Double Conundrum - Scott Dondershine - ebook
Opis

Red, a somewhat troubled agent of Britain’s MI6, investigates a tribal massacre near the border of Kenya and South Sudan, and quickly discovers why the Kenyan authorities called MI6 for help: the slaughter has global implications, spanning well beyond the borders of Kenya and Africa. Red soon finds herself traveling down a rabbit hole into a perilous world created by a maniacal former KGB official whose goal is to restore the Soviet Union to its former glory. Along her investigation, she crosses paths with Jake Kessler, who is reporting on a human-interest story about the former body doubles for Saddam Hussein. The pair find their divergent investigations intersecting as they pursue the elusive Saddam double, Jabal Shamoon, whose exploits extend far beyond the Middle East. Red and Jake are forced to reconcile their past differences while investigating a two-pronged plot that, if successful, would destroy the power-center of Western civilization.  But can Red and Jake learn to trust each other despite their tragic history?  And will they be able to prevent the looming catastrophe?

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Red, a somewhat troubled agent of Britain’s MI6, investigates a tribal massacre near the border of Kenya and South Sudan, and quickly discovers why the Kenyan authorities called MI6 for help: the slaughter has global implications, spanning well beyond the borders of Kenya and Africa. Red soon finds herself traveling down a rabbit hole into a perilous world created by a maniacal former KGB official whose goal is to restore the Soviet Union to its former glory.

Along her investigation, she crosses paths with Jake Kessler, who is reporting on a human-interest story about the former body doubles for Saddam Hussein. The pair find their divergent investigations intersecting as they pursue the elusive Saddam double, Jabal Shamoon, whose exploits extend far beyond the Middle East. Red and Jake are forced to reconcile their past differences while investigating a two-pronged plot that, if successful, would destroy the power-center of Western civilization. But can Red and Jake learn to trust each other despite their tragic history? And will they be able to prevent the looming catastrophe?

 

Table of Contents

Book Description

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgements

PART ONE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

PART TWO

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

PART THREE

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

About the Author

DOUBLE CONUNDRUM

 

by Scott A. Dondershine

 

Copyright 2018 Scott A. Dondershine

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents in this book are entirely the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Publisher – Stonewall Stories, LLC

Formatting by Anessa Books

Acknowledgements

 

I could not have written this book without the assistance of a few special people in my life. My wife Diane, children Alex and Zachary, brother Steven, and father-in-law Edward Miller provided me with a mixture of space, editing advice, encouragement, and love that helped me along the journey. I remain eternally grateful. I also want to acknowledge the help of a variety of people who provided me with technical and writing assistance: my Agent Nancy Rosenfeld, professional editors Nina Catanese (plot development) and Beth Skony (copy-editing), Tim Colwell and Michael Adelberg (early-stage plot development and editing), and Tim Bell and Gil Armendariz (technical assistance).

 

 

PART ONE

THE WHITE MAN COMETH

 

 

Chapter 1

London

 

Red’s ringing cell phone woke her from her sleep. She looked across her bed. Some guy was snoring, his disheveled hair flopped on the soft pillow, nose streaked with sweat. She struggled to remember his name. Mike? Or, perhaps, Charlie? Does it really matter?

Red pawed after the phone, blindly searching the wooden nightstand, hoping to avoid knocking something over. It wasn’t there. She next tried the sheets, praying it wasn’t close to the sleeping stranger. At last she found it, nestled between the sheets and the fluffy white duvet.

Her head was pounding, even though she hadn’t had that much to drink the night before. At least I’m not an alkie, she thought. She had actually stopped drinking altogether for a number of years, in part testing the idea and in part, well, for other reasons.

“Hello,” she whispered into the phone.

Monty, her boss, laughed. “Whispering? Tough night? Thought you swore off alcohol. Meet me in thirty minutes.” He hung up before Red could respond.

Red looked over at her companion and poked him in the ass. “You need to leave. Now.”

He looked up at her. “But…”

“No buts. We shagged, that’s all, now bugger off. I need to go to work. When I get out of the shower, you and your pecker better be gone.”

Red marched off to the bathroom while the nameless man pulled on his clothes. A few minutes later she heard the front door slam, to her relief. Sometimes it was hard to get rid of a man. They can act like gum stuck on one’s favorite shoe.

Red, now free, looked in the mirror. She admired her toned muscles and curves, but not the rest. Her red hair, usually shiny and groomed, looked dull and shaggy. Her eye shadow had leaked to slightly beneath her eyes, smudging her normally clear complexion.

She took a moment to reflect on her life, something she often did the morning after a long night. She had joined MI6 after reading an article about enrolling in the Security, Languages, Intelligence, and Photography College, SLIP for short. Her father wasn’t pleased when she told him. He laughed and said, “Girls in spy school? Have you gone bonkers?” His reaction hardened her resolve.

Red grew up on a farm a few hours’ drive from Gloucester. The farm had been in Pa’s family for years, and he worked on it his entire life. It defined him, and he defined it.

Red’s father was difficult – on his best days – always loaded, constantly berating the family. Life became unbearable after her brother, Jimmy, nearly lost his life, lapsing into a coma after the loft in the family barn collapsed on him.

Red was only seven at the time of Jimmy’s accident, but her father began to rely on her to replace the farm work Jimmy had performed. Red hated it, and her father resented her subpar performance, making him even more irate. He began to drink heavily, beginning a vicious cycle of more verbal abuse, causing Red to do even worse, enraging her father even more. He missed his son, and Red missed out on her childhood.

SLIP offered Red the opportunity to escape. She enjoyed being off the farm away from her dad, and she began working as an agent after graduating. Life was good. She was liberated, felt challenged and important – for the first time in her life. At least until she made a catastrophic mistake that would haunt her for years to come.

***

The flat was sparsely furnished. The living room, with its shiny wooden floor and simple furniture, was spotless – more due to lack of use and a recent cleaning by the maid than Red’s own cleanliness. Her bedroom had a blue shag carpet, a bed, and a dresser – and that was it. Red didn’t spend a lot of time there watching television or relaxing. She didn’t like to dawdle.

She hopped into the shower stall in the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. The cold water hit her like a Bloody Mary, jolting but refreshing. She toweled off and was ready twenty minutes later.

As was often the case, she didn’t have time for a formal breakfast, instead grabbing two energy bars on her way out of the flat heading for the subway. She entered the Central Line station that would take her from the company-supplied flat near Holland Park to her office, a nondescript building located a few stops away on Bond Street.

She saw Jasper playing his saxophone and swore under her breath. She had already swiped her fare card but knew she couldn’t continue.

Red exited the tube, making sure Jasper didn’t see her. Once outside, she purchased a bowl of chili chicken fry from Lak, the reliable local food cart vendor. She then re-entered, swiping her card again.

Jasper stopped in the middle of his song when he spotted Red hustling towards him. “Aw, Ms. Red, my favorite! Where you been? Been a while, like always,” he chided her.

She hadn’t even said the chili fry was for him, but he knew and could smell the marinade, eagerly reaching his hand for the bowl. She always brought him the fry or another treat when catching a train from the station.

He once told her he wished she would just get him a cup of churros but Red retorted that her fare contained the only portion of vegetables, as meager as it was, he would likely ingest until the next time. Besides, there was plenty of flavor, what’s not to like?

At the age of twenty, Jasper had escaped to London from where he grew up outside of Manchester. His mother had died, and, having no siblings or other close relatives, he had nobody else left to care for him. Opportunities for a person with his condition were limited.

Red happened upon him during one of his episodes. While others quickly walked away, Red gently approached him and held him tight, calming him down. He had the same amber-colored eyes and casual yet hard-working attitude as Jimmy, and they had developed a bond.

“I can’t stay, Jasper. Got to go make a living.”

He smiled and said, “As best you can, girl. As best you can.”

She kissed his dirty cheek and walked towards her train.

***

Red walked briskly to her building, ignoring the wandering eyes of a few men going in the other direction. The revolving doors beckoned her to enter the tall, modern structure. It looked normal on the outside and bore the name Emblomics, a faux name that backfired and incited curiosity—“Oh, what an unusual name. What do you do in there?”—rather than anonymity.

Simone greeted her coolly at the security checkpoint. “You know the drill, Red,” he said in a monotone voice.

She took out her metal, checked her Walther P99 pistol, and walked through the screener. She had completed this routine a thousand times.

Liberated at last, she took the elevator to the third floor, opened the glass doors, and walked toward Miss Moneypenny, real name Harmony. Harmony started to greet Red, who, still sore after being forced out of bed early in the morning on a Saturday, responded by winking as she passed. Red didn’t even bother knocking on Monty’s door before barging straight into his office. Harmony knew better than to attempt to slow her down.

Monty immediately put his feet up on his desk when he saw Red, and he gestured to a chair in front of his cluttered workspace. He leaned back. She half hoped his chair would fall backward and gave it right back to him, sitting down as he commanded but then pushing her chest out, enjoying the thrill of watching him squirm. Everybody in the office knew Monty was a closet homosexual. His getting married and acting like a pig was all part of an elaborate act. She sensed he tolerated insubordination, fearing the office would out him if he disciplined the agents and staff.

“Now, why do you have to do that?” he said in his high-pitched voice.

Monty had well-defined cheekbones and a large, rounded face. While some men gain weight in their buttocks or stomach, Monty gained his in his face and neck. By the time he turned fifty, his black hair had become littered with specks of white. Now fifty-five, his hair was an even mixture of salt and pepper. By sixty, Red imagined it would be pure salt.

“Why do you have to wake me up early on a Saturday? Are you mad?”

“Sweetie,” Monty began in a condescending tone, “the Queen has called!”

Red stood and saluted him as he watched in horror. She sat back down and waited for him to talk.

He stammered, “We have a situation brewing in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“Seriously? Can you narrow that down a bit?”

Monty stiffened in his chair and wagged his crooked finger. “Don’t interrupt me, Red. I’ll get to the point. One week ago, we received a report of a nomadic shepherd stumbling onto a ghost village located in Kenya near the South Sudanese border.”

“Ghost?”

“Yes, literally. The poor shepherd described it as a ghost town. But then he wandered further into the village and discovered a grisly scene. About fifty dead bodies lay oozing with blood, vultures picking at the guts. This guy, he didn’t stick around. He calls the Kenyan authorities, they check it out and seal the area in their usual half-assed manner. They don’t know what to do. The coppers still haven’t returned. Imagine, the police even being afraid. You know who they called?”

“You?” Red answered sarcastically.

“No, silly. Well, sort of. You know that Kenya used to be one of ours, until 1963. We like to check in on them every now and then, like…uh…an old uncle. And they gladly accept our help. They called somebody over at Downing Street, who then called me.”

“And you called me, right?”

“Now you get it. Shit flows downhill. You need to hop on a plane and check it out. I’m told there is one survivor who is being held by the authorities.”

Red straightened up in her chair. “But doesn’t this sort of stuff happen all the time? Kenya is replete with tribal issues, especially outside the main urban centers. The so-called Western world usually doesn’t care that much about a remote village being wiped out. It happens all the time. Fifty fewer Africans—what’s all the fuss about?”

Monty replied, “All true, but this situation seems different. The survivor sat in stone silence in the police station. They had to slap him a few times. I’m told he stared at the wall for hours until finally uttering, ‘The white man cometh. The white man cometh.’ How many tribes of white folk are there in that part of the world? Venture to guess?”

“Not many.”

“Actually, we don’t think there are any. So, you see the point?”

“One white guy and everybody is suddenly scared? People going to start running from you next?”

“Funny. The Kenyans have the situation under wraps for now. But you better get there quick. Your flight leaves in an hour. Harmony will provide you with details.”

That was Red’s cue. He finished each assignment that way—directing her to Harmony, his lackey. Red stood up, ready to bolt.

As she approached the door with her back facing him, Monty asked, “Red, one more thing. Have you met with Dr. Hopkins yet?”

Red spun around, glared at Monty, turned back toward the door, and left without responding.

***

Kenya

Harmony booked Red on a direct flight from Heathrow to NBO in Nairobi. It was code for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport—the biggest airport in central Africa.

Red slipped into a grungy pair of faded jeans, an old loose white shirt, and a yellow sweater for the nine-hour flight. She removed her contact lenses and took ten milligrams of a sleeping pill immediately before the pre-boarding announcement. They would be flying through the night, and she needed as much sleep as possible for the arduous days to follow. It wasn’t going to be a picnic.

Red stood in line with the other coach passengers. She could have squeezed Monty for a first-class ticket with a little pouting, but coach worked better for her cover—a journalist working for the Daily Express.

She took the window seat and immediately donned her blue eye mask, stretched out her legs, and put her head against the window. Red felt the presence of another human sit down beside her, his or her weight shifting in the tight seat. She felt like poking the annoying passenger but mustered up a scintilla of control. If she continued to fake being asleep, the interloper would settle eventually.

But the person kept moving around, ultimately laughing and declaring, “Red, I’m not buying it.”

Bloody hell! She sat up and removed her eye mask. “Robert, what are you doing here? They sent you, of all people? They must think I’m still crazy.”

Robert grinned at her with a twinkle in his eyes. He hadn’t changed much on the outside since they had attended SLIP together about fifteen years ago. He had the same yellowish hair which still covered his round, bumpy face that possessed the same reddish hue. Red wasn’t entirely pleased to see him, remembering about a pool at SLIP betting on how long it would take for him to drop out. He was awkward, barely able to pass the fitness tests, and he didn’t show any initiative—a timid follower, not a leader. The candidates wondered how he had been admitted in the first place. Was he part royalty? The son of a knight?

Everybody made fun of him until one day Mr. Peters, their doddering forensics instructor, made a mistake in computing the angle a marksman would have to fire in order to shoot an object on a higher plane. Peters was flustered, forgetting the formula, then remembering it, but being unable to properly apply it to the problem.

Robert weakly raised his hand in the middle of the misadventure. Peters quickly called on him, eager to shift the ridicule to Robert. But then Robert went to work, explaining not only the formula but the calculation necessary to solve the hypothetical set of facts being discussed—all without use of a calculator or textbook.

After the incident, Robert gained a little more acceptance. Back then, the thinking was that he might not be great in the field, but he had the makings of a solid analyst.

Years later, Robert looked different. He must have gained more confidence, being assigned to the field, no doubt a byproduct of working for MI6. He looked at Red and announced, “I am the best photographer at the Daily Express—who else they gonna call?”

***

They landed a half hour late, on time for flights to Africa. The terminal looked more modern than most Red had traveled through in the so-called First World. Its high ceilings, large glass windows, and spacious areas provided a stark contrast to what Red knew she would see in the bush areas of Kenya. They were going to a part of the country without running water and limited support. But first they were to stay at their base camp, one to two days in the capital city.

The luggage was delivered on time, and they were ready for the next leg of their adventure. Robert gestured to a fit man who wore a plain white shirt and black pair of pants. The man, Mustafa, held a sign that read: Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Potwiler.

Robert whispered in Red’s ear, “That’s us, honey. Didn’t Monty tell you we’re married?”

Robert reached for Red’s hand, and she promptly shook him off. The practical side of her reasoned she was playing the part of the moody traveler. The truth, however, was she simply didn’t trust him to lead the parade and wanted to reestablish the dominance she and others had over him at SLIP. She also vaguely recalled him taking a liking to her.

“I’ll take these, ma’am,” Mustafa said, refusing to let them carry their two large suitcases and Robert’s camera gear. He began carrying one bag in each hand, reserving his shoulder for the gear. Red was impressed at how he moved all of the baggage with such little effort.

They maneuvered through the airport to Mustafa’s car, stowed in short-term parking. Mustafa drove onto Mombasa Road on their way to the Kilimani neighborhood, where the company house was located. His car had tinted windows, making them less of a target for carjackers—a common problem in Nairobi.

Their car immediately became engulfed by a mass of European and Japanese cars and trucks. Mustafa explained that Nairobi, once known as East Africa’s “City in the Sun,” now had more traffic than its dated roads could handle. Smog polluted the air—not as bad as some of the Asian cities Red had visited—but not comfortable, either. Mustafa told them they would need to blow their noses before going to sleep.

The city contained an eclectic mixture of older structures, some having aged concrete columns and institutional windows and others of the charming modern variety. Like other major metropolitan cities, hustlers, tourists, businessmen, families, and shoppers trolled the streets.

Close to an hour later, they arrived at the three-story cement apartment building Harmony had arranged for them. They shunned the tourist hotels to maintain a low profile. It wasn’t worth a chance encounter of running into anybody from the Daily Express or meeting any reporters on the off chance somebody else was investigating their “story.”

Mustafa delivered the luggage to their flat and offered them their weapons for use in country. Red happily chose the same gun as her normal weapon of choice, a Walther P99. Robert grabbed the second firearm, a 9mm Beretta handgun. They looked over the weapons, making sure they were properly balanced and maintained. They would check the gun sights later if they had the opportunity for target practice, a luxury they weren’t likely to have.

Mustafa felt relieved when the agents smiled at him after the inspection.

The three-room apartment provided ample space. Red took the bedroom and looked at Robert with a wide grin, pointing to the couch in the living room. He got the message without even a whimper.

They spent the rest of the day finalizing arrangements. Mustafa ran errands, buying supplies and food.

***

Exhausted, they turned in early, and they woke to the sound of honking. It felt as if they had never left London.

“Ma’am, we haft to go, haft to go,” Mustafa said excitedly as he entered their flat.

Red mused they were probably the first spies requiring his service in a long time.

Mustafa drove them to a runway located about ten kilometers outside of the city, explaining with a faint smile they were taking a shortcut. The runway couldn’t be found on any official map. The sky was cloudier than yesterday, and it wasn’t just the smog. Outside the city, Mustafa turned off onto a dirt road of packed red African clay. A trail of dust followed the car and the truck in front of them, some of the dust landing on their windshield.

Red abruptly felt the car jerk to a stop about ten minutes later as Mustafa slammed on his brakes in the heavily populated slums about five kilometers outside of Nairobi’s city center. She lurched forward as a soccer ball whizzed by the car and a pack of kids chasing the ball stopped. They were suddenly surrounded by dozens of kids of all ages. All of them were barefoot, and most had no shirts, even some of the girls.

Men and women approached more cautiously. While the kids smiled and laughed, the adults looked tired and frail. The women carried large beige jerry cans on their heads filled with what Red assumed was water from a UN-funded well. She knew that UNESCO had a large field office nearby.

Robert turned to Red from the passenger seat and pointed in the distance.

“Red, that is Kibera, the poorest area of Nairobi and probably all of Kenya. You will never see something like that again. You know how many people live there? Estimates range up to one million,” he answered before she could say anything.

Red perked up and stared. It was incredible. “Mustafa, how big is this place?”

“’Bout two kyes, ma’am.”

“Two kilometers? Wow. How do people live like that?”

Robert added, “And with an average wage of about one euro per day.”

Mustafa got out of the car, shooing the kids away from the vehicle so they could continue. Red had the sudden overwhelming urge to join him.

As she reached for the handle, Robert screamed, “Red, no!”

But it was too late. She couldn’t control herself, a maternal urge rushing through her body. How can these poor kids live like this? Her eyelids felt heavy.

More kids ran toward them, screaming, “White woman, white woman!” Mustafa laughed; Robert looked terrified. Red dug into her pockets, but nothing came out. She felt embarrassed. The kids, however, weren’t threatening; they were used to being disappointed.

Red returned to the car, as Robert breathed a sigh of relief. As they drove away, she watched the children through the rear window until they disappeared, at which time she turned her attention to the surroundings. Both sides of the road contained rusted aluminum shacks that stretched as far as she could see. Garbage was strewn everywhere. Pigs, dogs, and cats roamed freely.

Mustafa maneuvered the car through a few more streets. The scenery didn’t change until they pulled through the gates of a wire fence. Guards standing at the entrance let them in. A runway beckoned to them in the distance. No placard or sign, just a strip of barren earth, an adjacent dirt road, and two guards. Strange, but not for this place.

***

A Cessna was already on the tarmac ready for them to board. Harmony on the ball! You go, girl! Red thought. They were heading towards a dirt runway about five kilometers outside of Todonyang, a town in northern Kenya near the border of South Sudan.

The long flight allowed Red to doze. Mustafa tapped her shoulder and pointed out the window as they flew low over Lake Turkana.

“You’ll never see something so lovely!” he shouted over the roar of the engine.

He was right. A swarm of flamingos skipped across the water looking for prey in the greenish-blue water. The surrounding land resembled the moon more than any territory she had ever seen, except for maybe Iceland.

“Fancy that,” Red shouted, waking up Robert. “What are they looking to chow on?”

“You know where they get their pink from, right? The algae they eat turns their feathers from gray to pink!” Mustafa chimed, proud of his knowledge.

Red pointed to a gigantic circular crater on the edge of the water.

Mustafa answered her un-articulated question, “That’s Teleki Volcano, which last erupted in 1921. See the black streaks on the end there? Lava.”

She continued to follow the volcano from her vantage point, straining and twisting her neck as the view changed. It was in the shape of a perfect circle, and she noticed the lava fields to which Mustafa had pointed.

About an hour later, they started their descent.

***

A tall, lanky man with a pockmarked face dressed in a light-blue police uniform met them as they disembarked from the plane. He had rich dark skin.

“Welcome to the real Kenya!” he said to them, obviously excited, barely able to contain his nervous laughter. “My name is Amani.”

Red got the impression she and Robert were the most important guests he had ever greeted.

Robert took out his camera, and Red started jotting notes in her reporter’s notebook.

Amani chuckled softly. “You can put those away. I know you no reporters but secret agents, bang-bang.” He cocked his right hand with his thumb up and index finger pointed at Red for emphasis.

The agents looked at each other, thinking the same thing.

Red asked, “Will you take us to the village now?”

He motioned to his topless Jeep. Amani, whose name Red later learned means “trust” in this part of the world, had a box of fried chicken, which he said he purchased from “Kentarken Wired Chicken.”

Red looked at him and then the box, her eyes betraying her disgust.

He ignored her look of disdain and said, “Ha! you eat. You not be in the mood after you get there and mayb’ never after dat!”

Mustafa and Robert dug in, wolfing down the grub. Men…all the same.

Red’s feeble protest ended after ten long minutes. Finally caving, Amani handed her the scraps they rejected. They finished and began the final leg of their long journey. Robert and Red drank from their supply of bottled water they had brought with them from Nairobi.

The dirt road contained numerous ditches, some deep and wide, causing Red to bounce high enough she feared falling out of the roofless Jeep. Enormous mountains with peaks of varying shapes and sizes were visible in the distance. Trees were few and far between. The immediate area would have looked barren if it weren’t for the locals around Todonyang, whose bright clothing of different colors provided some flavor. Like cherry tomatoes in a salad, she thought to herself.

People seemed content. They looked at the Jeep and its occupants, more curious than threatened.

As they traveled away from town, sightings became sparser, except for the mountains still looming on the remote terra firma. They eventually pulled off the road into an area where they could see huts in the distance. A shirtless man with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder stopped the vehicle. Amani said something to him that Mustafa seemed to understand but Red didn’t. Not that it mattered—the guard waved them through and even smiled at Red as if to say, Thank God you are here. Thank you! His greeting made her a bit nervous.

They turned off the main street onto a smaller dirt road, continuing further into the brush and wilderness. Two soldiers dressed in Kenyan military uniforms initially blocked the path but then waved them through after spotting Amani.

A plump white man on the wrong side of fifty, his pale shirt dripping with sweat, approached them.

“Good day, lads! Took you long enough. I’m Harry from the embassy. You see, our hosts contacted the embassy. They have never experienced anything quite like this before.” As he spoke, Harry wiped the sweat off his brow using a handkerchief he took from his front pocket.

Red surveyed the empty village, thinking about Monty’s story about a nomadic shepherd describing a ghost village. She introduced herself and Robert without saying more, not wanting to engage Harry in conversation at this point. She would see it for herself and then would ask questions if needed.

She simply blurted to Harry, “Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Robert cocked his head at Red but didn’t add anything.

“I’ll show you around,” Harry said. “We think the attackers came up the road you traveled, ten to fifteen, maybe even more than that. They must have covered the perimeter pretty well so nobody could escape. And then they used a pincer movement to systematically wipe ’em all out.”

“How do you figure that?” Robert asked.

Harry paused for effect, inhaled, and said, “Well…you see over there? There are impressions showing three pairs of boots deeper than anyplace else. That is where we think the victims were funneled to their deaths.”

“How many dead?” Robert wanted to know.

Harry replied, “About fifty.”

“And they didn’t fight back?” Red asked.

“You have to understand, this is tribal country. Villages belong to different tribes. These guys were members of the Mogobishi tribe, relatively peaceful lads. You remember what happened in the seventies?”

“Explain,” Red quickly chirped.

“In 1970, December, I think, Kenya reelected President Mwai Kibaki. The only problem was that many people didn’t believe he had legitimately won. Kibaki hails from the Kikuyus clan, and his rival, a chap named Odinga, was supported by a large tribe—the Kalenjin tribe. To make a long story short, the two tribes also coveted the same land in Rift Valley—the portion of Kenya where you are now standing.”

“So what happened?” Red asked, looking around at the huts, each one made out of wood, animal skin, and plant leaves.

“What do you think happened? It took a while for the kettle to boil over, but eventually, in 2008, Kenya, including Rift Valley, went up in flames!” Harry stammered, raising his voice as if she had insulted his intelligence. He continued, “About twelve hundred people died, and more than three hundred thousand people became refugees. Most of the violence was the Kikuyus against the Kalenjins.”

OMG, Red thought. Fatty is killing me! Get to the bloody point. “And?” she asked impatiently.

“Well, the tribe that lived here consisted of a small group of broad-minded chaps, some from each of the Kikuyus and Kalenjins. You know, to show they could get along. They joined forces and called themselves the Mogobishi tribe.”

“Appears somebody didn’t believe in their Utopian idea,” Red said, stating the obvious.

“Yes, indeed. But that is where this story gets interesting. You see, we don’t believe the Kikuyus or the Kalenjins had a hand in this. We’ve been monitoring their movements, and we don’t think they were involved.”

Red sighed, slumping her shoulders. “We kinda figured that, Harry. If it were that simple, we wouldn’t have traveled all the way from London. So who are the leading contenders?”

“At first we thought another tribe, perhaps the Turkanas or Dassanechs, were involved. They’ve been involved in other incidents of intertribal violence and massacres. Now we think the Mustavi tribe slipped across the border from South Sudan. We found these in the bodies.” Harry picked up an arrow. “Don’t worry, this one went astray. But you see these yellow, red, and blue markings? These are the markings of the Mustavi tribe.”

“Why would they be involved?” Robert asked.

“Not sure, but they are bad seed. See these pictures from the Internet?” Harry handed Red photos of tall and lanky boys and girls cutting razor blades into their skin, bright-red blood oozing everywhere. “They are marking themselves with their warrior colors.”

“What did you mean when you said ‘at first’?” Red asked.

“Remember I said there were fifty bodies? Well, fifty-one people lived here. And there was a lone survivor who died shortly after we pulled up. Wanna know what he told us?”

“Get on with it, Harry.”

“His last words were, ‘The white man cometh.’”

Chapter 2

Kenya

 

Amani drove Red and Robert to the morgue in Todonyang. Harry met his fellow Brits at the facility, located in the dingy basement of a police station. He showed them pictures of each body before it was moved to the facility. Each had at least one puncture from an arrow in addition to other scrapes and signs of physical abuse. Some had wounds made worse by vultures and vermin.

Something bothered them.

“Interesting. Fifty bodies and no survivors except for the one person who lasted a few days? Shot by arrows? And who is the white guy? The tribal chief?” Robert asked.

Harry dove right in, sounding a bit defensive, stating, “A white guy hanging out with the Mustavi? One of the fiercest tribes, people who mark their skin with razor blades? That didn’t happen—believe me. This lone survivor, he probably thinks he saw God as he was ascending to heaven. Trust me. You realize one of the nastiest Sudanese tribes took them on. Probably a ridiculous tribal dispute. I bet some underling stole a goat or a lion. You never know with these people.”

Harry didn’t say it, but there was no reason for the Kenyans to have involved MI6 in the first place. It was a tribal dispute as far as he was concerned, and the “white guy” didn’t exist.

Red put her hands on her hips. “Goat or lion? Really? This isn’t some Hollywood movie, Harry,” she said.

Harry stared at Red and stammered, “Whatever! What’s the difference? Maybe it was an affair or something like that then. OK?”

Red replied sharply, “You mean like a tribal sex triangle?” She then looked at Robert. He tilted his head to the side and looked at Red. They ignored Harry, and Red thought, This guy is an idiot. No wonder Downing Street banished him to some outpost in East Africa.

“Did you run any toxicology screens?” Red asked the coroner, an elderly man with an obvious limp, listening to the discussion with a terrified look on his face.

“No, ma’am, we no have budget for that,” he replied.

“Fifty-one guys die, and it isn’t in the budget?”

“Yes, ma’am. That’s right.”

Red began to poke around after putting on gloves. “What’s that coming from this guy’s mouth? And that guy too. And the guy over there. Does that usually happen with arrows?”

Robert shouted, “Over here! This guy has a dark lesion on his skin. It looks new.”

“Same with this guy,” Red said, pointing to another body. “You guys need to lock this place down,” she said to the coroner. “I’m going to take some samples with me. Can we get a cooler with some ice, Harry?”

Harry clearly didn’t like taking orders from a female agent encroaching on his territory. He looked Red up and down, paused for effect, and replied, “Sure, why don’t I go to the nearest Tesco? They got those in these parts, you know.”

Red, though, was not in the mood to argue. “Harry, figure it out. Go to a restaurant, supply shop, food store. The locals must purchase from somewhere, don’t they?”

He grunted and left.

While Red was playing turf wars with Harry, Robert procured a few needles and syringes from the coroner. About a half hour later, Harry entered the dungeon with a Styrofoam cooler filled with ice. Red and Robert took a few samples while Harry and Amani arranged for the plane back to Nairobi. They didn’t have a lot of time before all of the ice melted.

***

London

The next day, after better securing their samples in Nairobi, Red and Robert headed back to London. They relaxed on the plane until Robert’s curiosity broke through. Red knew what he wanted to ask. He kept staring at her with the look of a child in a sweet shop. Red toyed with the idea of stringing him along for a bit, to make him sweat. But ultimately she wanted to get it over with.

Red finally had enough and turned her head to face Robert. “Robert, you look like a fish. Opening and closing your mouth without saying anything. What would you like to know?”

He looked up at her like a puppy. “I, uh, are you still shacking up with Jake Kessler?”

“Seriously? What, are you still in secondary school?”

“Uh, I’m sorry it came out that way. I didn’t mean it to be so awkward…It’s just that, well…you know, people talk.”

“And you want to know because other people are talking? Come on, Robert, at least be honest with me.”

Red shrunk down in her seat and looked at the floor. “It’s really no big deal. We had a thing while working on the MKUltra case. The case ended, and we ended as well—several years ago, as a matter of fact. Nothing to it. It’s in the past.” She stopped herself from going on and on. “Anything else you want to pry about?” she asked sharply.

***

Red, in a dark mood, dressed to go knees up tonight, needing to shed some steam. But she couldn’t go as herself. Her blonde wig made her younger and cuter. Men couldn’t resist blondes. It’s part of their DNA.

She looked over the dresses in her walk-in closet. Some were falling off their hangers, others fit snug. A few had fallen to the floor. Red had always been somewhat of a slob. A few minutes later she made her choice: a blue V-neck bare-back.

She bought the evening dress to use when she wanted to display her tattoo on the small of her back, a birdcage hanging from a tree branch with an open door and a red bird about to escape and fly away. The tattoo was acquired after graduating from SLIP as Red’s own personal “fuck you” to her dad. She refused to be a bird caged in a man’s world.

A pair of silver stilettos rounded out her attire.

The bar was located a few blocks away from Piccadilly Circus. People were dancing to a band playing a blend of Latin and jazz music.

The door she opened to enter the club had not even closed when she spotted a brown-haired man-hunk sitting at the bar. He ordered a drink and looked around. Red hoped he was looking for somebody to spend the night with.

She began to approach when her cell rang. She wanted to ignore the call, but her job was 24/7, her only constant at this point in her life. To screw up would prove her dad right: “Spy? Girls don’t make spies!”

She reluctantly answered, going outside to take the call.

“Red, get down here now!” Monty screamed so loud into her cell phone she had to hold it ten centimeters from her ear.

Red sighed, realizing she could never completely leave her cage, and left. She returned to her flat, where she quickly dressed down. Ten minutes later, she headed for the tube.

Monty greeted her warmly at his office. He pointed to a seat, where she dutifully sat. Robert was already there, sitting like a schoolboy at the principal’s office. He started laughing and then leaned over to whisper in her ear.

“You don’t smell like you did in Nairobi.”

Red remembered the perfume she put on, more difficult to get rid of than clothing and makeup.

“Are you two done yet?” Monty asked. “Because you made an interesting discovery. Did you know you brought anthrax back in that cooler? You’re lucky you didn’t contaminate anybody, including yourselves, or worse, yours truly.”

“Anthrax!” Robert said, thankful that they had taken precautions to not touch or ingest the material. “That explains the lesions and foam.”

“Yes, but the arrows and Mustavi tribe?” Monty deadpanned. “I mean, why would those buggers kill folks already dead? There are two possibilities: either they poisoned them with anthrax and then shot them with arrows to make sure they were dead, or some other dolts poisoned them first and then shot them. Neither makes a whole lot of sense, if I understand this right.”

“Wait a minute,” Red said, practically jumping up from her seat. “The white man—there was one survivor, you know. And remember what the poor guy said right before he died? ‘The white man cometh.’”

“Oh, come on, Red. You guys put that in the report as an afterthought, now you think it’s real and the key? I agree with your first instinct. Why would a white guy come to work with a fierce African tribe? Even if you manage to answer that one, how would that even happen? These guys don’t jibe too well with the Western world, if you get my drift.”

“Money?” she asked.

“Have you gone bonkers? What would a bunch of bushmen do with money?” Monty asked.

“Hmm,” Red pondered.

“Hmm,” Robert added helpfully.

“Well, while you two geniuses stew, let me add to your puzzle,” Monty said after putting his feet on his desk.

Pig! Red thought.

He barked into his phone for Dr. Sanjeev Parchman to join the meeting from his office in the basement, where MI6 stowed its scientists.

Sanjeev arrived fifteen minutes later, eager for fresh air outside the dungeon. He pulled up a chair to join them. Red looked at him closely.

Sanjeev laughed. “You are wondering how an Indian has blond hair, no?” he asked.

She nodded, instantly regretting the impulse.

Monty rolled his eyes while Sanjeev explained, “My mum met my pa while he was visiting as a doctor in Mumbai. I was born here. I got my mum’s complexion and my father’s blond hair, blue eyes, and last name.”

Monty interrupted, “Can you two stop playing United Nations?”

Sanjeev said, “I took the liberty of bringing some of the blood you took to the British National Lab Porton Down. I wanted to find out more about the anthrax.”

“What more do you need to know?” Robert asked.

Sanjeev looked at Robert and then at Red. “The lab has equipment that lets us know the particular strain of anthrax. We can measure, if you will, the DNA. And studying the DNA can teach us its origin. And the origin can lead us to the source.”

Sanjeev was no longer interesting to Red, who couldn’t take his long-winded answers anymore. “Look, Doctor, can you get to the point?” Red asked.

“Ah, the point. The lab traced the particular sample to a place nicknamed Anthrax Island. Funny name, I know. The real name is Vozrozhdeniya Island, which is an island in the Aral Sea. It used to be part of the Soviet Union and is now controlled by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

“The United States had its Project MKUltra program where it experimented with drugs. Our cousins also used the Marshall Islands in the Pacific for nuclear tests. Well, Russia didn’t idly stand by while the West advanced, if you want to call it that. In the forties, Russia began using islands in the Aral Sea for biological warfare testing. They explored using anthrax, various plagues, and smallpox—as a weapon.”

“When did the program shut down?” she asked.

“Good question, Red, and one that shows several parallels to America’s Project MKUltra. Project MKUltra shut down after word leaked about the CIA’s use of LSD and other drugs. A CIA operative, Frank Olson, actually died jumping from his hotel room in New York City after drinking LSD-laced brandy. The American Congress conducted investigations in the 1970s forcing the program to stop, or at least morph into something else.

“The Soviets had their own issues around the same period of time. They accidently released weaponized smallpox on the island, infecting ten people in 1971. A few of them died. A defector, Ken Alibek, spread word in the 1990s, forcing Russia to shut it down. He was the former head of the Soviet bioweapons program.”

The good doctor obviously didn’t know Red knew all about Project MKUltra, having worked with Jake Kessler several years ago to prevent the assassination of US president Ross Tucker. She simply nodded. Robert looked at Red and then directed his focus to Sanjeev, asking him, “What became of the island?”

“Well, it was abandoned after the smallpox incident, except for a pack of brave scavengers, who periodically return to the island in search of abandoned building materials. In 2002, the Americans and Uzbeks decontaminated some of the burial sites. Today, the island remains abandoned.”

“How sure are you the strain of anthrax we found in Africa is from Anthrax Island? Could it be from somewhere else?” Red asked.

“The only way to know for sure is for you to go to the island to get a live sample of the substance. The lab determined it likely came from there, but we have to know for sure by getting an actual sample.”

Robert said, “Wait a minute. Let’s slow down. How is this even possible if the Americans cleaned it up and it hasn’t been used in decades? I mean, how could our ‘white man’ have gotten enough from an abandoned island in central Asia to kill a whole village in Africa?”

“Good question, the answer to which could have devastating ramifications. If you confirm the strain matches anthrax from the island, then we have a real problem. A really big problem.”

“Which means?” Red asked.

Sanjeev responded, “If it is the Anthrax Island’s strain, then the bad guys probably know how to reproduce it. In other words, they can manufacture as much as they want.”

“What would the connection be to the African village?” Robert asked.

“You expect me to know? I’m just a scientist.”

Red sat up straight. “So somebody gets a hold of the same strain, adds to it, and brings the product to Africa to poison the Mustavi tribe? I agree with Robert, that makes no sense.”

“Bingo,” Monty said.

“Why would somebody do that?” Robert repeated the fundamental question.

Monty stewed for a moment and then eagerly said, “Well, that’s what the two of you lads are going to find out! Starting at the source, of course.”

And with a flick of his wrist, he banished Sanjeev back to his dungeon.

Chapter 3

Washington

 

A few years ago, Jake Kessler was a senior advisor to President Ross Tucker on security and intelligence matters. Jake and Tucker grew close, playing basketball together and sharing downtime.

Like Tucker, Jake kept himself in superb shape, working out as often as he could. He had an average-sized nose but one with a distinctive bend, as if he broke it and never had it reset. His lean face, square chin, and toned body made him appear younger than his middle age. His thick hair hid his bald spot, but it seemed to grow larger each year, and it wouldn’t be long before it became pronounced.

Jake quit his presidential post after helping to prevent the assassination of President Tucker, an African American. A racist sicko named Paul King teamed with a remnant program doctor to perfect Alterando, a drug first invented through the shuttered Project MKUltra program. King intended to use the drug to brainwash an unsuspecting person into pulling the trigger.

Jake went rouge, choosing to work with Red as opposed to the Secret Service to save Tucker’s life, not even telling the Secret Service or others in law enforcement until the aftermath. Jake had his reasons and in the end proved to have made the correct choice, but his methods had caused a great deal of resentment.

Now Jake was on the outside, forced to leave his job and banished from the White House. He would have to jump the White House fence and risk getting shot in order to see his friend again. Hard to imagine, but it was true.

Tucker referred Jake to Sherman right after leaving his employ. But the sessions with Sherman had not worked, frustrating Jake.

How much longer will I have to put up with the man? If anything, Jake felt worse and was more depressed than before he started.

***

Sherman’s office was located near George Washington University, right off of Pennsylvania Avenue. Sherman, in his younger years, was built like a truck with trunk-like legs and a thick neck. His walls featured pictures of wrestling matches, including one where he hoisted a large trophy in the air. In another, he sported a gold medal, and Jake could see a banner announcing, “NCAA Finals.”

He greeted Jake with his usual fake smile and lisp. “Welcome, Jake. Good to see you.”

“Nice to see you too, Sherrman.” Jake liked saying his name this way, although part of him hesitated, not wanting to provoke the shrink.

“Please sit down, Jake,” Sherman said, motioning to his ancient green stained couch to the right of his desk. Jake complied. A glass of water was waiting for him on the glass coffee table located in front of the couch. The table sat on top of an oriental rug, which made Sherman’s office seem too cliché even for a shrink.

Sherman sat upright on his chair in front of the coffee table. “Did you have a good week?”

Jake wanted to tell him to cut the fake Mr. Rogers act but held his tongue. Jake lay down, putting his feet up on the opposite end. “Sure, the Jets beat the Patriots.”

“Ah, yes, an upset! Take your shoes off, will you?” Sherman complained. Jake complied, forgoing the opportunity to poke fun at his wrestler-turned-shrink. Sherman continued, “Adjusting to your job?”

Jake snickered. “They don’t know what to do with me. Half the people think someone called in some favors to get me there. And sometimes I think the same thing.”

“Do you miss your old job?”

He sat up and looked at Sherman. “Sometimes, yes.”

“Why don’t you go back then?”

Jake lay down again and stretched out his legs on the couch. “Can’t, just can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. People still don’t understand the choices I made.”

“Wish you’d played it differently?”

“Looking back, no. If I had involved the Secret Service or others earlier, nobody would’ve believed me, and I would’ve lost my—excuse me, our—leads.”

“Our?” Sherman interrupted, obviously pleased Jake used the word.

Jake stared at him, ignoring the moment and instead said in a raised voice, “It worked out right, didn’t it?”

Sherman accepted his logic, at least for the moment. “Yes, it did. Let’s talk about Renée. You told me last week she died after leaving a bar in Jersey City. Did the autopsy indicate how much she had to drink?”

“Well, um, she had a blood alcohol content of twice the legal limit when she died.”

“Why was she at the bar on a weekday? Where did you guys live at the time?”

“New York.”

“New York, OK. So why would she go to a bar alone in Jersey City?”

Jake looked at his feet and said slowly, “I…should have paid more attention. She, um, was having a difficult time.”

“How so?”

“Well, she hated the press following us around like paparazzi and writing stories about us after 9/11. I mean, sure, I was the chief of police of NYC, but why hound me with dumb questions? Why snap pictures of us eating dinner? I didn’t realize the toll it had taken on her while I was working twenty-four hours a day during that time. How could I understand?”

“Jake, you’re a hero. Everybody knows that. You helped Giuliani put the city back together.”

“I played my part,” he said in a soft tone.

“Played your part? You led the NYPD through one of its darkest times. Take some credit. Figure out how to move on.”

Jake sat up straight and tensed his shoulders, practically screaming in a snarky tone, “Don’t you think I have tried?!”

“Jake, please lower your voice. Let’s talk about that. What happened to Renée that day?”

“Sherman, we have already gone through this…many times. I told you that the bitch killed her.”

“Intentionally?”

“Yes, she was driving like a lunatic. It was freezing out, but she wouldn’t slow down.”

“But wasn’t she chasing someone?”

“Sure, she says she was after Saajid Badat, who had a connection to Richard Reid—the Shoe Bomber. Why didn’t she stop, though?” Jake shouted.

Sherman looked at Jake, cocking his head. He must have thought he was brilliant. “What would you have done if the situation were in reverse?” he asked after a pause.

“You mean if I killed Red’s wife?” Jake said, surprised he could actually make light of it.

“Funny. Good. Humor is a sign of healing. Please just answer the question.”

“OK, Doc, I’ll play along. Depends.”

“Depends? Jake, humor me for a second. Let’s say you were chasing somebody as important as an accomplice to the Shoe Bomber. And you hit somebody who slipped on ice in front of your car. Would you continue, knowing that if you stopped he’d get away? Or would you stop?”