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Cheap Shots, Hot Guns, and a Serious Lack of Mojitos

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When you're organizing one of the largest diplomatic missions to a hostile dictatorship ever, you want to make sure your security is up to standard. No one knows the ins and outs of security better than spies, whose job it is to get in and out of a place undetected and never have anyone know about it. So if you're sending the Secretary-General of the UN to Libya, you need your security personnel to be the best in the world.

In short, you send spies and you pay them well.

Any big diplomatic mission to an unstable area will have at least three ex-Special Forces or Army Rangers on it, and military guys are great for a security detail. They're quick on their feet and don't question orders. But if you want someone who really knows what they're doing, you assign a spy as your head of security. Spies understand both the need for secrecy and the need to make a strong impression on your host. They're also a little bit better at blending in with the locals and staying out of the limelight while your diplomatic mission runs its course.

It's not the most fun duty in the world - you're constantly being bombarded with new security issues and all you'll see of the country is usually from inside an SUV - but these kind of jobs are worth the inconvenience. If you're a fortyish relic of the Cold War with combat experience on six continents and who's been told to shape-up-or-ship-out, it's a dream come true.

Well, until the college girl and the gunrunners show up.

******

Sam is never coming back to Libya.

Not only is the heat worse than anything he's ever endured (including a stint in Tirat Tavi, liasing with Mossad, and training in Death Valley for this mission), there are people trying to kill the Secretary-General almost every moment of every day. He and the boys have a pot going on when and where the next attempt will take place, and he's already won lottery tickets off Brunsman and four cups of coffee off Andrews for getting the last attempt right.

And the cherry atop the sundae of awful? He can't drink.

Muslim country, Muslim rules. Everyone knows Qadhafi is only paying lip service to the imams, but the entire detail are guests of the regime. Nobody - not the Secretary-General, his staff, or any of the security detail - is allowed to break the rules. Which means that a mission he'd normally be at least mostly-intoxicated for, he now has to lead stone-cold sober.

They let you drink in Russia. And Pakistan. And Mexico. And Egypt. Even in freaking Zimbabwe, up to your ass in Mugabe's goons, they let you drink. He could have signed on for another deep-cover mission in Turkey, leased that apartment in Arnavutkoy, and drunk all the raki he could handle.

Instead, he's stuck in Benghazi, where it's 113 degrees out, and the LIFG thinks he's with Qadhafi - a man can dream, cause getting to see the Amazonian Guard every day? Fun times. - so they're extra-twitchy. He likes the Secretary-General, who has excellent taste in cigars and a willingness to share with his detail, but they're only three days into the talks, and he's already had to defuse bombs twice and gotten into more shootouts than he can count. He'll be happier when the mission is over.

Today, they're accompanying the Secretary-General to Sok El-Jarad, a marketplace in the old section of the city. The souks there sell everything from cloth to food to shisha - alas, no booze, and no time to sample the hashish - and it's a fucking security nightmare. Tons of little stalls, crowded streets, half the population of Benghazi out to see the Secretary-General and the regime escort with them.

He's on point, a few steps ahead of Mr. Annan and Mutassim Qadhafi (son number four of the general), eight guys all on a radio in his ear, when there's a disturbance by one of the copper stalls.

At first, he thinks MI-5 is trying another assassination plot on the Qadhafi family, because he hears what he assumes are British accents. Upon realizing the accents - six men and a woman - are actually Irish, he curses loudly and orders his men to about-face and get the Secretary-General and Lt. Colonel Qadhafi down a side street and out to the waiting SUVs. One of the Irishmen hops the rail into the alley and gets a shot off in their direction, and Sam almost doesn't believe his eyes.

What the hell is the IRA doing in Libya?

*****

Back on the top floor of the Tibesti Hotel, which he and his team have turned into an unofficial base of operations, he's on the phone with Gordon Richardson, the CIA higher-up assigned to this mission and one of his many superiors.

"Fucking gunrunners," he snipes, spreading out the recon photographs his team took in the aftermath. "About eight of them were Libyan, maybe LIFG, but the rest were IRA."

He can practically hear the eyeroll in Richardson's voice. "Is that namecalling I hear, Commander?"

Weaselly little bastard. Richardson is an ex-pilot, washed out of the Air Force; every time he calls Sam by his Navy rank, it sounds like an insult. Probably because he means it as one. Sam's run four missions with him, and on every one, he's all but called Sam a "pier queer" and thrown "yo mama" jokes at him.

Oh, for a half-decent bottle of whiskey.

"It's fact. Unless you've got a better idea why Sean Glenanne is hanging around Benghazi with a half-dozen of his countrymen."

"You've positively ID'd Glenanne?"

One of Sam's team - Olson, ex-boxer and collegiate wrestler turned U.S. Intelligence - comes over with the Interpol file. "Hot from Interpol, sir. Confirmation on Sean Aidan Glenanne. Twenty-eight years old, second-in-command to Declan Leary, suspected cell leader for the IRA."

"You heard that, right?" Sam asks. "Can I please have another couple squads? If you want me to bring in Glenanne, you're going to have to send me some backup. The Secretary-General can't guard himself, and we're still 14 for 14 in the assassination sweepstakes."

Richardson is quiet for a moment, then answers. "I'll have to clear it with State, you know. They're not going to be crazy about it."

"Cry me a freaking river. Oh, wait, sorry. Cry me a freaking river, sir. We've got a shot at shutting down a major arms deal and bagging Sean Glenanne in the process."

"I'll call you back if and only if I get authorization. Until then, your first priority is the Secretary-General, you hear me? Recon only on Glenanne and his associates."

Richardson hangs up on him, and Olson looks across the table. "We going hunting?"

"Damn right," Sam says. "I want you to tell Thompkins that he's in charge for now. Anything the Secretary-General needs or wants. Then find Marks and Hanover and meet me down at that maqhah in the Italian Quarter. Dress up, too. We need to look like tourists."

"You got it," Olson says, tossing off a lazy salute.

Richardson did say recon only. He didn't specify the manner of said recon.

*****

When you want to find out covert information on terrorist activities, there are several options.

If you're in Europe, you go to wine bars. If you're in Russia, it's the bathhouses. If you're in Asia, the juicy bars. And if you're in North Africa, it's the shisha bars, called maqhah. You can overhear all sorts of information - who's meeting who, who's just shipped a large cache of guns to Northern Ireland - in maqhah, and you can get a nice buzz going while still remaining level-headed enough to chase down said gunrunners.

The added bonus of maqhah is that unlike bathhouses, you're likely to find foreigners in them. A foreigner in a bathhouse sticks out like a Chinese restaurant closed on Christmas. A foreigner in a maqhah will just be another customer.

*****

In Libya, the LIFG has a big presence in Benghazi's Italian Quarter and near Tripoli's Bab Zanata (West Gate). He's tried to avoid the Italian Quarter for this trip - last time he was there involved an illegal shipment of beer from Egypt and a particularly homicidal Customs official - but it's the best place to try and catch a couple IRA freedom fighters.

Olson, Marks, and Hanover meet him at the corner a few feet from the maqhah. Olson's his best bet for backup; good in close-quarters combat and solid as a brick wall. Marks is their chameleon, a fellow spook who does the best undercover work Sam's ever seen. He'll disappear into the crowd and is likely to overhear things that everyone with less melanin in their skin won't. Hanover's served two tours in Libya with the Marines, and knows the area best. If they need to make a quick exit or require a full extraction, he'll leave the details to Hanover.

"All right," Sam says, brushing dust off his suit. "One hour only, in and out. If any of us hears anything, we wait until we regroup. No running off with hookers or buying drugs, either. I'm not looking to stage a jailbreak. Cover ID's?"

Hanover leans on the wall of the storefront, hands in his jean pockets. "PFC Rick Harris, just in town for the weekend on shore leave."

"Leon Vance, grad student at Garyounis University," Marks says, putting on a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and a hooded sweatshirt. "I'm an engineering student studying for midterms."

Olson hasn't even changed out of his cargo pants and black tee, the little shit. "Mitch Ormond, cruise ship bouncer. Just here to have coffee and a hookah and read my newspaper."

Sam nods. "Charles Finley, psycho for hire. Looking for a CheyTac M-200 with custom .375s."

"Oh, fun," Hanover quips. "We get working class shlubs, and you're playing assassin."

Sean Glenanne's been known to stock CheyTacs and willing to sell at a not-even-exorbitant price. If Sam wants to bait one of Glenanne's guys, he's got to be morally grey enough to stack up. Chuck Finley, sniper and assassin, will at least get him in the metaphorical door.

"I'm sorry, who answers to Richardson and the Agency?" Sam asks, as he and Hanover set off for the maqhah. Olson hangs around with his newspaper and Marks goes around the block the opposite way.

"You do, Officer Hinge, sir."

Yeah, yeah, he's a Lt. Commander. Never gotten any higher; has to answer to the real CO's. Everyone's a critic. Especially smartassed Marines who serve under him.

He discreetly flips off Hanover, hissing: "And your ass rides in Navy equipment, shitbird."

*****

There are only three open tables from which he can see the entire room, and two are empty. Unfortunately, the first still has empty coffee cups and a congealing platter of couscous, and the second is boxed into a corner, which he tries not to be. The third, which is occupied by a college girl and a red hookah, seems to be his only option, so he turns on the charm and approaches her.

"This seat taken?"

"Help yourself."

From the moment she opens her mouth, he knows he's chosen well; Irish accent. There's no way she's actually a college student on winter break in Libya. Either she's a complete newbie to the game and doesn't have the sense to hide her accent, or she's so secure in her own safety that she doesn't care. Whichever it is, she'll be useful.

"I can't help but recognize your accent. East Belfast, County Down?"

The girl looks surprised. "Yes. How does an American know his way around Northern Ireland?"

"Done some business in Belfast. Was in Newry for a bit, too. Rented a flat across from the Showgrounds."

You never want to provide too many details when you're working a cover, but you need to throw enough around to prove yourself. An apartment near Newry's football stadium hints at a higher-class traveler who wants to blend into large crowds; someone with disposable income and an ability to adapt, even as a foreigner. If she's IRA, she'll know about McCoy's.

"Ever go to McCoy's, down on Kilmorey Street?" she asks, "Best Murphy's Double Stout you can find outside of Belfast."

Ding ding ding. He's in.

"Not in years, but I hear the stout is still as good as ever." He reaches out a hand. "Chuck Finley. And before you ask, my father was a Derry man, but Mom divorced him and moved to Chicago."

She laughs, high and delighted and more than a little dangerous. "Fiona Glenanne."

Shit. Sean Glenanne's little sister. There were two, he knows from the Interpol file, one who died and one who went completely off the grid. Looks like he's found her. Knowing he'll look suspicious if he doesn't order, he waves one of the waiters over and orders a coffee and a bowl of dates. Fiona waits for the waiter to depart before she speaks again; good, not a complete amateur, then.

"What's your business in Benghazi, Mr. Finley? And can I assist in any way?"

"I shoot things, Miss Glenanne. Things. People. Doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I've heard of you and your brother, and I think you may be able to help me out."

"I'm flattered." The waiter comes with his coffee and dates, and she raises an eyebrow. "What can I do for you?"

"Could you get your hands on a Cheyenne Tactical M-200? I have a job coming up in Tbilisi soon, and I'm in need of some hardware."

"Why are you coming to us? The Russians would surely help you out with arms purchases, and they're considerably closer to Georgia."

He leans in. "Yeah, but you're considerably prettier than any of my Russian contacts. Smell better, too."

"You got a spare ten grand lying around?"

Laughing, he lets out a low whistle to play the cover. He's seen them go for twice that on the black market - she's really selling herself and her IRA buddies short.

"Now, you know a CheyTac will go for twice that. What, is your supply defective? You skimming them from the LIFG or something?"

Which is when she leans over, picks up one of the bricks that ring the communal fire in the center of the room, and hits him over the head with it.

Fantastic.

And he didn't even get to eat any of the dates.

******

Undercover operations are delicate. When the economic and political stability of a country rests on how well someone can play a role, the people a government will recruit for these missions fit a specific type. Any trained operative can prevent an assassination or handle a weapon, but it takes a different sort of spy to remake themselves into a new person.

The people who make good undercover operatives are generally identified within their first couple years of running missions. Undercover operatives are the kind of people who fool you into thinking they've always been there. That woman reading a magazine with the pink sunglasses. That man in the Hawaiian shirt drinking a beer. They're adaptable, a new persona for each mission, and never play the same role twice.

The problem that all undercover operatives run into is that they can get sloppy. They forget one little detail about a city, or say a word wrong in an unfamiliar accent.

That's when it gets dangerous.

******

He is never, ever going to hear the end of it from his team, letting a college girl knock him over the head with a brick. He's also going to fucking shoot Fiona Glenanne if he ever sees her again.

"For the last time," he says, holding an ice pack to his head, "She didn't make me. She knew I wasn't an assassin, but there's no way she figured out anything else."

Richardson's laugh echoes over the line, and Sam tries to ignore the growing urge to pull his sidearm and blow a hole in the phone.

"She's a kid, Axe. You got played by a scrappy little Irish girl who knocks over banks for a living."

Fiona Glenanne's Interpol file is only slightly smaller than her brother's, but much more entertaining. It starts at age 12 with arson, vandalism, and petty theft, and it graduates to terrorism and bank robberies. She'd once held up a jewelry store with nothing but a nail file and some creatively-applied C4, but then again, he's not surprised she's creative.

He tries not to thud his head against a wall. "Yeah, and that little girl and her big brother are about to ship even more guns into Ireland from Libya, a country which, may I remind you, is rotten to the core and almost certainly harbors terrorists."

"All right, the Agency's agreed you need some backup. You'll have ten extra men by today for the talks. I want you stuck to Annan's side 24/7. Let Marks handle the Glenannes. We clear?"

"Crystal, sir," he grits out, then hangs up the phone a bit harder than necessary.

"Did the telephone insult your mother, Sam?"

It's not, strictly speaking, polite to call the Secretary-General of the UN a sneaky bastard, even if he is one. Kofi Annan stands in the doorway of the suite, dressed for today's council; a roundtable of Annan, Qadhafi, Cook from the UK Foreign Service, former Secretary of State Christopher, and via satellite, Nelson Mandala. The sanctions are supposedly going to be lifted soon, which is interesting, but kind of above Sam's pay grade.

"My boss and I were disagreeing on the definitions of terrorism and duty."

"So I heard. You have confirmation of IRA agents in Libya?"

He sighs. "We have six of them and possible arms dealings with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Nothing confirmed, just the presence of two fairly well-known members and what happened with that clusterfuck, pardon my French, yesterday."

The Secretary-General takes a seat on the couch, making sure, as he always does, to keep Sam between him and any entrances. The man's lived under protective custody a long time, and unlike other people Sam could name, doesn't seem to take it for granted.

"And you believe they will use the council as cover for their arms trade?"

Sam sighs. "If it were anyone but these two, I'd say they'd be crazy to try it. But Sean and Fiona Glenanne aren't exactly known for their sanity."

"A husband and wife?"

"Brother and sister," Sam responds, passing Annan the Interpol files. "Sean's 28, Fiona's 23. The lovely purple spot on the back of my head is courtesy of her."

Annan shakes his head ruefully. "We all do unpleasant things for family. I think we forget that, in the middle of this talk of terrorism and arms trade and UN sanctions, the most simple and powerful of relationships can have a tremendous impact. Look at Moammar Qadhafi."

*****

He almost believes they're going to get through the entire council without an incident. And then Marks radios him.

"Sir, you need to get down to Benina airport. The deal is going to take place in 30 minutes. I managed to get a bug on one of Glenanne's boys - McTeer, the tall one? - and it's confirmed."

The council is finishing their talks, handshaking all around, and Sam directs Olson to stay with the Secretary-General and ensure he makes his private flight back to New York. His extra men have arrived, and he orders them to turn the SUV around and head straight back to the airport. He then charms the keys to a motorcycle (a Ducati, they do love their Italian vehicles in Libya) off a French tourist and takes off himself.

Both Glenanne siblings are being about as blatant as you can get about this arms trade, taking over an entire abandoned runway to talk terms with about two dozen members of the LIFG. Sam wants nothing more than to burst in and take them down, but with all the guns in the vicinity, it's going to end up like the OK Corral.

Sam's always hated the old school field-of-battle types of fights. There's no cover, you're standing with your dick in the wind and nowhere to go. Give him a nice guerilla campaign or deep-cover op any day. But if the SEALs taught him anything, it's how to make the best of what you've got.

So he has five of his guys dressed as baggage handlers, the other four and himself inside empty baggage containers, and while they're boiling in the heat, they get onto the runway and close enough to the deal to go on the offensive.

It does turn into a firefight, and somehow, one of the EgyptAir planes blows up, but in the end, they've got four IRA members, all of the Libyans, and no one bought or sold any illegal weapons.

"What gave me away?" he asks a handcuffed Fiona Glenanne.

She studies him from under her head scarf, green eyes glittering in the sun. "I saw you in the souk, on bodyguard duty. You're too much of a Boy Scout to be an assassin, Finley."

"Why didn't you blow my cover in the maqhah? You could have put a bullet through my head and solved all your problems."

"Now, what would be the fun in that?" she says, smirking. "I'll find out who you really are, you know. Watch your back."

He has to laugh at her posturing, and kisses her on the forehead just to hear her curse in Gaelic, French, and some passable Russian.

This is, of course, Sean's cue to hot-wire an airport jeep and scoop her up. They get out, though the back of the jeep is a wreck and Sean takes a bullet in the shoulder. It's another four days before the paperwork even remotely resembles something he and Richardson can sell to the State Department, and officially, there was a gas explosion in that EgyptAir plane. Luckily, there had been no one onboard but the pilot, who's Libya's latest national hero.

After this mission, though, Sam is absolutely never coming back to Libya.

*****

There are unofficial rules in international espionage, and every spy has their own variants on them.

Rule number one: Never, ever make promises when you're a spy, because you'll end up breaking them.

Rule number two: The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group never forgets a face.

Rule number three: Michael Westen really is a good guy to have in a tight spot, should you ignore rules one and two.

Rule number four: There is no substitute for a large Mojito after two weeks in the Sahara.

Rule number five: You never know when you're going to encounter old enemies, or what will change in the interim. Old enemies are sometimes the best friends you'll have.