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Chapter 36

Smolensk Oblast, R.F.

D.C. sent Nick briefs on the nine men who would be joining his team in-country.

Greg Jardin was an ex-Marine, a Recon sniper who’d seen action in Lebanon and Iraq, where he was decorated for neutralizing a whole platoon of Republican Guard Commandos with anti-armor incendiary rounds aimed at their BMPs.

Gabriel Wilson and Gus Tillman had formerly been in the Navy SEALs. Wilson had specialized in demolition, a skill he’d practiced off Iran’s coast in ’88, and Iraq’s in ’91, while Tillman had been a breacher, at one point assigned to the anti-terror specialists in Team Six.

Most of the rest were ex-U.S. Army. Hank Costanzo had been in the Eighty-Second Airborne, with which he’d served in the invasion of Panama, while three others were former Green Berets: Martin Rodriguez, who’d seen action in El Salvador, and subsequently advised in Colombia; Dane Baker, who’d trained as a medic; and Bob Beckwith, the oldest of the newcomers at age forty-four, a Vietnam veteran who’d “gone Hollywood,” working as a bodyguard in Los Angeles until Argus came calling.

Two others got their first formal credentials working for other governments. Rodney Morgan had been in the Special Air Service, deploying to Northern Ireland and the Falklands before ending up on a recently lapsed private contract in Bahrain; while Abram Jacobsen had been in the Israeli Defense Forces, fighting on the Golan in the ’73 war as a young conscript, then nine years later in the invasion of Lebanon, since which time he’d been working in Central America.

They traveled to Russia on commercial flights, taking different routes that put the nine of them on three different flights three different airlines were running to Shermetyevo. From there they took trains and buses into the city, where they each found a private car left for them with the keys conveniently hidden underneath. They were to drive those cars to the country safe house where the operation was already ongoing.

Nick knew what car each man was supposed to show up in, and approximately when they were supposed to do so as well, and he arranged for at least one of the five already at the house to be on hand to receive them when they showed; to make sure they were who they said they were; and to direct them to park in the barn (quickly becoming crowded with the vehicles their group was using).

While waiting for them Bill and Emma worked out the idea of flying the ellipton out on the buyers’ own plane. They acknowledged that they couldn’t count on the cooperation of the plane’s crew, so they needed someone along who could fly the plane instead in a pinch.

Bob had some experience in a Cessna, and Rod claimed familiarity with light aircraft, but Nick didn’t think that would cut it, especially when they didn’t even know what kind of plane they were after. He requested someone with more experience.

“Transports, both turboprops and jets, as wide a variety as possible,” he said.

Argus said it would send Mike Krenshaw. He was another ex-Marine, a former Harrier pilot. After leaving the Corps he worked as a commercial pilot, airfreight first, though he’d later got some corporate jet experience. It seemed the best they were likely to get, and Nick figured it would have to do.

So they had fifteen people to do this with. Their records were individually impressive, but it was hardly an ideal arrangement, even given the impromptu nature of the team. Not only had they never worked together before, but they represented three different countries and five different armed forces that didn’t always do things the same way. Additionally, there wasn’t much redundancy in their skill sets, either; if they lost Mike, then they were out their pilot, and completing the job would be a lot tougher. Even Russian language skills were unevenly spread among them. Besides himself, Emma and Jan, Kurt had some Russian, and so did Abram (his parents having been Soviet immigrants), but Greg, Gus and Martin had just a phrase-book knowledge of the language, and the other half of the team had virtually none.

And as it was, their particular plan practically begged to become an exercise in Clausewitzian friction.

Still, Nick didn’t linger on his misgivings. He had his orders: secure the ellipton. So he busied himself with the details of the job, first and foremost the equipment they’d need. Nalchum and his crony drove the arms over in the requested vehicles, Nalchum a Uaz 3962 minibus and his associate a more compact Uaz 469 van, both of which were chosen for their combination of large internal capacity and four-wheel drive.

Nick checked them out, then the goods inside, inspecting randomly chosen pieces, a Shpagin submachine gun (old and crude-looking next to the sleek models he was used to, but potent and reliable), a Makarov pistol (heavy, but with the same virtues), a couple of pieces of body armor.

The order looked complete and the items in decent shape to his eye. The rest of the party seemed satisfied with the haul, the only complaint coming from Greg, who wasn’t crazy about using a black market Dragunov instead of his accustomed Barrett Light Fifty, though he said he’d manage when Nick pressed him on the issue.

Afterward, there was nothing to do but prepare the equipment for use. The weapons they were using were the products of very long, very large-scale runs and had been widely distributed across the old Soviet bloc, but it was best to make sure they were untraceable, and so they took the trouble of filing off their serial numbers, then test-firing them in a field distant from the house to make sure they were all in proper working order. They saw to their other gear too, while counting the hours until they made their move.

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