At precisely 1955 hours, Flynn tapped on Russell’s door.
“Sir, General McCaskill’s vehicle just drove up.”
Russell and Flynn met the general at the door and escorted him into Vic’s office. The burly man with iron-gray hair sat in one of the visitor’s chairs and looked around the wall at the Major’s plaques. Flynn closed the door and stayed in the outer office. The general shifted his heavy shoulders, getting comfortable.
“Well, Vic, this isn’t a bad office for a war zone,” McCaskill said.
“Not at all, sir,”
“But, you’d like to be closer to the combat troops, wouldn’t you? I hear it in your voice. At heart, you aren’t a garrison trooper. Ah well, I know the feeling.”
“Coffee, sir?” Russell said.
“Nothing stronger available?”
“If you’d like, I’ll bet Sergeant Major Flynn can find something.”
“Do that. I’d like to get to know him. I’ve heard his name, but we’ve never served together.
Russell buzzed the intercom and asked Flynn to bring in a bottle of Jack Daniels, with glasses and ice.
For the next twenty minutes McCaskill, Russell and Flynn sipped Tennessee whiskey and swapped names and war stories. The General and Sergeant Major knew many soldiers, good and bad, in common. Russell knew a few of them.
“Well, Vic, I don’t have time enough to visit as I’d like. Sergeant Major, it’s been a true pleasure meeting you. Keep Major Russell out of trouble—as much as possible.”
McCaskill stood and shook hands with Flynn. “Vic, walk to the car with me,” he said.
When McCaskill and Russell got to the sedan, the driver opened the rear door. The General got in the car, and addressed the man who’d held the door and his aide.
“You two go inside and have a cup of coffee. Leave the engine running. Major Russell and I have some old times to chat about. Get in Vic.”
Russell sat behind the driver’s seat. Once the doors were shut, McCaskill opened a briefcase that had been lying on the seat, flipped the switch on a small plastic box and leaned back.
“Vic, I’m sure you’re wondering what in hell we’ve been doing, sitting around drinking whiskey and bullshitting. All that was for show and for the ever-present ears that may have been listening in your office.”
He paused, gathering the specific words and phrases he wanted.
“What I’m going to tell you is classified beyond Top Secret. It’s like the stuff we used to handle when we were in Delta. The Agency spook, who didn’t like you calling him Bruce, would drizzle in his drawers if he knew we were talking. The little gadget in the briefcase makes certain that neither the bad guys nor he can overhear.”
Russell didn’t reply, but tensed in anticipation. He’d been away from combat units and covert operations too long. McCaskill had paused, obviously thinking of how much he’d say.
“Vic, after we left the CID headquarters, I called back on a secure radio. The commander told me why you’d been there. That’s one of the reasons I came here tonight. Muhammad Dostrem, the Village Elder is a black market operator, a big one. His son was also a thief, but didn’t approach the old man in scope. Their enabler is a U.S. Army officer you know, a Lieutenant Nichols.”
Russell swallowed hard, clenched his teeth and momentarily closed his eyes.
“General, you’ve confirmed what I’ve suspected. Where do I go with this?”
McCaskill’s voice, when he answered, was at the same level and in the same tone Russell remembered hearing when the General ordered a sniper to stroke the trigger as the shooter was zeroed on a target.
“You take it nowhere, Vic. The CID will nail Nichols. He’s been taking bribes in gold bullion. They’re going to wait a few weeks until he goes back to the States and tries to clear customs. They’ll have him on another couple of counts. He’ll do a long stretch in Leavenworth. I have other plans for you.”
Russell was silent.
“I’m going to ask you to take Muhammad Dostrem down. I suspect that you arranged the sanction on Babue.”
Russell’s mouth started to open, but before he could speak, McCaskill held up a silencing hand.
“Vic, don’t say anything. Some things I don’t need or want to hear. Just listen. You have to remove the Village Elder, along with his helpers if possible. Muhammad Dostrem has been smuggling supplies and armaments to the Taliban. He’s got a supply line coming out of Pakistan and he steals from us. The black market is profitable, but ultimately a cover.”
McCaskill paused. Even in the semi-darkness, his ice-blue eyes held Russell’s.
“Dostrem has found a way to get a nuclear device. He’s selling it to the Taliban
piece by piece. We don’t know how much more will be necessary before the bad guys can assemble a working bomb.”