If there is any doubt…

Written by Chris (alcoholandaphorism)

Gumshoe: Nights Black Agents: Session 2

It is several month since what was almost a nuclear disaster in Krakow. The Croatian city of Dubrovnik stretches out below a warm blue cloudless sky, leading out onto the coast. This is a land of tourists and celebrities, a land of wealth and Russian oligarchs, of Onion domed churches backlit against the sky. Information from the groups handler, Anton Dedopovic, suggest that Viktor Eschenko may have some fingers spread into this area.

 

None of the three agents have been still in the past few months, Hans has been carefully collating the information brought from the others, feeding it through pattern analysis software. Looking for trends and outliers.   It looks like the handler they are investigating, Viktor Eschenko, is a cover – one of many. Burned covers pop up from Poland to the Ukraine and with those trails come another trail. Money. Transactions tying back to the Black Sea bank. Tentative requests, and following public information shows several distinctive anomalies in the bank’s practices. Signs of shell companies, money laundering and off shore accounts on the Cayman islands. It has all the signs of Russian mob money, and enough of it to fund a small army.

 

Antipov looks different once more, his facial hair gone, hair crew cut short, and his symmetrical features broken up by a just slightly asymmetrical glasses. Keep moving, keep changing, keep staying alive. Old spook habits. He’s been spending the months setting up false trails of his own. Weapon pickups, plane tickets, laying a set of breadcrumbs that indicate that Limrovich may still be alive and seeing who comes out of the woodwork to investigate. No-one high enough to be worth burning the cover has shown up yet.

Sergei lies on the floor of his room, weapons out of sight, but not out of reach if need be. The seedier opportunities of the city have allowed him what has turned out to be a week long bender. Somehow that has not kept him from his professional duties, applying leverage on the local police to make sure he can keep them out of his way. As he waits for his pounding head to cease, he remembers his instructions, keep the other two alive. He mutters again “For once I would like to not have a baby sitting mission”.

 

Anton Dedopovich has contacted them through Hans. His set of encrypted discussion nodes online were the most distributed and easy to access way of reaching the three. Anton was the one who had set them up in the anonymous hotel in which they now reside. One of many identikit chain hotels that litter the globe. He had provided other information as well. There seems to be other spooks active in the area, following up the same leads. A pattern is emerging as he explains they are most likely ex Spetsnaz, predominantly intimidating witnesses with brute force tactics. Hans is less confident about their skills, the way they are operating suggests they are more wannabies. People trained by those who were rejected for special forces. Dangerous, but not professional in their methodology.

With this information in hand the three, Antipov, Sergei and Hans finally gather in Hans’ hotel room. It has been swept for bugs, white noise generators running, and for old times sake Antipov sets the tap running loudly in the bathroom. When the security checks are complete they return to the main bedroom. Sergei, leaning against the wall beside the door, is the first to speak

 

“I’d suggest we just destroy whoever they have sent. Then whoever the send next. Eventually they will get the hint and start sending more professional acts to check, someone we can use.”

 

Amtipov shakes his head “For me the less noise the better. If they start paying too much attention here they may start connecting dots we don’t want connected.

 

Disappointed Sergei is just about to slip away his pistol when a rap at the door reaffirms his will to keep it to hand. Slipping on a suppressor, he places the barrel to the door as he glances through the eyehole.

 

Antipov raises his hand silently and indicates through to the Bathroom, where he slips, keeping out of sight. Hans indicates to his laptop, streaming security camera footage from the corridor. There is a woman there in a hotel uniform, one they have seen before, so most likely actually an employee, an active mobile phone in her left hand – an old school nokia he sees as he zooms in.

 

Sergei nods, and slips the chain onto the door. Hans slips the laptop under the bed then stands to open the door, Sergei hidden behind its opening arc. A tired face young woman greets him, her dark black hair tied back. She presses the phone into the crack of the opened door “I have been told give you this” she says

 

“Was this left somewhere?” Hans replies, faking a haltering grasp of English in his delivery

 

“No. Told to give it by man in reception”

 

“Thanks” Hans says, taking it. As soon as the door closes again he flicks it around, looking for some sign of a bug. Before he can complete that motion the screen blinks green as a text comes in. “Head to the Hotel’s Belgrade meeting room – Anton. 1 Hour”.

 

“Seems we have one hour then” Antipov says, coming back out of the room. “I’ll see you there” he looks to the doorway, then heads out to the balcony, letting himself down into the balcony of the vacant room several floors below and a few doors across, the lock provides little resistance and he re-enters the hotel fairly confident that he is not being tracked.

 

Hans checks out the phone again, no sign of bugs, a one use burner from the look of it. Meanwhile Sergei slips a suppressed low calibre pistol under his jacket, and a serrated knife as backup. No point in being unwary.

 

Hans spends the next hour setting up a “magic van” for mobile electronic surveillance, from the outside it looks a cheap Eastern European mass produced van. Inside is all the technical wizardry he could need. Meanwhile Antipov uses a low risk cover identity to access the meeting room in one of the day’s earlier events, setting up some precautionary tricks. Just in case.

The conference room is softly lit, with wide mahogany tables layered with trays of light refreshments and movable panels breaking the space into easily assimilated discrete chunks. An hour later, when the group gathers under a cover meeting, a laptop has been set up on the table, wires looping to lcd screens on the walls.

Anton stands in the middle, flanked by a pair of heavies that try and fail to look non descript. their bulk a threat of casual violence. Anton Dedopovic in the centre is overweight and balding, the fat layers shifting under a lurid fluorescent t-shirt and several gold chains. His large black moustache shifts as he smiles.

 

“HA HA HA SERGEI” His large arms envelop Sergei and clasp him on the back “Sergei my friend. How is your health these days?”

 

“4 bullets in the back” Sergei answers in a mutter “Been keeping busy”

 

Anton turns his attention to Antipov “DAVID. David. Long time no see. How are you?”

 

“Not bad, not bad” Antipov answers, reaching into an orange plastic bag to bring out a unlabelled plastic bottle “Last time I was out your way I picked up some home made rakia. I thought you’d be missing a taste of home”

 

Anton swings off the screw cap and makes an exaggerated gurn of pain at the smell “Glasses for everyone, Drink. Drink!

 

He pours the dark coloured liquid into nearby glasses, pressing them into everyone’s hands. Hans shakes his head. “No thanks.” “I like a man who keeps to business” Anton says. As the others down their measures it is obvious that the two heavies are similarly avoiding the alcohol.

 

“So to business then. My principles need something from this man.” The laptop springs to life and the screens with it to display a middle aged man in the military dress uniform of a Canadian air force Brigadier. “His laptop computer to be precise. Brigadier General Lenord. He has just completed his tour and now commands logistical planning. Given that it is worrying my principle it is likely that he has been looking into some financial deals that don’t hold up to close scrutiny. Most likely black market purchases”

 

“Or war crimes” Hans says

 

Anton pauses “Or war crimes. I had not considered that. The exact details of the investigation he is keeping close to his chest. We have tried to black bag his rooms, we believe the details of his investigations are on his laptop. However he has kept the laptop on his person at all times – in clear breach of security rules. Once you have grasped the laptop, the general must not have any access to the data on any backups. For this you will be paid one hundred thousand pounds. My conjecture from what I have seen is that our employer does not want the man killed. Once you have secured the laptop I will give you the contact number of an aide on the Serbian side” he pushes forwards a USB flash pen over the desk towards Hans “Take this, it is a dossier on the general and the site at which he is based. It has general background material on the Bosnian military, including war criminals if you need that data. It also has the GPS details of the contact point and a number to use when done” Next he takes out a pair of car keys and slides them towards Sergei “These are keys for a Jeep Cherokee, I hope it is to your needs. Is there any other information you need?”

 

Sergei thinks then asks “Does the general frequent and bars or restaurants regularly?”

 

“A good question. We have observed from afar and seen nothing. He has done nothing. His girlfriend is in Canada, but he is completely loyal. We have no leverage.”

 

“You are telling me there is a general somewhere who is not the corrupt person on the earth?” Sergei says

 

“You are so cynical. The only oddity we have for our good general is his transfer here. He transferred in five months ago, and is leaving in six days. His presence here is unusual. He requested the move here himself, If you need more info I am sure you are more than capable of getting access to the NATO records.”

 

“Ill get on it” Hans says.

 

“So we are agreed. Half the payment up front, the other half on completion. ” and with that Anton brings out another laptop, network card lights blinking as it brings up bank details on the screen. Antipov notes the logo of the Black Sea Bank – that familiar name coming up again, a lot of criminal ties lead back to it, principally the Listibratva family. A moderate sized Russian mafia family. A very nasty organisation with fingers in people trafficking and the sex trade. Lots of fingers in a lot of political pies as well, some rumoured ties to the UN system in Vienna. Rumours say they are trying to get control of a lot of the financial houses.

 

His thought process is interrupted when Anton asks “Would any of you care for a weapon, thrown in as a matter of course”

 

“Suppressed P90 could be useful” Sergei says with a grunt.”

 

Antipov shrugs “You know me, if I get to where I need a gun things have already gone too badly wrong”

 

Sergei raises his hand “I’ll have his gun” much to Anton’s chuckling amusement.

 

Gathering their kit the three leave, but already, over encrypted throat mics, they are discussing their next move

 

“I’m guessing lifting the laptop won’t be hard.” Antipov says “but backups are your area Hans. Is there any way we can find out if he has backups before we make the grab”

 

“If he is using networking we can tap that. Or we can use local surveillance. From the dossier I don’t think he has the knowledge to do backups”

 

“So, we could just destroy the laptop” Antipov pauses “Though they said they wanted the laptop. I’m presuming they want a copy of the data then. Maybe they want the scandal of a security breech”
“If they just wanted it gone they could have just done a remote wipe. They wouldn’t need us”
“Right. Then I’m thinking we can do a hot switch in the field. We feed him a line about info on war criminals. Get him to a remote place, have one of us planted as a waiter, switch the laptops with a prepared replica that fails to start and get out of there. It should take him a few days to realise the broken laptop isn’t his own, that will give us time to get out of there.”

 

Sergei goes over the GPS location for the meeting. It is an orthodox cemetery out in the middle of nowhere on the Bosnian side. A few days driving at least. It would be a worrying good place for an ambush.

 

“Not suspicious at all” Sergei comments

 

“Not at all” Antipov says, remembering rule one. If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt “Still, Hans is not a people person. We have an excuse to not all turn up, and if they wanted to clean house then they would need to take care of all three of us”

 

Not helping Antipov’s unease is Woodreck, their contact, is a name not familiar to most. Antipov recognises it though. A nasty player during the Bosnian war – the organiser of several executions, mainly Muslims. A killer and rapist and a big player in the Serbian mafia. Following up the wired payment doesn’t help either. It tracks back to George Rudek. Tied to human trafficking and heroin dealing, he was last seen in Switzerland trying to use their clinics as a front for a heroin ring.

 

“Guess we can worry about that as we get on with the job. Ok we have time, we can trail him for a few days and see what laptop he has got. Hans, can you track back on what he was investigating into? We should be able to use that to bait any trap we set”

 

The unspoken thought is that it will also help them work out exactly how deep they have got themselves.

 

In the time before they are to be picked up and taken to the area of operations Hans gets to work, intruding into the electronic NATO personnel records. It confirms the Brigadier general has had, to this point, a spotless career. Whatever he is following up is under his own initiative, there is no sign of him being assigned any duty in that area. He had transferred to Bosnia to follow up information. The names Vicktor Eschenko and Black Sea bank come up one more, now with depressing regularity.   There seems to be reports of following up on alleged weapons vanishing during the Iraq and Afghan war. moving the weapons into Eastern Europe. The data suggest he thinks it is more than that, that they are also acquiring weapons from the US military and US intelligence. Seamlessly clearing his tracks, Hans disconnects from the system once more.

 

On hearing this Sergei says “So we are basically getting information on a war criminal, probably just to hand it to the guy they were investigating

 

“So we are.” Antipov notes “Weird thing is, they are investigating Eschenko. Who we just took a nuke from. Our handler looks to be covering up for who we just went against for the same handler. He has a lot of contacts by the looks of things”

 

 

Their next stop is Sarajevo. Accompanied by heavyset skinheads packing patently obvious “concealed” weaponry who ride alongside in separate cars with blacked out windows. Sergei and Antipov ride in the provided jeep, while Hans trails after in the magic van. Antipov catching a few hours sleep as Sergei takes driving duties once more with ill grace.

 

To keep his mind attentive Sergei goes over what they have found out so far once more. Lenord has a maid who takes care of the house, though she does not stay on the premises. They’ve managed to get the details on the security systems most likely to be used at the house. The main office is at camp Bootmere, which is not far from the airport. From the dossier notes the General has terrible tradecraft, heading straight to and from the camp each day with no deviations on his route. Prodding the sleeping Antipov he asks
“Why don’t we just crash into his car and take the laptop”

 

Antipov shifts “Too likely to kill him. Too noisy. I’d rather they didn’t know we had switched the machine for at least a few hours. If we can rig it up to bluescreen he may not even realise for longer”

 

As they drive into the streets of Sarajevo the scars from the war are still obvious. Bits of red plaster filled into the damaged buildings, streaks of red running like veins across the grey buildings. Damaged buildings too far gone for even the plaster to help. This was the city where Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated, a city that sparked a world war. Now a city of rich business zones and run down tower blocks that back up into the hills. log jam traffic and tailbacks run for miles along the city streets.

“First thing we do is get motorbikes “Antipov says “If we need to leave in a hurry this box will be a death trap.”

 

Sergei raises an eyebrow, his colleagues’ thoughts always seem to be first on how to run away “We should get the street under our feet as well” Sergei adds. “maybe look into if it is possible to bug his house tonight”

 

“Good plan. We can leverage the maid as a way in if need be”

 

Over the headsets, Hans chips in” We need to get details of traffic patterns here as well. I’ll see if I can set up thermal imaging on the house”. As the others set out to their duties, Hans sets up outside the house in Magic Van. Following the wires and scanning the frequency it shows that the General is most likely using hard line internet rather than wi-fi. he will have to wait for day and see if he can set up a tap on the local traffic exchange to intercept internet traffic. Meanwhile he sets small amounts of plastic explosives, unprimed, around the van. If need be he can blow the sensitive items in minutes if things go south. Leave nothing to be examined by the opposition. From what he can see the security system in the house looks pretty basic, though they will need to lock it down fast lest it alerts the police or worse, the military.

 

Antipov’s walk of the General’s daily route nets little of value. It is too short a journey to take advantage of easily. Thankfully the bikes were both easier and more useful. It only takes a few hours to arrange a safe lock up to hold them in case of emergencies, not far from their base of operations.

 

Sergei, similarly finished his walk of the area, pulls out the blueprints of the house. It is three storeys. The windows at the back a wide open area for intrusion. The back is sealed off by hedges, but that will just make concealment easier. There’s a balcony on the second floor, and a parking garage that can be used for high level access nearby. The place should not hold up to any concerted assault. The walk by the UN buildings where the general worked gave a very different story. Locked down, military level security and armed guards. the high status of the General means his area will probably have even higher security. Any frontal assault will be difficult indeed.

 

With those thoughts on their minds the night passes, sleeping in shifts to cover surveillance, Sergei taking the lions share of the shifts, watching through night vision binoculars.

 

At oh six hundred hours the occupant of the house starts stirring once more, lights start coming on. Minutes later General Lenord can be seen going through reps in the downstairs gym. For a man of his age he is pretty good shape, and he completes the sets quickly. By oh six forty five he is ready for the arriving unmarked staff car, laptop bag in hand fumbling the machine into it. It isn’t difficult for Sergei to take enough long range shots to get the precise model and make. A generic Dell number, bog standard performance. It should be easy to duplicate.

At safe distance Antipov follows, relying on Han’s control of local security cameras to allow him to fall out of sight if needed. The journey is as expected, Antipov peeling away just before the car reaches the site fence. There’s a T shaped building inside, guards on the doors. Hanging around the nearby cafe’s, Antipov keeps an eye out for leaving staff members, listens in on their unprotected lunch talks, and manages to get a few photo snaps of their ID’s. Enough for Hans to produce him a reasonable enough pass to use for a new cover. Between the pass, and the office lingo he picked up he is fairly confident he should be able to talk his way inside the site. After quickly reporting in with the others, he takes his new pass and takes the first step into hostile territory.

 

At the Brigadier General’s house the patio door slips gently up and off its hinges, Sergei intruding into this safe sanctum. The bleeping of the security system is soon overridden, and bugs placed around the domicile. On the second floor a simple safe catches his eye. It is outside the parameters he set for this intrusion but, then again…. Moments later the safe is open, to reveal bonds, birth certificate and passport. They are carefully photographed by Sergei, you never know when you may need information for a bit of identity theft. As he is doing so the sound of an approaching car, engine humming, tells him that his time is short here. Hans reports over his ear piece that the maid is approaching in her Skoda. Setting things back as they were Sergei prepares to leave.

On the way out the half open kitchen cupboard catches his eye, and he scans through, looking at the food and cereal for something that might be appropriate. A bottle of cognac. Most likely the general’s nightcap. With a practised hand motion Sergei drops sedatives into the bottle, sloshing it around until they are dissolved, then fading back out through the garden, just as the maid enters. As he steps into the waiting magic van Sergei finds Hans already spooling through the incoming camera feeds, and sifting through network feeds, adding a rootkit to monitor and copy the data that passes through. There is no sign of traffic above and beyond basic e-mail use, it is unlikely he has any cloud based backup of the data they have come to steal.

 

Forcing himself to breath naturally, to fit in, Antipov walks through the secure corridors of the UN base. The guards didn’t even look twice as he entered with his fabricated pass. The structure is huge, the T Shaped area broken down into maintenance, administration and communication layers.

 

So far he has just been wandering, getting a feel for the layout and its schedule. It looks like the Brigadier general is out on lunch, and has been since eleven. The man seems to work alone, but entrance to his workspace is blocked by one Captain Steven Sebring, acting as an elaborate professional secretary. Overheard conversations seems to indicated that Lenord and the Captain have a good working relationship, so it may be a bad place to start trying to apply leverage. The Captain has been in the site for nearly ten years now, and seems to have a capable eye for what should and shouldn’t be in there. The rest of the site on the other hand is a treasure trove. Several people shown signs of being leveraged by other sources, which may make them susceptible to blackmail. Minor slip ups such as leaving security classification marked data, gives Antipov a few other low level opportunities and the signs of employees actively involved in a bit of fraud should give him all the other tools he needs. People fold in such predictable ways when you know what you are doing. The laptop itself seems to be secured in Lenord’s office, out of reach for now.

 

Exfiltrating once more, Antipov tails Lenod on the way out, for one last useful piece of data. It seems the Brigadier has a nearby restaurant as a regular haunt, all the staff know his name and greet him warmly. The site is secluded, the lighting dim. It could be of some use, though the Brigadier notably does not indulge in alcoholic beverages while his there. Switching jacket and hat, Antipov continues to follow the general when, at 18:30, he leaves and starts his way home. Ringing back to alert the others, Antipov relays what he has found out and a rough plan takes shape.

 

Sergei and Antipov will wait for Lenod to drink from the spiked spirit, and while he is unconscious will break into his residence. They will remove the laptop and replace it with one of the copy, which is rigged to collapse to blue screen on loading. The laptop will be loaded with some of the classified data Antipov found on his excursion to the base. Enough that, when it is found, it should result in rouble for the Brigadier. Then, using one of the leveraged employees, they will tip off Sebring that the laptop is being held in an unsecured location, that being Lenod’s house. The resulting confusion should result in Lenod being restrained the laptop examined for the planted information, and no one in a position to realise that the switch has taken place until the three operatives are long gone.

 

Meanwhile, as they wait, Hans is watching voyeuristically on the data passing in and out of the house, and of what his rootkit hidden software is sending back to him. Lenod is investigating web sites on war crimes in Serbia. Disappearances, going back past the war, going back centuries. Information of shipments of weapons pilfered from CIA databases. Information on crimes from extraordinary rendition, to the war crimes of history. Even so far back as to go into obscure and bizarre medieval history. Whatever he is investigating seems far outside the normal expected channels.

 

Antipov is just about to lie back and catch some sleep when Sergei looms over him “He’s drunk the spiked cognac. Time to move”

 

“You’re happy that we are moving too fast aren’t you” Antipov grumbles as he pulls himself up.

 

“I just want out of here”

 

“Hans” Antipov says as he grabs the prepped cloned laptop “My gut is screaming that something is up here. Someone is going to try and fuck us, and I want to make sure that they are pretty and we are consenting. Find out what you can on the drop point, the investigation and our erstwhile employers. Sergei and I are about to go fuck over someone ourselves”

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