The Lion &
It was snowing and the driving flakes were spiraling viciously in the back draft of the rotors of the Huey helicopter. The ride had been long, cold, bumpy and, thankfully, now over.
Security at McConnell had been beefed up, Steve observed as the helicopter hovered over the strip, then slowly settled down. There were MPs all over the place - and four that opened the door of the chopper for them. Obviously Ellsworth had called ahead, explained the situation and no one at McConnell wanted their sterling reputation tarnished by losing a Titan II.
"Welcome to the 381st, sir, ma'am. This way." A young MP stated and quickly led Steve and Bob across the frozen runway to the commanding officer's quarters. The sky was graying towards dawn, the blowing snow giving a deep purple blue cast to the colors.
The commandant, Colonel Nelson, stood before an old percolator coffee pot warming and ceramic cup of coffee between his hands. Out on the parade ground, air force personnel were lining up for morning inspection. Today would not be a good flying day. Nelson turned as the MP ushered the two civilians into his office. He gave an audible sigh.
"I have already been briefed on your - mission," he muttered. "Coffee?"
They both accepted a cup, the warmth rushing through their chilled fingers.
"I have issued a yellow alert. My men have accounted for each missile, both those in storage and those in transfer."
Steve nodded. "Any in transfer off base?"
Nelson pointed to his map. "Two. With enough security around them to stop just about anything."
Steve glanced at the empty prairie Nelson had gestured at. "Have you received the image of Beltan?"
He waved it around. "And circulated it to my officers." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Now - how else can we be of service?"
He is a bit arrogant - and would like us to get back on that chopper and buzz out of here. He isn't going to like this one bit. "Colonel Nelson, we need to inspect the data files. We are pretty sure that Beltan's goal is McConnell - although it is possible we beat him here. If he was traveling by highway the weather may have slowed him down. Nevertheless, he may have already been here," Steve stated.
Nelson glanced at them. "McMarrett, I've read your jacket, top Naval clearance - but this is highly irregular."
"The circumstances are highly irregular as well," Bob remarked.
Nelson paused to sip his coffee. "Hell of a thing." He punched the intercom of his office.
"Yes, sir," responded the enlisted man in the secretary's office.
"Take these people to datacom. I want them extended every necessary assistance."
"Yes, sir." The young man was in the door nearly as fast as he issued the words.
In a matter of moments, Bob was entering commands into the computer data base at the yellow-lettered screen fired off streams of numbers and binary responses.
Steve could do little except wait - something it seemed he had been doing most of this event. He thought about where Beltan might be - where he might attempt to breech the security of McConnell. Just how does one go about stealing a Titan II missile? Perhaps he doesn't need a whole missile but just the guidance system. If that is so, how does he go about doing that? And if he can get the system - the missile is left behind - would McConnell even know that the system was missing on a de-commed item? "Airman Konak," he said to their host, "I want to see one of the missile tubes."
"Sir?" Konak asked.
"Ms. Archer can handle this - I want to see one of the missiles - where the guidance system is located."
He paused, still undecided.
"I believe your commanding officer said to provide us every assistance," Steve reminded gently.
"Yes, sir, but - Sir, I don't have that kind of clearance," he stumbled over the words.
"I do. Let's go."
Konak confiscated a nearby jeep and with Steve in the passenger seat set off at a wild rate across the flat expanse of Kansas as the blinding snow splashed across the plastic windshield and the wind whistled through the canvas roof. In about five minutes, they had reached the closest silo. Konak got out, exchanged a heated discussion with the MP on guard, then returned to the jeep. "That door leads down to the control center. One of the crew will meet you. It is off limits to me."
Steve exited into the snowy morning and the MP on guard opened the door for him. He descended quickly the steel stairway that spiraled down to the control room where he was met by two young men in khaki jumpsuits. Each had a metal chain containing a small card around his neck.
"Good morning, Sir. I'm Captain O'Leary, the MCCC," one said with a smile. "This is my DMCCC, Lieutenant Turner. We are instructed to let you see the missile." He pointed through the glass window to the enormous rocket that stood beyond.
Just the appearance of the huge device was breath-taking. Steve consciously worked at not allowing his mouth to fall open. "If you were going to steal one of these, how would you do it?"
"All due respect, sir. This baby is 103 feet tall and weighs more than three hundred thousand pounds. Stealing one would not go unnoticed." O'Leary shook his head quietly. "I guess getting one of these is pretty near impossible."
"Unless it was in the air," Turner added.
Steve's attention snapped to the DMCCC. "What was that?"
"If some one could change the flight pattern - which they can't - they could change where it fell. They could steal it so to speak by controlling where it landed - or rather who it hit."
"Could they arm it?"
"Not remotely," they said as one.
"We have to arm it - as a team," O'Leary clarified. "There are four of us down here and our total responsibility is the well being and security of one Titan and its payload. Once airborne, we can disarm it, but it could never be armed if launched inactive."
Could that be the plan? Tamper with this new remote flight control program and change the trajectory once a missile is airborne? How would it be launched? Steve gazed at the enormous missile only a small portion of which he could see in the window.
The phone rang and Turner answered it. "McGarrett, it's for you."
He accepted the phone with a quick. "McGarrett."
"Beltan has been spotted in town," reported Bob. "I'm going after him."
"Wait for me. I'll be right there," he answered.
"No time. Your driver and bring you to town." She hung up.
Just who the blazes does she thing she is? Cursing, Steve bounded up the fifty steel steps, reaching the top just slightly winded and shouted for Konak who jumped from the jeep. "Let's get moving!"
There was only one of the Arab men who had not urinated on himself in death. Those pants were long and tight, but Danny put them on anyway, leaving the button at the top open. When he joined Marten, the CIA official was sorting through crumpled papers he had found scattered in an office of sorts. He did not look happy.
"They were clearly bidding on the plutonium," Camp muttered. "There are all kinds of notes - but nothing that seems to lead to anywhere."
Danny glanced at some of the scraps, but all the wording was in Arabic. I swore I would never be again in a situation where I did not know the language - yet here I am, he thought hotly.
The phone rang, startling both of them. Camp found it quickly inside of a desk drawer. "Ayez eh?" He muttered into it, hoping the receiver would not hear enough to determine who he was.
There was silence for a moment, then a voice in poor quality Arabic asked for Haidad.
Camp, feeling suddenly as though he might have the upper hand - and certainly the better quality Arabic replied more confidently - and quickly - that Haidad was not in and the caller would have to deal with him.
"Aleser," the caller said just one word.
Camp gripped the phone tightly. "Estana shoeya." He snatched up a pencil from the desk and scribbled quickly to Danny on a piece of paper. ---European. "You English?" he said back into the phone adding a very heavy Arabic accent.
"You speak English?" the man asked suspiciously. It was easy to identify his mid-Atlantic accent - probably Wales.
"Sadiq." Camp handed Danny the phone.
He scowled. "Hello?"
"Who the hell is this?" the man at the other end demanded.
"That doesn't concern you," Danny replied, glancing at Camp, hoping for direction.
"Where is Haidad?" the man demanded.
"That doesn't concern you any longer either. The people here work for me. I am set to make good any arrangement you had with Haidad."
There was no response for a moment. "Why should I trust you?"
Camp quickly scratched something on the paper and Danny, reading it, replied. "I am the lion."
He could hear the man's breath catch. Whatever that meant, it was important. "Okay, I will meet you."
"You know where we are."
He chuckled slightly. "I think not. I will call you. There is a small café in Normandie, Cafe Gondree, know the place?"
"Tomorrow then. Tea time." The line disconnected.
"Well?" Camp asked.
"Normandie. Café Gondree tomorrow at 4:00pm," Danny glanced at his naked wrist where his watch should have been.
Minutes later, they were bumping over the country road to a hotwired dusty truck, headed for the better highway that led back to Beirut. "Okay, the lion bit," Danny called to Camp.
Marten turned from his driving. "Something Mounir said as he was dying. Aleser - Arabic for 'lion.'"
"And that meant--?"
"I have no idea. But it worked, didn't it?"
Danny gazed through the dusty cracked windshield. "We don't know that it worked."
"Well, it's getting us closer - and out of Lebanon," Camp muttered.
Danny nodded. At least I speak some French.
Wichita seemed to Steve as a small town that had somehow grown cancerously beyond its ability to control itself. After repeated attempts on Konak's radio in the jeep, they had finally pinpointed Bob's location on the western side of the city in the rail yard. The snow had stopped, the sky was beginning to clear with small patches of bright blue peaking from the rapidly departing clouds. The sun was intense during the moments when it shone, but the air was still cold and the wind blowing at about 10 knots.
There were four local police vehicles and two black military cars strategically located around the railroad head.
Bob came towards Steve as soon as she noticed the jeep's approach.
"What's your report?" Steve demanded, unfolding himself from the jeep. He was annoyed that Bob had taken matters into her own hands, but this was not the time to address the action.
"It's Beltan all right," she said. "Or was."
"Was?" Steve picked up on her statement.
She gestured towards the old unused road house and led Steve across the multiple old rails to the wooden, weather-beaten one room structure. "He fired on the officers. They returned fire." She shook her head.
Steve crouched down next to the body sprawled in the dust. The three chest wounds had stopped bleeding, but there was plenty of blood sinking into the hard ground, melting the light dusting of pink tinged snow. "I hope there is a lot more to your report than this."
One hand on her hip, she shook her head. "It was pretty fast. Civilian officers often react first, ask questions later."
That can be the truth. Steve continued to examine the lifeless body. He carefully lifted a jacket lapel with a pencil and probed the pockets, managed to pop out the wallet that he then opened with his handkerchief. The usual credit cards and IDs were all there, but only three dollars in single bills. "Not much cash."
She shrugged. "I have his brief case."
Steve snapped his head up. "Where is it?"
"I thought it might be better to examine in under secure conditions," she replied.
Steve was looking at the photo of Beltan's small son, the one with leukemia. What would a parent be willing to do for a sick child? Treason? Where are the son and wife now? "Do you have his vehicle impounded?"
She nodded. "Forensics team from the local FBI office is coming out to get it."
The cold wind was numbing Steve's ears and fingers. Why would anyone live in this environment out of choice? "Let's get a look at that brief case."
It was a great relief to get out of the cold wind. Steve could feel his numb ears beginning to tingle and throb with heat within a few moments. The local Wichita FBI group had graciously vacated a small conference room for Steve and Bob. Bob now popped open the latches on the case revealing a small collection of papers.
"Is that it?" Steve asked as she sifted through them.
"Seems so," she replied.
"No tape of stolen data?"
She carefully examined all the seams of the case. "It's clean."
Steve leaned against the table. "We need to backtrack. He deposited it somewhere down the line."
"But he did not get what he was after here."
"Do we even know what he was after here?" Steve pointed out.
"The Titan guidance package?" Bob suggested.
"Perhaps. Then again - maybe not. Ms. Archer, if you had waited for me we might still have Beltan alive."
"You want to try that again?" she demanded.
"You heard me. You allowed the locals to get out of control - we needed Beltan alive."
"You said yourself that they got carried away."
"Oh. And you think that because you are a man you could of done better?" she said hotly.
"Yes, I do," he answered without hesitation. "Those posse cops out there weren't going to listen to a woman," he declared hotly. "I could have made them listen."
Hands on hips, she announced. "Oh, really."
"There are a vast number of things women can do as well - maybe better than - men in this field, but controlling a bunch of red-neck shoot-em-up cowboy bumpkins isn't one of them."
"I am sure the locals would appreciate your view of them," she commented with a snicker.
"My views do not matter here. What matters is that we lost the most valuable piece of information we could have had," Steve redirected, deciding to shelf the hot topic. But his mind was spinning through possibilities Was this really a local screw-up or was it calculated? Who exactly had shot Beltan? Someone who wanted him dead perhaps? Someone who knew what he was here to do? Was it possible there was a contract right here? "Okay, let's back up to the person who Beltan would trust, who knew him best."
"His wife," Bob deduced.
Steve nodded with a mild smile. "Something I think a female officer could do very well - let's find the wife and talk to her."
There was a knock at the door and Bob opened it. An agent handed her a manila folder of things from Beltan's car. She carefully dumped them out onto the table.
Steve spotted a brochure instantly and picked it up. "Mayo Clinic."
Bob looked up expectantly.
"Rochester, Minnesota." He gestured to a number scrawled on the corner of the brochure. "Room number perhaps?"
Minutes later, a phone call confirmed that Charisa Beltan and her three year old son, Michael, were at Mayo Clinic and a small special ops jet that had been housed at McDonnell was revving up its turbos for a trip northward.
As they settled themselves in the remarkable comfort of the small Leer, a young special ops officer greeted them, causing Steve pause in thought to consider how Danny was handling whatever his role was.
The air was cool and damp, the overcast French sky promised a misting rain to come, but the early spring flowers in the box outside of Café Gondree bobbed their heads pleasantly to the gentle breeze. The weather had cleared the small outdoor patio and the cliental of the eatery were huddled around the variety of two and four person tables inside where the small center-piece candles provided an air of cozy warmth.
Marten Camp entered the café, resisting the urge to glance around. The matron of the establishment greeted him with a cheerful: "Bonjour" to which he replied in perfect French.
She was over fifty, her waist having vanished sometime during the last ten years along with her former husband. Her hands were worn from dishwater and cooking, but her blue eyes were gentle and her smile sincere. She handed him the menu.
"Le café, aucune crème," he muttered with disinterest, glancing out of the window at hand towards the Canal de Caen A La Mir and bridge beyond.
"Merci." She turned away. Another man that reminded her of her 'x.' Yes, this kind seemed to be plentiful.
At the small bar sat a younger man carefully sipping away at his calvados apple brandy. He looked to be of saxon heritage, the matron guessed. He had given her a pleasant smile when he ordered although French was obviously not his native tongue - his accent was that of an American. She gave him a free wedge of cheddar cheese with a whole grain roll. He seemed pleasant - perhaps a little lonely. Age never concerned her when lonely men who were friendly. Eighteen or eighty, they were all jewels.
Dan Williams paused in munching on cheese to glance at his watch. The timepiece was a new one - as was all his attire - and he did not much care for it. It served the purpose. He had updated the time while still in the airport. It was now 3:50. He wondered exactly what to expect next. Camp was blowing on his hot coffee, staring intermittently out through the window like any good tourist. Rain was starting to move in off the beaches. The beaches of Normandie - filled with history, sadness and exhilarating redemption. A part of World War II that was so alien to him in the South Pacific. He'd grown up living amongst survivors of Pearl, Midway, Guam and the Philippines - beaches half a world away. The vestiges of another face of that war now decorated the small restaurant - this first building liberated on D-Day. Here, as in Hawaii, there were large cemeteries filled with white identical crosses row upon neat tidy row, but here they symbolized lives given out of choice to victory instead of ignorance to defeat.
Camp rose and Danny's attention was grabbed as he watched the operative in the mirror of the bar before him. Camp left the café, stopped for a moment on the rain-wet patio with its empty white tables and chairs, then he started walking hurriedly away from the canal.
Danny tried to look nonchalant as he paid for his brandy. "Merci," he added with a smile, dropping the small orange hunk of leftover cheddar into his jacket pocket.
The hostess smiled warmly after him.
He ignored the damp wind as he quickly glanced around. Camp was about fifty yards ahead of him having turned onto Rue Du Domaine, still nearly at a jog. Danny hesitated - it was not quite four, maybe he needed to stay behind. Camp had not signaled instructions before his abrupt departure. Danny needed to decide quickly - in another moment Camp would be gone from view. A green Volvo station wagon pulled up and stopped across the street and almost instantly a tall man wearing an Irish cap exited and walked towards him with purpose. Their eyes met momentarily, then the man brushed past him and entered the Café Gondree.
Danny hesitated once again. Lots of people could enter the café. It might mean nothing. Then again - He turned back towards the small shop. He stepped through the door, cast a quick glance around at the patrons, but did not see the man who had just passed him.
"Did you forget something?" asked the round hostess in delicately accented English.
He paused. "Homme," he stated, not willing to reveal just how non-French he was. My French isn't that good. She already knows I'm not French - but she doesn't have to know I am American.
She gave a cherubic playful smile. "Une femme sera meilleure."
He was already moving through the small eating area and peering amongst the museum memorabilia that was on display. There had to be another exit. "Une autre porte?"
"Oui." She nodded, beginning to see he was intent on something. She pointed towards the rear, curtained area.
Without wanting to waste further brain power on translations, he ducked through the curtain, resisting the urge to pull his newly acquired Taurus pistol. It was not what he would have chosen. He found the Taurus clumsy and larger than he would have liked. It's .44 magnum load was also a change. He was unhappy totting around a weapon he had not even so much as fired on a range. And he was reluctant to wave it around in a café full of civilians.
The back door stood open onto the steps where old boxes oozed rotted food and wet paper. Danny bounded down the steps, knowing the man he'd passed had gone that way. He paused amongst the bags and boxes of refuse, vaporous puffs of breath lingering around him.
An elbow slammed unexpectedly into the side of his head, knocking him off balance, he stumbled over a broken wooden crate, jamming his left foot inside, landing ungracefully on his right knee as the Taurus, like it or not, found its way into his right hand.
"Drop it," ordered the crisp voice.
Danny froze feeling the cold steel of a gun muzzle against his left ear.
"I will fire, promise," the voice declared.
Leaving the pistol on the cobblestone pavement, he lifted both hands. Dammit, captured twice in this horrific mission already. I look like an idiot. However, his desire for preservation disciplined him to let go the thought of embarrassment. No time for that right now.
"Get up," his attacker ordered and Danny slowly, hands still up, rose from his knees, extracting his foot from the crate.
He turned to face the man he'd seen exit the Volvo.
The man's gray hair peeked from beneath the tweed Irish cap, his pale gray eyes like stone, long face and nose that betrayed a drinking habit. His age was somewhere around fifty-five. A slight smile creased the corners of his mouth. "Not what you expected, aye?"
Danny paused. "Who are you?"
"That isn't the real question, now, is it?" he replied. Having the upper hand, he paused, gun still in hand and lit a thin cigar. "Hum, I think not."
"Are you here to make the deal?" Danny asked quietly.
"The deal?" He snapped his silver lighter shut and dropped it into his raincoat pocket. "You have what I want - I may have what you want. That is not a deal - that is negotiation."
Danny slowly lowered his hands. "All right, enough of this then. Where can we talk. The café?"
He chuckled. "Heavens, no. Give me your weapon."
Danny bent down and picked up the gun with two fingers and passed it over.
The man glanced it over, then it disappeared into his coat pocket. His eyes narrowed. "Just what is this about? You relieved Haidad of his property - and his life as well is my guess. Then you show up here, sporting just marginal French - hobnobbing with an Mi6 field woman, and armed with a weapon that's never been fired. Just who are you anyway?"
"A long story."
"I'll bet. Your counter-part should be nearly out of town by now."
"My -" Danny frowned.
"Yes, I made certain that he noticed my colleague. My driver is waiting for us," he commented and headed towards the front and the waiting green Volvo.
They got into the back seat of the car, Danny resisting the urge to look around for Camp.
"Now," the older man said as the car pulled away from the café, "I am Uain."
"Leon agus Uain," Danny whispered with a look of recognition, recalling how Camp had told him to announce he was the lion. Lion in Gaelic is Leon. Uain means lamb.
Uain gave a nod. "We
have much to discuss."
End part 4