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Chapter Six

When Mike woke up he just lay in bed for a moment, thinking and working his joints. He'd taken some ibuprofen and drunk a bottle of water before lying down and that helped with the hangover. But it didn't help, much, with the joints and they were frozen as usual. Between his time in the SEALs and some of the stuff afterwards, he had massive damage to his body; he couldn't just roll out of bed anymore.

But what kept him in bed at the moment was the situation. There were a billion things to do, both from the point of view of making the caravanserai livable and to getting the farms prepared for the spring planting. He wasn't sure what you did for that, but he knew that if you were going to do it right, it would require equipment. Tractors, trucks, a harvester. He wasn't sure how much any of it cost, but he'd run across something about a harvester being a quarter of a million dollars. He had no idea what a tractor would cost. For that matter, he was vaguely aware that they came in different sizes and he wasn't sure what size was the best for the farms.

At the least, each of the "Families" would need a tractor of their own. Maybe one harvester for the valley. A couple of trucks for each family. No, a truck and an SUV. Both could double for use of the militia.

And that was another question. He was going to need equipment, weapons and trainers. He knew where to get the equipment but he was going to have to shop for the weapons. Not a bad thing, in and of itself, but he wasn't sure how to do it in this remote area. If you were forming a militia, did arms manufacturers send you reps? He smiled at that and then rolled painfully to his feet.

The house was still cold; he added a delivery of fuel oil for the furnace that ran the radiators to his list of things to do, then thought about a more modern heating system. Could you run forced air through stone like this?

The stones of the floor were bare and he made a note that he needed some carpets. Gads, this was going to get expensive, quick. He needed an internet connection. He needed to know if DHL delivered out here. He was almost out of bedding spray, he needed lice shampoo. Medicines in case something went wrong out here in the back of beyond. Trainers . . . 

By the time he'd gotten out of the shower he had a general list of things he needed to do and get and his joints were working again. He did some stretching exercises to work out the last kinks, added workout equipment to the list, again, realized he needed something to write on and added general office supplies. A computer. Gads.

He made his way downstairs and passed one of the Keldara, a girl in her teens, who was dusting the rungs of a chair. She was half bent over and the outline of a very shapely ass was visible under her skirt. That reminded him that he was back in a serious lackanookie situation, while being surrounded by beautiful women. Not good.

The girl didn't hear his soft foot treads until he was almost past and then turned around and straightened up with a frightened squeak, bowing to the new boss. He winked at her and was given a blush in return.

Despite being the local baron or whatever, he was painfully aware that the Keldara women were off-limits. Which was too bad; they were real lookers.

He found Mother Savina supervising the girls working on the lower floors and she led him into a small parlor near the harem quarters where a fire was cheerfully warming the room. She served him tea and bread, the bread still fresh from the oven, and he nibbled on that as he listened to her recite what had been done and what needed to be done from her point of view.

"I would like to replace the tile in the foyer," Mother Savina said, diffidently. "But we do not mine marble so we'll have to either replace it all or get some that matches. And it will be expensive."

"I'll add it to the list and figure out a budget," Mike said. "I've barely gotten a look at the cellars. Do you have any idea what is down there?"

"Oleg checked it out for me," Mother Savina said, shaking her head. "There is broken furniture. Some of it can be repaired and used. Maybe in the servants' quarters. Most of it is good for no more than firewood. There are also many boxes and crates. He opened one and it had papers in Russian, I think documents from when the commissar was here. That is as far as I know."

"We need to sort out what is worth keeping and get rid of the rest," Mike said. "I suppose there is some scholar somewhere who could make something of documents from a minor commissar. If he finds anything that appears to predate the Soviets, I want to see it. Anything broken, throw away or burn. Any military equipment, set aside for me to inspect. Anything the Keldara think they can use, take it. As long as it doesn't pre-date the Soviets."

"Very well, Kildar."

"On the subject of general cleaning," Mike said, clearing his throat. "I hate vermin. Fleas, lice, bedbugs, especially. Buy whatever cleaners you need to get rid of them. I sprayed down the bed upstairs when I knew I was going to be sleeping in it. But wash all the linens and keep them separate to ensure they don't get reinfested. And anyone working in the house on a regular basis needs to take a bath or shower, and use lice shampoo, to get rid of lice and bedbugs. Clean clothes, to get rid of fleas. Okay?"

"Of course, Kildar," Mother Savina said, nodding.

"Um, about the people who work in the house," Mike said, carefully. "I'm a heterosexual male and I haven't been getting a lot lately. You'll probably need some help, but . . ."

"Older women?" Mother Savina said, smiling faintly.

"Unfortunately," Mike said with a sigh. "Happy as everyone seems to be to have a 'real Kildar' whatever that means, I don't think they'd be nearly as happy with pregnant daughters."

"You should have a woman in the house, though," Mother Savina pointed out. "That would make the problem . . . less."

"And a woman I was close to would be a hostage to fortune to my enemies, if they ever find me," Mike replied. "I'll make some arrangements eventually. Clean up the girls in town. Import a professional from time to time if nothing else. Is there a room that can be set up for an office? And have you seen Genadi?" Mike added, changing the subject.

"Genadi is still sleeping the afternoon off," Mother Savina said. "And there is a room that would be a good office. On the ground floor to the rear. It is not well lit . . ."

"That's what lamps are for," Mike said. "Show me."

The room was, if anything, a bit too large for an office and had only one window, high on the rear wall. But with the stone walls it would make an excellent room for secure conversations and it had a fireplace, which would be nice. He added setting up some secure links to the mental list. He hoped he wouldn't need them, but with the way things had gone since he got out of the teams, it was more likely than not.

Speaking of which, he really needed to check in.

"I'm going to be going up to the balcony of my room," Mike said. "I'd prefer that I not be disturbed and that you keep people out of the area. I need to hold a private conversation."

"I will assure it, Kildar," Mother Savina said.

Mike walked back to his bedroom and pulled his sat phone out of the jump bag. The sat phone was the size of the old "brick" cellular phones with a thick antenna. He had a more elaborate one in his duffel, but this would do for the conversation.

He went out on the balcony and made sure he had a good signal from the satellite, then hit the speed dial.

"Office of Special Operations Liaison," a man said when the call connected. "United States Navy Captain Folsom, how may I help you sir or ma'am?"

"Go scramble," Mike said, punching in his combination.


"This is Jenkins," Mike said. "Checking in. I'm going to be spending some time near a town in Georgia, the country not the state, called Alerrso. Alpha, Lima, Echo, Romeo, Romeo, Sierra, Oscar."

It was just before four PM local time, seven AM in Washington. His usual contact was generally in by then, but he might be preparing for a briefing.

"Confirm Alerrso," Captain Folsom said. "There'd been a query out on you, sir. What is your situation?"

"Nominal," Mike said. "I've bought a house and intend to stay here for the foreseeable future. I'd appreciate security updates if there's a major issue in the area."

"Alerrso is in a heavy Chechen area of Georgia," Folsom said after a moment. "The security situation is poor."

"There's a local group I'm going to support in forming a militia," Mike replied. "I'll do that through my own contacts and methods. But if there's major intel on the local security situation, I'd appreciate being apprised. I'll keep the secondary line on standby for data dumps. Right now, given the meteorological conditions, the security situation is stable."

"Roger that. I'll pass on your situation and intent. Take care."

"Will do," Mike said, cutting the connection.

The Office of Special Operations Liaison was the group that briefed senior members of the government on Spec Ops missions and plans. Mike had become associated with them during his first post-team mission when Colonel Bob Pierson had been his "control" and communications point. Since then he'd continued to maintain contact through them and had been "asked" to keep them apprised of his current location when out of the States. It was a pain in the ass, but made up for itself in having a Big Brother to call when the shit occasionally hit the fan. Of course, in at least one case the call had gone the other way and he'd ended up shot to ribbons. But in that case, Uncle Sammie also picked up the medical bills and cleaned up the mess.

He put away the handphone and set up the larger sat phone on a chest of drawers, careful to ensure that it could get reception through the stone walls and roof. The laptop sized sat phone could download secure documents and had a headset for longer conversations, not to mention general laptop capabilities. It used a proprietary software, unfortunately, which was even buggier than Windows. But it usually worked.

With commo put in, he headed downstairs to find out what trouble the Keldara had gotten into.

With the sun setting and clouds presaging more snow, most of the Keldara had left by the time he got back downstairs. The foyer was deserted although there was a fire going in the fireplace, and Mike wandered around until he found Mother Savina and, he presumed, Mother Griffina in the kitchen.

He'd checked the kitchen out on a previous visit and been horrified. Whoever used it last, presumably the Soviets, had left it in a state of total disaster. Every cooking surface was covered with grease and food residue and most of the counters were just as awful. Not to mention the patina of dust mixed in. The floor didn't bear description and he'd had to scrape his shoes off after leaving. He hadn't dared look in the Soviet-era refrigerator.

The place hadn't been raised to perfect standards in the short time the women had had to work on it but it was much better. The tile floor was visible in spots and the counters had been cleaned. The stoves had been scrubbed, but it was evident that there was more work to do. Savina and Griffina were apparently discussing that in low tones when he entered. A few of the remaining girls worked on the floor; he had a hard time keeping his eye off of them. The only way to get the floor clean was to scrub it with brushes, on their knees. The girls had pulled up their skirts to keep them from getting ruined and their lovely legs were exposed. The way they pulled the skirts up also tightened them across gorgeous asses. It was a sight to drive a guy nuts. Or down the road to the brothel.

"A mess, isn't it?" Mike said, startling the women. He didn't mean to move quietly; it was just the way he moved. There was a reason he'd been given the team name "Ghost."

"Kildar," Mother Griffina said, bowing. "I am sorry, you should not have to see this. It will take a day or two to get the kitchen properly prepared."

"I saw it before you did and I should have warned you," Mike said. "Where'd you bake the bread? Not in here, I think."

"There is a smaller kitchen upstairs," Mother Griffina replied. "If you would like something to eat . . ."

"I'm fine," Mike said. "I'll be getting back in shape and I'll eat enough to satisfy you then. But when I'm not working out, I eat light. I ate way too much today. But there are a few dishes that, when the kitchen's in better order, I'd like to show you. Americans eat . . . different than most other people. We eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, for example."

"I will get bacon and eggs," Mother Griffina said. "I will have them ready to prepare in the upstairs kitchen in the morning."

"Don't sweat it tonight," Mike said. "It's not that big of a deal. And I don't usually eat that heavy when I'm not working out. Savina, we need to get the furnace working in this pile. It's freezing in here."

"There is no fuel oil for the furnace," Mother Savina said, nodding. "I have sent word to order some. There is a man in town who delivers. He will deliver tomorrow, I hope. I had the men bring in firewood in the meantime. Uncle Latif is the yard man, he and his son Petro. Fires have been laid in all the fireplaces except in your room. I had one lit in the foyer and in the parlor."

"Works," Mike said. "Skip the foyer usually; there's no way to actually warm the room with it and I don't expect I'll be sitting out there much. Mother Griffina, don't get too attached to these antique stoves; I'll probably be getting new ones. Christ, there's going to be a bunch of work to be done."

"We will get it done, Kildar," Mother Savina promised. "Why don't you go to the second floor parlor and I'll bring a snack?"

"I'll do that, since there's no furniture in the office," Mike said, yawning. "Get Genadi up, if you would, and have him meet me there. We have a lot to talk about."

* * *

Mike was sipping tea and working on a list when Genadi came in the room. The second floor parlor was nearly adjacent to the master bedroom and also overlooked the harem garden. At the moment all that could be seen was leafless trees and equally leafless bushes Mike assumed were roses. But it would be pretty in spring.

"The more things I realize I want, the more I come up with," Mike grumped as Genadi came in. "But we need to talk about the farms. For starters, I want a big pickup for each family and an equally big SUV. The pickups should be four-door and long-bed. But we need to talk about tractors and combines."

"That is a lot of money, Kildar," Genadi said, surprised. He sat down on the couch across from Mike and shook his head. "Very much money."

"Money I've got," Mike said. "Unless we're talking in excess of ten mil. In which case, we'll need to discuss it. I'm probably going to be spending more on arms and equipment; you have no idea how much top-line weapons and commo cost. Not to mention the pay for the trainers. Speaking of which, it's late January. When does planting start?"

"Usually around April," Genadi said. "The ground is not warm enough before then. Some of the gardens will put in cabbage and beets earlier."

"So we have a month and a bit," Mike mused. "That means I can't get everything in place before planting season. Tell me how that goes."

"First there is a thaw," Genadi said. "Then we pick the rocks from the fields. After the rocks are picked it is time to start planting, usually. The old ones wait for signs, certain birds to return and the time of the moon. I'll be testing for soil temperature but I might let them go a day or so on the basis of signs. Frankly, it works out about as well. Then we plow and plant the first crop. With some of the hybrids I'll be getting, we may be able to do a second crop of some of the plants. Turnips go in early, but we won't do much of that, cabbage as well and there will be at least one field of cabbage. I have plans on which fields should take which plants, I've been thinking about it for a long time . . ."

"Up to you," Mike said. "The main point is that I'll need about a two-month period when the men are freed up to an extent. And assume that they'll have machinery to help with what it can help."

"If there are tractors and machinery, many of them will be free even during planting," Genadi said. "Not all the young men, but many of them. By around the first of May."

"I'll take a look at manning later," Mike replied. "But do you think we can squeeze, say, seventy percent of the men from seventeen to thirty-five, starting sometime in May?"

"Easily," Genadi said. "If we have machinery."

"Okay," Mike said, nodding. "I want you to move down to Tbilisi for the time being to get the machinery we'll need. I'm not sure they'll have everything we want in stock. How do we get you there? I don't want to be driving back and forth."

"There is a bus, I can ride that," Genadi said.

"Works," Mike replied. "That way. You'll need an SUV or pickup, your choice, for getting around. Get that first. I've got an account with the Bank of Tbilisi. I'll set up another that you can draw on. Get everything in place and we'll move it up in one load if we can. By late March, I want to be able to dump a gigaton of machinery on these folks. Let's figure out what we need, want and desire."

It took about an hour to draw up the list. Some items could be put off and a few could be rented for specific periods, but Mike erred on the side of purchase. The final estimate was a pretty fair bite, running right at a million euros.

"A million here, a million there and before long you're talking real money," Mike muttered. "While you're in Tbilisi, find out if there are any IMF grants for this sort of thing. Grants not loans. Check with the American Embassy as well; I know there's a fair amount of foreign aid going to Georgia. But nothing with a lot of strings attached. With Americans, there are always strings."

"I will, Kildar," Genadi said, nodding. "This is very much money."

"I can afford it," Mike noted. "But I'd prefer to afford as little as I can. See about a lawyer as well. A good one. They're generally up on things like that. Check with your old professors, all the usual. Use your head. On the trucks and whatnot, if it's about the same price or even a little more, get Fords if they're available. F-350s for the big ones."

"Why Fords?" Genadi asked. "Mercedes makes . . ."

"I like Ford," Mike said, cutting him off. "And they're bigger than the Mercedes vehicles in the same cost range. Oh, and all of them need to be four-wheel drive with the roads around here."

"As you say, Kildar," Genadi replied, sighing.

"I need to make some phone calls," Mike said. "Get packed and head to town tomorrow. Get yourself a cell phone when you get there and contact me so I know where to reach you."

* * *

Mike went back to the master suite and got the larger sat phone, bringing it into the parlor when Genadi was gone and setting it up. It had a good connection and he used the limited internet pipe to do some searching. He got a few good hits off of Google and started making calls.

Three hours later he'd learned more about the international arms business than he liked. He was going to need an end-user license from the Georgian government, which he assumed Tyurin could arrange, and a bunchaton of money. After talking to a few brokers he'd cut to the chase and called Skoda Arms. The Czech company had been formed during the Soviet period and, even then, was noted for its high quality of manufacture and design. They still made some of the best weapons in the world and were more than willing to sell to anyone with cash and a reasonable set of documents. They'd even offered to broker secondary weapons they didn't make and ship the entire load in one shipment. He still wasn't sure what his total manpower looked like so he started doodling on a notepad until he figured it was after lunch and he could call Washington with a fair chance of getting ahold of Pierson.

"You said you bought a house," the colonel said when the scrambler was in place, "not a fucking fortress."

"I take it you've been talking to NRO," Mike replied, referring to the National Reconnaissance Office, the guys who ran all the satellites for the United States.

"That we have," Pierson said. "Nice place. The President's impressed."

"It's going to take a fair bit of work." Mike sighed. "It's so old nobody knows who built it to begin with and the interior looks it. But what I called about was the local militia, or lack thereof. This area is apparently lousy with Chechen terrorists and support structure. I'm going to try to form a tiddly little militia to cut down on that. If I do, it will take some of the heat off of Georgia with regard to the Russians. I know a border war has been a real worry in Washington for a while; any chance Uncle Sammie could, quietly, defray some of my costs? I've been doing equipment lists and, before the cost of the trainers, I'm looking at two to four mil in gear. That's a nasty bite. Then there's ongoing training costs."

"We might be able to swing something," Pierson said, musingly. "You'll need to work through the local military attaché but we can keep your connection low-profile. A word in the right ear and all that. What are the Georgians going to think of an American warlord in their rear area?"

"The local police chief thinks it's fine and dandy," Mike said. "I'm not too sure about the central government. I'll probably have to cross a few palms."

"Just dialing back the Chechens should make them happy," Pierson said. "But you never know about local governments."

"It's not like I can stage a coup," Mike pointed out. "Not with one company, more or less, of light infantry."

"How high you going to train them?" the colonel asked.

"As high as I can," Mike admitted. "I'd like them to be at least Ranger quality in a year. The basic material is there, I'll have to see if they can really take to the training. I've got a start on the TOE, I need to start rounding up trainers."

"Have fun."

"I'm buying guns, gear and soldiers," Mike said, chuckling. "Other than women, what's more fun to buy?"


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