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C H A P T E R  N I N E



 2 MARCH, 1984     23:36


        Davy did nothing to suppress the exasperated huff that escaped his lungs as he waited for the small sea of bumbling shareholders and lawyers to funnel through the set of doors ahead. One of them, seeming to take personal offense to Davy’s wordless expression of annoyance, turned around with a slack jaw as if to deliver some indignant remark in return, but appeared to change his mind when his eyes had to flicker upward a sizable measure to meet Davy’s. He snapped his mouth shut.

        Davy decided he had no desire to be trapped any longer in the stuffy interrogation room and extended an arm forward to part the congregation, pushing his way through. The immediate grumbles and clumsy jostling that ensued faltered just as quickly as they had risen as Davy squeezed his way through to the front of the group, making it through the doorway that opened into the hall. 


        The cool, stale air of the barely-operational air conditioning system had never felt so good.

        The men that filed out of the gauntlet behind him began to round the corner that led back to the main door, talking amongst themselves about what Davy was sure was probably the most eventful night of their time here at Vanguard. First Whitaker, now this.

        To describe everything that had happened tonight as bizarre would be putting it mildly.

        He stood there for a moment as he wiped his hand across his face and inspected the layer of dark grime that came off on the once olive-colored palm of his glove. His vision slowly became unfocused as his thoughts drifted into tangents.


        His blood boiled in his veins. He had never so fervently, so doggedly wished death upon someone as he did for her. 

        The sentiment wasn’t born out of any selfish hate or desire for revenge, of course. Rather, she had simply gone on living far longer than he had anticipated she would, and every day she lived was another that Davy spent fearing that she might unravel everything he had built for himself here.

        He was willing to compromise with whatever higher power kept her alive on the manner in which it would happen. She could have something merciful, something peaceful. In her sleep. Hypoxia. Heart failure. Quietly fading away on a constant stream of fentanyl. The options were endless. So why hadn’t it happened? Her beloved dissertation practically dripped with one million sententious ways to say, “Exposed to caela radiation? You’re fucked.” She had to have been skating by day to day on nothing but a hope and a prayer by this point. 

        No, it was perseverance. She wanted something.

        She knew that with a dash of intrigue and a pinch of embellishment on Davy’s own alibi, she could have Lochte and the CIA wrapped around her finger, drooling over every word, every promise that came out of her mouth. How could she know any better? Davy had seen others with purer intentions exploited and consequently discarded for failing to deliver far less. The CIA was built upon the corpses of those who so naively thought like her. No matter what she hoped to accomplish–though there was nothing pure at all about creating a weapon of mass destruction, if she even could–she had signed away any hope of a peaceful, quiet end the moment she signed that contract.

        Knowing this, Davy didn’t care to accept the olive branch she had seemed to be trying to extend earlier. There was nothing more dangerous than someone with nothing left to lose.

        Davy stripped the dirty gloves from his hands, tucking them into a pocket on his trouser leg. He flexed his fingers. His tendons ached from how tightly his fists had clenched and unclenched–seemingly on their own accord—over the course of the past few hours. 

        He needed a cigarette.

        Davy turned his attention to the door of the storage room ahead. It was ajar now, and his ear was met with the buzz of rising voices from within. He started towards it, pulling his sleeve back to glance at his watch.

        “No–Put that one over here,” a gruff voice snapped from within the room. “It’s a box, you git. We can stack other stuff on top of it–”

        Davy placed his hand on the doorframe and leaned inside. Three soldiers dressed in uniforms identical to his own were scurrying about, pushing stacks of boxes onto the shelves that lined the wall and sorting through piles of papers. The air was thick with the heat of sweaty movement and muttered profanity.

        “Hey–Just leave it for Intel, guys,” Davy said, rapping his knuckle on the doorframe. “They’re just going to want to go through it again anyway.”

        Birdie–the one Davy had overheard on his way over–dropped the box he held from waist height as if he had been eagerly waiting for the order to do just so. The impact of the box’s weight against the linoleum sent the lid skittering halfway under a nearby table. The soldier lazily kicked it all the way underneath.

        “Fine by me,” he grunted. 

        Birdie was a crass, raven-haired man of average stature and was several years older than George. He was a decorated veteran who had been discharged from the British Army some time ago following a particularly messy court martial after the death of a commanding officer. No one dared to ask if he had actually done it.

        Birdie scratched at his stubbly chin for a moment, and then his brow suddenly furrowed as he looked back at Davy. “What, are they done with us, then?”

        “No idea,” Davy said. He stepped into the room with them and surveyed their work. 

        It was a mess. Crumpled and folded papers hung out from under the lids of cardboard file boxes that had been haphazardly stacked like teetering towers. There was no distinguishing which boxes they had brought in from the ones that had already been here because it seemed as though Murphy had tried to implement some sort of new organizational system that involved dumping the contents of each box onto a table for a reason that was beyond Davy’s understanding. She now stood squarely in front of the table with a hand on her hip in a hasty attempt to hide her failed efforts from view.

        Davy pressed his lips together and gave a nod.

        “Looks good,” he lied. “Is there anything else?” He looked to the soldier with a crop of sweat-tousled red hair.

        Becker was the youngest in Davy’s unit, but in the few months that he had been part of it, he had proved his worth ten times over. He was far less boisterous than the others–which Davy greatly appreciated–and was practically a miracle worker with how efficiently he was able to filter through everything that came from the Intelligence division; it was a remarkable talent, especially considering how disjointed all intel had been recently due to Javelin’s growth. It was only thanks to Becker that they had even made it to the village when they did tonight. A simple translation error from a new Intel agent had almost sent them twenty miles north of where they were supposed to be. 

        Becker still held a box and seemed to be in a dilemma about where to put it. 

        “Just another box or two on the bird–I’ll get them in a sec-”

        “That’s fine. I’ll get them,” Davy said, absentmindedly scratching his fingers over the stubble that had already begun to crop up along his jaw. He motioned to Birdie. “Smoke?”

        Birdie scoffed in astonishment but reached into his breast pocket anyway, withdrawing a crushed cigarette carton and offering it to Davy with a shake.


        They would do in a pinch. Davy pulled a cigarette from the carton and placed it between his lips, patting down his endless arrangement of pockets in search of his lighter. 

        “Here,” Murphy said, tossing her Zippo to him. 

        Davy thanked her with a nod as he set about lighting it.

        There was a heavy silence as the three soldiers watched him puff on his cigarette. He knew they were waiting for a cursory rehash of whatever had transpired in the interrogation room that had sent all of the suits buzzing with excitement as they passed the storage room door on their way out. Davy was usually keen to oblige, but for now, he was too deep in a fog, still mentally in the middle of a burning village. None of it made sense yet.

        “Later,” Davy said in answer to their unspoken question. He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll let you know when they want to debrief.”

        The soldiers grumbled amongst themselves but began to shuffle past him one by one through the doorway nonetheless, obviously more motivated to go back to sleep than they were to hear any meager piece of information he had to offer. 

        Davy held out Murphy’s lighter to her as she passed.

        She was a strikingly beautiful woman with glimmering blue pools for irises and sandy blonde hair–true centerfold material–and tall at only half a head shorter than Davy. She had joined Javelin not long after he had. It was a mystery to all how she had found herself in this far-flung corner of the earth, but no one was complaining; her arrival had brought a frenzy that infected all of the male sex. Davy, like many of the others here, had made the mistake of coming onto her once–maybe twice. Sure, there were a few other women on base, and most of the men were smart enough not to get involved with them in ways they shouldn’t… But Murphy? She was the most tantalizing glimpse of American pie to exist outside of the flickering television set in the mess facility, and everyone wanted a piece. She broke every heart that was gallantly offered to her. One particularly stricken soldier even threatened to kill himself if she didn’t run away with him. It was madness

        Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before it was determined that there was simply an implicit law of nature that dictated Murphy could not be bagged. “Murphy’s Law” had been thrown around enough that it started to stick. When her droves of scrappy suitors finally realized the futility of their efforts, equilibrium was restored overnight. She became an irreplaceable asset to Davy’s unit and a stalwart friend… and she was a damn fine shot, too.

        Plus, it had become something of a game to try to push the new recruits onto her. It never got old. Poor Becker had only just recently weathered his turn with heartbreak.

        Murphy took the lighter with a wink and tucked it back into her pocket as she stepped past. In her wake followed a lingering scent of Secret’s Sporty Clean

        Davy leaned back heavily against the edge of the table behind him, tilting his head back to blow a lungful of smoke toward the ceiling. His eyelids drooped as he savored the surge of nicotine that slowly unfurled through his system, wrapping his ragged nerves in its warm, familiar embrace. The smell of scorched mud brick and burning gasoline lingered in his nostrils.

        He hoped he would at least get the weekend off.

        Davy placed the cigarette between his lips and straightened up, turning his attention back to the task at hand. He crossed the room and pushed open the exterior door. 

        Javelin’s new ink-black Sikorsky HH-60 sat on the tarmac, a single flood light beaming down upon it and bathing it in a white glow. The air was completely calm and silent save for the distant crunch of Oxfords on gravel as the suits made their way back to Command, chattering and chuckling over things Davy couldn’t make out. 

        As he neared the helicopter, he could feel the heat still radiating from its hull, making it seem as though it were alive, a massive sleeping panther lying in wait for its next chance to pounce. Davy couldn’t wait to take it out again.

        With another puff on his cigarette, he approached the open sliding door, leaning inside. A single box remained. He reached for it with a grunt, hooking two fingers through the hand hole on the side and pulling it toward himself. He paused for a moment to check the scrawled label on it. He hadn’t packed this one.

        He planted his feet and cast the lid to the side, sighing around his cigarette as he began to thumb through the papers within. Clippings from the Kabul New Times, agricultural magazine pages with carefully torn edges, stained recipes, lists… For a man who supposedly took great pride in his scientific achievements, Nikolaev’s earthly possessions were shockingly devoid of any reference to them. He had methodically rid himself of everything and must have done so long before the Soviets ever set foot in the village. Perhaps even years prior.

        This wasn’t a man living in fear; this was a man who was simply tired of all of it.

        That aside, to bury all accomplishments and accolades, things he must have spent years–decades, from the sound of it–agonizing over… Well, no one did something like that without a good reason.

        Davy’s finger grazed something with a glossy surface. He freed it from the jumble and held it up under the overhead glow of the floodlight. It was a square-shaped instant film photograph, and upon it was the image of a smiling young boy with dark hair. Davy flipped the image over. No markings, no names. 

He set it aside and went back to shuffling through the box, squinting as he periodically looked back over at the face of the child in the photo.

        Surely, this baby-faced boy and the killer covered in blood that he had just dragged off this helicopter weren’t one and the same. And if they were, how could this cherished child of Nikolaev’s bring himself to murder the man who raised him? Davy knew it wasn’t his place to question the process of this investigation and all of this was well out of his–and Javelin’s–hands now, but none of it made sense.

        Davy’s hands found another set of photos, so he pulled them to the surface.

        In the topmost photo, two Pashtun men wore a thick set of what looked like worn work gloves that came up to their elbows. One was smiling and gesticulating playfully at something the other man held, some sort of rock or gemstone.

        Davy examined the photo more closely.

        Suddenly, images of bodies–skeletons–entombed in the same glassy, rippling black mineral began to flash before his eyes. He heard the anguished screams, felt the sickening heat, the gnawing of fear in the pit of his stomach that he had thought he had left behind in that god-forsaken place. He flinched as a crackling tendril of light banished the vision and returned him to the present. 

        Sweat began to bead upon his brow.

        Not fucking possible.

        He hesitantly brought the second photo to the front and rotated it to the correct orientation.

        It was an image of a single crystalline shard of black glass. A geologist’s black and white checkered photo scale placed next to it indicated that it was slightly less than ten centimeters in length. Its dark shade was so sable, so pure, that it seemed to pull the very light from above Davy’s head into its core like a black hole. 

        Two lines of handwritten Cyrillic marked the corner of the photo.

        D̶e̶s̶t̶r̶o̶y̶. Hide it.

        His stomach began to twist itself into a sickening knot.

        “That’s property of the CIA now, George.”

        Davy’s heart leapt into his throat, and he spun to face the source of the interruption, nearly losing his cigarette in the process. The stack of ash that had collected at the end fluttered onto the front of his flak jacket. He quickly brushed it off and tucked the photos into his breast pocket.

        Lochte stood at the edge of the tarmac closest to the door, his hands behind his back. He smiled at the sight of Davy’s graceless reaction.

        “Only joking, of course,” Lochte said, slowly picking his way over to Davy. “We still have…” He gracefully flicked his wrist to glance at the golden Rolex upon it. “About six hours.”

        Davy was too focused on trying to calm his racing heart to offer anything other than a tight-lipped smile. 

        “I just wanted to have a word with you about this situation,” Lochte said, immediately sobering any informality in his tone. “This conversation stays between us–and off the record, of course.”

        “Of course,” Davy repeated automatically. His eyes shifted across the area around them. Not a soul in sight.

        “John, he seems to go by, and nothing more…” Lochte began, trailing off. He looked back up at Davy. “There have been some intriguing developments that I’d like you to be made aware of.”

        It was safe to say that Davy’s interest had already been piqued. He flicked his cigarette to his feet and ground it into the concrete with the toe of his boot.

        “What is it?”

        Lochte’s gaze wandered to the holding building, his brow furrowing. “Gambin did some routine tests–a CBC, the full nine yards. This John… His blood is completely irradiated.” He looked back at Davy. “He is completely irradiated, enough for a mere blood sample to be giving a significant reading.” 

        Davy froze. Like a tape deck, his mind rewound through the events of the last several hours at high speed, checking and cross-checking each point of contact the boy had made since they had grabbed him. 

        “How significant?” Davy said. He stood absolutely still as though he had just walked through wet concrete.

        “Not good,” Lochte said, massaging the bridge of his nose. “You and your unit were the first ones to make contact with him and the closest in proximity. Gambin assured me that if something were to happen, it would start with everyone on that helicopter… And then everyone in that room.”


        “I should tell them–”

        “No,” Lochte said firmly. “I’ve asked Harper for a quiet, soft shutdown of the base. Your unit is being isolated in a briefing room for now–as far as they know, they’re waiting for a debrief. Same with the shareholders and legal. They’re going to have to get comfortable...”

        “Has anyone started to feel unwell?”

        “Not that we’re aware.”

        This was all too much of a coincidence. Davy suddenly remembered the photos.

        “Have you considered the possibility–”

        “–of it being this… fantastical caela radiation, yes,” Lochte said slowly, seeming to read his mind. “Yes, I have considered it… Due to the nature of Nikolaev’s work, especially. And I wonder…”

        “That wouldn’t exactly make it any better,” Davy said, recalling his own brush with death. And he had been lucky. “Look at what it’s done to Whitaker–Have you consulted her?” He couldn't believe the words coming out of his own mouth. Regardless, time was of the essence, and the lives of those whom he was responsible for were on the line. Again.

        Lochte hesitated, sliding his hands into his pockets. “I haven’t made up my mind about Whitaker yet,” he said, his eyes narrowing in thought. “She’s quite confident. Hasn’t felt the real squeeze of the CIA yet. She’s withholding information as if it’s the only form of currency she knows–and maybe it is…” He trailed off again, and Davy began to get the feeling that somehow the prospect of half the base–himself included–being exposed to a hefty dose of radiation was not the issue claiming the brunt of Lochte’s attention.

        Lochte stepped alongside the helicopter and reached out to it distractedly, trailing the tips of his fingers over the smooth matte black paint.

        “I’m about to ask you to do something that violates your contract of employment with Javelin and would put you at risk of treason–should you fail. Stop me if you refuse on the basis of this preface.” His eyes flashed under the floodlight as they met Davy’s. “This is not a trick question.”

        Davy remained silent, his desire to hear Lochte’s proposal far greater than every instinct that screamed for him to walk away. 

        Lochte acknowledged Davy’s nonverbal committal to comply with a slight dip of his chin. 

        “This boy that has fallen into Javelin’s lap,” he continued. “Tell me you can see it, too–Nikolaev’s killer or not, there is far more to him than just his proximity to an old, dead Soviet scientist. The CIA will bleed a few names from him if they’re lucky, then they’ll throw him into a cell at Leavenworth.” He turned to Davy, his hand falling back to his side. “This can’t happen.”

        Davy’s mind scrambled to try to piece together what exactly it was that Lochte was getting at. 

        “You… want me to buy you more time with him…” Davy said haltingly, his brow knitting as he looked to Lochte for some indication of whether or not his statement was out of line. This was dangerous territory.

        “On the contrary.”

        Davy watched as Lochte’s gaze moved to the box, and then to the photo of the young boy next to it. He gingerly picked up the photo, his expression shaded under blond lashes that caught the white light above. 

        “In six hours, an escort team lead by Mr. Horne will deliver the boy into CIA custody. The exchange will happen near the border, twenty-four miles northeast of here.” Lochte flipped the photograph over between his fingers before setting it back in its place.

        “The meeting point was my suggestion to Mr. Horne. Discrete–barren, except for a single ridgeline of rock beyond the border.” Lochte’s voice fell hushed, devoid of emotion beyond a single, flat tone. He paused, letting his words sink in.

        “A single, clean shot. Eleven hundred meters,” Lochte said finally, his eyes flickering up to meet Davy’s. “Can you do it?”

        Davy blinked. 

        “Kill him?” he said dully. He must have misheard.

        “Yes.” There wasn’t a single fleck of ambiguity or hesitancy in Lochte’s answer. 

        “Why would-”

        “George,” Lochte said solidly. “I need you to see this as… an exercise in trust between us both. I need someone who is quick, efficient, and steadfast. I need someone who would–without hesitation–shed every piece of himself, his identity, his allegiance, in the event of capture–if something were to go wrong. I know that man to be you. I would not ask this of anyone else.”

        Davy exhaled forcefully and placed his hands on his hips, turning to face the privacy of the open cabin of the helicopter as he contemplated this potentially life-altering request.

        He had just risked life and limb–and potentially exposed himself and half his unit to radiation–to deliver a captive that he was now being asked to kill.

        At risk of treason.

        He was, however, also well aware of the countless personal and professional sacrifices Lochte had made to advocate for him over the course of the past year. Davy would most certainly not have been given command of his own unit by now if Lochte had not constantly sung his praises to Harper. Lochte was the only one here to know about Davy’s past–all of it–and treated him no differently for it.

        If there was one single soul Davy trusted in this place, it was him.

        “Eleven hundred meters?” Davy said, turning back to face Lochte. He moved his hand along his jaw as he slackened it in thought. “You’ll want me in Afghanistan–so it’ll look like a Soviet sniper.”

        “Precisely.” Lochte looked at his watch. “Finish whatever you’re doing here, then meet with the quartermaster. He’ll see to it that you get what you need. I’ll meet you there in an hour.” He flashed his trademark smile and clapped Davy on the sleeve before starting back towards the door, as if all of this had just been a casual catching-up.

        “Pascal,” Davy called out.


        Davy stepped forward. “You wanted to know if you could trust Whitaker.” 

        Lochte turned back to face him, raising an eyebrow. “I did.”

        Davy held out the two photos he had retrieved from the box, offering them to Lochte. 

        “See what she knows about this.”

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