Road Kill Part 32

This story will definitely become a book once it’s complete. I’m just not sure if it will stay in this first person narrative, or if I will rework it to be a 2nd novel in the Brad Rafferty series (the first being Blood Orange). If you have thoughts on this, please let me know.

In the meantime, here is the conclusion of this story, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. There will be another one coming that I have been cooking up for a while. It will be a totally different kind of story, but I think my blog is a good place to test out different types of writing.

Please enjoy this last installment of Road Kill. If you want to catch up on previous parts of the story, there are links at the end of this post.


Road Kill Part 32 – The Big Match

We now knew that the attack was going to involve explosives. We also suspected some type of radiation or radioactive material based on the profiles of the prisoners selected from GTMO.

Now, the day of the soccer match between the United States and Israel had arrived. The preliminary matches had gone without incident. In fact, Jones and I enjoyed watching the match between Saudi Arabia and Israel. If only governments could be run by athletes instead of politicians, there might be more cooperation. There was nothing but respect between the two teams and they actually exchanged gifts before the match.

It was now an hour before the match between the United States and Israel. This match was seen as the crowning achievement of the event and was meant to solidify the bond between these long-time allies.

“We have the secretary in visual range,” Bailey said as the time before the match dwindled down to 15 minutes.

Secretary Martin made her way to the executive box at the center of the field. Her top aides and, surprisingly, Donovan, were by her side. There was a bank of microphones there and she prepared to make a speech.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of State of the United States of America”, came the announcement over the public address system.

The crowd that had been so enthusiastic leading up to the match was somewhat lukewarm in their response to the introduction.

“Thank you,” she began. “I’m honored to be here on this historic day. A day that marks what can be achieved when nations put aside their conflicting ideologies and differences and compete with a spirit of sportsmanship and fellowship.”

Again, there was a modicum of applause at her words.

“I hope this is a beginning of what we can achieve when we work together and seek to highlight our similarities and minimize our differences. We can then move forward with global peace, understanding and respect. Now, let us go forth and enjoy this final match between the great nations of Israel and the United States.”

Again, there was polite applause.

The announcer then asked everyone to stand for the Israeli national anthem and, when it was complete, asked the crowd to remain standing for the Star Spangled Banner.

The crowd cheered loudly when the anthems were complete and the teams took the field for the match. The teams were evenly matched and both would be hoping to qualify for the more advanced rounds of the next World Cup.

As the first period neared its end, the score was tied at one apiece. From the video, I could see the Secretary preparing to leave her box and, presumably, the stadium so that her plan could progress. The stadium was filled to capacity and, based on the amount of explosive power that was estimated to be present, there would be massive casualties.

With the Secretary on the move, Rafferty and his team were notified that it was time to make their move. He had dispersed the team in the crowd as well as throughout the stadium. They were arranged so that they could get to the secretary before she had a chance to leave the stadium.

As she made her way through the stadium corridors toward the exit near which her motorcade was parked, we could see Rafferty’s team slowly encircling her entourage.

When they were almost to the stadium exit, six of Rafferty’s team member stood in front of the Secretary’s group blocking the way. This caused her detail, including Donovan, to reflexively surround her and prepare to draw their weapons.

Just as this happened, I nodded to Jones, who flipped a switch on the audio/video console.

“What is going on? Who are you people and why are you blocking the way?” the Secretary asked.

Just then, Brad Rafferty stepped in front of his team.

“Leaving so soon, Madam Secretary? Don’t you want to see how this ‘historic’ match ends?” Rafferty asked.

The Secretary turned to Donovan.

“Who is this man? Is this the threat you were talking about?”

Donovan glanced at Rafferty and then at the camera that he knew was picking up the entire event.

“He is Commander Brad Rafferty. He is with the U.S. Navy. And, yes, he is part of the threat I told you about.”

Donovan paused for dramatic effect.

“And, Madam Secretary, so am I.”

Donovan moved away from the Secretary and joined Rafferty.

“What is this all about?” the Secretary asked, trying to retain her composure.

“It’s about Project OSCAR,” Rafferty answered.

There was a slight tremor that crossed the Secretary’s face.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is Project OSCAR?”

“I think you do know what it’s about and I also think we’re going to stay here until you acknowledge it, or would you rather be part of it?”

Secretary Martin’s demeanor changed as realization crept across her face. The explosion that would cause the stadium to be severely damaged injuring scores of fans was about to occur in about 10 minutes. She had hoped to be far away from the site by then.

“I think you need to halt the operation unless you want to be at the bottom of the pile of rubble,” Donovan added. Then to Rafferty, “There are explosives placed at strategic structural junctions throughout the stadium. Once they go off, the place will collapse as if it has been demolished. The explosion will also unleash radioactive contamination which will make those not killed by the devastation, become fatally ill later on.”

“Donovan, how could you?” Secretary Martin screeched realizing that she had just been betrayed.

“Madam Secretary, you need to call this off now,” Rafferty began again. “If not, we will all die here and you won’t be able to reap the benefits of your plot.”

The Secretary’s entourage began to divide into groups that knew of her plot, and those that didn’t. Finally, a smug look reemerged on her face.

“Fine, I can call it off, but you will never be able to prove that I was behind any of this. The American public will never believe that someone in their own government would be behind this. You’ll be laughed at as conspiracy nuts and it will be my word against yours.”

“Maybe not,” Rafferty said as he glanced at the camera above.

“Fine, I’m on surveillance. I will have all of the recordings confiscated and there will be no record of this. You’re finished Rafferty and so are you Donovan. I’ll see to it.”

“Madam Secretary, you can destroy the local recordings, but we did a little bit of modification on the surveillance system. At this moment, this whole event is being broadcast as a live stream on the Internet. It’s on every social media outlet and will probably be viral within the hour. You just damned yourself,” Rafferty said.

What he said was true. Jones had set up a live stream and had linked it to several media outlets. News outlets were picking it up as well and millions around the world had viewed it either live, or immediately afterward. There would be no recovery for Secretary Martin from this occurrence.

********

Two Months Later

For the first time in history, a high-ranking U.S. official was being tried for treason. Secretary Martin, and some of her close advisers that had been involved in Project OSCAR were made to testify in front of Congress and the entire world on live television. The evidence against her, courtesy of my team, was staggering. We were able to supply a solid trail of correspondence, funds transfers, video and audio that gave the government an iron-clad case against her.

While Rafferty and his team were confronting the Secretary, secondary members of the team were rounding up the GTMO prisoners and other rogue operatives that were helping her. We had been able to identify most of them from stadium surveillance footage via facial recognition software. The attack was neutralized before it could proceed. Even if she hadn’t given the order to suspend the attack, it would not have taken place because of the precision opeation that Rafferty’s team carried out.

As for the team, from Admiral Baker, down to the low-level technicians, we were all secretly congratulated. It was decided that public recognition would not be appropriate as we essentially broke several laws on our way to trapping the Secretary.

The President, however, met with the team and congratulated us unofficially. He also made a private plea to Cliff Jones asking him to come and work for the government. He refused saying something about not being able to afford the pay cut and not wanting to conform to the dress code.

The Secretary, Ben Simpson and all of those that were in on her plot would likely disappear in federal prison for quite some time. They would be used as an example to future ambitious government officials. The fallout from this case would fuel conspiracy nuts for decades to come.

As for me, well, I wouldn’t have been involved in any of this if I hadn’t sat in the wrong seat all those months earlier. I was an accidental hero which, in hindsight, was much better than being a dead coward who sat in the right seat.

I was completely happy to go back and work for Donovan. My faith in him and in his mission in The Mother Ship was completely restored. When I did return for work, I was happy to find out that I was moved into my own office and given a promotion. The promotion would allow me to discontinue traveling. This was a relief to me.

Reporting for work after a generous vacation, I walked to my new office against the north wall of the complex and was proud to see my nameplate next to the door that read Alexander Baldwin, Senior Analyst.

The End


Read the earlier parts and get caught up:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27,  Part 28, Part 29,Part 30, Part 31

Road Kill Part 31

The story is reaching it’s end. It’s apparent that I have enough to turn this into a book, possibly a continuation of the series started with Blood Orange. I’ve enjoyed posting this as a weekly serial and will be doing it again with another story that will be quite different from this one just to test the waters with a different genre.

Now, without further delay, please enjoy Road Kill Part 31. If you want to catch up on the previous parts, there are links to them at the end of this post.


Road Kill part 31 – The Stadium

About two minutes after Donovan left the room to head to Miami, Rafferty nodded at one of his men that had been lurking in the background and he left the room as well. It went without saying that he had put a tail on Donovan and that he didn’t fully trust him. There was an inherent danger that Donovan would share what he knew with the Secretary of State, but that was a calculated risk and it would likely cause her to either shut down her plan or plan some kind of assault on the warehouse.

The possibility of an attack was the reason that, after Donovan’s departure, Rafferty ordered that we begin dismantling operations and set up for a more mobile command structure.

Teams would be heading to various locations around the stadium in Miami. A mobile command center would be run from a double-wide trailer at an abandoned construction site nearby. That would be my spot. I would be there with Jones and we would have eyes and ears on the the entire operation and we would be able to warn the team of any impending issues.

Rafferty would be leading the ground team. They would mostly be posing as spectators at the match. Jones was busy securing legitimate tickets for them in strategically located areas in the stadium.

Due to heightened security, it would be impossible to bring firearms into the stadium. Instead, the personnel blending in with the crowd would be carrying weapons fashioned from other materials and strategically hidden within their clothing. They also had extensive hand-to-hand combat expertise which they could use, if necessary.

Admiral Baker would return to Jacksonville. He would closely monitor the situation and be ready to react depending on the outcome. He and Rafferty had an agreement that, if the operation went badly, Rafferty would take the heat. This would allow Baker to remain at the head of the U.S. Navy Southern Command from where he could attempt to thwart the resulting military action. It was a safety measure with a low possibility of success, but at least it was something.

Everyone had their assignments and the plan was in place. Jones and I would head to the command center and get everything up and running while the other members of the team scattered to their designated locations. All of this would happen in the next four hours, a reasonable amount of time to disperse in case Donovan sold out the team.

Jones accompanied me, along with a computer tech named Bailey, on the trip to the command trailer. We had a nondescript Chevy pickup with some added equipment under the hood that helped us get their quickly. We took the Florida turnpike and exited on Northwest 199th Street and turned left on 27th Avenue and came to a stop near the double-wide that was on an abandoned construction site near a Walmart Super Center.

When we stepped into the trailer, I realized that it was not your typical portable construction office. It had an ultra-high-speed internet connection and lots of built in computing and surveillance equipment. We would be able to monitor things quite well from here.

We settled in and it was soon time for a scheduled video conference call with Rafferty. We initiated the call  via a secure connection and could see from the background that he was in a small motel room likely somewhere nearby.

“Gentlemen, I see that you are settled into the command center,” Rafferty began. “I’m assuming that everything is in working order.”

“You could say that,” Jones said. “There is some pretty adequate equipment here.”

“That’s good. I’m glad you approve, Mr. Jones. I heard back from Donovan that Secretary Martin’s people are in place on the grounds crew and in the other positions. It appears that he is still on our side and is giving us good intel. With that being said, I need you guys to do a couple of things. First, I want you to tap into the stadium’s surveillance system so that you have eyes on every corner of the place. Second, I want as complete a list as possible of anyone working in the stadium leading up to the game. I’m talking every janitor, vendor, groundskeeper, etc. We need to know who we’re dealing with.”

I told Rafferty that we should be able to do this by combining facial recognition software with the stadium’s surveillance camera system. If they had a driver’s license or any other form of accessible identification, we would find out who they were.

Rafferty continued with a list of activities the team would be carrying out in the two days leading up to the game, but was interrupted by Jones.

“I’m in,” Jones said while Rafferty was mid-sentence.

Rafferty paused and I looked at Jones.

“I’m in to the the stadium’s surveillance system. Sorry for the interruption. I thought you’d want to know.”

The speed with which Jones could tap into allegedly secure systems was amazing, and a bit scary.

Rafferty continued.

“From what we can tell, the Secretary and her entourage will be arriving at the stadium at about 4 P.M. on Sunday, just before the final match between Israel and the U.S. Her plan is to watch the first half of the match and then head out. Some time after she leaves, whatever mayhem she has planned will be unleashed. Unfortunately, we need to expect the worst.”

By the worst, I assumed that Rafferty meant some kind of nuclear or radioactive attack. Since an attack by conventional weapons was unlikely, some type of explosive or contamination attack was anticipated.

“What I need you three to do is, not only look out for potential dangers for the team and the attendees at the event, but I also need to know if you see anything that would indicate how the attack might take place.”

Rafferty finished with his briefing and instructions and we set up a time in eight hours to meet again, unless something new popped up. Jones, Bailey and I would be rotating in and out of the trailer in staggered twelve hour shifts. at a time with the third person catching some rest. This way, one person would be fresh at the start of each shift. Jones and I would work together for the first six hours, with me taking the first break and Bailey going off to a nearby motel room for a rest.

The first six hours, which stretched until midnight, were uneventful. We prepared some pizza in the small galley and watched the minimal activity at the stadium. At just before midnight, Bailey entered the trailer and I prepared to go off and take my break.

I instructed Jones and Bailey to contact me if anything significant occurred. Otherwise, I would return at six A.M. to relive Jones. I climbed into the pickup and went off to the small motel where a room had been reserved nearby. My Navy training had taught me to grab sleep whenever i could and I was quite good at falling asleep quickly. I settled in and drifted off mere minutes after hitting the bed.

After what seemed like five minutes, but was actually three hours, my cell phone rang. It was the command center.

“Sorry to bother you,” Bailey said. “I think we found something that you’re going to want to see.”

I didn’t hesitate. I jumped into my clothes and was in the pickup within five minutes. As I entered the trailer, Jones and Bailey were looking at a video feed external to the stadium. There was some kind of delivery taking place at the stadiums loading dock. Large bags were being unloaded on pallets.

I asked what was going on.

“It looks like fertilizer,” Jones said.

At first I didn’t think that unloading pallets of fertilizer into a stadium that used natural grass as its playing surface was unusual, but then Jones zoomed in on one of the bags.

“Based on the grass that they use in the stadium, this isn’t the right kind of fertilizer.”

At first I thought I was roused from my sleep for a gardening lesson, but then it dawned on me.

“Oklahoma City,” I said.

“Exactly,” Bailey agreed.

The fertilizer being unloaded, when combined with other common ingredients, could be used to create a very potent explosive. This is the formula that was used to level the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City back in 1995. The fertilizer being unloaded was ammonium nitrate based. This was an agricultural fertilizer and would not be used on grass.

I instructed Jones and Bailey to save the video footage and get closeups of the faces of those unloading the fertilizer. It was going to be a long few hours while we compiled the information and fed it to Rafferty and the team. If we were on the right track, we had found our method of attack.


Read the earlier parts and get caught up:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27,  Part 28, Part 29, Part 30

Road Kill – Part 30

I’ve been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes lately and it occurs to me that the style of narration in this story is similar. Most Sherlock Holmes stories were told from the perspective of his companion, Dr. John Watson. Watson, although peripherally involved in most stories, was not usually the main character and was simply the conveyor of the story in first person.

I’ve written this story this way and I’ve stuck with it. It’s not easy. I’ve tried not to have my narrator engage in active dialog and act as more of a storyteller. It’s been a great writing exercise.

As I look back on the the last 29 parts of this story, some parts have flowed easily, some not so much as i tried to get myself out of the corners I’ve painted myself into. As I approach the conclusion, however, I’ve found it difficult to wait a week to write each part. The end is clear in my mind and wants to leap onto my computer.

If you want to read the previous parts, there are links at the end of this post.

Please enjoy this next installment of Road Kill.


Road Kill Part 30 – The Meeting

As we sat silently in the conference room with our eyes glued to the large display screen, all eyes and ears were focused on the speaker in the warehouse. We had four video feeds devoted to the meeting room.

Maria Colluccio and her team were quickly trying to catalog the faces in the room as their images appeared on screen. Jones worked with her and was able to zoom in to get clear images.

Secretary Martin-Conway was the focal point of a semicircle of men and women dressed in pseudo-military uniforms.  Donovan and Rafferty were furiously scribbling in notebooks as they recognized faces on the screen.

It was time for Martin-Conway to address her crew.

“Thank you for making sure that I arrived here safely,” she began. “I’m happy to be here among all of you.”

She broke into a smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes. It was a smile that might have made the Grinch’s heart shrink a size or two.

“You are part of an elite, hand-picked team. It’s a team that will, if we succeed, make history and secure the security of our nation for many years to come. If we are successful, I can promise all of you that your futures, and the futures of your family members, will be secure for some time to come.”

The faces in the room watching the speech weren’t exactly inspired. In fact, the Secretary seemed to be practicing this type of speech for someone or sometime in the future and not for the people in the room. She had a detached quality and seemed to make eye contact with no one in particular.

“We will be moving forward with our plan. All of the preparations are in place. We will rescue our nation from tragedy and, as a result, improve the quality of life for everyone.”

One of her entourage applauded at these last words and gave a look to the others in the room that indicated they should clap as well. It was far from heartfelt. When the applause dissipated, a man with military bearing stepped to the front of the room.

“You can all return to your positions,” the man said. “For those of you on surveillance duty, please be especially diligent until the Secretary leaves.”

With that, everyone left the room and the Secretary and a few others headed to the far side of the room and into a conference room.

“Do we have eyes on that room, Mr. Jones?” Admiral Baker asked.

“Yes sir. Switching now.”

Suddenly, the video feeds switched to a pair of crystal clear views of the conference room. The secretary sat at one end of the long table opposite a large white board. The man who had addressed the group after her speech stood at the white board.

“That’s Anderson,” Donovan said. “He was second in line for my job. I’ve seen him in some of the early meetings. He’s very ambitious and quite the boot-licker.”

If there was one thing Donovan disliked, it was someone that tried to get ahead by ingratiating him or herself with authority. Anderson’s demeanor seemed to put him in that category.

“Madam Secretary, everything is moving forward. We have just over a week to move everything into place.”

“What about the personnel?” Conway asked. “Will we have the people in place.”

“Yes, Madam Secretary. We have our personnel distributed among security, concessions, and ticket holders. As we discussed, the placement of our personnel will give us maximum effectiveness on the day of the objective.”

“What about our ‘special’ personnel,” Conway asked with a disturbing tone of voice.

“Ah yes, the GTMO personnel. They have been integrated into the grounds crew. They have access to all of the key areas of the facility. They will have no problem meeting their objectives.”

“Good. So we are on schedule. Very good. You have all performed well,” Conway said with the same incomplete smile she unleashed on the larger group. Thank you Mr. Anderson.”

The smile vanished.

“Now, if you’ll excuse us, I’d like the room for a few minutes to talk to my staff,” Conway said in a dismissive tone.

Anderson and his people left the room. Conway leaned forward with her elbows on the conference table and her fingers tented.

“I’m going to the stadium.”

“I advise against it Madam Sectretary,” a large member of her staff said as he strained against his dark suit.

“It’s not negotiable. It’s a diplomatic event. If I’m there, it becomes higher profile and the effect will be even greater.”

“But it’s a dangerous situation,” a female staff member chimed in.

“Not until after the halftime. I will give my speech before the game. Just before the first half of the match is over, I’ll make my exit. That will leave plenty of time for me to be safely away from the stadium.”

“I guess we’ll just deal with it then, though I still highly advise against it,” the first staffer reiterated.

“Okay, let’s get on the road. We have an early flight to Europe tomorrow. I want to get back to the hotel and get some sleep.”

The  trio left the conference room and the building.

“Jones, Maria, I want you and your team to keep watching the feeds and reporting on anything interesting,” Rafferty said. “Also, we’re going to have a list of names of the people we could identify that were in the meeting. I want a full list of everyone that was in there tonight. Use the facial recognition software if you don’t recognize them on your own.”

“Now we know where,” Baker said when Rafferty was done. “We also know a bit more about how. They’re going to infiltrate security, concessions and the crowd itself.”

“Don’t forget the grounds crew,” Rafferty said. “That concerns me. They will have access to the bowels of the stadium. they could set up strategic charges or release some agent into the water supply or something worse. We need to find out what’s going on there.”

“I agree,” Baker said. “We need to know the plan before they carry it out. The more we know, the better we can time it. Of course, Conway is going to slip away before the action happens. That part bothers me.”

“We’ll figure out something,” Rafferty said. “In the meantime, we can keep recording what goes on in that building and monitoring the correspondence. Maybe we’ll find something to nail her with.”

“This has to be a situation where we catch her red-handed,” Baker said. “All of the evidence in the world can disappear when people at this level of government are involved. We need some way to catch her in the act.”

I had some ideas, but I also wanted to think them through before I blurted them out.

Rafferty turned his attention to Donovan.

“Where do you stand in all of this?” Rafferty asked. “Are you still in the evil queen’s inner circle?”

“As far as I know, I am. I’m still getting communications. She thinks I’m doing recon at the stadium, which I will be doing. Now that we know the GTMO prisoners are on the grounds crew, I’ll check out what they’ve been  up to. I think, if I can continue to have her trust me, we have a better chance of catching her in the act. I’ll work it out so I’m with her at this event.”

“How will you do that?” Rafferty asked.

“I’ll cook up some intelligence reason for me to provide extra numbers to her entourage. Believe me, she won’t refuse. It makes her feel more important.”

Donovan got up from his seat.

“I’m going to head to Miami and check out the stadium first thing in the morning. I’ll report in after I’m through.”

“Donovan, just one thing,” Rafferty said.

“What’s that?”

“If I find out that you are playing us in this, I will personally guarantee that you go down.”

“Trust me,” Donovan said as he left the room, “I’m on the right side in this.”

After he left Rafferty shook his head and said to no one in particular, “That didn’t answer my question.”


Read the earlier parts and get caught up:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27,  Part 28, Part 29

Road Kill Part 28

We are getting close to the conclusion of this story. I will be going back and reworking it into a book of some length when it does conclude. I’m enjoying the buildup and intrigue as it gets closer to the end. You continuity geeks out there might recognize that the timeline has gone whacky. Initially, back in around Part 15-17, I said the attack would take place on June 10th and 11th. We are now well into August. Instead, I’ve gone back and changed those parts so that the attack will now be sometime around September 10th-11th. This date seemed much more symbolic to the story and will likely be around the conclusion of this serial.

If you want to read the previous parts, there are links after this installment of the story:


Road Kill Part 28

25.8576° N, 80.2781° W,16237,1800…What did it mean? It was a cryptic response. As I was looking at it, Maria Colluccio was plugging the coordinates in. 25.8576° N, 80.2781° W was obviously a set of coordinates.

“It’s in Hialeah,” Maria said. “It’s right smack in the middle of a residential area about 7 blocks northwest of the Hialeah Park, the horse racing track.”

“It’s in a house?” Jones asked.

“The satellite photo shows that it might be a commercial building,” Maria answered.

I looked at the satellite image. Had we stumbled upon a planning destination? That would be a huge step in the right direction. But, the obstacle here was we still needed to know when our bad guys would be there and find a way to listen in.

“It’s a Julian date,” Jones blurted out. “16237. It’s a Julian date.”

I remembered Julian dates from my early days in computer programming. It was a format that showed the year in the first two characters and then the sequential day in that year in the remaining three characters. It was used as an easy way to sort dates and to save storage space on early computers. It’s use had thrown the computer world into a tizzy during the Y2K buildup. I probably would have figured it out eventually, but the speed with which Jones recognized it was staggering.

“I use Julian dates all the time to name documents so I can sort them in my file folders easily and know at a glance when they were written,” Jones said as if anticipating my wonder at the speed in which he reached the solution.

“It’s August 25th,” Maria said. “16237 is August 27th of this year.”

August 25th was only a week away. This piece of information was huge. We had a date for some kind of event. Granted, it wasn’t the location of the soccer match, but I guessed that it was the timing of some kind of planning meeting.

“The rest must be the time,” Jones said. “1800, that’s 6PM in military time.”

This team was brilliant. We had very quickly determined the location, date and time of some kind of event related to the attack. We could swoop in and capture the culprits before the attack could be carried out.

A meeting was quickly called with Admiral Baker, Donovan, Rafferty and the three of us, lovingly referred to as the spy nerds.

“I agree that this looks like some kind of planning meeting,” Baker said. “It’s right in plain sight in an residential neighborhood. I don’t like that. We can’t really run a full-scale assault on the building without potential collateral damage. If we try to evacuate the neighborhood ahead of time, it’s going to draw lots of attention.”

“It’s too early,” Rafferty said.

At his comment, Donovan nodded his head.

“What do you mean, it’s too early?” Baker asked.

“Do you really think that Secretary Martin-Conway is going to show up at a meeting in a residential area of Hialeah?” Rafferty asked. “She isn’t going to risk exposure. It wouldn’t surprise me if she doesn’t show up at all during this whole thing.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Baker asked.

“We need intelligence from this location. If there is a meeting on this day, we will need to get some devices inside to make sure we can get information,” Rafferty said. “I want to catch Secretary Martin-Conway in the act and bring her down along with her associates.”

“I agree,” Baker said. “Wouldn’t it be acceptable, though, to stop the attack. The closer we get to the actual event, the more risk there is that we won’t be able to stop it.”

“She needs to go down,” Donovan said. “She needs to be an example to other ambitious political types that this type of plot won’t be tolerated.”

“How do you propose we get intelligence equipment into this location?” Baker asked. “Even if we do, they probably sweep for it on a regular basis if this is an operational center.”

“That is an issue,” Rafferty said. “If they detect the bugs, we’re dead. Chances are they’re going to do a careful sweep right before the 25th.”

“I might have an idea,” Jones said.

All eyes around the table turned toward him.

“I have a device that I’ve used in the past that fools the bug sweeping devices,” Jones continued.

Sweeping for bugs usually involves a physical and an electronic search. Bugs can be hidden in lamps, light switches, smoke detectors and various other places. Bugs can be either cameras or sound transmitting devices that usually transmit a short distance.

Because these devices have become so small, the physical search is followed by an electronic search using specially-designed devices.

Camera detectors are generally the simplest to use and most straightforward. They have a light attached to them that flashes to reflect off of even the tiniest pinhole camera lens. A lot of them also have a specially tinted viewfinder to make it easier to see the lens’s reflection.

Sound transmission detectors, though slightly more complex than camera detectors, are simple to use. Since bugs transmit RF (radio frequency) signals, bug detectors hone in on those signals and indicate that there is a bug present, by lighting up, making a sound, or both.

The intelligence community in the U.S. had very advanced detection devices so there was a palpable skepticism at Jones’s claim.

“Mr. Jones, I know your talents are significant, but it’s virtually impossible to defeat a bug sweep,” Baker answered.

“Not if you know when it’s happening,” Jones responded.

He then paused as if  wondering if he should continue vomiting information that he universally kept to himself. He sighed audibly and continued.

“I’ve rigged up audio and video surveillance equipment to work from a centralized kill switch,” Jones said. “If a sweep is about to start, I can shut down the RF signals and obscure the camera lenses with a simple command from my cell phone. When the sweep is over, I can turn them back on instantly.”

Baker, Rafferty, Donovan and I exchanged looks. The solution was brilliant and we privately wondered why the government, will all of their brilliant engineers and technologists, had not come up with this.

“We’ll want to do some tests on this,” Donovan said. “If it works, then our only problem is how to get the bugs inside and conceal them from the physical search.”

“Mr. Jones, I’d like you to oversee the testing,” Baker said.

“I’m torn here, Admiral,” Jones said. “I want to help, but I don’t want the government turning around and using this technology against U.S. citizens after I show it to you.”

Baker pondered Jones’s concern.

“Mr. Jones, if this works, we will not incorporate it into our body of knowledge and you can personally destroy or confiscate every device that is modified.”

“It’s not a perfect solution,” Jones answered. “It will have to do.”

It was time to get tactical and this was Brad Rafferty’s specialty.

“Okay, we have two parallel paths that need to be addressed in the next week,” Rafferty started. “First, Mr. Jones will help us modify the necessary devices so that they will evade detection. Second, the rest of us will get to know the building we are targeting and come up with a way to get the devices inside and conceal them so the physical sweep won’t reveal them. Mr. Jones, you can have access to whatever devices, tools and bodies you need to do this quickly. If your piece doesn’t work, we’re dead in the water.”

“It will work,” Jones said. “I only need a few people. The modifications are extremely simple once you know what to do.”

“Let’s get to work, people,” Baker said. “I want reports twice a day. We need to move forward and get this building wired well ahead of the event on the 25th. Let’s put together a solid plan.”

We spent the next four days going over blue prints, satellite photos and street maps of the area. We knew every tree, bush and most of the blades of grass in the area.

Maria Colluccio was able to tap into satellite surveillance and monitor movement in and out of the building. The maintenance workers and casual personnel hanging out near the building had the appearance of operatives conducting security that was meant to avoid being obvious to the untrained eye. Although it was casual, it was going to be hard to penetrate.

Jones had amazed the highly-trained technology people with the simplicity and effectiveness of his plan to avoid detection of the surveillance devices. They were beginning to work with our team to devise the best areas and methods to conceal them in the commercial building so that we could both blanket it with audio and video surveillance and avoid detection from the physical sweep.

At the end of the fourth day, with only three days remaining until the event at the building, we were still coming up blank with how to get past the security and plant our devices. Finally, at about 11:30 PM, Maria Colluccio came back from a quick coffee break and announced to the room, “I’ve got it!”

Her plan, perhaps influenced by spending time with Jones, was both brilliant and simple.


Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27

Road Kill Part 27

The story is starting to ramp up to a conclusion. The team has been assembled. It appears that Donovan has settled onto the side of the good guys through a bizarre double-agent type of scenario. Now it will be fun to hang on and see how this story concludes. As I continue writing this, I’m really enjoying bringing Brad Rafferty back as a character and having his team cross over with Jonesy from the Frank Rozzani novels. This serial may emerge as a follow-up novel to Blood Orange. I just haven’t decided yet. If you have thoughts on this, please let me know. Now, please enjoy the 27th installment of Road Kill.

Road Kill Part 27

I had worked with many computer forensics at The Mother Ship. The skills demonstrated by Clifford Jones and Maria Colluccio, however, were in a different league. Jones seemed to plug himself into the computer like some sort of cyborg. His concentration was phenomenal and his endurance was unmatched.

Maria Colluccio was one of the most intelligent people I had ever met. She was the antithesis of every female computer nerd. She was a tall, athletic blonde that actually had people skills. She and Jones fell into step quickly and, with my limited help, we were off and running.

As we made our way to our assigned space to begin our digging, Donovan caught up with us in the hallway.

“Listen, I hope there are no hard feelings in all of this,” he said to me. “After the incident on the plane, those loyal to me actually went above and beyond to protect you.”

I replied that I thought this was interesting since the last encounter with his people involved them searching the trailer in Jacksonville with guns drawn.

“That was because of Simpson,” Donovan said. “I had the feeling that he was going to move on you. The safe house was the place that we needed to get him out of the picture.”

I asked Donovan what would happen to my old shipmate, Ben Simpson.

“He’s gone off the deep end. He bought into this whole scheme and believed that the Secretary of State is doing the right thing. He had an idea that the United States was owed some type of compensation for getting involved in the Middle East. Though his thoughts might be considered patriotic, the methods in this plan are treasonous. He is likely going to face some difficult interrogation, but he will also be instrumental in helping us catch the bigger fish. His loyal years of service will not be disregarded.”

I was relieved to hear this, but also a bit miffed that I was basically used as bait in bringing him in. The apology appeared to be secondary, however. It appeared that Donovan had something else to say to us.

“Listen, I was in the loop on a lot of the high-level communication on this. Most of it was in the form of encrypted emails and memos. I saved most of it off to a secondary server.”

Donovan reached into his pocket.

“Here is a USB drive with the information that you need to access that server. It contains classified information. Just copying it to a secondary server is risky. Me giving you access to it pulls you into the mud as well.”

I took the drive. At this point, this was just another brick in the wall of questionable activity we had built. Donovan knew this, but felt the warning necessary. He was covering all of the bases as always.

“Communications continues and you might find some recent information that will give you a better idea on when and where this is happening.”

I nodded to Donovan still not sure what to say or how much to trust him. Jones, Colluccio and I headed to the small work room that was assigned to us.

“Do we trust this guy?” Jones asked once we were seated.

I just wasn’t sure. Donovan had switched sides at least three times since the unfortunate Mr. Channing was poisoned when he sat in my seat what seemed like a lifetime ago. I looked at the USB drive.

“We need to run an extensive anti-virus utility on that,” Maria said. “If Donovan has switched sides that many times, who’s to say that he didn’t give us something that would slow us down.”

“I’ve got a pretty rigorous utility we can run it through,” Jones said. “It’s like the government’s standard AV utility times one hundred. If there’s anything malicious on that drive, I’ll find it.”

I handed the drive over to Jones and he plugged it into his laptop and keyed in a command. Character began to flash by on the screen.

“It should be done in about three minutes,” he said. “In the meantime, where do we start?”

“I think we should split up what we need to do,” Maria said. “I have some information from Commander Rafferty that I can use to track the movements of the prisoners from GTMO that were recruited. I guess Donovan helped with that somewhat. If that drive comes up clean, then his information is worth pursuing.”

“I can start following the movement of assets within the government,” Jones said. “It will take equipment and money to back an effort like the one we’re digging into. I have some experience with monitoring how money moves off the radar.”

That left me to look at Donovan’s server. It would be an interesting exercise that would hopefully give us some information on when and how this attack was going to take place. Just as I was pondering my game plan for this, an alert came up on Jones’s laptop and we all turned toward him.

“Well, that’s interesting,” Jones said. “I guess, for the moment, we can trust Donovan. The drive came up clean. I’m sure you know that is only part of the story. He could have all kinds of trap doors on that server. I’m going to copy my utility onto the drive for you so you can check every file you open or download.”

Jones dragged his utility into the folder that designated the drive and then ejected it and handed it to me. I plugged it into the laptop I had been given. It was hardwired to the servers in the warehouse and then securely connected to the Internet.

As I looked at the contents of the drive, I chuckled to myself. Donovan had set up a server. The plot championed by the Secretary of State was called Project OSCAR. Donovan’s server was called FELIX. Apparently the guy had some kind of sense of humor. FELIX was going to be used to clean up OSCAR’s mess.

I began carefully and methodically looking through the contents on the server. There were many emails that were flagged with the highest level of classification. I could go to jail for years just for looking at any one of them. I ran the first batch through Jones’s utility and began opening them.

The first few were familiar. They were similar to the emails we had hacked from the State Department’s server. Then I cam across a batch from a sender called Wonder Woman. Could the Secretary of State be that deluded that she referred to herself as a super hero?

I opened the first one. The subject line was “INVITATION TO THE PARTY”. It had been sent within the past eight hours.

It read like an e-vite  you might receive to a birthday party or baby shower:


Are you coming?

Come and join us. No presents necessary, just your presence. The festivities will begin on August 24th, 2016. Just R.S.V.P. and you’ll be told where to come.

Hope to see you there,

Wonder Woman


It was bizarre. The date coincided with the third and final day of the U.S.-Israeli soccer tournament. It would likely be the most attended of the three days. I rushed out to find Donovan.

Donovan, Rafferty and Admiral Baker were in the large open space of the warehouse. They were standing in the midst of a semi-circle of some of the most impressive physical specimens I had ever seen. They were taking turns giving instructions. When Rafferty saw me, he motioned for me to come over and left the semi-circle to meet me.

“Did you find out something?” he asked. The intensity on his face spoke volumes about the anxiety he felt. “We need something concrete.”

I told him what I found and he caught Donovan’s eye and motioned for him to join us. I told Donovan what I had found and asked him if he knew about it.

“I haven’t been on the server at all today,” Donovan said. “I haven’t seen that invitation before, but it sounds like they have arrived on a date.”

I asked him if his cover had been blown with the Secretary.

“As far as I know, she still thinks I’m sympathetic to her cause. There’s one way to find out,” Donovan said. “Let’s go R.S.V.P.”

Donovan walked with me back to the conference room. Maria and Jones instinctively tensed as he entered the room. He sat at my laptop and read the invitation. He clicked on reply. As I looked over his shoulder, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the handle that was assigned to his email address. He was ‘Dead Pool’ to the secretary’s Wonder Woman. It was painfully appropriate that he would identify with the one superhero that straddled the fence in terms of what side he was on. Donovan keyed in his response.

Looking forward to the festivities. Let me know if I can bring anything.

See you soon,

Dead Pool

He clicked the send button and the email reply was sent.

“Now we wait. If she responds with more details, we will be a step further,” Donovan said.  “If she doesn’t respond, or if the response seems suspicious, then she’s on to me.”

Donovan left the room and I went back to looking through other, less recent communications. Much of it was related to logistics. There were some cryptic references to the GTMO prisoners referring to them as ‘Santa’s Helpers.’ After about 30 minutes of digging through these emails, a response from Wonder Woman popped into the inbox. I hurriedly scanned the response for malicious content and it came up clean. I double clicked on it and a series of numbers came up.

25.8576° N, 80.2781° W,16237,1800

I looked at this and scratched my head. The first series appeared to obviously be the longitude and latitude for a location. The other numbers’ significance was not readily apparent.

What was this?

Road Kill Part 26

Donovan is back. I wasn’t sure how that character was going to turn out, but I’ve brought him back with the good guys. As I looked over the previous installments, it was apparent that this guy was more than just a black or white character. He is a formidable force that I just couldn’t write off to be a bad guy. It appears that I’m pulling in more characters from Blood Orange with the addition of Maria Colluccio and Admiral Baker. This may just turn out to be another Brad Rafferty book after all. It will take some rework and I just may lose the whole first person thing. Who knows how it will turn out?

Road Kill Part 26 – Donovan Returns

What was Donovan doing here? I looked at Admiral Baker searching for answers. I knew the admiral was a force to be reckoned with and that he was Brad Rafferty’s mentor. Was he on the bad side of this and was this a trick or was Donovan some kind of double agent?

“Sean, I’m glad you could make it,” Admiral Baker said as Donovan entered the room.

“Sean? Donovan’s first name is Sean?” I thought to myself.

Donovan took a seat at the table and all eyes looked to Admiral Baker. He turned to address me.

“It appears that you and Mr. Jones were able to dig up some damning evidence against our illustrious Secretary of State. Brad tells me that the intelligence you gathered points to an imminent attack at the soccer match with some type of radioactive material using GTMO prisoners that have been coerced into cooperating. This is most disturbing.”

Baker had summarized the situation quite nicely. I was anxious to see what plan of action he would draw from his summary.

“I’m going to defer to Commander Rafferty to help us lay out the tactical plan from this point forward. My job is to provide whatever resources you may need,” Baker said. “But first, I must point out that we are in a sticky situation. If we do this correctly, we will stop a devastating attack and bring down a truly corrupt government official. If things go badly, we could be tried for treason, or worse, the attach could be carried out and the United States could become involved in a war that would forever change our global image and put us in league with nation builders like Russia and China. My mission, and I hope yours as well, is to stop this from happening.”

Baker paused for effect and to catch his breath before continuing.

“With that being said, any one of you can walk away from this mission now with no repercussions. If you remain for this meeting, however, there is no turning back. Am I clear?”

Everyone at the table nodded and remained seated. I half-expected Jones to bolt for the door, but he stayed in the room looking calm and attentive.

“Good,” Baker concluded. “Brad, you have the floor.”

“Thank you Admiral Baker,” Rafferty began. “As you know, we have about a week to plan our strategy and stop this attack. We have two options. The first is to stop the attack in its infancy before any mobilization of the materials or personnel takes place. The second is to let things get to the point where the actions are underway and then stop it right before it happens.”

Rafferty paused to make sure that this sunk in.

“I don’t have to tell you that the first option is less risky, but it does not give us our desired outcome which is bringing the Secretary down as the one responsible for the plan. She likely has plausible deniability of the plan fails in its early stages. The closer we get to the execution of the plan, the more likely we are to be able to trap her in it.”

Rafferty let the group digest his words.

“Any questions so far?”

Jones piped up as the sole civilian participant.

“So exactly what are we going to be doing? I don’t have any special ninja training that is going to be a big help with either option.”

Rafferty grinned at Jones’s question.

“Mr. Jones, you underestimate yourself. The members of this team are here for two reasons. First, each of you has special skills or knowledge that will give the mission a higher likelihood of success. Second, each of you has the right mindset in terms of loyalty to your country without blind loyalty to those that abuse their authority. Does that clear things up?”

Jones seemed to steel himself for his next statement.

“It does to a point, Commander Rafferty, but what about this guy?” Jones asked pointing to Donovan. “He and his thugs have been chasing us all over Florida. What side is he on, anyway? Do you guys trust him?”

It was the question that I had on my mind as well. I knew Donovan better than most, but I wasn’t clear on his motivation.

“Perhaps Mr. Donovan can answer that question better than I can,” Rafferty said.

Donovan didn’t speak immediately. He seemed to be carefully thinking about what he was going to say.

“There is a gray area here. I run one of the most top secret operations in this country. In that capacity, information crosses my desk that would change the opinion and position of this country if it were ever made public. When this situation arose, one of my top agents was nearly killed for just brushing the edges of what was going on. That got my attention.”

I felt some satisfaction that Donovan referred to me as one of his top agents. Any bit of positive news was worth latching onto at this point.

“I did some digging on my own and determined that something unacceptable was going on at the highest levels of government,” Donovan continued. “Everything pointed to the Secretary of State, but I needed to be sure. I also needed to gather information indirectly through a plausible method that wouldn’t result in suspicion of me or my agency. That is when I made the decision to allow the information gathering that has been going on. I had to make it look like a legitimate criminal hacking of information by staying just behind your actions. I took Ben Simpson into my confidence and determined that he was not in the same mindset, but he had some usefulness as a mole to keep me informed. I used this same litmus test on agents within The Mother Ship to determine who we could trust with this operation and who would be fiercely loyal to the Secretary and those in power. Thankfully, a good number of our personnel fell on the right side of this. One thing that was very surprising in this operation was the speed with which you were able to gather information. Mr. Jones, your talents are formidable and I, for one, am glad you are on the side of the good guys.”

There was some surprise around the table and silence following Donovan’s monologue which was broken by Rafferty.

“One thing I’m confused about is your role in interrogating the prisoners at GTMO. How did you get involved in that?”

Donovan smiled at the question.

“I basically volunteered. Once the information began to emerge, I went to the Secretary and assured her that I could conduct the screening of the prisoners with the utmost discretion and efficiency. She agreed and I was brought further into her circle of trust with regard to the plans. I didn’t get specific details on the timing of the attack, but I was able to gather some useful information on the method and scope.”

“What about the prisoners that were poisoned with aconite?” I asked. “That’s the stuff that almost killed me.”

A dark looked crossed Donovan’s face.

“I had nothing to do with that. I gave the results of the screening to the Secretary. The deaths of the prisoners that were disqualified happened after I left GTMO. That action further convinced me that I’m on the right side.”

“Does anyone have any more issues with Mr. Donovan before we continue?” Rafferty asked.

His question was met with silence.

“Okay,” Rafferty continued. “We need to take stock of the information we have and begin to close the gaps. We know where the attack will be. We know what type of attack it will be. What we don’t know is the specific day and time and the method of attack. I’m familiar with this type of attack from our investigation on the incident at the Carrier Dome. My guess is that something similar will be done here. My experience gives us an edge with regard to what we’ll be looking for. What we need to do now is split up into tactical teams and begin to close the gaps in our knowledge.”

Rafferty stood up and walked to the large whiteboard on the wall.

“Donovan, you will head up the personnel that will be mobilized to stop the attack. My thought is that we need them to blend in with those that will be at the soccer match. This means infiltrating the crowd, team personnel and workers at the venue. Your people excel at this type of operation, so I’ll leave that to you.”

Rafferty’s eyes turned to me.

“You, Mr. Jones and Maria Colluccio will be trying to help us zero in on the when and how aspects of the attack. Use whatever resources you have to monitor conversations, intercept email and any other means to get us an accurate timetable for the attack. I will be coordinating with and providing status to Admiral Baker. The Admiral will run interference for us to make sure our efforts can stay under the radar.”

Rafferty stepped away from the whiteboard and took his seat.

“Any questions?”

Again silence.

“Fine. Let’s split up into our tactical teams. It’s going to be a very intense week leading up to this event. How we handle it just may have an impact on the future of this country. Tension is going to run high, so I would ask you to keep your heads, get rest when you can and stay focused.”

Rafferty was not exaggerating. We had our work cut out for us and the pressure to succeed was incredible.

 

 

Road Kill Part 25

The last installment of Road Kill confirmed the thoughts of many on Ben Simpson. I wavered back and forth about whether to have him end up being a bad guy or a good guy. In the end, it made more sense to put him on the wrong side of things along with Donovan. It will be interesting to see what this will do to the remainder of the story. As I write this next piece, I am trying to stop myself from thinking too far ahead, but it’s time to start pulling all of the threads together into a coherent conclusion. Please enjoy Road Kill Part 25.

Road Kill Part 25

As we pulled into the strip mall where Jones and his partner, Frank Rozzani, had their office, we could see Jones nervously pacing in the lobby with a backpack slung over his shoulders and a duffle bag in his hand.

As he saw our SUV pull up, he emerged anxious to get in.

“Remind me to thank you guys,” Jones said. “I was hoping that somehow I’d be able to abandon my business and go on the road with a bunch of government crazies hurtling toward danger rather than my preferred direction of running away from it.”

“Your country thanks you,” Rafferty said. “Besides, if you stayed here, I couldn’t guarantee what might happen to you. Donovan has moved into the mode of shutting us down.”

“Which part of the country is thanking me? Is it the crazy part with the maniacal scheme and all of the power or the rogue part with the boy scouts that hope to thwart the maniacal scheme? Not much of a choice. Kind of like deciding whether to stick a fork in the top or the bottom electrical socket.”

Jones had a very good point. We were heading off to try to stop a plot that would change the world order forever. We were doing it with a very small group against someone with a daunting number of resources at her fingertips. Rafferty put it in perspective.

“We may be outnumbered, but we are on the right side. The United States has never been a country that conquers others and divides up their resources. When we defeated Japan and Germany during World War II, we stayed in those countries and helped them rebuild and recover making them some of our closest allies in the process. We didn’t annex their land or enslave their people. We can’t allow this to happen. If it does, it makes this country no better than other conquering dictatorships around the world.”

I could see Jones soften a bit. Rafferty’s statement gave us some context for how important what we were trying to do would be. Even if we didn’t succeed, we had to keep going forward and try to stop what was planned.

We finally got onto I-95 south just as darkness was settling in. It was a beautiful cloudless night. As we moved past Daytona Beach, I could see millions of stars above the dark highway as we moved through a more rural area of Florida. I asked Rafferty how long the trip would be.

“It’s about a five-hour drive. You might want to settle in and get some rest. I’m not sure how much sleep we’re going to get once we get there.”

I settled in to the seat, as did Jones, and spent the rest of the trip falling in and out of a napping state.

When I woke up, we were exiting I-75 in South Florida. We had apparently traveled all the way to Miami and we were following the infamous Alligator Alley that traversed the northern part of The Everglades.

The road was extremely dark and had a feeling of the swamps and vegetation of the area trying to overtake as it was barely held at bay so that vehicles could travel through this area. Occasionally, the headlights revealed a red pair of eyes just off the road that appeared to be standing watch making sure that no one encroached on the territory off the road.

After an hour or so of plunging into this protected area of Florida, Marcus turned the SUV off onto an unmarked gravel road. The vehicle seemed to be swallowed by the vegetation. I could see water and murk on either side of the road. There was only enough room for one vehicle.

“I assume you guys know where you’re going,” Jones said. “My trust tends to waver when someone takes me onto a dark road to nowhere.”

“We’re almost there,” was the curt response that Jones received from Rafferty.

I could feel the SUV slowing down as if in anticipation of a turn. When we made the turn, a set of solid-looking metal posts blocked our turnoff. The headlights also revealed a long line of barbed-wire fence, that appeared to be electrified, trailing off in either direction from the posts.

Marcus pressed a button on the visor of the SUV and the posts descended into the ground allowing the vehicle to pass down a paved driveway that was beyond it. We passed through a heavily wooded area that appeared to be much more trimmed than what we had passed previously. Then we suddenly emerged into a gigantic clearing that was filled by a gigantic one story concrete fortress that was minimally lit, but appeared to be extremely secure.

“Well, this is unexpected,” Jones said as we passed through a gate flanked by heavily camouflaged guards.

“And very useful. Even Donovan doesn’t have access to this place,” Rafferty said. “It is a secure military facility that is off the books. It’s often the base for special forces and other military black ops that plan and launch from here. You, Mr. Jones, are one of the few civilians to pass through these gates. I had to talk to some highly placed people to even allow you to come.”

“Yeah, I can feel the honor churning in my stomach,” Jones replied.

We approached an intimidating guard shack. As we came to a stop before the sturdy metal gate, three heavily-armed military guards approached the vehicle. Marcus rolled the window down and flashed some sort of identification card.

“We’ve been expecting you. We’re going to have to inspect the vehicle and then you can go in. I need to ask you all to exit the vehicle while we do this.”

We stood behind the vehicle along with the three armed guards. From out of nowhere, four additional guards emerged and began combing the vehicle with high-powered flashlights. One of the guards used a mirror at the end of an angled metal pole to thoroughly inspect the bottom of the vehicle.

Once the inspection was over, one of the the guards, who appeared to be the lead, approached Jones.

“You’re Clifford Jones, correct?” he asked.

“Yes I am,” Jones replied.

“I’m going to need your identification.”

Jones fished his Velcro wallet out of his board shorts and handed his Florida driver’s license over to the guard. The guard glanced at it and put it in his pocket. Jones looked at him expectantly.

“You’ll get it back when you leave. We aren’t used to civilians on this property. You’ll need to go through a full debrief before you leave.”

Jones glanced at Rafferty with a bit of concern.

“It’s standard operating procedure,” Rafferty said. “No need for concern.”

“How can it be standard operating procedure if no civilians ever come here?” Jones responded shaking his head.

“You’re cleared to go in. Admiral Baker is here waiting for you,” the lead guard said.

I was taken aback that the Admiral that oversaw the Southern Command of the U.S. Navy was here. Then I remembered that he was Rafferty’s mentor and was instrumental in helping him take down the terrorist behind the Carrier Dome bombing. It was encouraging that he was here and on our side.

Marcus maneuvered the SUV right into the warehouse. As we exited, a tall woman in Navy camouflage greeted us. She saluted Rafferty who returned her salute and then she broke into a big smile.

“It’s great to see you, commander Rafferty.”

“I’m glad you could make it Maria,” Rafferty said. “This is Maria Colluccio. She was instrumental in helping us gather intelligence in the Carrier Dome incident.”

Rafferty introduced us to his longtime colleague.

“The Admiral has been pacing and waiting for you to get here. You better get over to the office and see him,” Maria said.

We followed Rafferty across the massive warehouse space. There were rows of armored vehicles and heavy duty trucks, some of which were attached to trailers that had helicopters, their rotors folded for transport, mounted to them.

We ascended a small ramp to a row of offices. We eventually came to a wooden door with a glass panel reinforced with a panel of chain link. The word “Command” was stenciled on it. Rafferty knocked.

He opened the door and we followed him into the surprisingly large and well-appointed office. It was adorned with photographs of aircraft, sea and land vehicles from all branches of the military.

Seated behind a large desk made from heavy dark wood, was a uniformed man in his mid-fifties. As he stood, I could see that he was in incredible shape. He shook Rafferty’s hand and put his other hand on his right shoulder in a show of familiarity and affection. He motioned for us to sit at a six person conference table that was off to the side in his office.

“Well, I guess we need to have a talk. We’re almost all here,” Admiral Baker said as there was another knock on the door.

“Good, that must be our final strategic command team member,” Baker said. “Come in,” he said in a louder voice.

When the door opened, my stomach dropped to somewhere in my toes. Filling the door frame with a smug look on his face was Donovan.

He glanced around the room and then broke into the closest thing I had ever seen to a smile on his face.

“It’s great to see you all again,” Donovan said as he entered the room and took the remaining seat at the table.