“Oh yeah, I hear you. We’re working on those wrappers and identifying the girls in the pictures.” Ivan listens for some time. “How’s the partner? So Mary’s not looking restless? How’s he playing? Are the solos okay? You’d have to tell me. That’s why you’re in the field, risking your neck going to ritzy concerts and wearing swanky suits and eating fabulous food–wait a minute, here, what have I been doing wrong all these years?” He waits for the expected laughter to die down. “Yeah? Mary’s challenging the conductor? Well, hell. Don’t know whose bright idea it was to stuff the Maestro into that mix.”
Ivan listens to a crisp precis of the Metro Symphony’s Board recent politics. Ivan rubs his eyes. “Yeah, where’d you hear that? Uh huh. That camera wasn’t fast enough to catch Mary dodging in that interrogation room. Seriously. If he’s suspicious of la migra, I don’t blame him.”
More comments. Ivan replies, “Put them in that cafe window seat, we’ll monitor from the glass, no electronic crap to set anybody off. Oh come on, don’t be shy. You love having an audience, you’re always trying to freak my tech guys. Just let me know next time you’re gonna have an evening in with your cute little medical kink, we’d hate to surprise anybody.” He puts on a silly voice. “Will the bride wear a gown made of latex gloves, a simple spray job, or a wetsuit? Hell yeah, we’ll send a complete set of surgical scalpels, forceps, and spools of nice silk suture to your wedding. Only the best for you!”
He grimaces, holding the phone away from his ear to the roar of laughter. Finally he signs off and scrubs his fingers down his scalp.
“How do you wash out your brain with soap, sir?” asks his XO, grimly flipping through images on his computer, snatching fragments of bruised corpses in his Photoshop cuts.
“Catch the bad guys, I find that works nicely.”
The XO adjusts his computer glasses. “Right.”
Ivan says, “Chatted with the new Doc cussing about supplies in Forensics. Got a mouth on her, funny as hell. Ripped into somebody in Translation getting sloppy on those autopsies in Romanian. She doesn’t think the dark marks on the bodies are all impact bruising. She goes, ‘So where are the corpses so we can get them exhumed for decent autopsy in person, sir, Captain Kaschelvich, sir?'”
The XO’s mouth quirks. “Intel says a few of the vics so far are Polish, Byelorussian, or Romanian, but mostly Moldovan. Does she get to fly over there? Do we even have the budget?”
“Hate to tell her, but I’m expecting fresh ones. Somebody gets paid this next month.” Ivan points at the opium brick wrappers visible on the XO’s monitor. “My best buddy at ATF pinpointed this stuff to eight villages in the Afghan mountains. Inventory control by the distributor, hey, the latest thing. Seasonal goods. This goes over the hill, and more damned Soviet surplus ammo pays for return caravans. Plus the annual euro shopping trip and hooker bash.”
Ivan grunts in agreement.
“Are we cleared to talk to ATF about any of this, sir? You know them, they always have more questions.”
“No, you aren’t, neither is Forensics. Of course she could fly in alone, but it’d be a helluva schmooze job to get anything done. Better cover if she lets my ATF buddies pay for it, let them fly the plane. And doesn’t talk much.”
His XO snorts. They’ve had coroners and forensic examiners with a sense of humor before. They may be chatty folks, but never on luncheon-suitable topics. The XO saves another file of clips, forwards it via email, and comments, “Getting Moldavan authorities to dig up the right bodies that got buried a month ago, I bet that’s gonna cost money, sir. Does your buddy think we’ll pay for it?”
“Nope. This one is used to disappointment. He reminded me nicely about that Marine base down in our area of authorized domestic interest–the one that’s always losing cases of grenades.”
The XO says dryly, “Gators swallow the damndest things.”
Ivan grins. “Well, I reminded him it’s also very strange that his bunch won’t roust those giant compounds on our sat photos. After that we kind of called it a draw.”
“Crazy damn swampers. If it was me, I wouldn’t bother with grenades, going after those damn– things down there.”
“You and me both,” Ivan says. He doesn’t bring up the rhetorical question, what the hell else will work?
It’s his job to run the unit which will damn well find out what works against those damned things that crawl out of those untouchable compounds down there. Bug labs, as the swampers say. Call it research, but in fact it is forward reconnaissance in an undeclared war. And he can only ask for routine help from his regiment, nothing that sends up flags, certainly nothing like asking for help on those damn autopsies.
Ivan learned young to fine-tune his trust in other MSOTs, other military branches, other types of public service. Also, to keep backup documentation in undisclosed locations. Ivan’s immediate superiors really want to know more about the bug problems and how to fight them, but questions relayed downward from on high are skewed wrong. Clearly, all wrong. He’s not sure if the political types above them are eager for targeting intel, or data on flaws to be worked out.