Fallen Pride: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
Retired Marine Jesse McDermitt faces an antagonist unlike none that he’s faced before, post-traumatic stress. A friend’s son, dishonorably discharged from the Corps, is suffering from nightmares, brought on by an incident that was the catalyst for his discharge. With Jesse’s help he learns to cope with his demons and gets his discharge overturned, so that he may once again serve the country he loves. Meanwhile, another foe is out to get Jesse, Deuce, and anyone else who gets in the way, including a highly placed elected official. When it’s learned that the foe is one of their own, all hell breaks loose around the Florida Keys. The royalties earned from this novel are donated to Veterans charities.
Release date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Down Island Press
Print pages: 362
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Fallen Pride: A Jesse McDermitt Novel
Two men lay among a cluster of large boulders. They’d been there over 24 hours, shivering through the still, cold night, and sweating through the midday heat. Each man was covered with what’s commonly called a ghillie suit, a heavy garment stitched with colored strips of free hanging cloth meant to blend in with the surrounding elements. In this case, most of the surrounding element was rock and boulders, so there was a lot of gray in their covering. Indeed, they were nearly invisible from a distance. However, the ghillie suits were designed more for use in jungle and woodlands. Here on this desolate gray landscape they were quite visible if someone got within 20 or 30 feet.
Fortunately, there were few people in this part of Iraq and anyone that wandered within a hundred meters of where the two men lay waiting, were visible to them. Behind them was an overhanging cliff about 30 feet high that kept them shadowed throughout the day. No chance anyone would stumble on them from the rear. They’d chosen this particular location for just this reason. It offered ideal cover considering the options and was easily defended, should anyone from the small cluster of homes and shops below happen to come up into the hills.
One man had a high powered spotting scope mounted on a short tripod and covered with the same cloth their ghillie suits were made from. As he looked through the scope, he spoke into a small microphone mounted on a boom in front of his mouth, “Alpha Six, Raptor has acquired the target. Looks like Nine of Diamonds, sending photo for confirmation.”
Moments later, the image was received by analysts at Field Operating Base Grizzly in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The FOB was where Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment was based, attached to the 6th Marine Regiment. The image was scanned and facial recognition software only took a few seconds to confirm that the person the two men were watching was a high value target by the name of Ahmed Qazir al Ramani, the 9 of diamonds in the most wanted deck.
Over the headset, the man on the scope heard a voice reply, “Target is confirmed, Raptor. You’re clear to engage.”
“We have confirmation Jared,” the man on the scope said to his partner. “You were right, it’s Nine of Diamonds
The second man lay motionless behind an M-40A3 rifle, loaded with Lapua .308, moly coated, dovetail ammunition. He spoke without moving his eye from the scope. “It’s a gift, Billy. Had it all my life. I see a face and can remember it forever. Range me.”
Marine Sergeant William ‘Billy’ Cooper leaned into the scope, taking readings. “Range is 905 meters. Declination, minus 10 degrees. Air is still and heavy.” Billy was the spotter. Marine Scout/Sniper teams worked in pairs, almost always alone and far from the units they were assigned to, in this case Alpha, 1/9. The battalion was only recently reactivated, having been stood down in 1994. In Vietnam the battalion earned the nickname ‘Walking Dead’ and still carry it today.
The second man, Corporal Jared Williams, was an accomplished shooter long before enlisting in the Marine Corps after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Born and raised in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, he’d won a number of shooting competitions starting at the age of 12 and all through his teenage years. He made a slight adjustment to the elevation of the rifle and said, “Target acquired.”
Billy relayed the message to the FOB and waited. He didn’t have to wait long before the voice in his headset replied, “You’re clear to take the shot, Raptor. I repeat, shot cleared.”
Billy took a slow breath. “You’re clear to fire when ready, Jared. No change in conditions.”
Jared hadn’t moved a muscle in more than fifteen minutes. Only now did he make the tiniest of moves, his right index finger, which had been alongside the trigger guard, moved imperceptibly to the trigger. He could see the target clearly through the U.S. Optics MST-100 scope. He was inside a small stucco and stone house a little over half a mile away. He was sitting in a chair, reading. Jared slowly took the slack out of the trigger after taking a long slow breath and releasing it. It was an easy shot, conditions were ideal and the target was unmoving. He had 12 prior confirmed kills, all of them more difficult than this one. Eight on his previous tour in Iraq, and four in the last three months since joining 1/9 and arriving back in country.
The pressure slowly increased on the trigger as the image in the scope moved up and down a fraction of a millimeter at regular intervals, caused by the beating of Jared’s own heart. He knew exactly the pressure required to release the firing pin and send the round downrange and timed it so that it occurred when the image rose with the beat of his heart and the cross hairs fell on the bridge of the man’s nose. The report of the rifle echoed off the granite cliff behind them, disbursing and seeming to come from all directions at once. Another reason they had chosen this site.
At half a mile, it took slightly more than a second for the round to traverse the distance from the muzzle to the target. A second that would change the young shooter’s life, permanently. It all seemed to happen in slow motion as he continued to watch through the scope to confirm the kill. In the first half a second, a slight shadow passed over the man’s face as he was reading. In the next half a second, his eyes came up slightly over his reading glasses and a smile came to his face. In the following millisecond, which seemed to take hours, someone stepped in front of the man in the chair. His 8 year old daughter. In the next few milliseconds a hole appeared in the glass of the window and cracks radiated out from it like a spider’s web. In the last millisecond a pink mist emanated from the girls head, spreading over the man in the chair as the girl fell forward into her father’s lap, dead.
Chapter 1: Present Day Key West
Jared Williams bolted upright, drenched in a cold sweat and shaking. The image of the dead girl in her father’s lap and the man looking right at him through the hole in the glass, was still fresh in his mind. As it always did, it took a few seconds to take stock and realize he’d had the nightmare again. He was in his bed, in his small apartment above a garage. The garage sat on a small corner lot in Old Town Key West with a two story Conch house next to it. It was owned by a wealthy Canadian, who was only in residence for a few months in the winter. Jared took care of the property and grounds in exchange for free rent.
He had experienced the same recurring nightmare hundreds of times since that day two years earlier. His gift of remembering faces was now a curse. After the incident, he and Billy made their way around the cliffs and up into the mountains for helicopter extraction two days later. While being debriefed by an unidentified agent with Central Intelligence, the man insinuated that Jared had killed the girl intentionally. Jared came unglued and lunged across the table in a fit of rage and nearly beat the man to death before Billy could pull him off. The following month was spent in the brig, before being flown back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for a quiet court martial. He was sentenced to time already served, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduced in rank to Private, and dishonorably discharged. The pride of the Marine Corps couldn’t handle any more bad press about its Marines killing innocent civilians.
His next two months were spent in an alcohol induced stupor when he returned to his home in Kentucky. His brother had followed him into the Marine Corps and was currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, though Jared didn’t get a chance to see him before leaving. His mom and dad, now empty nesters, pulled up stakes and headed south to get away from the cold mountain winters. But, Kentucky was his home and where his friends were, so that’s where he went. It didn’t take long for him to find that his old friends from high school were no longer the same. Many had left the hills and taken jobs in the surrounding cities, or headed off to college. Those that remained in the small town of Sassafras, near the Virginia border, seemed different from him somehow. A few years older, but they seemed to be perpetually stuck in high school. Unable to find a job, he was soon almost out of money. He sold his 1985 Ford pickup to a friend, bought a Greyhound ticket to Key West, and called his dad to ask if he had room to put him up for a week or two, until he could find work.
Arriving in Key West was like entering a different dimension. The verdant green hills and mountains of Kentucky were replaced with the flat blue of the tropical ocean. The regimented military lifestyle was replaced with the wild abandon of this centuries old pirate town.
His dad had taken a job on a shrimp trawler as a mechanic a year earlier. His reputation quickly grew in the small island community as a man with a knack for understanding and being able to fix all sorts of mechanical problems. In a place with almost as many boats as people, he’d found plenty of work on his days off, repairing boats, cars, trucks, and even did some mechanical work on private planes. He’d saved up, got his private pilot’s license and bought an old float plane, with the idea of taking tourists and fishermen around the island chain to places you couldn’t get to by car and get them there faster than by boat.
Jared’s folks didn’t really have room in their small mobile home on Stock Island, but let him stay on the couch anyway. His dad made it clear that it was temporary and gave him a month. David Williams didn’t raise his boys to be slackers and they weren’t. Less than a week after arriving, his dad had made the arrangement for the garage apartment with a fly fisherman from Canada he’d met earlier that winter and taken up in his plane several times. A few days later, a friend of his mom told her about a job opening at a restaurant and bar just off of Duval Street, where most of Key West’s hot spots were located. Arriving at the Blue Heaven and meeting the manager, he learned that the opening was for a bouncer/bar back. Being just over six feet tall, 200 pounds, and muscular gave him an edge and the fact that he had served in the Marines got him the job. He didn’t mention that he’d been dishonorably discharged and the manager never asked.
He’d worked hard for two years, making friends around the island and at the restaurant, a popular place with locals and tourists alike. The job suited him. He quickly found that his training on the battlefield gave him the ability to read people better than most and usually could stop an altercation before it even started, simply by imposing himself on the occasional rowdy drunk. This was something his boss liked. He looked after the waitresses and bartenders like they were his little sisters and soon they looked up to him as their big brother, even the ones that were a little older than him. During his time off, he worked out a lot. The Canadian had a complete weight set in the garage and the work around the property could be hard at times, especially after a storm. He would cut up the many branches that fell from the oak and elm trees, using an old buck saw he’d picked up at a yard sale. He soon added fifteen pounds of hard muscle to his already powerful physique.
The nightmares didn’t go away, though. One of the regulars at the bar was an old guy named Jackson Wainwright that everyone just called Pop. He seemed like a harmless guy most of the time. On the smallish side, maybe 5’-8” and a wiry 165 pounds, with long gray hair and beard, he was usually barefoot or wore flip-flops, baggy shorts and a worn out tee-shirt. One night, a year after Jared arrived in Key West, Pop went completely nuts and started a fight with two Vietnamese tourists. Jared had to break it up and kick him out. That’s when he learned that Pop was a Vietnam Veteran. Once he got the old man outside, struggling all the way, he collapsed at the curb, sobbing incoherently. Not knowing what to do, Jared sat on the curb next to the old man and within a few minutes each realized they were kindred spirits. He sought out Pop many times after that night, when the tension and nightmares came. It seemed to help them both, just to sit and talk about their experiences and fears. Still, the nightmares didn’t go away.
Chapter 2: There’s gold in them thar… waters.
We were anchored at the GPS coordinates that my old Platoon Sergeant, Russ Livinston, had last dove on and where he’d been murdered. In the last six months we’d learned a lot about the Confederate blockade runner Lynx. Some of it through research done by Chyrel Koshinski, a former CIA technical analyst and some from a man named Jackson McCormick. He was the great grandson of Lieutenant Colonel Abner McCormick, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Florida Cavalry during the Civil War. When the Lynx was sunk coming out of Fort Pierce, Colonel McCormick was aboard with 12 gold bars weighing a combined 120 pounds. He was in charge of taking the gold to a Colonel Harrison of the 1st Florida Battalion in Saint Augustine. The gold was a gift from the French government to help fund the Confederacy and had been melted down into Confederate gold bars at the mint in New Orleans.
Deuce and I had visited Mister McCormick several weeks ago. Deuce was Russ Livingston’s son and had become one of my closest friends in the last year. He’s a Navy SEAL, but is now attached to the Department of Homeland Security. Last fall, he’d roped me into helping them and I’d sort of become a part of the team he was in charge of, searching out and eradicating terrorist threats in the Caribbean.
It was during that time that a woman I’d known a year earlier, Alex DuBois, came back to the Keys and we’d quickly fallen in love. Actually, we were already in love but never realized it. She was kidnapped on our wedding day by the people Deuce was investigating and murdered that night. Since then, I’d pretty much given up on life and only found purpose in helping Deuce’s team on another assignment.
While visiting Mister McCormick, he had shown us the letters his great grandfather had written to his wife. This was Russ’s first clue to what the Lynx was carrying. In those letters, Colonel McCormick had written that he had a French passenger that he was escorting to Saint Augustine, who would help finance the Confederate cause. The French passenger’s name, he’d written, was Douzaine Lingots Dior. Few people in Florida at that time spoke French, but the Colonel and his wife did. It was a rudimentary code telling her that he was taking a dozen gold bars to Saint Augustine. With just a glance, Deuce and I agreed that if we could find it, we’d cut Mister McCormick in. My old friend, Rusty Thurman, had a salvage license, so we enlisted his help. Rusty owns the Rusty Anchor Bar and Grill in Marathon and Deuce was engaged to his daughter, Julie.
We’d been looking for four days, with no luck. Sometimes we would spend eight hours a day under the surface of the shallow waters off Fort Pierce. We were taking a lunch break when Deuce said what all three of us were thinking, “Maybe Lester came back and found the rest, but didn’t tell Sonny about it.”
Elijah ‘Sonny’ Beech was a loan shark and smuggler in West Palm Beach and Lester was one of his crew. It was Lester that had killed Deuce’s dad and two other of Sonny’s crew that killed my wife. All three murderers were now dead and Sonny was enjoying the sunshine in Gitmo, due to the fact that he attempted to smuggle terrorists into the country.
The more I thought about, the less likely it seemed. “I don’t think so,” I finally said. “Lester had everything on him that he’d stolen from your dad and not pawned.” I found Lester more than a week after he’d knocked me off my own skiff and escaped into the northern mangrove keys, above Big Pine Key. He’d gotten lost, ran out of gas and was nearly dead from hunger and dehydration on a small island near Raccoon Key. I’m sure he died eventually, but not by my hand. “If we don’t find anything today,” I continued, “we’ll have to either give up or start again next week.” Deuce’s fiancé, Julie, was currently undergoing training with the Coast Guard at their Maritime Enforcement facility at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, NC and would graduate in three days. All three of us planned to be there when she did.
Rusty checked the onboard compressor and said, “Tanks are full, let’s get back down there.”
We put our gear back on and stepped off the dive platform at the stern of my boat, Gaspar’s Revenge. She’s a 45 foot Rampage convertible that I use for fishing and diving charters, though lately I wasn’t doing much of either. I’d bought the Revenge, along with my tiny island in the Content Keys, six years ago when I retired from the Marine Corps. This past winter, I’d learned that my late wife left me an inheritance, most of which I donated to causes that were important to us both. I had my military pension and under an agreement with Deuce’s former boss to make myself available to move his men and equipment around on the Revenge whenever the need arose, I really didn’t need to take out charters very often.
We descended to the bottom and once more split up, using underwater metal detectors to sweep the ocean floor. We’d moved the boat several times over the last four days, but never more than a few hundred feet from the co-ordinates that were on Russ’s GPS and we restricted our searches to an area no more than fifty feet from the boat. As I swam along a small ridge, my detector pinged. We’d had dozens of false readings, but this one was strong. I pulled a small gardening shovel from my belt and started probing the bottom where the detection was strongest. Almost immediately, I hit something large and hard. I dug away the sand to reveal what looked to be a large, heavily encrusted anchor chain. I uncovered more and more of the chain, until I could see a good ten feet of it. Each link was about six inches long and three inches wide with the rings being at least three quarters of an inch thick. As I pondered the chains significance, I looked over at the ridge we’d been following. Suddenly, it struck me. I was looking at the remnants of a boat, the lines still clearly visible in my mind’s eye.
I reached back and pulled on a plastic ball that was bungeed to my tank and released it. It made a loud clanging sound that traveled a long way underwater. A few minutes later, Deuce and Rusty swam over the ridge and down to where I rested on my knees on the ocean floor. I pointed out the chain and Deuce swam to it and examined it closer. He looked up and nodded, thinking the same thing I was. Could this be the anchor chain of the Lynx? All three of us had studied the shipbuilder’s drawings, read everything Chyrel found on the subject and the chain was the perfect size to all the references we found on it.
Then I pointed to the ridge itself. At first, Deuce and Rusty didn’t see it and looked back at me with a shrug. I cupped my hands, with the outside edges of my palms together, the signal for ‘boat’. They looked back at the low wall and I watched as both their heads turned studying the length of it. Together we swam toward it, then up to the top. I used the gardening shovel to move some of the sand away from the edge and soon found what looked like a large ships rib just below the sand. Moving exactly two feet along the top of the ridge I did the same thing and found another. Rusty moved the opposite way and found a third one. He then pointed away from the ledge where the bottom fell away about 20 feet from where we were. I kicked toward the surface until I could hover about 10 feet above the others to get a ‘bird’s eye’ view. Rusty and Deuce joined me and I could tell from the look in their eyes they could see it also. There on the bottom, was the outline of a broken ship, over 200 feet in length. However, unless you were looking for a ship, it appeared to be just two ledges that ran parallel, then came together at both ends. We knew the Lynx was steel hulled, but underlaid with wooden stringers. It was the stringers that had caught my attention, seeming to be too symmetrical. The steel hull had long since rusted away to nothing.
I looked up at the position of the Revenge and noted she was nearly on top of us. I needed to move her straight forward of the current position about fifty feet, slightly more than a boat length, then we could use the mailbox I’d bought to clear some of the sand away. A mailbox is a large tube that turns at a 90 degree angle and fits over the propeller of a boat to force water straight down.
I motioned to Rusty and pointed at the center of the ship below us, then pointed to Deuce and myself and up to the Revenge. Rusty and I had probably made a thousand dives together and he knew instantly what I wanted him to do. He swam down to the bottom, positioning himself right in the middle of the old ship.
Deuce and I swam to the surface and I climbed aboard, telling Deuce to hang on the swim platform and tell me when to stop. I climbed up to the bridge and engaged the anchor windlass. Fortunately we’d let out a lot of anchor rode. Slowly the Revenge crept forward, pulling the anchor line aboard. After a few minutes Deuce called up to me, “Hold it there. I’m directly over Rusty.”
A minute later, Rusty was aboard and we put two large Danforth anchors in the small rowing dingy we were towing. Deuce climbed into the dingy and rowed astern at a 30 degree angle until the 100 foot anchor lines were fully paid out. He dropped the anchor overboard and Rusty hauled on it until the line was tight, then lashed it to the port davit while Deuce rowed in an arc to another position 30 degrees out from the stern in the opposite direction. There, he dropped the second anchor. Rusty hauled on that line and tied it off to the starboard davit, once it was taut.
Now we were anchored solidly above the wreck. Rusty and I lowered the mailbox, which I’d rigged without having to drill holes in the transom by attaching it to the swim platform itself. It wasn’t perfect, but should work if I didn’t rev the starboard engine too high. As Deuce was rowing back to the boat, I noticed a Florida Marine Patrol boat approaching. It came along side as Deuce was climbing back aboard. There were two FMP Officers aboard, a Lieutenant and a Sergeant, the Sergeant at the helm.
“Good afternoon, Lieutenant,” I said while climbing down from the bridge.
“Good afternoon, sir,” he said. “I’m Lieutenant Briggs. Can I ask what you think you’re doing?”
“You could,” Deuce said. “But we know what we’re doing.”
The Lieutenant looked from me, to Deuce. “It appears to me that you’re doing some kind of salvage work here. You have to be a licensed salvor to do that and this doesn’t look like a salvage boat.”
Rusty had already gone to his bag to get his Salvor’s license, knowing the FMP Officer would want to see it. Handing it to the man he said, “You mean like this one, Eltee?”
The Lieutenant studied the document and looked at Rusty, then at the two of us. “I’ll need to see some ID. From all of you.”
Deuce stepped closer to the gunwale and stared down at the Lieutenant. He’d retrieved his wallet from his pants pocket, lying on the cleaning table by the salon hatch, opened it and showed the Lieutenant his DHS credentials. “No you won’t. I’m an agent with Homeland Security. You can leave now.”
“Mister,” the Lieutenant said, “I don’t care if you’re James Bond himself. These waters are my juris….”
Deuce cut him off mid-sentence. “Lieutenant Briggs, you work for the state of Florida and I just identified myself as an agent for the Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency. Our papers are in order and you’re dismissed. Or, if you like, I can have Captain McDermitt here contact your boss and he can tell you you’re dismissed. Both ways, you’re gone and we’re in the water in less than five minutes. Your call.”
The Lieutenant looked at his Sergeant, then handed Rusty the license back. “No wonder nobody likes you Feds,” he said as he motioned for the Sergeant to shove off.
Once they were well away, Deuce turned to Rusty and grinned. Rusty said, “You really get your rocks off doing that, don’t you?”
“Absolutely.” Then he looked over at me and added, “Let’s blow some sand away, Jesse.”
I climbed back up to the bridge and started the starboard engine, while Rusty and Deuce looked over the stern rail on either side. I put the engine in forward and brought the rpm’s up to 1000. The mailbox would probably hold at 1500, but the water was only 20 feet deep and the big props on the Revenge move a lot of water. I held it there for about four minutes, then backed it down, put the transmission in neutral and shut off the engine.
“Can’t see shit,” Rusty said. “You sure blew up a lot of sand.”
We had to wait about ten minutes more while the compressor refilled the three tanks yet again. By then, the current had carried away most of the sand and we could see the outline of the ship clearly. We put our gear back on and headed back down to the bottom. We only had a couple of hours of daylight left.
Before we even got close to the bottom, Rusty pointed and we all saw it. The unmistakable glint of gold. Even after more than 140 years buried in the sand, it gleamed like the day it was removed from the molds. Gold is too dense for anything to attach to it. Scattered in a small area were eleven gold bars and we each picked one up. I looked over at Deuce and Rusty. They were both having a hard time breathing, grinning around their regulators as they were. We each carried the bars up to the boat and I climbed up on the swim platform, while they went back down four more times. I stacked the gold bars in one of the fish boxes built into the deck as they brought them up.
Once we had them in the fish box, we each leaned against the railing and looked down at them. “I can’t believe it,” Deuce said. “We actually found it.”
“That there’s 110 pounds of pure gold, man. I thought they’d be bigger,” Rusty said with a grin. “Just the melt value alone, that’s worth over a million bucks.”
“Historic value,” I said, “twice that and then some. Since it’s the property of a nation that no longer exists, the government will have a hard time proving ownership.”
“Think there’s anything else down there of value, Jesse?” Deuce asked.
“I doubt it. You read the information Chyrel gathered. The Lynx already unloaded here in Fort Pierce and was commandeered by Colonel McCormick at the last minute. All the crew made it ashore, except him.”
“No reason to hang around,” Rusty said. “I know a guy with the Florida Historical Society. I’m sure he’d be interested in buying it. We’re gonna have to get the state and federal government involved too, since we’re inside the 12 mile limit.”
“I doubt Washington would even send anyone down,” Deuce said. “Not over a paltry couple of million dollars.”
We started getting ready to return to the Keys. Deuce rowed out to where the stern anchors were set, taking a long coil of rope. He free dove down to each and used the rope to hoist them up to the dingy and then I used the windless to hoist the bow anchor. Within fifteen minutes we were ready to get underway.
Just as the sun was starting to set, I pushed the throttles forward and the twin 1015 horse Cats responded instantly, lifting the bow and bringing the big boat up onto plane. I never get tired of that feeling. It was 250 miles back to Marathon, so we set the autopilot and took shifts on the bridge for the ten hour run.
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