Old Ventures 2, Ch. 25

Note: I know I’m a few weeks behind. I’m hoping to have some announcements soon to tell you what I’ve been doing instead of posting.

Twenty-Five, Bakdida, Iraq, 2015

Ian was up to his ankles in well water, surrounded by the rest of their infiltration team. The small tunnel behind him was just large enough to accommodate Jack and Rose, and tilted at a 30 degree angle towards the surface. He switched off his radio and continued, “We’re not going to be able to use these for contact.” He straightened his bowtie and smoothed his shirt down over his bulletproof vest. “It’s likely they’ve hooked the explosives to a detonator operating on a frequency the radio could trigger. It’s more likely they’d use a cellular phone, but not so likely I’d suggest we chance it.”

“Shouldn’t one of us go with you?” India asked. “For support?”

“I can slide in, remain undetected. It’s what I was trained to do.”

“Jack can be stealthy,” Rose said.

“So can an elephant, in the proper circumstances. But in the event I’m captured, I can pass for a wealthy African Muslim funding the archaeological research here, who had been lucky enough to remain concealed; Jack cannot. In fact, I’d lay even odds even these ISIL Neanderthals will recognize him. And they would relish the opportunity to behead him on camera- likely not wasting time enough for the rest of you to mount a rescue.”

“Excellent,” India said, “then it’s decided. The old white people will wait here, in the well. The rest of us will deal with the explosives.”

“I don’t remember deciding that at all,” Ian said.

“You didn’t. I did.”

“We can stay here,” Jack said, and he and Rose exchanged a mischievous grin as Jalal first turned off his radio, then entered the tunnel.

“No making out, you two. We need you sharp. And keep your ears open for our call.” Ian followed him into the tunnel.

“Yes, mother,” Rose said sarcastically.

India turned off her radio, then followed Ian into the tunnel, crawling on her knees and elbows. It was a tight enough squeeze she knew Jack and Rose would have some trouble getting through. “They’re like a couple of teenagers,” she complained, her gaze drifting to Ian’s taught rear as he shimmied up the shaft.

“So were we, once upon a time,” he said, grinning over his shoulder at her.

“I suppose we were, in my foolish and reckless youth. But that’s precisely my point, I grew out of it. They haven’t, and given how long they’ve been at it, it’s doubtful they ever will.”

“Is that a problem?” Ian asked. “Should maturity mean necessarily losing your youthful entertainments?”

“I think this is verging dangerously close to a discussion not of general elderly randiness, and instead a dissection of our love lives. And it’s neither the time nor the place for that.”

“I can agree,” Ian said. “How much further must we crawl?”

“Why?” Jalal asked from in front of him. “Not enjoying the view?”

“More concerned whether or not our radios will have sufficient range to reach Jack in the well, if we get desperate enough to use them.”

“We checked the GPS,” India interrupted. We were .7 miles on the surface from the site, less than .15 miles down in the well. Using the Pythagorean equation, that’s .49 miles plus . 0225, so .5125, the square root is a little north of .7 miles, .72 or thereabouts, and the radios have a range of a mile or more. Range won’t be our issue. It will be the three quarters of a mile of earth and sand.”

“She’s smarter than you,” Jalal said.

“That was never really in doubt,” Ian said.

“Ian,” India said softly. “Hold back a moment.” He waited, to allow Jalal to move outside of earshot. “How well do you know this translator?”

“Well enough to trust him with our lives, if that’s what you’re querying.”

“Well that’s excellent,” she said, “since that’s exactly what we’re doing.” He started crawling faster, to catch up to Jalal. She kept pace with him, but there was still something nagging at her “Did he contact you?”

“Initially? Unsolicited?” she could hear the mocking in his tone. “No. When you and Jack put out feelers about intervening, I started looking for locals with useful intelligence. Then I vetted him. Thoroughly. If this were a honeypot, it’s one I found in Winnie the Pooh’s closet, hidden enough to believe finding it was organic.”

“And if you’re wrong?”

“Then I know more than enough to repay him in kind afterward.”

“That’s good enough for me.”

Jalal stopped in his climb. “We’re at the entrance,” he whispered. He crawled out first.

“Wait until I give the signal,” Ian said. “If I’m wrong, crawl back to Rose, and leave me.” He shimmied out of the hole.

India twisted to get one of her revolvers out of her holster, and aimed it at the entrance.

Ian leaned back into the hole. “We’re clear,” he said, “but don’t shoot the messenger.”

“Funny,” India said, as she crawled out. Ian offered his arm to help pull her up.

“Where to?” Ian asked.

“I’m thinking,” Jalal said. “I haven’t been here in a couple of decades.” He closed his eyes. “This hallway connects the two main rooms, the larger to the left, accessible from the front. The smaller antechamber in the rear is accessible only from this hall or another opposite this one, both connected to the main chamber. It’s likely that the main chamber would have been where they staged the archaeology, and where they’d be keeping the hostages. The antechamber is where I’d put bombs if I were planting them; give you maximum damage to the hostages, the structure and any significant cultural artifacts.”

“Right,” Ian said. “I’m taking point. India will take the rear. Jalal, let us know if we’re about to do something stupid.”

“I’m not entirely sure not letting me take point isn’t stupid.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t negotiable.” Ian drew a pistol from inside his jacket. He screwed a suppressor into the barrel.

“Won’t that ruin your accuracy?” Jalal asked.

“Not if you know how to compensate for it,” Ian replied. “And it will make my shots harder to immediately recognize as gunfire. It may buy us the precious seconds we need to avert disaster.”

“That’s why you wanted point?”

“Yes.” Ian slid along the wall towards the rear antechamber. When he reached a door opening, he leaned his head in far enough to see. There were several combatants outfitted in random pieces of gear looted from the Iraqi army and improvised from civilian sources. Wires and explosive devices snaked along the wall where Jalal had supposed they would be. Ian hid back behind cover.

“Guards,” he said. “I’m going to need the two of you to create a distraction. But be subtle. It doesn’t do us a damn bit of good if the distraction makes them blow the bombs. Jalal, follow her lead. She’s as used to working alone as you are to following someone else’s orders.” “Will do,” he said.

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