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Private Wars


Uzbekistan--Tashkent--14 Uzbekiston

Malikov Family Residence

9 February, 0929 Hours (GMT+5:00)

They gave it an hour after the husband left, just to be certain he
hadn't forgotten anything, that he wouldn't be coming back, before
they knocked on the door. Four of them went to do it, while another
two waited in the second car, the engine idling.

The two who waited were jealous of the four who went. They thought
they were missing the fun.

All were men, and all wore business suits of the latest style,
acquired for them in Moscow and Paris and Switzerland, then altered
by tailors here in Tashkent, men who were paid pennies to adjust
clothing worth thousands. All six finished their look with neckties
of silk and shoes of Italian leather and cashmere-lined kidskin
gloves. A few wore overcoats as stylish as the suits they covered,
to ward off the howling chill that blew down out of the mountains
in Kazakhstan to the north.

The only thing that marred the line of their clothing, each in
turn, was the slight bump at hip or beneath an armpit, where they
carried their guns.

Back before Uzbekistan had declared its independence from the
creaking and cracking Soviet Union, before the failed hard-liner
coup in August of 1991, when they were still called the KGB, none
of them would have dreamed of wearing--let alone owning--such
finery. Signs of Western excess, such garments would have flown in
the face of Communism. Certainly they would have made a mockery of
the subtleties required for their work.

But those days were long past, and fewer and fewer of them
remembered a time when orders came from Dzerzhinsky Square. They
weren't KGB, and they weren't Communists. They called themselves
the National Security Service now, the NSS, and if they believed in
anything anymore, it was in power and money, in that order. They
were the secret police, and they didn't care who knew it. They were
beholden to--depending upon whom you spoke to--one of two people.
Either they marched to the tune played by their nation's leader,
President Mihail Izmaylovich Malikov, the man who had led the
country since he declared its independence in August 1991, or they
danced to the music played by his elder child, his daughter, Sevara
Malikov-Ganiev. That's where the true power was. While President
Malikov's other child--his only son--Ruslan, had influence and
friends of his own, they paled in comparison to that held by both
his father and his sister.

This was why the four NSS men who entered Ruslan Mihailovich
Malikov's house at half past nine on a frigid February morning had
no hesitation whatsoever in arresting his wife, Dina, for espionage
and treason. This is why they did not hesitate to beat her in front
of her two-year-old son when she tried to keep their hands from her
body. This is why they did not hesitate when they had to drag her,
flailing and screaming, down the stairs and out onto the

And this was why they did not hesitate at all when it came time to
torture her.

They hooded her once they had her in the car, and they bound her
hands, and when she made a noise, they struck her, telling her to
be quiet. Best as Dina Malikov could tell, they didn't drive for
long or very far, and when the car stopped, she was dragged from
the vehicle, and felt the instant bite of winter on her skin. They
propelled her down echoing corridors, yanking and shoving her,
sometimes pulling her hair, sometimes her shirt. There was the cold
sound of heavy metal sliding on concrete, and someone shoved her so
hard then that she couldn't keep her feet, falling to the floor.
Red light exploded across her vision as she was hit in the head
again, and when she could see once more, the hood had been

She'd seen this room before, but never in person. It was larger
than she'd thought it, lit by a string of naked bulbs that dangled
from the ceiling, shining too bright, banishing all shadows and all
illusions of the safety to be found in them. The floor was cold,
poured concrete, the walls of gray cinder block. The odors of urine
and mildew and cigarette smoke combined, still not strong enough to
obscure the scent of feces.

There was a table, wooden and stained, and three chairs, also
wooden. A video camera stood on a tripod in one corner, and beside
it, on the floor, a red metal toolbox. Other tools lay nearby,
devices designed for one purpose that could be redirected to
another, far crueler. Against the opposite wall, a claw-footed old
bathtub sat, anchored by two pipes, one to fill it, one to drain

Three men stood staring at her. Two of them she didn't know, didn't
recognize, but the third she did, and that terrified her more than
any of what had come before, because it drove home to her exactly
how bad things were going to get. As they had taken her from her
home, as they had dragged her and beat her, she had allowed herself
the illusion of hope, that Ruslan would return, that her marriage
would offer her some protection, that she might survive. But
looking at Ahtam Zahidov as he removed his suit jacket and
carefully draped it over the back of one of the chairs, for the
first time, Dina Malikov thought she was going to die.

"Dina," Zahidov said, and he gestured to her with his left hand,
absently, and the two other men took this cue to move forward, and
they began to strip her. She struggled, alternately cursing and
pleading with them, with Zahidov, and Zahidov merely watched, and
the other two hit her in the back and the belly until she had no
air, until she couldn't struggle any longer. The two men tore the
clothes away from her, mocking her, mocking her husband, and when
she was finally naked they forced her to the table. Again, she
tried to fight them, and again they beat her until she could not,
and they laid her across the tabletop, and they held her

Ahtam Semyonovich Zahidov moved behind her, and put one hand on the
back of her neck, and with his other forced himself inside

"Where did you get the tape?" Zahidov asked. "Who gave it to

She tried not to sob, shaking on the floor, tears and blood
mingling on her face.

"Who gave it to you?" Zahidov asked.

She drew a long inhale, feeling the air burn her torn lips. "My

"Is in Khanabad for the day, making nice with the Americans at
their air base, and will not be home until evening." Zahidov canted
his head to one side, as if seeing her for the first time. "Tell us
what we want to know, and you will be home before he returns. Back
with your boy. He needn't ever know what happened here."

She spat at him.

"We can blame the extremists, Dina," Zahidov said, his voice
soothing with reason. "He doesn't ever have to know."

The sob escaped her without her meaning it to, the shame scorching
through her, hurting more than her body itself. Ruslan would
believe it, if she told him, if she blamed the Islamic extremists,
if she blamed Hizb-ut-Tahir, he would believe it. She could be
home, she could hold Styopa again, hold her baby again, and Ruslan
would come home. So easily he would believe it, he would want to
believe that she had been taken, had been kidnapped, that it was
the Islamic extremists who had wanted her as a hostage, but she had
escaped, somehow, some way, and she could tell him, and he wouldn't
know, he wouldn't ever have to know what had happened, what had
really happened, what

Zahidov had done, had let the others do, all it took was a name,
one name--

"Just tell me who, Dina," Zahidov said. "Tell me, and this will all

She blinked through her tears, through the glare of the lights at
him, sitting in the chair, looking at her like he was her

Dina Malikov shuddered, and closed her eyes, and said, "I

She heard him sigh, a sound of mild disappointment almost lost in
the size of the room, and then she heard the rasp of metal on
metal, as the toolbox was opened.

In the end, she told Zahidov everything.

She told him the name of the NSS officer who had given her the
videotape documenting the torture of Shovroq Anamov's sons while
the old man watched, helpless to ease the suffering of his
children. The tape that recorded the obviously false confession of
the old man as he swore up and down that, yes, he had been south to
Afghanistan, yes, he had met with the terrorists, yes, he had
helped arrange the bombings that had struck the market in Tashkent
in the spring. The tape that showed the tears running down the old
man's face and captured his keening when his eldest boy, shocked
one time too many, stopped moving the way a human being moved, and
instead jerked like a fish on the end of a line.

She told Zahidov how she arranged to get the tape out of the
country, how she'd made contact with a junior political officer at
the American Embassy by the name of Charles Riess, how it had
happened at the Uzbek Independence Day party this past December,
hosted by Ambassador Kenneth Garret at his residence, just outside
of town. How it had been Riess she'd been passing information to,
so Riess could in turn pass it on to the State Department. How it
was her fault that the White House was withholding another eighteen
million dollars in aid to their ally Uzbekistan.

She told Zahidov everything.

In the end, though, it wasn't enough.

In the end, they put her in the tub and filled it with boiling

The NSS officer who had served as her informant was arrested before
nightfall, and shot before midnight.

Zahidov would have done it himself, but he was too busy arranging
the arrests of the extremists responsible for the kidnapping, rape,
and murder of Dina Malikov. One of them was a schoolteacher in
Chirchik who had continued to try to incorporate passages from the
Qur'an into his lessons. The other two had also insisted on
practicing their religion outside the manner permitted by the
state, and one of them, a woman, had led a group of forty in
signing a petition to be presented to President Mihail Malikov
demanding their right to worship as Muslims. All three were
arrested by midmorning the next day.

Near the home of the schoolteacher, half buried beneath rocks, was
discovered the body of the missing Dina Malikov. She had been
horribly beaten and burned, her teeth shattered and the nails of
her fingers and toes torn from their digits.

She was so disfigured, in fact, that Ahtam Zahidov had to send a
request to Ruslan Mihailovich asking that he come at once, to
identify his wife's body.


London--Vauxhall Cross, Operations Room

10 February, 1829 Hours GMT

Paul Crocker had known Operation: Candlelight was a bad idea the
moment it crossed his desk.

He'd known it the same way he'd known his elder daughter had become
sexually active, long before he'd heard the fact from his wife,
Jennie. He'd known it the way he'd known that he'd been passed over
for promotion to Deputy Chief, long before his C, Sir Frances
Barclay, had smugly confirmed it for him. He'd known it the way
he'd known he was losing Chace when she came off the plane at
Heathrow eighteen months earlier, and he knew it the way he knew
that Andrew Fincher would be a poor replacement for her when Donald
Weldon, in his last act as Deputy Chief of Service, railroaded
Crocker into taking the agent on as his new Head of the Special

Part of it was instinct, part of it was experience, honed from
almost twenty-five years in Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence
Service, through countless operations all over the globe. Jobs he'd
worked, jobs he'd planned, jobs he'd overseen. The successes, and
more important, the failures.

Candlelight had been bad news from the start, and what Paul Crocker
saw now on the main plasma screen of the Ops Room wall--or more
precisely, what he wasn't seeing--only drove the point home.

He should have been looking at a live satellite transmission from
Kuala Lumpur, where, according to the callout on the world map on
the wall, Operation: Candlelight was "Running," and the local time
was two-thirty in the morning. He should have been seeing what
Minder One, Andrew Fincher, was seeing, as the Head of the Special
Section made his way along the harbor to the target site. He should
have been hearing it as well, the susurration of the water, the
hushed transmissions relayed between Fincher and Minder Two, Nicky
Poole, stationed at the ready point with the SAS brick, waiting for
Fincher's go signal.

But no, instead, Crocker got static. Static to look at on the
plasma wall, in the box above Southeast Asia where the feed should
have been coming through, and static to listen to on the speakers,
instead of the low calm of the voices of men, preparing to do

Julian Seale, seated at the map table to the left of where Crocker
now stood, glaring at the garbled screen, coughed politely.

"Might want to do something about that," Seale said.

"You think?" Crocker snapped, not bothering to look at him.
Instead, he strode forward, to the Mission Control Desk, where
William Teagle was frantically attacking his keyboard with his
fingers. "Bill, what the hell's happened to the feed?"

"Checking now, sir." Teagle twisted in his chair, turning to
another of the consoles surrounding him at the MCO station. Teagle
was new on the desk, only three months in, and Candlelight was his
first major operation, and Crocker thought the stress of it showed
on the man's face, the perspiration shining on his forehead. If
he'd been inclined to it, Crocker might've been sympathetic. As it
was, he didn't have the time.

"Is it the upgrades?" Seale asked Crocker.

Crocker frowned at the plasma wall. "Possibly."

The entirety of the Ops Room had seen a renovation in the past
year, from the plasma screens to the computers to the secure
communication arrays that kept the SIS headquarters here in London
in touch with stations and agents around the world. It had been
long overdue, and when it had happened, Crocker had believed it to
be a good thing, and it had given him hope for his new Deputy Chief
of Service, Alison Gordon-Palmer. It had been Gordon-Palmer who had
forced the proposal through the FCO, it had been Gordon-Palmer who
had bullied C into securing the necessary funding, and it had been
Gordon-Palmer who had gone out of her way to consult with Crocker
as to just what the upgrades should entail. By the end of the
process, Crocker had come to believe two things about the new

First, that even without a background in operations, Alison
Gordon-Palmer understood the Ops Directorate's importance in the
grand scheme of SIS, and as such, Crocker could count her as an
ally; and second, he wanted to maintain that relationship, because
he now had no doubt how dif?cult his life would become if she
decided he was her enemy.

Crocker turned back to Seale, calling across the room. "They don't
know we're coming? You're certain?"

Seale shook his head. "Our intel puts the cell in place and
standing by until the morning, when they're supposed to meet their
friends in the Straits. They're being careful, but they've got no
reason to think we're on to them, Paul, none at all. Not unless
something's happened on your end. But nobody from the Company's
tipped the Malaysians."

"I've half a mind to send an abort, call the whole thing off."
Crocker looked back to the wall, at the static, ?ghting the urge to
grind his teeth. "If we let them slip, any chance we can catch them
on the water before they try to take the tanker?"

"How?" Seale asked. "They get into the Straits of Malacca, we're
going to lose them."

Crocker nodded quickly, as if to say that yes, he got the point.
"Dammit, Bill, what's happening with the fucking feed?"

"Lost the signal, sir," Teagle said, turning to another

"There's a tracking error on the CVT-30, I think. I can't bring it
back up."

Behind him, Crocker heard Seale mutter a curse. He turned, covered
the distance to the Duty Operations Desk and Ronald Hodgson in
three long strides, saying, "Ron, get onto the MOD, now. Tell them
we need to piggyback their link to Candlelight, and we need it ?ve
minutes ago."

Ronald Hodgson nodded, already reaching for one of the four
telephones arrayed around his station.

Crocker turned to Seale, said, "You're certain we can't abort? Try
to take them at sea instead?"

"Be a totally different op."

"I know."

Seale unfolded his ankles, rose from his slouch in the chair to his
feet, one hand brushing down his necktie. One of perhaps two
handfuls of African Americans holding senior postings in the CIA,
Seale had come to London as COS only four months prior, ?lling the
post vacated by his predecessor and Crocker's friend, Angela Cheng.
Where Crocker ran to lean, even lanky, Seale went broader,
exhibiting perhaps more strength than speed. The two men were
roughly the same age, each sneaking up on ?fty within the next
year, each married, each with two children. Viewed together, they
formed a strange complement, both physically as much as

"God, they try for the tanker and it goes wrong, Paul," Seale said.
"We'll have the G-77 screaming at us like we were selling naked
pictures of their mothers. And if the JI takes the Mawi Dawn,
they'll be sitting on two hundred thousand gallons of lique?ed
natural gas. That blows up, windows will be shattering all the way
to Bangkok. It'll be the Revenge of Krakatoa."

"I know that, too."

"Worse if they plow the ship into Singapore Harbor."

Crocker grunted, shoving a cigarette into his mouth, not wishing to
contemplate the scenario any further, nor to imagine the
destruction. Bad enough that the Straits of Malacca were perhaps
the most dangerous waters in the world, rife with piracy. Bad
enough that Jemaah Islamiyah made its home in Malaysia, with a
government ?lled with its sympathizers and supporters. Put the two
together, add one supertanker ?lled with LNG and one box of
disposable lighters, and, yes, perhaps Seale was overstating the
potential damage.

But only slightly.

From the MCO Desk, Bill Teagle uttered a small cry of triumph.
"Signal, sir! Audio only, but better than nothing."

"Let's hear it."

There was a shriek of static from the speakers on the plasma wall,
and then the voice of Andrew Fincher, Minder One, came through,
choppy and littered with squeaks and pops from the satellite.
Crocker could make out the sound of Fincher's movement, the rustle
of his clothing beneath his words.

" --- on approach now . . . see lights on the second ?oor, no signs
of movement . . . hold on . . ."

Crocker's scowl deepened. It might have been the radio and the
patch, but to his ears, Fincher sounded beyond nervous. When he
glanced to Seale, now standing beside him, he saw from the other
man's expression that he'd heard the same thing.

There was another crackle, then Minder Two's voice, as Poole
transmitted. "Songbird, this is Nightowl. We're at stage one,
taking position, please stand by."

"Nightowl, Songbird. Con?rmed. Let's make this fast, right? I've
got a bad feeling here. I don't want to be out here any longer than
I have to."

"Songbird, understood. Moving to position one, stand by."

Silence from the radios.

"Your man Fincher sounds like he's about three steps ahead of
panic," Seale murmured softly. "You want to tell me why he's taking
the lead and not Poole?"

"Fincher's Minder One, he worked as the KL Number Two before coming
into the Special Section. He knows the ground."

"Four years ago he knew the ground. Poole's ex-SAS, he knows the

"Which is why Poole's the liaison with the brick and not

"Yeah, but Fincher --- "

"I don't have anyone else, Julian," Crocker snapped. "Lankford's in
Gibraltar, and Fincher is Head of Section. If it was KL, I had to
send Fincher with Poole. I couldn't hold him here in

From the corner of his eye, Crocker saw Seale frowning at

"Fincher's a tool, Paul," Seale said. "You can hear it in his voice
--- he's not made for this."

Crocker didn't respond, instead ?shing out his lighter and ?nally
giving ?ame to the cigarette that had been waiting for the last
three minutes. The fact was, he agreed with Seale, not that Fincher
was a "tool" per se, but that he was wrong for the job.

A year and a half ago, after Chace had left, Crocker had scrambled
to ?nd a replacement, spending six weeks poring through personnel
?les. The traditional method of advancement among the Minders was
promotion through attrition; Minder Three became Minder Two as
Minder Two became Minder One and on and on, each agent replacing
the next as his or her predecessor was promoted out of the Section,
retired, or perished. The problem was that when Chace departed,
she'd taken the lion's share of operational experience with her.
When she'd left, Poole had just under a year as a Minder, and
Lankford less than half that.

Under those circumstances, Crocker had been unable, and in fact
unwilling, to promote either of the remaining Minders. They simply
didn't have enough experience, let alone enough seniority.

It was Weldon who'd proposed Fincher, and it had been the second
time the former Deputy Chief had tried to get Crocker to take the
man into the section. The ?rst time, Crocker still had Tom Wallace
as Minder One, and Chace as Minder Two, and it had been a
relatively simple matter to ?nd an agent in training at the School
who wanted to join the Special Section. This time, though, the
board had shifted to Weldon's favor, and Crocker had found himself
powerless to block the move. SIS employed roughly two thousand
of?cers, and of those two thousand, very few had what it took to be
a Minder. To Crocker's eyes, that included Fincher.

There was simply nobody else, and with the Deputy Chief championing
him to C, Crocker had been left with no other choice but to accept
Fincher as his new Head of Section.

It wasn't that Andrew Fincher was a bad agent. He'd served three
tours prior to coming aboard as a Minder, the ?rst in KL, the
second in London, on the Central Asian Desk, his third in Panama.
He'd distinguished himself in both KL and Panama, resourceful and
capable, but, in Crocker's view, overly concerned with avoiding
risk. What had helped Fincher more than anything was his penchant
for making the right friends inside the Firm. Starting with his
second tour, he'd begun to make it known that he'd very much like
to come to work in the Special Section, and that had made Crocker
suspicious. Once he was aboard, the suspicions were con?rmed.

Fincher wasn't a bad agent, but he was station-oriented and
excessively cautious, two things that translated to a lack of
initiative, something that a Minder, in Crocker's view, had to have
in abundance. He couldn't send a Minder into the ?eld on a job only
to have the agent hesitate and dither before deciding on a course
of action, or, worse, repeatedly clear his intentions with both
Station and London. In a Special Operation, there just wasn't the
luxury of time. Worse, though, was the fact that Fincher didn't see
anything wrong with his caution, and in fact, Crocker suspected the
man believed he was a better agent than he actually was. As far as
Paul Crocker was concerned, all other factors aside, that alone
made Andrew Fincher absolutely wrong for the work. He wanted his
Minders to think they weren't good enough.

In fact, it was what he needed them to believe for them to do their

Chace had been the shining example of the principle, marrying
ambition, passion, and self-loathing in a seamless blend.

"Video, sir," Ronald Hodgson said.

"Put it up, for God's sake."

The empty rectangle on the plasma screen ?ickered, then ?lled with
a grainy image, dark enough that it took Crocker a moment before he
could begin to discern details. He was looking at three men, all of
them in plain clothes, all with their torsos clad in body armor,
sitting in what he presumed was the back of the van they'd acquired
for the operation. Two of the men held MP-5 submachine guns, ?tted
with ?ash suppressors. The third was Nicky Poole, wearing a radio
headset, crouched by the side door, one hand to his ear, straining
to listen.

"Where's the audio?" Crocker demanded.

"Switching to the MOD stream now, sir."

There was another crackle from the speakers.

"Songbird, Nightowl. Status?"

No response.

"Songbird, Nightowl, respond please."

On the plasma wall, in its rectangle, Crocker watched as Poole
adjusted his position, shifting on his haunches, checking the radio
in his hand. He could make out the frown of concentration on
Poole's face.

"What the fuck is going on?" Seale muttered. "Where is he?"

"Songbird, Nightowl, respond."


Oh, sweet Jesus, no, thought Crocker.

Over the speakers came the sound of a rattle, something striking
the side of the van. Crocker heard one of the SAS swearing softly,
watched as Poole pulled away from the door as three MP-5s came up,
and then the side door slid back, and the camera ?ared as its
aperture tried to adjust to the abrupt change in light

"Friendly!" Crocker heard Poole hissing. "Jesus, friendly, don't
fucking shoot him!"

The image resolved again, and Crocker watched as Poole yanked
Fincher into the van, one hand on his shoulder, more concerned with
ef?ciency in the move than comfort. The camera readjusted as the
SAS trooper wearing the rig moved back. The view canted at an
angle, and over the speakers came the bang of the door sliding
closed again.

Poole leaned in on Fincher. "What the fuck happened, what are you
doing here?"

Fincher shook his head, trying to catch his breath. Poole, still
with his hand on Fincher's shoulder, shook the other man.

"What the fucking hell happened? Dammit, Andrew!"

Fincher coughed, pulling himself away from Poole's grip.

"They made me. I had to withdraw. We've got to abort."

Crocker cursed, hearing Seale echoing him. He swung toward the Duty
Ops Desk. "Ron, MOD, now! Get me a patch to Candlelight, they
cannot abort!"

"Open line, sir." Ron handed Crocker the telephone handset.

Crocker put the phone to his ear, could hear the sounds of
consternation coming from the Ministry of Defense's operational
command post. "D-Ops, who am I talking to?"

"Lance Corporal Richard Moth, sir."

"Put Colonel Dawson on the line."

"Yes, sir."

From the speakers, Crocker could hear Poole cursing at Fincher.
"You've fucking blown us, you fool!" "They made me, dammit! What
was I supposed to do?"

On the screen, Crocker watched as Poole sat back, yanking the
headset from his head. The expression he was seeing on Minder Two's
face was much like the one Crocker imagined was now gracing his

In his ear, from the telephone, Crocker heard, "Paul? James. What
the hell is your man playing at?"

"God only knows. Listen, Colonel, you've got to give them the go

"If they've been blown --- "

"I understand the risk. They've got to move now, Colonel, there's
no choice."

"Hold on."

Crocker looked back to the video feed, watching. After a sec-ond's
pause, a squawk came over the speakers, and he watched as Poole
hastily put his headset back into place.

"Nightowl, go."

From the telephone, Crocker heard Dawson's voice, distant, relaying
the go, repeating the order twice, to make it clear.

On the screen, through the speakers, Poole said, "Nightowl con?rms,
we are go, repeat, we are go."

Crocker was sure he saw Fincher blanch.

There was a rush of movement then, Poole reaching for the MP-5 that
had been waiting for him as the camera jerked, heading to the doors
of the van. The screen ?ared again, resolved, and now the view was
jumping up and down, and Crocker could see Poole and the other two
SAS troopers racing along the street, turning now between
buildings, running hard, then slowing. They reached the door, two
of the troopers taking entry positions, and the one wearing the
camera made the breach, and Poole tossed the ?rst grenade, and the
sound of the explosion came back at them in the Ops Room, muf?ed by
the speakers.

Then the shooting started.


Uzbekistan -- Tashkent -- Husniddin Asomov Avenue

11 February, 1213 Hours (GMT+5:00)

If he hadn't been so focused on chasing the hare, Charles Riess
supposed he'd have seen the car coming. But then again, if he'd
seen the car coming, Ruslan Mihailovich Malikov might never have
made contact with him, so all in all, Riess figured it more than
made up for the scraped knee and sprained ankle.

They'd started the run up on the northeast edge of Tashkent, about
ten in the morning, just north of the Salor Canal, setting off in
pursuit of a particularly sneaky son of a bitch from the Embassy's
Consular Division named Bradley Walker. Turned out his surname was
more than a little misleading, and with the fifteen-minute head
start that Riess and the twenty-seven other Hash House Harriers had
given to Walker, he'd led them on a merry chase. Most times, you
could count on the run being completed in about an hour, so
everyone could get to the more serious business of drinking.

Most times.

Walker had been given the go, running with a bag of flour to lay
trail -- or more precisely, to lay false trail -- and Riess and the
others had stood in the freezing morning, stamping their feet and
blowing on their hands. In another two weeks the winter would be
over, and Uzbekistan's traditionally temperate climate would
return, but for now it was cold enough that Riess seriously
considered forfeiting his participation altogether, just so he
could return to his home on Raktaboshi Avenue and crawl back into
bed. Another of the Harriers, joining them from the German Embassy,
had seemed to read his mind, making a joke about calling the run on
account of the weather. Riess had looked north, into Kazakhstan,
and seen snow on the mountains.

The chase began, the pack setting off in pursuit of the hare,
heading first toward the Botanical Gardens. Riess had run long
distance in college but quit upon entering the State Department,
only to pick it up again after he'd met Rebecca. They'd met early
in his first posting, Tanzania, and it had been part of their
courtship, what Riess had supposed was some Darwinian hardwired
leftover proof-of-virility ritual. He'd gotten as far as picking
out a ring and preparing a speech, had scouted locations in Dar es
Salaam, just to find the right place to propose.

Then the Embassy had been bombed and eighty people had been
wounded, and eleven had died, and Rebecca had been one of those

Now when he ran, Riess sometimes imagined Rebecca was running
alongside him, and that was how he remembered her, and it made the
going easy, despite the cold. Today, he soon found himself leading
the pack. He stood five ten when his shoes were off, and
one-seventy-eight on the bathroom scale after a shower, wearing
nothing but his towel, with long legs Rebecca had described as
spindly. If his German/English heritage had given Riess anything,
it was a runner's body.

He ran, eyes open for the trail, and just before the zoo, he saw
what he was certain, at the time, was a smudged arrow of flour,
pointing him toward the northwest. He pressed on, crossing the
Jahon Obidova, heading northwest now, down along the Bozsu Canal.
Splotches of flour appeared every hundred meters or so, keeping him
on track, and behind him, he could hear the singing and laughter of
the pack. Riess felt the warmth of his own breath as he ran through
the clouds of condensation he was making.

It was when he saw trail indicating that Walker had crossed the
canal that it occurred to Riess that this chase wasn't going to be
as easy as he'd thought it was.

It was an hour later, circling the TV tower along northern Amir
Temur, that he realized that Walker had been planning this run for
days, if not weeks, and had been laying false trails for it as
well. He doubled back, heading south down Amir Temur, in the
direction of the square, and it was as he crossed Husniddin Asomov
that the BMW shot through the intersection, its horn blaring, and
like an idiot, Riess looked to find the source of the sound rather
than getting out of the way.

And it sure as hell looked like the car was going to hit him, so
Riess did what people normally do in such circumstances: he dove,
trying to reverse his direction, off the street. He was certain he
could feel the front fender of the car brushing his sneaker as he
tumbled, and then he was on the ground, trying to roll back to his
feet, and that was when he twisted his ankle, and went down again,
this time harder, and losing a few layers of skin off his knee as a

Riess rolled onto his back, sitting up, pulling his right knee to
his chest with both hands, hearing himself curse. He was dimly
pleased to realize that he was swearing in Uzbek. He'd have to drop
a line later to the folks at Arlington who'd spent forty-four weeks
beating the tongue into his head.

The BMW had come to a stop, and Riess saw it was an older model,
maybe ten years old, and the driver's door opened, and a man came
out from behind the wheel, looking concerned, asking if he was all
right. Riess' first thought was that it was funny that he'd been
hit by a man who looked just like President Malikov's son.

"Are you all right, can you stand?" the man asked him, reaching
down to take hold of Riess by the upper arms. "Can you

"It's all right," Riess said. "I'm all right."

"I didn't see you running like that, I'm very sorry. Are you sure
you're okay?"

Riess nodded, trying to figure out what to say next. He wasn't a
spook, he wasn't one of Tower's cadre of case officers, he was the
Deputy Chief Political Officer for the U.S. Mission to Uzbekistan,
most often referred to as a poloff. He'd had some basic training in
tradecraft, mostly security, ways to keep himself safe, ways to
determine if he was being targeted. But when it came time for
cloaks and daggers to be handed out, Riess' job was to stay at the
embassy and well out of the way. Even working with Dina Malikov had
been a stretch, a job he'd only undertaken at the request of his

He wasn't a spook, but he knew what this was, and he was quick
enough to know that if Ruslan Malikov was trying to make contact
with him covertly the day after his wife's body had been found
outside of Chirchik, the odds were that they were both being

Riess let Malikov help him to his feet, wincing as he tried to
place some of his weight on his ankle. The pain ran around the top
of his foot like barbed wire, and he hissed. Malikov put one arm at
the small of his back to support him.

"Do you need a hospital? I can take you to the hospital."

"No, I think I'll be okay." Riess tried it again, stepping gingerly
and gritting his teeth, and found that if he turned his foot inward
slightly, the pain wasn't quite so intense. Malikov's hands came
off him, and Riess hobbled experimentally.

"You're certain?"

"It's okay," Riess said. "Really, it'll be fine. Just needs some
ice. I'll handle it when I get home."

Malikov studied him, as if trying to discern the truth of the
statement, then nodded and moved around the BMW, back to the
driver's side. Without another word, he climbed behind the wheel,
slammed the door, and pulled away, back into the thin traffic on
the avenue.

Riess grimaced, swore again, louder, mostly for the benefit of
anyone who might have been listening. He had to assume he was being
watched now, even if he couldn't see the watchers, even if he was,
just perhaps, being paranoid rather than prudent. It took him a few
seconds to realize that what he needed to do next was exactly what
he'd been doing before, and he hobbled back toward the street, and
spent the next three minutes trying to hail a cab to take him to
the Meridien Hotel, near Amir Temur Square.

Once in the taxi and in traffic, Riess leaned back in his seat and
reached around, behind his back, to where Malikov had slipped the
note into the waistband of his sweats. It was a small square of
paper, folded over several times, and easy to conceal in his palm,
and so Riess did as he bent forward to check his sore ankle. He
slipped the paper into his sock.

The cab dropped him at the hotel, and he hobbled up the steps and
into the lobby to find that the others were already there, in the
bar, with the hare, who was now drunk almost beyond all
comprehension. Lydia Straight, the press attaché at the
Embassy, saw him and thus initiated the first round of

"Chuck! You made it!"

Jeers followed.

Riess showed Lydia his middle finger and took the offered beer from
Walker's somewhat unfocused grip. He drank it while leading a
rendition of "The Real Story of Gilligan's Island," then started a
second while joining in on the traditional version of Elton John's
"Rocket Man," before excusing himself to the restroom. He used the
sink first, running water to wipe the sweat from his face and the
grime from his hands, then wet a paper towel to use in cleaning his
skinned knee. When he finished, the only other patron in the men's
room had departed, and Riess moved to the toilet stall, where he
dropped his sweats, sat on the toilet, and only then retrieved the

It was written in English, which surprised him, all in careful
block capitals, painstakingly laid onto the paper.

charles --

i know what my dina was doing for you and your ambassador, and for
this my sister have her murder.

my father is sick and not for last long. it will be between my
sister and myself that is to rule. i am your man now. i want for my
country more to be like yours. i will do what ever it will

my sister knows this and will try to have me murder soon.

i will do what ever it takes.

The note was unsigned, and Riess figured that was because a
signature didn't much matter. He read it again, slower, just to be
sure he understood what was being said, then got to his feet,
pulling up his sweats. He flushed the toilet, and used the rush of
water to hide the noise of the tearing paper. He waited until the
toilet refilled, dropped the fragments into the bowl, and flushed a
second time. When the bowl refilled again with nothing but dirty
water, he left the stall, relieved to see that he was still alone
in the bathroom.

Riess returned to the bar in time for another drink and the second
chorus of "Put Your Thighs on My Shoulders," then sang the
raunchiest version of "Rawhide" he knew as a duet with Lydia. They
were on the third verse when the management asked them, politely,
to leave.

He took a cab home, showered, changed, and then called the
Residence using the house phone. The line had been checked by the
Embassy's security staff only three weeks ago as part of their
standard evaluation, and Riess was as certain as he could be that
it wasn't bugged. Even so, when the Ambassador came on the line, he
kept things vague, asking when would be a good time to come see

"This what I think it is?" Ambassador Garret asked him.

"Yes, sir."

"DCM is hosting a dinner tonight at his residence for a couple of
the DPMs, including that bastard from the Ministry of the Interior,
Ganiev. Come late, Chuck. Come very late. Hour of the wolf."

"Hour of the wolf," Riess agreed.

"How?" Ambassador Garret asked.

"They boiled her to death," Riess answered. He tried to make the
declaration merely factual. He failed.

"Jesus Christ." Garret passed a broad hand over his face, wiping
the sleep away from his eyes. "Jesus Christ, she's his
daughter-in-law, she's married to Ruslan, and Malikov let the NSS
lobster-pot her?"

"The Ministry of the Interior is claiming it was

"I know what they're claiming. Jesus Christ."

"Yes, sir."

The Ambassador closed his eyes, then opened them again. "She gave
you up. If they tortured her, she gave you up."

"I think it's a safe assumption, yes, sir."

"When was the last time you met with her?"

"On the second, so that's nine days ago now. That's where I got the

Garret frowned, remembering the recording. "Why'd they kill

"It might have gotten out of control. They're not terribly gentle
about these things."

"But they can be, Chuck, they can be. They could have fixed it so
they got what they wanted and then sent her back home."

"She would have told her husband."

Garret looked at him, his brow creasing, thinking. "Maybe."

"You think there's something else to it?"

"I think that Dina Malikov was alive on Thursday, dead by Friday,
and today, Saturday, her husband arranged a meeting with you to say
that he wants to play ball. The timing makes me nervous."

"I got the impression from his note that he'd been looking for an
opportunity for a while, sir," Riess said. "Dina's death may have
been the impetus he needed to make the move."

"Which may be why they killed her in the first place. If it was the
old man who did it."

Riess heard the doubt in his voice. "You think it was

"I think Sevara wants the crown, Chuck. And if Malikov really is
coming up on his last legs, she may be trying to clear the way for
a run at the throne."

Riess considered, watching as Garret looked away from him to the
grandfather clock ticking solidly in the corner study's corner. The
Ambassador's mouth tightened to a line, and then he used his broad
hands on the broader armrests of his easy chair to push himself to
his feet.

"Four in the fucking morning," he said. "Let's go to the kitchen. I
need some coffee."

The house was silent and dark. The trip from Riess' house downtown
to the Residence on the outskirts of Tashkent normally took half an
hour, but at three in the morning, Riess had been able to make it
in half that time. The roads had been almost entirely vacant, and
he'd driven quickly, in an attempt to flush any possible tails. He
hadn't seen any, but that didn't give him much confidence that he'd
gone undetected. It didn't really matter; he was known in the
Embassy as the Ambassador's legman, much to the annoyance of his
immediate superior, Political Counselor T. Lindsay McColl. If Riess
was called out to the Residence at half past three in the morning,
then it was unusual, but not unheard of.

Riess followed the Ambassador through the house, Garret alternately
switching on lights to illuminate their way, turning off others as
they no longer needed them. Riess wondered if it was a security
measure or a habit. Maybe he did it to keep from disturbing his
wife. Whatever it was, Riess was certain there was a purpose to it.
In his experience, there was very little that Kenneth Garret, the
United States Ambassador to Uzbekistan, did without a very good

Riess' immediate superior in the Mission, McColl, as uptight and
self-righteous a Europeanist as Riess had ever met in the Foreign
Service, consistently referred to Garret as "the Grizzly," though
never while in earshot of the Ambassador. McColl did a poor job of
hiding his resentment of Garret, a resentment born, Riess supposed,
more of envy than of anything else. Both men shared the same
political rank at State, and McColl not only had seniority, but a
pedigree, and felt that Garret had robbed him of his rightful
ambassadorship. The nickname was meant, therefore, as an insult of
the highest order.

But limping after Garret through the Residence, Riess thought it
was anything but. Six foot three and easily two hundred and forty
pounds, everything on Garret had that ursine sense of scale and
restrained power, from the breadth of his chest and the strength in
his shoulders down to the thickness of each of his fingers. In all
the time Riess had known him, first serving as a junior political
officer at the embassy in St. Petersburg where Garret had been
posted as Deputy Chief of Mission, and now, six years later,
serving as his legman in Tashkent, he'd never once seen Garret
exhibit anything but an absolute, controlled calm. No matter what
he did, if he laughed, if he despaired, it was all with the same

People underestimated the Ambassador to their peril, and while
Riess himself had never heard Garret talk about it, it was well
known among the Mission staffers just how tall the man could stand.
No new arrival to the Chancery in Uzbekistan could make it more
than a week before hearing the infamous "Fuck Off, Senator"

It went something like this:

Seems that Kenneth Garret had spent a year at CENTCOM as a
political adviser after one of his DCM stints. His job had been
primarily to offer political insight and counsel to General Anthony
Zinni. After CENTCOM, Garret had rotated back to State, and then,
the following year, had been nominated as Ambassador to Kuwait by
the Clinton White House. It was a done deal as far as the White
House was concerned, and even the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee had looked to be smooth sailing, a rubber-stamp

Except that the Committee in question was chaired by Senator Jesse
Helms, and Helms' history with Zinni was, as one of Riess'
colleagues had described it, "defined by white-hot hatred," as a
result of a particularly harsh facing Zinni had delivered to the
Senator following the Gulf War. After the war, Helms had gotten the
not-very-bright idea of turning the Iraqi army-in-exile around on
Saddam with CIA backing, in an attempt to overthrow the dictator.
It was a plan that suffered from a legion of problems, small and
large, so many in fact that General Zinni, in a public hearing, had
referred to the idea as a "Bay of Goats."

The Senator was not well pleased.

Garret, so the story went, was approached by one of Helms' staffers
prior to confirmation. The staffer informed the
Ambassador-in-waiting that his confirmation would positively sail
on through, but that, during the closed hearing, the Chairman would
ask Mr. Garret some pointed questions about General Zinni. And if
Mr. Garret then took it upon himself to perhaps criticize the
General's judgment and leadership, well, it would be appreciated.
Certainly such comments in a closed hearing would be a small price
to pay for Mr. Garret to finally achieve a posting of importance
and prestige, one he'd been pursuing throughout his professional

According to the story, Garret embarked on one of his infamous
pauses, lasting -- depending on who was recounting the tale --
anywhere from fifteen seconds to an ungodly two and a half minutes,
before offering his answer.

"Fuck off."

When the staffer regained his ability to speak, he informed Garret
that any confirmation hearing would not occur until the Chairman
moved for the nomination to be considered by the Committee,
something that Mr. Garret, by his answer, had just guaranteed would
never happen. Not just this job lost, no sir. No position requiring
a Senate confirmation. Ever.

Nice knowing you, Mr. Garret.

The Clinton White House, on the other hand, upon hearing of what
had transpired, rewarded Garret for his loyalty with a position on
the National Security Council. And it was on the NSC that Garret
remained until Colin Powell came aboard as S and heard the story
himself. Didn't hurt that Powell and Zinni were tight, and so
Garret found himself back at the State Department, working in
Counterterrorism ...a position that became the epicenter of the
policy universe only a few months later.

Riess liked the story for a number of reasons, but mostly because
it had a happy ending. Helms and his winged monkeys on the SFRC
left the Hill, and the moment they were gone, Powell pushed for
Garret to get the Uzbekistan job. This was pre-Iraq but post-9/11,
and the posting was second in importance only to the Mission in
Islamabad, given the situation in Afghanistan. More, it was a
reward for loyalty, for a job well done that put Garret in line for
even greater things. After Uzbekistan, the Ambassador could expect
his next posting to be in Turkey, or Australia, or Moscow, wherever
he damn well pleased.

This was, in part, why what Garret was undertaking was so
potentially dangerous. If it failed, it could end the Ambassador's

And Riess didn't even want to think about what it would do to

"I want Ruslan in charge," Garret told Riess. "He's the best bet we
have going to turn this country into something resembling a free

"I agree."

"Problem is, Ruslan doesn't have the muscle to take over when his
old man kicks it. And right now, everyone back in Washington likes
the looks of his sister. They think Sevara's their girl. She's made
some overtures already, she's indicated her willingness to play
ball. As far as the old guard back at State are concerned, she's
already halfway into power."

"She's as corrupt as her father is," Riess said. "She's just more
subtle about it."

"You don't have to tell me," Garret said. "It's the Kissinger
legacy, Chuck. The realists are looking at her as someone who can
get the job done, who'll hold the line against the extremists, and
who'll continue to support the war. And we can't lose Uzbekistan,
we need the conduit into northern Afghanistan."

"We'd get all those things from Ruslan. If we supported him, we'd
get all those things, and it'd be better for the country, to

Garret studied him thoughtfully, not speaking for several seconds,
and Riess wondered if he'd perhaps stepped over some unknown line.
If it had been McColl he was speaking to, he'd never say these
things, but the Ambassador had always encouraged him to speak his
mind. Even so, Riess worried that he'd gone too far.

"You're going to have those ex-KGB bastards crawling all over you,
you know that?" Garret asked, finally. "Even if Dina didn't give
you up, Ruslan's contact with you today guarantees it."

"Yes, sir."

The Ambassador gave him a small, paternal smile, then turned to the
coffeemaker and proceeded to fill two cups. He handed Riess one,
then asked, "You ever meet Ruslan? Before today, I mean?"

"At the Independence Day party -- theirs, not ours. That's

"According to Tower, Malikov wants control of the country to stay
in the family when he kicks it. Hasn't chosen one kid over the
other, as far as the CIA can tell. God knows, if he doesn't
designate a clear successor before he kicks it, all hell will break
loose. Might break loose anyway, even if he does. The DPMs would
eat their own young if they thought it would put them in

"Sevara's married to Ganiev -- "

"Yeah, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Interior, though it's an
open secret that she's the one running the Ministry."

"That's not all she's doing," Riess said. "There've been reports of
her selling girls into the UAE, that she's formed and armed her own
militia. We know she's got her own secret police force, her own
courts. And we're not even discussing her legitimate -- and I use
the word in the loosest possible sense -- business interests, from
her wireless communications company to owning something like three
spas and a movie studio."

"Whereas Ruslan has a two-year-old son and has just become a

"Ruslan's the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, which means
he's responsible for writing the laws that his father wants
written. He's got some people, but it's nothing like what Sevara's
assembled. That's never been how he does business."

Garret drained his cup and again looked to the clock, this one hung
on the wall beside the refrigerator. He frowned, and Riess knew
from the expression on his face that the Ambassador was doing
time-zone math, most likely calculating the hour in

"Have to start with my calls."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Nothing for the time being."

Riess tried to keep the confusion off his face. "Sir?"

"Nothing. Don't try to contact Ruslan, don't go near him. Just do
your job, keep McColl happy. He already thinks you spend too much
time with me as it is."

"Ruslan believes his life is in danger, sir. If we don't do
something -- "

"Easy, Charles. I didn't say I wasn't going to do anything, I just
told you to steer clear for the time being." Garret looked at the
clock again, frowning. "What's London, five hours behind us?"

"Uh . . . five or six, I think."

"He won't be in yet," Garret said, more to himself than to Riess,
then sighed. "I've had enough, Chuck. Thirty years in high
diplomacy and not enough time actually spent keeping the people on
the ground from being tortured to death. Realpolitik be damned,
I've had enough. Malikov goes. One way or another, he goes. We're
staging a coup, Chuck. A nice, quiet coup, and when it's over the
White House gets to say we did the right thing, even if they'd
rather we hadn't done it at all."

"If it works," Riess murmured.

"If it works."

They left it at that, neither of them wishing to say what would
happen if it didn't.

Excerpted from PRIVATE WARS © Copyright 2005 by Greg
Rucka. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved.

Private Wars
by by Greg Rucka

  • hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553802771
  • ISBN-13: 9780553802771