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CIA Field Surveillance Unit
Agent Arnie Trickett was starting to get nervous. It showed in the way he was pacing back and forth in the surveillance truck, constantly peering at the monitors. He was downing paper cups of black coffee as if the stuff was going to go on ration.
"Arnie, sit before you wear a hole through the bottom of the truck," his partner Jack Schofield said. "It's going to go down."
"Yeah? Well we're going to look like a pair of prize dicks if it doesn't. We only got the go-ahead because of our input. All the intelligence is ours."
"And it's sound." Schofield swung his seat around.
"Arnie, what's wrong? Why the jitters?"
"This isn't the first time we've tried to catch that bastard Townsend with the goods. Every time he's slipped through the nets free and clear. We can't touch the guy without evidence that's one-hundred-and-one-percent solid. I don't see that happening. The guy is laughing all the way to the bank, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"Patience, my boy, patience. We'll catch him. Even Townsend has to slip up sooner or later. When he does, it's payday."
The third member of the observation team snapped his fingers.
"We got contact," he said. His name was Zach Jordan. He was younger than both Trickett and Schofield, with only a few years'field experience. "Looks like Riotta. Yes. Confirmed. Joseph Riotta."
Trickett leaned over to scan the monitor. He saw that a dark sedan had parked outside the deserted warehouse where the exchange had been arranged. A man was already out of the vehicle, standing beside the front passenger door, gazing around the abandoned industrial site. Jordan zoomed in with the camera and brought the man's face into full view. Even in the gloom Trickett was able to recognize Joseph Riotta. He had looked at dozens of images of the man over the past few weeks, along with other members of the group Riotta was in with.
"What'd I tell you," Schofield said. He leaned forward to open a switch and spoke into his headset mike.
"First contact made. Stay alert, people. We should be getting more visitors anytime now. Will advise. Nobody moves until I give the word. Let's get these people in one spot before we net them."
There was more to it than that. Getting Townsend's people and the sellers in one place was nothing on its own. They needed an actual exchange to take place, with goods and money in evidence before a conviction could be guaranteed. Schofield's years with the Agency had taught him one thing: total, unbreakable evidence was required before any case could progress. They needed more than simple knowledge of a crime. They had to have the whole package, which was why he understood Trickett's nerves were strung so tight. His partner was a born worrier. He liked every detail nailed down before he could relax. That wasn't a bad thing in their line of work. It was only that it made life difficult for anyone working with him. Trickett's insistence on overplanning sometimes bordered on the irritating.
"Hey, this looks like what we've been waiting for," Trickett said, pointing at one of the monitors. It showed a dark-colored SUV cruising along the service road that would bring it to the warehouse where Riotta had parked.
"Be advised," Schofield said. "Second party has shown up. Be ready."
He left his mike open to avoid any delay when he gave the order to move in. Now he turned his attention back to the monitors, studying the people under the eye of the CIA cameras.
"They going ahead?" he asked.
Jordan shook his head. "All they seem to be doing is standing around talking."
Something stirred the back of Schofield's mind. Both parties were present. There was no logical reason why they should stand around passing the time of day. Unless they were waiting for something else to happen.
The faint stirring took on an uneasy edge as Schofield allowed his mind to permutate the options, and even as he did, a disturbing thought entered his consciousness.
In was then that he heard the door to the surveillance truck click as the handle was turned. He felt a rush of chill air and he turned to look over his shoulder.... to the field office and caught the entire operation. when I don't trust my own said. "Trust. Hal, that word is here. I get a new version of I talk to. The CIA excludes the lead when it comes to parato cooperate with the others, and they only give me versions they believe I can handle."
Brognola waited in strained silence. He knew what the President's final request would be. He wouldn't have been summoned to the White House if it didn't need the attention of the Sensitive Operations Group.
The Man sat heavily, the weight of his burden showing for a moment on his face. Then he gathered himself and directed his gaze at the man seated across the desk from him.
"I truly believe you're the only man in the damn country who wouldn't betray me," the President said, studying the big Fed closely. "Tell me I'm right, Hal."
"No problem, Mr. President. You know how I feel about this office and you especially. I work for you. No one else. The SOG is your security arm. We don't compromise on our mandate and that goes down the line."
The President relaxed a little. He reached out and placed a hand on a file.
"Are you up to date on this?"
"I read your memo."
This time the Man managed a laugh.
"Memo. Well, that cuts it down to size. Then you'll know the defense community has been losing top-secret electronic hardware. Computer software has gone, too, specifically items developed for current and developing missile applications. Guidance and stabilizing systems. Inflight circuitry boards. God knows what else. From what I've been able to gather, the suspicion is the stuff has been stolen to order and sold to the end user-namely the Chinese.
"I have been reliably informed that the Chinese are currently engaged in an all-out program being developed so their military can keep pace with the latest in missile capacity."
"China? Our emerging Asian trading buddies?" Brognola asked.
"Exactly. Don't let all that twenty-first-century business expansion fool you, Hal. The Chinese will play the market for what it's worth. They'll build our TV sets, washing machines and DVD recorders. Automobiles, too, if we let them. And they'll undercut prices, sell by the shipload and collect their pay in dollars. Then they will use those dollars to buy military knowhow by the back door."
"What's behind all this?" the big Fed queried.
"Survival. Our defense program has always been ahead of theirs, because we put in the money and the time. No one has the capacity to match the Slingshot satellite system, and once we get the Zero platform fully operational, that will put us even further ahead. The Russians only pushed the knife in deeper when they announced they were going to update their own ballistic missile arsenal again. For home defense, they quoted," the President stated.
"And there's no way the Chinese are going to stand by and let that happen."
"Precisely. China sees itself as number one in their neck of the woods and a major player on the world stage. They aren't going to lose face and end up the poor kid on the block behind the U.S. and Russia."
"Full circle," Brognola said. "Back where we started."
"If we allow it to happen. The Chinese are aware that starting from scratch means years of development and testing. Buying in technology, to be copied and reproduced, will give their armament community one hell of an advantage. They let us do all the research and development, spend the billions, then buy the goods from their U.S. supplier. All they need then is to analyze the components and start to build their own."
"Suspicions?" Brognola probed.
"Nothing we can move on officially. It's believed an organization called Shadow run by a man named Oliver Townsend may be the culprit. The CIA got close to a deal being brokered but the whole thing went to the wall at the eleventh hour, so we're no closer to the truth at this time," the President told him.
"We heard through the grapevine about some CIA people getting killed. This the same incident?"
The President nodded. "Three. Shot down in cold blood during surveillance on the deal I mentioned. Early indications suggest it might have been one of their own who pulled the trigger. There's a transcript of the tape that recorded the last words of one of the agents."
"Anything on the shooter?"
"No admission yet. Personally I don't believe they know. But the CIA is embarrassed that the killing may have been by one of their own. They were caught off guard. The Agency has closed ranks. There's an internal investigation being carried out, but every time I ask questions I don't get much. I have the feeling the CIA is confused by what happened and they don't know themselves who to trust. I'm the President, Hal. I should be able to get to the truth."
"You want Stony Man to take this on for you?"
"Damn right I do. No stonewalling, Hal. I want this handled. Top to bottom. I want this mess cleaned up. From the CIA mole, through to the people handling these deals and the Chinese. If Beijing is sanctioning the purchase of U.S. technology, I want it stopped. What's the point of us developing superior firepower if it's being taken from under our noses and sold down the road to use against us? This is a direct threat to U.S. security. Put an end to it. We're being taken for a ride here, Hal, and I won't let it go on. If the Chinese want down and dirty, they can have a taste themselves. Do we understand each other?"
"No restraints, Mr. President?"
"When was the last time that worried you, Hal?"
"Just like hearing you say it, sir."
"No restraints, Hal. Get our hardware back, or destroy it so the Chinese can't use it. Go the whole damn mile and however farther you have to go. If the Chinese are running this deal, give them a bloody nose and shut the operation down."
"I'm sure there will be, but we'll field them if and when. Be interesting to hear the mitigating circumstances from Beijing." The President slid a file across the desk. "Main points. All the detail I've been able to collect. I'm sure your Mr. Kurtzman's cyberteam will find out more."
"They like a challenge, sir."
"Usual terms, Hal. If want anything, just pick up the phone and ask me."
Stony Man Farm, Virginia
The action teams and support staff sat at the War Room conference table.
The meeting was headed by Hal Brognola, with Barbara Price, mission controller, at his side. Aaron "The Bear" Kurtzman was checking out the monitor setup, ready to reveal his findings.
The members of Phoenix Force and Able Team were spaced around the table, all of them eager to get the proceedings under way.
"Let's have the light show," Brognola said to Kurtzman.
Kurtzman tapped in a command and the large wall monitor displayed a series of photographic images, the first one showing Oliver Townsend. The other shots were of people known to be associated with him and working out of the ranch he operated in South Texas, close to the border with Mexico. The sequence was short. No one recognized any of them, until T. J. Hawkins asked if Kurtzman could backtrack.
"That one," he said.
The image was held. Hawkins leaned forward to make certain he had been correct, then nodded.
"That's him. Vic Lerner."
"He's right," Kurtzman said, checking his list.
He brought up Lerner's detail.
"Where do you know him from, T.J.?" Gary Manning asked.
"We served together. He was with me in Somalia. I lost track of him after that."
"Records show he left the military about a year ago. Seemed to drop out of sight, then he was seen with a couple of people tied in with Townsend." Brognola glanced at Hawkins. "Impressions?"
"Nice enough guy face-to-face but I always had the feeling there was something going on under the surface. Vic always had his eye out for the main chance. Did a little dealing in 'lost' equipment if I remember.