The Lion &
Steve and Bob exited the plane at Ellsworth. The temperature was about forty and the persistent high plains wind was blowing at about 25 miles per hour from the northwest - the wind chill was twenty five. Steve was instantly grateful for the flight jacket one of the flight crew had loaned him and he wrapped it more tightly against himself.
Within a half an hour they were in a black government car and headed into Rapid City. Steve considered himself well-versed in the peripheral United States having seen most of the major coastal areas at one time or another, but land locked upper mid-western high plains was another story. The nearly treeless rolling hills and wide terrain filled with emptiness seemed the opposite of the volcano-formed Hawaiian islands where it seemed every square foot was filled with lush tropic vegetation and people, both native and visiting.
As Steve drove, Bob played with the radio, locating a Waylon Jennings tune. She grinned at McGarrett and she joined in with the song. "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys '"
"We need to focus on the issue," McGarrett said bluntly.
"You don't like my singing?" she retorted as the radio continued to croon:
He stole a glance at her as he noted the road sign advising them of a speed reduction as they were entering Rapid city. The speedometer needle sank away from 80 towards half that rate. "Nothing against your singing," He cut off the radio, "but it doesn't come with the job."
She grinned inwardly.
Steve glared through the windshield at the two story buildings that lined both sides of the main street. The fronts were heavily plastered with tourist attracting items: Indian blankets, buffalo burgers, Tony Lama boots and Stetson hats. A billboard offered the times for The Playhouse somewhere in the Black Hills and announced the production as "South Pacific."
Bob pointed it out. "Make you homesick?"
Steve cocked his head. "Why Ms. Archer - you are a regular comedian. And here you were trying to convince me you were a serious lawman."
She gave a smirk. "Just southwestern hospitality."
He let the exchange end as he pulled up beside the brown brick post office.
The postmaster was not accustomed to Naval intelligence and the FBI waving credentials at him and very quickly ushered Steve and Bob into his office and offered them coffee as he closed the door. He knew that every resident who'd been in the lobby area was already scrambling for the nearest phone to be the first to spread the news.
"We really need information on the person renting PO Box 1444 from this post office branch," Steve declared as the postmaster filled two yellowed coffee mugs.
Bob accepted the fresh, hot coffee and pushed a cup into Steve's hands.
The postmaster turned his intercom and paged a worker who responded by nervously poking her head inside the door. Scribbling the number on a pad he handed it to the clerk. "Get me the card." As the worker exited, he turned his attention back to his visitors. "It will just a take a minute or so."
Steve nodded, but found himself wondering about the future when the postmaster might be able to access the information without the need of massive file cabinets. The depth of the changes that could be brought about by this microchip were just beginning to sink in. Technology that could pass information in seconds that now might take hours. This would clearly make any country possessing it a lead player.
There was a squeaking creak of a poorly lubed hinge as the door to the cab of the truck slammed. Dan Williams sat on the floor in the back, his back to the rear of the cab, a black hood over his head trying to listen for anything that would help his situation. But the sound of his own ragged breathing and thunder of his adrenalin driven heart in his ears drowned out most of the muffled sounds that came through the cloth. He knew that there was someone beside him, maybe Farah. The ride had been long, dusty and bumpy. He was tired past reason, but there was no fear of his dozing off. Outside the truck, two men were shouting back and forth in a Middle Eastern dialect he could not decipher. He could not even be sure if they were arguing or not, but there was high emotion in the tone.
Moments later they came to the back of the truck and dropped the tailgate. One called into the truck.
Danny could feel the person next to him move and rise. He did the same. Someone grabbed his left arm and pulled him towards the back of the truck. He felt with his bare foot for the edge, but before he found it, he was yanked roughly out and collapsed on the hot dusty ground, scraping his knees and elbows. He was pulled back to his feet.
Straining his ears, he picked out the sounds of birds, the sound of wind rustling through leaves. It was hot, but there seemed to be foliage around. In the distance he could hear children playing. Where am I?
He was grabbed again by his elbow and pulled along a dirt pathway - stubbing his toes and stepping on small sharp rocks with his heels as he went. He cursed not having shoes. At last they passed into a building, the floor was still dirt, but cool under his feet. He was pushed down onto a wooden chair. He deliberately coughed once, trying to determine how large the room was from the echo. It did not seem very big.
Seconds later, a hand yanked away the hood and he was blinking in the daylight that streamed through a window on the far side of the small adobe room. Outside of the window were trees, flowers and what looked like a peaceful rural village. In another chair, tied back to back with him, sat Farah.
Before them stood a man dressed in military khaki, his belly hanging over the belt with gun holster. The gun was at this moment in his hand, but he did not seem to be using it as a threat. A black bushy mustache seemed to be growing out of control over his upper lip, nearly hiding his mouth as he spoke. "You American, yes?" the man declared, using the gun to scratch his side.
Danny shook his head. "IRA."
"This IRA - what is that? A bank?"
"Irish Republican Army," Danny muttered.
"Army?" His inquisitor knew that word. The gun suddenly found a new purpose. "American Army?"
Danny sighed and eyed his captor. Keep this really simple. "Ireland. Republic of Ireland," he explained. "A country north of England. Europe. Understand?"
"Ireland. Their army?" The man was still suspicious.
"Army like you," Danny answered. Is it like him? Damn, I know nothing about him. Deciding to take the offense a little, he put on a stern expression. "Why did you bring me here?"
The man blinked and frowned in return, not accustomed to his hostages making demands of him.
"My people will be very angry. They may not give you the money."
"Money? What money?"
Did I just mess this up? Certainly he knows about the offer. Danny paused. "You work for Mounir?"
"Mounir!" He broke into a big grin and gave a chuckle. He raked an index finger across his throat. "Mounir done."
It was Danny's turn to hesitate. Then what is this all about?
"Now," the man drew up another chair opposite Danny and Farah, "Tell me more about this money."
It did not take Camp very long to locate a vehicle he could steal. Intelligence had informed him that Mofasta was not a who but a what and likely one of Mounir's players. He had gone back to Mounir with plans to force the would-be nuclear distributor with enough money to make him say just about anything. There are times when the honey works better than a stick. Except when he reached Mounir's fortess, the old hotel was in smoldering flames. There had been some kind of an attempt to put out the blaze, but burning bombed buildings were too common in Beirut - there were only a few spectators who were mostly children.
"People die here?" he asked of one of the older boys.
The child squinted up at this stranger in a smagh whose Arabic was accented.
Marten gave the boy a stick of gum and the youth pointed to three other children, who anticipating a handout were already at full-speed run towards the two. Marten handed over more pieces of gum.
The boy smiled broadly. "Three." He held up three fingers.
Marten glared at the building. "Names?"
The boy shrugged. "Don't know. One a woman."
"Anyone get out?"
"One man in hospital. He screamed a lot." The boy smiled as if another's agony had been local entertainment.
Marten gave a nod and patted the smallest child on the head, then turned away. He could not be certain if Mounir was in the group that had died. He would need to pay what passed as the local hospital a visit. Intel had fingered a location for Mostafa and would use satellite to determine if there had been any activity there before Camp headed up towards their base in the mountains.
The hospital in Beirut had a huge International Red Cross banner on the front. Camp did not have a good past with them. He recognized that they were a valuable purpose for civilians, but they overstepped themselves often, especially in treatment of combatants. And he knew that today was likely to add another chapter that would be less than pleasant.
The stench of urine and rotting flesh reached him even before he entered the facility. A faint scent of antiseptic intermingled with the vial odors in an attempt to overcome them and was losing. People were sitting outside in a haphazard line as he approached: old women wrapped in hijabs clutched small babies with crusty, fly covered eyes. One old man kept dabbing at a large oozing ulcer on the side of his face.
Ignoring their gazes, Camp walked to the front of the line where a very white, blonde haired Swedish looking young man was attempting to talk to a teenage boy who kept gesturing to the old woman at the head of the line. The Swede's Arabic was extremely poor.
Camp spoke up. "His mother is sick. He wants her seen."
The young man looked relieved. "You speak English?"
Camp nodded. "See her?"
"She has tuberculosis. He brought her every day for the last week. There is nothing more we can do for her."
Camp turned to the man and in Arabic remarked. "Take her way. Too sick. Make her comfortable for her death."
He glanced from Camp to the young worker. "No! No! They have medicine in here. I have seen it. They must help us!" He waved his hands about fanatically.
Camp gripped him fiercely by the shirt. "I have told you the truth. Medicine is for the children, not old people. That is life."
"I will not accept this!" he shouted back at Camp.
Marten looked him in the eye, unflinching. "I have a gun and I will take you both to Allah today if you choose."
The young man, in shock, broke away and turned to collect the elderly woman. Together they turned away from the line.
The worker, who had understood none of what Camp said, slowly exhaled. "Thank you, friend - at least until they return tomorrow."
Camp shrugged. "They won't be back tomorrow." He passed a falsified Belgium Red Cross ID to the man and getting the positive nod, walked into the building. The yellowed hallways were dimly lit with both patients and family members huddled to the sides, each one staring at him as he walked purposefully down the hallway, pausing to glance into doorways as he went. On the second floor, he found what he was seeking in a ward of six tightly packed stretchers where two beds would comfortably fit lay Mounir swathed in bandages many of which had already bled through. He shook the former smuggler's arm. "Mounir."
He painfully half opened his eyes. "You did this?"
"No," Camp answered in Arabic. "You want vengeance? I give you vengeance."
"She was so young - she burned to death," he sobbed.
Camp waited, unimpressed by Mounir's remorse. "Who would have done this?"
He managed to shake his head from side to side. "Don't know."
"Someone who wanted what you were selling?" he suggested.
Mounir sighed again.
"Where is the product, Mounir?" Camp demanded.
He did not answer, just stared at the ceiling.
"I see you get the money," Camp insisted fiercely. "I'll get it to your family."
He slowly made eye contact. "Don't have it."
"You bastard," Camp remarked in English. "Where is it?" He jabbed Mounir's broken arm.
He gave a moan. "Don't have."
"Where did it go?"
"In time, maybe, not now."
"Mounir, I haven't got time. We had an agreement. Where's the package?" he insisted, glancing about as he now had the attention of several of the other patients in the small room.
Mounir moaned again. "No more."
Camp viciously pressed against the pressure point in Mounir's chest. "You tell me you son of a bitch."
Mounir gasped in pain, eyes tightly shut. "No more."
"No more - no more what?"
"No ..more .."
Camp placed a hand over Mounir's mouth and nose cutting off his air.
Mounir struggled, but was too weak to fight.
Camp released him and as he gasped for breath Camp demanded again. "Where?"
"Aleser," he whispered.
"A name? A group? How to I find Aleser?" Camp shouted shaking Mounir.
Mounir merely grimaced, his eyes losing focus.
Camp again used his hand to occlude Mounir's airway and this time waited. Mounir gradually stopped struggling, went flaccid, and was at last completely limp. Without making eye contact with others in the room, Camp turned and left the building.
It had not been a good day. The post office's recorded address for Franklin Beltan was a local hotel from which he had checked out of that morning leaving no forwarding address. The only connection to him now would be through any mail that might be in his post office box. But the postmaster had refused to allow them to the contents without a court order - and the judge would not be back in his office until the next day.
Dinner consisted of the local barbeque sandwich shop with blaring country western music and suspicious stares from the locals.
"For a tourist town, Rapid City seems rather closed," Steve complained as he finished his meal.
"We're not tourists," Bob remarked. "My guess is the whole county already knows who we are and why we're here."
"Beltan wasn't here long enough to make friends," Steve replied, "unless he already knew someone who was here."
"Haven't turned up anything obvious through the phone book or the police department," Bob responded. "I was lucky enough to get the police to be willing stake out the post office in case Belton shows there. My guess is he won't. If he hadn't already left town before we came he's gone now."
"We need to answer the riddle to what brought him here." Steve watched as a tourist family in the corner argued with their seven old son who was more content playing with a plastic souvenir than eating his dinner. "We need to go back up to Ellsworth."
An hour later daylight was gone as the commanding officer of Ellsworth turned Steve and Bob over to his intelligence office.
"We don't have security leaks here," Lieutenant Coffard declared.
"Okay," Steve remarked. "Then there won't be a problem analyzing the system."
His expression was cold. "The Air Force doesn't need the Navy and a civilian tromping through things. My apologies ma'am," he said curtly to Bob, "but the FBI wouldn't know one end of the guidance system from the other."
She gave a smug grin. "FBI is just part of my title, Lieutenant. The other half is software analyst - and nuclear engineering - with that apology accepted. Now, let's start running your tests and see what we find."
He rose stiffly, insulted that he was being ordered by his commander to do this - and that a woman was pushing him around. He did not much care for Navy personnel either. It would take a better part of the night for them to run all the phases of security and he had counted on a quiet shift tonight - there was a poker game he would now miss.
It was shortly past ten at night when one of the Air Force personnel called out the anomaly on his screen. Instantly Bob, Steve and Lieutenant Coffard were at his shoulder.
"Accessed for less than a minute," the tech explained, "but that was all it took."
"Can you trace who it was?" Steve asked noting the look of chagrin on Coffard's face.
It'll take some time. The computer is running an analysis. Maybe an hour or so."
"What did they get?"
He hesitated, glancing at Coffard. "Guidance schematic for the Titan II."
Steve and Bob went to the officers' lounge seeking more coffee. "The Titan II. That just doesn't make sense," Bob said sinking down onto the black naugehyde couch and running a tired hand through her blonde hair. "Why the Titan?"
Steve stirred sugar into his coffee - deciding he could use the glucose even though he normally took his coffee black.
Bob gazed at the far wall. "The Titan doesn't have a controllable flight system after the power phase. The chip was designing a missile control after that phase." She yawned. "Rumor has it the Titan II is going to be retired. We just don't need something that big any more."
"That's nice to hear," Steve remarked sarcastically. "I am sure Moscow is sighing in relief as well. What would happen if someone did develop a way to control the flight of the Titan?"
"I suppose one that was already deployed could have its trajectory altered - but they are due to be retired."
"Titans housed here?"
She shrugged. "I don't know, but I'm sure we could find out. Steve, stealing a schematic is a lot easier than stealing a missile."
"Unless one is
already on route to somewhere - like being retired," he retorted.
Although tired, he got back to his feet. "I'm going to have that
team check out the retirement schedule and if that was accessed as well."
The galactic display was breath taking. Far from the interference of city lights and pollution the stars are magnificent. Steve paused a moment in his mission to gaze upward at them. It had been a long time since he'd had such an uninterrupted view of the northern hemisphere. He could instantly pick out several constellations in the cold early spring night. Finally he returned to business and turned the car towards Rapid City. The town was deserted and still. Except for a dog barking somewhere in the distance, there was no sign of anything awake. He approached the post office, noting the black and white cruiser near the parking lot. The local PD had certainly not been very stealth in their stakeout activities. The officer was sleeping soundly slumped sidewards in his seat.
Satisfied, Steve carefully picked the lock of the side door to the building. Breaking and entering a federal building was certainly nothing to be taken lightly. He crossed the lobby to the appointed PO box 1444 and shined the small penlight through the old brass front. There several pieces of mail inside. With a penknife, he forced the lock and the little door popped open. He quickly examined the mail. Two flyers and one envelope that had been forwarded from Dallas - a return address to AT&T on the corner. Returning the mail, he pocketed the bill, closed the door and slipped away from the post office as quietly as he arrived.
Bob had dozed off to sleep and was roused as Steve tapped her shoulder. "Come on, we're going to Kansas," he told her.
"What?" she murmured sleepily.
"McConnell Air Force Base has been moving around their Titans. We've got a lead on our guy down there," he told her.
"The post office," she murmured.
"Nothing there," he replied bluntly. "I've already asked for a flight."
She stumbled to her
feet, finding her shoes along the way. "Kansas?"
The sun had crossed into the western sky. Somewhere nearby the muezzin was calling the followers to asr prayers. Danny and Farah had sat tied to separate chairs in silence for better than two hours. In spite of their crisis, Danny kept nodding into sleep. As his head would drop forward, he'd startle awake again. Try as he might to keep his mind alert, he kept lapsing back into sleep.
Farah wrestled with her bonds. "You help?" she asked him at one point.
"Help? Sure, I can help. I'll have us out of here as soon as I figure out the game," he remarked, not certain she understood the metaphor. He wished he knew a little more about who was holding them. Their captors either did not know about the plutonium or were playing ignorant. He had been unable to determine which. Why were we taken? And who revealed us? Perhaps Abjar. But what did he tell them?
The door opened and the heavy man from earlier entered. "Why does IRA come here?" he demanded to Danny.
Danny considered his options carefully. "We heard there was something of importance to us available to buy. Perhaps we heard wrong."
He tugged his beard. "You have made arrangements to buy this - something?"
He shrugged. "I don't believe it exists."
The man nodded. "Many lies in this world." He stepped around to Farah and fired off a stream of sentences in Arabic, none of which Danny could understand.
Sitting back to back Danny was unable to see her expression, but her response was not hurried, nor frightened, but seemed deliberate and focused.
The exchanges between Farah and their captor went on for several minutes. Gradually her tone became more forceful, like she was becoming impatient with the events. Danny contemplated her courage or her standing that would have enabled her to respond with what seemed some kind of knowledge or power. The man seemed to grow more impatient as well and frustrated.
"I am to ask you about who you serve," she said leaning towards Danny.
"What was all that arguing about?" Danny asked carefully of Farah trying to watch her questioner's face. There was no glimmer of understanding. Danny hoped the man spoke no English.
"They want what we do not have," she replied
"And what is that?"
"No concern," she answered.
What does that mean? "You let me decide if it of concern - what is he looking for?"
She paused, Danny wasn't sure if it was to construct her English or to create a believable answer. "He wants more about you. He thinks you are American."
He wondered what her response had been. How much does Camp trust her? What does she know? Deciding to take the cautious approach, he asked: "You told them the truth, right? I am Irish."
She gave a nod. "I tell them you are not the one they want, but you can help them."
"If you have no value to them, they will kill you," she added. "Here is a good thing to kill the infidel. You must tell him something."
"Tell him I know where treasure is."
She glanced from him towards the man. "Treasure? What is that?"
It had taken Camp most of the day to get into the area of Qab Elais. Intelligence had provided that Mostafa had been active and satellite revealed that there had been movement of several trucks around their posts in that area. He now approached the town, passing by the medieval Druze fortress that had once guarded the road between Beruit and Damascus. Now it was a large empty pile of debris with a few walls of rock that taunted archeologists and historians. Qab Elais itself was a good sized village complete with the hubbub of shops and people. The compound intelligence had revealed was on the northeastern side of town. It was late afternoon, the heat was radiating from the ground, but the winds had begun to cool. He attracted no attention as he passed through the town and crept up onto a small hillside where he trained his binoculars on the Mostafa settlement.
There were a total of three structures, two of them appeared to be small houses, the third a kind of prefabricated garage. He made his way towards the small house farther from the road and discovered a sentry of sorts guarding the door, which solidly confirmed his choice.
Camp strangled the sentry with a length of wire, then propped him back in position. The door was locked, but forcing it was easy. Inside were two men, who were taken totally by surprise. Both were dead before they hit the floor.
The large captor had received Farah's translation and glared at Danny while speaking in Arabic to Farah.
"He wants to know what this treasure is," she murmured.
"Tell him I know where his treasure is," he said modifying the statement. I have got to find us a way through this. Greed might be the best. "I can buy his treasure, but I must be given over to my people. And I must see the treasure first."
She began to translate, but the man waved a hand of impatience. "He doesn't want that," she almost whispered.
"Okay, what does he want?"
Even as Danny was asking the question, the man began to untie Farah, leaving Danny in restraint.
"Hey," Danny blurted, "what's he doing. Farah, tell him that I won't help if he hurts you!"
She allowed the man to pull her to her feet. "I don't think he is going to hurt me," she replied without panic.
The man started to take her towards the door when suddenly the door exploded inward as Camp burst into the room, the Lugar drawn in his hand and already aimed at the Arabic man. "Let her go," he declared.
The man, having in the instant drawn his own weapon with it now against Farah's head began to back away. "You - no." He answered in his limited English.
Farah, held fast, gasped - displaying fear for the first time.
His total focus on the man, Camp muttered. "You okay, Danny?"
"We're fine," he murmured, his attention also on the man holding Farah.
"Down," the Arab man issued meaning Camp's gun.
"No way, Fat boy. You down."
The man licked his lips, fingering the gun next to Farah's head.
Camp sighed. "Okay, have it your way."
"Camp-" Danny shouted.
Marten fired, the bullet striking Farah's forehead, passing through her head and into the man who also fell to the floor. Marten shoved Farah's body aside and shot the man once more in the head.
Danny was speechless as Camp quickly released him from the chair.
"Come on," Camp commented, "we may have what we want in the building outside."
Still unable to process all that had just happened, Danny followed Camp after stealing one more look at Farah's body. Now was not the time, but it would come.
They crept towards the larger garage, but Danny already doubted this was the storage facility - there were no guards on the doors. He tried to keep his mind away from the moment before. Farah was afraid and I thought it was of the man - it was of Camp. She knew what he would do. I knew what he would do - and I couldn't stop it.
Camp pushed open the sliding door and they stepped inside. Dust covered two old cars that had been there quite some time and probably did not work. To the left was an area that had been cordoned off with thick translucent plastic that hung making a small ten by ten room to one side of the garage. Inside was a table and a shielded glove box for working with radioactive substance. It all seemed very out of character for the building.
"What do you think?" Camp asked of Danny.
Noticing the Geiger counter, Danny flipped the switch. It came to life with a periodic single blipping sound. He moved the wand to the glove box: the meter registered no change.
"It never was here," Danny murmured. "But they were expecting it."
Camp shook his head and cursed. "Wonder when - or if."
"You just killed the guy who could have told us," Danny grumbled.
"My greater priority was keeping you alive," Camp replied evenly.
"Me! It was Farah who he was going to kill. And you handled that just fine - you killed her first."
Camp glared at him. "Farah sold us out. She and Abjar gave you away to this Mostafa bunch when they thought we were going to sell to Mounir."
"No, no she didn't," Danny answered angrily, suddenly awash in emotion.
Camp just shook his head. "Sometimes you are a real fucking amateur."
In a burst of raw rage, Danny punched Camp in the mouth causing the agent to stagger backwards, but regain his balance before falling to the dirt floor. "Fucking is a verb, not an adjective," Danny muttered.
Camp rubbed at hand against his bloody lip. "You really don't get this at all, do you?! This isn't about some Arab girl or these terrorists! This is about the end of the whole stinking world - this is on us, Danny, us! And if it takes blowing away a whole damned village of five year olds I won't hesitate to do it. Whatever it takes, Williams. Me. You. Them. Whatever it takes!" He was panting from emotion and rage. More calmly he added: "This is the real thing - it's showtime. There are no dress rehearsals. No second chances."
Silence closed over the room as they glared at each other, both wordlessly contemplating what Camp had just voiced. Marten finally spoke first. "Okay. We have a job to do. Let's get on it."
Danny turned off the Geiger counter. "Where do we go from here?"
"There were four trucks out of here this morning - let's see if satellite can tell us where they went. Hopefully not in four different directions. And let's get you some clothes." Camp glanced down at Danny's attire. "Even in the Middle East you can't run around in your boxers."
"Just no dresses, okay?" Danny replied, deciding to table the previous incident for now, but in no way considering it closed.
Camp gave slight grin. "I thought you made a really cute girl."