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“Do you see what I see in these photos?”
“Let’s see. No, I don’t . . . but yes, yes, now I think I do. This looks like a rifle firing range and that area over there looks like a personnel obstacle course.”
“Yep, afraid that’s what I see too.”
I was standing and leaning over Roger Allard’s desk in the station. He had a bunch of blown-up photographs strewn around on the top of his desk. Some of them were still slightly damp from the developer.
“But, what does that mean?” I asked.
“Nothing good, I’m afraid. It matches some other scattered intell we’ve been getting. It’s been so buried in chaff and is so speculative, though, that we hadn’t taken the time to check it out yet. We sure as hell will check it out now, however.”
“OK, it looks like a low-scale training base. And the figures out on the courses have their heads covered with scarves. They certainly aren’t garbed like Indians. So, it looks like an Arab setup. But where is it and what’s the significance?”
Allard looked worried, and that worried me. “It looks like a lot of other training bases the Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda wannabe movements have tucked around in developing countries,” he said. “The problem is that this one is here, in Balrampur, not far from the Nepal border. Which means not far from us—either the consulate or the palace. And it’s not one of the known bases in our records. It might mean one of several things, none of them good for our business here. We could be a target—our airbase. The palace could even be a target. It could be directed toward Nepal too. But it’s new and it’s here and it’s our headache. We found it and it’s in our jurisdiction.”
“Where did you get these photos? And how old are they?” I asked.
“You got them,” Allard answered. “Or, more correctly, Prince Bhadur Khan got them. These are from the joy ride you took him on yesterday in the Magnus. He hit a gold mine on his first ride.”
“And I’ve promised him photos for souvenirs.”
“Not these particularly photos. Not to the prince. We’ve got plenty of other shots he’ll like. He was good with the camera controls—no empty sky or cloud shots. But we have to keep this close hold until we can check the place out and see if we can neutralize it before they can get these terrorists trained up to do something we won’t like.”
“So, nobody outside the station gets told? We don’t say anything to the government so they can bolster security?”
“Not now. Not yet. We’ll slip the information to the government through Mir Yusaf Adil as soon as we can get a grasp on what it means ourselves. Incidentally, you’ve been called to the palace. Adil wants you to move in, and I told him that was fine with us.”
“Uh, about Adil.”
“That he was with you before I summoned you? Yeah, I have eyes and ears. Give him anything he wants. He’s our main connection with the palace. And, for that matter, I suppose we should tell him something now. I want you to tell him there’s a threat—that maybe they are training somewhere too close. Nothing more specific than that. But he needs to step up palace security as much as he can without alerting General Sungar or the Rawal. And I’d like permission to bring some of the Blackshield guys in. We can’t have the place crawling with agents we can’t disown. The Blackshield guys are mainly former Agency or Seal. We need to beef up security around the airfield—and I’d like to get some of our assets into the palace compound too.”
“And you want me to cover all of that with Adil?” I asked, just to be sure.
“Yeah, and, Craig, I think Adil’s going to hit you with some sort of outlandish scheme concerning the Badshahrina and Rawalina. If he does, he’s discussed that with me too, and it’s a go as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think it will pan out, but he’s hot to trot on the idea. Cooperating will keep him and the Badshahrina’s faction quiet for a while. We gotta keep Adil and his team on our team.”
I couldn’t wait to hear what Adil’s little scheme was all about. Allard looked a little embarrassed when he told me he endorsed it. It had to be something nasty. I’d yet to see Allard squeamish about just about anything.
* * * *
First things first. When I was taken back to the palace, it was me back to the Sports House while my luggage went on to the main palace. I was told I would be shown to my new quarters later but that now the Rawal wanted to look at the photography he’d shot from the Magnus the previous day. It was usually a three-day process for a turnaround on these photos, but Allard had wisely put an all-night rush on them. And a good thing he did too. I had told Allard I’d only promised them to the prince in an offhand way, and Allard had told me there was no offhand way with Bhadur Khan. I was still fucking up in fully understanding the totality of the prince’s power over my side—and how short his fuse was. I had so much to learn and so little time in which to learn it.
Adil met me at the limousine, made sure that I was carrying a portfolio gaziantep escort ilanları of the photographs, and started to escort me into the building.
“Can we talk a minute first, Kshatriyas?” I asked. “Out here, a bit away from the door, if we can?”
“Afraid of surveillance? Is it that sort of discussion?” He was smiling, but it was a sort of “smiling for the cameras” look, so I didn’t think I needed to argue the point with him.
“Yes, I always assume surveillance. And, yes, it’s that sort of discussion.”
“You are right to do so. You never cease to please me. In every way imaginable.” He was smiling “that smile” at me, and we were standing on the brown gravel drive well away from both the limousine and the door to the Sports House. The guards were studiously faced the other way. I almost reached out to touch him in a signal of endearment, but almost as if he sensed I would do that, he moved slightly away from me. And the warning look he gave me put me on my guard. I was learning, but perhaps not fast enough. He was reminding me that I would not want to see how angry the prince could get if he sensed any sort of competition for his sexual toys. Anyone who touched me could only do so with the explicit permission of the prince.
“There was evidence of something in photographs taken from the Magnus yesterday that I haven’t brought to show the prince,” I said. “Allard said I could tell you what they are, but not the location.”
“What are they?”
“The prince unwittingly snapped shots of what looks like a terrorist training base while we were up in the Magnus yesterday, and we did not stray outside of Balrampur territory. I had no stomach for causing either the Indian or the Nepalese air force jets to be scrambled. Allard told me to tell you this because he wants permission to bring in professional civilian soldiers to protect against possible action from the camp and to neutralize it—both for your good and ours.”
“Mercenaries? He wants to bring in mercenaries? American mercenaries?”
“Yes. Blackshield. They are highly trained. We would do what we could to keep them from being an embarrassment to you.”
“Where is this terrorist training base and what is it targeted against?”
“We can’t say what its purpose might be. And I’m afraid I can’t tell you where the base is. I wasn’t told myself. Allard says that’s for your own good. We might choose to take it out, if we can do so without embarrassing your government. But if you do so, Allard says it should be based on information you formulated for yourself. He said that was in your best interests.”
“This is a disturbing wrinkle,” Adil said. “I will see what I can do about the request to let mercenaries in the country. None of these mercenaries could come inside the palace compound, of course. General Sungar wouldn’t countenance that. And if there’s a terrorist base nearby, I believe he already knows that. Causing Sungar any concern or suspicion might move up their action plan.”
“Yes, Allard agrees with that.”
“Come with me to the prince with your photographs. While you are in audience with him, I’ll see what I can do about this matter. And then, after you have been to your quarters and dressed appropriately, we have an audience with the Badshahrina.”
“Yes, she wishes you to do something for her.”
I walked the corridor toward the locker room with him, wondering just how convoluted my role in palace machinations was going to get.
The massage room was spacious, but it seemed less so because of all of the people milling around in it.
“Damn,” I heard Adil mutter under his breath as we entered. “I didn’t expect them to be here this soon.”
But only I—and maybe the professional deaf and dumb uniformed guards at the doors—heard him, I’m sure. Outwardly, he was all smooth unction and smiles.
The centerpiece of the room, fittingly, was Prince Bhadur Khan, laying on his belly on a massage board, not even with a towel around him. A pouting Aruna was off to one side, being fanned by two middle-aged women in saris. The room was steamy and full of sunshine from a massive skylight overhead. Aruna was wearing her signature big-lens sunglasses. I couldn’t keep myself from looking at the swell of her belly, wondering now how far along she was.
There was the masseur, of course, and assorted uniformed guards, but there also were three officious-looking men in their forties and fifties dressed in somber-colored, but expensively cut sherwanis. These men had briefcases and thick stacks of documents.
As Adil and I entered, though, the prince turned his face to us, sat up on the edge of the massage table, and waved the official-looking men away. They and the masseur backed out of the room in a low bow. The guards also receded into the wall paint.
“The aerial shots? You brought them?”
“Yes he did, of course,” Adil answered, motioning me forward. And then he too backed out of the room, bowing, in the wake of the three officials.
“You took some really good photographs,” I said, opening the portfolio I had brought with me. “Some great ones of the Sravasti area.” I didn’t mention the even better ones of a terrorist training camp that I hadn’t brought.
We spent several minutes looking over the photos—the technology of which I could readily see aroused him—and then he commanded me to strip off my trousers and briefs. At the same time he was calling for the masseurs to come back.
“Aruna is bored and needs attention,” he said. “I want to watch you fuck her.”
He went back on his belly on the massage table and I turned and approached where Aruna sat. If she was disturbed by what the prince commanded me to do, she showed no evidence of it. Was this more testing of me? I thought. Would he call me off before I began. Aruna gave me a speculative look, pulled up the hem of her sari and spread her legs, showing me the triangle of her cunt. I knelt between her spread thighs and pressed my face into her triangle, searching out and finding her clit with my tongue. Aruna started mewing and panting, and a long, slender finger slid down beside my tongue to help with the rubbing.
The prince didn’t stop me. He lay there, watching, as the masseur’s moved around him, prodding and pressing with their fingertips.
He didn’t stop me either when I was crouched down in front of her, her thighs hooked on mine, my palms flat against the wall on either side of her head, and her head hanging down, her tongue hanging out, making little yipping sounds, and her hands holding her distended belly, as I fucked up inside her—slowly and not at full depth, not knowing how a pregnant woman should be fucked—and, unsheathed, released my seed.
The prince was on his back when I was finished and one of the masseurs was stroking his hard cock. As I pulled out of Aruna and stood and turned, she put her feet back on the floor, stroked her sari back down over her legs, and, although eyes a bit glazed, fought to attain the bored look she’d shown us before.
The prince then fucked me, bent over the massage table. Again, it seemed so impersonal and passionless that I wondered why he bothered. He thrust up in me in deep, swift strokes, and he arched my back up to him, without permitting me to touch his chest, by pulling my head back with his fist gripped in my hair.
When it was getting tedious for me, I remembered to reach back and lace his balls through the fingers of one of my hands and tug and squeeze. He didn’t react badly to this; indeed, he widened his leg stance as if he wanted me to do it. He came, with merely an “umpf” sound, almost immediately.
He showed no resentment that I had gripped his balls, but, other than a slap on one of my butt cheeks when he finished, he showed no emotional reaction to the coupling. I hasten to call it coupling, though, as clinical and detached as it was.
All the while Aruna sat there and watched us through her sunglasses with a pouty, but otherwise inscrutable, look on her face.
Adil was back and the prince flicked one wrist at me to back away, which I did, almost into Adil’s arms, while he waved a hand for a guard to come forward and take the portfolio of photographs. The masseur was also reentering the room, as if he had watched everything for the signal of being needed again—which undoubtedly was the case.
In the corridor, Adil tugged at my sleeve—I was awkwardly carrying my trousers and briefs in my arms and walking like a duck from the temporary stretching the prince had done of my channel—and pulled my ear closer to his mouth.
“You need to watch out for that Aruna,” He whispered. “She is taken with you. But you must not fuck her again unless the Rawal puts you in that position. He’ll have you killed if you do. It was a mark of favor that he shared her with you.”
“Aruna wants me?” I muttered in disbelief. She was almost as close to being a frigid statue toward me while I was plowing her as the guards standing along the wall, seeing and hearing nothing,were. I couldn’t imagine that she was “taken with” me, as Adil had put it. But of course I had fucked her twice already. So, who knows? This whole palace entourage seemed screwier than hell—and they certainly screwed a lot.
“And be careful when we see the Badshahrina too. She also has a roving eye.”
* * * *
I sat on the Badshahrina’s voluminous bed and leaned down so that she could run a bejeweled finger across my cheekbone. I tried to ignore that the fingers of the other hand had unbuttoned the top of my shirt and were discovering my nipples.
We had found her, after a nearly interminable walk through the maze-like corridors of the palace, in her bed, propped up on a mountain of colorful pillows, when Mir Yusaf Adil and I were ushered into her chamber. We had been told that she had a slight cold, but other than being under a coverlet, she was decked out and slathered up with cosmetics as if on the way to a ball.
She wasn’t a bad-looking woman and didn’t seem all that old, maybe her early fifties, I thought, burdening her with a few more years than she looked in consideration of the pampering she must receive. Her pale, white skin contrasted with her jet-black hair. If there was a flaw in her features, it was having a slightly hooked nose, which I had also noticed on the otherwise flawless face of the Rawalina I had so briefly glimpsed recently at the Sports House.
“The Kshatriyas tells me that you have Persian blood.”
“Yes, I do,” I answered, although I shot a glance at Adil. He didn’t know that from anything I’d said. “My mother is of Iranian descent, yes. My father is the usual American mix, though.”
“That is good. That will work,” she said, and then she went on to say, as if I would see it as an explanation for anything, “I am full-blooded Persian, as is my niece, Vimala, the Rawalina. Yes, I think this will do fine.”
I didn’t ask her what the hell that meant, but I did look up at Adil, who was standing not six feet from us. The guards and other attendants were all standing at least twenty feet away, and I did notice that both the Badshahrina and Adil had been speaking in low tones as if we were involved in a very private audience.
“Divorce is in the air, and very soon,” Adil murmured to me as I searched his face for understanding. “It’s coming even sooner than we had anticipated, I am afraid,” he added. “Those three men with the Rawal when we attended him. They are the court lawyers. They have drawn up the necessary papers.”
“But can that just happen at the Rawal’s whim?” I asked. “Isn’t the Rawalina the Badshahrina’s niece? Wasn’t the marriage sanctioned and sponsored by the Badshah? Can it be broken that easily?”
“Alas, the Rawal and his mother haven’t spoken for some time. He was quite the dutiful son—not even balking at marrying the woman his mother had chosen for him. But the two clashed from almost the beginning. The Rawal can pick the basis for a divorce as he likes. The Rawalina cannot put up any kind of a defense. To speak ill of the Rawal would be an act of treason—lese majeste—even for a Rawalina.”
“Ah, lese majeste,” I repeated as if it was an argument killer—and in a country as traditional as Balrampur, I had to admit that it probably did stand as the last word.
“I have decided that I have failed with my son,” the Badshahrina said with a sigh. But then she subsided and it was left to the Kshatriyas to fill in the blanks.
“The Badshahrina’s hopes have now skipped a generation,” he said.
“But if the Rawal divorces the Badshahrina’s niece—”
“Precisely,” Adil interjected. “And a divorce is imminent—if he doesn’t murder her first. The Rawalina must be with child before the divorce is finalized, or she won’t be carrying the legitimate heir to the kingdom.”
“But, if it’s true that the Rawal and his wife haven’t been intimate for—”
“Truth is in the hands of those in power. The key to power in Balrampur is the one who is Badshah.”
“You have the Badshah already, though, I answered—and his heir, in the form of Bhadur Khan.”
“At some point there is a succession. This is a delicate point, but if there is no direct grandson possibility, the options are limited. And there is always the possibility of what happened in nearby Nepal in recent years—an event that curtailed more than one generation of the succession.”
“A mass assassination of the royals, you mean?” I asked in a whisper. It, indeed, hadn’t been that long ago—just a decade—that a mad member of the royal house in Nepal had taken it upon himself to shorten the succession rankings by trimming the royal tree with an M16. But perhaps Adil hadn’t heard me—and, upon reflection, I hoped he had not. I still had much to learn on keeping my mouth shut and my suspicions to myself.
In any event, Adil at least diplomatically continued his explanation without skipping a beat—just as if he hadn’t heard me. “The Badshahrina wishes to have a legitimate grandson by her niece, the Rawalina, to have her chance of rolling the die.”
“But . . .”
“It is what my niece, the Rawalina wants too,” the Badshahrina suddenly spoke. “She has seen you. It actually was her idea.”
If I hadn’t understood before, I certainly understood now. Now the questioning of my ethnic background was making sense. I turned my face toward Adil, in near panic, almost hoping I’d see a “this is all a joke” expression in his face. But I didn’t.
“It is in your country’s interest too,” he murmured. “Roger Allard has given the plan his sanction.”
And so he had. He had told me as much himself.
What could I say or do? This was the horse that the United States had backed and I was pledged to do whatever it took to preserve and further U.S. interests.
“But there isn’t really time,” I said in a last-ditch effort to stave off this monstrous plot. I could think it was monstrous, of course. I couldn’t say it was, though. I could only salute and do as instructed. Unless I could talk them out of it.
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