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Chapter 32: A Favor to Ask

 

 

 

The Strait of Hormuz is the sole access to the Persian Gulf. Over a hundred ships of all sized transit the Strait every day. At night, these ships are usually brightly lit.

The MiG was over a thousand feet above the C-130 and passing half a mile to its west. Looking at the Iran Air jet, the MiG pilot could see in his peripheral vision the lights of several ships in the Strait, well to his east. That was to be expected. What was not expected was what he saw next: the lights of a large tanker appeared to blink out for a fraction of a second. The human eye is drawn to movement, and he reacted to the sudden change by looking. Seeing nothing, he scanned the skies for a few seconds, and then realized that if something had occluded the ship’s lights, then that something was directly below the Iran Air jet. A second flicker of occluded lights, this time from a distant oilrig, confirmed the pilot’s hunch.

The pilot reefed the MiG into a hard right turn, pulling four Gs before rolling out on the Iran Air jet’s course, two miles behind. Glancing at his scope, he could see just the single target, but to be sure, he switched his radar to fire-control mode – a high frequency narrow beam, used for missile guidance. He then dropped his nose, aiming at the area under the Iran Air jet. A targeting reticule appeared in his HUD – Heads Up Display – well under the Iran Air jet, where nothing ought to be. His eyes widening as he realized what he’d found, he radioed in to his ground controller, and then reported, “Am engaging now. Weapons hot.”

The ground controller, who had only the pilot’s word that the Iran Air wasn’t the target, radioed back, “Negative on missiles. Guns only if the Iran Air is within missile range.”

The MiG pilot activated his night-vision gear, only to find that it was not in working order, like so much else in Iran’s Air Force. He correctly suspected that it was due to a lack of maintenance and spare parts, which evoked a string of curses. He didn’t need the night vision gear, not with his HUD, but it would have been nice. He advanced his throttles to maximum and began closing the range.

In the C-130’s cockpit, General Bradson glanced again at the steady red pulse from one of his radar detectors. The signal was strong, not fading at all. That meant… “Prepare for violent maneuvering. The MiG has us locked up, fire control mode. He’s behind us,” the General shouted, wishing that he had some easy way of seeing directly behind the aircraft.

Felecia alerted her troops over the intercom with a terse “Hang on!” Then, strapping herself in, she asked the General, “What now?”

General Bradson ignored her. He had other things on his mind. He ordered the copilot, “Night vision gear, look aft. I want your best guess regarding range and speed on the hostile.” General Bradson waited for a couple of seconds as the copilot twisted around and leaned over against the cockpit’s right side window, which gave him a view to within ten degrees of dead aft.

General Bradson stepped hard on the right rudder pedal, slewing the C-130 into a horizontal yaw, causing it to shudder and bleed off airspeed, but also giving the copilot the needed view. “About a mile back, coming in fast! Straight in!” the copilot yelled.

General Bradson reversed the rudder, keeping the wings level on the mistaken assumption that the MiG pilot had operational night-vision gear and would see any bank and use it to predict the turn. The General pulled back on the yoke, yanked the throttles all the way back, and hit the switches to deploy full flaps and drop the landing gear. The C-130 lurched upwards as a string of tracers streaked past the cockpit.   

The MiG pilot cursed as his target lurched upwards, and raised his nose to follow. Using the HUD, concentrating on the targeting reticule and ignoring his range readout, he had no sense of depth and thus no idea that the C-130 was slowing drastically. His first clue came from the targeting reticule as it began to grow exponentially larger. Just in time, he understood what was happening and yanked back on his stick, racing past the C-130, passing less than twenty feet over its port wing.

General Bradson had to fight for control as the MiG’s wake vortices slammed into the C-130’s left wing. Then a steadier, more even shaking began, followed by a sickening lurch downward, like the beginning of the descent of a high-speed elevator. A blaring warning horn sounded in the cockpit, and the copilot said needlessly, “Stall warning.”

“Track the fighter,” General Bradson ordered as the C-130’s nose dropped, and he hauled the yoke all the way back. The General raised the flaps and landing gear, but kept the yoke full back, as the C-130, its fuselage level, dropped like a rock, locked into a full stall. The copilot called out, “The MiG is circling around, not descending, just turning.”

The General watched his rate of decent gauge creep well past redline, passing through ten thousand feet per minute and still accelerating. He had entered the full stall to lose altitude as fast as possible. The only catch was, he’d never stalled a C-130 before and only had a guess, based on a dim memory of reading its manual back at the academy, as to how much altitude he’d need to recover from a full stall.

A new warning horn sounded as the C-130 plummeted past four thousand feet, and General Bradson shoved the yoke forward, trying to lower the nose as he shouted to the copilot, “Compressor stall on number three, relight procedures now!” The General advanced the other three throttles to maximum and hoped like hell that there was still enough altitude.

The nose didn’t drop as fast as he’d expected, and the General chewed on his lip as the aircraft slowly, too slowly, pitched its nose down. With three engines at max power and no trim, the nose began to slew to the right, but that was the least of his worries. “Come on,” he muttered, as the altimeter spun down through two thousand feet. At last, the C-130’s nose pitched further down with a lurch, denoting its return to forward flight, and General Bradson hauled back on the yoke, fighting to pull out of the dive. “Five hundred feet,” the copilot yelled, with fear in his voice, the restart procedure momentarily forgotten.  

The C-130’s nose swung up, and the altimeter paused at two hundred feet, before beginning to increase slightly. “Fighter?” the General asked.

Glancing nearly straight up, the copilot reported, “Passing under the Iran Air, looks like he’s flying figure-eights, looking for us. No sign of a descent yet.” The copilot looked at the engine temperature gauges and announced, “Chamber temp on three is coming up, it’s lit.”

“We’re out from under the Iran Air’s radar shadow,” General Bradson said, as he glanced at his navigational display. “We’re about twelve miles from the Musendam Peninsula on the southern side of the Strait. We’ll be in Omani airspace in a few seconds, but that won’t stop the MiG. I doubt Iran is in any mood to observe international niceties at the moment. Fel, get ready to use the fishing boat. It’s about five miles east of us.” To the copilot, the General said, “Call out at the first sign of a descent, and watch out for other inbounds.”

Felecia got out her satellite phone and prepared to dial the number. General Bradson banked hard right, rolling out on a northwesterly course, heading towards the unmanned fishing boat, trusting that the MiG would follow. He needed it to be directly astern.  

The MiG 29’s radar is classified as having look-down shoot-down capability, meaning that it can use its coherent pulse-Doppler mode to detect, track, and lock onto a target that is below the aircraft’s horizon. Freed of the interference provided by the Iran Air jet, the hunting MiG pilot studied his radar display and reported the C-130’s course, speed and altitude to ground control as well as three other MiG 29’s that were now thirty miles out. The three inbound MiGs had nosed over into a shallow dive, advanced to max power and then punched their afterburners, accelerating to mach two.

“Ready on the flare gun, side door,” General Bradson yelled, hoping that it would not be needed. He checked his nav display again and called out, “Three miles to the boat.”

“Fighter is diving, he’s at five o’clock high, boring straight in on our six,” the copilot yelled.  

“Ready on the phone, Fel. Dial now, then key in all but the last number of the code,” General Bradson said.

“Missile, missile, inbound!” the copilot yelled.

“Flares, now,” General Bradson ordered over the intercom, as he pulled the throttles all the way back and pulled the nose up, trying to reduce the engine exhaust temperature and interpose the wing between the missile’s seeker head and the engines. “I hope that’s an Aphid he just fired,” the General said, referring to the NATO designation ‘Aphid-8’ for the Russian-made infrared-guided missile known to be in Iran’s air-to-air arsenal. He had good reason to be concerned: if the missile was radar-guided, his countermoves had just made the C-130 a much better target. He was betting all their lives that the fighter, nearly directly above, would follow standard air-combat doctrine and opt for a heat-seeker, given the range, closing angle, and aspect.    

The flares – standard phosphorous-based rescue flares – were seen by the Aphid’s seeker head, but ignored due to their high frequency range, one the seeker had been designed to avoid. The missile raced in, homing on the hot gasses training from the C-130’s engines. Coming in from almost directly above, the missile aimed for the broadest area of infrared glow, which occurred where the exhaust flow began to spread out in the C-130’s wake. The Aphid bored through the hot gasses a hundred feet behind the C-130, just outside of the range of its warheads’ proximity fuse. Inside the C-130’s cockpit, they heard the crack from the supersonic missile’s passage, and the dull thud as it detonated a few feet above the sea behind them.

“Fighter pulling up, half a mile behind us, closing fast!” the agitated copilot yelled.

General Bradson glanced at his navigational screen and could see the marker denoting the fishing boat’s last known position, a mile ahead. He wished they were closer, but hoped it would do. They were out of time. “Now,” he told Felecia.

Felecia keyed in the final number ­– they had used 1-2-3 so it would be easy to remember – and nearly a mile ahead, the modified digital answering machine took note of the code, and sent a signal down a wire that was normally connected to a relay that controlled a memory chip. In this case, it was connected to an external relay, which sent a pulse of power from a battery into two detonator caps, each attached to a stick of dynamite. Stacked around the dynamite were ten barrels of gasoline. 

The sudden bright flash of the fireball directly ahead caused the General’s night-vision goggles to flare: he’d forgotten to take them off. Ripping them away so that he could see the instruments, he checked altitude – three hundred feet – and banked hard left, towards the Omani coast.

Half a mile away, the fireball, plainly visible to the incoming MiG, faded away, leaving sheets of flame on the surface of the sea as the last of the gasoline burned. The fireball, coming so soon after his missile had exploded, gave the MiG’s pilot a thrill of victory; he thought he was seeing the burning remains of his target. His radar had a major limitation in fire-control mode; it could track only one target at a time. The C-130 had been directly in line with the fishing boat, and the radar had shifted lock to the larger target that had flared dead ahead: the flying pieces of metal barrels, plus the debris of the sheet-metal awning that had sheltered them, whirling through the air. One by one, the pieces splashed into the warm waters of the Gulf, and the radar return ebbed and faded out.   

The MiG raced over the fishing boat’s fiery grave, heading southwest, while the C-130 raced at full speed southeast, heading for the tip of the Musendam Peninsula, now only five miles away. The few passing ships in the area were far enough away to be of no concern. 

“What if that fighter comes after us before we make the coast?” Felecia asked.

With an affected casual shrug, General Bradson replied, “Then, we probably die. However, we’re about four miles out now, inside Omani airspace, and that fishing boat should confuse it for long enough. There are some deep canyons, almost like fjords, that start right at the coast. If we can make it into those, we’re safe from their radar. Three miles now, that’s well under a minute.” General Bradson flipped his night-vision goggles back down into place, and in them, he could see the coast ahead, and altered course by a few degrees, aiming for a gap in the ridgeline.

“Fighters coming in, three of them, your side, high!” the copilot yelled, having chanced to look past General Bradson.

The General whipped his head around and looked to his left, seeing the three pairs of white dots – the heat from the MiG’s engines – as they tracked to his left. “They’re heading for the fishing boat, we should make it,” he said, wondering if that was true. He shoved the nose down, leveling off barely sixty feet above the water, hoping that the ridge that was now just over a mile ahead would shield them from the searching radars by generating ground clutter.

At the last possible second, he yanked the nose up, climbing to clear the two-hundred-foot ridge by thirty feet, and diving again, banking to the right over the bay on the far side, turning south. “Welcome to Oman,” he said with profound relief.

The Iranian MiGs circled the guttering flames for a minute more, before being ordered out of Omani airspace by their ground controllers and sent to resume their barrier patrol. An Iranian gunboat was sent to investigate the presumed downed aircraft, but by the time the ruse was discovered, it would be far too late. Flight Three had escaped.

 

 

General Bradson kept as low as he could, casting an occasional nervous eye on his now-blank radar detectors.

 “Fel, we’re about twenty miles from Flight Two. Let ‘em know.”

Felecia did as she was asked, and the four men of Flight Two raced down the dirt road, dropping glow sticks to mark a centerline.

Flight Three’s landing was routine, or as routine as such a thing can be, under the circumstances. Taxiing to a halt by Flight Two, the General left the engines idling and said, “Let’s get her fueled up, we don’t have long before sunup and we still need to cross Saudi Arabia. I’d prefer not to try that in daylight.”

The one thing that General Bradson had not counted on was that The Scar had given very specific orders, accompanied by the promise of a million dollar bonus apiece to the men of Flight Two. While some of Felecia’s men rigged the fuel lines from the bladders in Flight Two to Flight Three’s almost-dry tanks, three of the men from Flight Two came aboard Flight Three. They tried to appear casual and friendly, as if enjoying the reunion with their fellow troops, but Horst was not so easily fooled. To his eye, their too-casual stroll towards the cockpit was a giveaway. Getting up, he waited for them to pass, and then aimed his AK-47 in their direction before saying, “Halt. No one approaches the cockpit. Felecia’s orders.”

Turning to see Horst and, more to the point, his gun, the three mercenaries each decided to put their mission of assassination on hold. A million dollars was of no use to a dead man, they all knew. Raising their hands, palms out, the three men smiled, and one said, “No problem, Horst. We just wanted to congratulate her.”

Not buying the excuse, Horst nodded agreeably. “There will be time for that later, in Sudan. There is no time now. Return to your aircraft, at once.” The barrel of his assault rifle flicked momentarily to his left, and that was all the prodding the three would-be assassins needed. Single file, they walked meekly past Horst and exited the aircraft via the cargo bay ramp. Horst watched them go, and then entered the cockpit, where he gave Felecia a full report.

Felecia nodded, immediately realizing that if Horst was correct, then The Scar somehow knew that the General was still alive. Looking Horst in the eye, she said in a quiet voice, “Get the fuel bladders onto this aircraft as soon as they are empty.” She turned to ask General Bradson, “How many do we really need?”

“They’ve got ten… at least five should have been empty by the time they got here. We can make do with three, but four would give us a cushion if you can manage it.”

“Horst, get a detail together to move four empty fuel bladders. We’ll say… We’ll say we took some damage to a fuel tank. Show ‘em the bullet holes in the aft fuselage if you need to. Tell ‘em we need the bladders in case we have to transfer fuel, because we aren’t sure the self-sealing wing tanks will hold and might start losing fuel.”

Horst nodded once. His loyalty was to Felecia, and so his reply was an easy one. “You can count on me for anything. You know that. I will see to it.” 

It took thirty minutes to transfer the fuel, and by the time it was done, Horst had four empty bladders lined up in a row down the centerline of Flight Three’s cargo bay. He had detailed a few men he felt he could trust to keep a quiet eye on the men of Flight Two, but the would-be assassins had made no overt moves. However, they had, from the privacy of their aircraft, reported to The Scar. 

Flight Two took off first, air-starting the engine that had been damaged in Somalia. Flight Three took to the air two minutes later, and both aircraft, one after the other, flew due south, staying low to avoid radar, as they left the small enclave of Omani territory and entered United Arab Emirate airspace. They continued south, staying in the mountains, roughly paralleling the Emirate-Omani boarder, until they entered Saudi airspace at the northern edge of a region known –for good reason – as the Empty Quarter. There, staying low, they turned to fly due west, on a direct course for northern Sudan.

Over the Red Sea, Felecia told the copilot to leave for a while and take a break. As soon as he was gone, Felecia asked, “I need to know exactly what you have planned. If I don’t approve of it, I’m going to drop you and the jarheads off at that Egyptian resort I told you about.”

Taking a deep breath, General Bradson said, “I need to get you, your men, and your cargo to a safe place, and arrange for your men to be paid and then given safe passage out. But before that, we need to find an alternate fuel source. We obviously can’t go to Scar’s base in Sudan. We have the range, barely, to make it to the southeast corner of Libya. There’s an airfield there, Kufra, used mainly by the oil industry. It’s hundreds of miles from anywhere. We should be able to either buy or steal fuel and be away before the Libyans can send anyone after us. Those fuel bladders will give us the range to get where I have in mind. Now, how much is Scar offering you and your men?” Felecia answered the question, and General Bradson let out a low whistle. “He does pay well, doesn’t he? Assuming he actually pays, that is. Okay, we’ll round that up just a little, make it a nice round number for each of you. Going with me, you get paid right away: no waiting around for some auction or a bullet in the back of the head from your charming employer. Before we go any further, I need to find out if I can pull the money together. Let me have my phone back.”

Felecia handed it over with a warning: “Make no mention to your friend about our cargo, or the U.S. Military is going to be hunting us with everything they’ve got. I’m guessing he has to be either in the military or the intelligence agencies, and–”

Shaking his head, General Bradson cut Felecia off to say, “It’s not him I’m calling. Yeah, given what we’re carrying, he just might tell people who would order us blown out of the sky. I’ll be circumspect as I’ll be talking over an unencrypted line, but I have to let her know what this is about. Trust me, Fel. That’s my son back there, I’m not going to put us in the crosshairs, okay?” The General was dissembling slightly and he knew it. He’d been willing to kill them all, if need be, to keep the nukes out of The Scar’s hands. Felecia knew that, but trusted that the General would only do that as an absolute last resort. The General explained a little more of the history behind his idea, and Felecia at last nodded her consent.

General Bradson dialed a number from memory, and waited until the cell phone at the other end answered. “Hey there. This is your old friend who tried to fix the family feud in Idaho. How have you been?” the General said in a casual voice, hoping that Helen would pick up on the fact that he didn’t want to give his name.

It was well after midnight in La Palma, and Helen, concerned because of the volcano’s near-constant rumblings, had not yet fallen asleep. It took her a moment to figure out who the familiar voice at the other end of the line belonged to. She immediately understood that he was avoiding using any names, but thinking that he was calling as promised to let her know about his son, Helen said, “Good to hear from you, Charlie. So, how goes the family reunion?”

General Bradson grinned at Helen’s response, which made it clear that she’d figured out that they needed to be circumspect. “The accommodations sucked, so we decided to blow the joint and head for home.” Felecia heard that and began to laugh. The General continued in a more serious tone, “How are things with you? Are you still on the island? I heard you were having a bit of trouble with a volcano.”

“Yeah, we’re stuck for another couple of days. The airport is closed due to ash,” Helen said.

General Bradson, well aware that everything was riding on Helen’s response, said, “I’ve got a little situation here and I’m afraid I need a rather large favor… a short term loan, just for a few days.”

Helen began to stutter a little when told of the size of the favor, and was about to decline in no uncertain terms when the General said, “Helen, remember what was going on when I first visited you at the ranch? It’s happening again and I need your help to prevent it. If we don’t pay the people I’m with, things could well end up the exact same way. I guarantee that you will be reimbursed within a few days, and I will provide collateral worth far more than the loan, but this is of the utmost importance.”

The strange, vague conversation came to an end when the General said, “I’ll be in touch in a few hours, but I need your agreement now. You will have collateral, up front, that much I can promise. I’ll also guarantee that this will be the best PR you and the group could ever have. Better than last time.” 

Helen’s mind raced. Shock, mixed with dread, left her hands shaking. It was the General’s assurance of the situation, combined with his promise of collateral for Instinct that made up her mind. She swallowed once as she thought, ‘We can do without the PR, if getting it means going through anything like what we went through the last time.’

Still half-thinking that it was all some bizarre dream, Helen replied, “I can’t swing that alone. I’d need the boys. Call me back in a few hours, but yes, if I have your word and if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, and the collateral is sufficient and in advance, I’ll get this done.” 

“You have my word of honor. Discuss it with them alone and in person, don’t trust the phones. I can’t stress enough how critical this is. Goodbye for now,” General Bradson said, hoping that what he’d just said was the truth.  

Helen listened as the drone of engines in the background was replaced by silence as the call disconnected. Stunned, she closed her cell phone and returned it to its place on her nightstand. She stared at the phone for a few moments, picking it up, opening it, then with trembling hands returning it roughly to its place, hoping that somehow it was indeed all a dream, until Barbra’s drowsy voice from the other side of the bed asked, “What’s wrong, hon?”

“If I’m really awake and that call really happened, plenty.” Helen checked her clock, and then said, “I’ve got to call some banks, then I need to get the boys to sign off on one fucking hell of a loan. By the time I have the banks lined up and the paperwork faxed over, it’ll be breakfast time. I’ll tell the boys then, no point in waking them now. They’ll think I’ve flipped, and they’ll probably be right.”

In the years they had been together, Barbra had seen Helen in many moods, but never, not once, had she seen her partner rattled, which Helen most clearly was. Barbra’s business was a successful one, so she asked, “How much do you need? Maybe you and I together could cover it­–”

“Thirty million dollars and I need it in a few hours,” Helen replied numbly.

“I guess not,” Barbra replied, and then, as Helen explained, Barbra’s eyes grew wide in shock.

“…otherwise General Bradson sort of said, in a roundabout way, that we’d have nuclear bombs in our cities, like last time,” Helen concluded, not fully convinced, and reassuring herself that he had promised acceptable collateral, even if he hadn’t mentioned what. 

Helen worked feverishly, making what arrangements she could, given the hour and the still-temperamental phone system. The fact that European banks were involved helped; they would be opening in time, due to their time zone. The brokerages in New York were a different matter; two had 24-hour banking, which allowed Helen to put the deal together. Then, together, Barbra and Helen decided that Helen would pledge their home in Bel Air as collateral, but there was no time for a formal loan. She would pledge it to Instinct, via a promissory note and quitclaim deed, along with her entire investment portfolio, to cover half of the risk they’d be taking at her behest.

 

 

Fresh out of the shower, Eric checked with the resort employee he’d arranged to rent a car from. Finding everything still in order, Eric chewed on his lip, and then decided to just be honest. He dialed Jansen and Keith’s suite.

To Eric’s relief, it was Keith who answered. Taking a deep breath, Eric said, “Hi Keith. Don’t let on it’s me. I have a kind of a favor to ask. I was thinking that maybe Jansen and I could go to the airport together, just the two of us, to make it a date. If you still want to go with us great, but I was just thinking, and thought I’d ask if you’d mind­–”

Listening to Eric’s awkward words, Keith tried his best not to laugh. “No problem, I wanted to spend some time by the pool anyway. Besides, if you drive like you dance, I’m safer here with the volcano. Could you let me borrow your laptop, so I can get some business stuff done? I need to make some notes, get some ideas written up…”

Relieved, Eric said with a chuckle, “You weren’t supposed to let on it’s me.”

“Janse is in the shower,” Keith said with a laugh.

“I’ll be over in a few minutes, and I’ll bring the laptop,” Eric replied, and then hung up. Then, his mind turned to picking something to wear for his first real date. Drawing a blank, Eric picked up the phone again.

“Help,” he said, as soon as Chase answered. 

Five minutes later, Eric let Chase into the suite. Chase took one look at Eric, who was wearing nothing but a towel, and said with a smirk, “Either you still can’t make up your mind what to wear, or you’ve decided to wear nothing. Which is it?” 

“Smart ass… Come on, help me, I want this to be right. It’s our first date,” Eric replied, leading the way towards the suite’s small closet.

Chase, who had the best fashion sense of any of the Instinct members, glanced in Eric’s closet. Seeing Eric’s usual collection of T-shirts and shorts, Chase said, “You don’t have much to choose from. I guess you didn’t bring much. Brandon and I didn’t either. Okay, first, tell me what you’ve got planned for this date. A formal breakfast, lounging around the pool, what?”

Eric gave his brother an awkward shrug. “Not exactly. Don’t tell Helen, but I rented a car from one of the resort staff. We’re going to the airport, but we’ll probably do some sightseeing after.”

“You do remember that the airport is closed right? Because of the ash, which is most everywhere on that side of the island?”

Eric rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I know, I know. I just want to go talk to the pilots of our planes. They dropped General Bradson off somewhere, and he’s disappeared. I’m worried about him, so I want to find out where they took him. I felt I’d have better luck going in person.”

“So, my brother’s idea of a great first date is taking his new boyfriend through a volcanic wasteland, to a closed airport, to look for a missing Air Force general, who isn’t even here…

Eric laughed. “When you say it that way, it sounds like a bad idea… Come on Chase, help me, please?”

Chase began flicking through Eric’s closet, and soon had a few selections. “Okay, try these. Cargo shorts, a low cut black tank top, and a short sleeve shirt, leave it unbuttoned.”

“Thanks Chase. Okay, I gotta hurry; he’s probably waiting for me.”

Happy for his brother, Chase smiled, and before he left he said, “Just be real careful about the ash and stuff, and try to relax. Remember, dates are supposed to be fun.”

Five minutes later, his laptop under his arm, Eric combed his hair for the seventh time that morning, and then tapped on Jansen and Keith’s door. 

Keith opened the door, and Eric handed him the laptop as he walked in. “It’s set up for the resort’s Wi-Fi, but it’s been really intermittent lately, probably due to the volcano. The front desk said the ash is playing hell with the phone lines. The account password is octopus.”

“Thanks. I just want the word processor so I can write up some ideas I have for decorating the club, and some ad layouts,” Keith said, ushering Eric into the suite.

Eric came to a halt as he saw Jansen coming out of his room. Jansen was wearing shorts and a sleeveless white T, and Eric loved the look. “Hi,” Eric said, suddenly realizing that Jansen might not know they were going alone, on a date.     

Keith had, after some prodding, spilled the beans to Jansen a few minutes before, but Jansen was unsure whether Eric was expecting him to be surprised. After a long pause, at a loss for what else to say, Jansen said, “Hi.”

Rolling his eyes, Keith said with a laugh, “Gotta love the high level of discourse around here. So get lost already and let me get to work.”

Sharing a laugh, which eased the tension, Jansen and Eric headed for the door. Just before they left, Keith said, “Have fun, guys.” After the door closed, he set the laptop up. While waiting for it to boot, he thought about Jansen and Eric, finally letting go of his lingering reservations. He could see that their feelings were mutual, and with that thought, he set to work writing up some advertising layouts.  

 
 

© 2009 C James

Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.

Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"  

 

Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.

Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. 

A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice. 

Special Credits go to our Favorite Amphibian, MikeL, for advice on artillery terminology. 

Any remaining errors are mine alone.

 C James' Home

Chapter 1
Wedding Bells
Chapter 2
Mission to Idaho
Chapter 3
Pursuits and Auditions
Chapter 4
Islands in the Sea
Chapter 5
Expeditions
Chapter 6
Travel Plans
Chapter 7
Laying the Groundwork
Chapter 8
Telluride
Chapter 9
Train Wreck
Chapter 1O
Dance with the Devil
Chapter 11
Morning Serenade
Chapter 12
Departures
Chapter 13
Falling to Earth
Chapter 14
Prelude to Battle
Chapter 15
Worth a Thousand Words
Chapter 16
Surfer Strip Show
Chapter 17
The Show Must Go On
Chapter 18
Errors of Omission
Chapter 19
Revelations
Chapter 2O
Explanations
Chapter 21
Surprises
Chapter 22
Prelude to Ragnarök
Chapter 23
Unseen Eyes
Chapter 24
Confrontations
Chapter 25
Satan's Own Thunder
Chapter 26
The Scorpion and the Frog
Chapter 27
Drums out of Darkness
Chapter 28
Blood and Time
Chapter 29
Ignition
Chapter 3O
Feelings
Chapter 31
Wings of Fire
 
Chapter 32
A Favor to Ask
Chapter 33
 Rendezvous'
Chapter 34
 Miscommunications
Chapter 35
 Special Delivery
Chapter 36
 Convergence
Chapter 37
 The Best Laid Plans...
Chapter 38
 Fallen
Chapter 39
 Zeus Triumphant
Chapter 4O
 Trapped
Chapter 41
 Pushing the Limits
Chapter 42
 Passion in the Dark
Chapter 43
 Nemesis
Chapter 44
 Countdown to Ragnarök  
Chapter 45
 Ragnarök  
Chapter 46
Out of the
Frying Pan...
Chapter 47
Fatal Mistakes
Chapter 48
Desperate Measures
Chapter 49
Falling
Chapter 5O
Refuge and Allies
Chapter 51
Changing the Game
Epilogue