Guantanamo Bay, on the southeast coast of the island of Cuba, is the
prettiest spot on the planet, thought Rear Admiral Jake Grafton, USN.
He was leaning on the railing on top of the carrier United States's superstructure, her island, a place the sailors called Steel Beach. Here off-duty crew members gathered to soak up some rays and do a few calisthenics. Jake Grafton was not normally a sun worshiper; at sea he rarely visited Steel Beach, preferring to arrange his day so that he could spend at least a half hour running on the flight deck. Today he was dressed in gym shorts, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, but he had yet to make it to the flight deck.
Grafton was a trim, fit fifty-three years old, a trifle over six feet tall, with short hair turning gray, gray eyes, and a nose slightly too large for his face. On one temple was a scar, an old, faded white slash where a bullet had gouged him years ago.
People who knew him regarded him as the epitome of a competent naval officer. Grafton always put his brain in gear before he opened his mouth, never lost his cool, and he never lost sight of the goals he wanted to accomplish. In short, he was one fine naval officer and his superiors knew it, which was why he was in charge of this carrier group lying in Guantanamo Bay.
The carrier and her escorts had been running exercises in the Caribbean for the last week. Today the carrier was anchored in the mouth of the bay, with two of her larger consorts anchored nearby. To seaward three destroyers steamed back and forth, their radars probing the skies.
A set of top-secret orders had brought the carrier group here.
Jake Grafton thought about those orders as he studied the two cargo ships lying against the pier through a set of navy binoculars. The ships were small, less than eight thousand tons each; larger ships drew too much water to get against the pier in this harbor. They were Nuestra Senora de Colon and Astarte.
The order bringing those ships here had not come from some windowless Pentagon cubbyhole; it was no memo drafted by an anonymous civil servant or faceless staff weenie. Oh, no. The order that had brought those ships to this pier on the southern coast of Cuba had come from the White House, the top of the food chain.
Jake Grafton looked past the cargo ships at the warehouses and barracks and administration buildings baking in the warm Cuban sun.
A paradise, that was the word that described Cuba. A paradise inhabited by communists. And Guantanamo Bay was a lonely little American outpost adhering to the underside of this communist island, the asshole of Cuba some called it.
Rear Admiral Grafton could see the cranes moving, the white containers being swung down to the pier from Astarte, which had arrived several hours ago. Forklifts took the steel boxes to a hurricane-proof warehouse, where no doubt the harbormaster was stacking them three or four deep in neat, tidy military rows.
The containers were packages designed to hold chemical and biological weapons, artillery shells and bombs. A trained crew was here to load the weapons stored inside the hurricane-proof warehouse into the containers, which would then be loaded aboard the ship at the pier and transported to the United States, where the warheads would be destroyed.
Loading the weapons into the containers and getting the containers stowed aboard the second ship was going to take at least a week, probably longer. The first ship, Nuestra Senora de Colon, Our Lady of Colon, had been a week loading, and would be ready to sail this evening. Jake Grafton's job was to provide military cover for the loading operation with this carrier battle group.
Copyright (c) 1999 Stephen Coonts. All Rights Reserved
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