Fifteen minutes later, the men watched as Sarah strode into Gwinnett’s office. A three-inch shorter version of her father, but with her mother’s sky-blue eyes and blonde hair, she’d joined the company after several duty tours in the Air Force.
The penetrating smell of jet fuel cleared out Gwinnett’s sinuses.
Gwinnett watched her helmet bounce against her leg and a myriad of sensor-feed connectors wave in rhythm emphasizing her entrance. He smiled inwardly at her version of the Gwinnett smile, guaranteed to charm or infuriate in equal measure. While it often worked on the other men, he’d seen it since she was a teenager. While she used it in an attempt to annoy him, he’d just laughed at her.
Gwinnett stood up from behind the small antique wood desk once owned by Jefferson Davis. It was easy to see why he’d been an outstanding linebacker at Georgia. He still carried himself with the easy grace of a trained athlete. His ancient, round-rimmed glasses were retrofitted with a multitude of chips so Gwinnett had full heads-up capacity and computer contact. At the moment however, they hung, half-in and half-out of his shirt pocket, bouncing as he rose.
“Mr. President, Sir. Sorry to be the last one but I was getting in some flight time to keep my rating,” said Sarah increasing the intensity of the smile.
Gwinnett nodded. In his present mood, he was completely impervious to Sarah’s smile.
She hadn’t bothered to change out of her flight suit before coming to the office. Gwinnett noted the other executives watched her with interest as she tossed the helmet onto a well-upholstered couch and stripped off her suit revealing a sweat-stained Georgia U T-shirt and shorts emblazoned with the Dawg mascot.
Gwinnett noticed the stink of sweat replaced that of jet fuel.
He watched the men respond to her stripping down into shorts and t-shirts, and debated whether he’d say something to her or the captivated men. He thought about it briefly, decided it would be her, privately. His thoughts were interrupted.
“Really, you wear t-shirts and shorts under a quarter-million dollar suit?” asked Simpson, the Head of Internal Security.
“Well, it’s better than shorting out the damned sensors by not wearing anything at all and sweating all over them. Wrecking the tech would get me grounded by the good folks in accounting. I’d rather not have to explain how I’d killed their multi-bajillion dollar attack quad-copter. Besides, you got a problem with the Dawg?” asked Sarah. It was a challenge for Simpson to drop eye to eye contact and take another look at her chest.
A challenge he refused as he continued to meet her stare. He frowned. “What I don’t understand is why you have to fly at all,” he said. “Isn’t that why we have the drones?”
“Well, you ex-army pukes think pushing buttons gets things done. The Air Force knows the best drone-jockeysare also real flyers.” Sarah smirked. “That’s why you ground-pounders are always begging us to fly you out of problems your people can’t handle,” she said.
To laughter from all, including Simpson.
Gwinnett put his glasses back on and the data flow resumed. He checked for problems requiring his input, found two minor ones, and ignored them. He looked down at the polished Southern heartwood pine floors he’d ordered salvaged from one of his warehouses across the river in Savannah. These old planks could tell a thousand stories if we let them he thought. A wave of sadness and regret for the passing of an entire culture threatened his focus.
His team waited silently for his thoughts to mature. They were used to his taking short breaks like this as he absorbed a new piece of information.Hisheads-up display constantly scrolled through all five of the world’s major news channels and their latest stories. As sole owner of QuellCorp, the largest Security force in the world, Gwinnett followed them all.
“We lost Sergeants Shaw and Berry last night,” said Gwinnett.
“God damned gangs?” asked Sarah.
Gwinnett nodded and watched as his team absorbed this, dropping their eyes from his. He watched their faces tighten and then, one by one, make eye contact with him and nod in understanding. Gwinnett smiled inwardly, these were all good people, and they’d been with him long enough to understand, almost without words, what he was thinking.
“They were partying along River Street and took shotgun blasts from close range. Typical Savannah police response – not a damn thing. I was just told the gangs have escalated the so-called game to hospital or morgue. I don’t mind a random fair fight – boys will be boys – but this has gone far enough,” said Gwinnett.
“I want this stopped.” He paused, hiseyes narrowed slightly, took a deep breath and said, “Now!” The single word, quietly delivered, was emphasis enough for this group and they understood it as clearly as if he’d screamed at them.
He continued in his quiet voice, ”Keep the planning for a payback to the six of us. Sarah, you head it. Nobody else in the loop until necessary. The police department and city are porous and corrupt as hell. Has been for thirty years, so we aren’t sharing shit with them. This one is for us.”
“How big a message do you want to send?” asked Sarah.
Gwinnett took a breath, paused for two seconds, exhaled and said, “How big would you make it if it were up to you?”
“I’d take them all out. Every last blooded member goes down in both gangs. I’d clean out the viper’s nest and leave the city as clean as we can,” said Sarah.
Gwinnett’s eyes didn’t relax around the edges, they still sent the same deadly message. He knew Sarah had excellent potential to inherit the company although she tended towards violence without adequate negotiation beforehand. Was this too violent a response Gwinnett wondered? The way he felt now was the same feeling he got just after he parachuted out of an aircraft. Making the decision to jump and leaving the plane were the hard parts. The trip down was the easy part. Having made the big decision to trust oneself and the team, everything else was only a detail. Was it time to make the big jump and take out all the gangs?
“This is mass murder,” said Chris Richards, QuellCorp’s VP-Legal. “I shouldn’t be in this room for the discussion.” Despite his careful words, he didn’t move.
Gwinnett’s eyes never changed as he looked at Richards, but the corner of his mouth turned up, and he nodded at him. “Our South is dead and somebody will pick the carcass. I don’t want it to be the gangs. Somebody else might have a chance to rebuild it if they were gone. The cops won’t bother us. Hell, they’ll take over and run things themselves. Besides, the rank and file cops agree with us about bringing law and order back. Might even do it properly. The police force is big enough to do that.”
Harrison, QuellCorp’s VP Accounting, wasn’t able to contain himself and snorted. “Right, but we’re bigger all over. Bigger guns, bigger…” He left the last hanging to smiles from the other men and a snort from Sarah.
Gwinnett, smiling as well, his sky-blue eyes relaxed now the decision had been made, looked at his daughter. “Sarah, this is the real world after your retirement from that cushy Air Force Captainship and playing with tiny, toy aircraft. You’re in command on this one, set up a working plan, and the rest of us will back you up. Welcome to the trenches. Co-ordinate with me as soon as all y’all have a plan.”