Covert Action

Covert Action

by Dick Couch

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First there was The Mercenary Option. Now IFOR, the surgical strike team led by former Navy SEAL Garrett Walker, returns in an explosive adventure charged with authenticity and suspense.
Formed by a wealthy industrialist after the terror attacks on American soil, the Intervention Force is a professional strike team called in on missions others can't -- or won't -- undertake. IFOR has already defused a seemingly impenetrable scheme for nuclear annihilation; now they are called into one of the world's hottest zones. In the Zimbabwean province of Tonga, an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever has U.S. officials on the alert for bioterrorism. Walker leads his Black Ops team into the heart of danger in the African nation to unhinge the workings of two terrorist kingpins -- the brilliant Russian Pavel Zelinkow and Al Qaeda mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- before a cataclysm is unleashed on an unsuspecting world.
For "hard-as-nails adventure that will keep you riveted to your chair" (Stephen Coonts), delve into the IFOR novels from Dick Couch.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416510437
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication date: 08/01/2005
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 337,415
File size: 416 KB

About the Author

Dick Couch, a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served aboard ship and with the Navy UDT and SEAL teams. While a platoon commander with SEAL Team One in 1970, he led one of the few successful POW rescue operations of the Vietnam War. On release from active duty in 1972, he served with the Central Intelligence Agency as a case officer. He retired from the Naval Reserve in 1997 as the senior reserve SEAL officer with the rank of captain. He is the author of six novels -- SEAL Team One, Pressure Point, Silent Descent, Rising Wind, The Mercenary Option, and Covert Action -- and the nonfiction works The Warrior Elite, The Finishing School, and Down Range. He lives with his wife, Julia, in central Idaho.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: AKR

Garrett Walker sat at a small table, enjoying the sun on his back and the gentle tug of trade winds that carried the sweet smell of oleander and frangipani. The Ballyhoo Restaurant was not the kind of watering hole he would normally choose; he preferred a workingman's bar, but right now, dressed as he was, he would have been very much out of place. At the Ballyhoo there was always a steady flow of tourists coming and going, and since he might have to be here for some time, it was an enjoyable spot to wait. The lunch crowd had thinned out a bit, only to be replaced by those who came to drink and socialize. His table had a clear view of the Fort and Banks Street intersection and the famous Circus Clock Monument, which dated back to the French occupation of Basseterre. There was enough activity below to hold his attention while he waited.

"Another, sir?" the waitress asked pleasantly.

Garrett glanced at his watch. "Why not?" He smiled. "And could you also bring me another mineral water?" A few minutes later she returned with a bottle of Perrier and a tumbler charged with Cane Spirits Rothschild and Tang. She gave him her best smile and retreated from the table.

Garrett grinned to himself, knowing that she had marked him as a "player," a wealthy visitor who might be a big tipper. He eyed the drink with some apprehension. CSR, a sweet liquor made locally from sugar cane, mixed with Tang, a grapefruit soda, was the national drink of St. Kitts. He had already choked down one of the sweet concoctions for appearance's sake, but he was not so sure that he could do another. He would have much preferred a scotch. The whole charade made him uneasy, and it was not just the sweet drink. His normally straightforward military haircut was moussed and pulled back flat across the top of his head. He was dressed in a red T-shirt, a white linen sport coat with pleated matching slacks, and woven leather loafers -- no socks. Everything felt a size too big. The heavy gold necklace and diamond pinkie were gaudy and made him feel awkward, as did the gold Rolex strapped to his wrist. His rich deep tan and wraparound sunglasses completed the look. AKR had suggested a diamond stud in one ear, but he had drawn the line with a definitive "not on your life." Garrett had his limits about masquerading in public in what he had come to call his gigolo cover.

They had arrived two days ago and tied the boat up in the Basseterre Marina. The fifty-five-foot Viking motor yacht had turned a few heads as they entered the harbor, but boats that size and bigger were not unusual. It was ostentatious, but all part of the plan. They had chartered the boat out of San Juan and made the run down through the Virgin Islands and the northern portion of the Leeward Island group, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Anchoring at night, Garrett free-dived for langouste and occasionally shot a small grouper. The Viking, named Ragtime, had an amply stocked bar. It had been a leisurely four-day run. If all went well, they would be finished in another day or so and be back on their way.

Garrett found himself thinking of Judy and how much she would have enjoyed the trip, especially the journey through the islands. It would have been great to have her along, but he would have wanted her well on her way before they got to the business end of their venture. Her presence would have been natural enough, even enhancing their cover, but knowing Judy Burks, she would have been hard to get rid of once the action started. AKR had been the one to propose this idea, and it was not a bad one, but Garrett had ruled it out. His employer, Guardian Systems International, would not have objected, but Garrett's time in the military had conditioned him differently. Men, at least men in his line of work, went overseas to do their job, and their women waited for their return. He had always felt that was as it should be, even though he seldom had a woman waiting at home for him. Despite the yacht and the elegant tropical setting, this was business, and perhaps it would become nasty business before it was over. As much as the lively Miss Judy would have added to the enjoyment of the voyage down to St. Kitts, there were issues that might come up that he did not want her to be a party to. They were on the same side, but not on the same team. Still, the thought of her and the audacious way she would have carried off her part in this venture brought a smile to his lips. His smile only deepened as AKR made his entrance onto the Ballyhoo deck.

He bent to say something in the waitress's ear, his hand casually dropping to her waist. She moved imperceptibly closer to him, smiling broadly. Then she squealed and danced away from him, heading for the bar to get his drink order. As he made his way to Garrett, every woman in the bar had her eye on him. He paused when he got to the table and gave Garrett an infectious grin.

"Tonight?" Garrett asked quietly.

"Tonight, mon," he replied, then gracefully swung into the chair across from Garrett.

Akheem Kelly-Rogers had joined GSI only five months ago. Except for some training exercises, this was his first actual operation -- their first together. In the short time that Garrett had known him, they had become almost like brothers; they were so alike -- and yet so different. Garrett was a team player, but not one to be easily given over to deep friendships. However, with Kelly-Rogers it had been different. Much to Garrett's surprise, they had become close in a very short time. Initially, he had been a little disturbed when Fagan had hired Kelly-Rogers without first consulting him. His résumé was impressive, and on paper he seemed ideally suited for the work they did. His military credentials were impeccable. But their work was dangerous and demanded absolute trust. Garrett more than trusted Steven Fagan, but he also found it odd that Steven hadn't talked with him before he actually hired AKR.

He vividly recalled the morning of their first meeting. Garrett had been up early, preparing for a morning run. They were at the field training site on the Big Island of Hawaii. GSI occupied a large tract of land on the western slopes of Mona Kea, midway between Kailua and Waimea. It was here that Steven Fagan developed the infrastructure and facilities to support the training of the Intervention Force, or IFOR. Garrett had come to work for GSI soon after the completion of the complex. It was a modern, compact military training facility and completely self-contained. Garrett knew that Kelly-Rogers had come in late the night before, and assumed that he would still be sleeping. The sun was just coming up as Garrett finished his stretching routine. Suddenly a tall man was standing before him, arms folded, regarding him quietly. He was dark, with chiseled features, broad shoulders, and a very narrow waist and hips. Except for an inch or two in height, he was built very much like Garrett.

"Mind if I run with you?" he asked. He spoke with a crisp British public-school accent.

"Not at all," Garrett replied, and they set off at a brisk trot.

They were at three thousand feet, well above the lava fields of the Kona Coast, and the trail wound up the side of Mona Kea, gaining close to five hundred feet every mile. The chill in the air did not entirely mask the smell of decaying vegetation from the previous day's heat. The only sound was the padding of their running shoes on the crushed lava roadbed. In the growing light, Garrett glanced at his running companion. He was not really black, but more of a deep chocolate color, and he ran with ease and grace. Garrett was aware that the new man was in his early forties, the same as himself, but he carried himself as if he were much younger.

"How far do you want to go?" Garrett asked.

"How about until one of us drops?" Kelly-Rogers replied.

Garrett didn't say a word, but gently picked up the pace. Not another word was spoken, nor would there be until it was over. The two men were silently locked into battle, one that could only end when one or both of them had reached the end of his endurance. There are few men who can willingly turn a casual morning run into mortal combat, but Akheem Kelly-Rogers and Garrett Walker were two such men. In many ways, it was the basis of their relationship and their evolving friendship; neither was a man who would yield to another, which amounted to asking for quarter. When they arrived back at the base camp two hours later, both of them were out of breath and spent. Neither man could have maintained the wicked pace had the other not been there.

"Garrett Walker," he managed, holding his hand out.

"Akheem Kelly-Rogers," the newcomer replied firmly, taking Garrett's hand. "But my friends call me AKR."

AKR was an unusual man -- a study in cultural contradiction. His father had been Sir Bernard Rogers, late of Her Majesty's Foreign Office. Sir Bernard was landed by birth and spent a lifetime of service to the crown, rising to the post of deputy home secretary just before his death. He had met Rose Kelly during the war. She was a WAAF, working in one of the Home Chain radar stations, tracking incoming Luftwaffe raids, and he was a hurricane pilot. They married a week later, just the two of them at the home of a local magistrate near Biggin Hill. Rose had joined the RAF against her family's wishes. They were upper-middle-class Dubliners, and while they were not Nazi sympathizers, they were none too keen on their youngest daughter joining the British military, nor of her marrying what they regarded as some British Tommy. Rogers's family was mortified that he would take up with what they openly called "that Irish tart."

Following the war, Bernard took an advanced degree at Oxford and joined the Foreign Office. In the early 1950s he was posted to the embassy in Nairobi. After more than ten years of marriage, the couple were as in love as the day they met, but there were no children. Then fate intervened in the form of a maid who presented them with a month-old baby boy, before promptly disappearing into the bush. The prospective parents found the infant swaddled and lying in a basket on their kitchen table. Bernard fussed about the kitchen while Rose changed him. Bernard might have wavered, but when he saw Rose sipping her tea from a porcelain cup in one hand and cradling the baby in the other, he knew the decision had been made.

"What do you fancy we should call him?" he asked as if in passing as he unfurled the East African Post.

Rose paused, but only for a moment. "I believe Akheem will do nicely, wouldn't you think?"

When the adoptive grandparents were informed of the new arrival, there was stormy weather on both sides of the Irish Sea. In rare concert, the elders insisted that the child be given over to a Kenyan orphanage. Having weighed the concerns of their families and not wanting to slight either, Bernard and Rose christened their new son Akheem Kelly-Rogers.

Akheem grew up in Africa and saw England only on those home visits when the Foreign Office periodically repatriated their diplomats for consultation and home leave. The young man followed his parents through postings in Botswana, Rhodesia, Nairobi, and a short stint in Pretoria. He spoke French and German fluently, as well as Swahili, Shangane, and a smattering of other African tri-bal dialects. When he was fourteen, Bernard and Rose packed him off to the Lucton School in Herefordshire. Bernard and his father had both attended Lucton, and Akheem was accepted on the strength of his family name, never mind his breeding. He was an instant success at Lucton, and due to the home schooling by his parents, he was more than prepared, taking honors in his first form. Akheem was very popular among his classmates; being black, bright, British, and affluent were all to his advantage at an upscale rural English boarding school. Tall for his age and an accomplished batsman, he was quite handsome in his blazer and school tie. But during his second year he became bored, and his grades slipped dramatically, a common occurrence among the sons of the service posted abroad. Rural England was quite mundane and dismal when compared with the adventure of living in colonial African capitals. Akheem might have been expelled for poor academics but for a chance meeting with a resident inmate of another boarding institution in Herefordshire.

During term break, when most of the other boys were home with their families, Akheem made his way into the village of Ross-on-Wye, looking for some diversion from the school dining hall. He was seated in a quaint pub in the village center, giving his order to the proprietor, when a group of skinheads stormed into the establishment. They were up from Liverpool, uniformly turned out in tight jeans, white T-shirts, jackboots, and tattoos.

" 'Ey there, gov'ner, leave off with that wog and get some pints around for us 'ere wots got a thirst."

"I'll be with you in a moment," the owner replied and turned back to Akheem, who was seated in a booth in the corner.

"At's not good enough by half, gov'ner. Ge' 'im over 'ere, Sharkey."

One of the skinheads grabbed the old man roughly to drag him back toward the bar, and Akheem was out of the booth in an instant. The ruffian was caught flatfooted, totally unprepared for the speed and power of the punch that snapped his head back and put him on the floor. It was not the kind of punch that one would have expected from a fifteen-year-old preppie. The proprietor retreated to the bar as the other four closed in around Akheem.

"So wot we 'ave 'ere is a cheeky kaffir needin' to learn some manners," the largest in the group snarled. "An' wer th' blokes 'at can do just that."

"Leave the lad be," a cold voice from across the tavern demanded.

The big man whirled in the direction of the new challenge. "So you be wantin' a piece of this as well? We can oblige that."

He faced a man in his late twenties, medium build and height, but with a singularly composed manner about him. The man eased himself from the stool but did not relinquish his hold on the pint of ale that he'd been drinking. He let the large man come to him, watching only his eyes as he approached.

"As I wuz sayin', you be wantin' -- "

He moved like a snake, almost too fast for the eye to follow, whipping the ale in the glass directly into the big skinhead's eyes -- too quickly for him to even blink. His next strike was a kick to the blinded man's crotch as he brought a forearm across his face, exploding the large man's nose like an overripe tomato. The skinhead went first to his knees, then forward onto the planked flooring on his face. His mates watched in stunned silence, disbelieving that their leader had gone down so quickly. Heads turned to a sharp, splintering sound as Akheem took a wooden chair and crashed it over the head of another of the skinheads. The one he had decked earlier attempted to get up, but Akheem kicked him hard in the ribs, sending him back to the floor. He curled into a ball and began to moan.

"I'm thinkin' that you boys had best be leavin' the premises," the proprietor said, brandishing a heavy burled walking stick, "while you're still able."

The five men collectively gathered themselves and made for the door. They helped each other into a Ford van and drove quickly away. The pub owner took the empty pint glass from the bar, refilled it with ale, and pushed it back across to the young man as he reclaimed his stool.

"Seein' as how the pint was only partway done," he said with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye, "I'll not be chargin' you for this one. Just this one time, mind you."

"Well, Gavin," the man replied, "that's quite decent of you." He took half the pint in a single draw, smiled in satisfaction, then got up and made his way over to where Akheem still stood by the booth.

The proprietor took up a dustpan and broom and begun to clear away the debris. He glanced up at Akheem. "And you, lad, given that you joined the fray unprovoked, I won't be chargin' you for the chair. But you'll have to eat elsewhere; kitchen will be closed for the rest of the evenin'."

The stranger looked Akheem over and, as if liking what he saw, held out his hand. "Simon Carter, here."

"Akheem Kelly-Rogers," Akheem replied.

He tossed off the ale with another long pull. "Looks as if we need to find you something to eat." He turned and headed for the door, and after only a moment's hesitation, Akheem followed.

"I'm not sure there's anything else open this time of day," Akheem offered, once they were outside.

"Well, then," Simon Carter replied, "I suppose there's nothing to be done but to head back to the mess. C'mon."

Again Carter led and Akheem followed. They rounded the corner and approached a battered Land Rover Defender, obviously a military vehicle from its light dune color, but lacking any markings. Carter motioned for Akheem to get in. The Rover started instantly with a smooth, powerful roar that was not in keeping with its shabby exterior. After a fifteen-minute drive they came to a gatehouse with a single sentry. He wore a British Army uniform with no insignia save for a parachutist badge.

"Evening, Simon," the soldier said, then bent to look into the Rover at Akheem. "What we got here, a new recruit?"

"Could be, Bertie. For now I'm just taking the lad up to the mess for some tack."

It was a large base, and it took them another ten minutes to get to a cluster of barracks. "Word of the altercation at the pub is bound to get around," Carter said as they pulled up to a nondescript building. "I'd be obliged if we could skip over the part where you dropped two of those goons and I accounted for only one." He then added with an easy grin, "Follow me, and we'll see about a bit of tea."

Carter led him into a large, comfortable pine-paneled room with swords and plaques covering the walls. One end of the room had a faded Persian carpet, dated leather armchairs, and floor lamps. The other had circular tables with casino-style lighting, ashtrays, and condiments clustered in the center. A half dozen men sat at the tables and that many more in the armchairs, smoking and reading newspapers. It had the smell of a private men's club, which in a way it was. It was the sergeants' mess of Her Majesty's Special Air Service. Akheem took it all in; it was an impression that he would carry with him for many years.

For the next several months Akheem took even less interest in his studies. All he wanted to do was join the SAS, and he would have left school for the army had he been old enough. He was on academic probation and just on the verge of being expelled when he was visited by an Oxford classmate of his father's. The Lucton headmaster had given over his private office for the meeting. Akheem was at that age when his parents and the headmasters of his parents' generation had little influence on him, but this visitor was a lieutenant colonel in the Army and a SAS battalion commander. He was a commanding figure, and Akheem jumped to his feet when he entered the room.

The tall officer took a seat at the headmaster's desk while Akheem stood before the desk at attention. The colonel took a long moment to appraise him. He made no motion for Akheem to sit down.

"I'm given to understand that you would like to join my regiment."

"Yes, sir."

"Life is not easy in the SAS. Are you prepared to make the necessary sacrifices for a life in the service?"

"Yes, sir."

"Beginning this very minute?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then sit."

The tall officer leaned forward on one elbow and looked at the boy straight on. Then he continued in a measured tone. "Have you ever heard of Sandhurst?" This question would change Akheem's life forever.

The transformation to model student was immediate and complete. Akheem Kelly-Rogers went on to graduate at the top of his class at Lucton and won an appointment to Sandhurst, England's West Point. After the mandatory five years in the regular army, he joined the SAS. Enlisted men in the SAS call their officers "Ruperts," a term that is not entirely complimentary. While at the SAS, Akheem became known as the Black Rupert, and his reputation was legendary. Those who served with him regarded him as the finest combat leader in the Special Air Service. One evening, in the very same SAS mess where Akheem had first dined, a young sergeant who had not served with Major Kelly-Rogers made a rare derogatory comment about the Black Rupert. He was promptly and unceremoniously knocked on his ass by a senior warrant officer named Simon Carter.

That evening Garrett was seated comfortably on the stern deck of the Ragtime. A cut crystal tumbler of tonic and ice sat at his elbow alongside a tray of papaya and passion fruit. It would be an interesting evening. Kelly-Rogers had left about thirty minutes ago in the RHIB, the small rigid-hull inflatable boat that served as the yacht's tender. It was mounted with a forty-horse outboard and crossed the blue-green waters between their anchorage and the Charlestown city dock like a scalded dog. Garrett was pouring himself another tonic when the RHIB returned. AKR brought it smoothly to the docking station on the swim platform and held it there as a portly man with a bad comb-over pulled himself aboard. He mounted the short ladder and stepped through the companionway in the stern rail to the stern deck. It was a few minutes before six, a time when most in the islands were on their second cocktail.

"Ah, Monsieur Lyle," he said, extending one hand while mopping his brow with a handkerchief clutched in the other, "it is a pleasure to finally meet you."

"Mr. Klein," Garrett replied, formally nodding his head, "welcome aboard. Please, this way." Garrett led him to a low, oval glass table and motioned for him to have a seat. "May I offer you something to drink?"

"Rum and tonic, tall, if you don't mind, monsieur."

It was a very warm evening, and while the Ragtime was air-conditioned, with ample generator power to keep the interior spaces cool and dry, Garrett had no intention of asking him inside. A little sweat would do Martin Klein some good. Kelly-Rogers stood to one side, awaiting further instructions from Mr. Lyle. Garrett snapped his fingers, indicating to him to build a drink for their guest.

That afternoon they had made the eighteen-mile run from Basseterre on St. Kitts to Charlestown on Nevis in a little under two hours. Nevis was a sleepy little island, circular in shape and between seven and eight miles in diameter. There was little nightlife, save for the entertainment at a marvelous Four Seasons resort. Garrett and AKR had elected to stay close to St. Kitts but had booked a suite for the week at the Four Seasons just in case. They were, after all, players, and no one knew that better than Monsieur Klein.

St. Kitts and Nevis had been possessions of Portugal, France, and England, with the English ultimately winning out for control of the two tiny islands. The island pair gained their independence from the UK in 1983, and now enjoyed federation status as a constitutional monarchy with a Westminster-style parliament. Basseterre is the little federation's capital and hub of most of the commercial activity. The two islands enjoy the same government and the same porous banking regulations, but Nevis has earned a singular reputation for financial flexibility. Depending upon which side of a given nation's tax code you happen to be on, it was a haven or cesspool for financial dealings. A lot of dirty money gets laundered on Nevis. For decades, both St. Kitts and Nevis had been way points for drugs coming up from South America to the United States and Europe. Those who value their banking relations, especially those with ties to Nevis, recently asked the cartels if they would not use the islands for drug transshipments. The drug cartels, who take direction from no one but who also understand the value of pliable banking relationships, were most accommodating. They rerouted their product through other islands.

Garrett was interested in the money-laundering activities on Nevis, but it had nothing to do with drugs or tax sheltering. Funds from wealthy Saudi and questionable Arab charities had been finding their way to and through banks in Nevis with some frequency. Garret, AKR, and the people they worked for did care about these dollars; they cared about them a great deal. Garrett would have normally handled this matter with Klein himself, but at the last minute, he had decided to put it in AKR's hands. Kelly-Rogers's military resume was extensive, and during their field training over the past several months, Garrett had come to respect his military and paramilitary skills. But this assignment was different; this was not quite the normal military situation. It called for a different use of force -- different from that which Garrett and AKR learned in the service of their countries.

For the past three months, Garrett Walker, aka Thomas Lyle, operating under the nominal cover of the Smithson Trading Company, Ltd., had been moving multimillion-dollar chunks of money through Klein's institution, the Leeward Bank. The transactions gave every indication of laundering activity, but a few quasi-legal concerns, such as offshore hedge funds, do move money in this fashion. Smithson Trading had willingly paid the transfer fees and internal surcharges without question, making Smithson a valued client. Klein's bank asked very few questions but did require the name of a principal. Smithson, with offices in the Caymans and Zurich, had listed one Thomas Lyle as its chief operating officer. When Mr. Lyle sent word that he would be calling at St. Kitts and Nevis on a yachting vacation and would like to meet with Leeward's managing partner, Mr. Klein was eager to accept. Martin Klein and his anonymous partners catered to the likes of the Smithson Trading Company, Ltd. Both Klein and Garrett had done their homework. Klein knew that Smithson had relationships with other shady banks, and had the ability to expand further on their business relationship. In reality, Guardian Services International operated Smithson and several other shell companies to launder money for no other purpose than to give the appearance that these companies had lots of money to launder. GSI, with its extensive intelligence liaisons, knew that Klein was German by birth but had grown up in Paris. He had moved to the French Antilles some twenty years ago. There he was indicted for bank fraud, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. From Basse-Terre on Guadeloupe, he moved on to Nevis and a more accommodating financial environment. GSI's sources also revealed that Martin Klein was personally in debt, had been skimming from his partners for years, and had a fondness for young boys. GSI had provided Garrett with a complete file on Mr. Klein's activities.

AKR had gone to Nevis several weeks ago to meet with Klein to set up this meeting. He had given Klein every reason to think he was nothing but a gofer -- a kind of personal aide to Mr. Lyle, and perhaps someone who doubled as a bodyguard. Garrett lit a cigar, a Romeo & Juliette Churchill, but he did not offer one to Klein. They talked pleasantly for a while, about the hot spots in the islands and where the action was on St. Kitts. Then Garrett turned to AKR.

"Johnny, why don't you get another rum tonic for our guest, and while you're at it, feel free to mix one for yourself."

"Yes, Mr. Lyle. Right away, to be sure, mon."

He played the sycophant role so perfectly that, had Garrett not been so intent on holding Klein in a condescending gaze, he would have broken out laughing. But as Garrett held Klein with his eyes, he could not help but think what a slimeball this guy was. What they were about to do would not be pretty, but it was necessary.

"Lovely yacht," Klein said looking around at the teak deck and tasteful appointment. "Do you have a captain or crew aboard?"

"They are ashore. I thought it best if we could speak privately this evening."

"Excellent," he replied, brightening at the prospect of talking business. He took the drink proffered by AKR with something of a dismissive gesture. "On behalf of the Leeward Bank," he began, "let me say it is a privilege to be of service to your organization." He lifted the glass in a toast. "We hope that this is only the beginning of a long and satisfactory relationship."

Garrett tapped the ash from his cigar and regarded the Frenchman coldly. "Mr. Klein, we too look for a permanent and productive relationship, but our dealings may run along different lines than you might have anticipated. We will continue to do business as in the past, but we require some additional services from you personally." Klein was now dripping with anticipation. "John, why don't you lay out the special requirements we have for our friend Martin here."

Kelly-Rogers pulled a chair close to Klein and carefully seated himself in front of him. He regarded Klein thoughtfully, as a physician might a patient to whom he must give some distressing news about his health. AKR's demeanor and body language had taken on a whole different context; there was now an air of authority and transcendence about him. Johnny was gone. John, the man who had taken his place, was both commanding and formidable. This transformation was not lost on Klein; it made the hair on the back of his neck bristle. A feeling that something was wrong -- terribly wrong -- settled over him. Garrett rose, walked to the railing, and stood looking out to sea with his back to them.

"What my associate Thomas has told you is quite correct," AKR began in a precise, educated British accent. The singsong island slang was gone. "We will, for your benefit, as well as for appearance's sake, continue to move funds through your bank. But there is more. You will now respond to certain requests we may have from time to time about other clients who do business with Leeward." Klein started to protest, but AKR placed a firm hand on his arm in a gesture of patience. "You see, we are not what you thought us to be. We are, for want of a better term, a reporting organization. We gather information and provide that information to our clients. Let me give you an example. We will provide you with a name or list of names which represent single individuals or organizations that use Leeward for banking services. If possible, we will even give you the names of other banks where they also do business. Your job is simply to provide us the information and passwords you use at Leeward in your dealings with these individuals." Klein would have been out of his chair by now had it not been for the viselike grip that now held him in place. "And, so you more fully understand us and our new relationship, we are just as ruthless as we are well financed. Now, this is what you will -- "

"Who are you?" Klein exploded. "Who do you work for?" He was sweating profusely now, but managing to control himself. "The Mafia? MI-5? The CIA? The drug cartels? It does not matter; what you ask for will do you no good. It will gain you nothing. The internal passwords and coding we use for our banking activity do not control the account; they are only for internal processing. The passwords for our private numbered accounts that allow for the access and transfer of funds are known only to our clients. I do not know or even have access to your password, the one with which you use to control your own account. You control your account, not me." A look of frightened condescension passed over his face. "You see, your threats are meaningless. Even if I were to do what you say, it will gain you nothing."

AKR gave him a tired, patient look and rose to his feet. He gave every appearance of resignation and indecision. Klein now had a look of triumph on his face. He had started to speak when AKR slapped him with an open hand, one that stunned more than hurt the banker. But the vicious backhand that followed had much more authority. AKR leaned on an arm of his victim's chair with one hand and grasped Klein's jaw with the other, pinching his cheeks so his lips gathered in a quiver and groped for air like a freshly caught bass. Garrett had now turned to watch.

"You arrogant piece of shit! You think we don't know that? I ought to kill you right here and now. Nothing would give me more pleasure." Garrett cleared his throat as he regarded his cigar, and Kelly-Rogers seemed to take hold of himself. "Let me continue," AKR went on softly, switching to French, "and I want there to be no misunderstanding on this, so listen carefully. You will do exactly as you are told. If you do not, there will be serious consequences. We know of your homosexual activity. We know and can document, thanks to a cooperative Cayman banker, your personal financial difficulties. And your partners at Leeward may not be too understanding about the liberties you've taken with their money. On top of that, I will personally be very unhappy with you." He released Klein, and a six-inch boning knife seemed to materialize in his hand where a fraction of a second earlier, there was nothing. "You see, I will return to this miserable little island, or wherever you are, and I will find you. And when I do, I will use this on you."

The knife flashed, and a nick appeared in Klein's chin. It was no more than a cut that might have come from mishandling a safety razor. AKR ran the flat part of the blade across the cut and brought the bloodied knife up before Klein's eyes. Klein sat frozen, his eyes now wide with terror. AKR pulled his chair around so he could look more directly at the banker. He laid the knife on the table, and taking a clean handkerchief, he dipped it into Klein's drink and dabbed at the wound. The Frenchman was frozen, afraid to move, so AKR took Klein's hand and brought it to his face to hold the makeshift dressing in place. AKR sat back and cooly regarded the man over steepled fingers, a cruel smile fixed on the terrorized banker. Among the stench of sweat and fear was the sour, pungent smell of urine. Klein had soiled himself.

All the while, Garrett watched AKR. He felt he knew this man well, but this was the first time they had been on the job. This was the first time when it counted. AKR's military experience was not unlike Garrett's: both had seen combat; both had been wounded in action; and both had taken life. But that had been in uniform. Nothing in Kelly-Rogers's background gave any indication that he had done something like this before. This was terrorizing, not soldiering. The British SAS was a very capable unit, but this activity was more in keeping with an intelligence special operations unit. So far it had been a compelling performance. But was it a performance? Clearly Klein felt he was now in the hands of someone who could kill for personal pleasure. The intensity of AKR's actions alarmed Garrett. He had known several men, men with families who attended church regularly and who doted on their children who, when their blood was up, could become quite sadistic. Perhaps, Garrett thought as he watched the drama play out before him, there is some evil gene in all of us that, under certain conditions, overrules all humane consideration -- something akin to a well-fed cat who will torture a mouse to death. GSI had no place, at least no place at this level, for anyone who genuinely enjoyed this sort of thing.

"Next week," AKR continued in French, "a technician will show up at your office with a replacement monitor for your computer." French wasn't Garrett's best language, but he could follow along. "He will make the installation and remove your existing computer monitor. It will function in all aspects like your normal monitor, but it will allow us an interactive link to your account base." Suddenly AKR's hand shot out like a snake's tongue and lashed Klein across the face. It was not a hard blow, but quick and vicious. "Are you listening to me?" AKR growled. "Are you?" Klein nodded numbly. "You will touch nothing after the technician makes the installation. From time to time, a man, who will refer to himself as Mr. Lenze, will call you with a request for certain information. You will give him what he asks for, do you understand?" Klein again nodded, but again, the hand shot out and Klein's head snapped back. There was now a trickle of blood seeping from one of his nostrils.

"Answer me!"

"Yes," Klein managed in a barely audible voice. "Yes, I understand."

AKR rose and towered over him. He genuinely seemed to be on the verge of losing control of himself. Klein cowered involuntarily, bringing his hands to his face.

"Do exactly as you have been told. Don't give me a reason to come back here. If I do have to come back, I will kill you very slowly. Do you understand me?"

"Y-yes," Klein croaked, now nodding his head vigorously.

AKR gave Garrett a look of disgust. "Get him out of my sight," he snarled, and with that he turned and walked to the rail near Garrett and looked out to sea.

Garrett helped Klein into the RHIB and took him ashore. He watched him closely on the trip in to the city dock. The man was clearly in shock. Occasionally he would glance at Garrett with a pleading look, but Garrett was careful to remain neutral.

"You must do as he says, you know," Garrett said once they were on the dock, easing into the good-cop role. "I'll do what I can to see that you are not compromised, and our firm will continue to move funds through your bank. Past that, it is out of my hands. If you do not do as you have been instructed, he will come back, and he will do exactly as he said he would do."

"Yes, but can't you -- "

Garrett held up a hand to cut him off. "I can do nothing," he said coldly, "and neither can you. You cannot run and you cannot hide. Your only option is to do exactly as instructed." He then gave Klein a conspiratorial look and lowered his voice. "You must understand, he will look for any excuse to come back and carry out his threat. You must follow his instructions, or I can assure you that he will come for you. For God's sake, Klein, do as he says or you're a dead man!"

Garrett deposited Klein into a cab and gave the driver a fifty-dollar bill. He walked slowly to the dock without once looking back. When he climbed aboard the yacht and mounted the stern deck, he found AKR still by the rail, looking out to sea. They stood together silently for a moment before Garrett spoke.

"I don't know about you, but I could use a drink." He glanced at AKR. On his perpetually cheerful features was a look of sadness, one almost bordering on anguish. Garrett quietly went to the bar and poured them each a generous measure of scotch. He took the stairs up to the fly bridge and set the drinks on the cocktail table behind the control station. The sun was just above the horizon, and the wisps of high cirrus clouds strewn across the sky promised a spectacular sunset. AKR joined him a few moments later, looking a little more like himself. Garrett raised his glass.

"To soldiering."

AKR forced a smile and nodded. "To soldiering." They drank in silence for some time, watching the colors splash across the evening sky. AKR turned to Garrett, "What time does that plane leave tomorrow?"

"Zero eight thirty."

AKR again nodded. He set the half-finished drink down and rose. "I think I'll go take a long shower. See you in the morning."

Garrett Walker and Akheem Kelly-Rogers, traveling under false documentation, flew from Newcastle Airport on Nevis to San Juan. They called the yacht brokerage and said the Ragtime was having engine trouble, and they were done with the charter. The brokerage company was only too happy to send a charter captain and mechanic to Nevis to retrieve the boat and pocket the $20,000 deposit -- no questions asked. Two days later, Garrett and AKR were back at the GSI training facility on the island of Hawaii. For Garrett, flying into the Kona airport and making the drive up to the camp was like coming home -- at least his operational home. He had been a warrior for well over twenty years. For most of that time he had been in uniform, the uniform of a Navy SEAL. Then home had been a Navy base, either Coronado, California, or Little Creek, Virginia. But home for a warrior, if he was a bachelor like Garrett, was usually a one-room apartment with very few personal belongings. The training and operational requirements of a Navy SEAL made for a lot of time overseas, and when you were not deployed and technically home, you spent a great deal of your time away from the house. In as much as Garrett could now call any place home, this facility on the side of Mona Kea was it. Given the dramatic isolation and quiet beauty of the camp, it was quite satisfactory.

Steven Fagan, GSI's chief executive officer, was going over Garrett's report when Garrett stepped into his office. Garrett had sent him the report from his Blackberry wireless handheld while they waited for connections in Miami.

"It appears as if you and Akheem had a successful trip."

"We'll know after the tech's visit, but I don't foresee any problems." Garrett poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot that was perpetually brewing on the credenza. He sipped it carefully and made a face. It was a dark Kona blend and a little strong for his taste. He took a seat across from Fagan.

"Did you want Akheem in on this?"

"I don't think it will be necessary," Fagan replied. "I know he was anxious to get back to his men and see how their training is progressing."

Steven Fagan was a quiet, understated man. He was about five-nine and a solid hundred sixty-five pounds, with good shoulders and thinning, wiry brown hair that still had something of a wave to it. It would be a slow process, but in the ten years it would take him to reach his early sixties, he would have more scalp than hair showing on top of his head. Yet on the sides and in back it would be as thick and rich as it was when he was in his twenties. He had soft hazel eyes and regular features. At first brush, one might peg him as an accountant or an insurance broker, or some nameless fellow you might sit next to in church. On closer inspection, there was a great deal more. People who met him briefly, even in a casual, social setting, came away from the encounter knowing there was something special about him, but if pressed to explain, could never say why. There was a quiet intensity about him, and he had an almost unconscious ability to get others to talk about themselves. But this was not uncommon for someone who had spent a career at Langley with his job description. At one time, Steven Fagan was considered one of the CIA's most talented covert action specialists. He had concluded an exceptional career at the Agency. During his tenure with the Directorate for Operations he had orchestrated more than a few events in sovereign foreign nations that were favorable to American interests but had no fingerprints of American involvement. His current job at GSI drew heavily on that background.

"And the boat was satisfactory?"

"It was a little cramped, and I think AKR resented the fact that I took the owner's stateroom, but we managed. After all, I have seniority."

"How did he like playing the bad cop?"

Steven leaned forward imperceptibly, watching Garrett closely. It was an important question, and both of them knew it. Steven was asking a great deal more than whether or not Kelly-Rogers was happy with his new job. Could their new man do this kind of work because it had to be done, professionally and dispassionately, or were there other motivations?

"He's every bit as good as you thought he might be, maybe better. He's a good gun in the file."

Both Steven and Garrett were former military special operations types -- Steven had a tour with Special Forces before joining the Agency. A man who was a good gun was someone you trusted and with whom you were willing to go into harm's way. Steven considered this a long moment before he spoke.

"That's good to hear. We can use him, perhaps sooner than you think. I got a cryptic e-mail from Mr. Grummell yesterday afternoon." Armand Grummell was the current Director of Central Intelligence. The DCI was one of the few people in government who knew the purpose and some of the inner workings of Guardian Services International and IFOR. "He thinks he may have a problem and would like our FBI liaison officer to read us into the situation."

"Iraq? The Middle East?"

"I'm not sure. I sense it may begin there, but again, he was very vague. I think one of his key analysts has surfaced a number of indicators that may have triggered some concern." Steven paused, as he often did, before he continued. "He asked if we were capable of operating in Africa, but didn't elaborate. One thing is certain. He wouldn't be contacting us if he wasn't worried about something, perhaps very worried."

"Or there was no one else he could turn to," Garrett observed.

"That too." Steven smiled.

"When do you want me to leave?"

"The plane is ready when you are. If you leave sometime late this afternoon, you could be there for a breakfast meeting. That is, if you're up to it," he added.

"Oh, I think I can manage it, boss."

"Give my regards to our liaison officer."

"I'll do that." They shook hands warmly, and Garrett took his leave. He set his full cup of coffee on the sideboard as he headed for the door. No matter how good it smelled, it always tasted much too harsh.

Later that afternoon he relaxed on the gray tucked-leather lounger and tapped his code into the computer that swung into place at his elbow. He brought up the front page of the Washington Post and began to scan for items of interest.

"What could I start you with, Mr. Walker?"

He glanced at her name tag. "Cindy, how about a scotch, neat, with a twist."

"And something to eat?"

"What do you have?"

"Well, we have caviar or truffle pâté, with French bread or toast points."

Garrett smiled easily. "I think the day calls for caviar, but would you see if you can dig me up some Ritz crackers."

She smiled and headed back to the galley area. Garrett glanced out of the large oval window to a cloud-dotted Pacific Ocean below. The extended-range Gulfstream G550 had climbed quickly to 48,000 feet. Fuel economy was not an issue with an aircraft with this much legs. Hawaii to Washington, D.C., was an easy nonstop flight for a G550. They were well above normal commercial airline traffic, and the ride was so smooth that it seemed they were suspended in space. The two Rolls-Royce BR710 engines barely filled the luxurious interior with a gentle whisper, even as they raced along at a cruising speed of .87 mach.

"Luxury yachts, my own Gulfstream, and caviar," Garrett mused. "Helluva way to fight a war."

"I'm sorry, did you say something?" the attendant said as she set the drink on the arm of the lounger -- an amber liquid in leaded crystal.

"I was just saying," he said as he swung the computer away from his lap, "that I'll bet I can kick your butt in cribbage."

She looked at him for a long moment, then turned and strode back to the galley. He watched her go, admiring the swing of her hips. It was, in fact, a terrific tush -- worth far more than an indiscriminate kicking. She came back with a cribbage board, a deck of cards, and a plate of caviar ringed with Ritz crackers. There were only four on the plane -- the two of them and the two pilots up front.

She sat across the table arm from him and began to shuffle the cards.

"What shall we play for?" she asked. She was drop-dead gorgeous; he almost said, "Sexual favors," but this was not where he was right now.

"Looser flies," he responded with a grin.

"All right, but it's only a soda for me. FAA rules."

He thought he detected a hint of disappointment in her voice.

Copyright © 2005 by Dick Couch

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Covert Action 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Much respect for technical and covert details. The constant expression of tactical success failed to acknowledge the reality that best plans change after the first shot is fired.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced, you will not want to put it down
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