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Chapter Thirty-Eight

"Kildar," Anastasia said, looking in the door. "Father Kulcyanov wishes to see you."

"Send him in," Mike said, trying not to sigh and clearing the screen on his computer. The operation had turned out to be almost nightmarishly complex and making sure all the strands were in place had become a day-by-day struggle. The last thing he needed was to deal with the often long-winded Father Kulcyanov.

It had ended up making more sense to move in stages. The freighter didn't need much in the way of modification for the mission so, since the one they'd hired had been in the western Med when the deal was made, it had headed directly for Albanian waters.

The helicopter company, Russkiya Heavy Lift, had often operated in and around Macedonia and Albania, supplying implementation forces and humanitarian operations. With a few words in the right ears, getting permission for the helicopters to pick up an "oil rig relief team" hadn't been hard.

The teams were, thus, to be flown into Hellenica airport, board busses and drive to the Greek coast, then be picked up by the choppers and flown out to the freighter.

The biggest hassle had been getting the equipment to them. This had required the services of another freighter and a mid-ocean transfer managed by Chief Adams.

Pulling it all together had been a constant struggle with logistics while maintaining security. Vanner had ended up going to Spain to arrange the freighter, Chief Adams had put more pages into his passport flying to Turkey and Greece to ensure the arms made it through, and even Nielson had had to fly to Germany for an updated intel brief. Carlson-Smith had smoothed the way in Greece and found a rather respectable looking fellow who knew an enormous amount about the safe industry. He had turned out to be unwilling to actually put his life in jeopardy, but he had determined the actual safe that the Albanians had installed, its location, and carefully drilled some of the Keldara women in the opening method.

And if it turned out to be the wrong safe, Mike was planning on using the chief's method and the hell with the contents.

Mike admitted that without the chief and Nielson, not to mention Carlson-Smith, he would have been lost. Hell, even Daria had been doing dog work keeping up with all the paperwork. She had a better ground-level feel for what was where at any time than the rest of them.

This level of organization and support was so far beyond his previous training he half the time had no clue what people were talking about in the, frequent, meetings. But he doggedly asked questions until he understood, came up with a series of checkpoints and times for people to make and then ensured they did. And Daria kept up with those without batting an eye.

Russell had turned out to be a keeper. The big former Ranger had apparently soaked up everything the U.S. Army had to tell about airmobile operations and had drilled the Keldara mercilessly. In less than a week he had every one of the teams fully trained on everything from fast-rope work to sling-lift. They wouldn't need the latter as far as Mike could tell, but it was nice that they were trained.

If things slowed down for a while he might just get a plane and start training them on parachute work. What the hell.

"Kildar, it is good to see you," Father Kulcyanov said, entering the office at a dignified pace.

"And you, Father Kulcyanov," Mike said, pulling a chair around to the coffee table in the office. "How are the crops?"

"They are well, Kildar," the elder replied as Anastasia directed one of the harem girls to lay out tea. "It is difficult with the young men all engaged in preparing for the mission, but we persevere. This mission is important to the Keldara and to you and we are your followers."

"And the Family is well?" Mike asked picking up one of the teacups and taking a sip.

"The Family is well," Father Kulcyanov said, sipping at the tea and nodding. "Well. But to support you and yours through the generations, we must increase, Kildar."

"I hope that all is well with the women?" Mike asked, confused.

"All is well," Father Kulcyanov said, nodding sagely. "Women are a trial, but we must have them to support the home, yes?" He nodded at the girl who was still standing by in case the Kildar needed anything.

"And support the militia," Mike pointed out. "The girls on the mission were invaluable. The Keldara are amazing people."

"But to have more Keldara," Father Kulcyanov said, "we must have marriages, Kildar."

"Oh," Mike said, shaking his head. "This is the Kardane thing, isn't it? Thank you, Lida, that will be all," Mike added, gesturing with his chin for the girl to leave the room.

"The wedding is in only four weeks, Kildar," Father Kulcyanov said, regally. "You will be gone for two of those, at least ..."

"And it's not a good idea to have the ceremony on the day before the wedding, huh?" Mike said. "Father, we are very busy—"

"We have secured the horses you requested," Father Kulcyanov said, ignoring the argument. "All is prepared, Kildar. When can you perform the Rite of Kardane?"

"Given what we're working with, here, the whole ritual makes me uncomfortable," Mike admitted. "But I think I can still squeeze it in. Hang on."

He walked to the phone and hit the speakerphone.


"Here, Kildar," the colonel said. "I'm up to my eyeballs, though ..."

"When is a good day to close down the caravanserai for a whole night?" Mike asked. "Don't say 'never.' "

"After the mission?" Nielson asked. "I mean, we move in four days!"

"Not good enough," Mike said. "Give me a day. One night."

"Jesus, Mike," Nielson said but Mike could hear keys tapping. "Tomorrow looks best. I'll have to shift my flag down to the Keldara, though."

"Block out three hours in the evening for all the Keldara," Mike said. "And everybody in the caravanserai gets locked down. If they have to come and go, they use the back door."

"Will do," Nielson said. "What's this about?"

"It's a Keldara thing," Mike said. "I'll get back to you." He turned back to Father Kulcyanov and shrugged. "Tomorrow night?"

"Very well, Kildar," the elder said. "We will be prepared."

"And while I enjoy talking to you," Mike said, holding out his hand, "I am also up to my eyeballs in work. And now I must finish it faster."

"I will go and ensure that Lydia is prepared," Father Kulcyanov said, nodding.

"I'm more worried about Oleg," Mike said after the door was closed.

* * *

"Mr. Bezhmel?"

"Yes," the security specialist said, sitting down at the booth. He'd gotten a call from someone he occasionally did business with who had set up the meet in the Moscow hotel bar. No names as usual, which was just the way that the business worked. "You have the need of special security arrangements?"

"I have information that you need," the man, an American, said in Russian. Then he smiled. "And a special security need. You've been investigating the attacks on Rozaje and the Club Dracul?"

"Perhaps," Bezhmel said, shrugging.

"It is known that you work with the Dejti clan," the man replied, smiling still. "So I'll take that as a yes. You might be interested to know that the next target is Lunari, probably the Club Aldaris. Their mission is to extract this girl," the man added, sliding a picture across the table. "Her name is Natalya. And possibly to capture the DVDs from the Rozaje villa. This wouldn't be good, would it?"

"No," Bezhmel said, frowning. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I'm your friend," the man replied, then laughed quietly and shook his head. "God, I crack myself up. No, the reason that I'm telling you is that I need this girl killed before they get their hands on her. And this man ..." he added, sliding another picture across the table along with a thick envelope. "No idea what name he'll be using but he'll be near Natalya. There is thirty thousand euros in there. If you kill both, there is another sixty thousand that will be forwarded to you. If you kill only one, that is your pay. If you kill neither ... I'll expect a full refund. There are other security specialists in the world."

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