State Department after a huge firefight in Tripoli while I was in Libya as a Marine. As near as I’d heard it, Ventner hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary; they’d just made the mistake of leaving too many bodies while protecting diplomatic personnel. Said diplomatic personnel can be a bit squeamish at the best of times.
There was a long silence. I frowned at the overhead imagery on the screen. “ And you want us to join the plus up,” I said.
“Exactly,” he replied. “They need mobile assets, and you guys are good at that. Ventner and Stahl have most of the perimeter security sewed up tight, but with the situation getting as fragile as it is in Baghdad, they need eyes and ears outside the compound, that don’t necessarily answer to State or the Agency. That’s where you guys come in.”
“Stahl and Ventner are both solid outfits,” I acknowledged. “Though I’d like to hear how you got Ventner in past State; they’re on about the same terms with the powers that be back home as we are.”
He smiled tightly. “You’re assuming we told the State Department who they were. Remember, as far as anyone at State is concerned, they’re all ICs subcontracted by CP.”
I studied him carefully. “You’ve talked about your ‘associates’ a lot, and they seem to have a lot of money and reach. Who the hell are you working for?”
“Someone with similar interests to yours,” he said. “Suffice it to say that they are pros, they will pay you, and they won’t sell you down the river for political points. They have a vested interest in defending Americans and seeing as many jihadis dead as possible. To that end, that thumb drive has every bit of information they could cram on it to assist you, and any support we can get to you we will, though it has to be understood that under the circumstances that is going to be fairly limited. Fair enough?”
Mike and I traded a look. He was asking us to take a hell of a lot on faith, but then again, Alek had seemed to be on board when I talked to him. Alek’s not quite as paranoid as I am, but he’s no babe in the woods, either. If Alek wanted to go ahead with this, I could dredge up just enough faith to follow his lead.
“Fair enough, for now,” I answered. “ You said the contract is twofold.”
He nodded. “That part’s not on the thumb drive. We’re bringing you in to help get the diplomats and staff out of Baghdad, yes, but you r primary job is going to be to get inside the loop on this Project, and shut it down. And I mean all the way down. Don’t leave anything that the Iranians or the Chinese or anybody can use to point back to the US aiding Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization. End this shit before it bites us in the ass.”
I frowned. Mike wasn’t looking too sure about this, either. “You want us to make it disappear?” I asked quietly. “No trials, no testimony before Congress?”
He shook his head. “Even if you grab them and every bit of evidence you can, more than likely you will be the ones heading for a deep, dark hole in the ground if you come forward with it. However, I’m not asking you to necessarily kill everyone who’s involved with this; frankly, they’re more valuable for intel purposes alive. We have contingencies in place to take them once you get them out of the country, provided you can take them alive.” He looked back and forth between us. “Understand, I don’t want you guys to put your teams at unnecessary risk to take them. As far as my associates and I are concerned, these men have committed treason against the United States. If you judge that it isn’t tactically plausible to take them alive, we won’t ask questions.”
We stood there and digested that for a second. It didn’t take long. We’d had Collins and his goons in our sights for over a month now; we weren’t going to turn our backs on the chance to continue the hunt