A Place to Stand
On Green Island
One breath. Two breaths.
Finally, what seemed like ages later but could not have been more than a few seconds, the voice of the spokesman of the SEALS crackled once again over the dock through his amplification system. It was probably just a coincidence, but I would have sworn there were raspy Darth Vader overtones to the sound of it. Maybe it was just the surroundings.
"Green Island Security, whoever you are, we see that you are a formidable force, and we do not wish to engage you in a firefight at this time that would only see a lot of people killed needlessly - among them very probably the leaders of our respective governments, whom we are supposed to be protecting from harm. Let us agree to a ceasefire at this time - all we require is that you allow us to escort our President and his entourage to safety aboard our ship in the harbour, and we will ensure the safety of your leader as well at this time, which should be an acceptable scenario for us all. After that our respective governments can work out whatever they want to - that is not our concern, as security personnel. I presume you are in the same position we are - your mission is to ensure the safety of those you are tasked to protect. An engagement at this time will, I am sure you understand, seriously compromise that mission for all of us. I suggest we refrain from such action."
This sounded quite reasonable to me, although I suppose at the moment any option that did not involve a bullet in the head would have sounded reasonable. I had never served in any sort of military force, and although I had shot rifles at various times in my life and done my (not really obligatory but highly recommended for all citizens) GRIPP basic training as we all did, was in no way used to the kind of 'this ain't pretend' violence that had just been happening around me - nor had I ever seen someone I knew killed as I had just seen Marsden killed, and the trauma of that was still very fresh and disconcerting to say the least.
"I concur, SEAL leader," rasped the voice from the roof of the GRIPP in charge of this show, after a pause of only moments, "we do not wish a destructive firefight nor needless killing either. But how can we trust you? - you folks have a reputation of, shall we say, negotiating in bad faith - we here are well aware of your real history and not the Hollywood version, so please do not waste my time with needless protestations. I have no intention of letting your people out of reach, only to be rewarded with a traitorous bullet into Mr. Bigelow's head or other treachery. And before you start any more heroics, please understand that my people will not be taken by surprise again, and they are well trained in head shots, and any further action here with your black suited force will be under such conditions. There are some of us whom you can't fool twice. Please don't force a situation which may well cause a lot of destruction or death but in which you will not prevail."
I shuddered slightly at the image. But he made good points.
There was silence for a few seconds, as the SEAL leader considered his response. Then he slowly kneeled and placed his weapon on the dock at his feet. Standing again, moving very carefully and deliberately, he reached up and removed his head covering with the facial opening, and dropped it to the ground beside the gun. He then unfastened the heavy black vest he was wearing and dropped it beside the other things. He then looked up to the balcony where the GRIPP team watched alertly, half-raised his arms in the air, and began walking slowly towards where the two SEALs guarded the president and myself. He spoke as he walked - the microphone he had used was evidently part of the equipment he had discarded, but he spoke loudly, and his voice carried well through the otherwise silence.
"I can only offer myself as hostage, as you see, weaponless, in place of the president. I understand your concern about bad faith bargaining, and yes, it has happened in the past. But things are quite different here - as you see and I am sure you are aware of - " he said, gesturing to where the NU sub sat in the harbour still pointed menacingly at the US warship, "this is a situation where we are not as in control of things as we usually are. All we want is to get our president out of immediate danger - the situation will be far from resolved however, at that time, and we all would still be in harm's way, so nothing would be gained from the kind of treachery you fear."
"I am sorry, SEAL leader," came the voice from the roof, "that is not in any way satisfactory. Warriors, no matter how good, are fully expendable. Leaders are much less so. You would offer trinkets in exchange for precious metals - nothing new in your history, and no less insulting that you regard us as so simple that we would accept this offer. We will do it this way if you truly wish to avoid the mayhem you fear. Your men will release Mr. Bigelow and unguard your president and all of you and your SEALs will move to the edge of the dock. Then Mr. Bigelow and your president will slowly walk to safety, Mr. Bigelow to the door below me, your president to the safety of whatever craft you have waiting for you at the dock. If you fire on Mr. Bigelow, we will fire on your president and the rest of you. Likewise for you, although we would not fire first - you will have to trust me on that, but we are in the superior position here and now so those are the rules I lay down. And stop walking NOW, you are getting too close to the person I do not want you any nearer to. NOW!"
There was a brief moment of tension as the 'NOW' rang out, but the SEAL leader did not push it, and stopped - he seemed to be about where he wanted to be anyway, only a couple of steps away from where the small still tableau of Shurbullie and I and the warriors watched.
"That is not acceptable, Green Island Security leader," replied the SEAL leader, looking up at the balcony where the GRIPP leader and a couple of others kept their weapons trained on him, "and I find your analogy a little insulting as well, pretending to compare the worth of the president of the United States of America to the premier of a tiny province in a militarily insignificant country. We do not have time for protracted discussion right now. I will repeat my offer, and suggest you accept it before things get out of hand here."
And as he finished speaking, he lowered his hands and turned to the SEAL guarding the president, who was watching the interplay with growing impatience and anger showing in his eyes. He rolled to his side and pulled one knee forward and placed his palms on the ground as if to rise, pushing at the SEAL above him. I felt the pressure of the gun barrel at my cheek increasing a bit, and the voice behind the mask saying "Don't try anything."
And a voice from the roof, low but audible, "Warning shots. Three."
And there were three loud cracks, and three bullets ricocheting off of the cement of the dock, bracketing the president and the SEAL leader.
The voice of the GRIPP rang out once again.
"SEAL LEADER! I don't know what game you think you are playing, but you are not dealing with amateurs and you are not dealing with men who will hesitate to shoot at the type of provocation you are about to commit, I am disappointed you do not understand that yet! You are apparently about one stupid move away from instigating a firefight which will have unknown but undoubtedly deadly consequences for the people we are supposed to be protecting - your president is very vulnerable as you see and will surely not escape the bullets if you insist on instigating this further! Please put your brain in gear and back off, and make no more threatening moves! NOW!"
"Commander Norson, how is your situation?"
"Madame President, it is hard to say accurately, but there was just some sort of gun battle, that appears to have turned into a standoff, on the waterfront - it looks like a very volatile situation. We believe the president of the United States and Mr. Bigelow, the Green Island First Minister, to be involved, although apparently as some sort of hostages, it's not at all clear who is in charge, if anyone. We can see American Secret Service agents and American SEALs as well, and what appear to be Green Island security forces engaged in this altercation. There has not been too much shooting yet, and we confirm a few casualties status unknown, but the situation appears precarious."
"And the American warship?"
"No changes there, Madame. We continue to monitor their electronics, and they appear to be remaining passive, as we ordered them to. But as you know, Madame, they are an ingenious bunch and not much given to surrender, and I would have little doubt that they are trying to devise a way to engage us - we do need to resolve this as soon as possible, obviously."
"Yes, of course they are. You must maintain your vigil with the utmost alertness. Hopefully not for long though - the plan we discussed this morning was successfully concluded, and I hope that you will have some new arrivals there within minutes now, which may give us a small advantage that will turn things our way."
"That is excellent news, Madame! I am sure even the Americans would think long and hard about initiating hostilities with these people present, and the eyes of the world on them, which they are with our satellites, I presume?"
"Oh, yes, Commander, the video feeds are broadcasting everything that has happened and continues to happen to the entire world - we are only beginning to get feedback, but I can tell you there is massive outrage almost everywhere concerning the day's revelations and there are going to be some very big and very serious repercussions and hopefully leading to some serious changes, with a few exceptions, of course - but we are going, I think, to see some fairly major upheavals in a lot of governments over the next little while - even in America, especially in America! god willing! - there are many, many decent people there who have been waiting for some sign of resistance to that evil regime from the rest of the world to take action, as you know. Perhaps this crisis was indeed, as the old Chinese saying has it, a great opportunity for change, as well - very positive change, we can all hope!"
"Yes, indeed, Madame! Wait - I hear something - yes, I think it is a helicopter! Let me look - yes, it has the UN markings!"
"Excellent, Commander! I will let you go now, as you may be needed - but we are watching, and will be in touch soon! And continually monitoring this frequency - call if you need anything at all, we are here! - and our great thanks again for your courage on this great day!"
"Thank you, Madame President! Over and out!"
I have no idea where this standoff would have gone if these two groups had of been left to themselves to decide what the outcome would be, but it just seemed to be a day of surprises, and a rather large one was about to happen. And to a growing audience - somewhat to the evident consternation of at least the SEALs and the SS agents, we had begun to attract some spectators, and more than some. The Yacht Club could be reached readily on either side and behind on land as well as from the water side, from a small lane-driveway on the west which led to Water St and the courthouse, and from the walkway all along the waterfront park that had been constructed over the last couple of years - the Green Island citizens were no different than the PEI citizens in this regard, and the tourists hadn't changed much in some basic ways, and everyone liked as much access to the waterfront as possible in the few short months when the weather was good here, and we had been expanding that access as much as possible. And along both of these paths an increasing number of people had been making their way, attracted perhaps by the sound of gunfire, perhaps from some Charlottetown residents watching their tvs and seeing what was happening and deciding to come for a closer look, perhaps by one of those mysterious things that happen sometimes in the universe that requires people to be at a certain place at a certain time that has no apparent scientific explanation but happens anyway. And a new attraction was about to draw even larger numbers of spectators, and participants in this final scene in the current act of the drama unfolding that day.
I had been sneaking glances when I could to what I had tentatively identified as an NU submarine to the west of us, much to my surprise - there seemed to be a lot of activity on the small bridge and deck, and I could see someone watching us through binoculars, and a lot of gesturing and pointing this way. I am sure there was a lot of activity on the American warship bridge somewhere as well, but most of that was behind closed doors and darkened windows, and not so easy to follow.
I could see the SEAL leader only a few feet from me, frowning a bit, evidently trying to come to some decision about how to take control of the situation quickly - everything I had read about these highly-trained Alpha-type people or seen in movies and what not led me to believe he would not spend much time not in control without trying to change the logistics he was faced with if they were unfavorable to his goals. He obviously did not like the crowds beginning to gather, and he equally obviously was not in the driver's seat here - his men were all in the open, many without weapons in hand, facing a large number of armed, evidently well-trained and disciplined civilian police, who held the high ground as well, and who had already demonstrated more than once their willingness and ability to engage effectively without the hesitancy less well-prepared people often display when it comes time to actually pull triggers. None of that had been evident in the GRIPPS, however, this day, which made his decision very difficult - he was probably not especially suicidal, and it was pretty obvious that anything he started would result in a lot of dead people, and he would be very high on the target list, and he was very much in the open, unarmed, and without cover, as was his prime assignment. I suspected he was none too fond of the many cameras that were visible recording the entire proceedings as well, although I also suspected that his priorities would direct him to try to salvage the situation first, and deal with the cameras later. His government had been doing similar things for long enough - optics were very fluid, with enough money and power and media control.
But whatever he was considering, it was about to become a great deal more complicated. Or less, depending on how you looked at things, I suppose.
The standoff actually went on for only a few seconds, although it seemed much longer to me in the middle of it (I have noticed this before, when your brain is seriously engaged with something, there seems to be a lot more time inside of it than in the outside world) - when suddenly, as such things happen, the rather unmistakable WHUMPWHUMPWHUMPING sound of a large helicopter approaching rapidly from the north drew our attention overhead, back over the courthouse - and a few seconds later, for the third time that day, the citizens of this normally green and peaceful isle were treated to the sight of a large, military style helicopter hovering over the lower downtown area of their capital city.
The helicopter seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then purposefully banked, quickly losing altitude - and I could see where it was going. There was an old armory, now a museum, at the corner where the North River met the harbour, a couple of hundred or so yards to the west of the Yacht Club; I recalled now from various walks I had taken along the harbour path that there was a helicopter landing pad on the cement pad that had been the base of the old stone bunker that had been part of the armory grounds, and it was there the chopper was now settling in. As it landed, with its side facing us, I could see the large logo on the side - the blue and white flag of the United Nations.
Beezer took a breath and got a noseful of salt water, which caused him to sneeze and jump. He opened his eyes, and slowly, in a quick sort of slow way as people or animals regaining consciousness do, realized he was laying in water, and the water was starting to get in the way of his breathing, which was not a good thing. He lifted his head, and shook it a couple of times, the computer brain in the big dog head starting to reestablish the necessary connections to turn inert tissue into something that thought and considered and decided and acted. And his first thought and action was to push himself to an upright rather than prone lying position, and then to push himself right up to his feet in a survival-instinct action. He stood still, rocking a bit from side to side, letting the blood get to his head, concentrating for the first seconds mainly on just not falling back down again. Blinking, he looked around, saw the bay and the shore and the strand line a few feet away, and then the field beyond that - and the big house where all the humans lived beyond that. And more synapses started connecting. He looked back at the bay where he remembered his last memory of the metallic clinking sounds of unknown humans invading his turf in the middle of the night, and the light and noise and great blow to his head that were the last things he remembered. He looked back to the house again. He remembered his young human. He thought danger. He started to move.
The tension had eased, but not so much as to make anyone comfortable in front of the yacht club, maybe 2 percent or something, if you could measure this stuff. I could see that the SEALS and SS agents were not happy with the development of the United Nations helicopter landing in the middle, sort of, of the situation, but it appeared they were ready to wait and see what it meant, at least - given their options, at any rate, as the GRIPPs, who had been receiving regular reinforcements and now numbered at least 50 armed bodies stationed at various high places around the Yacht Club dock with no more than a dozen or so SEALs and SS men, some unarmed and all very much not in a good position, opposing them, were maintaining their position, rifles trained on the SEALs and SS agents, who had apparently accepted that they were not dealing with amateurs and had better be careful if they wanted to stay alive, a necessary prerequisite to having any chance to complete their mission (SEALS were the very cream of the US military and could deal with advanced concepts like this). Two of the Green Island Coastal Patrol boats had also appeared in the water out from the end of the dock, and I could see a number of armed GRIPPs carefully watching the water between us and the US warship, apparently making sure we would have no more underwater surprises from that area. I could also see that a small motorized rubber raft had been launched from the submarine as the helicopter prepared to land and was buzzing along quickly towards us, and by the time the doors of the helicopter opened and some armed guards dismounted, rifles at the ready, forming a protective circle for the five or six suits who followed them, the raft had pulled up alongside the cement wall that ran along the harbourside around the armory area and a passenger had disembarked, who quickly joined the suits from the helicopter. They all began to walk towards us, along the wooden walkway that was part of the new waterfront boardwalk.
"Mr. Bigelow!" I turned to the speaker, the man who was apparently the SEAL leader a few feet from me, who was, I could see now that he had divested himself of much of his let's-play-Rambo costume, a James Bond sort of man of about 30, thinning blond hair, blue but cold eyes, as can be found on men who will kill other men or lie or cheat or steal with no second thought or concern in the service of some construct from their brain, political or personal, about six foot tall and well built; "can I appeal to you personally to call your security people off for a minute, Sir? I really need to take the President back to the safety of the Secret Service and our vessel, now, Sir!? If you give the word, I will have Johnson - " he tipped his head towards the man with the gun to my face - " - release you, and we can all stay alive and see what happens next. You seem like a reasonable person - let's get this cleaned up a bit, sir?"
My immediate instinct was to agree with him - but I was also more than a bit suspicious. I had read a lot of books in my life, a lot of them in my younger days spy type escapist stuff, and one thing I had learned was that anything the bad guys did (and from my perspective at this time, several hundred Hollywood movies and tv shows and almost all of those books notwithstanding, the SEALs were the bad guys here on Green Island) that seemed to offer some compromise was invariably a trap of some sort.
On the other hand, of course, this was not an Ian Fleming novel. Or even a Clancy one.
But on the first hand again, my friend Marsden, a good man in all ways, lay dead at my feet by the hand of this very man, for simply trying to protect me, murdered in cold blood without a weapon of any sort in his hand. And only a few feet away stood another handful of SEALs and SS guys, apparently, a quick glance showed, still ready to grab guns and start shooting at the first opportunity. I noticed also in that quick glance the suits behind the SS agents were not standing around doing nothing either, but whispering and gesturing amongst themselves - I don't suppose you could get a gang of lawyers together and expect much else - hell for a lawyer would probably be being forbidden to argue with someone about something, especially something where he was obviously in the wrong and saying things only a moron would believe, but nonetheless able to bill someone $600 US per hour for their 'services' - but whatever they were whispering about, I didn't figure it would be making life better for myself and the GRIPPs.
I remained silent, meeting his eyes, although repelled by them, not speaking, remembering Marsden.
The group approaching from the helicopter were halfway here, and I could see the crowd starting to gather along that walkway as well. In some wonderment at what was happening, I could also see, over the SEAL leader's shoulder, people all along the roof of the Green Island hotel overlooking the harbour, and yacht club, and a growing number of small boats beginning to gather out in the harbour around us as well.
I could see in the SEAL leader's eyes that he was getting a little desperate, but the seconds ticked relentlessly by, and evidently he could think of nothing to do that would not make the situation worse - and then his time ran out as the group from the helicopter arrived.
As I half-turned to face them, I got yet another shock that day. Leading them was one of the most recognized faces in the world, none other than Cesar Bolivaro - Secretary-General of the United Nations, medium height and build and wearing an open-necked shirt, but easily recognizable with his bald head rimmed in a grey bushy halo of hair and bushy mustache which had become quite well known throughout the world since his selection as head of that august body a couple of years ago (against the livid protests of the United States, but it was a symbol of their waning power, or perhaps the increasing power of the so-called third world, that he had been confirmed), and his fierce speeches the world over demanding an end to war and violence and a decent, secure life for everyone which would be doable if we just closed down the arms industries and outlawed warmaking by and among all the powerful, supposedly civilized nations and then outlawed hunger and did something about it all - rhetoric which had the great warlike nations and industries, particularly Korporate Amerika, even more displeased with him than they had been with his predecessor. He was serious looking on this day, as most days - given the situation in the world, it was a tough job not to look serious about, I guess. I had followed the United Nations somewhat for many years, thinking it was the sort of thing the world needed, but more than a bit disappointed in the lack of actual accomplishments over the years - a whole lot of great talk, and huge amounts of money spent on high expense account 'advisors' and 'missions', but precious little walk, as the modern saying had it, at the end of the day, in terms of real change. Bolivaro had been trying a lot more than his predecessors, though, it seemed, to be more than a figurehead, he seemed to be expecting some actual useful changes to start happening sometime before the next millennium, and I had started to feel a bit of hope.
And now here was the famous Cesar Bolivaro himself, walking towards me, on the shores of Green Island - a visit I might have welcomed in other circumstances; actually, I welcomed it now as well. And stopping only a few feet away, taking a slow look around, assessing the situation. The cadre of guards that were accompanying him and the other suits were anxiously trying to keep between Bolivaro and the various guns on display, and having little success with their headstrong leader.
"Sir, please!..." one of the UN guards was saying, but Bolivaro silenced him with a rather imperial hand gesture, then spoke to the SEAL leader - I suppose as the only single man standing in the central part of this scenario.
"May I know who is the leader of this military force around here?" he asked. I must say, I was quite impressed - all the guns pointing all over the place, and he paid no attention to them at all.
The SEAL leader spoke - he didn't seem to realize to whom he was speaking, but from the way he arrived, and the guard around him, it was evident he was a 'Sir' of some consequence.
"Sir, I am in charge of the SEALs here. As to those on the roof, I cannot say."
"Well, first then, would you please tell your soldier here to release this man - " - and he pointed to me - " - who appears to be Stephen Bigelow, the very democratically elected First Minister of this state, or province, as the case may be, something under some dispute at the moment, I understand - but still I am somewhat surprised to see United States military personnel behaving in such a way, and - " - he rather exaggeratedly pointed at the crowds - " - especially in such public view - and it appears there are any number of television cameras recording everything as well..."
"I - ahhh - " began the SEAL leader, then just gave in, and turned to the SEAL with his arm still around my neck, "Well - you heard the man! Release him!"
And he did. It was something of a relief, as I took a step away from him, immediately taking a step to where Marsden still lay, and kneeling by his side. I felt for a pulse in his neck, but there was none, and he did not appear to be breathing. He had been a very good man, and friend. I would grieve with others, and he would be missed. But noone else seemed to be noticing, except Bolivaro, who was watching with a small frown of concern.
As I looked up, he said, "You knew this man?"
"Yes," I replied, a bit of a choke in my throat, "a friend, a man who tried to protect me, murdered by these people." I indicated the SEALs with a toss of my head.
Bolivaro returned his attention to the others. He gave a small start, then pointed to where the POTUS lay sheltered still by the kneeling SEAL. "My word! Is that the president of the United States there also?"
"Sir," said the SEAL, "We are trying to protect him from the riflemen on the roof there."
Bolivaro ignored the SEAL, and spoke directly to Shurbullie. "Nobody here is going to shoot the president of the United States! On your feet, man! Are you a commander-in-chief or a child?"
Shurbullie craned his neck a bit, looking up at Bolivar.
"You!" he said, "What are YOU doing here?"
"I might ask the same of you," replied Bolivaro, with a grim little smile, "but then on my journey here I was shown some of the tapes of some most interesting things that transpired this morning. Not an uplifting sight, I must say." As had been the case for many years, the US government had been doing its best during Bolivar's occupancy of the top United Nations job to belittle and marginalize that organization, and Bolivar had been quite effective in fighting back - leading to a situation wherein neither had been developing any great feelings of fondness for the other.
This appeared to anger Shurbullie, and he pushed the kneeling SEAL away - it appeared the guys with their guns had lost control of the situation somewhat - and struggled to his feet.
"Listen, you," began Shurbullie, as he found his stance and tugged his rumpled suit jacket into place, half-successfully, then started waving a finger in Bolivaro's face, eyes somewhat wild and bloodshot, some of the emotional trauma of the previous hours perhaps getting released at last, "I don't know what the hell they drugged me with, or how they got me here, but none of that fairytale shit this morning will ever hold up in any real American court of law, and you damn well know it! I ..."
To my surprise, the SEAL leader took Shurbullie just slightly impolitely by the shoulders and pulled him back a step, speaking softly but firmly. "Please, Sir, can we try to maintain some decorum here? We are in the presence of heads of state, and they have guards as you have the Secret Service - ," - and indeed, as Shurbullie began waving his finger, a couple of the UN guards had begun edging closer to Bolivaro, weapons very obviously at the ready - " - and such guards do not like any sort of gestures that might be interpreted in a threatening way any more than your SS does, and these things can lead to trouble, Sir, and we are in a bit of a precarious position already, Sir, please note that we are not in the kind of control of things we prefer, Sir. And let's not forget, as the man said, there appear to be many television cameras recording all of this and it is highly unlikely we will be able to control the optics per usual. They are not - " - he finished, lowering his voice rather suggestively - " - OUR television cameras, Sir."
"Goddam! What's going down there? Why are those SEALs not kicking some serious ass there? Green Island boyscout police - a bunch of nobodies - and the NWO out there ...."
- and he turned his head briefly away from the CNN feed on the television and shot a quick contemptuous glance towards Cane where she sat quietly on the floor beside Brittany, more upset than she had ever been in her life or her short career as a GRIPP that she was so helpless at the moment -
"Chief, I don't know what the hell's goin on down there, but I'll tell you one thing," the third hostage taker broke in, "- that's President Shurbullie there, in the middle of a hostile situation, and that is about the last place the President should be. There's something not right there big time, and something not going right - "
Suddenly the BSCN anchor Jim was back on the screen, speaking, "Zoomie, maybe you should just lay low for a few minutes, until we have a bit better idea what's going on. Look, we're getting some feed now from one of our affiliate stations - and yes, I can confirm, as far as I can tell, that that is indeed President Shurbullie there, we have people on the phones right now trying to find out what this unexpected visit was for, perhaps he's personally proclaiming the wonderful gift of Democracy for these oppressed people which, as we all know, he loves to do - but wait - yes!, that is indeed Cesar Bolivaro, Secretary General of the United Nations! What on earth is happening there, Zoomie! - and - wait a moment - yes, the news editor has confirmed that the other man is Stephen Bigelow, the anarchist leader of the former Green Island government - well, he looks a bit less threatening in person, I must say! - but we know he has been accused of many terrorist connections and activities - but what is going on? Zoomie, have you gotten anyone to talk to yet - "
The leader of the hostage takers was looking from the television where Stephen's face had just been shown, at a bit of a distance and fuzzy as such shots are, but still clear enough, and then to Brittany -
"Hey!" he spoke to the second hostage taker, pointing to where Brittany sat silently watching the television, "get that broad over here. Now. That, my friends, is why we are here - that is the wife of this Bigelow guy - and that's their kid on the bed. Now, lady, if anyone would know this Bigelow's cell phone number, it would be you, right? And don't even think about arguing - I'm in a hurry here, and that kid has ten fingers and ten toes and lots of other soft and very tender body parts that I will start taking off one by one with this knife in about ten seconds if you don't cooperate."
Shurbullie looked at the SEAL sideways, scowling, and then at Bolivaro, and even managed a short dismissive glance at me, and finally out at the American warship. I hate to say it, but he actually did snicker, like a high school rich kid used to having his father buy him out of any situation, and thus somewhat short on some basic human facilities. Such as common sense.
"Well," he said, a defiant half-grin on his face, still not understanding much beyond visible force and intimidation, "if that American warship means what it usually means, it doesn't much matter who has what else, does it? We'll just make whoever we have to an offer they can't refuse, as per usual as they say, and ..."
"Sir!" a new voice joined the conversation - as I looked, I could see it was one of the SS agents, who had approached, arms still half raised to emphasize he meant no threat; as I saw him, I could see another GRIPP had joined us on the dock as well - as I noticed him, he nodded to me, but did not lower his weapon, which was still pointed in the space between the SEAL leader and the new SS guy. I could see the GRIPPs on the roof still had their weapons trained in all directions - and also that there seemed to be quite a few more of them than the last time I had looked - there must have been over 50, now. I felt a small twinge of relief at seeing that, as well as the GRIPP on the dock with me - but only a small twinge. As Shurbullie had said, that warship in the harbour was still a pretty dominant looking presence. So I thought - I was about to learn some new things had been happening in other parts of the world as well as Green Island.
"Sir," continued the SS agent, "I need to have a word with you, Sir. In private, Sir. Now. It is urgent, Sir."
The agent looked around, not exactly sure whom he should be asking permission from - not at all sure he liked the idea of asking permission at all, by the looks of it, but also quite well aware of the many guns pointing in various places, and that most of those guns were not, from his perspective, friendly guns.
"Perhaps I can help," interrupted a new speaker, coming up beside Bolivaro, a largish, imposing man, with a uniform with lots of brass on it and gold stars on shoulder plates and white cap indicating he was of some importance, "I am the Commander of the Nordic Union World Viking Force submarine you see in the harbour - " - he half-turned, pointing to where the sub lay facing the American warship - " - and I think that we do not need any further secret messages today. I expect, Mr. President, that your agent? - I presume - wishes to inform you that, in actual fact, the American warship does not 'mean what it usually means', on this day. We have completely neutralized the offensive weaponry of your vessel, and indeed it was on the way out of the harbour at our command until we saw these new developments a few minutes ago and gave it permission to delay until we ascertained what was happening here. I - "
"What kind of bullshit is this?" Shurbullie interrupted loudly, sneering at the sub commander, evidently well on the way to losing whatever loose touch he had at the best of times with reality, "A - what did you say? 'Nordic Union Vikings?!?' - sounds like one of your stupid pansy football teams haha - has neutralized an American warship? Man, have you got some learning to do, pal - and we'll be happy to learn you as soon as your goons put down their guns and let the President of the Free World - haha, that is the United States, and that is fucking ME, mah fellow citizens haha - leave this little pissant island. I - "
"Sir!" the SS agent was looking somewhat aghast as Shurbullie spoke, "Sir! Please - listen!" - he looked around at everyone, obviously wishing to speak in confidence, but then no doubt giving in to the reality that the cat was well out of the bag already, spoke, "Sir! What the Commander of the NU sub says is entirely true, Sir. They have demonstrated, this morning, some sort of new weapon that renders our entire ship powerless! And they - that is, we - were indeed preparing to leave this harbour when - ah - when this situation developed here, and they gave us permission to wait and see what was happening here. Sir."
He finished by speaking slowly, with emphasis, "Sir. We. are. NOT. in. the. driver's. seat. Sir."
A pause, with various expressions running over the president's face, as one sees on a spoiled child at times who has just been denied something he thinks he has some right to, but must back off in the face of higher authority or get a smack. First denial.
"I don't believe this shit!" said Shurbullie, defiantly, "You people are just pansy-assing around! I want you to get me out of here now! - I want to talk to Upchicky my decider, that is advisor - I want - "
- and just then my cellphone began to tinnily sing out the opening notes of the old Lennon Give Peace a Chance song that I was using as a signal, an idea that was as welcome as it was strikingly, almost laughingly, out of place in that setting - I think I actually heard a couple of startled snickers as I shook my head to bring me back to the world of cell phones and reached in my pocket. I think normally the tendency would be to just ignore something so unrelated to the situation we were dealing with, but just at that particular moment things looked to be on the edge of chaos and noone seemed quite sure what to do about it all, and a small break of even a few seconds was a welcome interruption giving everyone a few seconds to gather their thoughts. It was to prove more of a welcome interruption for some than others.
I pulled out the small device and, with thousands of eyes watching me, thumbed the 'on' button, and put the phone to my ear, turning partially to one side and trying to speak low to give an illusion of privacy. And then -
"Brittany! It's so good to hear from you - god, I've been so tied up I haven't had a chance to call! - where are you, what's happening? - "
"Stephen! Oh, god, Stephen I'm so sorry - we're at Greenways - I - "
- and that was all I heard from Brittany, before -
"Mr Stephen Bigelow? Are you there?"
"What?!?" I reacted in shock, "Where is Brittany? Who are you? Put Brittany back on the line right now! I - "
"Mr Bigelow, quiet!" the voice was loud, commanding, not friendly, "Mr Bigelow, I am a US Navy SEAL, and I and my team have taken Greenways and we have several hostages, a couple of old people, a kid, your wife, and one of your boyscout lady cops who didn't last a second if you're interested before giving in to us. And what I require from you, Mr Bigelow, if you want to see any of these people alive again, is to immediately order your boyscouts there to put down their weapons and free the President to return to the ship in the harbour with his Secret Service agents. Mr Bigelow, I don't want any delays and I don't want any games, I just want you to do what I told you to - switch on your video feed for a minute, Mr Bigelow, I want you to see something - "
- and there was a short period of muffled sounds and voices as I moved my hand in front of my face where I could see the controls and switched on the video transmission feed, a feature I rarely used but had in case it might come in handy sometimes, something Brittany knew about of course, and this time was one time I wish I had never seen - as the screen came to life I could see the hooded face of a man looking at the screen, then talking, I quickly pulled the phone to my ear -
" - and have a look around the room, Mr Bigelow, so you know I am who I say I am and will do what I say I will do if I do not receive instant cooperation from you - "
- and then, with a series of jerky movements, I saw some dim pictures in a dim room - I think the dimness was from poor transmission characteristics rather than an actually dim room, as I immediately recognized Elizabeth's bedroom at Greenways - and, with shock, the still forms of Elizabeth and the Dellingtons on the bed, and, half hidden behind the bed in the small room now very crowded, Brittany and the GRIPP Cane who had taken her to the hospital after she had been struck down by Black's hoodlum. With no warning I saw Cane's eyes widen in fear, and a muffled command of some sort, then a loud 'bang!' - and suddenly a hole appeared in the wall about an inch from Cane's head, dust flying, Cane throwing her body sideways, an accompanying scream from Brittany. Even from where I held the phone in front of my face I could hear the loud shout of the hooded man -
- and returned the phone to the area of my ear, a few inches away where I could keep half an eye on the video transmission while listening to the voice, my mind struck into semi-numbness from the quickness of the violence that had exploded in front of me, in a place I had come to regard as a sanctuary from violence, violated by these terrorists, who had the people I loved most in the world hostage, and were very obviously more than prepared to seriously hurt them, or worse - as these thoughts tumbled confusedly around my head, I heard the terrorist's voice again -
"Bigelow! Bigelow! Are you there? Answer now, or the next time it won't be a wall, and people are going to start getting hurt right away - I am in a hurry Bigelow and I am NOT fucking around you better understand that and believe it if you want to have any chance at all of seeing these people alive again - answer me NOW!!"
"Yes!" I half shouted in panic into the phone, not wanting to see any more shooting, "Yes I'm here! What do you want? Please, no more shooting!"
"Bigelow!" came the voice, commanding again, "Be quiet and listen, and do exactly as I say. There is nothing complicated here Bigelow - I want you to do what you have to do right now to see that the President is freed and he and the SEALs and the other Americans you have there on the dock are all allowed to return to the ship in the harbour. Do you understand that, Bigelow? Answer me now!"
"Yes," I said, my mind still only half working, but answering immediately, "you want me to do what I have to to see that the President is allowed to go to the ship in the harbour there..."
"Good Bigelow! Good! Now - the second thing - give this phone to the SEAL leader I see by the President - that is the man with no top or headgear - do it now, Bigelow!"
I looked around in shock, and took a step towards the SEAL leader, who, like the rest had been watching me, aware from my actions and my half of the conversation they could hear that something serious was happening.
Inanely, unable to think of whatever words would be appropriate, I could only say "It's for - here, somebody wants to talk to you - " as I held out the phone in the direction of the SEAL leader, who looked at me with surprise for a second, unsure what trap I might be trying to spring on him, then a spark of understanding came into his eyes as he reached out and took the phone, immediately raising it to his ear.
"Yes, this is the SEAL Leader at the Charlottetown waterfront - who is this? - Yes, personal communications were down for several hours, we as yet have no idea why but undoubtedly related to the NU people and what happened in the courthouse this morning somehow, but we'll figure that out later - what is your status now?"
- and the SEAL leader listened intently for several seconds, a look of relief or hope or something coming over his features, and then he handed the small phone back to me -
" - the man wants another word with you Bigelow..."
I took the phone and put it to my ear, fearful, "Bigelow? Don't even think about trying anything funny as long as all those cameras are running and I can see every move you make, right? So know that I am watching, Bigelow, and if this phone rings again - you won't like what you hear, do you understand that, Bigelow? Do what you have to do, Bigelow, if you want to see these people again."
And he turned the video feed briefly to the room where I could see a black-suited man holding Elizabeth by the hair with a knife very close to her face in one hand, with the terrified face of Brittany leaning against a wall behind the bed they sat on, and then the phone clicked off. The SEAL leader, understandably enough, was in a hurry to take advantage of the situation while things were going in his favor. My mind was reeling, but snapped back at least partly to the dock as he spoke, or snarled, really, all signs of civility gone from his demeanor.
"Well, Bigelow - what are you waiting for? Our friends back at your house are impatient, they tell me, and watching everything that happens here, and want to see some action very, very soon or other people are going to start screaming, something I am sure you want to avoid... "
- and he reached out to take the arm of the President -
"Alright, Sir, things are under control again, we'll be leaving in just a second - "
- and he turned and spoke again to me -
"Right, Mr Bigelow?"
I had no idea what to say or do, but doing nothing was obviously not an option given the situation at Greenways. I looked around to the others on the wharf, the GRIPPs, Cesar Bolivaro, the NU sub commander, all with small frowns of puzzlement on their faces, still not aware of what was happening.
"That phone call was from my house at Greenways," I said, desperately, looking at Bolivaro who seemed to have the most presence of those on 'my' side of the conflict, glancing to the NU commander and up to the yacht club roof a couple of times at the GRIPP leader as well, "and some people, some other SEALs apparently, have Brittany, my wife, and others of my family hostage there - and they say if we do not let the President and his men immediately return to the ship out there they are going to start hurting people - they almost killed one of our GRIPPs, the lady Cane, while I was watching, she is a hostage too - I believe they mean what they say - "
- I looked up to the GRIPP leader -
" - I think we are going to have to stand down or whatever you call it, and let them all go - "
- I stopped speaking, not knowing what else to say for the moment -
"Mr Bigelow," came the voice of the GRIPP leader from the roof, "you are certain of this information?"
I held up my cellphone, "I saw them almost kill Cane, and the others are in the room and tied and helpless, and at least a couple of other armed men were there threatening them - yes, I am certain"
"Enough!" barked the voice of the SEAL leader, still holding the arm of the President, and looking up to the roof where most of the GRIPPs still stood with the rifles at the ready, "you Green Island men put those weapons down now! We are leaving - or there are going to be consequences very quickly, as your leader has seen. Put them down now!"
- and along the roof there were glances from the GRIPPs to the GRIPP leader -
- and on the dock I could see a number of the SS men and SEALs starting to tentatively kneel to recover their own weapons.
The situation was about to get ratcheted up another notch, by the looks of things - and all I wanted was for Brittany to be safe.