Just north of Richmond, Kelly pulled off I-95 and into an Exxon station. Jack had been awake for the last 50 miles and, after using the men’s room and walking Shadow, he told Kelly he would drive from here. The area was new to Kelly and she was fascinated with the development and heavy, high-speed traffic. Jack told her this was her mother’s world. She had spent years in the Washington, DC metropolitan area when not deployed.
Kelly asked, “What can you tell me about my mother’s life and death?”
“You know some of the story. I’ll include more details. I only knew Anita for the last year of her life. She joined our team just after my father was killed in the house we are going to now. The house burned to the ground. Anita, Kathy and I set up our living quarters in the apartment over the three-car garage. From there we planned operations to take down several terrorist cells run by a renegade KGB officer. Your mother played a crucial role in our success.
“The chase extended to India and Nepal. We located the meeting place of several al Qaeda officials above a shop featuring Tibetan artifacts. Your mother and I charged into the meeting room and found six men and one woman seated around a long table. We started firing and, just when it looked like the shooting was over, the woman, who turned out to be an assassin high on the wanted list, was shooting at me from under the table. She had been hit but not fatally. I yelled to Anita to watch out. The assassin turned her weapon on Anita and shot her high on her thigh. Anita dropped her empty shotgun and pulled her ranger knife from her boot and dove under the table. She was shot again in the chest but managed to kill the assassin with her knife. I got to her seconds before she died.
“Nothing could have saved her. The thigh wound had severed an artery and the chest wound itself was fatal. She was in my arms. She knew she was dying and wanted me to leave her. In the seconds left to her, she said, ‘Take care of my sister. Her daughter is my daughter.’
“Somehow a fire got started. There was no way I could carry her body out of the fire and make an escape. We had talked about these kinds of scenarios, and it was Anita who made us all pledge to protect the group. The critically wounded and dead had to be left. As a result none of us was ever charged, and I don’t think al Qaeda ever figured out what happened. Your mother saved my life. I will be forever indebted to her.”
Kelly gave Jack a moment to get the huskiness out of his voice and to wipe the few tears running down his cheek. She said, “Thank you. I wish I’d had a chance to know her better. Now, another question. How does your past with my mother affect me?”
“It makes you a special person to me. Anita was nearly ten years my senior. There was no romance. I still love her and miss her incredibly. She was the big sister I never had. Having you here, gives me a chance to keep and continue the memory. I could have taken care of you without bringing you into our group, but Kathy and I saw your potential and we needed a replacement. You are still here because of your own skills and courage. You are the real deal. I know Anita would approve. Will I try to protect you? You’re damn right I will. You are precious, but you still have to pull your weight.”
“Thanks, Jack. I’ll try hard to fit in. I have a lot to learn.”
“That’s a perfect attitude. Look ahead. You thought the traffic was heavy 50 miles back. What you see now is normal DC traffic. There is almost no slack time. We’ll soon be in the action capital of the world, and a beautiful city. I never tire of the DC skyline. In another 40 minutes, we’ll be in the driveway of the Brandon house.”
By the time Jack drove u the last uphill sharp curve, Shadow was sitting up, looking out the window and whining to get out. Jack hadn’t seen his father’s house since the rebuilding process. His attorney, Lee Jensen, had the responsibility to rebuild the house. Only occasionally had he asked Jack for guidance. Lee forwarded pictures from time to time, and Jack approved the plans before the building started, but he was not prepared for seeing the house. It was magnificent. It was fitted perfectly into the landscape. The planting was in progress. Lee told him that a series of rainy days put the crew behind schedule. They would need another week but the interior was finished and furnished.
Kelly was shocked by the presence of the house. She looked at Jack and said, “My God, how rich are you? I’ve never been in a house like this. I’ll tell you, there’s nothing like this in either Greensburg or Jeannette or even in Oakland, PA, the three areas I grew up in.” Jack laughed and said, “It is impressive but I assure you, this house can’t compare with some of the old mansions in Oakland. You just haven’t been exposed to this style of living. I am very lucky. My father made the money. My job is taking care of it and spending wisely. Give me a minute to let Shadow out.”
Shadow hit the ground running. He circled the house and came back to Jack’s side. He rubbed Shadow’s head and said we can go inside now, Shadow’s done his checking.”
It was almost dinner time. When Kelly entered, she could smell food being prepared. Jack grinned and said, “I asked the Minhs to close up the Charleston house and come up here. You will also notice that the landscape crew we had at the Johns Island house are here. They acquitted themselves well in defending us. They may not recognize you with your clothes on.”
“Will I never live that down? Next time there’s an emergency, I’ll get fully suited and booted with complete makeup.”
“Just don’t forget your SOCOM.”
“Don’t worry. I learned an important lesson that night. No matter what you think, always be prepared. Bad stuff can and does happen.”
“The house has several bedrooms with attached baths. You can take your pick. You could take your mother’s old room over the garage, but that makes extra work for the Minhs and separates the team. This place has been attacked once and it could be again. The last time, besides my father, the terrorists killed the house staff. Only one of the attackers got away. My father killed one. Shadow, though severely wounded, killed one. And the Nguyens killed another.
“Some days later, your mother, Kathy and I trapped and killed the leader and two of his shooters. Those men, who tried to kill us in Charleston, had ties to the same group. I forgot to tell you, the same group tried twice to kill me, Kathy and Shadow in Oakland while we were staying in the house I lived in when I worked as a homicide detective. Shadow saved us there.”
Jack settled in the master bedroom, far more elegant than the original had been. Now, besides a large bathroom in soft granite shades, a sitting room with a wall-mounted flat screen TV, computer station, multiple phones, a concealed refrigerator and comfortable overstuffed furniture, with a dining table for two overlooking the heated swimming pool and the small park adjoining the property, was screened from the sleeping area by a tasteful muted Japanese screen of random Kanji pictographs.
After a dinner of stir-fried vegetables, sticky rice and grilled filet mignon, Mrs. Minh showed Kelly to one of six guest rooms, telling her she liked this one the best. Kelly told her, she had never been in such a well-appointed room. Mrs. Minh laughed and showed her how to use the complicated shower, the TV that responded to voice commands, an iMac stand-alone computer, and house intercom system. She told Kelly, tomorrow Mr. Jack would show her the security features built into the house. She also asked if Kelly had her own weapon and did she need any more ammunition. Kelly kept a straight face but was sure that she was in the only house in McLean where the house staff made sure you had a weapon and enough ammo.
Just before leaving, Mrs. Minh said that it is a Brandon tradition to offer bed tea or coffee in the morning at seven o’clock. Actually, she said with a muted giggle, it was Miss Kathy who started it. Kelly was dead tired and decided to watch an old movie, maybe even a Western and get a good sleep. She needed a couple of restful nights. Only a man of her dreams could make this evening better.
Shadow showed up as she was getting in bed. She scratched his cropped ears, he licked her hand and continued on his rounds. As usual, Shadow had the run of the house. He could sleep anywhere he wanted.
Jack finished exploring his new house and went back to the master bedroom. It was only nine o’clock and he knew Captain Shorer would still be up. Captain Shorer answered on the first ring. Jack said, “Captain, do you have a few minutes? I’ve got a report for you.”
“Jack, good to hear from you. I wondered about you with all the action in the Charleston area. Sure I have time. Shoot!”
“Well, to start, you were right on about your Hankins perp. He was killed yesterday by two al Qaeda shooters. The little perp managed to shoot and kill one of his attackers. One of my new recruits, Anita’s daughter from Pittsburgh, saved a young woman he had tied up in his Georgetown, SC apartment for later pleasure. She saved the woman and fought Hankins off until Kathy arrived and flattened him. The Feds asked us to stake him out as bait, so they could catch an al Qaeda terrorist. Instead, it ended up in a shootout. We were not involved in the shooting. Kathy found some awful pictures of the young women he’d tortured and killed. Seems he only wanted to get pictures of the moment of death. I’ll send you a flash drive with the photos. I’m sure they wouldn’t stand up in court. I don’t know how to bring closure to the families of the dead women. There was no time for the niceties of due process.
“Thanks to your suspicions, six al Qaeda terrorists are now dead and I believe another captured. Five of those were killed in a fire. They were sleeping in an apartment over a garage. Two cars rigged with big bombs were in the garage to be used by suicide bombers the next day in downtown Charleston. It was impossible to tell all this to the police in Charleston, due to the need to protect an ongoing Federal Investigation. The division of justice between national security and law and order requirements is often weighted in the Feds’ favor, but not in this case.
“I had no approval to pass on this information to you, but I know you will handle it carefully. Maybe, at some point, more can be officially released to the pertinent authorities. We have moved out of Charleston and are now back in my father’s house, recently rebuilt. I’ll keep you posted.”
“Jack, my best to you and Kathy. I understand Shadow helped again when your Charleston house was attacked. Keep your badges and weapon authorizations until this thing is over. Thank you for the call. Now I can sleep a little better knowing the pervert who killed those Pitt coeds is dead and will not kill any more young women.”
The next morning at breakfast Jack told Kelly she would be on her own for a while, but to stick around the house until they heard from Lou and Storm. He expected them to arrive sometime today. Kathy would be in Richmond at least one more day.
When Jack called Frank and requested to see him, Frank said, “Glad you called. I want to see you today. Can you get a room at the Ritz where we can have a working lunch? I can’t think of anywhere else to meet with you and have no one who knows me see us together and begin to speculate. Some people in my office are beginning to realize that I have some damn good outside people helping out. I want to be careful as possible, even if it is inconvenient, to protect you and your group. I think Kathy told me that you favor Reuben sandwiches. Please ask room service to prepare one for me with some black coffee.”
“No problem. I can get a room nearly anytime. One of those perks rich folks like. See you at about noon. I’ll call you with the room number before then.”