The Payoff

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Ma/Fa, Military,

Desc: Mystery Story: A General's chief-of-staff uncovers a plot to steal nuclear weapons and is grievously injured in the denouement. He manage to secure an inactive air base used as a junk yard for over fifty years. The old cold war base hides secrets which repay him many fold. This has been a simple one-pass write as a gift for the holiday season. I have no doubts that errors will sprout like dandelions in the spring, but please accept it as it is--a hand-made gift with all of its flaws.

After eight years of keeping my nose clean I was tasked with keeping Major General Cedars of the U.S. Air force from screwing up the general’s mandatory paperwork. We were stationed at an extremely busy AFB--Kirtland, New Mexico. To make a long story short, I uncovered a plot to steal fifty nuclear weapon cores under the cover of a nuclear accident. I reported it to the general, upon which he drew his weapon and fired at me, severely damaging my right shoulder. Despite the shock I managed to run up on him and jam a knife up thrugh his diaphram and into his heart.

Base security wasn’t very careful with me. I didn’t recieve any attention to my wound for several days and it became infected. When a JAG officer finally paid me a visit I wasn’t very coherent, but I managed to convey that the theft of the nuclear cores was going to go down within the week. They don’t fuck around with that kind of claim, especially from a general’s chief of staff. Security from three other bases stripped Kirtland of all munitions handlers and disaster recovery personell then replaced them with staff from bloody everywhere. After I recovered enough to talk I named names and revealed who I’d determined was to recieve the bomb cores.

It took several years for my range of motion to top out--physical therapy couldn’t do any more for me. I was retired as a colonel, with thirty percent disability. I actually had a bit over eighty percent of my range of motion back, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was 42 when was given my discharge.

I was given the opportunity to clear out my office of anything that didn’t pertain to the General or anything else with a security implication. I wasn’t bothered when I spent some time in the bathroom. Nobody noticed that I brought a hex-head screw driver with me.

The disabled toilet had a stainless steel sheet backing the toilet paper dispenser and the grab bar. While perched on the john I carefully unscrewed the support panel and set it asid, revealing a round safe set into the concrete wall. That was where the general and I kept files and records that we couldn’t have stolen, even in the event of a break-in. All I wanted was two little USB stick drives. I left it open for CID to find the rest.

Those little bits of plastic and circutry held the keys to the general’s offshore investment accounts. I slipped them into a baggie, tied it off and stuffed it up my bum in the event of a strip search.

I used the facilities of a public library to contact the banks and change the account authentication strings, then made arrangements to siphon twenty thousand dollars a month into my stateside drawing fund. This drew down a few points of the interest on my offshore accounts.

Before getting the boot I made several inquiries as to military properties that were being held on to for no damned good reason. A friend of a friend who would have been one of the people implicated in the theft. He located a military dumping ground, deep in a canyon North West of Payson, Arizona. Where’s Payson? Kind of North-East of Phoenix. There’s a little-known but navigable road between the dump and the town.

An aerial shot showed rows of wrecked helicopters, jets and vehicles dating from the eighties to about 2010, with a broad avenue down the middle where the old airstrip lay. Airstrip? It had been purchased and built up as an emergency military air strip during the cold war era. It was on a fenced-in one hundred and twenty acre military reservation with a 3/4 mile runway. All the wreckage had supposedly been stripped of secure equipment and working weapons.

I recieved title to the property after signing many, many documents stating that if I revealed anything having to do with the plot or the situation surrounding the death of the General, I’d quickly be on the wrong side of the Leavenworth gates with no recourse.

An electric line had been run to the old airbase, but there was no provision for water. I fast-talked the property disbursement office into having a well dug, a septic system buried and a “small” quonset hut constructed over a gravel floor, all off to one side of the canyon. The military supposedly retained title to the equipment, leaving me on the books as an on-site guard and caretaker.

It was late fall in the high desert. The wind never stopped. It appeared to be one of the more unforgiving places on the face of the earth. The place was surrounded with chain link fence topped by razor wire and festooned with government warn-off signs. I drove up to the gate, unlocked it and slid the thing sideways into the receiver. The team that came out to drill the well and such must have lubed the gate rollers. It hardly made a noise as it rumbled out of the way, then back. After a bit over a half mile down the track and around a berm the junkyard was revealed. It looked sad. That’s the term that came immediately to mind. Everything was stained with blown dirt and most of the wrecks were dropped on the ground without the benefit of wheel assemblies. I drove up in a used 36-foot motor home hauling a twin axle trailer loaded down with tools and spare food. After pulling up next to the new well service and the septic pipe everything was hooked up. A construction site breaker box and outlet grid was fastened to a pole bearing the electric meter, a transformer and a yard light controlled by a light sensor. I wired in a heavy armored Romex line on a forty amp circuit and hooked it up to the motor home’s “shore service” panel. The service pole was positioned right at the corner of the quonset so running a 200 amp “Square-D” breaker panel inside was easy.

I had a guy coming out with a big propane-powered welder and compressor, a two thousand pound propane bulk tank and a little Toyota pickup for me. I had to drive someplace that I could pick up some signal bars and give him a call. I’d want some hot-applied foam insulation, a liner and some light bays installed in the quonset. I’d no doubt want to lay hands on a propane pallet truck too, but I’d need to do some research before plunking down my cash.

I’d always been good with a wrench, and I’d found a source for the maintenance guides for everything from a WWII half track to a Pave-Low Helicopter. I had digital copies with me. With over twenty acres of abandoned stuff I didn’t see any reason that I wouldn’t find a compatible set of parts to put together into something that I could get up in the air. I’d been exposed to flying during AFROTC. My uncle had laughed at my enthusiasm but he also funded my licensing. I was certified to fly everything from a single-engine civilian trainer to VFR to twin turbos to military single-engine jet trainers. I wanted to fly again! First, though, I had to set up house and a small machine shop with a chain hoist.

It was difficult shifting gears in the beginning, changing from the high-demand job of a General’s dogsbody and chief of staff to the quiet of the desert, where only the blowing wind and the rarely heard high-altitude jet could be heard, but only if I held very still and listened for it. I took a lot of digital pictures of the junkyard inventory and did more than a little exploring. The communications gear hadn’t been as de-milled as promised, as I found several frequecy agile scrambler-equipped radios. I pulled the units then ordered some steel stock with constructing some sort of secure storage in mind. I cancelled the shipment when I found eleven big shipping containers hidden among the wrecks. Using my new “used” fork lift as a portable crane I welded double walls, floor and ceiling onto one of the containers then dragged them all into the quonset.

I spent a lot of time pounding component lists into a database along with their degree of useability. I already had compatibility tables that came with the service guides and full schematics with their module listings.

The facility proper lay over two hundred yards from the cliff face at the head of the ravine. One sunny late winter’s day sheer boredom sent me out to explore the canyon wall. One section was exceptionally flat over a sixty foot area, some forty feet high. It didn’t show from a distance, but it was recessed some forty feet, protected by a stone brow jutting out of the cliff face. For some reason while carefully examining the rock wall I looked straight up. I saw beams and girders. Why, you sneaky bastards. It was a hidden hangar. A satellite fly-over would not detect it. There was a faint chance that a drone would find it either. If it had been abandoned for over twenty years as I suspected, it was going to be a trial to break into.

I went back to the camper for a big LED Kell-light flashlight, then waited for dusk. I painstakingly searched around that hangar door using an oblique ligh source (illuminating at a critical angle) for a human-sized access. The seams revealed one in the hangar door itself. A small round metal plate was fastened on by one bolt so that it could rotate. It didn’t want to move. It was stubborn, but I out-stubborned it. Within was a handle. Well, there was nothing for it but to try the damned thing. I grabbed the handle with one hand while bracing against the hangar door with the other. I gave it a hard twist to the left ninety degrees and pulled back--hard. The mechanism ground from blown-in grit, but finally pulled forward until it sat level with the hangar door exterior. A little push against the door did nothing. A good application of my shoulder and leg power did the job. I was in!

Flashing the light around I saw a damned deep hangar. I saw the noses of six jets on one side and six on the other. The back wall was on the order of a hundred yards back. There was no obvious way to trip the hangar door. This was a good project to undertake after a night’s sleep and a breakfast. After pulling the door partially to I returned to my digs to clean up and try to get some sleep. The possibilities kept me staring at the ceiling until I finally drifted off.

The morning found me ready to methodically tackle this as a project. I drove into town to order an infra-red “yardstick”, an area illumination pole mounted light with a propan-fuelled generator on rubber wheels, a field-grade (tough shell, tough screen and tough keyboard) notebook-style laptop, several more memory sticks for my camera and a copy of easy-cad. I planned to document the snot out of the place. Another order had fifteen cases of teflon dry lubricant on order for express shipment.

My first exploration was to identify the models and serial numbers of the aircraft. Lord. I found enough firepower to take over a small central american country. First came the area defense jets--four A-10C Warthogs, which were flying ordnance mounting points wrapped around a GU-8A 30mm cannon. The other eight jets were F-111F Aardvark bombers, capable of nap-of-the-earth flight and could deploy radar-guided air-to-ground missiles, including a possible load-out of two type-61 nuclear weapons. I was getting a bad feeling about this.

All the craft would all need level three maintenance, including new rubber, new hoses and a total clean out of the fuel, lube, hydraulic and HVAC coolant systems. All the avionics and fly-by-wire would have to be re-certified. Even the damned seat pads would have to be replaced. Every moving part would have to be wiped down and dry-lubricated.

I sat with my tea and thought long and hard about what this balance of firepower might imply. What was this sort of deployment designed for? Attempting to adopt a cold-war mind-set, all I could come up with was interdicting the Mexican border in the event of invasion. There was no point in staging all this delivery hardware without having something sharp and pointy to deliver. I’d have to be very careful when inspecting any munitions bunkers. If they had any sanity at all, anything nuclear would be locked away in a vault.

My shipments came in within the week. I loaded the software and re-familiarized myself with it, then hitched the standing light to the back of my fork lift. It already had a working platform that would accomodate the laptop. The whole rig ran on propane so it wouldn’t asphyxiate me.

Day after day I kept mapping that place, making small notes about the presumed function of each room. Only hunger and lack of sleep drove me away. I made my propane delivery guy’s day when I sent in an order to refill my 2000 pound tank and the 10,000 pound tank in the base.

I knew I’d hit it eventually. I found the base’s connection to the electrica grid. I really should have had a team of electricians check it out for bimetallic oxidation, but I went cowboy and threw the master breakers. The base power came on line. I had lights. It went a lot faster after that.

The hospital pharmacy and sterile goods had to be stripped. I welded together a bucket for the tines on the fork lift to carry all the crap out to dumpsters. Likewise the kitchen had to be emptied. The big walk-in coolers and freezers were unusable as they were designed to use the old CFCs that were currently illegal and the door gaskets shredded at a touch.

When I cranked up the communications gear I must have flashed someone that was listening on the other end of the fiberoptic line. Within a week I recieved a party of gentlement from CIC that were quite polite yet quite insistent. I showed them my map-in-progress and gave them a digital copy. With my security clearances they had no problem with the base’s partial re-activation under my care. That’s when I learned the base’s cold war designation--red, blue, blue, gray. Within the week I had internet and phones.

Within two weeks after that I discovered something that force me to immediately make a call to the national NEST alert line. I found the nuclear locker.

They roared in like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, not knowing what they were going to find. I whistled down the captain in charge of the detail and laid out my suppositions based on the capabilities of the stockpiled aircraft. My suppositions were correct. the vault held twenty four type 61 nuclear weapons. They’d never have fissioned after all that time, as the “helper” tritium charges had decayed. Still, they had the potential for spraying radioactive matter over a large area, polluting it for centuries. The vault itself was radioactive, so they changed the combination to keep out nosy-parkers and left with their goodies. I received a card from the NEST commander with his number hand-written on the back, to be used if anything “unusual” cropped up. TAccording to him, these cold war bunkers sometimes held surprises.

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Military /