Second Chances

Except from Second Chances:

Al-Muntaqim Compound

Angel’s Landing
Aspen, Colorado
Sunday June 23rd

A Jihadist rebel group, al-Muntaqim growing larger by the day—had thrown down the gauntlet, and in Buck Davidssen’s humble opinion, was threatening the American way. With fire in his eyes, Buck stared at a taped recording on one of the five monitors hanging on the wall. As far as he was concerned, the savage Abu Bakr al-Kamal—dressed in a black gown sans the niqab—was pointing his machete, and issuing the Fatwa at him.
“I’m gonna put that machete through your fucken brain,” Buck said, pointing back at him. “BADDAY, pause and print that picture.”
BADDAY—the heart and soul of his anti-terror system—obeyed his command, and printed the picture. Buck tacked the picture onto his dartboard.
On two of the other four monitors, talking heads were condemning the current administration’s stance on illegal immigration and the racial injustices of America’s finest on the un-effulgent.
Bucks attention turned to the monitor whose reporter seemed more concerned with the safety of America. The scene shifted to a plot of land fifty miles north of the Bethel, New York—known as Paradise to the Woodstock Nation. Allegedly—al-Kamal had set up camp under the guise of religious freedom, and had decided to form its own government. They had their own mayor, deputy mayor, and five town council members—none of whom, were actually elected.
Though not recognized as a legitimate township, this Islamic community nevertheless enforces its own laws on the citizens within its borders. They did so by using the iron fist of Sharia law.
This little tidbit did not seem to faze the feckless Left one iota.
Buck was well aware of the activity on the eighty-acre compound, where by some estimates the group was well over 800 people, and growing daily. BADDAY’s sophisticated thermal IPS/GPS system with facial recognition, monitored the compound twenty-four seven and found alleged ISIS members amidst the group performing military-style training. The environmental quantum modeling system designed by Dr. Anna Semyonova, with CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives) detection found interesting meta-materials among their supplies.
“BADDAY, resume the taped feed and turn that other shit off.”
“Never mind, I’ll do it myself,” Buck said. “Do something useful—find me Abu Bakr al-Kamal.”
As the red tape mounted in DC, blocking any kind of military or police action against this group, Dr. Charlotte Vice-Davidssen the President of the United States had her hands tied. She swore she would never pull the same stunts as the prior administrations, and pull out her pen—when the house and senate disagreed with her.
But enough was enough, and Charlotte—Char to her family and friends, had heard all the BS she could take. Old money rich, she decided to fund the sanction from her own private bank account. And with that, she drew up a Presidential Finding to cover her ass, and that of Buck, who reported only to God and Old Glory. Buck was going dark.
Buck, who began his career as a sniper, and retired a Captain USMC, had a knack for programming, chaos mathematics, and advanced algorithms. He was pretty proud of his ability to crack transposition cipher algorithms, too. In fact, he had amassed one of the best anti-terrorism systems on the planet.
Buck decided he would take four teams of his best men and women to end this group’s leaders forever. He had relieved himself of Bryce Kellogg, a whack job quantum physicist who only a month ago—came close to tumbling his empire. Too valuable to be locked away forever and thought to be dead by all but a select few—Bryce was now in the hands of a team of mind fixers.
He had also finished putting his affairs in order, something he did before leaving on any sanction. All his assets including his beloved estate Angel’s Landing would go to The Corporation—his company, where he was chairman and CEO.
Eventually, The Corporation would end up in the hands of his seventeen year old granddaughter Jules Spenser.
Jules, ever the rule breaker, and branded with the code name Renegade was adding to her don’t tell Mom moments in the lower level gun range with Buck’s right hand man Jack Mameli.
Jules was due in Huntsville, Texas for a week of intense training with Team USA. The 2019 World Gymnastics Championships were a couple of months away in Stuttgart, Germany, and the coach wanted to ensure Jules was in shape before adding her to the team.
Jules demanded a week of late spring skiing at Angel’s Landing, and a two week break from her PhD internship at the South Padre Island Advanced Nanoscience Research Center in Texas. Neither Buck nor her mentor Dr. Anna Semyonova could figure out what made Jules and her eidetic mind tick, nor for that fact stop her. And as always, Jules got her way. She was at his estate on forty acres in Aspen Highlands—where heaven met earth.

The Cipher

Sparks shot out from the fireplace as each piece of junk mail found its final resting place. Buck was sorting through his mail, which was always delivered in two piles. Whether by friendship or curiosity, his mailman presorted the spam from the bills and what have you. Buck still looked at the spam, and it became a game as he named each piece of trash after an antagonist in his life before it met its demise.
The knock on his door broke the silence, and as he turned, the Stinger, a covert carry knife flew from his hand in one motion—no turn, straight as an arrow and imbedded between Abu Bakr al-Kamal’s eyes on the dartboard.
He was expecting Anna, who was flying him and Jules to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport—known as Sardy Field to the locals—Aspen’s airport for the rich and famous.
“It’s open,” he said, and was surprised when the intruder was his head of security Ron “Sarge” Porter.
“Boss, this envelope was just delivered at the gate.”
Buck took the oversized envelope from his man, who left without another word. “Thanks Sarge,” he said as the door to his favorite room—his fortress of solitude—or what his friends would affectionately refer to as his Man Cave closed. It served as his office and entertainment area, complete with an English style bar and pool table. A solarium with sunken pool extended out the rear, offering an unobstructed view of the ski area.
The envelope was labeled Buckner Axele Davidssen—no address, no nothing. Nobody called him Buckner—nobody alive that was, and very few people knew his middle name. Buck was known as B.A.D. Hence, the name given to his anti-terrorism system BADDAY.
BADDAY monitored the internet and airwaves with advanced algorithms for anything deemed an act of terrorism. When BADDAY marked an individual as bad, that person would ultimately have a bad day.
As the envelope fell into the fire—it flipped. The hair on the back of Buck’s neck began to curl when he saw the return address printed across the fold.

13 Oak Street, McAllen, TX. 42853-1185

Buck reached into the fire, grabbed the envelope, and extinguished the flame. The fact that there was no name didn’t matter. He knew the address well. It was a safe house, and there was only one house on that street—number 13, but the zip for McAllen was 78501.
With the precision of a surgeon he slit the envelope open with his razor sharp KA-BAR and removed the single sheet of paper.
Buck ran his left hand through his flat top, his face clinched with concern as he looked at the document. Everything told him it came from his old friend Greg Correa, who went dark when he left the CIA several months ago. Buck knew there was only one way to leave the CIA—dead.
Buck scanned the letter into BADDAY. It was the Skull and Bones symbol for a secret society out of Yale, the number 322 printed beneath it was the dead give away, and a possible clue for a frequency shift of the keys.
Some believe the 322 had something to do with the date the society was founded; others believe it represents the death of Demosthenes. Needless to say it was public knowledge that several presidents, and some of the richest families in American belonged to this group. At least two members of his inner circle were members of the secret society, and unbeknownst to Buck there was a third—Charlotte.
Buck analyzed the letter. Above the left cross bone was the letters KYHMVU. Above the right cross bone was the letters OHEDTG. These two clues indicated a six position double transposition cipher.
Printed on the skull were six encrypted seven letter codes:

The muscle in Buck’s jaw twitched. He wasn’t sure whether to smile or snarl. His old friend had presented him with a double column transposition cipher. There were no additional clues, thought Buck. Although the zip code for McAllen was 78501, he didn’t believe the zip on the envelop (42853-1185) was a clue. It had to be an account of some kind.
The double transposition cipher had been around since WWII, but without a key even the best program would spin forever without breaking it. This code had at least three keys by Buck’s count.
Buck entered the codes and keys into his cipher algorithm program and let BADDAY take over. It was time to round up the troops, and he left for the residential wing of his mansion.
Two suitcases sat outside his master suite, and as he walked through the double doors he saw Anna arraigning his clothes into two suitcases.
Anna stopped packing and looked toward Buck. Their eyes met and then suddenly her eyes left his and darted around, as if she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t be doing. There was electricity between them, no denying that.
“Vat?” she said, her Russian accent as sexy as ever.
“Just admiring you,” he said. “Continue, don’t let me stop you.” Buck took a step closer and stopped. Just admiring you nothing, he thought. Let’s be real—Anna’s a show stopper, and at first glance so perfect, it was impossible to look away. At five-foot-ten and one-hundred-thirty-five pounds—all her curves were perfectly proportionate. Her platinum hair rested waist length in a ponytail, and those piercing eyes—a rare shade of blue—exploded like a flash of light across the universe. The deal was sealed when he followed her slender stalk of neck to her equally prominent cleavage.
But Anna did stop. She walked straight into Buck’s awaiting arms, and planted a passionate kiss on his lips.
Jules witnessed the entire exchange. “Huh,” she said, as she walked into the room. “I knew it—”
Buck and Anna’s kiss broke, and they both turn toward Jules and laughed.
“—I knew you two were love birds.”
“I’m not sure what we are,” Anna said, her voice trailing off. “It’s complicated.”
Jack Mameli entered the room behind Jules. “Sorry Cap’n, I tried to stop her. She’s like a bull in a China shop.”
“More like twenty pounds of TNT in a five pound bag,” Buck said. “Jules I hope you’re packed—we’re leaving in half an hour. Meet us in the library. I have BADDAY running something for me.”
“On it Grandpa.”

The Translation

Forty minutes had passed, and nothing that BADDAY decoded made sense. Buck stopped the program and analyzed the latest results. The only frequency shift that made any sense was seven, adding up the society’s numeric code (three plus two plus two), and that created a key word of DRAGON and CBSRHU.
Dressed for action—sporting a black Vika leather jacket and pant suit with stretch panels for a flattering figure-hugging fit, Jules entered the library on a mission.
At five-foot-eight, Jules was lithe but powerful. Her cobalt blue eyes lit up when she spotted Buck at the control panel. As she zeroed in, her gait had a matchless step like a ninja riding the wind—true and smooth. Her blonde French braid she wore to the middle of her back never moved.
As she kissed her Grandpa on the cheek, she lifted the coded letter from the desk. “Buck what is this?” Never one to mince words—Jules had called her grandpa, Buck since she was thirteen and in her mind smarter than him.
“It’s a double transposition cipher,” he said. “But I’m starting to think there are two frequency shifts.”
Jules looked at the crossbones; her eidetic mind was spinning. “Buck, look at the picture. The bones cross. Try a reverse shift on the second key.”
Buck stole a quick glance at Jules; made a smirk, and went back to work on the cipher.
“Never mind,” Jules said. “I did it in my head. The second key is VOLKAN.”
“Thanks smart-ass,” Buck said without looking at his genius granddaughter, and entered the second key into the keyword field. He watched as the decryption program placed the code words continuously left to right into a six-by-seven column grid.


The program then transposed the column grid using the numeric equivalents of the key VOLKAN (653214). The position of its letters in the alphabet indicated the numerical order in which each column would be read, and displayed six new seven character codes before creating a new six-by-seven column grid.

6 5 3 2 1 4

The coded words were moved into a second six-by-seven column grid. The program took the vertical columns using the key DRAGON, and alphabetic sequence of the letters 261354 repopulated the columns horizontally, and then vertically as follows:

A 1 Y A H E D L G
D 2 I R G M I I R
G 3 O D I A M E C
N 4 R N I F K G R
O 5 U I S D Y R O
R 6 F E T D N L E

Jules began crying as she read the translation and grabbed Buck. Anna pulled Jules back and hugged her.

2 6 1 3 5 4

Marines don’t cry, but Buck came close when he read the text out loud. “If your reading this I am dead. Find my killer—Greg Correa.” He added the rest of Greg’s name.
Buck looked back at the envelope, and keyed the zip (428531185) into his bank account cracking program. It didn’t take long for BADDAY to confirm that Greg had left his life savings to him, and now he had to find his killer.
Abu Bakr al-Kamal would live to see another day. The clues Dragon and Volkan gave Buck a clue to who killed his old friend. One of his two nemeses: Nastasia Shishkova, AKA Long Nu—Dragon Lady, or her cousin Niko Vladislavovich Volkov, known in the underworld as Volkan.

Anna watched from the pilot seat of the Hughes as Buck boarded Air Force One. There was no writing on the Gulfstream G650, to denote that it carried the President of the United States. It was Char’s private jet and she was on it.
Jules stared at Anna from the second seat. “Why didn’t you kiss Grandpa bye?”
Anna turned toward Jules, a tear forming in her right eye—she said nothing.
“Oh, I get it,” Jules said. “Char’s on board.”
“It’s not that,” Anna said. “Buck and Greg were very close . . . despite the CIA angle.” Anna’s gaze shifted back to the jet as more tears spilled down her face, but Buck was already aboard.
“Hey guess what?” Jules said, trying to break the tension. “I let Gunther touch me last week.”
Anna’s lips pursed into a brief smiled as her eyes met Jules’.
Jack’s didn’t. “Jules!” he said, from the back of the Hughes. “I’m still here, and I’m gonna kick that kid’s ass.”
“Emma’s teaching me how to do some stuff.”
“Ah jeez,” Jack said. “It’s bad enough that I have to hear Emma and Anna girl talk.” Jack removed his head gear. “Put this bird in the hanger, and I’ll get the Jet ready.”
Anna nodded in acknowledgement, but her thoughts were elsewhere.
Jules watched as Jack stomped off to the hanger, and then turned her attention back to Anna. “I think I really like Gunther,” she said.
Anna expression remained stoic as she said. “That’s nice honey.”
Jules pressed on. “Anna, can you please ask Jack to lighten up a bit with Gunther?”
“He’s coming around,” Anna said, as a slight smile mingled with the tears. “He has to earn Jack’s trust.”
“Who?” Jack said as he re-entered the Hughes in time to hear his name.
“Gunther!” Jules said, and left the cockpit, but not before winking at Anna as another tear ran down her cheek.
The tears were for Buck, but they had nothing to do with the not so unique love triangle that she shared with Char and Buck. She knew how Buck and his Lone Wolf attitude operated, and gave Char a heads up on Greg’s demise. Char flew out to Aspen to get Buck, and now she had to convince him to stay focused on the current sanction. Anna knew in her heart that Buck would not be in DC when she and Jack arrived. Buck would be gone and dark, and going balls to the wall in the pursuit of Nastasia and Volkan.


George Bush International
Houston, Texas

Jules’ de facto bodyguard Big John, a barrel-chested he-man at six-four and two-hundred-eight pounds, stood next to Jax—Jules’ mother—just outside the private terminal wing at George Bush International in Houston. Jack taxied the Gulfstream G550 toward the Corporation’s hanger where Bob “Gunny” Denis—sporting a big ass grin—was standing next to Jules’ spanking new Hughes MD 500E. It was the best performing helicopter in its class, and a gift from Dr. Charlotte Vice-Davidssen—promised to Jules when she got her license.
Jules opened the door to the flying palace, and when she saw the Hughes she screamed. “Is that mine?”
“Yes,” said Anna, but as always, there are rules, and we have to talk before you run off.”
Jules saw the look of concern on Anna’s face and turned toward Jack. “What’s going on Jack?”
“We’re just playing it safe,” Jack said. “Big John and your mother will be here all week with you.”
“Who else?” Jules asked.
Jack smiled. “Gunny has a team already at the ranch that no one will see unless—”
“Unless what Jack?”
“—unless it becomes necessary to be seen.”
“And where will you two be?” Jules asked.
“Honey, we are going back to the research center for a day or two to get equipment, and then to DC to get Buck.”
“Does this have to do with Nastasia Shishkova?” Jules asked.
Anna reached for Jules’ face. “Honey, what makes you say that?”
“Sometimes. . . I think you forget how my mind works,” Jules said. “I know all about Nastasia and Volkan . . .” Jules paused before adding, “Grandpa and Jack should have ended both of them on K2 when they had the chance.”
“Look Jules,” Jack said. “You worry about making the team, and let us do our job.” Jack reached his hand out. “Gimme your Glock.”
“Not a chance,” she said, as she started down the steps. “I’ll let Big John hold it for me.” —and then she did her air quotes, bending her fingers— “In case it becomes necessary for it to be seen.”
“Smart ass,” Jack said loud enough for Anna to hear, but not the fleeting Jules. “Anna, you got to get that girl under control.” He paused and drew a deep breath. “You’re the only one she listens to.”
When Jules took the Hughes keys from Gunny, he took Jules’ Glock. “You know you can’t bring that into camp,” he said.
Jules gave Gunny her puppy dog smile. “I know. I was just busting Jack’s chops.” She then climbed into the Hughes to prepare for takeoff.
While Big John was helping Jax into the Hughes, Gunny took the opportunity to update Jack and Anna. “Renegade secure and two pounds lighter,” he said into his mic.
“Thanks Gunny,” Jack said. “I owe you.”

Nastasia Shishkova, the only granddaughter of recently deceased Feng Zhou Yuxiang, the former President of the Peoples Republic of China, had seen all she needed for now. Although she couldn’t prove it—she blamed Buck Davidssen, and the now deceased sneaky ex-spook Greg Correa for her grandfather’s demise. Buck would pay and she would use his granddaughter to lure him in. She knew how The Corporation rolled with its security; girl genius and gymnast Jules Spenser had an army watching her six. Through her PSO-1M2 telescopic optical sight, she watched the Hughes land a little over a mile from the camp site, and counted three sniper teams, which meant there were twice as many.
Nastasia, a strikingly beautiful Euro-Asian had inherited a combination of the best traits her Russian father and Chinese mother—Feng’s only daughter—could pass.
Her natural jet-black hair lay perfectly straight hugging her roundish face with high cheekbones. Her feline like features included steel blue eyes that were slightly slanted, as were her full lips and brows.
Nastasia’s reputation for death had spread like wildfire; so had her moniker, Long Nu—Dragon Lady. Clad in her signature form-fitting black bodysuit that exaggerated her physique and ninja gait, Nastasia handed the powerful Dragunov sniper rifle to her bodyguard. His eyes never left the ground out of respect. A wicked smile spread across her snow white face. The twitch in her cheek bones seemed to cause the six lightning bolts tattooed under each eye to flash out. One lightning bolt for each enemy of the state she terminated.
The Dragunov, a Russian made assault rifle, chambered with 7.62x54mm cartridges was accurate to seven-hundred meters with the current scope. Nastasia could have easily taken out Jules from her six-hundred-fifty meter hide, but this was personal, and Nastasia wanted Buck.
Her blood red lips curled. “Get my car,” she said, and walked off. She knew that Jules would be at the ranch for the next several days. The information was posted for all to see on the internet, and she would wait for the perfect opportunity.

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