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Chapter Seventeen

Mike looked over at the chief a couple of hours later and shrugged.

"Think it's going to work?"

They'd been over and over the design of the club, but in the end a modified brute force method was all that they could come up with. And even that meant putting some "principles" on the line. If they screwed up, the Keldara were likely to be in a very deep crack. On the other hand, Mike, personally, probably wouldn't be around to care.

"Oh, it'll work," Adams said. "What I'm wondering is if it's worth it. We're going to lose people. At least one, probably three."

"So are we doing this for money?" Mike asked. "Or are we doing this for the mission, whatever that means?"

"Or are we doing it because we're just curious where the trail leads?"

"That too," Mike admitted.

"You're risking a lot for curiosity," Adams said.

"If it was just curiosity, I don't think I would," Mike admitted. "I'd just pull back and tell the senator the trail was too cold. But I'm not doing this for pure curiosity or for the 'mission.' And certainly I wouldn't pay two or three Keldara for five mil. I've got the funny feeling that this little Ukrainian whore is way more important than the senator was willing to admit."

He looked up as there was a knock on the door and slid a cover sheet over the plans.


Greznya stepped into the room and looked around.

"I hope I'm not disturbing," she said.

"We're about done," Mike replied.

"I was wondering something," the woman said, looking over at the chief.

"I've got to go start getting the troops dialed in," Adams said, standing up with a file in his hand. "You two talk."

When the chief had left Greznya sat down and regarded the Kildar thoughtfully, then frowned when he smiled.


"I was just thinking of the changes in the Keldara since I've taken over," Mike said, still smiling. "They wanted to kick Lydia and Irina out of the Families for being alone with a man, even though there were four people in the car and it was a medical emergency. And look at you, now. Not to mention being willing to, effectively, throw the chief out for a private chat."

"I see the humor," Greznya said, finally smiling.

"So what's wrong with how I handled Oksana?" Mike asked.

"You're sure that's it?" the girl asked.

"Yep," Mike said. "I saw your look."

"I was just wondering ..."

"What I did to her?" Mike asked, his face hard.

"Oh, no, she told me that," Greznya said. "And I said much the same things you said to her. Except the part about you being evil. And I wasn't sure how you actually felt about it. But ... the way you spoke to her. How ..."

"How did I know to treat her that way?" Mike asked, leaning back. "I asked myself the same thing. I wasn't sure if I was manipulating her or not. But I felt like I had to treat her as if she mattered. Because she does. As a human being and as a member of the team."

"I think that's it," Greznya said, smiling. "You treat people as human beings, no matter who they are. This is why we love you."

"That's a bit strong," Mike said. "And I've treated people as things, plenty of times. I'm doing it right now, looking at the plans, knowing that some of the Keldara are going to die in this raid. And I've done it to women plenty of times before."

"But you speak to a young girl as if she is the most important person in the world," Greznya said. "Nobody has ever treated her as if she was important. You treat us, the women of the Keldara, as if we are important. In the Families we are only as important as our wombs and the 'women's work' we do."

"And is it manipulation?" Mike asked. "Don't ask me back. I don't know. All I know is that there are people who are important to my mission. And I treat them that way. Whatever the mission might be. However, once they are members of the team, they are always members of the team. If I treated you, tomorrow, as if you had no importance, then the next time I needed you, the next time the mission needed you, I wouldn't be able to depend on you. I guess it is manipulation. But it also includes loyalty in the mix." He paused and shrugged, grinning. "Call it military leadership."

"Now I know that Oksana is smarter than I, am" Greznya said, staring at him thoughtfully.

"Why?" Mike asked.

"Because I have to agree with her. You are both crazy and very scary. But I will still follow you wherever you lead, Kildar."

"Yeah, but am I right?" Mike said, shrugging. "I have to wonder about this entire mission; there is no way we're going to get the data we need from the club without some casualties."

"We are the Keldara," Greznya said, shrugging and looking away. "You are the Kildar. We will follow wherever you lead."

"But ..." Mike said, noting the body language.

"There is really no 'but,' " Greznya said, getting up. "For the rest ... I think you should talk to Sawn."

"Why?" Mike asked.

"Because I'm a lady and I can't use those words," Greznya said, nodding as she walked out.

* * *

"Kildar," Sawn said, not looking up from the MP-5 he had broken down on the bed.

"Greznya said I should talk to you," Mike replied, settling into a chair. "About the mission."

"She mentioned that," Sawn said, still not looking up. "I sort of expected this to be tomorrow, though."

"Unfortunately, tomorrow is when I'll need to give the mission a full go," Mike said, stretching out his feet as the Keldara began reassembling the sub-gun. "So, what do you think? I won't promise to take your recommendation, but I want some thoughts."

"Go," Sawn said, shrugging and closing the gun. He jacked the breach and stared into it, ensuring that there wasn't a round in the chamber.

"Why?" Mike asked. "I mean, curiosity, sure. And I've got the feeling that there's something very sniffy in Washington but I can't be sure unless I follow the trail to the rot. But we are going to take casualties, Sawn. They're probably going to be shooters. But there's always the possibility that they'll be one of the ladies. Or me or Adams."

"Go," Sawn said, finally looking up. The stare forced Mike to pause. Each of the teams had a ... call it a personality, one that they got from their team leaders. Oleg's team was blunt and implacable as a tank going through a wall. Vil's team depended on speed and finesse, grace over power. Sawn's team, though, was the thoughtful one. Not that they couldn't go hard against the bad guys, but they tended to think their shots, to take just a tad of time contemplating before doing unto others. That might be only a fraction of a second, but the result was usually smarter and tighter than the other teams. Sawn's team had been up on the rotation for this mission, but Mike was glad. This mission had required a lot more think and a lot less "implacable" than Oleg could have handled. Team Sawn was a good choice.

All of that thought, all that contemplation, came from Sawn. Farmers didn't tend to produce philosophers but Sawn was a close as the Keldara came. He had a depth that Oleg, Vil, Padrek and the others didn't possess. And that depth turned out to be filled with quite a bit of anger.

"There are a number of reasons," Sawn continued, looking back down at the weapon in his hand. "This is the first true mission which the Keldara have attempted. If you withdraw, even for the reason of sheltering us, it will affect our confidence. Oh, not entirely, but we will be forced to question whether you would have taken a team of Americans in, if you would have trusted them ..."

"But ..." Mike said, stopping when Sawn raised a hand.

"I said a number of reasons, Kildar," the team leader said, looking up and smiling tightly. "That is but one, and the least. The second reason is what you have said. America, Washington, affects the entire world. We had not realized to what a degree, hidden away in our valley. But now that we are looking out of our hole, looking again at the world, America affects everything. If there is this ... evil somewhere near the core of your government, finding it is important. To you, to America and to the Keldara. Without digging out the rot, we cannot know if it will harm us. But knowing that the rot is there, without digging it out.... That is like a tooth that you let fester. It will kill you in time."

"Okay, I'll buy that one," Mike said, frowning. "My fault for dragging you into it."

"You are the Kildar," Sawn said, suddenly letting his anger show. "It is not our horror, not our shame, that we are your fighters, your guards, it is our honor, Kildar. We share your danger, willingly and even with joy. You have given us, again, our honor. And as you gain more dangerous, more powerful, enemies, our status raises thereby."

"Okay, that one's sort of ... twisted," Mike said, chuckling. "But I sort of get it. If you're going to believe in the way of the warrior, you have to believe all the way."

"And there is a last thing," Sawn said, seating a magazine in the weapon. "This ... trade. It is dishonor upon us all." He turned and looked out the window at the city and shook his head. "Our women have been stolen, Kildar. When we were weak, when we had nothing and certainly no weapons, people who think they are warriors came upon us and treated us like peasants. We are not peasants, Kildar. We have had to do what we have done over the years, so many years even we did not realize until you came to us. But we are not peasants, Kildar and these men, in this trade, have dishonored our lands, our homes."

He turned back to Mike and his eyes were bright with his anger as he jacked a round into the chamber.

"Do not even think of turning back, Kildar," Sawn said, gritting his teeth. "I would that we could kill them all. Kill them until the All Father cried out in horror and the sun bled."

* * *

"This is very scary, indeed," Oksana said, looking at the hole.

"You can do it," Russell replied, fitting the package in the tube. "I know I can't," the massive NCO added with a grin. "You just push the package up the tunnel until I tell you to stop and then back out. If you get stuck, I'll pull you out with the rope."

"Okay," Oksana said, trying not to breathe.

"You'll be on the radio the whole way," Vanda said. The female Keldara was fiddling with the receiver box for the telephone headset Oksana was wearing. "Count to five, slowly."

"One, two, three, four, five," Oksana said.

"Can you hear me?" Vanda asked. "I mean, in your earphone?"

"Yes," Oksana replied.

"We're good."

"Okay, Oksana," Russell said, putting one hand under her shoulder and wrapping the other around her lower thigh. "Up you go."

Whether she wanted to or not, Oksana was lifted up to the tube.

"Stick your arms in," Russell said. "Push on the package. I'll push you in for the first bit."

As Oksana placed her hands on the inside of the tube she felt herself gently but firmly rammed into the hole. The package was right inside the opening but by holding her hands out she was easily able to push it ahead of her.

Someone had found a suit of a strange, slick, material called "Tyvek" that covered her from head to foot. That was nice of them since the interior of the tunnel was very dirty. And some of the Keldara soldiers had given her pads for her elbows and knees and leather gloves with rough palms so they would help her crawl. She supposed the least she should do was keep going.

"You there, Oksana?" Vanda asked.

"I'm here," Oksana said. "I am crawling forward."

The tunnel was very tight; she could barely move her arms, but she could push with her legs and pull a little. Bit by bit, pushing the package ahead of her, she moved down the tunnel.

"There is not much air in here," Oksana said, panting.

"Slow down a bit," Vanda said. "We've got hours to do this. Don't push yourself and you won't need as much air. So, you're from the Ukraine? Where?"

"I was raised in an orphanage in Kremenchug," Oksana said. "It was not very nice."

"I'm sorry," Vanda said. "Wasn't there anything that you liked growing up?"

"There was a garden that we got taken to, sometimes," Oksana said, pushing forward again, slowly. "It was very beautiful in the spring and summer. But in the orphanage there was not much. Even the place where we played didn't have grass, only some weeds."

"Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?" Vanda asked.

"I think I want to be a fashion model," Oksana said. "I see their pictures in magazines and they are all so beautiful."

"I suppose that is a goal," Vanda said dubiously. "Have you ever considered being a gardener ...?"

* * *

Sawn looked around the lobby of the embassy. The guard on the front, a Romanian security guard, had directed him to the visa section. But that was not, really, what he was here for. However, as he'd been briefed, there were two Marines in dress uniform in the lobby, standing at parade rest. He walked over to one of them that had more stripes.

"I am told the guard on the gate I am here for visa ..." Sawn said.

"The visa section is down the hall, sir," the corporal said, pointing. "Good day."

"I am not here for visa," Sawn said. "I am courier for station chief. Please direct me to secure point to wait for clearance. Code is Kildar Seven Three One Two."

* * *

"Interesting clearance," the man behind the desk said, looking at his security screen.

"Yes, sir," Sawn said. "I am not know. I am only courier."

"You're a team head for the Kildar," the man said, looking over at him. "Sawn Makanee, head of Team Sawn. There's even a not-very-good picture of you."

"I would not know anything about that, sir," Sawn replied.

"I'm sure you wouldn't," the CIA station chief said, smiling. "What are your orders?"

"I am to be directed to secure console," Sawn said. "I am to enter password and put in file from disk. I am to run destruction program on file and then take file to burn point for burning. I have had all steps described to me."

"I'm sure," the station chief said, rolling his tongue in his cheek. "There was a disappearance in Chisinau last week. A slaver."

"I am not sure what you say, sir," Sawn said, looking honestly puzzled.

"And a report that a group of Georgians were passing through the town," the station chief pointed out. "Men transporting women to Macedonia, if I recall correctly, for purposes of prostituion. I don't suppose there is any connection?"

"I would not be able to say, sir," Sawn replied.

"So where is the Kildar?"

"I am not sure what you ask, sir?" Sawn said. "Can I just do upload, now?"

"The guy who gave you the packet. And your instructions."

"I am given to them by man on the street and paid money," Sawn replied. "May I do upload, now?"

"Are we going to have a disappearance, here?"

"I should be going, now," Sawn said, standing up.

"Sit down," the station chief snapped. "You're in an embassy in a secure section. You walk out when I tell you to walk out!"

"Yes, sir," Sawn said, sitting down. "Permission to speak freely, sir?" His accent had apparently disappeared.


"You really don't want to ask questions, sir," Sawn replied. "You really don't want to have ever seen me, to have ever heard the name Kildar, to have ever thought about any connections. Not if you value your career, sir. Because, sir, the Kildar is here for very senior Americans, sir. That he is here, you need to forget. If anything happens, you need to not make the connections, sir. Or very senior American will be very upset, sir. I was told to pass this to you, sir, by the Kildar, who, yes, gave me the package, sir. And to note that all he needs to do is get on the telephone and you will find that Romania is a much nicer place than Ghana or Benin, sir. I don't even know, frankly, where Ghana or Benin are, sir, but I think you'd rather be in Romania, yes?"

The station chief's face had gone from the red of anger to white and then back to red.

"You little shit, you can't just walk in here ..."

"Sir, is telephone number," Sawn said, pulling out a number. "Would you call, sir?"

"What is this?" the station chief asked, looking at the slip of paper. It was a number in D.C. and by the exchange it was in the Pentagon. There was even a scrambler code. Fucking Defense Department getting in on intel, of course.

"Please to call, sir, or let me leave," Sawn said, tilting his head to the side. "Your choice."

The station chief looked at him haughtily for a moment and then picked up his secure phone.

* * *


"And you are?"

Colonel Bob Pierson looked at his phone. The call was coming from the CIA station chief's office in Bucharest, Romania. He hadn't even known there was such.

"This is Colonel Robert Pierson, Special Operations Liaison Office. And to whom am I speaking, sir?"

"This is Jasper Weatherby, I'm the CIA Station Chief in Bucharest. I've got a young man in my office who wants to use our secure room to send a message from someone called the Kildar."

"Has he got codes?" Pierson asked.

"Yes, I've checked the database and he's one of this Jenkins' character's team leaders."

"Then let him send the message," the colonel said, his brow furrowing. "What's the problem?"

"The problem, Colonel, is that I've got what looks like a rogue DIA black op going on in my patch! I've seen the data on Jenkins and I don't want to be the one to clean up the mess!"

"Oh," Pierson replied, smiling as he leaned back in his chair. "So you're saying you're not going to let him use your secure facilities because you don't want Mike in your patch. I can see that. Tell you what, just have the Keldara toddle back to Mike and tell him that. Not a problem, I'll guarantee it. Mike won't bother you any more."

"Let me be clear, Colonel," Weatherby said, tightly. "I want him out of Romania. Now."

"I'll pass that on," Pierson replied. "Look, I'm sure you're busy and I know I am. Just send the Keldara back and forget it."

"Very well, Colonel," Weatherby said. "Thanks."

"Not a problem," Pierson said. "Good-bye."

* * *

"I won't ask what you're doing in Romania," Pierson said over the secure link.

"You didn't get the message?" Mike asked incredulously.

"The station chief blew his lid and I had him send your unnamed Keldara back," the colonel said. "He should be on his way. Tell him no big deal. I'll send a courier over. Where are you?"

"You don't want this going by anyone who's not one hundred percent, Bob," Mike replied , tightly. "You really, really don't. I think ... no, I know I got scammed. The message laid it out to date and more or less asked if you-know-who wanted me to go home with my tail between my legs and discuss it with the person that sent me or to keep going."

"You're being so discreet it's scary," Pierson said.

"I don't want to end up on C-Span, Bob," Mike replied.

"That's scary all right," the colonel said, breathing out. "I need that data."

"Damned straight," Mike said.

"If Sawn's not gotten too far, have him go cool his heels in the embassy," Pierson said, thoughtfully. "I need to make some calls."

* * *

"Mr. Makanee?" the Marine said politely. "Could you come with me, please?"

"May I ask where we are going?" Sawn said, just as politely.

"The military liaison office," the Marine replied.

As they were walking down the office Sawn saw the station chief walking in the opposite direction. There were two Marines with him. One was carrying a box that appeared to contain personal effects while the other was discreetly if unmistakably escorting him.

"This is an outrage!" the station chief snapped as he approached Sawn.

"Sir, your orders are to remain silent," the Marine trailing him said definitely. "Further attempt to speak will require that we restrain you, sir, with respect."

The station chief opened his mouth to respond and then clamped it shut.

Sawn ignored the byplay, with the exception of stepping politely out of the way, until they were passed.

"Thanks," the Marine escorting him said. "Turn right at the next corridor."

"I did not think it best to argue in the hallway," Sawn replied, turning the corner.

"Oh, thanks for that, too," the Marine said. "But I meant getting rid of that guy. He was a real shithead. I'd love to ask what this is all about, but I know better."

"The reason I'm here is that we are not sure," Sawn admitted as he entered the Office of Military Liaison.

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