Read Force of Eagles Online

Authors: Richard Herman

Force of Eagles (5 page)

BOOK: Force of Eagles
3.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Barbara sat on the edge of the bed, looking at the sleeping man. She pulled the sheet down and studied his body—a smile appeared on her lips. “You had me worried last night, Colonel,” she whispered. “Turned out all you needed were the right strokes in the right places.”

She drew her legs up and leaned over him, resting on her left arm. Lightly, she traced a line from his forehead down his nose, across his lips and down his neck. Her tongue flicked and moistened her lips as she continued the line down his stomach. She repeated the trip.

As her fingers touched his lips he grabbed her wrist and held her hand. “There now, you awake?”

He groaned.

“Not too loud, lover. There’s a security cop come a-callin’ from the base. Says he’s got a message from the Pentagon.”

Stansell rolled out of bed and pulled his shorts on, hurrying to the door. Barbara followed him into the hall and leaned against the wall, not caring if the security cop saw her naked.

Jenkins stared a moment, then came to the point. “We got a telephone call from the Chief of Staff, sir. You’ve got to be at the Pentagon today. There’s an F-15 waiting on the ramp. Grab your flight suit and dress in the car, sir.”

Stansell bolted back into the bedroom, leaving the door wide open. Barbara didn’t move. He scooped up his clothes and ran for his apartment. Jenkins reached in and reluctantly closed the door. By the time the sergeant reached his patrol car, Stansell was ready, in flight suit and carrying his flying boots and shaving kit. In the car Jenkins twisted the key and hit the siren switch at the same time. “Duty can be a terrible burden,” he told the colonel, somehow maintaining a straight face.

The sergeant drove directly to the ramp, up to a two-place F-15D. Buzz Rutherford was sitting in the back seat. Jenkins dropped Stansell off and headed back for the condominium, for what he suspected would be a warm reception. Rank might have its privileges, but when rank was away…

“It’s preflighted and ready to go,” Rutherford said. “We’re filed and the tower is holding the Active open for us. You want the stick?” He knew the answer. He had flown with Stansell the day before and had seen a marked improvement in Stansell’s confidence and the way he was fighting the bird in air-combat tactics. Even Snake Houserman had commented on it.

Stansell’s G-suit and parachute harness were hanging on a missile rail under the left wing. He zipped on his go-faster-chaps, buckled the harness into place and clambered up the boarding ladder. His helmet was on the right canopy rail waiting for him, its oxygen hose and comm cord connected. The cockpit was ready for him. All the switches were set and the straps laid neatly open. “This must be a big deal,” he told Rutherford.

“The wing commander thinks so. He took the call. Came right from Cunningham’s office. I was working in the squadron and got tapped for the flight. Got to bring the jet back today.”

Stansell hit the jet fuel starter, cranked the right engine as he finished strapping in. Four minutes later they were airborne.

“I filed us for .95 mach,” Rutherford told him. “Should rendezvous with a tanker over St. Louis for an inflight refueling. Otherwise we land and refuel at Scott.”

“How in the hell did you get a KC-135 laid on so fast?”

“What Cunningham wants, Cunningham gets.”

*

 

The Pentagon

 

The waiting staff car at Andrews AFB had driven Stansell directly from the F-15 to the Pentagon’s River Entrance. Another sergeant was waiting and escorted him to Mado’s office.

“Rupe, good to see you again.” Mado stood, extended his hand, studied Stansell and decided that he looked healthy enough after his ordeal at the hands of the Iranians. “God, I keep hoping you’ll grow up someday.” It was a standing joke between the two men left over from when they had been assigned to the Pentagon as majors. Mado had stayed when Stansell returned to operations and flying the F-15.

“Hell, General, I’m five inches taller than Napoleon,” Stansell said. Mado towered over the five foot seven colonel and did a quick assessment of Stansell as they talked. He had to make a decision—could Stansell take the stress that would build as they went through the drill? Stansell’s hazel eyes were clear and he did look fit and trim. No nervous ticks or mannerisms to indicate instability. The colonel wore a regulation haircut and did not brush his sideburns over his ears in an attempt to hide his missing ear. He looked his age, forty-two, but not worn or haggard.

“How’s Linda and the girls?” Mado asked.

“They’re fine. We’ve separated, the divorce was final three months ago.”

“Sorry to hear that. How’s the refresher course going?”

“I’ve had problems in ACT. I was screwing up by the numbers and didn’t figure out what the problem was until last Thursday. To put it simply, lack of confidence. My flight yesterday was much better. I’ll be okay now.”

Mado nodded. Stansell’s blunt revelation of his marital difficulties and the problems he was having becoming current in the F-15 were good signs that he had it together. And it tracked with what Buzz Rutherford had told him over the phone. Stansell would do. He should be credible for the cover operation.

“General, what the hell is this all about?”

“How would you like a chance to do something about the POWs?”

Stansell sucked his breath in. Mado wouldn’t tell him any more until he bought in, committed to what was going down. The possibilities raced through his mind. It could be anything from a simple intelligence gathering exercise or operation to…His mind faltered at that end of the scale. Were the heavies making contingency plans? Or better yet, was the President thinking of going after the POWs? Rescuing them? For a moment, Stansell did not realize he had stood up. This was his chance to make it all right.

“Yes, sir, I want part of that. I’ll do
whatever
…”

“Okay, we’re going to see Cunningham. He wants to lay it out for you. This is a big one.”

They had to wait in Cunningham’s outer office. At first it amused Stansell that Cunningham would keep a two-star general like Mado cooling his heels, then it started to worry him. Cunningham had earned the nickname “Sundown” from his habit of relieving officers on the spot and ordering them to be cleared out of the Pentagon by sundown. Thule, Greenland, was considered a good follow-on assignment for those unfortunates.

What went on behind Sundown’s exterior was a mystery, except to a very few who knew him well. And to those he was a man who not only gave a damn, he couldn’t stand bureaucrats, assholes and anybody who gave less than everything they had—plus.

“The General must be busy,” Stansell ventured, surprised that Mado seemed unconcerned by the delay.

“That’s the way he works,” Mado said, closed his eyes and leaned back.

Mado had called it right. Cunningham had used most of the morning and early afternoon framing his own version of the plan and what he would have to do. He had filled two sheets of a yellow legal pad with notes. A special fire was burning in him—he wanted the Air Force to rescue the POWs. He had to prove, to himself above all the rest, that he did take care of his people. So it had to be his show. Finally he called his aide to show Mado and Stansell in.

The general motioned the two men to seats while he lit the cigar he had been rolling in his mouth and paced the floor. It was the first time Stansell had met Cunningham and was surprised that the man was so short. The general’s silver gray hair, portly build and pale complexion seemed not to go with the nervous energy that obviously drove him.

“Stansell, the President has ordered us to rescue the POWs.” Cunningham paused to watch the colonel’s reaction—a sharp nod and compressed lips.

“You’re here because General Mado thinks you can help us do that. General Mado is the joint task force commander and you’re his mission commander. Your job is to work out a detailed operations plan and put the task force together. You pick the training site and work out of there. Mado will stay here, line up the resources you need, run interference and fight off the sharks. Quite a few generals and colonels will want a piece of the action. They’ll go into a feeding frenzy if they think it’s good for a promotion.

“The President has approved our basic plan. Mado will fill you in later. But you need some guidelines to work with for your ops plan. First, keep the mission simple as you can. Second, expect to take losses—try to come up with a good estimate. Third, you need good intelligence. We’ll put you in contact with the CIA and open up the DIA for you. Fourth, you’ll get the best people and resources we’ve got. If what we send you isn’t working out, make it Mado’s problem. But keep working with what you’ve got. My aide, Dick Stevens, will get you set up. I’d suggest you start by paying a visit to Brigadier General Eichler.” The general punched his intercom. “Dick, take care of Stansell. Put him in contact with Eichler and Camm at CIA…Colonel”—Cunningham stopped Stansell before he cleared the door—“you were the last person to see Muddy Waters alive. Pay your respects to Mrs. Waters, she lives near Eichler. And get the hell out of that green bag. People around here get upset when they see a flight suit. It reminds them of what their job is.”

I hope he can do it, Cunningham thought after Stansell had closed the door.

*

Stevens took Stansell into his office and placed a series of calls, getting him a room in the VOQ at Bolling AFB and a car. “A car should be waiting for you at the mall entrance. How’d it go with the general?”

“Well, he didn’t match his reputation. I expected fire and horns.”

‘That part of him tends to surface in public. And it’s usually for a reason.” Stevens changed the subject. “I’d suggest you get changed. If you need clothes, try this place.” Stevens handed him a business card. “Your contact at CIA is Allen Camm, Deputy Director for Intelligence. I’ll set up a meeting for Monday morning. Pass and ID is waiting for you and we’ll cut you a restricted area badge. I’d suggest you work out of the Watch Center this weekend. There’s always an analyst available. I’ll clear you in.”

The colonel handed Stansell a card with Brigadier General Melvin Eichler’s phone number and address. “I’ll let you contact ‘Messy’ Eichler. A real character.”

“The general told me to pay my respects to Mrs. Waters when I see Eichler.”

Stevens took the card back and spun his Rolladex, finding another address and phone number to write down. “Most people call Eichler ‘The Brigadier.’ Keep your visit short—the man’s dying. Leukemia.”

 

 

Chapter 4: D Minus 31

 

The Zagros Mountains, Iran

 

Captain William G. Carroll, United States Air Force, shifted his weight, trying to find a comfortable position on the broken-down seat. Its padding rearranged itself and by leaning against the window the jolting, bouncing ride lost some of its harshness. He gazed out the window that was closed to keep out the dust kicked up by the front wheels of the bus as it careened down the road through the Zagros mountains of western Iran. The road and the bus were both in pitiful condition, worn out by overuse and little maintenance during the .wars Iran had been fighting with its neighbors.

He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window. It amazed him how much he looked like an Iranian and how he blended in with the people. He thanked his mother’s Armenian parents for his dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair.

The heat of summer had broken but it was too early for the winter rains and snow. Carroll calculated that the road would be impassable once it started to rain. A sudden quiet followed by moans from the passengers enveloped the bus when the engine died. It was the third time that day the engine had quit. The driver guided the bus to a halt and got out to see if he could coax it back to life. Carroll decided the Iranian driver was a much better mechanic than driver.

“Will you ever get home?” the man sitting beside Carroll said. “As Allah wills,” he replied.

The man smiled, accepting Carroll as he appeared—a young veteran of the Revolutionary Guards, made wise by his experiences in battle and his belief as a Shi’ite. He is fortunate, the Iranian thought, so many of our best sacrificed. He liked and respected the sergeant who called himself Javad. He followed the other passengers out of the bus, leaving Carroll to stare out the window at the surrounding mountains.

So much like the mountains of Southern California, Carroll thought. And like Greece. He remembered the time he had landed at Athens in a C-130. It seemed so long ago.

*

The C-130 had landed at Athenai Airport after a five hour flight from the Persian Gulf carrying ninety men and women on their first Rest and Recuperation leave from Ras Assanya. Cheers and whistles greeted the hard squeal of the tires as they touched down. Carroll had sunk back into the webbing of the parachute jump-seat and let the tension of the past months in combat slip away. He had wanted to talk to Captain Mary Hauser, the radar controller from Ras Assanya’s radar control post who was sitting next to him. He had tried during the flight but the noise on the cargo deck had reduced them to screaming at each other.

“Cheated death again.” He smiled as the engines wound down, the noise dying away.

“You surprised?”

“No,” he said, “I was looking for a way to open a conversation.”

“Why so?”

Why so aggressive? Carroll thought. He had no big-deal ulterior motive…On reflection he decided that wasn’t quite true, Mary intrigued him, he found her attractive. But he said, “Just being friendly, I guess.”

“Oh.”

Nothing to say to that but good-by. He climbed out of the Hercules and followed the passenger-services sergeant into the terminal.

Mary had watched him go, annoyed with herself for being so damn abrupt. But then…don’t be a fool, he’s probably like the others at Ras Assanya—any woman would do in a pinch, so to speak. Mary Hauser had looked at herself in mirrors for so long that all she saw was a tall gaunt figure crowned by an unruly mass of reddish brown hair.

BOOK: Force of Eagles
3.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

His Jazz Affair by Fife, Nicky
Earthquake in the Early Morning by Mary Pope Osborne
Tryst by Cambria Hebert
Kultus by Richard Ford
Kade by Dawn Martens
Mortlock by Jon Mayhew
The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton
Enigma by Buroker, Lindsay