Dunk Force Returns (Part 2)

A hand rested upon Ray’s shoulder, and a friendly voice said to the bartender, “Can I get another drink for my friend here? And I’ll have the same.” Ray turned and looked at the man beside him. “Hello Ray,” said the man, taking the stool next to him.

 Ray nodded with an unconvincing smile. “Larry.”

 The bartender poured two bourbons and set them on the bar.

 “Thank you,” said Larry. He took a sip of his drink and smacked his lips.

 Ray took his glass but didn’t drink. For a moment the two men sat in silence, as Larry looked around the room. The dingy atmosphere amused him. The sorry-looking regulars eyed him with suspicion. He certainly looked out of place—neat black suit, shiny tie, expensive watch—but it was the way he carried himself that announced him as an intruder. He was confident, in control. If this guy had any problems, they were the kind of problems most men dreamed of having. He turned back to his drink.

 “It’s good to see you, Ray,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

 Ray turned his glass around in his fingers.

 “You know,” said Larry, “I heard about Grace. I’m very sorry. How is she doing?”

 Ray drank, then sighed. “The doctors have given her two years. She’s upbeat about it, of course. Says if she only has two years left, then she’ll make them the best two years of her life.”

 Larry smiled. “That’s a hell of a woman.”

 A cheer went up from the big table in the middle of the room; the Steelers had scored a touchdown.

 Ray cleared his throat. “Look, Larry, I don’t mean to be rude, but if I remember correctly, the CIA is not in the habit of paying courtesy calls to retired agents.”

 Larry chuckled. He sipped his drink then nodded. “Straight to the point. I always liked that about you.” He glanced around the room, then faced Ray. “We have a situation, and we could really use your help.”

 Ray’s eyes narrowed. “I’m sure there are still plenty of more qualified men than me at Langley.”

 “Not qualified for this.”

 Ray took a drink and looked up at the football game on the television. He sighed, set his glass down and turned to Larry. “All right, what have you got?”

 “Three days ago, a small group of American tourists was arrested in Tehran.”

 “Any of our guys?”

 “No. All civilians. But one of those civilians happens to be the president’s nephew.”

 “Fool,” said Ray. “What was he doing?”

 “Officially, it was a study trip, to take in the local architecture. More likely he was taking bribes.”

 “I mean what was he doing that got him arrested?”

 Larry leaned back and raised his eyebrows. “Everything you don’t want a member of the president’s family to be caught doing.”

 Ray shook his head.

 “If it were anyone else,” said Larry, “they probably would have been hanged by now.”

 “Who are the other Americans?” asked Ray.

 “His friends—moochers, deadbeats. They’re all locked up. The Iranians are keeping it quiet for now, while they see what they can leverage from it.”

 “What do they want? Cash?”

 “Cash, a prisoner exchange, and for the US to turn a blind eye to Ukraine.”

 Ray turned in his seat to face Larry. “Ukraine?”

 “Yeah,” said Larry. “It seems the Russians are pulling the strings.”

 “Well, the president can’t meet those demands. It would be tying one hand behind our back.”

 “It’s the president’s nephew, Ray.”

 Ray’s eyes widened. “He’s going to pay?”

 Larry nodded. “If he doesn’t, the Iranians and the Russians will drag him through the mud, humiliate him… And what they do to the president, they do to the country.” He turned and took a slow sip of his drink, keeping silent and watching Ray’s reflection in the mirror behind the bar. He set his glass down and turned back to Ray. “The Iranians gave a deadline—we have two days left. The president is going to give them everything they want… unless we come up with another option.”

 Ray stared ahead, his brow knitted in thought. After a minute he shook his head. “I’ve been out of the loop too long. Everything I know about Russia is old news by now. Talk to Calthorpe, or Reilly, they would know some angles we could exploit.”

 Larry shook his head. “I’ve already spoken to them, and to ten other experts. The usual tactics have produced nothing. The Russians are going all-in on this one.”

 Ray turned back to the bar and finished his drink. “Then you wasted your time coming to see me.”

© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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