying to use blackmail… and the soldier killed them both and then shot herself. You deserted, probably because of how you’d been treated. At least, that’s what the investigation came up with, based on DNA evidence and the Colonel’s official notes describing the blackmail attempt. But that’s all wrong, isn’t it?”

Felecia sighed. “Yeah, a clusterfuck after a cover-up. That wasn't what happened, though I'm not surprised if that's what the report said. The Colonel had a racket of some kind going with his cousin, not sure exactly what. I’d picked up rumblings before all this went down but I didn’t put two and two together until it was too late. As for my soldier... I was the one who found her, later that day. Suicide. She’d been pushed beyond her limit, Walter, first by the rape, then by having official charges of blackmail filed against her. In my mind, the damn Colonel and his cousin were just as guilty as if they’d pulled the trigger themselves. I couldn’t let them get away with doing that to one of my people and I sure as hell wasn’t going to let them stay around and endanger the rest of my troops. I thought that if I went by standard procedures the Colonel would at most get a slap on the damn wrist, but most likely he and his cousin would get off scot-free while my soldier was rotting in her grave. I was also wondering if I’d become a loose end and they’d set up some kind of accident for me. So I went hunting. I used her knife, just seemed like poetic justice. After I was done, I figured I’d better make myself scarce so I left. I had no idea where I’d go or what I’d do. A week later I was in Bangkok, staying at a raunchy dive downtown. I got good and drunk. When I’m stressed and I drink, I tend to fight. I bit off more than I could chew that night. I was losing, and then a young guy came out of nowhere and jumped into the fray. Saved my ass. That’s how I met Wilhelm. I sobered up a little and we talked. He told me about working in Africa as a mercenary, and I figured why the hell not? Not like I had anything else to do. God, I miss him…”

Without thinking, General Bradson put a reassuring arm across Felecia’s shoulders. Surprised both by his own action and that she did not react badly, he said, “I could tell that you two were close. I’m sorry. But Fel, you’ve got to think of yourself now. Get out of the business. You’ll have the money, get out.”

“I want that for my men… but for me? I can find other employers. I’m not the retiring type, Walter. I need the mission, that’s why I joined the Army. I can’t do much else besides being a mercenary, not with my record.”

“Fel, you're only wanted as a deserter, not a murderer. You must have found that out eventually? As far as I’m concerned, you did the Army a favor by taking out two bad players.” General Bradson had no grounds to criticize Felecia’s actions. His own response to government inaction and a miscarriage of justice had been to raise a private army and attack multiple points in a foreign nation, so he could hardly object to Felecia’s unorthodox administration of justice. He then added, “However, I can understand about needing a mission. I’m the same, and doubly so ever since Brian left home. When the government cashiered me, I was at my wits end–”

“Cashiered you? I thought you resigned?” Felecia asked in genuine surprise.

General Bradson shook his head with disgust. “I was given a choice: resign and keep my mouth shut regarding why, or kiss my pension goodbye. I pissed off the wrong people; I went ahead, without approval from up the ladder, and had the bombs in Los Angeles and New York disarmed. I knew Washington would take too damn long to make up its mind. I was right, too. A detonation code was sent, just after the bombs were disarmed. Had I waited…”

“You did the right thing, saved millions of lives, and the bastards fucked you over for it. I get that, I do indeed.”

After checking his navigational display, General Bradson said, “If your former employer has ears on board, we’d better see what we can do to put an end to it. My guess is that one of your men has a satellite phone or similar small communications device. Might be a good idea to have Horst start a search before we tell your men where we’re going.

“I’ll do it if there’s no other choice, but my men won’t like it and they’re edgy enough. There’s a ton of places a small communications device could be hidden on this crate, so I doubt we’d find it. Horst is keeping an eye out. I don’t suppose you know how to jam a signal?” Felecia asked.

Shaking his head, General Bradson replied, “Nope, not without gear we don’t have. However, maybe we should just use this to our advantage. I doubt your men will know one island from the other, so we’ll say we’re landing on Hierro, which is about fifty miles south of our destination. If we’ve got a spy on board they’ll likely try and get word out after we announce.”

Felecia nodded her approval and got up to fill Horst in on the plan.

When she returned, Flight Three, still at low altitude, crossed the beach three miles south of the Moroccan border, leaving the Sahara behind. General Bradson banked the C-130 into a left-hand turn, completing a slow and careful circle before resuming course for La Palma. “No sign of any pursuit,” he said. He hadn’t expected there to be, but he liked to be sure.

“I’ve got an idea of my own,” Felecia said, snapping open her phone. With a wink and a sly smile, she dialed The Scar.

Three hundred miles behind Flight Three, Flight Two sat on the sun-scorched old runway at Tindouf, taking on fuel. The Scar often used that airfield, in the far southwest of Algeria, for a staging point. He’d done so again. In mild surprise, he saw who was calling him and answered by saying, “Have you reconsidered?”

“Yes. Our other deal fell through. We’re willing to deal with you. We’re returning to Sudan and will land near you. The General is dead. I’ll call you shortly, once I figure out a way to keep my men safe while we renegotiate,” Felecia said.

“Very well. I will await your call.” The Scar said, and then heard Felecia hang up. He then turned to Yuri to say, “The traitorous bitch thinks I am a fool. I believe I am correct regarding their destination. We should have confirmation soon if so.”

Smiling, pleased that she’d found out what she was after, Felecia said, “Guess what, Walter? No engine sounds. He wasn’t in the air. So, maybe he doesn’t have ears on board after all. He could have merely issued contingency orders to Flight Two back in Oman.”

“Putting a spy on board just makes too much sense to ignore. There’s also the possibility of some sort of remote-activated tracking device in the airframe, though I doubt that; anything that radiates a signal would have cooked our goose in Iran, and he wouldn’t want to risk his precious cargo. Scar might not be in the air but we don’t know where he is. Let’s play it safe. Let’s make the announcement that we’ve cut a deal with a new buyer, and we’re landing on Hierro.” Changing the subject slightly, General Bradson said, “I’m climbing now. I want Air Traffic Control in Tenerife to pick us up. I’ll tell ‘em we’re carrying some urgently needed gear for the geologists. That should keep any authorities on the island out of our hair for long enough.” It would prove to be an unneeded precaution: the General had no way of knowing, but the airport had been completely evacuated.

 

 

Felecia went aft to make the announcement in person, telling her men first that a new deal had been cut, with a new buyer, because their former employer was planning to double-cross them. She said they’d be paid, and that a famous musician would be verifying the deal in person. The brief, vague explanation was enough, for many of the men. Some had grown to trust General Bradson, others trusted Felecia and Horst. They were the majority, but for nearly as many more, the news did not sit well.

After the announcement, Horst kept watch on the lavatories out of the corner of his eye. The first to use it was The Scar’s former cook. That much was enough to trigger Horst’s suspicions, but the man’s momentary surreptitious glance around before entering the lavatory confirmed it. Less then a second after the door closed, Horst wrenched it open and hauled the former cook out by the neck, the satellite phone still in his hand. They had their spy. Horst dragged the man to the side door, and thumbed the intercom. “Herr General, the side door will be opening.” Signaling with a nod to two of his men, Horst then waited with the squirming spy until the door was open, and then, yelling above the howling slipstream, said, “Tell us everything, right now. Any hesitation, any lies, and I will remove you from the aircraft.”

The former cook, staring into the gaping void, was suddenly deathly afraid of what Horst would do, if it was discovered that he’d helped conspire to kill them all. He blurted, “I was just given that in case of trouble. I haven’t used it.”

The cook had overlooked a small detail. Being unfamiliar with the satellite phone, he was not mindful of the fact that it retained text messages in memory. Horst was under no such limitation. Handing the squirming spy off to two of his men, Horst examined the device and found the messages, including the one from The Scar. Turning to yell down the cargo bay, he said, “Here is proof: our former employer gave orders to kill us all. Anyone who wishes to see the proof for themselves may do so. This man was conspiring to cause our deaths.” Turning to face the former cook, Horst began to smile as he realized that he could make a point while solving a problem. “One cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,” he said to the former cook, and then signaled his two men with a nod.

One of the men slammed a vicious jab into the spy’s gut and as he doubled over, gasping for breath, they spun him around and heaved him headfirst out the door.

Horst smiled coldly and then aided his men in pushing the door closed and dogging it down. In his command voice, Horst said, “I do not tolerate traitors and spies. That one will be fine provided he learns how to fly.” Horst strolled forward to give Felecia and the General the happy news: they’d solved at least part of their spy problem, and the last message the spy had sent listed the Cape Verde Islands as their destination.

The Scar’s former cook, tumbling though the air, was treated to alternating views of the sea, two miles below, and the sky, containing the fast-receding C-130. Over the following minute, he began to have trouble breathing, his heart racing, driven by purest fear as the sparkling blue sea, and his watery grave, grew inexorably closer.

 

 

In the cockpit, Felecia turned as Horst entered, and asked, “What happened with the door?”

Horst took a seat before replying, “I found a spy.” Horst handed over the satellite phone and showed Felecia and the General the text messages.

“That doesn’t explain opening the door,” General Bradson said, beginning to suspect the reason why.

“I used it to threaten the spy. I gave him an ultimatum. He lied, and once I had what I needed, I thought to solve a problem while making a point with the men.” Horst replied.

“How?” The General asked.

Horst came to attention before replying, “I removed the spy from the aircraft. I did not give him a parachute. He was conspiring to kill us all, Herr General, and he would have been a complication once we land. It was also useful to use him as an example since I could show the men that he and our former employer were planning to kill us.”

General Bradson turned to look at Horst. The man’s professionalism had long since impressed the General, but this was another matter entirely. General Bradson did not approve of what Horst had done, but the General’s options were few. Choosing his words with care, he said, “Horst, you’ve overlooked something. What if he was not the only spy? It might have been useful to question him further, but now that option is closed to us.”

“The General is right, Horst. No more flying lessons without our say-so, okay?” Felecia said in a conversational tone, though her words were clearly an order.

Horst, though sitting, snapped to attention. “Yes, Felecia. Sorry, Herr General.”

Nodding, Felecia said, “If there is another spy, he now knows that Frankenstein was trying to kill us all, them included. They won’t like that. They may just decide to take the cool million we’re offering and call it a day. However, we can’t take any chances. From here on in, no one uses the head, or is alone in any way, without being patted down. No exceptions, as that would look bad to the men. I'll make sure I'm the first one who gets patted down.”

“I will see to it,” Horst said, and returned to the cargo bay.

 

 

Helen was not having an easy time. She had intended to go with Jim to the airport, leaving Jon, Brandon, and Chase in what she thought was the relative safety of the resort. Jim noticed the first warning signs as they drove north on the coast road. “The engine is running rough and hot. Let me pull over and have a look.” It didn’t take long under the hood for Jim to find the trouble. “The air filter is missing and there’s ash in there. My guess is that it clogged and someone took it out so the vehicle would run. Stupid move; the ash looks like it’s gunked up the cylinders and there’s no way I can fix it. We can probably make it back to the resort, though. It’s mostly downhill.”

Helen began to swear. “This is just fucking great. How the fuck can it be ash?” she looked around at the ash-free landscape, “There hasn’t been any in this area.”

“The vehicle must be from the other side of the island,” the big biker replied. “I never thought to check for that. The guy who rented them to us told me they were from Las Indias, right next to the resort. I checked under the hoods but didn’t think to check the air filters. I didn’t see any ash, so they took the time to wash the damn van down first, including under the hood. I wonder if the other one is as bad?” Jim had arranged for two vans to serve as emergency evacuation vehicles for the wedding party, in case the volcano made immediate departure necessary.

Ignoring Jim’s oversight, Helen snarled, “We can’t take the other van, even if it’s fine. That would leave the boys with no way to leave the resort. I’ll phone the resort and see if I can arrange for a car, a working one.” Helen was furious, mainly with herself, for not giving herself more time to get to the airport. It couldn’t have been helped due to the bank paperwork, but that didn’t help her temper. “I don’t even know when the General is arriving,” she said, just as her phone rang.

“Hi, I’ll be there in about half an hour,” General Bradson said.

Helen glanced at the van and replied, “I can’t get there that fast. Eric will be there though. Where exactly should he be?”

The phone line began to crackle, so General Bradson made it quick. “He’ll see us land so anywhere near the runway will do. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon. Bye for now.” Nothing the General had said disabused Helen of her assumption that the General would be parachuting in, either alone or with the woman she’d spoken to.

Helen phoned Eric, and as he answered, the call dropped. She dialed again, and said over the noisy line, “Get to the airport. He’s arriving in less than half an hour. I’ve had car trouble. I’ll be late so you’ll have to handle it.” Eric began to ask a question, but the call dropped again and she could not reconnect. Once again, the conductive ash was playing havoc with the island’s phone system by shorting out a main phone line. Helen took some consolation from the fact that, based on the beginning of Eric’s question, he’d understood her words. The only problem was, he’d understood them a little too well.

 

 

“She can’t get here in time so she wants me to handle it,” Eric said, and Jansen nodded. “We’ve got to get to the airport. Don’t know what the fuck for; no one can fly with all this ash.”

“Any idea who’s coming, or why?” Jansen asked as they headed for the car at a jog.

Shaking his head, Eric replied, “Not a clue.”

“Dates with you sure are interesting,” Jansen said with a laugh.

Half way to their airport, they felt the car’s engine hesitate and then begin to intermittently cut out. Eric tapped at the gas gauge, “Feels like we’re running out of gas, but this says we’ve got half a tank.”

The engine died completely and Eric coasted to a stop by the side of the road. Getting out, he looked under the car and found the gas tank, and tapped it. “Sounds full,” he said, and then, after some searching for the release and fumbling for the catch, opened the hood. Dusting away some ash, he quickly guessed at the likely problem, and opened the air filter housing. Inside, he found a towel, clogged with ash. He shook it out, but the fine particles still clogged it. Pulling off the unbuttoned short sleeve shirt he was wearing over his tank top, Eric stuffed it into the air filter housing and replaced the cover. Jumping back into the car, he tried the ignition and grinned as the engine came back to life. Pulling away and stomping on the gas, he told Jansen, “Clogged air cleaner. That’s what the dirty towels were from. We should be okay, but at this rate we might both be naked by the time we get back to the resort.”

“I can think of worse things,” Jansen said with a laugh and a wink.

La Palma’s airport has an unusual layout. Due to the steepness of the island, the only way to build it had been as a single runway, running parallel to the sea, right at the water’s edge. At the north end, the runway actually protrudes into the sea. The terminal is wedged on a strip of land between the center of the runway and the sea. The airport road approaches it from inland, reaching the northern end of the runway, and crossing under it via a tunnel. That’s the only way out, and that tunnel was where the airport staff had placed a row of road barriers before evacuating.

At the tunnel entrance, Eric pulled to a stop while Jansen jumped out to shove aside the road barricades. Eric pulled through and Jansen replaced the barriers before climbing back into the diminutive car. Eric raced through the tunnel, and as he emerged on the other side, checked his watch. “Five minutes,” he said, and slowed to a crawl near the terminal building. Spying an entryway to the apron, he pulled up next to it and said, “I guess we wait.”

“Not for long,” Jansen said, pointing through the windshield, to the south.

Eric looked, and saw the C-130 heading in their direction, but higher than he’d have expected if it was landing. Puzzled, he watched it perform a steep glide on final approach, kicking up a cloud of ash as it flared and then touched down. Then, he saw the reason it could land. “The propellers aren’t turning,” he said.

After the dead-stick landing ­– General Bradson had shut off the engines during final approach to protect them from the ash – the C-130 coasted to an almost silent stop. As Eric and Jansen watched, the ramp lowered and thirty men got out. Taking positions at the main gear and nose gear, they began to push. They moved the plane a hundred yards, to the parking apron, wheeling it to a halt near one of Instinct’s grounded chartered jets.

“Is that who we’re supposed to meet?” Jansen asked.

Eric shrugged and then got out of the car. “The timing is right, and it can’t hurt to ask. Come on.”

Seconds later, Jansen and Eric jogged up to the C-130, and were met by hard stares from even harder-looking men. Even without any outwardly visible weaponry, the mercenaries were an imposing sight.

François stepped forward, took a long glance at Eric, and frowned in recognition as he said, “Ah, the musician. Please go onboard. General Bradson is expecting you.” Eric’s eyes flew open wide in surprise. With a smile, he walked up the cargo ramp and into the bay of the C-130. He entered just in time to see General Bradson exit the cockpit, looking tired and haggard. The General spotted Eric and waved in greeting. Felecia took the cue and ordered her two remaining troops off the plane.

Growing more curious by the second, Eric, with Jansen following behind, walked towards the forward end of the cargo bay and reached out to take the General’s proffered hand.

“Hi Eric, good to see you again. I’d like to introduce you to Fel and my son, Brian,” General Bradson said with an easy smile.

Eric exchanged nods of greeting with them both and then said, “This is Jansen.”

General Bradson exchanged a glance with Felecia before saying, “Jansen, pleased to meet you, but could I ask you to leave the plane? I need to talk to Eric alone for a bit.”

That request unsettled Jansen only slightly. He assumed it was something to do with business so he said amicably, “Sure, no problem. Eric, I’ll be in the car.”

Eric watched Jansen leave and then took a seat on a convenient cylinder before asking in a puzzled tone, “Would somebody please tell me what’s going on?’

General Bradson couldn’t help it, he laughed. Pointing at what Eric was perched on, he said, “You really have to stop doing that.”

Glancing down at the canister, Eric replied, “Doing what?”

“Remember what you told me, about New York? When you sat on the big square steel cube Jerry Clump had?”

Nodding once, Eric trembled at the memory and said, “Yeah, as if I could forget. That was a fucking…” his voice dropped a few decibels and he squeaked, “atomic…”

“Bomb,” Felecia added helpfully, beginning to chuckle at Eric’s horrified expression.

“And you’ve done it again,” General Bradson said with a laugh, and then added, “But don’t worry. This one’s as safe to sit on as I said that one was. Even safer as there’s no easy way to detonate it. I take it Helen isn’t here yet? Did she tell you why you’re here?”

Easing himself gingerly off the bomb, Eric backed away, almost stumbling over another nuke in the process, before replying, “The phone keeps cutting out, and she had car trouble, so she asked me to handle it. She didn’t say exactly what, but she made it clear it was very important.”

Wondering how Eric would take the news given his evident fear of the things, General Bradson said, “Here’s the short version. We went to Iran to get my son out. While there, Fel and her men seized some Iranian nukes, and here we all are. I need thirty million dollars to pay them or these things will get into the wrong hands. On the black market, they’d be worth many times what we’re asking. Helen said that she and Instinct would give us a short-term loan and she’d be here to approve of the collateral and take possession. You’re here to tell all these people that they’re getting a million bucks apiece.”

“So that’s what Helen meant when she told me to handle it. Holy fuck…” Eric said, feeling numb and still staring at the nuclear warhead. Eric had misconstrued Helen’s hurried words and thus was unaware that Helen intended for him to handle meeting the General and had not intended to have him accept the collateral.

A little surprised, General Bradson asked, “You mean approve the collateral and take possession?”

Eric nodded and then, meeting the General’s eyes, he asked, “What is it, the collateral, I mean?”

Looking Eric square in the eye, General Bradson replied, “You just sat on one of them.”

 

 

Back at the resort, Helen was yelling at the cowering desk clerk, “You said you’d have a car for us. I need it now. Right the fuck NOW!

Stammering, the clerk replied, “We called the driver, he said he was on his way–”

“That’s not now, is it?” Helen yelled, and then thrust out her hand, “Give me yours.” Standing just behind Helen, Jim casually punched his right fist into his open left hand while looking the clerk in the eye.

To Helen’s mild surprise, the clerk deposited his keys in her hand and then backed away two steps, fear in his eyes, before muttering, “Blue Jetta, in back.” The clerk couldn’t make up his mind which of the two guests scared him the most.

“Thanks,” Helen said icily, and then, along with Jim, she turned and rushed for the door.

 

 

In the C-130, Eric blinked in shock. His mouth opened, and then closed again. “You want me to take an atomic bomb­–”

“Two now and a third when we get the money,” Felecia interrupted to add.

General Bradson nodded. “That about sums it up. Before you go though, we do need you to address Fel’s troops and tell them they’re getting a million each.”

Eric stared at the General for a few moments, and then shifted his gaze to stare at one of the nukes. Numbly, he said, “I… uh, even if I wanted to, I can’t hand over thirty million, I don’t have access–”

Giving Eric a reassuring pat on the shoulder, General Bradson said, “No problem. Just take the devices to Helen. Do not mention them over the phone, but take them to her. Your security, and that of the bombs, will be provided mainly by the fact that no one knows where you are staying. All you’re doing is accepting some of the collateral. Helen will be calling a press conference tomorrow and after that, the U.S. Government will reimburse you and take them off your hands. I’ll make damn sure of it, because we won’t tell them where the nukes are until they agree to cough up the money. We just need this deal as a go-between, because Fel and her men won’t deal directly with the U.S. Government, and for that matter I can’t either.”

Eric stared at the bomb in silence for a dozen seconds and then asked, “How would Helen know they’re real?”

Felecia blinked twice at the unexpected and apt question. She walked to the door and bellowed, “Joachim! In here, now!” As soon as the technician arrived, she asked, “How can we prove that the nukes are what we say they are?”

Eric was hoping that they were not, but his read on General Bradson was that the General was telling the truth, no matter how much Eric wanted to believe otherwise.

Joachim removed a screwdriver from his belt and began opening an access hatch on one of the bombs. Once he had it open, he coaxed Eric in for a look and proceeded to explain the various components. He then handed Eric a Geiger counter and said, “Move the sensor into the casing, it will detect the radiation.”

Still somewhat in shock, Eric moved the sensor towards the hatch opening, and as it began to rapidly click, he realized what had just been said and leaped back, looking up at Joachim in horror to say, “Radiation?”

“Not enough to be dangerous for a brief exposure,” Joachim replied.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Eric said, placing the Geiger counter on the floor and taking yet another step away from the open bomb.

“Have you seen the news lately?” General Bradson asked. “There should be more proof any time now. We set one of ‘em off in Iran, to get rid of the facility where they were making them. Seismic evidence coupled with airborne radiation should have been noticed and they’ll probably be reported as a surprise Iranian nuclear test. Though there have been a few suspicions, nobody knew that Iran had nukes, so that’ll create quite a buzz. Hear anything like that?”

Eric, his eyes still on the bomb that Joachim was resealing, shook his head, “I haven’t seen any news about that, sorry.”

General Bradson could tell that Eric was badly rattled, and asked in a calm tone, “So, will you do it? I’ll be sending an armed U.S. Marine with you, who happens to be my son. Just take ‘em back with you, after you give a little speech to Felecia’s troops.”

Grasping at straws, Eric said, “They won’t fit. All I have is a tiny little car. A two-seater.”

General Bradson smiled again. “No problem, there must be a truck around here somewhere and as I now know, my son can hotwire.” General Bradson aimed a wink in Brian’s direction, trying to keep the atmosphere light and friendly in order to calm Eric down.

“Steal a truck… okay.” Eric said in a dazed voice, and then pulled out his phone to call Helen. The General cautioned him to avoid mentioning any specifics, and Eric nodded. Three dropped calls later, Eric finally got through, just as Helen and Jim were leaving the resort in the Volkswagen. The connection was poor, so Eric tried to be quick. “Helen, I’m with… you-know-who. He asked me to take two of the… collateral to you. You know about all this, right?”

“Are they worth thirty million,” Helen asked, hurrying in case the phone connection dropped again.

Staring at the bombs, Eric said, “Uh, yeah.”

“Should be fine then. Come straight back here, and no stopping or sightseeing. Got that?” Helen felt fairly confident in her words; she knew the deal could not go forward until she had reviewed and accepted the collateral. She alone could give the orders needed for the banks to complete the transaction.

Eric nodded. “Yeah, I … Helen? Helen?” The line had failed.


 

Helen, unaware that she had misinterpreted Eric’s words as badly as he had done with hers, told Jim, “Turn around. We’re going back to the resort. Eric’s on his way back with the General and the collateral, and then we’ll see what the hell this is all about.”

 

 

Staring at the phone in his hand as his redial attempt failed, Eric felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was out of his depth and knew it. He had to keep glancing at the nuclear warheads in order to reassure himself that what he was hearing was real. The memory of how close they had come the last time played through his mind, and he remembered the hard-looking mercenaries outside.

General Bradson prodded Eric. “If you don’t do this, the men outside, some at least, may turn on us. All I’m asking for is a verbal commitment. The money is up to Helen.”

Eric didn’t know General Bradson well, not well enough to have a good feel for what he was thinking. However, Eric’s inner sense was enough to convince him that General Bradson was telling the truth. “I’ll do it,” Eric said, more to his own surprise than anyone else’s. With the decision made, General Bradson dispatched Brian in search of a truck, and Eric said, “When do I talk to your troops?”

“There’s no time like the present,” General Bradson said cheerfully, and then warned, “Just don’t tell anyone where you’re taking the bombs. Speaking of which... write down some directions for me.” Eric did as he was asked, writing down directions and the name of the resort, and handing the General the paper. Only then did Eric realize why the General had asked for it in writing: to avoid revealing the location to anyone within earshot.

General Bradson ushered Eric to the mouth of the cargo bay and clapped for the attention of the mercenaries, who gathered around on the ground below. Felecia and General Bradson stood on each side of Eric, Horst took a position a few feet away, to their left, and Felecia said, “Many of you will recognize this young man. He’s Eric Carlisle, of the band Instinct. He’s the musician I told you about. Basically, he’s saving our bacon. I received word that our former employer was going to cross us. General Bradson here – who our old boss wanted me to kill – and Eric’s manager, put together a deal for us. We’ll get paid even more than we were expecting within twenty-four hours. He’s taking two of our prizes with him. We’re retaining the third until each and every one of us has been paid, via a numbered Swiss account. Each of us will be able to verify that the funds are there, in our individual accounts, before we turn over the final bomb. Then, we begin our new lives.”

After receiving a gentle nudge from Felecia’s elbow, Eric said, “Most of the paperwork is already done. You’ll have a million dollars apiece by tomorrow.”

Many had concerns, but the fact they were retaining one nuke mollified them somewhat. Only a few knew enough about aviation to know that the C-130 was trapped by the ash.

Watching from the car two hundred yards away, Jansen saw the crowd of men cheering Eric, but he was too far away to hear what was being said. He wondered if Eric had promised them free concert tickets.

Felecia led Eric down the ramp, and spent a few minutes introducing him to her men, letting them shake his hand. That, she well knew, would help in building trust in both directions.

A few minutes later, Brian and one of the mercenaries, with the mercenary driving, returned in a small flatbed truck that they’d found near a hanger. Brian jumped out and walked over to his father to say, “We found the keys behind a visor but I can’t drive it because it’s a stick shift.”

General Bradson kicked himself for overlooking that detail. Turning to Eric, he said, “Can you or your friend drive a stick?”

Eric nodded. “I can… but I want Jansen with me. I’m not leaving him.” Eric’s reasons were mainly emotional, beyond his conscious knowledge. He was still badly rattled, and in Jansen’s presence, he knew he’d find the comfort of reassurance. Turning to look at Brian, Eric said, “You can drive the little car we came in. It’s an automatic.”

General Bradson put a stop to that. “No, Brian needs to stay with the devices. We’ll cover the bombs with a tarp and he’ll ride between them and the cab. Brian, take an AK, just keep it out of sight. You will stay with the bombs until they are taken over by the U.S. Government or I relieve you, understood?”

Brian saluted his father, and simply replied, “Yes, sir.” Then with a smile, he added, “I’ll see you soon, right?”

General Bradson nodded and replied, “I’ll join you in a few hours, along with some relief for you, as soon as I get Fel and her troops moved and settled in. I’ll drive Eric’s car over if he’ll let me have the keys.”

Without a word, Eric handed over the car keys. Under the circumstances, being on the hook for the small car was the least of his concerns.

“Let’s get the cargo loaded and covered,” General Bradson said, and then began directing the procedure.

The ramp was raised a few feet of the ground and the truck was backed up under it. Then, they lowered the ramp to the bed and rolled two of the nuclear warheads onto the truck, where they were chained down and covered with a tarp. Brian eased himself into place and General Bradson handed him an AK-47, and, for good measure, an RPG-7 grenade launcher. Eric had seen the stereotypical RPG in countless movies, and recognized the familiar double-cone shape. He blinked in surprise, but given the cargo, that was the least of his concerns. Horst secured the tarp in place, tying the forward edge to the top of the truck’s cab to form a small tent-like enclosure for Brian, between the warheads and the cab.





 

© 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.

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.

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 for his advice.

Special Credits go to our Favorite Amphibian, MikeL, for advice on artillery terminology.

Any remaining errors are mine alone.


Copyright © 2009 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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Omg, I can imagine driving with two nukes in the car! lol

 

I just hope the US government pays and the boys get their money back.

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I know this story was written half a decade ago, but I am just now reading it. One question is with very poor cell connection and land lines down. On an Island out in the Atlantic how can Helen call a press conference? Two 3 nukes on an island that is just about to explode isn't the smartest idea. But just incase the press conference was to go thru and the US Gov finds out the nukes are there. How are the mercenaries going to get off the island to fade away in world.

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