Sample of Boxed Aegis

I

On the Bay

[One]

“That is good wine, admiral,” said Craig to his friend and boss at the Office of Naval Intelligence, Vice Admiral Chris Matthews.

They were sitting on Adirondack chairs on Craig’s stone patio, overlooking Herring Bay – a part of the Chesapeake Bay, along with Cathy, Craig’s girlfriend and Mathew’s lady friend Sara. The admiral lost his wife to cancer two years ago and was just starting to date again.

The wine in question was a very nice 2002 California Syrah, brought by Matthews. It had a pronounced blackberry flavor, with just enough bitterness to mask the relatively sweet taste.

“Yeah, they were offering samples at the store,” said Matthews,” and I liked it right away. Glad I got a whole case. We could probably go through it, while we watch this great view and as I keep telling you, my name is not admiral, commander.”

Despite the fact that for years he kept telling Craig to privately call him Chris, the latter always insisted in calling him by his rank. It was sort of a joke between them.

Matthews was right about the view. Craig’s house was sitting on five acres of very prime land since the end of the 19th century, since his great-great-grandfather had it built. It was now his main residence. The location was hard to beat. Right next to a very nice section of the Chesapeake, with his boat in a marina just minutes away from the house and less than an hour by car from Washington, DC.

A variety of boats were parading in front of them, fairly close to shore, avoiding the two – mile Long Bar, which extended right across Herring Bay, from north, to south. Practically every buoy and navigational marker had an osprey nest. One nearby female was particularly loud, screaming at her partner nearly all the time, urging him to get to work and bring her more food, while she was sitting on their eggs.

Craig kept a pair of binoculars handy, to look at the birds, the boats and the occasional large ships, heading north and south in the main shipping channel, about four, or five miles away, closer to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.

Craig inhaled the very complex bouquet of the wine, before taking another sip and a drag of one of his hand – rolled cigarettes.

Matthews, who has smoked everything from cigarettes, to pipe and cigars in the past, limited himself for the past few years to Honduran and Nicaraguan cigars, but only on special occasions. Today was one of those. It was the first time he decided to show off Sara to Craig and Cathy, the weather was just gorgeous and they had the whole weekend to look forward to.

Cathy prepared shish kabobs, with beef, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and lots of onions to be grilled later. They also were going to have corn on the cob. There were several kinds of beer in the refrigerator as well.

Matthews and Sara were staying for the whole weekend. They were all planning to take Craig’s French – built Dufour Arpege 30 foot sloop for a sail at least once.

Although Matthews hasn’t mentioned anything yet, he also wanted to discuss a possible mission with Craig, but decided to hold off for now and just enjoy the evening.

[Two]

Another two bottles of Syrah, along with a few bottles of beer were consumed with the shish kabobs. The dishwasher was already hard at work and they were back in the Adirondack chairs, having Aperol spritz cocktails. There were also coffee and tea implements on a side table.

Aperol tastes and smells much like Campari, but it has an alcohol content of 11 percent, which is less than half that of Campari. The orange color of the cocktail was clearly visible in the light of the nearly full Moon and the glow coming from a stone and iron fire pit.

Craig gave up staring at the moon through his 8×30 Steiner Marine binoculars and brought out his 15 – inch reflector telescope. Everybody took turns watching the Moon’s craters. The magnification could be varied with the use of different size eyepieces. The one selected by Craig allowed focusing on just a small section of the very bright lunar surface. It almost felt, like being in an orbiting spacecraft.

“I didn’t realize that we paid you enough to buy fancy telescopes like this,” quipped Matthews.

“No worries, admiral,” answered Craig, who was de facto independently wealthy, largely thanks to his paternal grandfather.” I won’t be asking the Navy for a raise.”

Matthews was right. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill amateur telescope at all, but a semi –professional model, which cost as much as many used cars. Craig, who was always fascinated by astronomy, had a small refractor telescope as a kid and bought this reflector model a couple of years ago after doing quite a bit of research on the Web.

“I see that you have a drive system,” said Matthews. “How about a camera mount?”

“I got that too,” said Craig.” Would you like to try it?”

“Nah, maybe another time,” said Matthews,” topping off his Aperol cocktail with the orange liquid from the bottle and adding some soda water. “Let’s just relax. I don’t think there’s a shortage of Moon pictures out there.”

They spent another hour chatting and staring at the Moon, then gathered the bottles and glasses and headed into the house. Even though it was the middle of summer, the Washington, DC area had a few dry weather breaks every year and this happened to be one of them. Craig glanced at the humidity monitor earlier and it was at only 33 percent, a definite rarity at this time of the year. The air conditioning would not be needed tonight. Open windows would do just fine.

 

[Three]

The next morning Cathy and Sara decided to prepare a hearty breakfast, which in addition to their usual fare of bread, cheeses and eggs, also consisted of a sizable stack of whole wheat pancakes and real Vermont Maple syrup. There was no shortage of coffee.

Googling ‘sailing weather for the Chesapeake Bay’ showed that the stronger winds were forecast for Sunday, so they decided to go sailing the next day and just go kayaking and stand up paddle boarding today. Despite keeping his sailboat in a sheltered marina not far from his house, Craig did have a small dock and a lift, which held a 22 – foot powerboat, with a 120 horsepower diesel right in front of the house, in an area much more exposed to wind and waves than the marina. They could always take a spin around the Bay. Not as nice as sailing, but certainly quite a bit faster. Originally, his great-great-grandfather’s house had a breakwater and a cozy, little harbor right in front, but that was in the 19th century and those amenities have long since been dismantled.

Matthews decided to try a stand up paddle board, simply because he has never been on one.

“I could never understand why people use these,” he said.” Maybe there’s something to it, but I won’t know, ‘till I try it.”

“Be my guest,” said Craig. “There are a couple of boards and several paddles in the shed by the water. I would pick the bigger one, if I was you. It’s more stable.”

Cathy and Sarah listened to the exchange and went back into the house, emerging shortly in swimming suits and spreading sunscreen on each other’s shapely bodies. Craig and Matthews appreciatively stared. The girls did look good. It was amazing what regular exercise could do for a body.

“We are going to take the kayaks,” said Cathy.” Hopefully we’ll not have to fish Chris out of the drink.”

“I’ll go and check on the boat,” said Chris, pointing at the 22 – footer, suspended in the lift. “We haven’t used it in a while. It would probably do the engine a lot of good to let it run for a while.”

It was fairly unusual to have a diesel – powered 22 – foot cabin cruiser, but Craig liked diesels and had the stock V8 gas engine replaced with a Lehman diesel. As Matthews put the board in the water and gingerly stepped on it, trying not to fall off at the very start, making a fool of himself in front of his new girlfriend, the women hefted the kayaks, paddles and life jackets out of the shed and carried them to the edge of the water.

Craig headed for the boat. Took a quick look around it and pressed the ‘down’ button on the lift. A quiet ‘whirr’ signaled that it was working. The lift was powered by a fairly small electric motor and relied on reduction gears to do its job. It took close to a minute for the hull to hit the water.

Craig waited for the boat to start floating and stepped aboard, untied the lines, checked the oil and water levels in the Lehman diesel, opened the raw cooling water seacock and started it up.

It kicked in right away, producing a tiny cloud of black smoke, which dissipated in seconds, run a bit rough for about thirty seconds, and then settled on an even rumble.

Craig let it warm up for about five minutes, checking everything else around the boat, taking the seat covers off and grabbing the water hose, to rinse off the deck.

Although he was not a fatalist, Craig had a 9.9 horsepower four stroke Mariner outboard in a swing bracket, mounted on the stern, as backup. He never had the need to use it, but did run it once in a while, just to keep it in shape and to make sure that it was operational.

Putting the throttle lever into slow reverse, Craig backed the boat out of the lift cradle, looked around, if any of his friends, were not in the way and pointed the bow south, to the red day marker, close to the southern edge of Herring Bay. The boat got up on a plane, as it was passing 12 knots. At that speed the 120 horsepower diesel burned only about a gallon and a half per hour, meaning that the 30 –gallon fuel tank would last some 20 hours.  Since the engine was warmed up, Craig brought it all the way up to 25 knots, with the bow knocking spray upwards every time it went over one of the two – foot waves. Reaching the marker, he did a wide right turn, and headed back to his dock.

Meanwhile, Matthews, who was quite athletic, was getting the hang of the standup paddleboard, urged on by Cathy and Sarah, accompanying him in their kayaks. He was close to falling off once, but managed to keep his balance, for which he was rewarded with enthusiastic clapping from the girls.

The Chesapeake has been cleaned up to a degree. It was swimmable, but still far from pristine. There were some sea nettles in the water, whose stings sometimes made swimming unpleasant. Farther north, where the water was less salty, they were all but nonexistent. It wasn’t a huge problem, just a hassle. Some good – sized sharks have been spotted, often in shallow water and close to shore, which was more of a concern, although there have been very few reports of shark attacks in the Chesapeake Bay.

[Four]

By the time the kayakers and Matthews came out of the water, Craig was sitting in the shade in one of the Adirondack chairs, with a coffee cup in his hand and the binoculars on the side table.

“It is sort of fun,” said Matthews. ”Now I understand why people do it. You can see so much more standing up, than lying on a board, or even sitting in a kayak. It is also a hell of an exercise,” he said, flexing his shoulders and stretching his back.

“Yeah,” said Craig.” I don’t do it often, but it is fun. I even paddled over to that restaurant across the creek once for dinner, but instead of tying it up to the dock, just pulled the board out of the water.”

Cathy and Sara have leaned the kayaks against the shed to dry in the sun. “I got the boat ready. Go take a shower, if you want, grab something to eat and drink and maybe we could take a little spin around Poplar Island, when you’re done,” said Craig.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Cathy. “We haven’t taken out that boat for at least a couple of months. The ‘Jacques’ has been getting much more use,” she said, referring to Craig’s 30 – foot sailboat.

Matthews came out of the shower first and joined Craig with a cup of coffee in his hand.

“We need to talk,” he said. ”You might have to take a trip to Europe and God knows where else.”

“On official business?

“Very much so,” said Matthews. “It’s about time you earn your keep. Maybe we can discuss the details a bit later. At this point I want to keep it quiet.”

“OK,” said Craig.” We might get a chance later this afternoon, after we come back from the boat ride.”

 

 

II

Aegis and Grushchenko

[One]

The opportunity to talk came shortly after they boarded the motorboat, heading towards Poplar Island, or possibly even to the entrance to Knapps Narrows, a waterway, bisecting Tilghman Island, effectively shortening the trip to destinations along the Choptank River, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

The girls decided to sun themselves on the foredeck and Craig and Matthews were left alone in the pilothouse.

“This is sort of a developing story,” said Matthews. ”You know that the Aegis ships, the ones with the Aegis Combat Systems, although they have been around for a while, are still some of our most advanced vessels, from the electronic standpoint at least.”

“Yes, I am vaguely familiar with them,” said Craig.

“As you probably realize the weapons system gets continuously upgraded and there is continuing research going on, in order to keep it competitive.”

“I bet,” said Craig. “As far as I know, there are different variants of Aegis out there.”

“Correct,” said Matthews. “Defense companies, universities and the Navy itself are also experimenting with new and better solutions and gadgets. Some never make it out of their experimental stage, others actually get approved for production and retrofitting of the systems. We have lost an interesting and seemingly effective prototype device, which speeds up target acquisition of Aegis by a factor of ten. It has undergone only limited testing, but it seemed extremely promising and there were plans to actually put it into full production very soon.”

“What do you mean by ‘we lost it’?”

“That’s exactly what happened,” said Matthews, “but at least we have an idea what happened to it and there’s where you come in.”

“In what way do I actually come in?”

“We think that we know, who stole it,” said Matthews. “He is Anatoliy Grushchenko and he’s probably looking for the highest bidder and should still have the device in his possession. The CIA has been tracking him and last we heard he was in Florence.”

Craig had a slight look of disbelief in his eyes. “So, why doesn’t the CIA just grab him? Aren’t they better prepared to conduct such an operation?”

“So, it would seem,” said Matthews, “but this is a naval matter for one and I also think that you have a much better chance of recovering it than the spooks have.”

“I don’t think, I follow,” said Craig.

“According to my information, you have met this guy, but he was calling himself Ivanov then and I don’t think that you told him that you worked for Naval Intelligence,” said Matthews.

“Andrei Ivanov,” said Craig. “I remember him well, a charming, but shifty guy. We had a lot of fun in Corfu and all I told him about me was that I was an artist and that I liked sailing.”

“That’s what you said in your debriefing at the time,” said Matthews. “We are counting on Ivanov allowing you to get close to him, as an old acquaintance. Once we do that, there will be other assets to nail the guy, if needed and get the device back.”

Craig smiled. “You don’t think that I’m tough enough to nail him myself?”

“He’s pretty wily and has managed to give our guys the slip three or four times already,” said Matthews. “That’s why we are sending you. Just make sure you project the same relaxed, bon vivant, artistic persona, or you are going to spook him. From what the CIA guys tell me, he is like a spying superstar. They have never run into anybody who was as slippery as him, and we got to make sure that he doesn’t manage to pass the device to anybody else, or sell it for that matter.”

“How big exactly is this thing? “

“Not that big,” said Matthews,” about 20 by 10 inches and it weighs less than 10 pounds.  It could fit in an average suitcase. When you’ll get briefed, you will be shown Grushchenko/Ivanov’s recent photos and much more information. I expect you at my office Monday at 11 am. There will be other people there also – ours and the CIA’s. I don’t think we can go into all the details now, but I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

“Thanks, admiral,” said Craig. “Does this device need to be recovered, or is it more important to make sure that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands?”

“I don’t care if gets destroyed, as long as somebody who can understand it and make use of it doesn’t get hold of it,” said Matthews. “We can easily reproduce it; that is not a problem, but believe you me – and this comes from way up high – we have to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.”

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