The Last Chopper Out — excerpt

Chapter 1

Monday, September 12, 2016 — Washington, DC

At 6:30 a.m., Leo Levy pulled Jim McGill’s armored and supercharged Chevy into the gated underground parking area of the sleek new three-story structure on O Street just off of Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Set between the garage entrance and a walk-in door was a brushed nickel sign bearing incised black letters in a sans serif font that read: McGill Investigations International, LLP.

The building was clad in pale gray marble and glazed with one-way black polycarbonate resin windows. The people inside could see out; the people outside could not see in. Neither could the latter group shoot out the windows with anything smaller than a .50 caliber round. If hostile forces brought weapons of that magnitude, there were discreet battlements notched in the roof’s parapet from which defenders could return fire.

In times of a perceived high threat, the sliding structural steel gate at the entrance to the parking area could be reinforced by outer and inner rings of bollards — heavyweight vehicle barriers — that rose and retracted upon encrypted radio commands. Anyone trying to use an explosive-packed car or truck to blow up the building from below was going to face serious challenges.

Likewise, all of the building’s cyber infrastructure had been designed by the best minds in Silicon Valley and was updated frequently, at irregular intervals. The Silicon Valley tech wizards had been informed that a team of their peers from the NSA had been retained to try to beat their work. It was great fun for the two teams to have at each other, and it was a stream of steady revenue for both parties.

All of these precautions had been the ideas of President Patricia Grant. She’d told McGill, “I’d like at least another 30 good years with you, and I’m prepared to pay to reach that goal.”

“Money well spent,” McGill had said.

He thought maybe she’d been taking things a step too far with the small, discreet anti-aircraft batteries on the roof, but she reminded him of the computer generated video the Secret Service had made of the two of them being killed by an armed drone at her second inauguration. The President had told McGill that drones had come a long way since then, so …

He had ceased to think of such a precaution as foolish. In fact, he wondered how long it would be before there was a countrywide demand for anti-aircraft emplacements. If only to keep creepy neighbors from snooping on bedroom windows.

McGill, Sweetie, Deke and Leo took the stairs from the garage to the first floor. There was an elevator, of course, but adjacent to it was a sign: Don’t neglect your cardio fitness. They didn’t. Waiting for them, behind a reception desk in the lobby was Dikki Missirian, McGill’s former landlord at his old, far more humble business location.

Dikki still owned his properties and was looking to buy more, but he’d turned over responsibility for maintaining those holdings to his newly arrived cousin, Aart, Americanized as Artie. When McGill had offered Dikki the chance to work as his new facility manager, he’d jumped at the opportunity.

He smiled at the new arrivals and asked, “Coffee, cocoa or mineral water?”

There were also beers, wines and spirits available, but McGill had already put out the word that drinking alcohol before the sun had set would be frowned upon unless champagne was offered at a celebratory occasion.

Dikki went to the company kitchen to fetch three coffees and a cocoa as the foursome headed to the boss’s office on the third floor, taking the stairs again. Even the staircase was flooded with natural light thanks to the central courtyard around which the building had been constructed. Every room in the building, save the lavatories, utility closets and the garage, had a view of the outside world.

Besides McGill’s suite on the third floor, there was an office for Sweetie, a conference room and spaces for visiting partners and additional senior hires.

Upon seeing the building’s architectural drawings for the first time, McGill had told Patti, “Sam Spade never had digs like this.”

“Yes, well,” she’d replied, “private eyes don’t wear fedoras anymore, either.”

“Or even trench coats, for the most part,” McGill agreed. “Still, I’m wondering if we’ll be able to generate enough revenue to justify such a palace.”

“There’s no mortgage, and from what I’ve seen of life the past eight years there’s more than enough wickedness in the world for you to keep the lights on.”

McGill couldn’t argue with that. He bowed to his wife’s superior logic and stole a kiss just to show she was right that scoundrels were thick on the ground. Sometimes they might even be found right under your very nose.

Patti had used the same architectural firm to put up her new headquarters for Committed Capital, her philanthropic venture capital shop. It was also located in Washington but a few miles from McGill’s place of business. Each of them had a reasonable amount of elbow room and wouldn’t casually drop in and interrupt the other’s workday just to say hello. They both subscribed to Kahlil Gibran’s wise advice: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”

Besides the two places of commerce, the President and McGill had also bought a home in the nation’s capital. Galia Mindel had found them a house in Dumbarton Oaks, just down the block from where she lived. Too close for McGill’s taste until he learned Galia had bought an apartment in Manhattan and intended to spend most of her time in New York. That being the case, McGill liked the new house.

It was big enough to board the kids when they came to visit, but not so large that if he or Patti dropped a fork it would produce an echo. The grounds were gorgeous and the missus said she’d hire people to tend to the plant life so he wouldn’t have to bother with a mower or a pair of clippers. He could laze in a lounge chair out back or swim laps in the pool if he started getting soft around the edges.

McGill decided that if he ever felt he was becoming too much of a swell he’d dig up videos of Burke’s Law, the ‘60s cop show in which Gene Barry played a millionaire LAPD detective who rode around in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce. If kitsch like that didn’t embarrass him, well, he could always count on Sweetie to give him a smack on the back of his head.

Dikki arrived in McGill’s office with the coffee, cocoa and a bottle of San Pellegrino for himself. He was a member of the corporate family, after all. Always welcome in casual moments.

McGill and the others adjourned to the conference room to wait for his other new partners to arrive from points around the country and overseas.

South China Sea

United States Navy Destroyer Squadron One, DESRON1, part of Carrier Strike Group One, was en route from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Singapore when two Chinese Air Force Shenyang J-15 fighter aircraft buzzed the three ships in the formation: the USS Gridley, the USS Higgins and the USS Russell.

Buzz, of course, was an understatement. The jet-wash — exhaust — from a fighter plane could knock over a city bus. Sailors on the decks of the American ships risked getting flung into the sea like litter in a tornado The commander of DESRON1, Captain Reynauld “Ray” Winston, was not amused.

“If they do that again —” He paused to consider his next words carefully.

Winston’s executive officer, Harlan Pine, said, “We’ve already warned them once. So next time we tell them that’s strike two, and after that they’re out?”

Winston shook his head. “Fuck that. Nobody’s playing baseball here. They’ve been warned. They come back and we shoot them the hell out of the sky.

“Yes, sir, but shouldn’t we get confirmation from Admiral Crocker at the strike group before we respond with … justified defensive measures?”

“You know what I intend to do?” Captain Winston asked.

“What’s that, sir?”

“I’m going to vote for Jean Morrissey. Never in my life thought I’d vote for a woman to be president, but did you read what she said at that press conference yesterday? She said, ‘Nobody fucks with the United States military.’ She came right out in public and said ‘fuck,’ but it was in the perfect context. I almost burst with pride. I’ve read she’s going to marry some FBI man but, damnit, I wanted to marry her myself when I heard that.”

“You’re not the only Navy man who feels that way, sir,” the XO said with a smile. “For any number of reasons.”

The two men shared a laugh.

And then the message came through that the Chinese fighter jets were returning

The captain said there was no to time to consult with anyone now. The safety of DESRON1 and its sailors was his responsibility, and he was sure both the navy and Vice President Morrissey would back him up.

He’d also bet his life the damn Chinese didn’t know his ship’s motto: Ignis ubi paratus. Fire when ready. The saying came from Admiral Dewey’s historic command issued during the battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War: “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.

That Gridley, of course, was the first vessel to bear the proud name.

The captain of its fourth generation successor now gave permission to fire to all three of the ships in his squadron.