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Friday, July 3, 2009

Late Friday's Monster

I'm a little late with Monster this Friday. It required heavy editing and I'll be going over it again tomorrow morning when I'm fresher. The day job as 'Super Wrench' required all my attention today. :)

Chapter 28

Clarity

Outside the van, as McDaniels and Rasheed hurried toward Rasheed’s SUV, a black clad figure ran toward them. The man’s clothes were torn in places, and the armored vest he wore hung loosely on his frame. He carried a MAC 10, strapped over his right shoulder, and a large equipment bag. Slowing as he reached McDaniels and Rasheed, the man gave McDaniels a small wave of the hand.

“Colonel, I don’t know whether you recognize me, but…”

“You’re Pete Donaldson,” McDaniels interrupted, checking Donaldson’s form, and the white bandage over the left side of his face.

“I heard you were going out to get the assholes behind this. I’m coming along,” Donaldson said, jiggling his equipment bag. “I have gear in the bag I think you could use, and I’m very familiar with it.”

“You don’t look so good, Pete,” McDaniels replied. “Maybe…”

“I’m good to go, Colonel. I was lucky. My men weren’t.”

“Kay and I may do some things tonight you won’t be comfortable with.” McDaniels glanced at Rasheed momentarily and received an imperceptible nod from his friend.

“That ain’t likely, Sir,” Donaldson retorted stiffly. “We’d better get going. Daylight’s coming quick.”

Donaldson shook hands with Rasheed “Thank you for what you did. Our own team snipers would have called in for directions while those assholes lobbed grenades out of the window on us.”

“Perhaps you may be able to change things now,” Rasheed suggested, as the men resumed walking.

“Maybe, but it will have to be on a team by team basis. I would have to know my man real well. The Colonel knows you. I could spend three years in Special Ops with the man most qualified for sniper duties and still not know him. The Colonel has been in extended combat with you. For better or worse our teams are rarely in combat situations. We have to depend on our training.”

“It’s tough in this business to give a weapons free order, because we just don’t know what the unintended result will be. The rules of engagement handicap us and at the same time fail to prevent travesties like Ruby Ridge and Waco. I will be dead before I ever have a man shoot a woman in a doorway holding a baby in her arms like happened at Ruby Ridge.”

“Ruby Ridge?” Rasheed repeated questioningly as the three men reached his SUV.

“A sniper working for the ATF or FBI received some sort of free fire order,” McDaniels explained, getting into the front passenger seat while Donaldson hustled into the back. “He shot, and killed a woman holding a baby in her arms. Pete means I know you well enough that it wouldn’t matter what I told you, you wouldn’t shoot a woman holding a baby even if I had a gun at your head.”

“Ruby Ridge is not like Iraq then.” Rasheed tried to grasp Donaldson’s concept. “These vermin in the Middle East today do not care who they use as shields. The brave insurgents as your news media calls them would hold a newborn in front of them as a shield and call it a necessary tragedy of war. Yet if one of the young men fighting for the United States takes the best shot and hits an innocent the entire world wants to convene a war crimes trial on the spot. My friend trained our unit in handling the difference between soldiers and low life, bottom feeding scum. It is difficult and tragic when the enemy wears no uniform and hides behind women and children.”

“So, you would have taken the shot at Ruby Ridge, Sir?” Donaldson asked McDaniels in some confusion.

“No,” McDaniels answered, fastening his seat belt as Rasheed drove away. “She was not a threat and she certainly wasn’t using her baby as a shield while she tried to kill others. Besides, the original supposed crime they sent a hundred agents up there for was the shortening of two shotgun barrels – a manufactured crime elicited by an ATF agent leading to a death sentence for an eleven year old boy and his mother.”

“Kay prides himself on his ability. He’s the best I’ve ever trained. If the men in the window were holding a baby or a woman in front of them as they worked to lob grenades down on a team of his men he would take the best shot possible. He would still kill the terrorists. Whether an innocent died would be the terrorists’ fault, not his.”

“Your Ruby Ridge comment is a great example of someone behind the sights of a rifle who should have been used only in black and white situations, but never as a team’s loan sniper. If the man could kill an innocent woman holding a baby he could be valuable where a cold blooded killer is needed. I’ve done things I couldn’t explain to anyone so I’m not pulling the holier than thou card. We normally have two man sniper teams for a reason other than logistics. We need moral clarity too.”

Rasheed glanced down at the directional input McDaniels had punched into his on-board GPS unit. “You cannot be both a very effective sniper and also have a rigid conscience. Shooting a woman holding a baby is not the same as taking the best possible shot at a terrorist using a baby as a shield while he murders your comrades.”

Donaldson leaned back in his seat while Rasheed maneuvered the SUV out of the phalanx of vehicles. “I’ve never thought of it in that kind of detail. You’re right though, these situations are changing on a daily basis. I can’t fault those assholes in the warehouse from a tactical standpoint. If they would have been able to start lobbing the grenades and fired off the rocket launchers, they probably wouldn’t have needed an escape tunnel. They could have walked right past us.”

“This was a rough one, Pete.” McDaniels looked back at the Special Ops agent, trying to gauge the young man’s mental toughness. “It’s easy for me to say you should have been looking for the unexpected or you should never have approached a pre-fab steel warehouse in the middle of a field with no cement access. You’ll never forget what happened tonight and you’ll never make the same mistake again. Sometimes, that’s all we have left.”

Donaldson nodded grimly, and they rode in silence for a time.

“How do you want to do this dance, Colonel?” Donaldson asked finally. “Do you think we’ll take them by surprise?”

“I’m not sure how suspicious the Russian will get when he doesn’t hear back from the Dillon woman,” McDaniels admitted. “There may not be anyone there at the address we traced her phone call to anyhow. We’re playing catch up. Did you know Dillon?”

“Yeah, I did. It’s hard to believe. What do you think they’ll do with her?”

“If they establish she sold you all out for money, it’ll be bad. You said you have some stuff in the bag that can help us?”

“I have a narrow range lightning burst weapon. It’s a prototype. If they have an alarm system I can knock it out along with any other optics or motion detectors in the building. If they’re in a major civilian building, we could be in trouble.”

“Meaning the lightning burst ain’t quite as narrow as they had hoped it would be?”

Donaldson chuckled. “Like I said - it’s a prototype. Do you have anything on the building they’re in yet?”

“We should be getting updated about it shortly.”

“Why would we be in trouble if you use this lightning weapon you spoke of?” Rasheed asked Donaldson.

“If they’re in a commercial building they share with a bank or an electronics firm for instance. We could cause more damage than an actual terrorist attack to their video optics. I brought it in case they’re the only ones using the building. I can make it so they won’t have motion detectors or alarms and they won’t know it. In reality, this weapon will take out stuff we may be unaware of at the time. Any plans if we have to waste all these guys?”

“I’m more worried about whether Dillon does have her children with these people,” McDaniels took out his cell-phone and speed dialed Reskova’s number.

“Reskova.”

“Hi Red, I thought of something else. Do you still have Dillon?”

“Yes, Jen and Tom are also with me in the interrogation room. What do you need?”

“Ask her where her kids are in reality.”

“Shit, I should have thought about that before… oh, never mind. Wait one.”

McDaniels listened as Reskova interrupted something Barrington was asking.

“Where are your two children?” Reskova asked brusquely.

McDaniels heard nothing for a moment and then Dino growled. McDaniels smiled to himself as he heard Dillon’s voice tell Reskova the children were at her Mother’s house in North Carolina for the holidays.

“You get that, Cold?”

“Yep. So you have Dino working as the truth detector, huh?”

“He’s getting real good at it, too. All I have to do is look at him now and he goes over to her with his teeth out.”

“How does he know you’re bluffing?”

“Who’s bluffing?”

“Okay, I get that now. See you soon.”

“You better,” Reskova whispered before ending the call.

“The Boss has the dog doing interrogations now?”

McDaniels nodded. “From the sound of it, Dino seems to like it too. You and Red were right about it being the money. Dillon’s kids are at her Mom’s house for the holidays in North Carolina.”

“She spoke to the enemy like a coconspirator. How did the woman think to convince us her kids were being held?” Rasheed asked in confusion.

“She just hoped to slip away in the confusion at some point later on. I think she thought to do a disappearing act. Dillon probably has some off shore account she’s been stashing her traitor money in.”

“Jesus,” Donaldson exclaimed in disgust. “It ain’t bad enough we have a global war going on with Western Civilization at stake. Now, in addition to Muslim Terrorists, we have to deal with traitors right under our noses.”

“Do not despair, my young friend,” Rasheed said sympathetically.

“Kay’s right, Pete. We can’t cut these mole’s heads off unless they stick them out of their holes.”

“This mole cost me some very good men.”

“I guess we’ll have to see if we can’t even things up a little. We’ll need some prisoners if at all possible. Maybe…”

The cell-phone Chet had given to Rasheed rang in the cup holder Rasheed had set it in between he and McDaniels. McDaniels answered it and listened silently for a few moments before acknowledging the information. He said goodbye and ended the call.

“Good news, it’s a small office building owned by one of the subsidiaries of the Syrian import company we know and love.”

“The friggin’ Russians are working with the Syrians now?” Donaldson asked.

“I think just their mafia wing here in the states with the Chechen Muslims mixed in - another triumph for our immigration department.”

Rasheed sighed. “It is just like home - enemies on all sides and open borders to provide routes for terrorist re-enforcement.”

“Ah, Kay, that’s so cute. You don’t have to put a smiley on this for us.”

“What is this smiley?” Rasheed asked as Pete chuckled.

“Never mind. How close are we?”

“Ten minutes,” Rasheed answered.

“I have a plan,” McDaniels announced.

“Oh boy. You mean like the one which made me the Father of a son and my son an orphan in one short hour?”

“Sort of. How’d that work for you, Kay?”

“I cannot complain, Mr. Mountain,” Rasheed admitted. “Proceed.”

“We do a drive by, pausing for Pete to zap the warning bells and whistles. I exit your SUV and quickly get inside to recon the situation.”

“They could have fifty men in there, Colonel,” Donaldson protested, leaning forward in his seat. “At least…”

“Do not excite yourself, young Pete,” Rasheed interrupted. “The Cold Mountain will do what he said no matter what you say. Let us question him as to our part in it before we get there.”

“Sorry, Colonel,” Donaldson said sheepishly. “Go ahead.”

“If you don’t get any word from me within a half hour, park the SUV and come in full bore. If I get into trouble before the half hour is up, I’ll break silence and call you two in. If not, I’ll give you two minutes to get inside and then I’ll let you know where to go.”

McDaniels glanced down at his watch. “I’ve got three thirty-two. Let’s make it three-thirty.”

Donaldson and Rasheed reset their watches to match McDaniels’ mark. They rode the rest of the way in silence, until Rasheed cautioned they were very close in proximity to their target. Donaldson removed the light weapon from his bag, and assembled the remote power pack. Rasheed turned off the SUV’s headlights. He drove slowly around the final block, making sure of the correct address. Rasheed stopped in front of a boxy commercial building with well lighted glass entryway.

“Avert your eyes, boys,” Donaldson warned, as he exited the van and took aim at the front entrance.

The Special Ops man gave the entranceway a thirty second blast which turned the front of the building into a green daylight. He swept the blast beam over the intended target. When Donaldson finished the building was in total darkness. McDaniels tapped him on the shoulder as he streaked across the street to the entrance. Donaldson hopped back into the van with Rasheed.

“Does the Colonel know how to get… ah… forget it,” Donaldson said, as the front entrance door opened.

As Rasheed drove away he answered Donaldson’s unasked question. “Yes, the Cold Mountain knows how to get into anything, including a multitude of trouble. Your light weapon is very impressive. It is not the first time I have been glad I am on your side.”

“We won’t know until later how much damage I caused. The Tech’s all claim to know the parameters of what this can do but I have my doubts. They don’t give you these for your eyes if the damn thing was harmless.”

Donaldson waved the specially shielded goggles he had used when discharging the light weapon. “For all I know, we’re probably all impotent now.”

Rasheed swiveled in surprise towards Donaldson but turned his attention away as the young Special Ops agent smiled back.

“Not funny. I think you Americans make too many jokes at very inappropriate times.”

“Sorry, Kay.”

“Another lie.”

Rasheed circled the block slowly. He parked fifty yards back from the building on his second time around. Both men watched the building tensely in silence. Nearly twenty minutes passed by before they heard McDaniels’ voice in their ears.

“Hi guys, piece of cake. Guess what? They have an emergency conference going right now on the third floor. They didn’t bother with any guards since they had such a great alarm system,” McDaniels whispered. “The first two floors are open showrooms with all kinds of crap displayed. The third floor has a number of open offices. Their meeting room is to your right as you exit the stairwell.”

“How many, Colonel?” Donaldson asked.

“I don’t know. There are no windows and the door is closed. In the couple of minutes I was listening, I heard at least five different voices. I doubt they’re standing around with weapons at the ready. I’m calling you from the stairwell. Come on up. Don’t take the elevator.”

“Great, another comedian,” Rasheed muttered. Where will you be, Cold?”

“I’m going over to listen in. Bring something along so we can tape these guys.”

“I still have a recorder in the back. Tom told me it will pick up anything down to a dropped needle.”

“Good, hurry it up,” McDaniels said, inching out of the stairwell and into the darkened hall.

Rasheed and Donaldson spotted McDaniels listening intently at the door to one of the rooms. All the other office doors were partially open. McDaniels signaled them to come up next to him without turning. Both Rasheed and Donaldson carried MAC10’s, while McDaniels carried a Ruger 9mm.

“There has to be nearly a dozen men in there,” McDaniels whispered as Rasheed set up the recorder he had brought. “I’ve heard Arabic and Russian. Half are in a panic about not hearing from Dillon. Only one guy knows Dillon, and the rest have been trying to get him to tell them who he has on the inside, but he won’t budge. He probably doesn’t trust his compatriots in there to keep their mouths shut.”

“If you’ll keep silent, Mr. Mountain,” Rasheed whispered back, “maybe we can get some of this recorded.”

McDaniels grinned at Rasheed, shaking his head. Donaldson crouched next to Rasheed, gripping his weapon tightly wondering if he would ever be able to make jokes in combat situations. Tensing at the sound of a chair moving, Donaldson decided it was unlikely. The phone rang and one of the Russians answered it in English.

“That is the man who spoke to the woman on the phone,” Rasheed whispered.

The Russian Rasheed spoke of ended the call after a short angry acknowledgement. They heard the man speak fiercely in rapid Russian to one of the other men. McDaniels shook his head at Rasheed and Donaldson with a look of disgust.

“The jig is up,” McDaniels said in a hushed voice, getting to his feet. “He has more than Dillon on the inside somewhere. He just received a report from someone else that Dillon was taken and the men in the warehouse are dead.”

McDaniels silently contemplated their next course of action. The voices inside the room were all speaking angrily in Arabic. Rasheed smiled at Donaldson who had no idea what was being said.

“The Arabs and Chechnyans think the Russians sold out their men in the warehouse,” Rasheed whispered to Donaldson.

“Here they come, boys,” McDaniels said, leaning against the doorway on the left side of the entrance. Rasheed and Donaldson bunched up against the right side. “We need the Russian alive, but it may not be possible. I’m going down the center. Kay to the right, Pete to the left.”

Donaldson and Rasheed nodded their understanding as the office door opened. A tall man with graying hair and mustache walked purposely through the doorway. McDaniels smashed him square in the face with a balled up mallet like fist. The man crashed back into the men following him, blood showering out of the man’s ruined face. He dropped his briefcase. McDaniels fired indiscriminately into the shocked crowd, aiming at their feet and legs. Screaming chaos followed as Rasheed and Donaldson rushed into the room on both sides of the small mob of men. Within minutes of McDaniels’ first attack the eleven men who had been in the room were on the floor of the office in growing puddles of blood. Half of them were wounded. The others had been beaten roughly to the floor either by McDaniels or Donaldson. Rasheed held his MAC10 in a covering motion, ready to kill any who made even the slightest movement toward a weapon.

“Who are you!?” One of the men who had not been wounded screamed at the three. “What…”

McDaniels shot him in the ankle. His victim screamed in pain and rolled up into a fetal position hugging his bleeding leg. McDaniels gestured at the other men with contempt.

“Do not speak unless I ask you something. Get into positions with your hands behind your backs. I don’t give a shit how bad you’re wounded. Do it now!”

The men followed McDaniels’ order, the wounded moaning in pain. McDaniels pulled the man he had just shot up into a sitting position. The terrified man quickly released his injured leg and clasped his hands behind his back. McDaniels smiled at him.

“Tell me which of these men answered the telephone before your meeting broke up.”

The light skinned man with sandy colored hair looked around quickly at his companions. McDaniels smacked him across the face, propelling the already wounded man sideways where his head hit the carpeted floor. McDaniels pulled him into a sitting position again. He jammed his Ruger into the groaning man’s groin area.

“Tell me quickly,” McDaniels whispered.

“There… there!” The man pointed at the unconscious victim of McDaniels first blow at the doorway who had not moved since falling to the floor.

McDaniels stood up. Rasheed handed him a bunch of acrylic cable ties. “Sit still while I fasten your hands together. Move… and my compatriots will blow more holes in you.”


Chapter 29

Information Gathering

Moments later, McDaniels bound the group of wounded and stunned men with their hands behind their backs and ankles together. Only then did McDaniels grab the raggedly breathing unconscious Russian up by his suit coat like a small child. He threw him down roughly into a chair. Donaldson disarmed the rest of the men under Rasheed’s watchful eye. Blood still flowed sluggishly out of the man’s broken nose as air was drawn in by gasps and snorts. McDaniels removed a Glock 9mm handgun from the man’s waistband holster but found no other weapons on him. McDaniels confiscated everything in the man’s pockets before taking out his own cell phone and speed dialing Reskova.

“Is that you Cold?” Relief was evident in her voice.

“I need a team here as soon as possible, Red, including a medical staff. We have eleven guys here. Six of them are wounded. Kay, Pete, and I are fine. Somebody tipped off one of the men we captured that the warehouse gig went south. There’s another insider in this mess.”

“Shit!” Reskova exclaimed angrily. “I am going to have Dino peel that bitch’s…”

“Easy,” McDaniels broke in. “I don’t know if she knows who it is. The Russian boss here seems to know all the pieces to our puzzle. It’s important you don’t send any ACLU types over to pick these guys up.”

Reskova laughed in spite of the grim situation. “I’ll bring Aginson into this right away. He’ll have some recommendations for a cleanup team. I assume you would like these guys to vanish suddenly.”

“That’s a big ten-four. I think we’ve only scratched the surface. After our backup gets here the three of us will be going on a road trip with Boris.”

“Any other remarkable catches?”

“Yes indeed - we have some Middle Eastern dignitaries and reps from Chechnya. The gang’s all here. We’re on the third floor of the building Chet told us about. Have whoever you send come in quietly.”

“Thanks for getting them alive, Cold. I know it was a sacrifice.”

“Why you…” McDaniels began as Reskova ended the call. He shook his head and walked over to the group. Two of the men had either passed out from the pain or from loss of blood.

“Hey, it’s getting quieter over here,” McDaniels observed.

“Please…” the man McDaniels had shot and interrogated pleaded. “I’m bleeding to death.”

“Gee, that’s rough. I have some folks coming to take you all for some medical attention. When they begin questioning you, tell them everything you know because my friends and I are taking your boss here somewhere quiet for a question and answer session. When I get back the story he tells me better match the information you all give out. If not - we’ll be taking the ones whose stories don’t match with us for some clarification.”

“This is Major Rasheed,” McDaniels continued, pointing at a scowling Rasheed. “Having once been a membe of Saddam’s secret police, he knows how to convince unhelpful terrorists to be more forthcoming.”

The captives looked up at Rasheed fearfully, especially the other Middle Eastern men.

“How can you do this?” One of the unwounded Arabs asked. “We are prisoners. We…”

“Quiet!” Rasheed kicked him in the side. “Do not speak unless asked to or you will come along with us now. I will be most happy to question you personally, scum.”

Except for the groans from the wounded men, they all waited in silence. McDaniels bound up some of the more serious wounds with scraps of clothing he tore roughly from the men’s outfits. Rasheed and Donaldson kept watch at the door, taking turns backing up McDaniels with the bound men. Donaldson gestured as a team of black clad armed men rushed into the hallway from the stairwell. Donaldson recognized the leader of the group. He shook hands with him.

“Chris, this is Colonel McDaniels’ man, Kay. Do you have a medical team with you?”

Rasheed shook hands with Chris.

“The medical team is waiting at the elevator. We wanted to make sure everything was okay first.”

“Bring them up and let’s get started.”

Chris turned his head slightly and spoke into his transmitter, giving the order for the medical team to come up. He then followed Donaldson into the room with the rest of his men. McDaniels straightened from where he had been wiping the face of the Russian he had placed in a chair. The Russian was coming to, his head moving from side to side groggily. Donaldson introduced the backup team’s leader. McDaniels indicated the men on the floor he thought were the most seriously wounded.

“I’ll leave you to bring the med team up to speed and get the cleanup organized. We’re taking this man with us for the time being. Make sure these other men do not see or talk to anyone.”

“Yes, Sir. Are you certain you want to do it this way, Colonel? I’m sure our interrogation teams can…”

“We don’t have the time, Chris,” McDaniels interrupted. “We have another mole in the department. I plan on finding out who it is real quick.”

“You mean Dillon’s not the only one?”

“The Russian received a call telling him about the warehouse debacle. I can only vouch for a handful of people who could not be the mole. If the traitor had known about our coming here we would probably be dead. Tell no one of what I’ve told you until I find out who else is in on this with Dillon.”

“You might be able to turn whoever it is into a double, Colonel.”

“My plan is for no one being around for a double agent to communicate with,” McDaniels replied ominously.

Chris laughed, stepped back, and saluted formally. “I will leave you to it then, Colonel. These assholes will be incommunicado until you say otherwise.”

McDaniels returned his salute. “I’ll keep what you suggested in mind, Chris.

McDaniels, Rasheed, and Donaldson sat quietly in the SUV as Rasheed drove. The Russian, all three men now referred to as Boris, groaned almost constantly in the back where he lay bound. The medical team had reset the Russian’s nose and placed a metal guard over it, held in place with an elastic band around his head. An irritated Rasheed looked over at McDaniels after glancing back at the Russian.

“Could we not pull over anywhere for the interrogation? This man is very annoying.”

McDaniels and Donaldson laughed. McDaniels pointed a warning finger at Rasheed. “Enough of that kind of talk, my friend. They’ll be fitting me for a noose over what we are doing. At least let’s take this somewhere quiet.”

“But going back over to the warehouse area?” Rasheed questioned again. “What is that all about? Are there no other nearer quiet places in the state?”

“I have an idea.”

“I do not like it when you say you have an idea,” Rasheed stated, evoking Donaldson’s laughter again.

“I bet they don’t have the mine field all secured yet.”

“Uh oh,” Donaldson muttered as Rasheed began laughing and nodding his head.

“I take it back, Mr. Mountain. If you truly are to do this though, you will need to clear the area of witnesses. We will not be able to proceed with this devil’s work with the area infested with bleeding hearts.”

“Devil’s work?”

“You are an evil man but perhaps you do have your place in this part of the terrorist war,” Rasheed replied. “I am unaccustomed to people sacrificing themselves to make terrorist scum feel better. I will of course visit you in prison.”

“Thanks Kay, I appreciate that.” McDaniels gave Donaldson a light smack on the forehead as Pete rocked back and forth trying not to start howling in laughter. “Pete, I’m beginning to regret taking you with us.”

“I…I…I’m sorry… Colonel,” Donaldson stammered between bouts of laughter.

“Another lie,” Rasheed said simply, setting Donaldson off again. “We must forgive the young man. He is much relieved at not being killed carrying out your attack on the building.”

“How many of the guys do you know aside from your team, Pete?” McDaniels asked, grabbing Donaldson’s ear which did nothing to reduce the young man’s mirth.

“Oh…okay… I…I know almost… all of them, Colonel.”

“Will they leave the area temporarily if you ask them to?” McDaniels released Donaldson’s ear.

Donaldson considered it for a moment and then nodded affirmatively. “Yeah… they would but if…”

Donaldson leaned toward McDaniels in the front passenger seat and whispered the rest of what he had to say. “If Boris blows himself to pieces it will not be something we’ll be able to cover up.”

McDaniels shrugged. “I only need some breathing room without anyone asking too many questions.”

“There may still be people there who are over my pay grade, Colonel.”

“If need be I’ll have Reskova contact Aginson to clear the area. I’d rather not do that if at all possible.”

“Yes, because you believe he will say no,” Rasheed stated.

McDaniels gestured for the conversation to be continued in a hushed manner. “Maybe. As soon as this clown in the back gets a few minutes to think things over I’m betting he’ll start trying to be a tough guy again. He’ll want to start bargaining like his buddy Tomashevsky. If you have a better suggestion spit it out. Pete, can you get me one of those bean bag guns - you know, one that fires something non-lethal?”

“Sure, but he’ll still think you’re bluffing.”

“I am in a way. I don’t plan on the three of us getting our asses blown up with him. We’re going to blindfold Boris. We’ll put him in the section Reskova and Dino cleared earlier. I’ll cut him loose in a safe spot. When the three of us get to a safe distance I’ll tell Boris to remove his blindfold.”

“But there are flags denoting the safe way through the field,” Rasheed said.

“He doesn’t know which flags are which. You can bet he won’t want to test any theories out from where he’ll be.”

“And if he simply runs?” Donaldson asked.

“Then duck.”

* * *

“Can you hear me over there, Boris?” McDaniels called out from where he stood at a safe distance from the Russian.

The Russian stood up in the spot McDaniels had sat him down on. The men were alone in the area fronting the warehouse. They had waited until all the personnel working in the warehouse and guarding the perimeter could be sent away. Donaldson was a highly respected agent. When he asked the assorted commanders to withdraw their men down the road for a time they did as they were asked. It had only taken McDaniels ten minutes to get the Russian placed where he wanted him after arranging extra flags around the chosen area.

“I will tell you nothing,” the Russian’s muffled voice yelled back angrily.

“Take off your hood, Boris,” McDaniels instructed. Rasheed signaled they were picking up the Russian’s voice clearly on the recorder.

The Russian ripped the hood off his head in the graying light of morning. He did a double take when he realized where he stood. McDaniels, Rasheed, and Donaldson stood nearly thirty yards away. McDaniels waved at him comically.

“Wha…what have you done?” The Russian straightened, placing his feet more together.

“I see you recognize your little minefield. Do yourself a favor for now. Stay within the circle of flags.”

McDaniels held up the bulky rifle like weapon he held in his right hand. “This is one of those guns that fire a bean bag round. It will knock you down five feet beyond where you’re standing. Here’s how it works. You tell me the name of the person who called you in your office just before I rearranged your face and I won’t blast your ass onto a live mine.”

“You cannot do this!” The Russian balled his hands into fists at his side. “Take me out of here.”

McDaniels handed the weapon to Donaldson. Pete took aim at the Russian. McDaniels nodded at Donaldson who fired the soft projectile at the cringing Russian. The man tried to duck but Donaldson anticipated his action. The projectile hit him in the shoulder. The Russian screamed out in pain and fear as the force of the shot knocked him down nearly three feet beyond the safe circle flags.

McDaniels laughed. “Oh, you are so lucky. There can’t be many safe spots around you. Want to see how lucky you are this time. Hit him again, Pete.”

Donaldson took aim. The Russian struggled to his feet, clutching his injured arm.

“It is a woman named Nancy Tamara in your director’s office!” The Russian cried out, trying to keep his balance with his feet drawn together tightly. The man tried to make himself as small a target as his injured shoulder permitted.

“Christ!” Donaldson exclaimed. “She works in Aginson’s office. I…I almost asked her out the other day.”

McDaniels shook his head and Rasheed cursed under his breath.

“Okay, Boris, that’s a good start,” McDaniels called out. “Did this Nancy know about Dillon?”

“No, I do not believe so. They were recruited at about the same time though.”

“By whom?”

“I…I do not know…” the Russian began waving his arms wildly as Donaldson took aim. “I swear it. It was only after they were recruited that I was made their handler.”

“Who handles you then?”

“There are no names or meetings on a level over me. Money and instructions pass over the Internet. I am in direct touch with only underlings.”

“What is your full name?”

“Vladimir Kasyanov.”

“Sit down right where you are and keep talking. If we even think you’re not telling us the truth or you stop before we think you’ve told us everything, my friend is going to nudge you again. Do you understand?”

“I will te…tell you everything… just…just get me out of here,” the Russian pleaded.

“No can do, Vlad,” McDaniels replied. “The faster you talk, the sooner I come get you. Sit down on the ground carefully and get to it.”

“I…I will stand.”

“Very well.” McDaniels grinned over at Rasheed and Donaldson. “Let’s begin.”

* * *

Reskova led the way into Aginson’s office, with McDaniels, Rasheed, and Donaldson close behind. She stopped at the receptionist’s desk, smiling down at the auburn haired woman sitting there. The woman in her mid twenties looked up at Reskova from her computer screen and gestured toward Aginson’s inner office.

“Go right in, Diane.” Tamara straightened in her chair when she saw Donaldson. “He’s expecting you. Hi, Pete.”

“Hi, Nanc.”

“Good.” Reskova turned toward the three men behind her. “Cold, you come in with me. Kay, you and Pete take a seat. We’ll be out in a few minutes.”

Rasheed nodded. He and Donaldson took seats next to each other to the right of the desk, near the wall. Donaldson took out a miniature transceiver and a second box shaped electronics housing about the size of a wallet.

“Let me explain again how this thing works, Kay.” Donaldson held up the transceiver first, feeling Tamara’s eyes on him.

Rasheed folded his arms, listening to Donaldson instruct him on how the transceiver worked. Pete detailed its applications out in the field. Rasheed paid close attention but his eyes were on Tamara.

Aginson stood up to shake hands with McDaniels and Reskova, gesturing for them to sit down. “It’s good to see you both in one piece. Thanks for bailing us out last night. We were caught…”

“Sir,” Reskova interrupted, “are you having an affair with Nancy?”

“Are you out of your mind?” Aginson face showed stunned amazement at the question. “I’m a grandfather, for God’s sake. Those three little ones in the picture in front of you are my daughter’s children. You know my wife, Diane. What the hell…”

“Would you please answer the question, Sir,” Reskova persisted.

Aginson leaned back in his chair. “You would not have come in here with such a question if there wasn’t something up. Does this have to do with Dreyer and Dillon? Oh… never mind… hell no, I’m not having an affair… wait a minute. Are you saying Nancy is…”

“We know she is, Sir,” McDaniels answered for Reskova. “If you are indeed not having an affair with her then she has your office bugged. We…”

There was a sudden commotion outside the office. Reskova stood up, the rage she had been hiding since entering the office apparent in her grim features.

“I’ll handle this,” Reskova said, striding toward the office door.

McDaniels and a completely baffled Aginson followed Reskova through the office door. Donaldson held Tamara’s arm tightly. Rasheed stood in front of the exit door. Reskova rushed over to Tamara as Donaldson let the secretary go. After one look at Reskova’s face, Donaldson backed away. Reskova caught up a handful of Tamara’s hair and yanked her backwards. Tamara turned on her attacker in a fury. Reskova smashed her openhanded across the face, sending the woman to her knees. Reskova kicked Tamara in her exposed left rib cage, evoking a scream from the collapsing woman who curled up in a ball on the carpet.

“She heard what you said, Boss.” Rasheed smiled with satisfaction down at the traitor. “As soon as you and Cold went into the Director’s office she clipped an earpiece on and reached to the side of her desk. She pretended to be typing notes from dictation. She heard something not to her liking, pulled off the earpiece and headed right for the door.”

Donaldson had hurried over behind Tamara’s desk. After a few moments of searching, he pulled out a miniature receiver. He checked it over before handing it to McDaniels.

“That ain’t no secretary’s tape player, Sir.” Donaldson picked up the phone at Tamara’s desk. “I’ll call for a sweep of the Director’s room. We’ll find the bug.”

“She bugged my office? How… why…”

“We’ll find out, Sir.” Reskova yanked a crying Tamara up to her feet. “I have a new interrogation technique this bitch will not like one little bit.”

“Yo…you can’t torture me.” Tamara suddenly screamed, trying to pull away from Reskova, who instantly put her face down on the desktop hard.

“Shut your pie hole!” Reskova bounced the now docile woman’s head on the desk for emphasis. “Kay, tie this bitch’s hands up. Take her down to interrogation. Let Dino keep her company till we get done here.”

“Right away, Boss.” Rasheed plastic tied Tamara’s hands behind her back.

Donaldson went with Rasheed after making the call for an electronic sweep of Aginson’s office. McDaniels and Reskova followed Aginson back into the Director’s office where they took their seats again. Aginson leaned back in his chair clasping his hands behind his head. They sat in silence for a few minutes until Aginson sat up finally, folding his hands in front of him on the desktop.

“That was slick, Diane.”

“Thank you, Sir, but it was Cold’s idea.”

“I need you to take over Dreyer’s position effective immediately. I accepted Dreyer’s resignation this morning. I need you to pick someone to take your place. Are you still adamant about going overseas again, Colonel?”

“Yes Sir, I am. I gave some good men my word.”

“Tom Barrington is senior.” Reskova swallowed the sudden lump in her throat at McDaniels’ words. “He’s a first class agent and cool under fire.”

“Very well, Diane, make it happen. I trust you will get this new twist on things sorted out. Anything else I can do?”

“I’m going to be short handed on the one team I need a full compliment on. If he’ll do it, can I ask Pete to join up with the team Barrington leads?”

“It will be Pete’s call to make but go ahead and ask him. His guys were decimated last night. We’ll have to simply switch the survivors to other teams or start a new team with them.”

Reskova held out her hand as she stood up. “Sorry about the inference earlier. I had to know if there was a pattern, considering Dillon and Dreyer.”

Aginson shook her hand. “I understand, Diane. Don’t give it a thought. Move into Dreyer’s office as soon as you’re comfortable with the makeup of your old team.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Reskova turned toward the door.

“Colonel,” Aginson remarked, causing Reskova to pause. “When you get back from Iraq, I know I can speak for Diane when I say we need you to rejoin the team. Good luck over there.”

McDaniels nodded. “Thank you, Sir.”

Reskova waited for McDaniels to come abreast of her before slipping her hand into his, resisting the urge to look around at Aginson’s reaction. For his part, Aginson watched the two agents leave his office with nothing more than a grinning acknowledgement.


Chapter 30

Promotion

“You’re heading up the team now, Tom,” Reskova announced, after taking a seat at the table with her coffee. “Jen will be your second in command.”

Around the table in their office break room sat Barrington, Rutledge, Rasheed, Donaldson, and McDaniels, in addition to Reskova. Reskova had asked Donaldson to sit in on the meeting. But for McDaniels and Donaldson, Reskova’s announcement was met with a stunned silence from the others for a moment.

“Why…” Barrington began, but quieted as Reskova gestured him to silence.

“Aginson gave me Dreyer’s job. I need someone on our frontline team I can trust implicitly. You’re senior, Tom. I’m asking Pete to join up with us. You’ll be a first class team leader, Tom - that is, if you and Jen here can keep from playing footsies at work.”

Rutledge gasped, turning to glare at Rasheed. Barrington grasped his coffee cup with both hands. “Kay, you weasel!”

“Why call me names, woman? I am sure your sinful indiscretions with our newly appointed leader did not escape the attention of our former very insightful boss. Of course she may have wrung it out of Mr. Reskova somehow. Address your outraged looks at him.”

“Cold?” Rutledge asked with an accusatory stare at McDaniels.

“You and Tom were together when she called, genius.”

“Forget it, Jen.” Reskova looked over at a baffled Donaldson. “How about it, Pete, want to join us?”

“Can I do both? I mean work here as well as Special Ops.”

“I think that can be arranged.”

Rasheed put his arm around Donaldson. “Welcome, my friend. You will make a fine newbie. I will take you under my wing, and explain all the romantic entanglements in this den of iniquity you are joining.”

“Kay!!!” Rutledge barked.

* * *

“Did we have to do this in a blizzard?” McDaniels stretched his arms up to attach the next string of lights on the gutter of Rasheed’s house.

Rasheed began feeding the new string of lights out of the box he held while handing new attachment clips to McDaniels. He looked over at the happy group made up of his family and coworkers in the front yard setting up lawn decorations. Rutledge and Barrington were making snowmen from the ample supply on the front lawn. Reskova and Suraya maneuvered a reindeer light into position. Rasheed’s wife and little Cold watched the scene from the front window.

“You seem to be the only unhappy Scrooge in this group, Mr. Reskova.”

McDaniels laughed, glancing around at the soft flakes of snow floating earthward. With the heavy blanket of snow the street and surrounding houses looked like a Christmas postcard. Dino followed Reskova’s movements, moving when she did, and sitting quietly when she stopped.

“How do you know anything about Scrooge?”

“I watched the movie with Ansa and Suraya.” Rasheed handed McDaniels another clip. “It was very entertaining. After seeing it Ansa wished to run out and give away all our money to the poor.”

“If she wants to give something to the needy tell her to only give to the Salvation Army or the Marine Corps Toys For Tots. They’re the only ones that actually do what they say they do for the poor. Besides, you bunch aren’t flush enough money-wise to give away what little you have anyhow.”

“We are doing very well. If things stay the same throughout the next year we will add a second store to our holdings.”

“Very impressive. This capitalism stuff agrees with you.”

Rasheed nodded in acknowledgment. “Yes, I like this capitalism. How long do you have yet before returning to Iraq?”

“We leave December 28th.”

“I thought you would be able to stay through the New Year.” Rasheed lowered his voice.

“Things are heating up with the coming elections. I worked out with Abe and Jed yesterday. The guys are a little disappointed about getting two weeks shaved off their stateside time but they handled it pretty well. Because of their past time in country though, Abe said they’ve been promised rotation back to the states when the troop numbers are reduced again after the elections.”

“I feel badly about all of your young men having to fight in my country. They…”

“Hey, if we weren’t fighting in your old country, we’d be fighting on our streets. Hell… we are fighting in our streets.”

“I know this, my friend,” Rasheed broke in, putting a hand on McDaniels’ shoulder. “It feels bad to be here, while someone else fights.”

“Someone has to be here to keep Tom and Jen from completely compromising the department.”

Rasheed smiled happily. “Oh yes, it is just so. I have already recruited young Pete into this endeavor. He knows he is to instantly get a disapproving look on his face each time I zing those two. I am the man.”

McDaniels laughed loudly in appreciation, shaking his head as he drew looks of inquiry from the others who had stopped what they were doing and looked questioningly at the two men. Rasheed looked at them sternly, making hand motions for them to return to what they were doing. Reskova returned his stare, making hers malevolent as well as stern, causing Rasheed to turn away hurriedly. McDaniels saw her smile with satisfaction, having evoked the result she was looking for. Reskova stuck her hip out provocatively at McDaniels when she met his gaze. Suraya put both hands over her mouth and turned away. Their eyes locked for a moment. Reskova’s mouth lost its haughty smile. She blushed and returned quickly to the task before her.

“I am very ashamed,” Rasheed announced in a whisper, glancing at Reskova and his daughter. “Your woman can cower me with but a glance. She interrogated the Tamara woman as brutally as we have ever done. The hellhound does her bidding almost by psychic connection. It is very disturbing.”

Again McDaniels laughed uproariously at Rasheed’s hellhound comment.

“She is something, ain’t she?” McDaniels started the next string of lights. “I believe I have met my match.”

“The Boss will be much displeased when she hears you will be going back to Iraq two weeks early. How has she reacted to her new job as Assistant Director?”

“Why, is Tom giving you a bad time?”

“On the contrary, we are doing very well with sorting out all the new information. Tom has told me he will be sending Jen, Pete, and me out tomorrow to conduct two more interviews.”

“Red likes her new job just fine. She only answers to Aginson. They get along better than her and Dryer did. I wish I could have been with you guys after the warehouse. Between the hospital and working with Abe and Jed, my free time is nonexistent.”

“You are missed. I will be happy when you return to our team for good. All these new leads may mean a lot more danger. It is as Tom has pointed out - this situation resembles the proverbial onion, one layer after another.”

“It makes you wonder after all the layers are peeled if we’ll have any Americans left.”

“You are very cynical, my friend.”

“And getting worse by the day - don’t let my pessimism ruin our get together. This Christmas decoration thing was really a great idea, Kay. Did you ask Pete to come over too?”

“Yes, but he told me he is meeting with the families of the team members who were killed. Pete agreed to help with the services and funeral arrangements. He is what you have described as a standup guy.”

“No doubt about that.” McDaniels clipped the end of the last string in place. “Think you and I could sneak off and have a couple of Jack’s together?”

“You are still making fun of my reticence to let Ansa in on my one small vice. I will not forget this.”

“Get over yourself, Kay.” McDaniels put an arm around Rasheed’s shoulders. “Now c’mon, you can brazenly walk past Ansa. Show her who is the man.”

Rasheed looked up quickly at McDaniels, getting ready to make an excuse for why that would be a bad idea. He saw McDaniels had already started smiling and nodding with obvious disdain. Rasheed stopped walking and looked down at his shoes, stuffing his hands in his pockets. McDaniels started laughing again as Barrington and Rutledge walked over from where they had finished their task.

“Kay, what’s wrong with you?” Rutledge asked.

“Mr. Reskova has again seen fit to challenge my manhood. Apparently the Christmas spirit is greater in our small house of Allah than in the heart of this oversize infidel.”

“This is about the Jack, isn’t it?” Rutledge asked while Barrington and McDaniels laughed. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you this but your wife already knows you sneak a shot now and then. Ansa thinks you’re pretty funny.”

Rasheed looked quickly toward the picture window of his house where Ansa was watching the group with little Cold sleeping in her arms. She waved at her husband. Rasheed waved back before sticking his hands back into his pockets as Reskova and Suraya walked over to join them. Suraya put her arm around her Father’s waist.

“Want to turn on the lights, Father?”

“It will not be as impressive in the daylight, little one,” Rasheed kissed his daughter’s forehead.

“It will give us an idea though of how it will look tonight.”

“Very well then, go and turn them on. Do you know which switch it is?”

“Yes,” Suraya called out as she ran up the steps to their front entrance.

A moment later, the lights came on. The lighted reindeer began bobbing their heads slowly. The group walked out to the street where they could get a wider view of their decorative work with Dino trailing Reskova attentively. Suraya joined them with Ansa close behind, having grabbed up an afghan to drape around her and the bundled baby. Reskova leaned into McDaniels, clasping his hand tightly in both of hers. Barrington and Rutledge saw McDaniels and their former boss. They stepped closer together but with one look from a smiling Rasheed they quickly pulled away from each other. Rasheed chuckled appreciatively as Rutledge gave him the finger while Suraya was looking away.

“It looks beautiful even in daylight, Father. Can we do the tree now?”

“Of course, child. If the infidels can stay around a little longer we will have the whole tamale.”

Reskova laughed. “The whole tamale? Kay, you’re really getting into the cultural Americanisms. I thought it was the whole enchilada.”

“Yes, Boss,” Rasheed answered thoughtfully. “Now that I think of it, you are right. I have mixed my food groups up. One day I will take the family out to brave this cultural question and find out what enchiladas and tamales are.”

“Yes, you have braved the cultural difference already between the Jack Daniels and the Jose Cuervo,” Ansa commented, smiling up at a very appreciative McDaniels. “May Allah forgive you, my husband.”

Rasheed sputtered out incoherent sentence fragments. Both his family and friends hooted in laughter. It took only a moment for the beleaguered man to cease his attempts at an explanation and begin giving his co-workers glaring glances of promised retribution. Rasheed’s new tone instantly quieted Barrington and Rutledge. They knew Rasheed could be even more formidable than McDaniels in getting non-violent revenge. Suraya hugged her father tightly.

“Allah will overlook so small a misstep, my Father.”

“From your lips to Allah’s ears, child,” Rasheed muttered. “Come, let us go inside so I and the infidels can abuse my newly revealed vice while we put electrical accessories on a now dead pine log.”

The group sat together in silence, listening to the Christmas CD Rutledge had brought over. The scent of pine, coupled with the blinking multi-colored lights covering both the tree and the mantels around the Rasheed living room hid for a moment the thought of dire times ahead. Even little Cold, lying attentively in McDaniels’ huge grasp, blinked appreciatively at the display. Reskova glanced furtively from the baby’s face to McDaniels’, a yearning rising within her that obliterated her sense of duty and the love of her chosen profession.

She clutched McDaniels’ hand tightly, causing him to look down at her questioningly. When he saw tears leak down from the corners of her eyes his look of incomprehension startled her. Reskova quickly wiped away her tears, glancing around to see if any of the others had noticed. When she looked back at McDaniels he leaned down and kissed her softly. The need Reskova felt for him almost overwhelmed her. She resisted the temptation to return it with a fervor unsuitable for the situation.

“It’s getting late, Kay,” McDaniels commented. “I think…”

“It is only three o’clock in the afternoon, infidel,” Rasheed broke in, noticing the look Reskova had on her face.

“I am not as comfortable with sipping Jack this early as you are, my friend,” McDaniels said, provoking chuckles from the rest of the group at Rasheed’s expense. “Besides, I have something to ask you. Diane and I are going to get married. Will you be my best man, Kay? This will have to take place very quickly.”

“Of course,” Rasheed answered in awe. He grasped McDaniels’ shoulder. “I know nothing of this best man thing but I will of course be the man for you.”

“What does this very quickly mean?” Reskova asked tentatively.

“I have to go back December 28th,” McDaniels answered, putting his arm around her again.

“Shit,” Reskova whispered, leaning into him.

Barrington reached over and shook McDaniels’ hand. “Congratulations, Colonel, I’m sorry to hear your leave was cut short.”

McDaniels and Reskova accepted hugs of congratulations from Rutledge, Ansa, and Suraya. “I’ll be back, Tom. You and the team line up all the dirty jobs for my return. Don’t forget to send the care packages when me and the Marines get settled over there. I’ll E-mail you an address.”

“We won’t forget, Cold,” Rutledge promised, going over to sit next to Barrington. “What do you want us to send?”

“I’ll get a list from the guys and send it with the address. Usually snacks, reading material, and baby wipes are always a sure bet, but I’ll be more specific when I E-mail you.”

Reskova pulled away and stood up. “We better get going, Cold. I need to call my folks. Want to just have a small ceremony here?”

McDaniels stood up next to her. “I’d like that. I don’t know much about the laws around here for…”

“You let me handle that,” Reskova stated. Dino jumped up to walk over and sit next to her feet expectantly. “Can you be my Maid of Honor, Jen?”

“Of course,” Rutledge replied immediately. “We’re going to take off too, Kay. Thanks for a great day, Ansa.”

“Yes, it was most extraordinary,” Ansa agreed happily.

“What is this we are going to take off, Agent Rutledge?” Rasheed asked sternly. “Do you have a rodent in your pocket?”

“Kaaaaaayyyyyyyy…” Rutledge said through clenched teeth as the others laughed at Rasheed’s continued needling of Rutledge’s change in relationship with Barrington.

* * *

“Did you only mention marrying me quickly because of going back to Iraq early?” Reskova lay in McDaniels’ arms on her bed with Dino lying contentedly near the footboard.

“I think I resent that,” McDaniels answered with mock indignation. “Are you saying I wouldn’t have gone through with it otherwise? You had already said yes.”

“Don’t turn this back on me, Cold.” Reskova ran her hand over the newly scarring skin of McDaniels’ chest. “Just answer the question.”

“I love you, and I want to marry you. Does that answer your question?”

“No, but I guess it’ll do.”

“What did your Mom say when you told her on the phone?”

Reskova chuckled. “Not much. Her and Dad were pretty surprised. I think they had me figured out to be a career-oriented old maid married to the job. They weren’t wrong either - that is, until I met you. Now look at me. I have a fiancĂ©e and a dog. To top it all off I look forward to holding babies in my arms.”

“I like your thinking.” McDaniels pulled Reskova into a tight embrace. “We’ll have to see about starting a family when I get back. I’m like you. I never gave marriage and family much thought.”

“I’d like to have something more than the job to look back on. Seeing Kay, Ansa, and Suraya with the little Cold didn’t have anything to do with it, did it?”

“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” McDaniels answered. “They had no effect on you though, huh?”

“Seeing you hold the baby hit me harder. You just like the red hair.”

“I don’t deny it. Making love to you is like a fantasy come true. You remember the craze on Broadway called Riverdance with the Irish dancers?”

“I saw it on PBS, why?”

“Do you remember the lead woman dancer - you know, the redhead?”

Reskova sat up in McDaniels’ lap, moving temptingly against him. “So, you wanted to bed the dancer and settled for me instead, huh?”

“Not exactly.” McDaniels gripped Reskova’s hips firmly. “The first time I saw you with your hair tied back I thought you looked just like her, only your lips and hips are fuller.”

Reskova tried to pull away, pretending outrage at an assumed insult, but could only manage a slight squirm. “Let me go you pig. What do you mean fuller?”

“I meant it in a good way.” McDaniels leaned in to kiss Reskova.

Dino sighed and jumped down as the bed began to rock.


Chapter 31

Tamara

“Colonel.” Barrington looked up from the computer screen on his desk in Reskova’s former office as McDaniels walked in and shook hands with him. “I haven’t seen you since the funeral. Diane told me yesterday you’d be by today. She thought you might have an idea concerning Tamara.”

“I think little Nancy knows more than what she’s said. I believe we have to think creatively on this one.”

“Why not ask Diane, Colonel?” Barrington gestured for McDaniels to sit down, confusion evident on his face.

“I go through the chain of command, Tom. The only thing Diane knows is I would be speaking to you.”

“Okay, I don’t get it. What…”

“Did you see her with Tamara?” McDaniels interrupted.

“Sorry Colonel, go ahead.”

“I think we should put Tamara into witness protection in house. Kasyanov may have been the only one who knew her in the group we busted but I’m betting she knows someone above Kasyanov. We already know the Dillon woman was the one who recruited her. It took Diane two days to get Dillon to acknowledge Tamara’s name. It only happened at all because Reskova told her Kasyanov gave up Tamara.”

“I was there. Between Diane and the dog I figured we had gotten everything out of her after the first day. Diane sensed there was more. When she tricked Dillon into admitting she knew about Tamara you should have seen Diane’s face. Dino smelled her displeasure and went right for Dillon.”

“So that’s when Diane found out about who recruited Tamara.”

“Diane let Dino’s leash go. Dino ripped Dillon right off the chair. Then Diane goes ‘oops’ but she still didn’t pick up Dino’s leash. That damn dog knew just how far he could go too. Why not use Dillon, Colonel? She’s like Reskova’s bitch now.”

“Dillon is done, Tom. We’d never convince her even with Dino to act out something to get at the higher ups. Besides, she was on site personally directing those assholes in the warehouse. We can offer Tamara a break. We may hit the jackpot.”

“I don’t know, Colonel. Diane didn’t pull any punches interrogating Tamara and the woman never budged. She yelled a lot but I think she figures even with the evidence we have on her she may still walk.”

“Well then it’s up to us to convince her otherwise,” McDaniels replied. “I think Kay and I will take Tamara on a road trip tonight. I’m going to need your help getting her out of lockup. I can’t say it won’t be risky for you. I hope to bring Tamara back with a real helpful attitude.”

Barrington stood up. He clasped his hands behind his back as he walked around the desk. “Tamara might see through your bluff and… wait a minute… I…”

“Easy, Tom, don’t project any further than you authorizing Tamara’s presence here and turning her over to Kay and I. Anything after that will be between me and Kay.”

Barrington walked back over to his chair and sat down heavily. He put his hands palm down in front of him on the desk. Staring at his desk pad, Barrington sat still for a few moments in silence. Finally, he met McDaniels’ inquiring gaze uneasily.

“You probably think I’m a pussy for even hesitating, don’t you, Colonel?”

McDaniels leaned forward. “No, Tom, I don’t. We all have parts to play in this war. If you want nothing to do with this, say so. I’ll find another way. I came in here to get your help, not bypass you.”

“I appreciate that. Can I think it over?”

“Yep.” McDaniels shook Barrington’s hand again as he made ready to leave. “I’m going to be outside with the crew for the rest of the day going over the data they’ve gathered. How tight has security been on what happened over at the warehouse and the follow-up Pete and Kay did with me?”

“A hell of a lot better than when Dillon and Tamara were at their desks. The only team knowing all the pieces in the puzzle are right outside my door. Only Aginson and Reskova know everything about this operation. We haven’t even acknowledged Dillon’s situation to her Mother. No one has asked about Tamara yet.”

“Good,” McDaniels said, opening the office door.

“Hey, Colonel, don’t give Kay any more ideas other than work related suggestions, if you know what I mean.”

McDaniels glanced at Barrington in surprise, laughing as he spoke. “You think Kay needs me to come up with his material. Now that’s funny, Tom. I’ll be outside, awaiting your wisdom.”

* * *

McDaniels, Rasheed, Rutledge, and Donaldson sat in the break room drinking coffee when Barrington entered with Tamara, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. The prisoner’s hands were handcuffed behind her back. Tamara’s hair was tied in a pony tail tightly at the back of her head. Tamara looked sullenly at the group turning to face her.

“Here she is, Colonel. She’s outraged at her treatment here. She wants her lawyer. She wants better clothes, better food, better shoes, blah, blah, blah. Take custody of her before I shoot her.”

McDaniels laughed with the rest of the group. He waved a hand at Rasheed. Rasheed took the handcuff key from Barrington. After undoing the handcuffs holding Tamara, Rasheed handed them to Barrington. As Rasheed began putting a plastic tie around Tamara’s wrists she attempted to yank her hands out of Rasheed’s grip. Rasheed grabbed her by the back of the neck with his free hand. Tamara was on her knees gasping in pain a split second later.

“Do not move woman! I do not wish to hurt you but you will be restrained.”

Tamara stopped resisting immediately. Rasheed pulled Tamara to her feet a moment later. McDaniels waited while Rasheed plastic tied Tamara’s wrists behind her back before walking over opposite Rasheed. He watched the procedure impassively. Tamara stared angrily into McDaniels’ eyes. Her whole body tensed as if spring loaded.

“I’m an American citizen. I know my rights. You can’t just throw me into a dungeon without a trial.”

“We have a Russian agent who has named you as his mole inside Director Aginson’s office. We’ve found enough tying you to him to put you away for the rest of your life. We need to discuss a few more items with you. It would be best if we have your full cooperation.”

“Where’s Reskova and the dog. They got everything there was to get.”

“I don’t think so. I think you know someone above Kasyanov, even he and Dillon don’t know about. We found deposits in one of your off shore accounts in the six figure range. Dillon never received over fifty grand at any one time. I…”

“How the hell did you get into my…” Tamara broke in, before smiling arrogantly at McDaniels. “You bunch hacked into my personal records without a warrant. McDaniels, you might as well release me because I’m walking the moment I make a phone call.”

“You really are an idiot as well as a traitor. The moment we tied you into Kasyanov we received Carte Blanche to find out everything in your life. Back to the subject, work with us to entrap the rest. We’ll cut you a deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

“The kind where you get to live.”

“You’re bluffing,” Tamara said confidently. “I don’t scare, asshole.”

“We’ll see. Go sign her out, Kay. Put her in the big van.”

Tamara began resisting in earnest. “I’m not going anywhere! I’ll scream every second through this building.”

Tamara felt something jab her neck. She turned around in time to see Rasheed smilingly put a cap on the used syringe he held in his hands. Donaldson pushed a wheelchair over Tamara had not noticed. Her lips moved. She struggled to speak but within seconds she collapsed, guided smoothly into the wheelchair by Donaldson and Rasheed. Rasheed cut off his now unnecessary plastic tie. Donaldson put the safety belt built into the chair around Tamara’s waist, fastening her in quickly. Rutledge added a pillow behind her head.

“Ah, she looks so peaceful,” Rutledge commented.

“Let’s get going, Kay. I’ll push Nancy. We’ll see you tomorrow, Tom, thanks.”

“Be careful, Colonel.”

After McDaniels and Rasheed left the office and were heading toward the elevator, Donaldson jogged after them.

“Colonel, I’d like to come along,” Donaldson requested, coming abreast of the two men.

“I don’t know, Pete.” McDaniels returned Donaldson’s look appraisingly. “This won’t be the same kind of gig as the last time. It would probably be best if you held on to your deniability quotient, depending on how things work out. Besides, we can’t leave Tom and Jen alone in the office together.”

Rasheed and Donaldson both laughed in appreciation.

“Let him come, Mr. Reskova. The newbie can help with the digging. It is freezing out there.”

“Digging?” Donaldson asked hesitantly.

“See, I told you deniability would be best.”

“I’m in, no matter what. You can count on me, Sir.”

Rasheed put his arm around Donaldson’s shoulders. “We will be like the three Mouseketeers.”

“That’s Musketeers, Kay,” McDaniels corrected. “You’re mixing the French up with cartoon rodent fan clubs.”

Rasheed paused for a moment and then shrugged. “Yes, I believe you are right. Suraya holds little Cold while watching the Disney channel. I saw the mouse you spoke of… ah… Mickey… yes, Mickey Mouse. The Goofy dog, raging Duck, and the Mickey were pretending to be swordsmen. I have seen the Three Musketeers though. That was from the time when the French at least pretended they could… what?”

By this time both McDaniels and Donaldson were laughing, their wheelchair bound prisoner completely forgotten. McDaniels held up his hand in a stopping gesture.

“Enough, Kay - let’s get going. I’ll change out of my uniform in the van. Okay, Pete, let d’Artagnan wheel Nancy while you go and grab some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.”

“The ground is frozen, Mr. Reskova.”

“Relax, Kay, I have it all set.”

“I remember you saying that in Iraq when you thought our safe-house was compromised. You decided we should lay in wait for the perpetrators,” Rasheed reminded McDaniels, who was already hanging his head comically.

“Why, what happened, Kay?” Donaldson had turned back to hear the story.

“They blew up our safe-house with mortar fire while we watched,” Rasheed answered, evoking a sigh out of McDaniels. “It is too painful to remember all the personal belongings I lost when they obliterated the building.”

“You weren’t in the building, were you?” McDaniels commented with some exasperation. “We got the guys, didn’t we?”

“Yes, after every extra piece of clothing and gear I owned was reduced to atomic dust,” Rasheed mused as Donaldson stifled his laugh impulse and endured a warning look from McDaniels. “Hopefully you are more ‘all set’ this time.”

* * *

“Well, Kay, what do you think, not so bad, huh?”

The men were standing around a mound of earth with a half-inch inner diameter plastic tube angling out of the loose dirt.

“Adequate, Mr. Reskova, and not too much work,” Rasheed admitted.

“That box you put Tamara in with the readymade com unit and tube was ingenious, Colonel,” Donaldson complimented him. “The box looked like the packing crate for a shoulder fired rocket launcher.”

“I confiscated it from the stuff we found around the warehouse. I came back when the demolition boys arrived. I had them excavate a spot here in the warehouse leaving some of the loose dirt from outside next to it. I knew I’d have to hear Kay whine for hours otherwise. She’s the perfect size for the launcher crate.”

“Man, when she wakes up we better not be close to the speaker,” Donaldson remarked.

“I believe you’re right,” McDaniels replied with some satisfaction. “Nancy will be putting out stereophonic screams for a while. I brought along some laughing gas to pipe down there if she won’t shut up. I guess we can feed her some oxygen and get her woke up. It’s the green bottle, Pete. Check the knob on the speaker. Make sure the volume is turned down.”

Donaldson walked over to where two tanks were hooked to a manifold. A small feeder tube from each bottle snaked into the plastic pipe slanted out of the earth. Three chairs were placed around a small table near the tanks. On top of the table, McDaniels had arranged a speaker and beside it a transmitter. Tamara would only be able to hear outside noises if the transmitter button was pushed. Donaldson cracked open the oxygen valve slightly before sitting down on one of the chairs. McDaniels and Rasheed took their places next to him.

“You are indeed the Cold Mountain,” Rasheed stated. “I think perhaps it would be a good idea to lock you up.”

McDaniels chuckled. “How about you, Pete? You want me locked up too?”

“No Sir,” Donaldson said quietly. “I was over at the hospital yesterday to see my guys. Whether Tamara talks or not, you can leave her there for all I care. I vote we go get Dillon when we get through with the bitch in the box.”

“We’ll have to settle with Dillon sometime in the future,” McDaniels replied seriously. “Her leaving out the little detail of recruiting Nancy makes me wonder what other little tidbits of information she has. Maybe we should just go tell her how much more money Tamara received than her. That’ll piss her off. Some time will have to go by first. As soon…”

Tamara’s groan came through the speaker. The men heard a rustle of clothing as Tamara moved inside the sealed crate. A moment later her screams began ululating out of the speaker. McDaniels waited nearly five minutes before speaking into the transmitter. He repeated her name until finally Tamara’s screams quieted to horrified gasps and sobs.

“Quiet down, Nancy and we’ll get down to business,” McDaniels told her.

“Oh…oh my God!” Tamara shrieked. “You…you’ve buried me alive. Wha…what kind of monsters are you?”

McDaniels looked over at Donaldson. “Want to take that one, Pete?”

“No, Sir, let’s get what we can out of the bitch before she has a stroke.”

“Are…are you still there… answer me… what…”

“We’re here, Nancy. Now then, reach down by your right hip. There’s a small flashlight there. Do you feel it?”

“Yes…yes, it’s here.”

The men could hear Tamara turn it on. She began to sob piteously again.

“Let…let me out… I’ll tell you everything,” Tamara pleaded.

“No can do, Nanc. You may say yes down there and then no back up here. The faster you get to talking, the faster we get you dug up. In case you’re wondering, you’re in a place no one will be stumbling across. If you don’t tell us everything you know and quick, we’ll just leave you where you are to mellow for a day. I think even your bargaining attitude will have changed by then.”

“You’ll all go to prison for this,” Tamara said, her voice raspy from screaming. “I’m an American. You…”

“Don’t play the citizen card again, Nanc,” McDaniels interrupted her sharply. “By God I’ll leave you this instant.”

“No…no… wait… I’m sorry. Wha…what do you want to know?”

“First off, who recruited you?” McDaniels figured to ask her a question he thought he already knew the answer for.

“Di…Dillon recruited me. It’s cold down here. I’m freezing. Can’t…”

“It’ll get a lot colder if you don’t keep talking.”

“I cannot believe Dillon did not give her up when Reskova interrogated her,” Rasheed remarked with some surprise, not having fully trusted McDaniels’ assumption.

“It seems Dillon did guess how far Diane would go. I thought maybe we weren’t getting the whole story. Dillon’s no dummy. She knew Diane wouldn’t let Dino rip her apart and it was all a bluff.”

“Cold, even I did not know if the Boss was going to allow the hellhound to eat the woman. If you had been there…”

“I know how it must have looked, Kay,” McDaniels cut in. “Maybe right after Diane came out of the minefield it wouldn’t have been a bluff. Later after Dillon was in custody she knew how far Reskova would go.”

“Jesus… are any of you still there… I…”

“We’re still here for the time being,” McDaniels answered her. “Be still for a moment.”

McDaniels released the button on the transmitter. “In Iraq from your childhood on you knew the authorities could order the torture of anyone. Dillon grew up just the opposite, Kay. You’ve already seen how we’ve turned America’s justice system upside down in favor of even the most vicious criminals. Believe me, she knew.”

“I see your point,” Rasheed acknowledged.

“Nancy is in a little different situation, Colonel,” Donaldson said quietly.

“Indeed she is, Pete. She knows it now. I believe Diane suspected the same thing I did when she suggested I have a go at interrogating Tamara.”

“What if Tom had not agreed to this?” Rasheed asked curiously.

McDaniels shrugged. “Thankfully, he did.”

McDaniels engaged the transmitter. “Did you and Dillon ever meet up with anybody else other than the Russian mob guy?”

Moments of silence passed. McDaniels looked at Rasheed and Donaldson with justification. “I guess we’ve hit a sore spot. Let’s have lunch.”

“Dillon…and I… we… ah…” Tamara began again desperately.

McDaniels switched off the receiver. “She won’t be stuttering in a few hours except from the cold. Turn the oxygen up just a tad, Pete. We don’t want her gasping away all the air down there.”


2 comments:

raine said...

Way to leave us hanging, Bernard, lol. Well done. :)

Like the insertion of the moles, and might have drawn that out a bit more (just because I love suspense). Love the hellhound, German Shepherds are a favorite of mine.
And while I might not behave exactly as Cold does, his reasons are right-on.
Watch out Iraq.

BernardL said...

There is a lot more coming about one mole, Raine. I think you'll like the way that twist proceeds. Yes, when Cold gets to Iraq, threads between there and the states start unraveling. Thank you!