Back | Next

Chapter Twenty-Six

"Jenkins," Mike said, picking up the phone.

The 757 was configured with a large passenger area in the rear and a small office compartment up front. Mike was currently in the office, discussing the recent mission with Vanner and Adams.

"This is Captain Hardesty," the pilot said dryly. "You might want to know that we are now 'feet wet' over the Adriatic."

"Thanks," Mike said, chuckling. "Feet wet" was a military term for leaving an area of operations over the water. Dating back to the Vietnam War, it was the traditional call that the unit and aircraft were safe from interference by hostiles. "I'll be even more happy when we're feet wet over the Atlantic."

"I'll give you a call," Hardesty replied. "We will, however, be refueling in England. One hopes that this charter will not cause inconvenient questions to be raised upon landing."

"Unlikely," Mike said, smiling. "I think that even if any questions are being raised, the British government is going to be more than willing to avoid them given some of the information we've probably acquired."

"I've got at least one name from the British Foreign Office," Vanner said, looking at his notes. "I haven't translated the file, yet."

"More than willing," Mike repeated.

"I see," Hardesty replied. "Very well. Flight time to Las Vegas with stops to refuel will be about twenty hours. You might want to get some rest. We'll also be picking up a change of pilots in England. They're ... briefed."

"Good to hear," Mike said. "Talk later."

"So far, we're not getting real far on the data we picked up in Rozaje," Vanner said. "The translation is going really slow. But there's one bright spot. We don't have their DVDs, but the video was stored on the computer and then the DVDs were burned from it. I'm going to run a file reconstructor on the data and see if we can find any bits from the previous videos. It doesn't look like they cleaned the computer but the bits are going to be partial."

"Tell me what you get," Mike said, yawning. "Can any of the girls run the program?"

"Yeah," Vanner replied. "I'm going to let them work it while I get some shut-eye. But I want to scan the files. The girls have seen just enough of this stuff to know they don't want to see any more."

"Agreed," Mike said tightly. "Get started on it and then get some rest. We're going to need you fresh in Vegas."

"Will do," Vanner said, picking up the laptop and leaving the office.

"If we have to go to Lunari it's going to be tough," Adams said after the intel specialist had left. "We don't have much on it, but what I've been able to glean indicates that the town's a fucking fortress. More than one, since all the gangs have houses there and they don't trust each other."

"We might be able to do something with that," Mike said, yawning again. "What goes for Vanner, goes for you, too. Get some rest. I'm going to need you alert whenever we get there."

"I was planning on it," Adams said, getting up. "You too."

"I will," Mike replied. "I'm going to watch some news and then rack out." The couch in the compartment converted to a bed and he was planning on taking the unusual step of using "rank has it's privileges."

"See you in the morning," Adams said. "Or whenever it's going to be."

* * *

Mike flipped open his own laptop and scanned the news. The top news story on the Fox site was the search for a missing girl in Kansas. Which meant dick all to him. Next down was the battle over the current Supreme Court nominee. The nominee was stuck in committee, naturally. The liberals were screaming about the nominee's "non-mainstream" religious views, by which they meant he was a practicing Catholic and had firm views on abortion and other "life" issues. And Grantham was the chairman of the committee, he noted.

It was assumed he would be voting with the President but he'd hardly been supporting the nominee in the last few days, which was worth fifteen minutes of comment from political and legal experts. The senator, it seemed, had twice missed opportunities to move the nominee out of committee and on to a floor vote.

France was trying to crack down on Islamic jihadists and having a rough time. The French security forces had been on high alert ever since the previous year when a nuke was set to blow in Paris. However, the French judiciary and various liberal groups were creating roadblock after roadblock against deportation of even the most extremist members of the Islamics.

The majority of the Islamics were found in southern France and around Paris. And the majority of those were housed in "government housing" neighborhoods composed of block after block of massive apartment buildings. The neighborhoods had become "no-go" zones for the police and in places there had been pitched battles that were nearly the equal of the "insurgency" period in Iraq. It hadn't, quite, reached the level of civil war, but if it were anywhere but France the news media would be all over it. As it was, the only term that came to mind was "downplayed." There was one shot in the background of what had to be an RPG being fired at French police, who appeared to be in retreat. It sure as hell didn't look good and he was glad he was out of it. He might drop a line to the Chatanueuf and see how bad it was.

And in the tail end of the news was a poll showing that the lead in the presidential polls was Barbara Watson, former first lady, junior senator from Massachusetts and a card carrying bitch from hell. If there was anything she hated more than conservative political positions it was the military. Still deployed all over the world trying to fight the good fight, the military was sure to be gutted, War on Terror or no, if she took office. And the intel groups would be hamstrung.

Mike wasn't sure if the news was just particularly bad or if it was just fatigue. But it seemed like everything he had worked for most of his life was going down the tubes. The only good news was that the Georgian government seemed to be stabilizing and even the Ossetians were coming to the table. The way things were going, Georgia was going to be a better place for him to live, all around, than the States.

Thoroughly depressed, he killed the TV and the lights and lay back, watching the stars through the narrow windows of the plane.

* * *

Mike rolled to his feet, disoriented, as the plane began its descent. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the window, still disoriented. According to his watch it was eight AM, but the sun still wasn't up. Oh, yeah, they were flying with the sun. This was going to get annoying. Jet lag was a bitch.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we're beginning our descent to Gatwick Airport in England," Captain Hardesty intoned. "Please reconfigure your seats and such like for landing. We'll be refueling and picking up breakfast. I'd appreciate it if the English speakers could translate, since my knowledge of Georgian is sadly lacking. Mr. Jenkins, if you could pick up the phone, please?"


"We've received an inflight advisory that members of the British government will be visiting with us while we're in England," Hardesty said, neutrally.

"Oh, really?" Mike asked. "I'm going to need to make some phone calls."

"Please do," Hardesty said. "As long as they don't get my plane impounded and my pilot's license pulled. I am officially disavowing any suspicion of illicit activities, I might add."

"Nice to know," Mike said, chuckling as he hung up the phone. He dialed a number from memory before checking his watch. It was still the middle of the night in the U.S.

"Office of Special Operations Liaison, Navy Captain Parker speaking. How may I help you, sir or ma'am?"

"That's a mouthful, Captain," Mike said. "Mike Jenkins. I'm checking in. We're landing in England and we're apparently getting a deputation from the Brits. Comments?"

"Unknown at this time, Mr. Jenkins," Parker said after a moment. "I'll need to make some calls."

"Please do," Mike said. He picked up the phone and connected to the rear cabin.

"Yes, Kildar?"

"Greznya? I hope you got some sleep."

"I got quite a good sleep, thank you, Kildar," Greznya replied.

"Are Adams and Vanner functional?"

"They will be after another cup of coffee," Greznya said. "And Vanner has something he's looking at. Would you like them to step up front?"

"No, I'm going to head back," Mike said. "See you in a bit."

* * *

The rear of the plane was configured for about twice as many people as there were Keldara so Keldara were sprawled everywhere. Adams was getting them up and the seats reconfigured as Mike stepped through the door.

"Be with you in a second, Mike," Adams called.

There were two flight attendants on the plane and Mike waved one of them over.

"Is there a way to access the intercom back here?" Mike asked.

"Right here, sir," the woman said, picking up a phone and hitting the appropriate button.

"Rise and shine, Keldara," Mike said in the Keldara dialect of Georgian, which he was fairly sure the crew wouldn't be able to understand. "We're about to land in England. When we do we're going to be getting a visit from some representatives of the British government. I'm not sure what they're going to be asking about, but I suspect it has to do with our visit to Romania and points south. In that case, nobody speaks English at all well and understands it even less. If it comes down to lawyers, guns and money we've got all three on our side as well as some very interesting video footage. Enough about that, though.

"As you all know, we're headed for the U.S. to attend a convention and try to sell our beer. In addition, I'll be meeting with members of the U.S. government and will be discussing our recent trip. Hopefully, we'll be able to trade for some intelligence on our next objective. But that's for me to worry about. What you are going to be doing is selling beer. Gurum will be running that side of things. I don't want any caillean stuff to interfere. Gurum has done a good job this far and it's time for us to backstop him. The girls will be wearing traditional dress, handing out beer and smiling at the customers. The boys will be making sure the customers keep their hands to themselves. Pictures may be taken. In that case, smile for the camera. I don't know how much of it Adams, Vanner and I will be available for, so you're mostly going to be on your own.

"Las Vegas is called Sin City. There are various vices available to the visitor. But I know that the Keldara are far too meek and gentle to engage in such things as fornicating with prostitutes, gambling and drinking."

He waited for the expected chuckles to die down and then shook his head.

"Okay, so maybe you're not. But there are lots of ways to get in trouble that you're not aware of. So most of the trip I'd like you to stay around your rooms or down at the booth on your schedule, which we'll come up with and publish. I'll try to squeeze out some free time so you can see the town with local guides. After the convention, though, I suspect it will be back into the belly of the beast. So have as much fun as you can."

"Kildar," one of the Keldara women said as he hung up. "Phone."

"Jenkins," Mike said, picking up the handset.

"Parker," the caller said, briefly. "Answer to your question: Your activities came to the attention of MI-6. They put the Georgians together with the Americans and came up with you as being the likely person. When we were questioned on it, routinely, we were noncommittal. They apparently have specific concerns, unspecified according to the report. My guess is that they want to talk about their unspecified concerns."

"We're carrying our gear," Mike pointed out. "A search of the plane will lead to embarassing questions. For that matter, we're going to need some interference run in the States."

"You're not debarking or unloading until Las Vegas, right?" Parker asked.


"It's handled," Parker said. "When you land in Vegas, get your troops settled in at whatever they're doing. You'll be contacted at your hotel and flown out to Nellis for debrief and data comparison."

"Got it," Mike said. "Anything else?"

"Not here."

"Out, then," Mike said, hanging up the phone.

"Kildar," Vanner said as he finished. "We've got something."

"Something useful?" Mike asked. "Finally?"


* * *

"There were over two hundred file snippets on the hard drive," Vanner said, leaving his trayback down with the laptop on it as the plane descended. "I haven't had time to look at all of them, much less get a feel for who all the people on them are, but I found this ..."

He hit play and the screen showed a masked but naked man in bed with two women, girls really. One of them Mike recognized immediately as their target, the other was unknown.

"The other female is Ludmilla Seventy-Eight," Vanner said, continuing to let the video stream without sound. The scene was pretty clear. Neither of the women were having fun as the man worked "Ludmilla" over with what looked like a soldering iron and a pair of pliers. The target, Natalya, was simply chained to the bed in a position where she had to watch.

"The video is broken, but the end is there," Vanner continued in a strained voice.

The next snippet showed the same scene, but in that portion Ludmilla was on her face with the masked man apparently taking her anally. From what was visible of her back, she had apparently been whipped in one of the missing segments. As Mike watched, the masked man wrapped a thin cord around the girl's neck and strangled her while he was taking her. When her struggles had ended, permanently, the man got off of her and the video abruptly ended.

"There's no way to tell that that's Grantham," Mike commented.

"Well, there's one corroborating item," Vanner said, backing the video up and turning on the sound while handing Mike a pair of earphones.

Mike didn't really want to watch the video again but he put on the earphones anyway.

"Fucking bitch," the masked man snarled. "Little fucking whore. I'm going to do you in every hole and then fucking kill you. You're playing with the big boys, now! Beg me for your life and you might live, bitch ..."

The video continued in the same vein for some time and Mike finally hit the pause button.

"And?" he asked.

"Here's a video of Grantham talking to the cameras," Vanner said.

Mike watched that video as well and listened to the voice with his eyes closed, then played the snuff film as well with his eyes closed.

"Same voice," Mike said, shaking his head.

"I thought so, too," Vanner said. "But something was bugging me about it. So I took a good look at the video."

He brought up a screen capture in PhotoShop. The capture was of the masked man, stretched out next to the murdered girl and working her over. He'd apparently stretched his back and he was at full height.

"The bed is a standard European double," Vanner said, bringing up a ruler tool. "The height of the bed is seventy-eight inches." He laid the ruler down and got a length off of it. "Senator Grantham is six foot one or seventy-three inches." He laid the ruler down and got the height off of the figure in the video.

"Doing the math," he continued, pulling out a cocktail napkin and sketching the numbers on it, "I get that the guy in the video is only five feet ten inches tall. More like five nine. Max of five eleven."

"So what's with the voice?" Mike asked. Something was nagging at him about the video but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"Various ways it could be cloaked," Vanner said, shrugging as the wheels chirped on touchdown. "There's a device that goes on the vocal cords that can change a voice. Not perfectly, but close enough for this. Not my area of expertise and I don't have the equipment to do a really tight voice compare. But what this looks like is a deliberate frame of the senator by person or persons unknown."

"And you can bet that Traskel is in it up to his patrician eyeballs."

Back | Next