PART I - The Snatch
A slight breeze passed through the square. It felt refreshing on the abnormally warm spring day.
Across from the café stood St. Stephens Cathedral. The towering Gothic structure with its multi-colored roof made for a magnificent backdrop.
Troy Evans stared at the church. His mind wandered for the briefest of moments. Architecture intrigued him, especially historic buildings. After a few seconds, he looked down at his watch. He still had a few minutes.
It was late afternoon and the Boulevard was busy. People passed by his table constantly. He glanced at them but did his best to not make it obvious.
Several women gave him more than a passing glance as they strolled by. Troy was used to such things and didn’t give it a second thought. His rugged good looks and chiseled physique made him stand out from most men. He returned the smiles but was careful to look away quickly. He didn’t want to encourage any of them to stop at his table. After all, he had a job to do and attracting attention from strange foreign women while on a mission was frowned upon by the Colonel.
Plus, it wasn’t his style.
Troy looked around constantly. His eyes never stayed on the same thing for more than a second or two. It had been a month since he and his team left The Farm near Williamsburg, Virginia. Counterintelligence and spy craft was still a very new concept to them and they had much to learn. He and his men were quick studies, and when they put their minds to a task no challenge couldn’t be overcome.
A couple sat to his right. They appeared to be in their fifties. The woman had chain-smoked since the moment she took her seat.
Troy hated cigarettes.
As he looked in the woman’s direction they made the briefest of eye contact. The woman was older than him but attractive. The gray dress that clung to her body made it clear she took care of herself. Most men would have taken a second look or even more. She pulled the cigarette out of her mouth long enough to smile before her next drag. The wide, toothy smile exposed her slightly crooked, moderately yellow stained teeth. It negated any redeeming qualities she may have possessed and he wondered why a woman who clearly valued her appearance would allow herself to have such wretched teeth. She exhaled a large plume of smoke in Troy’s direction and spoke to him.
Troy didn’t understand a word of it.
He shrugged his shoulders and scrunched his face as he shook his head hoping she would get the hint.
“I’m sorry but I don’t understand,” replied Troy in English as the woman continued to talk.
He was trying not to be rude but finally interrupted her when she didn’t let up, “Look, ma’am, do you speak any English?” he asked.
She replied in something clearly not English.
“I take that as a no,” Troy replied tersely.
His annoyance with the woman only grew. She took several more drags and blew several more puffs of smoke in his direction still rambling.
Was she trying to piss him off? he thought to himself.
Then she followed up her latest exhale of smoke with a not too subtle wink.
Does she think this is a turn on? Troy wondered.
Troy leaned toward her.
The woman’s expression seemed to change as Troy moved closer. He noticed the attraction in her eyes.
Even though a partial smile covered his face, Troy’s tone was anything but friendly as he said through gritted teeth, “If you don’t put that thing out I’m going to do it for you.”
“Calm down there, Cap,” interjected a voice from the earbud hidden in his left ear.
Troy turned away from the woman and rubbed his hand in front of his mouth as he whispered, “I’m cool Jesús. No biggie.”
“Yah you need to enhance your calm,” came a more sarcastic voice over his Comm.
Again, he covered his mouth before replying, “Jackal, if you don’t shut that mouth of yours I’ll do it for you.”
“Testy, Testy,” replied the Jackal.
The banter was interrupted by a third voice. “I’ve got eyes on the target gentlemen. One hundred yards and closing.”
Digger was perched high above them. He lay flat against the distant rooftop as his high-powered Leica binoculars watched the events unfold.
At Digger’s voice, Troy was brought back to the mission. He was annoyed that the cigarette smoke and woman bothered him enough to lose focus.
Troy wasn’t used to being around civilians all that much. It had been years since he sat at café or restaurant and simply relaxed. It felt foreign and he was on edge to be around people without guns. The fact that no one was trying to kill him at the moment should have provided him with some level of comfort, but ironically it had quite the opposite effect, he felt unnerved.
For the past several years Troy had spent most of his time living in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting the War on Terror. The military had limits on how long a soldier could be deployed but Troy always seemed to find a loophole. There was nothing for him back in the States, and he was content to stay overseas as long as possible. His newest role with the Omega Group afforded him opportunities that most in the military would never experience, but it took a toll on him, even though he would never admit to it himself. There was nothing normal about his way of life. Nobody, aside from his brothers in arms, could be trusted. Ever. Civilians he encountered could secretly be ready to blow him or his men to kingdom come. It was a strange existence to be so distrustful of mankind.
Yet that’s how Troy stayed alive.
Troy had traded in his desert camo and rucksack for a collared shirt, pair of chinos and some worn loafers.
He felt naked.
The cool steel of the H&K, pressed against the small of his back, provided him limited comfort. He and his men played by a different set of rules now, and it took some getting used to. He knew the weapon was there but only could be used if his life or the life of his men were in imminent danger. Vienna was not to turn into a shooting range. His mission parameters were explicit.
Vienna was not Baghdad, Mosul, or Kabul.
“They just crossed from Stephansplatz, onto Goldschmiedgasse. You should see them in ten seconds,” said Digger.
“Roger that,” whispered Troy.
Troy looked in the direction the men were approaching and saw Terrance first. He was about thirty feet in front of the target who always followed the same path from the bank to his apartment each evening.
Terrance passed Troy’s table at the outdoor café but never looked towards his Captain. The tall, muscular, dark-skinned man had a swagger about him as he walked. Nothing fazed him and he strolled past Troy like he had not a care in the world.
Troy’s eyes casually looked to his left and saw the man following behind Terrance. Troy gathered himself and started to slowly rise. He threw a twenty Euro note on the table as he walked away and followed discretely behind the two men. He mirrored their path down Goldschmiedgasse and away from St. Stephens Cathedral.
As Troy walked he looked down the wide stone boulevard. He made eye contact with the Jackal who leaned against a four-story building pretending to read the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, a daily Austrian newspaper. The Jackal looked up and subtly nodded.
The Jackal stepped out into the road and shadowed them as the three men passed. His eyes darted. His job was to watch their six. Nobody stood out but he never stopped looking around. Everything could change in an instant.
Three blocks down, after a turn onto a less popular street, Digger gave the all clear.
“Street’s empty. Everyone get ready. Ten feet ahead Terrance. Red doorway on your left.”
Terrance slipped into the deeply arched doorway and disappeared. The nicely dressed man unwittingly walking behind Terrance paid no attention to the two men who quickly approached.
Troy silently and quickly closed the gap between himself and the target. As did the Jackal.
A white cargo van pulled up the curb and the door suddenly opened.
The man heard the noise to his right, turned that direction and saw the van come to a sudden stop with a slight screech of the tires.
As the door slid open Terrance rushed from his hiding spot in the arched doorway and quickly took the five large strides to the target. By the time Terrance reached the man Troy was behind him as well.
Troy slipped the hood on quickly, and effortlessly in one fluid motion as Terrance grabbed the man’s arms in a tremendous, vice-like grip. At the same time, Troy grabbed the man’s pants, near the rear belt loop, with one hand as his other hand gripped the scruff of the man’s neck under the hood.
Together Troy and Terrance had the man, who weighed all of 150 pounds soaking wet, off his feet and into the air. A fraction of a second later the startled man was forcefully thrown into the open side door of the van. Jesús caught him mid-air and instantly dropped him to the cold steel floor in a single motion. Troy, Terrance, and the Jackal jumped in as Harry dropped the gas pedal. The van lurched forward as they sped away.
It was all over in a few seconds and there were no witnesses as to what occurred.
With the hooded man pressed to the floor, Jesús stuck the syringe into his neck and pushed the stopper all the way down. The man’s body contracted for a second then relaxed as the warm liquid flowed into his bloodstream. Almost immediately, he drifted off to an unconscious state.
Three blocks later the van pulled to the side of the boulevard. Digger jumped into the passenger seat and the vehicle sped off once more.
It was a thirty-five-minute drive to the safe house in Velm. Harry was sure to follow all traffic ordinances. A run in with the Austrian police force could be disastrous.
Two hours later Arjun Shakir awoke.
His eyes felt heavy.
Even when he finally opened his eyelids he couldn’t see anything, something covered them. He tried to reach his hands towards his face but his arms were bound. He started to panic. Unsure where he was or how he got there he began to scream.
A strong hand covered his mouth as a deep voice said, “Shhhhhh…” in his left ear.
Arjun didn’t understand what was going on. “Who are you? Where am I?” he questioned as the hand was removed.
“Be quiet Arjun,” replied the voice that seemed to be coming from in front of him.
“I’m a banker, I have money,” he started to say in a whimpering voice.
“We know who you are.”
“I can pay you …”
“We don’t want your filthy money, scumbag” countered the voice.
“Then what do you want?” he pleaded.
“The girl,” said the voice.
“What girl?” asked Arjun perplexed.
“That’s enough talking for now Arjun.”
“But I don’t know what girl…”
The cool steel of the barrel against his temple and the distinctive click of the hammer being brought back shut him up in mid-sentence.
“I said … shut … the hell … up!” exclaimed the voice in an even sterner drawn out tone. “Don’t make a sound.”
Arjun pissed himself. The warm liquid ran down the chair and started to drip onto the floor with a puddle forming.
“Dammit,” responded the angry voice, “Now we’re gonna have to clean up your piss!”
Arjun started to whimper but the barrel was pressed harder into his temple. It started to hurt.
“No words. No Sounds.” said the clearly irritated voice.
Arjun nodded his head. It finally sunk in.
“Next time don’t piss all over yourself. We’ll take you to a bathroom. Do you understand? Nod your head yes or no.”
He nodded his head. He got it.
The voice continued, “We have a long trip ahead, so you’ll need to eat.”
A plate was put on his lap.
“I’m going to loosen your bounds, right hand only. You can use it to eat and that’s it. The food is halāl so you can eat it without religious concerns. We know all about you Arjun Shakir, every last detail. If you try to remove the blindfold, I’ll put a bullet into your skull and send pieces of your head all over the wall. You got that?”
Understanding how it worked, Arjun simply nodded his head. His desire to live superseded any thoughts he may have had on removing the blindfold. Once his right hand was freed he hesitated.
“Eat it,” said the voice harshly.
Slowly, he began to eat. His stomach churned from his nerves but he forced himself to eat one bite after another not knowing what would happen if he refused. He could only imagine.
Arjun ate in silence. He heard sounds but no voices.
When he finished the same voice asked, “Done?”
He nodded yes.
“Good,” replied the voice.
His right hand was again bound. Suddenly, he felt a sharp poke in his neck. Something warm entered his body and all went dark once more.
Thirty seconds later Troy confirmed Arjun was out cold. He spoke up, “Ok guys I increased the dose so he should be out for about four hours. Let’s pack everything we brought since we need to leave for the airport in forty-five minutes. Wheels up in less than two hours.”
The five men in the room all acknowledged his orders.
“Someone needs to clean him up,” explained Troy as the men started their pre-assigned tasks. “We can’t leave him in those piss wet clothes all night.”
All the heads nodded no. No one wanted to do the deed.
“Fine,” responded Troy, “I’ll do it, but I need help.”
Each man took a step back away from him.
“Harry,” barked Troy.
“Why me?” questioned Harry.
“You’re the Doc!”
“Yes the Doc, not the nurse’s aid. I don’t clean up crap for a living.”
“As our certified medical professional on staff, you draw the short end of the stick on this one. Sorry.”
“This sucks,” replied Harry.
“I concur,” said Troy, “And trust me I don’t want to change his clothes any more than you do. But it needs to be done.”
From the other side of the room, the Jackal snickered.
Troy frowned, “And it looks like the Jackal just got put on clean-up duty.”
“Me?” asked the Jackal.
“Yes, you! Scrub that piss off the floor and chair until it’s clean enough to eat off of.”
The Jackal grimaced, but before he could protest Troy yelled, “We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, so get to your tasks men.”
It was 11:45 PM local time in Vienna when the white van pulled next to the Gulfstream jet parked near the executive hangars. At this time of night, the Vienna International Airport was quiet.
Jesús, Harry, Digger and the Jackal jumped out first and loaded all the gear into the cargo hold of the G650. Once the gear was on board Terrance and Troy lifted Arjun, one on each side. With his arms positioned around their broad shoulders, they carried him inside the jet. They had removed his hood on the off chance anyone at the airport saw them bring him onboard. Upon entering the sleek aircraft, they had to turn sideways just to make it through the narrow door and aisle. Once he was settled and buckled into the back-seat Terrance put the hood back over his head. Both pilots worked for the Agency and knew the drill. They didn’t ask any questions. It was the same two men that had flown the team into Vienna the day before. They simply nodded as Troy and Terrance walked towards the front of the plane.
Harry and Digger pulled the cargo van off the tarmac and towards the parking lot behind the hangar. The van was methodically wiped down before they walked back to the waiting jet.
As they boarded, another man approached. He had an air about him, a purpose in each step. He confidently climbed the airstairs of the plane. All six men, who were getting settled in, turned as he entered.
“Colonel,” remarked Troy with a wide smile on his face. He reached out his hand which was shaken with a firm grip.
“Cap,” said the Colonel. Then he looked at the others, “Omegas.”
In unison, the remaining five men replied, “Colonel.”
The Colonel smiled, “That sound never gets old.”
He surveyed the plane and paid special attention to the slumped body in the rear seat. He smiled, “Good job men. I followed your progress and listened in on your Comms. For six guys with no prior counter surveillance training, two weeks at The Farm sure did wonders! I was impressed with the snatch. Now let’s get Arjun out of Austria. We have a team in place to begin the interrogation. Time is of the essence gentlemen. After all, a young woman’s life is at stake.”
Once everyone took their seats as the Pilot-In-Command (PIC) announced they would be airborne as soon as air traffic control provided final clearance.
Then things went south.
The PIC got a call. As he finished the conversation he turned around in the cockpit seat. “Colonel, we may have a problem.”
“What is it?” asked Colonel William S. Marshall, with a distinct frown upon his face.
“Customs and Immigration officer is on his way; says he needs to board before we can get final clearance.”
“Dammit,” replied the Colonel as he shook his head. “I thought at this time of night they would let us slide.”
“We knew this might happen,” replied Troy who sat to his right, “We’re ready for this sir.”
“Get those passports out that the Agency provided us, boys,” said the Colonel.
The PIC interrupted as he saw the figure walk across the tarmac, “There’s the officer, he will be here in sixty seconds.” as he gestured with his head.
“Oh man,” remarked Digger, “Someone pull Arjun’s hood off.”
“And the eye covers as well,” replied Troy, “Plus cut the flex cuffs.”
“I’m on it!” yelled Harry.
“We’re gonna tell Customs our boy here is sleeping one off?” asked the Jackal.
“Actually,” replied Troy, “Grab a beer from the galley, open it and pour a little into his mouth then stick the bottle between his legs.”
“Good idea,” said Jesús as he darted to the back of the plane. He had just finished the task and sat hurriedly down in the open seat across from Arjun as the Immigration and Customs officer stepped inside the fuselage.
The man looked very tired. He was quite obviously in a bad mood. “Pazzportz,” he growled in a thick Austrian accent.
The men handed them forward. He held the stack in his hand and carefully checked them and made eye contact with each man as he looked intently at the passports for each man.
“Vhat is hiz problem?” He asked as he motioned to the man slumped over in the final row.
“Had too much to drink,” replied the Colonel, who did all the talking. As he said this he stuck his outstretched thumb to his lips and moved his hand in an upward motion, like he was throwing back a stiff drink.
“Heez not dead izz he?” asked the official in a perturbed tone.
“Goodness no! He’s my financial advisor,” exclaimed the Colonel in an exacerbated tone. “He better not be dead since he controls all my money. Just a few too many. We hit up the bars in Wieden before heading to the airport and he lost at our game of quarter shots. He’ll be fine, and sleep it off on our flight west.”
“Purpoz ovv trip?”
“Business, and a little bit of pleasure,” said the Colonel with a wink. “I own a technology company. In town to for the day to discuss an acquisition with my executive leadership team,” as he moved his arms around to indicate the men behind him comprised that team.
“Vhat company?” asked the customs officer as he looked around the plane suspiciously.
The Colonel had a whole backstory memorized, but his mind was preoccupied. Cluttered. He thought of the girl and the fact that they needed to get airborne stat. As he looked down, for some reason he couldn’t explain later, he replied, “Amazon,” which happened to be the company featured on the magazine lying on top of the table before him. It was a rare slip up for a man so hell bent on control.
The officer’s eyebrows arched upwards? He looked down at the magazine which caught his eye than back at the man before him. Clearly, the man on the cover was not the person who sat before him, his name was even in bold letters on the front cover.
He pointed down to the coffee table, “It sayz Jeff Bezos ownz Amazon?”
Damn, thought the Colonel. He had screwed up big time and got caught doing so.
He recovered quickly, “Jeff’s our CEO, and gets the lion share of the attention. Rightfully so, he’s brilliant, but I’m the principal founder. You could say Jeff works for me.”
The official looked skeptical. His eyes narrowed as he tried to process what he heard. After a few tense seconds, he nodded his head up and down, “I zee.” Then a thought occurred to the wearied man.
“Good, then we can go now?” asked Colonel Marshall.
“No!” the official replied in a curt tone.
“Excuse me?” asked the Colonel incredulously.
The man sensed an opportunity, one he was sure not to pass up. He rubbed his thumb against his extended pointer and middle finger. “Long dayz, very strezzful, veey need to check thiz out in vorning.” A wicked grin replaced his grimace suddenly.
Colonel Marshall shook his head and smiled in return. This Customs official was a dick, but he was a smart one. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a large stack of bills. He began to whip off hundreds, one at a time.
“Let’s see, there are ten of us including my pilots. I think $300 a head should clear up any misunderstanding. I’ll even throw in an extra $500 if you get the hell off my plane right now! Agreed?”
The man’s eyes lit up as the Colonel started slapping hundred dollar bills onto the table top. He had hustled many execs over the years but it rarely brought in more than a few hundred Euros. “Ves, ves, that vill do juzt fine.”
“Good,” said the Colonel as he handed the man the stack of thirty-five crisp new hundred dollar bills. “On your way then. Have a good night sir.”
“Gewd night,” said the official as he walked off the plane without turning back, his pocket much fuller than when he climbed the airstairs a few minutes before.
“Always keep loose change huh?” inquired the Jackal.
“Just saved our asses didn’t it?” retorted the Colonel.
“Not necessarily,” interjected Troy, “I was gonna drug him and throw him in the back with Arjun if he tried to ground us.”
The colonel laughed, “I’m sure that conscience of yours would have prevented that from occurring.”
“We’ll never know, now will we?” replied Troy with his head tilted and a sly grin on his face.
“We have clearance to depart,” replied the pilot a few minutes later. “Smooth talking back their Colonel.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “Now one of you put Arjun’s hood back on and flex cuff his wrists. He’ll probably wake up before the plane lands.”
Two minutes later the G650 rocketed down the runway. As the sleek airplane lifted off the ground the Colonel looked at the Omega Group, “Wheels up gentlemen. Now the fun really begins.”
Next up, Part II "The Anguish"