Kildar, p.23

Kildar, page 23



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  "Keeping teenage girls is not easy," the sheik said, smiling and handing over his finished cigarette again. "I suggest the stick on regular occasions. It reminds them who owns the home."

  "I will take the suggestion to heart," Mike said, smiling faintly and taking another sip of coffee syrup. "However, neither Georgian culture nor my own has a background for exactly what I've ended up with. There are whore masters, of course, but . . ."

  "Pimps are unworthy to approach a true hareem," the sheik said, shaking his head. "The hareem is a place of peace and contemplation; pimps would turn it into a place of sex, pure and simple."

  "Well, I'm not going to discount the sex aspect," Mike said, wrinkling his brow.

  "Of course not," the sheik said. "But the hareem is far more than sex. A hareem that is well run is where the lord goes to regain his sanity from the day of stress. There is much that he can delegate, but the ultimate responsibility lands upon the lord. That is day-to-day stress that, also, is unknown in your society. Very few have that sort of stress laid upon them. For the lord must not talk about his problems to his followers, lest they lose faith in him. He must hold it all in, all upon himself. The hareem is where he goes to escape that. It is only in the hareem that he can discuss his problems, for the women of the hareem are closed from the outside. They do not talk outside the hareem and thus the fears and problems of the lord stay safe. Thus the women of the hareem must be trained in far more than simply sexual arts. They must be trained to soothe and please their master, to remove the stress, not add to it. Thus, we have the problem of teenage girls, who are a problem all of their own."

  "That they are," Mike said, thinking about Katya and then inserting Katrina in addition.

  "You need an assistant," the sheik said.

  "Agreed," Mike replied, raising an eyebrow. "I seek your wisdom in that."

  "Anastasia?" the sheik said, looking at the woman. "You are over time to leave the hareem."

  "Yes, my lord," the woman said, nodding and keeping her eyes down.

  "This would be a good choice for you, I think," the sheik said. "You will go with him."

  "Yes, my lord," the woman said, nodding.

  "It is done," the sheik said, waving his hands. "Go and prepare to leave."

  Mike started to open his mouth and then froze at a small gesture from Wangen. It seemed like a hell of a cold way to get sent out of the only life the girl had known for . . . probably a decade at least.

  "She will be ready to leave shortly," the sheik said, dismissing the girl with another wave. "Her replacement has already been trained. This is better for her, I think. She is educated, but after living in the hareem it is hard to adjust to the outside. She would probably have found work managing girls for a pimp in some brothel. This is much the better course. She is old, of course, but she will be adequate for some time to come."

  "My thanks," Mike said, letting out a breath that held much unsaid.

  "I may have need to call upon you at some time," the sheik admitted. "Nothing that the American government would find amiss, I assure you. But I have my own security concerns, concerns that also concern the American government. Having a man who is . . . good with his hands, who owes me a favor is useful."

  "A friend in need is a friend in deed," Mike said, noncommittally. "I take it you have my number."

  "I do," the sheik said. "And American military scrambler codes."

  Chapter Seventeen

  Mike wasn't sure of the protocol when Anastasia came out the door but he boarded the car, first followed by the girl, then Wangen. Her bags, three, had already been loaded in the trunk so they pulled out with a last wave to the sheik.

  "Back to the Hilton, Tom," Wangen said, letting out a breath as the car cleared the gates. "Drop Mr. Jenkins and his friend off, then to the embassy."

  "Airport," Mike said, getting out his sat phone. "I have to get back to Georgia. If that's okay?"

  "Fine," Wangen said. "It's closer than the Hilton. What about your luggage?"

  "I had it sent to the plane," Mike said. "I'm on a bit of tight schedule."

  "Problems at home?" Wangen asked, curiously.

  "A festival," Mike replied, shrugging. "Then we're starting training on the militia. They're starting issue today. Nielson and Adams have that well in hand, but I'd like to be around in case there are problems. And I definitely need to be there for the festival."

  He called Hardesty and made sure they were ready for a late take-off, then leaned back in the seat as the limo bumped over the roads to Samarkand.

  "What can we talk about?" Mike asked.

  "I dunno," Wangen said. "How much are you going to be discussing around your new harem manager?"

  "Otryad wants to be president," Anastasia said. "He knows that he'd get American backing if the choice is him or Dulmaa."

  "Probably," Wangen admitted. He looked at Mike and shrugged. "Dulmaa is . . . well, he runs as an Islamic fundamentalist, but not as fundamental as, say, the mullahs in Iran. He's more of a conservative in the local sense. The usual riff about cleaning up the corruption but he's as deep in the take as anyone. But he's not a friend of the U.S. He'd be hard pressed to toss us out, but he could make things harder for us. We'd much prefer Otryad over Dulmaa."

  "I'm not going to take out a major presidential candidate," Mike said, shaking his head. "Ain't gonna happen. Wouldn't be prudent."

  "Otryad is not going to ask for help with that," Anastasia said. "Dulmaa has to live. But he is closely supported by others, including the Dar Al Islami party. Their head is Farhad Bazarhuv, also untouchable. But they are a front for the Islamic radicals. It is those he fears and wants help with."

  "Islamic radicals I do," Mike said, breathing out. "I take it you're not going to assign Delta or Army of Northern Virginia on it?" ANV was known by a half a dozen acronyms, all of them false, but it was the blackest of black ops units, existing in a nebulous world somewhere between the military and CIA. Mike had ended up in its hospital, twice, a place where the patients didn't even have a name, just a number. The personnel for ANV were drawn from the military, but after they left they never returned. Even Deltas came back in when they had too much rank for the relatively small force. ANV operatives just disappeared into the night and fog.

  "No way," Wangen said. "Maybe if we get a sniff on somebody like Rabah Batatu; he's connected with Al Qaeda or at least a supporter. And he's probably connected to the Dar Al Islami in some nebulous way. But the radicals that Otryad has a problem with are internal matters to Uzbekistan. They're not in our sights at the moment. Even for a 'friend.' Not even for ANV."

  "Dulmaa will use the radicals to disturb the election," Anastasia continued. "They will intimidate candidates and attack rallies. There are a few key members, Ju'ad Puntsag comes to mind, who are better off dead. Certainly from Otryad's point of view."

  "Puntsag we've got a sheet on," Wangen said, nodding. "More of a street thug than a terrorist, but nobody would miss him, not even his mother. But since he's a street thug and not a terrorist, he's definitely not in our sights. CAG and ANV is out."

  "Otryad has his own people," Mike pointed out.

  "They are big and can hold guns," Anastasia said, shrugging. "I don't know that they are . . . formidable."

  "Christ, all I wanted was a damned harem manager," Mike said, sighing. "I take it this didn't get discussed at the highest levels in a very specific 'didn't' way."

  "Absolutely not," Wangen said. "I definitely did not get a disk delivered by courier from the NSA discussing the ramifications of you meeting with Otryad."

  "Great," Mike grumped. "God damn that bitch. If they want to do black ops they have plenty of people available."

  "But it won't be as black as this," Wangen pointed out. "The U.S. government has absolute deniability on it. Real deniability. We gave you a ride to meet the guy and an intro. What happens from there is not our deal."

  * * *

  When they reached the plane it was already warmed up. With the c
opilot's help they got Anastasia's luggage loaded, and boarded with a last wave to Wangen.

  "Have a seat," Mike said, waving the girl into one of the front seats. "After we take off we can get a bite to eat and chat. I need to make a call, right now."

  "Very well, Mr. Jenkins," the girl said, nervously. She fumbled with her seatbelt for a moment and then got it closed, cinching it down firmly.

  "Call me Mike," Mike replied. He pulled out his sat phone and called the embassy in Tbilisi.

  "Lieutenant Timmons, Duty Officer, U.S. Embassy to the Republic of Georgia, how may I help you sir or ma'am?"

  "Hey, LT, this is Mike Jenkins. Is Colonel Osbruck around?"

  "No, sir, he's gone home for the day."

  "Any chance you could call over to the Ministry of Defense and ask if I could borrow a helicopter sometime late tonight. I am really not looking forward to riding back to the caravanserai tonight."

  "Yes, sir," the lieutenant said. "I'll give them a call for you, sir."

  "My sat phone number should be on the embassy rolodex as much as you guys call me," Mike said. "Call me back if you can scare something up. Sorry to dump this on you."

  "Boring night, sir," the lieutenant said. "Glad to have something to do. And it lets me practice my Georgian."

  "Thanks, LT," Mike said. "Come on out to the house some time, I'll feed you some real beer. I've even gotten some decent steaks laid in."

  "Will do, sir. Thank you."

  "Take care," Mike said, cutting the connection just as the jet began its rollout. "Ever flown in a corporate jet?" he asked Anastasia.

  "No," the girl said, clutching the arms of the seat.

  "They take off at a pretty high angle compared to an airliner," Mike said. "And they fly higher. You can get a pretty good view from forty grand."

  "Forty grand?" the girl said, uncertainly.

  "Forty thousand feet," Mike said as the jet turned onto the threshold. "Less turbulence up there."

  "We are going up to forty thousand feet?" the girl squeaked nervously.

  "Anastasia," Mike said, gently, "have you ever flown before?"

  "No," she said, panting slightly.

  "It's all right," Mike replied, sighing as the jet started to roll. "Just lean back in the seat and we'll be up and level before you know it." He leaned back into his seat as the jet rocketed forward. Corporate jets were designed for higher acceleration on take-off than jetliners and Hardesty was a former fighter pilot; he liked to squeeze every bit of performance out of the plane. They pushed down the runway at what Mike figured was about three Gs and then the plane pointed up at about a thirty-degree angle.

  "Is this normal?" Anastasia said, in a frightened tone.

  "When Hardesty is flying," Mike said. "Don't worry, he's really good. We'll stay like this for a while and then it will feel like we're falling for a bit; that's when he slows the engines down at altitude. Don't panic at itl it's perfectly normal."

  "I will not, Mr. Jenkins," the girl said, struggling to be calm and composed.

  "Please call me Mike," Mike said, hitting the intercom. "Barring that, Kildar. Captain Hardesty?"

  "Sir?" the pilot replied, happily.

  "As it turns out, Miss Anastasia has never flown before," Mike said. "So let's not get into any acrobatics. And give us some warning when you level out."

  "Is she okay?" Hardesty asked.

  "She will be," Mike said. "As long as you tell us when you're going to level out."

  "Will do, sir," Hardesty said.

  "There," Mike continued, cutting the connection. "He'll warn us when we level out."

  "What is this you said," Anastasia asked. "The term, Kilder?"

  "Kildar," Mike said, sighing. "It's what the land owner in the valley is called. Sort of like sheik or baron or something. Anyway, if you can't handle calling me Mike, call me Kildar. Mr. Jenkins . . . isn't my real name anyway. And don't ask what the real one is."

  "I won't," Anastasia said, looking over at him.

  "Mr. Jenkins," Captain Hardesty said over the intercom. "Preparing to level out."

  "Not a big deal," Mike said as the whine from the engines dropped and the plane seemed to drop a bit. He saw the girl's reaction and reached out a hand. "It's fine and normal. We'll be level in a bit."

  The sensation of change stopped after only a moment and Anastasia nodded.

  "I had not wanted you to know I hadn't flown before," the girl said, unhappily. "I'm sorry I showed my emotions like that. It was unprofessional of me."

  "You handled it fine," Mike said, then chuckled. "Sorry, reminded me of a guy I knew in jump school."

  "What is that?" Anastasia asked, curiously.

  "Where they teach the Army to jump out of planes," Mike said. "You have to get cycled through it for SEAL training, even though you spend the rest of your time free-falling. Anyway, was this guy in the stick I was in that had never flown in a plane before he went to jump school. He did all five jumps without landing, so I don't know when he actually landed in a plane."

  "Do you . . . jump from up this high?" the girl asked.

  "No," Mike said then paused. "Okay, I know one group that did, but it was a special case. Most jumps are under fourteen grand, fourteen thousand feet. That way you don't have to use oxygen. High altitude is twenty thousand to thirty. Very, very few people have ever jumped over thirty thousand. Go ahead and look out the window," he said, unbuckling and getting up to cross the plane. "It's too unreal to feel high," he added, pointing out the small window.

  Anastasia looked out for a moment, then turned away.

  "It still looks very high," the girl said. "And very big."

  "It's a big world," Mike said, gently, sitting down next to her and taking the window seat. "I take it you didn't do a lot of traveling in the harem?"

  "No," Anastasia said. "Or before. I grew up on a farm in Russia. A scout for Otryad saw me at a fair and arranged the marriage with my parents. I went from the farm to the household and have been there ever since."

  "May I ask how old you are?" Mike said, carefully.

  "Twenty-six," Anastasia said, closing her eyes. "I have been from the farm to the house and occasionally to Samarkand. I was a girl in the harem until I was seventeen. Then I was brought into training to be a manager. I took over as assistant manager at nineteen and full manager at twenty-one. I have managed his harem ever since."

  "And never been in a plane," Mike said, a touch angrily. "Has Otryad ever traveled?"

  "Yes," Anastasia said. "But it wouldn't be . . . right to take his women with him. It would be unseemly."

  "Not to me," Mike said. "If I have to travel, you can figure on coming with me. Unless you really don't want to."

  "Oh, I would like to," the girl said, breathing out finally. "I have wanted to see the world. But I'm afraid of it as well. I have been . . . inside for so long. Not only in a house, but like being trapped in a cage. Like the tiger in too small a cage, I pace and pace, but if the door is open, I'm afraid to walk out."

  "Well, the door in my house is always open," Mike said. "I'm hiring you, not buying you. You're free to go any time. You're a full adult and have some training in people management if nothing else." He saw her fearful expression and sighed in exasperation. "That's not kicking you out, damnit. I'm just saying you're free to be whoever you want to be. If you don't like working for me, I'll find you another job. The door to my harem is always open. For one thing, I don't think of the girls as just mine. I have people who work with me, friends who visit, and if the girls want to mess with them, they can feel free. For that matter, four of the girls currently in the house are rented hookers. They are, very specifically, for the comfort and support of the trainers that who quarters in the house. The rest of the girls . . . I'm not so sure."

  "If you would take my advice," Anastasia said, diffidently, "they should not be given to other men. Girls of the hareem are not whores. There is a great deal of difference, in the head if nothing else. They may be gifted to subordinate
s as wives, especially as they age. This is traditional in Uzbek society at least. But they should not be passed around like . . . sweetmeats at a party."

  "I'll keep that in mind," Mike said, grinning. "And, yes, that's exactly what I wanted you for. How much are you supposed to get paid, by the way?"

  "I had a small stipend from Otryad," Anastasia said, shrugging. "To buy clothes and jewelry. And he would give me gifts."

  "That's it?" Mike asked, shaking his head. "Well, that won't work for me. The girls get that. I'll figure out a salary. He said something about education. You can read and write, right?"

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