The Final, Final (really, final?) Chapter One of Savage Investigations: the Novel
Well, here it is, the final rewrite of Chapter One: Goodbyes, I think, dare I say hope?
I’ll let you be the judge…
“Matt, we’ve been through a lot together in the past five years. Are you sure there’s nothing I can do or say to get you to sign up for another hitch?”
“Afraid not, Chief,” Matt laughed. “It’s time for me to be moving on.”
“It’s just that, well, we’ve kind of gotten used to you. What if your replacement turns out to be a jerk?”
“What can I say, Chief? I know you and the boys will straighten him out.”
This brought a round of laughter from the others seated around the table.
Chief Master Sergeant Drake Savage was the head of a highly trained U.S. Air Force Special Forces Anti-Terrorism team. Their business was to prevent, if possible, and if not, be the first to respond during and after terrorist attacks in Southern Italy. For the past few weeks, business hadn’t been very good, and that suited them just fine.
They were gathered for Staff Sergeant Matt Swanson’s going away celebration at Franco’s, the little trattoria the team had come to think of as their second home. Franco had closed the place hours ago and they had it all to themselves. He was sitting at another table away from the revelers, doing the daily receipts.
“Yeah, but are you really sure?” Savage asked. “It’s not too late. I can get those discharge papers torn up.”
“Chief, I’ve only got a week before I go back to Albuquerque to be a good cop like my brother. They’re holding a spot for me on the APD bomb squad. I’m gonna miss all you guys, but it’s time for me to move on to the next level. Besides, since our folks passed, you know that Luke’s the only family I have left.”
Having demonstrated an aptitude for Explosive Ordnance Disposal training during the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery testing process, he was the team’s EOD Specialist. Over the course of the last six years, he had devoured any updated training material and the latest techniques in bomb diffusion technology he could find. Matt had become one of the most skilled explosives technicians in the Air Force. He was proud of his many accomplishments and the rest of the team felt lucky to have him. On the job, it wasn’t just his life on the line, and in EOD, there are no second chances.
Savage raised his glass of sparkling water for a toast. Being on-call 24/7, the team didn’t drink, as they never knew when a clear head might be needed.
“Matt, you know I have to keep asking. You’re just too good to let go lightly. I keep hoping you’ll change your mind, but if you won’t, I suppose I can live with it. All I can say is, the Albuquerque P.D. had better know how lucky they are to get you.”
Savage raised his glass higher, as did the rest of the team.
“So, as much as it pains me to say it, here’s hoping you have a long and fulfilling career protecting the folks back home.”
“Hear, hear!” the team exclaimed in unison.
There was a sharp knock at the door, and Franco went to open it.
Peering through the curtain, Franco looked back over his shoulder at Savage, “I think it is for you, Drake,” he said as he opened the door.
A uniformed lieutenant and a major strode into the restaurant, nodded at Franco, and walked up to Savage, who rose from his chair, and snapped to attention. The major spoke quietly with Savage. He nodded, and then addressed his men.
“We’ll have to pack it in, boys.” He turned to Franco, “I’m afraid we have to leave, my friend. We have work to do.”
“Is okay, Drake. Just be careful,” Franco replied with concern in his voice.
Franco had a vague idea what it was that Savage and his team did. He knew they were military and their job could be dangerous. More than just good customers, over the nine years he had known Savage, it was as if he and his crew had become part of Franco’s extended family. Besides, they were excellent tippers.
The team placed a large stack of euros on the table, much more than the cost of their meals and hurried out of the restaurant. They climbed into the government van that was waiting outside.
Savage took the seat behind the driver, facing the rear door, and briefed the team on the five mile trip back to the base.
“Okay, here’s what we’ve got so far,” he began, “Italian Minister of Finance, Armando Francelli’s daughter was kidnapped from her private school in Rome early this afternoon. She’s currently standing a few feet from the curb in front of the entrance gate to the American Embassy in Naples, wearing a vest wired with enough C-4 to blow up a city block. Since this is such a high profile op, all eyes, ours and theirs, are going to be on this job. We have to do it by the numbers.”
He pulled a picture out of a file folder and passed it down.
“Meet Giovanna Francelli. Twenty minutes ago, a white van pulled up to the curb outside the embassy, pushed her out, and drove off. The gate guard took this shot right after she was ejected from the van and stumbled up towards the guard shack. No markings on the van, tinted windows, and the plates were strategically covered with mud.
“She’s technically on American soil since the grounds of the embassy extend to the curb, so it’s our job. We have to assume she’s remotely wired, and the Carabinieri have cordoned off a ten-block area surrounding the embassy. It’s mostly warehouses and office buildings in that neighborhood, so there won’t be a lot of traffic at this time of night. Fortunately, nobody’s called the news services yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
“Matt, you will disable the bomb.”
Matt studied the picture of Giovanna Francelli and winced when he saw the terror in her eyes. She looked so helpless.
“Chief, how old is this girl?”
“She’s 15, Matt, why?”
“And she got picked up how long ago?”
“Around 1330 this afternoon. What are you getting at?”
“I want to do this without the bomb suit.”
“Didn’t I just say, by the numbers? Why would you want to do that? That goes against every regulation in the book,” Savage said.
“Because for one thing, it takes 20 to 30 minutes just to get in the damned thing, and if the bomb’s on a timer, that’s time she may not have. She’s been a hostage for what, more than 10 hours now? Who knows if they fed her. She might be hypoglycemic. Another thing, that much C-4 is pretty heavy so she’s gonna be unstable on her feet. If they have it rigged to a mercury switch, any unnecessary movement will set it off. That may be why they just pushed her out of the van and left. The bomb suit itself is a scary thing, and I’m afraid it would scare the bejesus out of her. This is a delicate op and needs a personal touch. She needs to be able to look in my eyes and I want to see hers. In that thing I look like a cross between the Michelin Man and a killer robot from outer space. The last thing I want her to see is her own distorted reflection in the face mask of the bomb suit. She’s a scared little girl, Chief, and all it will take is just one false move. That much C-4 is gonna blow me and the suit to bits anyway, in addition to everything else within a two block radius.”
Savage had to agree. Behind the face shield, the wearer’s face was completely obscured. The bomb suit itself was clumsy, and the amount of protection it afforded in this case would be nil.
Against his better judgment, Savage allowed the breach of regulations. He knew he’d catch hell for it if anything went wrong, but Matt was right, the personal touch might save the girl’s life, and that would be worth a little bureaucratic butt chewing.
“All right, but you are at least going to wear body armor with a helmet cam and headset,” Savage informed him.
“Yes, sir,” Matt smiled.
Savage always led his team into the fray, but since this was such a high profile operation, he was ordered to stay behind and coordinate from the command center on the base.
They arrived back at the base and Savage said, “Do me proud, boys. Everyone will be watching.”
“Right, Chief!” they all said as one man.
Savage got out of the van and went into the Operations Command Center.
There were two armored transports loaded and ready nearby. His team climbed in and set off for Naples.
At 0137 hours, the team, sans Savage, arrived on the scene and set up a perimeter and a mobile command post.
Matt donned his helmet with the lipstick camera and microphone headset affixed to the side and exited one of the transports.
He stood for a long moment and surveyed the scene, giving Savage a chance to take it all in from the array of monitors at the console back at the command center.
Standing on the sidewalk a few feet from the curb, in front of the entrance gate, the girl looked so alone in the harsh white light of the spotlights that illuminated the embassy grounds.
Giovanna Francelli was tall for her age and a little gangly. She hadn’t yet grown into her height. She had huge brown eyes and over the next few years, would grow into a statuesque beauty, but now, unsure of herself and self-conscious, she always stood somewhat stoop shouldered, hunched over to be closer to the same height as her peers.
Crying and afraid to move, she sobbed softly.
Giovanna still wore her school uniform, a blue, green and yellow plaid, knee-length skirt and white cotton blouse. The blouse was covered by the vest of plastic explosives, and one of the sleeves was ripped. Her white knee socks were torn and dirty, and her once shiny, black, Mary Janes were scuffed. She had a bruise over her left eye where one of her captors had struck her.
Matt saw the bruise and it enraged him. He thought about the coward who had hit her and wished he could get the brute alone.
He pushed down his anger, put on his best thousand watt smile, and walked up to the girl. He stood very close, establishing eye contact, his gaze never wavering from hers. She was terrified and exhausted. He was afraid she might pass out and blow them both to bits.
He thought fast.
“Parlate inglese?” Matt asked in a soothing voice. While not fluent, he tried to at least learn enough of the local language to get by.
The poor girl was trembling.
“A little,” she half whispered.
“Heck, I’ll bet you speak better English than me,” he continued, smiling his warmest, most reassuring smile.
He took a bottle of water out of his pouch and offered her a sip. She flinched like a scared rabbit when he first touched the bottle to her lips, but she drank cautiously. He set the bottle down and reached for her hand, turning up the wattage on his smile. He held her hand in both of his, but said nothing, maintaining his focus on her eyes.
“Thank you,” she said timidly.
“What is your name?” Matt asked, knowing that it would make her think of something other than the situation.
“Giovanna. It means ‘God is gracious’.”
“Yes, Giovanna, He certainly is,” Matt agreed and closed his eyes for a moment in silent prayer, continuing to hold her hand.
Via satellite, Savage was wired directly to Matt’s helmet cam and headset. A secure link to the security cameras atop the embassy presented a full 180 degree view of the front gate where Matt and Giovanna stood, holding hands like a couple of school kids. He zoomed in with the slider switch until both of them filled the three monitors in front of him, with Matt’s helmet cam on the fourth monitor in the center of the array. This monitor was larger and had a full color display, and monitored the stress level of Matt’s voice, showing a biometric display of his cardiac functions. Savage actually had a better view of the scene and was able to assemble more information than if he were on site. Except he wasn’t there, and that troubled him.
It was hard to lead from a bank of video terminals and a headset, but the men on his team were seasoned professionals and he had the utmost confidence in them.
“Boys, let’s get everybody out of that building,” Savage ordered. The team sprang into action.
At that late hour, there was only a skeleton crew working in the building. They were escorted out and to a safe distance two blocks away, loaded on buses, and transported to safety.
A few minutes later, the team had set up a staging area 20 yards from the embassy entrance gate. They set up an eight-foot tall polycarbonate blast shield, surrounding Matt and the girl. In the event of an explosion, the polycarbonate would contain the force of the blast, which would theoretically geyser straight up and not out to the sides. Just outside the door of the blast shield was an explosion-proof bin mounted on a specially made cart with large balloon tires and special shock absorbers.
“Now Giovanna, I want you to take a deep breath very slowly, and let it out. Then we’ll see about getting this thing off you so you can go home and see your Madre e Padre, okay?”
Some of the fear faded from her eyes as she thought of her parents. She nodded, inhaled deeply and exhaled. Her trembling subsided a bit.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve done this a thousand times,” Matt exaggerated.
The confidence in his voice made her relax a little more.
“Matt,” Savage said into his microphone. “give me a sit rep.”
“Everything’s gonna be fine, Chief. This vest will be a piece of cake.”
Giovanna looked puzzled to see Matt talking to himself.
“Es mi capo, my chief,” Matt said, pointing to his ear. “He’s in my ear.”
She nodded uncertainly.
Matt took off his helmet and placed it on the girl’s head.
On the large monitor her face was now replaced by Matt’s.
“Say hello, Chief,” he said.
In his most calm and comforting voice, Savage said, “Ciao, Giovanna. Non preoccupar. Matt, e molto buon a che cosa fa e lui li conserverà.”
Giovanna’s shoulders relaxed even more.
Matt replaced the helmet on his head. The combination of the confidence in Matt’s voice and the soothing words in her native tongue from Savage had calmed her.
“What did you say to her, Chief?” Matt asked, amazed at the change in the young girl’s demeanor.
“I told her you are very good at what you do and you are going to save her,” Savage said. “Now, don’t make a liar out of me and get to work.”
“Yes, sir,” Matt said, smiling with thousand watt confidence.
Matt looked into Giovanna’s eyes again.
“Here we go. Are you ready?”
“One more deep breath.”
Together, they inhaled deeply and exhaled.
“Now hold very still, Giovanna, and we’ll get this thing off of you.”
From his pouch, he pulled out a self contained, mini ultrasonic scope, similar to those used in hospitals, but on a much smaller scale. It looked like a flashlight with a translucent convex lens on one end, and a three-inch monitor on the back of the scope that he used to locate the wire that connected the detonation device to the vest. It wasn’t a mercury activated switch, but there was a small, featureless, black shape under the vest that he knew housed the detonation device and the chip that was the brains of the device. The drawback of the ultrasound scope was, because of their molecular density, metal, wiring, and electronic components only displayed as black lines and featureless black shapes, while less dense materials such as explosives showed as translucent gray, revealing the electronics behind.
Unable to tell if there was a timer, he worked quickly.
Matt disabled the C-4 laden vest, opened the door to the blast shield and placed it in the explosion-proof bin. Two men raced up and quickly rolled the cart away. Without a firing source, the explosive was only a little more dangerous than modeling clay.
Both Matt and Giovanna breathed a sigh of relief with the deadly vest gone.
Next, he went to work on the primer charge, a plastic box hanging around her neck. He checked it with the scope. Inside were a few wires leading to and from a small printed circuit board, what appeared to be a nine-volt battery with two wires coming from the top, and a black rectangle about the size of a deck of playing cards, the primary C-4 charge.
Ensuring there was no trip switch that would detonate the charge if he removed the lid, he carefully pried the top off the box. Sandwiched between two layers of the plastic explosive was a thin metal conductive plate maintaining continuity with the battery. If he tried to just pull the wire out, it would detonate. He’d have to cut the connection to the ballast resistor connected to the wire to the negative terminal of the battery, breaking the connection, but the battery was completely wrapped in black tape, obscuring the positive and negative terminals.
The other problem was that all the wires were the same color, the color of dried mud.
“Chief, you gettin’ all this?” Matt whispered into his headset. “This is a strange one. Look at this sloppy wiring and these crappy cold-soldered connections. Amateurs, y’know? Must’ve had a sale on brown wire down at the terrorist electronics store, too,” he chuckled.
“Matt, if you don’t think you can do it, leave it alone. You’ve disabled the majority of the bomb. We can make her comfortable and bring in somebody else. She’s relatively safe now,” Savage cautioned.
“Aw shucks, and leave this pretty little girl wired to explode? I couldn’t do that. Nothing I can’t handle. It’s a matter of pride, y’know? We’ve come this far, you gotta let me finish it,” Matt pleaded.
Against his better judgement, Savage agreed, “All right, but be careful.”
Matt withdrew a surgical scalpel from his pouch, cut the tape from between the top terminals of the battery, and peeled the tape back, revealing the negative wire leading to the ballast resistor.
“Okay, one last thing and we’ll all go home. Don’t you just love happy endings? Me too,” he said, replacing the scalpel in the pouch and bringing out a delicate pair of wire cutters.
Matt’s helmet camera displayed the scene as he brought the wire cutters up to the wire he was about to cut.
“Just cut this leg of the ballast resistor, and we can all go home—“
Deafened by the roar of the explosion for a nanosecond, as Matt’s headset and camera were incinerated by the blast, Savage watched with horror as the large monitor went blank. The voice monitor and biometric displays flat-lined. The other monitors displayed the fireball erupting out the top of the blast shield and the smoking hole in the ground where the two kids stood. The blast shield was still erect but covered with bloody fragments of body armor and bits of Giovanna’s clothing.
Savage wondered for the first time if the bomb suit would have protected Matt from the smaller charge, a question that would haunt him for the rest of his days.
Well, there you have it, Kids.
Could you please read it and let me know what you think by sending me an email to email@example.com?
I would sure appreciate to feedback.
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