Author: vorr de ville PM
When flight K47 crash-landed on the runway at Fort Menzies it made a hero out of Henry Sullivan. He never wanted the label, and it appears that there are still those who don't think he deserved it.Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery - Chapters: 36 - Words: 99,091 - Reviews: 89 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 05-20-13 - Published: 08-28-12 - id: 8474397
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The metal was twisted and shredded as though it was little more than paper. As the powerful beams of the searchlights swept across the wreckage, the full nature of the situation became apparent. Henry Sullivan's palms were slick with sweat, and his heart was pounding against his ribcage as he sprinted in the direction of the stricken aircraft. He'd not seen its awkward lurch onto the runway, but he'd heard the shrieking of metal against metal, and smelt the burning of rubber as he'd gunned the engine of his own car, trying desperately to get to the downed plane, and its occupants.
All around him in the pitch black there was shouting and frantic activity as others sought to take charge of the situation. Their voices were muffled, incoherent sounds to his ears, and he concentrated only on the task that he'd set himself. His colleagues were in that plane; the men that he'd worked and lived with for the past few years. He was not going to let them down; he was not going to let them die.
The aircraft was closer now; he could see the tear in the belly of the plane where the undercarriage hadn't deployed fully. Ignoring the protests from his aching muscles, he pushed on further. He was going to get to them; he was not going to let them die. He felt the baked tarmac beneath his feet as he fought to close the gap between himself and the plane. Smoke caught in the back of his throat and he fought against the cough that started to build. He was going to get there; he was going to save his friends…
Henry Sullivan awoke with a start; his face damp with perspiration. For a few moments he was completely disorientated; almost believing that he could still smell the acrid black smoke in his nostrils, and taste the burning metal in the air.
After a few seconds, reality came flooding relentlessly back in. He was in bed, in his apartment, and he was having the same nightmare again. He turned onto his side and stared at the luminous hands of his alarm clock. It was a little after three in the morning. It hadn't been the nightmare that had awoken him this time; the jangling of the telephone was accompanied by an occasional, hesitant, bark from Missy, who showed her disapproval of the night-time intrusion into her sleep.
Wearily, Henry pushed back the bedclothes and stumbled onto the bedroom floor, heading in the direction of the ringing phone. He exited his bedroom and entered the narrow hallway. The phone continued with its ring, shattering the stillness of the early morning. His feet felt cold upon the wooden floor as he made his way towards the machine. Missy was at his side in seconds, her paws skittering on the wooden floorboards as she pressed her cold nose into his hand, looking for some reassurance.
"…Hello," he lifted the receiver, ignoring the slight whimper of frustration from the black Labrador at his side. There was no reply from the other end, but he knew that there was someone on the line. He knew that there was always someone there; even though they never spoke. "Hello?" he called out again, but his words were met with nothing but silence. He stood in the hallway; perspiration still dripping from his face, wondering just what he had done in life to deserve this.
There were mornings where Kelly Garrett had cause to question the decision she had made in agreeing to work for Charlie Townsend. Some mornings were designed to be spent being pampered in a spa with a good friend along for company; with nothing more pressing than deciding where to go for dinner in the evening. This was one of those mornings; the spa had been booked, the meet up with the friend arranged. A call from Bosley at seven in the morning had, however, sent all those plans crashing to the floor and explained was why she was currently sat in the well-furnished office of Townsend Investigations with a less than happy look upon her face.
Her two companions were also looking distinctly less than amused. Sabrina had already made a pointed remark about how she was supposed to be on vacation, whilst Kris had bemoaned the loss of the day on the beach. What they all agreed upon however was the fact that a beautiful Saturday morning was one that should not be wasted by being sat in an office – however well air-conditioned it might be.
On the receiving end of all the pointed comments and dirty looks was John Bosley. He rode it all with a calm air; he knew that it was pointless to try and remind them of the contracts they had all signed, and the fact that Charlie was well within his rights to call them all in at any time that he chose. He understood fully the frustration that came with having to work unpredictable hours. There were in fact a set of golf clubs in the back of his car that were not going to see the gentle slopes of the local course for another day or so. As usual though, he kept his mouth shut and let the angels get their own grievances off their chests.
As was common, the complaints subsided after only a few minutes and Bosley decided that it was safe to proceed with a few details about the case that Charlie had agreed to take on.
He glanced briefly at his watch before beginning.
"In a few moments we should be joined by General Peter Warner. He has a matter that he'd like us to handle."
There was a look exchanged between Sabrina and Kelly that wasn't missed by the sharp eye of Bosley.
"Rest assured that this case will not require any of you to actually join the army," he was quick to add; watching as another look – this time one of relief - passed between the two girls.
"What exactly does the general want to talk to us about?" Kris broke the silence, having missed the nervous exchanges between her two friends.
"With the assurance that there's no chance of any of us ending up on the KP roster, the good general can come in here and tell us whatever he wants to," Kelly proclaimed cheerfully.
Sabrina stifled a laugh at the remembrance of Kelly's time in basic training. She'd been lucky and escaped the worst of the treatment that had been meted out; something that her two friends had not been quick to forgive. She struggled to remember just how many meals it had cost her until they grudgingly forgave her for escaping the rigours of basic training.
"But you looked so good in khaki," she teased from her place behind the bar.
Kris turned her head and watched the way that Sabrina's eyes were alight with mischief.
"Don't tell me," she queried "BMT?"
"BYT," Sabrina confirmed with a grin. "And be glad that it was," she added. "Army life was not the great adventure it promised to be on the recruitment poster."
"BMT, BYT?" Bosley questioned, fearing that the conversation was already beginning to get away from him.
"Before my time," Kris explained.
"Before your time," Sabrina added the alternate version as she poured herself a cold glass of soda from the well-stocked bar.
Bosley was about to ask them why they didn't just talk in English, but decided that it wasn't worth the long explanation he was likely to get. He settled for shaking his head and glancing again at his watch.
"General being a little tardy for your liking?" Sabrina inquired with an innocent tone to her voice as she made her way over to her usual seat.
Bosley's view on timekeeping was well known within the office; if there was one thing that annoyed Bos; it was people who were late.
"No," Bosley countered. "I was just hoping that the three of you would be done with your sours before he got here."
"Ooohhh," Sabrina smiled at the comment. "Someone else have plans ruined today?"
Bosley didn't get the chance to answer as at that moment Charlie called through and announced that the general would be at the door momentarily. Bosley waved away the offers of help, and went to answer the door himself. It wasn't that he didn't trust the girls; it was more a matter of the reaction of some of the clients. Bosley had the sneaking suspicion that, despite talking the matter over with Charlie, the general was going to be somewhat taken aback when he met the Angels. Military types, he decided, were not always the most forward looking.
Plastering his best 'trust me I'm a professional' look on his face, Bosley made his way to the door; straightening his suit jacket as he walked.
"General Warner," Bosley opened the door and beckoned the smart-suited man into the office. The general was in his mid-forties, his hair once black was now greying at the temples, and cut close to his scalp.
He straightened up upon seeing Bosley, and offered his hand out to be shaken.
"If you'd like to come in," Bosley gestured towards the office, "We'll get started straight away."
"Now this case is a little on the unusual side Angels," Charlie warned them as the general made his way across the office. "I'll let the general explain things to you."
Even though he was out of uniform, there was still a distinctly military bearing about the man. He stood ramrod straight, and if he had any doubts about the Angel's ability to do the job he wanted, he kept them well hidden. He took the seat that Bosley offered him and then looked at each of the girls in turn.
"This year is the fifteenth anniversary of the Fort Menzies crash...
Sabrina's eyes widened. "You talking about Henry Sullivan and the rescue on the runway?" she asked, interrupting him.
General Warner nodded and smiled at the awe he detected in the young detective's voice; her tone of voice causing him to forgive her interruption. "That's one of the names it's been given down the years."
"I can remember my dad telling me all about that," Sabrina confessed with a rueful smile. "That was some rescue."
"For those of you who may not know of the exploits of Henry Sullivan…" Bosley cut across the conversation and earned himself a grateful look from Kris. He switched on the projector and clicked the first slide into place.
The general took up the explanation "In December 1962, Army Flight K47 crashed whilst attempting an emergency landing on the runway at Fort Menzies in Alabama. K47 was a standard flight out of Menzies to the depot at Anniston. There was a storm coming in from the Gulf Stream, and only a narrow window of opportunity to get the flight off the ground and underway. When the plane developed engine trouble, the pilot decided to return to Menzies rather than put down at the nearest strip."
The slide came slowly into focus as Bosley turned off the main lights, and revealed an image of the crash site. Flames were climbing high into the night sky and there was a hive of activity around the remains of the plane on the runway.
"Seven men lost their lives in the accident but the death toll would have been much higher, but for the swift and brave actions of a handful of ground crew who were in the area at the time."
Bosley clicked on to the next slide, which showed uniformed men struggling to help others to safety. In the foreground, silhouetted by the flames that were starting to lick at the fuselage, was a man whose face was a picture of determination. He was supporting an obviously injured man.
"Henry Sullivan was among the men who aided in the rescue of the survivors. He returned to the stricken aircraft again and again, trying to rescue those who were trapped within. Without the selflessness of people like Henry; I m certain that more men would have been killed," the general added.
"He never wanted any publicity for his actions, did he?" Sabrina remarked as she settled back into her seat.
"He's always maintained that he was just doing his job. That photograph made the front cover of most of the nationals the next morning, but Henry just wasn't interested in selling his story" The general nodded in Sabrina's direction. "You seem to know an awful lot about Henry Sullivan."
Sabrina smiled apologetically. "It was my dad; he was in the service at the time – When I was a kid he'd come home and tell me the stories he heard about that evening."
"Your dad had an unusual run on bedtime stories," Kelly told her friend with a smile. "What did he do for an encore – tell you the details of the Battle of New Orleans?"
"You're not so far from the truth," Sabrina admitted ruefully. "He's probably the reason I aced history."
The general broke across the chat. "Was your father serving at Menzies at the time?"
Sabrina shook her head. "No, we were across the other side of the country in 62." She closed her eyes, trying to remember the name of the base. Finally she shrugged. "No; it's gone. Moved so much back then that everything's kind of blurred into one. My dad was stationed at the same base as Sullivan later on though."
"Did you ever meet him?"
"No." The answer was clipped, her mood changing in an instant. "I was away at school by then." She looked down at her hands. "That crash was about more than Henry Sullivan though, wasn't it?"
"Henry is the man that everyone remembers, but there were other lives caught up in the crash. And those men didn't walk away."
Bosley took his cue and moved on to the next slide. It showed a smart-suited man in his mid forties. He was standing at a podium, obviously in the middle of some public address.
"Sam Ward, an up and coming republican senator had been speaking in the area. When he missed his scheduled flight, he asked the Menzies base commander if he could hitch a ride on the next plane out. Turned out to be the last favour he ever called in."
The general waited for Bosley to turn off the projector and bring the main lights in the office back up before continuing. "The crash is about to be brought back into the public eye with the upcoming fifteen year anniversary." He cleared his throat. "Even if we decided to play down the incident, there will always be those who wish to make an event out of it." He pulled a face. "There are rumours that someone is planning to release a new book to coincide with the anniversary. Ever since the accident there have been those who have wanted to label it as a deliberate act. Senator Ward was stirring up a political hornets nest at the time..."
"And they think someone orchestrated the crash?" Sabrina's tone was filled with disbelief.
The general nodded. "More specifically they believe that the CIA were involved because of Senator Ward's rather ... outspoken views against the then current administration."
Sabrina shook her head. "That's just paranoia."
"I know that, and you know that," the general told her sagely. "But there are those who choose to see conspiracy at every turn. Naturally the families of those who lost people in the crash are concerned with the way that their loved ones will be portrayed."
"Do the families have any reason to suspect that a book will be anything other than favourable?" Kris asked.
"That's one of the things that I'd like you to find out. The publisher has been quick to intimate that the book will blow things wide open, but we have no idea what angle the writer is going for. We know from reports that he's interviewed many of the residents of Menzies, trying to get them to recall their memories of the crash, but as far as we know he's made no direct contact with Henry or the other serving men."
"Do we know the name of this man?"
The general shook his head. "I thought I'd leave that side of things to you. The press get word that the army is investigating and it just adds fuel to the fire."
"Right." Sabrina tapped her pen on her notepad. "Were the results of the original crash investigation made public?"
The general nodded. "The original accident report named the pilot as solely responsible for the crash. His wife has campaigned to get the case re-opened and have her husband's name cleared but nothing has ever come of it." The general cleared his throat. "That's one of the things that the community that set itself up near the base has always used as 'evidence' that the crash was orchestrated."
Kris held up a hand. "Pardon me...the community?"
General Warner pulled a face. "They call themselves 'The Watch' but if you ask me they're nothing more than a public nuisance. The first tent went up the week the accident report was made public. They're a small group; maybe twenty or thirty camped near the base at any one time, but they're convinced that the CIA was responsible for Senator Ward's death, and they say that they'll keep a presence at the base until the truth is finally revealed."
"No-one's moved them on?"
"The local sheriff tried, the MPs on the base tried, but the group are quick to contact the local media, and nothing the local paper likes more than to run a story about how the police or the army are hassling some poor protesters. The local residents ignore them for the most part, but they're a thorn in the side of those who want to simply mourn those who died that night."
Kelly let out a long breath. "So we have CIA conspiracy nuts, a journalist with a story to get out... anyone else we need to know about?"
"Anyone who's ever read about the crash?" Sabrina suggested. "I'm guessing that Henry's reclusive nature has only caused more people to try and find him to talk to him."
The general nodded. "You're right. It's been hard to shield Henry from the public. The army has done what it can down the years to grant him his wish to remain out of the public eye but there has always been interest in him."
"Where is Henry at the moment?"
"Ordinance Depot, just east of Barstow." The general noted the look that passed across Sabrina's face and sought to explain. "Henry actually requested the posting a few years back."
"...Right," Sabrina's answer again was clipped; something that didn't escape the notice of her colleagues.
The general exchanged a glance with Bosley and then reluctantly carried on. "In the last few months Henry has been requesting an advance on his wages. I authorised a check on his finances, and it looks as though he's been systematically emptying his accounts." He shrugged his shoulders. "There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, but ..."
"...you want us to prove that it's not some sort of blackmail connection?" Kelly finished for him.
The general nodded. "Henry seems pretty keen to keep things to himself, but from what I understand he's been on the receiving end of some nuisance calls. Henry being Henry, the last thing he wants is attention, but I'm concerned that this may simply be a precursor to something bigger. Whether he accepts it or not, Henry has always been the public face of the crash." His piece said the general rose to his feet. "I'd like you to find out what's going on. Henry's been a good servant to his country; he shouldn't have to deal with this."
Kelly smiled sympathetically in his direction. "We'll do all we can."
The general acknowledged them in turn, and then let Bosley lead him from the office.
"Well you've heard what General Warner has to say," Charlie's voice broke across the silence in the room as the door closed behind the departing man.
"You really think someone's out to blackmail Henry Sullivan?" Kelly wanted to know, turning to face Sabrina and hoping to shake her friend out of her self-imposed silence.
Sabrina shook her head. "I can't believe anyone would want to," she admitted, still sounding somewhat distracted. "The man's a hero. When you think of the lives that he and the other men saved that night…."
"So you think the good general's overreacting?"
"I think someone needs to go and check out the details; see if there is anything to them. I mean, it could just be kids messing around, but ..." she tailed off, knowing that she didn't need to finish the thought.
"And what about this journalist and his book?"
Sabrina shrugged her shoulders. "He's certainly worth taking a look at; as is that little group of protesters near the base. Be interesting to see what their angle is." She let out a long breath and then closed her eyes.
Kelly and Kris exchanged glances.
"Are you ok?" Kris wanted to know.
Sabrina opened her eyes and was immediately all business again. "I'm fine. It just comes to something when someone targets a man like Henry Sullivan."
There was another look that passed between Kelly and Kris. There was more going on than Sabrina was saying. It was pointless to try and force the matter now. They would have to bide their time and wait for a more opportune moment to raise the issue.
"I'd like you to go and see Henry Sullivan, talk to him, try and find out what's going on."
Kelly noticed the look that passed across her friend's face at Charlie's words but she didn't say anything.
"Sabrina?" Charlie prompted.
Sabrina chose her words carefully. "Sounds as though there's a lot going on in Menzies..."
"I'd rather you were the one to speak with Sullivan. From what the general's told me, Sullivan won't necessarily welcome an intrusion into his life. You could at least talk army life with him."
Sabrina remained silent for a few moments. "He's living off base, right?" she finally asked.
Sabrina caught the questioning look from Kelly. "I spent the best part of my childhood stuck on one army base or another... guess I've just had my fill of them."
"Right you are Angel." Charlie replied smoothly, accepting her answer. "...Kelly?"
"The general made it sound as though there was already a pile of information about the crash at the records office. I wouldn't mind the opportunity to look through it." She shrugged. "Who knows; there may be something there that was missed. I can also look a little more into Sam Ward, try and get a handle on exactly who he was upsetting in the weeks leading up to the crash." She glanced around at the others. "I know it's unlikely that there's anything in it, but it's worth at least clearing that avenue of inquiry."
Kris looked balefully at the other two. "I guess that means that I've got the job of heading out to the crash site?"
Kelly failed to suppress a smile. "Yep. Your turn to head out into the wide blue yonder." She glanced down at the map of the area that the general had supplied. "There's an awful lot of nothing out there."
Bosley nodded; a serious expression on his face. "They do say that travel broadens the mind."
Kris narrowed her eyes and glared at him.
"I'll book you a hotel room," Bosley told her. "You shouldn't have any trouble finding the place ... there is only the one hotel in town."
Kris pulled a face. "You guys are enjoying this way too much."
"Hey," Kelly warned her. "No-one said that every trip would be to Hawaii."
"I want a trip there when I get back," Kris protested. "This is Nowheresville." She folded her arms and admitted defeat. "When do we start?"
Bosley smiled at her. "I took the liberty of booking you a seat on this evening's flight." He glanced at his watch. "You've got a couple of hours to pack."
It was the low growl from Missy that drew Henry's attention away from the play on the radio. He watched as she slowly rose to her feet, her hackles starting to rise.
"If it's that cat from 5B, you've just got to accept that she's a resident in this building just like you," Henry warned. Nevertheless he eased himself out of his chair and switched off the radio.
The Labrador kept its attention firmly fixed on the front door; a low growl again emanating from the back of her throat. She took a few hesitant steps towards the door and then glanced up at her owner, waiting to see what he'd do.
"You're not going to let this go, are you?" he shook his head as he headed out into the narrow passageway that led to the front door; the dog hot on his heels. "I can't believe that I let you talk me into this. There'll be nothing there...there never is."
Henry slid the chain off and then undid the bolt on the door. "See," he told the dog as he pulled the door open wide. "There's nothing ..." The words died in his throat. His door was daubed with what looked like blood. It ran in rivulets onto the mat below.
Cold sweat beaded on Henry's face and he slammed the door shut again. He ignored the nose that pressed against his hand, wanting attention. He was a soldier; he wasn't going to be intimidated by the juvenile act of some local kid. Despite the early hour, he made his way over to the liquor cabinet and reached for the scotch.