Unto the breach pos 4, p.13

Unto the Breach pos-4, page 13

 part  #4 of  Paladin of Shadows Series


Unto the Breach pos-4

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  “I accept the clarification,” Jay said. “I take it, though, that if I work with you I won’t be working for him.”

  “No,” Mike said. “I’m not even sure exactly how a chain would look. I’d suggest that you two work it out. Frankly, I’m sure that there are plenty of times Vanner would prefer somebody with more experience around. But try to work together. If you start working at cross purposes we’ll have a problem.”

  “Agreed,” Jay said. “Payment?”

  “Hard to say,” Mike replied. “I can give you a salary number if you wish, but what I think would work better is to just say: Tell me what you want. That is, besides your salary, you’re going to have expenses. I’m not going to nit-pick those. All I ask for is results. You tell me what kind of money you need and if I can’t afford it I’ll lay out my books and show you why. I’m running a very expensive operation. I make quite a bit of money on ops, enough to run it so far, but there’s an upper limit. However, I’d put the upper limit on a million a year. I’d prefer that you tell me what you want to get paid, but understand that that is part of the budget. And if you don’t use it all, that’s fine too. I’m not going to ask why you paid some guy twenty-grand. You’re not doing this for the money, anyway, or I wouldn’t be talking to you. You’re doing it for the fun, the excitement, the professional challenge and because you’re a patriot.”

  “I am, am I?” Jay said with a slight smile. “You’re sure.”

  “Yeah, I’m sure,” Mike replied.

  “Very well,” the man said, smiling more broadly. “What are the parameters? Be aware that there are reasons DC hates humint. For one, it’s slow. You have to take time building networks. For another, it’s uncertain. You’re depending upon what people tell you. People lie. Everyone lies all the time and especially in the intelligence world. So I may get a piece of information that looks good and it will be terribly wrong. For a third, any intel is a two-edged sword. If you use it, you’re often going to burn a source. That, in fact, was why I quit. I got tired of the State Department under our last president using my intel in negotiations and burning my networks.”

  “You ought to hear Vanner some time when he’s going on about Clinton revealing we had OBL’s satellite phone number and were listening in every day. I mean, the guy called his step-mom every damned day he could. And naturally she wanted to know what he was doing to further the jihad. And then our lovely president goes and talks about it on national TV.”

  “And, of course, there was the Chechen attack because the Russians revealed you were intercepting their calls,” Jay said, nodding.

  “You have good sources,” Mike replied. “You going to stay out in the cold or you want to come to Georgia?”

  “I wouldn’t necessarily say that Georgia is in the warm,” Jay replied.

  “You’d be secure,” Mike pointed out. “As secure as anywhere forward and arguably more secure than here. You’re also going to need support. I’m not sure how much the Keldara can do along those lines, but they’re there. I don’t know what kind of support, exactly,” he added, holding up the book, “but I keep realizing how much I’d depended on support staff back when I was working for Uncle Sam.”

  “But there’s that long damned drive to the airport,” Jay pointed out, smiling very slightly and quickly. The smile was just with the lips, not the eyes, and come and gone so quickly it was almost invisible. “However, I understand that the perks are great.”

  “I’m eventually going to get a helicopter,” Mike said. “I don’t like the drive, either.”

  “Oh, yes, now that would be covert,” the man replied, snorting. “But your comment about support staff is germane. I don’t suppose they sew?”

  “All their own clothes,” Mike said, nodding.

  “I’ll need to get some stuff to set up a shop,” Jay replied. “Initial outlay may be high.”

  “I’ve spent better than four million outfitting the Keldara,” Mike said with a grimace. “Higher than that?”

  “Uh, no,” Jay said with another fleeting smile. “I see a vast number of issues, however. I know just about every skill or task related to supporting my job. Except some of the more esoteric chemistry. However, passing those skills on will require time on my part.”

  “You want another body?” Mike asked.

  “Again, no,” the man replied. “I know a number of people who could provide support but none I would care to actually put my life in their hands. For the time being, I’ll simply provide my own when necessary. There are professionals, as well, I can call upon for individual items.”

  “How’s your Rolo-dex?” Mike asked. “Those tend to get out of date fast.”

  “For the technical items it is, in fact, up to date,” Jay said. That smile again. “There are even a few… associates, a very few, on it that were not burned during my tenure or after I left. Notably in Iran and Syria. I’m not sure I can reactivate those networks, but I can look into it. Alas, I haven’t anyone on the Chechen side. Those I had were all rolled by either the Russians or, in two cases, the Chechens. Okay, I just wanted to check you out in person. I’m in. Three hundred kay for me. And budget up to a million a year. I’ll try to keep it much lower than that. Most of the time it will be well under. Works?”

  “Okay,” Mike said, shrugging. “I’m planning on going back tomorrow if you want a ride… ”

  “I’ll make my own way,” the man said, standing up.

  “I’d be surprised if you didn’t know this,” Mike said, frowning, “but the valley is in a Georgian military controlled zone. You can’t just waltz in and out. There are a slew of checkpoints to get through.”

  “Excuse me?” Jay said, the smile reaching his eyes this time. “Exactly why are you hiring me?”

  “Oh,” Mike replied. “Brain fart. Good point.”

  “I’ll see you in Georgia,” Jay said, walking into the shop.

  Mike just had to do it. He sat out in the Alexandria sunshine for the next two hours, flipping through the book and not really reading while keeping an eye on the only entrance. But Jay never reappeared.

  Chapter Ten

  “At a certain level, there is no such thing as a storefront; the people it pays to shop with simply do not advertise.”

  Mrs. John J. Weston was a spare woman in her late fifties, much shorter than Anastasia. She seemed to never hurry, but made her way through the crowds like a lioness parting gazelles. People simply, instinctually, stepped out of her way.

  Anastasia was simultaneously trying to take in the city, trying not to get overwhelmed and simply absorb Amelia Weston. She hoped that by the time she was a hundred she might have half the grace and just amazing aura the woman exuded.

  Mrs. Weston was definitely not “Amelia.” The First Lady, despite the fact that they were clearly friends, referred to only as “Mrs. Weston.” That was fine by Anastasia; having to call the wife of the President of the United States “Amanda” had nearly killed her. She was much more comfortable with Mrs. Weston. She was not going to think of telling her, but Mrs. Weston reminded her, very much, of the first manager of Otryad’s hareem she had served under, Salah. But Salah with a cosmopolitan background.

  Samarkand? That had been a lovely stationing. Mrs. Weston named shops that Anastasia knew, and a list of shopkeepers, by name, that she only vaguely recalled. Details of meals and meetings in a calm, unhurried voice.

  Tblisi? Only for a short time when the General, capital letters, was an envoy. Lieutenant Colonel, then. Still Soviet, of course. Pleasant town but… gray. She understood from friends who wrote her that it was much more gay now.

  No name dropping, no one upping, no “well, when the General was running arms negotiations for the SALT II Treaty… ” No, all the mentions were small things to put Anastasia at her ease, to make her feel as if she had found a friend, a confidante. A highly formal one but a friend nonetheless.

  In a hundred years… maybe.

  “You have to know where to go,” Mrs. Weston said, nodd
ing at the bellman of what looked very much like a sprawling hotel.

  “And here is where to go?” Anastasia asked. “This is a hotel, yes, Mrs. Weston?”

  “It is indeed,” Mrs. Weston said. “The Watergate of infamy and legend. But it has some places worth visiting as well. David has his hair cut here. All Good Republicans do.”

  “I am unfamiliar,” Anastasia said. “I apologize.”

  “Oh, water under the gate, my dear,” Mrs. Weston replied. “But quite famous.”

  The lady made her way to a back elevator, nodding to various people who obviously knew her and chose the fourteenth floor.

  “It helps,” she said, “if you think of it as a very large souque. I have to make the assumption, you will forgive me, based on the First Lady’s request, that you have not done significant travel in cities.”

  “I have not, Mrs. Weston,” Anastasia admitted. “I think you have seen more of Samarkand than I have. And Tblisi, for that matter. I have not even been in the souque very much. Only twice that I recall.”

  “Hmm, hmm.”

  Anastasia wasn’t sure exactly what “Hmm, hmm” meant but she suspected that a very sharp and cosmopolitan mind was putting some clues together.

  They exited the elevator and turned down the corridor, stopping at a door that looked very much as if it went to a hotel room or possibly suite. It had a number but below that was a discrete brass plaque that simply said: G. Groome, Clothier.

  Mrs. Weston didn’t bother to knock. She just opened the door and swept in.

  “George,” she said to a gray-haired black gentleman. He was seated on a chair looking at a ledger, wearing a striped silk shirt and exquisite wool trousers held up by bracers. “It’s been simply ages.”

  The room looked a good bit like a suite, albeit the living room, and was tastefully and expensively decorated. Anastasia was taking more notes.

  “Mrs. Weston,” the man said, smiling and revealing very white, very straight, teeth. “As I live and breathe.”

  “George, I have a bit of a problem,” Mrs. Weston said, pulling Anastasia forward. “This is Miss Rakovich from Georgia, note that’s the country, George, not the state. Her friend, a Mr. Ford, is visiting the House. Only in town for a day. Old friend of David’s or something. No decent shops in Tblisi as you know and his wardrobe’s gotten quite threadbare. Hawaiian shirts if you can believe! The staff is simply clucking.”

  “I understand,” George said, throwing a wink to Anastasia.

  “So Miss Rakovich and I would like a spot of tea,” Mrs. Weston said, walking to the divan, hand on Anastasia’s arm. “And perhaps you could show us what London and Paris are messing up this year?”

  * * *

  Mike arrived back at the White House in a taxi. He paid the driver then went up to the side gate. This time he was careful to have the right passport ready.

  “Mr. Ford,” the uniformed officer said, nodding.

  “I’ve got a bit of a problem,” Mike said, taking back the passport. “I can’t recall exactly how to get to my room, I don’t know where my girlfriend has gotten to — the last time I saw her she was about to get grilled by the First Lady — and I need a shield room with a computer that can run a PDF file.”

  “Why don’t I call an escort?” the officer said, trying not to grin. “And Miss Rakovich left about an hour ago in the company of Mrs. Amelia Weston, wife of General Weston, the MDW commander. I believe they were going shopping.”

  “Why am I not surprised?”

  * * *

  Mike slid the CD into the computer and opened the single PDF file. It contained photos of the seven known or suspected players on the operation as well as an estimate of opposition forces.

  The Chechens had about three hundred fighters in the area, organized in another “battalion” like the one the Keldara had wiped out a few months back. The leader was Commander Bukara, another of the organizers of the Beslan attack as well as others on the Russian heartland. The Russians seriously wanted his ass but had never been able to localize him. It was probable that he’d be at the rendezvous. If Mike could bring back his head the Russians would be very happy.

  Person of interest two was Mohammed Al-Kariya. He was a money man for Al Qaeda with fingers in various sources of supply. He was technically “white” although he was on the State Department list of terrorism supporters. Nobody had ever pinned anything on him, though, and the Europeans let him come and go. His “white” identity was as an international banker and fundraiser for “Muslim Charities.”

  Mohammed had required Muslims to support the poor and thus it was the duty of good Muslims to donate to charities. A large number of Muslim “charities” however were funding channels for international terrorism. The money traveled mostly through a closed banking system among Muslim groups that was surprisingly hard to crack. But plenty of it got to Al Qaeda and similar groups. And Al-Kariya was one of the main men handling it. If the Chechens wanted that much money, he was going to be around keeping an eye on it.

  Al-Kariya was, to say the least, heavy-set. He wasn’t going to be running very fast.

  Then there was Arensky. The data on him was surprisingly sparse. He’d gotten a Ph. D. from Moscow University back in the Soviet days and then disappeared into the Soviet and then Russian “Advanced Research Agency.” ARA was something like America’s DARPA, a clearing house for various high tech research projects. What bothered Mike was that as far as he knew, ARA didn’t play with nukes. That was under an entirely separate agency and the two rarely interacted. And although it said that Arensky had gotten a Ph.D. the document didn’t say in what.

  Arensky had a daughter, Marina, who had apparently disappeared with him. Twenty-two, blonde, green eyes. Pretty thing. But not a security issue on the op.

  Arensky was probably going to have security with him. The number one probable provider was Sergei Rudenko. Former Spetznaz colonel, fifty-three and started under the Soviets. Described as “tall and broad” with gray shot black hair. The photo was from his official dossier and Mike mentally added “seriously cold eyes.” Russian mobster but not a member of any particular group, known hitter. He had a group of former Spetznaz that he picked and chose from for missions. There would be at least fifteen to twenty of them. Mikhail had been one of his usual guys which was had made the first connection.

  Another “person of interest” was one Kurt Schwenke. Often worked as Rudenko’s second-in-command. Former East German Stasi specializing in “wet work.” Got into the game late but made something of a name for himself in his brief period before the fall of East Germany. Forty-seven. There was a photo but it was old and had the notation that Schwenke was “an expert in disguise and deception.” The list of kills, culled from the Stasi archives found after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was impressive as was the variety of techniques from pistol to sniper to small explosives. Wanted by Germany for “crimes against humanity” and by just about every government in Europe for that matter; he was tied to most of the former Western European communist terrorist groups. He’d been around. Like Mike himself, he was an expert at infiltration and silent kill.

  The Al Qaeda guys would have their own security and then there was the Chechen “battalion.” The Keldara had tangled with them once, but it was from prepared defenses. Unless he got brilliant, that wasn’t going to happen this time. The correlation of forces was adverse.

  If he had full support, say a B-52 loaded with JDAMs or a Spectre gunship, this would be dead simple. But using just the Keldara it was going to be tough.

  Not as tough, however, as simply getting into the Pansiki. The last Georgian control post stopped nearly sixty miles from the site of the rendezvous. And it wasn’t a straight sixty miles; the area was nearly vertical Alpine mountains. The Chechens had patrols and logistics groups moving all through the area so even flying in would be tough. The closest they could get was maybe thirty miles from the rendezvous. Then they’d have to hump in, hit the site and hump back out. It was hard enough to c
arry food for a thirty mile hump through that sort of terrain: carrying ammo, weapons and commo was going to be a stone bitch.

  Where’d they put those mules from the last Chechen supply-train they’d hit?

  If they brought mules they’d raise their profile significantly. However, they could probably mask as a Chechen train. That had an upside and a downside. There were Spetsnaz working the other side of the border, covertly. They were likely to get hit by “their” team. And the Chechens had control teams on the routes in the area.

  Okay, he knew a group that had the helos to get them into the area. And they could handle the mules; the Keldara weren’t that far from their farmer roots. The last thing they didn’t have was good intel on the area around the rendezvous. But he knew how to get that, too. It would mean a preliminary covert insertion and some way to set up short range commo. But that could all be arranged. Come to think of it, Vanner was airborne qualled.

  Mike started to grin evilly.

  * * *

  “Did you have a good day, Stasia?”

  The dinner was the definition of “intimate.” The room was, like most of the White House, small, tucked away in a corner of the East Wing. The only diners were Mike, who had seen his “assistant” for about three minutes since he’d left, Anastasia, the President and the First Lady.

  Mike was still having a hard time figuring out which fork to use.

  “Both good and interesting,” Anastasia said, cutting a bit of her salad and taking a small bite. “Mostly because of Mrs. Weston.”

  “Didn’t I tell you Amelia was a treasure,” the First Lady said.

  “A force of nature,” the President added. “There don’t seem to be many like her, anymore, present company excluded.”

  “I must exclude myself, Mr. President,” Anastasia replied. “I thought many times, today, that if I live to be a hundred I might come close to being Mrs. Weston.”

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