CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

“I like Matt. And I’m Joyce. If that doesn’t bend the regs too far.”

Official Navy protocol required personnel to call one another by their

last names only, a regulation that was rarely followed outside of the

strict limits of duty. “Oh, I think the regs can stand that. Joyce.”

“So how come?”

“How come what?”

“How come you joined the Navy?”

He grinned. “Because I always wanted to fly jets. As far back as I can

remember, I wanted to fly.”

“So why not the Air Force? They do jets.”

“Well, I had some relatives that wouldn’t have let me forget that.”

“Ah. Your uncle, the admiral.”

“Navy family,” he said, nodding. “Going way back. I guess I was just

continuing the tradition.” He sighed. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth

it, though.”

“How come?”

He glanced around at their “guide.” Abdulhalik was trailing behind them

along the promenade, keeping them in sight but granting them privacy.

When they had a question, he was right there with an answer, but the

rest of the time he kept his distance. A nice guy, Tombstone decided,

whatever his true colors.

“I guess I’ve always felt a need to make some kind of a difference,” he

admitted after a moment.

“I’d say you have,” she said. She took his arm and snuggled up to him as

they walked. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

He looked down at her sharply, but she wasn’t even looking at him. She’d

said it in a simple, matter-of-fact way, no coyness, no hidden messages.

“Well, if it hadn’t been for me, you might not have ended up sitting on

the tundra in the Kola Peninsula with a busted leg in the first place.

And you shot the guy first, as I recall.”

She glanced up at him and grinned. “Yeah, but you distracted him. How

many times did you shoot at him and miss?”

“Hell, I lost count,” Tombstone admitted. He grinned back. It was funny

… now. It hadn’t been funny then, though, as he’d tried to shoot a

Russian soldier with a pistol while running flat out across a

field–definitely a no-good way to practice marksmanship. It worked in

the movies, all right, but in the real world, handguns were appallingly

inaccurate in anything other than a static, proper stance on a target

range. “And you took him down after I slowed him up a bit, as I recall.”

“Teamwork.” She snuggled a bit closer. “Teamwork,” she agreed.


Wednesday, 4 November 1825 hours (Zulu +3)

10 kilometers east of Yalta, Crimea God, I’m not ready for this, Pamela

told herself as they rode in the backseat of the car up a winding,

cliff-top road. Why did he have to be here? Why was I so stupid as to

agree to meet him for dinner?

She really wasn’t ready for the confrontation she knew was coming.

Looking sideways at his profile, she had to admit that she still liked

him. .. a lot. Hell, she loved him, but love wasn’t always enough. It

would have been great if they could’ve made things work out, but by now

Pamela knew that they wouldn’t be able to. She wasn’t about to give up

her career, and though she’d been trying for years now to convince Matt

that his career was a dead end, she’d finally woken up and realized that

the man was simply never going to change.

Matt Magruder was married to the U.S. Navy. It had been that way since

she had met him, and so far as she could tell it was always going to be

that way. Sometimes she thought the guy had saltwater in his veins

instead of blood. Or jet fuel; he loved flying as much as he loved the

sea, though he didn’t get to fly as much these days as he had in the

past. Still, she’d found the combination of sea and flying impossible to

compete with.

And Pamela knew that she was simply not cut out to be a Navy wife.

“You’re awfully quiet,” he told her. He sounded worried, on edge. Maybe

he’d already guessed what she was thinking. He’d always been pretty

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