CHRONICLES OF MICHAEL: DENIABLE ASSET

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CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

*MICHAEL VARRO*

The team stands to leave when the General grabs my arm.

“Let me know as soon as you decide who is staying back with you,” he directs.

“No need, I already know who. I want Delaney on this one.”

“Really,” the General questions. “I thought maybe you would’ve chosen Shyira on this one. I see how you are when you’re with her. There’s something there, an attachment.”

“Sir,” I question him through narrowed eyes. “I’m not following. We’re colleagues. Is there something going on I should know about? You do still trust my opinion in what’s best for the mission, right?”

“Of course.”

I study him for a few short seconds before walking away. There’s something odd happening. Something internal, I can’t quite figure out. It seems to present itself more after speaking with the General and Sonja. I’ll have to decipher it at a later time. Right now, I need to make sure my team is focused and ready to go. On my way to the Ready Room, Laci stops me.

“I think I should be the one who stays back with you,” she states, boldly.

I watch her intently. It isn’t her skills I doubt, only her motives.

“Delaney will stay back,” I say, starting to walk away before thinking better of it. “Listen very carefully because I’m only going to say this once. You need to give up this notion that you and I will ever be anything more than handler and material. You’re a good operative and that is the only thing saving your ass right now. The General wants you in the N.E.P. program, and I am this close--” I inch my fingers together “--to taking him up on his offer. Don’t test my patience on this.”

This time I do walk away, leaving Laci more pissed off with me than before.

Unfortunately, I’m unable to sleep during the flight, unlike the rest of my team. I walk by each one tapping them on the leg, rousing them.

“Rise and shine sleepy heads, we’re here.”

The weather is a moderate seventy-seven degrees, which is a lot warmer than back in London. The team exits the plane in a hanger a mile away from the commercial flights. There’s a red carpet placed at the bottom of the stairs of the plane, leading to a black Yukon. My team and I are met by Adonis Tesfa, the commander of the Sudanese Prime Minister’s army. The Commander walks up to me. He greets me with the traditional handshake and simultaneous pat on the shoulder, and I reply in kind. The Sudanese are very hospitable people, so upon entering the black Yukon Adonis offers my team and me a cold beverage and a piece of candy. Not wanting to be rude, we accept the cold sparkling water. After the short four-mile ride, we arrive at the Sudanese Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We pull up to the black wrought iron gate that encloses the three-story white brick building. Twelve large windows dress the front of the building, while three snipers line the rooftop. A single guard walks up to the car. Peering inside, he spots Commander Tesfa and waves us through. A single Sudanese flag waves proudly in the faint breeze. A meeting has been called to discuss Operation Broken Silence with a few government officials. My team and I stop here first before heading over to the border patrol to get a final sit-rep. We drive past the gates in the black on black Yukon, and the Embassy is swarming with men in suits carrying walkies. Stepping out of the vehicle, I study our surroundings as the rest of my team files out.

The tension here is palpable. The guards watch us with an eagle eye. There has been a lot of unrest for quite some time, so I get the distrust. My team senses it, also. Their body language, I can read like a book. You spend enough time with someone, they become a part of you. Their heads are on a swivel as they survey the Embassy as well as the guards. I watch Beck as he gently places his hand on his weapon. I don’t even think he realizes he’s doing it. Coop is eyeing our exits. All of them. Laci is watching the guards closest to me. For the last two years she’s been in second position. Watching my back is now ingrained in her. Shy, I notice, keeps looking up. I think the Benet mission has made her more cautious about airstrikes. Either way, we stay ready at all times.

I lean over to speak quietly to Beck.

“I need you to stay out here and keep an eye on the perimeter. Maybe take a walkabout.” Beck nods, and I speak again. “Everyone else with me.”

We position ourselves along the entrance of the Embassy until all the diplomats have arrived, and make their way inside. My team and I walk in a four-point formation. Shy and I lead Adonis and the Ambassador as they enter the Embassy. I stay to the left of the diplomats while Shy stays to the right. We give a good two feet of space between us and them. Laci and Delaney come up the rear, keeping the same distance as they watch our six. Inside is heavily populated as all the high-powered politicians mingle in the foyer before the conference begins. We keep our formation through the heavily-populated crowd. Shy and I continue up the staircase with the prime minister while Delaney stays put at the bottom of the stairs. Walking up the stairs, my attention gets drawn to the three cameras strategically placed in the corners on the ceiling of the staircase and hallway. I’m sure these aren’t the only cameras onsite. Like all Embassies, this place is heavily surveilled. I’ll put Laci on watch in the surveillance room while I meet with the Ambassador.

Adonis turns to me speaking, “My men have already been doubled at the checkpoints, and everything has been tightened up since the last insurgence. We also have cameras placed all over the grounds. Nothing will happen here without our knowledge.”

Glancing around, I see the guards are very robotic in their movement. They move like they’ve rehearsed a particular scenario a thousand times. There’s no dress rehearsal for these types of situations. You either train for anything, or you’re training for nothing. Their equipment is old, with old analog radio communique, easily hacked by any enemy with half a brain. No wonder their borders aren’t secure. The enemy most likely knows their every move. They stand rigid holding their rifles. Itchy trigger fingers, all of them. I don’t trust them. My team is fluid, trained for anything. Ready for anything. My four team members stand as an army at my back. They’re all I need. Quality is better than quantity any day of the week.

“I’m not as concerned with here. The Embassy is very well guarded. My concern lies with the border.” I reply.

Adonis nods. “Understood. This way to the conference room.”

The only person in the conference room is a woman placing documents around the table as the Prime Minister, the president of Ethiopia, and their people enter the room. The discussion will be brief. I only need a few details before they start their meeting. Adonis shows Laci the security office where she’ll have visual of inside the conference room. Shy stands watch a little further down the hall.

“Beck, how we lookin’?” I ask before stating our intentions on how this mission will go. He’s walking the grounds, making sure no unscheduled vehicles or people show up.

“Right as rain, boss,” he replies.

“Copy that.”

“Hold that copy. Looks like we have a slight change in weather,” Beck speaks again.

“Excuse me.” I hear one of the guards say through the comm. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“Tell him to radio his C.O. and walk away,” I instruct Beck.

We don’t have time to deal with people who don’t know who’s supposed to be where. That’s an internal matter.

I eye Adonis. “You need to better communicate with your people.”

As I say it, I hear his man come over the radio saying something in a dialect I don’t understand.

“He’s fine, Samuel; he’s with me. All the American’s are,” he instructs back in English.

“Beck, report.”

“All good, boss.”

I head into the conference room ready to get this process over with, so the real work can begin.

“Tell me, what have you done to better secure your border since the last attack?” I ask, plainly.

“We’ve doubled our personnel. Unfortunately, we do not have the kind of training, nor weaponry to deal with the likes of these attacks,” the Prime Minister explains. “I contracted the Collective because I’m tired of my people being massacred at our borders.”

“Have they been waiting for cover of darkness to attack, or still at more random times?” I ask.

“No longer random attacks. Somehow, they know when we’re trying to get people out, and show up shooting.”

“We appreciate your cooperation, Prime Minister. We’ll take it from here,” I tell him, standing to leave.

Adonis holds the door for me as I exit the conference room. I already see Laci heading down the hall from the security office. We head down the stairs.

As the team piles into the SUV, I notice the guards scanning all the diplomat’s cars with long stemmed mirrors, looking for any suspicious devices. Three German Shepherds, trained to sniff out bombs, are also in tow with the guards. The Embassy has its own security well in hand.

Our tires kick up dirt as we haul ass to the border. Our clothing is similar to what the soldiers patrolling the border are wearing. But it’s still obvious we’re not Sudanese. I inform the team of what the ambassador said in our meeting.

“We got a leak,” Beck sums up.

“That’s right, we got a leak. So, job number one is to find the leaky bastard and put a permanent plug in his ass,” I state.

“Laci and I will chat up the soldiers and see what we can find out,” Shy offers.

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except this time we must consider the religious and cultural implications of this region. The soldiers will not divulge this intel to women.

I scowl at Shy. “Remember where you are. Delaney and Beck will talk with the soldiers. You, Laci, and I will spread out amongst the other soldiers and keep our ears to the ground. Just be ready for anything.”

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