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Authors: James - Jack Swyteck ss Grippando

Operation Northwoods (2006)

BOOK: Operation Northwoods (2006)
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Operation Northwoods (2006)
Grippando, James - Jack Swyteck ss
Published:
2011

Operation Northwoods

James Grippando

*

It's No Accident That Five Of James Grippando's Ten Thrillers
are legal thrillers featuring Jack Swyteck, an explosive criminal defense lawyer. Grippando is a lawyer himself, though fortunately with far fewer demons than Jack. What's it like to be Jack? Simply imagine that your father is Florida's governor, your best friend was once on death row and your love life could fill an entire chapter in Cupid's Rules of Love and War (Idiot's Edition). Throw in an indictment for murder and a litany of lesser charges, and you'll begin to get the picture.

Readers of the Swyteck series know that Jack is a self-described half-Cuban boy trapped in the body of a gringo. That's a glib way of saying that Jack's Cuban-born mother died in childbirth, and Jack was raised by his father and stepmother, with no link whatsoever to his Cuban heritage. Grippando is not Cuban, but he considers himself an "honorary Cuban" of sorts. His best friend since college was Cuban born and that family dubbed him their otro hijo, other son. Quite remarkable, considering that Grippando grew up in rural Illinois and spoke only "classroom" Spanish. When he first arrived in Florida, he had no idea that Cubans made better rice than the Chinese, or that a jolt of Cuban coffee was as much a part of midafternoon in Miami as thunderclouds over the Everglades. He'd yet to learn that if you ask a nice Cuban girl on a date, the entire family would be waiting at the front door to meet you when you picked her up. In short, Grippando-- like Jack Swyteck--was the gringo who found himself immersed in Cuban culture.

In Hear No Evil, the fourth book in the Swyteck series, Jack Swyteck travels back to Cuba to discover his roots. Naturally, he runs into a mess of trouble, all stemming from a murder on the U. S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Grippando prides himself on his research, and threw himself into all things Cuban when researching the thriller. At the time it was impossible to speak to anyone about the U. S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay without the problem of the detainees dominating the conversation. It was then that Grippando came across a forty-year-old plan--Operation Northwoods--which, in the hands of someone with an extremely devious mind, could cause a mountain of trouble.

So was born this story.

In Operation Northwoods, Jack and his colorful sidekick, Theo Knight, find themselves in the heat of a controversy after an explosion at the U. S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba--an explosion that rocks the world.

OPERATION NORTHWOODS

6:20 a.m., Miami, Florida Jack Swyteck swatted the alarm clock, but even the subtle green glow of liquid-crystal digits was an assault on his eyes. The ringing continued. He raked his hand across the nightstand, grabbed the telephone and answered in a voice that dripped with a hangover. It was Theo.

"Theo who?" said Jack.

"Theo Knight, moron."

Jack's brain was obviously still asleep. Theo was Jack's best friend and "investigator," for lack of a better term. Whatever Jack needed, Theo found, whether it was the last prop plane out of Africa or an explanation for a naked corpse in Jack's bathtub. Jack never stopped wondering how Theo came up with these things. Sometimes he asked; more often, he simply didn't want to know. Theirs was not exactly a textbook friendship, the Ivy League son of a governor meets the black high-school dropout from Liberty City. But they got on just fine for two guys who'd met on death row, Jack the lawyer and Theo the inmate. Jack's persistence had delayed Theo's date with the electric chair long enough for DNA evidence to come into vogue and prove him innocent. It wasn't the original plan, but Jack ended up a part of Theo's new life, sometimes going along for the ride, other times just watching with amazement as Theo made up for lost time.

"Dude, turn on your TV," said Theo. "CNN."

There was an urgency in Theo's voice, and Jack was too disoriented to mount an argument. He found the remote and switched on the set, watching from the foot of his bed.

A grainy image filled the screen, like bad footage from one of those media helicopters covering a police car chase. It was an aerial shot of a compound of some sort. Scores of small dwellings and other, larger buildings dotted the windswept landscape. There were patches of green, but overall the terrain had an arid quality, perfect for iguanas and banana rats--except for all the fences. Jack noticed miles of them. One- and two-lane roads cut across the topography like tiny scars, and a slew of vehicles seemed to be moving at high speed, though they looked like matchbox cars from this vantage point. In the background, a huge, black plume of smoke was rising like a menacing funnel cloud.

"What's going on?" he said into the phone.

"They're at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay. It's about your client."

"My client? Which one?"

"The crazy one."

"That doesn't exactly narrow things down," said Jack. "You know, the Haitian saint," said Theo.

Jack didn't bother to tell him that he wasn't actually a saint. "You mean Jean Saint Preux? What did he do?"

"What did he do?" said Theo, scoffing. "He set the fucking naval base on fire."

6:35 a.m., Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Camp Delta was a huge, glowing ember on the horizon, like the second rising of the sun. The towering plume of black smoke rose ever higher, fed feverishly by the raging furnace below. A gentle breeze from the Windward Passage only seemed to worsen matters--too weak to clear the smoke, just strong enough to spread a gloomy haze across the entire southeastern corner of the U. S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Major Frost Jorgenson was speeding due south in the passenger seat of a U. S. marine Humvee. Even with the windows shut tight, the seeping smoke was making his eyes water.

"Unbelievable," he said as they drew closer to the camp.

"Yes, sir," said his driver. "Biggest fire I've ever seen."

Major Jorgenson was relatively new to "Gitmo," part of the stepped-up presence of U. S. Marines that had come with the creation of a permanent detention facility at Camp Delta for "enemy combatants"--suspected terrorists who had never been charged formally with a crime. Jorgenson was a bruiser even by marine standards. Four years of college football at Grambling University had prepared him well for a life of discipline, and old habits die hard. Before sunrise, he'd already run two miles and peeled off two hundred sit-ups. He was stepping out of the shower, dripping wet, when the telephone call had come from Fire Station No. 1. An explosion at Camp Delta. Possible casualties. Fire/Rescue dispatched. No details as yet. Almost immediately, he was fielding calls from his senior officers, including the brigadier general in charge of the entire detainee program, all of whom were demanding a situation report, pronto.

A guard waved them through the Camp Delta checkpoint.

"Unbelievable." The major was slightly embarrassed for having repeated himself, but it was involuntary, the only word that seemed to fit.

The Humvee stopped, and the soldiers rushed to strap on their gas masks as they jumped out of the vehicle. A wave of heat assaulted the major immediately, a stifling blow, as if he'd carelessly tossed a match onto a pile of oversoaked charcoal briquettes. Instinctively he brought a hand to his face, even though he was protected by the mask. After a few moments, the burning sensation subsided, but the visibility was only getting worse. Depending on the wind, it was like stepping into a foggy twilight, the low morning sun unable to penetrate the smoke. He grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment.

Major Jorgenson walked briskly, stepping over rock-hard fire hoses and fallen debris, eventually finding himself in the staging area for the firefighting team from Fire Station No. 2. Thick, noxious smoke made it impossible to see beyond the three nearest fire trucks, though he was sure there were more, somewhere in the darkness. At least he hoped there were more. Once again, the heat was on him like a blanket, but even more stifling was the noise all around him--radios crackling, sirens blaring, men shouting. Loudest of all was the inferno itself, an endless surge of flames emitting a noise that was peculiar to fires this overwhelming, a strange cross between a roaring tidal wave and a gigantic wet bedsheet flapping in the breeze.

"Watch it!"

Directly overhead, a stream of water arched from the turret of a massive, yellow truck. It was one of several three-thousandgallon airport rescue and firefighting machines on the base, capable of dousing flames with 165 gallons of water per minute. It wasn't even close to being enough.

"Coming through!" A team of stretcher bearers streaked past. Major Jorgenson caught a glimpse of the blackened shell of a man on the gurney, his arms and legs twisted and shriveled like melted plastic. On impulse, he ran alongside and then took up the rear position, relieving one of the stretcher bearers who seemed to be on the verge of collapse.

"Dear God," he said. But his heart sank even further as the lead man guided the stretcher right past the ambulance to a line of human remains behind the emergency vehicles. The line was already too long to bear. They rolled the charred body onto the pavement.

"Major, in here!"

He turned and saw the fire chief waving him toward the side of the fire truck. An enlisted man stepped in to relieve his commanding officer of stretcher duty. The major commended him and then hurried over to join the chief inside the cab, pulling off his mask as the door closed behind him.

The fire chief was covered with soot, his expression incredu- lous. "With all due respect, sir, what are you doing out here?" "Same as you," said the major. "Is it as bad as it looks?" "Maybe worse, sir."

"How many casualties?"

"Six marines unaccounted for so far. Eleven injured." "What about detainees?"

"Easier to count survivors at this point."

"How many?"

"So far, none."

The major felt his gut tighten. None. No survivors. A horrible result--even worse when you had to explain it to the rest of the world.

The fire chief picked a flake of ash from his eye and said, "Sir, we're doing our best to fight this monster. But any insight you can give me as to how this started could be a big help."

"Plane crash," the major reported. "That's all we know now. Civilian craft. Cessna."

Just then, a team of F- 16s roared across the skies overhead. Navy fighter jets had been circling the base since the invasion of airspace.

"Civilian plane, huh? It may not be my place to ask, but how did that happen?"

"You're right. It's not your place to ask."

"Yes, sir. But for the safety of my own men, I guess what I'm getting at is this: if there's something inside this facility that we should know about ... I mean something of an explosive or incendiary nature--"

"This is a detention facility. Nothing more."

"One heck of a blaze for a small civilian aircraft that crashed into nothing more than a detention facility."

The major took another look through the windshield. He couldn't argue.

The chief said, "I may look like an old geezer, but I know a thing or two about fires. A little private plane crashing into a building doesn't carry near enough fuel to start a fire like this. These bodies we're pulling out of here, we're not talking third-degree burns. Upward of eighty-five, ninety percent of them, it's fourth- and even fifth-degree, some of them cooked right down to the bone. And that smell in the air, benzene all the way."

"What is it you're trying to tell me?"

"I know napalm when I see it."

The major turned his gaze back toward the fire, then pulled his encrypted cellular phone from his pocket and dialed the naval station command suite.

7:02 a.m., Miami, Florida Jack increased the volume to hear the rapid-fire cadence of an anchorwoman struggling to make sense of the image on the TV screen.

"You are looking at a live scene at the U. S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay," said the newswoman. "We have no official confirmation, but CNN has obtained unofficial reports that, just after sunrise, there was an explosion on the base. A large and intense fire is still burning, but because both the United States and the Cuban military enforce a buffer zone around the base, we cannot send in our own camera crew for a closer look.

BOOK: Operation Northwoods (2006)
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