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Chapter Nine

Mike considered the border crossing as the six vans approached it. It had just flat taken six vans for all the team and their gear.

Set up of the operation had only taken three days. Vanner had many of the items they were going to need on hand and the few that he didn't were more available in the Ukraine than in Georgia. The route had taken them through the Ukraine, and a brief stop at Dnipropetrovsk filled in the gaps. Weapons were easy; the Keldara were very well armed.

However, travelling to Moldava had taken some time. The roads in Georgia and the Ukraine, ranged from bad to just awful. And given that the vans were packed with foreign nationals using fake passports and enough weapons for a small coup, discreet travel was the byword. They'd mostly stayed off the major roads, which meant not only circuitous travel but staying mostly on the "just awful" roads.

By the end of the week's trek, Mike felt as if his kidneys had been shaken out through his sinuses.

However, they'd made it to the Moldavan border. The problem then was that the out-of-the-way border crossing near Ribnita, which according to reports was unguarded, had a couple of Moldavan soldiers running a checkpoint.

"Be of good cheer and tip heavily," Mike said. The headset dangling from his ear was a bit out of the ordinary for white slavers but it wasn't entirely out of character. "Hand me your passports," he continued, looking to the rear of the vehicle.

The seats right behind the driver's were filled by three Keldara in work clothes and jeans. Their heavy-cotton button-down shirts were untucked so the pistols at their waist were concealed. Poorly in a couple of cases, but concealed. The rest of their gear was packed in the cargo area of the van, stuffed into several discreet pullman bags. He just had to hope that the border guards didn't want to search them or they'd find far more than they bargained for.

Behind them were four girls from Vanner's intel section in blouses and jeans. The latter had caused some screaming from the more traditional Keldara but Mike had thrown the weight of the Kildar behind the decision. The girls were potentially vital to the operation and they had to fit in. Most women didn't wear skirts when travelling, even in this part of the world. A couple of the girls had looked askance when told they were going to dress in pants, but most of them had taken to them with glee. Change was coming to the Keldara in the form of Levi's 505s.

In the last set of seats were four more Keldara heavies, the entry team portion of the shooters. They also had pistols holstered at their belts but in addition they had sub-guns under the seat. Mike dearly hoped that they weren't going to start the op by killing a couple of Moldavan soldiers. That would be ... bad.

"Hello," Yevgenii said to the soldier as he rolled to a stop next to him. "How are you today?"

"I'm out here on this shit road," the soldier grumped as the passports were handed across.

"At least it's not raining," Yevgenii said happily.

Mike looked around carefully. There were only two, the soldier taking the passports and his companion, who was leaning against a tree by the side of the road. If worse came to worse, they could probably take them both down without bloodshed.

The soldier flipped through the passports, pulling out a bill from the top one and pocketing it.

"You are from Georgia?" the soldier asked.

"Yes," Yevgenii said, grinning. "We are a church group going to visit monasteries in your country and Romania."

"And I'm the High Prelate," the soldier replied, handing the passports back. "It is lonely out here, how about some time with one of your girls?"

Mike blinked at the suggestion. It wasn't one he'd run across before, but he'd never been masquerading as a white slaver.

"I think that could be arranged," Mike said, smiling. "I have just the girl for you ..."

"That one looks good," the soldier said, pointing in the window at one of the Keldara girls. As it turned out it was Vanda, one of Yevgenii's first cousins. He could see the Keldara slowly turning purple at the suggestion.

"No, no," Mike said, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. If he didn't get this guy to go for Cottontail there was going to be blood on the walls. As he was thinking that, the other soldier started to wander over, wondering what was going on. "I have a very pretty one for you and your friend," Mike continued, hitting his mike. "Adam ... ovich, tell Cottontail she's got a special duty up front." He only remembered at the last moment to use Russian and he knew he still had an accent. He wasn't supposed to be talking at all! Damn Yevgenii!

"We will want one for each of us," the soldier said, looking in the van at the back. "And I still like that one by the window. She is very pretty and has good tits."

"Kildar ..." one of the Keldara muttered from the backseat.

"Silence," Mike snapped. "I have a girl coming up for you. She is very good, very pretty and can take you both at once if you wish." He glanced in his rear-view and sighed in thankfulness as he saw Cottontail walking up the line of vehicles. There were a couple of cars stopped behind the line of vans, now. This was going downhill fast.

"Hi, boys," Cottontail purred as she came around the van to the driver's side. "You want some company?"

The Keldara women were justly famous for their beauty but Cottontail had most of them equalled at least. And when she put her mind to it, she could exude a sort of raw sensuality that was riveting. What was most riveting was that she looked like a teen virgin, even if she'd been with more men than a dockside whore and had the soul of Jeffrey Dahmer. Part of the strength of her act was that men rarely really looked at her eyes. Oh, they were stunningly beautiful, but men never got beyond that. They didn't see the little fire of hell burning in the rear of them. Or if they did they thought it was just lust, not pure evil.

"She will be good to you," Mike said, waving them away. "We will pull our vans to the side until you are ... done."

Mike got out and waved the vans forward and to the side of the small back road, then walked down the line, wishing he smoked. He needed something to steady his nerves. He was fine if it was a matter of killing everyone in the building, hole, ship or even town. But this shit was for somebody who enjoyed it.

He also took the time to wave the two cars that had been waiting through, and then found the chief in the fourth van.

"What was that all about?" Adams asked.

"The soldiers were bored and horny," Mike said, sharply. "They thought it would be a good way to pass the time to 'borrow' Vanda as part of their tip."

"The Moldav bastards," Sedama snarled from the driver's seat as the rest of the Keldara muttered angrily.

"Yevgenii nearly blew his top," Mike snapped. "But this sort of thing is going to come up. Handle it. Talk your way through. I'll tell you when you can kill someone. Don't kill anyone until I tell you. Is that clear?"

"Clear Kildar," Sedama replied, breathing out. "So Cottontail is taking care of it?"

"Yes," Mike said, still angry. As much at himself as at the situation. He should have prepared for it.

"And on another crossing when we don't have her along?" one of the Keldara in the rear of the van asked.

"I'm going to have to think about that one," Mike admitted. "Giving up the Keldara women is, clearly, out of the question."

"I dunno," another Keldara said. "There's always Anisa ..."


* * *

Mike was leaning on the front of the lead van, looking at a map, when Cottontail came back out of the woods wiping at the corner of her lip with her thumb.

"Everybody satisfied?" Mike asked, cautiously. He hadn't told her she was going to have to bribe border guards and he felt curiously shamed by the incident. It wasn't as if she hadn't screwed enough men for two more to be no big deal.

"They are," she replied, archly.

"And are they alive?" With Cottontail you always had to ask.

"Yes," she admitted. "I considered it, but it would interfere with the mission, no?"

"Yes, it would," Mike said.

"And the mission is killing many slavers. This is a mission I like. I would not want it to fail."

Her eyes were as clear and innocent blue as a child's.

* * *

Chisinau was the capital of the small country of Moldava. Moldava was more an agreed upon border state between Russia and Romania than a real country. Russia had troops on the east side of the Dniester River to support the local Slavic ethnic groups so the central government couldn't really call that "their" territory. The situation was so bleak, they'd even elected a communist as president and more or less regressed to a semi-communist, sort of Stalinist, failed state. Totally landlocked, the poorest country in Europe, its total exports were limestone, hookers and people looking for a real life somewhere else.

The team had been installed at the Hotel Stalin on the outskirts of town. The hotel was near an industrial area and if Chisinau had a better and worse part of town, it was in the worst. In keeping with the general dilapidation of the neighborhood, the hotel looked as if it had been used by every rocker at Woodstock. The carpet, where it wasn't pulled up entirely, was about fifty years old and poorly made then. The rooms were filthy, the corridors were littered and the bathrooms didn't bear description.

It also was doing a booming business. They'd barely been able to get enough rooms for all of them and when Mike checked out their fellow travellers he could see why. They weren't the only people bringing girls through Moldava.

He wandered down to the bar, which gave "dive" a whole new meaning, and looked over the offerings. To his amazement, they had Johnny Walker Red.

"Walker," he said, perching on the rickety stool. The bar was about half filled and the clientele was telling. The men were all beefy and from various bulges mostly armed. The women were all wearing damned near nothing and given the temperatures in the bar they had to be freezing. Most of them also seemed rather ... subdued. As in "if I make a wrong sound, my pimp is going to beat the shit out of me. In public. And nobody will care."

One of the girls had just had her head pushed under the table when he sensed someone coming up from his off-side.

"Where you in from?" a man said in Russian as he settled in the seat next to Mike.

"Georgia," Mike said, honestly.

"Strange accent," the man said, frowning. "You're not Georgian."

"American," Mike admitted. "This is a way to pay the bills and the fringe benefits are great."

"Now we've got Americans in the game," the man grumped. "I am Ahmed Pasha. I saw some of your girls, though. Very nice. How much?"

"I'm taking them to Montenegro for an auction," Mike said. "They're not for sale. Mike Duncan."

"I saw one, a blonde, very big breasts," the man replied. "I'll give you a thousand euros and you won't have to feed her from here to Montenegro. I don't keep them, myself, you know. I am broker and move them. I know men will give me good price for her."

"I can get better money there," Mike said, laughing. "The buyers are special, pimps with wealthy clients. They want virgins or damned near. Clean and undamaged so they can have them first and hard. That's why I've got so much muscle with me, so the girls don't have to be disciplined. I'll go with the plan. What's the word on the roads west?"

"Ungheni was covered when I came back through," Pasha said. "You have to go all the way up to Balti to get through without a check. But the guards on Balti will usually take only five euros per passenger. They prefer euros. Here in Chinisau so many girls come through, so many men. Some have do this long time, some, like you, just getting started. I know everybody, can find best price for you. Fifteen hundred. She was very lovely. The one wearing the blue blouse. Very nice breasts. Very nice. I, too, have special customers and girls that good are getting hard to find."

"They had guards on Ribnita," Mike replied. "Five euros per passenger and they wanted a freebie. Fortunately I had one that had already been broken in or I'd have been out a lot of money. I've only been doing this for a while, yeah, but I've got a covered racket. Just me and my partner and we cut out the middlemen. When we're done with them we sell them to guys like you; my partner handles that. No dice. Not even in the game. That's Vanda and I'm looking at damned near ten grand for her first. You'd just dump her into the pipeline; if you've got special customers I'm the pope. What was happening in Romania?"

"Not much until you get near Cluj Napoca," the man said. "There was a checkpoint on the E-60 near Tarnaveni. Real bastards when I went through west. They acted like I was transporting my girls for immoral purposes and against their will. The shame. And it was very expensive in bribes. Ten thousand in dollars or euros? It doesn't matter, that is crazy. I can buy twenty girls for that."

"Don't know how far east you're going, but we hit one like that near Novyi Buh," Mike replied. "I explained to one of the girls that she had to talk us through. Or else. I understand, though, that there was a crackdown in Odessa and some of the guys are looking to move their more noticeable girls. You could probably get some good trades. And she's not really for sale, anyway."

"I operate here," Pasha said. "Although I buy Ukrainian girls. And if you have any more like those, next time through, I'll give you a good deal. I know all the men who buy and sell. I wonder who you know in Montenegro? Ammad? Tufa?"

"Neither," Mike said. "Very small network; I doubt you've run into it. We get high price girls and charge Westerners, mostly American, for the privilege of breaking them in. Charge them through the nose. You have to have the contacts for that. My partner is connected in the States. Then we dump them in the regular channels. We're in the market for those types of girls, though. Bringing these all the way from Georgia is a pain. You know a guy named Smegnoff? I understand he's got some girls that I might want to buy."

"Everyone has got girls," Pasha said, shrugging. "Smegnoff, yes, he has some good ones sometimes. If you really want to see him, he is in the Café Arrendi in the evening. But so do my suppliers. And we don't use them as hard as he does. He had one girl that tried to run away, so he broke her knees. She can walk only with a limp, now. Very sad." He didn't seem terribly broken up about it.

"I need them unused," Mike said, standing up and tossing a twenty euro bill on the bar. "I can do with a couple of very high quality girls, very pretty, virgins, young. I'll give you a good deal on them. I'll be around for a couple of days if you get anything worth talking about."

* * *

"Well, we're established," Mike said as he came into the room the team was using as a command post. Vanner was already in place with various electronic gadgets set up and a wire discreetly running out the window. "The agreed cover: we're running high quality girls to Montenegro for a special auction. I put out the word that we're in the market for unspoiled girls."

"I've gotten Smegnoff's cell phone plotted," Vanner said, nodding. He had a set of cup headphones on with one cup dangling. "He's about a half a kilometer southeast of here which plots out as ..."

"The Café Arrendi," Mike said, grinning as the intel specialist turned to look at him. "Already got the word."

"What's the play?" Adams asked.

"Work him," Mike said. "Then get him someplace quiet and have a nice long chat."

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