CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

yards away, with a handful of Russian soldiers clustered around them. As

Tombstone cleared the rotors and straightened up to his full height, two

figures detached themselves from the waiting group and advanced toward

the disembarking naval personnel.

The one in the lead wore a Russian army uniform with insignia that

identified him as a colonel. He saluted Whitehead stiffly and spoke in

careful, precise English. “Captain. .. Whitehead. Welcome to Yalta. I am

Bravin. General Boychenko has asked me to see you and your party to your


Whitehead returned the salute with a smile. “Thank you, Tovarisch

Polkovnik,” he said. “And please convey my thanks to the general, as


Before the stilted conversation could go any further, the second man

stepped forward. He was in civilian dress, a short, slight man whose

quick movements and brisk manner made Tombstone think of a bird

searching for worms. “Captain Whitehead,” he said. He spoke with a

distinct Hispanic accent that sounded jarring in these surroundings. “I

am Jorge Luis Vargas y Vargas, personal aide to Special Envoy Sandoval.

He has placed me at your disposal until you have settled in and there is

time to arrange a meeting with him and the rest of the United Nations

delegation.” The little man studied the new arrivals for a moment, his

forehead creasing in a distinctly disapproving frown. “Captain, you and

your people must not appear again without proper uniforms. His

Excellency will be most displeased. Most displeased.”

“Proper uniforms?” Tombstone asked.

“Your carrier group is attached to the UN command. You should wear the

proper blue berets or combat helmets, and UN armbands.” He gestured at

the Sea Stallion, in its dark gray livery and muted rounder. “And for

that matter, your helicopter should not display American insignia.

Please be sure to let your people know what is expected. His Excellency

is very precise when it comes to questions of protocol.” Before either

Magruder or Whitehead had a chance to reply, Vargas turned to the

Russian lieutenant and spoke in rapid-fire Russian.

The young officer nodded. “Da,” he said curtly. “Captain, if you and

your party will accompany me, we will go to your hotel and allow you a

chance to refresh yourselves. According to the schedule, there will be

no meetings requiring your presence until tomorrow. If you please?. ..”

Whitehead turned and looked at the group, then locked gazes with

Tombstone. “Well, CAG,” he said. “I thought there was more of a hurry to

this thing.”

“Hurry up and wait,” Tombstone said with a grin. “It’s the same in every

language.” He looked at the UN man. “Senor Vargas, I’m Captain Magruder.

I’m supposed to liaise with the press. Are there any members of the

media here yet?”

Vargas rolled his eyes toward the sky. “Aye, Madre de Dios, you cannot

go anywhere in the city without bumping into them and their equipment.

They are staying at the same hotel where you will be staying. I’m sure

you will have more to. .. to liaise with, as you say, than you really

care to! Now, if you please?. ..”

Tombstone was intrigued by the little man’s brusque and impatient manner

… not exactly what he would have expected from a diplomat. True,

Vargas wasn’t exactly a diplomat–no more than Tombstone himself was,

actually–but Tombstone had been expecting a little more in the way of

common courtesy.

It seemed that he had a lot to learn about the gentle art of diplomacy.


Wednesday, 4 November 1515 hours (Zulu +3)

Yalta, Crimean Military District It was a mild and delightful seventy

degrees–warmer certainly than Tombstone had expected for any part of

Russia in November. Palm trees swayed in a line along Drazhinsky

Boulevard below his window, and the scores of people he could see on the

promenade beyond wore shorts or swimsuits. Bikinis were much in vogue

with women, especially the young and attractive ones, and Tombstone had

to remind himself that this was part of Russia–or Ukraine, depending on

your point of view–and not some beach in Mediterranean France. Aboard

the Jefferson one hundred miles at sea that morning the air temperature

had been fifteen degrees cooler–not unpleasant, certainly, but not warm

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