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H&K: Path of Knowledge

Book 1 of the H&K Series: Chapter 17

By Shawn David KelleyPublished 2 years ago 14 min read

Chapter 17

Sal Milan sat at the poolside table drinking a double scotch. He watched the scantily clad bikini females as they frolicked in the pool, playing pool volleyball. He was shocked as two men in suits sat down, bookending him at the table. Sal’s face went pale.

“Sal, Sal, Sal. Why did you leave without saying goodbye?” A voice came from behind Sal.

Sal sat frozen as Vincent Castilian walked around from behind him and took the seat opposite of Sal at the table.

“Vinny. I didn’t know you were in Cancun.”

“You didn’t answer the question,” Vinny said as he smoothed out his light blue tie. “The last we heard from you was that the Shade was back. Then you took a plane to Mexico. Why did you do that, Sal?”

“I’ve seen the aftermath when the Shade is involved. No one wanted to believe me that he existed and now you know. He made his demands known and you ignored them. You’re still ignoring them. I was not about to stick around to be caught up in his vengeance. I’ve been there and I don’t want to be there again. When that guy shows up, the body count rises and not in your favor,” Sal explained.

“So, you’re scared of this Shade? You should be more afraid of me. The Family doesn’t like it when an employee skips out on them like a little bitch, especially at a time like this.” Vinny said.

“Damn right, I’m scared,” Sal replied. “I was sent to pick up a package at the waterfront warehouse where an informant for the Philadelphia DA’s office was being held. The Shade sent word to release the informant alive and unharmed. But one of the bosses’ sons, Jimmy D’Angelo was in charge and wanted to make a name for himself. Jimmy took the call and told the Shade to go screw himself. After I got the package, Jimmy wanted me to pick up a box of cigars for him. While I was gone, the Shade showed up at the warehouse. He killed everyone, fifteen of Jimmy’s most trusted friends, but left Jimmy alive, trussed up in razor wire for the police. The cargo container filled with the family’s laundered money was gone. Jimmy couldn’t even describe who killed his men, just that it was one man dressed in black tactical gear. The informant testified and sent Jimmy to prison. You know Jimmy was acquitted because a young brand-new Assistant DA by the name of Craig threw the case. The night he was released, Jimmy and the informant vanished. Jimmy hasn’t been seen since. But I know Jimmy is dead and the Shade did it,” Sal elaborated.

“You are a coward,” Vinny glared at Sal.

A cell phone began to ring in the pocket of one of the men bookending Sal. Vinny stared at him with a hateful glare.

“It’s not mine. I left my phone in Philly as you told us,” The man told Vinny as he fished the phone out of his pocket.

“Answer it,” Vinny ordered.


“Give the phone to Castilian,” a female voice ordered.

“A woman demands to speak to you,” the man told Vinny.

“Give me the phone.” Vinny held out his hand and roughly took the phone.

“I have a message from the one you call the Shade. Get up from the table and leave Milan alone, unharmed. Return to Philadelphia and tell your employer to follow the Shade’s orders or you won’t walk away from this alive. You might keep that pretty blue tie from getting messed up.”

“Go to hell, bitch!” Vinny shouted into the phone, jumping to his feet, flipping his chair over, and looking all about.

The two men bookending Sal suddenly slumped back in their chairs simultaneously. Twin holes appeared over the hearts of both men. Blood began to stain their suit jackets. Vinny froze, and the hand holding the cell phone dropped to his side. The phone began to ring again.

“Get the message?” the female told Vinny as he answered the phone. “Leave now. Tell your employer if they want a war, they will have a war and the Shade now has an army.”

Vinny dropped the phone as he stumbled away from the table. Vinny rushed out of the resort entrance to a taxi. Vinny told the driver to take him to an address his employer had given him if he needed local muscles. Instead, the doors locked as the taxi pulled away from the curb. The partisan between the front seat and the back seat was closed solid.

“What the hell are you doing?” Vinny demanded.

Bennie drove Vinny away from the resort as Grant and Heath packed up their equipment in the second-floor guest room of the resort. Hank had asked Sarasin to send the three to follow Sal Milan to wherever he went. Hank knew that the crime boss would send someone to look for him. Sal got up from the table and went to his room. Sal quickly packed as someone knocked on the door.

Sal opened the door to find Grant and Heath standing with their luggage. Without a word, Sal walked up to them. The three exited the resort and got into a rented blue Ford Escort. They drove to an airfield in the opposite direction of the major international airport. Five hours later, Bennie joined the three aboard a private jet. Within minutes, the plane was on its way to a small airfield in Montana with its four passengers. The pilot was an acquaintance of Hank’s.

Sal was sipping on a glass of scotch as he stared out the jet window at the clouds. He knew he was lucky to be alive. For whatever reason, the Shade had seen fit to protect him, but at what cost to Sal?

“The Shade wants you to know that this is the last time he sends help. If he hears that you have been in contact with any illegal activities or persons, he will personally pay you a visit when you least expect it,” Grant told Sal.

“I didn’t contact anyone. I’m not sure how they found me in Mexico,” Sal told Grant.

“You were sloppy. You flew out of Philadelphia under your passport. Your friends have eyes and ears everywhere and you know that just remember that. Where we are dropping you off, no one will ever find you unless you screw up,” Grant told Sal.

“We do have a few questions for you,” Heath interjected. “Who do you know that handles the human trafficking business?” Sal knew now what the cost was—the betrayal of the crime family and his employers.

“I only know one name, Vladimir Andruko. My former employer would have nothing to do with it directly but would occasionally do favors in exchange for favors,” Sal told them.

“Is Vladimir Andruko from Newark, New Jersey?” Heath asked.

“I think so. Newark was the only place other than Philadelphia where the meetings took place,” Sal divulged.

“Do you know why your employers didn’t get involved directly with the human trafficking business?” Grant asked.

“I overheard some of them discussing it. The older bosses didn’t like slavery or witnesses who could tie them to illegal activities. But the younger ones, the bosses’ kids wanted in on the action. They were tired of allowing someone else to profit from any business they could control in our area.”

“You say the bosses’ kids. Does that mean their daughters were involved with the decisions as well?” Grant asked.

“Only one, Nikki D’Angelo. Her father is Ricardo D’Angelo and her half-brother was Jimmy. Her mother was Natasha Andruko, Vladimir’s sister, and Ricardo’s mistress. Ricardo’s father-in-law, Giuseppe Lucchese nearly killed him when it was found out. Natasha actually brought the Lucchese family and the Andruko family together, a Philadelphia family and a Ukrainian family. The possibilities at first were staggering as the two families cooperated. Each ran their own business, a truce between them,” Sal elaborated for them. “But now, the kids are old enough. Since Jimmy disappeared, Nikki has taken more of an interest in the family businesses for both families. Rumor has it that Nikki is jockeying to unite both families under her leadership. Let me tell you, she’s one ruthless bitch. The only things she has problems with are Islamic extremists and slavers. The fiasco with the Anti-Terrorism Task Force put both families under the feds’ microscope. The involvement of Assistant DA Craig and her husband wrapped up with both the families and the terrorists must be driving her over the edge. Nikki was so outspoken about Craig when she heard Craig had been letting terrorists go free on technicalities. Nikki nearly went berserk on the bosses,” Sal continued.

“What you are saying then is that Nikki D’Angelo would be the perfect individual to approach in bringing down the terrorist influence?” Heath asked.

“I won’t go that far unless she gets something out of it. It’s kind of like during World War II. The FBI made a deal with the families to keep an eye on the ports and docks against the Nazis,” Sal replied.

“That’s something to keep in mind then,” Grant said.

Sal lounged in the jet’s reclining seat, sound asleep after finishing the bottle of scotch. Bennie sat watching Sal from across the jet. Bennie did not trust Sal but knew what information they could get from him would help in the upcoming confrontation.

“That’s right. Milan said Nikki D’Angelo might be the link the task force is looking for. She wants to run the crime organization but has an issue with human trafficking, Islamic extremists, and terrorists in general.” Grant was talking to Lowell on a satellite phone. She had tried to contact both Sarasin and Hank first but couldn’t get through. Therefore, she contacted Lowell, who had been the second in command of the team before Hank came back into the picture.

“Are you sure Milan can be trusted?” Lowell asked.

“Not 100 percent, but even a chance is better than nothing at this point,” Grant said.

“Okay. I’ll let Sarasin and Hank know,” Lowell told her.

The connection was terminated. Lowell dialed a number and the display on his satellite phone showed “ARMED.” Lowell dialed the second number and the same display came up.

“Who was that?” Sanchez asked as he entered Dan’s safe house den.

“Grant with a report on that informant Sal Milan that Hank sent them to keep an eye on,” Lowell told Sanchez as he put the satellite phone away.

“Hank sent Grant to keep an eye on someone?” Sanchez asked since he had not been briefed on the mission Grant, Heath, and Bennie had been sent on.

“Grant, Heath, and Bennie. Hank had a pilot friend fly them to Cancun to keep an eye on a member of a crime family from Philadelphia that took a vacation when all this began with the Martin guy and Craig woman. Now they are headed to Montana to drop the guy off at a US Marshal’s safe house before meeting back up with us here.”

Lowell pulled out his cell phone and started texting someone as he spoke with Sanchez.

Milan is talking, informing on your family, Lowell texted.

“Why wasn’t I briefed?” Sanchez asked.

“I don’t know. I thought you knew. Hank is running the show it seems. Maybe he doesn’t trust you,” Lowell said with a slightly devilish grin. Lowell put his cell in his pocket and exited the den.

Sanchez watched as Lowell left the room, suspicion in his eyes. Sanchez retrieved a burner phone from inside a book on the bookshelf. The inside had been cut out to hold the phone and a voice recorder. There was a wired headset attached to the recorder. Sanchez listened to the recording before sending a text.

Cancun? Montana? Sanchez texted.

The jet carrying Grant, Heath, Bennie, and Sal diverted ten minutes later to an alternate landing strip in northwest Arkansas, somewhere in the Ozark Mountains near Mountain Home, Arkansas.

“We’re descending. It appears we’ll be landing soon,” Bennie stated.

“Why are we landing so soon?” Grant asked as she entered the cockpit with the pilot.

“New instructions from Hank,” the pilot said. “We are to meet someone at the airstrip.”

Once the jet sat down, a tall, lanky, short brown-haired man met the group on the tarmac as they walked down the jet’s stairs.

“Hank sent me to collect Mr. Milan here. He also had a message for whomever Grant is,” the man said.

“I’m Grant.”

The man took Grant by the arm and guided her away from the others. He handed her a burner phone. On a piece of paper, he had written a short note. Leave the phone off until you are alone. Text Hank when you are alone, the note read.

“Hank wanted me to tell you that he would like for you to check out anything Milan has told you thoroughly,” the man told Grant as she read the note. The man’s comments were to cover up the fact he was giving Grant individual instructions only for her.

“Tell Hank I will get right on it when we’re back in the air,” Grant told him as she slid the phone into her bra.

Milan was left with the man without ever being introduced. As Payne watched the jet take off, he smiled at Milan as he withdrew his cell from his pocket. He turned it on before dialing.

“I have Milan. Rest assured that no harm will come to him. All precautions will be taken,” Payne said into the phone.

“Thanks, Luke,” Hank told the man.

“Anything for an army buddy. By the way, remember Wright? He tried to contact me through my father. Wright was asking how to contact you,” Payne told Hank.

“Thanks. Stay low,” Hank instructed his old army buddy.

“I’m taking a vacation. I’ll contact you when I have a new phone.” A moment later, the connection had terminated. Payne dropped the phone onto the ground before stomping it into several pieces.

“Mr. Milan, will you please come with me?” Payne asked, indicating a twin turboprop Cessna four-passenger plane. “We have a long flight ahead of us.”

Sal walked with Payne to the plane without a question. He knew that the Shade kept his promises and any steps the Shade was taking were meant to keep him safe and alive. As they walked, Payne thought back to the first and last time he had seen Hank, years ago in Berlin, Germany.


“Welcome to the Berlin Brigade,” Hank greeted Payne as Hank walked around the Charge of Quarters (CQ) desk at the entrance to A Company, 5th, 502nd Infantry Battalion, Berlin Brigade on the McNair Kaserne Army Base in Berlin, Germany.

“I’m Specialist Logan,” Hank had introduced himself. “You have your orders?”

Payne had arrived at Frankfurt Air Force Base in Frankfurt, Germany from basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, three days earlier before being sent to Berlin. The duty shuttle from the Duty Train had dropped him and three others at the personnel office to be processed to the units each were to be assigned. After being processed, the duty shuttle dropped him off at the front entrance of the building he was now standing in. This was Payne’s first duty station, so he was a little nervous. Payne handed Hank his file and packet with his orders.

“You’re lucky,” Hank told him as he looked over the orders and logged them into the duty roster at the desk. “The company was released a few hours ago for a five-day weekend. We just got back from the field. The battalion commander decided we all deserved a five-day weekend, except for those of us on CQ duty,” Hank laughed.

“Where do I sleep?” Payne sheepishly asked.

“Don’t worry. I have a bunk in my room that’s free. My old roommate ETS’ed last week, and they haven’t assigned me a new roommate yet. You’ll get your room assignment come Tuesday when the company is back,” Hank said as he led Payne to the third floor of the three-story factory warehouse that had been converted into barracks for the US Army after World War II.

Hank had opened his room so that Payne could put his baggage down.

“The bunk on the left is mine. You can take the other one. You are welcome to use the microwave and fridge. I have Guinness in the fridge, JD, and Jamison on the windowsill. I just ask if you drink it, you replace it. Otherwise, you are welcome to it. If you want to crash, feel free, but if you want to hit the city, I’m sure we can find someone still hanging out to show you around tonight,” Hank told Payne.

“I’m kind of tired. I think I’ll just go to bed,” Payne replied.

“Sounds like a plan. But I’m heading out tomorrow myself if you’d like to tag along. I have a few friends I’m meeting before hitting the Country and Western bar on Andrews Kaserne a couple of miles away if you would like to join us.”

“Sounds fun.”

Payne and Hank became battle buddies, and since Payne was already in Hank’s room, the Company First Sergeant assigned Payne to be Hank’s roommate. Hank had informed Payne shortly after that he had heard a rumor that there was a buildup of US forces somewhere in the Middle East, probably Iraq since Iran was always a concern. Hank confided that he had put in his request for a combat unit to be deployed to the region. Hank received orders a few weeks later transferring him to a training unit at a base camp in Saudi Arabia to be an instructor for Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). Hank was upset at first but relinquished himself to being sent to the region. Hank told Payne that he would contribute one way or another to the overall efforts.

The morning Hank was to leave, he and Payne shook hands.

“Take care of yourself,” Hank told Payne. “Watch your back and keep your head and ass down.” Then Hank was gone. It was years before Payne had heard from Hank after that day. Both were no longer in the army by that time.

Payne shook his head as he opened the door to the plane and let Sal climb in. Payne followed close behind. Payne started the engines. After receiving clearance from the small airstrip tower, Payne began to taxi down the runway. A few minutes later, the plane was flying northwest to a new destination. This wasn’t the first time Hank had called on his old army buddy for a favor, but each time, something significant was going down. Payne knew this time was no different.

The plane was registered under a shell company out of Canada. The pilot’s license Payne had was under a different name than his own and issued through Canada. Payne had filed a false flight plan that had the plane heading to British Columbia, Canada, whereas their actual destination was a small village in the middle of the wilderness of Alaska. Once they arrived in the town, Payne would send word by messenger to Hank of their arrival. Otherwise, no one knew their destination.


About the Creator

Shawn David Kelley

Prior Service, saw the Berlin Wall dismantled and the aftermath of the Gulf War/ Desert Storm/ Desert Shield. He has drawn upon his unique views of life and science fiction to bring together an alternate reality of excitement.

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