NOTES: Thanks for your comments yesterday. I'm glad you like the way I bring in the aspects of character relationships. It's important in real life so why shouldn't it be the same in fiction, right?
I feel my brain warming to the story. As we creep closer to the holidays I'm hoping to unload more words each day. Let me know what you think as we move along, and don't forget to give your ideas on what you think should happen. Your ideas have shaped many story lines before. Let's not stop now...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done.)
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
10:32am, December 5th
Cal Stokes and Daniel Briggs looked like an unlikely pair. Cal was a couple inches shorter than six feet with brown hair that he kept just longer than his regulation cut in the Marine Corps. Daniel had long blonde hair that he liked to keep in a ponytail.
While Cal’s visage leaned toward stern, or maybe just alert, Daniel walked through the world with a Zen-like quality. It wasn’t that he was strange or on the fringe of society. The former Marine sniper just knew his place in the world. After struggling with PTSD he’d found his salve: God.
As his colleagues ribbed each other like Marines just leaving Parris Island, Daniel liked to take the quiet approach, let things soak in.
That, coupled with his absolutely lethal fighting skills, made Daniel Briggs a permanent fixture next to his boss, Cal Stokes. The two men made a formidable team whether shooting their way through a throng of terrorists or maneuvering the minefield of D.C. politics.
You could say that Cal was the face of The Jefferson Group, but Daniel was its heart, a warrior dedicated to leaving the world a little better each day.
The two Marines approached the police tape and flashed their ID badges to the NCIS agent who looked like he’d just turned twenty one.
“Can I help you, gentlemen?” he asked.
“We were told to ask for Robert Barrett?” said Cal.
Without taking his eyes of them the agent shouted, “Hey, Robbie, you’ve got visitors.”
A trim guy in a golf shirt and matching shorts turned and headed their way.
“You the guys from Quantico?”
Cal nodded. “Cal Stokes and this is Daniel Briggs.”
Barrett’s eyes squinted as if one of their names triggered something in his memory. “Robbie Barrett, gentlemen.” He shook both men’s hands. Now that Cal saw him up close he thought the guy looked more like a professional golfer than an NCIS agent. “Why don’t we take a walk and I’ll fill you in.”
They followed Special Agent Barrett until they were out of hearing range of the rest of the NCIS investigators.
“So the Commandant sent you.” It sounded more like a accusation than a simple statement.
“He did,” answered Cal.
“Why you and not his staff?”
Cal shrugged. “He wanted an outside opinion.”
Barrett stared at Cal for a moment, then said. “Just so you know, I understand the needs of the Marine Corps, but I’m not about to hinder this investigation because the Corps wants to save face.”
Cal resisted the urge to clench his teeth. This was Barrett’s backyard, not Cal’s.
“We’re just here to see what you’ve found, let you know that we’re available to help, and report anything we think is pertinent to the General Winfield.”
Barrett crossed his arms over his chest. “And what makes you qualified to question my team?”
Cal exhaled. “Look, I get it. We’re outsiders. You don’t trust us. That’s fine. But we are here on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps. He specifically told us to behave. Me you might have to look out for, but Snake Eyes here,” Cal pointed at Daniel, “he’s as tame as a kitten.”
“Wait, you’re that Daniel Briggs? The one who was up for the Medal of Honor?” asked Barrett, his face shifting from annoyance to curious.
“I didn’t get it, if that’s what you’re asking,” Daniel said simply.
“That’s not what I heard. This guy I now —“
“Leave it alone, Barrett,” said Cal.
Barrett looked like he was going to press, but he didn’t. Cal could tell that as soon as they left, the NCIS agent was going to make some discreet inquiries. Not that it mattered, but Cal couldn’t afford to have themselves highlighted. That wasn’t the way he did business.
“In case you were wondering, our presence here is to remain confidential, by order of the Commandant.”
“I don’t fall under his chain of command, Mr. Stokes.”
Cal grinned. “Okay. Would a call from the President help keep your mouth shut?”
Barrett’s mouth pursed, then opened, then closed again.
“Good,” continued Cal. “Now, like I said, we’ll stay out of your hair. The faster you tell us what’s going on, the faster we go home.”
“How do I know you won’t —“
“I’m a Marine, Mr. Barrett.”
Barrett glared out him but held his tongue. Finally, he said, “Come over to my car and I’ll tell you what I know.”
His car turned out to be a brand new Cadillac Escalade. The paint job was a dull matte black, a theme that continued to the vehicle’s rims. Cal wondered what a thirty-something NCIS agent was doing driving such a souped-up SUV.
“Nice ride,” said Daniel, who must have been thinking the same thing as Cal.
“We just confiscated it from a squid who was running an ecstasy ring out of his barracks,” said Barrett, obviously unfazed Daniel’s comment. He opened up the trunk with a click of his key fob.
There were an assortment of files neatly arranged in black plastic crates sitting next to a golf bag and a pair of recently used golf shoes. Barrett grabbed a green file and sat back against the rear bumper.
“Here’s what we know so far. No signs of struggle. No recent footprints in the same vicinity. The only prints on the gun were his. The pistol itself was registered to General Ellwood in 1982. We had a brief discussion with Mrs. Ellwood, but she was justifiably upset.”
“What about his sons? We heard they were down here on vacation,” said Cal.
“They were clueless. Said the week was going fine. It came as a shock to all of them.”
“Do you believe them?” asked Daniel.
Barrett shrugged. “I’ve been doing this for a while. I can usually tend if someone’s holding back. They were genuinely in pain. No, I think he hid it well.”
“Helluva place to do it though,” observed Cal.
“Tell me about it,” said Barrett. “Can’t say this’ll be the happiest place on Earth for those kids.”
Cal nodded, trying to piece together Gen. Ellwood’s motives in his head. He and Daniel had talked about it on the way down. They even had The Jefferson Group’s in-house shrink, Dr. Higgins, looking into the general’s history. If anyone could dig up something on a person’s psychological makeup, it was Higgins and his extensive experience as one of the CIA’s top interrogators.
Before leaving for Florida, Gen. Ellwood told the Commandant that he wanted a week with his family before the storm hit. He knew that word of his involvement in the plot against the Marine Corps, no matter how innocent, would hit his family hardest. He’d promised to divulge everything he knew, including suspects, as soon as he returned.
That hadn’t happened and Cal was sure that Gen. Winfield was doubting his own judgement. The Commandant had enough on his plate to worry about. Add to it the guilt of a fallen comrade, in an act that might have been prevented… Cal would blame Winfield. He’d done what he thought was best at the time. After all, Gen. Ellwood was a decorated Marine, a commander who’d time and time again proven himself on the battlefield.
Cal hadn’t known the man personally, but like most Marines in the know, he’d heard of the general accomplishments.
No, there was more to the suicide than self pity. Cal wondered how insidious the motive had become in Ellwood’s head in order to force the trigger pull.
“That’s about all we know for now. As long as there’s not foul play involved, we may have our investigation wrapped up in a matter of days,” said Barrett, closing the file and replacing it in its bin.
Cal was glad for the comment. The last thing they needed was the NCIS snooping around as Cal and his team conducted their own investigation. Gen. Winfield had been very clear on one point, that he wanted Cal’s true motive for being in Florida to remain a secret.
Cal agreed with the Commandant. No need to alert anyone until they verified Ellwood’s claim. But now they didn’t have the Assistant Commandant to help them. What did that mean for the investigation? More importantly, what did that mean for the Marine Corps?
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