Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Just 'cause - Chapter 3

"Carter," Rowena replied. "This place is amazing."
"It's the only safe location in the entire country," Krueger said. "I'm a careful man. I trust mercenaries because I understand them - they're all about money -, but once you add ideologies, things get murky. In this world, even ideas can be deadly, Miss Carter."
"But these are more reliable?" she asked, stealing another glance at the rockets.

Krueger smiled.

"The Russians have always had a few...leaks...in their decommisioning process. They've got a next-generation ICBM under development - the Bulava - and it shows a lot of promise, but it also means that these little bad boys slipped through the cracks when they were trying to comply with Start II. R-39 intercontinental ballistic missiles, slightly more than 8000 kilometers range, CEP 500 meters. MIRV-capable. Designed to deliver ten submunitions at 200 kilotons of yield, each. This is what terminal cold war technology is all about. These were stationed on Typhoon-class boomers - you know, Red October? But without the MHD propulsion."

War nerd, Rowena thought.

"I'm sorry, am I boring you?" Krueger asked, noting her distant look.
"Oh, no. I'm just not into the technical aspects of it. I'm more interested in the economics."
"Ah, a McNamara! I'm sure you're aware that even the threat of a nuclear launch can have very severe effects on your enemies, whoever they may be. Of course, you'll need to come up with the nukes yourself, but I'm sure the missiles will be of some worth to you, whether you intend to stockpile or reverse-engineer them."
"So how much are we talking?"
"That's for the bidders to decide, of course, but I like to think that we can sell them for about 40 million dollars each. But auctions have a way of being unpredictable," he said.
"Say, Miss Carter, do you care for small arms?"
"Quite so. What do you have?"
"Only the very best."


Mark had finished getting dressed again when the woman walked out of the bathroom, wearing two towels - one to cover, well, the nasty bits, and another to dry her hair. Seeing her like that made his hormones rise again, but only slightly.

"Money's on the table," he said, buttoning up his uniform shirt.
"You're very generous," she said, counting the bills. "Ready to do anything to satisfy me, hm?"
"Just returning the favor, Ma'am. I didn't catch your name."
"I didn't drop it."

Mark groaned internally, but smiled for her sake.

"Well, duty calls. I might be back later, though," he said, walking towards the door.
"See you around, sailor," she replied. Mark briefly froze in his steps as he considered a possibility, but finally decided to walk out and look for Rowena. That woman didn't leave his mind, though.

Could be he'd just met an angel.


Krueger led Rowena into a large hangar; after her eyes had adjusted to the relative darkness, she could make out several stands, a firing range and a large stage in the back.

"The fair opens tomorrow," Krueger explained. "Most of the vendors are independant, but of course I've got a few of my people here, too. It's a good arrangement - we get a cut, they get a certain amount of flair and security. The auction brings in money, but the real cashflow comes from here. I see you've got a German carbine -" Rowena unloaded it and handed it over for him to inspect it - "ah yes, the 36K. Did you hear about the Mexican copycat, whatsitsname, ah yes! - the FX-05?"
"The guys at the Neckar must be pissed."
"Probably, but I only care whether it works. I'll have to grab one tomorrow - you wouldn't believe how many prototype weapons pass through here..."
"And you shoot them all?"
"Of course. How else can I advise my customers?"

Rowena took the G36K back and reloaded it.

"Sounds like a hell of a job," she concluded.
"Only means to an end. Now, I've wasted enough of your time, and you must be tired from your journey. The hotel is just across the street, the big two-story brick building. How about you get some sleep and we meet again for the 'Welcome' dinner at 8?"

As she walked away, a cell phone went off; she heard Krueger answer the call with a hushed voice.

"Hm. Unfortunate. Check the missiles again...Yes, I'll take care of it. Make sure the techs keep their mouths shut. If they've got a problem with it, kindly educate them about our NDAs."

He rushed past here, beating her to the exit; Rowena wondered briefly what the big deal was, then headed for the hotel. Krueger was right - she could use some sleep.


Mark spotted Rowena walking down the road ahead and almost called out to her, then saw the man she'd been with walk out of the hangar and got a good look at him.

Oh shit, Mark thought. The Doctor is in.

He dodged to the side, hoping to evade Krueger's notice, but the gunrunner had already locked onto him and was closing the distance. Mark flexed his fingers, preparing to shoot his way out of the camp, but then saw several armed men form up behind Krueger - his bodyguard detail. This complicated things; it meant Krueger had plans for him, and it wasn't a good idea to fight him on that.

"Aaron!" Krueger said with a smile, and shook hands with Mark. "I have your order ready in my office. Shall we look at it now?"
"Hey, Pete. I'm a bit busy right now..."
"Trust me, Aaron," he said, tightening the grip of his hand. "You want to see this, now."

Mark went along with it.

Krueger walked Mark towards the airfield and finally up the belly of the Antonov; the cargo bay held a multitude of crates and containers for unloading, but there was a refitted container waiting in the very back of it, with a seperate team of guards. Krueger dismissed his personal retainers, then opened the door and beckoned for Mark to go inside. Mark was now in a sort of airlock, a small seperate room divided from the main room of the container by thick steel. He noted that there were only two ways out of this room - the door towards the main section, securely locked before him, and the container's outer door, where Krueger and his boys were waiting. The only other features in the room were a lockbox to the right of Mark, as well as a small touchscreen interface prominently displaying "LOCKED".

"The lockbox is for your weapons," Krueger said. Mark knew better than to bullshit him on this one, so he disarmed himself completely and left his guns in the box. Krueger grabbed a small cellphone-esque remote from his suit jacket and pressed a button; a light lit up over the airlock door, pronouncing Mark to be free of weapons, explosives and other bad things. With a smile, Krueger stepped into the airlock, unlocked the internal door and led Mark inside. It was a small workspace with bed, computer desk and a kitchen corner, sparsely decorated with a curious focus on keeping things nailed down - truly, a mobile office. Krueger closed the internal door behind him, then touched another touchscreen panel, which showed a series of green lamps.

"We're secure," Krueger said. "What the fuck are you doing here, Simmons?"
"Nice to see you, too, Peter."
"The least you could do is phone ahead." Krueger rubbed his temples. "Okay, who are you after this time?"
"Those missiles, obviously."
"That would be me, then," Krueger said, and froze in position, watching Mark like a hawk, but the Enforcer just shrugged.
"The way I see it, taking out the missiles can wait until after you've sold them."
"I'm sure it can, but you don't know where they'll go. Nobody knows that before the auction is finished."

Mark smiled.

"We found the tracers, by the way," Krueger said, and Mark stopped smiling. "You always were a bit too careless, Simmons. Look, I don't care that you snuck in, I knew that already. But going after my sales is a big no-no. The good news is, I run this place, so I won't expose you. The bad news is, I have an investment to protect, both in monetary value and in reputation. Even if I selflessly decide that a potential hit to my rep is a good price to pay for playing the good guy, I'm a businessman first - and it'd take a hundred years of selling you guns to make up for what I'm about to earn in a few days."

He looked at Mark again.

"Well, maybe 50 years."
"Seriously, Peter, I know. This is a shitty situation all over, but trust me on this one. You can sell the missiles, I'll follow them and wipe the buyers from the face of the earth. Dead men don't demand refunds."
"Still, I'll lose trust with my clients. That equates to less sales. Even if I get the jackpot here, it won't be worth it if my revenue stream dries up."
"How much volume do you move?"
"Since when do you talk economics?"
"Peter, listen to me. How much volume do you move?"
"About two million Euros, on a good month."
"I can give you that."

Krueger raised his voice to protest, but Mark cut him off.

"You know me, Peter. I'm a rogue, but I don't talk bullshit. When I tell you that I can make up for any sales you might be losing, I'm not fucking with you. So what do you say?"
"I don't know." Krueger rubbed his temples. "Who's the girl?"
"My partner." After a second, he corrected himself. "Business partner."
"There's photos of you out there. Made my skin crawl when I saw them. Since when do you travel to Australia and Japan? What's your game?"
"I can't tell you that."
"I don't like this, Simmons. Changes make me nervous."
"Maybe you just didn't see the big picture before."

With another few taps at the touchscreen, Krueger unlocked the doors.

"2 million Euros. That's 500 of my best guns, every month. Are you raising an army?"
"You'll see."

Mark walked off the plane's rear hatch a minute later, and he briefly stared at the sun high up in the sky. Everything was turning out to be more complicated than he'd thought.

But he wouldn't let that ruin his vacation.

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