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The Sadir Affair
The Puppets of Washington Series Book 1
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. – The Sadir Affair
© 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.
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I would take flight in the morning air,
With my memories of better days,
With sighs of hopes in every breath,
Clearing the ground of desperation,
I would soar above the grey skies of sadness
Into the arms of the love, I once embraced then lost.
Her once vibrant, blonde curls lay flaccid around her head like a scarf of despair. Her once lovely face was now the portrait of the all-consuming pain she had endured for the past several months. Looking at the North Shore Mountains from the terrace of her apartment, Talya Kartz was lost in thought, almost absent. She was revisiting the places of her youth; the places where she had found solace amid the tiresome memories of days filled with anger and regret. She spared some thoughts for the man responsible for her misery, a man she had loved, a man who had become an assassin. He could have killed her, but he didn’t. Why? had been the question that had superseded every other since the shooting. She couldn’t get him out of her mind. She loathed the sight of him now. Yet, she wanted to see him again. She wanted to unreel her vengeful torment upon him. The rage she felt was oddly intertwined with the memory of the times they’d spent together—the beaches, the sunshine...
The winter had dragged on forever and she was happy to be outside without a coat or a blanket wrapped around her legs. Confined to a wheelchair, her main pleasure appeared centred on being alone outside. Unable to get out of bed at night, she would roll herself onto the carpet in the early hours of the morning to drag her body to the terrace door. The nurse would find her on the floor, staring at the ocean or asleep, her head leaning against the windowpane.
Her apartment had become her cage. She had concentrated mainly on learning to move about without the use of her legs as much as was possible. Ultimately, she had given up on the idea and got used to her wheelchair, although she still preferred sitting on the ground when she was alone. It was as if the floor or the barren ground gave her a sense of vitality, absorbing her pain and restoring her will to live.
“I’m home! What’s for dinner?” Aziz erupted jokingly, as he came through the door late that evening. Hearing no response, he rushed to the terrace. There, Talya was again; sitting on the ground, her back against the stone wall, watching the ocean. “What are you doing here? I thought you had gone out. Come on, let’s get you inside. It’s getting cold.”
Talya looked up at him but didn’t reply.
“Come on, Milady, I’ve got your favourite pizza for dinner…”
Returning her gaze to the ocean, “Is swimming good for me?” Talya asked.
“I’d say so. It’s a muscle stimulant, but you know that. They’ve put you in the pool at the hospital many times.”
“Yeah, but that’s not the same as really swimming, is it?”
“No, it isn’t. I’m sure by the summer; you’ll be able to go swimming.”
“Can we go now?”
“Now? I don’t think so. You need to get a little stronger before you venture in open waters, maty. Remember your legs won’t help you anymore.”
“I know, I know, but I thought we could go to Second Beach in the kiddies pool. I just want the feel of the water around my body. Can you understand what I’m saying, Aziz?”
Talya extended her left arm, grabbed the cushion of the wheelchair, lugged herself to where she could hold onto the armrest, and heaved her body into the seat. Beads of sweat pearled on her forehead while Aziz turned her hips into the chair.
“I need to be somewhere where having legs doesn’t matter. Somewhere I could move without having to manoeuvre a stupid wheelchair and somewhere no one needs to help me lie down, get up, or roll around.”
“Okay, let’s plan something for next weekend, okay?” Aziz suggested.
One of her rare smiles appeared on her face. Aziz could have lifted her to the sky for one of those smiles. He waited every hour of every day now to see a smidgen of pleasure light up her face.
“What kind of pizza did you get?” Talya asked, wheeling herself to the kitchen.
“Mushroom and cheese, and I bought a tin of anchovies.”
Talya looked up at him in surprise. She loved anchovies but he hated them.
“I know, I know, I don’t like them, but I thought I could put some on half of the pizza and I’ll eat the other half…”
“You didn’t have to do that! I love pizza anyway.” She shrugged and turned her chair around. “Whatever...”
The smile had disappeared. The joy or the promise of better times had dissipated once again. Aziz shook his head and watched her roll her chair back in the direction of the terrace.
Aziz was reaching a point where he did not know what to do to please her anymore. Yet nothing displeased her; the neutrality, the idleness, the irresponsiveness, the inertia were the most unnerving to him.
Strictly speaking, Talya was not Dr. Aziz Hendrix’s patient. She had been his lover, friend and companion for some three years. He had seen her reduced to a mangled and frail invalid, literally shrivelling in size, while her mind focused only on mastering the art of indifference.
Talya used to be a fighter. She used to battle her way through life, but this battle she was not fighting it. The surgeons, physiotherapists, nurses, and medication were fighting it for her. If her treating psychologist had asked him if Talya was suicidal, Aziz would have said no. To him, she had no desire to kill herself, but would she eat or drink if no one was there to feed her? He didn’t think so. Now that she was able to go out, drive her ‘racing wheels’—the nickname she had given to her motorized chair—to the shops and stores, or even take a bus, Aziz had yet to see her pass through the front door of her apartment of her own accord. It was as if she had decided to shut the world out.
After dinner, Aziz went home as usual, once he had put Talya to bed. The nurse would be there in the morning to take care of her for a few hours and leave her after lunch. He would come back at night. That routine had been going on for months, and Aziz was getting tired of it. As much as he loved Talya, he didn’t think he could continue looking after her now that she was well on her way to becoming independent — if she wanted to be.
Captain Khalid Sahab, as friends and acquaintances knew him, was an inveterate pilot. He had lived at the Hotel de Crillon on the Place de la Concorde since his father died many years ago. Although not flaunting his noble background at anyone’s face, Khalid was an Arab fellow who enjoyed the Parisian life and the luxury that came with his blue blood ancestry. Not a pretentious man by any means, Khalid had an acute sense of his fellow human beings. He was intelligent, well educated—in England—and he displayed a deep-seated wisdom. Tall and handsome, he was not flirtatious or even interested in befriending the opposite sex. Originally raised as a Touareg, his beliefs led him to maintain his distances from women. His greying hair at the temples revealed his age and when people saw him in the company of his daughter, Aisha, they somehow gathered that he was serious about his family ties and beyond the age of chasing the alluring Parisian skirts.
He had been thrown in the midst of an international affair two years ago, which had almost ruined him financially and had left him emotionally scarred. He had met Talya at a time she was herself in deep trouble. Together they evaded their enemies and thwarted or even foiled the operations of a drug lord in France while uncovering an arms’ trafficking ring spanning three continents.
He deplored Talya’s injuries. He knew that, ultimately, she had blamed him for what happened. She had been shot, and his absence at the time had made it all the worst for him and for her. He had left her to her own device in Miami and he knew the move had ignited a pursuit by a Mossad agent that ended up in disaster.
He had not heard from Talya in many months. He’d phoned James Flaubert, her boss and founder of Carmine Resources, on many occasions. James had told him she wanted to see no one and she lived a secluded life now.
Khalid was again reminiscing of the happy times he had spent with Talya when the phone on his desk rang and startled him back to the present.
“Yes, Marie, what is it?” Khalid answered tersely.
“A Dr. Hendrix is on the line for you, Capitaine. Shall I put him through?” the woman replied quietly.
“Yes, Marie, please.”
“Khalid?” Aziz asked as soon as he heard the phone being picked up.
“Yes, Aziz. How can I help you?”
“No, not me, Khalid—you’ll never be able to help me—it’s Talya who needs your help.”
Paying no heed to Aziz’s comments, “How is she?” Khalid asked.
“Physically, as well as can be expected, but psychologically, she is irresponsive.”
“What do you mean with ‘irresponsive’?”
“I guess you’ve lost your perspicacity while ignoring your friends…”
Khalid was reaching the point of annoyance very quickly. Aziz had put him on the defensive. “All right, and what do you want me to do about it? She wouldn’t even pickup the phone when I tried calling her. She does not want to see me—you know that!”
“She might not pickup the phone, but if she knows you’re at her doorsteps, she’ll see you. I’m sure of it.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Khalid, don’t play games with me. I know you’re still in love with her and if anyone can get her out of that bubble of hers, it’s you.”
“Listen to me, Aziz. Let’s say I get her out of her torpor and she finally starts living a normal life again; what would happen if she decides to come back to Paris with me? Because that’s a possibility. Have you thought of it?”
“I would prefer seeing her going to Paris with you for ever—if that’s what she wants—than seeing her the way she is now.”
“All right. Let me make some arrangements and I’ll contact you with an arrival date.”
“Thank you, Khalid.”
“I hope that was as sincere as your plea on her behalf was,” Khalid said.
“Yes, it was. Yet, I would like to hear the story from your lips one day.”
“By all means, Aziz, you should.”
When Khalid hung up, he was thrilled. Not only because he was going to see Talya again, but because he was finally going to be able to open the book that had been closed too soon in his opinion.
Sabrina the receptionist announced that Khalid was on the line.
“Good morning, James,” Khalid replied to James’s quick and frosty greeting.
“Good of you to call again,” the president of Carmine Resources replied stretching his lanky frame to the back of the chair.
“I am not going to ask you to give me the latest report on Talya’s recovery. I know you’re tired of giving me the same answer.” That was true; James no longer knew how to tell Khalid that Talya didn’t want any visitor or that she seemed to be retreating into a solitary world. “The reason for my call is simply to inform you that I should be in Vancouver the day after tomorrow.”
James passed his fingers through his wavy, grey hair. “Should I be concerned…?”
“No, not at all. Dr Hendrix is the one who called me and asked for my assistance.”
“To do what?” James asked.
“He thinks I could help Talya in getting her out of her self-imposed seclusion.”
“It’s not only seclusion, Khalid, that’s ailing Talya. You must realize it’s much more than that.”
“Yes, I do realize it, and this is perhaps why I want to see for myself what can be done about it, if anything.”
“Are you a psychiatrist now?” The obvious scoff had its roots in James knowing that Khalid was a good judge of character. He had seen him handle Talya’s difficult traits on many occasions, but this was different; Talya was drowning into some sort of lethargy, from which she didn’t want to come out.
Khalid chuckled. “No, James, I couldn’t begin to pretend to have such knowledge of the human mind, yet and maybe, I could look into the reason for Talya’s wilful retreat.”
“Okay, if you think your presence will make a difference, I’m all for it, of course. Do you want me to tell her you’re coming?”
“No!” The word resounded over the line loud and clear. The firmness in Khalid’s voice took James aback. “I’m sorry, James, but I don’t want her to know that I come to her aid. She would not react well.”
“Very well then, when should I expect you? And where will you be staying?”
“I should be at your office on Wednesday and I have made reservations at the Sands for now.”
“Wouldn’t you prefer staying at the 4 Seasons…?”
“No, not this time. I need to be in walking distance of her apartment.”
“Quite. I understand.”
Replacing the receiver, James thought of the first time Khalid came to Vancouver; it was again when Talya needed someone to help her—out of a depression.
Samuel Meshullam was a man of means. He lived comfortably, had money to spare although no one had ever heard him talk about his job—if he held one, no one knew. He lived in a house at the edge of the ocean and abutting a ‘reserve’ or park in Manly, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. His dark hair and sharp facial features, partially hidden under a shadowy beard, told of the man’s strength of character. His eyes darted at the smallest noise. He seemed to be on the alert all the time. His neighbours had tried to befriend him when he first moved to the area, but he’d soon distanced himself from everyone. By all accounts, the man didn’t like company. He often walked across the park, crossed the little bridge and made his way to a secluded beach bordering yet another reserve. He was used to walking traveling long distances and preferred traveling on foot to using any mode of transport, even though he owned a sports car, which he used mostly to travel to Melbourne or other towns north or south of the city.
Although no one had ever seen him go to work, Samuel had an occupation, which paid him very well. He was a consultant; a man that you hired when you needed a job done — and done well. His kind of consulting was not in high demand, but one contract could see him living in the lap of luxury for years. Besides, Samuel had no parents or family to encumber his life with questions or queries as to his means of living or even lifestyle. Perhaps, the only characteristic that could distinguish Samuel from many other fellows was that he had been trained and was now in Mossad’s employ: the Israeli equivalent of the American CIA.
The reason he was currently living in Sydney or in Australia for that matter, apart from the fact that he had been born and raised in Melbourne, was that he was now in hiding and would remain so until ‘further orders’.
His last job had seen him shooting a woman in Vancouver. He was already back in Sydney when he’d learned that his target had nearly died from his bullet, which was exactly what had been required of him. He had been assigned to ‘slow the woman down’ but not to kill her. Like him, Talya Kartz was Jewish, and killing a Jewess would not only have weighed heavily on his conscience, but would have put him in God’s bad books—if there were such a thing.
Of course, the police and various intelligence agencies on two continents had been on his tail since the incident, which had occurred seven months ago, to no avail. Not only was Samuel a master of disguise, but Mossad had always covered his tracks very well. As a result, he was now free to roam as he pleased in a country he loved.
The fall months in Australia were now upon the countryside and the accompanying tranquillity of autumn seemed to appease Samuel’s keenness.
Sitting on a towel at the water’s edge, he thought of Talya. They had been friends once. And lovers. She had a head of white-blond, curly hair, deep blue eyes and a smile that had shaken him to the core. He had really enjoyed looking at her or being with her again when they had traveled together for a couple of hours in the States. From the time she lived in Australia, he remembered her spunk, her kindness and her determination. That last trait of character had landed her in a wheelchair now, he was sure, and for that, Samuel was sorry, deeply repentant in fact. He had never allowed the emotions that his job would arise in him to deter him from accomplishing his various assignments or to cloud his judgement. Yet, on this occasion, Talya’s beauty and inner strength had touched him in ways he could not even comprehend.
He looked at the waves rolling gently onto the beach for a few more minutes before getting up, making his way into the water and diving into the ocean. He swam to a rocky ledge nearby and heaved himself onto it. He recalled Talya loved to swim, and he would have enjoyed having her at his side at that very moment.
Alerted of Khalid’s latest travel plans, Pierre Masson, the pilot, and John Viblickovitzian, the navigator, were waiting for the prince to board his Lear jet.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Khalid said, poking his head at the cockpit’s door.
“Good morning, Khalid,” the two men replied in unison.
Pilot and navigator were a team. They had been in Khalid’s employ since he bought the Lear—correction—since his uncle had bought the aircraft for him. “Talk about a rich uncle” had been Talya’s first comment when Khalid had told her of uncle Abdullah Saif Al-Fadir’s gift. Khalid would never forget her reaction that evening.
He smiled at the two men at the controls and nodded. “Let’s get her off the ground then,” Khalid said, closing the cockpit’s door and going to sit down in one of the six seats that furnished the comfortable cabin.
He knew this journey would take about six hours’ flying-time before they would land in Ottawa. Khalid had arranged to meet with Fred Gibson at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service before flying to Vancouver. He wanted to get an update on Mossad’s movements since Talya’s accident. However, Fred Gibson had probably closed the file on what they had called ‘The Ben Slimane Affair’, and had resumed their normal course of business—if ‘normal’ could ever describe the running of an intelligence agency. The year before, Talya had stumbled onto this hornets’ nest, which consisted in the exchange of drugs for weapons; weapons that had ended in the hands of Israelis in Gaza. The head of this government-sanctioned operation had been none other than a CIA undercover agent, and alleged traitor, by the name of Ben Slimane. Shortly before Talya being shot, Slimane’s death had seen the end of this sordid business.
The Lear needed to make a refueling stop somewhere between Paris and Vancouver, and Ottawa seemed to be the best place to do that—less air traffic and quicker service.
Sitting at the table of the conference room, Fred Gibson and Namlah Badawee, his legal advisor in international law, were waiting for Khalid’s arrival. Fred was a down-to-earth man. Of Afro-American descent, the pleated lines of his face, large, black eyes and burly stature would remind anyone looking at him of Louis Armstrong. He was not the most astute or clever of men, but he surrounded himself with the best agents in the land. His strength of character and inner wilfulness had seen him climb the rungs of the intelligence agency’s ladder at a steady and unrelenting pace. Through his fatherly, yet firm attitude, he had gained the respect of his peers both in Canada and abroad. Although no longer a young man, he could run the best off the race.
As for Namlah Badawee, a name meaning ‘nomad ant’ in Arabic, he was an unassuming fellow. His value to the agency resided in his knowledge of international law. He was the one who had put Fred on the scent of Ben Slimane’s treason while the latter was working for the CIA.
Escorted by Fred’s secretary, Khalid strode into the conference room, and faced the two men who stood up as he entered.
“Welcome to Canada once again, Your Highness,” Fred said, extending a hand for Khalid to shake. “I would have hoped this meeting to be held under better circumstances; nevertheless, it is still a pleasure to seeing you again.”
Shaking Fred’s hand, Khalid replied, “Thank you, sir,” looking at each man in turn.
Namlah had not pronounced a word yet. “Sabahol-khayer, (good morning) Mr. Badawee,” Khalid added in Arabic.
“Ahlan wa sahlan (welcome), Prince Khalid,” Namlah uttered visibly preoccupied, which attitude puzzled the prince.
They sat down. Khalid reclined in the chair and crossed his legs. “As I said on the phone, Mr. Gibson, the reason for my visit is simple; I would like to know if there has been any recent development in Mossad’s activities of which you would be aware, of course.”
Fred stretched his forearms over the table and continued fiddling with his pen. “We have closed the file on this affair, as you know, Your Highness. Officially, Ms Kartz’s shooting tied our hands and the government didn’t see the need to take the case further, since it could have led to an international incident, not only with our neighbor but with Israel, which no one wanted.”
“Yes, I expected such an answer, Mr. Gibson. Yet, I am sure that unofficially you have kept an eye on their movements, am I right?”
Looking slightly uncomfortable, Namlah nodded to Fred before he said, “You are quite right, sir. We have been aware of certain parties resuming their activities in the CIA. Our sources have informed us that the exchange of drugs for armaments in South America, in particular…”
They are skirting the issue, Khalid thought.
“What about Mossad?” Khalid cut in. “Do you know of anyone picking up where Slimane left off?”
Again, the chief and his lawyer exchanged conspiratorial glances. “No, not exactly,” Fred said. Khalid unfolded his legs, slid the chair closer to the table and put his elbows and forearms on it. “We have not been able to trace anyone infiltrating the CIA since last fall, but we have received reports from Australia, that a man corresponding to Isaac Whittlestein’s description is now living in a suburb of Sydney under another name. As you know he’s the only link we could establish between Ben Slimane and Mossad.”
“I am glad to hear that you have followed my suggestion to trace the man in Australia.” Khalid smiled with satisfaction. “And what is the man doing now? If you know...”
“Nothing, Your Highness,” Namlah replied.
“I see. He’s dormant then? But I should think this hibernation will only last for a while longer.”
Fred nodded. “My thoughts exactly, Your Highness.”
Embarrassed, Namlah lowered his head. He raised it to say, “You see, sir, it is my opinion that Mossad is waiting for you to make a move.”
That statement took Khalid by surprise. “Me? Could you explain how you came to that conclusion, Mr. Badawee?”
“By all means. Mossad, as we know, is Israel’s eyes and ears. They are looking for an excuse to spark an incident that would reignite ill feelings between Saudi Arabia and its allies. The Middle East has an infected wound at Gaza. Since Hamas took control of the strip, the area is a disaster waiting to happen. In my opinion, should the conflict worsen, Geneva would need to take a firm stand and enforced a cease-fire between Palestinians and Israeli forces.”
“I understand. But how do I fit into this?”
“Mossad would love nothing more than for you to rekindle your relationship with Ms Kartz, thereby demonstrating your affinity or your ties with Israel. This, in turn, would show that Saudi Arabia is befriending an enemy of Islam and would engender an array of questions on the part of its neighbours.”
Khalid had listened to these warning words with sadness in his heart. The only thing he wanted to do at present was to help the woman he loved. His birthright or his faith, or even the political backdrop that had been part of his existence to date, were only asides, hurdles in his pursuit of happiness. Mossad had indeed an ace up their sleeve. They had been playing with Talya’s life, hoping he, Khalid Saif Al-Fadir, would join her once again. They wanted to use them for political reasons; reasons that could result in international tension, not to say war in the Middle East.
Khalid knew that his staying away from Vancouver had been the right decision initially. However, now Talya needed him. She had not called for him to help her, yet he knew he could get her on her feet, so to speak, and get her back to working and enjoying life again.
“I appreciate your frankness, gentlemen. My family owes you a great deal for your foresight, Mr. Badawee. Nevertheless, I feel an obligation toward the woman whose deliberate pursuit for justice has resulted in her being chased like an animal and ultimately being shot. At this point, I don’t know what my decision will be. According to your conclusions, if I were to show myself on Ms Kartz’s doorsteps, it would demonstrate to the Middle East community that my family is entertaining some sort of relations with Israel, thereby reigniting resentments on the part of my country’s allies.”
“Yes, that sums it up pretty well,” Fred agreed with emphasis. “But this is only a conclusion that we have drawn from keeping an eye on the situation in and around Gaza. Your family has not taken a stand in this conflict. It has stayed impartial and unwilling to take sides, which is totally in character, actually. Yet, we would be remiss in our relations with you and the Saudi royal family if we did not advise you of the possible consequences a visit with Ms Kartz would have, should you choose to go to Vancouver.”
A short time later, the official car took Khalid to his hotel where he had reserved rooms for himself, Pierre and John. They had arranged to meet for dinner at the restaurant, but as Khalid closed the door of his suite, he didn’t feel like dinner or keeping company to his pilot and navigator. He felt oppressed and despondent. In the past, his movements or decisions had borne no consequence for anyone other than himself, but this time, the wrong decision would have had an inevitable impact on Saudi Arabia’s political status in the Middle East. Short of disowning him or endangering the life of his daughter, while perhaps using her as a bargaining chip, his distant uncles would see to Khalid abiding the rules imposed on him long ago, whether he remained in exile or not. He would have to steer clear of Talya and have no contact with her in future.
If he didn’t go to her, he would not be able to abide idle her downward spiral to self-destruction— because that was exactly what she was doing. She saw no reason to live. Talya had lost everything once, and now she was losing her very soul.
Rather than unpacking his bags, Khalid carried them out of the suite, went down the elevators, walked through the lobby and came to stand in front of the clerk at the registration desk.
“I’ll be checking out now. Would you prepare my bill and have a taxi wait for me out front?”
“Certainly, sir. Any problems with the service?” the young lady asked. She was surprised. It was unusual for a guest to check out before he even used the room.
“Nothing. My schedule has changed, nothing more.”
While the clerk prepared his bill, Khalid walked to a corner of the foyer, took his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed the hotel number. The operator put him through Pierre’s room.
“Khalid? Are you downstairs already…?”
“No. Just listen. I want you and John to take the Lear back to Paris in the morning. I’ll contact you tomorrow or when I want you to know where I am.”
“Okay, Khalid, but why?”
“No time for explanation, Pierre. Have a good flight.”
With these words, Khalid hung up, went back to the desk, paid his bill and made his way out of the hotel and into the waiting cab.
Given that he had not heard a word from Khalid since he had called on Monday, on the Wednesday afternoon James decided to check with the Sands to see if the man had checked in. To his surprise, he was told the guest and his two friends had cancelled their hotel reservations the night before. James put the phone down and sat there looking at it for a minute before picking up the receiver again. This time he dialed Aziz’s clinic. The doctor’s response was short but worrisome: he had not heard from Khalid in the past 48 hours either.
James’s next call was to Fred Gibson.
“Mr. Gibson, how are you, sir?”
“Fine, Mr. Flaubert. What can I do for you?” Fred was non-committal; he sensed this was not a courtesy call.
“I won’t interrupt your day with long explanations. I’d just like to know if you’ve seen Khalid lately.”
“Yes. He was in Ottawa for a meeting yesterday. Why?”
“Do you know if he planned to make it to Vancouver afterward?”
Fred didn’t want to or couldn’t elaborate on the answer to that question. He hesitated. “Well…, yes, he was planning to visit Vancouver. Hasn’t he shown up already?”
“No, he hasn’t. He was due in this morning but it’s now three o’clock and the hotel told me that he cancelled his reservations. Should I be worried? Or have you said something to him that made him change his plans?”
“I may have made a suggestion to that effect…, yes,” Fred admitted, feeling relieved that Khalid had apparently returned to Paris.
“Could you tell me why then, he has not contacted us to let us know what he was doing?”
“I don’t know, but from what you’ve just said, I think I should find out. This sounds unusual and we need to keep tab on the man in any case…”
“Precautions, Mr. Flaubert, nothing more. Let’s not forget he’s royalty and we have a duty to see to the well-being of such visitors. Besides, any surveillance measure on a Muslim fellow is designed to protect him. You never know what could happen to him these days.”
James had to admit that since nine-eleven Muslims in general were not welcomed with open arms in North America.
After he hung up, Fred asked his secretary to get Agent Gilford on the line.
Mark Gilford was relaxing on the terrace of his apartment in Ottawa when he heard his cell phone ring on the table beside him. He looked at the screen and swore under his breath. Fred calling him was never a good sign.
“Yes?” Mark was purposely curt.
This young man had a talent for divorcing himself from emotions that could interfere with his job — a job he did well. Besides being an intelligence agent, a spy, to put it simply, he was a skillful sniper and an assassin.
Fred knew Mark very well and didn’t need to give long explanations or reasons for calling on him. “Would you mind getting yourself prepared for a surveillance detail?”
Mark moved the phone away from his ear and looked at it for a second. He wasn’t sure he had heard the name correctly. “Did you say Khalid?” He pressed the speaker digit.
“Yes, the very same. He was in town yesterday and after our meeting he checked out of his hotel and… well…, he simply vanished.”
“And what was he doing here? Or should I ask?”
“We’ll talk about that when you get here.”
Hanging up, a puzzled look on his face, Mark went to the kitchen and opened a cupboard. The back of it resealed a safe in which he kept several weapons of choice. He took the smallest one, placed a cartridge of ammunition in the grip and inserted it in its ankle holster, which he tied mid-calf. He locked the safe and closed the cupboard. Walking down the hall to his bedroom, he swore aloud this time. “…What the hell is going on? Why doesn’t he stay away?” he grumbled, while he changed into a suit and tie. His wardrobe contained nothing but the best apparels. To look at him—in his late twenties, blond curls and blue eyes—one would have never guess that Mark Gilford was a dedicated killer.
If one were reading a brochure describing Bowen Island off the Vancouver coast, it would tell this small blob on the map was a mere twenty minutes away from the port of Horseshoe Bay, and its craggy landscape only allowed for a few clustered houses to be built along the shores or in the more accessible meadows. Main Street ran from the ferry’s dock up the hill to a crossroad, where one of the streets would take the tourists to a park descending gently toward the marina. Many beaches skirted the pine-covered hillsides, nestled in delightful coves at the end of the few roads crisscrossing the island. Typical of the chain of isles populating Howe Sound, Bowen Island was one of the favourite hideouts for the rich-and-famous who wanted to escape the hassles of the city.
Aziz knew Talya had spent many a weekend on Bowen Island during the first summer she had returned from a lengthy stay in Australia. She and he had spent their vacations there, before the troubles started and before Talya had become the pawn in a deadly chess game of intrigue.
He wanted to take her away, not to Second Beach, but to Bowen Island.
In his mid-thirties, Aziz was an earnest soul. He was devoted to the well-being of his numerous patients and anxious to make their lives easier as much as possible. His father had passed away when he was in high school, leaving him and his mother with enough to live a comfortable life and for Aziz to go to med school. He was a good-looking man; he had inherited his mother’s dark, wavy hair and his father’s hazel eyes and chiselled face. Standing tall at nearly six-foot, beside Talya, walking down the street, they would turn heads. They always felt comfortable in each other’s company. Like socks and shoes, they fitted well together.
That night, when he passed the threshold of Talya’s apartment, Aziz felt disappointed, not to say frustrated. Khalid, once again, had not shown up. His resentment toward the man had grown now into utter disgust. He had abandoned her in Miami, which unaccountable move had provoked a series of incidents that had seen Talya knife a man and the FBI chase her across the States. As far as Aziz was concerned, Khalid was a typical Arab, in only for money, women and grandstanding appearances when the chips were down. Granted, he had saved Talya’s life on several occasions, but since his unexpected disappearance from Cayenne — where he had evaded yet another of Slimane’s devious schemes — and his admission that he knew of his uncle’s involvement in a drug and arms’ trade in the Middle East, Aziz no longer trusted the man.
Talya was sitting at her desk. She had not neared that corner of the apartment in weeks.
Aziz couldn’t contain his amazement and joy at seeing her in front of her computer, typing away. “Hello, milady,” Aziz said, kissing the top of her head.
She only acknowledged his presence with a mumbled, “Hi!” which told Aziz to retreat. If Talya was concentrating on her writing, she allowed no one to disturb her. Yet, before making his way to the kitchen to prepare their evening meal, he looked quickly at the screen. What he read sent him down a stream of recollections, which he didn’t want to visit. Talya was recounting the events that ultimately landed her in that wheelchair.
Maybe she needed the release. Maybe she would find solace in pouring her memories onto the pages of a book. Maybe distancing herself from the experiences, by describing them and reliving them through a fictional character, would get her back to the present and move her out of her lethargic state. And maybe… there wouldn’t be any need for Khalid to intervene, which thought delighted Aziz no end.
Opening the fridge, Aziz’s reaction was one of wonder. There were fruits, vegetables galore, yoghurt, flax bread, a bottle of orange juice, and other items that he knew the nurse would not buy. She was there every morning only to bathe Talya, administer the daily meds, dress her and take her out for a half an hour. They would fetch Talya’s racing wheels from the garage, and take a stroll along the beach promenade; that would be all. The nurse was not to go grocery shopping with or without her charge. She would prepare lunch for Talya and if some things were missing from the cupboard, she’d leave a note for Aziz to purchase them.
Taking some fruit out of the fridge, Aziz walked back to Talya’s desk and deposited it under her nose. “What’s this?” He grinned, as Talya lifted her gaze to him.
“I’d say this is an orange and this looks like a banana.” A veil of joy had draped over her face. “I could give you a more accurate or detailed description of each if you like.”
“But where did they come from…? That’s what I’d like to know.”
Giggling and even laughing, Talya shook her head. “From a tree and from a plant...”
“I don’t believe it!”
“What? I tell you that’s where these two came from…”
“Stop it, Talya! Did you go shopping?”
“Yes, I did, my dear Aziz, and I must say, it’s much easier now than before. I don’t have to carry the grocery bags anymore.”
Aziz was still incredulous. He couldn’t believe the change that had occurred in the last 24 hours. Talya must have been coaxed into returning to normality. He couldn’t believe that such a drastic, yet most welcomed transformation had taken place without someone’s intervention.
“Did Khalid call you?” Aziz hazarded to ask.
“How could he? And why would he? The phone plug is still off the wall.”
His butt resting against the desk, his arms crossed over his chest, Aziz looked at the opposite wall. “So it is…, but something must have happened between last night and today. You are different. Did someone come for a visit or something?”
“Well, yes, something did happen…”
“What?” Aziz blurted, suddenly worried. For an instant, he thought Khalid had gotten in touch with her somehow and ‘ordered’ her to get ready for his arrival, telling her he wanted to see her the way he remembered her. Such an imposition would have had the desired effect, knowing Talya. In the past, she would have done almost anything to please him.
“I asked you to turn on the TV in the room before you left last night, remember?” Talya asked.
“Well, since I couldn’t sleep, I watched a program where a woman in a wheelchair was abusing her husband…”
Talya glared at him. She didn’t appreciate the interruption. “He was responsible for putting her in that wheelchair and she was taking revenge on him by abusing of his kindness. She literally transformed him into her servant. I didn’t want that to happen to us, Aziz. You’ve been a model of kindness and generosity since I came out of the hospital and I could not see the two of us living a life of resentment. That’s when I decided to use my racing wheels this afternoon after the nurse left and get some groceries for the fridge.”
Aziz was all smiles now, the smile turning quickly into uncontrollable laughter. He bent down to her and kissed her feverishly. Talya, for the first time since her accident, didn’t push him back. On the contrary, she responded excitedly and had to take a breath when their lips finally parted.
She looked up at him. Tears glazed his eyes. He was overwhelmed with emotion.
Then, taking a deep breath, Aziz ventured a proposal, “How about we go to Bowen Island this weekend?”
“Yes! Yes, yes… Please!” Talya screamed with delight.
Outwardly relaxed, Mark was sitting opposite Fred in his office. The agency’s chief had briefly explained the reasons for Khalid’s visit and the conclusions they had drawn during the meeting.
“So, you’ve warned him that if he paid a visit to Talya, it would create trouble for his family, is that it?” Mark asked.
“Yes… The visit itself would be innocuous,” Fred replied, “but we believe that Mossad would use it to demonstrate to the Palestinians that Israel has a powerful ally, which in turn would create unrest amongst Saudi’s neighbours.”
“And what do I do when I get him between four eyes?” Mark was afraid to hear the answer to that question. He was very much aware of what the agency could do in comparable circumstances. They could order the elimination of the meddling or unwanted party.
Fred looked at Mark with knowing concern. He knew what his agent had in mind. “No, we’re not going there, Mark, and you know what I mean. We need to know what his intentions are and we need to convince him to go back to Paris.”
The word ‘convince’ had a dozen connotations when it came to steer an individual in a particular direction.
“Okay…,” Mark said, not wanting to dwell on the subject any further. “Have you been able to locate him? He’s got almost 24 hours on us already…”
Fred waved a dismissive hand. “We know where he is not. That should give you a head start.”
“Oh sure,” Mark chortled, “I’ll get a bicycle from the garage...”
The chief couldn’t help but explode in roaring laughter. He was picturing Mark, in his Armani suit and silk tie, saddling a bike and chasing after his pedalling prey, clad in his princely, Arab garments, down the riverbank.
A grunt shook the folds of his jaw, and his laughter receding quickly into a low moo, Fred resumed, “Hum…, we know he sent the Lear back to Paris.”
“He did?” Mark was knocked for six. Khalid wouldn’t do that if he intended to leave the country in a hurry.
“Yes, and we’ve checked with the airlines: no record of any reservations made under either of his names. We’ve also checked with the car rental companies…”
“What about trains?” Mark asked.
Fred’s mouth fell open. He couldn’t picture Khalid taking a train anywhere. “No, we’ve not checked with any of the railways... What makes you think that our prince would take a train? He couldn’t get anywhere fast…”
“And that’s exactly why we should check with Via Rail. Khalid would have time to reach his destination undisturbed, without leaving much trace of his passage anywhere between here and wherever he’s going.”
“But we know where he’s going…”
“No, we don’t,” Mark cut in. “We only assume that he’s going to Vancouver because that was his original intent. But now, and after what you’ve told him, he could be going anywhere.”
“You mean we’ve got to chase a ghost again?”
During the investigation geared to finding Ben Slimane, the year before, the agency had been forced to chase the man across three continents until everyone concluded he was a ‘ghost’ and that until he was found dead in Michigan.
“Not quite, Chief. This time we’ve got a definite departure point and we’ve got a possible destination—Vancouver.”
“But from what you’ve just said, he might not choose to go to Vancouver at all.”
“Yes, but he might choose Vancouver as a stopover…”
“On his way to where?” Fred asked.
“I’ll answer that with another question; where did he intend to go right after Talya was gunned down?”
“You mean Honolulu?”
“Of course!” Fred erupted, “He’s going Down Under.”
“That’s what I think. You’ve mentioned during your meeting that you told him about Isaac, or whatever his name is right now…”
“Yes, him. And you told him where he was.”
“So, you think Khalid has taken a train to Vancouver and from there he’d be sailing for Australia?”
“That’s a possibility, yes, because Khalid is an obstinate fellow. He won’t let matter rest until he gets rid of any or all hindrances that would prevent him to reach his goal.”
“And as long as Samuel—or Mossad—is in the picture he won’t rest?” Fred paused. “But taking on Mossad by himself would be suicide. Do you think that’s what he wants—get himself killed?”
“No, I don’t think so, Chief. I think he wants revenge. He wants to do away with the man who destroyed Talya’s life, first.”
“And then what? He’ll be a sitting duck...”
Mark shook his head. “Not quite. Again, from the summary of your discussion with him, killing a Mossad agent would prove to his family that he has no allegiance to Israel and that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill any of them. He’s looking for approval, for support from his uncles, and the only way to do that and to avoid unrest in the Middle East is to demonstrate that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill another Israeli and a Mossad agent at that.”
“Jimmy!” Fred yelled, pressing the intercom button on his phone.
“Yes, sir,” the voice replied immediately.
“Get the departure schedules from Via Rail and Amtrak for trains going south or west from Montreal, will you? I’m waiting!”
“Yes, sir, right away.”
“And make that from Tuesday afternoon…”
“Okay, no problem.”
“Satisfied?” Fred asked, pressing the intercom button off, and locking his eyes on Mark’s face.
“That’s a start…, but I think we should look at flight departures from New York and San Francisco, too.”
“You mean he would bypass Vancouver altogether?”
“I’m not sure. I’d just like to cover all the bases.”
Fred grunted. “Do you want to do this alone, or do you want Benny with you?”
Having changed his appearance somewhat, dressed in jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, Khalid had boarded the evening Amtrak train in Montreal, which saw him arrive at his hotel in Washington D.C. in the early hours of the next morning. After breakfast, he made an appointment to have lunch with a friend of his uncle, a man by the name of Muhammad Sadir. Agent Sadir was high up the ladder of the CIA and had been instrumental in closing the dossier on Ben Slimane. During his meeting with Fred, Khalid had deliberately omitted to ask the assassin’s —Samuel Meshullam— precise location, not to alert the chief of his intentions. Vancouver had been his primary destination, but ever since Talya’s so called accident, Khalid had kept a secret desire to avenge her shooting by meeting the perpetrator face-to-face. However, now that his original plan had been upset and that he couldn’t possibly meet with Talya before he accomplished his goal, he had no alternative but to meet the problem head-on.
Muhammad Sadir waddled into the restaurant, looked around and finally asked the manager if he could lead him to Captain Sahab’s table. The man took him to a corner of the establishment, away from the brouhaha of the luncheon crowd.
Khalid stood up, bowed slightly to his guest and thanked the manager, who turned on his heels quickly and was gone. Sadir descended into the chair opposite his host, and before uttering the first word, peered into the eyes of his friend’s nephew with a querying stare.
Khalid held the gaze for a fraction of a second before he said, “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me in such short notice, Mr. Sadir.”
The CIA man waved a podgy hand in Khalid’s face but smiled. “Not at all, not at all, I’m the one who should thank you for taking the time.” Sadir paused, staring again. “But what brought you to D.C., or isn’t it something you’re ready to tell me?”
The discussion was not off to a good start, Khalid thought. He usually would take the lead in any conversation rather than the other way around.
“Shall we have lunch first?” Khalid suggested, picking up the menu from the side dish.
“Of course. I can readily appreciate your predicament, Captain Sahab, and having lunch will take the edginess between us, yes?”
Khalid didn’t reply. The man’s discernment bothered him.
The waiter broke the silence between the two patrons by asking if the gentlemen would like something to drink before lunch. A shake of their heads told him to move on to the next topic. “Shall I take your order now or would you like some time?”
Another wave of Sadir’s hand stopped him in mid-stream. “I’ll have a clubhouse—no bacon—and a soda,” he replied, handing him the menu.
“The same for me,” Khalid rejoined, “and a Perrier.”
“I’ll be right back,” the waiter uttered, taking the menu from Khalid’s extended hand.
Stretching his shoulders against the back of the chair, Sadir placed both hands on the armrests. His rotund girth and heavy frame fitted in the ample chair, only just. “As I said, I can understand your predicament, Captain Sahab, and after talking to your uncle…”
“You talked to uncle Abdullah?”
Sadir smiled. “Does it bother you?”
Khalid shook his head and lowered his eyes. “Not really, no.”
The drinks arrived at that moment, and while the waiter uncapped the two bottles of water and poured some in the glasses, the two men fell silent; Khalid noticeably exasperated and Mr. Sadir rapping his fingers on the edge of the table.
When the waiter had gone, Sadir went on, “Well then…, your esteemed uncle told me that he hadn’t heard from you since Ms Kartz’s unfortunate accident and although he has tried to contact you, you have not responded to his repeated calls. I would not want to intercede in your family affairs, Captain, but as your uncle’s long-time friend I am duty bound to ask you, in plain language: what’s going on?”
Khalid felt uncomfortable. This man had seen through him. It was as if he could read his mind. He raised his eyes to him. “That’s what I came here to find out.”
Sadir guffawed. “I see. And you think I have the answers you seek?” He shook his head. “No, Khalid Saif Al-Fadir, I don’t. You are a prince among kings, you are part of the elite of this world and in all humility, Your Highness, you can’t expect me or the CIA to ask you to do our job for us.”
“But you know where I can find him.”
“If we’re talking about someone who’s recently moved to Sydney, the answer is yes. But”—Sadir brought his forearms to rest on either side of the plate in front of him—“if you expect me to send you to Australia to get yourself killed, the answer is no”
“What makes you think I have any intention of going to Australia?” Khalid asked.
“Don’t take me for a fool, Your Highness. Your presence here tells me that you’ve probably been told Mossad is expecting you to make a move. They have been waiting for you to go to Vancouver or make your way to Sydney for seven months now. The minute you set foot on Aussie soil, you will be signing your death warrant. The sniper is waiting for you, Khalid Saif Al-Fadir.”
The waiter’s return to the table interrupted the conversation abruptly. While he deposited a voluminous dish in front of each man, Sadir retreated to the back of the chair again.
Khalid shot a quick glance in the waiter’s direction. “Thank you,” he said, a thin, hesitant smile crossing his lips.
Looking at the withdrawing waiter, and exhaling audibly, Sadir continued, “As I said and I repeat; I quite understand your predicament, Your Highness. On the one hand you want to avenge Ms Kartz’s ordeal, and on the other, should you decide to go against our advice, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a Mossad assassin who’s been waiting for you to appear on his doorsteps for months.” He grabbed one of the sandwiches and bit a mouthful of it.