A Matter of National Security
After nine years as a Navy SEAL, Mike Stone suffers a minor injury halting his Navy career in the prime of life. A few weeks later a mysterious billionaire convinces Mike that his country needs his skills once again, only this time there are no rules. Mike and his mentor, retired Navy SEAL Ben Travis are sent on an adventure across the country and halfway around the world, to stop terrorists from annihilating two major American cities with stolen nuclear weapons.
Ref. No. 130103th
Length 65,539 words
From The Book
A Matter of National Security
The violent, fiery explosion was deafening inside the cramped quarters of the small cockpit.
“Oh, shit!” shouted the pilot, rapidly scanning the dark sky, “Where the hell did that come from?”
The pilot desperately fought to control his mortally wounded craft, as the Apache AH-64D Longbow attack helicopter slowly pin wheeled downward. Burning pieces of the tail rotor assembly and vertical stabilizer continued to break off, flying wildly in all directions. A trail of smoke made a wispy corkscrew pattern against the background of a dark indigo blue sky.
The pilot’s question was quickly answered by the telltale white trail of a shoulder-launched rocket propelled grenade. The pale smoke gradually arched downward toward the shooter’s hiding place in a cluster of boulders on the dark valley floor, some six hundred feet below.
It was a hundred-to-one shot, made in the dark, which made it closer to a thousand-to-one. A cave-dweller with rotted teeth and a primitive weapon had brought down a twenty million dollar United States Army attack helicopter outfitted with almost every advanced electronic gadget known to man.
The Apache could fly one hundred eighty miles an hour, out-maneuver enemy missiles, see through walls in the dark; or put a Hellfire missile through a window in a stone hut at a range of four miles. But tonight it fluttered helplessly, like a wounded bird, as the uninviting rugged terrain below loomed ever closer.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!” yelled the co-pilot, the distress call travelling at light speed across invisible airwaves in the darkness of early morning. “Archer One, this is Longbow six; we are hit and going down!”
Radio static crackled annoyingly in the co-pilot’s flight helmet.
“I repeat Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! Archer One this is Longbow six, we have been hit by enemy ground fire and we are going down. Do you copy?”
“Copy, Longbow six” the welcome reply was loud and clear, “I have your coordinates six, stand-by for extraction instructions.”
“Roger Archer One, we are standing by… ”
Several seconds passed as the Apache continued its slow death spiral. The silence was interrupted, “Six, estimate extraction team arrival at your location by zero six hundred, copy?”
“Copy that Archer One, zero six hundred. Hope we’re still around.”
“Hang on guys; we’ll have you home in time for breakfast. Archer One out.”
The distress call ended just as the Apache slammed down hard and skidded sideways on the uneven ground in a large cloud of dust. The right landing gear was torn off, and the fuel tank ruptured. The whirling main rotor blades smashed against the jagged rocks on either side of the doomed aircraft, the shattered pieces careening into the darkness of night.
As the twin eighteen hundred horsepower General Electric gas turbine engines whined to a stop, all electronics in the cockpit simultaneously shut down. The pilot and co-pilot were suddenly enveloped by total darkness. The potent Hughes M230 thirty millimeter chain gun and Hellfire missiles were rendered inoperative and totally useless.
The pungent odor of fuel was heavy in the air; and a thick trail of smoke rose from the mangled tail section. As the dust settled around the Apache, a resounding silence slowly shrouded the demolished craft and its two badly shaken occupants.
“Are you okay up there?” asked the pilot.
The co-pilot, who doubled as the Apache gunner, gave a ‘thumbs up’ from the forward seat, and answered, “I think so. You’ve made better landings”, he said jokingly in a semi-sarcastic tone. “How about you?” he asked.
“I think my leg is broken”, the pilot responded gravely. “We need to get the hell out of here before this bird blows or catches fire, or the bad guys find us. We’re a couple of sitting ducks. Can you give me a hand?”
“The canopy is jammed”, the frustrated co-pilot said as he punched the canopy release switch and pulled the jettison handle repeatedly. He pounded on the glass, “I can’t get the damned thing to open, it won’t release.”
The pilot grimaced and shook his head, as he scanned the dark landscape through the heavy windows which now imprisoned them. “I guess we’ll have to wait it out. I sure as hell hope that fuel doesn’t flash; if it does we’ll be in some serious shit.”
A crescent shaped quarter moon hung low in the clear western sky; and although the stars shined brightly, the night was quite dark. The location of the Apache was partially concealed by the rocky terrain, but both flyers knew it was only a matter of time until they were discovered by the enemy. They could only wait, and hope the rescue team found them first.
Less than one mile to the north, Hamid Salam Azimi was excitedly telling his sleepy eyed Taliban comrades his tale of shooting down the American devils in their war machine. At first they thought he was joking; but his persistence and sincerity became more convincing with each passing moment.
Hamid explained how the disabled helicopter had crashed into a rocky gorge only a few hundred meters from his hiding place, but he was fearful of searching for the wreckage alone.
The members of the group glanced at each other for a sign, and slowly nodded their agreement that Hamid was telling the truth. A few moments later, the small band of Taliban fighters took up their weapons and began to move quietly on foot in a southerly direction, toward the downed Army helicopter.
Thirty four miles south of the Apache crash site, United States Navy Lieutenant Michael Stone was gently awakened by the barracks duty sergeant. The sergeant knew about Stone and his fearsome reputation as the leader of a group of highly skilled trained assassins. He therefore took extreme care, as if waking a sleeping Grizzly bear. After years of catching quick naps in undesirable situations Stone was a very light sleeper, and immediately sat up on his bunk.
The Army Sergeant said quietly, “Lieutenant, you need to assemble your team immediately. There’s an Apache down somewhere north of here. We’ve lost contact with the pilots. A Blackhawk is warming up on the pad. You and your team will be briefed on board.”
Six minutes later the battle ready six man Navy SEAL team led by Lieutenant Stone trotted at a double-time pace toward the waiting Blackhawk. This would be their eighty second mission together. They had been an invincible force on three different continents for the past three years.
Four months earlier they had been dispatched on a special assignment to the beaches of Somalia on the eastern coast of Africa where they rescued five Americans who had been taken prisoner and held for ransom by pirates. The team’s highly effective midnight raid resulted in freeing the captives completely unharmed and the swift elimination of the dozen pirates who held them.
Two months before the Somalia raid they had undertaken a highly classified CIA mission into the jungles of Columbia to eradicate the powerful leaders of a drug cartel. The plan had worked flawlessly; and three drug lords along with two dozen of their guards were eliminated and their drug operation destroyed, temporarily curtailing the flow of cocaine traffic northward.
Tonight, as the team quickly climbed inside the heavily armed Blackhawk and strapped in under the whistling whine of the main rotor blades, none of them suspected this would be their final mission. The pilot made a final check of his passengers; and a few seconds later the Blackhawk lifted off, turned north, and vanished into the night.
Lieutenant Michael Stone opened his blurry eyes and squinted, trying to focus on the stark white ceiling above his bed. The bright light hurt his eyes. He turned his head slightly to the left and was instantly punished by a sharp pain stabbing his inner ear, causing him to wince.
He tried reaching upward with his left arm and was met by a second jolt of pain from his shoulder. Relaxing his arm eased the discomfort, and he allowed it to gently return to the sterile white sheet. His chest felt tight, and he found it difficult to breathe deeply. A careful downward glance revealed heavy bandages covering his ribcage, and extending upward over his left shoulder. He had some difficulty focusing his eyes, and his head was throbbing.
Mike decided a physical inventory was in order and slowly began to move different parts of his body. He began with his right arm and hand; then he slowly wiggled each of his fingers. Thankfully there was no pain. He slowly moved his feet, first the right then the left, followed by each leg in the same order. Everything appeared to be working properly, although his joints were stiff and sore. He touched his face with his right hand and slowly explored his head, relieved to find no wounds or bandages.
“You’re awake”, declared a distant, somewhat fuzzy sounding voice. “Glad to see you made it. You had me a little worried.”
“What is this place? Who are you?” Mike asked groggily, turning his head slowly to the right, in the direction of the voice.
Army surgeon Major Roger Whitfield stepped a few feet closer and answered, “I’m Doctor Whitfield, and you’re being cared for in a CASH unit… a combat support hospital, twenty klicks from where you were picked up three days ago.”
“Three days? Where’s the rest of my team?” he asked, anxiety in his voice.
His worst fear became the doctor’s response, “I’m afraid you are the sole survivor. And frankly I’m amazed that you’re alive. You should be dead, Lieutenant. You had two bullet wounds in the chest very close to your heart, and a third in your left shoulder. You nearly bled to death.”
Stone closed his eyes in a private moment of grief, then quietly said, “I think there’s something wrong with my left ear, it won’t stop ringing; and I have a mother of a headache.”
Whitfield replied, “It looks like you have a punctured eardrum. Maybe from a bullet fragment; or it could be some kind of concussion trauma. I’ll get you something for the pain.”
Mike slowly turned his head and stared at the ceiling for several seconds, trying to sort out how he had come out of the explosive firefight alive while the others perished. He was the team leader, the man who made the decisions how and when to fight. He was responsible for their safety and their lives, and he had failed them. He closed his eyes, thinking back to three days earlier, and the pre-dawn ambush northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Compared to many others, the mission had seemed like a walk in the park. Locate a downed Apache helicopter and extract the two Army flyers before they were killed or captured by the Taliban. Intelligence had estimated enemy strength in the area at or near zero. This was obviously a blunder of devastating proportions, as they had sent a highly trained Navy SEAL rescue team directly into a Taliban trap. And the two Apache crash survivors were in fact already dead, having been executed half an hour before the enemy ambush.
The sun had just peeked over the mountains to the east as the six man SEAL team moved in a northerly direction on a dry river bed. They were concentrating on a thin line of smoke in the distance which they believed to be coming from the downed Apache. It was still several hundred yards in the distance, bearing due north. The team cautiously rounded a bend and moved into a wide, sandy flat area with a complete absence of cover. A few seconds later, the all too familiar distinctive clatter of AK-47 rifle fire shattered the silence in the early morning air.
Soldiers call confusion in battle ‘the fog of war’; and even the most experienced force can be overwhelmed by it. This fateful morning, as the first rays of dawn streamed across the valley floor, the infamous fog of war settled oppressively over the small courageous group of SEALs. They found themselves hopelessly trapped on the barren river bed.
The sixty-gunner, Davey Martinez was hit by the first volley. A single round struck him in high on the left cheek below the eye and exited the right side of his skull behind his right ear, killing him instantly and spraying blood over his five teammates. He fell backward onto the sand as bullets whistled around them, the heavy M60 machine gun coming to rest across his chest. Lieutenant Stone dropped his Colt M4 rifle, recovered the potent twenty three pound M60, and from a kneeling position opened-up with a fierce barrage in the direction of the enemy position. The Taliban force was well hidden in a large rock formation some forty yards away.
The remaining four SEALs immediately opened fire on the attackers, who had the advantages of higher ground and good cover. It was difficult to tell how many there were, although muzzle flashes seemed to be coming from a dozen or more crevices in the rocks.
Adam Fisher, known as ‘Ace’ to his SEAL team and friends had called in the urgent message, “Taking heavy enemy fire” to the extraction helicopter which was standing by less than a mile away. Ace Fisher died a few seconds afterward in a hail of enemy bullets. A moment later, his ammunition exhausted, Lieutenant Stone was hit by three rounds, and toppled backward onto the sand.
As fourteen Taliban combatants closed in on the helpless warriors, the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter came in fast and low over the foothills from the south. The Blackhawk opened fire at a devastating rate of sixty rounds per second with its pylon-mounted machine guns. Suddenly trapped on open ground themselves, nine of the ambushers were killed instantly, and four others mortally wounded. The lone survivor, gushing blood from a shoulder wound, dropped his weapon and ran for his life. He quickly disappeared into one of the many granite crevices.
The pilot sprayed the rock outcropping with a final three second burst, and sat the Blackhawk down only a few yards from the fallen SEAL team. As the pilot vigilantly scanned the rock formation for any new threat, the Blackhawk crew quickly recovered the four dead and two wounded SEALs, and gathered their weapons.
The Army helicopter lifted off the blood-drenched sand of the river bed and turned south, heading toward a small Army hospital base a few miles outside of Kandahar. The fifth SEAL team member, ‘Buffalo’ Bill Trent from Buffalo, New York died of multiple wounds and blood loss on the floor of the Blackhawk just before it landed. This left only Lieutenant Stone, still unconscious and barely alive.
Stone was quickly moved inside the small combat support hospital where he spent the next two hours being stabilized, undergoing a thorough examination and having each of his wounds cleaned and dressed. All three of the 7.62 millimeter rounds which struck him had fortunately passed completely through his body without striking any vital organs, but he had lost a great deal of blood. The next twenty four hours were critical. The doctors felt if he could only survive until the next day, he had a chance.
Stone rubbed his eyes with his right thumb and index finger as his thoughts returned to the present. Major Whitfield had returned, and stood at the side of the bed injecting a small syringe into the intravenous drip line. Within a few seconds, Stone began to feel drowsy, and the pain subsided. His eyes were becoming heavy; as he groggily glanced in Whitfield’s direction.
Whitfield grinned and said, “Morphine, much better than aspirin. Sleep tight.”
Just before noon nine days later, Lieutenant Michael Stone was airlifted out of Afghanistan aboard a Boeing C-40A Clipper military transport with forty nine other wounded veterans. His final destination was Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California, more than eight thousand miles away. From there he would be transported to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego for testing and further evaluation to determine his future as a Navy SEAL.
After three courageous years of covert assignments in the war ravaged Middle East and various other locales, Navy Lieutenant Michael Brandon Stone was reluctantly going home.
“Mister Stone?” the caller asked.
Mike Stone responded, “Yes, who am I speaking with?”
"Do you still love your country, Mister Stone?” the caller asked in a monotone voice.
"Who the hell are you?” Mike asked in a firm tone.
"A friend and patriot, as I believe you to be sir", the man replied; then continued, "and I believe you and I together can make a difference.”
“What kind of difference? What are you talking about?” Mike demanded.
The caller answered, “Defending America from her foes in a manner suitable to your liking, Mister Stone; without political interference or bothersome rules of engagement."
“Suitable to my liking isn't legal", Mike responded flatly.
"Of course it isn't", the voice replied, "but that's the point. A messenger will arrive at your door with a package in sixty seconds. Please consider the contents carefully. I sincerely hope we can work together Mister Stone."
The line went dead, leaving Mike Stone with a puzzled expression, his mind racing to its deepest recesses, trying to identify the mysterious caller's voice. He felt certain he had never heard it before.
The doorbell of the modest townhouse rang. Mike waited for several seconds then quietly opened the drawer on the dark oak hall tree and removed the nine-millimeter Glock which resided there. He carefully peered through the peephole in the door to a wide-angle view of an empty street. Gun in hand at his side, he pulled the door open. No one was there.
A medium sized manila envelope lay on the welcome mat at his feet. He bent down and picked it up, noting it had no markings other than his name neatly printed on it. A quick glance in both directions revealed nothing, and he closed the door.
Mike replaced the Glock in the hall tree drawer and opened the envelope. It contained only one item in a standard clear plastic case; an optical storage disc commonly known as a DVD. There were no markings of any kind. He stepped to the DVD player, inserted the disc, and turned on the television. A few seconds passed, and a pleasant looking middle age man seated behind a large mahogany desk began to speak.
“Hello Mister Stone”, he said, “My name is Victor Weldon Shaw, and I have a proposal for your consideration. I have become, shall we say, disenchanted with the manner in which our country is being protected by those who are presently in power. I will soon be making some changes to help correct these politically influenced shortcomings; and I am hopeful you will allow me to enlist your assistance.”
Mike watched intently as Shaw continued, “There are things we need to discuss privately Mister Stone; some of which you may find hard to believe. Given the current political structure of the country, and the fractured and possibly irreparable state of Washington at this time, I have made a decision to move forward with something you may find both satisfying and lucrative.”
Victor Shaw continued, “I have followed your career for some time and I believe you are the best person for the job. I have a Gulfstream G550 standing by at Lindbergh Field. It will be leaving San Diego, with or without you, at six o’clock this evening. I have asked my pilots to wait on the tarmac near the south end of the main terminal until that time. You need not bring anything with you, as I will have you flown back to San Diego immediately following our meeting. I sincerely hope you will make the flight. Thank you for your time Mister Stone.”
The image faded to black. Mike pressed ‘stop’ twice, then ‘play’, to replay the video. Nothing happened, only a blank screen stared back at him. The disc had erased itself. He switched off the television and sat glaring at his own dull reflection, wondering what Victor Weldon Shaw had on his mind. He glanced at the clock on the wall. It read four thirty-five pm, giving him an hour to decide and still make it to the airport.
Mike remembered the mysterious Mister Shaw stating he had a Gulfstream G550 waiting at the airport, a business jet with a fifty million dollar price tag. He opened his laptop computer and logged onto the Internet. He typed the name ‘Victor Weldon Shaw’ in the search bar and clicked on the search button. After a few seconds, a picture of the man on the DVD appeared along with a full page biography.
Victor Weldon Shaw was reported to be a sixty two year old entrepreneur with over two hundred business interests in more than thirty countries. He also owned homes in many parts of the world including a castle in Scotland. He employed tens of thousands of people around the globe, and had an estimated net worth of nine point eight billion dollars.
Victor Shaw ranked number seventy four on Forbes list of the top one hundred richest people in the world. The piece went on to say that Shaw had lost his wife of thirty two years to cancer a year earlier, and he had no children. Mike scowled angrily at the computer screen, wondering what Shaw’s interest in him was.
Since his discharge from the Navy three weeks earlier Mike Stone had isolated himself in his home, wondering what to do with the rest of his life. For the very first time he felt helpless, sad and terribly alone. Loneliness was an unfamiliar and unwelcome emotion. He missed his Navy SEAL team members very much. The thought that he would never see any of them again was almost unbearable.
Mike glanced again at the clock which read five twenty five pm. He decided he had nothing to lose by listening to what Shaw had to say. He hoped he wouldn’t be asked to assassinate an American politician, although the thought had crossed his mind as soon as Shaw mentioned ‘political shortcomings’ and the ‘broken state of Washington, D.C.’.
Mike briefly considered bringing the Glock, then decided against it. He was deadly in hand-to-hand combat, and could handle himself without a weapon in almost any situation. It was also doubtful Shaw had any motive other than to sell him on his plan, whatever it was. He selected a black leather jacket from the bedroom closet, and walked through the kitchen to the door leading into the garage.
He tapped the large button on the wall; opening the garage door and revealing one of the few things that still made him feel good. He opened the driver’s door of the nearly showroom condition jet black 2002 Camaro Super Sport, slid his six foot two inch frame into the black leather bucket seat and turned the key. The powerful V-8 engine rumbled to life under the hood of the car destined to become a classic.
At five fifty pm Mike pulled up to the security gate in the high chain link fence and was surprised to see it swing open allowing him to drive in. The gleaming white Gulfstream was parked only 100 feet away. A portly security guard motioned for Mike to roll down the window.
“Michael Stone?” the guard asked.
Mike nodded; slightly surprised the man knew his name.
“You can park your car right over there next to the guard shack. I’ll keep an eye on it. I’m here all night”, the guard said, adding, “They’re waiting for you. See you when you get back.”
Mike wheeled the Camaro into the space nearest the guard shack as instructed and walked toward the elegant looking Gulfstream, slipping on the jacket as he made his way onto the tarmac. A loud roar shattered the cool evening air as a Southwest Airlines seven thirty seven went to full throttle on the runway. Three more passenger jets waited their turn behind it at the south end of the runway.
For the first time in weeks Mike was beginning to feel as if he may have some purpose in life again. He stepped onto the short stairway, took the steps two at a time, and disappeared into the doorway of the Gulfstream.
The blue Pacific Ocean sparkled like a million tiny diamonds in the fleeting rays of daylight. The Gulfstream smoothly banked left over the crystal clear water below, gradually increasing speed and altitude. Mike watched through the small cabin window as the familiar landscape gradually surrendered to the blanket of oncoming darkness far below. The sleek jet continued to bank left until finally settling into an east by northeast course. Mike unfastened his seatbelt and looked around the cabin at the saddle colored leather seats and mahogany tables. After all the time he had spent in military aircraft, the Gulfstream was like an evening at the Ritz Carlton.
When Mike boarded the Gulfstream, the pilot who introduced himself as Scott Carlson had politely asked him to take any seat he liked and buckle-up as he closed the cabin stairway door. Mike had noticed an attractive woman in the co-pilot seat busy with the pre-flight checklist. She was now standing in the flight deck doorway and began moving in Mike’s direction. The pretty lady had shoulder length dark brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a white blouse and black slacks. Mike guessed her age to be about thirty.
“Hi Mister Stone”, she said cheerfully, extending her hand. “I’m Jessie McBride. Can I get you anything from the galley?”
Mike shook her hand gently and said, “I’m fine, thanks. Please call me Mike. Are you allowed to tell me where we’re going, Jessie?”
“Sure Mike, you’re not a prisoner!” she laughed, “Northeast of Winslow, Arizona. Mister Shaw has a small ranch there, slightly over two hundred thousand acres. He calls it the O.K. Corral”, she said with a grin.
Mike’s eyebrows rose slightly, “He has a sense of humor?” he asked.
“Yes, he has a great sense of humor”, Jessie answered, adding, “He reminds some people of former president Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t even born yet, but I’ve seen a lot of the videos and heard the stories about Reagan’s jokes and jelly beans, and I can certainly see the resemblance.”
Mike nodded slowly, “That’s very good to know. Thank you, Jessie.” He slowly exhaled, breathing a quiet sigh of relief.
“Well, back to work”, Jessie said, smiling cheerfully. “Make yourself at home. Drinks are in the ‘fridge in the galley if you change your mind. We’ll be landing in about forty minutes.”
Mike suddenly felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Given the reported personality of Mister Shaw it was highly doubtful he would be asked to assassinate anyone. Ronald Reagan had been a hero to Mike’s father, and consequently a hero to his schoolboy son Michael as well.
Mike Stone’s father Robert was a career San Diego police officer. He had raised his son with the deepest respect for America; and in doing so instilled a tremendous sense of pride and love of country in the boy. Mike recalled several evenings at the dinner table as his father discussed the many ways things were changing for the better under the guidance of their new president.
At a time when the country desperately needed a hero, Ronald Reagan had come to rescue America like a knight in shining armor. After four bleak suffocating years under the liberal leftist Jimmy Carter and his cowardly pacifist ideology, the country was in grave danger. The military had been decimated by defense spending cuts, leaving America vulnerable to attack by her enemies. Fuel prices soared, inflation reared its ugly head, and businesses suffered because of historically high interest rates. The economy teetered on the brink of disaster. In typical left wing fashion, the inept Jimmy Carter blamed it all on America.
And the biggest insult of all to the American people was the Iran hostage crisis. The bungling Carter administration did almost nothing when fifty two Americans were incredibly abducted from the United States Embassy in Tehran, and held prisoner for a total of four hundred forty four days. Iran released them all only a few moments after Ronald Reagan was sworn in, knowing America’s new leader would not tolerate such renegade actions against the United States from a backward third-world rogue nation.
Reagan understood the way to keep the country safe was through strength, not weakness. The only thing that aggressive nations feared and respected was a military power superior to their own and a leader willing to use it. To countries like Iran, wishing to negotiate with your enemy was a sign of cowardice, which invariably resulted in an emboldened aggressor, and a lost cause.
Reagan set America back on course, and greatly improved her military strength and security in a dangerous world. He backed down from no one, and instantly became the courageous leader the country was crying out for. He restored economic prosperity and won the hearts of the American people. He defeated the Soviet Union without firing a shot, bankrupting the Russians in a cold war arms race. He restored respect for America throughout the world. If the mysterious Victor Shaw was anything like Ronald Reagan, Mike was certain he would like him.
Mike suddenly noticed the familiar presence of an uncomfortable tightness in his left shoulder, which had become commonplace during the past few weeks. He returned to his seat and began rotating his fully extended left arm, first forward, then back in several small circles in an effort to relieve the stiffness. The wound was completely healed, as were both chest wounds, but the stiffness remained. He was told it might be as long as a year before what the doctors called ‘maximum medical improvement’ was attained. It had only been two months.
His left ear was a different story. The Navy doctors had told him the eardrum may never heal properly; but aside from some hearing loss, discomfort and mild tinnitus, he would enjoy an otherwise normal life. The past few weeks had been anything but enjoyable or normal.
The ‘otherwise normal life’ injury prevented him from continuing in his role as a Navy SEAL; the calling he excelled at, the job he was born to do, the thing that he loved. To Mike the eardrum was a ‘sissy’ injury, which fell into the same category as a paper cut or ingrown toenail. He tried to convince his superiors he was still fit for any mission they could throw at him.
Regrettably, the United States Navy did not see it that way. They recruited, trained and retained only the fit, only the best of the best. Only those who would absolutely never pose even the slightest threat to their team or mission due to any type of physical impairment. Physical perfection had always been the number one qualification, only the first step in the demanding process of becoming one of the military’s most elite warriors.
Mike understood of course, but did not like the decision. He sometimes wished he had lost an arm or leg so he could justify the dismissal in his own mind. Nine years of flawless service to his country was being disregarded because of military rules. There was no formal appeal process, no complaint department, and no second chances. He was simply finished as a SEAL.
Mike had been offered alternative duty stations, including a plush position at the Pentagon working in covert operations as an advisor to the CIA. Many naval officers in his position would have jumped at the chance; but there was nothing he wanted to do for the Navy except be a SEAL. After weeks of frustration and disappointment, he became bitter and resentful, and resigned his commission as a naval officer.
He stared out the cabin window into the cold empty darkness of night. Thousands of feet below, the faint lights of Flagstaff, Arizona twinkled like distant stars through a thin cloud cover. The Gulfstream began its decent, making a slight course correction to zero six-five degrees.
Forty miles ahead, the six thousand foot runway which had been constructed specifically for the Gulfstream and similar aircraft awaited their arrival. The low intensity runway edge lights had been on for several minutes.
Several thousand feet below the frigid air sweeping over the smooth silhouette of the Gulfstream, the heavy oak door of the library in the ‘O.K. Corral’ opened. A man named Hunter Reese stepped through the doorway. His employer and good friend, Victor Shaw, was seated behind the same mahogany desk that Mike Stone had seen in the video a few hours earlier.
“Ten minutes, Mister Shaw”, said Hunter.
Shaw smiled and said, “Thank you, Hunter. Please show him right in when he arrives.”
The landing was silky smooth. The Gulfstream came to a gentle stop halfway down the well maintained runway and turned left. Scott Carlson taxied onto a parking area obviously designed for the private jet just a few yards from the residence. He turned the plane so it faced the runway, then shut down the two Rolls Royce jet engines.
Jessie grinned at Mike and said, “See you shortly.” Mike smiled and nodded, and trotted down the steps.
Hunter cordially greeted Mike at the bottom of the stairway, his right hand extended.
“My name is Hunter Reese, Mister Stone” he said. “I’m Victor Shaw’s executive assistant. He’s waiting for you in the library.”
Mike shook hands and nodded, “Mike Stone” he said, “Nice to meet you.”
Hunter Reese stood slightly less than six feet tall and had an average build. He had dark hair, graying at the temples, and soft features. His blue eyes showed slight ‘crow’s feet’ at the sides, indicating a lifetime of smiles and laughter throughout his fifty four years. He wore round gold rimmed eyeglasses; and was dressed in Levi’s and a Pendleton shirt with a black string tie. A pair of expensive jet black Marcela cowboy boots completed his attire.
Hunter first met Victor Shaw when the billionaire purchased a small chain of men’s stores which Hunter had managed for three years. The owner had passed away unexpectedly, and the heirs wanted nothing to do with the business. Shaw had been able to purchase the company at a bargain price. He immediately saw Hunter was the one person holding it together. After a year, the two men became close friends. The following year, Shaw offered Hunter a position as his executive assistant. Reese jumped at the opportunity. That had been twenty one years earlier.
The two men walked up the three large wooden steps leading to the wide porch and heavy oak double front doors with stained glass inlays. It was difficult to tell at night, but the massive two story ranch style home appeared to be at least twenty thousand square feet.
An enormous rock fireplace thirty feet wide was located on the west wall, extending upward some eighteen feet. A warm wood fire crackled in the fire pit. Dramatic picture windows were strategically located in the north and east walls. A polished rosewood staircase some twenty feet wide allowed occupants access to the second level. Several strategically placed potted plants and trees complimented the huge room.
Hunter crossed the room with Mike close behind, and opened the door to the library. Victor Shaw stood in front of a dark brown leather sofa. He wore casual gray slacks, an open collar white shirt and a forest green cardigan sweater. The familiar mahogany desk sat in one corner of the room. Hundreds of books filed neatly on oak shelves lined two walls of the room. Another rock fireplace ten feet wide, with its softly glowing fire, occupied the remaining wall.
“Mister Stone”, he said extending his hand, “I’m Victor Shaw. So glad you could make it. May we offer you something to eat or drink? Would you care for a sandwich, coffee or possibly an adult beverage?”
“Pleased to meet you, Mister Shaw”, Mike said as he shook Victor Shaw’s hand, “Maybe just some water, thanks.” Shaw glanced in Hunter’s direction.
Hunter turned and walked out the library door as Victor Shaw motioned toward one of several matching brown leather wingback chairs scattered around the room and said, “Please, sit.”
Mike nodded and sat down, not quite knowing what to expect next. A moment later a man dressed like a chef appeared with a crystal pitcher of water and two glasses on a tray. He sat it on the large coffee table, poured a glass, and handed it to Mike, who smiled and nodded once more.
“Thanks Jimmy” said Shaw, “I think that will be all for now.” Jimmy smiled and nodded, then closed the door behind him leaving the two men alone in the comfortable surroundings.
Shaw began, “Do you know how hard it is for a civilian like me to recruit a Navy SEAL in his prime Mister Stone?”
“No sir, I’ve never tried to recruit one”, Mike replied, “but I’d imagine it’s fairly difficult. Would you please call me ‘Mike’? ‘Mister Stone’ makes me uncomfortable.”
Victor grinned at the remark and said, “Okay, Mike, I’ll tell you. It’s nearly impossible. A hundred-to-one shot at best. Consider the circumstances which brought you here tonight. A unique chain of events, however unfortunate they may seem; which neither of us could have possibly envisioned three months ago.”
He paused for a moment, and continued, “It’s almost as if destiny played a role. Do you believe in fate, Mike?” he asked.
Mike shook his head, “I don’t know what I believe in anymore. I’ve been a little confused for a while now. I don’t mean to be rude Mister Shaw, but where is this headed?”
“Fair enough”, Shaw began, “I’ll get right to the point. I invited you here to offer you a job. Not just any job, but one made for you; as a ‘civilian’ SEAL. Doing what you do best, but without the usual obstacles. You are a highly trained professional, with a set of skills only a handful of men possess. I am willing to pay handsomely for those skills; and to further provide unlimited financial resources in support of any mission you may be asked to undertake. All in the interest of national security, exactly what you have been doing for nearly a decade.”
Mike responded, “I’m not a mercenary, Mister Shaw. You could hire all the merc’s you want just by picking up a couple of magazines at a news stand.”
“Mercenaries work only for money”, Shaw replied, “Men who don’t necessarily love America or any other country for that matter. They are a cut-throat lot without a shred of loyalty to any cause or country, but only to themselves. Mercenaries are just as willing to work for a drug lord as they are for a saint, as long as they are well paid. They are nothing more than modern-day pirates and thugs, and I’ll have nothing to do with them.”
He continued as Mike listened, “You sir, on the other hand, are a patriot in every sense of the word. Everything I have learned about you and your family and friends over the past two months confirms it. I hope you will not think less of me for looking into your personal life; but I felt it was necessary in my selection process.”
Shaw continued, “Feel free to jump in and correct me if I’m wrong. Duty and the defense of your country is your highest priority. You have never failed to complete a mission, until the last one, which was no fault of yours. You have faithfully served your country on three continents, destroying enemies of the United States without question or hesitation. You have never left a dead or wounded comrade behind; and you obviously have the spirit of a warrior. To my mind, you sir, are the right man for the job.”
Mike asked, “Why not run for president yourself, and change things from the White House?”
Shaw smiled, shaking his head and said, “I honestly cannot imagine why anyone wants that horrible job. No matter what you do, half of the country hates you, and the other half only tolerates you until the next election. Your every move is subject to worldwide scrutiny; and you are criticized at each and every turn, often by people pretending to be your friends.”
He paused to pour a glass of water, took a sip, and continued, “You must also become an Oscar caliber actor, as you will spend most of your days shaking the hands of people who hate you. And your nights are wasted attending boring dinners and cocktail parties with people whose company you only pretend to enjoy.”
Shaw continued, “You are forced to align yourself with some of the world’s most unscrupulous characters, supposedly in the name of freedom and democracy. And after four years of this lunacy, if you are still insane enough to go on, you are further punished by having to run for re-election. And it begins again. And regardless of what you may believe you have accomplished after eight of these blissful years in office, the next president will probably just undo it all.”
Shaw summarized, “And, as if that isn’t enough, you need the entire Secret Service, forty four hundred people, protecting you because so many people want you dead. No thanks, Mike, I’ll continue to enjoy my obscurity. Politicians are a curious and especially demented group. They are often so consumed by their unbridled lust for power that they lose their sense of right and wrong, and what is really important in life. Not at all what the Founding Fathers intended.”
Mike grinned and nodded. He took a long drink from his glass and turned his thoughtful gaze toward the fireplace, watching the yellow and orange flames cast dancing shadows on the wall.
He looked back at Victor Shaw, and a strange feeling of comfort suddenly flowed over him like a warm shower. Jessie had been right about Victor Shaw. He had a certain charm and a genuine warmth which set people at ease, just as Ronald Reagan did.
Mike liked him very much, and felt certain he was being completely honest. There was no dark hidden agenda or sinister ulterior motive. He was simply an American patriot concerned about the welfare of his country. But unlike tens of millions of other apprehensive Americans, Shaw had the money, power and connections to actually make things happen.
What Victor Shaw was proposing sounded almost too good to be true; but was it? Mike believed he could trust him, and what other motive could Shaw possibly have? He appeared to share Mike’s unwavering love for America; and his distrust and disgust with the broken political machine in Washington was also apparent. Shaw seemed not only sincere, but was obviously gifted with a common sense approach to things. Mike agreed with virtually everything Victor Shaw had said.
There was really no decision to make. Mike could fly home and forget the whole thing, and go on moping around for the rest of his life. Maybe he would be lucky enough to find some other line of work he enjoyed. Or, he could simply go on to the next level… take a leap of faith.
“Okay Mister Shaw”, he said, “How does this work?”
Victor Shaw smiled and said, “It’s very simple, Mike. Just like the Navy, you will be on call twenty four hours a day, although you may not hear from me for weeks or months at a time. I will inform you when I learn of threats to America. We will collaborate on how best to proceed. I will give you as much help as possible in mapping out a strategy. You tell me what you need to stop the threat, and I will provide it.”
“You’ll supply me with anything I need?” Mike asked.
“Anything I am able to obtain”, Shaw replied. He elaborated, “You select any additional personnel you may require; as well as weapons, transportation, surveillance equipment, or anything else you feel necessary.” He continued, “There are no rules, Mike. Our relationship is one of complete trust. I am not concerned with how you stop a threat, only that you do stop it. And there is some urgency tonight, as one is brewing at this very moment.”
About The Author
I am a retired finance executive with a desire to be a commercially succesful writer of fiction thrillers. I have written two other(published) novels; and feel A Matter of National Security is my best work to date.
Copyright 2013 – 2014, Del Cundiff