“The United States has never lost a war when using mules,” Zvi began. Binyamin sat at the back of the room as the spielman started his pitch to a room packed full of fresh-faced men and women in military dress. Army and Marine veterinarians he had expected, but the Air Force had sent a Special Forces lieutenant colonel as well – probably just to get him out of the office.
Zvi was good at his speech. Lots of eye contact, repetition of key points, emphasis on training, advantages, economy, click to the next power point slide for illustrated examples…
“Hardy, intelligent, cautious, able to navigate over nearly any terrain and under heavy loads where tanks and Humvees can’t go, military mules have seen resurgence in recent conflicts, where open battlefields have given way to smaller scale engagements with insurgents. In March 2009 a group of Afghanistani fighters in the Pamir Mountains used improvised tank traps to channel a British Challenger 2 and bombard it with pack artillery that had been carried up the mountain by pack animals. If the British had their own animals they could not have been trapped and might even have been able to pursue them into the mountains.”
Mariah came in and laid a hand on Binyamin’s shoulder, he quietly got up and followed her out.
“Avi called,” she said as soon as he shut the door to the conference room. “The Mormons are challenging the contract.”
Binyamin said something that made Mariah blush. Their distinguished competition in modern military pack animals, the Utah-based Camelid Army Purveyors (CAP), were clownshoes that needed to stick to outfitting deadbeat South American governments and right wing paramilitary groups, not fucking his warm spot on a $120 million Department of Defense contract for trained pack animals. “What did he say exactly?”
“He was in the men’s room at the expo and overheard a couple of them talking.” Knowing Avi’s proclivities, Binyamin doubted that Avi had been an inactive partner in the exchange, and reminded himself to check how the company health insurance handled STIs. The lengths Avi would go to just to ghost the competition… “He says they’re arguing the award was unfair to small business development.”
Binyamin breathed out. “They just want a piece, then. Get me Junior Hatch on my office phone in ten minutes, I’ll feel him out on a subcontract.”
“I wasn’t finished.” Mariah said. “Avi also said they’re pushing the terrain issue.”
Binyamin swore again. The Andes were heating up, and the president was making noises that might lead to military intervention. Mules were universal animals that would go almost anywhere, but llamas were native to the region and the Mormons were savvy enough to make that a selling point and stupid enough to try and make it work. He pinched the bridge of their nose.
“Okay. Forget Junior Hatch. Get me Uncle Nazir, I’ll take it in my office.”
Binyamin stalked past the typical gray felt-covered cubicleville. Generic office furniture, right down to the ex-military buzzcuts of the guys in Logistics and the eager young faces blinking at computer screens and trying to match up proposals to DoD-provided Statements of Work. The back of the building was a suite of small offices with actual doors; Binyamin had taken the corner with the window that let him keep an eye on the stock.
He shut the door behind him and stared out at the Texas plains, the latest crop of mules in from the farm going through the morning training session – verbal and hand signals, taking a pack, avoiding tripwires and other obstacles… Eli was in jeans and a Stetson, the spitting image of a cowboy as he led a Marine veterinarian through a week-long refresher course on mule maintenance. Right now he was showing off the muleshoes—a new design, specially made to fit the mule hoof.
The phone rang and he picked it up.
“Boychik,” the old man croaked, the living voice of old Brooklyn, “you don’t call, you don’t write…”
“Your birthday was last week.” Binyamin reminded him. “I called, and sent a card, and a gift…”
They caught up on family matters for a bit, and Binyamin let the old man wind him up a bit before getting to the point. “I need an introduction to Jacob Schwab.”
The old man breathed. “What do you want with the Israeli Army?”
“I’ve got a goyim trying to undercut me on a contract. I know the Israelis are decommissioning some of their llamas, fully trained…”
“Because they aren’t suitable to stealth work! You can’t sneak up on a bunch of jihadists on a fucking llama. They’re supposed to be led straight to the dog food factory.”
“I just want to negotiate an option. The Americans don’t want military camelids, they want mules, but there’s local politics involved. If I can show that I can provide fully-trained pack llamas for military application, I can nip this in the bud before it goes too far.”
They talked some more. The old man was going to do it, and they both knew it, but he had to go through the show of the thing, and Binyamin didn’t mind. He liked the old man, always had. They said their goodbyes and hung up just as Mariah came back in.
“I’m going to be flying to Tel Aviv next week. Just a few days, to take a meeting and see some family. Tell Gloria to handle the tickets and itinerary.”
She nodded, then handed him a color print-out of a grainy low-rez internet photo. It looked like an impact crater made out of meat, with a couple hooves and a spine sticking out of it. A GI in full combat gear was posing next to it with a thumb’s up.
“Unit 160, part of the lot we sold to the New Mexico National Guard. According to the article on reddit, the young soldier pictured had fed 160 a cow magnet then sent it close to the mine field to see what would happen.”
“Any official response yet?”
“We’re still waiting for it to work through to acquisitions. PETA is having a field day with it already.”
“Okay, show this to Jake in legal and tell Bram Kelly he might be taking a field trip down to the border—he’ll need to pack a spatula—but this should be covered under our standard contracts. I’ll go have a talk with logistics about adding a disclaimer to the Operation & Maintenance Manuals.”
Mariah nodded and left. Binyamin took a moment to sit back and look outside again. The grass waved in the plains beneath a sky as big as the world, not a single storm cloud on the horizon. Young mules went through their paces, hefting military surplus camo bags to an appreciative audience. He allowed himself a smile. It was a good business.