Northeastern Moldova

Nuri slouched in the front pew of the small church,pretending to be sleeping. The grumbling of the policemen around him had settled into a low background hum, the sort of sound a generator makes when some of its bearings are worn. Part of him hoped they would grow so bored and disillusioned they would simply go home. Another part of him feared they would decide to lynch him.

It could go either way.

He remembered a somewhat similar operation in Africa, when he’d been working with a local government against guerrillas who had taken to a particularly nasty form of piracy — the guerrillas would hijack buses on a deserted route, holding the passengers for ransom. To prove they meant business, they would kill the person they figured was the poorest, and send body parts to the local army barracks.

Grisly as it was, it was just business to them, and part of their costs included protection from sudden army or police raids. Every time the government threatened action against them, the cost of that protection went up — and so did the ransom amount, and eventually the number of kidnappings.

The CIA began working with the government when the daughter of a prominent Episcopalian bishop was among those kidnapped. An eavesdropping program quickly revealed that the local army general was getting kickbacks — something Nuri guessed the first day he’d been briefed on the assignment.

Still, the government insisted that the local army unit be notified when Nuri arranged a raid by SEALs to rescue the hostages. He had spent several uncomfortable hours in the African commander’s home, basically under house arrest, while the raid went forward.

In the end he got out alive by suggesting that the general could make more money on the CIA payroll than by working with the guerrillas. The general proved to be very handy with numbers, and they soon cut a deal. For all Nuri knew, he was still collecting a paycheck.

He nearly jumped to his feet as his sat phone rang.

“This is Nuri,” he said.

“We’re in place,” Danny told him. “Give us ten more minutes, then come along and secure a perimeter. Sign into the Whiplash circuit when you’re ready.”

“Thank God,” said Nuri, shutting off the phone.


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