Chapter 3

1 Day Ago

Approximately 24 hours before Roland began descending into the catacombs that lay beneath the Santa Maria church in Rome, General Clint Crenshaw wondered what type of unholy hornet's nest he was asking his team to dive into based on direct commands that emanated from the White House. But before he spoke to Roland, top brass wanted to chat with Crenshaw because they were being fairly particular about who was selected for the mission, and to what degree they would be willing to keep their mouths shut.

The General slid a brown accordion file folder with the word “CLASSIFIED” stamped on it across the desk to Max Regan, the United States Undersecretary of Defense. Regan's black hair was parted perfectly to the side and lacked the faintest trace of gray, despite the fact that the senior official was rapidly approaching fifty. He had that all-American Ken-doll look but sure seemed like one fidgety fellow, Crenshaw thought while watching Regan’s hands shake as the Undersecretary grabbed the folder.

“We’ve been told that these are the best Special Forces soldiers the U.S. military has to offer,” Regan said. “More importantly, General, is the fact that you strongly believe that because of their training they can undergo severe levels of torture and would rather die than divulge any intelligence that could compromise the security of our country. Would that be a fair characterization of these people General?”

“Yup,” Crenshaw replied. Awfully peculiar question, Crenshaw thought. He didn't like the sound of what this paper-pusher had told him about the mission so far. It didn't make sense why the DoD wanted his team to go on an archaeological dig in Rome to find a piece of jewelry and search for a supposedly already dead priest.

Regan's story sounded so fantastical that the General thought he must be bluffing or hiding some ulterior agenda. Or perhaps this new Administration that took over a year ago, which was stock full of liberals, was either clueless or deranged. He feared the nation's security might be in the hands of a dysfunctional cabal of radicals who'd read one too many Dan Brown novels. Because of this Administration's strabismic vision, instead of focusing on an already full plate that included Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea, the U.S. military is diverting resources to what amounted to occultist boondoggles.

Regan began furiously scanning the contents of the file that included the profile of each member of DELTA BLACK, the Special Forces unit that Crenshaw had created ten years ago. An outfit that hardly anyone knew existed. Not even guys like Regan. Thus, giving Regan access to this file was a huge deal, and Crenshaw had been reluctant but was forced to do so by the Defense Secretary himself, Rolfe Spencer.

Regan reviewed the papers intensely until his face scrunched up, apparently interested in some finer detail. His eyes grew smaller, darting back and forth across the document until he stopped abruptly, shook his head and grimaced.

“These people sound like a bunch of psychotics,” Regan said.

Crenshaw snorted as he leaned back in his chair, removed his thin gold-rimmed sunglasses, stuffed a stubby cigar into the side of his mouth and began relentlessly chewing on it while he rubbed his perpetual five o’clock shadow. Men like Regan would never understand how critical it is to find natural born killers, hone their skills, and position them properly as military assets.

“That’s cuz they are. Likely certifiable if ya ask me,” Crenshaw said and put on a knowing grin.

Crenshaw propped one of his boots on the edge of Regan’s desk which seemed to give Regan pause because he was obviously agitated by Crenshaw’s insouciant mannerisms. And Crenshaw just bet that his Texas drawl must grate on Regan’s nerves, repugnant to the Undersecretary’s urbane sensibilities. Crenshaw loved rattling civilian empty suits like Regan, and he especially loved how they underestimated him as just some country bumpkin. Little did they know Crenshaw was tops in his class at West Point, but more importantly, folks like Regan could not even conceive of the type of intellect required to survive for nearly forty years in the military. One had to be pretty damn smart and resourceful to avoid getting killed during three tours of Vietnam and three decades as a Special Forces operator.

“Your leader,” Regan said, as he nodded down at a file photo of Roland Ronovich, “it says he was court-martialed for manslaughter but the file provides no other detail.”

“Oh, yea, that…,” Crenshaw said, “well, sure, ya see he was tried in a court of law but never found guilty. And any documents 'side the one in your hand that even reference the court case are dust 'n the wind.”

The side of Regan’s mouth twitched and then he glared at the General. Crenshaw resumed.

“I’ll admit that Captain Ronovich got a wee bit carried away there in Iraq...he get a lil pissed when a suicide bomber went and made the mistake of killin one of Roland's best friends. When the firefight was done, Roland tracked couple of them enemy combatants back to a buildin on the outskirts of Baghdad...and although that boy was severely outnumbered, crazy sumbitch threw himself through a window and used every piece of weaponry on him to kill anythin and everythin ...not one Iraqi soul walked outta that joint alive."

“Were there civilians involved?” Regan asked.

“Well, um, no, it wasn’t that. I guess the big wigs thought Roland crossed the line when he tied up a few and shot em execution style. And then, when he ran out of bullets Roland slashed their throats from ear to ear.”

“How many people did he kill that day?” Regan asked.

As Regan squirmed Crenshaw sat up and took the cigar out of his mouth, withdrew a lighter and decided to actually light it. He leaned back and blew two puffs of smoke into the air.

“Thirty-four,” Crenshaw said dryly.

Crenshaw waited to let the body count sink in as Regan froze with a blank stare.

“They were goin to discharge him for mental insanity, but the army shrinks concluded that he was absolutely in a sane state when he done what he done. They diagnosed him as a cool, calm, collected psychopath. But the good news is, he’s our psychopath.”

“How’d he get out of it?”

“Well, he got lucky. I caught wind of this guy right when I had a special job needed to be done. He was perfect for Special Ops and perfect for the team I was assemblin.”

“Says in his file he was a Harvard drop-out. That true?”

“Yup. Ain’t that somethin? Said he couldn’t be in no ivory towers when there was so much killin to be done.”

Regan cringed. He then looked down at the file and started to read aloud.

“Three tours of Iraq. Three Bronze Stars. One Silver Star and five Purple Hearts,” Regan read and then looked up. “And why do they call him the Ghost?”

“Well, it's cuz this boy can get in and out of any two coordinates in the world that you give em, kill his target, and get out seamlessly. Heck, one of his first assignments was to assassinate Prime Minister Alahabi and-.”

“That was him?” Regan asked with surprise, cutting the General off. Prime Minister Alahabi was the first supposed U.S. ally the administration planted to run Iraq. It turned out Alahabi was not only corrupt, but was in bed with terrorists.

“Yup. Imagine poor Mr. Alahabi wakin up one mornin, taking a shower, brushin his teeth, then openin up his wardrobe to fetch himself a suit. And boom. A Delta operator pops out and laces one into his forehead.”

“My Lord…,” Regan gasped.

“And now me, you, Roland and, may he rest in everlastin peace, Mr. Alahabi, are the only ones who know bout that little caper.”

Regan breathed in deeply and then pointed to a picture of a red-haired behemoth with a bushy goatee that looked like a professional wrestler.

“Jack 'Hammer' Shane,” Regan said. “Now, this man is actually a convict…served three years for reckless homicide. Thought we didn’t allow ex-cons in our armed forces.”

“We don’t,” Crenshaw said with a smile.

Crenshaw relayed to Regan that Shane had been actually arrested three times since he dropped out of college, twice for grand larceny. The manslaughter case was for strangling a man while he was already in state prison serving a sentence for hi-jacking an 18-wheeler. He went to the University of Alabama on a football scholarship but partied a bit too hard, got sick of the books, and wanted to do something more exciting, thus found the Navy Seals and then DELTA BLACK.

Next, Regan showed Crenshaw the image of a beautiful black woman in her mid-thirties. She wore a determined look on her face that was nearly a snarl.

“Interesting,” Regan said. “Now, tell me about Sadie Summers. A woman in Special Forces?”

“She is one wicked bitch, man. I wouldn’t tell her that directly because she can be a feminist-Nazi type and would probably kick me right in the nuts. She’s brilliant though - graduated from Stanford and then Cal Tech. She knows four languages, including Arabic, and is a genius with information systems. She has the longest legs I ever saw, and could easily be mistaken for a runway model when she’s out of uniform. Difference being that most runway models couldn’t kill a man with their bare hands in less than six seconds.”

Regan raised his eyebrows and his mouth went ajar, clearly unable to disguise his awe.

“This next one,” Regan began with a quizzical look, “you recruited him from the British SAS? And he's a doctor of not only Physics but Psychology?”

“Yessir. Cambridge grad too. Every detachment requires a psy-ops specialist, and Doc Ion, that’s what we call him, could brainwash a man within a few hours if he wanted to. And he’s like a MacGyver, making impromptu bombs out of sticks and bubble gum and shit. I recruited him directly myself after I worked with the SAS on a couple special missions.”

Crenshaw and Regan then discussed the profiles of Tao Recoyama, Russ Logan and the team’s pilot, Jay Jarrett, codename J-Bird. Regan was amazed at the fact that Reco, DELTA BLACK’S reconnaissance expert, had been recruited from a mythic assassin group from Japan. Russ, a good old boy from Tennessee who joined the marines right out of high school, was an award-winning sharp shooter and actually won the marine sniper competition two years in a row. That was all he needed to do to get Crenshaw interested. Finally, there was J-Bird, who looked like a typical California frat surfer dude but was one of the best young pilots the Air Force had ever seen, at least in Crenshaw’s opinion. When it was all said and done, Regan seemed genuinely impressed with the team’s diverse set of skills.

“Now, I’d like to ask you a question or two,” Crenshaw said. “What makes this medallion so invaluable that we’re riskin the lives of my team?”

Regan smiled gently and nodded, succumbing to Crenshaw’s quid pro quo.

“This might be hard to believe, but if we do not accomplish these objectives in short order, retrieve this object and contain the power it can potentially unleash, the fact that our national security is endangered will be the least of our problems and the understatement of the ages. What is at risk here, General, whether you can swallow it or not, is mankind's existence - at least as we know it today."

"Hmmm...," was Crenshaw's only response, as he clenched his jaw and peered into the eyes of Regan. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, and Crenshaw could not tell if this was just more DaVinci code bullshit or if Regan was telling the truth.

“What, is it some type of nuclear time bomb?” Crenshaw asked.

“No, it has nothing to do with nuclear materials actually, and it's not so much about wiping each other out, although we will experience the annihilation of humankind on a level we've never seen. My point is, it's not harnessing the ability to conquer nations and destroy life that concerns us the's the fact that whoever controls this power might have the ability to conquer death.”

At a gut level, Crenshaw sensed that Regan was not bluffing. Of course, he would never admit to anyone in a million years, but the paper-pushing empty suit just gave the old soldier a chill.

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