Chapter 25: Briefing
The briefing room was packed.
By the time the Joe team had left Africa, word had already gotten out around base that Shana wasn't with them. By the time they landed in Fort Hamilton, everyone knew that she'd been captured by the militia members and sold to human traffickers.
But they didn't know the whole story until the team came home.
Hawk appropriated the largest conference room on base for this meeting and called everyone currently on base to attend. Normally mission debriefings would be private, limited to himself and the team, but in addition to being a mission debriefing he was also looking at it as a strategy session, and the more people you had in on a session like that the better it would be. Especially when it concerned a member of the team as universally respected and beloved as Scarlett.
He sat at the head of the table and felt every day of his forty-plus years fall squarely on his shoulders as he listened to Flint's voice describing the mission. From the time they'd landed, the relatively light, easy days with the recon teams out in the jungle and the base team, including Scarlett, constructing defenses for the villagers and teaching them to make and use weapons effectively. Hawk had his own reservations about that, but as Flint launched into the discovery of the children, their rescue, their desperate flight to escape from the pursuing rogues, and Scarlett and Snake Eyes' desperate gambit to keep the rogues from pursuing the Joes and the children (and the price they'd paid for that decision) all he could do was sit silently and listen.
Flint said they'd questioned Zimurinda about the possible whereabouts of his rogues, and where they would have taken Shana. He told them that Zimurinda had mentioned the name 'Sandra' but it wasn't until the Joes actually got to the abandoned quarry's hospital in Kinshasa that they realized that 'Sandra' was Shana and Snake Eyes' old enemy from the ICC and Colombia. Flint's voice went flat as he described the scene in that hospital room; Sandra dead, her nose broken and driven into her brain in a move that only Shana could have pulled off; the big African guard, dead when Shana had driven a needle into his artery and ripped the artery open; the restraint table, the vials of drugs and needles—Flint didn't have to tell them what they were or what they were likely used for; everyone in that room already knew. Hawk felt sick. Shana was strong, but he was certain she wouldn't be able to deal with the drugs.
"All right," he said wearily as Flint finally stopped speaking in that old, tired, worn voice Hawk had heard over the satphone. He understood how his Warrant Officer felt; he felt the same way. Flint would have to be disciplined for losing a team member in the jungle—it was unacceptable by Joe standards—but nothing Hawk could do to him would equal what he was already thinking and feeling for himself. And all of this paled in comparison to the enormity of the task of getting Shana back. They had to try and find her, but dear God, there were so many places in the world where she could have been taken; how were they supposed to find her? "I'm not going to yell at anyone over how this mission went; I'll save it for after we find Shana. Now. She has left the Congo, and according to the intel Flint got from Zimurinda, the slavers will be taking her to Amsterdam because she's too distinctive to be sold in Africa so they'll take her to a major European market.
"The first thing I have to do is inform Lieutenant General Johnson that she's missing. After that—anyone have ideas?"
"Ask Johnson to contact INTERPOL and circulate Shana's picture and bio and fingerprints worldwide." Allie's soft contralto came from partway down the table, where she sat with Cam, Courtney, Alex and Olivia. "And then let's send a team to Amsterdam and let's get their government to help us turn the city upside down. A slave market can't be that hard to find."
"Intel says the market's pretty well hidden. Word is that you can't get 'in' unless you're already in or you know someone who is already 'in'."
"It's word of mouth, pretty much." Olivia leaned a little forward over the table; difficult, because her stomach was huge and she looked like she would go into labor at any second. They were only a week away from Christmas, and that meant her delivery date was coming up fast; her doctor had said the first or second week of January. She was already on maternity leave, and Clayton had taken the opportunity to bring her to base to consult over the current crisis. She'd handled a couple of high-profile human trafficking cases as an SVU cop, and he was hoping she had knowledge that would help. She hadn't complained; she'd simply accepted Clayton's surmise that she had a little more experience with human trafficking and crime victims and perhaps something she knew would be of help, and no one had raised an eyebrow or objected when she'd walked into the room with them. Now she proved why that had been a good decision. "Someone who has bought a slave from the market might meet someone who wants one, and will give them the name of a 'travel agent' they know who can take care of the 'travel arrangements'; not only the flight and hotel, but also coded paperwork and 'auction brochures'.
"Auction? Brochures? They actually put out flyers with people's pictures and say this person is being auctioned for such-and-such an amount of money?"
"No, nothing that blatant." Alex took up the thread of the story. "Sometimes the brochures will be disguised as a flyer for an exotic car auction, sometimes an antiquities auction. But the description is coded for those who know the code; the 'year' of the car could be the year that slave as born, the color is what purpose the slave can be used for, other descriptors like 'lowrider' for a short person or child, 'lots of chrome' for a slave that is physically pleasing, 'retooled engine' for someone who's had implants or cosmetic surgery, 'clunker' for someone who isn't worth much, 'parts car' for someone who is physically damaged and worth absolutely nothing except to be used up in a brothel and will be dead in a year."
Courtney snapped, "That's sick. People aren't property."
"According to the way these people think, yes, they are. These people have money and are willing to look at other human beings as commodities, as property, as things to be bought or sold or traded. A particularly pretty slave would be bought like an exotic car, kept secure, and taken out only when the owner wants to play with his new toy and put back carefully afterward, like an exotic car back into a showcase garage. When you have so much money that you can buy whatever you want, the ultimate status symbol is ownership of another human being."
"Status symbol…" Hawk choked. "So if someone buys Shana it'll be because he wants to own a status symbol? Just how much money could we possibly be talking about here?"
"Word is that Shana could be worth as much as half a million dollars." Flint clarified.
"Half a—" Hawk spluttered. "Just where did you get this intel, Flint? I find it difficult to believe Zimurinda would have given you all of this just by saying please."
"I twisted his balls a bit," Alex spoke from where she sat halfway down the table. "Literally."
"You tortured a prisoner?" Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse.
"What he did to me was torture. Leaving permanent marks and taking away my ability to have children—that was torture. What I did to him—wasn't even close to what he did to me. Don't call it the same thing because it isn't." Alex snapped back, fire in her blue eyes. "He was more afraid of the fact that I was a woman, a woman he knew he'd wronged, and he knew that could open him to more retribution later."
Hawk's mind was working. "How would an African rogue militia leader know how much a woman like Shana would be worth? How would he know this much about the human trafficking trade? I think you're not being entirely truthful about the source of your intelligence, Flint."
Flint was silent.
Hawk stood, bracing his Warrant Officer over the top of the table. "Warrant Officer Faireborn, I am giving you a direct order. Refusal to answer could land you in the brig. Where did you get the intel?"
Flint squared his shoulders but refused to meet Hawk's eyes. "I can't reveal that, Sir. I am asking you to trust me on this; the intel source is unimpeachable and the information is sound."
"Why can't you tell me?" Frustration crept into Hawk's voice.
"I made a promise, Sir."
Anger sharpened Hawk's voce. "Fine. Then you can report to the brig and stay there until you're willing to be honest with your commanding officer."
"Stop it, both of you." Polaris rose from her seat that the table, and the edge in her voice instantly grabbed everyone's attention. "Flint is keeping it a secret because I asked him to. Because I didn't want everyone to know." Her voice dropped, went flat, and she stared up at the ceiling, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. "I was the one who gave Flint the intel." Her voice shook as she said, "One of the men my uncle rented me to had his own slave. We talked in the times they left us alone." The words were an enormous burden, each one seemingly dragged from the depths of her soul, and tears dropped from her eyes as she said quietly, "Flint knows how much I just want to be normal and he said he'd never talk about it again. Please…don't send him to the brig because of me."
Hawk felt about two inches tall seeing her obvious emotional pain. There were people in this room who, until now, had known nothing about her past; with whom she could be just another Joe. Now, that veil of anonymity was gone; everyone knew.
"With that being said, yes, Shana is worth half a million dollars to the right buyer. Because she's so valuable, they'd be hesitant to scar her, mark her; she's more valuable intact. The red hair and green eyes is rare in the human population, even rarer in the slave complement, but we all know Shana would never submit willingly to anything like this. She'd fight and they would be forced to hurt her, but that would bring down her value so they can't do that. So the next avenue available to them to keep her under control would be drugs. My guess is that she's going to be kept very, very heavily drugged until the auction, and then she's going to be drugged afterwards for transport to the buyer's residence or location. And I am fairly certain the auction will be the international slave market in Amsterdam—it's where anyone with money goes, and because of her looks, she'll be a hot commodity."
"The Ferrari of the auto auction." Cover Girl said quietly.
"Yes." Polaris said as she sat down.
Hawk gestured wearily to Flint. "Sit down. You're off the hook. Jesus, if I'd known it was Cam, I wouldn't have pushed. I'm sorry."
"You should trust your people, Clayton," Olivia said firmly from where she sat. "If it had been absolutely necessary for you to know or if he didn't trust that the intel was accurate, Dash would have told you. The fact that he didn't meant he didn't think it was relevant to the current situation, and you should have trusted him. I understand we're all on edge because Shana's missing, and believe me when I say I'm very worried along with the rest of you, but you need to have faith in your people and not try to micromanage so much."
The entire conference room held their breaths. Despite that having been what most of them were thinking, they hadn't had the guts to say it—except Olivia. Granted, she was not military and she was carrying his child, but there were very few people who could speak like that to Major General Clayton Abernathy and still walk away intact.
But after a moment, Clayton sighed. "I get your point. Dash, Cam, I'm sorry." He sighed again. "All right. I know the return team is tired, so I want all of you to go unpack, get changed, get settled. In the meantime, I'll get in touch with Johnson, let him know what happened, and ask him what he thinks we can do about getting Shana back. As soon as I have his answer I'll let you all know. Dismissed." He pointed a finger at the silent shadow in the corner, but his voice was gentle as he said, "Snake Eyes, I'd like you to stay please." It was phrased as a request, not an order, so Snake Eyes could choose to disregard it if he chose, but to Hawk's surprise he did remain in his seat until the conference room had emptied.
Hawk dropped a hand on Snake Eyes' shoulder. "How are you holding up?"
Snake Eyes didn't answer; but then, he didn't have to. Hawk could feel the tension in his shoulders, feel the coiled worry and anger and frustration and anguish in his soldier's muscles. "Snake Eyes, I know it seems like part of you is gone, but please understand we will do everything we can to get her back."
Snake Eyes didn't answer. Hawk sighed. "Go on, get unpacked. I'll talk to you later." Snake Eyes nodded once, brusquely, and leaned over to get two bags; Hawk noticed, with a pang, that one of the bags was marked 'O'Hara'. He'd brought Shana's things back with him.
He watched the ninja master leave the room with a heavy, aching feeling in his heart.
"I'll get the word out to INTERPOL immediately," Was the first words out of Johnson's mouth as Hawk finished talking. "And I'll check with the FBI and the CIA find out how they want this handled. In fact, I might just hand the whole thing to the FBI, since she was also a member of their organization."
That rocked Hawk; he hadn't known that. "What?"
"This is Master Sergeant Shana O'Hara we're talking about, right?" Hawk nodded. "She has maintained her clearance with the FBI and is currently a joint operative reservist. I'm sure you read her file and you know she did some classified training in Quantico after she completed Ranger School at Fort Benning?" Hawk nodded again. "Didn't she ever tell you what her classified secondary military operating specialty was?"
"I asked her once. She nearly shot me. I never asked again."
Despite the grim situation, Johnson laughed. "Yes, she would. She strikes me as that kind of person. Look, have you ever noticed she's very, very good at reading body language?"
Had he ever! Hawk nodded dryly. "She's called 'mindreader' around here at base only half-jokingly. And it's part of the reason why she's so good at translating for Snake Eyes, I think she can read his body language and figure out what he's going to say before he even knows."
"And have you ever noticed she has an uncanny sort of sixth sense for when someone's lying or telling the truth?"
"Now that I think about it...Johnson, what are you saying? She's some kind of body language reader?"
"Her official classified Military Operating Specialty title is 'Intelligence analyst—kinesic interview specialist."
"She's a military interrogator?" Hawk felt like he'd fallen down Alice's rabbit hole. "I'd never have thought—she's always so cheerful and lighthearted."
"You think all military interrogators are a Deep-Throat shadow figure lurking in the darkness torturing people? There are more effective ways of getting information out of people, and Shana O'Hara knows them all. She's very good at what she does." Johnson sobered. "Now, in addition to going through the training to become an interrogator, she also went through the course in how to beat someone interrogating her. Her interrogation resistance training—"
"Wait, wait. Interrogation resistance training? Is that anything like SERE training, where we subject people to forced PT and sleep deprivation and all the rest so they know what to expect if they're ever captured?"
Johnson sighed. "Yes, Hawk, it is. Shana O'Hara was subject to interrogation resistance and narcointerrogation resistance tactics, including being injected with various 'truth drugs' in an attempt to teach her how to beat them."
Hawk stared in disbelief at Johnson, "Jesus, Johnson, that's damn barbaric!" He couldn't even imagine someone strapping Shana down and injecting her with drugs just so she could experience it.
"No, Hawk, it's training. You know, as well as I do, that sometimes the military has to do unpleasant things for the greater good. If she proved unsuitable for it they would have discontinued it. As it was, though, she passed through it with flying colors."
Hawk shook his head disbelievingly, but decided to let it rest for now. "Any of my other people hiding anything they aren't telling me?"
"No, everyone else is exactly as you see them. Except Snake Eyes, but even I don't know everything about him. So Hawk, out of every person currently on your base, Shana is the best-equipped soldier you have to beat that narco-interrogation." He held up a hand before Hawk could say anything else. "That doesn't mean I'm not worried, all right? I want to get her back as much as you do. No one is proof against the absolute worst that man can devise, so it's in all of our best interests to get her back as soon as we can. I'll have a word with the CIA and FBI and we'll see what we can do. I'll warn you they may want to come and talk to you so prepare your people for some unpleasant questions about how they were separated in the jungle and what exactly happened."
"I'll prep my people." Hawk said grimly as Johnson signed off.