McDermott / SHADOW PROTOCOL
Being Giorgi Toradze
The voices in Adam Gray’s head were being controlling, as always.
“There’s an intersection on your left, thirty meters ahead,” said Holly Jo Voss through the tiny transceiver implanted in the American’s right ear. “Go down it.”
“Okay,” he said under his breath, lips ventriloquist- still. He raised the brim of his heavy black umbrella to check the street. The torrential downpour had scoured the thoroughfare of its populace, those few Pakistanis not taking shelter scurrying along with coats shrugged up over their heads. A narrow side road was visible through the spray where Holly Jo had said. “I see it. How far to the rendezvous?”
“Less than sixty meters, at the far end.”
“Anyone waiting for me?”
Another voice came through the earwig: male, young, cocky.
“I see two assholes chilling on the corner,” Kyle Falconetti told him. Somewhere above, a compact remotely controlled quadrotor was tracking Adam’s progress through the city. Even without the rain, he doubted he could have spotted the little drone; it was designed to be stealthy, and the New Jersey native was a skilled pilot. “Either they don’t got the brains to come in out of the rain, or they’re your new buddies.”
This was it: first contact with the targets. He swelled his chest with borrowed confidence as he rounded the corner, shifting the weight of the large, heavy black case in his right hand. “Here we go.”
Let’s do the deal, said a third voice.
This one was not in his ear.
Giorgi Toradze: age forty, Georgian, a former mercenary who had discovered more profit in selling weapons to those who wanted to fight wars than participating in the conflicts himself. The case contained samples of his deadly trade. However, the arms dealer was small fry, of limited interest to American intelligence.
The same was not true of his potential clients.
Toradze had been intercepted en route to Pakistan. Adam had replaced him, his dark hair dyed fully black and a fake mustache painstakingly applied, contact lenses turning his gray eyes blue. He was slightly taller and in much better physical shape than the Georgian, and a full decade younger, but with an overcoat concealing his build and Toradze’s gold jewelry on conspicuous display, he would superficially match the description the Pakistanis had been given.
The deception would instantly collapse if any of them had previously met the real arms dealer. But Toradze knew that was unlikely.
And everything Toradze knew, now Adam did too.
He made his way along the side street, rain patter- ing loudly off his umbrella’s strong fabric. Ahead, a man leaned against a wall. Early twenties, scraggly beard, a grubby sky-blue nylon jacket open despite the deluge. Right hand held pressed against his chest, fingertips edging under the zipper as he saw the approaching figure.
Look at this cretin. Could he make it any more obvious that he’s got a gun?
Toradze’s assessment, but Adam shared it. The man waiting for him was doubtless a recent recruit to the terrorist group, eager to prove his worth. Adam looked him in the eye as he got closer, challenging without being aggressive.
The Pakistani met his gaze with a twitch of belligerence. In the highlands of the country’s northwestern provinces, where his organization operated in the open, such provocation would have met with an angry, even violent response. But here in the city he had to tread carefully. He regarded Adam for another moment, then said a single word in Pashto over one shoulder.
A second man, a few years older, came around the corner. He looked the new arrival up and down, comparing what he saw with what he had been told to expect. Black hair, mustache, about 180 centimeters tall. Gold watch.
Toradze had specifically mentioned the Rolex in his self-description, being very proud of the ostentatious time- piece. Adam made sure it was clearly visible on his wrist as he lifted the umbrella higher. “Is there a dentist near here?” he said, the English heavy with Toradze’s native accent.
The second of the pair replied. “Do you have a toothache?”
It was a simple pass code. Adam gave the agreed response. “I have a delivery.”
The man nodded. “You are Toradze?”
Adam gave him a cheery smile. “Call me Giorgi. And you?”
“Umar. This is Marwat.”
“Good to meet you. Okay, I think we better get out of this rain! Let’s go, hey?”
“This way.” Umar set off down the street, Adam following. Marwat took up the rear, right hand still poised across his chest.
“They’re moving,” said Kyle. One of the large flat-screen monitors before him showed the three men walking down the road, viewed from overhead. The drone he controlled was hovering some eighty meters up, well clear of the surrounding buildings. He adjusted a dial, and the view zoomed out to provide a wider view of the street maze. “Heading north.”
“Don’t lose them.” Tony Carpenter, the team’s field commander, was watching the scene on his own monitor.
“Wasn’t planning on doing, brah,” Kyle replied, with a little sarcasm. He nudged a joystick to send the UAV after its targets.
The fair-haired man ignored the mild insubordination. He was used to Kyle, and there were more important concerns. He regarded the aerial view intently, then looked across at another of the room’s occupants. “Holly Jo, check his tracker. We might lose line of sight.”
The willowy blonde tapped a command into her computer. A few seconds later, a hollow green square was superimposed on the street scene—directly over the black dodecagon of the umbrella. As Adam moved, so did the vivid symbol. “Tracker is on, good signal.”
“Great.” Tony spoke into his headset. “John, he’s made contact and is on his way to the meet. We’ll give you its location the second we have it.”
John Baxter, a former captain in the US Marines, was waiting in a van a few streets from the rendezvous point with a small team of armed men. “Remember, the kill option is still available once we know where these bastards are.”
“Syed is more valuable to us alive than dead,” said Tony, reminding Baxter of the mission’s objective—and who was in charge. On the monitor, the three figures were still heading for what might prove a very dangerous destination. “If the plan works,” he added quietly.
“It’ll work.” The fourth person in the dirty room was also one of the main reasons it was so cramped. Dr. Roger Albion was a hulking bear of a man, college quarterback build still solid despite his last game being forty years earlier. “Adam’s not just imitating Toradze—he is Toradze. You of all people should know that. He can do this.”
“I hope so.” The umbrella disappeared from sight as the trio turned into a narrow alley, the green square still moving. “For his sake.”
Adam followed Umar through the urban labyrinth. The deluge was beginning to ease off, some braver souls emerging from shelter. “So, is it much farther, hey?” he said. “If I’d known we were going to walk in the rain, I would have paid for a taxi!”
“It is not far,” said Umar. He gestured ahead. “Up there.”
The building he indicated was a disorderly five-story block of brick and concrete. Adam assessed it. One door at the front, probably another to an alley at the back. Flat roof, the railings along its edge suggesting it was easily accessible. The building to its left was higher, hard to climb, but to the right was a lower rooftop that could act as an escape route.
Toradze had his own opinions. What a dump! The Georgian did not foresee trouble, feeling nothing but confidence—and greed. They want what I’m selling. They need what I’m selling. Make the deal, make the money—then I can leave this craphole.
They reached the building. Beside the entrance was a bank of doorbells, small signs listing the occupants in a mixture of Urdu, Pashto, and English. Umar thumbed one button. Adam read the sign: dr. k. r. faruque, dds. “So we really are seeing a dentist, hey?” he said with a laugh. “Does Dr. Faruque give you boys a discount?” The crooked-toothed Umar responded with an irritated look.
Holly Jo spoke inside Adam’s ear. “Dr. Faruque, got it. I’ll get Levon to confirm the address.”
Seconds passed, then a click came from an intercom. A man spoke in tinny and hollow Pashto, to which Umar replied tersely with his name. Another pause, then a buzzer rasped. He pushed open the door. “In here.”
Adam stopped in the doorway, shaking water off his umbrella before straining to pull the folding spokes closed. The mechanism finally clicked, the device now reduced to a foot-long baton. He slipped it into a coat pocket. Marwat made an annoyed sound at being forced to wait outside.
Tony’s voice came through the earwig. “We’ve got the address. Sending John’s team there now.”
Adam didn’t reply, instead following Umar up a narrow flight of stairs to the third floor. A door of scuffed dark wood bore the words dental practice in flaking gold leaf. Umar rapped on it: two quick knocks, a pause, then two slower ones. The door opened a crack, someone peering suspiciously at the three men on the landing, then moving back to let them enter.
The room beyond was a combined reception area and waiting room. Adam immediately saw that none of the five men inside was there for a checkup. The openly displayed guns—some pointed at him—were a giveaway.
This is it. Play the part. Be the part.
He let Toradze’s persona come to the fore as he took in the terrorist group, the sum of the Georgian’s past experiences shaping his thoughts. Though there was some fear, it was mostly masked by dismissive arrogance. God, what a stink. Don’t these pigs use soap? And look at this idiot, holding his pistol sideways like he’s an American gangsta. Amateurs. But as long as they pay . . .
His eyes moved to the reception desk. An AK-47 assault rifle lay upon it. Like an icon on the Holy Table. The gun’s owner sat behind, watching him intently. Older than his companions, though not by much—early thirties, but aged further by the weathering of conflict. A gray- streaked beard reaching down to his chest, dark-rimmed eyes set in a blocky, unsmiling face.
Adam recognized him immediately. Malik Syed, leader of an al-Qaeda terrorist cell. Fanatic. Killer.
Umar and Marwat quickly frisked him. Wallet, passport, phone, the umbrella. A SIG Sauer P228 handgun and spare magazine. He waited for them to finish their search and return his possessions before speaking to the man behind the desk. “You must be Syed,” he said almost casually. The arms dealer would have appeared unfazed by the guns; he had to be the same. He switched the heavy case to his left hand, holding out his right. “It is good to meet you.”
Syed made no effort to extend his own hand. “You are Toradze?”
“Giorgi, please! Yes, I am.” Adam cocked an eyebrow. “You were expecting someone else?”
The dark eyes narrowed. “You are younger than I thought.”
“Older than I look. I take care of my appearance.”
One of the other men whispered something in Pashto, which aroused muted chuckles from his companions. “I think he said ‘Just like a woman,’ ” said Holly Jo, affronted.
“It helps me get the women,” Adam told the joker, his smile taking on a lecherous tinge. “Especially the virgins, hey? You can have yours in the afterlife; I’ll take mine now!”
The young man seemed both surprised that the visitor had understood him and offended at being mocked, but a stern look from Syed told him to contain his anger. “You have brought the merchandise?” asked the terrorist leader.
Adam turned back to him. “I have. If you still want to see it.”
“I do . . . Giorgi.” Syed stood, finally raising his right hand.
“I knew we would be friends,” said Adam with a grin as he shook it. “Okay! You want to take a look?”
Syed nodded, sliding the AK-47 aside to clear a space on the desk. Adam hoisted the case onto it and clicked the tumblers on the combination lock before opening the lid. His audience instinctively leaned forward for a better view.
The case was filled with impact-resistant foam rubber. Set into it were three squat olive-green cylinders with conical noses, long metal tubes extending from their bases. Adam carefully lifted one out. “This is a Russian PG-7VX rocket-propelled grenade,” he announced, Toradze’s persona automatically launching into a sales pitch. “A triple-stage HEAT warhead, so new it is still technically experimental. Not even the Russian army has them yet. It works with a standard RPG-7 launcher—which I think you are all familiar with, hey?” he added with another grin. “But it has almost twice the power of a normal anti-tank round. It will blast through nine hundred and sixty millimeters of armor . . . even the reactive kind.”
It took a moment for the Pakistanis to absorb the full significance of that, but when they did, they were duly impressed. “That is right,” he went on. “One of these can penetrate the side of an American Abrams tank! And it doesn’t matter if it is using slat armor to deflect RPGs.” He indicated the rocket’s nose. “There is a small shaped charge designed to shatter slat armor before the rest of the warhead hits it. It will still get through. You don’t need dozens of rounds to take out a target with these. One hit, one kill.”
He paused, the excited expressions telling him that his pitch had been successful. That was good. That was damn good. Just look at them. They’ll pay whatever I want . . .
Sudden disgust filled him. Syed and his group wanted to use the warheads to kill Americans and their allies, to spread their extremism through terror and murder. And he was helping them do it . . .
Calm down. Remember the mission. Play the part. Be the part.
I am Toradze.
If his brief crisis of conscience had shown on his face, none of the others noticed. Syed finally tore his gaze from the rocket. “How many do you have?”
“At the moment, only ten. But I will be able to get another fifty in the next two weeks, and maybe as many as three hundred in the month after that.”
Caution tempered the terrorist’s anticipation. “If they are still experimental, how can you get so many?”
“I said they are technically still experimental. But that only means they have not yet been approved for field use by the Russian army. They are in full production ready for export sales—and I have a pipeline into the factory.”
Syed nodded. “And . . . the price?”
Be bold, be firm. They want them. I can tell.
“Per warhead? Two thousand US dollars.”
The Pakistani visibly flinched. “Two thousand dollars?” he erupted. “But we can buy anti-tank rockets for only two hundred dollars!”
Adam had anticipated the objection. “Rockets that bounce off tanks. Rockets that cannot even break through the slat armor on a Stryker. Malik, my friend . . .” He gave Syed a broad smile. “An Abrams tank costs over six million dollars. You can kill that tank for just two thousand. It is a bargain.” He’s considering it. Keep pushing. “And if you want proof that they really work, then the three warheads here? They are yours, for nothing. My free sample.”
Syed considered the offer. “Will they work?” he said eventually. “Are they as good as you say?”
“I will bet my reputation on it,” Adam said proudly.
The terrorist leader stared at the warhead. He’s hooked. I’ve got him. “Okay. I will accept your . . . gift. If they work, how soon will you be able to deliver—”
The door buzzer sounded.
The other terrorists raised their guns in alarm. Suspicious eyes glared at Adam. But Syed waved a hand for them to remain still. He thumbed the intercom button and spoke in Pashto.
“Muhammad,” came the reply. Syed buzzed him in. His men lowered their guns. The terse response was probably a form of code, Adam decided, remembering that Umar had done the same. Saying anything more than their name would warn those inside that the new arrival was there under duress.
Syed turned back to his visitor. “How soon will you be able to get us more rockets?”
“As I said, I can have fifty in two weeks. I will need a down payment—half the money in advance. Then all I need to know is where and when to deliver them.”
“One hundred thousand American dollars? It is a lot of money.”
Adam shrugged. “It is a lot of firepower. But you can test that for yourself, hey?” He put the rocket back in the case. “If you get three hits, you will get three kills. I guarantee it.”
For the first time, Syed’s expression became something other than grim mistrust, the corners of his mouth crinkling upward with malevolent anticipation. “I look forward to it.”
“I thought you would.” Got him. I’ve got him! Champagne to celebrate, once I’m out of this backward alcohol- free country! The part of him that was Toradze reveled in his success . . . while the rest struggled to conceal his loathing at his actions. Syed’s group now had three devastating anti-tank weapons; while they would never receive any more, no matter how events played out—Toradze’s contact at the weapons factory would soon be arrested—it was still three too many. The men in Washington who had authorized the mission had deemed the risk worth it. Adam didn’t necessarily agree.
But his opinions were irrelevant. He had a job to do. Follow orders. Complete the mission.
Syed picked up one of the rockets, admiring it. “After we test them, what then?”
“I will come back to Pakistan to collect my down payment,” Adam replied. “Then we will arrange delivery.”
Syed nodded, then looked around at a knock on the door. Two quick, a pause, then two slower taps. Guns were raised again. Marwat, nearest the entrance, opened the door slightly to check who was outside, then let him in.
Cold fear surged through Adam’s body as he recognized the newcomer.
The young man’s name was Muhammad Khattak. He had met the arms dealer before. And he would know at a glance that the person standing alone in a room full of terrorists was not the real Giorgi Toradze.