Old Ventures 2, Ch. 18

Eighteen, Baghdad

“Would you tell Beethoven to compose faster?” Ian asked from the other side of the cracked bathroom door. 

“He wouldn’t hear you if you did,” Jalal said. “Though I imagine if his family were the ones under threat, he would be moving as swiftly as humanly possible.”

Ian emerged, buttoning a freshly pressed shirt under a clean jacket.

“You changed?” Jack asked. “Where were you hiding that?”

“It’s my apartment,” Ian said.

“Exactly how many apartments do you keep?”

“You don’t really want to know the answer to that.”

“How do you afford the rent?”

“I have… arrangements.”

“You’re sleeping with all your landlady’s? Though that may raise more questions, like how you have the time for all of that.”

“Some, on occasion, though that’s none of your concern. No, they rent the rooms out as hostels when I’m not using them; it was Air BnB before it existed. And we had moment. It’s a lot of data to comb through. Hugh gave me access to some of his server farms to help crunch it faster, but it’s still… there. We have it. Done.”

A heat map of the city and the surrounding ten kilometers began to form across Ian’s screen. “Ten men visited the apartment while you were captive. Um, twelve, actually, if you count these two food delivery men. I colored them in yellow, so we could visually distinguish them, and from their patterns, I feel it safe to say that they weren’t co-conspirators. The five where you were held congregated there, only leaving temporarily for food, or in Umar’s case, what would appear to be a twice weekly booty call. After capturing you, about half of your guards went to a separate location, one frequented by these other five gentlemen, who at one point or another visited you. Comparing all of their movements, you get a third location, in the north of the city, here. All the red indicates hours of time spent in that location, the darkness of the red indicating it wasn’t simply one man but multiple men at any given moment. We’re all but guaranteed to find someone there, and if it isn’t your family they’re holding, they may well know where they are.”

“Good,” Jalal said, and tucked a gun into the back of his pants, “let’s go.”

“There’s no us, here,” Ian said, “implied or otherwise. He stays put.”

“How would you feel?” Jack asked. “If it were Angela? Or India?”

“I’d expect either woman to have broken free before we made it across town.”

“But there’s no way you’d sit it out.”

“No,” Ian said. “Fine. I do owe you one. But I’ll tell you what I’ve always told Jack in similar situations: the mission is paramount. If a moment arrives, where I can only save you or your family, I will save them, and leave you to swing. Understand?”

“I’d be upset if you did otherwise. They are in peril because of me.”

“Even still, you follow Jack’s lead. He’s survived more of these than the SWAT teams of some mid-sized states. Failing that, you follow mine.”

Jalal drove, because he knew the city better. Ian was following along with the map as he remembered it, only to become concerned. “You missed the turn,” he said.

“Yes,” Jalal said, “because I know the insurgents who took me. Who they know, who they share secrets with. If we approached straight, we would have been seen, and if seen, they would know to expect us, maybe even to kill my family.”

“Okay,” Ian said, and sat back in his seat. He thumbed the safety off the pistol in his jacket, just in case.

“Anything you can tell us about them?” Jack asked from the front passenger’s seat.

“Insurgents, definitely, men used to the heft and use of weapons. But not formal military, especially no special forces or specialty training; they made lots of little tactical errors.”

“Such as?”

“The ropes. I wriggled out of them the first night, but I didn’t leave, because they had my family, and I needed to find them, first. They left me conscious to take me to the hideout; even if you hadn’t rescued me, I could have followed their path to their safehouse- a direct path.”

“Okay,” Jack said. “I’m convinced.”

“Not well armed. Largest ordinance I ever saw was Kalishnikovs.”

“Which likely means independent operators,” Ian offered, “either local thugs or spin-offs from one of the true believer sects who saw an opportunity to poach money from America. And I’d given even odds they planned to keep the money for themselves, not the cause.”

“Agreed,” Jalal said. “These were not what you would call observant men, religiously or otherwise.”

“Crap,” Jack said, glancing down at Ian’s tablet.

“Crap?” Jalal asked.

“That’s our destination.” It was a large manufacturing complex, constructed mostly of brick, no windows until you got thirty feet into the air. “No easy ingress, no opportunity for sniper cover.”

“It’s the kind of building I’d hold up in,” Ian said. “Which is bad for us, doubly so. Because it means they aren’t all the intellectually lazy criminals we’ve encountered thusfar. There’s a mastermind, someone not entirely stupid.”

“I think I see an opening,” Jack said, and opened his phone. “See that sign?” he asked.

“The building is for sale,” Jalal said, but it was almost a question.

“And no one would stage a hostage situation in a building they’re trying to sell,” Ian said, smiling.

“Hugh?” Jack asked, putting the phone on speaker.


“I need you to buy a building for me. And then I need you to demolish a wall for me.”

“Can you give me five minutes? One of those rockets they fired at you did a number on me.”    

“They fired rockets at us?” Jalal asked.

“What kind?” Ian asked.

“There were a dozen. I didn’t have time to get make and model off them,” Hugh sanpped.

“I mean, what quality. Old Soviet surplus as likely to cook off as to fire? Newer, but still black market arms?”

“The one that had my number was modern, high-tech. Probably American, but maybe a high-quality knock-off.”

“That solves that mystery,” Ian said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “The henchmen aren’t military, but our mastermind is, or at least has some pull with the Iraqi military. This could get complicated.”

“You still going to need me on site?” Hugh asked. “More now, than ever.”

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