Guardians

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Chapter 51

Back at the airstrip outside Rezene Emma, along with the six other members of her team who were still in a condition to do so, boarded the Antonov for the flight out of Latvia. The Antonov landed at a field in the Netherlands, where they off-loaded the ellipton onto a Gulfstream IV that carried it (and their weapons and other gear) the rest of the way to whatever its destination was, while the team switched over to a 737-600 and took off west across the Atlantic. They made a brief stop at Santa Maria Airport in the Azores to refuel and then continued the rest of the way to the States.

Emma fell asleep on the flight out of sheer exhaustion. When she woke up they were descending toward a runway at Washington National. After they landed a company van met them at the runway and drove them to what Emma took to be a safe house where they were made comfortable and individually debriefed.

As the most senior person aboard the flight she went first, and she guessed that her session was the longest, too, but she was free to return to her apartment in Crystal City when it was all over. The place felt more like a hotel room to her than a home, but she started to relax there. It was only then that Emma finally let herself feel how exhausted she was; how shaken she was after her several brushes with death, and the deaths she’d witnessed up close, and Nick and Jan fighting for their lives at the hospital in Estonia.

Emma thought again of the sight of Nick walking into the woods with the ellipton. If his plan had been to travel more swiftly and less conspicuously, he’d failed miserably. He’d instead got himself shot, and forced them to come back and rescue him, putting their lives on the line to do it, flying into that ambush where Jan got shot too.

She wondered if Nick had played American football. Probably. It sometimes seemed like just about all American men did growing up, or lied about having done so, and he seemed like the type. Running off like that, did he think he was running the ball to the end zone to win the “big game” and be a hero? The idiot. He should have just stuck with them, slipped out on the train with them instead of wandering western Russia on his own trying to get out by car in a country where almost no one drove. (Americans and their cars . . .) But he was just like Clayborne, a boy who never grew up, who thought everything was a game, that mission included. They all seemed like that in this business, even when they didn’t look and sound like toffs.

All the same, it was over, and she was unharmed, and she had other, more pressing concerns. She thought about what she’d seen of the ellipton’s buyers, details she’d had to put aside while dealing with the more immediate problem of survival. Emma found herself comparing the Pinstriped Man to many of the men she’d met in the government – men of a certain class background, with a certain sensibility and outlook, the boys that never grew up who were toffs. She thought of what the pilots had said about their destination being Glasgow.

Was it possible she’d stumbled into a British covert operation out there? Browning hadn’t said a word about anything like that to her.

Emma requested and received time off, and while she wasn’t terribly eager to get on a plane again, she booked a flight to London. For the second time in less than a month she disembarked at Heathrow and had lunch with Browning the next day, at a restaurant in the West End, a good way away from Century House.

He listened to her story with considerable interest, and reassured her that she’d done very well, but he didn’t have any answers for her. That was just fine by Emma, who just wanted to enjoy a break that Browning agreed was well deserved.

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