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'You got it, Dutch,' the General replied, asking no questions.

Kelly was working on his woodcraft, again, as he'd been doing for several weeks. He'd picked his weapons load-out in the fervent hope that he would not need to fire a single shot. The primary weapon was a CAR-15 carbine version of the M-16 assault rifle. A silenced 9mm automatic went into a shoulder holster, but his real weapon was a radio, and he would be carrying two of those, just to be sure, plus food and water and a map - and extra batteries. It came out to a twenty-three-pound load, not counting his special gear for the insertion. The weight wasn't excessive, and he found that he could move through the trees and over the hills without noticing it. Kelly moved quickly for a man of his size, and silently. The latter was a matter of where he walked more than anything else, where he placed his feet, how he twisted and turned to pass between trees and bushes, watching both his path and the area around him with equal urgency.

'Yes, Admiral.'

'Gary, we're going to need that transport we talked about.'

'I'll take my chances. It's worth it.'

Maxwell's car was waiting at the River entrance, a master chief aviation bosun's mate at the wheel. 'Where to, sir?'

'Thanks, Roger,' Bob Ritter said in the sanctity of his office in Langley. He switched buttons on his phone and dialed another in-house number. 'James? Bob. It's a go. Start pushing buttons.'

'Have my car come around, then call Anacostia. I need a helo in about fifteen minutes.'

'Let my office know the details. I'm heading out now, but I'll be calling in every hour.'

'See you, George,' Henderson said. It caused George to turn and smile one last time.

'Make signal to Admiral Podulski on Constellation: Olive Green.'

At Sergeant Irvin's behest, chaplains came to the group. Consciences were cleared. A few wills were drafted - just in case, the embarrassed Marines told the visiting officers - and all the while the Marines focused more and more on the mission, their minds casting aside extraneous concerns and concentrating on something identified only by a code name selected at random from separate lists of words. Every man walked over to the training site, checking placement and angles, usually with his most immediate teammate, practicing their run-in approach or the paths they'd take once the shooting started. Every one began his own personal exercise regime, running a mile or two on his own in addition to the regular morning and afternoon efforts, both to work off tension and to be just a little bit more certain that he'd be ready for it. A trained observer could see it from their look: serious but not tense, focused but not obsessive, confident but not cocky. Other Marines at Quantico kept their distance when they saw the team, wondering why the special place and the odd schedule, why the Cobras on the flight line, why the Navy rescue pilots in the Q, but one look at the team in the piney woods was all the warning they needed to mute the questions and keep their distance. Something special was happening.

'You said you'd do it, sir,'

'Thanks, Roger,' Bob Ritter said in the sanctity of his office in Langley. He switched buttons on his phone and dialed another in-house number. 'James? Bob. It's a go. Start pushing buttons.'

'Thank you, James.' Dutch Maxwell turned in his swivel chair and looked at the side panel affixed to his wall, blue aluminium from his F6F Hellcat fighter, with its even rows of red-and-white painted flags, each denoting a victim of his skill. It was his personal touchstone to his profession. 'Yeoman Grafton,' he called.

'Thanks, Roger,' Bob Ritter said in the sanctity of his office in Langley. He switched buttons on his phone and dialed another in-house number. 'James? Bob. It's a go. Start pushing buttons.'

Henderson turned, making his decision. 'No. You're right. Somebody has to help make the peace, and dithering around won't change that. I'll help you, George.'

'No, Peter, you will not.' George walked down the stone steps towards Traitor's Gate. It required all of his considerable self-control not to laugh aloud at the mixture of what he had just accomplished and the thundering irony of the portcullised stone arch before his eyes. Five minutes later he stepped into a black London taxi and directed the driver to head towards Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge.

'Aye.' The senior chief dropped the car into gear and headed for the river. He didn't know what it was all about, but he knew it was about something. The Old Man had a spring in his step like the chief's daughter heading out for a date.

'You got it, Dutch,' the General replied, asking no questions.

'We're going?'

At Sergeant Irvin's behest, chaplains came to the group. Consciences were cleared. A few wills were drafted - just in case, the embarrassed Marines told the visiting officers - and all the while the Marines focused more and more on the mission, their minds casting aside extraneous concerns and concentrating on something identified only by a code name selected at random from separate lists of words. Every man walked over to the training site, checking placement and angles, usually with his most immediate teammate, practicing their run-in approach or the paths they'd take once the shooting started. Every one began his own personal exercise regime, running a mile or two on his own in addition to the regular morning and afternoon efforts, both to work off tension and to be just a little bit more certain that he'd be ready for it. A trained observer could see it from their look: serious but not tense, focused but not obsessive, confident but not cocky. Other Marines at Quantico kept their distance when they saw the team, wondering why the special place and the odd schedule, why the Cobras on the flight line, why the Navy rescue pilots in the Q, but one look at the team in the piney woods was all the warning they needed to mute the questions and keep their distance. Something special was happening.

'People like you need to be protected. You will be contacted when you get home.' George paused. 'Peter, I am a father. I have a daughter who is six and a son who is two. Because of your work, and mine, they will grow up in a much better world - a peaceful world. For them, Peter, I thank you. I must go now.'

'Let my office know the details. I'm heading out now, but I'll be calling in every hour.'

Despite the expectation and enthusiasm, Kelly felt the usual chill. It wasn't practice anymore. His life was on the line again. The lives of others would depend on him. He would have to get the job done. Well, he told himself, I know how to do that. Kelly waited by the chopper while Maxwell went over to Captain Albie. General Young's staff car pulled up so that he could deliver the news as well. Salutes were exchanged as Kelly watched. Albie got the word, and his back went a little straighter. The Recon Marines gathered around, and their reaction was surprisingly sober and matter-of-fact. Looks were exchanged, rather dubious ones, but they soon changed to simple, determined nods. The mission was GO. The message delivered, Maxwell came back to the helicopter.

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