Viking Bay, page 4
IN MID-AUGUST, Jessica began school and Kay started what was supposed to be nine months of training. For the first three months, three days a week, six hours a day, she would attend language classes. They wanted her to learn Farsi first, then Arabic. She guessed the priority was placed on Farsi because of Iran. The other days of the week—which would include some Saturdays and evening sessions as well—the curriculum would include classes on Mideastern cultures; there would be surveillance and surveillance-avoidance training conducted at the FBI’s training facility in Quantico. There was one forty-hour course that would be taught over at Fort Meade in Maryland where the NSA’s headquarters were, and here she’d be given an introduction to listening devices, alarm systems, and computer security. These classes weren’t intended to make her an expert in any of these subjects but to simply acquaint her with the state of the art so she’d know the technologies available to her and those she’d be up against.
In the spring would come the fun stuff, and Kay was really looking forward to it: scuba training down at the navy’s dive school in Panama City, Florida, and jump school and survival training at Fort Benning, taught by the army. The jump school would focus on low-altitude night drops—and Kay could hardly wait.
Kay was surprised to learn that although she wouldn’t be enrolled under her own name, she would just be another student attending classes with a variety of people from the military services, government agencies, law-enforcement organizations, and private companies. Some of the other students might even be from countries that were supposedly—or currently—U.S. allies. The language classes, for example, would be held at Georgetown University in D.C. and the Mideastern cultural classes at George Mason University in Arlington, and in these classes, Kay was told, she would most likely meet people from the State Department, the FBI, and the CIA.
The only classes she took where she was not a student in some standard program were the classes related to killing people: demolitions, firearms training, knife fighting, and the stupid hand-to-hand combat course. Kay had tried to get out of attending the hand-to-hand and firearms courses, saying that she’d already had similar training when she was at the DEA, but Mercer refused to give her a pass.
The killing classes were taught by the Callahan Group’s own instructors, and the only people in these classes were Callahan employees. As near as she could tell, the Class of 2014 included only three other people and they were told not to socialize with one another. She had no idea how many people the Callahan Group employed; she did get the impression that they had employees in several places around the globe. One thing she was sure of, based on her training alone, was that the Callahan Group did a whole lot more than hostile takeovers of foreign companies.
She was only forty-five days into the training program the day she kicked Bowman in the balls and Anna Mercer called her.
KAY STEPPED INTO the outer office and the colossus who acted as the receptionist said, “Hello, Kay. I’ll tell Anna you’re here, but just head on down to her office. By the way, my name’s Henry.” This time Henry didn’t wand her to see if she was wired or armed; apparently, she was now a trusted member of the club.
Kay learned later that Henry was an interesting fellow: an ex-Marine with enough medals to cover even his big chest. He got the medals in Iraq, where he hardly got a scratch; then he went to work for Callahan and his right leg was blown off below the knee. Kay never did learn what he’d been doing when he lost the leg because she didn’t have need to know—the mantra of classification.
Kay proceeded toward Mercer’s office, but Mercer stepped into the hallway before Kay reached her door. She was cuddling her fat white Persian cat, Scarlett, in her arms. “We’re meeting in the conference room,” Mercer said.
Kay thought that was rather rude: No how are you doing, how are the classes going, is everything okay with your daughter?
The conference room contained a typical boardroom table with seats for ten, and at one end was a flat-screen TV mounted on a rolling stand. Along one wall was a sink, a microwave, and a small refrigerator. There were two people already in the room, a man and a woman.
The woman was younger than Mercer and older than Kay, maybe forty. She was slender and dressed in a dark blue pantsuit and a plain white blouse; her clothes didn’t come close to matching Mercer’s in terms of style or expense. She wore no makeup, no jewelry, and had wire-rimmed glasses with fairly thick lenses. Her long, dark hair was tied in a sloppy ponytail, a few unruly strands falling onto her forehead. Kay thought she might have been pretty—even sexy—if she applied a little lip gloss and ditched the glasses.
The man sitting next to the woman was in his late thirties or early forties, and Kay’s initial reaction was: Wow! The guy was absurdly good-looking: perfect straight nose, little crinkly smile lines radiating from blue-gray eyes, a strong chin, and lips God had engineered for kissing. He had sandy brown hair and a slim yet muscular build. He was wearing a blue suit that Kay guessed cost about five grand and a shirt that was a perfect color for his eyes.
“Kay, say hello to Sylvia Sorenson and Eli Dolan,” Mercer said. “Sylvia’s one of our lawyers and specializes in international law. She may not look like it, but Sylvia’s a wolverine. That story Callahan told you about the hypothetical German company that we destroyed with lawsuits and financial sabotage? Well, Sylvia was behind the lawsuits. Hypothetically.”
Sylvia blushed at the compliment. She looked to Kay more like a field mouse than a wolverine—but you can never tell.
“Eli’s our money guy,” Mercer said, and Kay remembered Callahan telling her about the Group’s money guy: Goldman Sachs, Treasury Department, OMB; she still didn’t know what OMB stood for, because she’d forgotten to look it up.
“Not only is Eli cute as a button,” Mercer continued, “he’s also richer than God from old family money and all the people he fleeced in investment banking. I’ve been throwing myself at him for years, but he keeps spurning me. I think he’s gay.”
Kay was pretty sure, judging by the way he was looking at her, that Eli Dolan wasn’t gay.
“Guys,” Mercer said to Eli and Sylvia, “this is Kay Hamilton, one of our newbies. She looks good now, Eli, but we know she was fat as a child and will most likely get fat again when she gets older. And her boobs are fake.”
Sylvia looked away, embarrassed by Mercer’s bawdy comment, but Eli laughed. Kay felt like punching Mercer in the face.
Kay had come right from the gym, and she was dressed casually as she was through with classes for the day. She was wearing jeans that were tight and low on her hips, and a designer sweatshirt that tended to leave one shoulder bare and exposed her flat midriff. Her long blond hair was still a bit damp from her shower and hung in tangled tresses down to her shoulders, since she hadn’t taken the time to comb it out. Thank God she had taken the time to apply a little makeup and her lipstick.
Dolan stood and reached out to shake Kay’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said. He was a perfect height, too: six-foot-three, which Kay liked, since she was a tall girl at five-eight. She could wear high heels when she went out with him.
Then she thought: Stop it! You don’t know anything about the guy.
As Mercer was placing Scarlett in a basket identical to the one in her office, Callahan flung open the door to the conference room, holding a cup of coffee in one hand, and dropped heavily into the seat at the head of the table. He was dressed exactly as Kay had seen him the first time she met him: rumpled gray suit, wrinkled shirt, loosened tie.
“Kay, have you met Eli and Sylvia?” Callahan asked.
“And I’m assuming Anna’s already introduced you to Scarlett.”
“Uh, yeah,” Kay said, but she was thinking: What is it with the fucking cat?
“Okay, then let’s get started,” Callahan said. “Now, I’m bringing you in on s
Callahan picked up a remote that Kay hadn’t noticed lying on the table next to his right hand. He hit a button on the remote and the following appeared in the center of the TV screen:
7 | “Lithium,” Callahan said, “is a soft white metal and its atomic number is three. It’s the lightest metal in existence, and it’s highly reactive because . . .” Callahan stopped when he saw the look on Kay’s face, and said, “Yeah, you’re right. Who gives a shit?”
He tapped the remote three or four times, skipping past PowerPoint pages that had more information on the atomic properties of lithium. He stopped when a map of Afghanistan appeared on the screen. The map showed the country’s thirty-four provinces in different colors.
Callahan zoomed in on a province in the eastern part of the country, south of Kabul. “This is Ghazni Province,” he said. “It’s an absolute shithole of a place, made more so by the fact that the Taliban are constantly killing whoever in Ghazni pisses them off. But in 2007, a U.S. Geological Survey discovered the mother lode of lithium in some dry salt lakes in Ghazni. In fact, an internal Pentagon report said that Ghazni could be the Saudi Arabia of lithium.”
Kay wondered how Callahan had gotten his hands on an internal Pentagon report, but didn’t ask.
“You see,” Callahan said, “lithium is used in a number of applications—glass, ceramics, optics—but the big one is batteries. And these days, with everybody trying to build electric cars, batteries are a big deal. But there’s another application for lithium that’s even more interesting. It’s an element that’s used in nuclear fusion; it’s a neutron absorber. Do you know the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion?”
Kay wondered if he was intentionally trying to make her feel stupid. She was an ex-cop, not a fucking physicist. “I know fission is when you do things like split atoms and fusion is when you, ah, fuse ’em together.” She could feel her face turning red and avoided looking at Eli Dolan.
“Exactly,” Callahan said, sounding pleased as Punch that she knew anything at all. “In fission, we split uranium and plutonium atoms, and when you split ’em, they give off heat, or energy, which is a good thing. What’s bad is you’re left with a lot of radioactive garbage, and basically all we can do today is stick the garbage someplace like Yucca Mountain and wait ten thousand years for it to stop being radioactive.
“But fusion is different. Fusion is the holy grail of energy. In fusion, instead of using uranium we use water—actually, something called heavy water—and if you can jam these water atoms together they give off energy, too, but you don’t end up with the nasty, long-lasting radioactive shit you get from fission. Up until now, however, the boffins haven’t figured out how to make fusion work in an economically viable way. Well, it appears DARPA knows something. You know what DARPA is?”
“Sort of,” Kay said, “I know it’s a government research-and-development outfit.”
“That’s right,” Callahan said. “DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and they’re theoretically responsible for developing new technologies for use by the military. Some of the brightest nerds in the country work there, and they’re always looking into the future, trying to come up with things that sound like science fiction. If we ever have time travel, the guys from DARPA will be the ones who take the first ride back to the Middle Ages. Anyway, it appears DARPA knows something about nuclear fusion that nobody else knows, and they whispered into the president’s ear that it might be a good idea for the government to stock up on lithium.”
Callahan pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, then looked around the conference room, growing more annoyed the longer he looked. “Where’s my ashtray?” he asked Mercer.
“I have no idea,” Mercer said.
“Liar,” Callahan said. He got up, walked over to a sink in the conference room, and partially filled a paper cup with water, intending to use the cup as an ashtray. He sat back down and started patting all his pockets. “Goddamnit,” he muttered. “I don’t suppose any of you has a book of matches,” he said. No one answered him except for Sylvia, who said, “Sorry.”
“God, you’re a bunch of Puritans,” Callahan said. “You all make me sick.”
He put the cigarette back in his pocket and, turning to Kay, he said, “Today, about half the world’s known supply of lithium is in Bolivia, in a place called Salar de Uyuni. It’s not easy to get the stuff out of Bolivia, however, as that part of the world is a tough place to mine and South Americans, in general, are pretty wise to our act when it comes to filching their natural resources. Well, these dry lakes in Ghazni Province are thought to contain as much lithium as there is in Bolivia, and if it weren’t for the politics of Afghanistan and the Taliban and the fact that the country has been in a continual state of war for half a century, it’d be a lot easier to mine there than Bolivia. You with me so far?”
Kay nodded but was irritated that he’d asked the question, like she was the slowest kid in the class. Then it occurred to her that in this particular class, she was the slowest.
Callahan tapped the remote again and a photograph of a bearded man in his fifties appeared on the screen. He had short black hair streaked with gray, an axe blade for a nose, and intense dark eyes. He was wearing a brown vest over a collarless white shirt.
“This is Sahid Mohammad Khan, the current governor of Ghazni Province. Like most provincial governors, he’s a complete thug and he relies heavily on force, intimidation, and tribal connections. He’s also corrupt, meaning he takes every opportunity he can to line his own pockets, but he’s no more corrupt than the president of Afghanistan or the other governors. The good thing about him is, he hates the Taliban, which isn’t surprising since they’ve tried to kill him a dozen times. He’s not a big fan of the United States either, but he’s played us like a fish to get money for himself and his province. But the truly unique thing about Sahid Khan is his daughter, his attitude toward her, and his relationship with her.”
Callahan tapped the remote again and a picture of a beautiful young woman in her twenties filled the screen. “This is Ara Khan.”
Ara Khan had lustrous black hair, a model’s cheekbones, and full lips. The most striking thing about her was her eyes, which were a stunning shade of jade green—and Kay was immediately reminded of that famous picture of the young Afghan girl that appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine years ago. The girl on the cover of National Geographic had exactly the same color eyes.
“Sahid Khan dotes on his daughter; he doesn’t have any sons and his wife is dead. No one can figure out why he hasn’t married again. Anyway, Sahid sent Ara abroad to be educated during the war to protect her from the Taliban. Or maybe, considering the way she looks, to protect her from U.S. troops. She got the equivalent of a high school degree in France and her college education at NYU. She speaks French, English, Pashto, Dari, and Uzbek. Her university degree is in international studies. In addition to being educated in a manner that’s extremely unusual for an Afghan woman, Ara Khan is her father’s principal advisor.”
“How do you know that?” Kay asked.
Callahan winked at her. “Because the CIA has a spy in Khan’s government. The same spy probably works for the Russians and the Chinese and the British and anyone else willing to pay his price. It’s really easy to buy an Afghan spy, but you can never be sure who they’re working for. At any rate, Sahid consults with Ara on all his major decisions and he includes her in his inner circle, which really pisses off his other guys.
“One last thing about Ara, then we’ll take a break, because I need a smoke and I gotta take a leak. The pe
Callahan left the conference room and Dolan walked over and opened the door to a small refrigerator. “Would anyone like something to drink?” he asked. “Coke, bottled water, fruit juice? There’s also beer in here, but I imagine that’s reserved for Callahan.”
“Nothing for me,” Sylvia said.
“I’ll have a Diet Coke,” Mercer said.
“Kay?” Dolan said.
“Uh, just water.”
Dolan handed her a bottle of Perrier and Mercer a Coke. Kay opened the bottle, but before taking a drink, she said, “Do you live here in D.C.?”
“Part-time. My primary residence is in Manhattan, but I have a small place in Georgetown where I stay when I’m down here.”
Mercer snorted. “He has a gorgeous town house. It’s worth more than two million. And if he offers to show you his etchings, I’m going to throw up.”
Mercer was really annoying Kay. She almost said: Don’t you have to go the bathroom, too?
“How about you?” Dolan asked. “Do you live here?”
“Yeah, we just moved here. We have a place on Connecticut.”
“We?” Dolan said.
Before Kay could tell him that by we she meant her daughter and not a husband, Callahan came back into the room and they all resumed their seats at the table. She noticed Callahan had brought an ashtray with him.
“Okay,” Callahan said. “One last picture, and then we’ll get down to the mission.”