Categories > Cartoons > Daria > 15 Years On

Going West

by DrT 2 reviews

Daria is sent west on a cold case.

Category: Daria - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Drama - Characters: Daria - Warnings: [!!] - Published: 2017-07-19 - 5546 words

3Insightful
15 Years On – Chapter II – Going West
By Dr. T

Daria and the other associated characters are owned by its creators, MTV, et al. I am just playing.

*

Andrews Air Force Base

General John Springfield was not happy, and when a two star general is not happy, his aides and others around him become nervous. He glanced at his watch and then transferred the glare to the co-pilot of the small passenger jet. “Captain, we were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago. What’s the hold up?” He had checked before boarding and there weren’t any weather-related problems at least.

“Sorry, sir,” the Captain replied. “Control said we were to wait for another passenger.”

The General was surprised. “Coming with us?” This was an unmarked Air Force plane, and their destination allowed for very few people even in the Air Force to know about it.

The Captain was not happy to relay the news. “We have to make a stop at Colfax. . . .”

“Colfax?” The General frowned. “Wasn’t that decommissioned forty odd years ago?”

“Apparently not, sir,” the co-pilot answered. “We looked it up – it was decommissioned as a training base back in 1972, and parts of the land were distributed to the town nearby or the Department of Energy. The DOE and we still have a small presence there; ours is there so if necessary, it can quickly be reactivated as a base as soon as the personnel are moved in.”

The Air Force would hardly allow anyone from the DOE on this plane. This made no sense.

Glancing out the still-open cabin door, the co-pilot saw a car driving up to the plane. “It looks like the passenger is being delivered. . . .” The sight of the awaited passenger obviously surprised the Captain. A few moments later, the General and his staff of three saw why.

It didn’t surprise the General that his co-passenger was a woman, not even that she was not in a uniform. That he didn’t know her was as surprising as her dress.

She was a petite young woman, between five foot two and three in her combat boots, and probably in her early thirties at most. She was attractive and had long auburn hair, but it was the rest of her outfit that was the most surprising. As she had partially climbed the steps into the cabin, she had slid two pieces of hand luggage ahead of her, which the co-pilot had moved out of her way. One was a large toolkit, the other looked like an old-fashioned doctor’s bag that had been rigged with a shoulder strap at some point. Besides the combat boots, she wore very baggy knee-length jeans, a light khaki shirt and medium-heavy khaki jacket, and a wide-brimmed camouflage hat. Most surprising was the very large and heavy backpack. The general thought she looked familiar, but could not place her.

“Thank you, Captain,” she said in a low, slightly toneless voice as he helped her off with the backpack. It was then clear she wore both a shoulder holster and an ammo belt that had another pistol of some sort, two long knives, and no doubt cartridges in the back under the jacket.

The Captain glanced at the pistols as he stowed her gear between some empty seats. “Are those loaded, Ma’am?”

“No, but we can put them in an overhead if you’d like.”

“That might be best, Ma’am.” As she undid the shoulder holster and gun belt, he asked, “We were only told to wait for one more passenger; that is you, correct?”

“So far as I know.”

“We should be taking off in five minutes then, if we get clearance. Please take a seat and buckle up.” He smiled at her. “Sorry, no stewardess or pre-flight talk.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

The co-pilot secured the steps and then the door before entering the cockpit, shutting that door as well behind him.

The woman glanced around the small jet. There were six double rows of two seats per side and then a small open area. The four seats in the back row could swivel all the way around. Behind the small open area were two rest rooms on one side along with a computer work station on that same side and what appeared to be a galley on the other. A two-star general (male) was in one of the swivel chairs, a lieutenant colonel (female) and a male captain in the other row. A female major sat in the row in front of the general.

Everyone looked at the general. He sighed and gestured to the row in front of his aides. “Sit anywhere, there’s plenty of room.”

The woman nodded and sat in the aisle seat in front of the lieutenant colonel. “Doctor Daria Reese, FBI.”

“Doctor Reese,” the general said. “Forgive us if we don’t introduce ourselves by name?”

“I understand, General Springfield. This is an unmarked plane and so I can guess what kind of base you are going to, even if I wouldn’t want to guess which one.”

The officers all blinked at that.

Daria smiled slightly. “You apparently don’t remember, but we met a few years ago at Paula’s, I mean General Trainor’s, commitment ceremony.”

The General’s confusion melted away as he remembered, and then he asked, “You’re Amy Barksdale’s niece, correct?”

“I am.”

“I don’t suppose you can tell me why an FBI agent was added to an unmarked Air Force flight?”

Daria sighed internally as she buckled in. The combination ‘FBI Agent’ was well-engrained into the American lexicon. “I’m not an agent. I am both a forensic pathologist and physical anthropologist for a unit that’s under both the Bureau and Homeland Security.” She gestured at the overhead holding her weapons. “I have, however, passed the small arms exams. As for the case, I can certainly tell you part of it – some treasure hunters trespassed Federal land and at least two sets of tribal land onto the part of a classified Air Force base that is technically leased from one of the tribes. They were caught by a combined Air Force and various Tribal law enforcement effort in a cave system. They had just finished opening a cave-in, and there were eight bodies found on the other side of the cave-in. No one concerned seems to trust the others, and because I’ve often worked with the people at the Department of the Interior, worked once with one of the Tribal Police units, and somehow already had Air Force clearance. . . .”

“Probably Paula’s work,” Springfield commented as the plane taxied for takeoff.

“Probably,” Daria agreed. “Anyway, I was apparently seen as a reasonable compromise.” She looked at the officers, considering. After a moment, she added, “One reason why everything is being kept quiet is that while the bodies only seemed to be a decade or so old to the people at the scene, it is believed the group was a gang that robbed the Army Air Corps of part of a pay roll in 1945. It’s possible that if they are, the strong boxes are buried further inside the cave system.”

“There must be more to it than that to get you on this plane,” the General pointed out.

“If so, I am not allowed to say.” Daria smiled a bit more. “It’s possible you might have clearance to know, but I can’t know that.”

“I’m sure the Captain can find out what you’re up to, once we can use the computer.”

The plane had taken off and had just leveled out, so Daria unbuckled and pulled out her wallet and took out a five. “Bet you he can’t, at least not without using your authority.”

The General laughed and pulled out his wallet in turn.

*

Forty minutes later, the General had stopped laughing and paid Daria. Even his top aide could not access the information, despite using the General’s authorization. He had finally gained access to the files using codes he wasn’t about to share, and even then he had to explain why he wanted to know. Fortunately, the fact that Daria was technically on the secret flight had been judged adequate. He had waved his aides to the front of the plane and invited Daria to the back row, where they could converse quietly across the aisle.

“No offense, but are you trained for this?” he asked.

“No, someone either from the DOE or the Air Force will be with me, and they’ll handle that part of the assignment. I’m really something of a cover for them.”

The General shook his head. “How could this have even happened?”

“U-235 and Plutonium had to be shipped to White Sands somehow, and at least some went most of the way by rail to Santa Fe. Now why one box was in an armored train car with a payroll, I couldn’t tell you, especially an armored train car was left guarded by just three men.” She grimaced. “If one person could be blamed, he was probably transferred to some much less desirable duty.”

“No doubt,” the General agreed. He looked at the date of the robbery again. “This might have set back the testing, or deployment, of the first bombs. It could have set the program back at least a week or more. I wonder how many people died in the extra week.”

“I don’t remember any major action going on at the time off-hand, but there was still fighting going on, not only in the Pacific, but in Southeast Asia and of course China,” Daria said thoughtfully. “If it did set things back, considering the sheer volume of fighting in China, it would have cost hundreds, if not thousands of lives across the different theaters, probably dozens if not more of them American. Still, if this is that gang, if they had the sealed box with them, they couldn’t have broken the seals. If they had broken any of them before the cave, they would have been too sick to make it there, and if they had broken them in the cave it would have been so radioactive the police and the pot hunters would have had at least some signs of radiation on them and probably would have had radiation sickness. They were all discretely checked.”

The General looked at the files he accessed. “True, and this doesn’t say but the Plutonium probably was some combination of P-239 and 241, and 241, unlike 239, has a reasonably short half life.”

Daria didn’t give away that she had been unaware if the material had been Plutonium or U-235. “Something like fourteen years compared to twenty-four thousand? I hate to think how much radiation would have leaked into the caves from a sample of 241 if the seals were broken.” She saw the General looking at her.

“I’m just curious; why the pistols; why that outfit.”

“The two partially go together. We’ll be hiking in the desert and mountains and we leave the first thing tomorrow morning. No reason to dress up just for the trip since I’m not flying commercial either way. As for this particular outfit and both pistols, I may be the only woman, and so will have to hike off-trail by myself for calls of nature, and would prefer not to share space with rattle snakes. Two pistols because I’m most used to the shoulder holster, but most of the type of police I’ll be dealing with respect a sidearm in a gun belt over the shoulder holster. As for the baggy jeans, they help equalize the one thing that most men can do in the wilderness better than most women.”

“And what’s that?”

“Assume a comfortable position to pee.” She had learned the dangers of tight jeans in that situation her sophomore year of high school.

The General laughed, and gestured his aides back.

*

After Daria had disembarked and the plane taken off again, the General asked, “So, what did you think of our passenger?”

The three looked at each other, none wanting to go first. The Captain sighed internally, knowing he was stuck. “When she came on board, I admit I was thinking something along the lines of ‘what a rookie dweeb, showing off’.”

“And now?”

“First of all, she’s really sharp, and she must be older than she looks. And by the time she left, I had the impression that she does everything for a calculated effect, although I’m still not sure what the effect was she was looking for. I also think that if we had been playing poker, we would have all ended up broke, and I probably would have been lucky to still have a car and my clothes.”

“I didn’t share her resume, but I did look at it.” One reason the General didn’t offer to share it now was that there was one area on it that had been redacted as he didn’t have clearance to see it. Considering his job, that was surprising. He couldn’t know it was the fact that Dr. Reese was also the best-selling author Marie D. Morgan – the military had investigated exactly why the Doctor had a very large income outside her work. However, the investigating officer was a fan of the novels and thought Daria deserved to keep that private. “Most people with her qualifications, and three years in at her current job, would be in their late thirties or older. She’ll be thirty-four in November. She’s a lot more than sharp. And yes, she was dressed partially for effect, but that effect is for the police and security people rather than us – I think she came that way simply because she didn’t want to bother taking a special outfit just to fly.”

“She probably has something nicer packed away, in case she needs it,” the Major commented.

“Is she married, or is the wedding ring for effect as well?” the Lieutenant Colonel asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“No engagement ring, but not all women wear one, especially women like her who have a job where the stone could be in the way,” she answered.

“She’s divorced, actually, one daughter.” The General hesitated, but then added, “However, the person listed as ‘next of kin’ is a friend of hers, one Jane Lane. The two have apparently been friends since high school and lived together during their undergraduate days in Boston until they got married while in grad school.” The background on Daria had been extensive, since she had been looked at for a very high security clearance. “Lane and her husband are artists. He died in a drug related accident, but she’s noted as clean in every respect. Reese’s husband was caught in a personally compromising position with another male physician in a hospital supply closet. He just married the man, but both are noted as high risk, because they apparently like to go out cruising together. However, except for money he has to place in a college fund for their daughter, there is no close contact between them.” He paused, and said, “Doctor Reese already has three of the five recommendations needed for Project C-3.”

That made the other three blink. There should be well under a thousand people who knew of this ‘need-to-know’ project. That Daria might be qualified didn’t surprise them, that she was well-known enough to others ‘in the know’ to be recommended was.

The Lieutenant Colonel decided she should ask the sensitive question. “Is Doctor Barksdale qualified to make a recommendation?”

“She is, but she’s not one of them,” the General answered. “No doubt if I add mine, she’ll be asked if she wants to be the fifth.”

“Even if Barksdale didn’t, I would be surprised to learn that General Trainor isn’t one of them,” the Major stated.

The General nodded, “When she asked for Reese to get security clearance, she requested to be notified if she was ever recommended. Two of the higher-ups in the FBI recommended her first, and that’s when Paula added hers.”

“Should I start the paperwork tomorrow?” the Captain asked.

“What do you three think?”

“Would you want her added on general principle, or would she also fill in some gaps?” the Major asked. None of the three aides knew many of the people on the project lists.

The General nodded approvingly. “If asked, I wouldn’t object out of general principle. However, she would more bridge a lot of slots rather than fill them in.” He gestured at the resume, which the other three each now wished they could see. “She even keeps her hand in as a GP, by doing some charity work with at risk pre-teens.”

“Maybe you should do something similar to Trainor, and note that if she gains a fourth recommendation outside of the FBI or Air Force, or Doctor Barksdale, you’d like to be contacted,” the Lieutenant Colonel suggested.

The General thought about that, and then simply said, “Write it up that way tomorrow, but start our background checks.”

*

Daria was awake, fed, and ready to leave the next morning at 6:30. She was surprised that the group of Air Force personnel she was traveling to the trailhead were all women. Four were Air Force security, a captain (the youngest the group) and three master sergeants about her age, while the fifth, who was the expert to deal with any Plutonium, was a major who was a little older than Daria: Major Barbara Coombs; Captain Lisa Newman; Sergeant Ann Bredon; Sergeant Kendra Angel; and Sergeant Anita Gomez. The major and Sergeant Angel were African Americans, while she would learn that while Sergeant Gomez was of Puerto Rican ancestry, she had grown up not far from Highland Texas. Except for a large shoulder satchel containing the Major’s equipment, none of the Air Force group had any gear other than canteens and a cooler with sandwiches for lunch, not even for camping. All five did carry side arms, however.

The three sergeants did a quick few rounds of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to determine the order they would drive the Humvee, and the six were off base by 6:50. The Air Force security team had been thoroughly briefed on the nuclear aspects but not the case itself, so Daria and Barbara could discuss what they might find in front of the others without hesitation.

“What do you think the odds are the bodies really are of this gang?” Newman asked.

“If the conditions behind the rock fall were right and there were no scavengers of any kind, then it’s possible the bodies could have been in some sort of slightly mummified condition and so been in the good shape they were reported to be after seventy years,” Daria answered. “I won’t go further than that until I see them, since I haven’t even seen a photo.”

“How was the robbery pulled off?”

Daria had finished reading the background material the night before, and so had most of the facts on hand. “The rail car was three-quarters full of payrolls when it left Philadelphia. Some of the money was unloaded before it picked up the Plutonium – the route was classified, and wasn’t completely detailed in the reports I’ve seen. Nearly all of the money in the train car had been off-loaded, most of it in Santa Fe. The last strong boxes of money were to be off-loaded the next morning, and then the strong box with the Plutonium would have been off-loaded and taken to Los Alamos. For some reason, although in a somewhat secured area, the car itself was only guarded by three soldiers. No leads as to why that happened turned up, even though it was investigated pretty thoroughly by the Army, the Treasury Department, and the FBI, but some more detailed reports are supposed to arrive soon. Maybe the information is there. One of the soldiers likely took out the other two – rifle butt to the back of their skulls, and one of them was killed outright while the other had to be discharged because of the effects, and in fact he died of complications shortly after being discharged. The soldier who probably did it was a local, and the Army quickly picked up that his older brother led a small gang of smugglers. Two pickups belonging to members of the gang had been noted leaving Santa Fe before the robbery was discovered – they were known to the local police, who were just happy at that point that they were leaving town. Two people in each pickup, one of them in uniform, and two in each the beds. The trucks were found the next afternoon about half way to where the bodies were discovered, and there were tire marks showing the group had transferred to three other trucks, and one of the money boxes had been broken open and left in one of the trucks.”

“How many money boxes were there?” Newman asked.

“Three in total. The two not left behind each had seventy-two thousand in small bills, nearly all tens, fives, and ones. Remember, these were payrolls for soldiers, and privates earned well under a hundred dollars a month, and many probably had some of that held back and sent home for them. The box that was broken open had thirty thousand dollars in bills, and six hundred in rolled coins. Two trucks were discovered about fifteen miles from the cave two days later.”

“Just two?”

“Only two,” Daria agreed. “The Plutonium was shipped in three boxes, one inside the next. Altogether, the package weighed about six hundred pounds. The outer box was steel lined with lead foil. It was marked in codes, and that was found with the two trucks, so whoever took off in the third truck probably wouldn’t have had the Plutonium, just some or all of the money. My guess is those in the third truck would have only had their shares of the thirty thousand, and maybe the coins – the rest the other people were taking to hide. There could have been anywhere from just the eight seen to I suppose as many as twenty involved altogether. Thirty six thousand split eight or more ways is a lot easier to have in your possession without arousing suspicion than a hundred and eighty.” Being suddenly too liberal with money was of course a classic way of spotting criminals. “As for the Plutonium, the second box, which was more heavily lead-lined, was marked ‘radioactive material’ and had various cautions and danger warnings.”

“I didn’t know they had opened the first box,” Coombs stated, unhappy about what she had not learned. “Who found it?”

“Army Air Corps,” Daria replied. “Technically, every time I’ve said ‘Army’ it was the Army Air Corps.”

“And those files should have transferred,” Coombs complained. “Oh, well, the outer box was more for stability and protection from damage than for containment.”

“How many Geiger counters do you have with you?” Daria asked. “That’s one thing I don’t have.”

“Three. Sergeant Bredon? Can you give one to Doctor Reese when we arrive?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“So, if these are the eight we’re hoping for, what do you expect?”

“I have files on the eight, six with fingerprints, so at some point I should be able to identify them if their hands mummified. But I will be surprised, even if this is the gang, that these eight will fully match, even though all eight disappeared at that point.”

“Why?”

“They couldn’t have carried the strong boxes from the trucks to the cave. That’s about fifteen miles in a straight line from the trucks, and probably over twenty of very rough walking.” Daria paused, and then asked, “We’ll be a lot closer, right?”

“Yeah, we’ll be a little over five miles away; we’re going in a different way but it will still be a rough walk,” Sergeant Gomez informed her.

“Good, I guess. Anyway, they would have needed mules or donkeys for the boxes, and maybe horses for themselves. If all eight were in the cave-in, what happened to the animals? I suppose they might have all been corralled someplace and escaped when they got too thirsty, but otherwise there should be at least traces of their bones somewhere nearby if these are all the eight.”

“Outside of wherever the box we care about might be buried, you’ll be in charge as far as we’re concerned,” Barbara told Daria (and the others). “Captain Newman and I will be the ranking Air Force personnel, and we have about twenty people there already, compared to the Navajo with six or so. Granted, there should be four to six more to guide us in from their lands, but we’re in charge of the actual site. The other police should be gone by now, and we’ll take orders from you.”

“Or at least you’ll appear to,” Daria retorted.

“It looks like we’re all on the same page,” the Major retorted in turn. “Anyway, I have no doubt that some of the Navajo know the type of terrane better than most of our people. If you can get the two groups to work together, they should be able to scour the area, looking for bones. That would also keep them away from the caves.”

“True. I take it, if the Plutonium is there and movable, you’ll airlift it out after the rest of us leave?”

“That’s the plan. We’ll also airlift the bodies and any money we find out. Small copters can easily drop off and pick up so long as they can hover at least thirty feet up, but can’t land without some major problems. They have already dropped off supplies.”

The two Air Force officers and Daria worked out their plans, making one rest stop and one combined rest stop/early lunch break. They arrived at a trail head around 11:30, finding four members of the Navajo Tribal Police waiting for them, a sergeant and three officers. Sergeant Tsosie didn’t give them his first name or the names of his three officers – none of them looked happy being with the six women, or perhaps it was just that they didn’t look forward to a two and half hour hike in the August heat. Like the Air Force security, the Tribal Police had nothing beyond their usual equipment and extra water. The Tribal police were not happy to be stuck carrying Daria’s metal tool chest, but since Major Coombs was carrying her own equipment, Daria was carrying her medical bag, and the Air Force security team would be taking turns carrying Daria’s backpack, there was not much choice left to them. Tsosie and the youngest of the officers seemed philosophic while the older two officers were openly unhappy with the arrangement, but Daria hoped the latter was because they started off with Tsosie and the apparently rookie officer in the lead, followed Daria and the Air Force people in twos, and the other two officers bringing up the rear and exchanging the tool box about every ten minutes.

The only incident which occurred happened about fifty minutes before reaching the cave system. The two older officers had been in the lead, with Daria and Sergeant Gomez in the second rank and Sergeant Tsosie and the rookie bringing up the rear. The two Navajo walking in front had been quietly chatting in their language when Daria shouted, “Rattle snake!”

Everyone froze for a second, which was almost the last thing one of the officers did. A shot rang out, and the others quickly saw that Daria had shot the head off a mid-sized rattler that had been in the act of striking one of the officers. Although the snake had survived to be nearly four feet long, it was pretty battered, and had in fact lost most of its rattles in a fight with something. It had been defending a bit of shade over the path, and neither of the casually chatting officers had seen it. The one who would have been bitten was pretty shaken up once he realized he had nearly been bitten. The rookie and two of the Air Force sergeants were a bit shaken as well. The other Navajo officer seemed amused more than anything, until Sergeant Tsosie had words with the pair of them. What he said was in Navajo, and was said in a fairly even tone of voice. From the effects it had, however, there was no doubt they were being told off. The Sergeant ended his ticking off by saying in English, “And if you don’t like what I’m saying, wait until the Captain gets a hold of the pair of you!” It was obvious that both men were even more afraid of their Captain than of the snake.

The near-victim was sent to the back of the group, along with his no-longer amused companion, who was also made to carry the tool chest. The man who was nearly bitten gruffly but still sincerely thanked Daria as he passed her.

“Are you sure you’re not an agent, Doctor Reese?” Tsosie teased as the group set off.

“I’m sure; I’d be at least one pay grade higher if I was also an agent.”

*

The group walked into the camp a little after 2:00. As Major Coombs had said, there were twenty Air Force security people, led by a lieutenant and two staff sergeants. There were also the six Navajo policemen, surprisingly a Captain and five officers. There were twenty small tents pitched, a larger cooking tent, three port-a-potties that had been flown in, and several pallets of supplies.

Daria was pleased to see that the Tribal Captain was someone she had already met. “Captain Chee? Congratulations on the promotion.”

He shook her hand, “Thanks, Doc. It came through about a month after we met.” His eyes took in his sergeant, the three Air Force officers, and the five Air Force sergeants. “Something odd is going on here. What can you tell me?”

None of the group present before Daria’s team had shown up knew of either the robbery or the Plutonium, including the Air Force people. “As far as the Air Force is concerned, Doctor Reese in in charge,” the Major stated.

“Fine by me, but what’s going on?”

“Maybe nothing, maybe this will close a cold case from seventy years ago. Or, perhaps the people in the cave-in were here to spy on a facility that you and I might know about but we also know it’s not marked as a base on commercial maps and I doubt either of us knows what goes on there. The Major and Captain and their people are here to make certain if it’s the latter, they can contain any information. Do you really want your people involved if it turns out that way?”

Chee gave her a rueful smile. “Want, yes; need, no, but you know policemen are curious.”

“If it doesn’t turn out being secrets, I’ll make sure you know. If it is, then I probably won’t really know either.”

Chee looked at the Major and Captain and saw that these two women were likely tough enough to make hard choices. “Okay, Doc. What’s first?”

“Have your people or the Air Force people done a proper walk-around search?”

“No, we weren’t allowed, and except for Sergeant Poe there, I think most of the Air Force people would get lost by themselves.”

The lieutenant looked angry at that, but said nothing. The other sergeant just shrugged, knowing that while none of his men were that uncomfortable in the desert, they weren’t experts. Poe merely echoed that, “They aren’t that bad, but most of their outdoor training has been in woods, not desert.”

“If it’s the gang we’re hoping it is, they had to have come here from the east/northeast with mules or donkeys, and maybe horses. If they were all caught in the cave-in, where are the equine bones? Granted, there might have been a makeshift corral, but still.”

Captain Chee looked at Sergeant Poe and then Major Coombs. “We can get that done.”

“Major Coombs and the three sergeants that came with us will work the caves. You and Captain Newman can coordinate from here between us and the search teams. If we get started now, who knows, maybe we can leave by tomorrow afternoon.”

*

Captain Chee is not necessarily the same character, but is a nod to Tony Hillerman’s character Sergeant Jim Chee, who features in many of his classic police mysteries about the Navajo Tribal Police. Paula Trainor is a character used in other Daria fan fics; I am unsure who originated her character. The Colfax base and the name of the Air Force captain both come from the novel ‘Captain Newman, MD’.
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