CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

exactly match up with the calculated macho image that most guys tried to

present to the women stationed with them aboard ship. He made a mental

note to talk with Brewer about that, to see if she needed a hand.

One common way of helping sailors who’d been blind-sided that way–a

technique first employed at the two Navy recruit training centers where

new sailors were first separated from the outside world–was the Dear

John board, a large bulletin board in some prominent, public place where

those who’d received such letters could post them if they wished.

Jefferson kept one in the enlisted recreation lounge aft; there was,

Tombstone thought, no better way to find out that you were not alone,

that you weren’t the only one who’d had to face this particular problem,

as you found space to pin up your own letter amid the forest of similar

letters already there.

The other participants in the morning’s UN ceremony were assembling,

both on the stage, in the area roped off for the crowd, and beyond,

where both Russian and UN troops patrolled the park’s perimeter. Admiral

Tarrant and some more members of his staff had flown in from the

Jefferson early that morning, and he’d already briefed the admiral on

what he’d seen so far in Yalta. .. especially the crime. UN

peace-keepers, whatever their nationality, were going to have their

hands full when Boychenko’s people relinquished control.

Tombstone could hear a faint, far-off thunder–aircraft. Jefferson had

put up a CAP of Tomcats, just in case the Ukrainians or anyone else

decided to try to break up the proceedings.

“Captain Magruder?”

Tombstone turned and was surprised to see Abdulhalik, his guide and

driver from the day before. He was wearing a conservative dark suit this

morning. The jacket was open and there was an obvious bulge beneath his

left arm.

“Abdulhalik!” Tombstone said. “How’s the spy business?”

“Dangerous,” the man said, not bothering to contradict Tombstone’s

assumption. “Especially when the general gives his little speech in a

few minutes.”

It was also interesting, Tombstone thought, how the man’s broken English

had mended quite a bit overnight. No more “A-okay” slang or dropped


“I need to ask you, Captain, how long the helicopter flight to your

carrier will take.

Tombstone looked at the man curiously. “Didn’t the general’s staff cover

all of this after their briefing?”

Abdulhalik gave Tombstone a narrow, inscrutable look. “I feel safer

sometimes if I can. .. confirm information I have been given.”

Though he hadn’t been in on the original planning, Tombstone had seen

the day’s schedule, worked out item by item by UN and Russian personnel

several days earlier, and approved by both him and Captain Whitehead

yesterday. Boychenko would make his speech, followed by a speech from

Special Envoy Sandoval on behalf of the UN, and another by Admiral

Tarrant. There would be a brief opportunity for questions from the

press, and immediately afterward, Boychenko and his senior staff

officers, along with Tarrant and his staff, would be taken to a CH-53

Sea Stallion waiting on the east side of the White Palace grounds. The

group would be flown out to the Jefferson, where Boychenko would

officially request asylum.

As CAG, Tombstone had been consulted on the aircraft timetables,

especially in regard to the CAP that would cover the helo on its flight

back to the Jefferson. Tombstone had assumed that the necessary

information had been passed on to Boychenko’s security personnel.

Apparently, though, Abdulhalik wanted to make sure that the information

he’d heard was the same as what Tombstone had provided.

Which suggested the possibility of informants or worse within

Boychenko’s own planning staff. It wasn’t a pleasant prospect.

“Well,” he said, “the Jefferson’s about one hundred nautical miles out

right now. If the helo pilot goes flat out? Call it thirty-five, maybe

forty minutes. You sound like the general’s going to need a quick

getaway after his speech. You’re afraid of critics?”

He’d meant it as a joke, but Abdulhalik nodded gravely. “Just so. We

have word that a large part of the navy does not approve of the

general’s plans. They might try something to block them.”

“I know. I was making a joke.”

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