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For disclaimers and author's note see Part I.

 

Part 7


Michael watched as his ten year old daughter ran across the lawn at the back of his LA home, the young Labrador puppy bounding after her. He shoved a hand in the pocket of his white slacks and watched her contentedly for a moment. The sun was shining and Angelina’s blond hair gleamed gold as she and the dog played with a Frisbee. It was good to be back from Washington, he thought as more of the tension that had seemed lodged in his muscles for weeks eased.

‘She really loves that dog.’ Marella, his senior aide, commented from her position at the patio table. Her fingers were surreptitiously brushing the brown dog hairs from her skirt.

‘Yes, she does.’ Michael slipped into a patio chair and picked up a white china cup. He took an appreciative sip of the dark bitter coffee. ‘I’ve been meaning to thank you for finding him and for shipping him to Washington for Christmas.’ His good eye twinkled at the Hawaiian woman. ‘Actually I’ve been meaning to thank you for covering everything here. You’ve done an outstanding job.’

Marella shrugged pleased with the praise. She tapped the stack of folders in front of her. ‘You may think otherwise when you see what I’ve done.’

‘I trust your judgement.’ Michael said easily. ‘Is there anything urgent?’

‘Not particularly.’ Marella admitted. ‘We registered an upsurge of communications activity just after the Challenger accident but our sources are confirming that sabotage was unlikely.’ She sighed. ‘It’s looking like a tragic accident.’

Michael nodded. ‘And the Airwolf project?’

‘The design work is going well. Dorothea Connolly is settling in and making a real difference. The woman’s a genius with aeronautical engineering. She and Karen Hansen make a good team.’

‘Excellent.’ Michael frowned and stared at his daughter as she played with the dog. He rubbed his moustache thoughtfully.

Marella scanned the tense features. She’d worked with Michael for a long time and knew when something was bothering him. ‘You’re thinking about telling Hawke.’ She stated quietly.

Michael’s good eye shot back to her. ‘I think it’s time.’

‘The project is meant to be confidential,’ began Marella.

‘He’s earned the right to expect me to be honest with him, Marella.’ Michael stated. ‘Especially over something like this.’

‘He’s not going to like it.’ Marella said.

Michael sighed. ‘I don’t blame him.’ He gestured. ‘For the last year I’ve effectively been running a project that would eliminate his ability to force the FIRM to find his brother. I wouldn’t like it.’ He had no idea if admitting to the truth would damage his relationship with the pilot irreparably.

Marella sighed. ‘I have to admit it would be good having the project out in the open. I’ve felt pretty uncomfortable keeping it from Hawke, from all of them.’

‘We’ve done what’s best for the FIRM.’

‘It’s still best for the FIRM if we don’t tell him.’ Marella reminded him. She had never known Michael to place any relationship, anything above his loyalty to the FIRM and his country. Her eyes flickered to the little girl chasing about on the lawn; his daughter was possibly the only exception.

‘I know that, Marella.’ He sighed. ‘I just have to find someway to convince Hawke that the project means we won’t stop searching for his brother.’

‘We have spent an enormous amount of time searching for Saint John.’ Marella pointed out.

‘And most of it in the wrong place.’ Michael returned. He pointed at her. ‘You know the Company director got very cagey when I challenged them on Saint John.’

Marella frowned. ‘The Company operates primarily in Eastern Europe. I thought we believed Saint John Hawke was running missions for an intelligence agency in Asia.’

‘The Company was heavily involved back in ‘Nam.’ Michael said. ‘They provided a lot of the intelligence coming out of Cambodia and Laos. They had ties through the Russians to the Vietcong that we could never get near.’

‘You really think the Company have Saint John.’ Marella realised surprised.

‘I think it’s a distinct possibility they know where he is. Whether he’s an operative for them or not…’ Michael shrugged.

‘Would you like me to set up a meeting?’ Marella asked.

‘No.’ Michael said. ‘Let’s do some digging first. I’d like to get some concrete proof before I confront them.’

‘Yes sir.’

The briefcase on the table beeped and Marella picked up the receiver answering the summons crisply. She immediately handed it to Michael. ‘It’s Zeus, sir.’

Michael took the phone reluctantly. Zeus had remained in Washington for the announcement of the Senate Oversight Committee’s recommendations. ‘Archangel here.’

‘Archangel.’ Zeus sighed. ‘It’s not good news.’

‘How bad?’ Michael asked.

‘They’re recommending that the FIRM is amalgamated with another agency.’

Michael was silent as he absorbed the news although his fingers tapped restlessly against the table; the only sign of his unrest. ‘Do we know which agency will take us over?’

‘The Company.’

Michael’s eyebrows rose sharply and he had to restrain the urge to check he’d heard correctly. ‘When?’

‘From July if approved.’ Zeus’ sounded suddenly tired. ‘They’re giving us one last opportunity to make our case for remaining independent.’

‘Do you need me?’ Michael offered.

‘I think it would be best if you didn’t attend.’ Zeus said. ‘I don’t want them distracted with Airwolf or with Stringfellow Hawke.’

‘I understand.’ Michael murmured.

‘I’m not sure you do.’ Zeus said sharply. ‘What possessed you to mention Hawke as a possible candidate for the test pilot position on the new helicopter?’

‘Because he’s the best man for the job.’ Michael returned firmly.

‘Maybe so,’ Zeus allowed, ‘but I’ve warned you before how your personal relationship with him clouds your judgement.’ There was a brief pause. ‘And do not tell Hawke about this new Airwolf project.’

Michael pushed his glasses back up his nose angrily. He was tempted to check for listening devices in the vicinity but knew the director was working from a well-honed knowledge of how Michael operated. ‘It would be best if he knew.’

‘Best for whom?’ Zeus argued. ‘Telling him will only reduce our negotiating position with him and you know that, Michael. I also don’t want you telling him about this merger.’

Michael seethed silently.

‘I want your word, Michael.’ Zeus insisted. ‘I want your word that you won’t tell him.’

Michael remained quiet.

‘Michael.’ Zeus pressed. ‘This is a direct order. I don’t want Hawke to know.’

‘Fine.’ Michael bit out. ‘You have my word. I won’t tell Hawke about the merger with the Company or the new project.’

Zeus sighed with relief. ‘I’ll be in touch after the presentation.’

Michael replaced the receiver into the briefcase and scowled furiously at it.

‘The Company?’ Marella checked.

‘Damn!’ Michael pushed the briefcase away.

Marella almost flinched at the icy look in his good eye. ‘How bad is it for us?’

Michael shrugged. ‘They want the new Airwolf project so I think we’ll be OK.’ He sighed remembering the Company director’s words at the hearing. ‘I don’t think they’re sympathetic to Hawke though.’

‘You don’t think they’ll honour our deal with him?’

‘I think if they’ve got Saint John Hawke working for them as an operative somewhere they’ll do everything to protect that secret.’ Michael stated. ‘Hawke won’t be able to get near to the information about his brother.’ His lips firmed. ‘They’ll probably keep a pretence of the deal going whilst the new project is completed and then cut him loose.’ His stomach churned. As a spy he understood their logic; as Hawke’s friend…as Hawke’s friend he couldn’t sit back and watch it happen. Angelina caught his eye. He didn’t owe the Company any loyalty; he owed Hawke everything…

Marella saw the decision in the firming of his jaw, the way his good eye sharply focused and iced over with determination. He was really going to do it; after years of loyal service, he was going to risk everything for Hawke. She sighed. ‘You’re going to tell him.’

‘Hawke deserves to know the truth,’ Michael stated in a firm voice, ‘both about the project and about the merger.’

‘But telling him is a huge risk, sir.’ Marella pointed out. ‘If he takes it badly…’

‘Then whatever he throws at me won’t be undeserved.’ Michael picked up his coffee cup again. ‘He’s risking his life every time we give him a mission and we’re repaying that with building a machine that may take away his only chance of finding his brother.’ He gestured angrily with the cup. ‘A chance that just got a deadline on it now we’re going to be taken over.’

‘There’s still a chance we won’t be.’ Marella argued.

Michael simply arched one elegant eyebrow.

‘OK,’ Marella conceded, ‘so it’s unlikely we won’t be but there’s still the risk Hawke won’t understand.’

‘I know.’

‘And you still want to tell him?’ Marella asked.

Michael nodded.

‘Why?’ She asked plaintively.

‘Because,’ Michael said simply, ‘if our positions were reversed, he would never keep the information from me.’ He smiled sadly. ‘Because he would put our friendship first and maybe…maybe it’s time I did the same.’

Marella stared at him. The significance of the choice he was making wasn’t lost on her. ‘But didn’t Zeus just give you a direct order not to tell Hawke?’ She asked trying to get him to see sense from a different perspective. ‘If you tell him you’ll be subject to disciplinary action.’

‘Maybe.’ Michael admitted.

Marella sighed as she took in his resolve. ‘Maybe not.’

Michael looked at her questioningly.

‘I’ll tell Hawke.’ Marella offered.

‘Marella…’ Michael shook his head. ‘I can’t ask you to do that.’

‘You’re not asking.’ She said. ‘I’m offering. Truthfully, I’ve never felt right about leaving Hawke in the dark about this either and besides,’ her dark eyes meeting his squarely, ‘I think you know that my loyalty is with you not to the FIRM.’ Her heart seemed to be beating a little too fast, she thought as she held her breath.

Michael held her gaze for a heartbeat before he reached across the table and took her hand in his. ‘Thank you, Marella.’

She gave him a pleased smile. ‘Don’t thank me yet. Hawke might end up killing us both.’

‘That,’ Michael agreed as he withdrew his hand and leaned back in his chair, ‘is a distinct possibility.’

Part 8


Hawke stroked the bow over the strings of the cello and closed his eyes as he played the last bars of the music. The final notes hung in the air before his hearing caught the harsh edge of another sound. He opened his eyes and stared into the cloudless blue sky with a scowl. He looked down at his dog Tet who wagged his tail in response.

‘Yeah.’ Hawke muttered and got to his feet. He picked up the camping stool and the cello and made his way back to the porch. Caitlin came out to greet him wiping her hands on a towel.

‘You finished already?’ She kissed him as his arms slid around her. ‘I was enjoying the music.’

‘We’ve got a visitor.’ Hawke said gesturing behind him at the sky.

Caitlin glanced into the nothingness and bit back a smile. ‘Who?’

‘Michael.’ Hawke said. ‘Or Marella.’ He shrugged. ‘It’s the FIRM helicopter anyway.’

‘I’d better wake Dom.’ Caitlin said. ‘He’s snoring away on the couch.’

‘And you managed to hear the cello?’ Hawke teased.

‘Dom snoring away is going to seem peaceful when my folks land tomorrow.’ Caitlin warned him.

Hawke winced. Most of Caitlin’s family were arriving the next day for the wedding. He couldn’t decide if he was pleased or not.

‘How’s your headache?’ Caitlin asked. Hawke had suffered mild concussion from Rimmington’s blow to his head.

Hawke sighed as the sound of the rotors filled the clearing and the white helicopter rounded the mountain, flying towards them over the lake. ‘I think it might be coming back.’

Caitlin patted his chest sympathetically and made her way inside.

Hawke waited on the porch as the helicopter landed. Michael climbed out of the helicopter, followed by Marella. It looked like the Committee hearings were over, Hawke thought. He hadn’t seen Michael since their meeting in Washington a few days previously and hadn’t spoken to him since the congratulatory call from the spy. Hawke straightened and frowned at the serious expressions on the faces of the two agents as they approached.

‘Hawke.’ Michael greeted the pilot with a firm handshake. ‘It’s good to see you.’

‘You too.’ Hawke gestured. ‘No Angelina?’

‘Not this time.’ Michael said shaking his head. ‘I’m afraid this is business.’

‘You all done in Washington?’ Hawke asked.

Michael hesitated. ‘I probably should tell all three of you at once.’

Hawke shrugged. ‘Come on in.’ He led the way back into the cabin. There was a flurry of greetings and it took a few minutes for them all to gather around the fire with mugs of coffee. Hawke leaned on the mantel, his blue eyes briefly landing on the photo of his brother before he fixed his gaze on Michael.

‘OK, Michael. What gives?’

Hawke’s quiet question silenced the other conversations that had been taking place. Michael stroked his moustache and gestured at the pilot. ‘We have news.’

‘I take it this isn’t good news.’ Hawke surmised as he lowered himself to sit on the hearthstone.

Michael shook his head. ‘The Senate Oversight Committee announced their recommendations yesterday.’

‘And?’ Dom asked impatiently from his position on the sofa.

Michael nodded at Marella.

‘And they’re recommending the FIRM be merged with the Company.’ She concluded. Technically they had just kept to Michael’s agreement with Zeus; he hadn’t told Hawke, she had.

‘The Company?’ Dom asked. ‘But I hear those guys are pretty ruthless.’

Michael smiled. ‘They specialise in covert international ops and yes, they do have a reputation for ruthlessness and expediency.’ He raised his mug at Dom. ‘Even more so than the FIRM.’

‘I wasn’t going to say anything.’ Dom denied huffily.

‘We both cover a lot of the same territory.’ Marella said shoving her hands in the pockets of her white flight suit. ‘From a politician’s perspective, it makes financial sense to have our two organisations operating as a single entity.’

‘Politics.’ Hawke spat the word out like it was a profanity. He looked more closely at Michael’s expression. ‘You’re worried about this.’

Michael sighed. ‘I’m almost positive that this merger will happen, Hawke.’

‘Will you be OK?’ Hawke asked concerned.

‘Quite honestly I don’t know.’ Michael admitted. ‘When the merger happens, I’m not certain how long it will be before I would no longer be in a position to assist you. The Company is the larger of the agencies and they’ll take over operations. Realistically, my division may well be disbanded.’ He pressed his lips together and nodded again at Marella.

‘We’re managing a project which is highly valuable. One that we had hoped to get you involved with eventually.’ She said sighing. Again, at least Michael could honestly say he hadn’t told Hawke about the project, she thought.

Hawke raised a single eyebrow as he looked from Marella to Michael and back. ‘You both seem a little nervous.’

Michael gave a small smile. ‘You’re not going to like it.’

‘When do we ever?’ Dom laughed.

‘Just spit it out.’

‘We…er…brought some slides.’ Michael gestured. ‘I could take you through the presentation.’

Dom’s eyebrows shot up. ‘A presentation, huh?’

Hawke caught the amusement in Dom’s eyes and was hard pressed not to laugh when he caught Michael’s disgruntlement at the other man’s teasing. ‘Set it up, Michael.’

It took them a while to arrange the room and for Marella to set up a portable projection unit. They shifted chairs so they all had a good view of the screen. Dom moved a dining chair next to the screen for Michael before he took another. Marella took one easy chair; Caitlin took the other with Hawke perched on the arm next to her.

Hawke slipped his hand into Caitlin’s and leaned over to whisper in her ear. ‘You think he’ll mind if we make out in the back row.’

Caitlin grinned, her eyes twinkling at him. ‘If you want to go make out we can ditch this and go upstairs.’ She murmured.

‘Don’t tempt me.’ Hawke linked their fingers and smiled at her as Michael cleared his throat. They both turned to see him waiting in front of them.

‘I guess I should start by explaining a few things first.’ Michael adjusted his glasses. ‘You all remember after you took care of Jenkins and Airwolf II the Committee agreed to give me a free hand with the Airwolf project?’

‘We’re hardly likely to forget.’ Dom said laughing, rocking back in his chair.

‘It occurred to me then that it was likely that Airwolf would be surpassed by something faster, smarter and better equipped within another year maybe sooner.’ Michael leaned back. ‘In fact it was inevitable. Jenkin’s machine was essentially Airwolf but it was an improved design. Jenkins had the better machine.’

Hawke shook his head. ‘It wasn’t better.’

‘It was.’ Michael smiled. ‘Airwolf had a superior pilot.’

‘You know Michael whenever you start flattering me I start to get worried.’ Hawke said his blue eyes filled with suspicion.

Michael sighed. ‘You have to admit Hawke, in the past two years on pure specifications Airwolf has been outclassed or matched on several times.’

Hawke drained his coffee mug and set it aside not sure if he liked the direction of the conversation. ‘The Lady’s always stood up when tested Michael.’

‘I know but it was time to start thinking about what came after her.’ Michael kept his gaze on the pilot. ‘So after Airwolf II I began a project with the sole aim of designing a successor to Airwolf.’

Hawke shook his head, a slow anger starting to burn in his gut and his hand tightened on Caitlin’s. He didn’t need to look at Dom to know the older man was glaring at Michael. ‘You’re unbelievable. You’re actually telling me that you put together a project that rendered my agreement with you useless?’

‘I truly believed we would find out the fate of your brother one way or another before the project completed.’ Michael said forcefully.

‘Sure, that’s why you’re only telling me now.’ Hawke returned angrily. He stood up as though to walk away.

‘He’s not even supposed to be telling you now, Hawke. He had a direct order from Zeus not to tell you.’ Marella spoke up furiously. ‘He’s risking everything being here.’

Hawke’s eyes flashed at her before they pinned Michael in a wave of angry blue. ‘Is it that true?’

‘The project has the highest security rating. It’s meant to be completely confidential and yes, I’m breaking a direct order telling you about it.’ Michael admitted.

‘Why?’ Hawke demanded.

Michael shifted uncomfortably. ‘Because despite what the FIRM thinks about this project, I intend to keep my promise to find your brother, Hawke; I always did.’

Hawke considered Michael’s sincere expression and felt the hot wave of righteous anger die away. He subsided back onto his seat. ‘OK, Michael. You have my attention.’

‘Michael, I might be being particularly dense but why would we be interested in being involved with this new project?’ Caitlin said. ‘I mean we’re only involved with Airwolf to find Saint John.’

‘She has a point.’ Hawke repressed a smile at seeing Michael’s frustration. ‘If we had found out about my brother before this project came to fruition why would we want to be involved?’

‘You three know more about what a helicopter like Airwolf needs in real situations than anybody else in the world and,’ Michael gestured at them, ‘I need people I trust and that’s you.’

There was a stunned silence.

‘Besides,’ Michael said eventually, ‘the fact the FIRM is being taken over changes things. Look, just listen to my pitch on the new prototype before you decide anything.’ He clicked a button on the remote in his hand and the screen switched on. Three slides in and despite Michael’s obvious enthusiasm Hawke was bored. He was also aware that Dom and Caitlin knew he was bored and were amused.

‘Michael,’ Hawke interrupted him mid-flow on some point about computer advances, ‘you want to cut to the chase here.’

Michael glowered at him. ‘Would it kill you for once to sit through one of my presentations?’

‘I don’t know but I’m fairly certain the cause of death would be boredom.’ Hawke shot back as Caitlin sniggered beside him.

Michael continued to glower at him and then fast-forwarded through the slides to a picture. It was an artist’s impression of the new aircraft. Caitlin stopped laughing and her eyes widened with pleased surprise; Dom muttered a prayer in Italian under his breath and Hawke…Hawke let go of Caitlin’s hand and stood up to move closer to the screen.

Instant recognition.

It was undoubtedly Airwolf but there was something more…it looked sleeker and deadlier. Hawke reached out to touch the drawing and dropped his hand. He lowered himself back onto the chair arm and rubbed his chin as Michael looked at him in triumph. The last time he’s seen that look in Hawke’s eyes was the first time the pilot had laid eyes on the original Airwolf.

‘I admit she’s beautiful on paper Michael.’ Hawke gestured at the screen. ‘How far on are you?’

Michael smiled. ‘She’s almost ready for build.’

‘You’re kidding.’ Dom was astounded. ‘But if you’ve only been working on this since we blew up Jenkins…’

‘We had a head-start.’ Michael admitted. ‘Jenkins wasn’t as smart as Moffett. He left behind all his designs in the FIRM’s back up computer. All I needed was a team to reverse engineer and then improve on them.’

‘Karen Hansen is leading the computer and technology side so we also have the benefit of her knowledge of the original Airwolf computer programming.’ Marella added. ‘We’ve also got a top notch aeronautical engineering team.’

Michael smoothed his moustache. ‘They estimate the design phase will be complete in another month and we’ll start building. I’m hoping to have her ready for testing around the start of eighty-seven.’

‘And you were seriously expecting that we would have found Saint John by then?’ Dom asked sceptically shaking his head.

‘Yes.’ Michael frowned. ‘The information we got from Tania Bening was the most comprehensive we’ve gotten. I’m certain your brother is working for one of the intelligence agencies.’ He gestured at Hawke. ‘I just need a little time to verify which and I think I may have just worked out the most likely suspect.’

‘How?’ Hawke asked puzzled.

‘Your name and our agreement came up during the Committee hearings.’ Michael said. ‘It gave me the opportunity to challenge the other intelligence agencies on the whereabouts of your brother.’

‘You went on a fishing expedition in the middle of a Senate Oversight Committee hearing?’ Dom started laughing. ‘I have to hand it to you, Mikey, that took some guts.’

‘Thank you.’ Michael said dryly his good eye still on Hawke.

Hawke stared at the spy. His mouth was dry and he could hear his heart beating. His fingers tightened around Caitlin’s. ‘And?’ He forced the word out.

‘And the Company director was the one who took the bait.’ Michael said.

‘The agency the FIRM’s likely to merge with?’ Caitlin’s voice rose with every word.

‘The very one.’ Michael confirmed.

‘Ah, come on, Michael.’ Dom argued seeing the light of hope in Hawke’s eyes and hoping Michael hadn’t put it there falsely. ‘How can you possibly know for certain? The guy might have just had gas.’

‘I know.’ Michael insisted. ‘And once we’re merged it wouldn’t take long to find out.’

‘What do you mean?’ asked Caitlin.

‘If we’re merged, we’ll have full access to their computer system…’ Marella’s dark eyes positively gleamed with feral anticipation. ‘Getting information about their operatives including Saint John Hawke if he is one, in theory should be easy.’

There was another silence whilst they all absorbed how close they could be to finally knowing what had happened with Hawke’s brother. It was Hawke who broke the moment clearing his throat and gesturing at the screen.

‘So your original plan was to get us involved during the test phase?’

Michael nodded. ‘That was the original plan. Still will be if this merger doesn’t happen.’

‘And if the merger does happen?’ Hawke asked.

‘The Company isn’t likely to disband the new project. The director of the Company went on record at the hearing as saying his agency would look to continue the project.’ Michael said. ‘What is unknown is what they would decide about the existing Airwolf.’ He shrugged. ‘They may decide to honour our agreement and leave me in charge or they may give you a different liaison. They may decide to effectively close you down with lack of support or come after you. You could take the easy option if the merger happens; handover Airwolf and be involved with my project.’ He held Hawke’s gaze. ‘I’ll keep to our agreement and find your brother.’

Hawke returned his gaze to the screen. ‘I won’t hand over Airwolf without my brother.’

‘Fine. Keep her. Just join this project too.’ Michael said. ‘If they don’t hold to the agreement, I will.’

Hawke’s blue eyes narrowed. ‘There must be a catch in this somewhere.’

‘You have to continue working with Michael?’ Marella suggested. Her dark eyes twinkling as Michael shot her a dirty look.

Dom laughed. ‘Ah that’s a catch all right.’

Hawke glanced at Dom and then at Caitlin. The warmth of their support shining in their eyes caught his breath for an instant; they would be with him whatever he decided. He sighed and looked back at Michael. ‘I guess we have a deal.’

Michael rose to his feet and held out his hand solemnly. Hawke stood up and took it in a firm clasp with equal solemnity.

‘Well.’ Dom grinned broadly. ‘This is cause for a celebration, huh? Don’t you have some fancy bottle of wine put away for this kinda thing?’

‘I’ll get it.’ Hawke headed for the kitchen. He’d put a bottle of decent wine in the fridge to chill earlier. He returned to find them all stood around the slide of the Airwolf picture discussing the merits of the new design. He handed out the glasses of wine and a comfortable silence fell on the group.

‘So, what should we toast?’ Caitlin asked as Hawke’s arm slid around her waist.

‘How about to Airwolf?’ Marella suggested. ‘Old and new?’

Dom shook his head. ‘How about to possibilities?’

Hawke inclined his head towards Michael. ‘To friends?’ It was a recognition, the spy realised; a recognition by Hawke of the choice Michael had made when he’d decided to tell the pilot about the project.

Michael met Hawke’s eyes firmly. ‘To loyalty.’ He suggested.

Hawke’s blue eyes warmed at the spy. ‘To loyalty.’ He agreed solemnly.

fin.

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