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THEY CALLED ME THE PUPPETEER
The Puppets of Washington Series Book 5
Blue Shelf Bookstore
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Washington, D.C. – They called me the Puppeteer 1
© 2015 BlueShelfBookstore
All rights reserved
The localities, including Sabodala, 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.
They called me THE PUPPETEER 1 (The Puppets of Washington, #5)
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When the director of Mossad said, “...I went ahead and organized an investigation of Sebastian Randall,” Talya exhaled a sigh of relief. “He has allegedly pulled the strings on the entire West African drug-for-armaments operation three years ago. But when he saw a way to become the drug lord he always wanted to be, instead of destroying the drugs that were confiscated, he made sure they were re-distributed throughout several continents. Richard Gillman and Abdul Rasheed were his first puppets. He groomed them and brought them to act on his behalf until it was time to mastermind his final move. He ultimately wanted to use his Washington position in the CIA to move drugs all over the globe unimpeded.”
The director was right: I was the Puppeteer. And now I’d like to take you on the ultimate adventure which managed to see the noose being slipped around my neck.
When I looked from my vantage point above the cliff, I saw Maître Hassan Sangor, Talya Kartz’s lawyer, sitting down on the sandy beach. Khalid Sheik Sahab, otherwise known as Prince Saif Al Fadir, had walked away from him and Talya to stand some ways from them. I supposed he hadn’t wanted to intrude on their conversation. Nice of him.
Dressed in a black garment with a scarf tightly wrapped around her face and hiding her gorgeous blonde curls, Talya turned her gaze toward the ocean while he looked at her and then down at his legs. It would be a long time before he would be able to take Talya in his arms again, thanks to a little incident I had organized in Bamako some months ago. I would have liked to see the woman’s face when she learned of her friends’ troubles.
As I recall, I was called at the time with a report of what had transpired. Sir Gillian, the Canadian Ambassador in Senegal had phoned Talya himself with the news. Thanks to those very helpful listening devices, I heard what had been said.
“Ms. Kartz, I’m sorry to have to tell you that Mr. Fade, Maître Sangor and Mrs. McLean have been viciously attacked tonight in the streets of Bamako...”
“Sir Gillian, this is Dr. Aziz Hendrix, Ms. Kartz’s physician. We haven’t had the pleasure, sir, but Mr. Flaubert has informed me of the problems she had in Dakar...”
“I’m awfully glad you’re there, Doctor,” Sir Gillian went on.
“Captain Sahab is here with me. Shall I ask him to listen to this conversation?”
“Yes, by all means, if Captain Sahab wants to hear what I have to say, put him on the line.”
“Just hold on a moment, sir, Captain Sahab will be listening on the extension.”
“Khalid, please go in the bedroom, there is a phone by the bed...”
“Sir Gillian, this is Khalid Sahab, I think we are now ready to hear the news.”
“Well, gentlemen, as I said to Dr. Hendrix, I am very glad to have you in attendance. What I have to report is in fact disturbing news. I, for one, received a shock when our consul in Mali, Mr. Broughton, phoned me earlier. Maître Sangor, Mr. Fade and Mrs. McLean have been brutally attacked last night. Mrs. McLean died as a result of her injuries; Mr. Fade and Maître Sangor have been badly wounded – knife wounds I’m told. They’re both in hospital.”
Hassan took Talya’s hand and turned to her. “As Allah is my witness,” I heard him say, “I..., I have loved you so deeply, Talya.”
She bent her head. His fingers tightened around hers. “I know, Hassan, and nothing I can say could undo the past or what I felt for you. But now –” It was time!
I pulled the trigger.
Hassan straightened up in a last tremor of life, and then fell to his side and into her lap.
“Hassan! Hassan!” Talya hollered, putting her hand on the ugly red patch marring the white of his shirt, as if she wanted to hide the bullet hole from sight.
I didn’t wait. I was out of there, beating a retreat toward the garden’s hedges, which I knew would mask my escape toward the fishing port not far from the embassy house.
As I slipped and crawled under the bushes, I heard the commotion of people rushing to Talya’s aid. I turned around. It was too good of an opportunity. I saw Khalid rushing down to the beach and dragging Talya toward the sheltering rocks behind them. I cocked and aimed my rifle and fired again.
Talya hid her face in Khalid’s chest while they huddled for cover against the rocks.
She looked at her bloodied hand and put it to her face. “Oh God, please help us!”
In a blur amid her tears, I saw Khumar, one of their bodyguards, rush down the track leading to the beach and point his gun above them. A third shot rang out from above the cliffs. It had had a different sound.
I was still watching. I had missed killing the woman who had marred my life for the past year already. I wanted to get back to business but with her around I couldn’t think of nothing else, but how to get rid of the leech that was bleeding me dry.
“Are you two all right?” Khumar asked, replacing his gun in its shoulder holster.
Khalid nodded, still holding Talya close to him.
“Are you okay?” Talya heard Mark yell as he ran down from the rocky ledge overhanging the beach.
“We’re fine, Mark. Talya and I will go back to the Meridien...”
She pushed Khalid away roughly. “Oh no, we are not,” she shouted, looking up at him while an indescribable rage was filling her whole being. “I am going back to my apartment and you, Khalid – whatever your name is – you..., can go to hell.”
“Princess...?” Khalid looked down at her, astounded.
“Don’t ‘Princess’ me. You are the most despicable person I have ever had the dishonor to encounter.”
Mark couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Lady Sarah?” he blurted.
“And don’t call me Lady Sarah – my name is Talya Kartz, Agent Gilford.”
“Please let’s go away from here...,” Khalid pleaded.
“Oh yes. We’re going away from here, but you are taking your leave and you are going to stay away from me. I don’t want to see you again. Do you understand what I am saying?”
“Madame Kartz..., I...”
“Shut up, Agent Gilford. And get Hassan’s body out of here. His father will fly him home – out of this hell-hole.”
While climbing up the rocks towards the limo parked on the embankment, she took off her veil and abayah and flung them back behind her.
“Talya, please...” Khalid caught up with her and grabbed her by the arm to stop her. “Can I at least talk to you before I take my leave?” I had to laugh inwardly. The woman had punk.
Obviously, she had enough of the charade that had led her to this point. Perhaps she would finally give up this silly pursuit and let me do my job, I thought.
“Let go of my arm,” she barked, shaking his hand off. “There is nothing to say. You’ve brought a man here to die. What else is there to say?”
“Yes, I have done that, I admit it. But I didn’t pull the trigger –”
“Stop it! You might as well have. As I said, you can go your way... and I’ll go mine. I have nothing else to say to you.” Her distress and anger were gearing her actions, and her words were lashing at Khalid’s face. I watched. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.
“You can’t go on your own. You’ll be the next victim..., or is that what you want?”
“Maybe that is what I want after all, but from now on, it shouldn’t concern you. I want you out of my life – forever.”
Mark followed them. “Khumar will take care of Hassan and if you wish I can accompany you to the hotel.”
“Yes..., fine,” Talya said, stepping inside the limo.
Posing as another agent, and using the pretext that I had an urgent message to deliver to her from Sir Gillian, the guard planted in front of the door of her suite let me in after checking my CIA ID. The name I used then was Antoine Gironde.
“What do you want?” Talya asked brusquely as I came in without knocking. The evening sunlight was streaming through her bedroom window.
Once the local police had come and gone, Talya had been pacing her suite for hours. I had killed the man she had loved. She looked haggard and lost. Maître Hassan Sangor had been the legal advisor in West Africa for Talya’s company, Carmine Resources. The shooting occurred a few miles from Dakar’s airport and outside the Canadian embassy house.
Watching her as she stood by the window, I knew she had only one choice now, and that was to evade Osnoir – a skilled French drug lord with whom I dealt on numerous occasion – until the French authorities would put their hands on him. He was still in Paris, probably, where she had had the displeasure of making his acquaintance. He had made her life a misery since she met his underling, Mr. Rasheed, a few months earlier. Rasheed was now in prison awaiting trial for attempted murder, drug trafficking, and a long list of other related offences. His cohort, Mr. Savoi, was in the neighboring cell, charged with embezzlement of her company’s funds, fraud, and other felonies. Even though my two collaborators had been burned, I fully intended to pick up where they left off. The only person who was still barring my passage to greatness was Ms. Talya Kartz.
Her eyes red, her arms crossed over her chest, she barely turned when I walked into the room.
“Good evening to you, too, Ms. Kartz.”
Talya stared. “Good evening. But my question was: what do you want?”
“I came to keep you company for a while, that’s all.”
“What are you talking about?” Talya looked at me dispassionately. “You know..., I was supposed to meet Hassan...” The words died in her mouth.
I had not introduced myself yet, but she had seen me working alongside other agents on the grounds of the hotel. “It will be okay,” I said reassuringly. “Khalid is outside; do you want to see him?”
Talya stepped to the window again. “NO! Not now and maybe not ever again.”
“And why not? He’s the one who got you all out of trouble. You owe him.” The acerbity in my voice was undisguised.
“Owe him what? For persuading Hassan to walk into a trap? No, Agent – whatever your name is – the day I’ll see Khalid again will be the day they’ll put me in a grave.”
“Agent Antoine Gironde, at your service, ma’am.” She frowned. I went on. “Is that what you want me to tell him? That vengeance is all you can think of? Or would you want me to tell him that your love for him was all a sham? Or maybe you would like me to tell him that you won’t rest until he gets killed himself?”
“Shut up! I don’t want to hear this,” she shouted to my face.
“If you don’t want me to speak, then I won’t. But I’ll ask you a question: what are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to pack my bags and get away from this place. And if I don’t set foot on this continent again, I’ll be the happiest woman on Earth.”
“Where will you go? And what about the mining projects? Are you going to leave those, too?”
“Yes, I am. James can take care of them. He doesn’t need me. As he said to me once, ‘You have to face facts,’ and that’s what I am going to do.”
“And what ‘facts’ are those?”
“The fact that I am the next target in Osnoir’s little black book and the fact that if I stay here he’ll kill all of you one by one, until one day he’ll succeed in getting me killed.”
“So you want to make yourself available to be killed, is that it?”
“Maybe yes... or maybe I just want for all of you to be left alone to get on with your lives.”
“Enough, Mr. Gironde. I have made up my mind. I am getting out of here.”
Inwardly I was very happy with her decision, but outwardly, I had to keep up with the pretense. “Well, if that’s your decision, I’ll leave you and say good-bye. Have a great life, Ms. Kartz.”
I then strode out of the bedroom without another word, slamming the door behind me.
Yet, there were other influential parties, or pawns I should say, to consider on the chess board. Thanks to a couple of camera devices I had placed in the main actors’ hotel suites, I was all ears and eyes when I heard a knock at the door of Khalid’s room. I watched the scene from my laptop.
“James. Please come in,” Khalid said when he opened the door to James Flaubert, the President of Carmine and a good friend of Khalid. “I’m almost packed and I’ll be ready to leave in a few minutes.”
James’s lanky frame, his keen eyes and his amiable demeanor hid the strength of a man who had fought many battles and whose integrity had never been put into question. “Have you seen her this morning?”
“No, James. She has refused to see me since it happened. And I think this time it’s final. She couldn’t cope with my betrayal.” Khalid led James to the living room of his suite where they both sat down in chairs opposite each other.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself for anything. Especially for having ‘betrayed’ anyone. No one could have known there was someone waiting on the rocks.”
“I should have known, James. Everyone knew that Hassan was hiding at the embassy house and that he was Osnoir’s next target. I should have known that a killer would be waiting for him. Actually, Talya should be dead, too. They were sitting side by side on the beach but the shooter wasn’t fast enough and he was probably interrupted when Mark arrived on the scene.”
“But why is Talya behaving like this? She should be grateful...”
Khalid shook his head. “Oh no! She won’t be grateful. She needed my presence and my assistance until yesterday, but now she needs nothing from me. She has used me and I was blind because I love her.”
“I can’t believe that. I believe that you love her – don’t misunderstand me – but I won’t believe that she ‘used you’ as you say. She may be resentful of your actions because she’s hurting, but ‘used you’. No, Khalid, not Talya.”
“So, if it is only resentment that she feels, why doesn’t she want to see me? Her eyes are full of anger, James. I thought I knew how to get through to her, but I guess now that my usefulness has come to an end, she doesn’t need my support any more.”
“You know, Khalid, I have a lot of respect for you. I have always admired your straightforward manner and your insightful nature, but today I am disappointed. You don’t need to pack and go back to Paris, you need to go across the hall and knock on her door. I may be an old fool, but I believe Talya loves you, and I thought you knew that. She needs you now more than ever...”
“James, I don’t think...”
“No, Khalid, you’ve got to impose your presence on her, right now.”
I switched my computer off.
If Talya was leaving for other shores, I had to think of what her destination could be. Maybe her traveling companions knew more than I did on the subject. I decided to go down to the breakfast restaurant and try getting a table close to them – if they were there. They were. I sat down and I was glad to see that not many other agents were about. I would have to listen closely to what was said.
“Hi, Terry. Have a seat or go and get some breakfast,” James said. “I think there are some crumbs left for you.”
Terry was then the VP Exploration at Carmine and had been James’s constant companion since they had arrived in Dakar.
“Good morning,” Terry replied. “And yes, I think I’ll go and help myself to some eggs and bacon this morning. I am hungry.”
James was reading a two-day-old Herald Tribune and only nodded when his friend left him to get his tray of breakfast items.
“Good morning, Mr. Flaubert.” Mark’s jovial attitude had not abandoned him apparently. He joined James at his table and sat down.
“Mark. Good morning, my boy. How are you?”
“Fine, except that I have no idea what I should do now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Khalid and Talya... That’s what I mean. Agent Gironde told me that Talya didn’t want any visitors this morning and that Khalid was ready to check out. Do you know what’s going on?”
Mark Gilford, a young man, was by all outward appearances, with his curly blond hair and blue eyes, a mild-mannered fellow – one would even say benign – but when he exercised his trade, he was the deadly assassin he needed to be. Mark was an intelligence agent who had been assigned to the safety of Khalid and Talya by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) several weeks ago. I had to watch him like the proverbial hawk. He was the dangerous one.
James took his reading glasses off and looked at Mark fixedly. “Yes, I do. You, my boy, have to realize that what happened two days ago has left an indelible mark on Khalid and Talya’s lives. Khalid is blaming himself for bringing Hassan to the firing line, and Talya can’t cope with the loss of yet another friend.”
“Are they going to go their separate ways then?”
“I don’t know, but I think you will see both of them coming through that door” – James nodded in the direction of the restaurant’s entrance – “very soon now.”
“What’s this? Did I hear the love birds are making up?” Terry asked, coming back with his tray filled to the rim. Nothing would abate that man’s appetite.
“Yeah,” James said. “I’ve sent Khalid to make his apologies and since I haven’t seen him for the past hour-and-a-half, I’d suggest they’re ‘making up’ as you say, Terry.” The three men chuckled heartily.
James poured himself another cup of coffee; put his glasses back atop his nose and returned to reading the paper.
Debonair but somewhat visibly concerned, Louis strode through the restaurant to join the men at the table. “Well, hello everyone. How are we this morning?”
Louis Daniel was another of Carmine’s directors – an attorney – and co-founder of the company together with James. He had travelled to Dakar to join his partner when the latter had been shot in the shoulder; Osnoir had been on a killing rampage for weeks now.
“Fine, just fine,” the three men responded almost in unison.
“Well? How did it go this morning, did you get Hassan on the flight?” James asked from over his shoulder while keeping on reading the paper.
“I sure did. He’s on his way home with his father. Besides the police wanting to conduct an autopsy, it’s been a never ending series of hassles at the customs’ office, but it’s done.”
“Good. By the way, have you seen Talya or Khalid on your way down?”
“No,” Louis replied, “not a sight or sound from either of them, but I saw Khalid’s plane being pulled out of the hangar this morning...”
“What?” James blurted, tearing his glasses off and staring at Louis, expectant of an explanation. Mark and Terry turned their gazes to him, too, uncomprehending.
“Well, I didn’t know what to make of it either, but I wanted to hear the latest from you guys before getting worried...”
“You stay here and have breakfast,” Mark said in a rush, “I’ll go up and see what’s happening with them,” getting to his feet. In a moment, he was gone.
James was looking after him, his face betraying signs of troublesome thoughts. “You see, Louis, I’ve sent Khalid to Talya’s room this morning. The man was ready to pick-up and leave after the way Talya treated him since Hassan’s murder. I told him to pull himself together and give it another shot. But now I think, and based on what you’ve just said, they’re leaving for parts unknown.”
“But why? We were going back to Paris together...”
“I guess that’s what everyone thought. But I think Khalid and Talya don’t want to go to Paris now – not until Osnoir is caught,” Terry added with a semblance of re-assurance in his voice.
Louis shook his head in dismay. “You mean they want to deflect Osnoir’s attention on them again? When will it ever end?”
James looked down at his cup of coffee. “When Osnoir is dead and buried.”