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Chapter Seven

"Caravanserai Kildar... No, I'm sorry, Colonel, the Kildar is unavailable... Colonel, sir, I recognize that, but he really is very very unavailable... For some times, sir... Sir, I absolutely cannot do that, the Kildar's orders are very specific in this regard... Yes, sir, as a matter of fact that is the only person that he said could be put through..."

* * *

"Caravanserai Kildar... Say again?... Yes!... Yes, sir... Immediately, sir. Yes, Colonel Pierson made that plain but... I must warn you, sir... Yes, sir..."

* * *

Mike opened his eyes at the dawn light, looking at the girl, no the woman, by his side. She was lying with her beautiful blonde head on his shoulder an arm and a leg thrown over him possessively.

Both were naked, their clothes scattered across the entire suite. A pair of chaps dangled from the bar. The lovely dress, somewhat the worse for wear, lay on the floor by the door. A single stocking was across one of the sconces on the wall. A white shoe was at the head of the bed.

A quart container of chocolate mousse was on the floor of the kitchen in the middle of one hell of a mess. More marks of mousse led a winding trail, via the bar, the couch and the floor in several places to the bathroom.

Mike was, frankly, afraid to look in the bathroom.

He could move pretty easily which was odd. When he lay in one position for very long he tended to stiffen up, badly. Then he looked at the clock and realized he'd been asleep for maybe thirty minutes.

He licked his pinkie and wiped some chocolate mousse off her cheek, wondering if he should warn Kiril never to give this girl chocolate, then poked her in the side.

"Hey, you, wake up," Mike said. "The dawn's a breakin and birds a singin and all that."

Gretchen's eyes flew open, momentarily confused, then she looked up at him.

"Let's do it again," she said, rolling over on top of him and rubbing her breasts on his chest. "And again and again and again..." she continued, leaning forward to rub them in his face.

"I..." Mike said, only to have whatever he was going to say muffled by a nipple. Oh, hell, he didn't have anything to do today...

The phone rang.

That should not have happened. The phone did not ring during the Rite of Cardane God damnit! The phone did not just...

It rang again.

"Shit!" Mike said, rolling over. If the phone did ring...

And it was the God damned secure phone! It went through the communications section. They knew better than to put anyone through to him unless it was an absolute emergency. For him.

"What?" he shouted as soon as he had the headphone on. Fuck checking the scrambler, he just didn't care.

"Mike, it's David," President Cliff said. "I know that I've caught you at a bad time. I apologize. However, when they wouldn't let Colonel Pierson through, I found it important enough to call direct."

"Yes, sir," Mike said, sitting up.

Fuck. Gretchen was already hunting for her clothes. By rights, the Rite should be over. He was just going to have to saddle up his horse and take her back and never ever...


"I need you to come to DC and see some people," the President continued. "Colonel Pierson will call your staff and arrange the details. If there's time, and opportunity, I'd love to have you over to the House."

"I look forward to it," Mike said.

"In fact, why don't you just plan on staying here?" the President said. "Why get a hotel room when you've got friends in town? Pierson will arrange a cover."

"Yes, sir," Mike said, trying to clear his head. About thirty seconds before he'd had a gorgeous tit in his mouth. "I'll make sure everything is arranged."

"Great," the president said. "And, again, I'm sorry for having to break in."

"Not a problem, sir," Mike said, watching the naked seventeen year old coming out of the bathroom with an armload of clothes. "No problem at all. Put it out of your mind."

* * *

"I'm going to DC for a day or so," Mike said as he polished off the last of his eggs.

Mike had passed around the word that he'd like most of the staff to be at breakfast for an "informal brief." It wasn't by any stretch the sort of staff the American military would recognize, fitting the conditions rather than making an American "staff" fit them.

Nielson now had the title of "colonel" back, although it was very unofficial. For that matter, Adams was a "Master Chief" and Vanner a "Sergeant." The Georgian government did not officially recognize anyone's military status except Mike's, and even that was under a very old law that had been "put back on the books." However, both of them had dealt with Georgian officers and NCOs in the last few months and even those carefully briefed on their equivocal status had treated them exactly as they'd have treated NCOs and officers of equivalent rank in the Georgian forces. Actually, with more respect. Over the summer, several Georgian National Guard units had trained with the Keldara and come away with their heads on a platter.

The Keldara had built a reputation as first-class mountain infantry and if their "command structure" was a little irregular the Georgian military—faced with an ongoing low-level insurgency in Ossetia and Chechen control of hundreds of miles of Georgian territory—was not going to look a gift horse too closely in the mouth. The Keldara had shut down the Chechens in their sector and held the back door. That was good enough.

Mike had waited until dinner to spring his surprise. It was the best time to get everyone together without putting too much emphasis on things.

"I'd wondered what the call was about," Nielson said. He took a sip of coffee and pursed his lips. "A job?"

"Looks like," Mike replied. "Something delicate and 'right up my alley.'"

"Which means you're gonna get your ass shot off," Adams grunted.

"More or less exactly what I thought," Mike replied with a grunted laugh. "Stasia, you up for a quick trip to DC? I don't think I'll be staying long but you can probably squeeze in some shopping."

"I don't have a visa," Anastasia temporized.

"I'll pull some strings." Mike paused and considered her carefully for a moment. "If you don't actually want to go you don't have to. But I promised I'd take you traveling if it came up. This is traveling."

"I would like to go, Kildar," Anastasia said, swallowing nervously. "But I hope you are around most of the time."

"Where we'll be staying I'm sure we can find someone suitable to show you around," Mike said, cryptically. "Trust me. You'll enjoy yourself."

"Thank you," Anastasia said.

What was being cautiously ignored was what Anastasia, in her rare joking moments, referred to as "every harem girl's friend": agoraphobia. Anastasia had gone from her parent's small farm to a harem. There, with the exception of occasional trips to nearby Samarkand she had spent over ten years immured in virtual purdah; the walls of the harem had become her world. When she was bartered away to Mike in return for future "favors" he had made clear that, from his point-of-view, she was a free agent. He had also promised to not only introduce her to visitors—she had been more like a mobile piece of furniture in the meeting he had attended at the sheik's home—but to take her traveling. However, she had a very real fear of the chaos to be found outside of controlled surroundings. Intelligent, balanced, speaking seven languages, she could barely bring herself to go to Allerso, population fifty, within sight of the caravanserai, practically owned by Mike. Wandering around the District of Columbia on her own would be unlikely.

"Thanks," Mike added. "That works. I think we're done until I see what's up. But I've got the feeling they need, or want, more than me. Make sure the teams are up and ready to go."

"Am I going?" Vanner asked. "I mean on the op?"

"Don't know until we know what it is," Mike said.

"Well, if I do," Vanner added. "Can I get a gun this time?"

* * *

"Mike, one more thing," Nielson said after the others had left the dinner table.

"Yah?" Mike asked, contemplating how much he was not looking forward to this trip.

"I finally tracked down a humint guy," the colonel said. "Sorry it took so long."

Mike pulled his mind back from DC and Gretchen for a second and considered that. Earlier in the year, as it became obvious that he had to think about more than just the Chechen threat, he'd asked Nielson to start looking around for a "human intelligence" - humint - operator. Right now, other than picking a few things up in the village and using Katya for insertions, they really didn't have a humint side at all. And they needed one. They should have built a network among the Chechens long before this; the fact that they didn't have one had been eating at him. And, frankly, he'd been willing to think "big" on the humint side, depending on money. So far he, personally, had been in ops ranging from the US to Siberia and most places in between. He wasn't sure he could create an "intelligence agency", but he was willing to give it a very serious shot.

"Go," Mike replied.

"Well, I thought it would be easy," Nielson said, grimacing. "Did you know that during the Clinton Administration the humint side in the Agency got cut by right on the order of 90%?"

"No," Mike said with a grimace. "But it doesn't surprise me. Al Gore's 'reinventing government.' They cut a bunch of government employees, but they all seemed to come out of DOD and intel. I swear, every damned day I find another reason to lay 9/11 at Clinton and his ilk's feet."

"Anyway, with that many people on the street I figured I could find somebody good pretty quick," Nielson said. "Until recently, though, no such luck. Most of them have put up the cloak and dagger and weren't willing to go out in the cold again for any money. And some that were... well let's just say that some of the people that got cut needed to be."

"Nature of any bureaucracy," Mike replied with a grin. "Let's not get big enough to be called a bureaucracy."

"But I finally found one guy," Nielson said. "Or, rather, he found me. Only name I've got is Jay. At least, that's the name that anybody knows. First I got sent an encryption code for e-mail then an e-mail out of the blue. He had heard I was looking, is sort of interested and had checked us out before calling."

"Wonder what he found out?" Mike asked.

"I dunno," the colonel said with a grimace. "He's...pretty close to the vest."

"Go figure."

"I checked him out, though, as well," Nielson continued. "As well as I could. As I said, maybe somewhere in Langley there's a file that has his real name on it. But he's a known player under 'Jay.' Very well known."

"That could be bad," Mike said with a frown.

"If he ever used the same name twice, except with higher, it might be," Nielson admitted. "But the guys I contacted that knew him, or knew of him... Well, among other things, I couldn't get a fixed description. He was, variously, blonde to black hair, every eye color you could name, pudgy to skinny as a rail, no chin, big chin... You get the picture. And these are people who have met him in person. Ever heard about the CIA switching around the men's rooms and women's rooms sign in the KGB headquarters?"

"No, but it sounds like a pretty good laugh," Mike said, smiling.

"Yeah, well, he had a piece of that," the colonel said, shaking his head. "In the intel community, he's what spec-ops would think of as a Son-Tay Raider."

The Son-Tay raid was one of the most magnificent failures in history. It was a large-scale raid, very late in the Vietnam War, intended to recapture a large number of prisoners of war from the North Vietnamese. It had been meticulously planned, expertly personneled and perfectly performed. The only problem being that when the raiders reached the objective, the prisoners had already been moved. They, nonetheless, slaughtered the guards with precision and "stacked them up like cord-wood."

Son-Tay Raiders were legends in the spec-ops community. The failure had been at a much higher pay-grade than anyone on the op. They had performed a difficult mission flawlessly.

"That good," Mike said. "Okay, if the mountain's not going to come to Mohammed..."

"He said he can meet anywhere in the DC area with at least a day's notice," Nielson said, raising an eyebrow.

"Get ahold of him," Mike replied. "Arrange a meet."

"Will do," Nielson said, standing up. "If that is all, Kildar? I have a previously scheduled meeting with Flopsy."

"Get out of here you old goat," Mike replied with a grin. "But keep me updated."

"Will do."

* * *

"Captain Hardesty," Mike said, walking up to the door of the Gulfstream.

"Mr. Jenkins," the pilot said. "I swore the last trip was going to be the last, you know."

Mike regularly chartered with Chatham Aviation, a small but select group out of England. And about half the time there were...issues. The first time he'd flown with Hardesty, a former RAF Tornado pilot, he had had to change names, twice, turned up with quite a bit of blood on him at one point and casually instructed the pilot, during a trip to Paris, France, that he might want to "deploy the plane a bit away from Paris, probably southeast given the winds..." a day before it was revealed a nuclear weapon had almost gone off in the city.

But the last trip had really beat all. That time "Mr. Jenkins" had requested a "somewhat larger jet...about enough to handle a company of infantry..." and had turned up with forty heavily armed retainers and a string of what could only be described as "ladies of the evening" in tow. The armaments, ranging from pistols to rocket launchers, had been casually but rapidly stowed in the cargo compartment and the group boarded somewhat hastily. As if, for example, they were being chased. And on take-off Hardesty had been pretty sure he'd caught a tracer flying by his windscreen. He'd seen a few in his time. But whoever was, possibly, shooting was pretty bad because they'd managed to miss an entire 737.

However, things had gone from bad to worse during a petrol stop in England. The English government had grounded his aircraft pending "inspection", an inspection he was not looking forward to given the contents of the cargo hold, then several very senior members of the British government had boarded. Whatever was going on, however, had been resolved and they eventually got on their way. He'd sweated American customs but, as it turned out, the "inspection" on arrival in the US had been less than cursory. Given that he had a hold full of weapons and ammunition, what was a clearly a tactical team, a bunch of hookers and none of them had proper visas... Obviously the BCIS was slipping.

The experience had not been the happiest of his life. And he was not interested in a repeat.

That being said, generally flying businessmen around was...unsatisfying. Oh, it paid well enough, but it was a bit like being an aerial bus driver. Not quite like flying a Tornado balls to the wall down a Balkans valley filled with flak.

Flying "Mr. Jenkins" around was rarely boring. Bit too exciting at times, but rarely boring.

"No issues this time," Mike said, grinning and slipping by him to board the aircraft. "Cross my heart. Just a quick trip to DC then back."

"And Miss Rakovich," Hardesty said, not deigning to comment. "Beautiful as always."

"I did not think you'd remember me," Anastasia said, dimpling prettily and nodding as she boarded. Her only previous flight had been on either this Gulfstream or one identical to it, with Hardesty piloting.

"I could never forget a lady so beautiful in both face and spirit," Hardesty replied. "If we're all loaded?" he continued, checking where the Keldara had been putting the bags in what he referred to as the "boot."

"Think so," Mike replied. "Only two rocket launchers and hardly any explosives at all this time."

"You are pleased to jest," the pilot said. "I've got a flight-plan filed for DC. Winds may be against us over the Atlantic but otherwise smooth. Flight time of about twenty-hours, mind."

"Works," Mike said. "I'm gonna flake out most of the trip."

"And Miss Rakovich," Hardesty added. "I will endeavor for a smooth take-off and climb-out."

"Thank you," Anastasia said, buckling herself in. She had rarely flown and did not enjoy the experience. Especially any "unexpected" movement.

"Off we go again," Mike said, taking her hand as the engines started.

"At least this time I've got some idea what is going on," Anastasia said. "And are we going to 'play' again?" she continued, coyly.

"Oh, a bit more than the last time," Mike said, smiling but not looking at her. "Definitely. I'm not sure a blow-job counts for the Mile-High club. I want my stamp."

Anastasia continued to hold his hand as the plane taxied to the runway and then took off at which point it clamped like a vice. True to his word, Hardesty was taking it smooth and easy. A Gulfstream, as lightly loaded as this one, could point darned near straight up and Hardesty loved to fly at the edge of the envelope. But he also was both professional and considerate. If Mike, who apparently didn't care, was the only one on board they'd have taken off like a fighter climbing out of a bombing run. With Miss Rakovich on board, he took it easy.

Anastasia, nonetheless, kept her eyes tightly closed and hand clamped until they were at altitude and flying smoothly. Then she took a breath, opened her eyes and released her death-grip.

"You really don't have to travel with me, if you hate it that much," Mike said.

"I want to," Anastasia said, shrugging. "I want to see. But I fear as well. I won't say I'll get over it but I'm not willing to let the fear stop me."

"Oorah,' Mike said, quietly, smiling at her. "Take not counsel of your fears."

"Yes," Anastasia said. "And on that score... I want to talk to you about... Gretchen."

"Oh, Christ," Mike said. "I thought the hareem manager wasn't supposed to get jealous."

"I am not jealous," Anastasia said, evenly. "But... You're acting different. I can tell something happened. Beyond the slight...issues that occurred in the middle of your encounter. I have noticed. I'm not sure how many others."

"It was the chocolate mousse that gave it away, wasn't it," Mike said. "I'd never waste chocolate mousse unless I really cared, right?"

"How badly are you affected?" Anastasia said, refusing to take the bait.

"Oh...pretty badly," Mike admitted. "Pretty damned badly. Pretty fucking badly. Pretty much head over heels in love with one of my team member's fiancée."

"I was afraid of that," Anastasia said. "How are you going to handle that?"

"Not much choice, really," Mike said. "I just go on. Kiril and Gretchen get married. They have one of my kids. I try very hard not to treat her, him or it any differently than any three other Keldara. I just...try to forget."

"You won't," Anastasia said. "There are other...ways."

"Sure," Mike said. "I could ask the Fathers to dissolve the bonding. I could throw my Kildar weight around and have her. No question. Then I'd stomp all over their damned culture and piss off a bunch of men with guns, one in particular. Kiril is as smitten by her as I am, you know. I, frankly, don't know where Gretchen stands."

"I didn't have time to investigate that myself," Anastasia said. "I suppose we'll find out when we get back. There is...another way. David and Bathsheba, yes?"

King David was best known for creating the first rule of gunfights, "always bring a gun," by defeating Goliath with a range weapon while poor Goliath was armed only with an over large knife. But he was very nearly as famous for falling in love, more like lust, with one of his soldiers' wives, Bathsheba, then sending said soldier, one Uriah, to the front lines so he'd get offed. While bringing a gun to a gun fight was the sort of thing Mike would always do if he could, the latter...

"Fuck that," Mike said. "No fucking way. I'd rather piss the Keldara off honestly than dishonestly. They'd see right through that. No, I need to just keep keeping on. I'll get over it."

"Seeing Gretchen day after day, year by year?" Anastasia asked.

"Hey, she'll get old," Mike said, smiling with only his mouth, his eyes closed and his jaw flexed. "Probably gain weight. Tits will sag. I'll get past it. In time." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Say about a century."

"Yes," Anastasia said, her hand creeping downward. "I'm sure you will. But if it happens at all, I know only one thing to speed it."

Mike tried not to shake his head in chagrin. He truly was in love. Probably for the first time in his life. It was true that that sort of thing could hit like a lightning bolt. But it was, also, apparently true that a stiff prick has no conscience.

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