Follow the adventures and misadventures of one of the Original 13 Joes, as he contemplates the end of his career and searches for love. Watch out for action, because Cobra can strike at any time!
G.I. Joe, and all names and trademarks associated thereof, are the property of Hasbro International, Inc, Marvel Comics and Devil's Due Comics. Any other trademarks or service marks mentioned herein are the property of their respective companies. No infringement of any existing copyright is intended.
This is entirely a work of fiction, although some information is based on fact. I derive no income from producing this work, but please credit me if you reproduce or retransmit this material in whole or in part. All original material in this work is mine, all mine, and I will hunt down anyone who steals it!
'A Chance Encounter'
Empire State Building
09:15 hours, local time
Clutch and Steeler walked around the large, open working area that had been temporarily converted for the "2003 New York Area Product Licensing Expo", as steady lines of workmen brought up the last-minute samples and shipments of marketing materials that the many booths of exhibitors needed to ply their corporate and advertising visitors into offering up deals.
The Empire State Building's internal security was top-notch; members of the management company's directorship often attended programs run by the New York Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and the police department, which were held to increase security awareness. The OEM and NYPD also used the building regularly for seminars on security, where they could bring other parties on tours to inspect the measures being taken.
All of the people working the exposition on the 46th and 47th floor spaces had been cleared through building security and had to wear photo ID badges with magnetic access control strips. Random security checks to confirm peoples' identities in critical spaces were also performed by armed, plain-clothes and uniformed security men. Deliveries, and delivery people, were scanned by an x-ray machine and metal detector and often checked once more by a security specialist with an explosives-sniffing dog before even being allowed onto the building's service elevators. All vehicles were checked before getting admitted to the loading docks.
Because the exposition itself was by invitation only, the attendees were sent special visitor badges, based on the number of representatives each company had selected to attend by RSVP. Although these badges also had access control strips, they were not the sophisticated photo ID's everyone working the expo had to have. They simply granted the visitor access to the expo floors and no other parts of the building, and were collected when the individual was preparing to leave at the end of their visit.
Despite the large mass of tourists that passed through certain areas of the building, the building security department was capable of segregating the tourist crowds from people who had business or tenant access to the ESB facilities. The Empire State Building's measures were a hallmark of security preparedness that was the envy of many other office buildings in Manhattan.
"So, tell me, Steeler," Clutch said, after locking his eyes on a particularly sexy ad agency rep who was working a booth for her firm. "Why would Duke send us up here if they're conducting those daily security awareness meetings with the OEM and NYPD in the conference rooms downstairs?" When Clutch winked at the agency rep and she smiled back, Steeler elbowed the Marine in the side.
"It's all about presence," Steeler replied, walking past a major toy company's licensing display which had a famous collection of various 1/18 scale and 1/6 scale action figures and accessories on display, along with popular transforming robot toys and other logo merchandise. "We're supposed to act like the military component of Homeland Defense, visiting any potential targets to dissuade folks like Cobra from taking a crack at the places or events."
"Well, it ain't too far from the truth," Clutch remarked. "That is, since General Tomahawk got the Joe Team reinstated with the political help of Governor Ridge, and it was written into our unit charter that one of our primary missions was for homeland defense..."
"Pipe down, Clutch!" Steeler hissed, pointing to the half-rainbow patch that the two men wore on their Army-issue Class A uniforms' right sleeves. "No one is supposed to know we're from the... ahem... team. We were ordered not to tip our unit's true identity to anyone! If someone asks us who we are, we're supposed to respond that we're New York Army National Guard, with the Forty-Second Infantry Division, on security duty for Fleet Week and Memorial Day. That's all. You read me, Corporal?"
Clutch nodded his understanding. "Crystal clear, Major. Sorry."
"We only have to cruise around this expo until noon, and then we go with Duke over to the U.S.S. Intrepid to look her security measures over for the big Mayoral address atop the flight deck on Sunday. So just keep your big mouth shut, get your shit squared away, stay alert and follow your orders," Steeler remarked. "This isn't the worst duty around."
"Yeah; you're right on there, Steeler," Clutch said with a chuckle. "At least we're not checking out back alleys full'a pissin' drunks and smelly trash dumpsters behind the building."
"Humph," Steeler groaned, letting out a breath. "You watch your step, or that just might be where you're headed next!"
Empire State Building
10:15 hours, local time
Lisa Underwood stepped off the elevator car into the 46th floor lobby, fishing through her overstuffed handbag for the pass Mike Jeffries had given her on the way out of the Citibank marketing offices on Wall Street.
When she reached the lobby's security station, she was surprised to see that the building was using a metal detector and x-ray scanning bags and briefcases. After swiping the pass from Jeffries through a card reader and getting a green light to move on, she displayed her Citicorp employee ID badge so that a guard could log her against the corporate RSVP list. Once all was well with the building's security people, she went inside the main booth area.
Like many up-and-coming executive types, Lisa was never far from her cellular phone, which seemed to ring at all hours of the day. Even with Patricia back at the office handling the lion's share of her telephone and electronic mail traffic for the day, an occasional call might get through on her cell, and she always answered it in the event the caller had some sort of emergency. Very few people from her business world knew the direct call number to her cell; Patricia mostly forwarded the work calls to the number when she knew Lisa was out of the office and wanted to still be reached.
When the musical tingle of her cell went off, Lisa dug once more into her handbag and withdrew the small folding phone, opened it and brought it to her ear. "Hi, this is Lisa Underwood."
"Lisa. It's Patricia," replied the voice on the other end of the line. "Dave Hamilton called here to look for you. He wondered where you were and wanted to share a cab with you."
Lisa visibly shuddered. She had left the office early and told Patricia to cover for her if and when Hamilton called. She figured the lecherous (and very married, she had come to find out) sleaze would want to start his day off on a high note. "You told him I left to run a business errand and then came straight here, right?"
"Absolutely," Patricia replied. "Actually, he left the call on my voice mail because I had stepped away for coffee. So I responded on his voice mail to just go on by himself. Will you be okay over there with him? Or would you like an occasional bail out call with some fake urgent business?"
Lisa smiled and remembered for the umpteenth time why she liked Patricia as her assistant so much. Patricia knew the score when it came to being a working woman in a business that was often dominated by strong, pushy career men. Better still, she knew how to play the games women often had to play in the business world to keep from being compromised by the least tactful of those pushy men.
"Hopefully, I won't even see him here," Lisa told Patricia. "The crowds here are nice and thick. If he calls you again about not being able to find me, you know the drill."
"Right," Patricia said with a smile. "I'll try your cell phone again but can't make any guarantees."
"Perfect," Lisa said. "Thanks, girlfriend." After hanging up the phone, Lisa took off to mingle with the moving crowds, happy with the relationship she shared with Patricia. It was a lot more than just boss-and-employee. It was more like a mentoring approach, since Patricia was studying up to get herself a degree in marketing, under one of Citicorp's education reimbursement plans. It would sadden Lisa to see her eventually go on to a new job, but she had recommended Patricia for the educational program with every ounce of encouragement she could give.
"I could really use a nice chug-a-lug, Steeler," Clutch whined after a period of walking around the expo and getting a feel for the lay of the space, where the controlled exits were as well as the uncontrolled exits, and any place that a suspicious person might be able to hide something dangerous.
"Okay, okay, Corporal," Steeler replied, keeping an eye on passers-by who might be lingering too long and listening to them talking. "And please watch your bearing. We're not supposed to use our nicknames when in Class A kit. It's unprofessional."
"Sorry, Major," Clutch replied, pointing himself towards a snack bar that had been set up for the expo visitors. "Can I bring you something to wet your whistle?"
"I'm going to pay a visit to the head," Steeler said quietly. "I'll meet you back here."
"Okay, your loss," Clutch replied, turning to join the growing line at the snack bar.
As Steeler disappeared into the crowd, Lisa stopped about ten feet from Clutch to have a look around. She had been deftly avoiding Hamilton, although she thought that she had spotted him at one point and that he even recognized her. As it turned out, Hamilton was also close by, having struck up a conversation with a crony from his circle of acquaintances that had come to visit the expo.
Lisa was hardly the type of woman who showed fear of men, but her loathing of Hamilton was sufficient to make her evasions appear as such. Trying to mellow herself out, she joined the snack bar line, only to find that Hamilton and pal were walking in her direction. She made her best effort not to look in their direction, although considering there was a witness, she figured he might not make an inappropriate advance on her with the friend close by.
"Lisa! Lisa Underwood! There you are!" Hamilton called out over the din of the crowd.
"Oh shit," Lisa thought. "Here we go again."
Lisa turned to face Hamilton and his friend, as both men rudely cut into the line to stand with her. "I didn't know you were coming, Hamilton," she said innocently.
"What? No 'nice to see you' or 'missed you at the office', Lisa?" Hamilton said with a grin on his face. "I was looking forward to riding over with you."
"Humph." Lisa snorted. "I had work to do on the way. And I don't have time for any of your shenanigans. So don't even try."
"Aw, man," Hamilton sighed, slipping a hand over to grab her waist. "And we were so hoping to cut out of this joint for some shenanigans." Hamilton's friend appeared to be just as lecherous as Hamilton, the thirty-something man's eyes quite obviously undressing her.
"Listen up, mister," Lisa snarled, slapping away Hamilton's hand before he could paw at her skirt. She lowered her voice and leaned in his direction. "I don't know what sort of bragging you did with your pal here, but I have never nor will ever let you lay your filthy hands on me. Even sober, you're a big sleaze. Now back the fuck off before I give you a case of blue balls so bad your wife would know instantly what you were doing."
As Lisa planted her feet for a confrontation, she glanced around and noticed amid the sea of drab blue, black and gray business wear, a swatch of Army green. One of Lisa's talents was her photographic memory, and when she noticed the face attached to the uniform belonged to Clutch, she instantly remembered him from the Starbucks.
"Don't threaten my balls unless you plan to use them," Hamilton whispered, reaching out to take hold of one of her wrists and press it against his trousers. But Lisa was a split second faster. She yanked her hands aside and stormed out of the food line towards Clutch.
Feigning an accidental bump, Lisa cut into the line in front of Clutch and excused herself. Clutch didn't seem to mind it at all; his remark was from his normal repartee: "I don't mind being bumped by a gorgeous chick like you."
"I'm sorry, you looked familiar to me," Lisa whispered. "Didn't I see you at Starbucks on Wall Street this morning?"
"I was there with another soldier, yeah," Clutch replied. "How did you know?"
Lisa stole a glance at Clutch's grade insignia and his nameplate. "I introduced myself to your partner, Major Pulaski, Corporal... Steinberg. I really hate to trouble you, but there are a couple guys coming on to me, and I didn't see a building security guy close enough to head for."
"You're in luck, lady," Clutch replied. "I'm here to look over the place's security. Want me to fend 'em off?"
"I'd love it," Lisa replied, spotting Hamilton striding through the crowd to catch up. "Here they come."
Hamilton stepped up beside Lisa, his friend closely in tow. "Hey there, Lisa. That was pretty rude walking off in the middle of our conversation."
"The conversation's over, schmuck," Lisa replied. Clutch stood by quietly, biding his time.
"Come on, Lisa," Hamilton said, his voice softening. "Let's let bygones be bygones huh? Come on, I promise you no games."
Clutch stepped forward, catching Steeler leaving the men's room in the corner of his eye. "Excuse me. I believe the lady isn't interested in talking."
"What's it to you, soldier?" Hamilton said, standing up to his full height and staring Clutch right in the eyes.
"I'm here to ensure the safety and security of this expo," Clutch said slowly, tightening his hands into solid fists but keeping them by his sides. "And the way I see it, you're interfering with the lady's safety. So take a hint and step back. Got it?"
"Or else what?" Hamilton said in an annoyed tone, his friend approaching to back the man up. "Are you gonna hit me? Or arrest me? I'll sue your ass so fast it'll make your head spin!" He reached over to grab onto Lisa's arm. "I said to come on, Lisa. Let's go, or I'll call your boss and have a talk with him about your future."
Clutch sprung into action, but showed much more restraint than usual. He thrust an arm between Lisa and Hamilton, keeping him from dragging Lisa out of the line. "I told you to back off. Don't make this turn ugly."
"It'll only turn ugly for you, you scraggly faced goose-stepper," Hamilton growled. "You don't mean shit to me."
Clutch held his arm in place and grinned. "Don't worry so much about me, mister. I'm nothing compared to the angry Major standing behind you with a loaded automatic. Stand down or we'll place you and your pal under arrest and hand you over to NYPD."
Steeler's voice came from behind Hamilton, as the cold metal of his Beretta M-9's barrel touched the back of the sleaze's neck. "I take threats against my partner very seriously, sir. Release the woman and desist now. I am authorized under Homeland Defense regulations to exercise deadly force in order to protect this event's visitors from harm."
Many people in the crowd had backed off when they saw Hamilton posturing in front of Clutch; they really backed off when they noticed that Steeler had subtly brought his weapon out of its holster. Members of the building's security force had also taken notice, and a pair of guards started moving closer, with hands nervously reaching for their pistol belts.
Hamilton glanced over his shoulder, only to find his supposed 'friend' had ducked out of sight, and probably was long gone. He released Lisa and raised both hands in front of him. "Okay. I'm leaving. I'll see you around the office, Lisa."
Steeler didn't lower his pistol. "No you won't, pal." He motioned for the building security men to approach. "Take this man into custody for attempting to endanger this lady. Collect his credentials and escort him out of the building. If he tries anything funny, there are several ranking officers of the NYPD in the management company's conference room. You can turn him over to them. We will mail his credentials along with a written report of the incident to his company, and let their personnel department deal with him. Get this asshole out of my sight!"
Lisa breathed a sigh of relief as the guards took Hamilton away. "Thanks, Major Pulaski, and Corporal Steinberg. You guys are heroes."
"Just doing our jobs, Miss Underwood," Steeler replied, remembering Lisa's name from their introductions at Starbucks.
"Thanks for being in just the right place at the right time," Lisa said. "I'd love to take you to lunch, if it isn't too much to ask... having only met this morning and all..." She turned to face Clutch with a smile. "You're both invited to come along."
Clutch was itching to accept. "I would love to have lunch with you, ma'am..." Steeler silenced him with a warning look.
"I'm sorry, Miss Underwood..." Steeler began.
"Lisa, Major," Lisa said. "Call me Lisa."
Steeler cleared his throat as the crowds returned to normal around them. "I'm sorry, Lisa. We'll have to decline. Both of us are expected elsewhere right after our duties here are completed. But thank you for the most generous invitation."
"Okay," Lisa said. "I'll let you off the hook on one condition. When you get off duty, don't forget the card I gave you this morning and give me a call, just to talk if you like. I might even know someone for Corporal Steinberg, if it'll get him to help you remember to call me." She leaned in and gave Steeler a peck on the cheek. "Thanks again, my heroes."
Steeler shook his head in bewilderment as Lisa walked away, purposefully putting a feminine sway in her step. Clutch just turned towards the snack bar and smiled.