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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Kildaran - Chapter 48

[Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Just wait till you see what Mike's getting into now!



Gereshk and his men were safely ensconced in Moscow proper   Not in the outskirts, where they could have been found more easily but would provide for an easier escape.  Instead, they had taken residence in a disused warehouse near Komsomolsky Square, less than four kilometers from the headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service in Lubyanka Square.
That was well within the range of the weapon, even though it was outside the actual fireball.  The Emir had insisted that their largest bomb be taken on this mission.  Gereshk had been very careful to get that information from Ibrahim before he left.
He was still torn about his decision for their location to detonate the device.  On one hand, if Chechnik was anywhere within about twenty kilometers when the bomb exploded, he was dead.
Perhaps not immediately, though, which was a pleasant thought to Gereshk.  Heat, radiation, or the building being demolished by the massive overpressure, didn’t matter.  They were all likely to be fatal, especially at the relatively close distance, which would gut the center of Moscow and send millions of unbelievers to their Shai’tan-ordained doom.
Then there was the damage to the Lesser Satan’s rail services.  Komsomolsky Square was a major rail terminus, with three rail stations and a metro station.  In addition, the Leningraskaya Hotel and the Moscovsky department store, along with scores of smaller shops and restaurants, were located within the square.  It was a major destination; the casualties among the infidels would be enormous, and the damage to the railways, businesses, tourism, banking, and, yes, even the oppressive security forces, potentially crippling.
And yet.  There was a certain appeal in having Chechnik simply incinerated in the burst.  He remembered cartoons, probably Ami, showing creatures turn to ash after explosions.  How he would rejoice to see that, even if he died only seconds later!
For that to happen, he would need to be much closer.  Within a kilometer, actually.  The continuing build-up of the city since his last visit was astounding, but would deflect and absorb some of the explosion.  And security would be that much stricter, closer to the diseased heart of the rotten city.
Still not much of an issue, but it would make escape for himself much more difficult.  A truck, loitering on the roadside, is much less suspicious if the driver is sitting behind the wheel, reading a newspaper and waiting for his appointment.
Not that Gereshk planned to escape.  He wanted to be present, with Chechnik, see the lying prick’s eyes when he finally realized that Gereshk had taken his revenge.   He wondered what would be passing through Chechnik’s mind at that last moment before oblivion.
He giggled.  His men turned and smiled at his private joke.  Perhaps he should share this story with them, so they… yes.
No one but he would die here.  Not if he could help it.  He had an obligation to the Emir.  So he had decided to send them back at sundown tomorrow.  They would be given money, and very precise instructions, and sent into the crowds, to mingle with them and use the very rail system he planned to destroy to make their way home.  And they would all carry letters to tell his story, to show the world that being a selfish, lying, greedy prick would only earn you the wrath of Allah.
The irony was exquisite, and he chuckled again.  His men smiled again, though a bit confused.  They were in the heart of the enemy, bearing the Spear of Allah, and no one knew it.  They would strike a blow that would sweep the Tower attacks away to the dustbin of history.  The faithful would rejoice in the streets for weeks after this!
He checked his phone again.  Still nothing, no messages, no missed calls.  Too dangerous to initiate contact before the appointed time.  It could expose them all, if anyone was watching.  Very well, he could be patient.  One more day.  Then, if he received no contact from the Emir by the following noon, he would execute the plan.  After his men were on their way, Allah Willing.
Which plan?  Stay, and hope the explosion caught Chechnik?  Or move closer, risk exposure, but be sure?  Perhaps he would call Chechnik himself and announce it, even as he detonated the device.  That would be milk and honey to his soul as he achieved his martyrdom.  He would feel nothing, but Chechnik might have quite a few seconds to know from whose hand the blow fell.
It was quite the decision to make.
The Intel team was brainstorming.  Pain was showing as was the exhaustion from the short shifts and endless hours of sifting data.  Data that should have been given, not stolen or forced from the hands of supposed allies.  The frustration was starting to tell.
“Again.”  The hand slammed down on a rare clean spot on the workstation.  The rest was covered with half-filled mugs of cold tea and coffee which jumped at the impact, splashing onto the already cluttered floor.
“Grez, we’ve gone over this a dozen times already,” one of the girls pleaded.
“Again, I said!” Grez growled back.
Stella sighed.  “You really need to get some sack time, Grez.”
“I slept earlier!”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Stella, arching a brow.  The raunchiness of the cloistered group was near a breaking point.
As Grez turned red, Anisa said, “We think that Gereshk has gone to ground.  Since we didn’t know what he was using for transport, we couldn’t use any ‘eye-in-the-sky’ assets to localize him.  There‘s simply too much traffic in the target areas, which are guesses anyways.  And too big for us to follow.  There are only five of us in here at a time.  We need to narrow it down to a specific target of interest to have any chance, if not of finding them then at least eliminating areas to move on to others.”
“What about gamma scans?” asked Kseniya.
“Too many false positives,” answered Stella.  “Anything radioactive will give off gamma radiation, in some quantity.  Even if we had the updated reads on the refurbished nukes.  We might have gotten lucky with the others, since they only needed minor repairs.  But Dr. Arensky said that this one would have needed major work and the ‘gamma halo‘ could have changed up to five percent.  More if they added extra shielding.”
“But we know the size of the bomb he carried, yes?  And the Russians have all the characteristics, the profile, yes?” said Grez.
“Probably.  But we haven’t received it,” replied Stella.  She looked as pissed as Grez at that news.
Anisa asked, “Why not?  I thought we were getting all their data?”
Stella shook her head sadly.  “We are, but their systems are so completely screwed up, we’re getting it in dribs and drabs.”
“The manifest?” suggested Kseniya.
“That, we have.  But it only lists size, type, and serial number.”
“Okay, so gamma scans are out.  For now.  Why do we think he’s gone to ground?”  Grez tried to pace, kicking aside the accumulated trash of endless watches.  The other girls looked a bit jealous that she had something to take out her frustrations on, as well as the room to stretch out.
“He’s had enough time to get to Moscow,” said Anisa.  “It’s been four days.  Assuming that is his final destination.”
“So?  We know that Loki has a way of causing mischief for all, not just the side of right,” said Stella.
“True,” agreed Anisa.  “Still, we cannot search the entire distance between Kek-Usn and Moscow.  Too fucking big.”  Anisa used the borrowed American word for emphasis; no one in here would tell on her for using such crudity.
“And the Russians certainly can’t,” added Kseniya.  “Or won’t.  Idiots, if the latter.”
“So that leaves us where?  Searching a city of ten million inhabitants and eleven hundred square kilometers from two thousand kilometers away?”
“Grez, if it was easy, the Kildar wouldn’t need us,” said Anisa, garnering a laugh for her effort.  “Not that we’re being very effective right now.  I’d make another joke about the Mice, but my brain is just like pudding and might leak out if I laugh too hard.”
After the laughter had died away, Grez said, “So what do we know about Bursuk Gereshk?  Why was he chosen for this mission ahead of others?  Did he volunteer?  Does Qays know anything?”
Kseniya called up his bio on her screen without really seeing what she was reading.  “Age thirty-four, unmarried, no known family.  Served in Russian Ground Forces, four years, final two plus at Anadyr after expulsion from MMS, now MCTS.  Discharged upon completion of term, next surfaces -”
“Back up,“ interrupted Grez.  “What’s MMS, or MCTS?”
“Ah - Military Commanders Training School.  Formerly Moscow Military School.”
“Someone thought he had a brain worthy of cultivation.  Why was he expelled?”  Grez’ pacing stopped.
Tap tap tap.  “The public file simply lists ‘Unsuitable attitude’.  Hold on, I’ll see what I can dig up.”
Tap tap tap.  Servers whined as Anisa hacked and burned her way into the supposedly secure files.  Three minutes later: “Got it!  We’re in!  Transferring control, Kseniya.”
“Right.”  A few seconds passed.  “School records say that he refused to relinquish his copy of the Qur’an to the Commandant when it was - oh!”
“What?” asked Grez.
“You’ll never guess who turned Gereshk in to the Commandant.”
“Probably not,” remarked Grez dryly.  “So why don’t you just tell me?”
“Cadet Erkin Chechnik.”
“No shit?” blurted Anisa.
“No shit,” answered Kseniya.  “Date stamps all correct, no signs of tampering.  The PDF files show documents that have the right dates - no, if this is disinformation, it was done at the time, not added later.”
“I think we know what’s motivating Gereshk,” said Stella.  “But that doesn’t help us narrow down his hide.”
“This might,” said Kseniya.  “The MCTS is located in Moscow, so -”
“So Gereshk spent the better part of two years living in Moscow,” finished Stella.  Where, exactly, is MCTS?”
Tap-tap-tap.  “It’s part of the Yaroslavsky District, in the North-Eastern Administrative Okrug -”
“Okrug?” said Anisa.
“It doesn’t translate well.  Region?  Area?”
“Okrug.  Whatever.”  Another American word that they’d grabbed.  It covered so much and fit so many situations!  Priceless.
“- of Moscow,” finished Kseniya.
“Seems like we might have a starting point,” said Grez.  “Maybe even a bullseye.  Revenge is a pretty good motivator.”
“Maybe,” said Stella, punching up the data on the Okrug.  “But it’s still a pretty big chunk - the Okrug itself is over a hundred square kilometers, and a million plus people.  And it’s still over two thousand kilometers away.  And we still don‘t have all our feeds.”
“But the District that MCTS is in is smaller, right?” asked Grez.
“Oh, much smaller,” agreed Stella.  “But still much too large for the Keldara to handle alone.”
“Who said the Keldara will be doing it alone?” said Grez.  “I think Colonel Chechnik would be interested to know about his old schoolmate, don’t you?”
“Any bets on whether he runs or stays?” asked Stella.  Unfortunately, there were no takers, but a few giggles.
“Chechnik.”  The speakerphone in the command center carried his voice to Mike as well as Nielson and Vanner, both of whom were there simply to observe.
“Does the name Bursuk Gereshk mean anything to you, scumbag?”  Mike’s voice was harsh over the scrambled satellite line.
“Bursuk Gereshk?  He’s, how is it said, a ‘person of interest’ in your investigations, correct?”
“Nothing else?  No old memories?”
“Old memories?  No.”  Although something was tickling the back of his mind…
“Tell me, Erkin - where did you study?  Once you joined the Army, that is.  When some corrupt jackass of a political appointee decided that you deserved to be an officer.”
If Chechnik was surprised by the turn of the conversation, he didn’t show it.  “The Moscow Military School.  It’s called some other name now, but it’s still - Oh, shit.”
“Think of something?  Something you feel like sharing?”
“Gereshk.  Second year.  I turned him in to the commandant’s office for having a copy of the Qur’an.”  The shock of the memory returning was in his voice.
“No shit?  Wow.  And I wonder how it is that my Intel girls came to me with that little tidbit before my supposed ally, hmm?”
“Kildar, it was a long time ago!  I had totally forgotten about it!”
“Just another betrayal, eh, Chechnik?  Boy, they start teaching you fuckers early, don’t they?”
“It wasn’t that way!  There were rules!”
“Then why don’t you tell me just what way it was?”
“I found out about that dammed book by accident!  Once I learned of it, well, the school’s code required me to report it or I would be punished as well, to the same severity!”
“So to save your skinny ass, you turned in a man, a fellow cadet, who had never done anything to you, is that it?”
“That’s not how I would put it, Kildar -”
“In case I haven’t made it perfectly clear, I really don’t give a flying fuck how you would put it!” bellowed Mike.  “We’re playing with the lives of millions - millions! - of your countrymen, Chechnik!  And while I wouldn’t give two red cents for the current political leadership of your country, my president doesn’t seem to have as much of a problem with them.  So I’m trying to avoid doing a preemptive regime change!”
There didn’t seem to be anything Chechnik could say to that, so he remained silent.
“No platitudes, Chechnik?  No protestations?  Nothing?”
Silence still.
“Maybe you can learn.  And you did give us the head’s up about the potential ambush.  I guess we can give you this one - I mean, who can reasonably expect you to remember every person you’ve ever betrayed?”
More silence.
“So here’s what you’re going to do, Chechnik.”  Mike checked the manifest he was holding.  “You will find the precise radiological profile for a type RDS-46 five megaton warhead, serial number Eight Alpha Seven One Zulu.  You will get that information to me, personally, as well as my Intel group, the NSA, and Colonel Pierson at OSOL.  The full package.  Plus possible profile variants due to differences in shielding and refurbishment of same and of the trigger.”
“OSOL?  Why?”
“Because I fucking well am telling you to!  Because if you don’t, I’ll stick my boot so far up your ass I’ll be able to scratch your eyebrows with my toes!  You lost the right to ask ‘why’ when you forgot about Gereshk!”
“Kildar, it is not -”
“Not my problem, Chechnik.  Make.  It.  Happen.  Second.  Observation of Moscow by gamma radiation detectors.”
“Make it possible, Chechnik.”
“I cannot!  Not I will not, I cannot!”
“He might not be able to,” said Nielson, quietly.
“Hold.”  Without another word, Mike temporarily cut the line.  “Why not?”
“The Russians are going to be pretty hesitant about letting our satellites deliberately look into Moscow for gamma sources.  Hospitals, high-energy physics labs - we have those locations, they’re open source.  But if we’re getting the full feed, we’re going to get all of the other sources of gamma radiation.  Nuclear weapons, though I’d be surprised to find any in Moscow proper, and weapons research labs - and most of those are still pretty well under wraps.”
“We could filter it,” suggested Vanner thoughtfully.  “Bet they skimped on the shielding on some building contracts, and the generals are worried they’ll get caught.  They’ve been death on misappropriation for a while now.  Literally.”
“They won’t go for it,” argued Nielson.  “Not if we’re getting the raw data and applying the filter.  We’d have the unfiltered data, too, and that’s what they want to keep out of our hands, no matter what it showed.”
“We could give them the filter?”
Now it was Nielson’s turn to be thoughtful.  “They might go for that - but we’d have to write the program first.”
“Not a problem,” said Vanner, more enthusiastically.  “I have a couple off-the-shelf programs I can modify pretty easily, once I get the specs.  It’s just a matter of -”
“So we have an idea here?” interrupted Mike.
“Sorry, yeah, we do,” said Vanner.
“Okay.”  He punched Chechnik back up.  “You there?”
“Yes, Kildar, but I am telling you, it would be -”
“Hold on.  All we need is the location of one bomb.  I’ve been assured that once we get that profile, we can write a program that will filter out everything but that profile.  We’ll give you that program to apply on your end, then you can send us that feed.  Would that be acceptable?”
“I think that would be a reasonable accommodation, yes.”
“Good, because it’s about the last one I’m gonna make.  Third.  Once we have the bomb located, you clear the area.  I don’t care if it’s the fucking president’s palace, you get every last body out and away from it.  We‘ll be coming to kick ass and chew bubble gum and we‘re plain out of bubble gum.”
“Done.  I will make it so.”
“Four.  You will provide - no, scratch that.  I’ll take care of transport, but you will ensure that whatever I get has clearance.  I don’t know if it’ll be commercial, charter, military, or what.  I’ll make sure we squawk ‘Kildar One’ on the transponder; you’ll clear the skies.”
“Again.  Done.”
“Fifth.  This is a Keldara op, so your men stay out of it.  But your sorry ass is coming with us, just to make sure you stay honest.  I think you’ll be much less likely to fuck us over if your own balls are on the line, don’t you?”
“I agree, Kildar, but I don’t know if the Prime Minister will agree.  After the last operation, and my warning to you, well, I have plans for them.  I’m afraid he might not place the same value on my balls as I do.”
“Again, not my problem.  If Vlad wants to try to take us out?  He’ll have a hell of a fight on his hand, right in the middle of Moscow.  We‘ll be in control of a rogue nuke, and you can take that however you like.”  Mike smiled, shark-like, in anticipation.  He looked a question at the other two, who both shook their heads.
“One last thing.”
“Anything, Kildar.”
“You take a few hours and try to remember everything you can about Gereshk.  I don’t care how insignificant, I need that intel.”
“I understand that completely, Kildar.  Let me say that -”
Whatever Chechnik wanted to say was lost as Mike hit the disconnect.
“So.  Any ideas how we’re going to get a team to Moscow fast?”
“How would you get a team of two dozen, plus their gear, two thousand kilometers in an hour?  Two squads, medic, heavy gear.  Plus myself.  Short notice hour, that is.”
“Seriously, Bob.”
“Seriously, Mike.  There is no way to get that many men that far that quickly in a single plane.”
“Multiple planes?”
“Two dozen Eagles would do it, but that has its own problems.  Taking that many out of active service, even for a few hours, makes a hell of a dent in our air superiority umbrella and active response profiles.  That‘s a Command Authority decision, and unless you want another couple dozen meetings?”  Pierson let that hang.
“Won’t do that, then.  What else?”
“An hour.  Why an hour?”
“I suppose it could be as long as two hours,” conceded Mike.  “I don’t want to take any chances on the target moving before we can be on site.”
“Why not just locate closer?”
“Because I don’t trust my hosts and all my equipment is here,” said Mike grimly.
“A Russian problem, then.  Hey!”  Mike could hear pages being flipped through.  “Bingo!”
“They did a version of the Tu-22M3 as an ELINT carrier.  Called it the Troika, or something similar, we called it the Backfire-C.  It’s supposed to be similar to our AWACS, so it might have the crew capacity you need.”
“You think you can shake one loose?”
“Me?  You’re the one who owns the soul of a high-ranking officer in their Security Service!”
“Yeah, but I don’t know how much further I can stretch that.”
“Hmm.  I wonder…”
The line went quiet.
“Sorry.  Back in a minute.”  Before Mike could say anything, he was on hold.  Today the muzak was old Stones.  Sympathy for the Devil.  Mike was just starting to groove to the guitar solo when Pierson came back.
“Your timing sucks, Bob.”
“Never mind.  What was that about?”
“Little known tidbit from that little war that happened in your backyard last year?”
“Yeah?  That was pretty nasty down here.”
“The Russians used their Backfires in that war.  Seems that they lost two in combat, though they only admit to one that was destroyed by ground-to-air fire.  The other one was actually forced down.  They‘re not talking about that one.”
“Oh really?”
“Yep.  Something about it being a black eye, losing a fairly advanced bomber to a barely third-world power.  One of the few outright victories for the Georgians, though it ended up costing about a third of their air force.  The point is, when the cease-fires froze everything in place, it only dealt with territory and troops, not materiĆ©l.  The Russians tended to destroy everything the Georgians threw at them, so there wasn’t anything on their side to recover.  But -”
“But my buddies in Tbilisi kept the Backfire.”
“Exactly.  I’ll bet General Umarov would be more than happy to let you borrow it, especially if you’re planning to take it into Russia.  He’d love to thumb his nose at them, especially Putin.”
“I’ll bet he would.  One problem I can see - well, two.  First, a pilot.”
“Think your Captain Hardesty would like to give it a shot?”
“In a heartbeat.  But I think I‘d like a little bit of experience in a Backfire, just in case.”
“That can probably be arranged.  Second?”
“What if the Russians want the plane back?”
“That could get sticky, if they have the stones to try to pull it off.”
“Medvedev, probably not.  Putin?”
“Yeah, Putin does.  What if Umarov sold the plane to you?  As a private citizen, you’re entitled to bring your plane wherever you want.”
“I don’t think that I have the cash lying around for that.  They run, what, two hundred mil per?”  That would empty the coffers completely.
“North of that for a new one.”
“Yeah, right out then.”
“Just call me your friendly financier.  I think I can swing something.  Probably along the lines of a nice USAID package, combined with some quiet help rebuilding the Georgian Air Force.  I know we have a few deals in the works; this will just sweeten the pot a bit.  There‘s some old Phantoms that were refurbbed for drones, new ECM, engines, computers.  I think the Air Force can find something else to shoot at.”
“My own air force.  I’m never gonna hear the end of this.”
“I’m sure Umarov will be more than happy to watch over your Backfire for you.  Hell, you could probably lease it back to him, if not for cash then for various and sundry favors.”
“True.  Wonder if Hardesty would be willing to come aboard permanently?”
“Do you really want to piss off Chatham?”
“Not really.  Okay, I’ll call Umarov and talk about the Backfire, he can call you to arrange all the financial details, and you’ll get us a co-pilot.  Am I missing anything?”
“Just one.”
“What’s that?”
“I want a picture of Putin’s face when he hears you’ve bought a Backfire.”
“You tell us when he’s outside, I’ll get you the picture, right off his own satellites.  Vanner’s got some new 3D rendering tools he’s dying to try out.”
“I really, really didn’t need to hear that.”
“You, your best fire team, two heavies, and your sniper.  Prepare for extended deployment.”
“Yes, Kildar.  Where?”
“Moscow.  Make sure you have your passports.  Diplomatic ones.”
“Going in heavy?”
Mike thought.  “Yeah.  Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”
“Your mission here is completed.  You are free to return to the land of the Big PX whenever you can arrange transport.  We‘ve arranged for the bodies to be shipped to Dover AFB with full honors.  Colonel Pierson will arrange for everyone‘s debrief and then time in the lands of sun and sand as a bonus - where the women wear bikinis, not burkhas,” he added.
A look of total disappointment consumed JP’s face.
“Or, you can remain here on TDY, at least through the Festival of Balar,” Mike relented.  “It’ll take that long get the transports here, unless I’m gonna pay to fly you home civilian.  That’s not gonna happen.
“Oh, you prick!  You had me going for a minute!”
“Yeah, well.  Can’t make you leave without seeing Sivula married off, can I?”
“No, you sure can’t.  Don’t think the troops will want to leave, anyway.  Something about the beer.”
“You’re sure it’s not the women?”
“Yeah, pretty dammed sure.”  At least, not for them.  I’m still hoping…
“You did what?”  Adams nearly spat out his beer across the kitchen table.
“Well, I’m not really buying it.  Uncle Sam is, but it’s going to be in my name.”
“Don’t fuckin’ matter.  A Backfire?  Are you out of your ever-loving skull?”
“No more than usual.  How else am I going to get a whole team to Moscow, fast?  We need to get in and out when that bubble‘s ready to pop before that prick can bugger us again.”
“Point.  What about just buying a Concorde?”
“They don’t fly them any more, dipshit.”
“So?  Bet you could get one cheap.”
“Tell you what, next time I’m looking for a plane, you can consult.”
“Deal.  What else?”
“Making a trip to Moscow.  Half of Vil’s team.  You, Vanner, Grez, Anisa.  Figure two dozen is max, if it ends us less we’ll improvise, adapt and overcome as usual.  Gonna be a bigger hammer job, if only to keep Putin honest and away from us.  Who else?”
“Arensky?  Need our pet WMD expert.”
“Good call.”
“Leave Grez behind, though.  We need her insight here if we’re hauling around Vanner.”
Mike shook his head.  “No, they work better as a team.  Stella can mind the store.”
“No Lasko though, dammit.”
“And no Shota or Mules either.  I thought about recalling them; a heavy grab would be right up their alley, but Vil’s fast and used to thinking on his feet.  They‘ll do; you and the others trained them well.”
“I notice you didn’t say Katrina.”
“Good for you, Ass-Boy.”
“Any particular reason why?”
“Besides the fact that I don’t want her to come along but I’m not sure I can stop her?”
“Not really.”
Changing the subject, the Chief said, “Thought you might be interested - we got into Inarov’s safe.  Seems the Emir did his own security on it, didn‘t trust Schwenke, so no surprises, just a lot of sweat.  Could have used Creata on this one, then we wouldn‘t have had to lug it down to the valley.  It‘ll make a good safe for a certain movie collection, though.  Better than what we got now.  After it‘s repaired.”  He coughed the last words through his fist.
“Yeah.  Turned it over to Padrek and his boys.  Told him they could do anything they wanted, as long as they didn’t damage the contents.”
“Bonanza.  Schedules, plans, Inarov’s journal, contact lists - we can roll up the entire fucking Chechen resistance with this shit.  Money in the bank, even what I can read.  Gonna keep us busy for a long, long time if we take the mission.”
“That’ll make Pierson happy.  Or Chechnik.  Or both.  Anything else?”
“A few pornos.  The late Emir was a sick, sick man.”
“How sick?”
“Let me put it this way: I only skimmed ‘em, okay, twice, but I’ll never look at a goat the same way again.”  After a laugh, Adams continued.  “That’s not the best part.”
“There’s better?  What, a mule?  A camel?”
“Yeah.  I mean, no.  You know the old saying, ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’?  Of course you do - I saw the rock you gave Katrina.  Nice taste, by the way.”
“Thanks.  I know the saying.  What of it?”
Adams dug into a cavernous pocket, pulled out a lumpy cloth bag, and handed it to Mike.
“Go ahead.  Take a look,” he said with a small smile.
Mike poured the contents onto the tabletop.  A number of rough bluish crystals spilled out, along with a much smaller bag, which he picked up and emptied onto his hand.  Five small blue crystals gleamed at him.
“Pretty.  Sapphire?”
“No, though that was my first guess.”
“There’s another one,” Mike said, holding one of the gemstones to the light and watching it shift to a more purple color in the kitchen fluorescents.  “Iolite, I think it’s called.”
“Nope, though I haven’t heard of it.  This stuff - I had Vanner check it out, I had Arensky test it, and they’re both sure.  It’s called blue garnet.”
“Garnet?  Didn’t know it could be blue.  Don’t you use garnet for polishing and smoothing?  Think I remember something about that.”
“Common garnet, yeah.  Not this stuff.  Those five little gems you have weighed out a little more than seven carats.  Street value?  Over ten million.”
“What’s that in dollars?” Mike inquired, rolling them idly in his hand.  “About three hundred sixty thousand?  A nice little bonus there for the boys.”
“That is in dollars.”
Mike’s hand froze.  “You’re shitting me.”
Adams shook his head.  “Nope.  One point five mil per carat, in that quality.”
“And the rough stones?”
“They’re about three hundred and twenty carats total weight.  Gonna lose some in cutting, but figure with a skilled cutter you’ll end up with between two fifty and two seventy five.”
Very carefully, Mike put the faceted gems back in the small pouch before speaking.  “Do you think Inarov had the slightest idea what he had here?”
Adams’ grin, which had been getting larger and larger, fairly threatened to split his face.  “That’s the best bit: he had no fucking clue!  We found an invoice and an assayer’s report with them, and I don’t know who the jackass was who did the evaluation but he judged them to be Alexandrite.”
“That’s pretty costly, isn’t it?”
“Ten grand per carat, yeah.  I looked it up; it changes color in different lights, too, which is probably why it was assayed that way.  It was a nice pile for the Emir to be sitting on, even so - the assayer‘s report estimated them, as Alexandrite, to be worth about three million dollars.”
“Instead of four hundred and fifty.  Just a little off.”
“What a pity, eh?”
“Wonder how Inarov got his hands on them?”
Adams shook his head.  “No idea.  There are a couple entries in his journal about them, but they’re pretty vague.  Oh, and you can forget about going to assayer.  Inarov was very clear about him: ‘Infidel who cut initial gems eliminated.’  So that’s a dead end too.”
“Pity,” said Mike, rolling one of the uncut pieces in his hand.  “Guess that means we’ll have to keep ‘em.”  He put the fortune away.  “Find a reputable, close-mouthed cutting house.  I want these done up as soon as possible, about one carat each, and a couple dozen larger stones, say about three carats each.”
“What’re you going to do with them?”
“Don’t worry.  You’ll find out soon enough.”  Mike gave the Chief his best Mona Lisa and nothing else.

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