Keeping In Practice
Keeping in Practice is a modern novel of the post-Cold War era when America´s ability to use covert action by the CIA was used to depose uncooperative or left-leaning leaders has fallen into disrepair. The President’s National Security Council is concerned that this skill must not be lost in case times change again, so it plans an small operation just to keep in practice. The target is the oil-rich but economically-gutted country of Nogana, on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, where an elected president has been overthrown by a military junta headed by the greedy, corrupt President-General Giwa Oko. An opposition movement has formed, setting up a perfect opportunity to get rid of the bad guys, restore democracy and....keep in practice. But U.S. budgets and manpower are tight, so much so that even the CIA presence in Nogana has been abolished. Moreover, the planners are ultra-cautious to avoid a “blowback” that would embarrass the President. So it is decided to run the mission with an absolute minimum of resources and a maximum of deniability. In fact, the NSC figures that just one man and some left-over weapons should suffice. If it works, fine; if it fails, no big deal. Sure, there will be some “collateral damage,” but isn’t there always? Chosen for the mission is 53-year-old Kevin Mackenzie, a disillusioned former CIA operative now a political science professor at a Michigan State University. Why Mackenzie? It seems that some years before, the professor had a Noganian graduate student, Ibrahim Mbola, who later returned to Nogana where he became a government minister. When Oko overthrew the president, Mbola took to the hills and started a guerrilla operation, which has popular backing but is poorly equipped. Mackenzie’s mission is to seek out Mbola and offer him U.S. guns in return for democratic rule, some port rights and other odds and ends. Summoned to the CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters, Mackenzie is asked to find Mbola, make the offer of an arms drop and then come home. Simple. Mackenzie, who had spent 20 years in the spook business, resists vehemently. He spots the operation as jury-rigged and prone to disaster, and it is just this sort of arrogant intervention, along with a promise to his late wife, that drove him out of the CIA. He finally is persuaded that he owes it to his former student to at least make the presentation, although an old CIA adversary warns that the professor could be a loose cannon. Because the CIA no longer has any “assets” in Nogana, the only known internal link to Mbola is a librarian at the Nogana National Library, which would fit in neatly with Mackenzie’s cover: a government research grant to a study of past colonialism in the country. The mission turns sour even earlier than Mackenzie predicted – and more violent. At a stopover in London, he barely survives a mysterious assassination attempt in Hyde Park, although a clue later suggests a connection with Libya, whose unpredictable leader, unknown to the CIA, has his own interests in Nogana. Proceeding to the capital, Newjaga, Mackenzie encounters the young taxi driver, Lumba, with his Detroit Tigers baseball cap and 1975 Ford Galaxie, and engages him as his personal driver. On his first visit to the National Library, he meets the presumptive link to Mbola, the tawny-skinned, blue-eyed librarian, Fiona Lasaday, a stunning product of Scots, Noganian, Indian and Egyptian gene pooling. He is smitten, but he also is acutely aware that there is a strong link between her and Mbola. Through Fiona, Mackenzie has a rendevous with Mbola and makes the offer, emphasizing that the U.S. interest and support could collapse without warning and leave the guerrillas high and dry. Although taken aback by Mackenzie’s candor, Mbola is desperate to arm his men, so he accepts the offer, anyway. Instead of going home, however, Mackenzie is then ordered by the CI
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