Dark Project by Sean E Thomas by Sean E Thomas - Read Online

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Summary

As Alaska State Trooper Robert Sable investigates the strange disappearance of six scientists from Fort Greely, he discovers a secret Army project. Scientists have gathered under the leadership of a ruthless general, Charles Dean, to create the ultimate soldier. During a catastrophe, an experimental virus escapes from the project. Thinking the virus is deadly, Dean tracks a scientist exposed to the virus to a local Tlingit village. To contain the virus and protect his secrets, Dean decides to destroy the village and all its inhabitants. Sable must find a way to save the Indians and bring the general to justice.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611608076
List price: $3.99
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Dark Project - Sean E Thomas

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endeavors

Chapter 1

A sunbeam pierced the Alaska State Trooper office window, washing over Corporal Robert Sable’s large, dark, varnished oaken desk. On the corner of his desk was a family photo of him embracing his wife and son. They smiled at him. He wondered how in the hell he had been relegated to this wilderness hole. His friends had told him an assignment in Delta Junction would help his career, but he knew the real reason—he’d stepped on some toes when he put his boss away for graft and corruption. It didn’t set well with the powers that be. Sable doubted he’d ever get back to civilization.

He pushed the thoughts from his mind. Several open manila folders, each with information on a scientist missing from Fort Greely, lay scattered across his desk. They were on: a chemist—Harry Aston, a biophysicist—Keith Zahler, and a geneticist—Dale Yarnot. Other names lay hidden but not forgotten in the piles below. Sable rubbed his temple to massage away the beginnings of a headache.

He ran his fingers over the pile and pulled one folder to the top. As he read it, he frowned. How could six men disappear without a trace? The only clue he had was they all worked at Fort Greely, five miles south. Greely, an Army installation with interceptor missiles, had the highest security. He also wondered why these scientists had been assigned to a post where the mission was missile defense.

A rap on the door broke Sable’s concentration, and he lifted his gaze from the file. Come in.

The door swung open, and Sergeant Walter Masters poked his head around the doorjamb. Corporal, the wives of those missing men are here, and they want to know what we’re doing about the case.

Tell them to take a seat and I’ll be with them shortly. Sable pushed his chair away from the desk and tilted it back on two legs. What could he tell them? He’d received the reports—the same ones the wives had filed three weeks ago—from Anchorage just yesterday.

They’re pretty damn mad, and I don’t think they’ll wait even a minute. Masters pushed the door back and ducked, his shoulder scraping the sides of the door as he stepped through. They’ve brought a couple of friends along for reinforcement. He was tall and broad shouldered, with light brown hair. He was normally gregarious, but when he met criminals, his personality changed. Criminals swore Masters could read their minds and he’d cut them down with one glance from his icy green eyes.

Let me gather my thoughts and then let them in. Sable turned to study his reflection in the window. Sometimes, he felt dwarfed by Masters. Sable was of medium height and well built, of French and Scandinavian heritage and with a perpetual tan from his Tlingit ancestry—Raven Clan. His blue eyes at times turned gray, especially when he was depressed or angry. Today, they seemed to be piercing blue.

WILCO. Masters turned, then said over his shoulder, Aren’t you going to get a haircut? Remember, the inspectors are coming next week from HQ.

I like it long. Sable ran his hand through his hair.

Now I see why they transferred you, Masters said under his breath loud enough for Sable to hear.

We’re here. A tall, thin brunette pushed past Masters with great effort. She wore a navy blue business suit coat that didn’t match her dark blue, tight-fitting dress, which had a slit half way up the thigh. The other wives, dressed more casually, followed in quick succession.

Masters shrugged and looked questioningly at Sable.

Sable signaled okay with his hand. Could you please find chairs for the ladies?

As Masters beat a retreat, Sable moved around the desk with the power and fluidity of a karate master, and stretched his hand out to shake the brunette’s. The woman ignored the gesture so he motioned for them to take a seat. Mrs.—

Ms. Aston. I’ll stand until there are enough seats.

I’m Corporal Robert Sable. May I help you?"

Tell us what you found out—

I’m afraid not much—

What do you mean, not much? Why haven’t you done anything? We filed the reports over three weeks ago.

In the background, the other wives grumbled. A couple sobbed quietly.

I apologize—

Apologize. I want to see your superior.

Please. Let me finish. Sable’s voice became sharp. I received your reports yesterday.

Then what are you going to do about our husbands? She leaned forward and finally extended her hand.

Everything humanly possible. Sable received her hand and felt the firmness of the grip.

Charlotte. She sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. The slit of her dress fell open to display a tanned thigh. "Now what can you tell us?"

As Masters brought in additional chairs, Sable stood while the women seated themselves. I have made a preliminary inquiry to the Army at Fort Greely, and the post commander claims your husbands don’t work there.

A damn lie. A plump blonde woman with dark brown, beckoning eyes hunched forward. We have proof our husbands work there.

Well Ms—

Mrs. Zahler, she snapped. Mrs. Jennifer Zahler.

Sable stiffened.

Christ, now what? It was so hard these days to be politically correct.

Mrs. Zahler, can I see the evidence?

Call me Jenny. Her voice softened and she waved toward Charlotte. She has it.

Sure. Here. Charlotte handed him a sheaf of papers and letters. These are some of our husbands’ pay slips from Greely. If you’ll note—the postmark is Delta Junction and the post’s name is at the top of each slip.

Damn! Sable scanned the documents. I’ll get right on this.

Our husbands also have apartments at the Delta River Hotel. They were going to bring us up from Anchorage after they found us decent houses, Jenny said.

Can I have your permission to search your husband’s places in Delta?

Sure, the women said a beat apart. They leaned forward, dropping keys that clanged on Sable’s desk.

You’ll keep us informed if you find out anything, Jenny said.

You can count on it.

After the wives left, Sable called Fort Greely.

Post commander’s office. Janet Day speaking. How may I help you or direct your call? The secretary’s voice was high-pitched, bright, and cheerful.

This is Alaska State Trooper Robert Sable, Delta Junction Detachment. I need to speak to Colonel Wright concerning the missing scientists. Sable cradled the phone between his ear and shoulder as he added the pay slips and envelopes to the files.

I’m sorry, but the commander’s in a meeting.

Sable heard a muffled conversation. The secretary had placed her hand over the speaker.

I’m sorry for the interruption, but someone came into the office—perhaps the commander can call you later.

I need to talk to Colonel Wright, now.

Didn’t he tell you the men don’t work here?

Sable restrained his anger. They do. I’m looking at their pay slips from your post. Now, give me the commander.

But—

Since these men may have been kidnapped, and are in some way connected with the Army, I can bring in the FBI.

Let me get him.

Sable waited while he envisioned Day relaying their conversation to her boss.

The phone clicked. Officer Sable, I’m sorry for the oversight. I discovered the workers do work on post. I haven’t had a chance to call you. Colonel Wright’s voice was pleasant and restrained, with a slight edge to it.

Why didn’t you tell me when I first asked you? The edge in Sable’s voice revealed he didn’t believe a word.

They work for another command separate from ours—Arctic Warrior. AW falls under Major General Dean. Wright passed on the organizational information. I’ll forward your call.

Sable waited, listening to a Mantovani tune while on hold. From the length of time it was taking, Sable surmised whoever was on the other end of the phone was being brought up-to-date. The line finally gave an irritating, pulsed ring.

Arctic Warrior, this line is unsecure, Major Edward Johnson. How can I help you? The man’s voice was soft and raspy.

Sable gave his introduction again. I need to talk to your superior, Major General Dean, concerning his missing men.

He is on vacation and won’t return for a couple of weeks.

Then you can help me. Sable gave an abbreviated overview of the case.

Static droned in the background while Major Johnson carefully weighed his response. I can’t tell you much. A few weeks ago, the men failed to report to work. We have them listed as absent without leave.

Why didn’t you report them missing? Sable pushed himself back in his chair and tilted the front two legs of the chair off the floor.

We test Army equipment in the worst weather we can find. Workers perform a lot of overtime in subzero weather. Because of the harsh conditions, sometimes workers walk off the job without giving notice. The raspiness in the voice sounded hollow, tinny, and unbelievable.

Sable yawned.

Liar.

You didn’t think it strange these men didn’t give notice?

No.

Really? Sable let the conversation go silent and waited. Silence forced conversation. Seconds passed, then a minute.

Officer Sable.

Yes.

I thought we had been disconnected.

You still haven’t answered my question, Sable said.

Question?

Do I need to repeat it? A smile crossed Sable’s face.

No. We didn’t think—

Didn’t think? Did you ask other employees about the disappearances?

No, but—

I’d like to see the project, talk to some of their coworkers, and review their records, Sable said. The major knew where the men were or what had happened to them. Johnson was hiding something.

I can’t do that.

And why not? Sable snarled.

The Privacy Act, plus our projects and its files are classified.

The dead have no privacy. Besides, I need to interview their friends and coworkers.

No.

Then I’ll get a court order.

Army’s Federal.

Then I’ll get a federal one.

I doubt you’ll get one.

I’ll bring the FBI.

You do that.

I will. Sable slammed down the phone, got up from his chair and paced his small office. Photographs of hunting trips lined one entire wall and overflowed to part of another. There was a poster stating The road to success is always under construction along with a framed copy of the Desiderata. As he studied them, he remembered one of his friends had gone into the Defense Investigative Service (DIS). He rifled through his desk until he found his address book and made the call. His friend Darin Conner could put him in contact with the right offices.

Chapter 2

Sable and Masters walked down the dimly-lit corridor of the Delta River Hotel. Though the hotel had seen better days, it still had the style and grandeur of a 1950’s hotel with its mahogany-paneled walls. As they approached Harry Aston’s room, Sable took the left side of the hall and Masters the right. Masters knocked and announced their arrival. There was no answer. He knocked again, then nodded to Sable.

Well here goes nothing. Sable quietly inserted the key and unlocked the door. Pushing it open, he drew his pistol, stepped to the side, and looked to Masters for the lead.

You go right and I’ll go left.

As they slipped into the one-bedroom efficiency apartment, Sable did a sweeping motion with his pistol. The room was empty except for the furniture. In one corner was a double bed minus its blankets and sheets. Next to it stood the closet, its door open, and almost empty except for a few coat hangers. Both Sable and Masters holstered their weapons. Want to bet the cabinets are empty as well? Masters said.

Sable shook his head. Bring in forensics.

The Fairbanks Detachment won’t come unless we’ve got a couple of stiffs, and they’ll have to be slashed and gashed.

They searched the bed, desk and medicine cabinet, but they couldn’t find even a fiber out of place. It appeared Aston had never lived in there.

Next Zahler’s, Sable said.

In the next apartment, they followed the same procedure. Zahler’s apartment had the same unlived-in look. So they proceeded to Yarnot’s, but stopped short. Through the door, the sound of a vacuum cleaner roared away.

We have a live one. Masters smiled and gave the high sign for Sable to take the lead.

Sable stepped back from the door, held his pistol at the ready and then slammed his foot into the door. As it splintered from the frame, he rolled left through the door, came to a kneeling position, his gun at the ready, and yelled, Freeze! Alaska State Troopers.

Masters had gone to the right.

The man, dressed all in black, looked up from the vacuum cleaner. He drew himself to his six foot height. His hair was a military high and tight cut, and he had a jagged scar running down his right cheek. He momentarily looked from Sable to Masters. The man dropped the hose and reached for his shoulder holster.

Don’t— Sable said. The man hesitated, then drew. Both Sable and Masters fired simultaneously; Sable pumped three to the chest and one in the man’s head. It exploded. He flew back, thudded against the wall and fell to the floor.

Now I know why you were transferred. You killed our only witness. Masters approached the body. I was only trying to wound him.

Sable leaned over the man and ripped open his shirt. Body armor.

Masters shrugged. Okay, you made your point, but I think we could have easily taken him.

Without comment, Sable rolled up each of the corpse’s sleeves. On his right shoulder was a tattooed insignia of Delta Force.

Maybe not. Masters breathed a sigh of relief.

I doubt if there’s a record of his fingerprints.

Let’s check his car.

All the evidence has to be there. Sable reached for the man’s wallet and found nothing.

Do you think your DIS friend can help us with this scumbag?

Maybe. It might stretch the friendship.

Well, I guess you get your wish.

What wish? Sable asked.

Now, the forensic team has to come down on this one, Masters said. And we’ll have the Criminal Investigation Bureau nipping at our heels.

A quick search of the man’s car revealed suitcases full of clothes. The ID tags told Sable the items belonged to the missing men. However, there was no paperwork to tie them to Fort Greely.

* * * *

The rest of the day, Sable and Masters tramped into bars, stores, restaurants and the post office, flashing the men’s photographs, with no additional leads. Either the people didn’t know the men or they weren’t talking. Sable was feeling frustrated. It appeared they were at a dead end. Then it hit him. An old college buddy of his, Bill Kincaid, worked at Fort Greely. He’d give Bill a call, have him come in, and maybe find out what was going on.

Chapter 3

A knock on the door.

Come in, Major General Charles Dean said. He turned from the security console where he had been replaying a morgue tape. With these monitors, every office, laboratory and quarters in the complex could be reviewed.

Major Edward Johnson strode to a large mahogany desk, and saluted. Reporting as ordered, sir. He went to parade rest.

You’re late. Dean casually returned the salute. His collie-German shepherd mix stood and growled, showing full fangs.

Couldn’t be helped. Johnson stepped back.

Down, Chug. Dean moved his hand in a downward signal.

You’d think he’d get used to me after a year. I’m the one who feeds him.

I like him the way he is.

You wanted to see me?

This. Dean turned in his executive chair to the monitors and hit the play button on a video recorder.

It looks like lab techs are doing their job.

It’s not them. I checked, and they weren’t in the morgue yesterday. Dean’s fingernails dug into the arms of his chair. He’d worked hard to make major general and become director of this multibillion-dollar, top-secret research project—code name Arctic Warrior. He wasn’t going to let anyone jeopardize his job. I don’t know who they are, but they found the bodies. Find and kill them!

But— Johnson looked over the general’s shoulder at the monitors. The bodies were cremated this morning—whoever they are, they can’t prove anything.

With the Troopers snooping around, I don’t need problems, Dean snapped as he focused on the replay of the tape.

Sable’s not a problem. He’s a hick cop. This is a federal installation. He has no jurisdiction. Johnson rested his hand on the back of the chair.

Good. Keep him away from me. Dean hit the rewind button and played the tape again.

We shouldn’t have covered up the explosion.

And let the world know what Arctic Warrior is?

Whoever they are, they’ll be too scared to talk.

Still, I want them terminated. The features of the intruders on the tape were indiscernible. They were wearing protective suits. Check for fingerprints.

WILCO.

Dean popped the cassette out of the recorder, swung his chair around, and handed the tape to Johnson. Take this and do a video enhancement analysis.

The analysis may take hours—or days.

Investigate. Someone will talk.

I doubt it. Johnson stepped back. But I’ll try.

Good, Dean said. After taking over from the previous director, Dean had molded the staff to his way of thinking.

Johnson didn’t move.

You’re not gone? Dean waved him away.

Yes, sir. Johnson saluted and walked away.

When the door closed, Dean returned to the monitors, surveying the labs and offices. The screens showed organic chemists, biochemists, molecular biologists, biophysicists and geneticists busily building and testing new chemical compounds and biological agents. In the lower left hand corner was the crematorium where the project disposed of dead animals and most recently the bodies of the scientists who died.

Here, boy, Dean said. Chug sidled up and wagged his tail as Dean stroked the dog’s coffee brown and black head. Dogs understand what’s important.

Dean frowned as one camera revealed Dr.