February 23, 2017
Va te faire foutre! Fuck you! No lotus water. No camphor water. No pure water. Clément Moreau refused the ritual pre-stoning wash.
The plastic zip ties cut into his wrists behind his back – his hands and arms numb. His body was wrapped in three layers of a white cotton shroud before being buried to his waist, his bound wrists flailing awkwardly atop the hot, rocky soil—tilting his torso forward. He hated being confined to small places. Now this bullshit. Putain!
Clément closed his eyes behind the shroud—trying not to hyperventilate. Sweat drenched his round, unshaven, frightened face.
It happened so fast.
Four days earlier Clément had arrived in Urfa as part of the U.N. mission to investigate allegations of sarin gas use in an incident killing hundreds of civilians south of the small city. While world leaders postured for position, finger pointing to potentially culpable terrorist organization responsible for the attack, Clément focused on gathering facts—determining if a chemical agent was used and if so what agent?
After a restless night in the modest Kraskan Hotel in the heart of Urfa, Clément along with two other colleagues climbed into an awaiting U.N. marked van heading for a meeting to finalize the initial site specific chemical assessment strategy.
Five minutes into the ride, the South African U.N. Security officer shoved the snub nose of a Glock 9mm in the face Dr. Archibald Courtney of London, the World Health Organization’s representative on the fact finding mission.
“Down on the floor, hands on your fucking heads or the ass dies.”
Within minutes the Turkish driver of the vehicle had maneuvered the van through a maze of bustling side streets, entering a large garage. The three inspectors were rushed from the U.N. vehicle into the back of an old, black, windowless Mitsubishi van. Their wrists were bound with zip ties, their waists chained and locked to a bench—all three gagged.
For hours they rode in dusty silence. Dr. Courtney pissed his pants. The South African guard with the flaxen hair and chiseled face didn’t speak. His sea-blue eyes transfixed on the doomed captives.
The rough ride stopped.
Wherever they were, it wasn’t Urfa. It was too hot. The South African disappeared out the front of the van, revealing it was dark outside. Four different armed, masked guards came and went. For two days the inspectors remained in the van. The captors conversed in Turkish. A white five gallon bucket served as the toilet, yet Dr. Courtney continued pissing his tan slacks.
During the evening of the second day the gag was removed from Clément. A cleric entered the stench filled van. Flies swarmed among the captives and white bucket. The cleric communicated with the lead U.N. inspector in broken French.
Clément served as translator for Lainey Myers, an American chemical technician from the international organization, Stop Chemical Weapons Now and Dr. Courtney. Beyond having a cup of coffee with Lainey during breakfast at the Kraskan, Clément had never met the woman before.
She spoke with a lisp, big boned, at least two meters tall, with pale skin—excited to be part of the U.N. inspection team.
Clément had worked with Dr. Courtney previously. Once in Iran and twice in Somalia. Archibald was a brash, arrogant Brit with a middle-age belly—a self-professed expert on all things, chemical or not. A drunk, twice divorced and happy to sleep with anything that moved.
Clément’s quiet voice cracked in the dry air as he translated. “We are all pigs. We are accused of sorcery and witchcraft, sent to undermine the Shepherd’s plan. Tomorrow at noon we will be stoned to death. It is the will of the – the Shepherd. We are unworthy. Now is our opportunity to repent.” His voice faded, “confess our sins.” Clément asked the cleric to repeat the last statement. “Such is the way of Yah-wallah.”
Dr. Courtney’s and Lainey’s gags were removed. Large dark circles engulfed Dr. Courtney’s sunken eyes. His gFinnegan, desperate face struggled to remain steady, his thin, wispy dark hair matted with sweat. “Tell the bloody bastard whatever he wants to hear,” he whispered. “Tell him, yes, I’m a goddamn sorcerer — yes, I’m a fucking witch. I’m guilty of whatever he says, and bloody sorry for all I’ve done. I repent in the name of the Shepherd or Yahwallah – whoever the bloody hell that is.”
Lainey’s words shook, held together with her pitiful lisp. “Yes. Tell him sorry. Sorry for everything. Tell him not to kill us. Please tell him we are good. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We only want peace. Peace for everyone. Peace for the world.” She tried to smile, looking at the cleric. “Paix. Paix. For the world . . . Paix.”
Clément translated to the cleric. He spoke slowly, simply, with deference – not looking the cleric in the eyes, staring only at his feet, constantly bowing his head. “We are sorry. We repent. We repent for all our sins. We are in your mercy. We are sorry with all our hearts.”
The cleric stood listening, swatting flies from his face, revealing little emotion. His tall frame was cloaked in a brown robe. His turban black, like his beard, like his eyes. His small glasses did not fit his long, angular face. He said nothing before exiting the truck.
Three guards remained, studying the captives. Tears streaked down Lainey’s dirt covered face. Dr. Courtney appeared dead already, staring at his feet, flies landing on his glazed face.
Yahwallah, thought Clément. Did I get that right? Yah-wallah? What the hell? And the Shepherd? Never heard of the bastards. He focused on breathing. They won’t go through with this. Not in this day and age. A Frenchman, a Brit, and an American. U.N. inspectors. Killed at the hands of some fundamental radicals. The world would come untethered. A suicidal death wish for whomever the hell is behind this. It’s got to be a bluff. We’re a fucking bargaining chip for something big. No way in hell will they kill us. Clément glanced up, surprised to see the cleric return so quickly.
The cleric waved his hand. “You swine are not sincere with your repentance. You spit in the grace of Yahwallah, with blasphemous tongues. Tomorrow you will die under the stone. You are damned to eternal hell. It is the command of the Shepherd. Such is the way of Yahwallah.” The cleric left.
Dizzy, Clément slouched against the truck’s wall. “It makes no sense. To kill us. International inspectors. There will be hell to pay.” He paused, looking at Lainey, then Archibald. “The cleric said we will atone for our sins tomorrow. He said we are pigs. It’s a bluff. I am sure of it.” Clément tried to sound dismissive. “He said we will be stoned to death.”
Lainey remained still, her moist eyes distant, staring at the flies buzzing in and out of the white bucket. As one of the guards gagged Clément, Dr. Courtney banged his head against the side of the truck in desperation.
The skinny guard slammed Dr. Courtney’s head with the butt of his rifle, knocking him out. Blood splattered on Lainey. Clément closed his eyes, reminding himself, it is a bluff. It must be.
The night was not quiet.
The skinny guard and the one with acne dragged Lainey away by her hair and shoulders. She kicked, thrashing her head, rolling, her gag muffling her screams.
Minutes after she vanished into the night, Clément heard the sounds of hell, her gag removed. She screamed for help, begging the guards to keep away. As the guards replaced the gag, the sounds became muted but no less horrific.
Later in the night Dr. Courtney suffocated. Vomit gushed down his chest, his head thrust back, his eyes bulging over the top of the white rag stuffed and held into his mouth by another piece of cloth wrapped around his lower face and neck. The guard on duty watched suspiciously before cutting the gag free, nicking Archibald’s neck. Gasping for air, the inspector’s head hung down, dark blood mixing with vomit. After a few minutes the guard fastened another gag—Dr. Courtney never saying a word, his eyes lost to the world.
Throughout the night Clément broke out in cold sweat, the back of his throat burning, his arms feeling like they had been cut off, angry he would miss his son’s ninth birthday, guilty he had never built the kite for Gaston that his son pestered him about. S’il te plait Papa, peut-on fabriquer un cerf-volant maintenant? S’il te plait, Papa. Can we build the kite now, Papa? Please, Papa.
The cleric returned after sunrise – blathering about bathing in lotus water or camphor water or pure water to prepare the bodies for burial. With the gag removed, Clément did not translate.
Dr. Courtney was shivering, eyes closed.
Va te faire foutre!, spat Clément.
The cleric smiled. “The evil pig speaks with a forked tongue. Damned are you, unworthy one. It is the way of Yahwallah.”
For the first time in three days Clément stepped out of the small van, squinting in the sunlight. Two old military trucks were parked twenty meters away. The scene was hectic. Men yelling. Clément counted fourteen, some in robes like the cleric, others dressed in old, military uniforms, hurrying about. The exchanges between the men were animated. Most of the men stopped what they were doing, warily eyeing Clément and Dr. Courtney.
Large camouflaged canopies draped from tree limb to tree limb with aluminum poles supporting an enormous overhanging tapestry, covering a quarter hectare. Hiding from satellites, observed Clément.
Then he noticed Lainey lying on the ground facing him, bound but not gagged—in shock.
Next to her was a hole, freshly dug – the mounded earth a darker copper hue than the surrounding soil. Her filthy, bloody face, stared pleadingly at the Frenchman. Shame turned Clément’s face away.
Two additional holes were spaced five meters apart. Clément’s destination was the third hole, with Dr. Courtney situated between himself and Lainey.
A guard sliced Clément’s gag off. He sucked the fresh, hot air into his lungs. Archibald collapsed, screaming hoarsely. “We have done nothing! Let us be! You cowardly bastards!”
The South African caught Clément’s eye. The man was sitting in a canvas chair, twenty meters distant, legs crossed, drinking bottled water—waiting for the execution. Suddenly a blur of white cloth pressed against Clément’s face from behind. The guards wrapped the shroud around his head – his entire body. The more he kicked the tighter the shroud pressed against him. Once — twice — three times, he felt the shroud—the rough cloth, wrap around his body. Ropes were synched tight at his shoulders, waist and legs. With each breath the cloth against his mouth pulsated. His voice reduced to frantic breathing.
The cleric spoke. But this time is was not poor French. Without understanding Turkish, Clément understood last rites were being pronounced.
With a thrust in the back, he fell forward, dragged feet first into the hole by two captors. Dirt and rocks were hastily packed around him. Buried to his waist he listened to Archibald alternating between primeval screams and sobbing, pleading for forgiveness. Then silence.
Lainey lisped the Lord’s PFinneganer through her shroud.
Clément withdrew to Gaston. Concentrating on his son’s small hands, his rich brown eyes, curly black hair, his giggle, his smile, his freckles, his tender love.
For Gaston, Clément found resolve deep within his heart. Resolve to live – to fight the bastards. No one could take his life like this – no one. He would remain quiet – feign death. The indignity of dying at the hands of crazed zealots throwing stones at his skull fueled his will. They were only stones. He would defy death for little Gaston.
There was more yelling, trailed by an eerie quiet – interrupted only by Archibald’s whining. Lainey was quiet, the Lord’s PFinneganer having evaporated into the stifling desert air.
Archibald suddenly yelped like a kicked dog, followed by more whining.
The first stone struck Clément in the shoulder. He was relieved. It hurt but nothing that would kill him. Gaston was in the garden with him, laughing in the warm morning sun, identifying the birds at the feeder. The small stream gurgled, flowing gracefully over the slippery rocks.
A stone hit him in the chest, forcing him to gasp, sucking in the shroud so his open mouth was pressed tightly against the white cloth.
Gaston gave Clement a bite of his warm toast, smothered in butter and honey. Sweet, golden honey.
Clément yelled when the stone hit his mouth, rearing his head back. Blood stained the white shroud over his face. He anticipated long intervals between stones – but they arrived with increased frequency. The stream flowed faster over the rocks.
Gaston wove his hand into Clément’s, squeezing, looking up, questioning.
A stone thumped Clément’s head, a hairline fracture speeding across his skull. A loud, dark wind filled his head, his shroud. The cold wind screamed.
A front tooth broke. He coughed blood, his head now tilted sideways.
He rubbed Gaston’s little fingers, still tasting the honey before skipping from one brick step to the other in the garden with his boy. Clément wanted to dip his face into the stream but Gaston was holding him back, slowing him down. Refusing to let go.
Clément didn’t know if he had his eyes. Maybe his left one but he couldn’t tell if it was open.
With his head sunk down, a large stone struck the top of his head and then another, widening the thin fracture into a fissure. The sound of ice cracking and popping in the middle of the desert surprised him. No, it was the garden. He was in the middle of the garden, sheets of ice cracking around him, separating him from Gaston.
The tension around Clément’s shoulders relaxed. The blood soaked shroud pulled away from his throbbing head. A light breeze brushed his still face. Fingers rested on his neck, searching for a pulse. There was yelling.
His head was covered again. The tension returned around his shoulders.
Clément was alive. The fat pig Frenchman outlasted the others. The killing continued.
A stone crashed into Clément’s throat, snapping his windpipe. His torso slumped sideways, his head inches above the ground, his mouth foaming pink bubbles. The bright sky wove its way under Clément’s shroud. Gaston brought Papa the sky, once again holding his father’s large hand.
Beau bleu! Beautiful blue!
Clément traced his fingers around Gaston’s thumb. Oui, oui, il sera un cerf-volant bleu. Belle bleue, mon enfant, comme le ciel. Yes, the kite will be blue. Beautiful blue, my child, like the sky.
Hanover, New Hampshire
February 27, 2017
Monday, 6:47 A.M. EST
Maura Mudde stepped out her front door surprised to find herself ankle deep in four inches of un-shoveled snow. She looked over at the neighbor’s house. The small yellow bungalow was dark against the morning sky.
The morning was all wrong.
Maura retreated into her mudroom, kicked off her black Danskos, pulling on her boots. She hurried back outside, trudging through the snow toward the neighbors, wrapped in her red parka.
Not once in six years had Maura shoveled snow living on 28 Langdon Street. Her retired neighbor, Arne Dahl, had always done it for her. A small, spry man in his mid-sixties, who spent his career as a Dartmouth librarian, was always eager to shovel—always eager to do good—always up at five-thirty with house lights on.
She pulled hard on the old metal screen door. It stuck as always. She yanked again, opening it. Maura rapped the front door with her cool pink knuckles. Waited, then knocked again before opening it. She stuck her head in the dark house.
“Arne? Ursula? It’s me.” She stepped inside, shutting the door. “Everything okay?” She stomped her feet on the woolen mat before removing her boots. Ursula Elkano would have a shit-fit if she tracked wet snow through the house, regardless of the circumstances. Maura walked slowly into the kitchen, turning on the light.
Two white plates and two upside down green glasses rested in the sink’s drying rack. The black granite counters were wiped clean. Two coffee mugs stood upright next to the empty glass coffee press. One yellow mug, one green and white Dartmouth mug with the green shield. The small Ikea kitchen table was set for breakfast. Plates, bowls, cloth napkins on brown place mats. The wooden chairs pushed in. “I’m coming up—hope everything is okay. You have me worried.”
The heavy morning pushed at Maura’s narrow hips, trying to nudge her back out the door.
She flicked the light switch at the bottom of the stairs before heading up the carpeted steps. “Hello, hello,” her voice softer then the sound of her small feet padding up the stairs.
The quiet upstairs was filled with gray light. It was an effort to move. The upstairs bathroom door was open. Maura willed her way inside the door. Nothing but muted brown linoleum and folded taupe towels. The toilet seat left up was out of place. Arne didn’t seem the type—too organized, too detailed, too controlled by Ursula.
Back in the hallway the bedroom door taunted Maura. It was ajar. She held her breath, reaching out with her foot, opening it.
More gray quiet. The bed was made, no wrinkles across the taut teal comforter. Arne, decided Maura. Ursula is too bitchy to make a good bed. Maura sniffed the stale bedroom air. Old coffee and linen. And a hint of Ursula’s Jackpot cigarettes. She looked around. Closet doors shut tight, oak dresser drawers pushed in aligned with precision. A framed portrait of their mysterious daughter, Elkano, standing witness on the dresser. Matching bed lamps. The Asian throw rug on the maple floor squared perfectly with the foot of the bed. Nothing askew. All form, thought Maura, no substance, no passion, no fucking. A sterile bedroom.
She hurried downstairs.
Standing in the front hallway again, Maura reviewed her timeline from last night. Lights were on when I came home around 5:30. Still on at 10:30. Snow hadn’t started yet. It’s possible they did leave. An early flight out of Logan or Manchester? They don’t tell me everything—but they would have locked the front door.
She was shutting off the kitchen light when she noticed the basement door was shut.
Arne and Ursula always kept it open for their cat. Phoebe ate down there.
Maura’s delicate shoulders veiled under her red winter parka shivered as her stocking feet whispered over the tiled kitchen floor toward the basement door. It opened too easily. She patted the wall for the light switch. “Hello?”
Descending the stairs the morning clasped long dark fingers around Maura’s waist, tugging, but Maura proved elusive, pushing her way down through the quiet, the stillness, her heart racing like a cat’s. She stepped quietly off the bottom oak stair onto the thin tan carpet.
Phoebe bolted up the stairs.
“Jesus!” Maura jumped back, pressing her right hand across her small chest. “Fuck,” she muttered. Yielding now to the invisible tug, she started back up the stairs.
Smudged bloody paw prints marked Phoebe’s escape up the steps. Maura paused, took a deep breath, and turned slowly around.
Enough light from the opened door upstairs revealed the pantry was in order. The paper towels and canned goods were undisturbed. A waffle iron sat on the white speckled Formica counter, a new bag of cat food standing next to it.
Maura moved toward the rec room. It was dark, the doorway only a shadow. Something in front of the far wall startled her. “Hfff!”
Blackness in front of darkness.
Maura’s eyes affixed on the far wall, her arm stretched out beside her, her fingers crawling over the wall for the light switch, like a spider finding its prey in the dark. The old incandescent bulbs snapped on.
Maura screamed like a crazed woman, fear paralyzing her legs. She screamed again and again. Her wide eyes staring at the bloody passage to hell twelve feet in front of her.
Arne Dahl and Usrula Bechtal were duct taped to two leather recliners placed beside one another. Their striped bodies awash in blood. Arne’s head hung down, his face hidden, his skull shattered.
Ursula’s head was thrust back, angled to the right. Her mouth black with coagulated blood, open, still poised to scream in terror of what had befallen her. Her eyes, her black eyes, piercing pin pricks leading to a darker place. Her breasts hung defeated, bloodied, dried of life.
Two legs from a third corpse hidden by the recliners stuck out by Ursula’s chair, resting in a pool of dark blood.
Maura squinted, feeling faint.
One of the legs terminated at the lower calf on the third coprse, its foot missing.
The blue concrete wall behind the recliners was speckled red, as if an invisible hand drying a large flat paintbrush soaked in blood kept flicking its wrist until the brush was bone dry.
On the carpet in front of the bodies were stacked three fist sized stones. Blood covered most the white rocks. The stone stacked atop the other two was a carved serpent, finger painted in burgundy blood, hissing to those that dared listen.
Maura ascended the stairs, burst from the yellow bungalow, her open lungs inhaling the gray morning, her small stocking feet sweeping silently through the un-shoveled snow.
February 27, 2017
Monday 7:23 AM
Golden maple syrup dribbled down the sides of the buttermilk pancakes stacked three high. The dollop of butter on top melded with the hot syrup, spreading outward with creamy tentacles. The cup of hot coffee steamed behind the pancakes, shrouding the breakfast with comfort. Finnegan Black, relaxed with the one of the few people he could relax with in the world, see-sawing his fork through the delicate pancakes. “Thanks, Mom.”
Eleanor Black sat across from him holding the photo above the table adoring Julieta’s large chocolate eyes. “She still calls you, Papá?”
“Papá! Papá!” Finnegan smiled, studying his mother.
She was a young fifty-seven despite the last two years as President of Dartmouth College stained with tawdry media attention for a roll around with an NSA Deputy Director. She had weathered the storm. No hints of gray in her new short haircut. Subtle, tasteful red henna highlights. Bold for a woman of her age and position. Fit as always. The only change from sixteen months earlier was the permanent fixture of her stylish glasses—the time had come to embrace bifocals.
Her new house, fifteen minutes from Hanover, was all her. On the Vermont side of the Connecticut River. A welcome retreat from the President’s residency on campus. Small, clean. Right combination of exposed wood, stainless steel appliances and plenty of windows. Linear. Crisp. Modern European not historic New England. Happy and refreshed from her conference in Milan.
“Can’t believe she’s seven.”
“I know. Kinda sad in a way—wish it would slow down.”
She shook her head, looking up from the picture. “Get used to it—kids grow fast.”
Finnegan leaned back with his coffee. “Chile will be home for good—within the year. I’ll be Papá every damn day.”
She looked over her glasses. “Can’t make it happen sooner?”
“You know Menalt. Cutting ties isn’t so easy. A little house cleaning first. That’s the deal.” Tired of always lying.
She sighed. “Good ‘ol oil industry.”
“Maybe you could pull some strings—threaten divestment from big mean oil?” Finnegan smiled.
“Aren’t you the royal ass?” Her phone buzzed.
“Hello.” She watched Finnegan eat another forkful of pancakes. “Hhhmm . . . speak of the devil.” She shrugged, handing the phone across the table.
“We need to talk.”
“Tomorrow night. D.C.”
“Dusek. There’s been a development. Room 183. The Kozy Lantern. Northwestern, D.C. 17:15. Don’t be late.”
Finnegan looked at the phone, hanging up with the press of his index finger.
“Why my phone?”
“I’m not carrying one.” He handed the phone back.
“You’re smarter than you look.”
He reached for the small lavender maple syrup pitcher. “There’s a lot going on right now—
“You have that look—you’re leaving already?”
“Call it a detour.”
Eleanor stood—a painted smile. “This was short lived—what—twelve hours?” She pushed in her chair. “More coffee?”
“Sorry, Mom.” As she disappeared into the kitchen, Finnegan closed his eyes, feeling tired and old at thirty-nine. Fucking, Dusek. Fucking Langley lies.
S/L Ranch Kinsey, Montana
February 27, 2017
Monday, 4:07 P.M. MST
Brandy Stillwater wouldn’t quit. The three-term Senator from Texas had left seven messages in the last hour. “Call me as soon as you get this fucking message, Mr. Speaker. Where the hell are you? Check your goddamn email.”
Lars McKusick was right where he wanted to be.
In the middle of nowhere.
A place so big and vast God didn’t know what he got himself into so he turned his back and walked away. Hell or heaven? It was a matter of perspective.
Lars grinned—he was happy in heaven.
He sliced the homemade bread diagonally. It made the pastrami sandwiches bigger—he’d bet on it.
His new security detail was confused. The last Speaker of the House never once acknowledged any of agents in four years. Yet in less than two months this newly elected Speaker, chatted with them constantly, establishing that if one of them ever called him Mr. Speaker he would see to it that they got reassigned to East shithole.
Now he was making two of the agents sandwiches at his family’s run down ranch—a collection of double-wide trailers, failed dreams, paneled hallways lined with oversized, sun bleached senior pictures of kids long gone, large metal outbuildings littered with oil drums and hydraulic jacks, and no shortage of Coors cans in the burrow pit ripped to shit from a .44. It was a working ranch. Dude ranch was not part of the equation.
“If you’re brainwashed enough to take a bullet for my ugly ass, the least I can do is make you a goddamn sandwich.” Lars handed the plate to Secret Service Agent Chavez.
“Thanks.” She set the plate on the counter. Serena Chavez had been sure not to call him Mr. Speaker, but she’d be damned if she was going to call him, Lars. She spent three years with the previous Speaker and resented not being promoted to the Presidential detail. Instead of running detail in the Oval Office, she was stuck with this circus. Kinsey, Montana today. Colstrip, Montana tomorrow. The Speaker was a national asset. Her job was to preserve it, at all costs. She tried to keep it simple.
“Without mayo,” declared Lars, winking at Agent Wade.
“Thanks, Lars.” Robert Wade sat down at the kitchen island, grabbed half the sandwich and waved it at Serena before stuffing his mouth.
“Made another pot of coffee—have a lot of paper to shuffle before tomorrow morning, making this country a better place.” Lars grinned. “Make sure your troops on perimeter don’t scare the neighbors. And remember, Mom and Dad are coming for dinner.” He glanced at his watch. “About two hours. Don’t riddle their asses in buckshot or there’ll be hell to pay.” He headed towards his make shift office, then stopped. He turned, eying Agent Chavez. “And that journalist lady, Beatrice Mae Monday should arrive around the same time for her twenty-four hour coverage of me. Said she’s driving a gray Forester rental.” He disappeared into his office.
Special Agent Chavez looked out the kitchen window at the snow. The darkening landscape was large brushstrokes of expansive browns and whites—a canvas with no goddamn edges.
Neighbors, Serena shook her head. There are no neighbors within two miles of this godforsaken place. She barked orders into her mouthpiece, checking with perimeter. “Remember, Starlight and T-Bone will be visiting in two hours. Typewriter will also be landing in a gray Forester. ETA is 18:00 hours for all, so eyes tight.”
Agent Wade sat at his perch in the kitchen. He stared at the striations of cream sinking into his steaming coffee. Robert glanced at his watch – in twenty minutes he was back out in the cold.
In the last two days he had ridden a horse, gone target shooting with Lars, and caught Buck, Lars’s dad, smoking dope. Holy shit, this can’t be for real. He crinkled the bag of chips in front of him.
Serena snapped her fingers, signaling to him to shut the fuck up. She continued pacing, talking with perimeter.
Robert enjoyed his coffee.
Lars sat at his desk, looking out the window. The storm was picking up. His phone vibrated. I’m checking my goddamn email now, Brandy.
He thought about his three hour meeting earlier in the day in Billings with the prick Canadian, Billy Mason, owner of the largest coal company in North America – Derrex International.
Billy didn’t have to remind Lars that the Speaker was owned by coal. Lars squeaked in as Speaker because House members from Appalachia coal country all voted for the cowboy. They voted the way Billy told them to vote and Billy expected no less of a relationship with Lars.
Lars sipped his coffee logging into his secure email account. The account his cyber guru instructed him not to access over his phone. The sixth email down grabbed his attention.
It was from Sean Nelson. The subject line read: At Your Convenience. The text of the email stated: Inquiry regarding HR 1723. Best, Sean.
Lars and Senator Brandy Stillwater had established an emergency communication plan three weeks earlier. As newly elected Speaker, Lars was a recent Gang of Eight member—the eight leaders of Congress briefed on sensitive intelligence matters by the President’s office per federal statute. Go8 notifications were considered too sensitive for briefing of the entire committees, less there be leaks. The eight members consisted of the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence committees and party leadership of Congress.
But the executive branch took it a step further and trumped the Gang of Eight with the Gang of Four—only the two chairs and two ranking members of the House and Senate. And they were all sworn to secrecy.
The Go4 were briefed on intelligence matters the President deemed so sensitive that not even the elected party leaders were privy to such intel.
But Brandy, while a member of the Go4, wasn’t impressed with it. She wasn’t so easily seduced by the kiss of secrecy. Unlike the Go8, it did not have any statutory basis—just nods and winks from the Executive Branch and Congressional Intelligence Committees. For Brandy it was another way for the President to bullshit his way from unwanted oversight. That made the feathery blonde hairs on the back of her Texas neck stand and take notice.
She never nodded or winked. Instead she kept her fingers crossed regarding the secrecy element, informing Lars that if she ever sent an email or text from a Sean Nelson, it would be because some Go4 shit hit the fan and they needed to talk in private—immediately.
Lars’s phone buzzed again. The caller ID read, Deb Carlson, which meant it was Briar Waters – Director of the C.I.A.
So many damn codes. Shit—shit. Must be something to do with that goddamn Urfa incident and that Shepherd asshole. Where the Christ did he come from anyways?
He let the Director’s call go to voice mail. Briar was an Eastern prick, Ivy League golden spoon boy who olny stepped out of the shadows long enough to have his pretty face photographed by the Times before retreating back to his dark world of State sanctioned lying, double speak, and killing. Lars didn’t give liars the time of day.
Lars pressed #6 on his speed dial.
With the setting sun on the Western horizon darkness was expanding out his window—the snow spitting down with fury.
4 Prague, Czech Republic
February 27, 2017
Monday 12:43 PM
Black spots blurred Damek Dusek’s vision. He sipped his beer, swallowing four ibuprofen.
He stared out the window at the busy sidewalk. Freezing rain.
Hovno, he whispered to himself. Shit.
Gunter, or whatever the fat fuck’s real name was, was late again. He was tired of the German, sick of watching him spit every time he opened his fish-like mouth, sick of his thick, pock-marked face, his greasy long hair, the stupid pony tail. The bastard stunk.
A hand grasped Damek’s shoulder.
“Ahoj,” grunted Gunter, squeezing beside Damek at the bar. “It’s cold. I wish this shit rain would turn to snow.” He blew into his stubby hands. “I like snow. It’s so fucking pure.”
Damek nodded, holding his beer close, away from Gunter’s fat body. “And things are good?” He watched the sidewalk.
“Good. Good.” Gunter took of his cap, placing it on the bar, putting his hair into a pony tail, panting like a dog.
“I can verify? Now?”
Gunter sniffled. “Tomorrow.”
“That’s not what we agreed.” Damek pulled his leather collar up, sinking into his large coat. “I want my money.”
“Tough shit. Tomorrow. You should have a hard on right now for what I pay you.” Gunter laughed.
Damek drained his beer. You fat fuck. He left the pub, heading toward busy Letenská Street, his head down into the freezing rain. His temples throbbed. This is a shitty way to live. Black spots flickered in his peripheral vision.
Inside the stately Czech Republic Ministry of Finance Building he avoided the elevator, climbing the stairs to the third floor. He scurried down the empty gray hallway, disappearing into his closet of an office. He locked the door, slouching in his chair, breathing hard, taking off fat fuck Gunter’s cap. He unrolled the scrap of paper. Probably another fucked-up haiku.
5 Outside Petorca, Chile February 27, 2017 Monday, 10:17 AM
The Shepherd’s skin was olive brown. He wore loose fitting tan pants and a white cotton shirt, rolled up at the sleeves, defined forearms exposed to the Chilean air. His black hair was shoulder length, his beard freshly trimmed. The color of his eyes were Mediterranean Sea blue, like the summer shores of his youth.
He cupped his hands, drinking water from the mountain stream. “Esta agua es buena.” He nodded toward his companion as he climbed back on to his horse. This water is good.
Turkish was his native language but Spanish like other foreign languages rolled easily from his tongue.
The mountain air was refreshing, a needed change from the dark places he had recently traveled. His destination—the cave—was a few hours ride away. He turned back toward Alonso. “It’s a beautiful day my friend. Another gift from Yawallah!”
Alonso smiled, dropping his reins, holding both hands toward the sun. “Yes! Yawallah blesses your path.”
“Ha! You are wrong my friend. It is the path to Yawallah that is blessed.”
Alonso shouted back but the Shepherd did not hear, his horse trotting up the wide dirt path. A lifetime of setting the world’s geopolitical chess board was in place. The next move was his—already in play. One of surprise and shock. A new day, a new world—a new garden of Eden was at hand.
His hands released tension on the polished rust colored reins. His bare heels pressed deep into the horse’s flanks. The horse, flowed into a gallop, rocketing up the mountain trail, black, fleshy nostrils flared.
The rush of wind softened the anxiety about tomorrow, the heavy burden of the future. The Shepherd kicked his heels again, a thrusting painful jab at his horse.
The Shepherd, raced up the mountain, clouds of dust in his wake, veiling his trajectory from the unsuspecting world. But very soon the world would know of the Shepherd and the Shepherd’s birth name—Abraham.
6 Northwest, Washington D.C. February 27, 2017 Monday 5:12 PM EST
Like too many things in Finnegan Black’s life—the caller had been anonymous.
The Kozy Lantern was an interesting meeting choice in Northwestern, D.C. Far enough from Langley to maximize anonymity. Not the shittiest part of the nation’s capital but shitty enough to remain in the shadows from power brokers. Five-fifteen was late enough to leverage the cover of dusk but early enough to avert the eyes of the federal mid-pay grade bureaucrats trolling the gray, cold streets for their desperate, calculated blue-pill, semi-erect blow jobs, and minimize rubbing elbow with the schizophrenic junkies pissy for their late night fixes. Relative to the darker hours, five-fifteen, bridging day to night, was a safe bet tempered with age and experience. Someone high in the ranks was clutching the cloak of anonymity—not wanting a field agent tracking mud down Langley’s hallowed halls.
Room 183 was at the end of the long, one story motel. In a faded Carhatt jacket, navy blue knit hat pulled low, face still bronze from assignments in Santiago and Urfa, Finnegan approached the room, his 6’1”, one-hundred-eighty-seven pound frame, shadowless in the dark parking lot. He rapped the door.
Finnegan pushed it open, sliding inside.
“Lock it,” said a man sitting on the edge of a queen sized bed.
Finnegan turned the deadbolt. The television was on—plenty of background noise.
“No.” He flashed his gray eyes.
“Beretta.” Finnegan patted his M9 under his jacket.
“Right. Hands over your head. I’ll grab the goods. You relax.”
The man removed Finnegan’s Beretta from his chest holder then continued patting him down.
“Clothes off. Toss ‘em on the bed.”
“Do I get my heat back.”
Soon Finnegan stood cross armed, leaning against the cheap dresser in his black boxer briefs. “Good enough?”
“Yup.” The man wore a dark winter ski hat and Howard University hoodie. Cheap sunglasses, a late day’s shadow riddled with black and white stubble. Faded jeans and worn work boots. Average size and build. No accent or twang—his breath saturated with coffee. A good CIA nobody. He walked toward the door.
“Boss in the bathroom wants to talk. Lock the door behind me.” The man turned the deadbolt and left, closing the door quietly.
Finnegan set the deadbolt back in place as the bathroom door at the opposite end of the small room opened. A tall man emerged, wearing a red Washington Capitals baseball cap, a blue fleece jacket, brown pants, and well-worn running shoes.
“Black?” The man removed his hat.
The familiar face, the voice, the thin blond hair parted left to right, the conquering crow’s feet, was a surprise.
The man moved from the bathroom door, extending his hand. “We’ve never met?”
“No,” said Finnegan. He eyed the man, shaking his hand. “Just have seen you on the news.”
The man leaned against the wall. “You like me?”
“Most operators don’t – feel I’m too political.” A thin smile cracked the man’s sixty-three-year-old square chiseled face. “Your file describes you as smart, quiet, and resourceful.”
“I’ve never seen my file.”
“And you never will.”
Finnegan looked at the man’s black shoulder bag. “What’s this about?”
The man’s steel blue eyes narrowed at Finnegan. “Tomorrow you’re going to close a shop, clean it, and transfer an asset. Remember, Blue Lights and Sunset?”
“Hard places to forget.” Finnegan locked eyes with the boss he’d never met until now. Briar Waters, CIA Director.
7 Miles City, Montana February 27, 2017 Monday, 3:01 MST
Steam from the shower filled the old hotel bathroom. The historic Olive was built in 1899 on the corner of Main and 5th. Beatrice Mae avoided bland motel chains, keeping her small feet close to the roots of rich history. Fictional character Gus McCrea stayed at the Olive. Why not Beatrice Mae Monday?
The walls in room 218 were covered in sun bleached flowered wall paper and dirty white painted wainscoting. The upright metal radiator speckled with rust, stood next to the antique dresser. The wooden floor squeaked, the bed lumpy. Beatrice Mae’s window looked at the old vacant brick building across 5th Street. Atop the 100 year old small writing desk sat her lavender Mac.
The hot water felt good on her face. In thirty minutes she’d be sitting down with Lars’s old high-school girlfriend. Darcy Amundsen wanted to meet Beatrice Mae at the Bison Bar at three-thirty. “Should be kinda quiet then—give us two gals some time to really chit-chat, if ‘ya know what I mean.”
Her phone buzzed. Beatrice Mae hurried out of the shower, pooling water on the tile floor, grabbing the phone from the sink, waltzing bare-assed out of the bathroom.
Damn. Leave me alone, Spencer. Do your own leg work.
“Hey, Spence. This better be good.” She gazed out the window, watching the falling snow.
“It’s goddamn big. Can’t believe it!”
“We gotta talk—now!”
“Not over the phone. Face to face.”
“I’m hanging up, Spencer.”
“I’m serious B. I need your help with this.”
Beatrice Mae stood with her glistening back to the radiator. Christ. “I’m meeting someone now and have to be at the Speaker’s by six. Let’s do four-thirty here at the Olive.”
“Okay—four-thirty. Life or death shit, B.” He sounded nervous.
“Right, Spencer. Four-thirty.” She hung up.
Beatrice Mae was a journalist –peeling an onion journalist— driven by facts—not about access and main stream media bullshit.
The blood pumping through Beatrice Mae’s veins was hickory-aged and scented. The fire within burned from generations of Kentucky working class sweat stoking the flames. Beatrice Mae Monday didn’t write bullshit.
She owned a small 1920’s bungalow in Liberty, Kentucky. A house built by her great-grandfather. No children, one short-lived marriage, and a life time of paying for everything with cash, provided Beatrice Mae with the rare opportunity to chase facts.
Where ever it led.
And now it led to Miles City, Montana.
In December she got a lead. It was great-uncle Cy’s funeral. He was ninety-eight and never liked the damp December Kentucky cold. It was the right time to cross the threshold.
The night after the service she had dinner with Tyson Ridge and his cute-as-a-button wife, Ginny. Beatrice Mae was the first to screw Tyson—the cab of her old red, F-150. The cab was not as uncomfortable as one might think—it forced creativity. Neither harbored any regrets.
Tyson was running for the Kentucky State Senate. He was a political junkie, dad of three, Ginny was a darling, and he was going to save the state as an electrical engineer gone politician. Tyson’s mind never waded too deep, though. He preferred thick, coarse, Kentucky blue-grass under his feet rather than lofty policy-wonk banter.
“Lars McKusick for Christ’s sake.” Tyson glanced at his wife. “Sorry, Ginny.” He clutched his third glass of Jack, looking back at Beatrice Mae, enjoying her tight blue blouse.
“That’s who the next Speaker will be—I’ll bet ‘ya a million goddamn bucks.” He glanced again at Ginny. “Sorry, Sweets.”
Tyson stepped ever so briefly out of his comfort box before reigning himself back toward greener pasture. Beatrice Mae smiled, taking mental note. As a journalist her bullshit barometer was finely calibrated. She knew when to chit-chat and when to bend her ears back and listen. Tyson was rubbing elbows in the Appalachia coal circle and wasn’t one to speculate blindly on his own. The fact he was talking about the congressman from Montana piqued Beatrice Mae’s curiosity.
On their way out of the restaurant, Ginny sauntered into the Ladies Room. In the small lobby Tyson gave Beatrice Mae one more bourbon hug goodbye, his hand firmly on her ass. Beatrice Mae was in the mood to let it stay there.
“You look great,” he whispered.
Her mind wandered back to her old high school pick-up truck. She smiled. “Lars McKusick—really?”
“A done deal. As they say—follow the money.” He winked. “But watch your sweet ass.” The pressure of his hand intensified.
The kiss was a surprise—warm and lingering, moistened with youthful memories, savored because it tasted so damn good but somehow classy.
Walking out the door Beatrice Mae was confident Tyson would win his state seat. He had all the trappings of a good ‘ol pol. She licked her lips.
Driving home she analyzed Tyson’s hunch about the cowboy from Montana. Has to be a coal connection or Tyson would be in the dark. She rolled into her driveway, hurried upstairs to her bungalow and powered up her Mac and started her research on Larks McKusick. She had a piece to write.
It was a 7,500 word article when she was done. Half prose, half folksy prognostication. She jumped in and out of it for three days, leaving Tyson to Ginny, having a tryst with her article instead.
Lars McKusick proved an interesting read. Ass deep in coal and cattle. A forked tongue, a prerequisite for the Beltway, but one that pried smiles out of the opposition. A short deployment in the Gulf War with the Montana National Guard provided him the requisite red, white and blue glow for aspiring politicians. And then another deployment with the same reserve unit in Iraq from 2002-2004. Beatrice Mae had stumbled over a few hanging chads from this part of his life. Maybe it was nothing but at the least it merited clarification from the Speaker.
The dust from the clattering August combine sifting through the ranch’s doublewide window screens, settling on his framed Harvard diploma was enough of an anomaly to endear calculating donors. A charismatic man rooted in Yellowstone top soil but looking long and hard beyond Custer County boundary lines. An Eisenhower Republican in a cowboy hat, straddling the 21st century, with a lean to the right. Beatrice Mae’s subject matter wasn’t lacking color.
The piece was natural. It flowed. Fresh and grounded. And McKusick’s name wasn’t yet circulating the Sunday news talk shows. Not a peep anywhere. For once maybe she’d crack a story rather than following one.
Her college roommate at Focus had just rejected an article on the Vice President’s daughters for the News and Politics Section and needed a high-quality piece to fill the white space. Beatrice Mae had two hours to trim the piece to 5,500 words.
Four days later her article ran smoothly, which is just what the editors at Focus expected. It didn’t sell any extra issues, attract more hits, bring any lawsuits, or threaten next month’s run. But it was a smart piece in a smart magazine.
One dollar per word was the most Beatrice Mae had ever received for a piece. She owed Tyson a drink – maybe a little more.
Twelve days later in January after two months of contentious politicking and backroom deals, the House Republican majority cast their final vote. The amicable, straight shooting cowboy from eastern Montana was the new Speaker of the House.
The Focus piece was reborn.
Beatrice Mae had been the first to nail it two weeks earlier.
Even with her fifteen minutes of fame she kept her head straight. No way in hell could she get time with President-elect Worthen or even VP Sanchez. She had no strings to pull with inside contacts.
Focus offered her a 15,000 word two-issue installment piece at $1.75 per word. Not bad but considering her new status and calls from bigger fish, she was holding out. She’d write her story first and see what she could land.
Beatrice Mae had her lead—the new Speaker of the House, Lars Anders McKusick. And tonight was her pay dirt day. Evening coffee with the Speaker at his ranch was the start of her 24 hour coverage, spending the night and riding with him to Colstrip to meet with coal officials about a new proposed coal export tax, a quick stop in Hardin on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation meeting with tribal elders, then to Billings where she’d fly with the Speaker back to D.C., in time for the State of the Union Address later that evening, at 09:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Unscripted, extensive, exclusive time with a colorful, powerful, loose lipped character. A dream come true for a political reporter dedicated to details and the truth. There were bound to be surprises.
8 Northwest, Washington D.C. February 27, 2017 Monday 5:17 PM
“Blue Lights is DIA’s house,” said Finnegan, “Not ours.”
“It’s contracted, it’s dirty, and holding an asset of ours.”
“You’re directing me to take out a Defense Intelligence Agency’s black site, wipe its intel and runaway with an asset?”
“Clean it, close it, and deliver the package to Sunset where she’ll get debriefed on hard intel concerning a G-8 summit threat. That’s your assignment.”
“That’s an order?”
Briar laughed. “We own you, Black. Waltz out this door before I do and you’ll never make it across the parking lot.” Briar picked his teeth. “Don’t get a self-righteous stick shoved too far up your ass. There’s plenty of blood on your hands—a lot of it innocent. Being a daddy and devoted son doesn’t wash away your sins.”
“I’m being set-up?”
“Life is a set-up and yeah, you were picked for a reason. Few operators know where Blue Lights and Sunset are. You’re one of the lucky few.” Briar smiled, tossing the shoulder bag to Finnegan. “You leave in an hour on a diplomatic plane. Touch down in Novo Selo around four in the morning Bulgarian time. Close and clean Blue Lights, deliver the package to Sunset by 20:00 hours local time. If you take a detour, then your wife and Juliette will too. Be a hero and save ‘em.”
Finnegan kept his arms crossed, staring at the Director.
Briar pointed to the bag. “Clothes and other goodies. Keys to the blue Camry outside.”
Finnegan didn’t budge as the Director squeezed between him and the bed. Standing in front of the door, Briar put on his hat. “Duty. Love of country, Black.”
Briar Waters, Director of CIA, exited the motel room, disappearing into the growing darkness of the nation’s capital.
Finnegan walked into the bathroom, his bare feet on the cool, dirty linoleum and took a piss.
9 Escobar, Argentina February 27, 2017 Monday 4:46 PM
Draper Chaulke sat in the office of his 23 million dollar villa outside Buenos Aries waiting for Creston. His brother was seven minutes late and counting. He browsed Derrex International’s quarterly earnings report. Again. Nervousness was not a characteristic trait typically beholding to Draper but tonight it kept rearing its head. Creston couldn’t arrive soon enough.
He refrained from ringing the narrow silver butler bell with the short ivory handle for another drink. One was enough for now. He’d wait for Creston to appear and hopefully the news would be good and the bell would ring loudly. He looked up from the report, gazing out the large window across the rolling lawn towards the stables. He hadn’t ridden in years—didn’t even know how many horses he owned. Twenty? Thirty? He stared back at the report, nervously flipping through the pages, longing for the sound of his brother’s executive eight passenger Augusta Westland AW139 helicopter.
Like most economic royalists, the Chaulke brothers’ fiefdom was inherited—then they expanded it into an empire. For two generations oil pumped through the veins of the Chaulke lineage. Father Chaulke refined crude – while sons Creston and Draper diversified its enormous profits with tentacles spanning the globe: oil distribution; mineral extraction; chemical technology, pulp and paper products; and ranching were but a few of their venture capital exploits.
The brothers were not two peas in a pod. Draper was imaginative, handsome, and calculating. Creston was ass ugly, paranoid and vindictive. But they shared a common love: money.
They were reminded often during their Houston childhood that hard work, intelligence, and grace were components of privilege. The world was not created equal by design. Because they were Chaulkes, beloved by the Creator, they were destined for positions of great power and wealth.
When the brothers were invited for their first Awareness with Abraham eighteen years earlier, it was simply because they felt it was in their financial self-interest to do so. His inside knowledge of the global oil markets was unmatched, confided the young Ms. Yamashita, the oils future analyst for Silverman-Marcus, who presented the brothers with the unsolicited financial tip from a Turkish stranger—Abraham. Within the next week the Russian government would award drilling rights to the highly sought after Samotkoye Field, known as the last great 13 billion barrel crude reserve to Menalt Oil.
Creston had dismissed the inside game as nonsense. “Bullshit. Not in my lifetime,” he muttered, his pasty jowls vibrating. Draper though was amused. He’d never hedge blind but took note. MNLT closed at $17.52 the day of Abraham’s tip via Ms. Yamashita. Three days later Menalt Oil’s Russian drilling contract victory was the lead story in the Journal.
Nine days after Ms. Yamashita declined coffee in Draper’s New York office, MNLT closed at $29.37. Draper hated leaving money on the table, even when it was hypothetical.
Draper contacted Ms. Yamashita. The invitation for Awareness was accepted.
Four months later while on business in Dubai, the Chaulkes, sworn to secrecy, were introduced to the mysterious and secretive, Abraham. They were lead to the top floor suite of the hotel Qasr Al Sarab by a portly bellhop wearing an undersized red vest. A Frenchman with a shock of white hair, anchored in the same generation as the Chaulkes, greeted the brothers. “Simon Le Duc. The pleasure is mine. Mr. Creston. Mr. Draper.” He shook both hands. “Abraham, will be with you momentarily.” He swept his arm toward the suite’s waiting room. “Please make yourself at home. Anything to drink?”
“No,” snapped Creston, lowering himself into a leather recliner.
Draper waved his hand, settling into a plush green sofa, picking up the Financial Times.
“Biscuits, dates, anything?”
Draper checked his Cartier Ballon Bleu gold watch. “Just the meeting.”
“Yes. Any minute, Sir. Abraham thanks you for your patience.” Simon nodded and left.
Creston sat and fumed. A pending shale deal for BP caught Draper’s attention.
“Peace and health.” The voice startled the brothers. A crisp British accent. The man stood to Creston’s left.
Black, clean cut hair. Piercing blue eyes. Sharp, angular nose. Shaven. Smooth, dark brown complexion. Broad shoulders under his buttoned white shirt, open at the neck. A thin silver bracelet. Tan pleated slacks. Narrow brown leather belt, golden medallion buckle. Leather sandals. Tall, mid 30’s, breathtakingly handsome.
His hands clasped in front of his chest, he nodded toward Creston, then Draper. “Please.” He opened his hands towards an open door.
The room was large, drapes drawn—Persian rug covering the floor. No artificial lighting. A clear glass decanter with red wine stood on a small, elegant, date palm wood table. Three leather books rested on a matching table. No other furniture.
Abraham picked up the decanter. “Yes?”
“Not during business,” said Creston.
“Very good.” Abraham poured a taste into a fluted wine glass. “This gathering is much more than business.” He smiled, handing the glass to his guest. “Please.”
Creston, typically not one to indulge other’s wishes, walked to the table with the books, placing the glass on it. “A sommelier I’m not.” But he continued to swirl the wine, aerating it, observing its strong legs running down the inside of the glass. With his round nose inside the glass, he inhaled deeply. Waited, then again. “A hint of fig? A new aroma for me.”
He took a small taste, slowly running the crimson wine to the back of his tongue, then side to side. He swallowed, raised his eyebrows at Draper, before looking at Abraham, a rare grin cracking slowly across his old face.
“Transcendent. Boundless. Old.” He stared back at the decanter. “Rare words from me.” He stared at the glass, motioning with his free hand for more. “But I’ve no idea what it is?”
Abraham smiled, pouring the wine. “But you do—ancient truth.”
Draper and Creston were reluctant to sit on the rug.
“Please my friends. I have a lot to share. You’ll be more comfortable.” He laughed softly as the brothers obliged.
Draper with his legs bent, his arms leaning over his knees—Creston’s back propped against the far wall, his short, fat legs sticking straight out, his arms balancing him like angle braces. Draper held his wine glass, Creston’s rested on the rug. The brothers gazed awkwardly up at their host.
The man from Turkey stood, bathed in the late afternoon sunlight filtering through the drawn drapes, smiling at the billionaire brothers below him. “I’m indebted for your presence—the generous gift of your time. I am Abraham—the Shepherd—and I have a story to tell of a world that must be saved from itself by the strong and the mighty, by the chosen few.”
Thump-thump-thump-thump. Draper continued pacing. In minutes Creston would walk in the office with information that couldn’t be trusted with computers, phones, couriers. Even in the confines of the villa’s office, it would be whispered into Draper’s ears behind Creston’s cupped hands.
From the sound of its rotors, the helicopter alit on the roof’s landing pad. Draper stopped, clasping his hands together, closing his eyes, slowly repeating Abraham’s soothing pFinneganer. “Yawallah—Yawallah—Yawallah—Yawallah.” He relaxed, ready for Creston’s news.
10 Langley, Virginia February 27, 2017 Monday 7:43 PM EST
The basement of Briar Waters Virginia home was inviting. DIA Director Lieutenant General Lance Hopkins sat in the leather chair beside the stone fireplace. The ice in his glass reflected both the fire and the golden hue of seventeen year old Ardbeg Scotch. He had known Briar since his West Point days. Lance was a third year cadet, Briar a first year. He was a guard, Briar a receiver. Lance was known for his biceps. Briar his soft hands. Their conversations as Cadets focused on the Navy game, booze, push-ups, marksmanship, and getting laid.
Now it focused on secrets.
Lance was in his second year as DIA Director, Briar just finished his fifth for Langley.
“This is a first,” said Lance, never having graced Briar’s basement since becoming Director. He raised his glass. “Duty, honor, country.”
“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” retorted Briar, countering Lance’s West Point motto with the unofficial Langley one. The Stoli Briar swallowed was not the first he had that night. He had treated himself earlier before the meeting with Finnegan Black.
“Why the honor?” said Lance. “Revisit the glory days.”
“These are the glory days,” said Briar flatly. “We need to talk boundaries, turf—that sort of thing.” He gazed over at Elizabeth LaCrosse, from Langley’s Office of Transnational Issues, sitting quietly in the antique oak rocker, legs crossed, a laser pointer resting in her hands.
Lance stared into the fire. “You’re referring to Shada bin Mahfouz.”
“Christ, Briar. I don’t know any more than what you’ve been briefed. NSA passed us intel concerning her, Khodkevich, a goddamn Russian FOAB—Father Of All Bombs, and the G8 Summit scheduled for June in Milan. They tipped us. We checked Langley’s Do Not Disturb List and she wasn’t on it. So we swept her. You were notified within twenty-four hours—a hell of a lot more than we we’re required to do.” Lance sipped his scotch. “What aren’t you telling us?”
“Plenty.” Briar sank into the leather couch, his right arm extended along the top, holding his drink. “Secrets lose their power with every new person elbowing into it—a diminution of advantage. That’s what we want in the IC world. Advantage. Otherwise it’s not worth the chase. Langley has been on bin Mahfouz’s ass for years now. She’s bread crumbs for us.”
“Crumbs to what?”
Briar took a long drink, eying Elizabeth, before staring back at Lance. “Kerouac. What does that name do for you?”
“Jack Kerouac—drugged out, poet guy?”
“Yeah – a beat novelist and poet but does the name Kerouac relative to the IC world do anything for you?”
Lance shrugged. “I’m an easy read, Briar—not a clue where you’re going with this?”
Briar shifted his weight, leaning forward on his knees. “The Kerouac Faction was ahead of its time. A 1980’a precursor to today’s contractors. Private, small, clean, and efficient. Like a scalpel. Designed to kill enemy secrets by spreading them. The few recruits were brainy, back of the room types who bore easily with all the type A’s talking over each other for attention.”
“Devil must be in the details.”
“It is.” Briar finished his Stoli. “Horizontal integration throughout the IC was an objective of Kerouac. Inside and outside of government.”
“Foreign and domestic?”
Briar nodded, picking his teeth.
“And you think somebody up the food chain at DIA is hot right now—a Kerouac operative?”
Briar stared into the fire. “Yeah, perhaps someone in your circle showing extra interest in bin Mahfouz? Or NSA? I’d like to know about their tip.”
“This Kerouac bullshit is all Langley’s so you tell me who, where, and for how long.” Lance stood, walking towards the fire. “Does Oversight know about this?”
He stopped in front of the fireplace, his back to Briar.
Briar rubbed his face. “Kerouac has been around for thirty years and we still know shit about them. They’re damn good and that scares the spy piss out of me.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Kerouac was operational in February of ’83. That’s when they made their presence known to us. Their first drop so to speak.”
“A copy of Kerouac’s Open Road sent to Bill Casey’s home in February of ‘83. Notes were scribbled in the front about OPEC cutting oil prices and to watch the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. The Agency didn’t think much of it until a month later when OPEC cut oil prices for the first time in 23 years and sure as shit in April 63 people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked our embassy in Lebanon.”
“And no idea who ran Kerouac? Church and Angleton were still alive.”
“We never saw the Church memo until ’87 after both were dead. When the first drop arrived, the Agency had no idea who or what Kerouac was.” Briar shrugged. “And hell we still don’t know much.”
“When was the next drop?”
“In October of ’86 we received another book from Kerouac—detailing Iran-Contra. Two weeks later in November the story was leaked to the press.”
“Christ. So they ran deep into domestic.”
“Yeah—the entire IC. Their books run long and deep.” Briar cleared his throat. “In July of ’89, Langley was tipped from Kerouac that East Germany’s Erich Honecker would be ousted by Christmas. In August 13,000 East Germans defected to Austria via Hungry and Honecker was forced to resign in mid-October. Three weeks later the Berlin Wall came down.” Briar took a sip. “Same damn thing with the Soviet Union. A July ’91 drop predicted the collapse and in August the dominoes started falling while our analysts were still asleep at the wheel.”
Briar shook his head. “We even got tips about Ames and Hanssen. We received a hell of lead on Ames in February of ’93 from Kerouac and finally arrested the SOB a year later. They sent two notes about Hanssen. One in ’97 and another in 2000.”
“Did you need to pass them or did the Bureau get their own note?”
“We passed them to the Bureau and they dutifully ignored them. They never received anything from Kerouac. Just through Langley.” Briar scratched his head. “As far as we can tell Langley was the only recipient of Kerouac’s leads for a while, then they stopped coming to the Agency.”
“When did they dry up?”
Briar looked up. “Last one was August 29, 2001.”
Lance shook his head. “Jesus. I don’t want to ask.”
“About a week after we received the damn heads up from Moussed about potential high jackers and flights, which we ignored, we get another one from Kerouac. A damned detailed account of Hani Hanjour – the bastard who piloted AA flight 77 into the Pentagon and one of the al-Hazmi brothers, Nawaf. The Pentagon was mentioned as a target from a high-jacked airplane. It never mentioned a date or the Twin Towers but said an attack was imminent and to keep our eyes on the skies.”
“And it collected dust like all the other red flags.”
Yeah – it did and must have pissed off Kerouac because that was the last Langley heard directly from them. They gave up on us and shifted their attention to a freshman Senator at the time.”
Lance thought a moment. “Krenshaw from Oregon?”
“Hell no – the Lone Star bitch – Brandy Goddamn Stillwater.”
“Stillwater – why?”
“Smart, independent, knows how to keep her mouth shut and knows how to get a message out when she needs to. The closest thing the Senate has today to Frank Church. Fifteen years later and now she’s chair of the goddamn Senate Intelligence Committee. It was a good bet on Kerouac’s part.”
Lance wiped his forehead, swishing ice in his mouth. “Has she had the decency to provide you with any leads about Kerouac?”
Briar shrugged. “No, not from Stillwater but from our own leg work bin Mahfouz has been our biggest fish—reason to believe she’s a Kerouac operator who recruited a woman working for Elizabeth in OTI.” Briar glanced over at Elizabeth in the rocking chair. “But that plan has gone to hell now that DIA swept bin Mahfouz!”
“Who?” asked Lance.
“Who what?” snapped Briar.
“Who was the woman you think bin Mahfouz recruited from OTI?”
“A mouse of a woman whose parents were just brutally murdered in Hanover, New Hampshire about four blocks from the Dartmouth Campus. Her name is Dahl. Elkano Dahl.”
11 38,000 ft over the Atlantic Ocean February 27, 2017 Monday 7:54 PM EST
Finnegan Black was airborne, sitting in the aft of the 18-Seater Gulfstream G650, red lining it to Novo Selo, Bulgaria at 587 miles per hour. The one other passenger in the fore of the small jet, ignored Finnegan’s presence as much as he ignored hers.
The new, straight leg jeans and gray crew neck shirt in the travel bag were a good fit. His black cap’s bill rested above his eye brows. Even in the dimly lit plane he wore his sunglasses. He leaned his head into the soft leather chair, closing his eyes.
The previous June when the skinny-ass rabid dog with its teeth locked on to his left calf outside of Sana’a, Yemen, was the beginning of a shitty eight month slide. Seven weeks later in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a 7.62mm round from an AK-47 brandished by a kid too young to shave, smoking meth grazed his shoulder. In October he left Durban with fifty-five sutures in his forearm. The taxi driver was better at yielding a knife for South African Rands, then navigating the late night streets. And just three weeks ago a cricket paddle swung by a fat-ass Turk with a syringe still stuck in his arm outside of Urfa smashed in two across his forehead. Under any other scenario sleepy Bulgaria would be a welcome place to operate but the one-on-one meeting with Briar Waters had fucked-up written all over it.
The handler in the D.C. hotel room likely didn’t even know who was in the bathroom. Waters went at great pains to keep the meeting quiet. No witnesses. No record. His word against Briar’s which meant the meeting never happened. Directors of the IC welcomed ignorance on black site specifics – it provided plausible deniability.
This package, Twitterplus, the Director called it, must be damned important.
Finnegan listened to the metallic hum of the twin engine jet flying him back to a world he was trying his damndest to leave behind.
12 Yungay, Chile February 27, 2017 Tuesday, 12:08 AM
Before leaving the Church for the secret Urfaism sect under the teachings of Abraham, Padre Mateo was one of seventeen priests in Chile sanctioned by the Vatican to perform exorcisms. Nine years earlier he had studied the practice of exorcising the devil from possessed parishioners through pFinneganer. He understood that the majority of individuals claiming possession by Satan were simply misguided – likely needing psychiatric help, not an exorcism. Only under extraordinary circumstances did Lucifer succeed in stealing possession of one’s soul. Accordingly, such extraordinary circumstances necessitated extraordinary exorcism measures.
Since his study of exorcism at a seminar in Buenos Aries, he had performed hundreds of successful rituals in Chile and Argentina, ridding lost souls of Satan. Padre Mateo often said with a smile, his colleagues were, “angels and demons.”
His success did not go unnoticed by the Church. He was asked to teach at a seminar in Baltimore three years after he himself was ordained as an official Exorcist of the Church. It was during the Baltimore seminar that he met Draper Chaulke, one of the wealthiest men in the world, drinking fruit punch out of a paper cup. Cardinal Buerl made the introductions.
By the end of the seminar Padre Mateo had agreed to meet Draper’s mysterious friend, Abraham, the following month in Buenos Aries.
The meeting changed his life.
The woman huddled naked in the corner of the damp, dark basement. The rock floor and walls were moist with condensation. The timbered ceiling, framing the trap door five feet above was slippery to the touch. Sucking water from small pools collected on the floor kept the woman alive over the last twenty days – thirty days?
She didn’t know.
The woman cowered when the trap door opened – trying to fade into the damp darkness, shielding her swollen eyes from the shaft of light piercing the dungeon’s shadows. The wooden ladder with barb wire wrapped around the rungs was lowered into the basement.
“In the the name of Abraham, rise! Now!”
The woman hid her face, cradling herself, slowly rocking back and forth on the cold floor.
“Now! My patience is thin!”
Padre Mateo shouted again before descending the ladder in heavy leather boots, avoiding touching the sharp rungs with his hands. He stared at the pathetic thing, shaking like a scared dog. I know not why the Shepherd saves this vile creature, she who ran and hid in Combarbalá for six days unescorted, she who has been the Shepherd’s concubine for four years – but I obey, such is my purpose.
Padre Mateo kicked her in the stomach. “Up the ladder—even whores must eat!”
She crawled away from him.
Padre Mateo grabbed her by the hair, dragging her to the ladder. He stood on the first rung, using his free hand to balance himself, gripping an overhead timber. Slowly he ascended, hauling the woman up by her hair. Too weak to resist but not too weak to scream as her body dragged over the barbed rungs.
Standing firmly on the narrow wooden boards Padre Mateo hoisted her into the sunlit room, heaving her onto the floor, bleeding – sobbing.
“Shut up!” Padre Mateo walked to her, stepping on her back with his heavy foot. Bent over, he locked her thin wrists into the black manacles screwed into the wall. Forced face down on the floor, her legs free to flail, Padre Mateo moved to the stove. A small cast iron pot contained cold rice and black beans. He returned to the corner, straddling the woman’s back. “Eat, filthy animal!”
He mumbled a prayer to Yawallah, scraping the leftovers onto her head and neck and on the floor around her head. When there was no more food to scrape he struck the back of her head repeatedly with the wooden spoon. “You are learning your place, yes?” He sliced her scalp with the spoon, watching blood trickle down her back.
He retrieved the cat’s metal, dented bowl, half filled with gray water. He placed it in front of the woman, grabbing the back of her hair, forcing her head into the slimy water, watching her suck up the dirty contents.
He leaned forward, his thick beard brushing against her ear, his large hands pulling her hair. Savoring her heavy breathing, her whimpers, her moans. “I listen again for your confession. It is the way of Yawallah.” His left hand wrapped around her small throat, squeezing. Padre Mateo leaned closer toward her ear, his black eyes wandering down the crack of her small ass, twisting her head sideways, pressing it against the floor. He laid his face against hers, now tightening his grip around her throat with both hands.
The sounds were soft and muffled but filled his heart at last with joy. “Forgive me father for I have sinned.”
Padre Mateo listened to the murmurs of forgiveness from the vile she-beast, Elkano Dahl, and wept.
13 Portland, Oregon February 28, 2017 Tuesday 10:52 AM
You’ve been doing that for the last nine months?” Saul walked with his hands behind his back. His fleece unzipped halfway, Gor-Tex hood down, his gray hair bouncing along the wet trail, He welcomed the sun before the rain returned again.
“About nine months. Amsterdam, Prague, Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago, Rio. I felt like James Fucking Bond.” Marlow was tan from the South American sun. His youthful face beamed in the thick Pacific air.
“Henrick kept it flush.” He paused. “I was trailed in Turkey and Peru.”
“If you say so.”
Marlow stopped in the hiking trail. He turned back toward Saul. “I was. A paramilitary contractor type. Buzz cut and blue eyes. Got a picture of the bastard. Don’t know who he is yet but I will.”
“Anything else from Henrick?” Saul ran his hands through his hair.
“Instructed me to come here and bullshit with you. That was two days ago.” Marlow studied Saul for a reaction.
As always – nothing.
He scanned down the trail, then back to Saul. “I trailed an Asian woman.” Marlow stepped toward Saul, looking down at the older man’s calm, weathered face. “You know – me and faces.”
“Like an elephant, you never forget.”
Marlow smiled. “I noticed her on a train in France. Looked familiar. Kept out of her line of sight and just monitored.”
“She didn’t see you?”
“I was all spy-mode.”
“Right. James Fucking Bond.” Saul laughed. “And then what?”
“I watched her walk down the aisle, disappearing into the French countryside.”
“This is what Henrick wanted you to tell me?”
“I saw her again in Buenos Aires.”
“And that’s when you shadowed her?”
Marlow nodded. “Should have done it France.”
“Where’d she go?”
“Same place I was headed. Didn’t surprise me.” Marlow put his hands in his coat pockets. “That’s when I remembered where I had first crossed paths with the Asian woman – why she was familiar to me in France. You know – I never forget a face.”
“No, you don’t.”
Marlow removed his hands from his pockets, blowing into them. He studied Saul. “I saw her a year ago right here in Portland,” he paused, “waltzing out of your fucking house.”
Saul forced a smile, zipping up his jacket.
Marlow hurried up to Saul. “You don’t believe me? I have to make sure I can trust you again. Figure out the relationship between you and the Asian lady. You understand?”
Marlow rubbed his temples. “How about her name?”
Saul stopped. “Don’t know who you’re talking about, so I can’t give you a name—you don’t look good.”
Marlow rubbed his head harder. “Kohaku Yamashita.” He studied Saul. His eyes darted away then back at Marlow.
“Pretty name,” said Saul. “Not one I’d forget.”
Marlow sat down in the trail. “She’s connected with Abraham.” He stared at the dirt. Head in his hands. “They’re planning big time shit. Armageddon type stuff.” He pressed both hands against his head. “Henrick needs to know your relationship with her.” He tilted his head, trying to stop the creaking. “He can take you out any damn time. Don’t get cocky.”
“You look like shit.” Saul bent down. “Get some rest. We’ll meet for dinner tomorrow?”
Marlow nodded, staring at the dirt. “Yeah.”
“Nora’s around six? You like their sweet potato fries.”
“Uh-huh.” Marlow rocked back and forth, not looking at Saul.
Saul patted his shoulder. “Take it slow, Marlow. You’ve been busy. Take a nap—take some damn meds. They help, my friend.”
Saul headed back down the trail.
Marlow remained, rocking back and forth, trying hard to collect the tiny rocks falling out of his head about Abraham and Satan, the end of the world and Yawallah and everything in between.
THIS IS AN EXCERPT OF FINTE – THE CHOSEN FEW
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