Admiral Poindexter has a serious problem and only his friend’s son can help. If the wrong people discover that he has asked for help, someone he loves will die—quickly, horribly. Snuffed out like a candle.
Press, Rachel and Trace do what they can. It soon becomes obvious to Press that he’s going to need the help of his own best friend since childhood—Lieutenant Commander James Harticutt, Navy SEAL Team 6.
None of them could know then that a matter of weeks would have made a disastrous difference in the outcome of their search for an undercover CIA agent somewhere in the Middle East.
PRESS ‘N SEAL
Chesapeake Dockside Café
The café was on the top floor of the ten-story luxury hotel. The nautical blue decor, glass and brass fixtures and linen-covered tables of the café reflected in its floor-to-ceiling windows on the bay side of the hotel. The view of the marina with its moored sailboats, yachts and cruisers made a gorgeous backdrop for diners.
Heads turned as two handsome men—one tall, with black hair and the iciest blue eyes and dressed in Armani; the other not quite as tall, younger, fairer, but an excellent specimen dressed in casual but well-put-together retail—entered the bar. They weren’t fooling anybody. The body language was undeniable no matter what they wore—cops!
“There he is,” Press whispered. “Sitting against the window. Two o’clock.”
They headed straight for Poindexter’s table, greeted the admiral, who was dressed in civvies—tan dress slacks, a light brown jacket, pale blue shirt open at the throat.
The white-haired man could have passed for a retired banker. No, Press thought again. The posture was there. He was every inch a military man.
His deep voice partnered perfectly with the forcefulness of his stature and position. At six feet in height, he was strong, ramrod straight, and impressive. When he spoke, his baritone voice that reminded Press of his dad’s didn’t have to be raised to make one take note of every word he uttered. The man oozed authority from every pore.
It would never occur to Press that the admiral was thinking the same thing about him as the two men approached his table.
“Preston, good to see you,” the admiral said, pumping Press’s arm enthusiastically.
“Trace.” The admiral moved slightly to greet him, also.
“Please have a seat,” Poindexter motioned to the chairs opposite his own at the foursome table. He waited until everyone had ordered lunch and drinks and the waiter had moved away before getting into the purpose for the meeting.
“Preston, I’m being blackmailed.”
Leave it to the admiral to come right to the point. Press was shocked. Years of training enabled him to hide it well, but the idea of anyone even attempting to blackmail the career naval officer, let alone a man of Poindexter’s temperament, was ludicrous.
He knew that the admiral was every bit as fit as Palmer, Press’s ex-covert ops, ex-Marine, ex-bodyguard, friend and majordomo. Anyone that would challenge him was either a fool or had a death wish.
Press did all the talking while Trace just took mental notes.
“When did it start, sir?” Press asked, quietly.
“I received the first text message about two weeks ago. At first, I really thought it was some bizarre joke—some young punk pulling a prank.”
“When the second message came, I took it a bit more seriously, but still didn’t really believe it wasn’t some new recruits attempt at sick humor. They never said what it was about, really. I was just told that when they needed me, I’d damned well better be ready to do what I was told.”
“I ignored them, still not believing it was a serious threat. Then, two days ago, I was nearly run down outside my home.”
Poindexter took a deep swig of his icy beer. “I’m not taking it as a joke anymore.” He hit some keys on his phone and handed it to Press. “I received this just seconds after I picked myself off of the pavement.”
Don’t ignore me again!
“After that, they made their threats more specific,” Poindexter concluded.
“Can you tell us what it’s about, sir?” Press laid the phone down on the table between them.
“It’s…it’s about a young lady.”
The look on both of the younger men’s faces must have been easily to read.
“No, not like that!” he interrupted their thoughts. Then he got a faked disappointed expression on his face. “Although I must admit it’s slightly disconcerting that you would be surprised, if it were.”
The moment’s levity was clearly over, as the admiral leaned forward. “It’s my sister—Grace.”
Press recognized a tone of sadness in Poindexter’s voice. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t realize you had a sister. I don’t think Dad’s ever mentioned her.”
“Well, William is one of the few people on Earth who know about her—I mean really know about her. Our parents and their friends are all gone now or scattered to the wind. Her friends lost touch a decade or so ago.”
“Grace…her name is Grace Merretti…is actually my half-sister. My father died while I was in high school. Mother remarried. He—Enzo Merretti—was an Italian diplomat she met in New York. They lived in New York for years. Grace was born the spring before my graduation from high school.”
“She was a precious child, so tiny and dark—exotic looking really. I’ve always loved her as much as I would have if she had been a full sister. I spent many vacations and holidays teaching Grace all the things that we could do together. We went to museums, the theatre, went sailing together. I taught her to swim. She’s always been dear to me.”
“When Mother and Enzo were killed in a plane crash during Grace’s freshman year in high school, she came to live with us—I was married to Abigail by then and the boys were still in middle school.”
“Preston, your father’s a very good friend, and he’s very capable of being discrete. That is very important when it comes to Grace.”
“Let me start from the beginning.” He looked out over the water and gathered his thoughts. Then he turned back toward the two men who would soon have his sister’s life in their hands.
“Grace was very young when it all began. She was a very bright young woman. During her college days she was approached by The Firm.”
Trace interrupted. “The Firm, sir?”
“The CIA,” Press exclaimed, as quietly as he could manage.
“And you thought the FBI recruiting you was bad,” Trace mumbled under his breath.
Poindexter continued, “They hounded her and hounded her, until she finally said yes.” He took another deep long pull from his beer. “She’s been out of reach for several years. Personally, I think she’s in the Middle East, but I have no proof. It’s just an educated hunch. I know she’s fluent in Farsi and Pashtun, just as she is in French and Italian—and God only knows what else by now.”
“So,” Press asked, “what is it they’re threatening, Admiral?” The look on Poindexter’s face was one he never thought he’d see—cold, paralyzing fear.
“They’ve threatened to break her cover!”[subscribe2]