Thursday was out to get me.
I could have written off the last crumbs of breakfast cereal as poor planning ahead. Spilling coffee on my coat, that happens. Traffic being bad is more a rule than an exception. A pile of paperwork on my desk so close to the end of the week is an irritant, but usually nothing I can’t get around or push through.
When the office doors burst open and armed men walk in, it’s a different story.
We all dove under our desks. Most of us had been around guns or the military in some way, so we knew better than to run around or scream in panic. From the small space under my cubicle, I could see Anastasia’s desk. She, too, was holding up the particle board as if it was about to fall on her. She was listening to the banter back and forth from the invaders, looked my way, and mouthed a word.
That didn’t quite fit with what I knew. Sure, many national agencies were curious about what we were working on at the behest of a virtual alphabet soup of government interests, but the Russians had been nothing but cordial with our contacts. I often traded e-mails with one of Anastasia’s cousins who still lived in the Ukraine, so I could not conclude that these goons were government-issue.
I peeked around the side of my cubicle. These guys were wearing heavy-duty work boots, probably steel-toed, but they weren’t polished and showed quite a bit of wear and tear from places other than an urban environment. They were evidence of men and women who trotted the globe as expediently as possible, of contractors chasing paychecks. Mercenaries, then. I ducked back before I could see any faces. No sense in taking any chances.
“We do not want to hurt anyone!” The leader had some bark in his voice. Probably a disenfranchised vet of some kind or another. “We want most senior analyst to speak with us!”
Well, piss. I looked at Anastasia again and shrugged. Her green eyes went a bit wider, as if to warn me of what I was in for. In spite of what I saw in that gaze, I crawled out from under my desk, raised my hands, and slowly stood.
“Then it’s me you want. I’m Arthur Digby. I’ve got the most experience of anybody in here.”
The leader was a tall man of solid build with white hair done with a #2 clippers and the steely gaze of someone who’s seen more than their share of battlefield horrors. He regarded me for a long moment as two of his guys trained their AKs on my chest.
“You are brave man, speaking up so quickly.”
“You say you don’t want to hurt anyone. I’ll hold you to that. Ask me what you want, I’ll answer what I can, and maybe we all go home happy tonight.”
“You tell co-workers not to call for help. Let us keep this private, yes?”
I nodded. “Everybody turn off your cell phones. These men are going to collect them, and when this is over, we’ll get them back. I’ll go first.” Slowly, I reached into my pocket, produced my government phone, and turned it off. The leader took it and handed it to a subordinate.
“Let us talk in conference room.”
I nodded, following him into the glass-walled room. I finally got a count: seven-member team, five men and two women. The leader and two of the men lead the way into the conference room while one of the women kept a rifle on the back of my head. That left two men and a woman holding down an office of almost twenty analysts and consultants. I glanced at Anastasia as I was pushed into the room.
“Have seat, Mister Digby. Let us talk about Project Ajax.”
I blinked. “Maybe you mean Operation Ajax, the CIA operation that deposed the prime minister of Iran in 1953?”
The woman smacked me in the back of the head with the butt of her rifle. I saw stars.
“That was rude. Now I need to recover from serious head trauma to answer your leader’s questions.”
“Please, Mister Digby. Project Ajax.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath. I could see Anastasia was slowly moving towards the other three in the office. Sam, who had apparently recovered from the six-pack we’d split Wednesday night, was coming op on their other side. “Project Ajax is a government initiative to develop a short-range remote-controlled device to deliver intelligence on, and possible detonate within, enemy cave formations.”
“For your Afghan campaign, yes?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. All three of the leader’s cronies tracked the movement. Which meant they didn’t see Sam and Anastasia working over the others in the office. “No, for the frat parties the crackpot militias in Colorado keep throwing. Yes, for the Afghan campaign, numb-nuts.”
If Thursday was going to beat me, it’d be now. The woman behind me wound up for another hit. Sam and Anastasia, now with AKs of their own, converged on the conference room. I kicked out from the chair, going to my knees as the wheeled executive leather hit the woman behind me. I reached up, finding her AK right where it should have been, and pulled.
She had a strong grip. I pushed up with my legs, putting her on the table flat on her back. Sam and Anastasia subdued the other two men as I knocked the woman out. The leader had his hand on his sidearm, but with three rifles on him, he wisely raised his hands.
“Sam, call it in. You, on your knees.”
Glaring at me, the leader of the mercs sank down.
“This will not go unanswered.”
“Yeah? By whom? Who are you working for?”
I tried to ignore the way Anastasia was watching me – damn, she’s got pretty eyes. The leader said nothing, so I smacked him with the rifle.
“Yeah. Sucks, doesn’t it?”