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    C James
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Changing Lanes - 41. Pushing the Limits


Chapter 41: Pushing the Limits


 



 

 

Helen wheeled into the parking lot and screeched to a halt, finding almost the entire wedding party waiting. Hopping out, she told the General, “Leave me the phone but you’re taking the first load. You know the way and my place is here.”

General Bradson got out. “I can be of more use on the phone, and I got you into this mess. I’m staying. I’ll circle the hotel’s location on the map, it’s not hard to find. You, or somebody there, can bring the car back.”

In two minutes, the Jetta was on its way, one crewmember driving and six others shoehorned inside.

Helen did a fast head count. Twelve members of Instinct’s crew and staff who had attended the wedding remained, along with herself and Barbra, Jansen and Keith, Jane, the General, and the four members of Instinct. “Twenty-two people to go, and with six passengers per trip, that means four more trips. That’s going to take a lot of time.”

“Maybe not,” General Bradson said, as he opened his phone to tell Felecia what had happened. After a short conversation, he hung up and said to Helen, “The pickup she had conked out and she and Brian are walking back to the hotel. Fel said she’d do whatever it takes to rustle us up some vehicles and send ‘em here.”

“Good, but until that traffic dies down, no one can get through,” Helen said. Turning to face the mountain, she added, “From the highway I could see the resort from a couple of places. This means we can see part of the highway from here. Somebody get me some binoculars.” The highway, due to being on the west side of the island, did not have the clogging ash that blanketed the eastern areas, but already a few vehicles had run out of gas. These had been unceremoniously shoved aside, but the problem would grow worse.

Jansen and Eric, remembering what they’d seen in the resort’s store, left at a run, returning five minutes later with four pairs of binoculars. It took several minutes and a change in vantage point to the roof of the pavilion, but Helen soon had a remaining crewmember on watch, observing the LP-1 highway, with instructions to let her know if the traffic eased enough that vehicles could move south.

 

 

General Bradson strolled a few paces away for privacy from the remaining wedding guests, and phoned Bill.

“Good news,” Bill said with a smile that the General could almost hear. “You’re not nuts after all; an RC-135 recon bird came home with some radioactive air samples: trans-uranic particulates and hotter than hell... They’re doing a detailed analysis now, but just this much confirms a nuclear detonation in Iran. They’re taking another look at the seismic data too. That blast didn’t look like a nuke, but it’s not right for a quake either, so now they’re thinking it might just be a data problem of some kind. However, the good news is, we’ve got proof for you. That’s the good news.”

Knowing that there was more, General Bradson asked, “What’s the bad news?”

Sighing, Bill replied, “We’ll see how it shakes out. The State Department REMFs and the Administration lackeys have publicly painted themselves into a corner. They dogpiled on when it came to denouncing you and the band and trashing your story. They didn’t pull any punches or leave any wiggle room. They’ve also been saying for years that’s its impossible for Iran to have nukes. You know how they love their face time and sound-bites, right? So now, this confirmation makes them look like a bunch of idiots if they suddenly decide to play ball with you. On the other hand, now they know they’ve got a genuine case of loose nukes in private hands, and that’s a big political danger to them too, if it ever comes out. Oh, I ought to mention... me and a couple of like-minded people are the ones who got that RC-135 recon flight to go sniffing, and the news of what they found will leak within two hours, I personally guarantee that. My suggestion to you is that you trot out one of the nukes you have and stick it under the nose of a few reporters, then let ‘em verify what it is.”

“We tried that once already. Long story, but it didn’t come off. We’ll give it another shot.” The General didn’t want to explain to Bill that a nuclear warhead was missing.

After his call, the General pulled Helen aside and said, “Good news. The government now knows there was a nuclear blast in Iran. That news will be on the wire services within a couple of hours.” The General gave Helen a brief summary of his call with his contact, and then added, “I’d suggest you get on the phone to ‘em right now. My guess is, now that they know, they’ll be more willing to deal.”

“Who would I call, and how?” she asked. “The only government contacts I have are in the commerce department.”

After thinking for a moment, General Bradson opened his phone, and as he dialed he said, “We’ll route it through the Pentagon. Defense Intelligence Agency, to be exact. They’ll already be in the loop on the air samples, and I know a few people there. I’ll have them pick who we should talk to; they’ll know who’s calling the shots.”

Several minutes later, after talking to several people – one of whom he knew – at the DIA, General Bradson grimaced. Placing his hand over the phone, he said, “They’re transferring us to the State Department. They said there’s an operational/immediate memo out on this, specifying who to contact. To me, that smells like they’re in full cover-their-asses mode. Watch your back.”

Helen took the phone. After a few minutes, the General noticed that Helen’s face was turning red. A few minutes later, Helen covered the phone’s receiver and said, “They put me on hold for a while, and then told me he was at lunch and now they’re asking for a callback number. Damn early lunch, given the time zone in D.C.”

General Bradson shrugged. “My guess is they’re trying to figure out what they’ll say. Don’t give ‘em a number; they can’t trace that phone or ID it, as I’m betting they’ve noticed by now, and I need to be able to use it to call people. If they get the number, it’s possible they might be able to disable it. Tell ‘em you’ll call back.”

Helen did so, and then told the secretary on the other end, “Let your boss know that I’ll be showing one of the nukes to the press later today so they can verify what it is. I’m sure it will make a good story, and I’ll make certain to mention this call. Have a nice day.”

While she had the General far enough away from the wedding guests for privacy, Helen broached a subject that had been worrying her. “I’m very concerned about Jim, Linda, and your Private Johnson. General, I know you have personal feelings for Felecia but I’m asking you to put those aside for a moment and think this through on a strictly pragmatic basis. We’ve got a missing atomic bomb and three missing people. The only verification we have that they left the hotel with the nuke comes from Felecia and Brian, and as she herself said, they left first. How do we know that this isn’t all some scheme by the mercenaries, maybe including Felecia and maybe not, to get away with the nuke and the money? Think it through; right now, I’m starting to send people over to the hotel. That’s going to include my boys soon. That’d give the mercenaries an opportunity to trade Instinct to me for the remaining bombs.”

General Bradson didn’t want to admit that the same thought had crossed his mind, so he gave Helen the explanation that had satisfied his own concerns. “Brian is a Marine, and he confirmed it when Felecia said they’d seen the truck leave the hotel. Private Johnson had orders, too. If it looked like the bomb was going to be captured, he would fire the RPG at it, which would destroy it without creating a nuclear blast. Once he was on the truck and they pulled out, they couldn’t take it back and they’d know it. The other part is that neither Fel nor her troops could have known in advance about the volcanic alert. Without that, you wouldn’t be going there. Further, they need me, now more than ever, to get them out of here. Felecia knows that back on the flight in from Iran, I was both willing and able to blow us all out of the sky instead of letting those nukes fall into the wrong hands. Horst knows that too. Even if they were up to something, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to think I’d fly them and the bombs out of here, or fly them out at all. They have what they wanted: the money for new lives. If they were going to try anything, I think it would have been while we were there; they had you, two members of Instinct, one bomb, the money, and at that point didn’t know about the volcanic alert. I don’t blame you for being suspicious, but I think you’re wrong.”

Helen considered the General’s words for a few seconds, before replying, “That may be so, but then where are Jim, Linda, and the bomb? What you say makes sense, though it is far from proof. The fact is, we don’t know and we can’t know, not for sure. However... right now, I think working with Felecia is our best chance. I don’t see any other choice, so I’ll do it.”

General Bradson didn’t answer. Instead, he opened his phone and dialed. When Felecia answered, he said, “Fel, I need to talk to Brian in private, okay?” The General waved Helen closer, so that she could listen in to what Brian had to say.

A few moment’s later, Brian’s voice came on the line. “Okay, Dad, I’m walking away from Felecia. What’s up?”

General Bradson gave Brian a rundown on Helen’s concerns. Brian thought for a moment before replying, “I don’t see it, no way. I saw the truck pull out. It was a couple of hundred yards from the hotel when we turned the corner. I’m pretty sure her whole force was there, or close enough. If they were going to try a snatch, they wouldn’t have let the truck drive off. They had no way of catching it. The other thing is, Felecia’s been trying damn hard to find ‘em. She’s even got a few of her troops out on foot, trying to track the tire marks in the ash. There are other vehicles besides us on the roads so I doubt it’ll work, but I’ve been with Felecia for hours, out looking, and if she’s faking, she’s the world’s best actress. Besides, if they’d snatched the nuke they wouldn’t be acting for my benefit, they’d just make me disappear.”

Proud of his son’s observant nature and clear thinking, the General said, “I think they’re on the level too, but I had to ask. I’ll be seeing you soon, Brian.”

“Thanks for doing that,” Helen said. “I’m worried what could have happened to the truck. If they broke down, Felecia and Brian should have found them. Where could they be?”

“All I can do is guess, and right now my best guess is they did break down but Jim got them going again. Maybe he headed for the rendezvous and missed us, or tried to head back here and got stuck in traffic. I’m skeptical about either of those options, though, because in the first case, Fel would have likely seen him, and in the second case, we would. It only makes sense if he tried to come back here but got on the highway after we’d passed the turnoff for the tunnel. Or, more likely, he turned off the main road somewhere due to engine trouble. He’s got no way to get word to us.”

Helen paced for a moment before replying. “Yeah, he’d probably hole up out of sight somewhere, and no way could he get here against the evacuation traffic. Damn, I should have stolen more phones from the reporters, then we could have told the crew in the Jetta to keep an eye out and let us know if they saw anything. We’ve got to find our people and that truck.”

“And their cargo,” the General added, growing more concerned.

 

 

At the mercenaries’ hotel, Felecia grinned at Horst, who’d just driven up in a large green livestock transport. She’d felt confident that they could acquire vehicles: the eastern side of the island, due to the heavy ashfalls, had been largely abandoned well before the current volcanic alert. That evacuation had been more leisurely.

In part due to the fear of damaging vehicles by driving them in the ash, and the lesser need for them, some had been left behind.

Horst clambered out of the truck and said, “Felecia, the air filter was in place and did not appear to have ash in it. We had some minor difficulties starting it, so I suspect that it may have been unused for several weeks. That may be for the best, as it is still very... smelly. We swept out the goat droppings but the odor remains.”

Felecia chuckled. “Any port in a storm, Horst. This should carry them all, no problem, once the traffic clears.”

Horst made a point to move upwind of the transport before saying, “I have several men still out. One squad is still searching for any sign of the missing truck. Several other two-man teams with the needed skills are looking for fire trucks, as you instructed. One team is searching the airport. I have four more men in the outskirts of town, looking for any vehicles they can acquire.”

“Very good, Horst. Keep me informed.” Felecia then lifted her phone to report the developments to General Bradson.

 

 

Standing in the cloying ash, Yuri stood watch as the henchman he’d brought along uncovered the bodies of Jim, Linda, and Private Johnson. Happy to leave the unpleasant task to his underling, Yuri ordered, “Check their pockets, anything they have. Be quick about it.”

There was little to find. The henchman’s hurried search turned up only Jim’s wallet and a pocketknife. Linda’s body yielded the keycard for the suite at the resort, and Private Johnson’s pockets had held nothing but a spare ammo clip and a granola bar.

Taking the items to the van, Yuri barked over his shoulder, “Cover them up again.”

After a cursory look, and taking note of the resort’s room keycard, Yuri turned his attention to Jim’s wallet.

Pawing through the wallet, Yuri found Jim’s driver’s license, credit cards, and resort keycard. Thumbing through the billfold, Yuri saw a collection of Euro and Dollar banknotes, an old grocery-shopping list, and a dozen receipts. Several were for restaurants, one was for gasoline, and another was for a storage unit rental.

His eyes opening wide as he stared at the rental receipt, Yuri phoned the Scar. “Sir, I may have something. It is a rental receipt for a storage unit in Las Indias, which is near you.”

The Scar began to grin. “Well done, Yuri. That may be what we need. First, tell me what else you found.”

A short discussion of the other items followed, and The Scar decided that the receipt was the most promising. “Tell me everything the receipt for the storage unit says. Leave nothing out.” Once Yuri had done so, The Scar said, “Interesting that he would pay cash for it, yet he paid for smaller items with a credit card. A pity that it does not mention for certain the number of the unit, though I suspect that you are right and the number alone at the bottom may be it. This is a start, Yuri, a start, the best chance that we have. Given the date and the circumstances, I believe we may have found Helen’s hiding place for at least one of our devices. From what you have told me of her situation in the press, the U.S. Government, for whatever reason, is proving intransigent to Helen and thus they have kindly provided us with a window of opportunity whereby we may recover our property. Ah, such delicious irony, that. We must seize the opportunity and examine this storage complex. However, even if we find what we seek, the car you have sent will not be adequate to move it. Come at once in the van, by any means.” In a buoyant mood, The Scar ended the call.

Taking the wheel, Yuri waited for the henchman to finish covering the bodies. He then drove off, heading for the tunnel, well aware that he’d find his way south blocked once he reached the highway junction on the far side.

 

 

Helen found the news from Felecia encouraging, but with the highway above still jammed, she knew that there was no chance of the livestock transport reaching them quickly. They were stuck, for a while.

Deciding to work on one of their other problems, Helen sat down with the General’s phone, connected a wire to it, and had him place the return call to the State Department. She noticed, without commenting, that he routed the call through the DIA, and correctly suspected that the General’s friends there were helping to shield the call from being traced.

After several aggravating minutes on hold and listening to elevator music, Helen was finally connected with the Deputy Undersecretary for Middle Eastern Affairs, who had apparently returned from his supposed ‘lunch’.

Helen, no stranger to negotiating, led off with an exchange of introductions, and then said pleasantly, “I want to make this easy as possible, for all of us. I have the bombs. You want them. I very much want you to have them. All I ask in return is the reimbursement of the money we put at risk to facilitate their transfer to you, and the clearing of our names. I’m sure the statements your government has made against us were innocent mistakes, and you’re as eager to set the record straight as I am.”

The Deputy Undersecretary bristled at the mention of recanting the government’s prior statements. “The record is what it is. I see no reason to address it at this or any future juncture. As for whatever financial concerns you may have, that is no concern of mine–”

Those words told Helen all she needed to know: the government wasn’t going to budge unless she changed the game. Helen had suspected she’d need to do just that, and was ready. She asked pleasantly, “Perhaps it would be best if I spoke with one of your superiors. A Deputy Undersecretary of a minor department may be a little out of his depth.”

His face coloring at the implied insult, the Deputy Undersecretary did not answer immediately. Instead, he reached for one of his most treasured possessions: the nameplate that adorned his desk. Unsatisfied with the standard-issue government sign, he’d paid – courtesy of his ample expense account – to have one custom-made, with his name in oversized embossed gold-leaf lettering, ‘Broderick Worthington Graeme IV’.

Returning his desk sign to its anointed place, adjusting it just so, the Deputy Undersecretary replied icily, “I’m handling this matter. You will deal with me.”

Forcing herself to keep to an agreeable tone, Helen said, “Very well, Mr. Graeme. I do hope that we can come to an arrangement. Do you have a carrier or aircraft within range to evacuate us and the bombs?”

The Deputy Undersecretary, a small, phlegmatic man who was used to getting his own way, replied, “Our deployments are none of your concern,” in actual fact, he had no idea, nor had he thought to check. He’d only heard one hurried discussion about securing the bombs, and that involved airdropping a squad of airborne rangers from a jet transport. “This is not a negotiation. I will tell you what to do and you will do it, it is as simple as that.”

Helen leaned back in her chair, her temper beginning to seethe. Fighting to keep herself under control, Helen said, in a voice intentionally colored with both indignation and hesitation, “Mr. Graeme, we're out thirty million and you spend more than that in the blink of an eye, for far less effect than getting nuclear bombs to safe hands. The sooner they are in military hands, the better. Things are chaotic here, as you must know. For everyone’s sake, we must get this done with all possible speed. I want no profit because we did this to help, but I want that money back, along with an official recantation of what's been said about us. You’ve dragged our names through the mud and made all kinds of accusations, about both General Bradson and Instinct. That will not stand. All I’m asking for is the truth. Is that clear?”

The Deputy Undersecretary sucked in his breath. Noted even by his friends for his prickly disposition, he was not accustomed to be spoken to in such a way by anyone not his superior in the government. His orders had been crystal clear on one point; no money would be paid and no retractions issued. Too many government officials had hung their hat, many in public, on the position that the Iranian nuclear claim story was a sham, a hoax, done for publicity or worse. Further, they’d assured anyone who would listen that Iran could not possibly have developed a nuclear arsenal, not on their watch. Any form of retraction or validation threatened to cause what these government officials feared above all else: career-damaging embarrassment. His superiors had decided, and that was that. They’d designated him as the point man, making clear that his career would benefit if he succeeded and suffer if he failed. Glancing at his nameplate, envisioning it with the ‘deputy’ removed, Broderick Worthington Graeme IV said, “You won't get it. Let me tell you what will happen. You will turn over the devices, immediately. Then we might clear your names, if you fully cooperate. On the other hand, unless you do as you are told, we'll start with an IRS audit and seizure of both your personal assets and the band’s assets, then work our way up to more serious charges, such as those facing Bradson and his crew. We’ll make it stick. The public looks rather dimly on tax cheats and we do have proof that you bank offshore.” Feeling the rush of his own perceived importance, coupled with the feeling that he'd won, the Deputy Undersecretary leaned back, set his feet on his desk, and added, “Furthermore, you will at no point disclose your side of this, ever, or you will face the IRS.”

Seeing red, Helen fought for control of her temper. Only by focusing on her intended effect did she manage to keep her voice calm. “I’ll have you know that we've always paid our taxes. Banking overseas isn't illegal and you know it. I find it difficult to fathom your comments. You are attempting to defraud us out of thirty million and our reputations. Your threats regarding the IRS and your implication that we are tax cheats is even more preposterous, in light of the glaring fact that the administration you serve seems to have virtually made being a tax cheat or a bribe-taker a requirement for high office. What you are trying to do here is... unconscionable.” Helen took a breath, and projecting a more hesitant tone said, “What I will do is have a crew of reporters examine a bomb. Their verification, plus the news of the nuclear explosion in Iran, will prove my case beyond any doubt. Surely you can see that. Please, all I ask is the truth. We must get those bombs into safe hands with all possible speed.”

His own temper flaring at what he felt was impertinence, and worried by the threat to his career – which any press examination of a bomb clearly posed – the Deputy Undersecretary took note of the hesitancy in Helen’s voice, and as he’d been intended to do, he saw it as a sign of weakness on her part. Thinking that he could make Helen back down, he said, “You have no proof of the detonation in Iran and we certainly won’t provide it. We’ll simply deny it and the story will die, crowded out by news of the volcano. For now, you will tell me the precise location of the bombs. If you say so much as one more word about a bomb to the press, we will, in our own good time, destroy you. One way or another, you will do as I say.” The Deputy Undersecretary found himself suddenly listening to a dead line; Helen, having gotten what she wanted, had hung up as soon as he’d finished speaking.

The Deputy Undersecretary was unaware of three things. The first was that the news of the Iranian nuclear detonation would be on the wire services within the hour, expertly leaked to multiple news agencies along with proof, by Bill and several of his like-minded NSA operatives. The scent of a major story, especially one they didn’t have to dig for, was far too enticing for any reporter to resist, even with the news of the volcanic alert currently crowding out the airwaves.

The second thing that the Deputy Undersecretary did not know was that his threat to seize assets would prove largely empty: you can’t take what you don’t have access to.

The third thing would prove the most embarrassing, on many levels. The Deputy Undersecretary had committed what in government circles was often a career-fatal mistake, though he would hardly be the first or the last to do so; in the heat of the moment, buoyed by his own sense of self-importance, he’d forgotten that conversations could be recorded.

 

 

As soon as Helen had played the recording for General Bradson, he nodded approvingly. “That should prove useful. Good thinking, getting the SOB on tape.”

Helen shrugged. “What we’re dealing with now is basically a press-relations and PR situation, and that’s a huge part of what I do for a living. A lawyer friend of mine once told me that what he always prays for is that his opponent’s client likes to talk, because they usually screw themselves. Well, there’s nothing more talkative than a politician or more egotistical than a government hack. Once I could see what his position was, my objective changed. It was easy to goad him into saying too much: he was even more obliging than I’d hoped. He made the classic mistake of the self-important; he assumed that he was in control of the situation and didn’t understand that I was playing by a different set of rules. I’ll tell you this; I had one hell of a time keeping my temper under control.”

Smiling at that, the General asked, “What about the asset seizure? You might want to get a lawyer involved, because that tape gives you one hell of a legal weapon to use to challenge any liens, assuming it’s admissible.”

Grinning, Helen replied. “I thought I was being a little paranoid at the time but I was worried that they might try to play hardball, though I never figured they’d be this bad. Anyway, when we were doing the transfers, Instinct and I decided on some cheap insurance; we transferred everything we could overseas, and then on to a few select countries with very favorable banking rules. I already run the revenue contracts through a shell corporation in Luxembourg – as a liability shield – so, they can’t hurt us much. Looks to me like we’ll have to play a little brinkmanship and hit them hard enough in the media so they’ll see folding as the least-bad option. Now, I’ve got to phone a reporter and play that tape.”

Shaking his head, General Bradson said, “Give it some time, an hour or two. Let the news from Iran break first. That way, when the tape gets out, it’ll really wallop them. In the meantime, we’ll find a way to get some reporters to inspect a bomb.”

 

 

In Washington, Deputy Undersecretary Graeme strolled into a press conference and waited for the question period – the subject had been evacuation contingency plans for Americans who were in foreign countries’ at-risk areas – to end. Then, taking the stage, he said, “I have a brief statement to make, on behalf of the State Department and the Justice Department. We have determined that the recent publicity stunt attempted by the rock group Instinct and their manager was part of a scheme to use their nuclear fairy tale, set against the impending disaster which we all face, to defraud the taxpayers of thirty million dollars. Furthermore, an ongoing investigation of their activities, begun several weeks ago, has born fruit: hard evidence that they have been breaking many of our laws in an effort to evade their taxes. Their shameful act, combined with their criminal activity, will be dealt with by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice.”

Without acknowledging any of the shouted questions, the Deputy Undersecretary left the briefing room, a smile creeping onto his face. ‘Let’s see how that manager likes that,’ he thought, feeling that he had the winning hand and sure that Helen would fold. He was playing poker, blithely unaware that Helen was playing chess.

Ten minutes later, the expertly leaked news of the confirmed nuclear detonation near Kerman, Iran, hit the press wire services.

 

 

Getting reporters to have another try at inspecting a bomb was something Helen expected to have trouble with, due to her failed first try. She assumed she’d have to haul a bomb to the press center and was willing to do so. While Helen pondered how to go about it, events at the press center rendered the issue moot.

The reporter whose phone Helen had taken looked at the wire service printout, his eyes growing wide. A story he’d dismissed as a tacky PR stunt was now looking like the tip of a very large and very real iceberg. Hoping that Helen would keep her word, he snatched up a colleagues’ satellite phone and dialed his own number.

A female voice answered, and he said, “We need to talk. Looks like you were on the level and I want to get your story out. You said I’d have an exclusive and I’m calling in that chit. Work with me and I’ll tell the story your way.” The reporter was unaware that he was talking to Felecia.

After a considerable amount of confusion and a hurried call to the General’s phone, Helen got the news and phoned the reporter.

Helen smiled when she was told what the Deputy Undersecretary had said on behalf of the State and Justice departments. Knowing that she didn’t even have to set the hook, she told the reporter, “I was speaking to the Deputy Undersecretary a half hour ago. You might find what he had to say quite interesting.” Helen held her recorder up to the phone and hit ‘play’.

Smelling a Pulitzer and a gold-lined career in the making, the reporter listened to the tape, and at its conclusion assured Helen that he’d get the story out. She then waited, and once told that the reporter’s own recorder was ready, replayed the tape.

As soon as the call ended, the reporter’s hands began to shake. He knew what he had, and it was a scandal beyond huge. For whatever reason – and he correctly suspected the real motive – several elements of the U.S. Government, in an obviously coordinated way, had blatantly tried to threaten and extort Helen, publicly pillorying her and the band, all the while knowing the truth. In so doing, they had left nuclear warheads unsecured. The coordination was evidence that the conspiracy – for it could only be that – ran both wide and deep. The tape, when combined with the government’s public pronouncements and the proven nuclear explosion in Iran, was cold hard proof. ‘Woodward and Bernstein, eat your hearts out,’ he thought, referring to the reporters who had uncovered the Watergate story decades before. With that happy thought, he began typing up his notes.

 

 

A day that had begun with the press conference and the volcanic alert drew to a close, and at the almost-abandoned resort, darkness fell with an ominous air. Instinct and the wedding party, now joined by Jane, huddled in the pavilion, seeking the solace of each other’s company.

Jane, surprising Helen most of all, appeared calm and subdued. It was no false front: Embarrassed by her own behavior and terrified by the threat from the volcano, Jane had taken a double dose of Valium. Jon, Eric, and Chase took turns keeping her company, but found the duty far from the chore they’d envisioned. Only Eric had a twinge of concern; there was something about her mood that worried him, as if the calm surface was but a veneer, covering up a very fragile and volatile state of mind. Eric feared that any news of the nuclear warheads would be too much for her to incorporate.

The news from the rooftop lookout, confirmed by the radio, did not bode well. The La Palma authorities had made it official: the LP-1 highway now had both of its lanes dedicated to northbound traffic. The only problem was that the authorities, due to the widespread chaos, had no effective means of handling the massive traffic jam. They’d also neglected to say just how far north the single-direction declaration applied. The current estimate being reported by the radio was that it would be the next morning before the exodus abated enough to allow buses to move south and evacuate the stragglers. That, everyone at the resort knew, meant their own transportation was similarly blocked from arriving.

To add to their woes, the unattended power grid was beginning to fail, which plunged the resort into stygian darkness. The tiki torches provided a solution, and soon their flickering light lit the pavilion.

The snack foods Eric and Jansen had acquired prevented hunger being added to the night’s problems. Reacting to the stress, people sought diversion, and several card games sprang up as the night progressed.

By one in the morning, spurred by a growing number of yawns around her, Helen stood in the center of the group and announced, “We should be leaving here by late morning. There’s nothing more we can do tonight, so I think we should all return to our rooms and get what sleep we can. We’ll probably need it tomorrow. Let’s meet back here at sunup.”

Helen tried to be as upbeat about their chances as she could, but it was an uphill battle. The radio reports stated that the scientists were still predicting a massive eruption, which could occur at any time. The chances for the eruption occurring were put at over eighty percent. As a result, many of the people in the pavilion did not expect to see the dawn.

Helen’s words were heeded by a few, and some people began to file out, heading for their rooms. Jon and Keith lingered, waiting until they could pull Helen aside for a private word. “Brian left us some weapons: the AK and the RPG. We moved them here; they’re under the pile of sheets and blankets,” Jon said.

“Good thinking,” Helen said with an approving nod. “You two, come with me. You too, General. We have some contingency planning to do.”

 

 

Sitting in his darkened suite, The Scar was weighing how best to handle his nervous henchmen. They were near panic, and The Scar decided that keeping them busy was his best option. “Come, let us have another look around the resort. Perhaps we can find some food in the kitchen, or a means of leaving this place sooner.” Priding himself in his acting ability, he portrayed an air of relaxed confidence, which served, as he’d hoped, to calm his men.

 

 

Jansen walked by Eric’s side, heading for Eric’s suite. As they neared, Jansen said, “I’ve got a little flashlight in my bag. I’ll be right back.” Before Eric could respond, Jansen sprinted away.

Entering his room, Jansen stumbled around in the dark until he found his keychain LED flashlight. Then, he knew he had some decisions to make. Keith wasn’t there, so Jansen correctly assumed he’d stayed behind with Helen. ‘Keither knows where to find me, and I’ll check on him later,’ Jansen thought. Looking at his backpack, picturing the bottle of tequila it contained, Jansen made his choice. Hefting the pack to his shoulder, he ran back towards Eric’s suite.

Jogging across the grounds, his backpack slung across his bare shoulder, Jansen saw, ahead, the disfigured one-armed man he’d seen before. Not liking the look of The Scar’s three large henchmen, Jansen detoured around them.

Seeing the running shirtless teen, The Scar paused for a moment, until he was certain that he did not recognize the face. Then, noticing the resort’s restaurant a few dozen yards away across the lawns, The Scar said to his henchmen, “Let us see what we can find in the kitchen while we wait. I am sure that you are all as hungry as I.”





 

© 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.


Copyright © 2009 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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While Helen was on the phone of the little under-secretary, I kept imagining Helen as Dixie Carter from Designing Women. Classic. 

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