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Pour a beverage, turn down the lights, and pull up a chair! Tonight, we continue the adventure we began last night, the thirteenth series of Ricochet Silent Radio, fan fiction about Ricochet members written as scripts inspired by the spirit of old-time radio. This week’s three-part tall tale is Atomic Terror Over the African Coast.
In the first episode, physicist and Midwestern tycoon Hank Rhody has told his covert team about a 40-year-old South African prototype nuclear weapon on the verge of being sold to the highest terrorist bidder. ”Hank the Bank” is the mastermind and paymaster of the complex international scheme to secure and remove it. The rest of the top-notch team is known to any astute Ricochet reader.
In view of the ongoing national emergency, this program may be interrupted by Ricochet editors at any time for news bulletins. Our sponsors will present this program with minimal commercial interruptions. But first—
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And now, tonight’s episode, part two of Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!
In the leafy northern suburbs of Durban, South Africa, the high gate outside of an elegant building has a brass plaque that reads “Mount Edgecombe Solicitors. Pieter Leonhoek, Esq. By Appointment Only”.
Inside, a loud argument is getting louder and more heated. “Damn it, Leonhoek, we have a deal! You can’t just change your mind now!” The angry young man is Perry Samblock. His demure looking female assistant is Jackie.
“Calm down, Mr. Jenkins”, says an older man, clearly in charge. “You are observant. You’ve no doubt surmised that I have armed men behind that sheet of one-way mirrored glass”.
“But I’ve offered you every penny you’ve asked! I’ve made promises based on your assurances that we had a deal!”
“Tell you what. I will allow you and your young lady to leave these premises alive. Go back to Pretoria and tell the CIA station chief that you’ve failed. He’s a good fellow. I’m sure he’ll be forgiving”. He is interrupted by the sound of a buzzer. “Regrettably, I won’t be able to show you out”.
With nothing more to do or say, “Jenkins”—who we know to be Samblock—gathers his papers and gets up to leave. “Come on, Linda”, he says to Jackie, “We’re done here”. They storm out of the room.
At the other end of the elaborate office, a different door opens, and another couple walks in.
“Mr. Leonhoek, we have important business to conduct”. Leonhoek regarded them warily. “And you are…?”
“The Land of Enchantment Land Development Company. We trade valuable properties”, D. Newlander said, with emphasis. He is wearing a corporate suit and an IBM-style white shirt and tie. Shanna has transformed herself into a frowning, bespectacled pencil-skirted businesswoman.
“So you come to me with land, American land. And what do you want in return?”
D answers, “We both know why we came here, Leonhoek. Let’s not play games”.
“From your point of view”, Shanna cuts in smoothly, “You should know that property barter is virtually the only way to hide a transaction of this magnitude from your government and ours. Mr. Leonhoek”–she is careful to be more respectful, less aggressive than Newlander–“Here are my credentials as a licensed realtor in the state of New Mexico. Laser scan them, submit them to any agency. You’ll find that they’re quite real. And here’s the deed to 400,000 acres, with a current value of $375 million US dollars. You’ll want to check this out as well”. She came across almost as the real boss as D now hangs back.
Leonhoek pressed a button to summon an assistant, who took the documents and left. The room went silent. The assistant was back in less than two minutes. “Her story checks out. The property is real”. The assistant paused. “But there’s something more you should know about him”, glancing at D. Newlander while he handed a sheet of paper to his boss. Leonhoek read it with interest.
“You appear to be considerably more than an enterprising Albuquerque businessman, Mr. Newlander. Your father held a secret job in the American nuclear weapons program. The illustration on your business card is of Sandia Peak, is it not?”
“You are unusually well informed, but that’s not quite correct. As far as my father was concerned, he wasn’t part of a weapons program. He was part of a team of men who could create a pressure of a million atmospheres at a temperature of a million degrees within a millionth of a second. You shatter the Earth. For a moment, you are God”.
“Mr. Newlander, you are not the first bidder for this piece of real property, as you put it. The others have simple motives of greed, hatred or revenge. But your love of the nuclear flame is the strangest motive of all. I confess I find it the most frightening, actually. But your bid is the highest, so I’ll deal with you”.
Several hours later, at a crowded reception, D. Newlander’s hair was slicked back, almost Fifties style, and his usual wire-framed glasses were replaced with horn rims. Dressed in a snappy suit, he walked into the room with his two female singers, grinning at the applause, a complete jazz trio with D at the piano. The lounge wall had publicity photos showing them featured in one of the musical documentaries at the ongoing Durban Film Festival. Prestigious cultural visas were easy to get and rarely scrutinized closely. Radiating personality, Shanna and Jackie charmed the mob at the festival’s VIP lounge. Here, Shanna was introduced as Shanda Minyan, and Jackie was her sister Florinda.
While Shanna and Jackie captivated the crowd, D managed to wedge the office door open widely enough to allow Judge Mental and Dave Barsham to slip in. They couldn’t risk more than a flashlight as they booted the computer. This lounge area was tied into the campus-wide network. A green and black screen faded in. “University of Natal”.
“What the hell is this?”, complained the Judge. “It’s not a DEC clone, not a Data General, not Big Blue”. Barsham ventured, “Some version, some fork of Unix, but these are Unix system calls”. Outside in the lounge, the handsome but brooding D. Newlander, was hunched over the piano keys, owlishly miming disapproval of a slightly flat note.
In the darkened office, sure enough, a few more of Dave’s key taps and he and the Judge were in. “That’s it”, Judge Mental says. “The dead guy had keys to five secure facilities, Leonhoek just activated one of them”. Barsham asks, “We recording all this?” Mental nods. “We’ll get all the evidence we need on this guy”. A couple of minutes into playing a moody nocturne, D sees Dave Barsham and Judge Mental in the shadows, silently slipping out of the building.
The exchange takes place in a warehouse in the industrial wastelands near the airport. Both sides of the deal are paranoid, trigger-happy, and eager to get it over with. With electronic confirmation of the property transfer, Leonhoek nods and shadowy men unhook a short trailer from the back of a parked truck. Hank Rhody walks up to it cautiously, wielding a Geiger counter. He carefully traces the hot spots within the metal cylinder. He recognizes the pattern. “Yep”, he tells Matt and Judge. “We got us a bomb”. At that, Leonhoek nods, the South African side withdraws, and drives off.
Judge says “I hate to let a guy like that live”.
Hank smiles. “Don’t worry. We didn’t”.
A new weekly flight service to Mombasa, Kenya is being launched by a new regional airline, Ricochet Air, with a press conference at Durban International Airport. It’s not a huge event, but it’s flashy, literally, as the press photographers and local TV news move in, with Rhody-provided food, drink, and uniformed “booth girls” Shanna and Jackie to answer questions about the African plans of this fledgling regional airline from the American Midwest. The geriatric Douglas jet that will fly the route was once Hugh Hefner’s private plane (as detailed in Ricochet Silent Radio #10, Northern Command), long since converted back to plain aircraft seating. The Rhody Air exhibit has poster-sized photos of Hefner and his “Bunnies” with the plane in 1971.
The media hook is a publicity stunt, the presence of an aviation celebrity, former astronaut Judge Mental, widely known as “the world’s luckiest pilot”, survivor of more spaceship crashes than any man alive, who will be helming the maiden Ricochet flight from South Africa to Kenya. His co-pilot, Matt Balzer, is one of the Rhody family’s closest advisors and Hank’s longtime friend. Bearded, muscular and quick-witted, Balzer is about a dozen, maybe fifteen years younger than the wiry, intense Mental. Think of a laid-back, Wisconsin-bred Robert Downey Jr teamed in the DC-9 cockpit with Dr. Gregory House.
The loud, smiling Americans are a distinctively noisy bunch. The elegant woman at the Air France desk looked over at them and visibly sniffed. It was Right Angles. At the Rhody desk, Jackie was dressed more flashily than we’ve ever seen her. She looked at an airport guard with a devious look in her eye and smile. He looked back with curiosity and interest. Out of nowhere, Right Angles reacted with an angry, jealous fit. “Tu es une bete!”, she suddenly shouted at the shorter blonde, who responded by defiantly throwing a stack of magazines at her. Instantly there was a fight, a crowd of spectators, and confused airport security rushing in to try to separate the women. In moments, half the Rhody team slipped out the back way to the airfield.
Out on the tarmac, only a few hundred feet away, the rest of the team watched as Sam Rhody expertly taxied the old Rhody jetliner into position. The plane has been painted with Ricochet, the name of this temporary “airline”, along its sides, and a big blue R> logo on the vertical stabilizer, its towering tail fin. It all looked routine as they quickly loaded cargo; suitcases, mailbags, some drilling equipment for other Rhody companies, and a hefty object listed on the manifest as an outdoor electrical transformer, a rounded steel box a little taller and wider and heavier than a refrigerator. On the books, it was being shipped air freight by an international charity to the scene of a burnt-out electrical grid in Kenya.
A handful of team members quickly joined the landing plane’s crew as they all boarded an airport shuttle bus and headed for the passenger terminal. It was only about thirty seconds’ drive, but the bus suddenly found itself surrounded by police. One official waved a document at the driver and all of the bus passengers in view. “Your visas have been revoked. All of you are hereby expelled from the Republic of South Africa, effective immediately. You will reboard your plane and leave”. There seemed to be little choice, so the travelers made a show of turning around and, defeated, wearily getting back on the plane.
The much-feted aviators who were guests of honor at the reception in the terminal were now offstage, being given the bum’s rush, expelled with the others. Hank Rhody appeared in the plane’s doorway, glaring at the officials. “All of North America will hear of this”, he solemnly intoned. Before the fuselage door closed, a confused airport worker held a clipboard at the top of the stairs, trying to count who was on board. “Ricochet Passengers In Transit, eighteen in all”. Just then, a woman in a picture-perfect starched white nurse’s uniform rushed up the boarding steps, and the lady with the clipboard added her to the total. “Ricochet P.I.T., 19”, the air clerk concluded. The nurse gave her a Mona Lisa smile and enigmatically touched her midsection. “And perhaps, 20”.
The door sealed and the would-be American interlopers were sent slowly down the taxiway to the main runway. Judge Mental and Matt Balzer went through the checklists quickly as they got into position to take off. Nobody was eager to linger, not with what they were carrying in cargo. Nor were the South Africans eager to keep them for a moment longer than they had to. “Roger that, November Nine Five Oh Papa Bravo, you are cleared for takeoff.”
And with that, the pilots pushed the throttles forward. In less than a minute, they were airborne. N950PB’s small number of passengers cheered, but everyone knew they had to clear South African airspace before anyone got wise. They had to carry a live, fragile but megalethal museum piece of an atomic bomb safely up the eastern coast of Africa, to a handful of silent men who could secure and dismantle it. Five minutes into the flight from Durban, the biggest part of the challenge was still ahead.
Tomorrow night, tune in to Ricochet Silent Radio for the heart-stopping conclusion of our exciting adventure, Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!
Ricochet members mentioned or featured in tonight’s introductory episode include @dnewlander, @samuelblock, @hankrhody, @samrhody, @rightangles, @lessersonofbarsham, @mattbalzer, @judgemental, and @therightnurse. Our disclaimer: RSR stories are fan fiction. The dialog, actions, and personal history of these characters are purely imaginary. RSR is not an official activity of Ricochet. Your network announcer is Johnny Donovan. The voice of RSR is @raykujawa.
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