It was a typical Monday morning. Jake Balrich was up at 4:30 in the morning and wandered sleepily through a shower and into presentable clothes for the weekly commute to whatever Sheraton or Marriott hotel was in whatever city was the target of this week’s work. This week’s destination was Phoenix, Arizona.
The travel was tough at first. Jake was a nervous flyer, but had become reluctantly comfortable with the grind after a year of traveling nearly every week. He had become accustomed to the early start on Monday, the 42-mile car ride to the airport and the customary window seat where he could nap until the usual touchdown in Atlanta or Detroit. After years in the Navy, spent mostly in offices around the world with occasional deployments on ships, airplane flight was not his preferred mode of travel.
At least the car ride was comfortable. He took a car service. The cost of riding in the well-maintained Lincoln Town Car was less than the cost of airport parking or a one-way taxi fare. On this Monday, he settled back into the seat and tried to close his eyes on the car cruised up the northbound side of the I-295 loop toward Jacksonville International Airport.
Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida was the location of his final deployment in the Navy and his first destination after retirement. With his new consulting job, he had to fly with regularity and he quickly learned that all flights pass from Jacksonville through Atlanta to get anywhere else. Delta airlines is the major carrier and, except for flights that connected through Detroit or New York, most flights had to travel through the busiest airline hubs in the world, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The black Lincoln Town Car promptly picked Jake up and he drowsily engaged in conversation about the latest current events with the driver. When he arrived at the airport, he headed through the TSA pre-check line through security and to his gate in Concourse A.
He had taken this flight often enough and now the Delta gate agents, the heavyset gentleman with the beard and the blonde with the stereotypical southern accent were familiar fixtures. They nodded to Jake as he hovered his smart phone over the electronic scanning device. Miss southern accent said his last name as she thanked him for his loyalty to Delta. Jake had achieved Platinum flight status which allowed him to board the aircraft just after the first-class passengers. The faces of the fellow flyers had begun to look familiar too, as many were on the same Monday through Thursday travel cycle. These businesspeople were happy to live in Jacksonville, but had to travel to larger cities to make a decent salary.
This particular February morning was cold and clear, which was typical for this time of year in north Florida. Of course, cold is a relative term in this part of the country. It was 50 degrees with highs in the low 70s forecast for later in the day. Jake glanced at the boarding pass on his smart phone screen to confirm where he was supposed to sit. He shuffled down the jet way and settled in to seat 16A, closed the sliding window shade, leaned against the window and started to doze off as the other passengers passed down the aisle like a herd of zombies to their assigned seats.
“Excuse me, what seat are you supposed to be in? Excuse me. I think you’re in the wrong seat,” a voice said with increasing volume.
Jake stirred from his pre-flight nap and thumbed the screen of his phone to life.
“I’m in 16A,” Jake said with just an edge of annoyance.
“You’re in 17A,” the human alarm clock said. “That’s my seat.”
Jake opened his eyes and glanced at the source of the annoying sound. The human alarm clock was tall, wearing a dark suit and sporting a man-bun. Jake hated man-buns.
As Jake looked at the label beneath the overhead bin across the aisle, he saw 17 D, E and F. Apparently, in his delirium, he had sat in the wrong row. Mr. Man-Bun must have sensed this. Jake’s row-mates in 17 B and C started to shift nervously.
“Look, I’ll just sit in 16A,” Mr. Man-Bun said.
He sounded a bit condescending, but in his semi-conscious state, this sounded to Jake like the quickest route back to his nap.
“Okay. Thanks,” Jake said drowsily.
His row mates settled back into their seats. Mr. Man Bun settled into 16A and Jake drifted off into that semi-restful airplane sleep. All was right with the world.
On cue, the dual ding of the final approach into Atlanta chimed through the cabin. Jake learned to use this as a signal to wake from his slumber. This, as always, was followed by the sound of the landing gear locking into place, and the gradual descent over the railroad tracks and warehouses that dotted the landscape on the approach to the busy airport.
Jake glanced at his phone. The flight was early this week. This was fortunate and unusual as it gave Jake time to grab a quick bite on the way to his connection to Phoenix. He officially had an hour and fifteen minutes to connect, but, with this early arrival, he had an extra fifteen minutes tacked on. Based on the gates that were both in Concourse A, he would pass a McDonalds on the way. Usually, making a connection in Atlanta demanded at least an hour as the movement from concourse to concourse could vary in length. Some mornings, Jake had flights that could land in Concourse T and he had to catch a flight in Concourse D. This could take 30-40 minutes to make the trip between distant concourses.
As the plane touched down, Jake changed the settings on his phone, which he had dutifully set to airplane mode. He didn’t think this really affected plane safety, but his attitude was “you never know”. He went to the ‘Fly Delta’ app to confirm the short journey within the A Concourse for his connecting flight. The jet way was in place and the airplane door opened.
Much like worshipers in church, the aircraft emptied row-by-row starting from the front. Soon, as the deplaning process approached Jake’s row, he grabbed his backpack, and did that crouched stance that one did when waiting to exit. As the row in front of him exited, he noticed that Mr. Man Bun was still asleep in his seat. His row-mate in seat 16B nudged him, to no avail. He was a deep sleeper. One more forceful nudge and he fell forward hitting his forehead quite hard on the back of seat 15A.
Something was definitely wrong. 16B hit the flight attendant call button. The flight attendant purposefully walked back to row 16.
“Sir,” He called in a forceful voice. “Sir, are you okay?”
The male flight attendant grabbed Man Bun’s wrist and a different look crossed his face as the realization set in. He quickly returned to the front of the plane to confer with the other crew members. Then the announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the calm southern accented voice of the pilot said. “We have a bit of a medical emergency on the flight today. I’m going to ask the passengers remaining on the plane to take your seats while we wait for emergency medical personnel to come aboard. We will make every attempt to get you off the plane in order to make your connections. Please be patient.”
There was immediately one of those group gasps that one hears during a movie when some significant event takes place. The passengers, although returning to sitting in their seats, began to murmur in a garbled noise that mixed complaining with concern.
The calming voice of the captain soon did the trick. The passengers in 16B and C moved to other empty seats to give another flight attendant and one of the pilots access to the passenger. From the looks they exchanged, it appeared that the emergency medical personnel were going to act as transporters of a dead body.
The EMTs boarded the plane after a surprisingly short period of time. They checked Mr. Man Bun with a stethoscope and assessed his condition. Apparently, he had been dead long enough that they didn’t attempt CPR. They simply lifted him from his seat and brought him to the waiting gurney in the jet way.
This was a new experience for Jake. He was quite shaken. He drank two cups of expensive, bitter airport coffee and tried to convince himself that these things happen. Mr. Man Bun, whose name he would later discover was Thomas Channing, looked young, healthy and much too pretentious to die quietly in an airplane seat. Jake had interacted with this man much more than with most passengers on a typical Monday morning flight. He had died in the seat assigned to him. Not that the seat assignment had anything to do with his death.
Jake missed his connecting flight to Phoenix, his intended destination for this week. He sat in the Delta Sky Club in the A. The chairs, though appearing comfortable, were built for durability to defend their fabric from sleepy and drunken passengers passing the time between flights.
He took out his laptop and tried to do some work. This was a futile exercise and he quickly brought up spider solitaire in an effort to waste time. The Delta agents had graciously booked him on the next flight to Phoenix and he had time to waste during the 2½ hour layover.
As he was on the verge of completing the series for one suit in this challenging game, he heard his name on the public-address system as he was summoned to the front desk. He gathered his things and hauled his backpack and roller-board suitcase with him. He was sure my possessions would be perfectly fine if he left them and went to see why he was being summoned, but in a post 9-11 world, he had visions of an airport bomb squad detonating his backpack and blowing his laptop and iPad to smithereens.
As he approached the semi-circular desk near the entrance, he noticed two large men in dark suits, earpieces firmly in place, waiting for him. With the two obvious federal agents were two TSA agents that were in better physical shape than most of those that work the security checkpoints.
“You need to follow me, sir,” the largest of the suited men said as he stepped forward.
He glanced at his phone as he encouraged Jake to follow him and his backup singers
“We need to go somewhere where we can talk,” he said, with a look that told Jake he didn’t have an option to say no.
“I have a flight to catch,” Jake explained
The man didn’t seem to be dissuaded by this.
“There are other flights. This is important,” the man said as he encouraged Jake, with a bit more firmness in his voice, to follow his entourage.
Jake re-hoisted his backpack and grabbed for his luggage. This sudden action didn’t seem to be an acceptable.
“The nice TSA agents will see to your luggage until we’re done,” the large man told Jake as he was relieved of his possessions.
Although he had done nothing wrong, Jake started having that niggling feeling that he felt at the back of his neck that you get when guilt creeps in. With no perceptible trace of wrongdoing in his recent actions, the desire of federal authorities to lead him to a secret room in the airport triggered the Rolodex of his recent history to frantically search for anything that might elicit their attention. His mind skipped the obvious most recent event that had disrupted his morning flight. Since his subconscious knew he had nothing to do with Mr. Man-Bun’s death, it did not even enter his mind as a possibility for the sudden interest in his company by federal agents. He thought it was more likely due to the work that he was involved in. The activities of his current job required a very high level of security clearance just to be made aware of the existence of his organization.
The agents led Jake to the final destination which was a small room off the beaten path of the airport near the A Concourse security checkpoint. He was directed to a metal chair with a vinyl padded seat that was at a small table. There were two matching chairs on the opposite side facing him.
“Please have a seat,” the leader of the gang said to Jake. “Just sit patiently until another team member gets here. It should be very soon.”
“I have a flight I’m going to miss,” Jake said again, hoping it would work this time.
“You’ll be accommodated on another flight if our time with you causes you to miss it. Also, we will you’re your cell phone, please,” the agent said as he prepared to leave Jake to himself.
“Why do you need my phone?” Jake asked.
“It’s just preferred that you not have outside contact until we are done.”
This raised some alarms in Jake’s mind.
“This seems a bit over the top. What’s the deal? I didn’t even see anything,” Jake said.
“Just be patient and all will be explained very soon.
His sense of unease continued to grow. He sat idle for about 15 minutes and again replayed the recent events in his life. He had started this job six months earlier after a 15-year stint in Navy intelligence. This consulting gig was a high-paying government job that no one outside of his organization was aware of. It required the highest level of security clearance.
As he was cycling through recent assignments, none of those that came to mind emerged as a reason for his current pseudo-incarceration.
Just as he was beginning the review cycle again, the door opened and a woman in a government-issue blue suit and white blouse entered. She addressed Jake by name as if they were old friends. She was very attractive and very fit and she shook his hand with a grip that indicated her desire to be accepted among her male peers. She introduced herself as Special Agent Kate Winslow of the southeastern division of the Department of Homeland Security. These credentials did not put Jake at ease. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect as the events of this morning’s flight suddenly popped directly into his head. She cut to the chase and Jake finally knew why he was there.
“Tell me about what happened this morning on your flight,” Agent Winslow asked with a friendly yet, no-nonsense smile.
“There’s not much to tell. I sat in the wrong seat. He switched with me. When the flight landed, everyone started getting off the plane, but he didn’t move.”
“Did you know him before the flight?”
“Not at all. I only interacted with him because he woke me up when I fell asleep in the wrong seat.”
“Where were you headed on the flight this morning?”
“After Atlanta, I’m supposed to be headed to Phoenix.”
“For business or pleasure?” Winslow asked.
Jake hesitated just a bit. He had a feeling that Agent Winslow knew more about him then she was letting on, but he still answered carefully.
“What kind of business are you in?”
Jake didn’t know how much she knew, so he tread carefully in answering this question.
“I’m a consultant for a government agency.”
“I’m not sure how to answer that. My agency requires a very high level of security clearance.”
Winslow nodded knowingly as Jake had apparently given her enough key words that confirmed her awareness of the sensitivity of his employment situation. She then changed the line of questioning.
“Can you think of anyone that might want to hurt you because of your work activities or for some other reason?”
Jake was stunned by the question. He knew Mr. Man Bun had died in his assigned seat, but this question took him in another direction.
“I can’t think of anything that would put me in that situation. I honestly can’t.”
Just as Winslow seemed about to share a tidbit of information with Jake, there was a knock at the door.
The leader of the pack from the journey from the Delta club entered the room carrying a folder. He handed it to Agent Winslow and she took a look at the small number of pages inside. The other agent excused himself and Winslow sat down across from Jake.
“What do you know about Aconite?” she asked.
“I’ve never heard that word,” he responded truthfully. “What is it?”
“It’s a fast acting agent that causes the heart to stop and leads to certain death very quickly.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“It’s what killed Mr. Channing on your flight today and we believe it was meant for you.”
Jake knew at that moment that this would not be a typical Monday.
Aconite? Poisoning? Homeland Security? Jake thought this was starting to sound like a cliché-filled movie with him as the main character. After Agent Winslow finished with him, she made no secret of her annoyance at his lack of information sharing. Frankly, he had little to share. Jake couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to poison him or even bother with him at all. He truly didn’t know anything that was a threat to anyone.
The bottom line was, he was just an analyst. It might have been as part of a super-secret, under-the-radar government agency, but he didn’t know enough parts of the big picture to know anything of any importance. The agency was specifically structured in this way. An analyst might be responsible for tracing bank accounts or real estate transactions. A colleague might be responsible for listening to phone conversations or reading emails. On their own, the transactions, emails and conversations might indicate a portion of criminal activity taking place, but they did not provide enough of the big picture to identify a specific person or group. Old Eddie Snowden made the agencies like the NSA a bit jumpy. They couldn’t risk anyone else knowing too much. They pretended it was for their employees’ own good, but most of the personnel knew the truth. Government bureaucrats definitely didn’t like to put their jobs at risk by putting too much knowledge in the hands of lowly analysts.
Jake was fine with that. He was putting away a good portion of his salary, making careful investments, and racking up the airline and hotel points so that he could be his own boss someday and not be part of the bureaucracy. He could put up with them in order to reach his goals, but he would never become one of them.
As he left his temporary holding cell in the bowels of the Atlanta airport, he headed for the nearest Delta counter to try to somehow get to Phoenix. He had missed two possible connecting flights. There was still one that could get him there by 4PM local time. This was the time of year when Arizona aligned with Mountain Time. In the spring, when clocks were moved forward an hour, Arizona remained on their current time and switched to west coast time. Jake was there once in the fall when the clocks were turned back nationally, it was very confusing.
He was put on standby for the 3PM flight which, without the use of a flux capacitor, would get him there by 4. He went off to P.F. Chang’s, in the A concourse, to have some lunch while he waited. Before his Kung Pao chicken arrived, his cell phone vibrated to life. A glance at the phone showed the number for his boss displaying on the lock screen under the name, Mr. Smith.
“Hello,” Jake said using the super-secret greeting that was to be used when answering his work phone; No names, no identifying comments or phrases, just “hello”. Very clever, high-espionage stuff.
“I heard about your morning,” the voice on the other end said in a government-standard monotone.
“Come into the Mother Ship. Your other trip is cancelled. Head to the federal inspection station from where you are now and someone will be there to meet you.”
“Do I have time to eat lunch?”
The silence on the other end of the phone meant that my comment was not a valid question. The fact that he was being instructed to head somewhere immediately meant that lunch was not important at this moment.
Jake got up to leave, handed the waiter a couple of twenties and an explanation, and headed downstairs to catch the train to the federal inspection station on the lower level of Concourse F. When he arrived, Special Agent Winslow was there along with the two muscle bound agents from their earlier encounter.
“It looks like they want you in Washington. There’s a charter waiting for you.”
A charter, Jake thought. Someone wanted him there quickly. This did not make him feel good at all. Good news had a very slow travel schedule in Washington. Bad news traveled at supersonic speed.
“Why a charter?”
“I have no idea,” Winslow said. “Someone from your agency, whatever it is, reached out to my boss and getting you on this charter safely became my first priority.”
Jake stepped outside where there was a stereotypical government-issue black SUV waiting for them. One of the muscle-heads drove. Winslow sat in the front seat and Jake sat in back next to muscle-head number two. The SUV was piloted to a remote runway near a hangar in the back of the airport. A gulfstream jet waited with one engine already running. The two muscle-heads, who Jake would later find out were agents Harper and Lowe, grabbed duffel bags and his checked luggage from the back of the SUV. Jake astutely guessed that he was going to have company.
They boarded the jet. It had six plush passenger seats and a long sofa. Jake picked one of the seats and Harper and Lowe sat behind him. Almost immediately, the lone flight attendant closed the door and the group taxied to the runway and quickly ascended for the short flight to Washington, D.C.
As the plane descended, Jake realized that they weren’t landing at one of the commercial airports in the metro area. In fact, they were landing in a rural airport outside of D.C.
“Where are we going?” Jake asked, but to no avail.
Neither his companions nor the flight attendant knew where he was going. It was the typical situation where information was disseminated on a need-to-know basis and, apparently, they didn’t need to know.
The plane landed smoothly and pulled directly into a small hangar. As Jake exited the plane, there was yet another black SUV waiting to take him to the Mother Ship. The Mother Ship was the affectionate name for a large house that served as headquarters for the agency that employed Jake. It was located in a sparsely populated area between Manassas and Stafford Virginia southwest of D.C.
Jake could tell they had landed near Manassas as they took roads that were familiar to him to reach the destination. They entered a gravel driveway from a heavily gated access road and emerged near the well-maintained 120-year-old white farmhouse with a rustic exterior that contradicted what was found inside. The agents left the SUV and walked Jake to the front door. They apparently had no intention of entering the house with him. Jake entered the living room and made his way to the basement stairway. The living room was tastefully decorated and did little to betray the function of the dwelling. The basement, however, was surreal and daunting. The floorplan of the basement exceeded that of the house by about 20 times. It spread out beneath the driveway and the surrounding fields and forest to a space of about 200,000 square feet. There were cubicles and offices that were teaming with activity.
Jake’s destination was the office of the person that had interrupted his Chinese-American lunch. He had no title or first name. He was simply known as Donovan. Whether or not this was his actual last name was unknown, but he looked like a Donovan.
As Jake entered Donovan’s modest office, his sharp blue eyes turned toward him. He had a severe flat-top haircut that indicated an obvious military background. The shape of his head and well-muscled neck that strained against his dress shirt and tie looked as if no other type of hairstyle would be allowed. The sleeves of his white shirt were, as always, rolled up on his forearms which bore the scars of past battles and, perhaps, tattoos that had been covered up.
“Have a seat,” Donovan gruffly directed without any hint of a greeting. “We’re going to need you to stay here for a while so we can sort this out.”
“Sort what out?” Jake asked.
“We don’t know yet. Obviously, you have been compromised. Some person or group that you have been analyzing wants you to stop. While you’re here, we’re going to have to go through every case you’ve been on and try to figure it out. While we do that, you’re here.”
“Does that mean I can’t leave?” Jake asked, already knowing the answer.
Again, the silence answered his question in the affirmative.
“We have to determine what’s going on. You will be debriefed and we will figure out what information triggered the attempt on you this morning. We’ve had some clothes brought in for you. You are to have no contact with anyone outside of the Mother Ship until we get through this.”
“Now wait a minute,” Jake started to get as angry as he dared with this man. “Am I in custody? What’s going on here?”
“Your status depends on what we find out. You can help yourself by cooperating fully so that we get through this quickly.”
Jake wasn’t sure he liked the answer, but it appeared he had no choice. When he became part of this organization, Jake signed an agreement that basically gave his superiors the right to ‘assign’ him as they saw fit. Right now, it appeared he was being assigned to the Mother Ship without any definitive end to the assignment. He decided he would cooperate and prove to them he had nothing to hide, and knew nothing. That would prove to be harder than anticipated.
Brad Rafferty woke up in the queen sized bed of his room in the Parsian Esteghlal International Hotel in Tehran, Iran. He was there doing routine inspections as part of the newly-minted nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran. He had brought his assistant, Maria Colluccio, with him. The two of them had been through a lot including the investigation of the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil using radioactive material. Rafferty and his team achieved some notoriety after the incident, but that was not something desirable in their line of work.
Because of the successful identification of the terrorist behind the attack, Rafferty was given his pick of assignments. Among the assignments were highly placed intelligence and military posts in Washington and around the world. Most of the posts, however, were administrative in nature and he wanted no part of piloting a desk. He was content to go back to his inspection duties and sinking back into obscurity. The rest of his team, including Colluccio, followed suit.
The Iranians had been cooperative, for the most part. They still tried to restrict access to certain areas, but, under the agreement, they quickly gave in so they could avoid severe sanctions. There were only three more days left in this inspection cycle and then Rafferty had plans to ride his motorcycle from Jacksonville to Key West and disappear for a couple of weeks for some scuba diving and fishing.
For now, it was just another day at work. Rafferty dragged himself out of bed, showered and dressed in the short-sleeved khaki shirt and black pants of this navy day-to-day uniform. He had agreed to meet Maria Colluccio for breakfast in the hotel’s dining room at 0700. As he entered the raised floor of the dining room, Maria was already seated at a remote table. She was already dining on the combination of feta cheese, quince jam and lavash bread along with Persian tea. These were the typical components of a simple Persian breakfast. Rafferty would have the same as bacon and eggs were not to be found here. He would, however, substitute strong black coffee for the tea.
“We need to get the final paperwork together so we can file our report and get back to the states,” Rafferty said to Colluccio as he sat down.
“Well good morning to you too.”
“I’m sorry. I just want to get this over. I need some down time, and I’m sure you do too.”
“You’ve got that right. I’m headed to New York City to hang out with some friends and just relax for a couple of weeks.”
“Great. We shouldn’t have any trouble finishing up. Everything has gone as smoothly as can be expected.”
“Maybe for you. I have to work twice as hard to get information. The position of women hasn’t progressed much in this country.”
“You still get more cooperation than most of the male members of the inspection team.”
Maria seemed to consider this as she pushed her breakfast around the plate.
“Do you ever wonder what it would be like?” she asked.
“Wonder about what?”
“If we had taken different jobs when they were offered to us.”
Rafferty took a sip of the strong coffee and made a face accordingly.
“I’m doing exactly what I want. After the thing with the Dome, I welcome the routine and expected.”
“Me too. I just enjoyed being able to trap a bad guy like we did. It made me feel like we make a difference.”
Rafferty let out a sigh.
“We identified the bad guy, but we didn’t stop him before he did something bad. There were still a lot of casualties. I’d rather do inspections where we can try to prevent something bad from happening.”
Rafferty realized, as he answered the question, that he still felt a sense of guilt for what had happened in Syracuse. He understood that it was irrational to be sorry he couldn’t stop the attack and that the radioactive material was not something he would have known about. Still, any time a terrorist struck an American target, there was a collective sense of guilt among those in military intelligence that it had not been prevented.
Rafferty and Colluccio finished up their breakfast and joined the other members of the NATO inspection team for the 30-minute ride to the inspection site. He took comfort in the fact that he only had to endure three more days before he could hop on his bike for the 8½ hour ride to the southernmost point in the United States.
The inspection site, 25 km outside of Tehran, was once full of active centrifuge units that were installed with the intent to produce weapons-grade nuclear material. Since the treaty, the main job of the inspection team was to ensure that the output of the few centrifuge units that were left produced materials that were not weapons-grade. At least, that’s what had been discovered thus far.
Rafferty and Colluccio made the usual rounds with the rest of the multi-national team and plotted their readings on the electronic tablets they carried with them. Everything was within parameters today. It was the last day of being on site. Tomorrow, they would compile their results with the rest of the team at the hotel and the following day, they would begin the long journey home.
As they were piling back into the van, Rafferty’s cell phone chirped to life. As he looked at the incoming number, he stepped out of the van.
“I’ll catch a cab back,” Rafferty told the driver. Then to Maria, “I need to take this.”
She nodded and Rafferty stepped away from the van to the shade under a nearby date palm tree.
“This is Rafferty.”
“Brad, something’s up,” the familiar voice of Admiral Baker, Rafferty’s mentor and commander said.
“What is it?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I think you and Colluccio need to get back early.”
Rafferty hesitated. The last time Baker called him away from an inspection, it was for the heinous terror attack in Syracuse. Baker sensed the reason for Rafferty’s hesitation.
“Brad, I’m not sure it’s anything. I saw some correspondence come over the wire, and I just have a feeling and I want you to check it out. If it’s nothing, which it probably is, you can start your vacation early.”
That possibility had Rafferty’s attention.
“Okay, we’ll get on the next possible flight.”
“I’ve already arranged one for you in an hour.”
Nothing. Rafferty didn’t think Baker would arrange such a quick return if he thought the information he saw would lead to nothing.
Rafferty hailed a cab and told the driver to return to the hotel. He arrived about ten minutes after Maria and called her from his room as he packed.
“Maria, it’s me. We need to head back. That was Baker on the phone. Something’s up and he wants us back in Jacksonville.”
“Okay. When are we out?”
“As soon as we can get packed and turn our paperwork over to Anderson.”
George Anderson was the other American inspection team member. He was a civilian nuclear scientist and college professor.
“I’ll be ready in ten,” Maria said.
“I’ll meet you in the lobby. I’ll stop by Anderson’s room first.”
Rafferty put down the phone, grabbed his backpack and duffel and walked down the hall to Professor George Anderson’s room. He answered on the third knock.
“Commander Rafferty, what can I do for you?” Anderson said as he opened the door.
Anderson was the stereotypical eccentric genius professor. He was in flip-flops, cargo shorts and a teal and red Hawaiian shirt. His handlebar mustache was impeccably landscaped as always.
“I need to give you our report pages. We’ve been called back to the states.”
“Oh. Nothing bad, I hope.”
“No. Just military business. You know how it is.”
“, I don’t, but I’ll take your word for it,” Anderson said with a glint in his eye. “I’ll compile our information and make sure it gets represented properly.”
“I have no doubt. Thanks for taking care of it.”
“Sure. Good luck to you with your military business.
The glint reappeared. Anderson was a smart man and knew that something was up, but also knew it was above his clearance level.
Rafferty and Colluccio met up in the lobby and took a cab to the airbase. From there they took a NATO transport two hours to Qatar and from there a U.S. Naval transport to Germany and then on to Jacksonville.