Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.
The problem is, there are familiar faces and the question of who is a friend and who is a foe is made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.
Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in.
At the end of the discussion, which began to get quite heated, I was escorted from the room and taken to another interrogation room.
Fresh from his intimidatory success with Jacobi, Lallo was, no doubt, going to try and press on his advantage with me though I was not quite sure what it was he thought I could help him with, other than to dissuade him from his current plan.
I had to wait an hour in that small, stuffy room considering the possibilities. Surely he wasn’t expecting me to join his band of merry men.
When he finally came, he arrived with a folder and two bottles of cold water, one of which he gave to me before he sat down.
I took a sip of water out of the bottle, after checking the seal hadn’t been broken. I still didn’t trust him, and with good reason considering the trick he’d played on me.
“Now, I’m sure you saw and heard everything that happened with Jacobi.”
“He’s the reason your mission failed. He met the other team on the ground and was supposed to lead them to the building where the targets were hiding. Instead, he told the Government forces, Bahti, the plan for their rescue and their location. It was a double-cross brought on by greed.”
“It always is. But he’s more than likely right about the fate of the two prisoners.”
“Half dead, yes, pressed into working on a prison farm, but neither has been cracked yet. After the last attempt at rescuing them, we cultivated new agents on the ground. Their advice has led to us being able to formulate a new attempt to rescue them.”
Had they asked my opinion long before the first attempt, I would have told them to have more than one source, particularly if they were paying handsomely for information. It was always an opportunity for double-crossing.
There still was, but I don’t think that eventuality was factored into Lallo’s thinking.
“Who’s the fool you have in mind to lead this disaster.”
Good thing I’d braced myself for the bad news, and it came as no surprise. In that hour of considering possibilities, they all seemed to come back to one person. I was the only one left who’d been there, if only for a few hours.
It had also given me time to work on an excuse not to go.
“I don’t think so…”
Lallo put his hand up to stop me. My protestations might have worked on a reasonable man, but Lallo wasn’t reasonable.
“Well, you, too, have a choice. Stay and be court marshalled for your failure to follow orders in the last attempt or redeem yourself and volunteer to lead the next.”
“I did nothing wrong the last time.”
“Not according to the investigation I’ve just completed, the one that I intend to submit to the JAG if you are unwilling to follow orders.”
And there it was. All the time I’d been in Lallo’s hands he had been compiling a feasible case against me, just so that I could be induced to do his bidding. I was stupid not to connect the dots long before this and shut my mouth. Everything I had denied, was the same evidence he could use against me.
n typical military style, someone had to shoulder the blame for the previous mess.
And to be given a choice, one that made me as expendable as Jacobi, was, as far as Lallo was concerned, a masterstroke.
If I went and was killed in action, he would have a scapegoat he needed. If I didn’t go, I would be court marshalled and thrown in a cell for the rest of my life. And if I went, and succeeded, he would become the golden boy in the intelligence services, and the same fate as any other scenario would befall me. It was a lose-lose.
“You’re not throwing out any bones?”
“Don’t have to. But you get to pick the team you want to go with you.” He tossed a file across the table to me, and I opened it. Several pages, with photos attached.
A who’s who of the military types that spent more time in the stockade than on the battlefield. Men who would do anything to stay out, men who had nothing to lose. Men who were expendable.
“You’re kidding?” I looked up at him, but his expression told me he wasn’t.
“Are you sure any of these will obey orders?”
“You have my assurance they will. We’re sending an observer, just to make sure everyone stays on mission. You have three days to pick a team of four men, establish command, and prepare to leave.”
Something else I thought about in that hour, other than it was probably the last time I would have for reflection, was that it would have been better to die in the helicopter crash.
I waited until he left the room before I reopen the file.
© Charles Heath 2019-2023