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From This Day Forward – Chapter Ten

Welcome to From This Day Forward, book ten in the Operation Quickline series. It’s Sid and Lisa’s big day – their wedding. But in the weeks leading up to the event, something strange is going on. The only thing scarier will be their honeymoon. You can read the first episode here and see all the episodes that have run here.

The news was not good when we got to Athens. We’d flown in with Lillian and were met at the airport by Dale O’Connor and Clint Foster.

“The Croatians haven’t made any demands yet,” Dale told us as we headed out of the airport. “But they definitely have their Lord and Ladyship.”

“We’re just not sure where they have them,” Clint said.

“What about that monastery near Volos?” Lillian asked.

Clint snorted. “We checked that back in January. It was empty and no signs of improvements. The place was a mess.”

“That doesn’t mean they haven’t fixed it up in the meantime,” Lillian said. “Flowers does own the place. Do we have any intel on his movements?”

Clint and Dale looked at each other guiltily.

“Not yet.” Dale shrugged. “He’s not at his apartment, but that doesn’t mean he’s not staying with his mother. She’s not receiving or talking to anyone, so who knows if he’s there or not? No one has seen him, for what that’s worth.”

We went straight to the drop-off station, which was just outside of Athens, itself. It was a white-plaster villa that looked a little run down, but probably wasn’t. Blue and other decorated tiles adorned the walls, and the forget-me-nots were featured in a mosaic on the wall of the living room. Dale glared at Lillian as Clint paced.

“What assets do we have from CID or MI-6?” Lillian finally asked.

Both Dale and Clint looked at each other, and Clint rolled his eyes.

“For crying out loud, Lillian.” Dale glared at her. “They have to keep the same low profile we would if Marian and Andrew were our people. No negotiation. Period.”

The eight-day clock on the wall ticked loudly in the taut silence.

“Look,” Clint said. “We’ve got to keep this as quiet as possible. Yugoslavia is a frickin’ powder keg about to go off. We might prevent that if we can find a way to release tensions slowly. What these Croatians are doing will only pour gasoline on the fire. The good news is that we’ve got cover on the communications hub for the group’s base back in Croatia. They haven’t heard from the group here in Greece. Not sure why they haven’t, but we should be able to crash the system if they attempt to go public with the news. We’re monitoring radio traffic along the coast and have reason to believe they know we are.”

“What reason?” Lillian asked.

“The team here sent out a message on Friday that they’d arrived and were told to get their part of the operation done and to stay off the radio. We’re not sure how the team in Greece is going to confirm that they have their target. The hub in Croatia hasn’t gotten any phone calls, either.”

Lunch arrived then, but Lillian sent Sid and me to go find some other drinks besides the tea and bring it back. I felt really annoyed, but the truth of it was, Sid and I were in the junior position.

Sid and I found a taverna and bought a couple bottles of ouzo and some white wines from Santorini. If anyone else back at the drop-off station noticed that we’d gone, we couldn’t tell.

Steve and Ray arrived just after three o’clock.

“Gotta love those girls,” Steve crowed. He slapped the photos that Sid and I had gotten onto the table in the small dining room. “They’re here, alright. Ray and I will show you the vantage points in a minute. But we have visuals on Marian and Andrew. And Mark Flowers and Rudy Meisner, no less. Rudy split pretty quickly and through the front door, which Ray and I just happened to be watching.”

Ray sighed. “The tactical problem is that we have quite a few Croatians in the building. It would take days to establish how many, exactly, but there must be over ten of them. Our best shot at extraction will be through the back. Barb and Lita have radioed in that there is a back door. In fact, it’s right here in the photo. They’re waiting for dark to check it out.”

Clint glared at the two men. “And how do you know for sure that our targets are there?”

“Our own two eyes aren’t good enough for you?” Steve growled. “I think we know what Marian and Andrew look like. The Croatians brought them up to the roof of the place and we saw them.”

Clint snorted, clearly defeated.

Sid looked at the photos thoughtfully. “So, we’re basically talking about a break-in and extraction, right?”

Ray mused. “Basically. The only problems are we don’t have a floor plan, we have an occupied building, and two people to be removed.”

Sid chuckled. “A walk in the park.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I grumbled.

“We need more intel,” Dale insisted, getting up and pacing again.

Ray checked his watch. “We should have that in a few more hours. In the meantime, let’s get some food. I am craving some dolmades right about now.”

Sid and Ray went back to the taverna we’d found earlier and came back with even more food, another bottle of ouzo and two more bottles of the Santorini wine.

The alcohol didn’t help. The tension remained high as the hours ticked by. Finally, just after midnight, Lita and Barb showed up.

“There’s a way in,” Barb announced. “The tough part will be getting out. Look, we can’t even think about crashing that site until after dark tomorrow. Can we table strategy until tomorrow morning? I’m beat.”

The good thing about a drop-off site is that one can accommodate a surprising number of people. Lillian dragged Clint and Dale to whatever hotel. Barb and Lita took over one bedroom. Sid and I had one. Steve and Ray made themselves comfortable in the living room. Sid and I tried to keep it down, but when we woke up the next morning, Steve was loudly singing the tune from the music box, and Barb and Lita cornered me to ask what it was that Sid did that was so amazing. I wish I could have told them. I did suggest they ask Sid, though.

Clint, Dale, and Lillian arrived before nine and came with a host of breads, fruit, and tea for breakfast. They also had the news that a squad of Special Forces soldiers were standing by to storm the monastery and hopefully capture both Meisner and Flowers.

“The one thing we don’t want is a hostage stand-off,” Dale said. “Which means we have to get Marian and Andrew extracted before the Special Forces guys go in.”

Lillian looked at Sid and me. “You are the better break-in artists here.”

Sid looked at me. “I believe that we still have some of the right clothes and other equipment with us from when we broke into the Flowers’ place in London.”

“True,” I said, gazing at the photos on the table.

“Here’s what we got on the site,” Barb said.

She and Lita had done their work well. They had solid estimates on the size of the monastery, especially the distance from the roof to the rocky beach below. The big problem was the back door. Based on Ray and Steve’s observations, the front of the place was closely guarded and watched. While the guards did watch the seaside facing part of the place, they didn’t seem to think that it was that vulnerable. The back door, which Sid and I had seen in the photos, had a bolt drawn across it with an odd sort of padlock on it. Lita had unlocked it, nonetheless. I’m not sure how, but when she described what she’d done, it made sense to Sid, so I left it at that.

The problem with that door, however, was that it couldn’t easily be opened from the inside.

“Even if the outside bolt is drawn,” Barb told us. “You can’t really push it. I tried. There’s some sort of latch that keeps it closed, but I have no idea where the latch is. It may be an electronic one or it may be something else. But it can’t be felt and if you use a flashlight, you’ll be seen. It’s pitch black down there.”

“So, how do we get out?” Dale asked.

Lita sighed. “Sid and Lisa will just have to make it real quick. Barb and I can be outside, and we’ll hear you. I heard Barb. There’s also off the roof if you can figure out a way to get down.”

“Getting down won’t be a problem,” I said, as Sid grimaced.

“The roof might be a better option than the back door, anyway,” he said with a sigh. “Ostensibly, it’s a dead-end. If we’re spotted, they’ll head right for the downstairs doors, but they won’t be as quick to check the roof. We’ll just need some climbing gear. Plus, weapons and transmitters and receivers. And lock picks. I gave Quimby’s back to him.”

Dale sighed. “We’ll get it.”

“Do we have any idea where they’re being held?” I asked.

Barb sighed. “I saw a light at the end of the hall when I was down there.” She drew a T on a piece of paper on the table. “This is the hall to the door. There are stairs up to the left, and another hall winding away to the right. I saw one door in that direction that looked pretty fresh, but then I heard someone coming and got out of there.”

“If we keep it clean, we should be able to get in and out pretty quickly,” Dale said.

Sid glared at him. “Who said you’re coming with us? The more people we have, the better the odds we’ll get spotted, and that’s the last thing we want.”

“He’s right, Dale,” Lillian said. “You and I will bring them in by boat.” She looked over the photos. “Can we get some external coverage on the rooftop? I’m thinking covering the front door won’t help much.”

“Sure,” said Ray. “We get set up here, here, and here. Steve and I can each take one. We’re good at the sniper thing. Who wants the third position?”

“I’ll take it,” grumbled Clint.

“Barb and I will go in with Sid and Lisa to the door and then cover there,” said Lita.

I was making a list of everything I would need if we had to take the rooftop.

“We’ll also need flashlights,” said Sid. “Or do we want to try night vision goggles?”

“Maybe, but I doubt it.” Barb shook her head. “From what we saw from the outside, the place looks pretty well lit, so you’ll have to be able to get them on and off really quickly.”

“I’d rather stay masked, too,” I said. “We don’t need Meisner possibly recognizing us.”

“You’re right.” Sid sighed. “Flashlights it is then.”

There wasn’t much else to do after that. Lillian took Dale to get the equipment and supplies. We all met at the taverna outside the drop-off station, with Sid and I wearing our break-in pants and carrying our sweatshirts, masks, and gloves. After eating lunch, Sid and I went with Dale, Lillian, Barb, and Lita to the boat Dale had gotten for us. Once out of the small harbor, Dale cranked up the engine and the Greek coastline sped by. I went over our equipment and got most of it packed into the black daypack I’d requested. Sid agreed to take the rope and extra gloves for Marian and Andrew should they need them.

Barb and Lita had also brought a huge picnic basket of food, not that I was in the mood to eat much. Lillian had radioed a message to Henry to call Nick and let him know we were alright but were in a place where we wouldn’t be able to call home before he went to school that morning. I didn’t think it would stop Nick from worrying, but it was better than no call at all.

Dale throttled the boat engine just before we got to the inlet, and we cruised past the monastery. Sid and I got some high-powered binoculars and looked at the place from where we were in the cabin. It looked as formidable as it had in the photos, but I had scaled a few cliffs that were worse. Dale stopped the boat in the next inlet just as the sun finally set. We needed to wait until after midnight to get there. The six of us played poker in the cabin. Dale didn’t have much of a poker face, which surprised me, but didn’t stop me from cleaning him and everyone else out.

Finally, Dale looked up. “Zero-fifteen.”

I glanced at the clock on the cabin wall. Fifteen minutes after midnight. As Dale fired up the boat’s engine and got us headed toward the monastery, Sid and I pulled up our shirts and put on our transmitters and receivers underneath. We made one last check on the equipment, slid on back waistband holsters, then added the magnum .45 automatics. After getting on his sweatshirt and zipping it up, Sid crossed the hank of rope across his chest. Barb and Lita had the shore boat inflated and in the water.

“Is that thing going to hold six people?” Sid asked.

“It’s supposed to hold eight,” Lillian said.

Sid and I helped paddle, and we were on the gravel beach in short order.

Lita and Barb took over on the door. It opened silently, which told Sid and me that it had been installed recently, although we’d all figured that out. As we shut it, Sid asked me to cover him. He went over the doorjamb with a flashlight as quickly as he could.

“There’s the latch,” he whispered, pointing to a small switch near the side of the door that opened. He switched the flashlight off, then felt for it. “Alright. Good.”

“Green Back in position,” said Ray’s voice in my ear.

I looked at Sid. He’d heard them, too.

“Kelly Green in position.” Steve’s voice answered.

“Company One in position,” Clint grumbled.

Barb chuckled. “Red team is in the building. Yellow team is in place.”

“Alright, everybody,” Dale said from the boat. “Hold positions. Red team, move.”

We were already moving. As Barb had said, there was a lighted hallway at the end of the pitch-black hall we were in. Once there, we paused and waited for any sound of movement. There was none, so we slid toward where Barb had seen the fresh door. The room was unlocked. Sid opened the door, and I slid in first, my .45 already drawn. I usually go first since I’m the better shot. The room was dark and empty. We shut the door silently and moved around a bend in the hall. There were several rooms along the hall that had been lit by flickering bare bulbs, but the wood on those doors was crumbling. Another unlocked, fresh wood door led into another empty room. The hall emptied into a second faintly lit hall. Sid spotted the fresh wood door down the way and waved me along.

This door was locked. We heard chain clink on the inside. Sid grabbed the lock picks out of his pants and went to work, getting the lock open within a minute. He slid in first, since we doubted that there was a threat on the other side. I shut the door behind me so that Sid could use the flashlight. Marian and Andrew had been manacled to the wall with a heavy black chain. They lay in a pile of straw, asleep, curled up next to each other. As Sid went to work on the first padlock, Marian sleepily sat up and gasped. I stayed near the door, listening for movement outside. Andrew woke also, just in time for the chain to drop from Marian’s waist.

“What time is it?” Marian whispered.

“Oh-one-hundred-twelve,” said Dale’s voice in my ear.

“Quarter after one,” Sid whispered.

“They come by on the half hour,” she hissed.

The chains clinked as Andrew was freed.

“Let’s go, then.” Sid looked up at me, then back at Marian. “What’s protocol for the check?”

“This hour of the night, they just stop and wiggle the door handle.”

Sid cursed softly. I nodded and opened the door and slid through.

“Clear,” I hissed.

Sid pushed Marian and Andrew out, then went to work on the lock to re-lock it. A minute later, we were hurrying down the hall in the direction we’d come from, Sid in the lead, Marian and Andrew behind him, then me following. Sid and I had our guns drawn and ready. We hadn’t even reached the first hall crossing when Sid pulled us up short. The man turned the corner and Sid put a bullet in his leg. The gunfire echoed so loudly it hurt my ears.

It also alerted some of the others in the monastery. We could hear steps pounding down the hall to the back door. Marian pointed down across that hall to the other side and we ran in that direction. As Barb had suggested, the place was lit up. We got up a stone stairway without being spotted, then ducked into a room just before several of the Croatians ran past.

“Roof?” Sid asked Marian and Andrew.

“Can we get down?” Andrew asked.

Sid held up the huge hank of rope. Andrew pointed to another stairway, and we ran up. Fortunately, most of the Croatians thought we were headed down to the back door, at least, the ones we saw were headed in that direction. We landed in a square stairwell and scrambled up two more stone staircases. At the top of the second one was a rickety wooden staircase with a Croatian man at the bottom looking up. Sid slid up and knocked him out and slid him under the wooden stairs. A door opened at the top of the stairs. I could see the night sky just beyond it and Mark Flowers step onto the wooden landing at the top.

He spotted us immediately and reached behind to what had to be a back holster. I put a hole in his shoulder, and he crumpled. The gunfire echoed again, and we had to assume that it would alert others. We scrambled up the stairs as fast as we could. As Sid reached the top, Flowers struggled to his feet. Sid knocked him backward and hurried to the door. I slid to the open side and Sid nodded and opened it.

Behind us, Mark dangled off the landing with one hand.

“Good riddance, you miserable wife-beater,” Marian said.

She stepped on Flowers’ hand, and he fell, screaming until his body bounced down the stairwell. Choking back the bile, I slid onto the roof.

“Clear,” I hissed, and the others followed me outside. The moon was just short of being full and we were far enough away from any urban area that the stars crowded the night sky. I couldn’t see our sniper back up, but they saw us.

“Yellow team,” Ray’s voice sounded in my ear. “Red team and targets are on the roof and preparing for descent.”

I had the daypack off and pulled two crampons out while looking for the best place to anchor them. I found one in a seam between two squared off stones and another at the base of the wall surrounding the roof. Sid unwound the rope and gave the extra gloves to Marian and Andrew. I felt the bullet pass over me before I heard the gunfire. It had to have come from the cliffs above us.

“Damn it, that was close!” I hissed.

“Hold fire, Company One,” Ray said.

More shots rang out from the cliffs and whoever had been trying to get out the roof door wisely retreated for the moment. I fed the end of the rope through the crampons, then knotted the end into a loop.

“Andrew, you’re going first,” I told him in a low voice. “You’re the heaviest, and it will be easier with the three of us to hold you.”

Andrew nodded. He hung on and was lowered in surprisingly good time. The second the rope was loose, Sid and I worked hand over hand to haul it up. I sent Sid down next, trying not to notice that more gunfire was coming from below, as well as from our snipers.

“Damn it, Company One!” Lita yelled into her transmitter. “You almost hit Andrew. Let us take them down here.”

The rope loosened, and I hauled it up as fast as I could with Marian helping.

“You’re next,” I told her.

“How are you getting down?”

“I’ll rappel. I’ve done it before.”

Shaking her head, Marian went over to the side. The second the rope was loose, I fed the end on the roof through the crampons and got into my harness. Somehow, a Croatian had escaped the sniper fire and came at me. I whipped out the automatic and caught him in the shoulder, then slid the rope through the harness and tossed the rest over the side.

“Little Red,” said Sid’s voice in my ear. “I have both ends.”

“Starting descent,” I said. Another bullet whizzed over my head, this time from the doorway, and I went over the wall. The nice thing about rappelling is that it’s really fast. I was on the ground in less than a minute and got out of my harness. Sid yanked the rope down on top of us.

The six of us scrambled for the raft as Dale’s voice told the Special Forces guys that the hostages were clear and to commence entry. Our snipers kept the Croatians away from the roof edge until it became obvious that the Croatians had bigger problems down below. All six of us paddled back to the boat and got back on board safely and smoothly. There was a fair amount of cheering on the boat as Dale gunned the engine and pointed us south. The most gratifying part, however, was when I took off my mask and Marian gaped.

“What?” Sid asked, pulling off his mask and straightening his hair.

“You two?” Marian asked. “But Lisa…”

“Is only frightened by crowds of people she doesn’t know and stiffs,” said Sid. “We’re all scared of something.”

I smiled at him. He doesn’t like heights and going down the side of that monastery had been hard on him.

We all met in Volos a little later at a small hotel there and had a party with plenty of ouzo and pats on the back. As Ray pointed out, since we usually worked by ourselves, it was an exceptional treat to be able to celebrate together. The only downside was the news that Meisner had apparently escaped, but then, we were not surprised by that. They did get eleven Croatians and recovered Flowers’ body. We were still awake by the time dawn broke, and Marian and Andrew put Sid and me on a Lear jet at a nearby airfield.

“Enjoy your time off,” Andrew said. “It will be quite private.”

“What are you two going to do?”

Marian smiled. “Apparently, the Croatians made their ransom demand last evening, so we’re going to back to our villa to show up and ask what are they talking about? We’ve been here all along.” She looked at me and smiled even more deeply. “I’m not sure I understand you, dear, but I am glad that I hadn’t misjudged you after all.”

I shrugged. “Marian, I’m all those things you saw. Shy, afraid, and intense when I need to be.”

She cocked her head. “That’s what makes you interesting. Well, have a good time relaxing and a safe trip home.”

Sid and I landed in Nice, in a lovely vacation home on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Andrew had explained this was one of their luxury rentals and it included a staff to clean up after us and then disappear when we wanted to be alone. We slept most of that morning and were quite happy to find that the luggage had arrived when we finally got up in time for a lovely lunch of bouillabaisse and dry pink wine from the region.

It took a little convincing from Sid, but he got me out on the private terrace for another experiment. You see, I get sunburned a lot and Sid wanted to help me get a real tan. It’s just that Sid doesn’t believe in tan lines. It was really relaxing, though, laying outside even in the raw, with Sid rubbing lotion all over me and then getting it all over himself as we made love.

Our second, and last night, there, we went to the casinos in Monte Carlo and gambled and stayed up pretty much all night. The staff had assured us that we could change clothes before getting on the Lear jet before dawn and that Sid’s dinner jacket and pants and my cocktail dress would be sent to us.

Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.

Please check out the Fiction page for the latest on all my novels. Or look me up at your favorite independent bookstore. Mine is Vroman’s, in Pasadena, California.

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