Sunday WildCard – The Kildaran Chapters 22 & 23

I’ve probably spoiled you just a bit the past couple weeks, giving you triple chapters. It’s all based on chapter length, though. The longer the chapter, the less likely it is to be paired or tripled.

This week we have two fair length chapters; one, J and Cottontail doing what they do best; one, Mike letting business intrude on his little getaway.

When I was writing the second chapter I really channeled his disgust at spending any time in DC, mostly drawn from what John wrote in Choosers of the Slain and Unto the Breach. On the other hand, part of what I was doing was trying to pull Mike back from the uber-cynical place he was at the end of A Deeper Blue.

The mechanism I used for that is, of course, Katrina. She would be beyond thrilled to see everything, and I think Mike would be pulled into her enthusiasm. He’s also trying to give her a crash course in America, so he’s going to be trying to be positive if realistic in recognizing both the good and the flaws.

Next week you get one of the long chapters!

CHAPTER 22

Elista

April 7

The two Ladas were abandoned in Elista, keys in the ignition. It was a good-sized city and two more nondescript cars wouldn’t be noticed for days. That assumed they weren‘t stolen in the meantime which would further muddy the trail. Allah guarded his faithful.

Abdul Hakim took the package of tritium and shoved it into a backpack, where it was buried among textbooks and notebooks filled with real notes from the local university. He would make his way out of town alone first while the others would gradually follow in their own time.

The Russian agents following, who had managed not to lose them again, faced a difficult choice. There were only four agents on location at the moment, and the suspects had gone in six different directions upon abandoning the cars, four groups and two solo. They decided to split up, each agent following a group. The assumption was they would be teamed up to provide better protection of the tritium. The two solo suspects were allowed to disappear.

Murphy struck the Russians again.

==============================

J was suitably disguised as a Russian Muslim. He had typically worn clothes and shoes with broken heels. He and Cottontail had listened to all the Russians SpecOps’ transmissions, finally moving close enough to hear the conversation directly through a shotgun mike. The decision to follow groups left the two solos to them.

They picked their targets and separated. When he caught up to his, J discovered a recent recruit and not a particularly committed one. His first stop was a bar, where he dropped three glasses of vodka in quick succession. J bought the fourth, striking up a conversation.

            “You look like a man who really needs a drink,” he started, laying down his money.

“Bring him another, and the same for me,” he said to the bartender. When the drinks arrived, J passed his hand quickly over one as he handed it over.

“I am. Thanks for the drink, uh -”

“Isra’il. My friends call me Isha,” supplied J smoothly.

“Mika’il. Thanks.” He knocked back this drink as quickly as the other three.

It didn’t seem that he was going to offer any more, so J pressed a bit.

“I’ve had a day like you wouldn’t believe. Wake up this morning, late for work, the twice-damned supervisor docks me a half-day’s pay! Half a day! And I was only ten minutes late! Then the lousy computer eats the rest of the report I was typing up, and I said I’ve had it! What is that fat prick going to do, dock the rest of the day? Let him, and Allah curse his bones!”

“Allah defend you, Isha, it does sound like you’ve had a bad day.” Mika’il turned to look at him. “But mine’s worse.”

“Balls.”

“Prophet’s Beard, it’s the truth.” He looked around, lowered his voice. “I saw three people die today.”

“Balls, I say! Unless you’re a doctor, or police,” and J looked him up and down. “And I doubt you are.”

“No, I’m a student. I swear, I watched three people die – be killed, actually.”

Then he told J about the set-up, the surprise assault, the fire, all assisted by J’s little compound in his drink, of course.

“Where is this package now? It has to be pretty valuable.”

“Priceless for Allah’s tasks. I don’t know exactly where, but Abdul Hakim took it with him.”

“Alone? Isn‘t that taking a big risk?”

“For you, or me, maybe. But not for him. He planned it all.” Mika’il shivered. “Ice water in his blood. No, it’s safe with him.”

J relaxed. Cottontail was trailing him.

“One more drink, Mika’il, and I think it’s time you go home.”

He got another drink, added another little supplement, and watched it be downed.

“Come. Let’s get you home.”

J helped steer him out of the bar and down the road. A very few blocks on, he was barely on his feet, leaning heavily on J, complaining of blurred vision and a sudden headache.

“It’s only the drink,” laughed J. “Here, we’ll stop for a moment,” and he guided him into the half-sunken basement entry to a building. Mika’il collapsed into an almost-seated position, slumping forward, muttering. Quickly he quieted, then his breathing slowed, then stopped.

J left casually. One less loose end.

==============================

Katya didn’t know where her target was going, exactly. She guessed he was going to be headed out of the city, but she didn’t know how, or where, or even when, so she couldn’t wait ahead of him on his route and try to pick him up, or allow herself to be picked up. She didn’t think she would be able to follow him unobserved the whole route; she was good, and getting better, but he was actually displaying some tactical sense and clearing his tail periodically. That left brazen. She could do brazen.

Walking on the other side of the road, she watched him enter a small park. This might be her best shot. She hurried across the road and closed the gap swiftly.

“You!” she called angrily, waving. “Ai! You!”

He turned and looked, pointing at himself.

“Yes, you miserable dick! What the fuck do you think you’re doing, ignoring me?” she continued. “I’ve been following you for ten minutes, ever since I saw you! Why haven’t you called me? Or come over? Or – oh, shit!”

She stopped. She was only a few meters away. “You’re not Nicolai!”

“No,” he answered coldly. “I’m not.” And he prepared to walk away.

She hurried over, putting a hand on his arm, holding him gently.

“I’m so sorry! You look just like, from a distance, I didn’t mean -” She allowed her voice to trail off, dropping her eyes as he stared at her. “I beg your pardon. I meant no offence.”

“He must be a fool to leave you behind,” he said, appeased by her apparent modesty. “What’s your name?”

“Kamilah.”

“I am Abdul Hamid, and you are very beautiful. I would like to know you better, Kamilah.”

“I – I – I don’t know what to say. I’m so embarrassed,” she replied. “I’m not usually like this. He seemed so nice, so kind, and then he…!”

“I would walk you home,” he said, “and you can tell me of this Nicolai.”

“Oh! That’s not, I mean, you don’t have to!”

“You need someone to walk you home to keep you from chasing down every man on the street.” He took her arm in his firmly. “Now, lead.”

She hadn’t counted on this jerk wanting to walk her home, for fuck’s sake! Where was she going to take him? They’d rented a flat, and it was minimally furnished, but there’s no way anyone would believe she’d lived there for long. And what if J showed up? He could play Nicolai, she supposed, but she’d have to get hold of him somehow before then. Fuck! The black box was in the flat! They’d arrived ahead of their Keldara backups, so she couldn’t even call for support! Well, then, it was time to fake it.

“Yes,” is all she said, as she walked along the street.

==============================

She spun “Kamilah’s” story out of whole cloth, feigning reluctance and hesitation to keep him interested and inquisitive. By the time they reached the flat, he acted ready to kill the evil Nicolai who took advantage of the poor, naïve, innocent girl.

She stopped at the door to the block of flats.

“Thank you for walking me home,” she said, shyly.

“It was my duty to see you safely home,” he replied gravely. “But I worry that Nicolai will be waiting for you in your flat. I should come up with you.”

“No,” she protested, “It is not proper. I’ve learned that, if nothing else.” She pretended to have an inspiration and pulled out her mobile. “I know! I will call my brother; he lives nearby. He can check the flat for me.”

Before he could object, she had dialed J.

“Hello, Ivan? It’s Kamilah. I’m at the flat, but I’m worried about Nicolai being there. Could you come over? No, I don’t really think he’ll be there, but Abdul Hamid does. He’s my new friend. I’ll tell you all about him when you get here. See you shortly, then. Bye!” She hung up.

“He’ll be here in a couple minutes.” Time to hook this fish. “Perhaps we could meet later?”

“I would like that, if your brother does not object.”

“He won’t. Can I call you later? We’ll talk, figure out where to meet.” He gave her his mobile number, and she returned it with her sunniest smile.

“Thank you so much!” She giggled nervously. “You’re nothing like Nicolai.”

“I hope not.” He looked around. “I should wait until your brother arrives.”

Damn.

“Of course!” She leaned against the doorpost, hoping that J would interpret the play correctly.

J strode around the corner just a few moments later.

“Ivan!” she called.

“Kamilah! And this must be your friend,” he said, closing the distance and holding out his hand. “Thank you for watching over my little sister. I hope she wasn’t any trouble?” he said as he shook hands, clapping his left hand against Abdul Hamid’s shoulder.

“None at all,” he said, then suddenly his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell to the ground.

“What did you?” said Katya. “I just needed an excuse to ditch him outside. I couldn’t bring him up to the flat!”

“He has the tritium. He knows the next link in the chain,” answered J, taking his shoulders. “Now help me get him inside!”

Between them they got his unconscious body upstairs to the flat. Dumping him unceremoniously on the floor, Katya said, “Now what? When he wakes, he’ll wonder too much, have too many questions.”

“Heed no fear, O padawan.” J went to his supplies and rummaged briefly, coming out with a syringe and a bottle of brownish liquid.

“I had Dr. Arensky make this for me before we left. It’s based on the waste of the L. acidophilus bacteria, he said, but very, very effective. One dose and your friend here will tell us everything we need to know and remember none of it.”

“And what do we do with him afterward, O Master?” asked Katya sarcastically.

“That depends on what information he gives us,” answered J, and nothing more.

In very little time their prisoner was responsive and answering questions.

“You have the tritium?”

“I don’t know.”

“The package which was picked up today. Do you have it?”

“Yes. In my backpack.”

J picked up the pack and looked through.

“Is this it?” he asked, holding up a small, heavy parcel, wrapped in butcher‘s paper and tied with string.

“Yes.”

“Who is it for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Fuck!” interjected Katya.

“Quiet!” hissed J. “He is in a very suggestive state right now.”

Returning to a normal voice, he asked, “What are you to do with the tritium?”

“I am to bring it to a man in Utta, tomorrow.”

“Where are you meeting him?”

“A café, the Wandering Wolf.”

“When?”

“I am to be there by two. He will meet me between then and four.”

“Do you know him?”

“No.”

“Does he know you?”

“I don’t know.”

“How will you know him?”

“He will walk to my table and ask to borrow the salt and the adzhika. I am to give him the salt and say that I do not like adzhika.”

“And then what?”

“He will sit down. I am to pass him the package, and he will get up and leave. After I finish, I will leave as well and come home to wait.”

“Wait for what?”

“Further instructions.”

J stepped away, gesturing for Katya to follow. When he judged they were out of earshot, he spoke. “Amateurish. But we can use this.”

“How?”

“I become Abdul Hamid. Plus a few other little tricks.” He walked back to the uninterested courier. “Would you like to do the honors?”

Katya grinned wolfishly.

==============================

After moving the body, J examined the parcel more closely, taking the plain wrapper and string off carefully, revealing a heavy box of a gray, slightly lustrous metal.

“Is that the tritium?” asked Katya.

“No. If I had to guess, I’d say this is lead. Tritium is radioactive, you know.”

“Should we be this close then?”

“We should be safe, especially if this is lead.” He put the box down. “I don’t think I’ll open it to check, though.”

“What is your plan? What do you need me to do?”

“I’m going to make the meet tomorrow in Utta. You’re going to track us on this,” he said, pulling out what looked like a mobile phone.

“How?”

“Vanner gave me a number of these transmitters,” and he pulled out a plastic bag with a half-dozen small black discs scattered along the bottom seam. “They’re RFID homing bugs. The base unit can pick them us as long as we’re within a mile.”

“How will we conceal it? We can’t put it inside, can we?”

“No, the lead will block the signal. The tritium is mixed with uranium, making a compound called uranium tritide, and would destroy the bug in short order as well. I think we’ll try two, one on the inside of the wrapper, and one on the bottom of the box. Even when the wrap is thrown away, we might be able to track the other.”

“We need to stay close, then.”

J nodded. “How’s your driving?”

CHAPTER 23

Washington, DC

April 8

Mike awoke with Katrina in his arms again.

I really could get used to this.

After lingering for hours in the restaurant, they had come back to the suite. Stasia had left a note, claiming a headache. Mike smelled set-up but said nothing. They talked for a while longer then, joints protesting, Mike stood to get ready for bed. Without a word, without seeking permission, Katrina followed him to the bedroom, grabbed something out of a dresser drawer, and ducked into the bath. Curious, he opened the dresser. Her clothes? Yep. Her clothes. So where were his? Next drawer down, of course.

She emerged in a sheer black silk nightgown and climbed right into the bed. Amused, he did his ablutions and followed.

“Hitch over,” he said. “You’re on my side.” She slid over under the covers. Wondering how far she would take it, Mike lay up next to her, arm over her, hand cupped just below her exquisite breasts.

“Night,” he said.

“Goodnight,” she replied.

And that’s all. She snuggled into his arm and, within minutes, was sound asleep. He lay there, bemused, for a few minutes before allowing sleep to overtake him, as well.

===============================

“Off to the Archives today,” he announced over breakfast in the suite. “Then, where do you want to go?”

Stasia opted for the Natural History museum, while Katrina wanted to go out to the Udvar-Hazy Center, part of Air and Space. “I want to see the shuttle,” she said.

“So do I,” admitted Mike. “Stasia, would you mind if Jack sticks with you today?”

“I’d rather be with you, Michael. But Major Hughes seems competent enough.” She dimpled.

Ignoring it, he said, “That’s settled, then. Figure we’ll meet back here at 3.” He rose. “But first, the Archives.”

===============================

Fortunately it was another beautiful day and most of the other tourists were busy with the cherry blossoms and other outdoor displays. The National Archives seemed deserted, and they were able to linger over the documents for quite some time.

Mike resisted the urge to lecture.

Rather, he allowed the women to look where they would, examine and experience what he knew was the heart and soul of his country, no matter how misinterpreted that vision might be. He couldn’t accept the liberal weenies who had co-opted so much of the vision of men like Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. It was ironic, he reflected, no matter how wrong-headed they were, no matter how he loathed the politically correct bullshit so many of them spewed, he was oath-bound to protect those very freedoms on their behalf. He wondered if he could ever return to the States permanently. Not without a political enema, he decided.

After a while Katrina came over and took his hand.

“These are important to you,” she asked.

“Yes,” he said simply, then relented.

“They’re what this country is all about. They’re about standing up for what you know is right, no matter what the cost. They’re about allowing the maximum freedom for the most people, with the fewest restrictions imposed, ever. They tell us what we can do, what we should so, and where our duty lies in protecting those rights.”

He paused.

“Nowhere else in the world can you go and be guaranteed, guaranteed, the right to speak your mind. To be guaranteed that you can practice your religion, no matter what it is. To know that your leaders are ultimately responsible to you, that they only govern by consent of the governed. These few pieces of paper make this the center of all the freedoms that man can hope to achieve.”

“I am glad you brought us here.”

“As am I,” added Stasia. “But I am ready to move on. It is much to absorb, all at once.”

“You’re right about that,” he said.

“Shall we?” And they headed for the exit.

Outside, they met up again with Hughes, who took charge of Stasia. Mike and Katrina strolled across the Mall, back to the main Air & Space Museum, and boarded a bus that would take them out to Dulles.

The Udvar-Hazy Center was the most recent addition to the sprawling Smithsonian and was the first located away from downtown DC. The forty-five-minute drive seemed to pass in seconds, both were so intrigued by what they hoped to find.

“When I was a kid I used to watch Star Trek on TV,” said Mike, as the bus entered the airport property.

“Star Trek?”

“Science fiction show from the 60’s, I caught the reruns in syndication. Kirk, Spock, McCoy.”

He saw the look.

“It’s easier to show you, I’ll get some DVDs. Anyway, the ship they were on was called the U.S.S. Enterprise, and when NASA was choosing names for their shuttles, that’s what they called the first one. Of course, they said it was to honor all the naval ships of that name, but we fans knew better. They cheated, though. This Enterprise never flew in space, doesn’t even have engines. It was basically a giant model version, used just for unpowered glide tests and shit like that. Still, it’s a shuttle. Wonder how close they’ll let us get?”

They got off the bus and followed the crowd into the gleaming building. Picking up a map along the way, Mike and Katrina walked along the hallway that announced, “To Boeing Aviation Hangar/James S. McDonnell Space Hangar.” Suddenly, a long, black shape appeared ahead of them.

“It can’t be,” said Mike, hurrying a little.

“What?” asked Katrina alongside.

“They can’t have a Blackbird here, they just can’t!”

“What black bird? A raven?”

“No no no!” exclaimed Mike, pulling up short at the end of the walkway. “That’s a Blackbird!”

Stretched out before them like a black dagger was the hundred-plus feet of an SR-71.

“That plane was the baddest, fastest, most radical plane ever produced for the Air Force! It could fly faster, farther, higher than anything else that breathed air. Nothing could catch it; not other jets, not missiles, hell, radar had a hard time finding it. Just look at it!” Mike had found the stairs leading down to its level and was walking, hypnotized, towards the plane.

“It still looks like it’s ready to go,” he said, wonderingly. “It looks like it wants to go,” he added.

“It looks evil,” said Katrina. “No, not evil. It looks like it has a purpose.”

“Sure does, honey. This bird used to fly anywhere we needed to look at. Anywhere, anytime. Go in, take pictures, come back. Before decent satellites and unmanned drones, it took one of these babies and a pilot with balls of steel to get the intel back home. No weapons at all on these. Just speed, pure and simple.” He stood there, drinking it in. Katrina looked as well, but then turned away.

“Michael? What is that one?” She pointed to their left at an old piston-engined bomber.

He consulted the map. “This says it’s the Enola Gay, the plane that, holy shit! That’s the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb!”

And they were off.

For two hours they explored the aviation hangar, discovering the history of aviation, one piece at a time. They found a Concorde, and a Super Constellation. They found the Gossamer Albatross and a Grumman Goose. They found a Mustang and a Thunderbolt and a Hurricane and a Black Widow. They found planes he had never heard of and autogyros they had never imagined. Finally, almost satiated, they exited past the tail of the Blackbird and entered the Space Hangar.

There was the shuttle in all her glory. Brilliant white above, jet black tiles below, the old orbiter took his breath away.

“Why does it look like that?”

“Like what?”

“The sides, and the bottom. Why are they not smooth, why do they look like my family’s hearth?”

“Oh, the tiles! Those are ceramic heat shields, used to keep the craft from burning up when it reenters the atmosphere.”

“Ceramic? Like plates?” Her tone was dubious.

“Well, sort of. Same kind of stuff, but much, much lighter.”

“Why not one big piece, then? Or a few big pieces? Instead of all these little tiles?”

“The tiles wear out eventually and have to be replaced. It’s easier to do it if they’re all fairly small.”

“This one never went to space, you said?”

“No.”

“Then how did they do, what did you say, ‘glide tests’?”

“If I remember right, they mounted this on the back of a big plane, maybe a 747, and took it up as high as they could, then released it. Like flying a paper plane, just a lot bigger,” he smiled.

“I want to see something that’s been to space, Michael. Let’s look!”

Away they went again. In pretty short order, they found two Mercury capsules and a Gemini capsule, and wondered at their size.

“Our bed is bigger than Big Joe!” laughed Katrina, pointing to a Mercury.

“Not quite, but pretty close. But men went into space in those things.” He peered at the marker. “Says that Big Joe was a test module, launched in 1959.”

“And the other? Freedom 7?”

“That’s actually Freedom 7 II. It would have been Alan Shepard’s second ride into space, but the mission was scrubbed.”

“Washed?”

He laughed. “No, cancelled.” They continued their tour of the space hangar for another hour, then returned to aviation.

“Anything you want to go back to?”

“Have you flown in any of these, Michael?”

He thought for a moment.

“Well, there’s the UH-1. They have the Iroquois here, but I’ve been in the Huey. There’s the Cessna and Piper Cub, too, but those don‘t really count. Umm, that might be it. Oh, wait, I did fly in a Tomcat once, back in the day. Why?”

“I want to take your picture in front of all the planes you’ve flown in,” she answered, pulling out a small camera.

He sighed. Women and pictures.

===============================

Eventually they made it back to the hotel, a few minutes before Stasia and Hughes arrived.

“How was Natural History?”

“I never imagined the variety of animals, and the gems! Katrina, you must see these stones, and the jewelry! Michael, can we go back there while you’re at your meeting? There are some things that Katrina shouldn’t miss!”

“Sure, if she’s willing.” The objection was purely pro forma, as he could see the excitement in Kat’s eyes.

“I would enjoy seeing them,” she answered. “Is there time?”

“I don’t know how long my meet will take. I’d hate to have you waiting outside the museum for me to come get you, though.”

“It is certainly close enough for us to walk, Michael.”

“What about your problem?”

“It is not so bad, when I’m with someone. Besides, this is the capital of the whole country; what could happen here?”

He rolled his eyes. “Jack, you don’t see or hear this. Kat, did you bring a piece?”

“Of course.”

“Carry it. If anyone gives you a hard time, pull out your passport. I’ve arranged for diplomatic immunity for you both, so they shouldn’t detain you. If they do, demand to call me, and we’ll get you out of trouble.”

“And what shall I say, when they ask why I am carrying a gun?”

“Simple. You’re her bodyguard.”

===============================

Mike and Major Hughes arrived at the Pentagon in plenty of time for the meeting.

“You lead,” said Mike. The Pentagon, with its seemingly endless concentric circles of corridors and offices, was one of the few buildings which could throw off his sense of direction. Checkpoints, of increasing thoroughness, were passed, and eventually they arrived at a conference room, deep in the most secure area.

“I’ll wait out here,” said Hughes, and opened the door for Mike.

Around the table were a half-dozen men, and one woman, all dressed in high Washington “my clothes cost more than yours do, so I’m more important” fashion. One man he recognized.

“Mr. Secretary!” he said, walking over. “I have to say, it’s good to see a familiar face.”

“Good to see you too, Mike,” answered the Secretary of Defense. “Quite a mess we’ve dumped in your lap this time.”

“Yeah, well, if it wasn’t tough, you wouldn’t need me,” he answered. “I have to admit, I was surprised when the new guy kept you on. Pleased, but surprised.”

“So was I,” admitted SecDef. “But he’s a good man, at heart, and he does admire an ability to get things done, no matter what side of the political aisle. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but he knows when he doesn’t know something, and he’ll listen to what I have to say. Fortunately, he’s not trying to micromanage my Department. That, I couldn’t accept.”

Mike sat down. “We waiting for anyone else?”

“Besides Colonel Pierson? No. I understand that some more intel just came into his office, and he wanted to bring it to the meeting.” The door opened as he was speaking, and Pierson walked in, a bulky folder under his arm.

“Sorry I’m late, gentlemen, ma’am. Mike.” He looked around the table. “I think introductions might be in order.”

The lone woman started. “Patricia O’Connell, Assistant Director, NSA. This is my assistant, Jeffrey Moore,” she said. She was in her forties, Mike guessed, with a severe haircut and no makeup he could see. A real ball-buster, he thought. Got to her position by being orders of magnitude better than her competition and pushing aside anyone who wouldn’t give way gracefully. Her assistant was a young, bookish-looking man. An ivory-tower policy wonk, he speculated. No real-world experience but can get every scrap of data out of a source.

The next man was speaking.

“Agents Williams, Howard, and Rodgers, CIA. Rodgers and I have spent considerable time in Chechnya. Howard’s been in Moscow, working with the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence on the nuke-exchange program.” Two real agents, probably competent, and another bookworm, was his snap judgment.

“That just leaves me. George Watson, DIA-DJ.” By his relaxed air, Mike pegged him as another career agent who had moved up by being competent.

“DJ?” he asked.

“Defense Intelligence Operations Coordination Center. We try to put the big picture together.”

“Why not DI? Or DC?”

“DI is taken, Analysis. DC would be a little confusing, dontcha think? And DICC just leads to too many jokes.” He laughed a little, a genuine laugh. “Besides, it’s our job to make sense out of intelligence, not make sense ourselves.”

“And everyone knows the Secretary, of course,” said Pierson.

There were nods and murmurs around the table.

“Let’s get this rolling. I know we’re all on tight schedules.”

“Nope,” said Mike. “Not me. I have to be in Boston by 7pm tomorrow. That’s about it.”

“What’s in Boston?” asked one of the CIA guys; Williams, he thought.

“Red Sox versus Tampa Bay at Fenway. You know how long it’s been since I’ve been to a ballgame?”

Pierson smiled, then said, “Okay, back on topic. We’re here to give Mike any and all the assistance he needs to solve this problem for us, without having it blow up in our faces, literally.” He sat down. “Now. Mike, I have some intel from your operatives, J and Cottontail. They’ve intercepted a shipment of uranium tritide and are going to trace it back up the chain as far as they can.”

“So, the nukes aren’t ready to fire, or at least not all of them,” said Howard. “The tritide is needed to replace the triggers.”

“And that means that we have a little time, at least,” added Watson. “It wouldn’t do much good to threaten to use a nuke and then not have it work. I don’t think they’d go even if they had just enough, either. They want to have them all ready. At least,” he amended, “I’d want them all ready first, before I moved.”

“Why do you think that?” asked Rodgers. “The Chechens aren’t known for their planning, or patience.”

“We don’t think this is a Chechen operation.”

“Of course it’s a Chechen operation, who else would it be?”

“Sorry, I should be clearer. It hasn’t been planned by any Chechens, and it’s not just Chechnya that’s in play.”

Watson brought out a briefcase.

“According to what we’ve been able to assemble, the driving force behind the latest insurgency is Giku Inarov.” He gave the background quickly. “Lately, in the past six months, he’s been advised primarily by a man named Ibrahim. That’s all we know. Nobody has a photo, or bio, or, hell, even a last name.”

“What are you doing, then?” put in O’Connell.

“Waiting for you jokers to get the raw intel,” he snapped back. Obviously, this was an old disagreement, and Mike wasn’t going to put up with it.

“I don’t have time for this bullshit,” he said. “It doesn’t matter why we don’t have info on this guy. We need to get some and get it quick.”

He faced the CIA agents. “Do you have any contacts who are in with the insurgents?”

Williams and Rodgers shared a look before answering. “We do have one man inserted, but it would be almost impossible to get his information without extracting him. And if we manage to extract him, he’s done as a source.”

Pierson spoke up before Mike could erupt. “Doesn’t matter. This is the absolute priority of all our resources. We hold nothing back. Nothing!”

“Besides, if we succeed, there won’t be an insurgency for him to return to,” supplied Mike.

“That would be worth it,” said Williams. “We’ll try to get a message to him tonight and start working on an extraction plan.”

“What else do we have?” said Pierson.

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The meeting dragged on for three hours. By the end, Mike had a headache and was reminded again why he hated DC. He stood up.

“I’ve heard enough. Mr. Secretary, always a pleasure. Bob, if you’re ever in Georgia -”

“Someday, Mike. Soon, if we can get this wrapped up.”

“George, I’ll get my intel guy in touch with you. You seem to be able to coordinate everything pretty well.”

“That’s my job,” he agreed.

“Williams, if you need any help on the ground, talk to George. We have some resources in the area who may be in a position to assist. Ms. O’Connell, I need constant access to Echelon.”

She looked as if she was going to object, so he continued.

“Don’t fuck with me, lady. Right now, you work for me.” With that, he walked out of the room.

“Jack, let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve had enough of DC.”

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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