Mike and the Chief had known each other for almost twenty years. They had met in the infamous BUD/S class 201, when they were two of only five survivors of the course. Burly and bald, the Chief had stayed in the Teams when Mike had gotten out to become an instructor. Unexpectedly reunited in a stinking hell-hole under the Syrian desert, Adams was surprised but not shocked to find his old teammate, Ghost, holding off a battalion of Syrian troops with the assistance of a few naked co-eds.
These few, christened Babe, Bambi, and Thumper in the tradition of the Teams, and Amy, an ROTC private, had been kidnapped, drugged, and flown in to be raped, tortured and eventually killed in an effort to break the will of the U.S. The plan had gone awry with Ghost’s intervention, which led to the deaths of both bin Laden and the president of Syria, the total destruction of a chemical weapons plant on the site, and the disappearance of one Mike Harmon, aka Ghost, whose name now topped every jihadist’s most-wanted list.
So Adams had been surprised again several months later when his old friend had called and asked him to come to Georgia - “the country, not the state” - and help him train a militia. Having recently separated from the Teams, and in the process of divorcing wife number five, the Chief had said “Sure,” figuring at worst it would be a quick payday. But when he finally got to the Valley of the Keldara several weeks later, training cadre in tow and a crash Berlitz course in Georgian echoing around his mind, he received several shocks in rapid succession.
First, the quality of the equipment. Mike had clearly spent mega dollars in getting the best he could acquire into the country.
Second, the quality of the recruits. Almost uniformly athletic, intelligent, and motivated, the Keldara mastered the basic training with incredible speed. SEAL-style training came next, and the Keldara simply soaked that up as well. Never had the Chief ever seen recruits as capable as these.
Third, the Keldara women. Fricking incredible didn’t begin to describe them. Stunning. Gorgeous. Fantastic. Amazing. And, dammit, off-limits unless he was serious about wife number six.
Finally, the beer. Chief Adams thought he knew all the best beers after his global travels in the Teams. But none had a patch on the Keldaran beer. Each Family made their own particular brew, and all of them were worth losing an arm for. But the brew of Mother Lenka - that was worth a couple legs as well. Not the other arm. Had to hold the bottle some home. Simply the most amazing beer he had ever had.
He was also Mike’s field second. Anything that would affect the mission, he took seriously.
“What the fuck are you doing about Katrina?” he opened.
Mike chuckled. “Subtle as always, aren’t you?”
“Don’t fuck around, Mike. This could be really bad. Or maybe not. It‘s gonna depend on how you handle it on your end.”
“I know,” Mike agreed. “And I was as surprised as any of you when she came to me - wait. How do you know about Katrina?”
“It’s been pretty obvious to everyone but you, buddy. You’ve been trying so hard to keep out of her way, you haven’t noticed that she’s been circling closer and closer for months. She practically lives in the caravanserai, you know, between sessions with Daria, and Anastasia, plus she’s taken familiarization and advanced courses on the M4 and MP-5 with me, along with hand-to-hand; basic intel analysis with Grez; and has even worked out as a stand-in crew chief for Kacey on a bunch of recon/training flights.” Adams smiled. “Face it, dude, she’s got you locked in her sights and there is no way you’re getting loose.” He decided to leave the red-headed heat-seeker joke for some other time.
“Doesn’t look like it, does it?” Mike agreed, grinning back. “I have to admit, as much as I hated the idea at first, it’s starting to grow on me. Still…”
“Still,” continued Adams, “You worry about her safety, You worry whether or not some raghead, frustrated at not getting you, will take her out. Or take out your children. You worry about how you will react, whether you’ll fall apart again or, maybe worse, just go completely black. Right?”
“For a Chief, you’re pretty bright.”
“Bite me. Look, let’s take your objections in turn.”
“Okay. Safety here in the Valley.”
“That one’s bullshit and you know it. Nobody within fifty miles is gonna fuck with the Keldara, not without bringing an army in, and the Georgians won’t allow that. Their army might not be any great shakes, but they know they depend on you holding this corner secure, and aren’t going to let some fuckwad muj army march over the border.”
“That takes care of the children issue, too, I guess.”
”Yep, at least until they are old enough to get out on their own, if they decide to. Odds are, they won’t. Any kids you two have are going to be the Keldaran children of the Kildar, the next best thing to royalty here. A couple might want to leave, get some of your wanderlust, or just be stupid and rebellious. But I know you - you ain’t nobody anyone’d want to meet in a dark alley. Bet you‘re already thinking of all the dirty tricks you can teach them in hand-to-hand.”
“What about school? If I have kids, I want them to have an education, not just have a choice between farming, working in a brewery, or being a soldier.”
Adams waved it off. “Buddy, you’ve got more money than you’ll spend in a lifetime. If it worries you, set up a school in Alersso, subsidize it so kids can get a real education, and stop worrying. It’s not a concern for right now, anyway, is it?” He plowed on. “What else?”
“What if something happens and I lose her, too?” It was almost a whisper. Although Mike had finally recovered from the death of Gretchen, it was still a tender subject. Adams didn’t think that anyone else in the Valley would have heard him like this.
“Then we sing her to Valhalla and wipe out the motherfuckers who did it. Accidents might happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You think for a second that Katrina - Katrina! - would allow you to wrap her up like a china doll? Shit, no!” He leaned closer.
“Let me tell you, she is smart. Maybe smarter than you, because she’s spent how long thinking about all of this and doing something about it! She wants you, Mike, God knows why, and she has done everything in her power to get you. You worry that she won’t be able to take care of herself? Dude, she pushes me hard in sparring sessions. She is strong, she is fast, and she is motivated. Strikes like a snake and doesn’t hold back.” The Chief smiled. “She cheats, too.”
“You worry about her education? Stasia set her up in the same online college she does, and Katrina’s flying through her coursework.”
“You worry about this life? She wants it! She knows what you need and is bound and determined to be that person.” He paused. “I almost hate to say it, but she’s probably the best choice you have here - and, if she has her way, your only choice.” A mischievous grin crossed his face. “Hell of a looker, too.”
“You know she was the first person I met in the Valley? I was lost, trying to drive the old Mercedes through a snowstorm, running low on gas. Finally I see this person bent almost double along the road. I asked her for directions, then gave her a ride back to her house. I thought she was an old woman, she was so bent over and wrapped up. But when we were in her house and she unbundled…” He trailed off. “You know, it’s almost because of her that I bought the caravanserai,’ he mused. “She was always in the back of my mind.”
“Back to my point, then. What are you going to do about Katrina?”
“What else is there to do? I’m going to marry her.”
“About fucking time, Ass-Boy.” The two friends shared a good laugh
“It’s going to have to wait a while, though. I don’t want to be planning a wedding and a mission at the same time.”
“Don’t make her wait too long, Mike,” warned Adams. “I think you’ve just about used up her patience. I don‘t know if you have a choice, anyway.”
Mike shrugged. “Twenty-five nukes says she waits a little longer.” He frowned. “You know, there’s something odd about this mission, though.”
Now the Chief frowned too. “How so?”
“Well, the scale of it, for a start. None of the muj have ever hit something this big before. They just don’t have the planning or tactical abilities to pull off a hit like this, not deep in someone else’s territory. This is just too good, too professional. Hell, it feels like something we could pull off - seriously black.”
“Are we sure it’s muj?”
“No, and that bothers me too. Pierson is sure that it’s Chechens, and I’m sure his intel will support it. But it doesn’t have the right feel for it. One nuke, maybe. But a whole convoy?” He shook his head. “Something stinks about this.”
“So what else could it be?”
“I don’t know. What if it’s all a ruse? Maybe the Russians hit their own convoy to blame the Chechens.“ He held up a hand to stop Adams’ protests. “I know, unlikely at best. That just proves my point, though. We need more intel, and we need it fast. Maybe J will have some ideas.”
”Where is he? And Cottontail? I haven’t seen them around in a few days.”
“Don’t know. He said that he was taking her for training and he would be in contact with us. We ought to be hearing from him soon.”
“That dude seriously worries me, Mike. He’s like a creepier version of you - totally invisible unless he wants you to see him.”
“I know,” Mike agreed, “But that’s why he’s the best at what he does. I‘m thinking about getting him to dig up something - anything! - on Kurosawa. Even he’s starting to act like he knows what’s best for me. Not that that makes him any different than anyone else around here,” he grumped.
Adams snorted and stood. “Okay. I’ve got to get some training planned with Nielson. You want to sit in?”
“No, just let me know before you get the teams running through it.”
“Right. Oh, yeah, one more thing -” Adams added, his hand on the door sill.
“I’m gonna throw your bachelor party.”