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Cross

A game in the cold

“What happened? What went wrong – weren't we supposed to be helping the rebels?” Christine sat on the edge of the bed and studied Jason's immobile face. He was sitting – clearly humming with pent up tension – on the edge of a chair.

“That's what was supposed to happen.” He grimaced with distaste.

“Why didn't you know?”

“Know? I've been in the wind for two weeks trying and I'm still not sure of all the details. By the time I knew enough, you were already asking too many questions and it got out of hand.”

“Start at the beginning.”

Jason stared at the ceiling while, absently, his fingers drummed on his pant leg. He took a breath and removed a flask from the inside of his jacket. After a short pull, he passed the flask to Christine and began to speak.

“This goes way higher than just spooks playing at cross and double-cross in the field. In it, there's a deliberate attempt to discredit the Administration and, essentially, bring its end. Who the puppet-master is, I have no idea. Pentagon, CIA, Homeland, or any of the shadow organisations - any of them would have the means and the motive.

“Then again, it also has to do with stability. I mean, we're not in the business of helping people to democracy. We never have been. It's about protecting American interests abroad. After all, it's better to have a Dictator in power who sells you oil, than a new regime – democratic or not – that won't. That's the truth of balance of power.

“It began as 'Operation Red Wave' – a covert project to bring arms to the Libyan rebels. It was a standard setup and we got it going in only a few days. Millions of dollars in funds for the rebuilding of Iraq were laundered through numbered accounts. That's when you picked up on it and you got the first call from me, telling you to back off. I wish you had.”

Christine nodded.

“I don't know what I wish anymore. If I had backed off, I wouldn't have met you or, come to think of it, had you threaten to kill me. It's a bit of a double-edged sword with you, isn't it?”  She smiled, lopsided and ironic.

“That's what happens when you get too close to a spook,” he answered but his expression showed that he clearly did not like the essential truth of it. He continued with his version.

“After the money was untraceable, it was used to buy arms – lots of them, mostly mortars and grenades – from gun-runners in East Africa. My job was to keep the taps open and the money moving around so the arms could be bought. My local contact was a guy, code-named, Viktor. He was stationed in Algeria to secure ground transport and bring the weapons to the rebels in Bengazi.”

“Was Viktor the problem?”

“No. I knew Viktor. I had trusted him before.” Jason took a deep breath.

The run through the night, escaping from Christine's apartment, had left both of them sweating and winded. There had been no other choice when, at any moment, Jason expected agents to arrive. They would not have been there to ask questions, only to tie-up loose ends and, in the morning, two cadavers would have been found – the apparent result of a murder-suicide pact.

Jason had been in the business for too many years not to hedge his bets and, long before, he had secured a hotel room under an assumed name with untraceable, foreign credentials. The problem, with the streets being watched, was getting there. In that way, with Christine's hand held tightly in his, and their hearts in their throats, it had become a sprint through D.C.'s urban, nighttime wasteland where the whispered passing of a black sedan caused Jason to visibly stiffen and his free hand would slide inside his jacket the pistol in the waistband of his trousers.

After forty minutes of flight, the had emerged from the relative security of a dark alleyway and, as skittish as night creatures, made the final dash for the entrance to the hotel.

Jason received the flask from Christine and took another draught. He resumed from where his mind had wandered.

“I had worked with Viktor in Iraq and on some other 'black ops', as well. He was a man of integrity. He was a guy you could sit down and have a beer with.”

“Wait. Are you saying 'was'?”

Jason nodded, sadly.

“Viktor's contact in Bengazi was a man known only as 'al-Arabiyeh' – The Arab. When the arms arrived, al-Arabiyeh duped the rebels into having them deposited in depots at strategic distances from Bengazi – putatively to refuel the rebel advance.

“There's only one problem – he was a double.”

“Oh God, no!” Christine buried her face in trembling, pale hands.

“I found that out from the GPS reports. The depot locations were routinely given to the Ghedafi loyalist army to, instead, refuel their advance on Bengazi. That's not the kicker.”

“How can it get any worse?”

“He sold out Viktor to Ghedafi's army and he was summarily executed in the desert. We'll never find him. There's more.

“al-Arabiyeh has a name: it is Richard Ishmael. He's been in deep cover for over 20 years and he's one of ours.”

“You ... we ... were crossed by someone on the same team?” Christine was close to tears for sorrow and confusion.

“What team, Christine? There's no team. There's no sense – just hedging bets and watching your back.”

Jason ran his fingers through his hair and blinked several times as though waking up.

“So that's where we've ended up. What started out as a sanctioned covert-op has turned out to mean the death of a good man of our own and, in the end, we've been paying to kill the rebels.

“Whoever has been guiding al-Arabiyeh, unfortunately, also knows about us because I became 'hot' as soon as I went to the wind. You and I are now no more than accounts to be closed to protect the integrity of the counter-op; if we're found, we're dead.”

Christine's eyes were wide as the final revelations sank into her consciousness and she took on the look of a deer caught in headlights.

“Then, you mean, there's no hope but to run until they find us and kill us?”

“No. Fortunately, the man known as 'Jason' has learned a trick or two.”

“It's not your real name, is it?”

Jason shook his head.

“It won't matter anymore.”

From an inside pocket of his suit jacket, Jason produced two passports and handed them across the space between them.

“Dutch?”

She flipped open the covers and studied the photos.

“Mr. and Mrs. Van Delft?”

“Yeah,” answered Jason. “It seems that not all the money went to the blundered op - Mr. and Mrs. Van Delft are actually quite wealthy. All we have to do is get to Atlanta and catch a plane to the Bahamas two days from now. None of this will matter anymore.”

“That seems like a strange way to propose, Mr. Van Delft,” said Christine, beginning, despite the stress, to smile.

“I'll do my best to make that up to you, Mrs. Van Delft.”

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