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Chapter Ten

"President Svasikili," Mike said, shaking the President of Georgia's hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you." The president was a round man, slightly shorter than Mike, with a firm handshake and affable smile that stopped at his eyes. Typical third world politician in a nominal "democracy" one each.

"And you as well, Mr. Jenkins," the president said. "Might I present General Umarov, the Chief of Staff of the Army."

The meeting was taking place at the presidential palace, an ugly structure that dated to the Soviet period. Since the president of Georgia regularly had to travel in a massive convoy to prevent assassination, it was a security and ease measure for him.

The American ambassador traveled in nearly as large of a convoy, but he was, apparently, more expendable. As was Colonel Osbruck, the senior American military attaché. They were both present and everyone nodded then proceeded into the conference room.

"Do you think there will be a thaw, soon?" the president asked Mike after everyone had gained their seats and tea was served. The woman doing the serving was a serious looker, like a supermodel, and had a sway to her that said that more than tea was available. The tea was served in traditional glasses with metal holders. These were silver and transmitted the heat of the tea straight to the handle making it too hot to hold. It was a silly design and Mike had always wondered what idiot came up with it in the depths of time.

"You'd know better than I, sir," Mike replied, quickly setting his tea down and waiting for it to cool. "This is the first time I've been to Georgia."

"I do hope it warms up soon," the president said. "My old bones hate the winter. When I retire I'm going to move somewhere very warm."

Possibly straight to hell if an assassin gets through, Mike thought. Svasikili had run on a platform of cleaning up the graft and ending the war in Ossetia. Since then negotiations had been stalled, the Ossetians were terrorizing western Georgia, the Chechens eastern Georgia, and taxes seemed to disappear into a black hole. The hole, of course, was called "Svasikili's cronies" and funds to prop up his primary voting base, which was among organized labor. The military, despite the conditions, had just sustained another cutback. At least part of that was in fear that they'd perform a coup. It wouldn't work out, it never did, but Svasikili had to know that if the military took over, he'd be lucky to leave with his shirt.

"But in the meantime, I'm forced to try to make bricks without straw," Svasikili said, sighing. "This country is impossible to govern. Dozens of different interests, all vying for power, the clans in the mountains always feuding, the Ossetians, the Chechens, just impossible."

"Lovely place, though," Mike pointed out. "It's why I decided to settle here. And the people are very nice as well. The Keldara are grand fellows."

"So it was the beauty of the country that caused you to settle here?" the president asked.

"And the women," Mike admitted, smiling at the joke. "The Keldara beer isn't half bad, either."

"I can call for a beer if you would prefer," the president said, waving at the untouched tea.

"This is fine, sir," Mike said, picking it up despite the handle and taking a sip while glancing at the ambassador. He wasn't trained or interested in diplomacy at this level but he was afraid he'd just insulted the country of Georgia by not sipping the damned tea. "I've become quite a tea drinker since moving overseas."

"The question, of course, is why an American would want to settle in Georgia," the president said, nodding at the comment. "There are less than a thousand American ex-patriates in the country and almost all of those are here for one company or another. There are a scattering of people who just find this country conveniently inexpensive. But you are not short of money. Your ambassador has assured us that you are not wanted by any international agency. So the question is why you would want to settle down here. Especially in that forsaken wasteland of the Keldara. Then there's the question of why you are forming a little army out of them."

"Hardly an army," Mike pointed out, glancing at the ambassador again. He should have been briefed on what this meeting was about beforehand but he felt a general trend. "They will constitute about a company in size and be designed for small-unit operations. Just a mountain militia."

"A remarkably well-armed and equipped mountain militia," General Umarov interjected. "When the request came through to expedite the end-user license we, of course, complied. We are as worried about conditions in east Georgia as the Russians. But when the actual lists started arriving we became . . . somewhat concerned. Your simple mountain militia will be better equipped than the Presidential Commandoes."

"I discovered when I was a SEAL that good equipment helps," Mike said. "It's not everything, though; you have to have good training. And, I'm sorry to point out, they're probably going to be better trained than your commandoes as well." He didn't have to look to know that the ambassador had just winced. "I don't think that it would be fit to do less and they're going to need that training to do what they'll have to do to suppress the Chechens.

"However," he added, as the general opened his mouth, "they are, as I said, less than a company. And they are training for open field, small unit actions. I know that there is always a fear that a particular group will . . . oh, become the tail that wags the dog as we say in the United States. The Keldara are going to be training in a way that makes that fundamentally unlikely."

"Explain," the president said, holding up a hand to cut off the general's retort.

"There are, essentially, three types of forces in the world," Mike said, picking his words carefully. "Field forces, regime protection forces and show forces. Show forces are very good at parading. They are trained to look good, pretty much period. Some excellent combat units are also good at showing off, don't get me wrong. The Rhodesian Selous Scouts were bloody peacocks and marched better than the Coldstream Guards. But show forces are only there for show.

"Next, there are regime protection forces," Mike said, trying not to look at the Chief of Staff of the Georgian army. "Regime protection forces are, essentially, very large police forces. They are trained to suppress resistance to the regime, to break up riots, to ferret out guerillas and so forth. They're, really, peacekeeping forces in countries where peace is shaky. Due to the nature of their training, they're very good at coups. They're used to moving to specific places in cities and, for example, taking over broadcast stations or buildings that are important to a coup.

"Last, there are field armies. Field armies are designed to meet other forces on the field of battle and defeat them. That can be small unit or large unit, but that is their training. They may march well and they may be able to occasionally be used to keep the peace, but they're not fundamentally trained for either. Field armies are designed to destroy other forces and when used in a coup tend to break much more than they should. They also make various mistakes, like firing into crowds indiscriminately, that make the succeeding regime, even if the coup is successful, very unpopular. The vast majority of the American army is field forces. The only units that are not are Civil Affairs and MPs."

"I see," the president said, nodding. "And what type of training are the Keldara getting?"

"Field force training," Mike said, definitely. "They're also being trained for open field combat, not urbanized combat. The Keldara, frankly, would be bloody useless in a coup. And given their training and the fact that they're only a company, trying to stage a coup would be insane. I take it, now, that that is the subject of this discussion?"

"One of them," the president admitted. "And I wanted to see what you were like."

"And what am I like?" Mike asked, suddenly weary. He missed his boat in the Keys.

"Blunt," the president said, laughing. "As I was warned. Not the diplomat at all. This is good. A person as blunt as you would, yes, be very bad at staging a coup. What do you think of the Georgian army?"

"I haven't seen much of it," Mike said. "From what I have seen, it's trained as a regime protection force and not very well trained at that. It's underpaid, so all the troops are on the take, which means anything can slip through your checkpoints with a little cash. The officers don't understand leadership; all they understand is discipline and that badly. And for a little extra money you could have gotten much better equipment; the boots, especially, are horrible."

"I see," the president said, his face frozen.

"Yes, I am blunt," Mike replied. "And you asked. If you don't want to know the answer, don't ask me the question. Now, do I get to train my Keldara so I can do something about the Chechens in the area or do you want me to pack up and leave?"

"Oh, I think you can train your Keldara," the president said. "If for no other reason than the fact that if they're going to be as well trained as you say, if there is a coup, I'll have somewhere to run."

"Great," Mike said. "And you can feel free. I'll make sure you get somewhere safe. But if we can cut this short, it'd be great. I've got another meeting pending and it's going to be even tougher than this one."

"Tougher?" General Umarov asked. If he was upset at Mike's bluntness, or his opinion of the Georgian Army, it didn't show. In fact, he had a twinkle in his eye.

"The Keldara can be rather stuck in their ways," Mike admitted.

* * *

Mike sat at the head of the kitchen table as the elders filed in. He had "asked" Captain Tyurin to pick them up, since for the time being he was the only one in the valley with the wheels and Mike wasn't about to have Father Kulcyanov walk up the hill.

He waited in silence as the Six Fathers took seats and then hooked his feet on a convenient rung under the table and tilted his chair back.

"In case anyone's interested," he said, "Irina is doing fine. She, Lydia and her mother are in a hotel in Tbilisi. It will be a few more days before she can be driven back safely. With that out of the way, go ahead and say the rest."

"Kildar," Father Mahona said after a series of looks were exchanged. "You have to understand that among the Keldara, if a woman has been alone with a man she is considered . . . not eligible for marriage."

"Spoiled goods," Mike said, nodding. "Unclean. Fit only to be sent to town. She's your daughter, and I assume we're discussing Lydia, here, but I understand she's promised to Oleg Kulcyanov," Mike said, looking over at the old man. "What does the Family of Kulcyanov say?"

"Lydia is a good woman," Father Kulcyanov replied after a moment. "And Oleg cares for her very much. But there is the problem of . . ."

"Of a medical emergency," Mike said, dropping his chair to land hard and leaning forward. "Okay, I screwed up. I was in full American mode. In the U.S., there would have been no thought of this. I needed to get Irina to the hospital or she would have died . . ."

"The money . . ." Father Shaynav said.

"NO!" Mike shouted, slamming his fist on the table. "I said there would be NO debt for medical treatment! You touch on MY honor with this! As to Lydia," Mike continued, more calmly, "nothing happened. Not in the car, not in the hotel. Think about this, Oleg is going to be one of the leaders of the militia. I will have him at my back with a gun in his hand. How stupid would I have to be to fool around with his woman? Do you really think I'm that stupid?"

"It is a matter of custom, Kildar," Father Mahona said, tightly.

"Yes, it is," Mike replied. "It is a matter of control of reproduction. I can lecture on it for hours. I probably understand it better than you do. There are pills and things to do it in more advanced cultures. But in your culture, for thousands of years, the only way to control reproduction was to control the body of the woman. The only way that worked, at least. But Lydia is still in the same condition as when she left. So is Irina, for that matter. In the future, I will be much more careful. You'll have to chalk this up to the Kildar not knowing your customs as well as I should. I have been here for a very short time. But, I will not have Oleg pissed at me because I tainted his marriage, much less ended it! That is final. Is this clear?"

"Yes, Kildar," Father Mahona said, angrily.

* * *

Snow still covered the ground thickly, but the roads were plowed so Mike used those for his morning run. He'd gotten severely out of shape but between the weight machines and running in the morning some of the old form was coming back. Every other day he'd started laying off the run and taking a heavily weighted ruck up the paths in the mountains. The first week he'd barely been able to make it a few hundred meters, but at the end of three weeks he was climbing all the way to the summit of the western mountains. The first day he made it to the top he'd had to just sit up there in the blowing cold and breathe for a good half hour. The air was noticeably thinner and the ruck march had worn him to the point he wasn't sure he could get back down. It was late afternoon before he made it to the caravanserai and he'd been in no shape to work out the next day.

This morning he was coming back from a light ten-mile jog that had taken him up and down the hills to the north. He turned into the road up to the caravanserai, speeding up and really pushing the muscles up the switchbacks until he reached the gate, then slowing down and trotting around the gardens to the south. He was breaking snow at that point so he slowed to a walk and continued around the caravanserai until he got back to the front door.

It felt good. The run had been long and not particularly slow and some of the hills to the north had been steep, not even mentioning the damned road up to the caravanserai. But he still felt good. Back in form. Yakov had even gotten the girls in town cleaned up, if not the house, and Mike was back to getting his ashes hauled on a regular basis. Life was good.

He dropped the sweats on a table in the foyer—it was nice having servants—and headed up to his room in sweat-soaked shorts and a T-shirt. After a shower and shave he got into jeans and flannels and headed back downstairs.

He'd taken to eating in the kitchen, much to Mother Griffina's initial shock and horror. But at this point she'd gotten over it. By the time he made it back downstairs the sweats had been whisked away, coffee was brewed and Mother Griffina was ready to serve up his "barbarian" breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns and biscuits with gravy. It helped that he'd gotten various German appliances shipped in, at exorbitant cost. The kitchen had all new stoves and an industrial refrigerator and freezer. In the attached cellars there was a zero degree freezer he intended to fill up during the year as meat and vegetables became available. He'd also gotten a couple of sets of washing machines and dryers so Mother Savina and her helpers wouldn't have to do all the laundry by hand.

"There was a call from a shipping company," Mother Savina said as he entered the room. "There are two containers on the way, both full. They should be here a little after noon."

"The militia's equipment arrives," Mike said, sitting down at the kitchen table and nodding to Mother Griffina in thanks as she poured coffee. "We're going to need a bunch of strong backs."

"And Genadi called from Tbilisi and asks that you call him back," Mother Savina added.

"I'll call him after breakfast," Mike said, as Mother Griffina set the heaping plate in front of him. Between the cold and the run he was famished.

After breakfast he took a cup of coffee to the office and dialed Genadi.

"Kildar," the farm manager said when he answered the phone. "It is good to hear from you."

"What's the situation?" Mike asked. When they'd last spoken the local Ford dealer only had two models that they needed. They'd placed an order for the rest.

"All of the trucks are in," Genadi said. "And the SUVs are supposed to be on the next ship. When do you want to start delivery?"

"What about the tractors and sundry equipment?" Mike asked.

"I've gotten the entire list rounded up," Genadi said, happily. "They can be delivered at any time."

"Monday," Mike said. "The militia equipment is coming in today. I'm going to store it in the cellars for the time being. Bring it in on Monday and we'll make an event of it. There's not much going on at the moment."

"The weather report expects a thaw to start next week," Genadi said. "There will be the floods starting maybe. We can use the time to train people on the equipment."

"The trainers are going to be arriving week after next," Mike said, thoughtfully. "We're not going to start serious training until we have some idea how the new equipment works with the planting."

"We will work it out," Genadi said. "Can do."

"Can do," Mike replied. "Schedule delivery of all of it for Monday. And don't forget my SUV. The Mercedes is awfully comfortable but I'm tired of not being able to drive anywhere but paved roads."

"I won't," Genadi said with a chuckle.

"Later," Mike said, cutting the connection. "Come," he added at a knock on the door.

"The Keldara will be here a little before noon," Mother Savina said.

"Ask Mother Griffina to prepare to feed them, if we have the food in the house," Mike said. "I'd like to take every opportunity to feed them when I can. That cuts down on the stores they have to draw on."

"I'll pass that on to Griffina," Mother Savina said, nodding.

"There are about twenty people arriving next week," Mike said. "We're going to have to lay in stores for them as well. Make sure there's plenty of beer; most of them are going to be beer drinkers. Get some wine as well. And get the upstairs rooms cleaned up, most of them will be housed in there. They will be staying for some time. I'll get some helpers for you while they're here; I'm not sure I want to mix Keldara women in with these guys until I get a better read. I need to go talk to Yakov."

* * *

Mike found the pimp in his usual spot, hanging out by the door hoping for customers.

"Mr. Jenkins," Yakov said, happily, as he opened the door for the former SEAL. "It is good to see you in the house again."

"Glad to be back," Mike said as they walked into the main room. It was early so the girls were probably still in bed; the room wasn't occupied anyway.

"I can wake up Inessa," Yakov offered. The redhead was Mike's "regular" although he switched around to keep all the girls in spending money. Even the cold-eyed blonde who was good in bed, but a maven for tips. The problem with screwing her, though, was every time Mike got it stuck in he was half afraid there'd be a razor waiting for him. The girl was just trouble. He'd seen it in how she treated the other girls and even Yakov, who apparently had no control over her.

"Not right now," Mike said. "The reason I stopped by is that I'm going to have some visitors. They're going to be staying for a while. Now, I could send them to town for the joys, but I'd rather not. Nothing against your house; it's a security issue. What I'd like to do is borrow some of the girls for the time they're here."

"You mean rent I hope," Yakov said, his eyes narrowing. "Borrow is a different meaning."

"Rent then," Mike said, sighing. "And they're going to have to help with some stuff around the house, especially with everyone that's going to be there. Actually, I'd like to leave just one with you, maybe Katya, and take the other four."

"If you take Katya it's a deal," Yakov said. "I'll keep Esfir. If your friends get tired of the other girls, you will perhaps send them up here?"

"Be sure of it," Mike said. "The guys are arriving week after next. Go ahead and send the girls over middle of next week."

He left the brothel whistling. Having the girls around would keep the troops happy and he wouldn't have to go visit the girls in this crappy "house." He should have done this a long time ago.

He stopped whistling as he realized he was going to be letting Katya in his house. That wasn't going to be fun. But he could handle her. And if she couldn't be handled, well, there was a backhoe arriving on Monday.

* * *

"Father Kulcyanov," Mike said, shaking the old man's hand, then going on to the other elders. "It is good to see you," he continued, louder, looking over the crowd of Keldara gathered outside the houses, "all of you."

There was a cold wind blowing but not as cold as it had been, and it was blowing from the south. The temperature was well above freezing and the ground was slushy and nasty. But it was Monday. He stepped back onto the dais so he could see the whole group and nodded.

"When I first spoke to you, I said that I would promise nothing," Mike said, reaching down and hitting the transmit button on the radio at his side twice. "I said you would have to see what I would do. Last week, the men of the Keldara helped unload two containers of material. This gear is now housed in the caravanserai until trainers arrive. But they could see what was in the boxes. Uniforms, boots, ammunition vests, communications, guns and ammunition. All of the things that we will need to make this valley secure from any threat."

He paused as there was a brief buzz and didn't look over his shoulder as the buzz got louder and people began pointing behind him excitedly.

"But there is more to this valley than its security," Mike continued as he heard the sound of truck engines revving on the flat. "This is a farm, first and foremost, and a farm cannot function without tools. So now you see the other side of what I have not promised, but have been able to deliver."

He stepped down as the first of the tractor trailers negotiated the turn into the valley and then kept going down into the flats. He'd had the Keldara plow and gravel a large area, completely mystifying them, but it now gave the six tractor trailers room to maneuver into place.

Two were car carriers loaded with pickup trucks and SUVs, red diesel F-350 flaresides and black diesel Expeditions. The others were loaded with tractors, including one monster for pulling a combination harvester. The combine was going to be delivered later since there hadn't been enough trucks to bring everything at once. There was also a large container truck that pulled in next to them.

Mike joined the group of Keldara that crowded forward to see the arriving equipment and smiled at their talk. The equipment was a big hit.

He smiled even more broadly when Genadi pulled up in a big black Expedition.

"Good to see you, Genadi," Mike said as the farm manager got out of the SUV.

"Yours is the first to be unloaded," Genadi said, pointing at one of the car carriers as the driver got out and started undoing the chains.

"Just getting this stuff unloaded is going to be a chore," Mike said. "Especially the container vehicle."

"There is a forklift in it," Genadi said, smiling. "The equipment is on pallets. A bit more expensive but we should be able to get it unloaded quickly."

There was more than tractors on the flatbeds; they were loaded down with attachments. As it turned out, even with the willing help of the Keldara it took more time to unload the flatbeds than the rest of the material combined and when all the equipment was down off the trucks and the trucks were gone, Mike shook his head.

"I need to see the elders," Mike said. "And Oleg for Kulcyanov."

When the group was gathered Mike waved at the equipment.

"There is one forty-horsepower tractor for each family," Mike said. "Most of them have a forklift attachment, a dozer blade, a bush-hog, a hay cutter and a couple of other minor attachments. Spread them out to your houses and barns. The big tractor is for the farm in general; there will be a harvester and some planting devices delivered next week. Each family gets a truck and an SUV. The SUVs are for the fathers so they can move around and they can let people use them as they wish with one exception: they are also for the use of the militia when we get it going. The militia has first call on the SUVs. The pallets have general tools that Genadi thought would be of use. There are shovels, hoes, axes, chainsaws and other items. Distribute them equally among you. Yes, I own them, but you are to use them as you would use your own tools. Use them to cut wood until we can do something better for heat, use them in your gardens. Do not think that this is debt; you will surely use them in service of the farm in general as well."

"Kildar," Father Shaynav said, nodding at him. "We thank you for these items."

"If the farm has good tools, good seeds and good people, it will prosper," Mike said. "There was no way that we'd be able to make anything better without the proper tools. Next week the trainers will be arriving. They will take a few weeks getting acquainted and looking at the land to figure out where to do training and some projects I have in mind. With the tractors many of the young men will be available for training even during planting. When the trainers get here I'll come up with a schedule and get it to you. While we are still unable to work the fields, however, we'll start introductory weapons training with some of the Keldara. I'll run it, starting tomorrow," he said, handing Oleg a sheet of paper.

"That is a list of the first group to be trained," Mike said. "I would like to see those men at the caravanserai tomorrow morning about nine. Genadi has another list of Keldara who will start training with the tractors tomorrow. Put the gear away today and I will meet with those men tomorrow."


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