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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-two

The next day at noon, Buck Dawson and his nephew co-pilot had the Lear ready to go. When the Lear reached its cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, Jack gathered Kelly and Sally around the conference table. Shadow was in a seat across the aisle trying to sleep. Jack said, “I know you must have some questions, but let me go over the general plan first. Kelly, I’ve made a few changes since our last trip to Big Timber. It’s a very small place. I doubt the daily air traffic at the airport gets too many planes like this one outside of hunting season. The airport could be watched by a friend of the Marshalls’. A simple phone call from a mechanic would be enough to give us problems. So Buck is landing the Lear at Billings and renting a Cessna to take us to Big Timber. A rented car in Buck’s name will be waiting for us. Buck will wait in Big Timber for our pick-up call. Then we retrace our steps. Go to Billings, pick up the Lear and our co-pilot, Elliot. We avoid leaving a record of being in Big Timber.

“Once on the ground in Big Timber, Buck will drive us to within a four-hour walk of a remote cabin Kelly and I used on our last trip. If someone is in the cabin we’ll have to adjust. If not, we move immediately overland to the Marshalls’ camp. Both Kelly and I know the trail. We’ll try to get within a couple of hours of the Marshalls’ before we camp for the night. The next day we want to be able to observe the camp from a concealed area at least two hours before dark. Maybe we’ll move against the Marshalls and rescue any captives then or wait until the next day. I would like to find out where the captives are or were being held the first day we reach the camp.”

Moving from the Lear to a Cessna six-seater didn’t bother Buck. He put the Cessna smoothly on the ground in Big Timber. Shadow wasn’t happy with the cramped space and yipped a complaint a few times. Jack said, “Shadow, be quiet. The whole world is not first class.”

Buck pulled the Jeep Wagoneer rental up to the Cessna. Kelly got in beside him to give directions to the fire road. Sally, Jack, and Shadow sat in the back. Thirty minutes later Kelly showed Buck where to pull over. Shadow was first out and ready to go. Jack helped Buck do a tight three-point turn in the jeep wagon. By the time he was out of sight, the Brandon team had melted into the growth of scrub pine bordering the fire road where they paused to load their weapons. Jack and Shadow took the point and Kelly brought up the rear. They made good time, reaching the creek crossing point in less than four hours. After a short rest, they moved quietly and slowly across the small creek below the cabin, Jack stopped them below the steep bank. He scanned the cabin with his binoculars. He saw nothing and handed them to Kelly, who carefully searched the cabin and surrounding area. It was cool enough for a fire but no smoke drifted out of the chimney. Jack nudged Kelly and said, “Cover us. Shadow and I are going to check the cabin out.”

Shadow scrambled up the bank and waited for Jack. Jack released him and Shadow bolted up to the cabin, sniffed at the door and ran around to the back. When he reappeared, Jack said, “Good boy, Shadow, go get Kelly,” and pointed down toward the stream. Shadow ran down and greeted the girls. When they came up to the cabin, Jack was already inside. It looked the same as it was when they left two weeks ago. Kelly said, “I don’t think anyone has been here since we left. Wonder if Jake Morgan’s body is still on the steep slope behind the cabin?”

“I hope not,” Jack said. “We’ll see on the way up the ridge. We’re not going to cover much of the trail today. It will be dark in three hours. I’m counting on using this cabin on our way back if we have any rescued women. It’ll take us two full days to get here if we are traveling with rescued captives. Okay, first a weapons check and then a foot check.” All three were carrying SOCOMs sidearms. Jack and Kelly carried Stoner SR-25s. Sally selected a .30 carbine. She knew the weapon and had fired it frequently. Its range was limited to less than 200 yards. When Jack was satisfied with the weapons check, he said, “Time for the foot check. Kelly, you and Sally check your feet. You know the drill.”

Sally said, “My feet feel good. I’m okay.”

“Off with the boots and socks, girl!” Kelly said anyway.

Kelly took one look at Sally’s left foot and reached for the tape. “You got a nice blister starting on the outside of your big toe. Don’t take this piece of tape off until we get back on the plane. I’ll check your tender feet after two hours on the trail.”

After the foot checks were completed, Kelly and Shadow led off. From Jack’s rear guard position he could keep an eye on Sally who hadn’t done much distance hiking since leaving her home state of Montana. Going up the ridge, Kelly noticed the remnants of Jake’s body and clothes mostly concealed by the scrub pine growth. It was obvious the animal inhabitants of the forest had been at work. She didn’t point out the scene to Sally. Sally was tough but she didn’t want to push her now. Everyone needed a clear head focused on the target. She was pleased Jack put her in the point position. Kelly had a clear recall of their reverse journey on this trail to the Marshall camp. She used her compass but really didn’t need to. Two hours had passed and Kelly moved them into a thick growth of pine surrounding a small clearing. They shucked their packs and Jack checked with each of them to see how they were doing. It was also time for another foot check. Jack kept watch on Shadow’s legs and feet. A thorn or small pebble stuck between his pads could cause a problem. Shadow saw Jack coming toward him with a small rag in his hand, flopped down, and rolled over with his feet in the air. Jack laughed and asked, “Where did that come from?”

Sally said, “He got that from Gideon, who must have learned that when he was on the dog show circuit. Shadow saw Gideon do that when Kathy was cleaning his feet before he came inside.”

Jack said, “I guess Gideon has some things he can teach Shadow. Even old dogs, if they’re as smart as Shadow, can learn. I think there is a small stream about 60 yards down this slope. The water should be good. It’ll be dark in an hour. We might as well set up camp here. Good choice, Kelly.”

“Same as last time, no fire?”

“No, we can have a small, near smokeless fire for coffee and hot soup. You two top off our canteens. Take Shadow with you. He’ll need a drink. One of you keep watch from cover while the other fills the canteens. Those precautions probably aren’t needed here. But, I want you both to learn them and realize that it is easier, quicker, and safer to always apply careful procedures than to guess whether they are required. Don’t worry about being paranoid. Being careful is good.”

On the way down to the creek Sally asked, “How does he know there is a creek 60 yards down this slope?”

“Jack has very heightened senses. He may have heard it or saw birds dipping low or remembered it from a topo map. Even a game trail running down the slope would have caught his eye. I’ll bet there is water down there. Any bets?”

“Not from me. I’ll never forget Shadow and Jack moving down the ladder of the kidnapper’s boat. They were like streaks of darkness swarming over the guy who was trying to kill me. He never had a chance. I think he died without knowing it. Also I’ll never figure out how he found me below decks in a luxury cruiser hundreds of miles from where I was kidnapped.”

“When they were holding me in that pit under the barn floor, I kept thinking, ‘if he found Sally, he can find me.’ That thought kept me going. Come to think of it, I wasn’t even surprised when he pulled the blanket off my head and helped me up.”

“What do you think happened to those people?”

“I don’t know but I do know they will never kidnap or imprison people again. The Brandon law of justice is hard, not many shades. You’ll note with my reputation of having a smart, quick mouth, I never opened my mouth when Jack was lecturing me unless asked. I know if I make another bad mistake, I’ll be benched big time.”

“I know about the second mistake. What was the first?”

“I went someplace without any backup or weapon. It was a real dangerous situation and I messed up. Kathy came just in time to save me. She explained to me in choice words how dumb I was. Speaking of mistakes, let’s tighten up here. Less chatting and more looking. I think I hear running water.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty-one

Jack and his canine friends were back from the cabin before nightfall. Jack asked Kathy if she could sit in on a pre-mission planning session with the girls, including Storm.

“Yes, if you do it right now.”

“See you in the conference room in ten.”

Jack got Storm on the intercom and asked her to get Kelly and Sally and come to the conference now.

Kathy was waiting as the others filed in clutching cups of coffee. The girls were looking a bit puzzled. Kelly was trying hard to act normal after hearing Jack’s critical remarks last night. Jack said, “I’m leaving for Montana in the morning. Shadow, Kelly, and Sally are coming with me. Storm, I want you to do a quick research on these people and their business, include some satellite images of their shooting camp and maps of a half-circle 15 miles out to the west and south of the camp. I want to get in and out without a paper or digital trail. Kelly and Sally, 40-pound packs with everything you need. Your favorite rifle, handgun, and 50 rounds each. Include enough trail food for three days for yourself and up to four captives. Include extra blankets. If there are captives, they may not be able to walk out. We’ll need to establish a safe campsite where they can rest and we can get what they need to move on. Remember, it might be cold and wet but no tents, just tarps we can put up. I’ll carry what Shadow needs and any extra gear like medical kits and short-range person-to-person communications. Sally, follow Kelly’s lead. She’s done this before. That’s it, let’s go.”

On the way back to their rooms, Sally said, “We need to get three or four pairs of light shoes. If we find captives, they will need shoes. They’ll still be wearing what they were wearing when grabbed off the street. A good chance those shoes won’t hold up for an all-day walk in rough country.”

Kelly said, “Okay, you get the shoes. I’ll start getting the other stuff together.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Sixty

After a good night’s sleep, Kathy felt like a new woman. Still in her bathrobe, she went down the hall to see Jody. The door was ajar and looking in she saw Gideon on the bed. Jody was still asleep with her arm around the big pup. Gideon saw her and raised his head but made no move to get up, as if saying, It’s okay, I have her. Kathy turned and went to the kitchen where she found Mrs. Minh drinking a cup of green tea. Kathy thought, This is one tough woman. I’m glad she is on our side. In the kitchen, running the house, or in a gunfight she could more than hold her own. Mrs. Minh had been fighting the Viet Cong at an age when most kids were in the sixth grade. Her husband was no different, except a few years older.

Mrs. Minh got up and poured Kathy a cup of freshly brewed French roast. Kathy asked her to pour one for Mr. Brandon then carried the coffee back to their bedroom and found Jack shaving. She perched on the edge of the tub and told him what she knew about Jody. When she finished, Jack said, “I’ll ask Lou and Storm to find out what they can. Obviously she’ll have to stay here for several weeks to get her health back. Once we know a little more about her, we can find things for her to do. Otherwise she’ll go bonkers.”

“I’m glad you came to the same conclusion,” Kathy nodded. “Gideon has adopted her as his charge. I peeked in her room. She was sleeping with her arm around Gideon. He raised his head and gave me this look like, ‘I got it.’ So I left him there. With us gone so much, with the Minhs and Gideon she’ll have some friends here.”

“Speaking of being gone, before Jim Marshall can disappear with his blood money and perhaps some female captives, I have to go out there. Please stay here with Jody and run the place while I’m gone. We need to get the office space Storm and Lou will need set up. We also need a dependable smart lawyer. You know, Sally McGovern just might like to fill the lawyer slot. Think about it. I’ll take Shadow, Kelly, and Sally with me. Kelly is shooting almost as well as her mother and Sally is coming along. I read Kelly the riot act last night over her walking to her parked car by herself. She needs a chance to redeem herself.”

“Okay. I’ll stay. I hate staying and worrying. With Jody here, there is little choice. Promise you will call every day.”

“Sure, but before I go I want to empty this house of everything incriminating. I’ll take the Flex into the garage and load nearly all our arms and ammunition and sniper stuff and take Shadow and Gideon to the cabin. No one should be able to associate it with us. The hidden room there would be hard to find. I can be there and back in nine hours. Anything you think should go to the cabin put in the garage and I’ll load it. I’ll need another throwaway cell. I don’t want any phone records of me being in Montana or in the area of the cabin, especially when we take the Marshalls and their prison down.”

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Fifty-nine

Kelly and Sally almost bumped into Lou on his way out. Jack gave them both a hug and black coffee. He thought, What could be wrong with a woman who drinks her coffee black? Kelly took the coffee gratefully. “We are wiped. I thought those girls would never settle down. They were still frightened and afraid to be alone. They all crammed into one room. No trouble at the motel. They were happy with the business. The girls were dubious about not calling the police. I gave them the talk about an ongoing investigation and their own safety. Plus all the negative notoriety and without any evidence some people would not believe their stories. They were all a new batch of prisoners. The longest anyone was a captive was five days.

“I told them those people would never bother them again. Sally told them she was once a captive and was rescued by the same team, who are a very small, special, super-secretive government unit. She followed their advice and was glad she had. Testifying before an open court can be very dangerous when dealing with a ring of kidnappers. Sally’s story calmed them down and they all managed to convince loved ones they would be home the day after tomorrow and asked them for no media or police. It’s almost too good to believe. So I don’t. Some parent, sibling, or friend will tell the media or the police. I see why you wanted them to have no way to reach or identify us. One more thing. One girl was from Philadelphia and she asked for the lab Sally brought from the farm. We gave it to her. I helped her with a rental car. She left this afternoon for Philadelphia. Fortunately, some of her documents and credit cards were in the stuff you and Kathy picked up.”

“Good job, both of you. Now the lecture. Do you remember me telling you to stay together? I meant exactly that. You both, especially you Kelly, showed bad judgment. You knew about the dangers of being alone in a parking lot. When is the prey the most vulnerable? Not when parking, unless you park in the same spot all the time, the hunters have no way of knowing where you’ll park but they do know you will be coming back. To come back alone, probably carrying packages, not thinking about the danger and not being ready with your weapon is a serious lapse. If you’re going to be careless how can I trust you with my back or Kathy’s?”

Kelly said, “I’ve no excuse. Sally even asked me if it was okay if she watched the packages and I went to get the car. It was dumb.”

“If you want to stay on this team and do the work your mother did, you must, and starting now, use your head. This business isn’t only about bravery and skills. It is mostly about judgment and details. In your case it is also about following orders. You do not yet have the necessary experience to act on your own. You are a boot, a new recruit, and you will have to work hard to move up the chain. Understand?”

“Yes. I can do better.”

“Okay. Listen carefully. No more mistakes. This is the second serious one. If you didn’t have so much potential and if this wasn’t mostly my fault for pushing you along so fast, there would be no more chances. Normally I would not critique you in front of Sally, but I wanted her to hear me. It may prevent a future problem. Now tell me your story.”

For the next hour Kelly told Jack and Sally what had happened to her, starting with the stun gun in the parking lot. Jack praised her for her actions after she was taken. When she was done, Jack nodded and they left. Jack hoped he hadn’t been too hard on Kelly. Her mother died in his arms from taking a bullet meant for him. He had promised his dying friend he would take care of her daughter and he was going to do just that. Even at the cost of her friendship.

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“Shades of Justice” Chapter Fifty-eight

Lou took Ted and Warren back to where their cars were parked and told them he would call tomorrow and they might spend some time at the range brushing up old skills. Jack was waiting for Lou when he came back and said, “Before you hit the sheets and after you tell Storm she did a really fine job – we couldn’t have done it without her – come down to the small meeting room. Coffee is there.”

Lou came in the room and said, “Jack, you must be wiped out. You and Kathy have been going for nearly 36 hours without any down time.”

“We’re both pretty tired. Kathy’s in bed but I wanted to go over a couple of things with you before joining her. Because of you and your team five young women have their lives ahead of them, instead of being trapped in a life of slavery. Are you satisfied with your team?”

“Yeah. But they need to get better and they will. I wouldn’t want them in a firefight until they bring their old skills up to par. I told them to go to the range after they get some rest. What happened the last few days in Atlantic City and Loudoun County is making them think. They’re used to the ponderous, careful process of the law-and-order philosophy. They don’t yet realize areas like terrorism, human trafficking, and drug gangs cannot be defeated solely with the process they were trained to follow. They couldn’t believe our kind of justice could move so swiftly. There is no way their old process of painstaking evidence collection, the warrant process, indictment, and trial, all subject to rules that favor the criminal, could have saved these women.”

“That’s the bottom line,” Jack said. “Saving people and preventing harm in the future to others is what we’re about. Yes, we do break the law from time to time but so do the CIA, Special Forces, and foreign intelligence services. Only they have support for their transgressions. We don’t. The law and order people would love to find us, try us, and jail us. They would believe they were serving the nation and protecting our way of life.

The justice we practice challenges their sheltered beliefs. If their daughter was one of the women we saved tonight, they would praise us. Water boarding would be seen as a necessary step to saving their child. Recognizing the hypocrisy of the protection of the criminals with the law and order approach will not happen. So we must be careful. I have two reasons for wanting to talk with you tonight. The first is, can you manage your team by keeping them in what they would consider lawful activities and screen them from seeing things that would make them witnesses for the prosecution?”

“Nothing we did in Atlantic City bothers them. I don’t know everything that happened tonight. Ted and Warren didn’t see much. There was no gunfire. They are wondering how you freed five women in thirty minutes or so without firing a weapon. As I said, I don’t know what happened but I know the bad guys at that farm are not going to be in business tomorrow or anytime later.”

“If we ever get busted, I don’t want you, Storm, or members of your team in trouble. Kathy, Kelly, Sally, and I will handle the real hard stuff. But we can’t do that without your help. Okay?”

“You pay very well. You can’t earn anywhere near the money you pay in run-of-the-mill security operations. I believe we are like contractors the military and CIA hire to work in hot areas. I understand and will follow your guidelines in running my team.”

“Okay! Now for the second reason. Kathy and I persuaded Conrad’s buddy, the guy your team picked up at the restaurant stop along 95 and followed to the Silver Chalice, to tell us about his boss who runs the human trafficking business Conrad and Jim Marshall are part of. His boss’s name is Eddie Hawkins. Now get this, Hawkins is the chief of a police unit in Baltimore.”

“But Sally was snatched in Pittsburgh. Surely Hawkins can’t be controlling human trafficking in the entire country,” Lou said. “Storm believes the human trafficking we’re working on is run on a franchise basis. With regional bosses in several parts of the country signing up gangs to work their areas and develop spotters, snatchers, and transporters.”

“Kelly also believes something like that is going on. I believe they’re right. Ask Storm to set up a file that shows what we know and what we think the organization looks like. A short list of questions to ask our occasional captives would be helpful. I want you and your team to deploy to Baltimore and begin to develop a target file on Chief Hawkins. Storm can put what you pick up and what she can find out searching the web into the file. This guy will have heard about his dead sniper at Marshall’s shooting camp in Montana and the fire at Conrad’s farm and the loss of his human merchandise. He will be alert. Don’t let him spot any surveillance. No big deal if we lose him. You can always find him on the job. I want him to think he is free and clear.”

“Good. We’ll go to Baltimore the day after tomorrow.”

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