NAS Key West
07:00 (12:00 GMT)
The Jayhawk landed and Blake stepped out onto the tarmac. The heat from the summer sun had only just begun to warm the pavement, but it felt good against his soaking clothes. He was thanking his rescuers in the Jayhawk when he heard a voice behind him.
He turned around and smiled. He walked gingerly toward Jack and gave his friend a warm handshake and brief hug. “Good to see you, Jack.”
He winced from the pain in his ribs, but reflected back to dinner at Jack’s house with his beautiful wife and two kids, several years ago while he filled in for his friend.
“You too.” He smiled wide with genuine glee in his expression. “Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. No offense, but you look like shit!”
“Yeah, it’s been awhile and I feel like it.”
Jack put his hands on his hips and looked Blake up and down. Blake could sense what was coming next.
“So, what in the hell was that all about?” Jack asked.
He was right.
“You look like you’ve been in a bar fight against six guys… and lost.”
Blake gave a short laugh. “Company business, Jack. You know I can’t say.”
Jack lost his smile and pursed his lips for a moment. “Yeah…I figured. Well, at any rate, I’m really glad you’re here. Can you stay—at least for the day? I’m sure that Holly and the ki…. Hey, you haven’t even seen my youngest yet. We had another boy. His name is Connor and he can throw a football like you wouldn’t believe—for a three year old that is.”
“Hey, that’s fantastic Jack. Congratulations. I would love to be able to stick around, but as you can imagine…” Blake patted his bag “…duty calls.”
“Well, if you can stay we can grill out and I’ll invite the two pilots’ that saved your ass over as well and you can thank them properly. Whadaya say?”
Damn, that sounds nice, but this intel can’t wait. “We’ll see how things go.”
“Ok, I understand. However, I’d be willing to bet that you’re probably a little hungry?”
Blake hadn’t even paid attention. In all of the ruckus he’d been in, he’d forgotten that it had been nearly twelve hours since his last meal.
“I am Jack, but I’ve really got to review the things in this bag.” Blake held up the wet backpack. “I need somewhere private where I can review this and I need to make a call on a secure line, too. Any chance you can hook me up?”
“Not in my office, but we can go over to the command center. I can patch you through to MTAC and then they can set-up the connection from there.”
“That would be great, Jack. Thanks.”
MTAC was the Department of Navy’s Multiple Threat Alert Center. It provides indications and warning for a wide range of threats to Navy and Marine Corps personnel and assets around the world.
On the walk over Jack called the Command Center on his cell and had them prep the room and get MTAC on the line.
They entered the building through a set of double doors.
“All the way to the end,” Jack said as he followed.
At the door, Jack used his keycard to let them in. Inside the room there was one large conference table. Adjacent to the main room were three additional smaller offices. Blake pointed to the office on the far left. “I’ll take it in there.” He set the pack down on the table and started unzipping it.
“Could you give me thirty, maybe forty-five minutes to dissect some of this and then patch a call through to Langley?”
Jack let out a small chuckle that caught Blake’s attention. Blake glanced up to see his friend smiling and shaking his head.
“What?” Blake asked.
“Nothing. I’ll relay the message to MTAC. I just don’t know how the hell you do what you do.” He raised his hands in the air. “Whatever that is.”
“It is what it is.” Blake said.
“Yeah. We’ll, you’re still soaking wet. I’ll have some dry clothes and food sent over, okay?”
Blake breathed a deep sigh and smiled. He’d silently hoped that his friend would do that. “That would be fantastic. Thanks.”
“Okay, see you later then.”
“Yep.” Blake waved as Jack walked out of the room and closed the door.
The backpack had done a better than expected job of keeping its contents dry. There was only a small bit of moisture around the file folders and the laptop seemed, for the most part, completely dry. For the next thirty-five minutes Blake looked through the files and laptop for anything that might be considered a threat to national security.
It wasn’t until he got to one of the thumb drives that he saw something suspicious.
The phone on the table rang. It was MTAC patching through his call from Langley. Well, that couldn’t have been timed more perfectly.
He picked up the phone. “Blake MacKay.”
“Mr. Mackay, Sir, I have Langley on the line for you. Director Brennan, go ahead.”
They both waited for the familiar click in the line telling them that the connection had been made and that they could now both speak in private on an encrypted line.
“So, what the hell happened? You were supposed to go to Gitmo?” Mike asked.
Blake wanted to tell Mike about his suspicions that someone tipped off the general, but decided to hold off. He trusted Mike one hundred percent, but there might be someone that Mike works with that could be feeding information to the wrong people. He didn’t want to take the chance of tipping that person off.
“Well, things didn’t go quite as planned. I must have been careless and missed something. A guard caught me coming out of the General’s room and all hell broke loose. I was lucky to get out of there alive.”
“Did you meet the objective?”
“I’ve spent the last thirty minutes going through what I got and—we’ve got a problem.”
“What’s that?” Mike asked.
“Does the name Zahmir al Hamwi ring a bell?”
“Hell yeah! He’s one of the largest arms dealers for al Qaeda. What’s he got to do with this?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ve got some more digging to do, but from what I can tell, he’s purchased something big from the general. I don’t know if it’s already been delivered or if it’s still at the estate or what. I need some time to look further.”
“Okay, this new intel takes precedence. I need you back here for a formal debrief and that data back here for full analysis. I’m dispatching a plane to Key West and it should be there in a couple of hours.”
Dammit. So much for the cookout. That gives me time for one more thing. “See you this afternoon.” Blake hung up the phone and walked out of the room. Sitting on the floor was a full set of BDU’s, including dry underwear, socks and boots. Next to them was a tray with a plate of covered food. Blake could smell the bacon and his stomach growled. He bent down and removed the lid. His eyes lit up when he saw the pancakes, two eggs, toast with jelly and four strips of bacon. He took the tray of food and dry change of clothes back into the room.
A knock on the door came just as he finished tying the laces on his right boot.
The door opened and Jack stepped in. “All done?”
“Yeah. Thanks for the food and clothes. I feel a lot better. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to take a rain check on that barbecue.”
“I figured that. Is there anything else that I can do for you while you’re here? Like, get you patched up? You should at least be looked at to make sure nothing is broken.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that, but first there’s something else you can do.”
“Where can I find Petty Officer, Shulster?”
Shulster was in the locker room about to go home. As exhausted as he was, he knew it would be a while before he went to sleep. The conversation with Blake MacKay kept running through his head.
Blake walked in and saw the young man standing in front of his locker.
“Hey, I’m looking for Petty Officer Shulster. Are you him?”
He closed the locker door and paused.
Blake extended his hand. “Hi.”
Shulster accepted his hand and shook it. “Hello.”
With a smile, Blake said. “I’m the guy on the radio.”
Blake saw the smile fade from the young man’s face and delivered a left cross across his jaw. He kept his grip on him with his right, pulled him in close and whispered, “Don’t ever leave your post again.”
He shoved him back, turned and walked away. Half way to the door, Blake turned back and watched Raymond sit down and put his face in his hands. Blake’s lips curled up with satisfaction.
After his attitude adjustment meeting with Shulster, he went to the infirmary to have his ribs checked out and patch up some of his cuts and bruises. By the time he was finished, it was time to fly back to Langley.
Blake and Jack were in the main hangar. The Gulfstream G650 sat on the tarmac just outside the hangar.
“Wow, when you travel, you go in style,” Jack said.
“Yeah. One of the perks of the job, I suppose.”
“How did your little conversation with Shulster, go?”
“Not the way I wanted. I wanted to beat the crap out of him.”
“You mean you didn’t?”
“No. I didn’t want to cause you any problems.” Blake chuckled. “I think I scared the piss out of him though.”
Jack laughed back. “Yeah, you do have a knack for doing that. Well, he will be disciplined. Not sure just what that is yet, but it won’t be fun for him, regardless.”
Blake held out his hand. “Jack.”
Jack grasped Blake’s hand and gave him a firm shake. “Take care, buddy.”
Blake turned and boarded the plane.