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Wife gets a lesson on behavior from the locals.

Talk was about this guy with no name, no past. He was collecting an army of sorts and has more money than the national treasury. People call him 'Oleander', but no one knows anything about him or if he even exists. One thing's for sure. If you try to find out, you get dead quick."

"And the tattoo?" Niko asked, leaning forward again.

"It's supposed to be some kind of symbol. If you see someone with that tat, you wanna get away quick. Saw one myself, back in the desert. Man come to me and asked if I wanted a job. Didn't like the look of him, so I stepped away."

"What did he look like?"

"Average, I guess," Brick said, standing to reach for the coffee pot. "Tall fellow with brown hair. Coldest set of green eyes I ever saw. He offered me a lot of money, but..."

"I thought mercenaries hired out to the highest bidder," Olan interjected. "Didn't know you could afford to be so choosy."

"What the fuck do you know about it?" the big man spat back. "One of the benefits of my line of work is that I can refuse a job if I don't like how it feels. And I didn't like the feel of that one."

"Why not?" Niko pressed, watching the man's face closely.

"Something about it was just wrong. He was offering a king's ransom just to join ranks. No mention of what I would be doing, just join up and be one of the crew. When I asked questions, he got all sullen. But that was a few years ago."

"Have you seen him since?"

"Nope. Ain't heard much about Oleander since then either. What's this got to do with the trouble your wife's in?"

"We go way back, Brick," Niko said carefully.

"Yeah. So?"

"So I'm about to let you in on a secret."

"Spook stuff?" Brick asked, taking his seat again. "Don't look so surprised. I know a government spook without looking. I can smell their shit."

"Yeah," Niko answered, wondering how the man could smell anything over his own stench. "My real name's Gregorios Nikodemos Pavli."

"The hell, you say. Now that's a handle."

"That's why people just called me Niko in my old life. Anyway, I sort of got drafted into this mess about eight years ago. The bastards took my life from me. I lost my wife, my home, everything, so that they could send me on a wild goose chase. Now this Oleander has my wife. He's going to use her to get to me."

"Sounds like a real problem, all right. I guess she should've known about the danger goin' in, though. Them's the breaks."

Niko felt a surge of white-hot rage. He wanted to wrap his hands around the man's throat. The old wolf, sensing Niko's mood, got to its feet again, growling out a warning.

"Shut up, Rafe," Brick snarled, tossing the animal a scrap from one of the dirty plates strewn about.

"She's a civilian," Olan said, taking a step forward. "She thought Niko was dead all these years. She's a good woman, Brick."

"Shit. Ain't no such thing as a good woman," Brick growled. "They're all bad, but if you're lucky, you get one that's bad in the right way. So what do you want from me?"

Niko stood, looking the mercenary in the eye as he said, "I want you to help me get her back."

Brick pulled himself to his feet, meeting Niko's gaze unwaveringly.


"I need your help on this, Brick. I need all the help I can get."

"Call the CIA. Call the State Department. Call anyone, just make it someone besides me. I'm retired, and I damn sure ain't gonna get myself killed for some piece of tail of yours."

Niko got hold of his anger, jammed it down deep inside to use later. Brick was a crazy, unpredictable merc, but he also had a certain code that he lived by, warped though it was. Niko knew just exactly which buttons to push.

"I was thinking something along those very lines when I found you in that hell, my friend," Niko said quietly. "I was on the job, had a mission to complete when I saw what they were doing to you. Remember how they had you strung up? I told myself to keep moving, to not jeopardize my mission.

"What they were doing to you was a crime, but none of my business.

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