PLEASE NOTE: Incógnito Quatérno A Jackson Studder Espionage Thriller will soon be released in print.
All four Incógnito Quatérno episodes Life on the Lam and The Honey Trap and Burning Down the House and Red Pearl are NOW AVAILABLE as Amazon Kindle eBooks.
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The Fourth and Final
Incógnito Quatérno Episode
While the world slumbers in dreams of global economic partnerships, an organization of political whackjobs — The Committee — implements its macabre plot to turn the world into a nightmarish conflagration and then seize the reins of global power from civilization’s ashes.
With humanity’s fate hanging in the balance, two special operators — one Chinese and one American — work together to prevent
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NOTHING BUT THE BLUES — THE BLUES COUSINS
THAT WAS THEN . . .
“I WAITED FOR DUSTY. Thought we were goin’ over there together. Yunno . . . Otherwise I’d have been on time . . . and woulda been blown to smithereens along with the rest of ‘em,” says Frank Diago. He shakes his head. Looks down at his hands resting in his lap. At a loss for words, the whole event still so fresh in his mind. Overwhelming.
“Yeah. Could say you’re one of the lucky ones, Frank. A few more folks were down there in the parking area waiting for the tram. Otherwise, they’d have been gonners, too,” says Jack. “Soon as Dusty and I arrived we did a cursory walk-through. She goes inside the house. I walked the exterior. Everything seemed normal enough to me, except that security certainly was lax. There were folks goin’ in and out the back door without pause. I was thinking about that when Dusty came out on the back porch. I thought she was simply waving to me. Couple seconds later, I look over to my right and there’s Alec sittin’ in some beater of a car. Looks to be fiddlin’ with his phone. Only it was no phone. It was a fuckin’ detonator givin’ him trouble.”
Jack pauses. Looks around the room. Eyes vacant. Reliving the whole thing again in his head.
“Yunno, Frank, it’s still so clear to me. But back then . . . well, I turn back around to Dusty and shrugged. She’s standin’ there . . . on the back porch. Lookin’ right at me, Frank. And she knew. She fuckin’ knew, Frank. I dunno how, but she did . . . An instant later everything goes up in a torrent of flames. And poor Dusty . . . she just comes apart, Frank. Vaporized . . . right there in front of me. It was just horrible.”
“Dusty tried convincing me that the two of you were an item, Jack. You know. Romantically. ‘Cept I wasn’t convinced. Couldn’t quite figure out exactly what the two of yas were. Know what I mean?”
“We were tryin’ to fool ya, Frank. She was being your lowly assistant and me . . . I was . . . Well, I dunno . . . I was just some kinda schlub.”
“Instead, here the two of you were Black Ops the entire time.”
“Yeah. So now ya know. I first went into the old Blacklite Program back in ‘02. The aftermath of 9/11 it was. Recruited me right off an FOB in Afghanistan. They actually got my dad to come over there and deliver the news. Long before I got to know him, he’d worked as a trusted black ops guy for an eternity. By he came into my life he was our local sheriff. And me . . . I was a runaway punk kid heading for a long stretch in Deer Lodge . . . our local penitentiary. But old Sheriff Jim took me in. Adopted me. Saved my sorry ass.
“Dusty entered the program much later. I’m not sure when. Now, of course, Blacklite’s all closed down, and nobody admits it ever existed.
“Yunno, Dusty was a real pro. Totally first class. Like she was already onto us, Frank. She’d been following me around for over a week, before she surprised me that night. That’s the time when you and I were caught out in that thunderstorm down by the ballpark. She’d been following us around the entire time.
“Once we split up, I ducked into a bus shelter. The rain was pounding down and I was just sittin’ in there on the bench. Yunno, all lost in thought and tryin’ to figure out what I was gonna do next.
“And Dusty comes onto me so quiet, I never noticed. She coulda spit in my eye. Shot me in the head. I wouldn’t have had a clue. She was that good, Frank. Like smoke she was . . . which was just how it all ended for her.”
Jack stares down at his hands hanging useless like they might well belong to somebody else. Jack and Frank sit in silence, unable to speak for the longest time.
“So then,” Frank says, “I take it that it was Alec, The Italian, who blew up that
mansion. I can’t imagine what he got outta doin’ that.”
“Just makin’ a point is all. That’s Alec. He’s always been an extreme sorta guy. Yunno, we served together back in ‘91 . . . first Iraq war. Took turns savin’ each other’s lives, too. But there was nuthin’ subtle about old Alec. Most likely he was workin’ some scam on The Committee. Probably had ‘em caught between a rock and a hard place. Only they wouldn’t pay up. Yunno, with Alec it’s always about the money . . . nothin’ else.”
“Well, you’re absolutely right about that,” says Frank. “And now that the two of us are coming clean . . . puttin’ it all out there . . . lemmie bring you up to speed with what I know.”
“Sure, Frank. Let’s hear it.”
“First off, I figured out that you and Dusty were worried about me. Afraid I’d fallen for the Committee’s line of bullshit . . . along with being overwhelmed by my new career jump . . . taking over Chief’s fiefdom. However, I know how to play a role pretty well, too.
“Fact is our old friend Mike Farrago put me onto these people. They’re a whole lot more than the usual political nutjobs you find running around this town. These fuckers are way off the chart. See, there’s a whole lot more to this than you might think. It runs deep-deep and gets amazingly crazy. You’ll never believe what I think they’re trying to set in motion now.”
“Yeah, sure. I hear ya, Frank. There’s whacko nutjobs all over the place wanting to take over the country. Only these guys are a different breed. They’re actually out there killin’ people in order to get this thing uh theirs . . . whatever the fuck it might be . . . off the ground. I’m sure all this is gonna get a whole lot worse, before it gets better. And that’s if we get lucky. Yunno? And that’s what I’m talkin’ about here, Frank.”
THIS IS NOW . . .
“A FLURRY OF HEADSET static rouses Jack out of a fitful sleep. The interior of the giant C-17 aircraft is dark and shadowy, but for a scattering of red night lights. The aircraft is in a steep dive. All the equipment and jump gear affixed to Jack’s body rises up on him.
Two forty-one-foot fast-boats — Combat Assault Craft — tethered to rails are parked across from Jack’s uncomfortable bulkhead seat. Now they are alive with Navy SEALs preparing for the HALO drop.
With their target acquired, the plan calls for Jack to jump first. His last HALO jump — some twenty years ago — was into Afghanistan. Now they’re all looking at him like he’s the one who’s the rookie. Fact is he’d been jumping into the shit when most of these swing-nuts were still shitting their diapers.
Once Old Man Jack is outta the way, they’ll push out the fast-boats. At least the boat crews won’t have to worry about Jack entangling their chutes.
With their target below them sporting a radioactive signature hot enough to seemingly melt lead, they’re all wearing an additional layer of uncomfortable protective clothing. It binds and it itches. Subsequently, everyone is in a shitty mood and anxious to get this exercise over and done with.
Having been airborne some six hours, Jack figures they’re southwest of Guam somewhere.
A sudden shift in the aircraft’s attitude tells Jack they are nearly in position for the drop. The big ramp at the rear of the aircraft begins to descend, filling the cavernous interior with a brilliant light from outside. In the distance a blaze of coral blue announces the presence of the Pacific Ocean. Jack stands, stretches his arms and legs, disconnects his oxygen line and plugs into his bottled oxygen supply. During a HALO jump from 26,000 feet a myriad of things can go wrong, least of all the bends.
The jumpmaster urges Jack forward, toward the C-17’s now gaping maw. Then suddenly the aircraft shifts position and the ramp reverses direction. The jumpmaster waves Jack off. The operation’s an abort. But why?
As the blue opening slowly diminishes with the ramp’s closing, Jack spots their target vessel down on the surface spewing huge flames and plumes of smoke.
Jack waves his arms in protest, but the jumpmaster shakes him off, motioning Jack back to his bulkhead seat. Only Jack’s having none of it. He hasn’t come this far under circumstances this dire to pack it in now.
Jack edges toward the ramp. Soon it will be closed. The jumpmaster makes a move to stop him, but Jack dodges his grasp. Hitting the deck rolling, he slips through the opening and out into space.
Suddenly he’s free, in the air and alone, twisting as he falls. This is hardly the way to begin a HALO jump. The more he struggles to correct his spin the worse it becomes. Unable to distinguish up from down, the blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean’s surface blend together. His vision dims. None of this is good. It’s the worst that could happen, blacking out in the midst of freefall.
Jack closes his eyes, turns up his oxygen feed, stops trying to make sense. Ever so slowly he extends his arms and legs in an attempt to catch some air and achieve what he remembers to be a stable flight position. With eyes closed, he slowly, calmly counts to ten.
Opening his eyes, ocean and sky appear where they’re supposed to be. Only he’s closing onto the burning ship below at an alarming speed. Now it’s all up to muscle memory to find an updraft. You can’t see them. You can only feel them. All this is difficult to accomplish with all the added radiation protection he’s wearing.
And then he senses the first indication of an invisible air current around him. It hits his stomach then peters off. A slight adjustment of arms and legs puts him into the seam, where he bounces off the airflow once, twice, three times. It’s just enough to reduce his airspeed to the point where he might safely pop his drag chute without the counter-force snapping his arms and back. Jack clenches his abdominals, pops the drag chute.
BAM! His descent terminates for the briefest moment after which he releases the drag chute. Then he pops his glide chute. This should act as an airfoil he can hopefully manipulate and literally drop himself onto the target vessel’s deck. That is, if Jack can resurrect his twenty-year-old skillset.
Back in the day, he executed HALO drops all the way to a stand-up finish, nine times out of ten. Hitting a land target on the money is one thing. Usually it’s forgiving, except when crashing into trees or a rock face. Hitting a water target is entirely different. You miss and you’re in the soup with all your gear dragging you down.
Given the small size of the target vessel and the smoke and fire, safely hitting the deck is now out of the question. Plan B calls for a water landing and trying to shed his heavy gear as fast as possible.
Closing onto the ship in his final approach, Jack senses something out of the corner of his eye. Turning slightly to his left, he spies a black drone the size of a vulture riding his tail — and, no doubt about it, shooting video all the way to his splashdown.
So who the fuck’s flying this thing up here in the middle of nowhere?
With merely seconds to spare, the only logical thing is to flip this bird the bird. When you’re about to die on camera, you might as well go out with a smile on your face. Eh?
Immediately Jack is underwater, oxygen mask ripping loose as he sinks into the deep. Jack reaches down his right leg, finds his KABAR strapped there and pulls it free. In total darkness, he cuts away his flight harness. It comes apart easily. Only now he’s desperate for a breath. He feels around for the tube that used to connect with his oxygen mask. Finds the end of the tube, but it’s too short to reach his lips. And the oxygen tank, attached to his flight harness, is slipping away into the deep.
Jack twists. Lunges. Grasps the tube with both hands. Pulls and pulls the tube to his lips. Inhales. Then exhales. He needs to suck down enough oxygen to get back to the surface, but all the while, the weight of the flight gear drags him down. He sucks in a lung full. Lets loose of the gear. Now to kick and pull his way to the surface. And it’s a loong way up.
Just as the first surface light comes into focus, his lungs give out. Jack drinks the ocean. His momentum subsides. His strength abandons him. His legs and arms are paralyzed. He sucks more ocean into his starving lungs. Just as his vision fades, he spots a swarm of rapidly approaching bubbles.
What next? A tasty meal for a hungry shark, no doubt.
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