A ringing phone on a desk in Washington DC prompted a call to Virginia and so on. If given a shape, the calls would have looked like the ace of diamonds turned on its side, the first guy’s phone at the tip of one end and my phone on the other.
I responded the way anyone in my position would have: with precise efficiency. Less than half a day later my men were checking and rechecking necessities, patiently awaiting the green light, because that’s what they do. They hurry up and wait. They go where they’re told, when they’re told, and they have been hand picked because they don’t care when, or where, or what.
It was an all-star cast. A distinguished guy in a suit—a politician for sure—sat at the table with a three star, a brigadier and a full bird wearing Army Class A’s, a stack of action reports and dossiers in front of them. In the corner behind the colonel sat an ancient man in a dark brown sport coat I nicknamed The Artifact. He looked like a movie prop, or a wax figure from a Ben Franklin museum.
“The confirmation was made at nineteen hundred hours last night. It was discovered at the bottom of the Baltic Sea at 3:27 yesterday afternoon,” said the three star. His voice was a rumble. “We need to have your team in place within the next twenty-one hours to give us a nine hour operational window.”
“You will have to forgive me, sir,” I said, “I have zero intel on this operation.”
“What do you know, soldier?” asked the brigadier.
“I know that at nineteen hundred hours last night a confirmation of some kind was made, and my team is needed some place in the world within the next twenty-one hours,” I said.
The colonel slid a stack of folders in front of me. I opened each one as the three star ran through the narrative.
“At fifteen twenty-seven yesterday afternoon, a Swedish maritime salvage crew discovered an object on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.”
“What did they find?” I asked.
“That’s classified information,” said the brigadier, his tone quick and sharp.
I felt my forehead crease. I drummed my fingers on the back of the folder longer than necessary, and bore through the brigadier’s face to a spot some thousand yards away.
I returned to the printouts and paper-clipped photographs. The three star rumbled on.
“This is an eight person salvage operation,” he said. He explained the crew’s vessel specifications, and was beginning to tell me about the model of the mini sub when I interrupted.
“This is a civilian crew,” I said.
“I am aware of that, soldier,” said the three star.
“In foreign waters.”
The words hung in the air, mingling with the musk of human tension mixed with the scent of furniture polish and chemical disinfectant.
“In 1943 we were deep in war,” said the politician. “The Baltic Sea was a very busy place, and very important to us from an operational standpoint.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Who are you?” I asked.
“I am here on behalf of the Secretary of Defense.” He smiled. “May I continue?”
I said nothing, but noted he hadn’t answered my question.
“By 1945 it was over, things were coming home, but not everything. And there are some things that should never be found.”
“And my team is to make sure that our granddads’ secrets stay secret. By eliminating a crew of non-coms,” I said.
“Let’s just say it would be better if the salvage operation was not successful,” said the suit.
“Sir, I lead a well organized, highly trained team of the most proficient killers the United States Marine Corps has to offer. There is no operation that we can’t carry out to perfection, but we do not do it blind. And we do not do it against unarmed foreign citizens. And damn sure not when the operation is toxic enough that the Secretary of Defense needs a degree of separation so he can claim plausible deniability at the hearing. So, since the question was avoided earlier, I will ask again. What’s down there?”
“You are out of line, soldier,” said the brigadier, shooting out of his chair like he had a spring under his ass, his fingertips white against the conference table.
“This operation is out of line, sir,” I said.
“This is a direct order, soldier,” said the three star.
“This is a joint effort, a courtesy. I don’t take orders from you. If you want to call General Perkins, and have him give me the order, be my guest. But until I know what I’m sending my men into, or I get the order from General Perkins, you can go fuck yourself… sir.”
The three star brought his fist down on the table, veins like steel cables beneath the regulation haircut. He began telling me how he would turn my skull into a phallic receptacle, when the ancient wax figure in the brown jacket placed his hand on the three star’s shoulder.
The Artifact slid a folder in front of me so aged the contents could have been printed on papyrus. A stamp on the cover, faded but still visible, read Top Secret.
“You guys really stamped things top secret back in the day?” I asked.
The corners of his wizened mouth curled into an imperceptible smile. He said nothing.
I read the file beginning to end. The folder closed with a deafening whisper. I gave a subtle nod to The Artifact and returned my attention to the three star. “I’ll tell my men to saddle up.”
Jeff Hurt writes in a variety of fiction genres and has published several non-fiction articles and maintains a humor blog—thisworldofhurt.com—where he writes about his family life. He is the father of seven fantastic children and a husband to the world’s most supportive wife. Jeff draws inspiration from his many travels and his eclectic background. He has lived all over the country and has been employed as a professional musician, a disk jockey, a forest fire fighter, etc. Jeff is earning a BFA in creative writing and will soon be supporting his family through the words he writes.