Red Mist, Chapter 2
Updated: Apr 1
Maximilian Koga was quick to mark his territory at the Starbucks on Wilshire and Serrano in Los Angeles’ Koreatown by placing his laptop on a small corner table—a regular and ritualistic exercise that he had become all too familiar with of late.
Three months had passed since the DEA handed him his walking papers, after military physicians expressed concerns of potential after-effects from his drug-induced captivity. He was no longer fit to actively serve, they told him, to which Koga countered by seeking legal counsel. But his lawyer informed him that to even have a chance at being reinstated, he would need to undergo, and pass, a second psychological test performed by an outside physician. With the results of his evaluation due later that day, Koga passed the afternoon scanning job postings on LinkedIn that might suit a Stanford-educated communications major with a three-year stint as a Naval intelligence officer, followed by another three with the DEA, just in the case the report came back unfavorable.
The automotive section always came first. As a child, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps in becoming a professional racecar driver, despite the fact that Roger Koga lost his life in a rally race in Argentina when a suspension arm on his Subaru WRX snapped in two and sent his car headfirst into a tree. Max’s mother, not wanting to lose her only son to racing, took him as far away from motorsports as possible, moving in with her father, a World War II veteran, in Kaneohe, Hawaii, a state where no racetracks existed. Still, Max took a natural liking to cars and spent his teenage years fiddling with imports—in his case, it was a souped-up Toyota 86 that he occasionally ran up and down Tantalus Road. Although he never seriously pursued a career in motorsports, the fact that he ended up deciding on an even more dangerous career—to serve in the armed forces like his grandfather—haunted his mother to this day.
As Max scrolled through the listings, his peripheral vision caught a large man in a black leather jacket and baggy khakis entering the coffee shop. His large oval head was topped with jet black hair cut right above the ears, and despite seemingly being north of fifty-years old, his round, piercing brown eyes conveyed to all that he was not one to be messed with.
Without stopping at the order counter, the man grabbed an empty chair and slid it toward Koga’s table, plopping his two-hundred-and-thirty-pound body across from him.
“I’m Paul Verdy,” he said, placing a business card on the table.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” Koga asked.
“I run a company called Argon Securities that provides intel services for various organizations around the world. I was told you were out of a job, so I am here to gauge your interest. Sorry to hear how the DEA treated you, by the way.”
Closing his laptop shut, Koga asked, “How and why do you know me?”
“Like I said, we’re a private intelligence company. It’s our job to know things.”
Koga studied Verdy, trying to read his facial expressions and body language, but the man gave up nothing, sitting perfectly still with a visage that may as well have been carved out of stone. “Sounds like you’re offering me a job with a PMC.”
“Technically, yes.” Verdy answered.
Koga was well-versed with PMCs, or private military companies, having worked alongside outfits like Executive Outcomes, Academi and DynCorp when he was in Naval Intelligence. He never fully trusted them, for in his mind, they largely consisted of lawless bands of greedy mercenaries who usually did more harm than good. For them, it was all about being paid, with patriotism coming in a distant second.
“Sorry, Mr. Verdy, but I have no interest in working for a PMC. The last thing I want is to be in some hot, dusty country escorting politicians to their hotels.”
Verdy leaned back in his chair and looked directly into Koga’s eyes. “I understand your concern, but let me tell you that Argon Securities is different in that it operates within the articles established by the United Nations’ recently-drafted Regulations on Private Military Contractors, which holds PMCs accountable for criminal acts committed on foreign soil. And right now, our main client is Uncle Sam, who currently has us working undercover as an online automotive magazine.”
Koga couldn’t help but hide his surprise at Verdy’s candor. “Should you be telling me this?” he asked.
“I know you’re a car guy, and I needed to grab your attention. Besides, I also saw that your service to this country has been exemplary. You have a Navy and Marine Corps Medal, a Purple Heart, you’re the grandson of a Go for Broke veteran, and the list goes on, doesn’t it?”
“You tell me...general.”
Verdy chuckled. “So, you do know me.”
“To tell you the truth sir, it just came to me. You retired before I joined the Navy, so I wasn’t exactly sure at first. It’s an honor.”
“So, Max, why did you choose to go with the DEA?” Verdy asked. “If you stayed with Navy Intel, you would have made Commander by now. The CIA and FBI would also have been good fits for you.”
“I was intrigued by the DEA’s international work, especially in its capture of high-profile arms traffickers like Monzer al-Kassar and Viktor Bout, not to mention its role in bringing down the Colombian drug cartels. It felt like a place where I could really make a difference. Now, may I ask you a couple of questions, sir?”
“Why would a retired four-star Marine general be running a PMC? Shouldn’t you have a posh consulting job at the Pentagon or a regular contributing gig on CNN?”
The directness of the question made Verdy pause, and for the first time since entering the shop, he smiled. “That would have been nice, but I was asked by the previous President to protect this country from outside the Washington system. Former President Williams didn’t trust the incoming President, fearing that he was a threat to national security. Turns out, he was right to be concerned. Pugh has made our national security agencies ineffective, putting inexperienced people into the top positions at the CIA and FBI, while ignoring every recommendation made by the real workers.”
“You’re virtually accusing him of treason.”
Verdy shrugged his shoulders. “I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. Anyways, we finalized our contract with the CIA just before President Williams left office.”
“And why are you posing as a car magazine?” asked Koga.
“I can’t get into the details, but let’s just say that it’s a very handy way to investigate international criminals that use car companies as a front to move money and weapons, which has become somewhat of a fad these days.”
Verdy then reached into his pocket and produced a remote key fob. On its face was the distinctive “L” of the Lexus automotive brand. He placed the ornate piece of carbon fiber and metal on the table next to his business card that Koga had yet to touch.
“Are you trying to bribe me, sir?”
“It belongs to a Lexus RC F that’s parked in a 24-hour lot around the corner. You come work for me, it’s yours. Consider it a signing bonus. Whatever you think of PMCs, we at Argon are in it for the right reasons, and yes, it can be a lucrative business. You’ll be making double what you were with the DEA.”
“It’s generous of you, general, but still not interested.”
Verdy rose from his chair. “You are a stubborn son-of-a-bitch. But let me say this one thing to you, Max. If you want to keep protecting this country, joining Argon is the only option left for you. And we can use a guy like you, especially with your intel background and car knowledge. Oh, and I know you have some unfinished business with a certain terrorist named Nasim al-Ahmed. We can help with that, too.”
Without waiting for a response, Verdy turned around and walked out the door, leaving the key and his business card on the table.