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chasing vengeance


CHASING VENGEANCE Copyright Š 2016, 2017 Drea Damara All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This b ook i s a w ork o f fi ction. The cha racters, inc idents, and dia logue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by Open Window an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2016936915 ISBN-13: 978-1-946848-20-8 ISBN-10: 1-946848-20-4 Visit the author at: www.dreadamara.com & www.bhcpresss.com Also available in eBook

Edited by Jeffrey Bruner


Also By

DREA DAMARA The Blinney Lane Series The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane Beyond Farwin Wood The Trinity Missions No Death for the Wicked coming soon

Multi-author Anthologies In Creeps the Night featuring “The Blessing”

A Winter’s Romance

featuring “Lighting the Darkness”


FOREWORD There are reasons steeped in history for the time frame and locations I chose for this novel. Each played a role in my life and left a footprint on the world. I was working in Iraq from 2007-2008 at the height of what we called the insurgency. I returned to that country again from 2010-2011 and witnessed the historic withdrawal of U.S. troops and the Arab Spring. My co-workers and I knew the potential for problems that could arise in Iraq and Syria once we left. The U.S. presence in Iraq was a cork in a barrel, and once pulled, it let the headwaters break. Regardless whether or not we should have invaded Iraq, it was obvious that once we left it would become open-season for the radicals. There was an eerie calmness the last few weeks I was there—half of the Iraqis begged us to stay and the other half eyed us with hatred, often running us off the road. Others waited patiently for us to leave to unleash the hell they wished to wield. It was an important turning point in history, and this is why I set the majority of the novel in 2011. I left the Middle East prior to the Boston Marathon bombing. When I heard the news, I immediately knew the world would not be ready for the Chechen protagonist in this book even though his beliefs were far from those who conducted that cowardly attack. It is for this reason I set this project aside until now. His role in our history is too important to exclude because his past takes us back to how radicalism took over the Chechen conflict. Growing up on a farm in Illinois, I had a limited view of the world until I began to travel and learn about pockets of history, which often get buried as time marches on. If we stop to remember everything that has happened across the world, often what’s occurring today can be dissected. I look forward to taking you to some of these forgotten times and places throughout the Trinity Missions journey, and I thank you for traveling along with me.

~ Drea Damara


one

Iraq—2006

Y

ou only get one chance to make a first impression. For some people, once is enough. The impression Gerald Strakner got upon hearing the unmistakable click of a pistol being cocked behind his skull was that the person holding the weapon wasn’t joking around. He gritted his teeth and fought the urge to stiffen his posture. Damned Abd al-Hani! He shouldn’t have trusted an insurgent to keep his word. “Gerry” was the founder and head of Trinity—a private, covert intelligence organization he established after his career as a case officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. His company specialized in providing services that were in-demand, but difficult to obtain. When governments, intelligence organizations, and private-sector individuals couldn’t send their own people to undertake questionable tasks for fear of exposure or lack of know-how, they hired Gerry. He had built a well-oiled machine of highly-skilled intelligence collectors, analysts, information technology specialists, and weaponry technicians. Through private meetings, often over a high-


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ball in the back booth of a dimly lit pub or restaurant, Gerry met with government officials and powerful people seeking untraceable solutions to their problems. On this particular afternoon, Gerry was trying to solve one such problem for a client. There was a U.S. politician involved in criminal activities that, if exposed, could cause enough backlash to jeopardize American troops and war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The client decided that the politician’s “unfortunate death” would better suit foreign policy and domestic opinion rather than risk his activities being leaked to the public. This job required careful planning. The politician was on an official visit to Iraq, wasting tax dollars and making under-the-table deals with foreign nationals. To Gerry, it was the perfect time and place to get someone like “Hani” to alleviate the world of this man. If Hani followed Gerry’s instructions, the operation would look like an attack. It would make a degenerate politician a heroic casualty of war. The assassination plan was meticulous, but doable. The politician’s tent was in an isolated area of the compound and Gerry had collected enough intel to predict the man’s movements. Hani’s group could blame responsibility for the attack on their rivals, a local Shiite militia, and there would be no loss of life to innocent bystanders. Gerry tried to take the usual precautions in identifying and assessing his asset—Hani. There hadn’t been time, however, to give Hani a task to fully test his veracity. He had recruited him based on reputation alone. So much for relying on someone else’s intel. The client was going to get an earful from him if he got out of this one alive. Standing in the remains of the bombed-out building where he’d been directed to meet Hani, Gerry stood like obedient prey rather than the orchestrator of the meeting. How exactly had he thought a reclusive insurgent leader would be a good choice to carry out the attack for him? All the signs of willingness had been there when he’d explained the mission to Hani.


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He could have just told me he changed his mind. Make me drive around for the last three hours playing phone tag like he’s the head of the damned CIA. Dejection began to course through him all the way to where he held his fingers spread out to the sides in a show of diplomacy. He couldn’t see it, but like an elusive fly, he knew the pistol muzzle was still just beyond the back of his head. Everybody had to check out sometime, but not like this. He’d survived hiding under his desk during Cold War bomb drills, growing up on the South side of Chicago, the sixties, Vietnam, Cambodia, disco music, and missions behind the former Iron Curtain—death by carelessness didn’t seem very dignified. Had he been away from field work for too long? Was his assistant, Jancy, right? Should he park his butt in the office like a patriarch of his agency? Maybe he should have sent one of his operatives instead. No. Never send a pup to do an old dog’s work. He couldn’t let go of that philosophy. They could have handled it. Sure. But if anyone was going to risk getting caught assassinating an American politician in a U.S. warzone, it was going to be him. There were some jobs a man couldn’t ask his people to do. It would have been like giving someone a golf club and asking them to crack open a wasp’s nest. How do you do that with a straight-face and keep your dignity at the end of the day? He could be an overly protective pack-leader at times, but his judgment was nothing more than sound leadership. As he waited to be spoken to, yelled at, shot, or clubbed over the head, he saw Hani step into the room. So it was Hani’s gunman. Hani had the same stone-faced expression as when Gerry first met him. Capable, fearless, intrigued—these were things Gerry had read from that face when he’d asked Hani to conduct the attack. Now... cunning, mistrustful, and still very capable. Well, he got one out of three right. What a difference a day made. Was he getting too old for


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field work? He needed to piss like a racehorse. Did that make him old? No. The fact he went twenty minutes ago probably did. Clad in the same dingy slacks and billowy shirt he’d worn to their last meeting, Hani leaned casually against the doorframe. The muzzle of a rifle poked out from behind his hip, where it was slung on his back. He was a man comfortable in his own skin. Gerry, on the other hand, was not at the moment. Sweat dripped down his neck and spine. It soaked into the t-shirt he wore underneath a traditional thawb, a tunic he had purchased at a local market. His feet were bare in the sandals he wore. The dust and sand on the factory floor had infiltrated between his toes. He wiggled them, but the grit merely shifted in place. The growth around his normally well-trimmed goatee begged to be scratched. It was funny, he thought, the things you notice once you can’t move. Why does time stand still once you hear a pistol cock? Gerry and Hani acknowledged each other with a nod, and then Hani’s mouth turned upward on one side. Gerry fought the urge to laugh upon seeing the “I-know-you’re-not-a-Russian-exporter” look. He had gone on this mission thinking he was the best suited for the job. It was difficult to believe that confidence now with a gun pointed at the back his head. The triumphant feeling of recruiting Hani whom he hoped to later pass off as a source to his former counterparts at the CIA was now a distant memory. Behind him, a woman’s voice growled suddenly in Russian, “Keep those hands in the air and turn around.” A woman? Was Hani serious? And Russian? Where the hell did he dig up a Russian? Gerry had posed as a Russian arms dealer upon first meeting Hani. Maybe Hani had found a Russian to vet him. Odd, though, that it was a woman. It wasn’t common for Arab insurgents to work closely with women, let alone foreigners. Complying, Gerry turned slowly around in self-loathing silence and came face-to-face with the light-blue eyes of the woman aim-


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ing the pistol at him. She ripped a dirty hijab off her head, causing a brown pony-tail to fall over her shoulder. She was filthy with desert dust, clearly Caucasian, but dressed like an Arab, pointing a 9mm at him, and yelling in Russian. A complete package of contradictions. Where in the hell did Hani find this girl? Shit. What did he get himself into? “Who the fuck are you?” The heat in her demand sounded as ugly in Russian as it would in English. “Miss, calm down. I’m Stanislaw Kierenovich. I am an exporter from Moscow,” Gerry replied in Russian. “Oh, cut the crap! Tell me who you really are and what’s your interest in the Zahira compound?” Gerry glanced at Hani. Hani folded his arms across his chest and gave him a curious look. Clearly, he had no intention of interrogating Gerry himself. The Zahira compound...great. Hani must have confided the details of their previous meeting to the woman. Gerry studied her face while he calculated a way to save himself from this disaster. “Perhaps, miss, you will tell me first who you are?” Hani obviously was not going to make any introductions. “The way it usually works is that the person with the gun gets to ask the questions.” “Yes, but we are in a war where there are two truths. The one we usually tell people and the real truth, both of which depend upon where one’s allegiance lies. If I may ask, do you have an interest in protecting this American compound?” He spoke calm and carefully, hoping to dilute the woman’s fiery insistence. “You’re damn right I do! Now what truth will that get me?” Or perhaps not. “Only that the 9mm you’re holding looks much like a U.S. military-issued weapon and if your allegiance is with them...then you may know it is illegal to shoot an unarmed person,” Gerry offered, trying to sound as though he were pointing out helpful advice.


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He hoped he deduced correctly—that she was a soldier. Perhaps his reminder of military regulations and Geneva Conventions would scare her into backing down. No matter how calmly he had said it, he knew he’d delivered a loaded threat. “It is military issued and it’s loaded because I don’t know if you’re unarmed, so I am prepared to take you back to base or shoot you and drag you there.” The woman seethed with an eerie control. He decided to switch to English, having just gotten his answer to her identity. He motioned with his head to Hani, who did not understand Russian, but had been intently watching them. “May we speak in private, please?” To hell with Hani, she’s the one he was going to have to deal with now. A soldier...he just had to run into a soldier. Patriarch was sounding better and better. Gerry watched the muscles in her jaw tense. She understood him, that was certain. It further affirmed his suspicion that she was likely in the American military. She wasn’t an Arab with that pale skin. Her 9mm was a predominate indicator of her affiliation. The sand-colored combat boots that poked out from underneath her long robe were far too expensive for any Iraqi. He was getting old, but he wasn’t daft. The woman’s black robe rustled as she turned to Hani and gave a nod toward the doorway. “Tafahdali, Saidi,” she spoke the Arabic words in a friendly tone. Hani nodded and left without sparing Gerry a glance. Her venomous expression returned then, reminding him that he was more-or-less her prisoner. Astonishing. She was the one running the show. He wanted to laugh watching Hani, a deadly warrior, walk out of the building like an obedient puppy. “That’s the most fluent Russian I’ve heard in a long time. You’re American though?” “Yes,” came her nonchalant reply, “as you seem to be since your English is better than your Russian.” She relinquished some of the tension from her arm that was holding the pistol. Her English was as


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clear as his. “Now, why don’t you make my day a little more interesting and tell me why an American wants an insurgent leader to attack a U.S. compound?” She was sharp enough to scrutinize his English as closely as his Russian. Was she always this perceptive? He was impressed, to be sure. He studied her face, growing more interested in her background. His Russian was very fluent, having worked in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Was she more fluent in Russian than him? She’d have to damn near be a native to achieve that feat. Regardless, he knew talent when he saw it and she had it. A little rough around the edges, but she had it. His bad situation had just become an opportunity. “What I am about to tell you, I warn you that you will not likely believe, but it’s the truth...as grudgingly as I don’t want to admit it.” He cracked a smile. “You’ve out-foxed me, my dear. Congratulations.” “It’s my job to out-fox people. Flattery will get you nowhere with me.” Gerry ignored her indignation. Equal parts cocky and driven. Definitely a U.S. soldier. He proceeded to tell her in as vague of terms as possible that there was a U.S.-sanctioned target which could not look like a U.S.-sanctioned target. It wasn’t easy to admit to an American that their government supported the assassination of one of its own, especially to an American soldier. Loyalty and patriotism were high among deployed soldiers and the mention of such a conspiracy, withstanding disillusionment, wouldn’t be received well. When he finished explaining, he warned her about the dangers of knowing even the most minuscule details of the operation and assured her they should not be repeated. “That’s a very good story.” There was a sarcastic wariness in her voice and a wealth of suspicion behind her eyes. “And it’s very wise of you not to believe it.” He could tell she was trying to ascertain the likelihood of his confession. Her face said the realistic part of her believed him, but the soldier in her did not. Who


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could blame her? “Might I make a suggestion? Perhaps you could take me to the CIA compound on the base and we could make a phone call to clear this up.” “How about I take you to base security at the gate and let force protection deal with you?” “Ha! The lowest-paid intelligence contractors on base? You really think those schleps should handle someone like me?” The woman’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “What?” “Schleps?” He sighed. Explaining the word defeated its usage. “A schlep— someone who’s foolish. Someone who...” “I know what it means,” she cut him off. “I’m just amazed you went from a mother-lander Russian exporter to New York Jew in the span of five minutes.” “Chicago, actually. Nice try. And who says they own the phrase?” They probably do, he wanted to add, but it was no time for jokes. His arms began to tire from holding up his hands. “Trust me. You’ll get more answers if you take me to the CIA compound on base.” Her jaw shifted before she spoke again. “I don’t know where that is and I don’t think driving around with you in my vehicle on base is such a good idea.” “Well, fortunately I do know where it is.” She fumed and muttered matter-of-factly, “Of course you do.” The woman patted him down and made him drive her vehicle. Hani didn’t seem to mind getting rid of Gerry. How had she gained Hani’s trust enough to recruit him as a source? Fifty bucks says she didn’t get cleared to be so far away from base all by her lonesome. Reckless, Gerry noted to himself. He discarded his thawb once he was behind the wheel, having donned it only to blend in with the local Iraqis on his way to meet Hani. He wanted to look more American when they arrived on base. He drove them past his own vehicle, parked farther down the street, and gave it a glance. Another write off, but not the shortest-lived


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transportation he’d ever purchased for a mission. The woman kept her pistol and eyes trained on him. She didn’t notice the longing look he had given his vehicle. He could teach her to pick up on little things like that. “You have a name?” he asked after they’d driven in silence for several minutes. “Yeah. One. How many do you have?” She returned with a tightlipped smile. “Today? Two, I suppose. You can call me Gerry.” He thought he heard her make a huff sound. “Well? Do I at least get to know how to address my kidnapper?” Glancing over, Gerry saw her shift the muzzle of her pistol toward the dashboard. “Eyes on the road.” When he didn’t look away, after a pause, he heard her say, “Caria.” “Car-ee-uh,” he copied her pronunciation slowly. “What kind of a name is that?” “Mine.” Gerry’s head bobbed in place of a laugh. She was a saucy little minx. “What kind of surname goes with Caria?” “You’re not very good at playing spy, old man. And why do you want to know? So you can add me to your hit list?” “That depends.” He raised his brows in feigned contemplation. “How bad have you been?” When he got no response, he decided to pry further to pass the time. “Caria...Caria. Almost sounds Latino. You don’t look South American.” The breath she let out was pure frustration. “Milosc. You might as well remember my name, but just remember along with it that there’s nothing in this world that scares me.” Jesus. The look she gave him was akin to an Old West gunfighter steadying a death gaze on his opponent. He better not hit any bumps in the road if she had the safety off on that thing.


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As they neared the base gate, Gerry held his hand out for Caria to return the base pass she had found on him during her pat-down. She handed it over grudgingly and he noted her demeanor grew angrier the more it appeared he knew where he was going. No one liked being duped, but he had to give her some credit. She didn’t spout off with livid questions, apologies, or any other sign of the doubts that were probably swirling in her mind. Gerry drove them to the well-hidden CIA compound on base. He didn’t like to involve anyone from the agency he used to work for, but this situation called for a favor from an old friend back at Langley. He parked next to the vehicles outside the concrete building, an old structure from the Saddam regime, and killed the engine. Looking over at her, he said more in thought rather than to elicit a response, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” “Everyone who has something to lose.” He studied her vacant expression, devoid of bravado. How was it possible that such a vibrant, intelligent, attractive, young woman could have nothing to lose? Perhaps it was merely a front, but he sensed her comment wasn’t transparent. If she was bluffing, she was damn good at it. “What are you afraid of?” She surprised him with her query, just as he reached for the door handle. With his other arm resting casually across the steering wheel, he raised an index finger. “First rule to succeeding in this business... never let anyone know the answer to that question.” Gerry hit a buzzer on the entrance of the building and a brawny man dressed in khaki cargo slacks and a well-fit t-shirt appeared a few moments later. He took the man aside and spoke to him quietly so that Caria wouldn’t hear. The man spared a glance at Caria and then directed her and Gerry inside. Caria was told to wait in a seat by the door. She received several stares from the few plain-clothed muscular, bearded agents inside the building.


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Gerry followed the detachment chief to the man’s desk and made use of the phone to call his contact at Langley. He watched Caria as she perused the room, eyeballing the agents. Her eyes glanced up and down and he watched her shake her head in disgust. He knew exactly what she was thinking. A sense of admiration washed over him as he studied her observations and reactions. What had her lip curled upward was most likely the poor choice of clothing and abundance of facial hair on the agents in the room. Most of the agents were wearing khaki cargo slacks, polo shirts, and had made efforts to grow lengthy beards. They couldn’t stick-out more if they tried. Iraqis didn’t grow long beards like Afghanis did and nothing would scream these agents were American more than the type of pants and shirts worn by most U.S. civilians in the war-zone. Gerry would school the detachment’s chief if he didn’t have more pressing matters to tend to at the moment. Caria turned her attention to Gerry and he didn’t miss her appalled look when she saw how he was sitting comfortably on the edge of the chief ’s desk, as though he belonged there. He spoke to his Langley contact to clear him with the chief and evict Caria, and then motioned for the chief to take the receiver. The chief ’s eyebrows arched as he listened to Gerry’s friend at Langley. The man glanced at Caria, then back at Gerry. When he hung up the receiver he spared no time walking over to Caria and instructed her to leave the compound. Gerry remained planted where he was perched, arms folded, and waited to see what she would do. Caria shrugged the chief ’s grip from her bicep as he tried to escort her to the door. As soon as she ripped away from his grasp, she marched over to Gerry so they were nearly nose to nose. In low and deadly perfect Russian, she whispered, “So help me God, if you’re good enough at your game of bullshit to fool these morons and feed me the biggest line of crap I’ve ever heard, I will hunt you down if it takes the rest of my life.”


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“I promise you, we’re on the same side,” he replied softly and with as much earnestness as ever an expression could convey. “Then don’t be sloppy enough to get caught next time,” she snapped as the chief pulled her away. Gerry stared at her as she was shoved grudgingly out of the building. “I hope you know what the hell you’re doing,” she growled in English at the chief just before the door was slammed in her face. “What the hell was that about?” the chief called. Gerry shook his head as he looked at the door, the chief briefly forgotten by him. All thoughts were on the peculiar young woman he had just met. She had said nothing about what he told her to the chief. He was in awe. In spite of her aggravation, her silence on the matter of the Zahira attack meant she believed he was telling the truth. It meant she wasn’t just some young, ignorant intel officer who’d run back to her unit and issue a time-sensitive report about a possible attack. She’d also just given one-for to a CIA detachment chief! Tri-lingual, fearless, and clever. He only had a couple female operatives. She could fill that gap well at Trinity. “So...Langley didn’t tell me they were sending anyone this way,” the chief said, interrupting Gerry’s thoughts. Gerry broke his trance and unfolded his arms. “Sorry for the surprise. Just passing through though, I’m afraid. Didn’t plan to stop. I’ll be heading back out now.” “Oh,” the chief stopped, hands on hips, clearly not expecting to be rid of his visitor so quickly. “Well, you need any resupply or anything while you’re here? That’s the least we can do for one of our own.” Gerry smiled. It amused him that the brief phone call had set the chief ’s demeanor to friendly and obliging, even though they were complete strangers. The chief even thought Gerry was still CIA. Why correct him? Never underestimate the benefit of contacts


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in high places was a credo he had long sworn by and it had served him well this day. “Well, since you mention it...I could use some help with a personnel file search.” “Agency files?” “No. U.S. Army.”


two

Three days later

C

aria trudged up the ramp to the back of the C-130 Hercules like a tired, old cow being taken to slaughter. Two days ago, she had received orders to report to CIA headquarters, accompanied by a release from her active-duty military service. She had been floored as she took the paperwork from her commanding officer. None of her superiors could tell her why she was being ousted from the military so abruptly. They had never seen anyone without a single “black mark� on their record relieved from active duty by the Army. They were as perplexed as she was and had conveyed their sorrow over losing her. There were special programs in government agencies that were available for active duty members on a temporary basis, but none that required them to be discharged. Her commander had made phone calls on her behalf and was told either no one knew about the order or simply that it was, in fact, valid. The entire ordeal seemed like a bizarre dream that she hadn’t woken up from yet. As the force of the engines blasted suffocating heat onto her face, Caria was lost in her thoughts. What had she done wrong?


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How could someone be discharged without explanation? And why was she to report to CIA headquarters? None of it made any sense. Regardless, getting on the plane and looking back at the dusty runway meant she was leaving the war when so many others were still on their way there. The thought caused a sickening, hollow sensation inside of her, as though she had somehow failed at life. She didn’t want to leave her unit, her men, or the sources she had recruited. She was a soldier. Soldiers belong in war, not on planes leaving one. Inside the C-130, Caria dropped down into a seat against the cabin wall. She kicked her pack behind her legs, under her seat. She thought about the previous night’s attack that killed a U.S. Senator at the Zahira compound up north. It was too coincidental to not attribute it to the fake Russian she had met with Hani. Had Hani carried out the attack for this Gerry person after she had left him at the factory? He’d been her source only for a few months, but she didn’t suspect he would go through with such a mission as she saw no purpose it could serve for him. Or had the old man found someone else to do his dirty work? Was Gerry part of the CIA like those men in the detachment building he had taken her to? She doubted it. He seemed a breed apart from them—more instinctive, less robotic. She suspected he had something to do with this sudden disruption of her life, not to mention the death of the senator. What had the senator done that he was killed by the ploy of an American? She honestly didn’t want to know what agency employed the old man. It was unsettling that her silence had helped kill an American. Caria had been raised by her Russian mother who had immigrated to the U.S.. The Cold War, where reporting on one’s neighbor was encouraged, had left her mother a mistrusting and suspicious person, especially when it came to politics. Caria had tried to fall far from the tree, but the apple had to land somewhere eventually. She knew some conspiracies were true, and that governments


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sometimes plotted to kill their own citizens. But today, she was caught between numbness and avoidance at the possibility. She was capable of empathy, but preferred being rational. The rational side of her knew that some citizens were more valuable to their country dead than alive. Right now, the biggest mystery was how and if her removal from the U.S. Army fit into this puzzle. Had she pissed off this old man and screwed up some government-ordered mission? Was she being sent to face her punishment? Or was he full of crap and she should have reported what she learned from him? These maddening questions had racked her brain since receiving her orders. She had watched her mother worry her entire life and learned that it served no useful purpose. Worrying was easy and Caria wasn’t one to take the easy way out, so she decided to try to sleep instead. When she landed, hopefully well-rested, she might get some answers. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Just as she tuned out the commotion of soldiers and contractors boarding the plane, someone brushed by her oafishly and stepped on her foot. She cracked her eyes open, only to find Gerry depositing himself in the seat next to her. He smiled and held out his hand. The sight of it extended out in the cordial gesture made her see red. “You bastard.” Gerry dropped his hand casually and began to ruffle through his backpack, as if her rejection didn’t merit his full attention. “Dedication,” he said off-handedly, “that’s a good quality to have.” “Not if you’re needlessly ripped away from everything you’re dedicated to!” “On the contrary, my dear, I’ve come to offer you more of what you seem to love so much.” “Quit calling me that!” “What?” “Dear! I’m not your daughter and I’m certainly not dear to you.” Gerry pursed his lips and inhaled. Had she finally made a dent in his steely character? “Fair enough,” he said firmly. “Your skills,


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however, are dear to me and to your country. I’ve met very few people in my career who have such natural capabilities. You’ll be a very valuable asset to a war much bigger than the one we’re leaving.” Caria shifted as several soldiers moved past them to take their seats. “Ma’am,” they tipped their hats. She nodded at their greetings. Would she ever be addressed as ma’am again, as were female officers? Was she really no longer Chief Milosc, U.S. Army counterintelligence officer? Once the soldiers passed, she took a deep breath to reduce the venom in her tone, “What in the hell are you talking about? And who the hell are you?” “Gerald Strakner. Gerry. And you’re Matricaria Milosc, but you go by Caria.” He leaned back against the wall and clasped his hands together over the slight bulge of his stomach. Caria bugged her eyes at him. She had only told him her nickname the other day, not her full first name. She was sure of it. “And you know this how?” “I did my homework.” “You are the reason I’m on this plane, aren’t you?” she declared, unable to tamp down her growing agitation. Gerry glanced at her— his crystal water blue eyes met hers through the lenses of his glasses. He replied with a single nod. Left to ponder his cryptic silence, Caria took note of his clothing. He was wearing khaki cargo pants, a vast difference from the apparel he’d worn when she first met him. He had on an off-white, short-sleeved, button-up shirt with pale blue stripes. On his feet were sand-colored boots—a much more sensible choice than the sandals he’d worn the other day. Nothing about his apparel made him stand out. He looked like any other contractor on their way home. He seemed to have a knack of blending into his environment. His dark brown hair was peppered with gray to include a distinguished goatee on his face. Odd that he looked like a slightly younger version of the actor Rade Serbedzija.


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While not well known in the states, Caria knew of him because he was the only man her mother had ever admitted was handsome. Her mother’s persistent disinterest in a love life had left Caria to grow up believing Mister Serbedzija must have been the most perfect man in the world. It made how badly she wanted to punch this look-alike in the face at the moment seem sacrilegious. “What do you want?” she inquired with hushed suspicion. “To offer you a job.” “Huh! You wouldn’t have to be so generous if you hadn’t lost me the one I already had.” Gerry glanced at the soldiers filling the plane and switched to Russian. Some nearby soldiers looked briefly over at the sound of the foreign language and then ignored him, an indication they likely did not understand. When people understood a language, they paid attention. He spoke for the next twenty minutes, explaining the Trinity organization to Caria and the type of missions that they conducted. He explained what her life would be like and that often she would be working alone, facing dangerous people and situations with only her training and tenacity to assist her. Gerry pointed out that going off on her own to a secret meeting with a militant leader, even one who obviously respected her, was reckless. He added that with a little training from Trinity, he could further hone her abilities to avoid such “careless and costly” mistakes. He explained that while it was dangerous to be a Trinity agent, she might have more of a chance at surviving by learning from him than continuing in her own headstrong ways. Caria listened as Gerry divulged the information to her. She said nothing as she sat like a pouting child while he both complimented and insulted her judgment. How in the hell does he know if it was dangerous to meet with Hani? He’s the one who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar! Gerry finished with, “Well, what do you say?”


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A private intelligence agency? How was that possible? Never mind. After the past few days, anything was possible. She chewed at the inside of her lip and studied the obnoxious man who was slowly becoming more familiar to her. So he fought to disrupt terrorism? She could handle that. She was good at that. Odd that the lonely, dangerous life was the part he stressed the most in his little monologue. He had no way of knowing those things wouldn’t bother her. She was undisturbed by the slight twitch of his mustache. The sign of his growing impatience for a reply gave her a morbid satisfaction. He had been welcomed at the CIA detachment, so something about him must be legit. Ah, hell. She might need a job if this mess with her discharge didn’t get cleared up. And she was reporting to Langley, so perhaps Gerry could be her new boss. “You didn’t say ‘please,’ ” she finally let out. Gerry’s posture slumped and he stressed the word, “Please?” “Okay.” “Okay?” “Okay,” all spite gone from her voice, she shrugged and looked away. “You’ve called me everything but asshole and you’re a woman who wants to hear please?” Caria heard him laugh. “All I had to do was say please, huh? I thought it would be more difficult than that,” he muttered. “I don’t like people without manners.” “Good. That’s the only kind of people we deal with. Not liking them is a required qualification.” The ominous response made her glance at him. She watched him lean back, fold his arms, close his eyes, and fall asleep almost instantly. Unbelievable. How could he look so peaceful after such a life-altering conversation? Well, it wasn’t his life that had just been altered.


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She eventually settled back into her own seat, more at ease now that she knew her ousting from the Army wasn’t likely due to some unknown fall from grace. She still had a job. She could still save lives...and take bad ones, apparently, but that was the balance of the world after all. She had never been on the wrong side, never failed at anything, and it was a relief to know her perfect track record was intact.

When they touched down in Frankfurt, Gerry had to persuade Caria that they were headed to Zurich, Switzerland, and not CIA headquarters. It took some convincing to make her understand that the orders in her possession were just a ruse that he had orchestrated through his government and military connections. Her military affiliation and service, however, would be over. That didn’t sit well with her, not wanting to so easily relinquish her right to serve her country and second-guessing the unofficial manner in which the entire situation was unfolding. “I thought we went over this on the plane? Didn’t you listen to a damned thing I told you? You won’t be in the Army anymore if you choose to do this. You’ll work for me,” Gerry barked as they waited for Caria’s duffel bags to be unloaded from the plane. “Yes, but I still have orders! Look!” Caria pulled out the paperwork that indicated she was to report to Langley. “Which agency does this Trinity fall under?” “It doesn’t fall under any agency. I told you that. It’s my agency. Governments come to me when they can’t get involved. You’re freeand-clear from the military. You just have to trust me on that.” “Fine. I believe you, but I still have these orders!” Caria thrust the papers at Gerry. Her mouth gaped open as he snatched them from her hand and tore them in half. “What in the hell did you…” “I wrote those orders,” he growled.


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They stood arguing in Russian on the tarmac as the last soldiers exited the C-130 behind them. Finally, Caria gave up and went with him. He led her to a private jet across the tarmac. Caria tried to hide her surprise as she boarded the narrow steps and found that they would be the sole passengers. Still reeling from the outlandishness of the ease in which Gerry had apparently dissolved her from the military, she promised to kill him if he hadn’t protected her from a desertion charge. When they touched down in Zurich, Gerry led her to a green 1967 Plymouth Barracuda fastback in a private section of long-term parking. “Privately funded, huh?” She didn’t bother to conceal her arrogance—one hand on her hip, as she arched a brow at the old car. She knew nothing of the significance or worth of cars, only that this one looked as old as him. “Maybe you need some more donations.” “What were you expecting? A Batmobile?” She scoffed and chucked her duffel bag into the trunk. “No, but not a time machine either.” Gerry slammed the trunk closed and patted it adoringly. “We make do.” Caria took a last look at the jet she could still see far-off on the tarmac and wondered what in the hell she had just committed to doing. “Great. I deserted the Army for the Salvation Army.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Drea Damara was born in Illinois where she grew up working on her family’s farm. Raised in a home of seven with one television, she spent much of her time in the fifty acres of woods on her family’s property or reading. Damara began to write poetry in her early teens and saw her first works published at nineteen. She put writing aside to join the Army and later returned to the Middle East conducting similar work as a civilian. Damara is the author of the crossover fantasy, The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane, nominated for a prestigious RONE Award, and Beyond Farwin Wood, the second novel in the Blinney Lane series. She is currently working on the second Trinity Missions novel, No Death for the Wicked.


Profile for BHC Press

Chasing Vengeance by Drea Damara (The Trinity Missions #1)  

Imprint: BHC Press/Open Window Genre: Thriller/Espionage Publication Date: 5/1/2017 Description: Trinity, an intelligence organization known...

Chasing Vengeance by Drea Damara (The Trinity Missions #1)  

Imprint: BHC Press/Open Window Genre: Thriller/Espionage Publication Date: 5/1/2017 Description: Trinity, an intelligence organization known...

Profile for bhcpress
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