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Chapter Eleven

"You wanted to see me, Kildar?"

Katya was, if anything, more beautiful than Anastasia and in the same mold, blonde, blue-eyed with a slight Tartar tilt. Great tits and a fine ass, delicious lilt to her voice and hips that swayed in a way that was truly extraordinary. The blue eyes could look as innocent as a child but she had long before discovered that Mike saw right through her. So the eyes he looked into, now, were as cold and dead as a shark's.

"I need another insertion mission," Mike said, waving her to a chair. He'd considered doing some chit-chat but it usually was pointless with Katya. "Into the Pansiki. The vig is fifty thousand dollars. Pretty much the same as Albania; localize a hostage and support the extraction."

"One hundred," Katya said. "Up front."

"Ten up front," Mike said. "Sixty on completion. If you do as well as Albania a forty bonus. You did a damned good job in Albania. If you sit on your ass and just feed us intel, seventy total."

"I nearly got my ass shot off in Albania," Katya said, scornfully. "Your perfectly planned mission was a disaster."

"No mission survives contact with the enemy..."

"That's why they're called the enemy," Katya finished. "What's so special about this girl?"

Katya had revealed a very definite chip on her shoulder over the Albanian op. As she put it: "Nobody ever came to rescue me." She'd been horribly abused in the process of being broken in as a hooker. Whether that had caused her current mental condition or if it had been there before, she was now as sociopathic as anyone Mike had ever met. And she actively enjoyed killing people, especially men.

To make matters worse, in preparation for the Balkans op the US government had offered some very advanced "upgrades", upgrades that even their own agents had been unwilling to have installed. Katya was now, arguably, the first generation of a sort of science fiction super-assassin. She had an internal system to dump combat chemicals that sped up her reactions and caused a "slow-time" effect, video and audio connections built right into her brain and poison glands connected to her long, and sharp, nails.

Mike, and all the rest of the men in the house, were now absolutely unwilling to sleep with her. Not that Katya cared; she found the situation amusing.

"She's the daughter of a Russian WMD specialist," Mike said. "She's being used to force him to work for the target group."

"She's not going to be in with the whores, then," Katya pointed out. "How in the hell am I supposed to help secure her?"

"Try to figure out a way," Mike said with a shrug. "Be your usual helpful self."

At that, Katya let loose one of the few real laughs Mike had heard out of her. She was about as helpful in the harem as a snake, which was why Mike had been spreading her around to keep her busy. When she was busy, and interested, she wasn't nearly they problem she was when bored. But she was never really "helpful." She'd do a job until she mastered it to her satisfaction and then start causing problems. Vanner pulled her out of intercept after she started calling up the Chechens she was supposed to be monitoring and taunting them.

Mike sometimes thought that her natural spot was psychological operations. Or maybe the Mafia. Hopefully "Jay" would be able to ensure her functionality at the very least.

"Very well," Katya said, still chortling. "I will go into the lion's den, again. And for the bonus I will try to be very helpful. I'm going to need you to get me some more 'medications.' I used up most of my stores in Albania."

"Will do," Mike said. "Can I ask you a question? You're still hanging around. I'm, frankly, surprised. Why?"

"Because I am learning much here," Katya said, cold again. "From Anastasia I am learning languages, accounting, business. From Vanner I am learning electronics, computers and programming. He has even shown me some hacking and I am working hard on that; I like it very much. From you and Adams I learn combat skills, yes? When I feel there is nothing left to learn, then I will leave. But in the meantime, you feed me and keep a roof over my head while I learn. You even continue to pay me a stipend. And then there are these occasional 'jobs' which pay quite well. Why should I leave? Yet."

"The usual goes," Mike pointed out. "If you're burned, we'll try to extract you. Try rather hard I'll add. We owe you that. You may not consider yourself part of the team, but I do. But if you burn us..."

"Run far and fast," Katya said, smiling coldly. "This, also, I am learning. How to run far and fast."

* * *

"Come," Mike said at a knock on the door of his office.

He looked up from his computer screen, rubbing his eyes and frowning. He was doing more reading than doing these days and it was killing his eyes. He was afraid he was going to need glasses soon.

The man who came through the door was dressed like any of the Keldara, if a bit short for one. One of the older guys, not one of the ones on the teams. Gray-shot beard and mustache, getting the "beer gut" that some of the older Keldara had. But when Mike rapidly ran a file of the faces of the Keldara, he couldn't place him to save his life. He figured he'd play that off. It wasn't like he could remember all the Keldara.

"You know," Jay said, walking over and flopping onto the chair in front of the desk, "if I was an assassin you'd be so dead right now. You've got lousy security."

"I'll keep that in mind," Mike replied, leaning back and trying not to let his surprise show. "Good trip?"

"Fair," Jay said. "First class as far as Prague. It got a little rougher after that."

"I can imagine," Mike said. "Can I show you around or do you already have the whole place mapped out?"

"I will say that your security on whatever is in the basements is better than getting to your office," Jay replied. "Doors are solid and the guys you've got on them weren't fooled. I've seen the rest. Nice harem quarters. Who's the blonde?"

"Well, the basement is where your shop will be," Mike said. "So maybe I ought to show that to you. And depending on which, the blonde is your sole 'employee.'"

"Oh, great," Jay replied. "If ever I saw one stone psychopathic bitch of a killer..."

"That would be Katya," Mike said with a laugh. "You can handle that, right?"

"Oh, yeah," the intel specialist said. "I like psychopathic bitches. It describes every girlfriend I've ever had."

* * *

"Intel room here," Mike said, nodding at the Keldara guards. They were regarding Jay with puzzlement in their eyes. They did know every single Keldara. "Commo room across the hall. Headquarters in a larger room at the end. Other way there are four more or less empty rooms and two sub-levels. There are two remaining really good apartments upstairs, although the view is of the mountain. Pick which mountain view you prefer."

"Any problem with getting one down here?" Jay asked, walking down the corridor and opening up one of the doors of the "more or less empty" rooms. More or less empty because they still had some left over trash from the Soviet occupation. "An apartment I mean?"

"I don't think so," Mike said. "Kind of...claustrophobic."

"Yeah, but very secure," Jay replied, opening up another door. "Can I get better doors and locks?"

"Your budget," Mike said.

"What's the sub-basement like?"

"There's a reason we call it the dungeons."

"I'll stay here."

"Come on in the intel shop," Mike said, opening up the door. The door was sound-proofed and the corridor immediately filled with the sound of printers and computers running at max.

"Vanner, this is Jay," Mike said, waving the sergeant over. "Just...Jay."

"It's actually just an initial," Jay said, shaking Vanner's hand. "Just the letter."

"Very James Bond," Vanner replied, warily. "You're the humint guy."

"Spy works," Jay said. "And I checked you out. You have a very good rep."

"Thanks," Vanner said. "Can I ask with whom?"

"Admiral Kinnison. We've got history."

"How's his dog?" Vanner said, nodding.

"Cat," Jay replied. "Ginger tabby named Halsey. Died. Cancer. About six months ago. And JC was in a car-wreck with her kids. They all made it but she got really banged up. Grand-kids were okay. Well, Bobby broke his arm but I signed the cast and he was grinning at the time. Jim's had a bad year. You should write him. I'll give you his e-mail address."

"Thanks," Vanner said, blinking.

"We straight?"


"Jim said you were good with micro. I'm a gadget guy when I can use them. Are you going to have time?"

"Some," Vanner admitted. "If it's really complicated, we might have to shop it. I've got two sources."

"I've got more than two," Jay said. "But I'd prefer to keep it in-house. We'll manage. I ran across a new microwave design..."

"I'll just go tell Anastasia that we're going to have a guest," Mike said. "She'll take care of your housekeeping arrangements. Daria handles budget, I'll speak to her as well."

"Thank you," Jay replied. "What would you like me to do next?"

"Just hang out," Mike said. "We've got a mission in the planning stages. Vanner's going to be very busy. You're going to have to develop and do most of you tasking in your own. But that's why I hired you."

"What about Katya?"

"Katya will be on the mission," Mike replied. "I'd bring you in on it but it's a snap-kick. I don't see an insert point for you."

"Understood," Jay said. "Well, I'll just pick Vanner's brain for a bit until Anastasia's up to speed and then start with my self-tasking. I'd like to talk to Katya about her mission, if you're okay on the need to know."

"Works," Mike replied. "Just ensure she's got her mission face on when she's out the door. Vanner, as far as I'm concerned, Jay has choice on his need-to-know. If you have issues, bring them up with me."

"You're very trusting," Jay said, frowning slightly.

"You were vetted by good people," Mike replied. "I can't, won't unless something comes up, second-guess that. In for a penny and all that. So... if you are afraid something will be compromised, don't ask."

"Yes, Kildar," Jay said. That smile again.

* * *

"Who's the visitor," Nielson asked as Mike was headed to his office. "The Mother Savina came in asking me who he was."

"That was Jay," Mike replied. "You found him. I almost want to say 'You keep him.' The guy gives me the creeps. I'm pretty sure I still don't know what he actually looks like. If he burns us, there's nobody really there."

"He's as good as they come," Nielson pointed out. "And very much a patriot. As long as we don't screw the US..."

"Let's hope we never have to," Mike said. "I'd prefer not to myself. You were just asking about him?"

"No," the colonel said. "I just got word. A Colonel Erkin Chechnik, Russian Army, is on his way to see us. I was told you know him."

"I do," Mike said, shaking his head. "Russian spook. Pretty good. Pretty much Pierson's equivalent; briefs the President on Russian black-ops. He's probably going to brief us on the Russian side."

"More or less what I guessed," Nielson said. "So... You wanna talk?"

"About what?" Mike asked.

"Gretchen," Nielson said, raising an eyebrow. "And you. And Kiril."

"How about just saying I didn't like this entire Cardane thing from the beginning," Mike said, shrugging. "I've got it handled. I'm not going to do a King David on Kiril, I'm not going to lay another hand on Gretchen."

"And you are...where in there?" Nielson asked.

"How about 'I'm not going to lay another hand on Gretchen, damnit to hell'?" Mike said, grimacing.

"Been there," Nielson said. "Prior to my wife dieing I had some...encounters with other ladies. All by agreement with my wife. The agreement was I could screw around as much as I liked, as long as I didn't fall in love. And then..."

"You fell in love," Mike said, sitting down and listening.

"I did indeed, laddy," Nielson said, leaning back in his chair. "Lady named Sharon. Very much a lady. I was to be her first. Very strange circumstances. I actually passed on the honor. She later found other men, none of them particularly good for her. We eventually lost touch, half by purpose. But... She's still there in my heart. And Gretchen?"

"It fucking sucks," Mike said. "I've been married but I never felt this way about a girl, ever. I never believed in love at first sight and it wasn't even that. It... I don't know. It just snuck up on me."

"And clobbered you over the head," Nielson said, nodding. "That is the reality far more than 'love at first sight.' A friend, a companion, someone you knew casually and then one day... Wham! All of a sudden, they're something different. Any idea how Gretchen feels about the situation?"

"Not sure," Mike admitted. "The Cardane girls...generally have a pretty good time. But it was an unusual encounter in both directions. I haven't really spoken to her since and..."

"And you're the Kildar," the colonel said. "Big attraction right there. It would be hard to be sure what she actually thinks. I'm not sure that even if she was as honest as she could be that it would be clear what she really thinks. For general Kildar's Ears Only, I think that Cardane is a damned bad idea. I haven't said anything but... you don't screw the wives or girlfriends of your subordinates. Period. The Keldara take a different tack on that but... It's just been a damned bad idea. This is only one of a dozen reasons why."

"Thought of all that," Mike said with a sigh. "But right now we have other things to think about. The whole thing with Gretchen, and the Cardane, needs to be tabled for the time being. Bigger fish to fry."

"Such as the Russian," Nielson said. "I'm surprised that he's coming in person. No read at all on why?"

"Only that it can't be good. I've never seen Chechnik turn up when things are going well."

* * *

"Erkin, what a pleasant surprise."

Mike hadn't seen Colonel Chechnik in about a year, not since the Paris mission. But he hadn't changed much. The Russian intel officer was short and broad as a house. Also somewhat ugly or at least unintelligent looking. He looked more like a member of an Olympic wrestling team than a highly qualified intel officer. Mike was sure that he'd used that to his advantage more than once.

"Mikhail," the colonel boomed, clasping Mike close and kissing him on both cheeks. "Or should I call you Kildar, now?"

"Mike will do," Mike replied, grinning. He'd arranged a formal reception line for the visiting Russian and now waved him further into the foyer of the serai. "May I introduce Colonel Nielson, my operations officer?"

"Colonel Nielson," Chechnik said, shaking his hand. "I read your paper on IED patterning as they related to street crime incidences in Iraq. A very interesting premise."

"I had to think of something," Nielson said, nodding. "And my original paper was rejected."

"And what was that on?" Chechnik asked, smiling quizzically.

"The utility of crucifixion as a means of control," Nielson replied, smiling thinly.

"I think we need you in the Russian Army, colonel," Chechnik said, smiling in much the same way. "We could use you in Chechnya."

"My field operations number two, Master Chief Adams," Mike said, shaking his head.

"Master Chief," the Russian replied, shaking hands again. "I've only been able to see a portion of your confidential files, but I must ask a question: What in the world does your first team nickname, 'Ass-boy One', relate to?"

Both Adams and Mike flinched at that and Adams shook his head.

"Colonel, I doubt that you have the stomach for the full horror of that story," Adams said. "But if you have to know, you'll have to ask..." He suddenly stopped and shook his head. "Ask someone else."

"Sergeant Vanner, my intel specialist," Mike said, moving on rapidly. What Adams had nearly said was "Ask Ass-Boy Two" referring to Mike. He and Adams had been through Basic Underwater Demolitions and SCUBA training together in Class 203 where they, and others, had picked up the moniker "ass-boy" due to an unfortunate test the then commander of BUD/S had insisted upon. However, if Chechnik knew that team name, then he also had access to Mike's other team name, Ghost. And since "Ghost" was known as the man who had broken up the Syrian operation, and thus drawn the ire of virtually every terrorist on the face of the planet, Adams had nearly handed Chechnik a piece of information worth both money and power.

"I sincerely apologize for the lapse in our own security," Chechnik said, shaking Vanner's hand. "The leak to the Chechens has been closed."

"That one," Vanner said. "But you ought to know that at least one of your people has been having regular sat-phone contact with Kamil Resama. All we're picking up are the externals, some side-band waves and scattering, but whenever that one phone, coming from your Stalin Base in Subya, starts sending, Kamil's phone's duration is dead on for receiving quite a few of the calls."

"I'll keep that in mind," Chechnik replied, stone faced.

"Last but not least, my manager of internal matters, Anastasia Rakovich," Mike said.

"The picture in your file does not do you justice, Ms. Rakovich," Chechnik said, bowing over and kissing her hand.

"I have a file?" Anastasia asked, raising one eyebrow.

"You've had a file since you became the harem manager for Sheik Otryad," the colonel replied. "It has simply been moved up in precedence since you've become the Kildar's."

"Oh," Anastasia said, her face blank.

"It is a pleasure to meet you all," Chechnik said, nodding to the group. "I hope that we can talk at length sometime soon."

"Meaning that right now you'd like to talk at length with me," Mike said.

"Alas, yes," the colonel replied. "If you don't mind, I would like to have the talk in private."

"Not at all," Mike said. "Guys, I'll see you later."

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