PART VIII – Loose Ends
Troy climbed the stairs of the G450 but his feet felt like lead as multiple days without solid sleep started to take its toll. Standing at the top of the stairs Harry blocked the entrance into the sleek jet.
“Move it squirt,” barked Troy with a playful grin plastered on his face as he gave his medical sergeant a forceful shove with his carry-on bag.
Harry stumbled a little and turned around, “Sorry Cap, Sarge is yapping his trap and jamming the aisle.”
“I heard that,” hollered Terrance from inside the plane, “Don’t make me hurt you, boy.”
“Thanks, Cap, I appreciate the support.”
“You bet,” answered Troy as he patted him firmly on the shoulder. “Now get going. We don’t got all night,” he said in a jovial tone as Sarge finally cleared the aisle and Harry had a clear path to an open row of seats.
Troy climbed inside then pulled the airstairs up and locked the cabin door since he was the last one to enter. He peeked into the cockpit, “Door’s closed and secure Captain,” said Troy.
“Appreciate it, Cap,” answered Mickey.
“Colonel told you we need to push it up a bit, right?”
“Yes, he sure did, I should have us wheels up in less than three minutes.”
“No worries,” said Mickey as he flicked the screen on the flight control panel with his right index finger which caused a snapping sound. “Computer says flight time is six hours and forty-six minutes, but I’ll get her up to max cruise speed, even redline her if need be. I’ll shave off some time for you boys,” then with a wink he added, “And the pretty lady.”
“Oh, by the way,” said Troy as he reached into his carry-on bag and removed a large glass bottle. “Got this for you.”
Mickey turned back and extended his hand to receive the bottle of Woodford Reserve. His favorite bourbon. “Sweet and the maple wood finish to boot. Mighty kind of you, Cap. Means a lot that you remembered which one I like.”
“Can’t forget about my favorite pilot, now can I?”
“Better not,” Mickey said turned his attention back to the flight controls. “Let’s get this bird airborne and to Al-Hillah, Iraq.”
Troy moved down the aisles towards the rear of the plane.
“Sit your asses down,” barked the Colonel who stood up from his seat in the front row and faced his team, “And listen up.”
Everyone took their seats quickly as the plane taxied towards the active runway.
“We’ve got less than seven hours of flight time to Iraq,” started the Colonel, “And I need you all to get some rack time before we land. It’s been pretty crazy since we left the States and I need everyone as fresh as possible when we arrive in Babylon. We don’t know what obstacles we’ll face recovering the nuke and each and every one of you needs to be as sharp as a blade.”
Troy nodded as he listened to the Colonel. His body felt the effects of sleep deprivation. Over the years, he learned to deal with those times when sleep was a luxury. Troy and the rest of the team were very adept at falling asleep almost on command in between missions or whenever they could steal a few moments. Planes, helicopters, tanks, and even side-by-sides, they could sleep just about anywhere under any condition. Hell, the Jackal fell asleep while riding a camel one time in Saudi Arabia while on a night op. When he fell off and came close to getting stepped on by the next camel, the rest of the team ridiculed him unmercifully. He never lived that one down.
“How much time do you realistically need to formulate a plan?” asked the Colonel as he stared at Troy.
Cap looked at Digger who gave an initial shrug of his shoulders. “What do you think? Ninety minutes should do it, right?”
Digger nodded, “Yeah, max ninety minutes and we’re good. With the blueprint in our possession I need some satellite intel which I can get in just a few minutes. Besides that, it should be pretty straightforward. After we left Iraq I built a 3-D model on my laptop from the schematics Cap found, so I think we’re familiar with the layout already. Plus, we already know how to get in thanks to what Naseefa told us. The bottom line is we have to recover that nuke. We’ll need a plan for what to do if we arrive first and how to handle coming after Ami arrives. Either way, we must be ready for a firefight.”
“Anyone disagree?” asked the Colonel as he looked around to the others.
The rest of the Omega’s and Sam nodded.
“Good,” answered the Colonel who looked at his watch, “Then I think…”
The sound of the engines roared as the plane shuddered slightly. With the cockpit door ajar Captain Messick said, “Take your seat Colonel. I’m about to punch it.”
The Colonel, who stood in the aisle between the first row of seats, merely gripped the seats on either side of him tighter and replied, “Throttle her,” over his shoulder, “I’ll be just fine right here, son.”
“Another bottle of bourbon to you if he falls on his ass,” hollered Troy over the sound of the engine roar.
“Deal!” exclaimed Mickey as he pushed the thrust levers forward.
As the sleek jet barreled down the runway, the Colonel stood fast, his feet planted on the floor like reinforced rebar. A smile even formed on the corner of his mouth as the plane lifted off and cut through the blackened sky like a fine blade. “As I was saying,” he continued, “Take thirty minutes or so and get yourself relaxed, even have a nip of something from the bar if need be. Do whatever you got to do in order to unwind…”
“No karaoke?” asked the Jackal in mock surprise.
With a shake of his head. the Colonel said, “No way. Not this flight. I said unwind, not get ramped up and act like a bunch of lunatics.”
Sam looked around with a perplexed look on her face, “Am I missing something?”
“Oh,” answered the Colonel, “The boys haven’t filled you in on their musical talents?”
“Apparently not,” she responded as her eyes narrowed.
“Colonel,” exclaimed Cap as he put a finger to his mouth to silence his commanding officer.
Colonel Marshall ignored the gesture, “Pretty sure she needs to know the whole story about you boy’s,” he answered with a laugh. He looked directly at Sam, “Your buddies here travel with their own karaoke machine. Just don’t ask which one likes it the most or you're likely to get in the middle of a fist fight.”
“And … another layer of the onion is revealed,” said Sam with a shake of her head.
“Aww man, no Taylor Swift tonight?” deadpanned Jesús.
“You gotta be kidding me, right?” asked Sam.
“Shake it off, baby,” answered Sarge as he stood and gave an exaggerated shake of his hips.
“Jeez!” exclaimed Sam as she bit her lip. “Sounds like what you boys really need are some chicks.”
“Know any available?” asked Digger with his eyebrows raised.
“I like blonde’s,” responded Harry, “But ain’t picky.”
“Might know a few eligible young ladies,” answered Sam with a wink and a slight brush of her tongue along the top of her lip in a smooth sensual manner, “But I doubt you fellas could handle them.”
“You’re one hell of a tease,” interrupted Troy as he pointed at her and shook his finger back and forth.
“As I was saying,” started the Colonel as he slapped his hands together which made a cracking sound that pierced the interior of the fuselage, “Thirty minutes to wind down then lights out. Four hours of rack time with no exceptions. Then everyone up and we concoct a plan. Got it?”
“I’ve got a few calls to make and tie up some loose ends,” said the Colonel, “I’ll use the back room so I don’t disturb everyone.” With that, he moved down the aisle and toward the rear of the plane before he stopped at Troy’s seat, “Cap, a word please.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Troy who stood and walked down the last few aisles behind his commanding officer.
“When’s the last time you talked to Pat?” asked the Colonel is a hushed tone as spoke to Troy when they reached the rear of the plane.
“On the drive to the airport after we intercepted Naseefa.”
“Everything’s in place?”
“He said yes.”
“Call and double check.”
“Roger that, Colonel.”
The Colonel nodded, opened the door and stepped into the rear room then closed the door.
Pat O’Shea sat in his cluttered office located in eastern Tennessee at the Y-12 National Security Complex. Stacks of papers and briefings adorned his desk. As usual, he was way being in his reading since meetings and classified briefings filled most of his days. His eyes glanced out the panoramic window and he wished for nothing more than to steal a few minutes and step outside. It appeared to be a brisk day in the eastern Tennessee mountains, and he longed to feel the cool breeze against his cheeks. The sight of leaves falling just outside his window brought a smile to his face which quickly passed as he looked back on his desk at the briefing about Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
As Under Secretary for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) his superiors preferred him to be based in DC and, granted, he spent most of his time in the nation’s capital, but whenever possible he made his way back home to Tennessee where his wife and kids lived. He didn’t want his family to grow up in the rate race of northern Virginia and relocated them to Tennessee many years back when he started at the NNSA.
Pat and Troy had known each other for years. Troy’s dad Matt was friends with Pat and they met via their government jobs after the events of 9/11. If it wasn’t for the events of the Zechariah Option, they may have become the best of friends. Sadly, not everything in life is meant to last.
Pat’s phone rang, his eyes diverted from the Iranian briefing and fixed themselves on the display screen. Few people had his direct line and he knew based on the caller ID he better answer.
“Mr. Secretary,” said the slightly static sounding voice.
“That’s Mr. Under Secretary to you.”
Troy chuckled, “No doubt. With your title, I still think you should be pouring someone coffee somewhere. Not leading one of the most vital departments that safeguard our nation’s nuclear stockpile.”
“Smartass,” answered Pat with full sincerity, “Where are you?”
“32,000 feet and climbing.”
“Always living your life by the seat of your pants, huh Evans? At least you’re not jumping out at that altitude.”
“Not today at least, but don’t get me started on that.”
“What’s your ETA?”
“Six hours give or take.”
“Just confirming we are still good to go. Are the assets in place?”
“They’ll be there shortly, I have a recovery team inbound to Iraq as we speak. They’re scheduled to land at the same airfield as your team in the next few hours. Once everything is in place they’ll be ready for the call to extract the weapon.”
“Just what I wanted to hear,” answered Troy. “I’ll call you back when we have boots on the ground.”
“So just about the time I’m fast asleep?”
“You old guys have to get up and piss half a dozen times a night, I’ll be sure to call during one of those moments.”
“Watch it, Troy, you just might live long enough to be in my shoes one day.”
“Probably,” answered Troy, “Since only the good die young.”
“You doing ok?” asked Pat. He genuinely cared for Troy and wanted to make sure under that tough guy façade things were fine. Troy could be a hard nut to crack, but they had bled and experienced great loss together. He had Troy’s back and more importantly his implicit trust. After what happened in Drexel years back Pat made it a point to check in on Troy as often as he could. “I’m sure the past few days have been rough.”
“They don’t pay me the big bucks to file reports into manila folders.”
“Touché,” responded Pat.
“But I’ll survive and we’ll get the nuke. Don’t worry about me Pat. I’ve been in tighter spots.”
“I know from firsthand experience, but I still worry. We also have the second nuke to find. My team along with the NSA and CIA are doing everything they can to pour over the data you and Sam recovered from Ami’s laptop. We’ll track it down.”
“I’m sure you will,” responded Troy in an even tone, “And in the meantime, we’ll do what we got to do on this end to secure the nuke in Babylon.”
“That’s why the government assigned this mission to the Omegas. You guys never fail …”
Troy ignored the compliment, “Any updates on the measure Ami might take if something were to happen to him?”
“Nothing concrete, but the Agency has been leaning on some sources pretty hard, and may have caught a slight break.”
“More than one of the people they brought in for questioning said the same story. If Ami were to die all hell would break loose in the United States.”
“Meaning he’d use the nuke on us?”
“That makes me think the weapon might already be smuggled into the country.”
“That’s what the Agency suspects.”
“So, the moral of the story is get the nuke in Babylon and keep Ami alive so he doesn’t vaporize a major US city in retaliation.”
“That should be easy to do right?”
“You know how many easy days we have in this job.”
“Just don’t die or anything. After all, you still owe me a dinner,” said Pat. “Getting shot or coming home in a pine box is no excuse to not pay up.”
“Yeah, I remember,” replied Troy, “I should’ve never bet on the NCAA March madness brackets.”
“Don’t be a sore loser. I’ll be eating like a king on your dime.”
“Working on that spare tire, are you?”
“Please, I bet I can outrun you in a mile race.”
“You’re an old man,” answered Troy with a laugh, “You can try but never forget what second place really stands for,” before he quickly added, “I’ll talk with you soon Pat.”
Pat knew he didn’t have a chance of outrunning Troy in any foot race, but he threw the dig out there to bust his friend’s chops, “Godspeed Troy.”
Sam sat across from the Jackal towards the rear of the plane in relative silence.
Their seats faced each other, and after a few minutes, she reached across the space that separated them and grabbed his knee while giving it a firm squeeze. “Thanks,” she said.
A perplexed look spread across his face. “For what?” asked the Jackal as he looked down at his knee. A tingle ran up his body as she let go of his knee and withdrew her hand slowly.
“For giving me that shove back there during the takedown.”
“Oh that,” he said before he added, “No problem, not a biggie.”
“It’s a biggie to me, you saved my ass back there.”
The wide smile moved across his face, “And a nice ass it is,” he said as he braced himself for what he figured would be a punch or two. But much to his surprise, it didn’t come.
Instead, she smiled and almost appeared to blush. “So, I’ve heard once or twice over the years,” answered Sam.
“Yeah, it’s not one of those frumpy, fat, and misshaped ones you normally see on military broads.”
“Wow, that started as a compliment to me but turned into a vicious insult to most the other women who serve,” Sam said. Then she laughed. It was a girlish laugh that the Jackal had not recalled hearing since they met. “But I’m flattered ... I think,” she added.
“Anyway, that’s what teammates do, they got each other’s backsides.”
“Well, I appreciate that,” she answered before she quickly added, “Maybe you’re not such a perv after all.”
“Hey now!” exclaimed the Jackal in mock protest, “I got a rep to maintain.”
Sam leaned in close. With a head nod, she indicated she wanted him to do likewise. He did, unsure what she would do next.
“I think it’s all for show, that sexist, immature reputation of yours. My suspicion is that at the core you’re really a sensitive guy that just hasn’t found the right girl yet.”
The Jackal’s features softened for a moment. Sam could tell he wrestled with what she said by the look in his eyes. Did I offend him? She thought to herself after a few seconds passed and he didn’t reply with a callous remark. Is that even possible?
“Can I tell you something?” he asked in barely a whisper as his eyes gazed into hers.
“Sure,” replied Sam in full sincerity.
“I’m damaged goods.”
Her face tightened as a perplexed expression formed on her brow, “Aren’t we all?” she asked.
“Not like me,” he said and suddenly clammed up. His body noticeably stiffened as he looked away towards the window.
“I’ll keep whatever it is to myself,” replied Sam as her expression changed to that of compassionate concern, “I promise.” She reached out and clasped his hands within hers.
Her smooth, soft skin felt like silk to his rough hands. His eyes revealed an internal wrestling match but finally, he relented, “I got hurt once and it turned out pretty bad.”
“Most people get hurt,” she replied then quickly added, “Who was she?”
“My high School sweetheart.”
“Dumped you for the star quarterback?”
He shook his head vigorously. “No. In fact, I was the quarterback, and she was the head cheerleader. Dated all four years of high school, the perfect couple according to everyone. Her name was Jill, and we got married, right out of school. Kind of what you did in the small town where I’m from. Then I enlisted a month after graduation.”
“Military life can be difficult on relationships. What happened?”
“Thought things were going well, at least so I thought. Then I came back from my first deployment to Iraq after six months away. Within four weeks of being home, she told me she was pregnant. I was on cloud nine, so excited to be a dad...” His voice trailed off.
“At the first ultrasound, I found out the due date.”
“Uh oh!” exclaimed Sam.
“Now, I’m not the smartest bulb in the cardboard box but I can do simple math. One and one make two. And I can figure out when forty weeks begins…”
“So, it wasn’t yours.”
“What did you do?”
“Well, after we got home, I confronted her about it not being mine, and she blew up. Said I must be having PTSD.”
“I walked upstairs grabbed my go bag, a few personal possessions, and walked out the front door. I never looked back, didn’t respond to her yelling or frantic screams. Just climbed into my truck and drove away.”
“Wow! Then what?”
“A week later the other dude moved into the house. Some enlisted puke assigned to the support team.”
“Oh yeah, she took me to the cleaners.”
“But why if she was the one that cheated?”
“Didn’t matter, I let her have it all. I didn’t care. Plus, I walked out on a pregnant woman who swore I was the father. The judge didn’t take too kindly to that.”
“Ever see her again?”
“Ran into both of them at the PX several months later.”
“She turned the other way, couldn’t face me. He acted like a tough guy and got into my face. After he shoved me I dropped him to the ground in a split second. I leaned over and told him how much of an ass kicking I could give him with both hands tied behind my back…”
“What did he do?”
“He tuck-tailed and ran, never saw either one of them again. Course I never stepped foot in the PX again after that. Within six months I qualified for the Q course and never looked back. I was assigned to 10th Group and moved to Fort Carson, Colorado after I graduated.”
“Crazy,” replied Sam.
“Got a letter from her last year while we were on an extended mission at Bagram. It had been years since the last time she reached out to me. I couldn’t read the letter so Sarge read it for me. I told him I just wanted to hear a synopsis.”
“Basically, after all these years she finally admitted the kid wasn’t mine. No surprise there but for many years she insisted I was the father. She included a picture and Sarge said he was a pretty cute kid. Apparently, the dude that knocked her up got killed in Iraq while on a deployment. She asked for forgiveness and wanted me back. You know it goes…”
“So, what did you do?”
“Pulled out my zippo and burned the damn letter right then and there.”
“Ashes to ashes, huh?”
“And dust to dust,” finished the Jackal.
“Guess that answers the playboy, tough exterior.”
“Once bitten, twice shy.”
“You don’t appear to be the shy type,” she retorted as she reached over and squeezed his knee one more time.
The Boeing 757-200 reached cruising altitude as Ami sat in his chair and tapped nervously on his armrest. His mind considered the uncertain situation that awaited him when they landed in Iraq. He purchased the plane several years back from British Airways when they retired their aging fleet. Ami made moderate renovations at great personal cost. Once they removed the passenger seats Ami had several sitting areas and four private bedrooms, including showers, installed. Those in his inner circle balked at the money he spent but Ami knew his line of work proved deadly for most involved. Considering the amount of time he spent in the air he figured comfortable should trump cost.
One of his people walked up the aisle and took the empty seat across from him.
“What do you have for me?” asked Ami in a firm tone.
The person opened a folder with several hot off the printer photos. “Our contact at Kotoka International took these and emailed them to me.”
Ami flipped through the dozen or so pictures. None of the men looked familiar in the first several photos. “Hmm,” he said as he examined each photo.
“Our contact said they’re American. The plane landed earlier today. It’s a Gulfstream G450 with tail number N781MF registered to some charter company named Buckeye Charter based out of McLean, VA.”
“It’s a front, a shell company,” answered Ami.
“Probably owned by the Agency or some other American government entity.”
“What’s this?” questioned Ami as he flipped to one of the photos. He leaned in closer and stared intently at the photo. “This man I know,” he said and thrust the photo back to the man across from him.
“Who is it?”
“Colonel William Marshall. One of the more decorated members of the Special Forces community. Rumors are he runs his own team now that’s off the books. Mainly black ops missions. They even have some clever name they’re called although it isn’t coming to me at the moment.”
“Any chance him being in Accra was just a coincidence?”
Ami shook his head, “None.” Then he got to the next photo and there were a man and a woman who looked exactly like Phillipe and Madeline Lapointe. “Bingo! It’s them.”
“That confirms they were not who they claimed to be.”
“As if there were any doubts,” answered Ami in a sarcastic manner, “What did the IT guys figure out about the laptop?”
“They copied the entire hard drive, but since it’s encrypted it should take a while for anyone to crack into the data.”
“No,” said Ami as he shook his head furiously, “The American’s have floors of staff at Fort Meade to handle this. We must assume they already have the contents of the hard drive and are scouring the files for whatever they can use against me.”
“What about your relationship with the Agency? Won’t they protect you?”
“We must work under the premise they’ll burn me to the ground. When you fail to be useful anymore or cause more harm than good the American’s are famous for discarding their allies.”
“So, what do we do about this team headed by Colonel Marshall?”
“For now, we focus on retrieving the nuke in Iraq for our buyer before they do,” said Ami. “Where’s the Colonel’s plane headed?”
“They filed a flight plan for Paris.”
“I doubt that,” replied Ami. “When did they take off?”
“Almost two hours before us.”
Ami pulled up a few websites and calculated the max speed for the G450 versus his 757-200 then picked up the phone next to him. His pilot answered, “We need to increase speed. Push the engines as hard as you can, we need to arrive faster than we planned.”
With that, he placed the phone back in its cradle. It would be close, but he also figured the Colonel would land at an airfield closer to Babylon then he could with his aircraft. In fact, he had to consider they might track his movements somehow and would be waiting for him when he landed. His mind raced at the possibilities.
“What do you suggest…” started the man, but Ami shut him up with one finger raised to his lips.
“Not now, I need a few minutes to think. Even need to make a few calls. How many men do we have in Iraq?”
“Ten including the ones with us now.”
“There’s four men at Babylon around the clock watching the site, correct?”
“Yes, we have them disguised in various official roles with the Iraqi staff at Babylon.”
“They’ll be no match for Colonel Marshall’s team if they arrive before we do.”
“We need more men, make some calls and see who else you can round up. I need hardened fighters, men willing to die. See if you can get me zealots and tell them it’s for the cause of Allah. You know what to do. Make sure they are fed the usual garbage about the need for martyrs to fulfill Allah’s desires.”
Ami stood, “I’ll be in my room.”
As he walked down the aisle to the back of the plane, he passed his guest.
Rahman Salek looked up from the book he read. “Everything still on schedule?” he asked as Ami stopped by his side.
“Yes,” answered Ami at ease with a blatant lie, “Things are progressing just as I planned. Try to get some rest if you can. It will be just past dawn when we arrive.”
Rahman nodded, “I’ll try to do that shortly. I’ve never slept well on planes.”
“I can assure you the Duxiana mattress in your room will allow you to sleep like a baby. It’s like you’re floating on air.”
“Which I am in fact,” answered Rahman.
“You’re heading off to bed then?”
“Yes, I’ll turn in shortly but plan to meet you for breakfast an hour before we land,” said Ami as he turned and walked away.
“Till then,” answered Rahman.
Inside the privacy of his opulent bedroom in the rear of the plane, Ami picked up the secure phone line. The phone rang several times before a raspy voice answered on the other end.
“Yes,” said the other person.
“We may have a complication,” replied Ami.
“I’m listening. What seems to be the problem?”
“It appears likely the American’s know about the location of the nuke I’ve just sold. I’m on my way to retrieve the device from Babylon.”
“is the buyer with you?”
“And are the Americans headed there as well?”
“Not sure, but it seems probable.”
“Dead or the American’s have him which is the same.”
“What do you want to do about it?”
“I need time to think about my options.”
“But at the very least I need the asset in DC activated.”
“To what end?”
“Like we’ve discussed before if something were to happen to me I need the Reprisal Protocol initiated.”
“You sure the situation is that dire?”
“Maybe. If I were to die, I want him to target the DC area. Specifically, Joint Base Andrews, but the fallout and destruction will encompass the whole District of Columbia.”
“Joint Base Andrews? Still holding a grudge after all these years?”
“As the book of Exodus says…” said Ami before his voice trailed off.
“Eye for an eye?” finished the man on the other end of the phone.
“Precisely, if they want to come after me, I’ll hit them back 1,000 times greater. Tell our asset if he doesn’t hear I’m safe by sundown tomorrow to start the twenty-four-hour countdown.”
A discernable pause took place as the man on the other line considered the repercussions of what Ami proposed. “I understand.”
“You’ll see that he’s notified?” asked Ami.
“Actually, I’ll take care of it personally. If you go, I go. That was always my plan.”
“I knew I could count on you, brother.”
“Hopefully this path isn’t needed.”
“One can certainly hope, but in the meantime, its best to be prepared,” answered Ami. “I intend to live a long life and die in my bed one day in the company of a woman much younger than I with a smile plastered on my wrinkly face … but just in case.”
Towards the front of the plane, a man with a thick black beard and equally thick head of hair pulled the earpiece from his left ear as Ami’s call ended. He had planted the listening device in Ami’s private room months before. As soon as the call started he recognized the person Ami conversed with just by the sound of the raspy voice. He had many interactions with the man over the years and knew his allegiance to Ami would be unbreakable. The conversation confirmed that the United States would be in dire straits if Ami perished while recovering the nuclear device. But how do I contact the US in order to warn them of the attack? He asked himself. Can I even get in touch with them in time?
He thought about the interaction with the American he approached outside Ami’s compound. What would have happened if I had climbed into that Range Rover? He quickly dismissed the thought. His fate was sealed a long time ago. Now he wondered, Would it be better to protect Ami and prevent the Reprisal Protocol? Or should I let things play out? He hoped if he relayed valuable intel to the Americans while at the same time their intelligence agencies found the clues hidden in Ami’s files it would be enough to locate the second nuke and prevent any attack. But it would be a gamble. The question was should he take it or not?
His mind reeled as the familiar face took the seat next to him a few minutes later.
“Penny for your thoughts?” asked Ami as he sat down and noticing how deep in contemplation the man appeared.
“Just considering what might unfold in Iraq. I don’t like that we have to go there.”
“Neither do I.”
“But we don’t have a choice, do we?”
“No, we don’t. I’ll need you by my side if the American’s make it to Babylon before we do,” said Ami. “I would rather that weapon goes off and kill us all then let it fall back into their hands.”
“I understand,” he replied.
“You’ve been a faithful associate Benjamin, I’m sorry I doubted your allegiance during the purge.”
Benjamin thought back to the torture he endured when four out of the eight associates that worked for Ami were rounded up and systematically tortured before being killed in heinous ways. Benjamin almost cracked more than once during the interrogations, but somehow, he kept it together. His reward was his life.
“You had a mole Ami, and did what you felt best.”
“The loyalty you’ve displayed does not go unnoticed.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“If the American’s try to take the weapon, we must fight till our last breath.”
“We will Ami, we will.”
Once inside the small bedroom at the rear of the plane the Colonel sat down on the plush single bed and took off his boots. His feet were sore, and it felt good for him to stretch his toes and get off his feet for a few minutes. Once he got comfortable, he placed three calls.
First, he dialed the SecDef to fill him in personally on the events that transpired in Accra. Next, he called the DNI to request additional assets on site when they landed in Iraq. Most of big Army had packed up and resources were limited. However, the agency still had lots of personnel on site and the Colonel knew he may need to leverage those bodies and assets while in country.
Finally, the Colonel placed a call to a group that technically didn’t exist. At least, not according to the United States government. This small, but highly effective team, excelled in ways government agencies failed miserably. When the Colonel needed answers fast, he bypassed the alphabet agencies and went straight to them. He called earlier in the week as soon as he left Iraq headed for Washington, DC so they could begin the task of finding out who targeted his team. Enough time passed and now he expected answers, not excuses.
As soon as the man on the other end answered the Colonel jumped straight into business, “What have you learned?”
Used to the gruffness the person couldn’t help himself, “Nice to hear your voice as well, sir. I’m doing great, thanks for asking.”
“I don’t have time for that. Give me an update, now.”
“Let me open the file,” a few seconds of silence took place before the gravelly sounding voice spoke again, “We’ve actually discovered much since last time you called.”
“Such as?” questioned the Colonel.
“My guys positively identified all fourteen men that attacked your team in Iraq.”
“All over the board, couple Saudi’s, a Syrian’s, Pakistani, few Afghan fighters, but the majority were Iraqi.”
“Mercs?” asked the Colonel.
“And who hired them?”
A pause took place before the person responded, “Not who you think.”
“Does the name Alexei Petrikov sound familiar?”
The Colonel searched his memory bank, but the name didn’t ring a bell. “That’s not the name I expected to hear.”
“I know, and from what we can tell the man you thought was responsible didn’t order the hit.”
“You’re saying he had absolutely nothing to do with it?”
“I didn’t say that. I said he didn’t order the hit. If he had something to do with the attack on the Omega Group, we have yet to uncover evidence implicating him.”
“Tell me more about this Alexei Petrikov. Who the hell is he and why did he hire these men to kill me and my men.”
“Obviously,” interrupted the Colonel.
“He’s a Russian oligarch who owns one of the largest natural gas businesses in Russia. Former KGB…”
“Ain’t they all,” commented the Colonel.
“Alexei maintains close ties to FSB and it appears he’s good friends with Putin himself. His brother Sergei is the Minister of Energy for Russia. Basically, his hands are all over the energy sector in the former Soviet Union.”
“Wonderful,” answered the Colonel in a clearly sarcastic tone. “But, why us.”
“We’re still working out all the specifics but his motivation appears to point back to the operation earlier this year in St. Petersburg.”
The Colonel delved into the recesses of his mind and retrieved the mission parameters for what took place back in January. His defining memory included how damn cold St. Petersburg happened to be that time of year.
“Ok, we took out six men who were trying to sabotage the natural gas pipeline that ran into Belarus from Russia,” recalled the Colonel. “I would think Alexei would want to thank us not kill us.”
“It’s complicated,” replied the man, “We’ve been able to confirm so far that one of the men killed was related to Alexei.”
“This is about revenge then?”
“Yes, and no.”
“Like I said, it’s complicated and we’ve just scratched the surface.”
“Keep digging, I need more details.”
“In the meantime, was the attack in Iraq a one-time event or is this S.O.B. coming after us once again.”
“From what we can tell the attack in Iraq will not be a one-off. Alexei has a real hard-on for you guys. Wants you all dead because of what happened.”
“Great,” answered the Colonel.
“Any intel as to when he may take another shot at us?”
“That still doesn’t explain the photos we found in Iraq. Those pics had Sam in them as well and she wasn’t part of the mission in St. Petersburg.”
“Then my question is how the hell did they get the pictures and why include her?”
“Last part first, I believe Sam just got grouped together with the team. She appears to be collateral damage in their minds. As for how did they get the photos, you won’t be surprised to learn the agency has a mole who provided the images to Alexei.”
The Colonel’s blood pressure began to rise. “You know who this person is?”
“We do. He’s an analyst that works at Langley on the fifth floor. We have his home address, family bio, and a full dossier worked up on him.”
“Put a tail on him.”
“Already done, sir.”
“Does he have any direct contact with ‘you know who’?”
“The evidence against this analyst is airtight.”
“We’re one-hundred percent sure he provided the photos to Alexei and his Mercs. He tried to cover his tracks and did a damn good job of it. We just happen to be better.”
“Once Project Nebuchadnezzar is handled I’ll deal with this low life myself,” responded the Colonel with a snarl, “Then we will move on to Alexei.”
“You really have no other choice,” answered the other man.
“I’ll be in touch soon.”
With that, the Colonel disconnected the call and stared down at the ground for several minutes lost in his own thoughts. It seemed too many of the missions they undertook resulted in blowback. Yes, one could say it came with the territory, but that didn’t mean he liked it. Not one bit.
Four hours later the entire team, including Sam, huddled around the first two rows at the front of the plane. Each of them nursed a piping hot cup of coffee in their hands. The sleep helped but to be honest they all could have racked-out for twelve hours straight given the opportunity. The subsequent discussions and planning lasted exactly eighty-eight minutes.
The Colonel looked down at his black G-Shock watch and nodded. A wide grin formed at the corner of his mouth. “Good job team, you finished two minutes early.”
From the cockpit, Captain Messick’s voice carried through the fuselage, “We’ll be on the ground in fifteen-minute Omega’s.”
“Roger that,” answered Troy in a bellow.
Sam sat next to Troy during the intel briefing; they had not talked since they left Ghana.
“You owe me that answer,” she said as she nudged him with her elbow.
“What answer?” asked Troy in a surprised tone.
“Remember our conversation on the plane from Paris to Ghana?”
“I think so,” he replied as he scratched his head wondering where she was going with this.
“I asked you if you loved her still. The woman named Cate.”
“Now I remember,” he answered as he rolled his eyes.
“You said if we lived through the events at Ami’s without being chopped up into fertilizer and fed to the sharks you’d tell me … so I’m waiting.”
Troy smiled, Sam sure as hell acted tenaciously. He knew there wasn’t time to get into that discussion at the moment. “The quick answer is yes, while the longer one …well, it’s very complicated.”
“No, it’s not.”
“It’s not what?”
“Complicated. It’s always simpler than we think. We make it seem too complex so we can keep our guard up.”
“I won’t argue with you there.”
“And I still expect the longer answer one of these days.”
“Stateside, when we’re back, but you may not like me as much when you hear the ending.”
Sam’s eyebrows raised, “And if I want to meet her?”
Troy’s grin slanted down to an unapproving grimace, “You’re pushing your luck, Martin.”
“I don’t know any other way to live Cap,” answered Sam.
“Hate to interrupt your love connection,” interjected the Colonel.
“Whoa, sir,” said Troy as he raised his hands up, “It’s not what you think going on here.”
“Uh-huh,” answered the Colonel in a doubtful tone. “Do we have any ETA on where and when Ami will land?”
“No way to know for sure, sir,” answered Digger who answered from the next row. “Satellite images indicate he left two hours after we did, but the Boeing 757-200 has a much faster cruising speed so he likely made up much of the time in the air. However, that being said we’ll be landing at a secret facility maintained by the agency very close to Babylon. Once we hit the ground, we should be at the Ishtar Gate within twenty to thirty minutes. While we aren’t sure where Ami will land, but feel certain he’ll have a longer transport time when he arrives. There are limited places he can land a 757 in that part of Iraq.”
“How many men will he have with him?”
“Not sure, but we must assume he will come with enough men and plenty of weapons..”
With a nod of the head, the Colonel said. “We all know what needs to be done. Get to that nuke first, secure it, and then we’ll call in the cavalry.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Troy.
“You forgot to add, and don’t die in the process, Colonel,” added the Jackal.
“Well if someone has to get shot …” answered the Colonel as he glared intently at the Jackal.
Up Next ... Part IX