by Chris James
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Rated Mature 18+
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Dinner was not a quiet affair, but there was no consumption of alcohol to loosen their tongues. They were gathered in a dining space off the main restaurant where the food service could be maintained with ease and the talk would remain private.
Bill, Andy, and the three boys had never seen a bunch of soldiers, or ex-soldiers in this case, work their way through a meal fraught with mission creep. The activities which would take place in the middle of the night were in everyone's mind, but Jocko's team treated the fear with contempt.
The meals were huge and ingested with gusto while Tim thought perhaps each of the team members might see this as their last meal. Rick seemed to understand and explained.
"Calories, plain and simple. Physical work, a lot of sweat, it all burns some major calories," He said. "What do you eat before you climb?"
"Uh, high energy bars and little else. The last thing you want is to be on the side of a sheer cliff face and get the urge to take a dump."
Terry and Ryan laughed at Tim's answer, and so did Rick. The others were too busy cutting steak and jabbering among themselves. The camaraderie was something familiar to Andy. He had been around Seal teams during intelligence briefings before the start of missions in the Gulf War.
Facing death was not the issue, that was already a given. But each man had the training and self-confidence to overcome the fear and knew they were better than the opposition. Andy's thoughts turned into a smile as he realized the militia had no idea what kind of a storm was about to descend upon them.
Jocko looked at his men ranged along one side of the table, and then turned to look at the civilians gather along the other. Bill caught his eye and they both nodded.
"So, Bill, did I ever tell you what made me join the SAS back in my days of serving the English crown?"
"No, Jocko ... but I gather you're about to," Bill replied.
"Well, it isn't a difficult story, not even top secret. I joined the Air Force because I thought flying would be a change from growing up in a quiet little hamlet outside of London. Turns out I had no aptitude for pilot's training, or so they told me. Instead the instructor slated me for a berth as a third class airman which means I was condemned to loading and unloading planes.
"Our airfield was the jumping off point for the SAS training groups and so I saw how these fellows carried themselves with pride and thought that might be my ticket to a better career. But I had to think about it for a while and knew I might have to start over in my training.
"So early one dark and chilly morning I was loading a Hercules C-130, that's a heavy lifting transport plane, with several trucks and some crates. The flight was scheduled to leave out of Oxfordshire and head into the northland on a training mission for these SAS troops. There was no landing involved so the trucks and crates were rigged with parachutes and would be pushed off the plane.
"There were four of us loader types plus five aircrew assigned to the plane, and we waited for the troops to arrive, and they seemed to be delayed. The crew disembarked and went off in search of some coffee or tea, but I remained behind. It was a cool morning, and being out on the tarmac with the loading doors opened I could feel the breeze quite well. So I climbed into one of the trucks and lay down behind the seats for warmth and promptly fell asleep.
"I awoke as the plane began hurtling down the runway for takeoff. I managed a look out the window and saw a Lieutenant sitting in one of the jump seats along the wall and figured my goose was cooked if I stepped out of the truck and he saw me so I sat back and waited.
"I was sure the troops would jump before the equipment was offloaded by parachute and once they were gone I could crawl out and help the loaders move the cargo. I would take some ribbing from my guys but at least there would be no officers present. But that's not how it happened.
"We had been in the air for about an hour when the rear ramp was lowered and daylight flooded the cargo compartment. In front of the trucks were four crates of gear and they were first off. Usually a loader is strapped in at the top of the ramp and he tosses a drag chute out into the slipstream which pulls the load off the plane. Then a leash attached to the deck stretches out until the cargo clears the plane and it triggers the main parachutes.
"It seems all this rigging was of some concern to the training masters so they decided the men would jump after the load. Before I knew it the crates were gone and the truck was headed for the door. Like a fool I screamed but it was too late and so I scrambled over the driver's seat and strapped myself in as the truck pitched out into the void.
"We had all seen films in training about loads that didn't make the drop successfully. All kinds of things can go wrong like parachutes failing to open or loads flipping over upon landing. I almost had a heart attack until those three glorious main chutes opened above the truck and I floated down praying for a soft landing.
"Soft it wasn't but at least the seat belt held me in place as the truck bounced. Once the truck lands the troops are supposed to remove the parachute straps and drive away. So I exited the truck and began removing the straps as the SAS trainees landed nearby. I was just about done when this instructor sergeant walked up."
"Who the hell are you?" He asked.
"I'm your driver, of course, Sergeant."
"My uniform coveralls were barely different than the trainees and so I blended in with them for the most part. The sergeant knew something was fishy but like a good man he played along, and I drove him while the trainees marched along in front of us.
"That was Sergeant McDonald, the Highlander I have mentioned before. He finally got the real story out of me, said I was a ballsy sod, and recommended to the Lieutenant that I be assigned to the SAS. He even gave me credit for one training jump as I was under the parachutes of that truck for a time."
Jocko looked down the table at his men. "I think each of you has a Highlander in his past. Those who instruct must be endured because they have your survival at heart. That one man tipped the balance of your lives and gave you the strength to succeed. That first instructor will always be the one you remember best. Here's to firsts and Sergeant McDonald."
With that Jocko raised his glass of tea and the others did the same and replied. "To firsts."
"Damn, I would have pissed my pants," Tim said.
Jocko smiled. "And what makes you think I didn't?" Which brought laughter around the table, and further personal tales from the soldiers among them.
After the dinner everyone dispersed. Some went to their rooms or out for a walk to settle the meal. Andy and Bill were about to leave the hotel and top off the gas tanks in the van and Ed's Jeep when Tim and BD approached.
"We need a minute of your time," BD said.
"Sure, come on outside," Bill said.
They sat on the benches in the hotel courtyard which gave them some privacy.
"BD and I have been talking," Tim said. "Most of the email and files he pulled off his father's account seem pretty useless. The details of accounting and disbursement of funds isn't there. We figure that Joab has most of that information in whatever office he maintains and it would give us insight to the militia and what projects they have planned…"
"I know where this is going, but I don't see the police letting you have access to anything like that," Bill said.
"They might let me in ... it's my family's property," BD said.
"What are you hoping to find?" Andy asked.
"My father's accounts all had passwords keyed to the Bible and I cracked that in a jiffy. He's not very computer literate so someone had to set all that up for him and I think that person was Joab. The police might spend days trying to crack the codes when I already know how."
"He has a point," Tim said. "One of the things we've been worried about is why all this secrecy by the militia. I think once Jocko gets in there they're going to find out things that need an explanation. I would bet that Boze and Ed have already discovered some of those issues."
"How could we approach the police with a request like this?" Andy asked. "The property will be a crime scene, guys."
"Just think about it," BD said. "Offer our help if they need it. The timing might be critical ... they must be made aware of that."
"Okay, I'll give Matt a call and make the suggestion," Bill said. "I know you want to participate for the sake of your friends, but you've already made a substantial contribution. Why don't you go settle down, I'll make sure you're up before Jocko leaves. I don't imagine any of us will get much sleep before all this is over."
"Thanks, Dad," Tim said, and gave him a hug. Andy gave BD a hug and then watched as the boys walked back to the hotel lobby.
It was after six and dinner was over, delivered by the cook and watched over by the young man they now knew was named Douglas. Boze and Ed had sat back on their cots as the dinner trays were retrieved, and then the door was slammed shut.
"That guy makes a pretty good stew," Bill said, "or do you think it came out of a can?"
"A can, but he must add some of his own ingredients. Companies that sell that stuff are more concerned about shelf life than flavor," Boze said.
Neither of them had heard the door to Monica's cell close or the bolt throw to lock her in. Boze stood and resumed his position on the floor, his ear to the one inch crack under the door. Douglas was still there, standing in the open doorway and talking to Monica. Was the girl developing an interest in her captor?
The conversation was about music and teenage lifestyle issues. Douglas couldn't be more than twenty years of age, Boze figured, still young enough to find himself attracted to Monica. His presence at her door confirmed that the boy was alone on watch so things must be quiet in the compound once again.
There had been over a dozen of the militia on site two days ago, where were they all now? Did it matter that they had seen no indication that the commander was around? Neither he nor Ed was worried about being checked out by this character, there was nothing the militia would find on either of them. Besides, there had been no attempt at interrogation, no means of identifying them. Joab or Barry…was his last name Tilden or Dunlop? It didn't matter one bit since the man was about to take a fall.
It was time Boze figured. Rick would have made his decision and Jocko would have assembled his team. Perhaps the State Police would welcome the help and come in to pick up the pieces. Yes, the timing was right…Jocko would be here in the darkest hours of the night and tonight the militia would be taught a lesson.
He lost interest in what Monica and the boy were talking about and got to his feet. He went back to the cot and started shuffling his cards again. Ed looked at him expectantly and Boze smiled.
"Tonight," He said, and that was all Ed wanted to hear.
The hotel lobby was deserted at two in the morning when the mass of people emerged from their rooms and headed for the doors. The night clerk looked up and smiled as Jocko approached the counter with a several of the key cards.
"Some of us are checking out," Jocko said. "We have an early flight to catch."
"I hope you enjoyed your stay," the clerk said.
"We did, you have a great restaurant."
The clerk had no idea who these men were and so he took the cards as the group headed for the doors. Sliding them one by one through his card reader he saw that each room had been paid for in advance and no other charges were required. The last card was a little heavier and he turned it over to discover a fifty dollar bill taped to the back. Wow, what a tip, but when he looked up to thank the man he was gone.
Bill and Andy drove the Jeep and the van to the airport. The parking lot was virtually deserted as they approached Gate D, the closest one to the plane. The team had nothing but their overnight bags except for Rick who carried the guitar case. Jocko approached the guard.
In the near distance the plane was already alive, their pilot having been notified of their approach. Danny had spent the night on the plane in relative comfort since he had a bed and a galley to make his dinner. There was a million dollars' worth of gear on The Bird and someone had to make sure it stayed secure.
"Bozeman Security," Jocko said, pointing at the C-160. "We have a 2:30 flight time already on the books."
The guard looked at Jocko's identification cards. A smiling face on the one that said Bozeman Security, a more serious look on the other that identified him as a specialist consultant with Homeland Security. The computer confirmed the flight plan and the guard hit the button to open the gate. No further questions were required…he didn't dare ask.
Bill and Andy shook hands all around as the team began to trickle through the gate.
"We'll be watching," Bill said as Jocko and Rick paused for a moment.
"I'm sure you will," Jocko said. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Bill, and give my regards to the boys."
"That's why we'll be watching…I'm sure Mitch already has your system up and running."
Rick laughed. "I'll do a communications check with him in a few minutes. See you back here after the main event."
"Don't forget our taxi ride at five o'clock," Jocko said.
"I'll be there," Andy said. "Have a safe flight."
"Tally ho as they say," Jocko replied, and followed Rick through the gate as it began to close.
Rick and the plane would return once Jocko informed him that the mission was accomplished. Andy would extract the team at the rear gate near the service road and drive them back to meet the plane. If all went according to plan the team would be back in the air by dawn and on their way home.
Bill and Andy stood and watched the plane for a while after the team boarded. The men would be suiting up for their jump and checking out their equipment. The engines on the plane slowly came to life and within a few minutes it began to move across the tarmac. Bill looked at his watch…2:30 on the dot. It was time to go back to the hotel.
Rick had confirmed that his data link back to the laptop at the hotel could carry real time video and feeds off the communications gear from the team on the ground. The equipment on board the C-160 was worthy of any spymaster and Rick would be in total communication with the team as The Bird made lazy circles above the militia compound.
The team had changed out of their civilian clothes into combat clothing. Jocko had decided that even though they would be making a water landing it was shallow enough that getting wet would be a mere inconvenience. Seal teams might wear a complete body wet suit with breathers and a face mask, but not tonight.
The boots were water tight but the black uniform would get wet and then dry out fairly quickly in the dry Colorado climate. Personal gear was sealed in waterproof pockets and bags, as were the precious air rifles and their loads. Even the communications equipment would remain sealed until after they landed and crawled ashore.
The helmets were made of heavy Nomex plastic. Not exactly bulletproof but they would deflect most of the small arms a soldier might encounter. But they were lightweight and metal was a noise factor no one wanted on a job like this. Once ashore they could clip all their communications gear and night vision equipment to the brackets on the outside of the helmets.
The parachutes were shaped like a curved wing, a steerable chute that allowed the man beneath it to pick his target for a landing…most of the time. Falling out of a plane at ten thousand feet assured those on the ground would not hear an aircraft's engines, but it allowed little time for decision making.
A parachute of this design took about three hundred feet of fall to fully deploy so the general rule was to pull the ripcord at around a thousand. The reserve chute was smaller and if the main didn't open there had to be room for a decision that would save a life.
A thousand feet didn't allow a whole lot of steerable moments so computer simulations dictated the drop point based upon wind and aircraft speed. Like most things in the military these days, software led the way for an on the spot drop point and Jocko was in favor of that.
The distance from the airport to the target was a direct flight of thirty-six miles, a matter of mere minutes in this aircraft. The heading was a few degrees off north north-east but they would have to achieve a comfortable altitude for a look down and a chance to run the surveillance equipment.
Rick was on the internal communications system with the pilot as he sat before his console behind the cockpit bulkhead. Jocko was in the communications loop, strapped in along the wall in a jump seat beside his men.
"Let's do the first pass at six thousand feet," Rick said. "I should get some clear thermal images at that distance."
"They're gonna hear us," Jocko said.
"We just took off," Rick said. "I bet they get a lot of planes overhead during peak hours headed for Denver, but they won't know when we come back. We do need a clear image of their positions."
"Roger that. I'll be right there."
Jocko took the seat beside Rick as the pilot called out the distances to the target. Rick keyed in a few commands and the IR and thermal scans began recording. He wondered if Mitch was watching…of course he was…they all were.
"There's the lake," Rick said. "Time over target will be about fifteen seconds. Stay the course for a few minutes after that, Danny, and then climb for altitude."
"Roger," Danny replied. "Wind out of the southeast, less than 10 km per hour."
"Drop approach will be from the south at ten thousand," Rick said. "Make a long slow 180 turn to line us up, give us a chance to review this data."
Rick played back the camera images and held a finger above the pause button. The thermal showed them exactly what they expected, guards in the bunkers beside the entrance roads. There were two outbuildings with heat signatures, large in one and a single bright spot in the building beside it.
"Bunkhouse, and from what we guessed, that must be the cookhouse. So eight, maybe nine targets. Still a bunch of guys missing from the scene. No returns from the barn…they must be underground."
Rick hit a key and the printer spat out the locations of the heat signatures on a grid map of the property. He handed that to Jocko and keyed up the IR images.
"Will you look at that," Jocko said.
The shoreline of the lake was lit up with neon colored stripes. Infrared beams covered much of the lake approach, just about what they figured.
"Ten or fifteen feet off the water, you'll have to crawl. But what a false sense of security, they have nothing inland," Rick said.
"Probably afraid their own patrols would set them off," Jocko said. "So that's what I wanted to see…thanks, Rick."
"You be careful down there. Nothing more dangerous than a fool who thinks he's dangerous and has a gun to prove it. Don't count on them being asleep."
"I never underestimate large breasted ladies and fools with guns," Jocko said, clapping Rick on the back. "See you on the backside."
Jocko went to show the map to his team and make a final equipment check.
"Seven minutes to the drop point," Danny said and toggled the red warning light in the equipment bay. At five minutes Rick felt the plane slow down as Danny cut back the power and speed to open the rear ramp.
With the ramp down the cargo area filled with night air and Rick looked through his observation window as he watched Jocko and the team stand up and head for the ramp.
"One minute," Danny said over the headphones. "Steady on course."
At thirty seconds the red light began to flash and Rick watched each man pat himself down one last time. All of a sudden the green light came on and one by one the team was gone.
"Geronimo ... troops away," Rick said.
"Roger, ramp closing," Danny said and Rick felt the plane pressurizing once again.
The team would fall nine thousand feet and barely reach terminal velocity before they opened the chutes. It would be only seconds of time and then the solid, body wrenching snatch of the chute as it opened. It was one of Rick's favorite moments, a confirmation that all was well.
There was never time to enjoy the view of a target as it rushed up to smack the bottom of your boots. A HALO jump was no sightseeing tour, just business. At a thousand feet each man would pull the ripcord, the chute would snap open and the man under it would immediately need to look for steering control.
It was three in the morning and the moon was waning so there would be little light to view the target. The landing area would be nothing more than differing shapes and reflections in the darkness. Trees inland beyond the shore and the flat opaque surface of the water were the choices.
There, they ought to be down by now, Rick thought. The communications link was open to the NFM military band above the 400 MHz frequency. That ought to keep the militia from listening in, the bastards. He still felt guilty about underestimating their capabilities.
It was still almost five minutes before the team began to broadcast and Jocko's voice came over the headphones.
"Jocko here, we had a nice landing…scared a raccoon half to death. We're now fifty yards inland reviewing coordinates for the bunkers. Got that?"
"Read you five by five," Rick said. "No lights on below, no alarms."
"Don't think they know we are here…a pity," Jocko said. "Okay, teams away…steady on, boys"
The team would remain radio silent until the objectives had been achieved and then they would call in. Rick could hear the sound of Jocko's breath on the microphone and wondered what the compound looked like.
"Is there any light for video?" Rick asked.
"None so far…ah, now I can see the barn over to my right through the trees. Not a sound to be heard, even the teams are silent. The ground is covered in pine needles, makes for quiet footing."
"Delta ... target acquired." Ryan had reached the front gate bunker. Ninety seconds later there was another sound, several shots from an air rifle. "Targets down."
Rick waited patiently since Alpha team had a longer hike to the rear gate. But finally: "Alpha…target acquired." And then two shots from an air rifle. "Targets down," Terry said and then he snickered. "One of them was out taking a piss."
"Discipline," Jocko said. "Charlie team…are you on target?"
"We are, but there are no windows in the bunkhouse. There are two openings and they both have wooden shutters. We'll have to breach the door."
"Just keep it silent," Jocko reminded them. "What about the cookhouse?"
"Empty, but the stove is still warm. The cook must be in the bunkhouse."
"Prepare for five targets, Charlie."
Rick heard the sounds of the team breaching the door and several air shots…and then what he didn't want to hear, a gunshot. More air shots and then silence.
"Charlie?" Jocko said.
"Targets down. One of them pulled a pistol and got off a shot, but he hit the wall. Sorry about that. The bunkhouse is secure and there are five subjects."
"Alpha and Delta, secure the prisoners and follow the protocol, we don't want to lose anyone," Jocko said. "Delta, I need an assist in breaching the barn structure."
"Roger, on the way," Ryan said.
Jocko wondered if that gunshot had alerted anyone in the barn. He was now standing outside the building looking through the large sliding doors at the ramp which led down to a steel door. With Delta's help they would breach the door, blowing it open if necessary. That would be risky if the captives were under guard.
A hand tapped Jocko's arm and he motioned Ryan to stand on alert as he walked down the ramp. The door was pretty heavy indicating a strong bunker, Jocko reached for the steel handle and turned it…and the door swung open.
There were five steps leading down to a dimly lit hallway. Jocko motioned Ryan down the ramp and started descending the steps. The hallway was six feet wide and lined with doors, and then Jocko reached the bottom of the steps with Ryan right behind him.
The hallway held half a dozen doors and two of them were open. At the far end was a dimly lit room with computer monitors arranged along one wall, but it was the other door that caught his attention. It was halfway open and blocking the hallway, but the inside had no handles or knobs…it looked like a cell door.
Jocko crept down the hall and lifted the air rifle off his chest and into his hands. He was ten feet away when he heard voices. A male and female talking in quiet tones, and then laughter. This must be Monica's cell, but who was in there with her. Jocko stepped into the doorway…and Monica screamed.
The girl was standing next to a young man in militia fatigues, but all Jocko saw was the sidearm he wore.
"No…don't hurt him," Monica yelled as Jocko pointed his weapon.
The young man slowly raised his arms in surrender and Ryan moved past Jocko into the room and relieved the boy of his pistol.
"Turn around," Ryan ordered and Douglas complied. Ryan whipped a heavy zip tie around the boy's wrists and he was secure.
"Who else is in the building?' Jocko asked.
"Uh ... just me," The boy said. "I have the night shift."
"He's telling the truth," Monica said.
Jocko smiled. "You must be Monica…BD sends his regards."
"BD? He did this?"
"Not exactly, where are the other captives?"
"Across the hall I think," Monica said.
Ryan stayed with the prisoner as Jocko turned and approached the other door. He slid back the bolt and pulled the door open. The room was lit by a single ceiling fixture and revealed Boze sitting on his cot playing Solitaire.
"About time you got here," Boze said.
Jocko laughed. "Saving your ass again, Boss. How many times is that now?"
"I've lost track. Is the perimeter secure?"
"Everyone is sleeping soundly," Jocko said. He looked over at Ed. "And who is this?"
"Ed Avery at your service," Ed said.
"Heard about you ... Tim says hello."
"I'm surprised he didn't come with you," Ed said.
"Rick wouldn't let him."
Boze smiled. "And where is that rascal ... he didn't come either?"
"Oh he's here," Jocko said, raising a finger and pointing upwards. "He can hear every word you say."
Ed had stepped out into the hallway and was looking at the open door to the control room.
"We need to check out that room ... might be some answers in there."
"Be my guest," Jocko said. "The boy who was running it is across the hall, you might find him cooperative."
"Jocko ... this is Charlie."
Jocko moved the microphone back in front of his mouth. "Go ahead."
"We found something you are not going to believe ... you better get over here. About two hundred yards due east of the barn, we have the lights on."
"Is that safe?"
"I needed to see what is in this building, just make sure you don't come anywhere near here with an open flame."
Oh shit, Jocko thought. "Boze, you better come with me."
On to Chapter Ten
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