Authors: Basil Sands
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Espionage
Training Zone Bravo
Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
Sergeant Choi Ho Kil looked at the small digital display in his gloved hand. He studied the numbers that glowed softly on the screen and did some quick calculations in his head. Choi’s excitement grew as he realized the detector worked just the way he had designed it.
“Captain Park!” he whispered hoarsely into the microphone that hung on the front of his white balaclava. “I think we have found it, sir.”
Captain Park came out of the shadows toward the sergeant. The bulk of his hooded white parka made the captain look like a polar bear cub running on its hind legs. Park took several bounding steps across the four-foot-deep blanket of snow that covered the landscape, white nylon-covered snowshoes keeping him on the surface of the powder.
“What do you see, Sergeant?” asked the captain as he flipped up the eyepieces of his night vision goggles and looked at the small electronic device in Choi’s hand.
“The scanner is picking up the chemical signature very heavily around here, sir. It can only be the real thing. Look at the line here, sir. It indicates the fissure is right in front of us.”
“Excellent!” declared the captain, satisfaction evident in his voice. Sergeant Choi had found the location surprisingly fast. The information given by their field operative was extremely accurate. This boded well for the mission’s success.
“The general will be very pleased,” he said, clapping a hand on the sergeant’s shoulder. “But you, Ho, you will be the most rewarded. Your diligence and clear thinking made it all possible. I am going to recommend you for promotion to officer.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Choi replied, barely able to conceal his pride.
Joining Z Detachment was the best thing I have done. I can finally live with some measure of comfort. Maybe I can even have private quarters in the barracks. This assignment has truly been worthwhile.
Captain Park spoke swiftly into his radio. A dozen other white-draped forms made their way forward and knelt in the snow before their commander.
“Team one, set up security here. Team two and three, we will begin excavation immediately.”
The four-man groups split up and began their respective tasks. The members of team one spread out into the surrounding foliage of willow, alder, and white paper birch. They formed a security perimeter about thirty meters in diameter. White-clad soldiers armed with sniper rifles concealed themselves among the trees, facing the points of the compass. All approaches to the site were under observation. They checked fields of fire and settled into the cold snow for their shift while the other two teams set to work clearing the snow from the area Sergeant Choi pointed out.
“Work quickly, men. We must get down to the surface fast and find out if we can get in.”
Emergency Operations Center
Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Safety Building
The phone on the desk of Trooper Commander Robert Stark rang only once and his hand was on the receiver, snatching it up to his ear. Silvery hair, shorn in a flat-top cut that left only a quarter of an inch on top of his scalp, sparkled reflectively in the fluorescent lights of his office on the third floor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Public Safety Building.
“EOC, Commander Stark,” he said in a blunt, authoritative voice. The muscles in his square jaw rippled as he spoke. His cold, gray eyes peered at the digital display on the phone as he read the number on the Caller ID.
“Bob, this is Eugene Wyatt. I figured you’d still be there.”
“Of course I’d still be here. Once the Emergency Operations Center is activated, I can’t leave until the whole thing is closed up and everyone’s out. Do we have the all-clear now that the lights are back on?”
“That’s what I’m calling about, Bob. Are you going to be at your office for a while?” Eugene sounded troubled.
“I’ll wait for you if that’s what you need.”
“Yeah, can’t talk on this line right now. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”
“No problem. I’ll keep the coffee hot for you.”
“We may need something stronger than that, buddy. I’ll see you in a few.”
The line clicked and went dead. Bob Stark pressed the button to reset the line. He rang his wife, Caroline, to say he would be a little later than he had originally told her. She did not need to wait up.
Caroline Stark was used to this. After thirty-one years of being married to an Alaska State Trooper, the middle-aged mother of three grown children, whom she had practically raised alone, had at times thought she wouldn’t know what to do if he actually came home at a regular time more than once or twice a month. As often as he was gone, Commander Bob Stark was lucky she had been a faithful wife through the years.
Two months past her fiftieth birthday, she was still fit and quite attractive. She did not look at all like a grandmother of five. Her well cared-for skin and voluptuous figure, large breasts, a narrow waist, and modestly round hips still turned heads when she went out. With a little dye in her salt-and-pepper hair and skillful application of makeup, Caroline Stark could easily erase twenty years from her appearance. She’d be a real hit in the bar scene.
Lord knows the chances for infidelity rose more often than he wanted to think about, especially since their last child had finished college and left home the previous year. But he knew she loved him, and he loved her. Retirement to a very lucrative pension and savings was within sight. He had promised her that once retired he would take her on a long around-the-world tour, just the two of them. Two more years—then he would be all hers.
It was eight-thirty before Eugene Wyatt stepped into the open door of Commander Stark’s spacious corner office. To the left against the wall stood several floor-to-ceiling dark wooden bookcases full of volumes of case law, state regulations, and emergency services training manuals. A large conference table, surrounded by twelve comfortable leather office chairs, stretched most of the length of the room near the shelves.
Directly in front of the door was the large, very expensive-looking mahogany desk at which Commander Stark sat authoritatively. Behind him was a matching credenza. When the building first opened four months earlier, several reporters gawked at the pricey office furniture. They tried to accuse the commander of misuse of government funds for having purchased such lavish personal equipment. Their accusations were suppressed when he produced a receipt showing he had paid for it himself with proceeds from the sale of a house.
Oblivious to the surroundings, Eugene strode in at a quick pace and closed the door. His face was grave. The look immediately raised Stark’s level of concern.
“Eugene,” said the trooper, “what’s got you so bothered? You look like someone just stole your Christmas presents.”
“Yeah, bothered is a good way to put it,” Eugene replied. “Have you still got that bottle of Drambuie in your desk?”
Stark hesitated. “Yeah, I do.”
“I think tonight warrants cracking it open.”
Bob pulled a bottle of the famous Scotch liqueur from the bottom drawer of his desk, then turned in his chair and grabbed a couple of white ceramic coffee cups that were sitting upside down on a black lacquered tray on the credenza behind him. As he poured, Eugene explained what he had found at the substation, the information from Officer Bannock, then finally Marcus and Linus’s encounter with the two suspicious men.
“And here’s the clincher; the two men described by Marcus and the others definitely do not work for us, or for any of our contractors. Just after I hung up with you, Franklin back at TVEC called me to verify that truck forty-eight had been at Magnuson’s Body & Engine shop last night. When they saw that the power wasn’t coming back on for a while, the manager told the employees to stay home. One of them went over to check for us, and found that our truck was missing. He already put a call in to the Fairbanks Police Department to report it. Their security cameras weren’t working, with the power out.”
Commander Stark leaned back in his chair, feet up on the edge of his desk as he listened. He took a short sip of the smooth, honey-sweetened whiskey and gently swished it around in his mouth as he stared up at the ceiling in thought for a moment before swallowing. He let out a breath, savoring the sweet scent of the liqueur as he exhaled.
“Damn,” he muttered. He put his feet down, sat up in the soft leather office chair, and leaned toward Eugene, placing his elbows on the desk. “So Johnson and Bannock both thought these guys seemed like terrorists?”
“That’s what they said, Bob. And both of them just spent the past couple decades hunting down bad guys like that, so I’d value their opinions.”
“Yeah, well. Sadly, police work isn’t as cut-and-dried as military work. We can’t do much on suspicion without getting ourselves in a hell of a lot of hot water. We need hard evidence, not opinions. I’ll tell my men to keep an eye out for those two you described, and we’ll find out what happened to your truck. I’ll also send a patrol car out to the Salt Jacket substation to have someone take a look around and interview that Doyon security officer. In the meantime, keep it quiet as much as possible. If there is something going on, we don’t want to spook the bad guys before we can get enough information to bring them in.”
Eugene nodded and asked, “Do you think we should call the FBI?”
“Not yet,” Bob said. “You know how the Feds operate. Those agents are so backlogged that they don’t act on anything until there’s a mountain of evidence glaring in their faces. And by that time, bodies could be starting to pile up. And, if we turn it over to them, that takes it out of our jurisdiction and we can’t touch it without their say-so. I’d really rather not have this end up sitting in a stack of cold case files that never get looked at until something terrible happens.”
“I see," Eugene said. "Well, I’ve told Marcus and the other two to keep in touch if they see anything else unusual. The Doyon fella said he’d set up video surveillance and patrol our station for a while on their rounds, since any criminal activity at our place may directly affect their pipeline as well.”
“Go home and get some sleep, Eugene,” Bob said. “I’ll get my officers working on it right away. Your favorite trooper is on tonight and patrolling the stretch to Salt Jacket, so we’ll get this thing rolling within the hour.”
“Yeah. By the
, she’s on her
to some serious recognition. The governor called me today to say she personally wants to present your daughter a commendation for the way she handled the Radcliffe case. Her investigative work busted that drug ring wide open, with enough good evidence to put half a dozen of those bozos away for life. The way she’s going, one of these days she’s gonna be sitting at this desk. Or maybe even in the commandant’s chair in Juneau.”
Eugene smiled proudly as he rose from the chair. “Yep…that’s my girl. What else would you expect? Anyway, you’ve got my cell phone number. Call me as soon as you find anything.”
“Will do,” said Commander Stark. He stood from behind his desk and reached out to shake Eugene’s hand.
After Eugene left Stark picked up the handset of his phone and dialed the dispatcher’s office on the ground floor of the Public Safety Building.
Glenda Miller answered the in-house phone. “Dispatch, this is Glenda,” she said with a pleasant voice.
Her tone was at once both direct and calming, almost pastoral. Glenda, a heavy-set woman in her late forties, had been on the job for nearly twenty years. Her workspace was full of pictures of her grandchildren, two cute little toddlers. From the small console, she fielded calls from people in utter panic as their world disintegrated in front of their eyes, shattered by events that all too often ended tragically. Her ability to calm people in the most dire of situations had saved many lives and long ago had earned her the position of lead dispatcher.
“Glenda, this is Commander Stark.”
“Yes, sir. How may I help you?”
“Radio out and have Trooper Wyatt call me on her cell phone ASAP.”
“Yes, sir,” came the response. “You’re in your office?”
“Yes. Have her call me direct.”
“Will do, Commander.”
Commander Stark hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. The springs under the seat creaked as they compressed, and he set his feet back on the surface of the desk. He replayed in his thoughts the things Eugene had told him. He mulled over the pieces of information, trying to acquire a picture in his mind of several different possibilities. Fifteen minutes later, the phone on his desk rang with the peculiar tone that indicated the call was coming from a secure cell phone carried by one of his troopers.
He picked it up and said, “Stark here.”
“Sir, this is Trooper Wyatt. You asked me to call,” a firm and confident female voice responded.
He explained to her what Eugene had told him, including incident specifics, the name of the Doyon security guard, and descriptions of the two men and their vehicle. Once done, he said, “You will also need to interview the two men at the Salt Jacket General Store. The owner, Linus Balsen, and a customer who spoke briefly with the suspects, Marcus Johnson.”
Without hesitation, she said, “Yes, sir. I’m about five miles from Johnson Road now, so I should be there in a few minutes.”
“Report directly to me on what you find. I’m heading home in a few minutes, so call my cell phone. I also want your written report to come directly to my desk. I’ll be handling this case myself.”
“By the way,” he added before hanging up, “we need to keep this under wraps, even from the rest of the command, until we get an idea of just what is going on. Understand?”
“Yes, sir. I won’t tell anyone else without an order from you.”
“Good. I’ll be waiting for your call.”