THREE

“Watch that car, Beau;” Captain Duncan James shouted, throwing his hands over his eyes in mock horror.

“Christ, Commander, where did you learn to drive?” laughed Lieutenant Heather J. Mcdaniels, more affectionately known as HJ, as she bounced off the right rear door when Beau swerved.

“Can I take my hands down now?” Duncan asked jokingly, spreading his fingers wide to peer between them.

“Hey, you two, if you don’t like my driving, get out of the car. I can’t help it if these Italians have no rules-of the-road skills,” Lieutenant Commander Beau Pettigrew replied. He stuck his head out of the window of the tiny Fiat. The hot, dry Naples wind blew his blond hair off his forehead. “Hey, Buddy, you run out of flicker fluid?” He pulled his head back inside the car. “Don’t they know what turn signals are for?”

“Did you see that? I know he doesn’t even speak English and he flicked me off! I can’t believe it!”

Duncan pulled his hands down. He and HJ laughed. Beau joined them. “I guess it’s better than being gridlocked in Washington, which in two days we’ll be.”

“HJ, tell me again how those magic jocks from Bethesda healed that shoulder in only four weeks. When we were pulled out of the drink by the Brits, I figured you’d be evacuated to Rhein Main or even back to Bethesda. What were they called? Nano … what?”

HJ leaned forward, grabbed both men by the necks, and shook them playfully a couple of times. “It may be too complicated for a couple of old Navy SEALs to comprehend.” “I told you we should never have taken her to Capri with us. Besides, I’m not old; he is,” Beau said, jerking his thumb toward Duncan.

“I think it was that second bottle of wine.”

“You mean the one before she pinched that Italian waiter on the butt or afterwards?”

“Hey, come on, guys, he had nice cheeks.”

“I can’t say I go around looking at men’s butts,” Beau said, whipping the steering wheel to the right. The car barely missed another Fiat and started another round of car horns from the midafternoon traffic. “You know, I could get used to driving here. Reminds me of the back roads of Coweta County.”

“Go ahead, HJ,” Duncan said. “I’m not sure I understand how this nanotechnology works.”

“Makes two of us,” HJ replied.

“Three,” added Beau. “Yeah, yours, too!” He reached forward to press the horn, and his arm hit the windshield wipers, sending them whipping back and forth, smearing dust across the glass. “Damn,” he said, pulling the lever forward, sending a spray of water across the windshield to form a thin veneer of mud with the dust.

“Bethesda National Naval Medical Center sent what I would call a futuristic medical team to the naval hospital at Naples. I remember vaguely reading about this in magazines years ago. Once, while I was kicking back my heels in Washington, they assigned me to attend a briefing given by the Mitre Corporation out at Mclean.”

“Just what we need; futuristic Navy doctors. Now, there’s something that makes your putter stutter. The only thing that could be worse would be futuristic lawyers,” Beau added. “Get out of the road, creep! Where do you think you are? Baltimore, Maryland?” “I know where Mitre is,” Duncan said. “I drove by their headquarters every morning when heading for I-495.”

“It appears Mitre has been one of the pushers for this technology. What the doctor said is that nanotechnology is the science of assembling individual molecules and atoms to build things. In this case, what they built were tiny surgeons. They took a hypodermic needle filled with yellow fluid and shot it into my shoulder wound. Apparently, this fluid had millions of tiny nanorobots designed to repair tissue, destroy bacteria and infection, mend the bones, and build more nanorobots if needed.”

“Ah, go on with you,” Beau said, his voice betraying his doubt. “You mean they shoot little robots into you, and those things in four weeks repaired a broken shoulder, torn blood vessels, and sewed the skin back together?”

“Something like that. It was a clean break on the shoulder; more a crack. I still have those little buggers in me. I was told they would eventually biodegrade — that’s the word they used — and go out of my system via the normal means that everyone uses to discard food when they are finished with it. Dr. Abercombie said the nanoboys and nanogirls, as he calls them — personally, I prefer nanoboys and nanowomen — would eventually biodegrade and pass out of my body. Until they do, I guess you can call me Biowoman: scourge of the male race, hero of the underdog, and shopper extraordinaire. You ever notice that anywhere you go there is always something you can buy? Christ! Isn’t life great?”

“I think you’re right. I prefer nanowomen, too,” Beau added and laughed.

“From what I have heard and others have seen, nanowomen are just about right.” Duncan laughed. “See, Beau, I told you I saw HJ peeking when you were showering the other night. But not to worry; it was a short shower.”

“Caught me, Captain. I apologize, Beau. It was just that there were no comedy shows on TV, so I needed a short laugh.” HJ laughed.

“Very funny. You two are definitely not short on humor,” Beau replied.

“Look, that’s the turnoff to Capo, right? That looks like the guard shack.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got to go — Oh, Christ, Beau!” Duncan shouted, grabbing the dashboard in front of him and gritting his teeth, eyes wide.

“Shit!” screamed HJ as she dove for the floor.

Beau turned left against the cars coming around the traffic circle where five roads met. He dodged the first two before whipping into the road on the left leading to the front gate of the American Navy headquarters in Naples. Car horns erupted in unison. Duncan heard two cars collide. He glanced out the back window to see traffic around the circle slow to a standstill.

“See, I told you two I’d get you here safely.”

“I’m glad the car is in your name. You turn it in to the rental agency at the airport.”

“What time does our aircraft leave?” HJ asked.

“We have a sixteen hundred hours show for an eighteen hundred hours go,” Duncan replied. “We’re about an hour early.”

Beau slowed the car as they approached the gate. Two armed Marines in full battle gear and carrying M-16s moved toward the car. One approached with his hand up, cautioning them to stop while the other stayed back.

Duncan noticed the one in the rear had his finger on the trigger and the barrel positioned in such a way that he could bring it up quickly.

Beau stopped the car and the Marine leaned down. “ID cards, please, sir.”

Beau had his out and showed it to the Marine. The Marine looked in the window at Duncan and HJ. “Sorry, sir, ma’am; I need to see yours, also.”

Duncan raised his hips and pulled his wallet out the left rear pocket.

HJ tugged opened the large purse she carried and showed the gate guard hers.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Duncan held his up, too.

“Excuse me, Captain,” the Marine said after scanning Duncan’s ID card.

“CTF Sixty-seven chief of staff asks that you come see her as as you report aboard.”

Duncan shoved his ID card back in his pocket. “I don’t suppose she passed on what she wants to see me about, Corporal?”

The Marine shook his head. “No, sir. This was passed through the sergeant of the guard, and I was told that I could look forward to extra duty if I missed you.”

“Okay, thanks, Corporal.”

The Marine took one step back and saluted.

Beau eased the car through the gate. Inside, on the right, covering the entrance, was a sandbagged machine gun pit. Hid den from sight, the machine gun backed up the Marines at the gate. Terrorists trying what they did at Gaeta when they car bombed the USS Lasalle and the USS Simon Lake would find pissed off Marines here.

“What do you think she wants?”

“I don’t know. Probably to say good-bye and good riddance. Of course, she may want to discuss that incident with you the other night.” Duncan slapped Beau on the arm.

“What incident?” HJ asked. She leaned forward. “Beau, have you been a bad boy again?”

“It was a minor one.”

“I wouldn’t call an Italian husband trying to shoot you a minor incident.”

“He overreacted about me talking to his wife.”

“Someone tried to shoot you for talking to his wife?”

“HJ, sometimes there are minor misunderstandings.”

“Tell her the truth, Beau.”

“Yeah, tell me the truth.”

“I have.”

“What Beau neglects to mention is that this conversation took two days and nights before her husband tracked them down in the middle of their talking.”

“I didn’t know she was married,” Beau explained.

“Didn’t the wedding band on her left hand give you any indications?”

“Look, Navy regulations state that it’s not adultery if the lights are out and you don’t know each other’s name.”

“Beau, I think your Navy regulations changed a few centuries ago,” HJ said, slapping him playfully on the back of the head and ruffling his blond hair.

Beau eased the car into a parking space marked for rental cars, turned off the engine, and pulled the emergency brake on.

“You want me to come with you?”

“No, I’ll walk over and do the necessary good-byes. You two sign us in to the flight, and I’ll be back shortly.”

Duncan unwove his big frame from the car. The bones in his right knee ground and popped as he stood. He waited a few seconds for the pain to subside. Beau and HJ scrambled out the other side.

“You ought to have Dr. Abercombie look at that knee. I bet one shot of nanofluid could cure it,” Heather J. Mcdaniels said, raising her arms over her head to stretch as she walked to the rear of the car. Her eyes twinkled with mischief.

She opened the trunk, pulled their seabags out, and set them on the pavement.

“If you do, have them put some up here,” Beau said, tapping the side of his head. He grabbed two of the seabags and tossed them on the sidewalk in front of the car.

“I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.” Duncan walked off, turned to the left, and headed toward the huge C41—command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence — building that dominated the small U.S. Navy compound located on the opposite side of the Naples International Airport.

* * *

Beau and HJ sat drinking beer at one of the patio picnic tables in front of the entrance to the small airport lounge, their seabags stacked behind them. They saw Duncan, raised their beers, and toasted him from under the huge multicolored sun umbrella raised over the austere white table and benches. He noticed they weren’t smiling.

“Thanks, shipmate,” Beau said.

“Nice job, Captain,” HJ added, raising her beer toward him.

“I guess you heard,” he said as he reached the table.

“Here, have a beer,” Beau said, reaching down beside him and pulling a cold one from the brown paper sack beside him.

Duncan popped the top.

“So, what is the story that caused the air terminal to scratch us from the freedom flight to the States?”

“No easy way to tell you. We are going back to the fleet.” He took a deep sip. He was surprised to discover the news barely bothered him. How it affected these two was the question. They both had reasons to return to Washington. With Beau, it was anything in a skirt, which was one reason they never sent him to Scotland. For HJ, her mother was being a pain. She had been bugging the hell out of her congressman and senators ever since she discovered her daughter had been wounded. It embarrassed the female SEAL no end, but Duncan had written the obligatory answers that seem to satisfy those esteemed members who represent the American public. He never knew what the tall shipmate said to her mother after the first letters arrived, but the one from the senior senator that followed two days after the congressman’s was the last one he received. HJ had been apologetic, but Duncan knew if roles were reversed, he’d probably do the same thing to find out what in the hell was going on with his daughter — if he had a daughter.

As it was, Duncan and his wife had never had kids. No specific reason.

Maybe they were never interested enough to go to the right medical people to find out who needed the help. Now it didn’t matter. A week before North Africa blew up in the face of the United States, his wife had moved out one day while he was at work, leaving with a boy toy from the local Safeway grocery. Then, while he was sneaking off a submarine with Beau, HJ, and two SEAL teams to go into Algeria to rescue President Hawaii Alneuf, she had returned to their home in Reston, Virginia, and cleaned the place out, only to return a couple of days later and move back in. The one remaining, nagging question was whether she intended to go through with the animal cruelty charges she filed against him when she discovered the dog in the old luggage trunk in the garage. He felt bad about the pet.

The night before they flew out of Dulles for the Sixth Fleet and the amphibious warship USS Nassau, Duncan had returned from a night of heavy drinking to discover their pet dog dead from a hit-and-run driver. He planned to bury the animal the next day, so he placed the body in a trunk in the garage rather than leave it where scavengers could get to it. Reston wasn’t the country, but it was close enough to attract undesirable wildlife. Duncan left so abruptly the next day, he forgot the body in the trunk. He had mixed feelings about her finding it. She swore he intentionally killed the dog. When he returned, he would make it right with her, and the two of them could bury the whole thing unopened somewhere in the hills of Maryland. He shivered slightly over the idea of the smell that would whiff out of that trunk if opened.

“Beer too cold?” HJ asked, drawing Duncan out of his thoughts. She tugged the left khaki pants leg up and planted her foot flat on the bench. She rested her beer on her knee.

HJ was an attractive woman, Duncan thought, but the recent experience inside Algeria had aged her. She was pixie cute, something not usually associated with a six-foot-tall woman. Her apple-green eyes accented the sparse freckles around the sides of her snub nose. The one thing different from when he first met her that day, which seemed eons ago, in Rear Admiral William Tecumseh Hodges’s office, was the sparkle seemed somewhat diminished in those eyes. That was to be expected. Her experience as a prisoner of the rebels would kill the spark in anyone’s eyes. At six feet, the dark wavy brown haired warrior was a couple of inches taller than Beau.

“Why are we returning to the fleet, and where in the fleet are we returning to?” Beau asked, leaning forward on his elbows.

Beau was a thirty-nine-year-old bachelor, while Duncan was heading fast for his first divorce.

Beau’s Nordic face, accented with neon-blue eyes, topped by waves of flowing brown hair turned blond by the hot Italian sun contrasted with Duncan’s scarred, middle-aged, wrinkled face and too-broad nose between brown eyes framed by rapidly disappearing gray-speckled hair. Duncan ran his hand across the top of his head, wondering which would win the race for possession of the top; the two receding hairlines or the growing bald spot at the back of his head. He reached down and tried unsuccessfully to find that small pinch of middle-age spread he discovered before they left Washington. Beau’s mischievous ways, unnatural boyish good looks, and being a most eligible bachelor drew women like moths to a flame. Duncan rubbed his chin. Of course. Beau was more than ten years younger— eleven, to be exact.

“We are going to the aircraft carrier, USS Stennis, where the other team members are waiting for us.” Duncan took a sip of Beau’s beer and handed the can back to his number two. “Sorry,” he said, grabbing his own.

“Other team members? You mean Monkey, Mcdonald, Gibbons, and all of them?”

“That’s right, HJ.”

“Let’s not forget my partner in pain, Ensign of the Fleet Bud Helliwell,” added HJ, raising her beer. “And a small sip for him.” Bud and HJ had been wounded together in the same combat action. She finished the beer and crushed the aluminum can before tossing it into a nearby trash can. “See what those nanowomen can do when they’re surging through your veins?” she said, doubling her fist and flexing her bicep.

“Doesn’t count if you don’t crush it using your forehead.”

“What happens after we arrive, boss?” HJ asked.

“You two remember Bashir?”

“Yeah. How could we forget that overweight smuggler? By now, he should own most of Algeria. He seemed related to everyone in the country.”

“And, Beau, don’t forget that laugh of his,” HJ added. “I wanted to sew his mouth shut by the time we parted company. He laughed when he was amused, he laughed when they were shooting at us, and he was laughing when he left us on that wooden dock where the rebels trapped us. If it hadn’t been for that old water carrier, we’d still be fighting.”

“He also found a doctor in the middle of the desert to give you his last batch of antibiotics, HJ,” Duncan added. He tipped the can back and drained the last few drops of beer.

“True, Captain. If he hadn’t, I probably would have died, you think?” HJ pulled another beer from the brown paper bag beside the picnic table.

“No, I don’t think you would have died, HJ,” Beau said, standing to toss his empty can into the trash. “God doesn’t want you, and the devil won’t have you. You’re going to live to a ripe old age and punish the world by having too many offspring.”

“May only have one.”

“One may be too many. Go ahead, Duncan. What, pray tell, do we owe to our friend Bashir that caused the United States Navy to cancel our freedom flight back to civilization?”

Duncan pulled the tab, opening the fresh beer. Beau took the empty Duncan had set on the table and tossed it over his shoulder. The can hit the rim of the trash can, bounced from one lip to the other, and fell in.

“Two points; dos puntos,” HJ said, taking two fingers and dipping them in the classic basketball sign. She took her foot down and straddled the bench, placing her beer between her legs.

“Seems he knows where those American hostages are in Algiers, but he won’t talk to anyone but us.”

“Us?”

“Well, me, to be specific.”

Beau grinned and threw his arms out. “There you are, Duncan. HJ and I can head back.” He looked at HJ, who grinned and nodded. They clicked their beer cans together. “We’ll be thinking of you, boss.”

“Well, you’ll be thinking of me while with me. The higher ups believe we SEALs are better qualified to rescue the hostages after Bashir tells us where they are. The sooner we free those hostages, the sooner we detach ourselves from Algiers and head home. Let them fight it out among themselves on who controls that country.

Sometimes you just have to give war a chance. The other thing”—Duncan looked around to make sure no one was within listening distance—“is that two days ago, the rebels executed a hostage. They are threatening to kill one every forty-eight hours unless we remove our forces from Algiers.”

Beau ran his hand through his sun-bleached hair. HJ wondered how in the hell he could continuously ruffle that thick blond hair and it would just fall back into place as if he had never touched it. He was also a pain in the ass sometimes — a male chauvinist, her libber friends would call him. However, for all the joshing they did with each other, she had grown confident in her friendship with the senior officer. Not a romantic closeness, but shipmate close. That strange, intimate bond between shipmates and buddies was something that seldom occurred between the sexes in peacetime, but it was amazing what bullets and blood mixed with fear and adrenaline created. She wondered what they would say when she told them she had decided to get out of the SEALs.

“They want us to go in and rescue the hostages?”

“They know that I am qualified in hostage rescue. They also know that you are, too, Beau.” He looked at HJ. “As for you, my fine Navy SEAL who has yet to do a true exercise, they heard about your nanowomen, and they want all hundred thousand of you to go with us.”

HJ slapped her arm. looked down at it, and whispered, “I told you little shits to behave and keep quiet. But, no, you’ve got to tell the world our secret.” She looked at the two of them. “Oh, no!” she shouted. HJ straightened her arms and bounced erratically on the bench for a few seconds, drawing grins from the two men. “I never should have hurt their feelings,” she said, draining her beer.

“Another item of interest. Rear Admiral William Tecumseh Hodges has quietly retired.” “What!” Beau said, standing up. “Our fearless leader in Washington?” “What does that mean?” HJ asked.

Duncan shrugged his shoulders. “Could mean a lot of things. Hodges met for an hour with Admiral Farmer, chief of Naval Operations, last week. Afterward, Rear Admiral Hodges announced his retirement for undisclosed personal reasons. Less than two days later, he went on terminal leave.”

“Does this mean they will move Admiral Goodwin from Coronado to take over the Navy’s SEALs?”

“Can’t. He is in a joint billet, and you aren’t allowed to transfer out of those until your tour of duty is up. He just got there eight months ago. Besides, he has forward deployed to Korea to take charge of the joint Special Operations forces being sent there.”

“No, they fleeted up the deputy, Captain Ray Jordan, as the interim head. I know Ray. Good man. Seriously wounded during the Liberian Crisis and never fully recovered from the wounds. Same operation that Bud was wounded in. Ray has lots of medical problems associated with those wounds that never seem to get resolved. He had another surgery just last year. The good news is that Jordan knows what we SEALs in the field need to do our jobs. The bad news is I don’t think he’ll be able to handle the job long with his medical problems, and he has all the tact of a sledgehammer when it comes to Washington politics.”

“Not like you, the master of tact,” Beau added with a wink. “And better not let the Navy look at those knees of yours,” Beau added.

Duncan slapped his right knee. “They feel better every day I don’t run.”

“Running keeps you fleet of foot and in great shape,” HJ added.

“I have always thought being fleet of foot was not exactly a good quality for a military leader to brag about.”

“Wasn’t Hodges watching your place for you in Reston?”

Duncan guffawed. “He sent me periodic updates on what my soon-to-be ex-wife was doing to it.” He took a long swallow of the beer, the coolness of it lost to the hot afternoon sun. Duncan moved slightly to the right into the shadow of the umbrella. A slight wind whipped up the brown dust from the ground, causing the three to squint their eyes for several seconds.

Beau tilted his head, drained his beer, and crushed the can before tossing it into the nearby trash can. “I would sure like to know why they retired him. Everything I’ve read in the Stars and Stripes newspaper says we are hurting for flag officers in all the services. The Department of Defense has even convened special officer and enlisted promotion boards this week for all four services. The newspapers are saying the military is considering recalling military retirees to fight.

Then, we go retire the head of the Navy SEALs! Now, what’s wrong with this picture? He had to have done something terrible to piss off the CNO to retire him.”

“The news will leak, Beau, and then we’ll all know.” But Duncan already knew the reasons for the forced retirement of Admiral Hodges. The CTF Sixty-seven chief of staff had the personal-for message sent by the chief of Navy Operations to all flag officers, revealing the reasons.

Rear Admiral Hodges had colluded with several others — who had also been retired— to make sure women failed to make the grade in the SEALs. The discovery by Navy leadership resulted in a closed-door admiral’s mast and a quick retirement announcement by Rear Admiral Hodges. Captain Ray Jordan was a placeholder while the Navy scrambled to identify a new admiral to assume the leadership mantle. What Duncan figured without the chief of staff telling him was the woman Hodges wanted to fail had been HJ Mcdaniels. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place as he walked from his office to the picnic area in front of the terminal. Hodges had led Duncan to believe he was heading to a joint exercise with the Spanish, but it had turned into a rescue operation of the last democratically elected president of Algeria. He knew now he had been chosen because Hodges expected Duncan to be angry and vindictive over being told by the Bureau of Naval Personnel to retire from the Navy by August. Hodges, a master of the political art, had insisted that Duncan submit a positive endorsement on HJ’s performance, thinking that would further anger him.

Hodges must have thought Duncan would be so angry he would sink the women in the SEALs initiative. You can only play negative politics so long, and it boomerangs against you. Here it was August; he was still on active duty, HJ had performed admirably and heroically in combat, and Hodges was gone. And here he sat, licking his lips and enjoying life. A smile escaped.

“Ain’t funny, boss.” Beau opened another beer. “What other good news do you have for us?”

“Apparently, all Selected Early Retirement Board nominees — such as myself — have been unilaterally deselected.”

“You don’t have to retire?”

Duncan reached down and wiggled another beer free of its plastic holder.

He shook his head. “No. According to the message, a stop-loss action has been initiated Navy-wide. SERB results are canceled, and selections will not be reinstated. So, if they want to forcibly retire me now, they will have to wait for another SERB to meet. At this rate, I could be drawing Social Security by the time I walk out the Navy’s door.”

“You look old enough to draw it now.”

“He does not, Beau,” HJ said, grinning. “But it is nice having a father figure around.”

They laughed.

“As long as it isn’t a grandfather figure.”

“Give it a year.”

“There is a COD due about an hour from now,” Duncan said, referring to the small two-engine propeller-driven airplane used by aircraft carriers to ferry passengers, mail, and small parts between shore and ship. “It’s going to do a hot landing; shove us on board and fly back to the Stennis. The new commander of Joint Task Force African Force, General Lewis, and Commander U.S. Sixth Fleet Admiral Cameron want to talk to us before we move ashore.” “I thought Cameron was back in the States.”

“I did, too. I read in Stars and Stripes that he buried his wife. I really expected them to relieve him. Having an Army three star come in and take over may mean the powers that be plan on jerking Admiral Cameron out of theater soon.”

HJ put her beer down on the bench and coughed twice; spittle hit the two men. “Sorry. I was trying to talk and drink at the same time.”

“I know. I have the same problem with chewing gum when I’m walking.”

Beau made an exaggerated show of wiping his face.

“Why do you think they will relieve him?” she asked.

Duncan shrugged his shoulders. HJ noticed the ripples his biceps made in the tight khaki shirt. Amazing, she thought, that a forty-eight-year old man could be in such great shape.

“The Navy is not very forgiving when it comes to command. Our tradition heaps responsibility on its leaders. When they succeed and win, they are praised. When they lose, they are removed. For whatever we want to say about Admiral Cameron — and I, for one, believe him to be a great leader and an outstanding Navy officer — he was in charge when three ships in his command were damaged or sunk. It is only because the USS John Rodgers was sunk west of Gibraltar that he doesn’t have the responsibility for it. Commander in chief, U.S. Naval Forces Europe controls the waters west of Gibraltar. I think of it as luck and good leadership when you have a good command tour, for everything that happens, whether intentional or serendipitous, becomes the commander’s responsibility. Yeah, they will eventually call him before the green table. They usually relieve the HMFIC, convene a court-martial, and let the bones fall where they may.”

“HMFIC?”

“Head Mother Frigger in Charge.”

“Frigger?” Beau asked, cocking his head to one side. “Are we becoming politically correct in our old age?” He rummaged around inside the brown paper bag.

“But, they didn’t relieve him. If that is what they normally do, why didn’t they relieve him?”

Duncan stood, lifted his seabag, and threw it across his shoulder. “I think it is because of the North Korean invasion on the other side of the world, HJ. We lack the senior officers to command two major conflicts; so, for the time being, Admiral Cameron stays here. I have read some of the editorials and newspaper articles that lay the blame directly on his lack of leadership. I would submit anyone in the same position would still have been caught with his or her pants down. We had no warning, no idea the attacks were coming. If we had, he would have been ready.”

“Why didn’t intelligence warn us? Where were the CIA when we needed them?” HJ asked, lifting her seabag.

“Staring at their computer terminals, probably,” Duncan said. “It’s not like we have the intelligence apparatus we had at the end of the twentieth century. Too many funding and personnel cuts.”

Beau folded the top down on the sack. “Empties,” he said to them.

Beau grabbed his seabag. “Empty,” Duncan said and tossed his can into the trash before starting toward the door marked Departures.

“No. All he has gotten is a little time. When this winds down enough, they’ll come for him. According to the chief of staff, Rear Admiral Pete Devlin, the former commander, Task Force Sixty-seven in charge of Naval Air Forces in the Mediterranean, has been fleeted up to deputy commander. United States Sixth Fleet. Captain Dick Holman turned over command of the USS Stennis to his XO and has assumed Devlin’s old title.

The chief of staff of CTF Sixty-seven, she has been given command of all the shore and support responsibilities. So the changes they are occurring and, taking a step back and looking at them, those changes don’t bode well for Admiral Cameron.”

Duncan opened the door. “Well, team, should we go sign up for our scenic flight back to the fleet? And remember, there are no bathroom facilities on the COD, so get rid of that beer you drank before we board, or you’re going to have a rough ride out.”

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