Monday, 29th May 2023 - 15:50:31 pm

Steve Kincaid looked back with nostalgia to the days when he was growing up. Everything was a lot simpler then. You knew who your friends were. He thought it was a sad commentary of life when dealings were more honest in a ghetto than in the real world.

No, he thought, that wasn't completely true. His Montagnards were trustworthy. The Kurdish tribesmen he had ridden with seemed very much like them. Could he draw a conclusion from that? Mankind would classify both of those peoples as primitive. When you got right down to it, so were the people in the ghetto. All were uneducated by western standards. All were uncivilized by any standards.

Was there some correlation there? Kincaid didn't know. He did know that he felt more at ease in the company of those primitives than with "civilized" people.

He was beginning to gain insights on the psychology of modern man. Man had been on earth for more than a million years it was said by some. No one claimed he had been civilized for more than three thousand of those years. To Kincaid, that seemed a short time in comparison to the length of his existence. Kincaid was sure that, though the minds of most men had adjusted to modern civilization, man's instincts had been much slower to change. The instincts still lived in caves no matter where the rest of him lived.

He felt comfortable with that conclusion. It helped to explain the behavior of the people he had dealt with in life and it was a valuable aid in his everyday dealings with people.

Which brought him to the matter at hand. No matter how distasteful, he was going to have to deal with "civilized" people. Outside of his immediate circle, whom could he trust? There was only one man. No matter how he shuffled the deck, the cards never indicated that Whalen had anything to do with setting him up. He may have had differences with him from time to time, but everything had been up front. Even when the B-29s had been called in to raid his village, Whalen had warned him in time to get everyone out. That was in his favor.

On his return from Iran, Kincaid had delivered Mohammed Parsee/Warren Stevenson and Ali Saranesh to Washington DC. Parsee/Stevenson carried a message for General Whalen. The message was verbal and to the point. Kincaid made the little CIA agent promise to deliver it word for word. Then he and the rest of his party had flown the C-130 to a nearly deserted desert air base in Southern California. There he paid off all the people that had been recruited for the operation. Then he and Sabrina managed to disappear for three weeks.

Lou Gorski and General Trinh Won had had no problems with the drug ring during his absence. The truce was in effect. We don't bother you, you don't bother us. So it was mostly three weeks of honeymoon and rest for Kincaid and Sabrina. It took all that time for them to unwind and start to know each other. The cut on her head didn't quite heal in that time, but the bruises went away. His hand healed nicely but some of the scars on his mind would always be there.

Whalen sent him several messages which he ignored. At the end of three weeks, Kincaid agreed to meet him in a Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Ana.

Whalen was ushered by the owner to a little office in the back. Kincaid was seated behind a small desk. He waved to a chair in front of the desk. The office wasn't large enough for any more furniture than that.

There was an overwhelming odor of the putrefied fish sauce that was a staple of the Vietnamese diet.

Whalen closed the door firmly behind him. Luckily, it opened out. There wouldn't have been room enough for it to swing the other way. He eyed the wooden chair suspiciously.

"It"ll hold you," Kincaid said.

The General lowered his two hundred plus pounds gingerly onto the seat. He tested the chair by shifting his weight from side to side and appeared satisfied. A large calendar with a picture of a naked woman was pinned up on one wall. The woman was blonde all over. "She doesn't look oriental," Whalen remarked, staring at the calendar.

Kincaid glanced that way. "I don't think she is," he said. "But," he added, "you never can tell."

Whalen looked around at the other walls of the office. A lot of memos with names and phone numbers were held up by thumb tacks. It looked like a crude filing system. His eyes returned to the picture on the calendar. The blonde was lying on a bed with pink covers. She was holding a phone to her ear as she flirted with the camera.

"Is this your office?"

"Nope," Kincaid replied. He was going to leave it at that but when Whalen seemed reluctant to continue he added, "I use it sometimes."

"We got the guy who set you up," Whalen suddenly blurted out.

There was a clatter when a tray dropped outside the door. Other than that, very little noise filtered in from the kitchen or the restaurant.

"Oh yeah?" Kincaid said somewhat doubtfully. "Who was it?"

"A file clerk at the CIA. We traced it back to him. He substituted Edward Camacho's records for Warren Stevenson's when the President requested them. It was to make you think it was a friend of yours being held by the Iranians. The CIA put a lie detector on him and he couldn't pass. He admitted everything. The CIA is still questioning him and he's still talking. This is what we've got so far: He worked for the Russians but not the FSB. His boss was a shady character named Rudmetkyn. You ever hear of him?"

Kincaid shook his head, no.

"Not many people have. He's some kind of an international gangster working out of Moscow. His name turns up from time to time. It always has to do with something crooked."

"Rudmetkyn, huh." Things began to fall into place. "Has he ever been into drugs?"

"I thought you might ask about that so I looked into it. No one could say yes or no, but they didn't know why not. He's been into everything else."

Kincaid folded his hands on the desk with both thumbs sticking up. He stared down at them for a while. "No," he finally said, "there's something missing."

Whalen nodded. "I know. The clerk is small potatoes. Someone recommended you to the president in the first place to get the ball rolling. Believe me, I took it as far as I could. No one could remember who brought your name up first. I don't think there is any way to find out short of telling the President that we suspect one of his top advisors is a spy. I'm just not prepared to do that. Are you?"

"No," Kincaid said quickly. There was always the chance that there was no connection. But then why would that clerk...?"

"The funny thing is," Kincaid said, "if they set me up, it was to stop us hitting the drug trade. But as soon as the government acknowledged my Rhade veterans, we quit hitting the drug trade. The druggies came out winners in that."

"That seems to be the case, but...?"

"Why not let me keep making the drug rings pay to let them alone? I could turn the drug money over to the government. They could make a lot of money off of that."

"Not only is that dangerous, it is totally illegal."

"So was what I did in Iran."

Whalen was flustered for a moment. "Well you can't do it here. If the newspapers ever heard that the government was sponsoring a vigilante, there would be hell to pay."

Kincaid was silent.

"Speaking of that, have you been reading the papers?" Whalen asked.

"I saw a headline or two," Kincaid half-lied. He had read further than that more than once.

"The President didn't want to disavow you. But under the circumstances, he had to do it. Of course, no one believes him. That's just as well."

"How did my name get out? I thought the President wanted everything kept secret."

"That Iranian merchant you brought back. What was his name?"

"Ali Saranesh."

"Oh yes. Better you had left him there, but I suppose you did what you had to do. He has been an embarrassment. He sold his story to the Washington Post. He has made a killing on this. Now your name is plastered in every paper in the country. No pictures though. We saw to that. And his description of you has no relation to fact, so we're okay there."

"Okay for what?"

"To continue using you. I hope you're not thinking of quitting. The President is delighted with the job you did. He wants to meet you, privately of course. He has something else he wants you to do right away. What do you say? He needs your help. What do you say?"

"Of course," Kincaid said. What else could he say?

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