Deckard walked under a sign that stretched across the road on two posts at either end of the street. It announced that he was entering China Town. China Town in Port Louis. He walked his surveillance detection route through the city, visiting a number of shops along the way. They had only finished breaking down the staging area in Australia and landed back in Mauritius a few hours prior. By the time he got to the third shop, he realized he had picked up a tail.
Stopping at a fruit stand, Deckard picked a kiwi out of a basket and tossed it into the air several times. The person tailing him stopped alongside and picked up a mango.
“How long have you been in country?” Deckard asked.
“Long enough, brother,” Aghassi responded. “Long enough.”
They walked into a nearby Chinese restaurant and immediately sat down at the table they wanted without waiting for a server to seat them.
“You look beat, dude.”
“I’m hanging in there.”
“This is starting to come together. You won’t have to do this much longer. I’ve done the forward reconnaissance of the address you gave me and scoped out all those bungalows. We can get a platoon from Samruk in here within a week and clean this nest of vipers out. Pat is already talking to people in Madagascar about it.”
“No,” Deckard said. “Not happening. It’s not enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“We need to effect an enterprise takedown.”
Aghassi nodded. They had recently conducted one in Mexico. One particularly nasty cartel was giving them a hard time in the Mexican province of Oaxaca. However, once they got their hands on a source, the cartel’s money man, they had racked and stacked the entire organization in a night. Jimenez, the cartel boss, still held out in his fortress and had to be dealt with, but the cartel itself was functionally dead after that one night of non-stop raids by Samruk International mercenaries.
“We’ve been here before. After we took down Jimenez, we followed the flow of guns upstream. The problem is that we thought we were dealing with one rogue operation. We didn’t realize that the weapons trafficking into Mexico was but one of many programs run by G3 Communications. We shut down the weapons pipeline and killed their MEK terrorist proxies in Nevada, but at that time we didn’t know about the other arm of that enterprise.”
“Right. I’ve confirmed that they are no longer working for G3, their CEO cut sling load on Liquid Sky after we hit Area 14 in Nevada in order to distance himself. Now they are working contracts that are coming out of the Gulf States, with a retired American General acting as a cut out, proxy, and pay agent.”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know yet. I was only taken off probationary status after this last mission. Maybe now I can dig a little deeper, but if we bring Samruk in now and clean out Liquid Sky, we will never find out who the puppet masters are.”
“Once we know that, then we take down the entire enterprise,” Aghassi finished for him.
“With pleasure,” Deckard told him. “I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be. Speaking of which, what did you find out about these dirtbags?”
“Shit,” Aghassi said. “How much time have you got?”
“Start at the beginning.”
“Pat and I have been making phone calls. Cody has been digging through the net as well. We found the phone number in your kit and have called Dusty and Flakjacket but haven’t heard back from them yet.”
“Probably still deployed off the coast of Somalia.”
“Here is what we do know. In 2007, the U.S. Navy commissioned a study on retention rates within Naval Special Warfare Development Group AKA SEAL Team Six. Guys were popping smoke left and right, not re-upping even if they were only a few years away from retirement. The study concluded that it was because of a ramping up of private-sector contracts.”
“They were getting out to do private security contracting. That was happening long before 2007, though.”
“Yeah, but this is what the report didn’t uncover: A former SEAL Officer who was running a private military company at that time was offering big money to SEAL Team Six operators who came to work for him. He was pitching individual operators in person at one point. He would pay them three times their normal salary, plus the equivalent of their military benefits and pension after they got to a combined twenty years between the military and contracting.”
“No wonder why they were leaving for greener pastures.”
“You said in your text that the leader of Liquid Sky is named Bill?”
Aghassi took out his smartphone and brought up a picture to show to Deckard.
It was Bill’s Department of the Navy photo from the military.
“He was one of the first to take that offer and jump to the commercial side. Bill Geddes. A rock star operator in Dev Group. Got into some real nasty shit in Afghanistan when another recce team had their OP overrun. Both elements were denied air support and their Quick Reaction Force because of some political bullshit going on at the time.”
“They got hung out to dry.”
“Oh yeah. Bill got out as a Master Chief with 18 years of service in the SEALs, nine of it with Dev. After that, he went to work with that one former SEAL but they had some falling out over a botched operation in Liberia. He jumped between contracts but it gets difficult to track him as these programs are hidden behind both corporate proprietary as well as levels of classification. Who knows what the fuck he was doing.”
“He mentioned that Liquid Sky was not his first team, that he burned through his other guys.”
“That seems to fit his personality.”
The former ISA operator brought up another picture on his phone.
Deckard looked at it for a second. He was a little younger in the picture but still a good-looking blonde kid who could have jumped off the cover of a surfing magazine.
“Zach Larson. I talked to a teammate of his. He wasn’t a SEAL, actually, but a Navy EOD guy,” Aghassi said referring to Explosives Ordinance Disposal. “They are allowed to apply so he got picked up, went through Green Platoon and spent ten years in Dev.”
“He take the same offer as Bill?”
“Nope, they kicked him out. Remember when all those Dev Group guys got the boot because they were consulting with a video game company while still active duty?”
“I’ve been a little out of the loop.”
“Well, it was a breach of military ethics at the minimum, if not completely illegal. They were giving this video game company sensitive Dev Group tactics to use in their game, putting on capability demonstrations for them, all kinds of shit. Zach was one of those guys, but also took it a step farther and was doing public speaking engagements. He did one in Las Vegas just a few months after getting back from the Bin Laden raid, the speech itself being about the raid. It was for the Forbes 100 set and was supposed to be about leadership, but he divulged all kinds of classified information. That was the final straw, so they kicked him out of Dev. He could have gone to the regular SEAL teams, but with your reputation ruined like that, not too many guys want to face being ostracized by their team mates. He separated from the Navy and went to work with Bill.”
Aghassi brought up another picture and showed it to him.
“Rick Teague. A half dozen DUI’s. Got pulled over with automatic weapons out of the armory and C4 explosives in one case. Naval Special Warfare swept it all under the rug. I talked to one of his teammates as well. Rick went through a messy divorce. For years he was on the outs with her. He kept volunteering for deployments because he thought it would save his marriage by giving him and his wife some time apart.”
“He never struck me as the type. He is the most narcissistic of the bunch.”
“Not always. He tried hard to save his marriage, but of course he was trapped in a vicious cycle. Deploying in a misguided attempt to save his marriage, going back to the ‘stan over and over again. Loaded up with PTSD, the only one of them in this Liquid Sky group who actually sought help at one point, there was no hope for him. His wife took their kids and bailed. He left the Navy with fifteen years in and found work with GRS.”
GRS or Global Response Staff, was the CIA’s para-military force that acted as a security detachment for their case officers and targeting officers. They also did static security and occasionally worked operations.
“That gig ended for him when he was speeding around Kurdistan in an up-armored SUV and ran over a kid. No one knows for sure if he was drunk or not. GRS tried to cover it up, but the case officer dropped dime and got him booted. Bill must have picked him up sometime after that.”
“God damn,” Deckard said shaking his head. “These guys were a train wreck before they even left the military.”
“Big time. That guy Nikita whacked in Pakistan-”
“I’m wearing his clothes right now.”
“Well, that’s special.”
“Isn’t it.” It was a statement rather than a question.
“Henderson was on meth, coke, and hard liquor pretty much every day from what I understand. Suspected of stealing weapons from the unit a few times, but that got covered up as well.”
“Of course. He had a girl?”
“Back at Virginia Beach. She doesn’t know where the fuck he is.”
“And she never will.”
They had dumped the body into the Indian Ocean.
“Next up,” Aghassi said, changing the subject back to the living. “Paul.”
Aghassi showed him the picture he had.
“That’s him, but without the Taliban beard he has now.”
“Guess he really liked Leonidas in 300, huh?”
Deckard rubbed his forehead urging Aghassi to continue.
“Okay, so his name is Paul Paul.”
“Who the fuck were his parents?”
“Mormon missionaries, actually. He was holy roller back in the day. That’s actually how he got his job in Dev. The commanding officer of one of the squadrons in Dev was also a holy roller, into all that crusader shit. He hand picked Paul from Green Platoon because they were both taking Jesus pills.”
“Don’t know when he fell off the wagon. It sounds like greed got the best of him, though. He ordered a lot of individual components for night vision goggles while he was overseas and then legally brought them back to Dam Neck with him. Once back in America, he had all the parts, but they were not on the property books because they were not assembled and had no serial numbers. He put them together and was selling them for 500 bucks a pop. He was also suspected of shipping captured Taliban weapons home in ISU-90 shipping containers. The real kicker is the gold.”
“They told me a little about that.”
“Yeah, they had it down to a science, apparently, from raiding so many compounds. Put a gun to the wife’s head and make her open the safe. They would get the shit back to Kabul on their own private airline. From there they would convert the gold into U.S. dollars and deposit the money into overseas bank accounts. The bank accounts then fed into mutual funds managed by brokerage firms on Wall Street. Firms where former SEALs are employed. They have a cute cover story within Dev that the money was a black ops slush fund, but that’s bullshit. It is war loot, plain and simple.
“But some red flags started going up when these guys came home from overseas and started buying brand new Land Cruisers and in-ground swimming pools in the backyard for their kids. They asked him to leave before someone initiated an investigation.”
“What the hell was going on in that unit?”
“Here is the thing, Deck, all these guys served in the same squadron in SEAL Team Six. That is how they all know each other and why Bill brought all of them on board. It is the other members where things start to get really interesting.”
“Yeah, I was wondering how Bill got a girl on the team.”
Aghassi pulled up the picture.
“Hotter than a pistol.”
“I don’t have to be told.”
“Nadeesha Senevirathne,” Aghassi said pronouncing the last name syllable by syllable. “She came into the Army with very high test scores and got brought into Counter Intelligence. She worked in a couple different top secret programs in Iraq, most of them I’m familiar with because I had to liaison with these guys when I was with ISA. She did real work. Ten deployments to Iraq and Kurdistan, two to Colombia, one to Bangkok, one to Egypt. She was assigned to a special cell of female intelligence operatives within JSOC who would be drawn from as needed. Sometimes that cell of women is known by a nickname: The Harem.”
“She’s pretty young to have that many deployments. She must have been drawn out every day.”
“Thirty one years old actually, and you’re right. They run roughshod over these women because there are so few of them. When I called my buddies back at Ft. Meade they told me that she was for real, pulled her weight operationally, did her job. I don’t know why, but she separated from the Army on her own. Probably, it was just burn-out from being deployed so often without time to decompress.”
“Happens more often than anyone wants to admit.”
“The connection to Bill comes from a counter-terrorism operation that SEAL Team Six ran in Colombia. Bill was the team leader and Nadeesha was attached to them to run intel. That must be where they first met.”
“What happened to her?”
“Don’t know, but her test scores are off the chart. It freaked the people out at the JFK Special Warfare Center. She almost maxed out their IQ test. Speaks like a half dozen languages.”
“And she is of the right ethnicity. She can blend in with dozens of cultures. No wonder why JSOC jumped all over her.”
“It is this last guy that really bothers me.”
“Yeah, Ramon Pascua.”
“He is the most solid of any of them. They sent him forward to prepare the battle space. He’s a former 1st Special Forces Group guy from what he told me.”
“That’s true. After growing up in the Philippines, he came to the United States with his father. He was a Warrant Officer in 1st Special Forces Group and deployed with the CIF Team to Baghdad. He was a good operator by all accounts. Aside from running direct action missions with the CIF, he did low-vis work all over Southeast Asia.”
“So what is the concern?”
“That he appears squeaky clean. A guy like that would never work with a team like Liquid Sky. Are they blackmailing him or something?”
“It is bizarre because the only other thing I can think of is that whatever he fucked up, wherever he stepped out of line, it had to be so bad and so sick that the entire chain of command buried it and simply asked him to leave for the sake of all their careers. I can’t find shit for dirt on this dude, but he is black-balled in the contracting world. No one will touch him.”
“I will probe the wire a little more. I have good rapport with him.”
“Do that, because this creeps me out. Nadeesha should be working for DARPA or JPL, but I get why she is here after being abused by her command for so long. Ramon doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
“I’ll get another burner phone and text you whatever I find out. Keep Samruk on standby. If you can pre-stage in Madagascar that is great, but no further than that. Not yet.”
“I’ll let Pat know. But there is one other member of Liquid Sky we haven’t covered yet.”
Aghassi looked across the table at him as their Chinese food arrived.
“So what’s your deal?”