As the Bell Tolls - Part 1
The Blessings of Liberty
Location: Storm Shelter's Mobile HQ
Timeline: Early Evening, Sunday, 01/22/17
Cade and J.D. arrived back at Andrews AFB just after dark. Amazingly, the meeting with the President and acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had been brief, taking less than an hour. Cade was starting to feel the combination of stress and anticipation that always hit him during a job. It sped up his reflexes and kept him alert, ready to act. Unfortunately, it also meant difficulty in getting good sleep.
They went through the usual security checks before the airplane would open the door and let them enter. Inside, Cade hit the control that would raise the stairs and close the door. He patted the airplane's door frame and said affectionately, "Good girl, Maudie." Walking down the center aisle toward the tiny kitchenette area where the coffee maker was, Cade stopped and signaled J.D. to a standstill. Someone was still on the plane!
J.D. reacted instantly to Cade's hand movement. He slipped to the left to not leave them both lined up for a single burst to get them at the same time. His right hand darted under his jacket and came out with one of the Colt Commanders. He slid into a kneeling position and rested his hands between two of the airplane seats, thumb snicking off the pistol's safety and aiming in the direction Cade was looking.
The small door to the rearmost compartment swung open, then stayed ajar a few moments, only inching closed before Luke passed through the open portal. He turned to see Cade and JD in the other compartment and froze, instantly recognizing the tactical stance. His hands went up, one holding his pad and pencil. "Easy, gentlemen," he said, "Just me." His voice may have been steady and calm, but his heart was another matter entirely. It had gone into overdrive in anticipation of a potential fight or flight response.
J.D. sighed, and his thumb snapped the safety back on. He shifted the weapon out of line with Luke as he turned it and pushed it back into the shoulder rig. "Looks like we need to put a bell on you."
Cade immediately relaxed and grinned, "Sorry about that Luke. Been quite a day. Didn't expect anyone to still be around. Glad you're here though. We got the demands, and they are doozies. Want to go through your forensic findings too. Got interrupted at the briefing earlier."
Luke exhaled a breath he didn't realize he had been holding. His arms dropped, and he cracked a smirk. "Well, I do have a collar, just not a bell." Whether he was sharing something quite private or simply joking was impossible to tell. He stepped into the same compartment as the other two men. A finger tapped his pad, "I found something I wanted to bring up to you anyway. The SecDef has been surprisingly talkative post-mortem."
Cade grinned at the byplay between the two men. He couldn't help feeling a bit of pride in the team they'd assembled. Luke was proving a good fit and already proving his worth with this investigation. "Give me a second to grab some coffee."
Moments later, Cade was seated and nursing a cup of strong black coffee. "So, what do you want first, Luke. The demands left for the President or give us your latest findings?"
Luke made a bit of a face as he fell into a chair. "Demands first. Nothing like upping the stakes before a briefing." He considered grabbing a coffee too but decided if he was to talk a lot the bottled water he had at hand would work just fine.
Cade pulled out his tablet. Before leaving the White House, Dalton had securely uploaded a copy of the phone call from the terrorists. He made sure the tablet was set to speaker mode and clicked play. The same electronically masked voice that Cade and J.D. had heard in the President's private office began to speak...
"Dalton, here are our requirements. If you do not want to see the United States, parts of Canada, and Mexico reduced to a smoldering ruin, you will accede without hesitation. We will give you time to think about your response and how many more deaths you want on your conscience. None of these requests are negotiable. A new president will be appointed. We will reveal his identity in due time.
Dalton, you and your entire staff and cabinet will resign and step down. You will launch Operation Annihilation: declarations of war and launch of nuclear attacks against Russia, China, the UK, Germany, North Korea, and most Middle Eastern and African nations. Your final act will be to surrender yourself to the new authorities to be executed for treason." The recorder went silent.
J.D. shook his head and chuckled as the recording ended. "Every time I hear that message I figure they may as well ask my father to fly around the Washington Monument by flapping his arms."
Luke was silent a long while, his face unreadable. Finally, he rubbed his eyes and sighed deeply. "Jesus, they don't ask for much, do they?" He shook his head, and his face gained a downright hostile expression. "Who the hell are these people, and what's their beef with the President?"
"Unfortunately, we still have no leads. The bodies that J.D. and I left in the Maine woods when we collected the Vice President are not yielding much information either," Cade said and then took a sip of his coffee. "We know they were well-funded and armed as well as any special military ops force. They were not expecting resistance or J.D., and I wouldn't be here right now. BOSI is handling the autopsies."
J.D. nodded. "They seemed to think they had everything under control. Obviously, the fix was supposed to be in with no wild cards. We were able to use that to our advantage. However, I doubt we will get that gift again so soon."
Luke frowned deeply, rubbing his forehead. "Great, that speaks to a PMC like Blackwater or something, where soldiers who get a BCD can still kill people for money. Exactly the sort of people I want to deal with." His words were said flatly, expressing the sarcasm behind them. "Means we'll be dealing with actual military training and equipment, just without the integrity or doctrine."
~To be continued in Part 2.