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The Puppets of Washington Series Book 2
Blue Shelf Bookstore
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AUSTRALIA – The Puppeteer
© 2015 BlueShelfBookstore
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The localities, landmarks and government organizations mentioned or described in this book do exist. The characters and events are fictional. Their resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
AUSTRALIA: The Puppeteer (The Puppets of Washington, #2)
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Once Talya and Samuel reached their home in Manly and Samuel had recovered his car from the long-term parking lot, they both sat facing each other in front of the fireplace. They had not spoken much during their twenty-hour trip from Washington, D.C. There wasn’t much to say about the past, but a lot to plan for the future. The future, such as it had been laid before them, wasn’t the brightest or a future that either of them would look forward to under any circumstances. They had to find a man. Their masters had decided it was the only way for them to clear their names from the accusation that had pursued them for nearly two years now. They were thought to be traitors against the State of Israel.
Marred by the lines of fatigue and the scars of too many injuries, Talya’s once lovely face was now drawn and devoid of the vibrant smile that adorned her lips in times past. Her blond, almost white curls were still bouncing in the sunlight every time she would walk to the terrace to warm her mangled body. Being shot in the spine had left her an invalid and for months she navigated through life in a wheelchair until an operation restored the use of her legs. A petite woman, her diminutive stature stood tall when facing her enemies. She had the assiduity and determination of a person avid of winning at life. Although responsible for her disability, Samuel had been her stalwart. She had loved this handsome man for years before he became a Mossad agent and a killer of choice. Standing a head above Talya, his loving and attentive character had offered respite amid her troubled life. His dark, wavy hair was in startling contrast to Talya’s inordinate locks of white. His quiet and reserved demeanor hid the fierce resolve, or one could even say stubbornness, Samuel needed to attain his goals.
Although Mossad made sure they were cleared of the accusation during the recent trial of CIA agent, Muhammad Sadir, the director of the Israeli agency still had some doubts as to Talya and Samuel’s innocence. There were too many coincidences, and David Bernstein didn’t like coincidences. He had been at the head of Mossad for several years already when his ordinate world had been turned upside-down during the events that had preceded and had led to Muhammad Sadir’s trial. In his late fifties, David Bernstein commanded respect, which he got from his agents and staff. Although thought to be a draconian leader, he was viewed by all who knew him as a fair man. A family-minded man by all accounts, he had never fallen into the habit of neglecting his wife or children in favor of the long hours his job demanded of him. His graying hair and sun-tanned skin gave him the appearance of youth his age had denied him.
Talya had stumbled on the CIA’s operation in West Africa, quite by accident, and had then vowed to destroy all there was and all that were connected to this undercover drug exchange for armaments destined to land in Gaza. Soon after her discovery, the weapons that had been shipped to the Strip were faulty and caused numerous deaths – that was the first coincidence that Bernstein couldn’t accept. On top of which, these weapons had been dispatched by another of their agents, Ishmael Assor, who was acquainted with Talya at one point. Second coincidence. The third coincidence and perhaps the clincher for Bernstein was that Samuel, who had known Talya for some years prior to her first traipsing around Africa, managed not to kill her when he had been ordered to do so.
Now, Talya and Samuel needed to find the mastermind who had manufactured this whole tangle of lies and deceit before they would face a trial for treason.
Talya said, “He’s not in Australia, is he?”
Samuel shook his head. “I don’t think he’s anywhere close to the action – or close to where the action was.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because of something that was said in passing to me.”
“I can’t remember where or when I heard it, but I heard someone mention the fact that Sadir received messages from a computer in the CIA’s offices.”
“Yes, I heard that too, but that was probably the computer Lypsick used while he was in Washington.”
“That’s what everyone thought at the time, I suppose, but did anyone ever check what was stored in that hard drive?”
“I have no idea, Samuel. And even if Lypsick had been as stupid as keeping anything on that computer, I’d think the whole thing has been wiped clean as soon as Van Dams was killed.”
“Maybe you’re right... and that brings me to another point that seemed to have been lost in the confusion; what happened to that investigation? Did they ever find Van Dams’s killer, do you think?”
It was Talya’s turn to shake her head. “We’ve left only a day or so after his assassination. And I don’t think anyone at the CIA would be too keen on giving any information at this stage.”
Samuel smiled and stretched to the back of the chair. “You know, I can’t help but think that we’ve been enlisted to find this guy for one reason only...”
“And what is that reason, in your opinion?”
“Bernstein still thinks we’re traitors. He wants our heads on a platter.”
“But that’s ludicrous. He’s the one who cleared us, remember?”
“Oh yes. In fact he made his duty to ensure that we were in the clear as far as the CIA and CSIS were concerned so that no one would try following us or try anything else.”
“You mean Bernstein just took the lead and agreed with everything the US Attorney uncovered during the trial or even told us while we were questioning the correspondence between Lypsick and Sadir?”
“Yes, I think he put on a good face, agreed with our findings or deductions and saw to it that our Saudi princes played ball with him and us—until we had done our duty.”
“So, what you’re saying is that he’s not convinced of anyone’s innocence at this point, is he?”
“You’ve got it!”
“But why would I risk life and limb—literally—demonstrating that we were innocent if Bernstein is all but convinced of the contrary?”
“Because, according to Lypsick, the man doesn’t like coincidences.”
“What coincidences?” Talya asked.
“Look at it from his point of view. First, we’ve got you finding 60 packs of cocaine stashed in a mine that your boss wants to buy. Then we’ve got you forcing the issue with the Paris guy and chasing two traffickers across Africa—supposedly to make them pay for murders that, in reality, they didn’t commit. What’s more, when you get to Paris—what do you do? You go and meet with Ishmael Assor—another of Mossad’s agents—saying to everyone who wants to hear it that you knew he was an undercover agent for the CIA.”
By this time, Talya was staring. She had not heard the summary of events put in such a way before.
Samuel stood up from his chair and went to sit at Talya’s feet—he didn’t want to look at her while he continued enumerating the evidence that was starting to pile up in front of her eyes. She caressed his shoulder in a silent assent for him to continue.
“Before that even happened, I met you, Aziz and Mark on the road to Chattanooga, and you didn’t acknowledge knowing me.”
Talya pushed his shoulder with her knee. “Yeah, but that’s only because you didn’t say who you were really...”
Samuel chortled and turned his face up to her. “You should have said something, Little One. I was waiting for your assault with words. I was hoping that you would rip the mask off my face and explode either with joy or resentment, but instead you stayed mute. That’s what Bernstein never understood. I tell you, if you had claimed that you knew me and asked me hundreds of questions there and then—like you use to do when we were together—we wouldn’t be here today.”
“What would you have done differently, if I had unmasked you, as you say?”
“I would have contacted Lypsick and have him explain this charade to me in detail—I would have stopped the train before it crashed.”
“How could you have done that?”
“Your explanation would have sufficed and it probably would have saved Ishmael’s life as well.”
“You mean just because I didn’t want to recognize you on that darn road, you had to pull the trigger?”
“Yes, Little One, that’s what happened.”
“But why didn’t you say something—anything—at the time?”
“Because of Mark, Talya. He planted his gun in my ribs, remember? As soon as he saw me, he jumped me—and that’s not a good sign, in anyone’s book.”
“What about you then?”
“What about me?”
“We’re both accused of treason—why would they accuse you, if it’s all down to me. You’ve done nothing but follow orders...”
“Yes, that’s right, but you know, that was a test for me as well. I didn’t want to recognize you on that road... and frankly, I didn’t know you were involved. Your name didn’t come up at the time. When I saw you, stepping out of the van, I thought I was dreaming...”
“I wish you had been, Samuel, I wish you had been.”
“Well, can’t change the past, can we? But you know there’s another thing that Bernstein still cannot accept...”
“What else is there? Don’t you think it’s enough incriminating evidence for now?”
Samuel wrapped his arm around her legs. “Hang on, Little One, when you’ve heard this last piece, I promise there won’t be anything else.”
“Okay then,” Talya said. “Go ahead—I’m ready.”
“Prince Khalid Saif Al-Fadir is the thorn in your side.”
She pushed his shoulders forward. “You know he’s got nothing to do with all of this!”
“Now-now, don’t go all defensive on me, Talya. He’s got a lot to do with all this.”
Samuel turned to her, got to his feet, took Talya’s hands and brought her up to embrace her. “I love you, Little One. There’s nothing that will come between us anymore, believe me...”
Lifting her head to his, Talya asked, “Tell me what they’re thinking, Samuel, please.”
“Let’s go to the beach.” he replied, releasing his embrace slightly.
“Tell me first... Is it because he’s a Saudi prince, or because his father was involved in the original CIA operation?”
Samuel nestled his head against her neck. “Both, Little One; both of these reasons are relevant to suspect him to have abetted our alleged criminal activities.”
“And when he suggested that we went to his embassy for a few days, it was construed as a covert gesture on his part, is that it?”
“Yes, Talya, that’s it, except that Khalid didn’t make the suggestion, CSIS did.”
“You’re right; we’re looking at a whole heap of trouble from all sides. I think I want to go swimming now...!”
Samuel smiled and held her tight. He didn’t care how much trouble they were in, all he cared about was being with the only woman he ever loved. Those are words used very loosely in this day and age, yet Talya and Samuel had been in love for a long time and were now only discovering how much that love meant to both of them.
One could say that Mark Gilford, a Canadian Secret Intelligence Service agent, was an attractive fellow. Not effeminate by any stretch of the imagination, his boyish face, blond hair and blue eyes hid the unyielding character of a marksman of note. Always dressed in the latest fashion, if transposed in another time or another place, Mark would have been seen as the perfect Clubbing Dandy of days gone by. He looked oh so benign but was oh so deadly.
He was on his way to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. when Dr. Aziz Hendrix, Talya’s longtime friend and physician, caught up with him in front of the hotel, waiting for a taxi. “Did you say they have gone back to Australia?” Aziz asked.
“At least that’s what I think. I haven’t received any confirmation from Chief Gibson yet, but to me, I think Mossad wants some answers,” Mark replied as he saw a cab pulling to the curb. “Are you coming?”
“Sure...,” Aziz said, grabbing his suitcase and putting it in the boot of the taxi besides Khalid’s.
When both men were seated in the back of the cab, Mark resumed, “I’ve had time to think about this whole affair since the trial started and what stuck in my mind was that Talya didn’t want to recognize Samuel when we picked him up in Georgia.”
“But she explained that...,” Aziz countered.
“Not to us, Aziz, not to us—she never admitted knowing him until she was shot—and it took her some time to admit to their earlier relationship. And I only learned of the relationship when Agent Lypsick and I interviewed Samuel in Vancouver when he first arrived in the city.”
Aziz nodded. “And it’s only when the Sydney police interviewed a friend of Talya in Melbourne that the relationship came to light.”
“And another thing,” Mark said, “Do you remember how she reacted when I planted my gun in Samuel’s ribs?”
“She was furious.”
“Yes.” Mark nodded. “Precisely. Most people would have objected saying, “...but I know this guy..., he’s a friend...” or some such thing. That would have been the normal reaction—but no, Talya didn’t say anything and that to me sounded suspicious as soon as we learned who this guy was.”
“What do you think they’ll do to her if Mossad decides they’re really traitors?” Aziz’s face betrayed his anxiety. He didn’t want to contemplate the retributive actions that could be exacted on traitors of Israel.
“Let’s not think of that, Aziz. Besides, Mossad did everything they could to clear their names, although that was partly a political move on their part; they wanted to show the Saudi royal family that they lay no blame on them for any of it.”
“Yeah, that must have been a bit of a tricky situation for our Princes Khalid and Abdullah, I should think.”
“And it was, Aziz, it was. When they offered protection to Talya on a few occasions, these moves could have been construed as enlisting the help of an Israeli traitor to send faulty armaments to Gaza.”
Aziz looked out the side window. He could not reply. He knew Mark was right on all counts. Prince Khalid could have enlisted Talya’s assistance in not only having Ishmael Assor send faulty armaments to Gaza but also to blur the tracks so that no one would find out she was an Israeli agent. Yet, it could have gone the other way round. When he, Aziz and James Flaubert, the President of Carmine Resources, first called on Khalid to help Talya out of a depression, the prince came to Talya’s rescue and did everything in his power to shelter her from the CIA’s reprisals. Was the prince aware of the CIA’s operations in West Africa from the start? That was a question that had never been answered properly as far as Aziz was concerned.
As for Mark, that question had found its answer when he and Prince Khalid interviewed Muhammad Sadir in Vancouver. The latter accused the prince to play both sides against the middle. Prince Khalid Saif Al-Fadir was aware of the CIA’s operation from the time his father and a drug lord named Osnoir began the exchange of drugs for provision of armaments to the Middle East.
Both men were now on their way to Ottawa. Mark was due for a debriefing at CSIS and Aziz would wait for his connecting flight in Toronto and be on his way back to Vancouver a few hours later.
Fred Gibson, a black, burly fellow, bearing a striking resemblance to Louis Armstrong, was sitting at his desk when Mark entered the chief’s office. Fred raised his face from the keyboard and waved for Mark to sit down before opening his mouth. When he turned off the computer, he raised his gaze to his agent.
“All right, Mark, I’d like you to read the summary of the case, before we get to your debriefing.” Fred handed his agent a couple of typewritten pages.
“But, before I read this, could you tell me where they are, Chief?” Mark was pleading for an answer. He not only wanted to read the official report, but he also wanted to hear Fred’s take on the whole affair.
“We’ve tracked them down to Australia. They’re living at the same address where Samuel was staying after his two assignments were completed.”
“You mean they’re in Manly?”
“Yes, that’s where they’ve been located.”
“But, Chief, they’re right in the open—they’re sitting ducks in that house...”
“Perhaps they are, Mark, but we’re no longer calling the shots on this one, Mossad is.”
“Okay, but do you know what’s going to happen now?”
“No, Mark, I don’t. We can only deduce they’re after the Puppeteer. He is the only one who will be able to clear their names and that of a number of other people involved in the Sadir Affair.” Fred shot a stern glance in Khalid’s direction. “Just read the report for now and then we’ll talk about what we can do.”
Mark unfolded the two pages and began reading.
It had always been difficult for Talya to express her feelings, then more than ever. She had been confined to her apartment since the shooting. Talya Kartz had been shot seven months ago. The bullet grazed her spine and landed her in a wheelchair. Her long-time friend and physician, Dr. Aziz Hendrix, called on Khalid Saif Al-Fadir, a Saudi Arabian prince to travel to Vancouver to help her get out of her “bubble”. The prince was stopped in Ottawa by the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS). For political reasons, the agency preferred Khalid never to have any further contact with Talya. Khalid fell in love with Talya a year or so previously and sheltered her from harm when drug and arms traffickers were after her to eliminate her. These so-called traffickers were in reality brains roaming the corridors and offices of the CIA and Mossad at a time when the Gaza Strip and Hamas were common words on the lips of news anchors across the world.
CIA agent, and friend of Abdullah Saif Al-Fadir (Khalid’s uncle), Muhammad Sadir, forced Khalid’s hand when the latter was only too willing to go chasing after the Mossad agent who shot Talya and killed another Israeli agent in the weeks prior to her returning to Vancouver. Stepping aboard the aircraft that took him to Sydney, Australia, Khalid found himself with a new identity, a new passport, accompanied of an undercover agent by the name of Mark Gilford, and a lot of doubts as to the reason for his sudden escapade to the land Downunder. In fact, Khalid wanted to kill Samuel Meshullam the day he learned of his pulling the trigger on Ben Slimane (a.k.a. Ishmael Assor) and of his shooting Talya.
The two men were on a collision course with destiny. They had to be stopped, unless they both delighted in the thought of spending their dying days in a Saudi or Israeli prison. The only thing that could have stopped either of these two men was a warrant for Samuel’s arrest. Attempted murder against the person of Talya Kartz was the subject of the warrant issued by the Canadian authorities. The Canadian Secret Intelligence Service in Ottawa had decided not to play ball with its American counterpart – the CIA. They wanted Samuel out of the way.
When Khalid and Mark arrived in Sydney, they were promptly told to return to where they came from; Paris for Khalid and Ottawa for Mark. However, Mark was asked to help the local authorities in locating Samuel who had now vanished into thin air. Everyone thought he resided in Manly, a suburb of Sydney, and wouldn’t be moving so soon after Khalid’s arrival in Australia. Yet, Mossad had preempted the move and had alerted Samuel of the prince’s imminent arrival.
Aware of the fact that Samuel had to be tracked down, arrested and extradited back to Canada, Talya and her attorney, Darlene Stovall, prepared for the impending trial. Talya was now comfortably ensconced in a suite of a B&B on Bowen Island where she and a physiotherapist by the name of Jay Kravitz, were awaiting another operation on Talya’s spine that would see her walk again in the weeks leading to the trial.
While it was an indubitable fact that Samuel had pulled the trigger that sent Ishmael Assor to the outer world, and which landed Talya in a wheelchair, the CIA, in the meantime, had discovered that Muhammad Sadir had been feeding information to a Mossad agent that led the organization to believe that Ishmael and Talya – together with Samuel – had participated in a treacherous operation that ultimately saw them accused of treason against the State of Israel. To cover their collective asses, the CIA arrested Muhammad Sadir and sent him to trial for felony murder and accessory to attempted murder.
Being suddenly cleared of the charges of murder and attempted murder against him, Samuel saw himself directed back to Vancouver where he soon faced the one person he had never forgotten – Talya. He had known Talya ten years ago and they both had enjoyed a promising life together when Talya’s mother had put an end to that dream.
The trial against Muhammad Sadir began in Washington a few months later. The prosecutor in this case was none other than Lucien Billycan, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. Darlene Stovall, Talya’s attorney, was more than well acquainted with the prosecutor – she was a “very dear friend” of his. Darlene steered him in the path of the truth and while keeping her eyes wide open, she unraveled what Talya had tried to explain to her as the CIA’s plan. Billycan is faced with a quandary. He knew the defense attorney, David Simmons, together with the accused, would try his best to discredit Billycan’s material witnesses while proving that Talya and her accomplices were traitors against the State of Israel and the United States – if the US Attorney couldn’t unravel this skein of dirty wool before Sadir saw the charges against him dropped.
Meanwhile, Khalid summoned his uncle, Abdullah Saif Al-Fadir, at his side and together they devised a plan by which they were able to save Talya and Samuel from further attempts on their lives. Mossad intervened and recalled Talya and Samuel “to the fold”. Within hours of Talya testifying at Sadir’s trial, they both disappeared. Mossad needed to keep the “children of Israel” away from the mastermind who had bestowed his evil upon them – they nicknamed him, “The Puppeteer”.
Mark nodded as he handed the two pages back to Fred. “But that’s only the story for the dossier, isn’t it, Chief? And it really doesn’t read like one of our reports...”
“No, it’s the report I got from James Flaubert. Remember, every time we reached the conclusion of one of these cases that involved Talya, he would summarize the story...”
“Yeah, like he did when Talya was shot and we got together with him in Carmine’s board room for the final powwow...”
“Yes. And this time, I asked him to write the story from his perspective, since he was not directly involved in the affair and could provide an outsider’s view of what happened.”
“What about the rest of it?” Mark asked.
“The rest of it, as you call it, is for us to know and others not to find out. We’ve got to assist Mossad in this affair, Mark. We need to find the Puppeteer ourselves.”
“What about Van Dams?”
Deputy Director Van Dams had been killed in front of the CIA’s building within hours of the prosecuting attorney discovering that the Deputy Director had been less than forthcoming with the information he had on Agents Sadir and Lypsick.
“What about him?”
“Did they ever find out who shot him?”
“Not yet, Mark, and I don’t think anyone in the CIA is ever going to make that information public.”
“Did you ever find out why he didn’t arrest Lypsick when he was made aware of his collaboration with Sadir in ordering the two killings?”
“I remember talking to him about it when you reported that the US Attorney had introduced the two IM communications in evidence at the trial...”
“And what did he say?” Mark asked.
“Well..., he was vague but he said something like he couldn’t arrest Lypsick without upsetting the whole apple cart at that point. Besides, I believe the responsible party for the two assaults was Mossad. These guys had it in for Assor and for Talya from day one and they’re still after Talya and Samuel for the same reasons.”
“You mean Mossad still believe they’re traitors?” Mark sounded puzzled, not to say outraged.
Fred nodded. “Yes, Mark. I believe they’ve brought Talya and Samuel back to the fold as they said, for only that reason—to have them clear their names of the accusation of treason.”
“But didn’t they do that at the trial?”
“Oh yes, they did alright, but that was only for show. See, the only thing they proved is that Lypsick acted under their orders and that Mossad only listened to the CIA’s news feed. Now these guys want to find the person who wanted the operation destroyed originally.”
“But I thought it was the CIA who wanted that operation erased from the board.”
“I don’t think so, Mark. Look at this whole thing from the CIA’s point of view; why would they want to destroy something like that just because a secretary from Vancouver sniffed around their patch? And if you remember, at the beginning, the CIA wanted you and Talya to find Slimane. I bet they had intel on the guy and knew already that he was the rotten apple. But what they didn’t know is that he was Mossad.”
“So, what you’re saying is that Mossad thought their agent had turned sour on them and they organized his killing to prevent him from doing any more damage. But why shooting Talya then?”
His hands still lying flat on the desk, Fred stretched to the back of his chair and cracked a smile. “Because she had not come clean when Samuel showed up in Georgia. That only demonstrated to Mossad that she knew a lot more than she led on and that she was protecting someone.”
“But, Chief, we didn’t know Slimane was actually a Jewish fellow until we got to Paris after that.”
“Yes, Mark, that’s right but you forgot a little item that Mossad could not overlook...”
“You were on the road to Detroit...”
Khalid’s face lit up, but its feature quickly receded into deep concern. “And Detroit is only a stone-throw from Flint where Slimane was hiding.”
“Precisely. Mossad couldn’t help but conclude that Talya was on her way to join Slimane. And from that to conclude she knew the guy, wouldn’t have taken much of a brain to figure it out.”
“And although we didn’t know it at the time, when Talya and I killed the two Arabs on board the Marianne, it put further suspicions in Mossad’s mind. Plus, Slimane sending everyone home and seemingly protecting Talya at every turn must have sounded suspicious to Mossad, too.”
Fred’s head bobbed up and down. “Now you see how much evidence is stacking up against her?”
“Yes, Chief, but are we just going to sit back and let Mossad handle this show until they find her guilty as charged without doing anything?”
“No, Mark, we’re not.” The firmness in Fred’s voice didn’t leave any doubt in Khalid’s mind that the chief had a plan in the works—or at least he hoped he did.
Since the trial had been cut short when Talya and Samuel left Washington, D.C. unexpectedly, James Flaubert never had a chance to travel to the East Coast and talk to Talya for weeks. He was sitting in his office when Aziz came in.
James stood up to shake hands with the doctor. “Welcome home, Aziz! How was your flight?”
Dr. Aziz Hendrix, a physician practicing in Vancouver for quite a few years, had remained at Talya’s side and had given her the solace and comfort she had needed in times when the world had seemed to crumble around her. Already in his mid-thirties, his dark hair, tanned face and reserved demeanor couldn’t hide his Islamic origin. He took a seat across James’s desk before replying. “It was okay, as any flight goes, I suppose.”
“You don’t sound too happy to be home. What’s bugging you?”
Aziz shook his head, visibly dismayed. “How can I be happy to be home, James? Talya has been kidnapped and she and Samuel are probably in Australia right now still accused of treason. How can I be happy about that...?”
“I know, Aziz, but they haven’t been kidnapped, as you said; they’ve just gone to Australia at Mossad’s request to clear a few things...”
“No, James! That’s not what Mark told me. He said that Talya and Samuel have probably been taken to Australia because Mossad wants them to find that puppeteer. That’s the only thing that will clear their names of the accusation of treason against the State of Israel.”
“But that’s a two-edge sword, Aziz.”
The latter seemed taken aback by James’s remark. “How do you mean?”
“Look; let’s say they find that puppeteer, Mossad could say they knew all along who the guy was and they just gave him up to save their skin. On the other hand, if they can’t find him, I would bet Mossad is already prepared to have them executed for failing to divulge who’s at the head of their organization.”
“But that’s monstrous, James!” Aziz burst out. “How could they even think that way?”
“They need to justify their mistake. They will never admit that they made a mistake in eliminating one of their own.”
“Is that why the director of Mossad himself helped in letting everyone believe that Talya and Samuel were in no way to blame for what happened?”
“You’ve got it. And, they had to show a good face in making a conciliatory move for the sake of their political relation with Saudi Arabia. They couldn’t very well accuse a Saudi prince of abetting the crimes of one of their members. They needed to divert attention onto this puppeteer to save their asses.”
“Do you think CSIS is seeing things the same way you do?”
“Oh yes. I’ve had a short conversation with Fred last night and he’s preparing to mount an action whereby his agency will find the puppeteer themselves, and in so doing they’ll prove that Mossad was wrong in laying blame against Talya, Samuel and even Slimane—Ishmael Assor I mean.”
The one Tanya used to call her prince-in-disguise, Khalid Saif Al-Fadir was writing an email to his uncle, Prince Abdullah Saif Al-Fadir of Saudi Arabia, sitting in front of his laptop in his apartment at the Hotel de Crillon.
While hoping your journey home was a pleasant one, I wish for this message to find you in good health and spirit.
Since our parting in Washington and my return to Paris, several questions have been roaming my mind. I list them below and perhaps we could find some of their answers together, if your schedule allows you the time to do so.
Why were they sent back to Australia?
Is that where the puppeteer is?
Does Mossad know where he is?
What happened to the computer found at the CIA during Mr. Sadir’s trial?
Was there more on its hard drive than the CIA led everyone to believe?
Was the puppeteer a CIA member and perhaps a counter-intelligence agent?
The puppeteer has to be a known entity – but whom?
Khalid closed the message with the usual greetings and sent it. He knew these questions could take weeks and even months before they found their answers. All he could do at this point was to recall the events that occurred over the past few years and see if one of the people would stand out among the rest as one with unclear background or perhaps shadows masking his appearance.
Namlah Badawee—a name meaning nomad ant in Arabic—was writing on the white board affixed on the opposite wall to his desk. On it, he usually wrote a bullet-point list of the matters or items that presented problems or issues that needed clarification. The fine features of his coffee-color face and his upper lip adorned of a trimmed mustache gave one the impression the man was a stranger in these parts, which he was. Originally from Syria, Namlah had immigrated with his parents to Canada when he was only a teenager. After years of schooling and much studies devoted to foreign laws and political intrigues, Namlah saw his way to being appointed legal advisor in international law at CSIS, where he soon acquired the reputation of being a wizard at his trade. The Sadir Affair had occupied most of his time of late and now that two material witnesses had been removed from the trial unexpectedly and that the CIA Deputy Director Van Dams had been killed, Namlah was trying to find a thread that would lead him to identifying the mastermind in this affair. He had discovered that the reasons behind sending Talya and Samuel to Australia were not directly related to Samuel living in Melbourne since childhood, but were probably associated to Talya living and working in Sydney for years prior to her returning to Canada. Talya’s past, once again, held the key to locating the person they had nicknamed the Puppeteer.
When Fred Gibson entered Namlah’s office, he shot a quick glance at the white board, nodded, smiled and sat in one of the visitors’ chairs, swiveling it to face the legal advisor.
“I see you’ve made some progress, Counselor,” Fred said. “Could you clarify for me what this all means?” He pointed at the board.
“Yes, by all means, Chief,” Namlah replied, taking a few steps toward the first list of names. “In this column we have the names of the people who had a relationship with Ms. Kartz. By that I mean people who either played a role in her life or who had some influence in her work or career. Of course, these relationships sometimes date back to her youth, but some others are more recent as you will see.”
“Okay, but before we go into details, could you elaborate on the names that seem to come at the forefront of the rest?” Fred’s impatience began to show. He was a man who liked to get to the point or the crux of the matter as fast as possible. He didn’t like to linger on unimportant details.
“Yes, Chief, but you need to understand that someone who seems unimportant today may very well be the one we’re looking for. By all accounts, our puppeteer is not the obvious criminal that will stick out like a sore thumb.” English being his second language, Namlah had the habit to use run-of-the-mill or tired expressions when describing his findings.
“Fine, Mr. Badawee, but I haven’t got all day, so let’s get on with it.” the chief retorted.
Visibly crestfallen, Namlah went on, “The first name on top of the list is perhaps the oldest of the lot, but one that stands out nonetheless. Mr. Deschamps was the man who abused and raped Ms. Kartz when she was a teenager. That event in itself has been recorded in her dossier, but what has not been recorded was what happened to the man after he was dismissed from the school where he worked in Conakry.”
“But wouldn’t he have been arrested or something, after being dismissed?” Fred asked a little surprised that a child molester or rapist would simply roam free after attacking one of the children in his class.
“No, Chief. At the time, Guinée was under Sékou Touré’s rule and the French didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. They simply sent the man back to Belgium and said no more about it.”
“Do we know how old he is now? And why would he be of interest to us at this stage?”
“Two things, Chief. One; he was dismissed under a very large cloud of suspicions and could not practice anymore. And two; according to his dossier, the man was and still is vindictive.”
“How do we know this? Has he done something recently that would put him on your list?”
“Yes. And although the man is already in his seventies now, he has maintained an extensive network of child pornography, especially since the advent of the internet.”
“That may be so, but why would he be connected to Talya at this time? There is a very large gap between child pornography and drug or armament trade...”
Namlah waved a hand in front of him to stop the chief. “Not so large of a gap, Chief, when you read the intel reports I have obtained on him. In fact, the man has been dealing drugs for years from his home in Brussels and is now one of the prime suspects in Europe in other related crimes.”
“So you think this Mr. Deschamps could be linked to our case in some ways?”
“Yes, I do, Chief, because he’s got the resources and the background required to mount such a vindictive campaign against Ms. Kartz.”
“All right then. I’ll read those reports you’ve mentioned. Who’s next?”
“The next person is perhaps more interesting at this stage because he’s Australian...”
“Now you’re getting somewhere, Counselor,” the chief exclaimed, all smiles. “Is that the second name on the list?” He pointed at the board again.
“Yes. His name is Herbert Parsimon. He was the CEO of a diamond mining company in Sydney and Ms. Kartz worked for him for a short while.”
“Ha-ha, that’s what I call a link, Counselor. So, tell me what has the man done that would put him on your list?”
“I will not go into details—they’re all in the report—but he has been somewhat instrumental in getting Ms. Kartz involved with the Guinean government in the early days of the company discovering large diamond deposits in and around the Baoulé River in north-eastern Guinée.”
“But, wasn’t that her job?” Fred asked. “She was usually appointed as some sort of liaison officer for these mining outfits. So, what’s so strange about that?”
Namlah nodded. “Yes, Chief, that was her job as you said, but there is a link there, not so much in the job itself, but in the location of the mining development. This mining enterprise is actually located a few miles from Sabodala on the other side of the border with Senegal.”
Fred had his eyebrows raised by this time. “Are you telling me that we’ve got another of these mining holes located in the same area as Sabodala?”
“That’s exactly what attracted my attention about this man, Chief. And when I read that their mining camp was raided and blown up by the locals at some point, I began to wonder if these two outfits were not related somehow.”
“Do we know why the locals sent the camp and their expats to kingdom-come? Because I assume there were some dead parties involved.”
“Yes, there were and the whole thing was plastered in the European press at the time, but was hushed to some degree in Australia and North America. And that’s what really aroused my curiosity. Why would a government keep such a blunder quiet? Were they afraid to apprehend the parties responsible for fomenting trouble?”
“Have you got the report here?”
“Yes, Chief, and I’ve asked Jimmy to have a copy printed and put on your desk this morning.”
“Very good. Thank you. But I see that you have other names on this list; some of them I even recognize—just tell me how they are related to the case.”
“Okay, but the only other name that could be of interest is James Flaubert...”
Fred didn’t want to interrupt but did with a grunt.
“Mr. Flaubert has always been at the right place at the right time, so to speak and he’s the one who has the most connections with all of the people involved in any of the cases we’ve dealt with to date.”
Fred nodded. “All right. It makes sense to look into his background a little deeper, but he doesn’t look to me as a person who would be capable of maneuvering such an elaborate operation for so many years...”
“But that’s exactly what we need to keep in mind, Chief. The puppeteer is a silent, innocuous mastermind. He will not appear to be the criminal that he is. He will appear to all as the most innocent party.”
“Okay, Counselor, I hear you and as I said I’ll look into his dossier.” Fred paused, crossed his arms over his ample chest, and eyes going down the list of names, he asked, “What about this Les Holt, what’s his relationship with Ms. Kartz?”
Namlah looked up at the name. “Hum, yes. Here again, he may be someone whom we don’t need to concentrate on, but there was something in this man’s past that attracted my attention.” Fred uncrossed his arms, re-adjusted his butt in the chair and seemed to prepare himself for one of Namlah’s long explanations. “Mr. Holt was involved with Ms. Kartz in the early days of her stay in Australia—before she met Agent Meshullam and while she was employed at the diamond company. The relationship didn’t last but a few months but what’s interesting about the man is that he was a ground engineer with the RAAF. At the time the Australians were heavily involved in providing military assistance in the Middle East...”
“By military assistance,” Fred interrupted, “you mean armaments and the like?”
“Why do you say ‘apparently’? Is there some doubt about the intel we’ve got from Australia?”
“Well...,” Namlah hesitated, “we’re only sure of two things; Mr. Holt traveled to Saudi Arabia on a couple of occasions to accompany military aid to Kuwait and to oversee the maintenance of their Hercules while on the ground in the desert. That’s about all we have on the man at this time.”
Fred seemed pensive for a moment. “That’s another link I’d like you to dig into, Counselor. This guy was sent with the RAAF during Desert Storm to Saudi at a time our Prince Abdullah was also involved with arms provision to Kuwait.” He grunted again. “It may amount to nothing we could use in this case, but it’s worth checking out, same as all these other threads you have.”
“That’s what I intend to do, Chief...”
“Okay, but don’t spend too much time on James Flaubert; my gut tells me we’d be chasing our tails in his case.”
Khalid was reading when he heard the little bell on his laptop announcing the arrival of some emails. As soon as he opened the inbox, he noticed the message from his uncle.
My Dear Nephew,
Apart from the journey being a little tiring, I consider myself in good health after some well-deserved sleep. As for my spirit, your questions have ensured that it will be troubled for some time to come. Nevertheless, let me answer a few of your queries and point out another set of facts that perhaps will help you in your investigation – if such should be the word to use in this case.
To my mind, I cannot but agree with you that there is a reason behind sending Talya and Samuel back to Australia. Not only did Samuel grow up and lived in Melbourne for the major part of his life, but Talya also spent twelve years living in that country. She must have met and worked with several parties, which may have had some parts to play in recent events. Besides which, I was also in contact with Australian parties during the Kuwaiti war. I cannot readily recall the names of these men, but I should be able to track them down. I’ll advise you of my progress in due course. Although it would be a phenomenal coincidence if any of these people knew or worked with Talya, I will ferret out what ever information I can.
As regards Mossad knowing who or where the puppeteer is, I believe they suspect the person to be Australian or having had some antecedents in the country. Australia is therefore a starting point as most of us must have gathered.
As for your questions concerning the computer, I don’t think I could be of some help at this stage – unless I contact some of my friends in Washington. However, in my position, I don’t think such a move on my part would be recommended for now.
Once I have news worthy of correspondence, I will be advising you of the same.
In the meantime, I wish the blessings of Allah be upon you always.
Your uncle Abdullah Saif Al-Fadir
Khalid wrote a couple of lines in reply and closed the laptop. He was certain of two things now. Talya’s past was going to be put under a magnifying glass and the puppeteer was going to ensure that her past wouldn’t be unblemished. His only hope was that she was aware that her enemy would go to great length to destroy her along with Samuel.
Such as Khalid hoped, Talya and Samuel were well aware of what was looming ahead of them. Searching for the puppeteer or even identifying him would inevitably lead to encountering trouble.
Samuel asked, “Now that we’ve made a list of all the people that came across your path in this country, can you think of anyone else you knew or met in your travels that could be linked to us at this stage?”
That question had roamed Talya’s mind since she and Samuel began drafting the list of people she knew some years ago. “No, Samuel, I can’t think of anyone at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there is no one else.”
“Alright then, I think we should start with the obvious blokes. This Herbert Parsimon for instance, can you give us something on him that would make him our prime suspect?”
“Before we go on with all that, can you tell me if Mossad is prepared to help us?”
“Why wouldn’t they? There the ones who need to find him.”
Talya got up from the sofa, took her cane and made her way to the kitchen. Samuel followed her. “Listen to me, Samuel,” Talya began, “What I’m going to say might surprise you, but before you get on your high horse and go all ape on me”—Samuel opened his eyes wide. He had to smile at Talya’s comparisons—“you need to hear me out, okay?”
“Okay, Little One, I promise I won’t go all ape and jump on my high horse...” Talya suddenly realized what she had said and laughed. “...go ahead, I’m all ears!”
“Okay.” She went around the countertop and began cutting the vegetables that had been left to soak in water for a while. “Let’s just say that one of the people I knew is indeed our suspect, and let’s assume that the situations this man and I found ourselves into at the time didn’t amount to anything good, what would Mossad’s conclusions be at that point, do you think?”