Standard Disclaimer: These characters aren't mine, I'm just taking them out to play. Not profiting from their usage, other than that of my own personal enjoyment. Hopefully, you all enjoy it as well.
This story is the third story in the "Moving On" Series, following "London Calling". It is highly encouraged that you read those stories first, just so you know what occurred that got us here. They also introduce several OCs that will be featured within this story. As well, note that the timeline has jumped forward for this story.
And now, on with the story.
July 1, 2005
Rabb Family Farm – Belleville, Pennsylvania
Harm rolled out of bed at the sound of the baby crying, rubbing his eyes as he looked over at Beth. She was sound asleep but that would only last a moment or two before she too would awaken. Still, this feeding was all on him, since she had handled the previous one. Standing, he walked over to where the portable crib was and lifted his son out. Taking a sniff, he instantly knew that a diaper change was in order as well.
Getting a blanket, he laid it on the bed along with a fresh diaper and container of wipes. Then, he removed the soiled one and cleaned up his son before putting a new diaper on him. That accomplished, Harm dressed the infant before sitting him back in the crib for a brief moment. This was so that Harm could get dressed as well before going down to the kitchen with his son.
Entering the kitchen, he was not surprised to find his grandmother at work at the stove. Even in her eighties, she still rose with the dawn and was now fixing breakfast for her guests. Harm saw that she also had a bottle heating for her great-grandson. Hearing them come in, she turned and smiled.
"Good morning, Harmon. And good morning to you, too, Jack," Grandma Sarah said, as she held out her hands for the baby, John Francis Rabb.
In the months leading up to his birth, a name had been one of the most hotly contested things between Harm and Beth. She had wanted to continue the tradition and name the boy Harmon. He had been adamant in opposing the idea, remembering how he'd gotten picked on in school for having a "weird" name and didn't want his son to go through that. He'd suggested a few other names before inspiration struck and he'd said John Francis. Beth had looked at him strangely at that, until Harm had told her that he thought it would be nice to name their son after their fathers, or in his case stepfather.
When the baby was born, Trish and Frank had flown to London to be with them, staying through Thanksgiving to help out with the baby. Frank had been completely taken by little Jack and was often found sitting in an easy chair with the infant napping on his chest. He had been rendered speechless when he'd been told the little boy's name and tears had come to his eyes. Seeing this, Harm had put an arm around his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"I just wanted you to know, even if I was absolutely lousy at showing it, I appreciate everything you did for me, Dad," Harm had told him.
"Thanks, Harm," was all Frank was able to say, yet the smile on his face said plenty more.
Trish and Beth had both watched this interplay and smiled, for very different reasons. Trish had long been torn by the once hostile nature of her son's relationship with the man she'd married after Harm Senior had been shot down. So, to her, it was a relief to see this new closeness. As for Beth, she could now see why Harm had decided to name their son after their fathers, not until then fully understanding the rift that must have existed between Harm and Frank in the past and the measure of togetherness this simple act had brought.
The trip to the farm was the first chance, however, for Grandma Sarah to meet the baby. Harm had thought about coming before this, but had wanted Jack to be a little older and hopefully better able to travel. Add to that the holiday weekend and this just seemed like a good time to make the trip over. Now, as he watched his grandmother holding little Jack, he was as happy as he had ever been.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs announced that Mattie was on her way down. The sixteen year old was the only one who could make that much noise, Harm thought with a smile. As she came into the kitchen, following her nose, she smiled at the family.
"'Morning, Dad. Grandma. Hi Jack, how's my little brother today," Mattie said as she approached Grandma Sarah and the infant. Leaning in, she kissed the top of his head while she hugged Sarah.
"Good morning, Mattie," Sarah said with a smile, as the teen took over at the stove, turning the eggs expertly. She also attended to the hash browns as well, which gave Sarah extra time with her great-grandson.
Harm just stood back and watched, think about how blessed he was by his family. Then Jack began to cry a little again, reminding Harm that the baby was still hungry. But before he could move, Sarah had already gotten the bottle off the stove and was carrying it to the table. Sitting down, she expertly got the child settled before carefully testing the temperature of the milk. Finding it to be good, she presented the bottle to the infant, who latched onto the nipple and got to work.
While she handled the feeding, Harm and Mattie finished up the breakfast and got everything onto the table. The smell of the food and coffee brought Beth down, looking bleary eyed and about ready to go back to sleep. Still, she settled down at the table and dug in, though she didn't get the cup of coffee she wanted. Harm saw to that, as well as making sure Mattie didn't as well. Instead, Beth got a large glass of milk while Mattie had apple juice. Harm did have a cup of coffee, which earned him a harsh glare and pout from Beth.
"One cup of coffee isn't going to kill me, Harm," Beth said.
"I'm just following the doctor's advice. While you're still giving Jack breast milk, no caffeine. So, no coffee, no soda, nothing with caffeine," Harm replied, reasonably.
"I hate you."
"No, you don't. Because you want Jack to be healthy, which means you need to be healthy and eat smart."
"I still hate you," Beth said. "You could at least not drink that in front of me, like you're rubbing my nose in the fact I can't have any."
"Alright, I'm sorry," Harm said, as he drained the cup quickly and then put it aside, switching to a glass of apple juice. "Satisfied?"
"Not after watching you drain an entire cup, not hardly."
"Tell you what, why don't you finish your breakfast and rest a little while. Then, we'll see if we can't do something to snap you out of this bad mood."
Beth growled in anger as she pushed back from the table and stormed out of the kitchen. Harm moved to follow her, only to be stopped by Grandma Sarah. She just quietly shook her head and gave him a very disappointed look.
"Let her be, dear. She'll be back when she's cooled off a little," Sarah said. "And if you don't go up there and push any further."
"Honestly, I wasn't trying to push," Harm said.
"Oh, now I can see why you were single for so long. Harmon, you knew that Beth can't have coffee and yet you took a cup? That's downright inconsiderate. Then you ask if she's satisfied after you practically inhale the damned thing in front of her? I thought I taught you better than that."
With that, Sarah turned from her grandson and talked to Mattie, leaving Harm to reflect on his poor decisions. After a little, he got up from the table and walked outside. The warm morning sun felt good, as did the sight of the open meadow in front of the farmhouse. In his mind, as he stood there, he could remember other occasions when he'd looked over that same meadow. This place held a certain magic for him, the connection it provided not just to his father but the whole long line of Rabbs that had called the farm their home.
The sound of a car coming up the drive disturbed his thoughts and he turned to face it. A smile grew on his face, however, when he saw who was in the car. Walking down the steps, he reached the bottom just as the car stopped. Both doors opened and Thomas Boone and Beth O'Neil got out, stretching.
"Good morning, Sir," Harm said as he approached Boone, his hand outstretched.
"Harm," Boone said, shaking the hand as well as handing over a set of keys.
"What's Beth doing here?"
"I failed my flight physical. So, she's the one who flew 'Sarah' up."
Harm looked at Boone at that comment. The man looked like he always had, perhaps a little thinner, but the same old Boone.
"What happened?" Harm asked.
"The doctors tell me I have Parkinson's disease. No, don't say anything like you're sorry. I know you mean well, but…." Boone stopped, not know how to express what he was thinking as well as not wishing to talk about something he regarded as private.
"When did you find out?"
"Last month. The doctors started doing testing around the New Year, after I had some trouble with my hand shaking. I'd be sitting at home and my hand would just start shaking. So, I went to the doctor and he sent me to a different one who ran a ton of tests and then gave me the bad news."
"So, Beth's the one who flew today?" Harm asked.
"Only until we were away from the airport, then I let the boss have a little fun," Beth said with a smile. In the last eighteen months, she and Boone had become, if not friends, then respected colleagues. Once she proved worthy, he had become accepting of her and her girlfriend, even having the two women over for cookouts. She reflected that, except for some other kindnesses performed by other friends, this might well have been the last time Tom Boone flew a plane. She could see that he realized it too, from the slight slump of his shoulders.
"Well, why don't you both come inside and have something to eat?"
"That's fine, Harm. Our flight back to Washington doesn't leave State College until 2:30," Tom said as he climbed the steps.
Going inside, they followed Harm into the kitchen, where Mattie and Sarah still sat with Jack. Seeing the visitors, Sarah handed Jack off to Mattie and stood.
"It's good to see you again, Tom," Sarah said.
"Thank you, Ma'am."
"Still the same old ramrod, I see. And who's your friend?"
"Actually, Grandma, this is Beth O'Neil. She works for Mattie at Grace Aviation," Harm said. "She's also a friend of mine."
Sarah looked O'Neil over and liked what she saw. She also approved of the way the woman held her gaze, not backing down.
"I'm delighted to meet you, Ms. O'Neil. Though I am curious as to what brings the pair of you all the way to Belleville?" Sarah asked.
"When Harm told me he was coming to visit, he asked if I could have his Stearman delivered to Mifflin for him. Said he wanted to do some flying while he was here. I said sure, we could do that and he never asked what I meant by we, so here 'we' are," Boone said.
"You mean 'Sarah' is here?" Mattie asked, excitement etching her features. She'd been bitten by the bug after her first flight with Harm, when he'd let her take the controls. She wanted to experience those feelings again.
"Sure is, Mattie," O'Neil said.
"Can we go flying, Dad?"
"Yeah, Dad, can we?" Beth said from behind them, before wrapping her arms around Harm from behind.
"I suppose we can, later. For now, I think we should let Beth and the Admiral get some breakfast and then we need to talk about the company," Harm said, looking at Boone as he said that.
Eagle Nest Lake – Taos County, New Mexico
0608 Mountain/ 0808 Eastern
Victor slipped quietly from the sleeping bag he was sharing with Emily, then made his way out of the tent and stood looking at the lake. The view from here never got old, as he looked out across the lake. He could also see, out of the corner of his eye, the tent that housed his sister Maria. She was serving as their "guide", even though Victor had spent almost as much time at the lake as she had. He could remember his mother's look of amusement when the two of them had argued about Maria tagging along on this trip.
It was Emily who had finally settled things when she had taken Maria's side. Not wanting to fight the pair of them, Victor had given in. Besides, it wasn't as if she'd be sharing the tent with them, Emily had told him later, though that had been his sister's intention. Victor had laughed when he had seen her only pack one large tent in the back of the SUV and he'd quickly grabbed a second one, asking if she had been forgetting something.
Going to the small cook stove they'd brought out with them, he started a pot of coffee going. They were going back home tonight, after a quick two days on the lake. His family was having a barbeque tonight, an early celebration of the Fourth of July holiday. This week had been the third time he'd brought Emily home to visit his family, but the first time he'd managed to bring her out here. The first time, the family had mobbed them and there had simply been no time. The second was in January and between the cold and snow, going to the lake then wouldn't have shown it in all of its beauty. Now, however, the weather was warm and sunny and the view a mixture of tans and greens reflecting off the blue waters of the lake itself.
The coffee finally ready, he poured himself a mug and carried it down to the lake. Here, he found a fallen tree to sit on and took a sip of the coffee. As he savored the warm flavor, his mind took stock. His family had embraced Emily like a new found daughter and that was especially true of Maria. The two of them had formed an almost instant friendship, one that Emily had never had with her own brothers or sisters. They were much alike, two strong, independent women who recognized in each other a kindred spirit.
As for his mother, she was practically counting the days until the two of them married. She had been a little disappointed when they had told her that they planned to stay in London, but the reasons behind the decision had reduced that. Also, the visits had helped, with the pair making a genuine effort to come over as often as they could afford. One way they had done that was by Victor getting rid of his car, driving Emily's whenever he needed to. Living and working in London, that was an altogether rare occurrence. The money they'd gotten from selling the car had funded their flights over.
Hearing a footstep behind him, Victor turned slightly and smiled. Emily had gotten herself a mug of coffee as well before coming to join him. Moving over slightly, he patted the log next to him.
"Good morning, darling," Emily said as she sat down.
"It is now," Victor said, putting an arm around her shoulder and drawing her nearer.
"This is beautiful."
"Yes, it is. This is why I wanted you to see it now, not in the winter."
"Oh, I think it would look lovely in the winter, too," Emily said. "It's the hills and the lake and the sense of almost limitless space."
"To me, it's the trout in the lake and watching the ripples as they come up to go after the flies. That and memories of our family out here, Dad teaching me and Maria to fish right over there," Victor said as he pointed to a spot just down the way. "Mom and my sisters making camp, cleaning the fish that we caught for dinner that night."
Emily watched him as he spoke, seeing a distance in his eyes that reflected the depth of the memories. This was a special place for him, she saw, and she wondered if they would have a special place of their own. Somewhere to take their own family, though they would also show them this place as well.
"Are you two just going to sit there all day?" Maria called from the campsite, a grin on her face as they almost fell over trying to turn and face her.
"We were certainly thinking about it," Emily said. "That is, until a certain person disturbed us."
"Hey, we're wasting daylight and I just know Victor and I can pull a few fish out of the lake before it is time to drive home."
"Why? We're having barbeque tonight, remember?" Victor asked. "Valerie, Carmelita, and Rosa will all be there. So will Rosa's husband Roberto and their two boys, as well as Aunt Dorothea and Uncle Carlos and heaven knows who else."
"Well, I think Mama will stop at greater Taos, but most of Valdez might show up" Maria said with a smile. She had remembered that the extended family was coming, since this was the most they'd seen Victor in years. Then there was Emily, who they all wanted to come to know better. Maria thought it was a shame that Victor and his fiancée couldn't just come home to New Mexico. Uncle Carlos had some land ready for them, if they ever decided to return. Twenty acres or so, with a view of the mountains in the distance. Perfect for building a family home.
Compound – near Peshawar, Pakistan
2138 Local/ 1538 Greenwich/ 1038 Eastern
A man sat at a small desk, situated in a windowless room in the interior of the building. A fan gently beat the air, providing a small measure of cooling. Not that the man minded the heat, but more for the sake of the computer sitting on the floor next to the desk. Right now, he was making a final review of the operation he was about to unleash. More than a year's planning had gone into this, he wanted to leave nothing to chance. Still, he doubted he'd get the returns that his mentor had gotten with the attack launched in 2001, but he wasn't looking for that. Rather, he wanted to strike a new fear in the hearts of the West, attacking them in their very streets.
Reviewing the data, he saw that the cells were ready. Unfortunately, the optional target he had hoped to strike was gone. From what his people had been able to discover, he was somewhere in America. Now, he had to make a choice: either stick with the current timeline or put the attacks on hold again until that last piece was in place. Sadik leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Oh, how he had wanted to teach the arrogant Americans a very personal lesson, but no. Not at the cost of potentially compromising the mission, that had to come first. With that thought, he sent the message on to the first link in the chain. A chain meant to bring the war closer to home for a people content to watch his brothers die.
Mifflin County Airport – Reedsville, Pennsylvania
When Harm pulled the SUV into the airport's parking lot, he could easily see 'Sarah' on the ramp. In fact, it would have been impossible to miss her, given the small crowd that was surrounding the yellow bi-plane. Getting out, he waited for Mattie and Beth to join him. Grandma Sarah had decided to stay back at the farm, claiming that she had chores to do. Harm hadn't been fooled for an instant, especially when she had said she'd watch Jack in the very next breath.
Beth had been slightly quiet on the drive over, clearly still brooding about their argument. Mattie had taken her cue from this and also remained subdued, until they got to the airport. The sight of the plane had been more than enough to perk her straight back to normal teen. She moved ahead of her parents, going over to the plane.
"Beth, I'm sorry if I upset you this morning," Harm said quietly.
"It just felt a little like you were rubbing my nose in the fact that I can't have any coffee right now," Beth replied.
"And I don't know what it is, but when you get like that, I can't help but tweak your tail just a little."
"I know. But, seriously, how long before I can have just one cup of coffee?"
"You'd need to talk to Doctor Clark about that, sweetheart. If she gives you the OK, then that's fine. But she said no caffeine and I guarantee you're not looking for decaf," Harm said with a grin.
"How did we ever survive without coffee in the mornings, tell me that?" Beth asked with a frown.
"Well, there are other ways to get our blood flowing."
Beth glared at Harm, who wasn't fazed at all by the look, as was evidenced by the wide grin and leering look he gave her.
"Damn it, Harm. I just had one child and you're already wanting to get started on number two."
"Hey, we're not getting any younger, you know," Harm said before realizing he'd just shoved his entire leg in his mouth with that comment.
"Thanks a lot, Mister! And, just so you know, I'm still younger than you are, at least physically. Mentally, sometimes I think you're 40 and other times it's more like 4," Beth said as she stalked off to the plane.
Reaching 'Sarah', Beth saw that most of the crowd had disbursed. Mattie was doing an inspection of the plane's engine and nodding her approval. The company still had her mother's name on the door, so she wanted to make sure the workmanship was still of a quality her mom would have approved of. As she looked the bi-plane over, she saw that it was.
"She looks good, Mattie," Beth said, putting a hand on the teen's shoulder.
"Has Dad ever taken you up in her, Mom?" Mattie asked. Somewhere in the last eighteen month, at a point neither of them would be able to pinpoint if asked, Beth had gone from Beth to Mom with Mattie. Maybe it was the day Beth had taken the teen along for her ultrasound, followed by an ice cream excursion or the weekend they'd spent alone while Harm had gone to Germany along with Admiral Kieso for a conference with the other US European Commands. But it had happened and Beth was delighted in it.
"No, he hasn't," Beth said as she looked at the cockpits.
"Then you should go first. I've already been up in her."
"When was that?"
"Just after the judge gave Dad emergency guardianship of me. He came down to Blacksburg that weekend and asked how I wanted to celebrate. I asked if I could drive his Corvette, which he still hasn't let me do, by the way. Then I asked if he'd take me flying," Mattie said.
"How was it?" Beth asked.
"It was incredible. I'd never been in an open cockpit before and the sounds, smells and feelings were beyond description. Then he let me take the controls and I was flying."
Beth could see the memory still excited the teen, as her daughter was practically bouncing on her toes.
"Maybe I'll let you do that again," Harm said as he joined them.
"Please, Dad, please," Mattie begged.
"Maybe, after I take Beth up."
With that, Harm began a through walk-around of the plane, checking everything down to the air pressure in the tires. While the two women had been talking, Harm had taken care of filing a flight plan as well as handling the airport fees for the weekend. On Monday, he'd fly the plane down to Blacksburg and then have either Boone or O'Neil give him a lift into Falls Church, while Beth and the rest of the family drove down to join him.
Sturgis had moved out of their house last December, so he wanted to check on things there. He hadn't rented it out after that, instead hiring a company to handle maintenance and another for security. As far as he was concerned, this was their family home and he wanted to know whoever was going to be living there. The last thing he wanted was to come back from Europe and find the house wrecked by a tenant.
It certainly wasn't as if they needed the money that renting the house out would bring. After breakfast, Admiral Boone had sat down with him and Mattie to go over the company. The good news was that the charter business had taken off even better than they had hoped for. The profits from last year had been over 3 million from that alone, with a steady customer base and more demand than they could currently fill. Boone had talked about wanting to look for a second jet, so they could better meet that demand. Also, they were getting more requests for the crop dusting services, which meant they were in a position to pick which ones they wanted to serve.
This was important because of the bad news, which was they were seeing an increase in past due accounts. The farmers were making less money from their crops, which meant less cash to pay their bills with and some of those bills belong to Grace Aviation. Mr. Peabody had actually needed to take one farmer into court over the matter and their attorney doubted this would be the last.
"Should we scale back the crop dusting services, Tom? Maybe sell the older dusters and use that money to get another executive jet?" Mattie had asked.
"It's a thought. Crop dusting is a decent business, but we made ten times the money with that jet than we did from all of the dusters last year. The profits were 5 to 1 in favor of the jet. Listen, I think we keep the dusters and carry on. But if it becomes a choice between investing in another G-III or a duster, we put the money in another jet," Boone told her.
"Figure out what we'd be looking at if we sell those older planes. How much revenue versus operational expenses. Then, get an idea as to what we would get if we sold them. Last, add that to what we have in the bank and see if we could afford another jet."
"I've already done that. Cost-benefit analysis for the dusters versus another G-III, using the current one as a template. Talked to three different used plane companies and have a baseline as to what we can expect to recover from a sale. Also, Beth had a line on another good condition G-III. Now, with the funds in the bank and selling the older planes, we'd be about three million short of their asking price."
Harm remembered those words, as well as the commitment he'd made to Beth about not putting any more money into Grace Aviation. Since not keeping that promise wasn't something he even remotely considered acceptable, that meant either they put off the decision for another year or they looked for an outside source of funding. He wasn't thrilled at the thought of taking out a loan, but that might be what they would have to do.
Forcing his attention back to the present, he helped Beth climb into the front cockpit and get strapped in. Then, he got into the rear cockpit and once he was ready, engaged the starter on the engine. After a moment's hesitation, the power plant caught and settled down to its usual rumble. Calling the tower, Harm got his clearance to taxi and take-off. Looking over, he saw that Mattie was well out of the way, joined by a few of the previous onlookers. Cracking the throttle, he got 'Sarah' moving, taxiing with the usual Stearman weave.
On the runway, Harm stood on the brakes and put the throttle to the wall, listening to the engine's sound. He also checked the gauges and when he was satisfied, he released the brakes and rumbled down the runway. At just about 60 knots, he felt the trainer want to fly, but he held it there for a moment longer. Only then did he lift her off the runway and hunt for the sky.
Harm had been here many times before, so he knew the area. Turning and pointing the nose towards Belleville, he gained a little altitude. It was only a few moments before he spotted the familiar farmhouse. Grandma Sarah was outside, tending her flowerbeds that fronted the structure, Jack in a playpen on the porch where she could see him. Hearing the noise, she looked up and smiled as she saw the plane level off about 150 feet above the meadow. Standing up, she waved as they flew past before Harm pulled the nose up and climbed away.
Looking back at the porch, she wasn't surprised to see Jack's head up. He wouldn't have been Harm's son if the sound of an airplane didn't make him look, Sarah thought with a smile.
Galindez Home – outside Valdez, New Mexico
1948 Mountain/ 2148 Eastern
Victor stood near the fence line of the large backyard, looking across the yard towards the house. After dinner, the family had separated, with the women going inside and dragging Emily along with them. The men had stayed outside, grabbing drinks for a large cooler his mother had left on the patio. Victor's Uncle Carlos had walked him over to the fence, an arm around his shoulders.
"Your friend is a nice woman, Victor. So, how did she get mixed up with a Marine?" Carlos asked, a nasty grin on his face.
"Because she was smart enough to know a real man when she saw one, not one of those ice cream salesmen you sailors are," Victor said, laughing as his Uncle pulled a hurt expression.
"Hey, if it wasn't for us sailors, you jarheads would never get anywhere."
"Well, I guess somebody has to do the simple jobs, like drive the boat."
"Oh, God, are you two still at it after all these years," Ramon Galindez said, coming over. He was Carlos' older brother and just a few years younger than Victor's father would have been. Carlos was the baby of that generation and closer in age to Victor than to his own brothers.
"If we weren't, you and Mama would think there was something wrong," Victor said.
"True. Still, Carlito was right about one thing. Emily is one heck of a woman."
"Hey, enough with the Carlito crap, Ramon!" Carlos said.
"Sorry, but you'll always be Carlito," Ramon said. "What are your plans, Victor?"
"We fly back to London on Tuesday. Albuquerque to Newark, Newark to London. I report back for duty on Thursday, so we'll have a day to get our body clocks back on London time."
"That's good, but not exactly what I meant. You and Emily going to come back home when you retire?"
"No, we're not. Maybe once Emily retires, but she's got a great career in London and I want her to see how far she can go there," Victor said.
"Surely your friends on the Sheriff's department could get her in there," Ramon said.
"They could, probably, but she'd still be starting all over again, at 30."
"Speaking of 30, isn't that a little young for an old man like you?" Carlos said, a grin on his face that caused the three men to laugh. The women inside the house heard the laugh and briefly looked outside just to confirm that's what it was before turning back to Emily.
"It's so sad that you and Victor have to wait to get married," Valerie said.
"Well, like I said to your mother the first time we spoke, anything worth having is worth waiting for. And you brother is definitely someone worth waiting for," Emily said with a smile.
"Oh, Victor is, is he?" Carmelita asked, raising her eyebrows and drawing a blush from Emily. This caused a knowing laugh to pass between the women.
"He's constantly surprising me with little romantic gestures. Like before we came here, I asked if he was excited to be going home. You know what he told me? That he was already home, that I was his home."
"Alright, what have you done with my brother and who is that man out there?" Maria asked. She'd been trying for years to find someone for her brother. Every time he'd been back, she'd fix him up on dates with her friends and acquaintances. One of the women had told her that Victor was the most unromantic man she'd ever been out with. So to hear that he'd said something like that to this woman drove her eyebrows almost off her head.
"Oh, Maria, can't you see it? It's as plain as the nose on your face," Mrs. Galindez said. "Your father was just like that, too. Until he met me, that is. That's being in love, daughter."
"What about you, Emily? What romantic things do you do for my brother?" Valerie asked, leaning forward.
"We're teaching each other to cook, so that we can spend more time together. And I'll leave him notes on the bathroom mirror in my lipstick, little things like 'I love you' inside a heart."
"Have you two made any headway with your family?" Mrs. Galindez asked.
"No. The only member of my family we even see anymore is my Grandfather," Emily said looking down at her hands. She and Victor had told his family about the way her family had reacted to them dating. On their very first visit, Mrs. Galindez had watched the couple together and before they had left, she had taken Emily outside for a brief walk. There, she'd told the young woman that she was happy her son had found someone who loved him as much as Emily did and that, no matter that they weren't married, Emily was as much as daughter to her as her own were. She'd had to hold the young woman for a time, as she cried at the words.
"Have you tried to heal the breech?" Maria asked.
"We've called, we've gone to the house, and we've even sent letters. Our calls get hung up on as soon as they hear our voices, the door isn't answered when we show up and all of the letters have been returned unopened. They're treating Grandfather the same way, because he sided with us and because he's effectively cut them out of his estate."
"I'm sorry to hear that it's still that bad. One would think that with time, they'd realize they are losing their daughter and want to make, if not peace, then civility."
"I think my mother is behind this, her and my brother James," Emily said. "Especially after my grandfather as much as threatened to get my mother fired from her job."
"What does your grandfather do," Mrs. Galindez. "I mean, that sounds like he's got a lot of power."
"He's retired from our Foreign Office. That's much like the US State Department. I know that he knows a lot of people and has a lot of contacts around the world, but he never likes to talk about his work even now. In fact, he's still called back in occasionally to consult on matters."
"Couldn't he use some of that influence to get you and Victor married?" Maria asked.
"He's trying, but the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, he says. Still, he did manage somehow to get Victor's second eighteen month assignment to be at the Embassy in London, instead of somewhere else."
"Well, I'm sure you were happy about that."
"Ecstatic! Especially when you consider he could have been sent anywhere in western Europe and that could have meant a long-distance relationship," Emily said. "Not that I wouldn't have gone anywhere to see him, but I love the fact that we see each other every day."
The other women gave her a knowing grin, which caused Emily to blush again and set off a wave of laughter. The women were all still laughing when the men came inside and took up seats with them. Emily smiled happily at Victor, enjoying a feeling of closeness and family that she'd never gotten from her own. Mrs. Galindez watched as her son sat his fiancée on his lap and pulled her back against his chest, wrapping his arms around her. Silently, she said a little prayer of thanks.
July 2, 2005
A flat – Leeds, United Kingdom
0503 Greenwich / 0003 Eastern
A man sat at the kitchen table, slowly working away on the package spread out before him. He'd been up most of the night, thanking Allah that he didn't have to go to work today. He'd been shown how to do this, to get the maximum effect from the devices. Oh, he knew he would not achieve the results of the great martyrs, these were much too small when compared against passenger planes slamming into buildings. But still, he could accomplish his goal and perhaps shake these godless people out of the apathy towards the plight of his brothers and sisters.
As he worked, another member of his cell came into the room. He fixed a cup of coffee before going into the little living room and turning on the television. He kept the sound down, waiting to see the weather reports. The news that proceeded it was singularly depressing. Afghanistan effectively occupied by the United States, Iraq much the same. Oh, people were still fighting back and still killing the non-believers, but too many were also dying on their side as well.
"Have we gotten any word," the man in the living room asked.
"No, my brother. All we have been told is to get ready, and that the day was almost here. That is why I am working on these, so we will be fully ready."
Neither man needed to express their frustrations. They had received similar orders twice before, the first at about this time last year and the second at the beginning of December. Both times, they got following orders to stand down. The man at the table hoped they wouldn't get similar orders this time.
"Why didn't we just do it last year? Christmas certainly would have been an appropriate time and these people no longer believe in the prophet Jesus anyway. All they worship is money and material things," the younger man said as he moved back into the living room.
"Don't question the wisdom of Sadik, my young friend. He is right to be patient, because we only have one chance to do this right. Or do you wish to be caught before we reach our targets, where we do little to no damage and are quickly forgotten. No, if I am going to give my life, I want it to mean something," the older man said as he stood from the table, not wanting to raise his voice as he spoke with the younger one.
"You are right, of course."
"Don't fear, my brother. Our day will come."
A safe house – Karachi, Pakistan
1042 Local / 0542 Greenwich
A young man sat in a second floor bedroom, which had been converted into a computer center. Here, he was going through the messages that had come in overnight. He read none of them, beyond seeing who they were from and the code telling him who he was supposed to forward them to. After a few minutes, he came to the message from Sadik Fahd. Looking at the code, he copied the message over to a new E-mail and sent it along to the next link in the chain.
The next link was physical. The man who received the forwarded message in Riyadh printed the sheet out and folded it carefully. Then, he placed it in a plain white envelope. This went into the man's briefcase. The man was older now than he had been in the 1980s, when he had been one of many who had heard the call to jihad. He'd traveled to Pakistan and onward to Afghanistan, there to aid the mujahedeen in their fight against the Soviets. It was there that he'd met a younger Osama bin Laden. Since that time, he had provided financial and logistical support for the man and his network, even carrying the occasional messages.
Now, he checked and saw that he needed to meet with some people in New York and Washington next week. The perfect excuse for a trip, the man thought with a smile. Even better, he could make a stop in London on his way and drop off the message. What was the American expression? Oh, yes. He could kill two birds with one stone. A smile came to his face as he reflected that it would be more than just two birds with this particular stone.
Picking up the phone, he made two calls. One was to his travel agent, booking a flight to New York, routed through London. The second call was at arrange for the collection of the note while he was on his layover at Heathrow.