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THEY CALLED ME THE PUPPETEER
The Puppets of Washington Series Book 6
Blue Shelf Bookstore
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by BlueShelfBookstore
Washington, D.C. – They called me the Puppeteer 2
© 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 2 (The Puppets of Washington, #6)
PART ONE: | Moving under the radar
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In the months that followed my arrest and subsequent trial, I had the pleasure of receiving copies of Talya’s journal. She recorded her misadventure in such a way that I, for one, learned how she managed to survived it all. It all seemed fantastic to me – even to this day.
The evening was quiet. I sat in one of the lounge chairs and looked at the shadows of the trees in the park. They were the giants of my thoughts; each was a memory of too many deaths, too many conflicts, too many power figures who were trying to rule the lives of millions of people with evil as the maestro of this unbridled and obscene orchestra of drug addiction.
Many questions that needed answers were dancing in front of my mind’s eye like a hundred question marks at the end of each of the paragraphs of my life. One of these question marks, which was perhaps a running winner to the finish-line of my answers, was, “Why wasn’t Slimane in Miami?” Everything had pointed to him being in that city for the past two years at least. I had deduced that he was back in West Africa by now, hoping to reconstruct his empire on the ruins that I and Khalid had left in their wake. Was that a sound deduction, or was I mistaken? He had a profitable and elaborately hidden business flourishing in Florida, so why wouldn’t he stay where ‘business was good’ rather than running off to where he wasn’t yet needed or where he had no one to help him? And, why didn’t the agency realize that the Nassau House was a trap, or that Ben Slimane had never occupied it, let alone making it his headquarters?
As Mark and I walked through the door, we saw Aziz wearing the carpet of the hotel lobby down to bare threads. “Finally! Good God, Talya, Khalid is waiting for us to disappear somehow – but how?” he blurted, handing Mark’s phone to him.
“Did he say anything else?” Mark asked.
“Just that you should call CSIS and get a rundown on a Monsieur Bourdon – apparently this guy is a new character in the play and Khalid wants to know who he’s dealing with.”
“All right, let’s get out of here. I’ll call from the launch.”
“Not now, Aziz.” Mark was visibly irritated with their doctor’s inquisition.
“Did he sound all right?” I asked Aziz impatiently. “In a few words; Khalid sounded as a Prince ready to do battle would.”
I had to smile at the comparison. Because Khalid’s commanding presence and speech sometimes could be overwhelming to the unknowing interlocutor, I suspected that Aziz got an earful a few minutes earlier.
Given that we had no luggage and nothing to laden our stride, we reached the launch quickly. Aziz took the wheel while Mark and I sat facing each other. The sun was high above the horizon already and the heat was beating down on us.
As we were heading down the inlet at reasonable speed to avoid the pounding of the waves, all at once I saw the second trawler. I didn’t recognize it as such momentarily. Since there are many trawlers and boats of all kinds travelling these waters on any given day, I hadn’t paid attention to this particular vessel. Yet, there it was, coming straight at us. Aziz swerved to avoid it. The sudden jerk had been so strong that it wrenched me off my seat. I tumbled onto the floorboards just in time to hear the whizzing sound of a bullet pass near my ear. I had no time to think.
“Stay down,” I heard Mark scream at me. I flattened myself and put my hands over my head.
When I felt the boat resume a steady pace, I slowly removed my hands from atop my head and glanced furtively at Aziz. He was smiling down at me calmly. Nothing would shake this guy out of his skin. Even hearing shots being fired around him didn’t seem to faze him one bit. I returned the smile and turned to see what Mark had been up to. The reason for his silence dawned on me in an instant – he had been hit. He was slumped on the bench bleeding from his butt. I burst out in hysterical laughter. It must have been a reaction from the shock. Some of my friends would say, “Talya, you’re awful.” Aziz looked over his shoulder in Mark’s direction and realized why I was laughing.
“Take the wheel, will you? I’ve got to get him on the floor. He must have passed out... and I’ve got to stop the bleeding...”
“Go, go...,” I yelled as I stood up and took the wheel from Aziz. When I did, the first thing I noticed was the trawler coming back at us at full speed. Although the launch was much faster than the trawler was, and much more manoeuvrable, I would have had a hard time, in such a short distance, to avoid it ploughing us into smithereens, but I wasn’t going to let it pass us all guns blazing either. In a jerk, I turned the wheel 180 degrees and backtracked, leaving our pursuer at liberty to catch up to us, which I knew it couldn’t do. The only problem with this was that they were now heading in the wrong direction – north instead of south towards the St. Johns River.
I veered to the right this time and got as near to the beach as I could, knowing that a trawler’s hull sinks much deeper into the water than that of a launch, so it couldn’t come close enough for anyone aboard even to take aim at us. Now, and as I wanted, I was heading south. However, the speed at which our launch was travelling was creating a spray behind us that was showering every other craft in its wake. I was trying my best to keep from hitting anyone, but unfortunately, some of the numerous wind-surfers had to take a quick dip to avoid us, nonetheless. I heard screams from them as well as a few chosen unwelcome words. Luckily, there aren’t any bathers on that side of Amelia Island, so I was sure I hadn’t chopped anybody’s head off (yet).
Meanwhile, I resumed riding the waves, literally, at a more reasonable speed and drove the launch into quiet waters so that Aziz could attend to his new patient. The latter had regained consciousness and was swearing his head off. I didn’t think he was swearing from the pain, though, rather from the indignation he had sustained. Cats are very proud usually, and Mark was no exception. Being shot in the butt was totally undignified for an agent of Mark’s caliber.
“You could always tell anyone who asks that you were covering my butt when you got shot,” I yelled over my shoulder.
“Don’t you start...! Ouch...! Will you just get on with it and stop fondling my rear-end, you miserable butcher?” Mark shouted, while Aziz was trying to evaluate the damage as delicately as he could.
“And if you’d stopped jiggling like a bloody eel I would have done it already. Just hang on a minute, I’ve got to see if there is anything in there...”
As we moored the launch against the marina pier, I realized the second trawler had disappeared from view. It had followed us at a safe distance, when we saw it was making its way northward. Opening fire in the middle of an inlet was one thing, but doing the same near a marina would have attracted too much attention.
One of the men from the boat-rental shed ran over to us when he saw the difficulty with which Mark was climbing over the bench and onto the pier.
“Are you okay?” He extended a hand to help Mark out of the boat.
“I’ll be just fine,” Mark said, cringing with pain.
Aziz had padded the wound with some gauze and plaster bandages that he had found in the first-aid box of the launch, but the sewing up would have to wait until they got to the hotel. He had taken care to wipe the blood from the seats and had spread seawater over the floor. He had also found the bullet encased in the sideboard. He had carved it out and put it in one of the numerous pockets of his vest, so that practically no trace of our ordeal remained. However, the stain on the back of Mark’s jeans was quite visible. The blood had run down his pant leg after the bullet had left a deep gash in his buttocks.
“He’ll be fine, not to worry,” Aziz said reassuringly, while shielding Mark’s backside as he, too, climbed out of the boat. “We’ll go on ahead,” he added, shooting a quick glance to me. I was ready to get off as well.
“Yeah, I’ll just sign the paperwork and be right with you,” I said as I observed the three men walking up the pier towards the rental shed.
I shook my head. The guys on the boat will be back. They know they haven’t hit our mark by now.
I joined my companions as they were reaching the footpath leading back to the road. Mark could hardly walk. Not to be too conspicuous to the passers-by, Aziz only supported his patient under his elbow. I walked behind them, trying to block anyone’s view from noticing the blood on Mark’s trousers.
It took us the better part of an hour to reach our hotel. They had to stop several times to let Mark sit down on the benches that lined the promenade, before being able to take a cab that drove us back to our B&B on San Fernandina Beach. Mark was exhausted. He had lost a lot of blood and this walking had used all of his remaining strength.
When we finally got to our rooms, Mark pulled down his pants and lay on the bed without a word – he knew what was coming.
Standing away from the scene, by the window, the next thing I heard was a series of screams that would have woken all sleeping evils of hell.
“I don’t know why you’re screaming, it just took a good bite out of your flesh but no bullet here – you’ve got a couple of gouges...,” Aziz told him.
“You son of a... God! Did you cut half of my behind out or what?” Mark hollered.
“No, I just drilled...” Aziz’s sense of humour hadn’t abandoned him, I was glad to hear.
“You friggin’ bastard...”
“Mark, come on... it’s not that bad. Just don’t get it infected.”
“And how would I do that?”
“Don’t expose the wound to bacteria for one thing and don’t sit on it for too long.”
“I’m not planning to do any mooning for a long time to come... but as for sitting, what do you propose I do? Should I kneel at the table when we have dinner next?”
“No, but I suggest that you carry a ring cushion with you for the next few weeks.”
“Just get me sewn up so I can stand and... You...” Mark growled, his voice smothered by the pillow.
“Now don’t move, otherwise I can’t guarantee the stitching...”
“Just get on with it... ouch...! Aziz.”
“You’ll have to stand for another three or four of these... so just lie still for a few more minutes.”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? You doctors are all the same; you enjoy inflicting pain...”
“Mark, stop it ... just think of what we’re going to do...,” I said, trying to get Mark’s mind onto something else than Aziz’s painful stitching. “You brought me back so we could plan something together... What about it, Mark?”
“Do you really think I am in a position to think of anything else than my butt at this moment? Ouaach... For God’s sakes, take it easy, will you? This is my bloody flesh you’re sewing.”
Aziz then gave Mark a painkiller that knocked him right out within a few minutes of having bandaged the wound and covering him up. He would have liked to give him an I.V. for a few hours so he would recuperate faster, but that was something he didn’t have on hand.
I looked up at him when I saw that Mark had fallen asleep. “What do we do now?”
“We wait. That’s all we can do.” Aziz sat down beside his patient.
“I’d say he’ll wake up in a couple of hours... but, he’ll need some fluid...”
“But he drank a half a bottle of water when we came in; won’t that be enough?”
“Not quite, Talya. Anyway, we’ll see what happens in the next hour. I’ll stay with him. You just go back to your room for now and have a rest.”
“I think we should stay together.” I lowered my gaze.
“Why? He’ll be okay, and you need your rest...”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What then?” Aziz looked at me with renewed concern.
“These guys will be back,” I whispered as if ashamed of mentioning it.
“You mean the men on the trawler?”
“And you think they know where we are?”
“I’m sure of it. They saw us turn into the marina and we’ve taken almost an hour to get back here. And a lot of people have seen us walking about with an injured man – it’s even surprising that no one called the police by now.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Let’s wait until Mark wakes up before we do anything, but in the meantime, I think we should rent a car and drive ourselves back to Miami.”
“What about the plane we chartered? They’re supposed to fly us back to Miami...” Aziz’s words died in his mouth.
“Exactly, if someone is tracking us now, they’ll be checking the airports and chartered flights, if they have any sense.”
“Okay, let me rent the car, and bring it down here, so you don’t have to show yourself anywhere near here again.”
“No argument, Talya. You stay with him and if he wakes up before I get back, give him some water again. I’ll bring back something to eat...”
“Okay, but your clothes are a bit stained and...” I didn’t have time to finish my sentence. Aziz had pulled off his pants, revealing an attractive pair of shorts, and taken off his vest. All of a sudden, he looked like the perfect beach bum dressed in cut-off shorts and garish T-shirt. To add a final touch to his appearance, he pulled out a plain yellow cap from the back pocket of his discarded trousers, which he adjusted on his head. He looked at me, a broad grin on his face.
“You look quite a sight,” I exploded amid nervous giggles.
“Okay then. You hold the fort and I’ll be back as quickly as I can,” Aziz said as he closed the door behind him.
I took a seat beside Mark and watched him sleep for a while, lost in thought.
There was definitely something wrong. Why did the second trawler come after us? According to Mark, the guys from CSIS and the FBI, presumably, were already busy cleaning up last night’s mess and if Slimane knew what happened by early morning, he would not have escalated his pursuit with the second trawler, or would he? Yet, the fact remained that he had. Then, there was the matter of finding one of Osnoir’s men aboard the first boat. What was he doing there? Maybe, they were right in thinking he got a transfer to Florida when Osnoir died. Then again, he didn’t seem that high-up on the ladder to get a promotion, and how could he land in the US – the States are not known for welcoming “Wanted Men” at the border – without being bothered by customs? This whole thing seemed a little too well orchestrated for being just a criminal plan – even with the likes of Slimane at the helm.
Aziz came back within the hour. He had brought back enough food to feed eight people by the looks of it.
“I’ve got hamburgers, fries, fruit and some donuts,” Aziz announced when I opened the door.
“And here I thought you were a doctor,” I said, grabbing some of the boxes off his arms.
“Yeah, but there was no time to get anything else. How’s Mark?”
“He’s still asleep. Should we wake him up?”
“Not just yet. Let’s eat first, and then we’ll see. And I don’t think he’s going to be hungry when he gets up – until his stomach settles down.”
We sat down at the table near the window overlooking the driveway and the street beyond. We ate heartily and were sipping on our juices when Mark started stirring. Aziz went to him, checked his pulse and shook his shoulder.
“Hi...” Mark grumbled in a croaky voice. “Where...? What you doing...?” He stared at Aziz who was looking down at his patient kindly, his wrist still in his hand.
“Had a nice sleep?” Aziz asked.
“Yeah, thanks... Ouch!” Mark tried to sit up. “Shit,” he swore as he got up and rushed into the bathroom.
I tried to smother a laugh as Mark slammed the door behind him.
“Don’t, Talya. Let’s get his mind on something else when he gets out, please.”
“Okay..., okay..., I’m sorry.”
“Okay, guys...,” Mark said when he came to stand beside me, clad in a towel around his waist, and looked at Aziz up and down. “What’s with the shorts...? And that cap...?”
“Just a little disguise of my own, why? Don’t you like it?”
“Where did you leave your roller-blades?”
“Okay, I’m not going to ask... Anything to drink?” Mark looked down at the open boxes of food and half-consumed bottles of juice.
“Sure,” I said, pouring some orange juice in one of the cups.
“You sit and relax,” Aziz added, adjusting a pillow on one of the chairs.
Mark looked down at it and shook his head. “No thanks. I think I’ll stand this one out.”
“Do you want to eat something?” I offered, opening the fruit salad container.
Mark looked at it for a moment and then shook his head again. “No..., thanks, I’ll stay with the juice for a bit.” He drank a big gulp and then asked, “When are we leaving?”
“As soon as you feel okay to take a ride.”
“A ride? Where? You mean to the airport...”
Aziz and I looked at each other. “No, not to the airport. We’re driving to Miami,” I answered.
“How am I going to sit in a car for four hours? You guys..., you...”
“Don’t, Mark... This is the best way to get away from ‘them’...”
“What do you mean them? Who’s them?” Mark asked.
“The guys who shot at us, remember?”
“Don’t remind me.”
“What bugs me is why would Slimane do that?” I asked.
“Well, these guys had their orders, Talya...,” Mark said, drinking some more, “they needed to finish the job.”
“Maybe. But if Slimane is out of reach – not in Florida – how was he informed of the clean-up that our CSIS has been doing this morning? How did he know where we were? What’s going on here, Mark?”
“How should I know?” Mark shrugged. “It’s a bit strange, yes, but somehow I don’t think Slimane is going to give up. Even if he knows that you’re on your way back to Vancouver, he might not want to miss this opportunity to eliminate you before you board a plane in New York.”
“Yes..., yet I don’t see how he could have been advised so quickly of what happened on the Marianne. Plus, I’d think Ottawa would make sure the whole thing wasn’t advertised,” I said.
“But taking two bodies out of the St. John’s and impounding a fishing trawler is not that simple.” Mark shook his head. “And you’ve got to consider that the port authority had to be involved – so a lot of people knew what happened, before morning even. And we don’t know who Slimane’s got in his back pocket, do we?”
“I guess. But if he knew the authorities were cleaning up the mess, why did he continue chasing after us? Even if he wanted to take this opportunity, as you said, to get me out of the picture, he would rather wait until things calmed down a little..., so why take the risk with the second trawler chasing us?”
“I don’t know, Talya,” Mark replied, picking a couple of grapes from the fruit container.
“Okay, let’s get moving, shall we?” Aziz seemed all of a sudden very much aware of the urgency of the situation.
I got up, began storing the leftovers in our containers and packing them into a plastic bag.
“What about my trousers?” Mark asked, looking at Aziz.
“You can wear mine until we get to a store and get you some jeans and something to sit on.”
As we were driving south – Aziz at the wheel – I smiled to myself, remembering how the three of us went to buy some trousers for Aziz and Mark and then went to the beach store and bought Mark a ring-cushion. I made the purchase under the pretext that it was for my baby