St. Petersburg, Florida
“Do we have to go back so soon,” the voice asked, sleepily from beneath the covers. “I want to stay longer.”
Thomas Macaulay Turner, “Mack” to everyone that mattered, smiled. He would prefer to stay here too. The weather in Florida was great, much better than the miserable weather Virginia had at this time of year.
Mack patted his bed partner on the shoulder. He got out of the bed and walked to the sliding glass door. He did not need to respond to the rhetorical question; they were on deadline, and were due back in Richmond that evening. He slid the door open and felt the morning breeze wash over his naked torso. The big man closed his eyes, inhaled the salty smell of the gulf, and smiled.
God, he loved being close to the water. Stepping out onto the small, semi-circular balcony, he placed his hands on the wrought iron rail and leaned forward, resting there while he gazed out at the pale green water of the Gulf of Mexico. He inhaled deeply again.
Mack turned to look back into the room; his bed partner was not moving yet. He smiled and appraised his reﬂection in the glass door. He was nearing his forty-eighth birthday, but his appearance belied his age. Mack stood a little over six foot one, and weighed a tad under two-hundred ten pounds. The black hair on his head, lightly salted with gray—as was his moustache— framed an unremarkable face save for a long scar on the left side of his face. The souvenir of a recent operational error, it ran in a savage, thin, milky-white line from his jaw line upward, ending just below the hairline at his temple. It missed ruining his left eye by less than ten millimeters. He rubbed the wound gently with the ﬁngers of his left hand as he examined his reﬂection. Despite the ‘Sergeant Nick Fury’ appearance an eye-patch would have given him, he was grateful for those few millimeters.
There were more wrinkles, he allowed, but that just made him more distinguished. Isn’t that what they said? His square jaw, thick neck, and broad shoulders gave him the look of a professional ballplayer, though he was not. He was still in remarkable shape despite his recent lapse in discipline. His one constant goal was to maintain his thirty-four-inch waist as long as possible. So far, he was achieving it. His green eyes were alert and seemed always to be observing his surroundings. He would say it was just a habit, a residue of years of security training. His skin, deeply tanned from spending years on the ocean, and his body, strongly muscled from as many years engaged in intense calisthenics, still responded when called upon. He was proud to say that he could still make the young pups beg for mercy during their workouts.
Turning back to the railing, he watched as a kayak cut through the smooth water; the kayaker making smooth, determined strokes seemingly effortlessly. Mack pulled a fresh cigar from the small leather humidor on the small table next to him, and stuck the uncut end of it in his mouth; the one habit he refused to break. He never lit one, or smoked anything, for that matter, but he liked to chew on them; it helped him to think, as he was thinking now. And, as usual, he was thinking of his Teams.
The Global Response to Emergency Environmental Need Team— GREEN Team—had been together for two years and Mack marveled at how far they had come in that short amount of time. The GREEN Team had been the brainchild of the late Edward Trahan Carstairs, founder of the multi-billion dollar Carstairs Environmental Technologies Corporation, a company committed to environmental research, resource exploration, and disaster intervention. Edward Carstairs recruited Mack to be the Team Leader while Mack was still on active duty in the Navy during Operation Desert Storm. When Mack retired and once the Board of Directors had elected him, he set about gathering a diverse group of professionals who could rapidly respond to environmental emergencies anywhere on the planet. The original team of six consisted of himself, as well as a chemist, a lawyer, a doctor, an explosives expert, and a security specialist. With the full support of Mister Carstairs, Mack outﬁtted his ﬂedgling team with the best equipment money could buy. Their secluded headquarters was nestled away from prying eyes, in the mountains of West Virginia. It was there that they trained and prepared for their ﬁrst mission, which Mack had hoped would not come until he felt conﬁdent that the Team was ready. Unfortunately, fate stepped in and altered Mack’s plans. Shortly after the Team was fully manned, they were called upon to respond to a chemical disaster in Scotland.
In the meantime, Mack’s longtime nemesis, Dennis Hazslip, a dishonored naval ofﬁcer with the same training as Mack, was planning to kill him and his family with a recently discovered German World War II chemical weapon. In the end, it was only a combination of teamwork, skill, and more than a little luck that the Team, and Mack’s family survived both the Scottish chemical spill and Hazslip’s trap.
Since then, Mack and the GREEN Team had had several more operations, though admittedly not nearly as exciting as the ﬁrst one. Now, the plank owners from “Team Alpha” were the senior members of a growing family of professional responders. With their increasing successes, came the need for additional resources, thus Mack started up a second response team: Team Bravo. With all the work they were getting, one major problem that had been troubling Mack for the past year became unquestionably apparent: their base of operations was too secluded. They needed to move. They had outlived and outgrown The Lodge. Too many logistical factors conspired against them, not the least of which was the weather. Lately Mack had been researching alternative locations for their new headquarters, and he liked Tampa just ﬁne.
“Why don’t we move here,” he asked.
“What,” came the voice from beneath the bed linens.
“I mean it,” Mack continued. “Why not move the Team headquarters down here to the Tampa Bay area? When you think about it, it makes sense.” He heard the sound of bed covers being thrown back, and a pair of feet hitting the marble tile of the ﬂoor.
“What about the cost, and the logistics of such a move?” the voice sounded closer now, and awake; she was out of bed and coming to the bal cony.
“Heck with the cost,” Mack said. “We’ve been operating from the Lodge for the past two years, and I think we can do better. It’s much too difﬁcult operating from that remote location, what with starting up a second team and all our combined equipment.” As he spoke, a pair of smooth, tanned, and lightly freckled arms encircled his chest and squeezed, while her strong slim ﬁngers stroked the coarse gray hair on his chest; he felt her warm body press against his bare back. He could also feel her naked breasts against his skin, and smiled at her boldness.
Mack raised his right arm over his head and turned in her embrace to face her. He looked down into the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. They sparkled with happiness and vitality. She smiled up at him. Mack reached up, smoothed her dark, red hair back from her face with his hands and smiled back.
“Good morning,” she said. “Kiss me.”
“Seriously, Sully, we need a better base of operations now that we’re busier than ever.”
She placed a ﬁnger against his mouth to stop his prattling. “Kiss me,” she said, more forcefully this time.
Mack relented, and kissed her forehead, before working his way to her eager mouth. She responded by pulling him closer to her, pressing her body against him. His response was more physical, and she felt it. She pushed away and smiled at him, then took him by the hand and led him back to bed.
“We’ll talk about it, after.” Mack Turner just smiled and followed his boss to bed.
After, they were lounging on the balcony, and staring out at the blue sky and the green water. Mack had arranged for room service to deliver a light breakfast, and they were ﬁnishing the last of the coffee while they relaxed before checking out of their suite at the Don CeSar Hotel and Beach Resort. They sat together on the chaise lounge; Sully snuggled tightly against Mack’s chest, Mack’s arm over her shoulder as they gazed out at the Gulf.
Mack smiled as he considered the woman in his embrace. His relationship with Theresa Sullivan, a.k.a. “Sully,” had begun again, after a two year hiatus, when they realized their mutual attraction had not abated. Mack’s reconciliation with his ex-wife, Donna, had failed after six months, because neither of them was willing to sacriﬁce their independence. The split was amicable, but his two children—Hannah, eighteen, and Holly, ten—were heartbroken.
Two years ago, after one wonderful and memorable evening together, Mack and Sully had agreed not to continue a relationship that might cause conﬂict with the Team. Back then, she was a founding member of the GREEN Team, before she became the sole beneﬁciary of her mentor, Edward Carstairs. After his death, and after inheriting the entire CET Empire, she resigned from the team and devoted herself to her new duties as CEO of the successful corporation. However, Mack still wanted her, and he believed she still wanted him. Therefore, last month, he ﬁnally summoned the courage to approach Sully and spoke frankly. “I want you to know that I am still very interested in you,” he had said to her over drinks, “and I believe that you are still interested in me.”
“Mack, I …” Sully had begun.
“No, Sully, let me ﬁnish,” Mack stopped her. “Two years ago it may have been the correct decision for us to stop any relationship, but that was then. The situation has changed. You’re not a member of the Team anymore, at least, not literally,” he amended. “I’ve looked at this from every angle, and I can’t see a reason for us not to be together, if we are still interested; and I, for one, am.” Mack stopped and looked at Sully. Her green eyes sparkled with happiness.
She smiled. “I am too, Mack,” she said, and squeezed his hand across the small table. “I have been waiting for you for two years,” she said. “What took you so long?”
He had just smiled, leaned across the table and kissed her fully on the mouth. From that point, their relationship had blossomed. Now, one month later, they were living together, and planning for the future of the company, as well as their lives together.
“I suppose it’s possible to move the Teams down here,” Sully said. “We need to scout out a location, though. That means making another trip.” She glanced over her shoulder at him and smiled.
“I’m willing to take one for the team, boss,” Mack replied with a smile. “Before we leave, I’ll contact a couple of real estate ﬁrms and have them start looking for potential sites.”
“Tampa is a long way from Richmond,” Sully said thoughtfully.
Mack understood her meaning. He got up from the chair and turned to face her. “Look, there’s no reason that you can’t move down here too. The company is capable of running itself, you know. You don’t have to be there every day. Trust your Vice-Presidents.”
Sully considered what Mack said. “I suppose I could always commute for important meetings and such. It’s just that I’ve worked hard the last two years to get things the way I like them. I hate to let go.”
“You don’t have to quit. Just step back a little and let your people do what they do.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I guess they can manage without me hovering over the boardroom table.”
“Now you’re talking,” Mack said with a smile. “Whattaya say we take one last walk on the beach before we have to checkout?” He glanced at his watch. “We’ve got ﬁve hours before our ﬂight leaves.”
She raised her hand, and he took it, lifting her up to face him. “That’s a good idea,” she said. “I’d like that very much.” As she bent to pick up her hat she said, “I wish we could stay here longer. I’m not looking forward to getting back to the ofﬁce tomorrow.”
“Why is that?” Mack asked. “Well, for one I’ve got that meeting with the Legal Department immediately after the staff meeting. A representative from the State Department will be there to discuss personnel issues with our international travel.”
“And the other?”
Sully smiled and kissed Mack on the cheek. “The past week has been wonderful. No deadlines to make or meetings to attend; just you and me, this great room and,” she turned to face the ocean and spread her arms wide, “this spectacular view.”
Mack wrapped his arms around her from behind and hugged her to his chest ﬁrmly. He kissed her neck and she curled her arms around his. “We’ll be back, Sully, I promise.”
“I hope so,” she said wistfully. After a long moment, they parted and, hand in hand, made their way down to the white sands of the beach for one ﬁnal walk.
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