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Chapter Twenty-Nine

"Everybody has their customs and immigration form filled out," Adams said as Mike waited nervously for the inspectors from BCIS to board the plane. They'd stopped at Dulles to take on fuel and for clearance and Pierson had assured him that clearances were taken care of. But after the stop in Britain, Mike was half anticipating being taken into custody along with the whole team.

The plane had docked to a tubeway. Mike wasn't in a position to see down the hallway but he could hear the footsteps approaching and was surprised by the degree of reaction. He'd gotten shot to ribbons on more than one occasion, but for some reason this meeting was filling him with dread. Probably as a result of the conversation with Carlson-Smith. The MI-6 agent was calm as toast, however. As he'd said, nobody was going to hold him personally responsible for the files. Hell, the data on the computers was illegal, forget the guns and ammo in the cargo hold!

The customs inspector stepped through the door and shook Hardesty's hand and it took Mike longer than it should have to process the face.

"My name's Pierson," Colonel Pierson said, smiling at Hardesty disarmingly. "I'll be processing your crew and passenger's manifest while my associate does a quick check of your cargo hold."

"A pleasure to meet you," Captain Hardesty said, swallowing nervously.

"Pierson?" Mike asked, his eyes widening at the sight of the Army colonel in the uniform of a custom's agent.

"Ah, Mr. Jenkins, I presume?" Pierson said, smiling. "Let me just check on the crew's documentation and I'll be with you and your ... group in a moment."

* * *

"Yes, BCIS is shitting a brick," Pierson said when he'd sat Mike down with a stiff bourbon. "And State is shitting a brick. And the National Security Council is shitting a brick. Which is why I'm here instead of a regular inspector and why a Navy commander from OSOL is carefully ignoring the contents of the hold. Satisfied?"

"I should have trusted you when you said it'd be taken care of," Mike admitted, smiling finally. "But that's not the only reason you're here."

"No," Pierson admitted, looking over at the MI-6 agent who was watching him carefully. "And, as agreed, all the original files are going to Nellis for your review, Agent Carlson-Smith. But you said Grantham wasn't the culprit and the President wants that data as soon as possible."

"Let me get Vanner," Mike said, picking up the phone.

It took Vanner a few minutes to run through his song and dance again but when he did Pierson leaned back and nodded in satisfaction.

"Grantham's been acting weird, lately," Pierson said. "I mean, yes, he's his own man and he works the Senate as he needs to, cutting deals, concentrating on what he thinks is important. But the decisions, the votes and actions he's been taking, are completely out of his normal line."

"The Supreme Court nominee?" Mike asked.

"That's just the most noticeable," Pierson replied, nodding again. "But that's the big one. He's stalling the guy in the Senate. It's the first changed vote that the President has had a chance to place on the bench, a conservative for a liberal. The news media is screaming, the liberals are screaming and Grantham should be acting decisively. Instead, it's like he's trying to run out the clock or something."

"So somebody is blackmailing him with the video?" Mike asked. "Traskel?"

"That would be the prime suspect," Pierson admitted. "But that doesn't mean it's him. It could be any enemy of Grantham's normal positions. And it would be a stupidly long-ball shot for somebody like Traskel. He's been in the Senate for years; is likely to stay there for years, there's no reason for him to have set this up."

"Well, it's connected to Traskel somehow," Mike said, frowning. "I mean, he knew to send me after this particular girl. And why her, I wonder?"

"Natalya's in the video but she survived the scene," Carlson-Smith said. "She's more likely than most to be able to identify the perp."

"There's another way to do it," Vanner said. "Voice print. The person has had his voice modified, but you're still going to be able to pull out some data and get a voice recognition on them."

"We'd have to have a matching voice print," Pierson pointed out.

"Echelon could run it in a couple of hours," Vanner said, shrugging.

Echelon was a "black" operation of the NSA that monitored world-wide voice and internet communications searching for keywords.

"Okay, assuming that Echelon really exists ..." Pierson said dryly.

"I used to work at No-Such-Agency," Vanner said, just as dryly, using the nickname for the NSA. "It wasn't an off-the-cuff estimate, Colonel."

"Okay, assuming we could get the NSA to admit it exists, for this project, which has major political overtones," Pierson said, raising his hands. "Even admitting that, the voice is disguised and NSA won't use it, period, for investigation of American citizens. Even under the Patriot Act. And I'm pretty sure we don't want to open that can of worms for this. This is horrible, but it's definitively not terrorism related. In fact, except for being something like a constitutional crisis, it's not even national security related!"

Pierson paused and shrugged unhappily.

"What should be done, by the book, is that the data would be turned over to the FBI," the colonel continued. "There's a process for that, now. Information gathered during an intelligence operation that points to a crime committed can be forwarded to the FBI for investigation. The problem is, the FBI doesn't have jurisdiction. What we have here is a rape and a murder. Those are civil crimes. They occurred in Macedonia, which is the only jurisdiction that could try them."

"So we either turn the data over to the Macedonians," Carlson-Smith said musingly, "which would give them blackmail material on half the governments in the Western World or ... we let them walk?"

"No," Pierson said, shaking his head. "What the President wants to do is very quietly show the data to the appropriate people. Quiet meetings that result in the perp simply no longer being in anything that resembles a position of power. And it won't matter which side of the aisle they are on, or what country they're from. He's discussed this with the prime minister and the prime minister is on board. But ..."

"But we have to have all the data," Mike sighed. "We've got to get the DVDs."

"And anyone associated with the Albanian operation," Pierson agreed. "And then there's the other side. Who bells the cat?"

"The State Department," Mike said with a shrug.

"Nope," Pierson replied. "Currently, what you're carrying is very closely held. And it's going to stay that way. No leaks. God-help-us-please, no leaks."

"Agreed," Mike said, frowning. "But you're not suggesting ..."

"Either we or the Brits will handle the introductions," Pierson said, his face hard. "But you're going to be the messenger."

"Like hell," Mike said, shaking his head. "No fucking way."

"You're not an operative of the American government," Pierson continued, tightly. "You're just ... you. You'll handle the data presentation and get the appropriate assurances from the people you deal with on what is to be done. But the bottomline is that every single person has to exit the government, and anything government affiliated. No nongovernmental organizations, no military contracts, no lobbying. They become common citizens and disappear. Hopefully, most of them will commit suicide."

"Then we might as well scrap most of the data," Mike said, frowning. "All we'll need is the hard copy of who was involved, and the DVDs."

"Agreed," Pierson said, nodding. "We'll lock down the data in a vault and it won't ever go anywhere."

"No," Mike said, looking distant. "If I'm the guy carrying the message, then I'm the guy holding the data. They won't trust anyone with that data, including the United States government. I've got a hole that's plenty big enough for it. We'll bury it under the caravanserai. I'll tell them where it is. And tell them to leave well enough alone. They won't believe it if I tell them it's been destroyed, which would be my first choice. We'll just ... hold it. Someday, it will just be history."

"I'm not sure the prime minister would agree with that," Carlson-Smith said.

"And I'm pretty sure the President wanted to keep them in Nellis," Pierson said, frowning. "That's a big damned responsibility to just delegate."

"Who are you talking to?" Mike asked tightly. "Think about how we met, Bob."

"That's different."

"How?" Mike replied. "The President and the prime minister will geek. Trust me. Because this way, these things don't hang like a Sword of Damocles at every high level meeting. They'll go from Nellis to the caravanserai and be buried. You'll pull the data about American and British members for America and Britain to deal with. The rest are up to me. After we find the DVDs. Hopefully they haven't made copies."

"You'll have to make sure of that," Pierson said darkly.

"I'm not even sure I can get the DVDs," Mike said, breaking his stare and sighing.

"We've got improved intel," Pierson said. "Not much of it, but some. That, too, will be available at Nellis. There's one oustanding issue: information control. Who knows what in your teams?"

"The Keldara know pretty much everything about Rozaje," Mike said, frowning. "But the Keldara don't talk ..."

"Can we trust that, though?" Carlson-Smith asked.

"Could you trust the Gurkhas?" Mike asked. "This is the business of the Kildar. The Keldara don't talk. Even then the information on who and what is pretty tightly restricted. I had Vanner keep it away from the girls just because of what it was. They've looked at the files and made some lists. But even then it's very close. I'm not even sure that Adams knows any names except your foreign service guy and the not-Senator-Grantham. We'll keep it close. Vanner will lock it down as of now. Scrap the Albanian translators; we won't need them for the rest of this."

"So it's tight," Pierson said, sighing hopefully.

"It's tight," Mike said. "And with the Keldara, and me, it will stay that way."

"And you'll take the messenger duties," Pierson said.

"And the guard duties," Mike replied. "After we have the DVDs. I'm going to need support for that. A lot."

"You'll get whatever we have," Pierson said. "Anything you ask for, trust me."

"And then I get to be the Chooser of the Slain," Mike said, grimacing. "Great. Oh, there's one more thing."

"Which is?" Carlson-Smith asked.

"When we find out what the link is to Traskel, I get to break it to.

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