A SLEEPING DOGS THRILLER
John Wayne Falbey
Endangered Species is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 John Wayne Falbey.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher, The Falbey Group LLC
Cover Design: Tatiana Vila
CAVEAT: This is of a complete novel that consists of five parts. It is not the complete novel. The complete novel is available at various online sources including KOBO, Amazon, iBooks, Nook, and Shakespir.
No man is an island…
The fifteenth century English poet nailed it. No one, no matter how independent-minded, is truly alone. Someone can be self-absorbed, or pride himself or herself on self-sufficiency, but there is a whole world out there constantly spinning around them. As an only child, I liked to believe in my completeness and independence from that world. But I was wrong. My world is full and rich, made more so by the presence of one very special person—Annie. She’s my Muse, my greatest source of encouragement, and the love of my life. Thanks, Sweetheart; this one’s for you.
Table of Contents
PART 1: Dog Bites Man
For Those Who Came Late…
This is Part 1 of the second novel in the Sleeping Dogs series of political thrillers. The following is a brief summary of the action in the first book in the series, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening—
The President of the United States has been targeted for assassination—by his own handlers. The killing must look as if the president’s political opposition is responsible. Desperate to prevent the crime and prevent the overwhelming outpouring of sympathy that will only further empower the real killers, the opposition turns to the only force that can stop it this late in the game—a mysterious hunter-killer team known only as the Sleeping Dogs. This blackest of black ops units was formed to carry out America’s wettest, most politically incorrect missions abroad. Eventually, a U.S. President, fearing discovery of the unit’s existence could spark an international crisis, ordered its members terminated with extreme prejudice. They escaped by faking their deaths in a plane crash, and went underground. Now, 20 years later, they are asked to leave the safety of their anonymity and risk their lives for their country one more time.
A seemingly unconnected car crash rapidly escalates into a series of plot twists and a rising body count involving Russian agents, crooked politicians, Ukrainian gangsters, a billionaire international arbitrageur, a secret society of patriots in the military and intelligence communities, the CIA, a doggedly determined FBI agent, and the six deadliest men on earth—the surviving Sleeping Dogs. The body count begins to soar from the first chapter, as Brendan Whelan and the other Dogs relentlessly pursue the would-be assassins and their handlers. As they do, they begin to uncover, layer by layer, a plot to bring America to her knees and impose a one-world government on the planet. The enemy is powerful, with access to unlimited funds and the ability to manipulate the rogue nations of the world. The one thing the enemy doesn’t have is the Sleeping Dogs.
Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening is a techno-political spy thriller. It combines relentless action, crisp dialogue, fully drawn characters, and thought provoking plot twists. Squarely on the same page with David Baldacci, Brad Thor, Lee Child and other best-selling thriller writers.
Endangered Species: A Sleeping Dogs Thriller
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Brendan Whelan – an innkeeper in Dingle, Ireland, and leader of the deadly hunter-killer special ops unit known as the Sleeping Dogs
Caitlin Whelan – Brendan’s wife and partner
Cliff Levell – former Marine and CIA operative now leader of the Society of Adam Smith (SAS), a shadow government attempting to counter the elected government’s destruction of American values and freedoms. He’s confined to a wheelchair because of injuries incurred in an automobile accident
Mitch Christie – an agent of the FBI pursuing Whelan and the other Dogs
Harland Fairchilde IV – a fourth generation scion of an über wealthy family and leader of the Alliance for Global Unity (AGU), a global organization of financiers and government officials seeking to impose a one-world structure on mankind
Maksym Kozak – a ruthless killer and genetic freak who works for the highest bidder
Kirill Federov – a former Spetsnaz (Russian special ops) colonel serving in the SVR, Russia’s external intelligence agency
The Sleeping Dogs (together with Brendan Whelan, the deadliest hunter-killer special ops unit in history; genetically evolved—Mother Nature’s beta models for humans in future generations):
Sven Larsen – the most physically powerful of the Dogs and closest to Whelan
Marc Kirkland – an esthete and master of martial arts fighting and weapons techniques
Nick Stensen – a loner and certifiably insane; he hunts down and kills criminals who have escaped the law
Quentin Thomas – a philosopher king; the best pure athlete of the Dogs and professor of Eastern philosophies
Rafe Almeida – genetically gifted like the other Dogs, but an inveterate substance abuser and skirt-chaser
Tom Murphy – Caitlin Whelan’s father and a former member of the UK’s SBS; currently An Garda Síochána (the Irish National Police force) District Superintendent for County Kerry, Ireland
Padraig (Paddy) Murphy – Caitlin’s brother and the Sergeant in Charge of the An Garda Síochána station in Dingle, Ireland
General Roscoe “Buster” McCoy – Marine Corps 2-Star General and head of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, or MARSOC
Maureen Delaney – chief executive of one of the largest and most successful technology companies on the planet, and Levell’s love interest
Rhee Kang-Dae – Levell’s personal assistant, driver, and bodyguard
The Mueller Brothers (Alfred, Hermann, and Tomas) – billionaire industrialists and patriots who fund SAS operations and provided leading edge technological support
Camila Ramirez – a sheriff’s deputy in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Mitch Christie’s lady friend
Lou Antonelli – an agent of the FBI and Mitch Christie’s coworker
Dr. William Nishioki – a geneticist who, with his late colleague Jacob Horowitz, discovered the advanced genetic makeup and helped Levell and McCoy recruit the Dogs; retired and living in coastal California
Gennady Vasilyev – Russian general and head of SVR, Russia’s external intelligence agency
Prince Bandar bin Nayif al Saud – head of Saudi general intelligence
Prince Khalid bin Salmon al-Rahman – Saudi minister of finance
Nadir Shah – leader of the Holy Army of the Caliphate, a radical group establishing an Islamic state in the Middle East
Zheng Bao Xun – the minister of finance for the People’s Republic of China
Harold Case – retired CIA employee who uncovered the supposedly destroyed Agency file on the Sleeping Dogs while in the employ of Sen. Howard Morris
Chaim Laski – international arbitrageur and financial manager for a far-left organization seeking to destroy the USA from within
Senator Howard Morris – a powerful senator from New York and darling of the far-left causes. He has presidential aspirations
Shepard Jenkins – Morris’s chief campaign advisor
Aaron Rickover – a rookie agent at the FBI
Jim Franconia – the CIA’s liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Andrei Ulyanin – former Spetsnaz colleague of Federov’s, now working with him in Iraq
Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.
- Niccolo Machiavelli
PART ONE: DOG BITES MAN
Chapter 1—Dingle, Ireland
Barring sleep disorders, most people’s sleep habits are distributed in the center of the bell curve. But there are outliers. Some of them can sleep through an earthquake or hurricane. Then there are those few who wake up at the sound of a fly landing on the wall—in the next room. Brendan Whelan was one of them.
Something woke him, but it wasn’t an insect. It was something common, yet out of the ordinary for the time of night and place, like a guitar riff in the middle of a trackless desert. He couldn’t quite place the sound, but he sensed danger. He kept his eyes closed and listened carefully, intently. He was gifted with an unusual genetic makeup that gave him unique physical abilities. That, and years of highly specialized military and survival training, made him appreciate the value of caution. It had been reinforced by years of living a lie, constantly glancing over his shoulder for the pursuit he knew would come someday.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly he slid his hand across the sheet and gently touched the warm, still form beside him. He could hear Caitlin breathing gently and steadily. He strained to hear sounds coming from the room their boys, Sean and Declan, shared. There was only silence and darkness. He opened one eye very slightly, just a sliver. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he slowly opened both of them. Nothing seemed amiss. He slid silently from beneath the covers and slipped out of bed.
The original part of the Fianna House Bed and Breakfast, or teach an Fianna in Gaelic, had been built in the late eighteenth century as a small farm bungalow on the outskirts of Dingle, Ireland. By the early part of the twentieth century, it gradually had been expanded into a three-story manor house. Before they were married, Whelan and Caitlin had acquired the property and developed it into a ten-bedroom, ten-bathroom inn with kitchen, dining room, library/sitting area, and a small office. Their third floor bedroom was part of the original structure. The wooden floor in that part of the house had been worn smooth over the decades. It felt cool on the bottoms of his bare feet. The old floor had spots where it creaked in complaint at human footsteps. Whelan found all those areas on his first night in the house and was careful now to avoid them.
It was mid-April and the temperatures in Dingle ranged from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties Fahrenheit, or from 6°C to 12°C. Whelan, who slept naked regardless of the temperature, grabbed a pair of well-worn denim cutoffs from the top of a chest that stood at the foot of the bed. He quickly and quietly slipped into them. He thought momentarily about reaching for the SIG SAUER P226 MK25 he kept in a special holster attached to the sideboard of the bed, but decided against it. It had been converted from the original 9mm to .40 caliber. With three family members and a guest in the house, that weapon would be too dangerous to use. An errant slug could rip through the walls and strike an innocent victim.
The Kel-Tek KSG shotgun would have been his weapon of choice. Its internal dual tube magazines each held six rounds of three-inch 12 gauge shells. The chamber held a thirteenth. He clenched his teeth in momentary frustration. He’d let his oldest son, Sean, practice field stripping it. It was still in the room Sean shared with his younger brother. Whelan was six feet two inches and two hundred twenty-five pounds with no measurable body fat. And he had those unique genetic gifts. Unless there were armed intruders in the house, a firearm would be overkill.
The Dingle peninsula, in Southwestern Ireland, juts out into the wild and stormy Atlantic. As a result, the area experiences a more difficult and unpredictable climate than almost any other location in Ireland. Whelan was grateful that this night was one of the rare calm moments. It made it easier for his ears to distinguish aberrant sounds. He paused in front of the closed double doors that opened into the hallway and listened intently. Somewhere in the house he heard something that didn’t belong. It sounded like a muffled cry. It was there for just a moment, and then it was gone.
He flattened himself against the left panel of the door and slowly cracked open the right panel. Nothing moved in the hallway. He heard only silence. Moving quietly, he eased the door open farther and slipped through it, closing it softly behind him. Somehow the gesture made him feel that Caitlin was more secure. Gliding silently along the hall dimly illuminated by nightlights, he reached the door to his sons’ room. It was open a crack. He hoped it was because one of the boys had gone to the bathroom and neglected to close it all the way on his return.
He glanced through the crack and neither saw nor heard anything out of the ordinary. Gently pushing the door open, he slipped into the room. Except for the two boys curled up in their respective beds, it was empty. As he was about to turn and leave, Sean sat up. Whelan quickly raised a finger to his lips cautioning silence. Sean looked at him for a moment then raised his hands palms up in the universal questioning gesture. Whelan pointed at each of the boys then at their beds, signaling that they were not to get up. Sean nodded his head.
Whelan stepped back into the hallway and continued noiselessly toward the staircase at its end. There were no guests staying in any of the other rooms on the top floor. Nonetheless, he checked each room before moving on. He descended the stairs quietly and carefully, still straining to hear something, anything, besides the normal sounds an old dwelling makes in the night. He thought he heard a bedspring squeak followed by what sounded like a shoe scraping against the wooden floor.
It was a slow time of year for tourists in Dingle. Only one guest room was occupied that evening. A retired spinster schoolteacher, Miss Elenora Tankersley from Sheffield, England, had been an annual visitor for several years, preferring to come during the off season when rates were at their lowest. She was an excellent guest, always prim and fastidious. She demanded the same room every year. Her days were spent strolling the surrounding countryside between the frequent rainstorms, or alone in her room editing her memoirs, which she intended to publish one day. Brendan and Caitlin Whelan wondered how such a solitary and introverted soul could have memoirs that would interest anyone. Although she was invited frequently to join the Whelan family for dinner, Miss Tankersley preferred to dine alone at one of the pubs she favored in Dingle. Following dinner, she would retire early. Tonight hadn’t been an exception.
Whelan paused at the bottom of the stairs. Miss Tankersley’s room was two doors down the hall and on the left. Her door was open, as were the other empty guestroom doors. That was an anomaly. A very shy and private person, she always kept the door closed when she was in her room. His adrenaline level began to climb. He moved swiftly to the first open door, crouched very low against the jamb and peered quickly into the room. Empty. He edged along the hallway to Miss Tankersley’s room and repeated the process.
This time he saw something. There were two men in the room. One was stretched across an inert body on the bed, Miss Tankersley’s. The man clearly was pinning her down. The other man was holding a pillow over the elderly woman’s face. Both men were large, but that wasn’t what stopped Whelan from rushing into the room. It was the Makarov PM 9mm suppressed pistol being brandished by the man pinning the victim’s body. Whelan silently cursed himself for deciding not to bring the Sig with him. He needed a plan, and quickly.
As his mind raced to connect the necessary dots, the man who was smothering Miss Tankersley slowly raised the pillow. He placed two fingers against her neck above the common carotid artery. After a moment, he glanced at his companion, smiled and nodded. The second man rose slowly from his victim’s lifeless form and spoke softly to his companion. Whelan recognized it as an Eastern European language and thought it might be Ukrainian, a language he had encountered in the recent past.
He quickly edged away from the doorframe and backed along the hall to the room nearest the stairs. Ducking into it, he flattened himself against the wall just inside the door. He could hear the two men as they exited the late Miss Tankersley’s room. They were coming down the hall toward him. They would have completed a search of the second floor and eliminated anyone there. It was Miss Tankersley’s misfortune to be on holiday at the wrong time. Whelan knew they would take the stairs to the third floor where his wife and sons were. He harbored no doubts about the men’s intentions.
As they walked past his hiding place, Whelan sprang out behind them. He grabbed each man by the nape of his neck with a grip so tight it all but paralyzed his victims. He smashed their heads together with bone-crushing force. Only a handful of individuals with similar genetics were capable of such power. Instantly unconscious, the men collapsed. Whelan cursed silently as the Makarov fell from one of the men’s hand and hit the floor with a dull thud. He pinned their bodies with a knee in each man’s chest, and wrapped a hand around each of their exposed throats. His fingers and thumbs closed around the pharyngeal muscles, aortae, trachea, and esophagus with such power they nearly met in front of the cervical vertebrae. He leaned forward from the waist then suddenly straightened and yanked his arms upward with all of his power. It ripped most of the anterior portion of each victim’s neck completely free of the body—a huge wolf dismembering lesser beings that threatened his mate and their pups.
He wiped his gore-covered hands on the dead men’s clothing, picked up the Makarov, checked its magazine, and rose to continue the hunt.
Chapter 2—FBI Field Office, Albuquerque, NM
Mitch Christie stared out the bulletproof glass window of his office in the bombproof FBI Field Office Building. It was a full-size window, an improvement over the sliver of glass in his old office at HQ in Washington. The sky above Albuquerque, New Mexico was cornflower blue and cloudless. He was oblivious to it and the striking beauty of the rugged spine of the Sandia Mountains rising in the distance. His mind was momentarily blank. It was better that way, he knew. Troubling thoughts kept trying to intrude, interrupting his efforts to concentrate on the task at hand. Barely two months ago the Bureau had relieved him of his duties as Supervisory Special Agent on the most important investigation of his career. The transfer to the Albuquerque Field Office as Assistant Special Agent in Charge was a demotion, not a lateral move. He wasn’t sure he’d ever make the adjustment to the dry Southwestern climate. As if on cue, an area on his right calf began to itch. It was one of many similar areas that covered his body, as his skin struggled to adjust. The lining of his nasal passages was still dry and bleeding.
He had been struggling all morning to put together notes for the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force meeting that afternoon. OCDETF, a combination of federal, state, and local investigative and prosecutorial agencies, was tasked with expanding and intensifying the U.S. government’s anti-drug mission. It conducted collaborative long-term investigations against major drug trafficking organizations.
He was co-chair of the Task Force along with a captain from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department. He hated the OCDETF part of his job, and knew that was contributing to his difficulty concentrating on prepping for the meeting. He continued to gaze out the window, almost sightlessly. There was more to the problem than having to work with the Task Force.
He had come to realize that he hated his whole job, every aspect of it. Christie had been an FBI agent for almost twenty years, since his graduation from law school. For years the job had been the focal point of his life. That’s where the damage had been done. Without realizing what he was doing, he’d allowed the demands of the Bureau to supersede those of his family. Now, they were gone. His wife, Deborah, had left him almost a year ago. Their two kids, Brett and Samantha, sixteen and fourteen, had chosen to live with their mother in Maryland. Thinking of them, of what he had lost, triggered the knot in his chest again.
Subconsciously, he raised his coffee mug to his lips as if swallowing might wash the discomfort away. The coffee was cold. Stone cold. He quickly spit it out and thumped the mug back on his desktop. A few drops sloshed out and stained his blotter. He continued to hold the mug’s handle in a tight grip. His other hand slowly reached for his abdominal area and began to massage a familiar spot. It was just below and to the left of his solar plexus, over his stomach. He reached involuntarily for the upper right hand drawer of his desk then remembered. There was no Mylanta. Its manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, had recalled the product some time ago. It still had not returned to the market.
He sighed and dug in a pants pocket for his package of Rolaids. It’s a hell of a thing that it’s come to this, he thought. Lost my family, developed a disloyal stomach, and hate my job. He remembered when he started with the Bureau. He had been on a fast track to achieving his goal: the rank of at least Assistant Director, then follow his wife’s urgings and retire with a nice pension by the time he was fifty-five. The next step would have been to find a cush, non-stressful job as an executive with a private security firm. Now, those dreams were gone.
But it wasn’t just the demands of the Bureau that had ruined his world. That damn Brendan Whelan was the real culprit. Jesus, I hate that Irish bastard, he thought. His hand tightened on the flesh of his abdomen as a sharp wave of pain coursed through his stomach. Him and his gang of misanthropic genetic mutants, the so-called Sleeping Dogs. They supposedly were the blackest of black ops groups, and were supposed to have been killed in a plane crash twenty years earlier. The long, hard slide in Christie’s career had started when the late Harold Case outed the Dogs on the orders of his former employer, ex-Senator Howard Morris. In the process, it got Case killed along with Morris’s puppet master, the billionaire Chaim Laski. Now Morris, a once-powerful politician who had enjoyed the inside track to his party’s nomination for president, was a nonentity.
Christie had heard that Morris was now a pathetic figure, too terrified of everyone and everything even to leave his home. Serves him right, Christie thought bitterly, the meddlesome, self-promoting sonofabitch. His actions ultimately led that old Cold Warrior, Cliff Levell, and his shadowy group of super patriots, the Society of Adam Smith, informally known as the SAS, to reactivate the Dogs. As the Bureau’s Supervisory Special Agent in the Harold Case affair, Christie’s job had been to find Case’s killer. Eventually, evidence led to the discovery that the members of the Sleeping Dogs unit were alive. Worse, the Society had engaged their services to thwart what it saw as the threat of Marxist domination from the party of Howard Morris and the current president of the United States. Another sharp pain sliced through his stomach and Christie reflexively tossed another Rolaids into his mouth.
He turned away from the window and looked over at his desk, specifically the framed picture of his family. It wasn’t enough that, despite his best efforts and the tremendous pressure Christie had been under to break the case, he was unable to make much progress. No, he remembered, Levell had perceived a threat to Christie’s family. He honored a deathbed pledge he had made to his wife’s father, a fellow Marine who had saved Levell’s life in a firefight in Vietnam. He had the Dogs kidnap Christie’s wife and children and hold them in protective custody. It didn’t matter so much that Levell had been right; that Laski’s Ukrainian thugs really had intended to harm his family. What did matter to him was his wife’s reaction.
Christie’s anger began to rise. Deborah had steadfastly rejected his explanation that she was suffering from a form of the Stockholm Syndrome. Instead, she insisted that Whelan and his men were kind and wonderful men who had saved her and the children. And she seemed smitten with Whelan. While she had steadfastly denied that anything had happened between them, he sensed that she had begun to compare him to Whelan. Clearly, he hadn’t measured up. After eighteen years of marriage and being completely faithful to his wedding vows, how could she have done this to him? It was Whelan’s fault. He must have seduced her. The thought sent another agonizing bolt through his stomach. He grabbed his abdomen with one hand and squeezed as tight as he could while popping two more Rolaids with the other.
There was a light knock on his office door. A moment later his boss opened it and walked in. Annette Wojakowski was short and chunky with short dark hair and wire rim glasses. She was wearing one of her usual business suits. Today it was navy blue wool, a size or two too small, with a short skirt better worn by a woman with more attractive legs. She walked over to one of his side chairs and sat heavily on the edge of the seat, knees primly locked together.
Skipping small talk, she said, “What are you working on?”
Christie didn’t like the woman and knew the feeling was mutual. The higher ups in the Justice Department and Bureau had become disappointed in his failure to make progress in the Case affair. Also, they couldn’t help but notice the effect his marital problems were having on him. They decided he had risen as high in his career as he was capable. There would be no further upward mobility for him. Wojakowski, the Albuquerque SAC, had been forced to reshuffle her personnel and procedures to accommodate the transfer. She hadn’t liked it.
“I’m putting together some notes for this afternoon’s drug enforcement task force meeting,” he said.
“What time is the meeting?”
Wojakowski looked at him for a moment. It was a cold, unfriendly look. “You have other assignments that need attention too. I wouldn’t expect preparing for that meeting would require much effort.”
Christie shrugged. His stomach felt as if it was filling with molten lava, but he didn’t want to pop a Rolaids in front of Wojakowski. She would interpret it as a sign of weakness. He knew she didn’t want him on her staff, and assumed she was looking for excuses to get rid of him.
“Don’t you have a cochair, a sheriff’s deputy or something?”
Christie nodded. “A captain. Tom Burkhardt.”
“Whatever. Why don’t you let him make these preparations?”
Now it was Christie’s turn to give Wojakowski a hard look. “The Bureau has a terrible reputation with local law enforcement agencies. Part of that has been caused by us sloughing off the grunt work on them. I’m trying to improve on that image.”
The SAC pointed an index finger at Christie and began wagging it slowly back and forth. “Our work is much more important than anything these local yokels do. I hope you understand that.”
Christie gritted his teeth and nodded.
“I didn’t ask to have you assigned to my office, Agent Christie. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to accommodate Washington’s wishes by finding things for you to do. In addition to representing this office on the drug enforcement task force, I had you join the Safe Streets Task Force and work with Special Agent Carty, the New Mexico InfraGard Coordinator. Furthermore, I’ve tasked you with certain personnel duties and providing assistance and training for some of our younger members. But, frankly, I haven’t seen you doing much of anything.”
He was silent for a moment, struggling to ignore the insult. “As one of the two Assistant SACs in this office, my job description includes supervising the ERT,” he said in reference to the Albuquerque Evidence Response Team, which conducted crime scene investigations and collected physical evidence using the techniques of forensic science. The team was trained and equipped to collect and record physical evidence in accordance with current scientific standards and procedures so that the evidence could be effectively analyzed in a forensic laboratory and stand up under scrutiny in a court of law. “That’s an area where I have solid experience, but, frankly, some of these jobs you’ve assigned to me seem far less important and tend to interfere with my ERT duties.
“Look, Ms. Wojakowski, I can appreciate your situation. You didn’t ask for me to be assigned here. But I’m here and I bring many years of valuable experience with the Bureau. With all due respect, the work you’ve assigned to me is practically insulting. I am capable of making a much more significant contribution to this office.”
The SAC sat forward, hands folded in her lap, knees still tightly locked. “Are you challenging my authority, Agent Christie? You’re not a Supervisory Special Agent in Washington, D.C. anymore.” Anger and disapproval smoldered in her small, dark, widely spaced eyes.
“No, Ms. Wojakowski, I…”
“It’s Agent Wojakowski,” she snapped.
Christie stared at her for a couple of seconds. Things weren’t going well. They rarely did where Wojakowski was concerned. He started again. “Excuse me, Agent Wojakowski, I’m not challenging your authority. I’m just suggesting that I have a great deal of valuable experience that could be helpful to the Albuquerque office.”
She pushed her wire rim glasses up the bridge of her short, wide nose. It reminded Christie of a pig’s snout.
“Valuable experience? I suppose you’re referring to how badly you handled the case involving that gang of psychopathic ex-military killers? The ones who tried to assassinate POTUS, but killed the AG instead; then butchered Chaim Laski and 20 or so of his household staff? The ones you couldn’t apprehend even though they appear to have been operating under your nose? Is that the experience you’re referring to, Agent?”
For one of the very few times in his life, Christie felt a strong desire to knock a fellow agent senseless, and a female at that. He struggled mightily to maintain self-control. The fire in his stomach blazed to new heights.
“Actually,” he managed to say through clenched jaws, “the group you referenced was the finest Special Ops unit this country, or any other, has ever produced. And they didn’t attempt to assassinate the president. In fact, they were trying to stop it from happening. Laski was behind the plot and, as it turned out, was laundering money for a foreign power whose goal was the destruction of our country from within. And his ‘household staff’, as you call them, were nothing more than Ukrainian thugs in this country illegally to carry out Laski’s dirty work.”
All but addicted to confrontation, Wojakowski was warming to the fight. She slid her wide bottom forward in the chair until she was barely balanced on the very edge. The action slid her short skirt up, revealing a portion of her heavy thighs. No fan of overweight women, Christie was disgusted by it and kept his eyes locked with hers.
A smirk spread across Wojakowski’s round face. “As I recall, you mishandled the matter so badly that you actually sat next to the gang’s leader on a cross-country flight without realizing who he was.” Proud of herself, she slid back a bit in the chair and tugged modestly at the hem of her skirt.
“Where did you hear that?”
“The entire Bureau and most of Washington has gotten a good laugh out of that one.”
Christie shook his head and sighed. “No, it wasn’t like that at all. The man’s name was Whelan, Brendan Whelan, and we had no idea what he looked like or that he even was alive. He and the others were supposed to have died in a plane crash off Puerto Rico twenty years earlier.”
“Really?” Her smirk was bigger now. “And, while you were bumbling through the investigation, this Whelan person kidnapped your wife. As I understand it, shortly after that she left you.”
Christie was speechless. He sat and stared at his boss.
Wojakowski stood up, rising to a full five feet three inches including two-inch heels. “I’m of the opinion that you mishandled every aspect of that investigation. That, together with your inability to deal emotionally with the end of your marriage, got you transferred out here. Now you’re my problem. But let’s be very clear. This office is not a charity. It’s not a refuge for failed agents.” She paused for effect then said, “Understand this, you will do whatever I tell you to do, exactly when and how I tell you to do it. Otherwise, I will do everything in my power to have your career with the Bureau terminated.”
She paused again then added, “We won’t be having this conversation again.”
She glanced at her watch and said, “I have a lunch meeting.” With that, she turned abruptly and walked out of the room leaving the door open. Just then another agent, Emory Wallace, walked by. He stopped and turned to watch Wojakowski’s retreating backside for a moment, then looked at Christie, winked and gave him a thumbs up sign.
“The Polish Viper strikes again,” he said. “But don’t worry, it’s not poisonous. Usually.”
Chapter 3—Dingle, Ireland
If someone or some organization wanted Whelan dead, they would leave no potential witnesses. That meant his family members also were targeted. It also meant that the party responsible knew who he was and what his physical capabilities were. They wouldn’t have sent only two men to accomplish the task. That would be like taking the proverbial knife to a gunfight. He knew there would be more intruders in the house.
However many would-be assassins remained, Whelan knew they had to be on the first floor. He intended to kill all but one, saving that poor soul for interrogation using methods that would shock even the CIA. He quietly approached the staircase and peered carefully around the corner. There was a man with a bulky build standing at the foot of the stairs looking up. He must have heard the sound of the Makarov hitting the wooden floor and was coming to investigate. With the inhuman quickness his rare genetic gifts provided him, Whelan spun around the corner in a crouch, the suppressed Makarov extended in front of him. The other man didn’t have those genetic gifts. Before he could even raise his own weapon, Whelan double tapped him; the first shot in the thorax, the second in his head. His body bounced off the wall behind him and toppled forward. This portion of the floor was carpeted. This time there was minimal sound as the dead man’s weapon hit the floor.
Whelan began slowly, cautiously descending the stairs, still in a half crouch, sweeping the dead man’s pistol from left to right and back like a metronome. An acrid smell burned his nostrils. Someone was smoking in his house. That almost was reason enough to kill the offender. The bottom of the stairs opened into the foyer. He paused and strained to hear sounds that didn’t belong in the house at night. After several moments, he heard something that sounded like a metal object being dragged across wood. It came from the kitchen.
The stairs emptied into the foyer. The kitchen was located to his left, beyond the dining area that opened off the foyer. He scanned the room. Seeing no one, he edged cautiously to his left into the dining area. It was empty. He moved silently across the room to the doorway that opened into the kitchen and swiftly glanced in. There was a heavyset man sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette. His left hand was resting on another suppressed Makarov. Moving the heavy gun across the top of the wooden table must have made the sound Whelan had heard. There also was a cell phone on the table. Whelan assumed the man was planning to use it to report to someone when the job was finished.
The intruder was sitting sideways to the kitchen doorway taking long, frequent drags on his cigarette, and flicking the ashes on the floor. Whelan wanted to strangle him on the spot; but he didn’t know if this man was the only surviving assassin or if there were others in the house. He was close enough to the man to easily place a kill shot with his own Makarov. Instead, he wanted to take him alive. If he were the only survivor, Whelan wanted to interrogate him. He needed to know who had sent these men and why. More might be coming in the future. Whelan got the man’s attention by saying, “Pssst.”
The smoker slowly turned his head toward Whelan. The last thing he expected was a target who turned the tables on him. His eyes came to rest on the baleful eye of the Makarov’s suppressor. He struggled for a moment to suspend disbelief then his hand twitched involuntarily on his own pistol. Whelan’s finger tightened slightly on the trigger of weapon. He smiled a cold, menacing smile and shook his head slowly back and forth. The man moved his hand away from the Makarov. Whelan signaled for him to raise his hands and stand. As he did, Whelan swiftly closed the gap until he was standing close to his captive.
“Do you speak English?” he said.
The man gave him a blank look. Whelan asked again in Gaelic. The blank stare continued. He switched to Russian.
This time the man responded in nuanced Russian, as if it was a second language but related to his native tongue. “Yes, I can speak Russian.”
“How many of you are there?”
The man paused then smirked a bit and said, “Ten”.
Before the man could react, Whelan’s left hand grasped the collar of his windbreaker while his right hand shoved the tip of the Makarov’s suppressor nearly down the man’s throat. It broke several of his teeth and lacerated the roof of his mouth and tongue. He gagged and tried to struggle, but he was a Norm—a normal human being; no match for Whelan.
Whelan leaned in close to the man’s right ear and softly snarled. “Let’s try that again. How many?” The tip of the Makarov never withdrew from the man’s mouth.
The man’s eyes opened wide in pain and fear. He held up his left hand with the four fingers and the thumb extended, indicating five assassins.
Whelan shoved him back into the chair and placed the muzzle of the automatic pistol against the center of the man’s forehead. “I killed two men upstairs and one in the stairwell. Where’s number five?” He ground the tip of his weapon into the man’s flesh for emphasis. The temperature in the kitchen was in the mid-sixties, but the man was beginning to sweat profusely. His eyes never wavered from Whelan’s face.
Whelan heard a sound behind him. It was the unmistakable sound of a hammer being cocked back. A voice also speaking accented Russian said, “You do not have to look for number five. He has found you.”
Whelan turned slowly and looked over his left shoulder. The fifth man indeed was there, and training a Russian-made PP-19 Bizon submachine gun at his back. It had an AKS-74 type folding butt with pistol grip and cylindrical magazine. His memory told him it held somewhere between 45 and 60 rounds. The man was close enough that he couldn’t possible miss, yet far enough away that Whelan couldn’t spin and deflect the muzzle before the weapon was fired. Smart bastards. Someone warned them to keep a safe distance because of my skill sets.
His stomach suddenly felt queasy as he realized what would happen to Caitlin and their boys. His own fate was of little concern to him. It was his family that mattered. He had let them down; failed to protect them. The thing that bothered him most was the likelihood that there would be no one to track down these bastards and kill them. And kill those who had sent them.
The man with the PP-19 Bizon said, “Put your pistol on the table. Slowly.”
Whelan gritted his teeth and obeyed. Maybe there would be a moment, a nanosecond, when these men would get careless and give him an opportunity to kill them.
The man in the chair picked up his own Makarov, stood and spit out pieces of teeth. Careful not to be in his comrade’s line of fire, he drew back his arm and swung the weapon at Whelan, striking him viciously across the left side of his forehead. Whelan rocked back a bit, but otherwise didn’t move. Puny Norms, he thought, as stars briefly flashed through his consciousness. He felt the warm flow of blood beginning to trickle down his face.
The man he had abused spit in his face. It was bloody spittle from his injured mouth. There might have been small specks of teeth in it. He stuffed the pistol in his waistband and stepped backwards a few feet. “Now,” he said, “we kill you then we kill wife and sons. I am told your wife is beautiful woman.” He leered a bloody leer. “She will be good fuck. Your sons will watch. Then we kill them all. Slowly.” He nodded at the man holding the PP-19 Bizon. The man took a few steps backward to avoid being spattered by Whelan’s blood.
Chapter 4—Albuquerque, NM
It was just after six o’clock in the afternoon when Mitch Christie left the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. The large, T-shaped building on the southwest corner of Roma Avenue and 4th Street NW, occupied the entire block. The five-story portion fronted on Roma. The base of the tee was a three-story structure that stretched south toward Marquette Avenue. Like every building in New Mexico—residential or commercial, or so it seemed to Christie, it was a boring buff color. Must be a local fetish, he thought. Blends in with the sepia, russet, and sandstone hues of the high desert.
Average temperatures in Albuquerque, New Mexico in April range between the mid-forties and high sixties Fahrenheit. Christie paused and buttoned the jacket of his lightweight suit. The sun was dropping quickly toward the western horizon. Albuquerque was in the grasslands transition area between the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert and the beginning of the pine forests and high plains that stretched north to Santa Fe and into the mountains beyond. The barren countryside didn’t retain heat at night, and a brisk breeze added to the chill factor. He shivered briefly and thought about the warmer clothes in the closet of his small apartment twenty miles away.
Christie glanced at his image reflected in a side window of a car parked at the curb. What he saw disturbed him. The face staring back at him was gaunt, skin stretched tight over cheekbones and brow. Bloodshot eyes held a haunted look, framed by dark semi-circles like the black smudges football players use to reduce glare. The clothes he wore were badly rumpled and hung loosely on his thinning frame. His five o’clock shadow had lost several additional hours in its battle with the clock. He stared at the reflection for several seconds. I used to a decent looking man, he thought. Athletic and trim, but far from gaunt. I’m starting to look like a man who’s running out of time on this planet.
He was startled by a hand clapping him on the shoulder and a voice that said, “This is not the kind of weather a man stands around in, not when he’s dressed the way you are.” He turned to see Tom Burkhardt, the sheriff’s captain who co-chaired the OCDETF with him.
“You look like a guy who lost has last friend, Mitch. You okay?”
Christie hesitated for a couple of beats, searching for the right thing to say. Finally, he said, “Yeah, Tom, I’m fine.”
Burkhardt looked him up and down and said, “You don’t look like a man who’s doing fine. You wanna grab a drink and talk?”
Again, Christie was slow to respond. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m not much of a conversationalist these days.”
“I noticed. Your body was in the meeting this afternoon, but the rest of you was someplace else.” He paused for a moment then took a firm grip on Christie’s arm and said “C’mon. There’s a nice watering hole in the next block.”
Christie offered little resistance and the two men walked down the street to a small bar. It was a narrow space between a bail bondsman’s office and a pawnshop. The windows looked as if they hadn’t been washed in a long time, if ever. A fading neon sign identified it as Black Jack’s Tavern. Christie assumed it was named in honor of General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing. He had led the 1916 expedition into Mexico to find and punish the Mexican revolutionary and thug, Pancho Villa. The bandit and his ragtag followers had crossed the border and raided Columbus, New Mexico in March of that year. Ultimately, Pershing had been unsuccessful, but he was still a beloved hero in the area a full century later.
Burkhardt pushed the door open and held it for Christie to enter first. The place smelled musty and stank of stale beer and accumulated generations of body odors and cooking grease. There was an earthy smell that reminded Christie of mushrooms. Must be dry rot, he thought. Fungi are fungi; the smell is the same. He was grateful for New Mexico’s ban on smoking in public places, including bars. The room was long and narrow with the bar on the left and booths on the right. Both men blinked a couple of times trying to adjust to the dim light, most of it produced by neon signs covering the walls and advertising a variety of beers. A few tubes had burned out in a couple of them, making for an occasional odd turn of a phrase. The place looked like it had been there for a long time. The furnishings were old and scarred. The barstools and booth benches were covered in Naugahyde. Several had been patched with duct tape. The wooden floor was well worn by the shoes and boots of generations of patrons.
A small group of men were clustered near the middle of the bar. They were drinking beer and watching a sports show on a flat screen TV mounted on the wall behind the bar. The barkeeper was leaning against the bar glancing back and forth between the TV and the men’s glasses. Christie recognized it as universal bartender behavior. Keep a close eye on the patrons’ drinks. When there’s only a swallow or two left in the glass, be quick offer a refill before the drinker can think about calling it a night. Christie likened it the behavior to the speedy strike of a rattlesnake. The more drinks the higher the tab; the higher the tab, the bigger the tip. Christie, ever the cop, quickly sized up the men at the bar. They didn’t look like big tippers. One was wearing a postal worker’s uniform. Another had on a jacket with a delivery service’s logo. The clothes worn by the others suggested construction work.
Burkhardt led Christie to a booth opposite the group of drinkers. The bartender watched them. He had an unhappy look. Probably wishes we’d gone to the bar and saved him having to walk over here, Christie thought. As if to emphasize his displeasure, the bartender ignored the two men for several minutes. Finally, Burkhardt yelled at the man. “Hey, can we get a coupla’ drinks over here?”
All of the men at the bar turned in unison and looked at them. They knew cops when the saw cops. Again in unison, they turned back to the TV screen. The bartender sighed and threw his cleaning rag on the bar. He sized up the two cops as he approached their booth. One was younger and looked like he spent a lot of time in the weight room. His suit was still crisp looking and wrinkle free this late in the day, his hair short and neatly parted. A pretty boy, he thought. Probably banging every broad in the Sheriff’s department. The other guy didn’t look too good, kind of pasty faced and bent over like he wasn’t well. His clothes looked like he had stolen them from a homeless person; a homeless person who was a size or two larger. For a cop he had a messy, unkempt appearance. His hair, which was receding, looked like it was overdue for an oil change. It was obvious that he hadn’t had a date with his razor in a couple of days. The bartender didn’t like cops, but grudgingly admitted they were a necessity in his line of work. There were those occasions when fights went beyond his ability to quell them with the sap or baseball bat he kept behind the bar.
He nodded at Burkhardt. “Whatcha’ havin’, Mac?”
“A shot of Patron Silver and a beer.”
“What kind of beer?”
Something about the man’s attitude irritated Burkhardt. “I don’t give a fuck as long as it’s cold.” It came out in a semi-growl.
The bartender played stare-down with Burkhardt for a couple of seconds then turned to Christie. “What about you, Chief?”
Christie was very conscious of his volcanic stomach. Almost any food or beverage contributed to an eruption. “Do you have cream or half-and-half?”
“What’s this look like, a fuckin’ Starbucks?”
With surprising speed, Christie grabbed the bartender’s tie close by the knot and yanked his head down so the man’s eyes were level with his. “You seem to have an attitude problem. But if you want me to, I’ll show you a whole new meaning of bad attitude.”
The bartender had both of his hands on Christie’s fist, trying to pull it away from his throat. He looked in his assailant’s eyes. What he saw there frightened him. “I got milk,” he stammered.
Christie released the man’s tie. “Scotch and milk then.”
As the bartender scurried away, Burkhardt leaned back in the booth and laughed. “That’s a side of you I wasn’t aware of, Mitch. Is that standard Bureau behavior or are you just having a bad day?”
Christie wagged his head, trying to shake off the sudden burst of anger. It wasn’t helping his stomach issues. He looked down at the tabletop and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have lost it like that.”
“Don’t sweat it. He had it coming.”
“Truth is, things haven’t been going all that well lately.”
Burkhardt leaned forward and put his hands on the table, fingertips to fingertips, forming a vee. “Yeah, I don’t mean to intrude, but I’ve heard things to that effect.”
Christie looked up. “Like what?”
“The divorce, the shakeup at Bureau HQ…and the less than warm welcome you’ve gotten from Wojakowski.”
Christie looked down again. Unconsciously, he turned his hands palms up. “Can a man have no privacy anymore.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“The cop community is pretty tight knit across all agencies. No one has any secrets for very long.”
“A hell of a note,” Christie said glumly.
“But hey, I’ve got something that ought to cheer you up.”
Christie looked up and hesitated for a moment then, with a suspicious note in his voice, said, “Yeah?”
Leaning back in the booth again, Burkhardt smiled. “There’s a lady in the BSD that has an interest in you, a secret admirer.”
Christie looked puzzled. “So, what are you saying?”
“Do I need to draw you a picture?” Burkhardt said with a smile. “She’s pretty hot, recently divorced and looking to get back in the game. She wants to meet you. Whaddya say?”
“Who is she?”
“Name’s Camila Ramirez.”
“Ramirez? She’s Hispanic?” Christie realized how that sounded and said, “Not that I have a problem with that.”
“You’re out of touch, dude. The term is ‘Latina’,” Burkhardt said. “She’s got a pretty face and a hellova body.” He paused briefly then said, “Pardon the pun ol’ buddy, but opportunity’s banging on your door.”
The bartender arrived and set their drinks in front of the two men. He didn’t look at either one of them and left quickly.
“I don’t know,” Christie said. “I’ll think about it.”
Burkhardt smiled. “Don’t wait too long. The department’s full of skirt chasers and they’re starting to circle.”
The FBI field office in Albuquerque was located at 4200 Luecking Park Avenue NE. It was a large two and three story building with a brick façade, sandwiched between I-25 and the North Diversion Channel in Luecking Park Complex. The area was a mix of office, industrial, and residential uses. There were modest residential communities to the east and mixed-use commercial and industrial areas to the south of the complex. The FBI and other governmental agencies learned a costly lesson in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The Bureau’s field offices now were fenced, gated, well illuminated at night and guarded 24 hours a day. The Albuquerque office was no exception. A deep trench recently had been dug around the building to prevent a modern day Timothy McVeigh from crashing an explosives laden vehicle through the fence.
The moat amused Christie. The concept had been sold to the local planning commission as a water management structure. He chuckled at the thought. New Mexico was bone dry, as his bleeding nasal passages and itchy spots attested.
He thought about his conversation with Tom Burkhardt. He instinctively liked Tom. Maybe it was just professional respect, but it seemed like more. Tom was more than just competent and intelligent. He picked up on things quickly and seemed genuinely interested in the well being of his fellow law enforcement officers. He felt comfortable with him and sensed he may have found a friend. This thing with the Ramirez woman, however, made him a little uncomfortable. He didn’t feel he was ready to start dating, even though he knew Deborah had begun seeing other men. It’s been such a long time since I’ve been with any woman other than Deborah, he thought. Would he know what to say, what to do? Worse yet, what if it came down to intimacy and he was unable to perform? He feared his current physical and emotional conditions might be an impediment. That’s the kind of thing, he thought, and gritted his teeth, that would spread like wildfire through the law enforcement community. He’d have to think of some way to graciously avoid involvement. Besides, he was working on a personal project that was more important to him than anything else in his life at this time.
It was after nine o’clock in the evening and Christie had mixed feelings about returning to the office. If Wojakowski was still here, her presence would prevent him from doing what he was there to do. On the other hand, it might impress her favorably if it appeared he was putting in long hours. He hadn’t seen her car in the parking lot, but he walked past her office just to be certain. The door was closed and no light seeped from beneath it. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Entering his own office, Christie closed and locked the door behind him. He sat at his desk and fired up his computer. Mumbling under his breath, he said, “Now comes the tricky part.” He browsed to a chat room established by INTERPOL Washington, the United States National Central Bureau. It served as the designated representative to INTERPOL on behalf of the Attorney General and was the official U.S. point of contact in INTERPOL’s worldwide, police-to-police communications and criminal intelligence network.
Christie had a friend, a former FBI colleague, who had transferred to INTERPOL Washington and now worked in its State and Local Liaison Division. The division’s major purpose was to support the exchange of information between foreign law enforcement authorities and state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in the United States. Christie needed INTERPOL’s assistance in gathering certain information, and this was the best way he could think of to get it. He had told his friend in INTERPOL Washington that the OCDETF in Albuquerque was investigating a major drug trafficker who may be operating from Ireland. The friend was in a position to request information and assistance from INTERPOL National Central Bureau for Ireland in the Dublin headquarters of An Garda Síochána.
Whelan and the other five surviving members of the Sleeping Dogs officially had been pronounced dead by the Bureau, victims of an explosion aboard a commercial fishing boat near the Pacific Island of Guam. But Christie never bought into that story. It was too cute, too perfect. The Bureau got to blame the mess surrounding Laski’s death and the attempt on POTUS’s life on the men, and neatly wrap up the investigation. Score another one for the Bureau.
But Christie had a different theory. These same men supposedly had been killed twenty years earlier in an airplane crash off Puerto Rico. But it turned out they weren’t dead. They had faked their deaths and gone to ground for two decades. They likely would still be there if it hadn’t been for that idiot senator, Howard Morris. His efforts to dig up evidence that would humiliate the country and further endear him to his far left constituents had backfired. Instead of simply proving that the United States had at one time maintained a special black ops force that surreptitiously brought havoc and death to its enemies, the damn fool’s actions had loosed the Sleeping Dogs, awakened them so to speak.
The irony of the analogy amused Christie, but the sound came out more like a snort than a laugh. The cleverest, most dangerous men on earth had faked their deaths once before. If the Bureau wanted—no, needed—a fairy tale ending, it could have it. But Christie knew better. Brendan Whelan was alive. Somewhere. But where? It was a big planet and the man could be hiding anywhere on it. Christie had worried with that issue for months, and then it had come to him. He knew from Whelan’s old military file that he had been born in Ireland. Christie wasn’t sure why, but he sensed that was the place to search. His next problem was trying to figure out how to gather relevant information without quitting his job and traveling to Ireland. Then he remembered his friend at INTERPOL Washington. He invented the story about the OCDETF investigating a drug lord with Irish ties.
While there were no current photographs of Whelan, Christie had access to the likeness a Bureau sketch artist had drawn during the Harold Case investigation. It was based on an old photograph from Whelan’s military record. Christie knew it was a good likeness because he unknowingly had sat next to Whelan on a cross-country flight. For quite a while he had thought Whelan purposely had done it to mock him, but finally accepted that it was simply a weird coincidence. He had contacted his friend at INTERPOL Washington, spun his OCDETF story, and asked him to liaison with INTERPOL National Central Bureau for Ireland. He had provided the sketch of Whelan.
Several weeks had passed, tonight an email had arrived while he was at the bar with Burkhardt. His friend in Washington had something for him. Christie wasn’t worried about using the Bureau’s facilities for these purposes. He believed the demands of his FBI duties had contributed significantly to the failure of his marriage. In a real sense, the Bureau owed him. Big Time. Besides, these activities would appear to be a normal part of his responsibilities as cochair of OCDETF. Neither was he concerned that Wojakowski would catch him in this deceptive behavior. Not that she wouldn’t love to, he thought. But he knew that she didn’t have the time, or cleverness for that matter, to check with anyone at OCDETF to see if it actually was investigating a drug trafficker with Irish connections. He was comfortable that the plausibility of the story was cover enough.
He keyed in the code and entered the ultra secure chat room. It had been designed and was maintained by a group of techno-wizards the Bureau and INTERPOL had lured away from NSA. A member of the INTERPOL Washington staff could reserve it. A code would then be randomly generated which could be distributed by the member to whoever was to participate. No one else could access the room during that period, and the context of the conversation automatically was destroyed when the reserving member exited the room.
His friend was waiting for him, and welcomed him to the chat room. “Hi, Mitch, good to ‘see’ you.”
“Thanks, you too.” Christie got right to the point. “What do you have for me?”
“This turned out to be a bit more challenging than I might have imagined.”
“An Garda Síochána, the Irish National Police, seemed fully cooperative at first. Guess they weren’t too happy that some drug-dealing bastard might be operating from their shores. Then, for no apparent reason, they backed off and said there were too many matters on their plate and they didn’t have the manpower to get involved in this.”
“You think that was legit?”
“Apparently not. This morning I got a call from a guy with the Irish cops. Wouldn’t give me his name. Said the guy you’re looking for had connections with An Garda Síochána.”
“No shit.” Christie was getting a sick feeling in his stomach, and it wasn’t the usual savage case of heartburn.
“Not to worry. The guy apparently wanted to build some brownie points with us. Said your guy lives on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Couldn’t be more specific. Hope that helps.”
Christie’s fingers were still for a moment then he typed, “Yes. Very. More than I had before. Thanks.”
“A pleasure to help a friend and fellow law enforcement officer. Anything else I can do for you?”
“Not that I can think of at the moment. Just clarify – the record of this chat will be destroyed, right?”
“Yes, soon as I log out.”
“Great. Talk to you soon.” Christie exited the chat room and shut down his computer. Leaning back in his chair he said aloud to himself, “I’m getting closer, Whelan. It’s only a matter of time before I find you.”
Chapter 5—Dingle, Ireland
Whelan watched as the man’s finger tightened on the trigger. There was a sudden loud explosion. Whelan didn’t feel any pain. He didn’t feel the powerful force of a slug tearing into his body. The Bizon was an automatic weapon with dozens of rounds in the magazine. He knew there should have been more than one explosion. It took a nanosecond for him to realize that the man hadn’t fired the Bizon. In fact, the weapon was falling from the man’s hands. The front of his jacket was bloody. Blood was beginning to run from his open mouth. His knees sagged and his head tilted back, eyes rolling up. He fell face first at Whelan’s feet. Sean stood three feet behind him holding the Kel-Tek KSG shotgun. Smoke was wafting softly from its barrel.
The remaining man was slow to react. But disbelief and shock quickly wore off, and he reached for the butt of the Makarov in the waistband of his trousers. Two shots rang out. A double tap. The first slug caught him low, in the pelvic area, left of center. It spun him 180 degrees. The second slug hit him in the middle of his back, tearing through the spine between the L-2 and L-3 vertebrae. Messages from his brain could no longer reach his legs and he collapsed hard against the counter, sliding gracelessly to the floor.
Whelan turned to trace the path of the slugs in reverse. Caitlin stood in the doorway. She held the Glock 23C he had bought her in both hands, arms extended straight in front just as he had taught her. Although he had converted the weapon’s barrel from .40 caliber to .22 to dampen the rise and make it easier for her to handle, it still was capable of deadly force.
Whelan walked slowly over to Sean and gently removed the Kel-Tek from his son’s hands. “Good work, Sean,” he said. He blew Caitlin a kiss and turned his attention to the surviving intruder. He wasn’t sure just how much survival time the man had left, and there were questions that needed answering.
Caitlin laid the Glock on a counter top and ran to Sean, who had been joined by his younger brother, Declan. She swept both of them into her arms and embraced them tightly. The boys squirmed self-consciously. This was girl stuff, and they were uncomfortable having their dad see them being hugged and kissed like this. It wasn’t manly.
Whelan smiled at their reaction. At sixteen and fifteen, respectively, his sons were in that awkward transition period from boys to men. He understood. He’d been there himself. He gently kissed Caitlin on the top of her head, and inhaled deeply. The clean, sweet smell of her deep black, raven hair flooded him with emotions, as dozens of memories flashed through his mind in a second or two. She was his true love, his mate, his partner, his best friend. He realized how close he had come to losing all of that and more tonight. He closed his eyes and felt a profound sense of relief and gratitude wash over him. When he opened them, Caitlin was looking at him, her cobalt blue eyes framed by the long lashes, dark hair and ivory colored skin. There was no moisture in her eyes and no trembling or other evidence of post-traumatic shock. He had known from the beginning of their relationship that, as gentle and feminine as she was, Caitlin was tougher than most men he had known. And he had known many ruthless and savage men. He had killed several of them.
“I’ll get the boys back up stairs,” she said, “then I’ll help you clean up.” She paused for a moment then said, “There are two bodies in the second floor hallway. Their throats have been ripped out.”
Whelan nodded. “I know.”
“We saw that they’ve dispatched poor Miss Tankersley. I’m sure they deserved what they got, but they’re making a terrible mess. We’ll have to replace the flooring if it’s bloodstained.”
“I’ll take care of it,” he said.
Caitlin looked around the kitchen, spattered with blood and gore. “Would you look at this place. I don’t know if I can ever prepare food in it again.”
“We’ll not be tellin’ the health inspector,” he said with a wink.
She rose on the tips of her toes, and pulling his head down, kissed him softly on the lips. “Thank God you’re safe, Bren.”
“Wouldn’t have been if not for you and the boys.”
“I always understood why you insisted on the boys and me learning to use weapons properly, but tonight really drove that point home.” She paused and searched his eyes.
“But I thought I taught you to aim better,” he said with a grin and nodded toward the surviving intruder.
Caitlin placed her hands on her hips and said in mock defensiveness, “I hit exactly where I aimed.”
“Oh, did you now?’ Whelan was still grinning good-naturedly. “You seem to have missed the kill zones and hit him closer to his private areas.”
“And if I had killed him, who would be left for you to interrogate?” She grew suddenly serious and said, “Who were these men, and will there be more of them?”
Whelan glanced at the wounded man who was bleeding out on their kitchen floor. “I plan to get that information out of this one. Thank you for not killing him, but it would be best if you and the boys didn’t watch.”
She understood fully what he meant and gently shoved Sean and Declan toward the stairs. “Come along, lads. Tomorrow’s a school day.”
“But I want to help Da haul the trash out,” Sean said in reference to the dead home invaders.
“Me too,” Declan said.
Caitlin said nothing, but gave each of the boys “The Look”. Generations of Irish youngsters have known full well what The Look means. Sean and Declan sighed. They were sighs of frustration mixed with resignation. Each boy turned and trudged up the stairs, purposely stepping on the corpse at the bottom of the stairwell.
“It would be good if you gave Paddy a call,” Whelan said in reference to Caitlin’s brother, the Sergeant in Charge of the Dingle station of An Garda Síochána. “We’re going to need his help.”
He waited until he heard them reach the top floor. He turned and walked over to where the last intruder lay. The man’s upper body was contorting in pain, motionless from the waist down. He lay moaning in a pool of his own blood and gore. The bullet’s path through his spinal column had destroyed the nerves governing actions in his lower body, including his sphincters. He was surrounded by very unpleasant odors.
Whelan squatted beside him while the man stared at him, his eyes pleading for help. After several moments, Whelan said in Russian, “I can help you.” He paused for emphasis then said, “But you have to help me.”
The wounded man squeezed his eyes shut tightly in pain and shook his head. Between clinched teeth has said, “I cannot. He will kill me.”
“You’re bleeding out. Not much time left before you’ll die anyway. Tell me what I want to know and you’ll at least have a chance to live a bit longer.”
“No.” The response was almost a grunt.
Whelan stood and walked over to a section of kitchen counter. He pulled a knife from a wooden block that rested on it. It was a 9½-inch fillet knife. The blade was long, thin, and very sharp.
Returning, he again squatted by the dying man. “I don’t suppose you’re familiar with George R. R. Martin’s magnum opus A Song of Ice and Fire?”
The man shook his head back and forth a few times.
“There’s a line in it, something like ‘A naked man has few secrets; a flayed man has none.’” He held the fillet knife in front of the man’s eye. “What I’m going to do is peel your skin off. Slowly. The bad news is that it won’t kill you; it will cause far worse pain that anything you can imagine.”
He let the man stare at the blade for several seconds. Despite his pain, the man’s eyes grew wider in horrid fascination.
“Try to imagine what it’s going to feel like as I loosen it with this knife and then tear strips off with my bare hands.” He paused. “And there’s more bad news. You have a lot of skin. We’re going to be here for a long time.”
The man vomited. It was clear that he’d had some kind of fish for dinner. And potatoes.
Whelan placed the edge of the blade lightly against the flesh of the man’s forearm. Even with the slight pressure, the sharpness of the blade split his skin. Blood began to ooze from the new wound. He looked at the man’s eyes; he had begun to sob.
“Please, I will tell you. I don’t want to die.”
Whelan left the blade where it was. “Give me names. Who sent you?”
The man hesitated and Whelan applied a bit more pressure to the blade. The cut deepened and lengthened.
The man screamed. “It is one whose name cannot be spoken.”
“Listen,” Whelan said with a quiet growl. “This isn’t some damn fantasy or sci fi movie. Give me the name.” The knife dug deeper. Whelan used the tip to begin peeling back enough of the man’s epidermis to be able to rip a piece of it off his arm.
“Yes, yes, I will tell you,” the man screamed between sobs. He hesitated for a moment, caught between Scylla and Charybdis. He knew that if he didn’t provide the intel Whelan sought, he would die tonight. His departure would be unimaginably painful and drawn out. If he did reveal who had sent him and his associates to kill Whelan and his family, it would betray a man he feared as much as he did Whelan. Maybe more. He thought momentarily about lying to Whelan, giving him false information. But he sensed the Irishman would know, and the torture would begin in earnest. Ultimately, he opted in favor of a slim chance to live a little longer.
“His name is Maksym.”
Chapter 6—Tidewater Virginia
The trip from his Federal-style home in the Georgetown suburb of Washington to The Lodge was about an hour and thirty minutes by car. There were two routes. One was mostly on Interstate 95. The other was more scenic. Cliff Levell had instructed his driver and personal attendant Rhee Kang-Dae to take the scenic route. It was almost exactly the same distance as the other route. Mostly utilizing Highway 301, it took a few minutes longer. As part of the pre-Interstate highway system, it wound through the business districts of a multitude of towns and small cities in Maryland. Eventually it crossed the Harry Nice Memorial Bridge into the rolling green hills of Tidewater Virginia.
It had been a pleasant trip, although the scenery had been wasted on Levell. He used the time to review the latest intel bulletins and briefings assembled by the organization he led. He was on his way to meet with other principal members of that organization, The Society of Adam Smith. These meetings usually were held at The Lodge near Fairview Beach, Virginia. Located in dense woods and accessed by an unmarked gravel road, it was less than a mile from the wide Potomac River. The location had been chosen carefully.
Fairview Beach was isolated and small. Only a few hundred people lived within the town limits. The countryside around the town was heavily wooded in many areas and sparsely settled. A few narrow, paved two-lane roads connected the town to Highway 218, also known as Caledon Road.
A few dirt lanes led back into the woods from the sparse collector roads. At the end of one of them, sitting in the middle of an eighty-acre tract and isolated by dense woods from its few neighbors in the area, was a fifteen thousand square foot, two-story building with the appearance of a hunting lodge. It’s exterior was made of large logs with a brick chimney at either end of the lodge. It was clearly posted as private property and signs in five different languages cautioned would-be trespassers not to enter. An ultra sophisticated electronic and video system provided twenty-four hour surveillance of the entire tract. Nothing moved in the eighty acres that wasn’t instantly detected. A staff of very professional, highly trained security people would respond immediately.
While the exterior of the lodge was designed and built to convey a rustic, masculine simplicity, the interior was something else entirely. Immediately behind the exterior façade, all walls, ceilings, and floors were lined with materials that resisted all efforts to penetrate with infrared, ultrasound, and all other surveillance devices. The technology and communications facilities were designed, installed and maintained by the best minds in the CIA, NSA, and private sector working on their own time. They were upgraded continually in order to remain superior to anything available to the planet’s top security agencies.
The interior was comfortably decorated and furnished in homage to the style of a luxurious western ranch. The lodge had eleven separate bedrooms and bathrooms, a large dinning hall, ultra modern kitchen, library, gymnasium, and boardroom. A large separate facility housed staff, sheltered motor vehicles, and provided a few spare bedrooms and bathrooms for occasions when the main lodge was fully occupied. A tunnel connected the two facilities.
The library had stone floors overlain with throw rugs that reflected Southwestern style and colors. The light switch on the wall beside the entrance to the library served two purposes. It did turn on the lights recessed in the lower part of the tray ceiling, providing accent for the fireplace and bookcases. But, if flipped ten or more times in rapid succession, the switch activated an electrical motor. The motor caused a three-foot by three-foot stone plate in the floor to recess and pull back under the adjoining flooring, revealing a set of steps leading down into a chamber beneath the library. There was a long, well polished, mahogany table and several comfortable chairs in the room. Bottles of fine wine were stacked in specially crafted shelving that kept each bottle in a prone position so its contents could work on the cork. The walls, floor, and ceiling of the chamber also were lined with lead and other more sophisticated materials that defied all attempts to probe the activities occurring there.
The lodge was owned by a company that, in turn, was owned by another company that was owned by yet another entity, and so on through a mind-boggling chain of twists and convolutions that were impossible to decipher. The funds to acquire, develop and maintain the property, if the chain of ownership could be unraveled, were provided by three billionaire industrialist brothers. Alfred, Hermann, and Tomas Mueller were among the founding members of the Society. Its membership also included certain top military brass, politicos, and senior members of the security agencies that helped design the facility and kept it on the cutting edge technologically.
Rhee turned down the gravel road and stopped in front of The Lodge, tires crunching on gravel and pine needles. The valets and most other employees had worked there for years. They knew that no one touched Levell’s black Cadillac Escalade other than Rhee. The staff helped the Korean transfer Levell from the rear of the SUV to his wheelchair. Once he had transported Levell into the main structure, Rhee returned to the vehicle and drove it around to the parking facilities in the second building.
“Are the others here yet, Timothy?” Levell said to one of the staff members.
“Yes sir, Mr. Levell. I’ll let them know you’ve arrived.” The man turned and headed toward the main living area of the building at a fast trot. He knew it was useless to offer to help Levell. The old man was extraordinarily tough and independent. He seemed unfazed by his disability. At times, Timothy and the other employees at The Lodge almost forgot about the spinal injury that had robbed Levell of the use of his legs. But he and the others had heard the stories about him, that, despite his age and the injury, Levell was physically and mentally very powerful. And his political power was even greater. No one who had any involvement with the Society, as a member or employee, had any doubt who its leader was.
Levell propelled his wheelchair down a wide stone-paved hallway to the library and waited for the others to begin filing into the room. Impatience was his norm and today was no exception. He fidgeted in his wheelchair until the others began to arrive. Once all of them were there, Timothy flicked the light switch on the wall by the door to the library several times. The three –foot square section in the floor dropped quietly down and slid back underneath the adjoining portion of the floor. No one made a move to descend into the chamber below. Levell always went first. Not because he insisted; but because the others did. It was a matter of respect. Two powerfully built members of the staff lifted the wheelchair and its occupant and wrestled it carefully down the stone steps.
Six people joined Levell at the table. He sat at the middle. In terms of group dynamics, it was the weakest position. Levell always chose to sit there for two reasons. It was a way of making a statement that he didn’t think of himself as more important than any of the others. It also spoke to the magnitude of his personal power that he could sit anywhere and would be the undisputed leader. The group’s number two, Marine Corps Major General Roscoe “Buster” McCoy sat at one end of the table. To prevent several of the others from squabbling over the seat at the opposite end, the Mueller brother in attendance that evening, Alfred, took it.
The remaining guests included the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Deputy Director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, an Air Force general who was the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The only woman among the group that evening, Maureen Delaney, was chief executive of one of the largest technology companies in the world. Over time at these meetings, she had gone from sitting wherever a chair was available to sitting next to Levell. It made Alfred Mueller, the oldest of the brothers at eighty-three, smile. These were two of his favorite people. Both were exceptionally intelligent and capable. He could see that, despite their mutual shyness around each other, something was developing between them.
Levell looked around the table, his back ramrod straight. He was clear-eyed and, at seventy-three, his full head of iron-gray hair was cut short and neatly combed. He turned to his right and looked at Maureen Delaney for a moment longer than he had the others. She smiled sweetly and patted his hand that rested on the arm of the wheelchair, causing him to blush slightly.
“As usual,” he said, “I thank each of you for coming. It seems these meetings are becoming more frequent.”
“More shit keeps hitting the fan,” McCoy said. His voice was a low growl, appropriate for a forty-year veteran of the Marine Corps. He also was Levell’s oldest and closest friend. Realizing he had cursed, he pulled the unlit stub of a cigar from his mouth and said, “Oops, sorry Maureen.”
“Not to worry, General. As I’ve told you before, I grew up in an Irish Catholic family with six older brothers, all of them Marines. I’ve heard far worse.”
“Buster’s right. Things are intensifying,” Levell said. “They have been ever since Chaim Laski was removed from the scene.”
The CIA’s Clyde Seaton said, “We knew Laski was a glorified bagman laundering funds from the Russians and using it to support a variety of left-wing causes. But I, for one, am a bit surprised that his death didn’t cause a more substantial disruption in those activities.”
“It just demonstrates how well organized and powerful these devils are,” the senator said.
McCoy pulled the cigar from his lips again and said, “And how deeply entrenched they are.”
“Why shouldn’t they be?” Seaton said. “They’ve been at this for generations, infiltrating and subverting the news media, unions, educational institutions down to preschool levels, the entertainment industry, anything that helps them reinforce their message and recruit more and more voters.”
“As we’ve all said before, it may take a generation, likely two, to undo all they’ve done. It will have to be a bottom up effort to capture control of one of the major political parties and change the national direction,” Delaney said.
“Laski was just a tool. So are the Russians and any other enemies of the American democracy,” Mueller said. “They’re all fools, but dangerous ones, letting themselves be used, yet blind to that fact because of their intense hatred of the United States.”
“Well,” Levell said, “we all know who really is behind this.”
Around the table, the others nodded their heads.
“AGU, the Alliance for Geopolitical Unity,” the Air Force General said. “And isn’t it ironic that most of us sitting around this table also are members of it.”
McCoy snorted. “Cliff and I are the only ones who aren’t. Good thing the rest of you are. It’s good to have spies in the enemy’s camp.”
“Membership in AGU is almost mandatory for those of us who are at the top of their games in politics, industry, academia, the military and other important disciplines,” the senator said.
Delaney said, “It’s a prerequisite for achieving and maintaining a pinnacle position in one’s chosen profession, and has been ever since it was founded by a group of international bankers and their cronies.”
“Their goal is to further their control of wealth via a world banking monopoly to be empowered and protected by the establishment of a global government. It’s something that has driven the Left for generations.” Seaton said.
“Unfortunately, its inner sanctum is ruled by a cadre that consists solely of international bankers and financiers.” Delaney said. “None of our SAS members have been admitted to that group.”
Levell chuckled. “But the secretary of the treasury is a member and he has a very loose tongue around his mistress. She happens to be on our payroll.”
Sitting back in his chair, the Air Force general said, “Throughout history, there have been countless efforts to create the idyllic society, one in which there is no poverty, war, economic inequality, or social injustice. The end result has always been the loss of personal freedoms, including freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom of self-expression, freedom in the choice of work, freedom of conscience, even freedom of thought. All in the fantasy that individuals can’t make good decisions; only a central, dictatorial person or autocracy can create a better life than the individual.”
Delaney said, “The evidence of AGU’s end game is clear—fostering global socialism, the push for international disarmament, and gun control laws at home to prevent the possibility of a citizens’ revolt. Add to that the destruction of currency values through legislation that promotes market bubbles, which cause financial collapses, leading nations into bankruptcy, and ultimately the creation of a global currency and one-world economy controlled by the leaders of AGU.” She looked at Levell then continued. “It’s frightening to know that the Federal Reserve System was formed by the same people who founded AGU, and who control its every move.”
“As Baron Rothschild, the international banker, wrote, ‘Give me control over a nation’s currency and I care not who makes its laws’,” McCoy said, with the unlit cigar still clamped between his teeth.
“Yes, yes,” Mueller said impatiently. “None of us would be sitting here today if we did not understand the gravity of the situation and the effectiveness of our opponents’ insidious tactics. Nor do any of us underestimate how dangerous our actions are to each of us personally. If we had not created our own organization, the Society of Adam Smith, and carefully recruited and vetted our members, we could not hope to effectively combat AGU. But, for us here today, the pressing issue is measuring whether our strategy is succeeding.”
Levell and the others broke for dinner. He was in the lounge area near the dining hall enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail with McCoy and Delaney when Rhee motioned to him from the entrance. He rolled his wheelchair over to the Korean and followed him a short distance down the hall. Rhee purposely made no attempt to assist Levell. He knew the man’s pride would forbid it in Ms. Delaney’s presence.
“What is it, Mr. Rhee?” Levell said.
In heavily accented English, the Asian man said, “While in meeting, you get call from Mr. Whelan.”
“Whelan?” There was a note of surprise in Levell’s voice along with a trace of concern.
Rhee’s attitude never reflected emotions; he was the essence of stoicism. “He say very important. He want you call him quick.” He handed Levell the special satellite phone. It had an extraordinarily high degree of encryption and operated on a system of communications satellites that was owned and operated by a Brazilian company. It, in turn, was owned through a series of other international entities that ultimately were controlled by the Mueller brothers. The satellites operated commercially, but also harbored highly encrypted communications accessible only by persons specifically designated by the Muellers. That meant certain members of the Society, including Levell and a handful of others.
Levell nodded to Rhee and the small, wiry man began pushing him down the wide, stone paved hall to a room that appeared to be an extraordinarily well-equipped media room. Artfully concealed in the A/V equipment was the communications gear necessary to send and receive messages over the Sat phone. The antenna on the roof was indistinguishable from a lightening rod.
Following the destruction of Chaim Laski and his financial network, Levell and other highly placed members of the Society had arranged what appeared to be the deaths of Whelan and his fellow operatives in the Sleeping Dogs. Afterwards, the Society had helped each of the men to go to ground. In the process, Levell had provided Whelan with one of the special Sat phones. He knew the Irishman wouldn’t use it without an extraordinary reason. He didn’t like the thought of that.
As soon as he heard Whelan on the other end of the call, he said, “Back from the dead, are we?”
“Like a bad penny.”
“I assume you have a very good reason for this call.”
“I do.” Whelan paused for a second then said, “Maksym.”
There was silence for a few moments. Levell broke it. “Has he become a problem?”
“He tried to kill me and my family.”
Levell let the statement sink in for a moment. “Unsuccessfully, obviously.”
“So, you were right about him eventually seeking his revenge.”
“He’s my brother. He’s like I am; take no prisoners.”
“He didn’t come personally, did he?”
“No. He sent five Ukes.”
“Five! Dumb ass. Like that would ever be enough.”
“He won’t make that mistake next time.”
Levell appreciated the concern in Whelan’s voice. “What actions are you taking to be ready for a ‘next time’?”
“It’s clear that he knows where we are. Any ideas how he might have gotten that intel?”
Levell thought about the question for a few moments. “No. As far as I know I’m the only person who has that information, and I sure as hell didn’t share it with anyone.”
“He might have figured it out. He and I were born near Dingle. It would just be a matter of time before he pinpointed the Fianna. But there also is a possibility that the information might have been leaked by someone in the Society.”
“So, I’m asking again, what do you plan to do?”
“Caitlin’s extended family is large and tightknit. We have armed people watching us constantly, but that won’t stop Maksym indefinitely. They’re no match for him.”
“What would you like me to do at this end?”
“Let the others in the unit know that someone may be coming after them, too. Maksym found me; he can find them.”
“I’ll do whatever I can from here. Be prepared; there are things developing that will require your services.”
“I don’t like the sound of that, Cliff. I told you after the Chaim Laski operation that I’m retired from wet work.”
“I don’t think you have a choice in the matter, Whelan. If you still care about the country that took you and your parents in and provided opportunities you’d never have found anywhere else, then the Dogs are going to have to be reactivated.”
There was a long pause. Finally, Whelan said, “What’s the problem, Cliff?”
“This nation is quickly reaching a point where it can’t effectively oppose its enemies. The current administration has weakened the country by, among other things, polarizing the population along racial and economic lines, destroying the middle class, reducing its military power and space program, leading from behind in global affairs, and eschewing a rational foreign policy.”
“Is it just the president and his party, or are there others involved?”
Levell made a sound that wasn’t like anything Whelan had heard him make in the past. It sounded very much like a weary sigh. “You’re very observant. No, it’s much deeper than that. There’s an organization, the AGU or Alliance for Geopolitical Unity. Its members are the top financial people in the world, Wall Streeters and their ilk around the globe.”
“What’s their role in this?”
“Greed. They want a planetary banking monopoly. Their goal is to create a one-world government. The international bankers control it, but they include among their membership lackeys in the mass media, education, and entertainment who push propaganda of ‘humanism’ and world brotherhood, while opposing such ‘selfish’ things as nationalities and patriotism. Their strategy includes eliminating middle classes, destroying confidence in currencies, massive debt structures. They intend to weaken America and take it out of the international mix.”
“Why is the current administration playing along with this?” Whelan said.
“A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal summed it pretty nicely. It pointed out that those on the left don’t seem to grasp that the one-grand-scheme-fits-all compulsion is out of sync with the individualization that technology lets people design into their lives today. Rather than resolve the complexities of public policy in the world we inhabit, the left’s default is to simply acquire power, then cram down what they want to do with one-party votes or by fiat, figuring they can muddle through the wreckage later. Making the unworkable work by executive decree or court-ordered obedience is one way to rule, and maybe they like it that way, but it isn’t governing. And it certainly isn’t in the best interests of the American people.”
“What about the opposition party in America? Aren’t they capable of combatting these actions?”
Levell snorted. “That’s a good one. That bunch of bozos is ineffective and useless. They seem incapable of formulating or presenting alternatives and solutions. They’re devotion is preening for the cameras, and to insure their own reelections, and spending a lifetime feeding at the public trough.”
“That leaves the Ship of State rudderless. There’s only one possible outcome, and it’s not a happy one.”
“That’s why the Society has to safeguard our freedom any way necessary until the electorate comes to its collective senses and puts a trustworthy leader back in the Oval Office.”
Levell terminated the call and handed the Sat phone back to Rhee.
He wheeled himself back down the hall and into the lounge. McCoy was chomping on a fresh unlit cigar and engaging in an animated conversation with Maureen Delaney. As Levell rolled up, McCoy saw the serious look on the other man’s face.
“Something up?” McCoy said.
“Yeah, I had a call from Brendan Whelan. I’ll tell you about it later.”
McCoy got both messages. He stood up and said, “I’m going to get a fresh drink and step outside for a smoke.”
As he was walking away, Delaney said, “You had a call? I thought communications in and out of here were difficult at best.”
“That’s not quite accurate. We have a Sat phone system that utilizes 1024 bit asymmetric encryption. IT would require three hundred billion MIPS-years to crack it.”
“MIPS, meaning one million instructions per second?” Delaney said.
“Yes, a MIPS-year is thirty-one and a half trillion instructions. Multiplied by three hundred billion, cracking the code becomes virtually impossible. In addition, the system utilizes a second layer of 256 bit symmetric encryption. It converts voice to encrypted data using a constantly changing mathematical formula. Typically, the encrypted stream would be deciphered by the receiving unit, which converts it back to voice. All calls are routed directly to the receiving unit by way of a direct space link, thus avoiding use of a ground station.”
“So your caller also had a Sat phone?”
“Yes, but in situations where the receiving unit is not a part of the system, and therefore susceptible to interception, we use a different strategy. In that case the call is directed to a special ground station where the encrypted data is converted to voice and directed to the non-systemic receiver through any transmission link on the planet. In addition, the special ground station is mobile and can be transported quickly to a new location by truck, ship or aircraft. For example, the call could be routed through a ground station in Kenya, so that a tracer would indicate the call was being transmitted from Nairobi.”
“Technology is my world,” Delaney said. “But the state of encrypted communications just amazes me.”
“Mostly sounds like techno-babble to me,” Levell said.
She leaned forward and smiled at him. It was one of the most beautiful and radiant smiles he had ever seen. He was momentarily transfixed.
“It may be techno-babble to many of us, Cliff, but there is no question that you are doing an amazing job,” she said softly. “You are the only man who could have built this organization.” She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek.
Levell’s craggy features filled with color. “Are you hungry?” he stammered. “I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
Chapter 7—Dingle, Ireland
The two burly Irish cops hadn’t reached the door when Caitlin Whelan swept it open. Without hesitation she threw her arms around the older of the two men and they exchanged a tight embrace. Next she grabbed the younger man and repeated the hug.
The older man said, “Are you alright, Cait?”
She smiled. “Yes, Da.”
Her brother, Padraig, said, “And Brendan and the boys?”
“They’re fine; we’re all fine. But there are some other buggers who didn’t fare as well.” She motioned her father and brother to follow her. She led them through the large foyer and headed toward the kitchen area on the other side of the dining area. The two men couldn’t help but notice the corpse stiffening at the bottom of the stairs that led up from the foyer.
“That would be some of Brendan’s doin’, I suspect,” Tom, the older of the two men, said.
“It is,” Caitlin said. There was unmistakable pride in her voice.
“Your phone call said there’d been an attack of some kind. I suppose there will be more bodies scattered about.”
“A few. Bren stacked them out back except for the one you saw in the foyer,” she said as they entered the kitchen. “Then there’s that one,” she pointed to the gravely wounded intruder her husband had interrogated.
The two policemen swiftly surveyed the room. It was like a scene out of a slasher movie. Blood and gore were splattered over a large area. Clearly the dying man wasn’t the only one who had bled out here. Their eyes came to rest on Brendan Whelan.
“So, Mr. Whelan, what have you got to say for yourself, going about killin’ folk in my police district?” Tom said with mock sternness.
“Your daughter loves me deeply.” Whelan smiled easily as he said it.
Tom broke into a broad grin. “I see. Well, in that case I suppose Paddy and me will have to do everything in our power to help you clean this mess up and see that no one else learns of it.”
“With the exception of a couple of family members, commercial fishermen. It’d be best to dispose of the perps at sea,” Paddy said.
“You’ll be pleased to know, Da, that one of your own grandsons, Sean, killed one of the murdering scum himself’” Caitlin said.
“Did he now? For sure the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In this case, both trees,” Tom said. “But, if these men didn’t get the chance to kill anyone, we can’t really say they’re murderers, can we? Although I’m sure they earned that reputation before they broke into the wrong house tonight.”
Whelan said, “Unfortunately, they did kill someone tonight.”
Both men’s eyes locked on Whelan.
“Poor Miss Tankersley also was in the wrong place tonight.”
Both of the cops were silent for a moment or two. Then Tom said, “The poor old thing. She was a real sweetheart. Wouldn’t have hurt a soul. What a pity.”
“’Tis a pity,” Paddy said. “She’s been comin’ here on holiday for as far back as I can remember, since I was a kid at least.”
“The bastards that done her in will be easy enough to dispose of,” Tom said. “But I don’t want to include Miss Tankersley’s remains with scum like that. Any ideas?” He looked at each of the others in the room, ignoring the wounded man on the floor.
“We can’t send her remains back to her hometown without generatin’ an official police report,” Paddy said.
“That would be problematic,” Whelan said.
“There’d be no way to avoid an investigation,” Tom said.
Paddy nodded. “And there likely would be an autopsy somewhere along the line.”
“How did those bastards kill her?” Tom said.
“Smothered her with her own pillow,” Whelan said.
No one spoke for a few moments. Finally Tom said “An autopsy would determine that as the cause of death. People don’t smother themselves, so foul play would be obvious.”
“After all these years of comin’ here on holiday,” Paddy said, “everyone knows she stayed here at the Fianna. Her personal habits are well known, too. Always eats at the same places, often retires early, isn’t very adventurous.”
“She did occasionally drive over to Tralee,” Caitlin said, referring to County Kerry’s largest town. “She liked to attend shows at Siamsa Tíre.”
Her brother, Paddy, gave her a puzzled look. “Siamsa Tíre is the home of the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. You mean to say she enjoyed Irish history and culture? And a Brit at that.”
Caitlin shook her head and smiled at her brother’s naiveté. “No, Paddy, the theatre schedules those performances between May and September. From October to April, they host a wide variety of programs, including touring productions of musicals and dramas.”
“How would Miss Tankersley travel to Tralee?” Tom said.
“By car,” Caitlin said. “It’s the blue and white Mini Cooper parked out front. Why?”
“An automobile accident. Perhaps at Connor Hill on R560,” Whelan said.
“Exactly,” Tom said. “That’s a nasty bit o’ road, especially in the dark. Worse yet if you’re not a local.”
Padraig said, “A car tumblin’ down that cliff would surely catch on fire and burn up before anyone could get to it.”
“And burn up whatever was in it,” Tom said.
Paddy nodded and said, “Burn it beyond a coroner’s ability to determine that the cause of death was other than the plunge down the hillside and the fire that followed.”
“Or,” Whelan said, “that the death may have occurred a few hours earlier than the fire.”
Caitlin had been listening to the conversation. “The poor dear and I once had a conversation over tea about the afterlife. She was clear that she wanted to be cremated when she passed.”
By late the next morning, Tom’s brother and two of his sons, commercial fisherman from Dingle, had disposed of the remains of the Ukrainian would-be assassins. The fifth man also had died of his wounds. The fishermen sailed around Slea Head, the closest point in Europe to America, and through the Blasket Islands into the North Atlantic. The corpses had stiffened and being buried under a load of ice hadn’t helped. The fishermen sawed them into smaller pieces and packed them in thick burlap sacks along with heavy stones. The grisly parcels plunged swiftly through the icy waters to the barren mud far below.
Tom and Paddy personally handled Miss Tankersley’s final arrangements on Connor Hill, the highest mountain pass in Ireland. They picked a place where the R560 made a sharp, blind turn to the left in a series of s-curves along a steep escarpment. As the Sergeant in Charge of the An Garda Síochána station in Dingle, Paddy had primary responsibility for the routine investigation of the accident. He reported in turn to the District Superintendent for County Kerry in Ardfert, about 9 kilometers west of Tralee. Tom was the District Superintendent.
Tom and Paddy hadn’t left the Fianna House the previous evening until several armed members of their extended family had been posted as sentries. The Irish are close. Family ranks as the top priority along with religion. The residents of the Dingle Peninsula are particularly tightknit and hardy. During the Dark Ages, when literacy was extinguished in Europe, Irish monks living in beehive-shaped stone huts called Clocháns near the tip of the Dingle Peninsula kept it alive. Later, when the English occupied the Island, they banned the use of Gaeilge, the Irish form of Gaelic. It survived on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Whelans spent the remainder of the night scrubbing away the gruesome evidence of the evening’s activities. By dawn, the only thing that differed from the night before was a patch of carpeting at the foot of the stairs where one of the intruders had bled out. They cleaned it as best they could, but traces of the bloodstain remained. Caitlin solved the problem. She poured bleach on the spot. At eight o’clock in the morning, she called a friend who was in the carpet business and explained that there had been a cleaning mishap. He promised to send out a crew that same day to replace the carpeting.
At mid-morning, Tom and Paddy returned to the Fianna House, and for the sake of appearances, delivered the official announcement that it’s sole current guest, Miss Elenora Tankersley, had perished the previous evening in an unfortunate one-car accident. The Whelans confirmed that she had told them she was going to Tralee to enjoy a touring version of Oliver! Her family in Sheffield had been notified by local authorities and arrangements made to ship her personal possessions.
Caitlin made tea for her father, brother, and herself. Whelan, Irish-born, but American-raised, opted for black coffee. They settled around the table in the now-spotless kitchen. The faint odor of bleach barely intruded on the nostrils.
“As it’s been quite a busy morning already, we should dispense with the small talk,” Tom said in Gaelic. It was a language the four of them spoke, but any outsiders who might be eavesdropping on the conversation wouldn’t be able to follow it. He looked at Whelan. “Have you an idea why those men were after you, and who might have sent them?”
Whelan swallowed some of his coffee. “They were Ukrainians. I was involved in some wet work in the States last year. I believe this was related to it.”
Tom nodded. “I remember. Somethin’ to do with the American political scene; a takeover attempt by radical leftists working in concert with those bastard Russians. An attempt was made on the life of the president, but the shot took out the attorney general instead. The reports also indicated that the death of Chaim Laski, the billionaire, was a part o’ that.”
He paused and glanced at Caitlin then back to Whelan. “We knew from things you had shared with us previously that you might have had a hand in that.”
“Not the assassination attempt. That was the president’s own backers,” Whelan said.
“How do the Ukrainians fit into all of this?”
“Laski maintained a private force for protection and whatever dirty work he deemed necessary for the achievement of his one-world dreams. The force was made up of Ukrainian hoodlums. My colleagues and I killed a few dozen of them.”
“So these men were a part of Laski’s organization?”
“No. Laski was just an overpaid bagman for a much larger, more complex shadow organization.”
“No. I’ve been told it’s a domestic organization with international connections. Its power structure uses the Russians and anyone else in an effort to fundamentally change the United States political and economic systems.”
“So, are you sayin’ they sent the Ukrainians?”
Whelan slowly shook his head. “I doubt they give a damn about me.”
“Laski had a very dangerous man running his security force. He survived.”
“No. He was raised in the Ukraine, but he was born Irish.”
The other three exchanged quick glances.
“The hell you say! An Irishman?” Paddy said.
Tom said, “And you think he may have sent the killers after you for revenge?”
“I don’t think he did. I know he did. The last one of the intruders to die admitted it.” Whelan paused and looked at Caitlin. “It’s not just a matter of vengeance. It’s more personal than that.”
“I don’t understand,” Caitlin said. “Does this mean there will be more attempts like the one last night?”
Whelan nodded. “There will be unless I can find him and kill him first.”
“Who is this bastard?” Paddy said.
“His name is Maksym. But that’s not his birth name.” He paused and looked at each of the other three one at a time, with Caitlin last. “Remember I told you a long time ago that I had an older brother?”
“Yes. He died when you were still a toddler.”
“That’s what we always thought. He disappeared when he was about six. I was two years old at the time. The authorities and family members searched for months, but eventually my parents accepted that he had been kidnapped. Probably by a sexual deviate and likely murdered. But there had been a tribe of gypsies—Welsh Kale—in the area at the time he disappeared. So it seems he was abducted. Probably sold somewhere on the Continent. Most likely the Ukraine.”
“It’s why your family emigrated to the States, wasn’t it?” Caitlin said.
“Yes, a fresh start in a new environment; no painful memories around every corner.”
Tom was getting impatient. “So what does your family history have to do with this Maksym?”
Whelan lowered his gaze to the floor briefly then raised his head and said, “My brother isn’t dead. Maksym is my brother.”
The other three sat in stunned silence. Finally, Caitlin said, “If he’s your brother, why is trying to kill you?”
“I can think of a couple of reasons. He must feel that he failed Laski in some fashion, and he blames me. Killing me will even the score in his mind. Plus I suspect he believes our family didn’t do enough to find him after he was abducted. Growing up on the mean streets of Kiev must have been a nasty experience; the opposite of my own childhood in the States.”
Tom sat forward in his chair and turned a little to his right to face Whelan squarely. “This has to be a death wish on his part. He’s no match for a man with your unique abilities.”
Whelan just stared at Tom.
“Holy Jesus and Mary!” Tom said, as realization dawned. “He’s like you, gifted with a very rare genetic combination that makes him so much stronger, quicker and physically superior to other human beings.”
Whelan nodded. “Now you know the problem.”
Chapter 8—Albuquerque, NM
It was a little past six in the morning, Albuquerque time. Dawn was just breaking on a mid-April day, slowly brightening the arid landscape that paralleled both sides of I-25 north of the city. A first quarter moon hung low on the western horizon like a large half pie descending. The barren satellite was at a 90-degree angle with respect to the earth and sun. Exactly half of it was illuminated; the other half in shadow.
The digital thermometer on the dashboard of Mitch Christie’s Ford Crown Vic four-door sedan showed forty-three degrees. It was a 2010 model; the next to the last year the car was produced at the St. Thomas assembly plant in Talbotville, Ontario. This one had a blue exterior and interior with the police interceptor and street appearance packages. It also had over 100,000 miles on the odometer and rode like it. The cushioning in the seats was worn out. The springs dug into Christie’s butt. The shocks had worn out long ago. That made handling difficult and added to the discomfort of riding in the car. A myriad of unpleasant aromas filled the vehicle. The smell of stale coffee, old food and body odors clung to the headliner and other upholstery. There were food stains and cigarette burns in the seat covers, or what was left of them after 100,000-plus miles of butts sliding across them. Assorted scratches and gouges marred the dashboard, armrests and center console. There were footprints on the dash on the passenger side where agents had rested their feet. Christie recognized all of them as vestiges of long ago stakeouts.
All of the other Bureau agents in the field office drove newer model vehicles, mostly Impalas. Wojakowski drove a very well equipped Suburban. Christie’s Crown Vic had been destined for the junkyard when Wojakowski learned he was being assigned to her office. She rerouted the paperwork and saw to it that the car was assigned to him. He chalked it up to one more strike in favor of the Polish Viper.
He didn’t usually go to work this early, but Christie was running away from a situation, and he knew it. It was ironic, he thought, that he was choosing to go to the office over something else. He was opting for something he hated over something that scared him. He saw the sign for Exit 233, Alameda Boulevard NE, and glanced to his right. A short distance to the west was Balloon Fiesta Park, site of the city’s renowned annual International Balloon Fiesta. He had been in Albuquerque for almost six months, yet had never visited the popular site. The truth was, he knew, hot air balloons terrified him. It seemed there always were news articles about them crashing and burning and killing the occupants.
Airplanes were a different matter. They had wings and engines to propel them. More importantly, they had devices to control direction and speed. Balloons, however, had none of those. To him, they were helpless objects blown wherever the wind took them, and dependent on a limited fuel supply to create the hot air that kept them aloft. And where they came down often wasn’t a matter of choice. There were dangerous objects, like power lines, that spelled certain tragedy. No, he reminded himself, hot air balloons weren’t for him.
Neither was the situation that had led him to flee his own apartment earlier that morning. Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, he had found the small studio apartment in Bernalillo, just over the line in Sandoval County about seventeen miles north of the office. It was the perfect blend; not too far for commuting purposes, but not too near either. He didn’t particularly like the place. It was in a large apartment complex filled with young families with noisy kids, but it was cheap and he could afford it with what he netted from his salary after alimony and child support deductions. Although it was on the east bank of the Rio Grande, all he could view from his low rent studio was a section of parking lot.
Given where he was in his life at the moment, Christie didn’t socialize much, and never had guests over. The place was too small and he wasn’t much of a housekeeper. That was why what had happened this morning was so shocking to him.
He woke up, as usual, about five o’clock. This time, however, he had a very bad taste in his mouth, a queasy stomach and a mild to medium headache. His first thought was that he had a fast moving stomach virus. Then he was aware of the bare leg resting firmly against his left thigh. He was still half asleep and his thoughts were foggy. Was he with Deborah? Had the divorce been a bad dream? Or was he dreaming now? The room was dark, but light from the parking lot lamps intruded around the edges of the drawn shades. Christie turned his aching head slowly. He knew now that he really was awake. He wasn’t dreaming. In the weak light, he could distinguish a woman lying next to him. Tousled mane of thick, dark hair. Olive complexion. Naked. Sound asleep and snoring lightly. He realized he was naked too.
He rolled his head back and stared through the darkness at the popcorn-plastered ceiling above. Slowly the memories began to emerge through the fog. Tom Burkhardt had encouraged Camilla Ramirez to call Christie and invite him for a drink. He’d been so focused on Whelan that he was caught completely by surprise and couldn’t think of a plausible excuse. Ramirez had been savvy enough to know how to handle a skittish man. She’d suggesting meeting somewhere rather than offering to pick him up or having him come to her house. At a loss for words, and reluctantly, Christie had agreed. He also made a mental note to give Burkhardt hell the next time he saw him. I’m a grown man, and if I want a date, I could find one on my own. I don’t need a damn matchmaker. What was the word his Jewish friends used? He tried to remember. Yenta? Yente? One was the male term, the other female. His head started to pound worse. He remembered meeting Ramirez at the Prairie Star restaurant. It had been her choice, and it turned out to be a very nice place. It was in an old adobe house and surrounded by a golf course. The place was located on a ridge that rose gently to the west of the Rio Grande. The view, he remembered had been wonderful; darkness of the desert at night, the lights of Bernalillo and the traffic on I-25 a few miles away, and rising above it all, the rugged, moonlit spine of the Sandia Mountains.
They sat in the bar area and had a couple of drinks. She persuaded him to try tequila. It had been a long time since Christie had drunk the stuff. He remembered it from his college days; cheap and harsh. But Ramirez knew her tequilas and encouraged him to try an añejo distilled from the blue agave plants in the highlands of the Mexican state of Jalisco. It was surprisingly sweet and mellow. It went down easily. Too easily.
The Prairie Star, what he could remember of it, had a very genuine Southwestern atmosphere. Vestiges of the original flat-roofed, earthen structure added just the right touch of ambiance; a kiva fireplace and the round wooden beams or vigas overlain with the smaller latillas that supported the ceiling. There were nichos in the stuccoed walls containing santos, small wood carved statues. Small oil paintings of saints on wood or metal, known as retablos, and the ubiquitous strings of red peppers, or ristas, also were hung along the walls. Christie began to relax and actually enjoy himself for the first time in a very long while. He didn’t want the occasion to end, so, judgment impaired by the tequila, he offered to buy her dinner. Over an excellent meal and more tequila, he noticed how easy she was to talk to. And Camilla Ramirez was very pretty. She had smooth skin and even features. The dress she had chosen for the evening enhanced her natural beauty. The low cut neckline revealed deep cleavage, and the high hemline showed off her remarkably well-shaped legs. There was a certain shyness about her, yet at the same time she seemed open and at ease. He liked her calm demeanor. It seemed like a long time since anything in his life had proceeded smoothly. He found himself enjoying the situation so much that he invited her to return to the lounge area for a nightcap. It turned out to be more than one.
Later, as they were leaving the bar and walking out into the chill of the desert evening, she nestled close to him. Using the tequila as an excuse, she suggested that she’d had too much too drink to drive back to her place in Albuquerque. Drunkenly gallant, Christie asked her to stay at his apartment. He offered to sleep on the couch, giving her the Murphy bed. When they got home, one thing quickly led to another. Later, as Christie lay there beside her in the darkness, he felt a rush of feelings; not all of them negative. He knew for certain that he wasn’t ready for a relationship. Not until after he had taken care of Whelan. But there were two main differences now. He could actually see a life beyond that payback. And, to his very great relief, he didn’t suffer from erectile dysfunction. That was a fear that had haunted him ever since his marriage had fallen apart.
But that comfort didn’t solve his immediate problem. How to deal with Camilla Ramirez? What were her expectations now? Would she think they were an “item”? He recalled snippets of locker room conversation from his youth. It had been a commonly accepted premise that women could talk a good game of free and easy, but once you bedded them, they often became territorial, possessive. He and his youthful buddies had opined that it was as if, having done the dirty deed, a girl’s rationalization of the act required some form of commitment from the guy who had bedded her. They viewed it as a woman’s way of trapping a man into a relationship that was designed to lead to marriage. He thought that probably sounded an awful lot like male chauvinism in today’s world. On the other hand, Deborah had been his first real girlfriend and she had been the one to press for marriage. Maybe there was something to that theory after all.
That was the thought that frightened Christie. It was what drove him to slip quietly from the Murphy bed, dress hurriedly, and sneak out to his car. He left a brief note on the tiny kitchen counter. He really didn’t know what to tell her. Ultimately, the note simply said, “I’ll call you later”.
The angry blaring of a car horn snatched Christie from his reverie. He had drifted absentmindedly into the outside lane on the Interstate and the other driver responded loud and long. Christie glanced at the other driver through the Crown Vic’s side window. It was a young, blonde woman. She was giving him the finger. He actually was relieved at the incident. He’d been about to miss the off ramp at the exit for Montgomery Boulevard. He turned left at the end of the ramp and proceeded east on Montgomery.
His first stop was a Jack in the Box. It was close to his office and easy to access. That was about the only reason he could think of for eating there. And he ate there almost every day, sometimes all three meals. Today, he ordered the same thing he had for breakfast every day, black coffee and a Breakfast Waffle Sandwich. Fried egg, American cheese, and sausage patty layered between two small waffle slices. When it came to his stomach problems, the meal was probably a wash. The egg and cheese, although fried, basically were neutral. But the sausage definitely didn’t help matters. That’s where he hoped the waffle slices played a key role. It seemed logical to him that they would act like sponges, soaking up stomach acid. Just to be safe, he popped three Rolaids in his mouth.
After picking up his meal, Christie swung a U-turn at the intersection with San Mateo Boulevard and stopped at the Walgreens in Montgomery Plaza. He bought a toothbrush, safety razor, and travel size toothpaste and shaving cream. He really wanted a shower, but would have to make do with a sink in a men’s room at the office. He also bought a disposable cell phone, a Nokia, and $100 of minutes through T-Mobile.
Given the early hour, he easily was the first Bureau employee to arrive that morning. After freshening up, he settled into his office, closed the door and fired up his computer. Using Google Earth, he surfed to the Dingle Peninsula in Southwestern Ireland. He had done this several times since the online discussion with his friend at INTERPOL Washington. He had learned that the peninsula was thirty-two miles long by twelve at its widest point. According to online sources, it had a population of 10,000 people. He recognized that it was a lot of territory to cover and a lot of people to sift through, but he was determined to do it. No matter how long it took.
At nine o’clock, he made it a point to stick his head in Wojakowski’s office and discuss some trivial matter. He wanted her to think he was on the job. A few minutes later, he left the building and strolled around the parking lot to a point opposite the SAC’s office. He stepped under an overhang that provided sheltered parking to the building’s bigwigs and pulled out his new cell phone. Christie tapped in a local number he had memorized and waited for an answer at the other end.
After three rings, a woman’s voice said, “Travel Services, Margaret speaking. How may I help you?” She sounded annoyingly affected to Christie.
“I’m interested in traveling to Ireland.”
“Oh, it is absolutely gorgeous this time of year.”
“No it isn’t. It’s cold and it’s rainy.”
There was a momentary pause on the other end of the line. Somewhat stiffly Margaret said, “Excuse me. I assumed you wanted to travel in the very near future.”
“I do, and it’s cold and it’s rainy.” He paused momentarily then said, “It’s always cold and rainy in Ireland.”
The tone of the woman’s response was noticeably frostier. “I see. Well then, when are you planning to fly?”
“What’s the cheapest day to fly? I don’t want to spend a fortune.”
Another pause. The agent dealt with a lot of different personalities in her business. She swiftly categorized Christie a rude and miserly. She sighed audibly and said, “I take it your plans are somewhat flexible?”
“No. I just don’t want to spend more money than I have to.”
“Well, Tuesdays generally are considered to be the most economical days to fly.”
“That’s fine,” Christie said. “Book me a one-way ticket to Ireland next Tuesday.”
“Do you know your return date?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Alright.” She paused for a few moments. Christie assumed she was searching her computer for airfares. After a short while, Margaret said, “You’re in luck. I’ve found a fare that connects with Aer Lingus in New York. It departs Albuquerque at midnight and arrives in Dublin at about five in the morning.”
“That’s a pretty quick flight.”
“Not really.” Margaret’s voice had the tone of someone who thought she was speaking to a nitwit. “The layover in New York is almost twelve hours. Total time is over twenty-two hours.”
Christie didn’t like that. “Isn’t there a direct flight?”
“Not from Albuquerque.” Again, there was a sound of exasperation in her voice, like that of someone who believed she was having to explain the obvious to a fool. “There are other flights available that are shorter, but they involve multiple connections and cost considerably more.”
He thought about his options for a moment. “Okay,” he said finally. “I’ll take the flight you mentioned first.”
Margaret spent several minutes getting his information and booking the passage. Eventually, she said, “That should take care of the flight. Will you need ground transportation or lodging in Dublin?”
“No,” he said quickly. Maybe too quickly. He thought about the kind of impression he might be making on the travel agent in an era of terrorism. “I’m staying with friends. They’ll take care of all that.” He knew it would have been simpler to let the agent make all of his travel arrangements including a rental car and a place to stay, but he didn’t want to leave such an easy trail to follow.
The agent finished the flight arrangements and Christie pressed the red key to disconnect the call. He dropped the cell phone in a trouser pocket and went back to his office. As he passed through the reception area, an attractive young lady on the desk sweetly said, “Excuse me, Agent Christie, you had two calls while you were away from your desk. They came through the main switchboard and didn’t leave any messages.” With a big smile, she handed him a single slip of paper.
He looked at her with a mildly confused expression. “Didn’t you say there were two calls?”
The big smile never left her face, as if she were inexplicably delighted just to have a relatively low-paying job in the backwater outpost of a government bureaucracy. “Yes, there were two, but only one caller left a number. It was a female caller. The other was a man, but he said he’d call again later.”
“Do you have any information regarding the other call?”
“Only that the number had a 33 prefix. I copied it from my phone’s screen.”
The smile might be a little overdone, Christie thought, but the girl seemed to be good at her job. Christie looked at the slip of paper as he walked to his office. If the calls had been made directly to his line, the screen on his desk set would have notified him of the calls. He then could have viewed them by accessing the Missed Calls list on his phone.
He didn’t recognize the local number. As for the other one, he thought the prefix, 33, was the calling code for France. Who the hell would be calling me from France, he wondered. He couldn’t think of anyone he knew who lived or was visiting there. He entered his office and punched up Bureau software that would identify the location of the callers. The local number had been placed from the headquarters of the Bernalillo County sheriff’s department. He knew it wasn’t Tom Burkhardt’s number. Then he figured it out. Camilla Ramirez. His initial reaction was a mild panic attack. Shit, he thought, what have I gotten into? Is she gonna stalk me now that we had sex? The feeling passed in a moment as he realized she must have called because she was confused about waking up in his apartment to find he had vanished without a word. Probably just wants to tell me she had a good time, he thought. He’d had a good time too. He made a mental note to return her call later in the day. Maybe he would see her again before next Tuesday.
The second call was a different matter. The software confirmed that it had come from Paris. But, for some reason, it couldn’t provide any additional information. That puzzled him. The program had been hyped as being able to pinpoint the source of every call received; and provide additional information such as to whom the phone was registered. It was like the caller knew about the system and had managed to bypass it. Maybe James Bond is alive and well after all, he thought wryly.
At a few minutes after three in the afternoon, he called the number in the sheriff’s department. Camilla Ramirez picked up on the third ring. He apologized for his mysterious behavior of earlier that morning, claiming he’d had an early morning appointment that he had almost forgotten. They agreed to meet for dinner on Saturday evening.
Shortly after he finished the conversation his phone rang. The small screen displayed the number of the incoming call. It had a 33 prefix. He picked up the receiver.
“This is Special Agent Christie.” There was a long pause at the other end. Christie said again, “This is Special Agent Christie, can I help you?”
A man’s voice came over the line. “Agent Christie, it has been awhile. I trust you are well.”
Christie struggled to place the voice. There was something vaguely familiar about it. And traces of an accent. Eastern European? “Who is this?” he said, trying to sound disinterested.
“We last spoke almost a year ago.”
“Yeah? In reference to what?”
And then it hit him. The kidnapping of his family the previous summer. And the man who called him and said he had them, trying to use that as leverage to involve Christie in some forthcoming activity. That activity, Christie was sure, had been the attempt to assassinate the president. What Christie had known then was that his family had been abducted by Whelan’s people, and, according to a call from Deborah, they were safe and being treated like royalty. In a mansion. With servants. That fucking Whelan, he thought. No wonder his wife had gone all gaga over the Irish bastard. A solar flare immediately burst through his stomach. Yes, now he knew who was on the other end of the line.
“Maksym,” he said.
“How kind of you to remember me, Special Agent.”
“Cut the shit. What do you want?” Christie activated the call tracer mechanism, but didn’t have much confidence that it would be of use in this situation. After all, the Bureau’s sophisticated number pinpointing software hadn’t been able to provide much information.
“We have a common foe, you and I,” Maksym said.
“Yeah? And that would be?” Christie had a premonition that he knew what the answer would be and he was right.
“A person named Brendan Whelan. Yes?”
“What’s your point?” Christie said warily. What the hell was this Maksym person up to now? And how could he know how much Christie hated Whelan?
“We have a mutual contact in the An Garda Síochána.”
Christie felt a chill run through him, and the pain in his stomach ramped up several degrees. He fumbled one-handedly to open the top right-hand drawer of his desk. There had to be a pack of Rolaids in there. He didn’t know what to say. How could Maksym know about his connection with INTERPOL Washington and the link with the informant in An Garda Síochána? Was Maksym trying to blackmail him again into doing something criminal, maybe treasonous? He found the Rolaids, squeezed three of them from the pack and tossed them into his mouth.
“You are surprised that I know this, yes? Not to worry, Special Agent, I am assuming you are still interested in catching this man, Whelan. And I will not share the information I’m about to give you with anyone.”
Struggling to find something to say, yet reveal nothing, Christie said, “I’m no longer directly assigned to that particular investigation, but I’m happy to pass along relevant information. It’s part of my job.”
“Yes, of course it is.” Was that sarcasm in Maksym’s voice? “I am aware of your new status with your employer,” Maksym continued. “Yet, I am certain you would like to see justice done, given all the effort you put into this matter, not to mention your own personal suffering.”
Yes, Christie thought, the man definitely was mocking him. “So what exactly do you expect to get in exchange for this information?”
“Nothing,” Maksym said. “I simply am a man doing his civic duty in helping a criminal be brought to justice. That and the satisfaction of knowing that a hard working civil servant will finally get the credit that is due him.”
Christie was silent for several moments. Maksym’s patronizing attitude infuriated him. Finally, he said, “What’s this information you want to share with me.”
“I am going to tell you exactly where Brendan Whelan is.”
Chapter 9—Naples, Florida
Naples, Florida, or, as the local Chamber of Commerce preferred, Naples On The Gulf, drifted past the darkened windows of the limousine. The town had long banned billboards, and the poorer areas were carefully screened from sight. Local business and tourism interests liked to tout the town as the wealthiest in Florida, but that wasn’t quite true. The entire county, Collier, sometimes topped the list for highest per capita income in Florida, higher than Palm Beach or Sarasota Counties.
In terms of net worth, Forbes Magazine ranked the town at 20th, pegging the net worth of its wealthier class of citizens at $16,000,000. But that put it behind six other areas in the State. The problem with that math, the local swells might claim, was that it factored in ordinary working stiffs whose annual income just happens to exceed $200,000 per year. Instead, they would point to the enclave known as Port Royal, occupying a mostly man-made peninsula between Naples Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The original developer named it after the legendary sunken city in Jamaica. The names of its narrow winding lanes reflected that theme—Rum Row, Spyglass Lane, Kings Towne Drive. Even in times of economic recession homes still sold for sums that reached well into the millions. Massive Gulf-front estates, on the infrequent occasions when they were sold, commanded prices of $50,000,000 and higher.
A home in Port Royal often is regarded as the top choice in the flight to quality by the wealthiest business and industrial tycoons – old money and nouveau riche alike. And why wouldn’t they? Golf, boating, and tennis in a year-round temperate climate. Palatial homes in the Addison Mizner-inspired style of Spanish revival architecture, surrounded by immense lawns fronting on the Gulf, the bay, or both. Lush green landscaping and impeccably manicured lawns.
The sole passenger in the limousine, Harland Phillip Edwin Fairchilde, IV, was not impressed. He often thought that if the late Walt Disney had tried, he wouldn’t have been able to replicate such a fairy tale setting as contrived as Port Royal was. For God’s sake, he thought, it wasn’t even gated and its streets were publicly maintained. That meant that anyone could use them. Despite the fact that his family was among the wealthiest in the nation, he wouldn’t even consider buying a home in such a place.
He stared dispassionately out the window at the seemingly endless string of lawn maintenance vehicles lining Gordon Drive, the wide avenue that formed the spine of the peninsula. An army of workers was swarming over the immense yards trimming trees, mowing, edging, gathering the debris and hauling it away in large vans towed behind even larger trucks. The trucks and vans all had various landscape companies’ names on them. Most were Hispanic. That brought a trace of a smile to his thin, almost bloodless lips. These were good people, he thought. They worked hard, did what they were told, and didn’t cause problems outside their own more humble areas in the county. And they voted the way they were instructed to vote; that is, the ones who managed to be here legally. To him, they were the perfect citizens in the evolving world. Do as you are told and you will be taken care of. Cradle to the grave. Stray from the reservation and there would be a very steep price to pay.
The limo moved south on Gordon Drive paralleling the Gulf. Port Royal had been pumped from the bay bottom in the late 1940s, before mangrove swamps were recognized as marine fisheries and defenses against erosion caused by storms. Also before state and federal agencies spewed forth reams of regulations to ban dredge-and-fill activities. Homes and homesites in the enclave were coveted by the über wealthy, but there were still a few unimproved sites left. Fairchilde knew they were referred to as Club Lots. The greatest symbol of wealth and status in Port Royal and beyond was membership in the Port Royal Club. Membership was available only to those who owned real estate in the privileged neighborhood.
It was late in the season and traffic on Gordon Drive was not too heavy. But there were enough tourists motoring slowly along the street to annoy Fairchilde. They stopped and started, slowed and sped up, all the while yammering on their cell phones and streaming narrated videos to their friends and relatives back north. The fact that they were awed by the discreet display of enormous wealth didn’t faze him. His great grandfather has been an original robber baron, a railroad magnate. The family’s wealth had grown exponentially over succeeding generations. How they had managed to do that, and how they intended to further increase it were the reasons for his visit to Naples.
The driver slowed the limo and turned off Gordon Drive onto an elegant brick paved entranceway divided by a median beautifully landscaped with queen palms. A discreet sign was attached to the open wrought iron gate. It said “Port Royal Club”. The driver wheeled the limo around a well-landscaped center island and under the portico. The Club was housed in a rambling one-story building that sprawled along a priceless stretch of beach. Opened in 1950, it was painted a soft pink and topped by a shake shingle roof. Fairchilde was from very old money and had always been a member of a the most privileged class. He knew the drill, and waited patiently as the Club’s valet trotted eagerly down the entrance steps and opened the limo’s door for him. It was April in Naples and the noonday temperature was in the mid-eighties.
Inside, the Club was very cool and dry, decorated with impeccable taste. From the front entrance, visitors could see the pool through large glass panels on the other side of a sunken reception area. Beyond the pool the Gulf of Mexico sparkled in the noontime sun. Fairchilde paused briefly before descending the few steps to the reception area and gazed at the pool. The beautiful people were on full display. Mostly, they were young mothers or mistresses with long legs, tight butts, flat tummies and large, perfect breasts. Another benefit of great wealth – personal trainers, dieticians, and the very best plastic surgeons.
A hostess appeared and led him to the left along the floor-to-ceiling glass panels. She turned right and led him through a small bar area and into a cozy dinning room. She brought him to a table at the far end of the room overlooking the pool and the Gulf. There was a single occupant at the table, a pudgy, florid-faced man about Fairchilde’s own age. Unlike Fairchilde, who still had on the suit he wore on his private jet for the flight from New York to Naples, the other man was wearing Bermuda shorts, a Tommy Bahama polo shirt and sandals. It was noon and the man was sipping a martini. Fairchilde doubted it was his first of the day.
The man, Henry Malcolm Ellsworth Martin, III, stood and extended his hand to Fairchilde. They shook and the man motioned toward an empty chair. “You’re looking quite well, Harland. Have a seat, please.”
“And you’re looking fit as well, Henry. I trust Cora and the other members of your family are well.”
Fairchilde picked up the menu from the table and glanced at it. The Club maintained a staff of top chefs and nothing on the menu was less than tempting. He selected a seafood salad and placed his order with the hovering server.
“Are you sure you don’t want to remove your suit coat, Harland? Regardless what you left in New York, it’s summer here.”
“No thank you. I won’t be here that long.”
“You know you’re welcome to stay overnight. Cora would be delighted to see you.”
“No, there are a number of pressing matters that require my presence back in New York. I’m here solely for this meeting.”
“You were quite mysterious on the phone in setting it up. I assume this concerns the affairs of AGU?” Martin said in reference to the Alliance for Geopolitical Unity.
The server, an appealing young blonde girl, brought Fairchilde’s iced tea. He waited patiently for her to withdraw.
When she was out of earshot, Martin, whose eyes were still fixed on her well-shaped butt, leaned in toward the other man and said, “ Wouldn’t you like to get some of that? Can you imagine how tight and juicy that must be?”
Fairchilde regarded him for a few moments; the expression on his pale face was as cold and as hard as his dark brown eyes. “I’m glad you have time for sexual fantasies, Henry, but my time is more valuable and somewhat limited. Let’s get down to business.”
The other man sat back in his chair and looked away. “Fine,” he said and began pecking at his tropical salad with a small fork.
“The purpose of our meeting today is to ensure your support for a change in strategy. As you are aware, there is an AGU Board of Governors meeting next week. Your active support could help to influence other members of the Board.”
“What is this change in strategy you mentioned?”
Fairchilde sipped his tea for a moment before answering. “With the loss of Laski, it’s become apparent that placing all of our financial activities in the hands of one person is not terribly efficient. In lieu of that, I’m proposing that we utilize a number of our members to distribute funds to the requisite organizations.”
“Who do you have in mind?”
“Very wealthy, but naïve, do-gooders. All of them are members of AGU.”
“Could you be more specific?”
Fairchilde regarded the other man with an expressionless gaze, as if measuring the pros and cons of disclosing additional information. After several moments, he said, “Two of them are from the entertainment industry, one is a tech tycoon, and the other one is a former senator who ran unsuccessfully for president.”
“And their names are?” Martin said hopefully.
“In good time, Henry. In good time.”
Martin’s disappointment showed, but he said, “I agree with the concept and will support it. We’re better off without Laski anyway, that fat old bastard. He was a sexual pervert and an arrogant fool.”
“Yes, well we certainly don’t want any sexual perversion in our ranks, do we, Henry?”
Martin reddened slightly at the thinly veiled reference to his comment about the young waitress. “What about our foreign friends? Are the Muscovites still cooperating fully?”
“They believed Laski was their operative and are less forthcoming now that he is gone. Not to worry, they’ll come back around in good time. After all, they have global ambitions and a one-horse economy. They need us.”
“But,” Martin said, “they still are Russians and that leaves a lot to be desired.”
“True, they are a nation of peasants, and very low grade ones at that. But that simply makes them easier to manipulate.”
Martin took a sip from his second martini, set it back on the table and said, “Where do we stand with our ‘friends’ in the Society?”
“I admit, eliminating Laski was a minor victory for them, as was interfering with the planned assassination of that irritating presence we foolishly placed in the White House. In the scheme of things, however, I don’t think they’ve gained any advantage. They aren’t a serious threat as long as we don’t get careless again.”
“Not a serious threat? Their group of super commandos, or whatever they are, you don’t consider them a serious threat? As I understand it, those bastards have faked their deaths twice. Is it even possible to kill them?” Martin sat back in his chair and stared across the table.
Fairchilde put his fork down and smiled at the other man. “They are only as dangerous as we permit them to be.”
“You seem quite smug about all this, Harland. Why? I thought those men were super beings or something.”
Fairchilde shook his head. “Not super beings, Henry. True, they are stronger, faster, and more intelligent than most other humans. Apparently, for whatever reason, they are genetically evolved, sort of like beta models of human beings in the distant future. We don’t know why that is, yet.”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t want those sonsofbitches chasing my ass! Not after what they did to Laski and his private army of thugs.” Martin paused and finished his martini. “You may not think they are dangerous, but others of us do.” He stuck the fancy toothpick with two bleu cheese-stuffed olives in his mouth and pulled the empty pick between his teeth.
Fairchilde smiled a cold, mirthless smile. “Those troublesome individuals you seem so frightened of, are known rather quaintly as the Sleeping Dogs.”
“I suppose there’s some clever reason behind their name?”
“Of course, isn’t there always? In this instance it’s in reference to a line from the tragedy Troilus and Criseyde by the medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He cautioned against waking a sleeping hound for fear you would be rather savagely bitten. Actually, the phrase is recorded a bit earlier than that in the French Proverbia Vulgalia et Latina, where it’s worded, ‘Ne reveillez pas le chien qui dort’ or ‘Do not wake the dog that sleeps’. Some even believe it may have been based on chapter 26, verse 17 from the Book of Proverbs.”
Martin sighed and said, “Thank you for sharing, but that really was more than I cared to know.” He was well aware of Fairchilde’s intellect and extraordinary classical education. He disliked being reminded.
At sixty, Fairchilde’s face still had firm features and near perfect skin, a benefit of being well born. Now, there was a look of smugness on those features. “You needn’t waste time being concerned with these Sleeping Dog fellows, Henry.”
“Really? How is that?”
“It seems that the man who ran Laski’s ‘private army’, as you called it, has been successfully recruited into our fold. Interestingly, the Russians think he’s their man, which provides us with yet another mole inside their operations.”
“Pardon me for interrupting,” Martin said, leaning forward, “but on the subject of moles, I understand we have managed to place one inside the Society?”
“Yes, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it at this time, Henry.”
“Then tell me more about this fellow who formerly worked for Laski.”
“Most significantly, as it turns out, he’s like these Sleeping Dogs, genetically speaking. And he has a personal vendetta to fulfill. He believes their successful action against Laski was a personal humiliation, a failure on his part. He intends to hunt them down and kill them, one by one, as well as Clifford Levell and General McCoy.”
“Isn’t that a bit of a daunting task, given that these ‘Sleeping Dogs’ are at least on an equal footing with this man, and there are more of them?”
“There are two factors involved here, Henry. First, by tracking them individually, it becomes an even match. Actually, it favors our man because he has the element of surprise on his side.”
“And what is factor number two?
Fairchilde smiled the empty smile again. “One of these Sleeping Dogs is the leader. He’s the most dangerous one. He absolutely must be eliminated. But in his case, we have the luxury of a backup plan, a second assassin.”
“And he is…?”
“You no doubt will be surprised to learn that he is an agent of our Federal Bureau of Investigation.” Fairchilde sat back and watched the other man’s reaction.
Martin’s eyes widened and he blinked twice in rapid succession. “An FBI agent? I don’t understand.”
“It appears that the chap believes this leader of the Sleeping Dogs, a man named Brendan Whelan, is responsible for alienating his wife, who subsequently divorced the FBI fellow. It seems he now has a very strong desire to kill Whelan. Apparently, our new friend has something of a history with him, and is assisting in that endeavor.”
“Does our ‘new friend’ have a name?”
“Yes. His name is Maksym.”
Chapter 10—Albuquerque, NM
Using accrued vacation time, Christie arrived at Albuquerque’s International Sunport for the first leg of his flight to Ireland. He wished he’d used the days to spend more time with his wife and children when he’d had the chance. He tried to take his mind off the subject by studying the concourses and complementary facilities of the airport. They were a mélange of clearly separate pieces, both visually and physically pleasing. It was an embodiment of the old saw, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Its commercial aspects, like all airports great and small, mostly offered fast food, beverages, tee shirts, and other tourist memorabilia. But even there, its motif fittingly was based on the culture and tradition of the American Southwest.
Mitch Christie was a Midwesterner by birth and disposition. He admitted that he just didn’t get the whole Southwestern thing. To him a desert was, after all, just a damn desert, a desolate and lonely pile of sand sprouting cacti and devoid of water. Still, the Sunport impressed him. It seemed surprisingly large given the size of the population of the Greater Albuquerque area. Then he remembered that it was the only major airport hub in the State of New Mexico, and serviced a far greater geographic area than Albuquerque and its environs. At the moment, the terminal was mostly deserted. Not many flights departed at midnight.
He had checked his single suitcase with a skycap at the curb, and was killing time before his flight departed for its connection in New York City. He ducked into the only sundries shop still open at the hour. He wanted to be certain he had enough Rolaids to last for the duration of the trip, assuming he would be in a position to catch a return flight. He didn’t know much about Ireland and wasn’t sure he could find Rolaids there. He bought ten packs and stuffed them into his small briefcase. There wasn’t much else in the case except a recent thriller by his current favorite author, Lee Child. Christie wasn’t sure how well he would sleep on the long flight, given the nature of the mission, and brought the reading material in case he wasn’t able to doze off. Along with the Rolaids, he bought a copy of the Wall Street Journal and stuffed it into the briefcase also. He wasn’t sure why he bought the paper, as it was almost a full day old. He considered it to be the most relevant and accurate of any major newspaper. In that regard, he mused; he probably wasn’t very different philosophically from that super patriot Levell and his fellow members of the Society of Adam Smith. That thought stopped him in his tracks. He shook his head vigorously as if trying to dislodge the idea that he might have anything in common with Whelan.
A woman walked past him, her heels clicking on the floor of the terminal. The sound interrupted his thoughts. His eyes automatically turned toward the sound and followed her. She was a Latina woman, and from a certain angle bore a passing resemblance to Camilla Ramirez. A feeling of guilt flushed over him.
Three days earlier, on Saturday, they’d had their second date. Things didn’t go well. Christie shook his head again; this time the thoughts didn’t dissolve. He remembered picking her up at her place, fully expecting to spend the night there after dinner. She had suggested a small steakhouse with a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Again, tequila was their drink of choice. A lot of tequila. Christie remembered feeling relaxed and comfortable for the first time in recent memory. Maybe he was too relaxed. Over an after dinner cappuccino, she casually said, “I felt really cheap when you left without saying a word the other morning.”
It caught him by surprise. He had thought that matter was behind them. He stammered and said, “I…I’m really sorry about that.”
“Why,” she had said, with hurt and anger rising in her voice, “would you do such a thing?”
That was where he’d shot himself in the foot; hell, blew his whole leg off. He’d stared at her for several moments, trying to remember what excuse he’d given her previously. Finally, he’d licked his lips and his eyes darted down and to the right as he said, “I had a report that was overdue. I had to get to work early to finish it.” Then he’d rubbed his nose. All those actions are a liar’s downfall.
The look she had given him was still as vivid in his memory as the moment it had come over her face. Absolute rage. And betrayal. Later he’d remembered that he had originally told her he’d had an early meeting that morning, not an overdue report. There had been no more conversation in the restaurant or in the car on the ride back to her apartment. When he’d pulled to the curb, she had jumped out of his car and slammed the door forcefully behind her. He had sat and watched her storm up the walkway toward her apartment. An icy dread almost overpowered him. He was falling apart physically, and maybe more. His wife, who had been his sweetheart since college, had dumped him for another man, an Irish renegade at that. Clearly, the Bureau had little regard for him anymore. Then, just when he was beginning to feel acceptable to an attractive woman, the budding relationship suddenly crashed and burned. The feeling of loneliness and rejection – career, love life, everything – was so overwhelming, he had almost wept. The tequila hadn’t helped. He’d spent a sleepless night.
A shiver surged through Christie at the recent, painful memories. He glanced at the clock high on a wall of the terminal. Twenty minutes to midnight. Time to board the flight to New York. If all went well in the not-always-friendly skies, he would be in Dublin in little more than twenty-two hours. Then, thanks to information provided by his unlikely new ally, Maksym, he would finally get some measure of satisfaction for all the miseries he had experienced.
Chapter 11—The Kremlin, Moscow
There were several kremlins in Russia. The word means fort or citadel, and the structures generally were located in the heart of a city. Kirill Federov had seen a number of kremlins in various parts of Russia, but none of them could compare with the one he was approaching now. The Moscow kremlin, or as it was more commonly called, the Kremlin, was the symbolic heart of the Russian Federation. According to legend, it had been built on the site of a hunting lodge owned by Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy. At that time, the Kievan Rus empire was disintegrating under the pressure of the invading Mongol hordes. The site was a sensible place to develop a fortification. It sat atop Borovitsky Hill overlooking the Moskva River and Red Square. Federov was aware that most Westerners ignorantly believed that the Russian government occupied the Kremlin. The Russian parliament, or Federal Assembly, consisted of two separately located chambers. State Duma, located in Central Moscow, was the lower. The 166-member Federation Council was the upper one. Its main offices were located on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street. That, Federov knew, as did all Muscovites, was about to change. The city of Moscow was about to become 2.4 times larger by absorbing a huge wedge of the Moscow Region between the Kiev and Warsaw highways. All state agencies were being relocated to this area, and new offices would house both the legislative and executive bodies.
The walls of the Kremlin formed a rough triangle. Within them there were five palaces, four cathedrals, together with museums and armories. The complex also served as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. This, Federov assumed, was the principal reason why stupid Westerners thought the Kremlin was the Russian version of Capitol Hill in the United States or Westminster in the UK. It definitely was the reason for his visit to the Kremlin today.
Federov’s immediate superior was Gennady Vasilyev, director of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki or SVR, Russia’s primary external intelligence agency. Unlike the FSB, the SVR was responsible for intelligence and espionage activities outside the Russian Federation. Vasilyev reported directly to the president of the Russian Federation. In addition to being Federov’s boss, Vasilyev also was his mentor. The older man had handpicked Federov from the Spetsnaz Vympel unit, the elite Special Forces group formed from a merger of two KGB special units. Similar to the CIA’s Special Activities Division, the unit was responsible for the most secret and sensitive covert activities, as well as counter-terrorist and counter-sabotage operations. Gifted with extreme intelligence, physicality and nerve, Federov had risen swiftly through the ranks of covert operators to become Vasilyev’s right-hand man. His skill as a judo-ka and former Olympic marksman also had gained the admiration of the Russian president.
Perhaps, in spite of the Laski affair, there remained a prospect for him to achieve his career goal. The Directorate KR: External Counter-Intelligence. This was the Directorate that carried out infiltration of foreign intelligence and security services and exercised surveillance over Russian citizens abroad. It was a position of power and influence. Federov had coveted it for years.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, automobile traffic generally was prohibited in the Kremlin. But not all traffic. Business involving the office of the president was a different matter. The aging ZiL-41047, in which Federov was riding, rolled by St Basil’s Basilica with its elaborate paint combinations and byzantine minarets at the foot of Red Square. The old car was one of the last of its line to be produced before production ceased in 2002, as Russian tastes began to favor luxury cars produced by Western nations. This one had been in service for many years, and, while hardly a luxury car, had been well maintained. Despite that, Federov was offended that Vasilyev hadn’t sent a more prestigious car for him. He suspected it was a form of message that had to do with his performance on the last mission. It had not gone well at all.
Moments later the ZiL rolled to a stop near a side entrance to the Senate Building, official residence of the Russian president. The driver got out and opened a rear door for Federov. At last, he thought with slight satisfaction, a little respect. Federov was a big man at six two and two hundred fifteen pounds, but the two men who emerged through the side door and trotted down the steps toward him were much larger. Federov quickly sized them up as FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service or Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti. It was responsible for counterintelligence, antiterrorism, and surveillance of the military. This further offended him. He wondered, had he fallen so far that he was to be escorted like a prisoner by virtual guards? He refused to accept responsibility for Chaim Laski’s fuck-ups. Between Laski and his chief Ukrainian thug, Maksym, the entire operation in America had been compromised. Laski was dead and Maksym undoubtedly was back in the Kievan ghetto that had spawned him. So where was any of that my fault, Federov wondered. Why would Vasilyev and the president punish him? He had told them on previous occasions that Laski was an arrogant, glutinous fool, more interested in his lavish life style than in the carrying through competently on his role in the operation. A brilliant man, yes, but really nothing more than a glorified paymaster who distributed funds provided by the Russian State to further its purposes in America. In any event, it wasn’t the end of the world. Certainly, Vasilyev would have had a backup plan in place for just such a situation as this.
The two hefty FSB men escorted Federov down a very long and elaborately decorated hall. Although they were larger than he was, Federov was secure, almost to the point of arrogance, that they were not a match for him. They crossed a large chamber, which Federov recognized as the Heraldic or Ambassadorial Hall. He knew it was called by both names because its décor was dominated by the Russian coat of arms; and it also was where the Russian president received the representatives of foreign nations. Beyond it were the suite of representative rooms and chambers in the former Senate Palace, including the Small or Oval Hall. The Representative or Ceremonial Office of the Russian president was located there. Federov knew that the president’s Work Office was located elsewhere in the building. The two FSB men led Federov to the Representative Office and one of them motioned with his head for him to enter. Federov was not sure what to make of this. He knew the president used this room to meet with important foreign dignitaries. Did the fact that he was being summoned here indicate that his career was not in jeopardy, he wondered. He stepped into the room. It was elegant, yet simple. Pale green and white walls, crystal chandeliers, and a wooden floor made of several varieties of expensive wood. A large desk dominated the room, surrounded by the Russian coat of arms and flag as well as the president’s standard. The walls were adorned with portraits of past Russian leaders, civilian and military. Across the room was a large fireplace framed in black onyx, and accented by heavy, ornate bronze pieces. A large mirror, also framed in the same onyx, was centered above the mantel. Federov noticed that it was positioned in such a way that it reflected the entire suite of halls outside the Representative Office. There was a setting of very formal, but comfortable looking chairs near the fireplace.
The president and Vasilyev were waiting for him there. Vasilyev waved him to a chair that was positioned in front of the president’s desk. He and the president continued to sit near the fireplace. The positioning of the chairs wasn’t lost on Federov. The president, a small man with a receding hairline, thin face and piercing ice-blue eyes, just stared at him. Federov was very much aware that the Russian president was a veteran of the KGB’s blackest ops apparatus. A former Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, had appointed this man as director of the FSB. There was very little that could frighten Federov, but he was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
Vasilyev skipped the usual small talk and got directly to the point of the meeting. “You are a very intelligent man, Kirill. I assume you know the purpose of this meeting?”
Federov glanced at the president and nodded.
“Good. As a result of the unexpected situation in America, we have suffered a setback.” Vasilyev stared at his protégé for several long moments, but didn’t say anything more.
Federov knew better than to speak. He was being tested. To offer excuses or blame others would sound like whining and make him appear to be weak. He didn’t want any part of that. How he emerged from this meeting would depend almost entirely on how he conducted himself. He sat. Silently.
Vasilyev looked at the president then back at Federov. “You are not on trial here, Kirill. The failure of others involved in the operation, particularly the Jew, Laski, caused our plans to become untracked.”
Federov remained silent. The ethnic slur wasn’t lost on him. Anti-Semitism was alive and well in Russia. Always had been, always would be, he thought. Russia’s history of pogroms was notorious. He knew many dedicated and patriotic Jews who served the State skillfully, but some parts of a nation’s culture never seemed to change.
“Yet,” Vasilyev said, “you were the ranking official onsite. You must bear some responsibility for the setback.”
This brought a slight smile to his mentor’s face. “There also were extenuating circumstances involved, such as the reactivation of that American special forces unit…what were they called?”
“The Sleeping Dogs.”
“Ah, yes, the Sleeping Dogs. A formidable addition to our opposition’s resources.” Vasilyev turned and looked at the president, who said nothing but continued to stare unblinkingly at Federov. His expression was cold, impassive. It was impossible for Federov to determine where the man stood on this issue. Was he being condemned or would he be given a second chance?
“Fortunately, our own assets are more formidable,” Vasilyev said as he rose from his seat. He paused and placed a long, thin finger against his long, thin nose. He was tall and lean and, although he held a general’s rank, he preferred well-tailored suits to a uniform. Many considered him to be the second most powerful man in the Federation, and feared him accordingly. Vasilyev also was brilliant and cunning. His highly successful career was based on a keen ability to read people accurately and manipulate them accordingly. He was always very careful not to give the president any cause to suspect that he harbored ambitious for that top office. Although it was an elective office, the current president controlled the elections and essentially was ruler for life.
Vasilyev walked closer to Federov and sat on the edge of the president’s desk. He smiled disarmingly at Federov. “Kirill, you are quite familiar with our goals and operations in America. How would you proceed from this point?”
The question made Federov even more uncomfortable. Was this a trick? Were they testing his hubris? Or, was Vasilyev, his old friend and mentor, offering him an opportunity at redemption? He thought about the question at length then said, “I know I have disappointed you, and for that I am truly sorry. I have, however, been giving considerable thought on how we might best move forward from this setback.”
The president spoke. His voice was low, but there was a steely tone to it. “Let us hear these thoughts of yours,” he said. The expression on his face gave nothing away.
Federov took his time in answering. He knew he needed to parse his words carefully. “The loss of Laski was most regrettable, of course. It was not, however, fatal to our efforts. I have always believed that the deposing of that imbecile Carter by Ronald Reagan did far more damage and set us back several years. Laski can be replaced rather quickly.”
The president said nothing. He sat very straight in his chair, legs crossed, his right elbow resting on an arm of the chair. His thumb was under his chin and the fingers rested against the side of his face. He continued to regard Federov with his heavy-lidded eyes. This must be how the serpent looks at its prey, Federov thought.
It was Vasilyev who spoke. “Replace Laski quickly? And how would you accomplish that, Kirill?”
“Laski’s apparatus did not die with him. It remains in place.” He paused and glanced at each of the other men then focused his attention on the president. Vasilyev may be asking the questions, but Federov had no doubts who ultimately would make the call. “Specifically, Comrade Laski was a member of, and worked with the Alliance for Geopolitical Unity, or AGU. That organization remains in place.”
“Ah, yes,” Vasilyev said and favored Federov with a cold smile. “The AGU, that group of undeservedly wealthy Americans and their sycophantic political lackeys. They are to be our saviors?”
The president pulled his hand away from his chin and said, “They have been a valuable tool for us for the past century. Have you forgotten, Gennady”
Vasilyev’s response was quick. “Indeed they have, Mr. President. I am aware of their value to us in the achievement of our ultimate goal. Their own goal, that of a one-world government and society is very similar to ours. The difference, of course, is their reason for such a system. As industrialists and investment bankers, they would become even wealthier and more powerful if they controlled the global money supply and banking system. It is their insatiable greed that blinds them to so much and enables us to manipulate them for our purposes.”
The president nodded his head slowly. “It is written in the Bhagavad Gita that there are three gates to self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed. The avarice of these people, the AGU, will be the means of their eventual destruction…after we have used their connections and contributions to achieve our ends.” His gaze moved back to Federov. It wasn’t just the eyes that moved. His head turned slowly, almost indolently. It was a long, narrow skull connected to a somewhat squat body by a thin neck. Federov had always regarded the president as an odd looking man.
“Tell us more of your thoughts for using the AGU in place of Laski,” the president said to Federov.
“As we know, our purpose always has been to destroy the United States as a bastion of capitalism and as a threat to Russian power and ambition. This has not been realistic from a military perspective. Instead, we have been engaged in subverting its political, economic, and social structures from within. Funding this has required an enormous investment of the State’s resources, and Laski was the one who distributed those resources. To the requisite entities and individuals.” Federov paused and looked first at the president then at Vasilyev.
The president said nothing. He simply continued to stare unblinkingly at Federov. Vasilyev, however, made a gesture of impatience and said, “I trust you are going to tell us something we don’t already know?”
Federov nodded. “The goal of the AGU, a one-world government, also requires the destruction of the United State’s economic, political and military power. That is why they have been so eager to work with us toward that end. Now, if we look at the situation in that respect, it seems logical to assume that its members, many of whom are very highly placed in American business, politics, and society, are in an ideal position to distribute the funds that nurture our efforts and ensure our success.”
Still without any display of emotion, the Russian president said, “Tell us, Colonel Federov, do you think us so incompetent that we would not already have thought of this?”
Federov didn’t know quite how to react to the question. Ultimately, he gave a nervous shrug and said, “Of course not, Mr. President. I’m sure you have thought well beyond this point.”
“Yes, we have,” Vasilyev said. “You have spent much time in America, Kirill, and have met with some of the more highly placed members of the AGU or their agents. I would like to hear your observations regarding their intentions once our destruction of the United States is complete. You have heard the president wisely quoting Vedic scriptures regarding the greed of these people. Do they view us as the stooges in this relationship?”
“Yes, I am certain they do. As you said, General, they are blinded by their greed and assume us to be simple Slavic peasants playing in a game way beyond our comprehension.”
At last, the president’s face expressed some emotion. A smirk of satisfaction. “Good. There is none so easy to destroy as a blind fool. In the chaos that will engulf America at the end, its leadership will be easy to pick off.”
“When the head of the snake has been severed,” Vasilyev said, “the body will soon die.”
Federov was an intelligent and physically powerful man. In almost any environment, he was the alpha male. He was the one who was large and in charge. But not here in this room with the diminutive president and the aging Vasilyev. He knew his place. What he didn’t know, at the moment, was what his future held. He bowed his head respectfully and said, “Mr. President, General Vasilyev, may I inquire after the role I am to play going forward?”
The room was quiet for several moments. The only sounds were those emanating from other suites in this part of the building. Dull noises; hard to identify. Probably clerks and administrators going about their tasks, Vasilyev kept his gaze fixed on the president. At last the man nodded slightly and Vasilyev turned back to Federov.
“I mentioned earlier, Kirill, that you must bear some responsibility for what happened regarding Laski and his operation.” He looked quickly at the president then said, “You have been replaced as far as your former role in the United States is concerned.” He paused and assessed Federov’s reaction.
Federov sat back slowly in his chair, but succeeded in keeping any emotion from showing on his face. “I understand. Is there perhaps another role for me, one where I can atone for my …failure?” It was the worst kind of F-word to him. He almost couldn’t get it out.
“Ah, well, you are a good man, Kirill; a man of many talents and abilities. I would be surprised if there was not some worthy service you could perform for the glory of our cause.” Vasilyev held a finger up and said, “But we are going to have to give some thought to what that role might be. In the meantime, we have a task for you in Kiev. You will be meeting with a colleague of yours from your experience with Chaim Laski. Let’s hope, for both your sakes, it goes better this time. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Federov said. He tried to sound respectful, yet unintimidated or disappointed. But it was very nearly impossible.
Chapter 12—JFK Airport, New York City
The JetBlue flight left Albuquerque on time. It was a crowded flight, which mystified Mitch Christie at first. Why were so many people flying from a Podunk town like Albuquerque to the Big Apple on a midnight flight on a Tuesday night in mid-April? Then he remembered. It was Economics 101. The Law of Supply and Demand. Basic Adam Smith stuff. The airlines had stemmed their flow of blood by cutting back on the number of flights. The same number of flyers, but fewer available seats. This enabled the airlines to cram their passenger holds with warm bodies. It also allowed them to raise ticket prices and tack on charges for everything from checked baggage to carry-ons to pillows to Cokes. The rash of mergers had eliminated much of the competition in the industry and led to further price hikes. I should have bought airline stock, Christie thought glumly. For that matter, he mused, I should have done a lot of things differently; yet here I am on my way to a foreign country to kill some sonofabitch I don’t really know. Hell of a way to end a distinguished career in law enforcement.
The flight left Albuquerque at midnight and arrived in New York’s JFK airport about 6 a.m. It sounded longer, but it was only four hours of flying time, distorted by time zones. The plane was packed. Christie didn’t like being confined in a close space with other humans. He thought longingly of his previous travels in First Class. The seats were large and almost comfortable, separated by wide armrests. There was more legroom. And you didn’t have to pay for pillows, blankets, food or drink. In First Class there wasn’t a long line of passengers queued up to use the lavatory. And that tiny closet-like space didn’t reek of human excrement before the flight was even halfway to its destination. He sighed and thought, but that was then. When he’d flown on Bureau business, the taxpayers had treated him to First or Business Class. Now, he was flying on his own dime, and he no longer had many of those, thanks to the divorce.
To his increasing discomfort, he found himself stuck in a middle seat. An obesely fat woman had the aisle seat. Parts of her spilled over into his space repulsing him. Worse, she was blocking his freedom of passage to the lavatory. For whatever reason, maybe her girth, she refused to get up when he tried to get to the aisle. He either had to sit in extreme discomfort and try to ignore his bladder’s growing complaints, or climb over the woman’s mountainous body. Eventually, he chose the latter, nearly falling into the aisle in the process. Returning to his seat was even more difficult. He wished she had been snarky about it; it would have been easier to give her a long, dirty look. Unfortunately, it was the opposite. She clearly was embarrassed and apologized profusely. To his surprise, he found himself trying to make her feel better about it.
The passenger in the window seat was no prize either. He was a man in his early twenties with a face full of scraggily hair and long, oily looking locks that hung below his shoulders. He wore flip-flops, dirty jeans and a wrinkled and torn flannel shirt that looked like it had missed several washings. Christie suspected the man hadn’t bathed in quite awhile either. An aura of body odor spread into Christie’s area. He couldn’t lean the other way because the enormous woman in the aisle seat also was occupying part of his seat. To compound his discomfort, the young man was asleep. His head kept sliding over and coming to rest on Christie’s shoulder. The infuriated FBI agent would lunge sideways, throwing the man to the other side of the seat and against the fuselage. The man would wake up briefly, look at Christie, and whine something like, “Hey, man”. Within minutes, he would be asleep again and trespassing on Christie’s space once more. Christie’s cop’s eyes sized the young man up as a hippy and drug user. He thought long and hard about flashing his Bureau credentials, dragging the offensive man to the lavatory and performing a strip search. He was sure he’d find some reason to bust him and turn him over to local authorities in New York. He just couldn’t figure out how to get himself and the prospective perp over the mountainous mass in the aisle seat.
By the time the flight arrived at JFK, Christie couldn’t wait to deplane. But he wasn’t having any luck there either. It seemed an eternity before the door opened and passengers began to inch forward. In this day of pricier flying, it seemed like everyone brought carry-ons. One-by-one each passenger squeezed into the aisle, wrestled their luggage from the overhead bins, and slowly made room for the person behind them.
Christie’s row was near the rear of the plane. He was almost claustrophobic by the time the person in front of him began to move. To compound his phobic attack, it was the obese woman. She was not only fat, but also a rule breaker. Instead of the clearly limited two carry-on items per passenger, she had a huge purse, a large cloth bag crammed to capacity with foodstuffs she’d nibbled on throughout the flight, and an oversized carry-on suitcase. Unencumbered, her sheer girth would have made it difficult for her to navigate the narrow aisle. But with the extra baggage, it was almost impossible. Christie caught himself thinking that if he had access to a can of Crisco, he could grease her up and slide her more easily out of the plane. He realized instantly how ignoble the thought was and felt ashamed of himself for thinking it.
Eventually, he was able to exit the plane, but still couldn’t get around the woman and her burdens on the gangway. Worse, the woman’s size made it difficult for her to walk. It was a very slow proceeding. Finally, he realized how he could speed it up. He volunteered to carry some of her items. That made it marginally faster.
Christie wasn’t sure why he was in a hurry. He had almost twelve hours to kill in the airport before his connecting flight to Ireland departed. He had his Lee Child novel. He had his Wall Street Journal. He hadn’t been able to read either one on the flight from Albuquerque because of the actions of his seating partners. The Journal now was a day old. He’d pick up today’s edition in one of the airport shops. With almost twelve hours to kill, he suspected he’d see a lot of those airport shops. And food and beverage outlets too. The only bright spot so far in the journey was the airport terminal.
Both JetBlue, his arriving carrier, and Aer Lingus, his connecting flight, used Terminal 5. The terminal itself was fairly new, having been completed a few years earlier. He had read that the gull winged building not only offered free Wi-Fi, but also boasted twenty-seven retail shops and twenty-four food and beverage outlets. One of them was a Dunkin’ Donuts. He zeroed in on it for his breakfast. Coffee and glazed crullers. His stomach would object violently, but he had stocked up on Rolaids. Given the nature of his mission, he probably didn’t have many days left. He doubted he would have to endure his stomach’s belligerence much longer. He wasn’t sure what kind of situation he would encounter when he killed Whelan. Irish authorities or Whelan’s kin might, in turn, kill him. It wasn’t going to be like the US, where everything possible was done to accommodate the perps. No wonder there were so many criminals in America, he thought. Jail time was like boarding at a country club. He paused at that thought, realizing for the first time consciously, that Whelan and his renegade handlers at the Society of Adam Smith probably were more patriotic than the bastards he worked for in the government. It was a disturbing thought.
Christie drank the last sip of his coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Terminal 5, ate the remainder of his second cruller, and read the Journal cover to cover. Being a fiscal conservative and a strong believer in the free enterprise system, he enjoyed most of the paper’s editorials. Occasionally, some leftwing lunatic from academia or politics ranted on the Journal’s editorial pages. He assumed it was the paper’s effort to be fair and balanced. But he considered it the kind of screed that belonged in the New York Times, a paper he wouldn’t even use to start a fire. It was Wednesday, the day the Journal’s Personal section featured a column or two on technology. Christie had always looked forward to reading it when Walter Mossberg was writing on personal technology. He had explained all things technological in laymen’s terms. He knew he never would have a Gen Y member’s grasp of such things, but Mossberg’s column always had made him feel less benighted.
He glanced at his watch. It was barely eight o’clock in the morning. He still had almost ten hours to kill before his scheduled flight left for Ireland. He needed to make a call to California, but it was just going on 5 a.m. out there. Too early yet, he thought. Ten hours sounded like forever. He found a shoeshine stand just past the point where the passengers clearing security entered the terminal. His shoes already had a pretty good shine, but he had time to kill so he climbed into the chair. The shoeshine man was small, black, and old. Christie tipped him twenty dollars. Given the mission he was on, a little charity might be a good thing. He paused and looked down at his gleaming shoes. The well-groomed killer, he thought.
He found a quiet area with mostly empty seats near the Aer Lingus gates and sat down with his paperback. He was several chapters into the book and it still was only ten o’clock. He got up and walked around the terminal, wandering through most of the retail shops. In one of them, a card shop, he made a purchase. It was from the rack of cards labeled “SORRY”. This one had a forlorn looking cartoon dog on the cover. It was holding a wilted rose and had a sorrowful, downcast look on its face. Inside the card read, “Doggone it. Could we try again?” He addressed it to Ramirez, stamped it and dropped it in a mailbox. I must be like most real estate investors, he thought; wildly optimistic in the face of certain disaster. If he was successful in his mission, managed to escape Ireland, and still had a job to come home to, it would be nice to have someone in his life for a change.
He still had some time to kill before attempting the call to California. He took a couple of Rolaids to combat the ever-present pain in his stomach. The gull-winged roof of Terminal 5 was supported by a number of pillars. He set his briefcase down next to one, leaned back against it, and began watching the people wandering by. Once a cop, always a cop, he thought as he viewed the passengers parading past his vantage point. It was almost as if he was doing it on autopilot, scanning for the telltale signs. Mostly, everyone looked normal. Scruffier, in his mind, than air travelers should look, but normal. And then he spotted the couple. They were young and casually dressed, but a few steps up from the styles and grade of clothing worn by most of the others in the terminal. What caught his attention was the fact that they were standing facing each other, but neither one was looking at the other. Instead, their eyes were wandering around the terminal, looking at everyone else, but only occasionally and very briefly glancing at each other.
Christie picked up his briefcase and began to edge closer to the couple. As he continued to watch them, he ran through the bullet-point list of characteristics commonly associated with terrorists. They seemed comfortable in the uniform seventy-four degree temperature in the terminal; no signs of sweating. Their facial expressions were bland, perhaps even bored-looking; no nervous tics. Their hands were calm; no shaking or nervous twisting of the sweaters each was carrying. Their clothes were fitted tightly enough that it was virtually impossible for explosives to have been concealed beneath them, even if they had been able to get through TSA with them.
As he ran through the list, Christie realized it was only their eye movements that might match it. The more he studied them, the more he determined they were just two attractive, totally self-absorbed individuals, constantly scanning the horizon to see if there was something better out there than what they currently had. It’s no wonder, he concluded, that members of Gen Y waited longer to get married than members of prior generations did. Commitment was difficult when you expected the grass always would be greener around the next bend.
Satisfied that the couple didn’t pose a threat to anyone but each other, he glanced at his watch again and was relieved to see that it was now eight o’clock on the West Coast. Christie found a relatively quiet place in the now-bustling terminal and pulled his throwaway cellphone from a trouser pocket. He looked up the number on a small note pad he carried in an inside jacket pocket and dialed it. After three rings, he heard a voice on the other end.
Christie felt a sense of relief that the call went through on the first attempt. “Hi, Dr. Nishioki?”
“Yes, who is this?”
He could picture the small, compact Asian man, who was in his seventies. He would be wearing a gi in preparation for his morning Aikido exercises. “Doctor, it’s Mitch Christie.”
“Ah, yes, the FBI agent. And please call me Bill.”
“Yes, Bill,…well, I hope I haven’t called too early.”
“Not at all. I’ve been up for some time.”
“Working on your Aikido skills, I imagine.”
“Yes, how clever of you to know that, but then you are an investigator. How may I help you, Mitch?”
Christie cleared his throat and said, “I’m revisiting the affair last year that involved that former military unit, the Sleeping Dogs.”
Nishioki was slow to respond. And noncommittal. “I see.”
“I was hoping perhaps you’d given the subject more thought since our visit a year or so ago.”
Nishioki’s response was measured. “As a matter of fact, I have been following some interesting developments based on very recent research. As you know, I am retired, but not vegetative. I like to keep up with current developments in my field of genetics. After all, Evolution is like rust—it never sleeps. All life forms, especially humans, are evolving continuously; sometimes even into extinction.”
“Would these ‘developments’ have anything to do with the Sleeping Dogs?”
“Possibly. They appear to raise another theory about why those men had such remarkable physical and intellectual skills.”
“You’re speaking in the past tense, Bill. Is there a reason for that? Do you think these men no longer exist?”
“Some things are best left in the past, Mitch. Do you get my meaning?”
Christie decided to push on without answering the question. “I’d like to hear about these ‘developments’ you mentioned.”
Nishioki hesitated briefly, as if gathering his thoughts, then said, “You’ll remember that my late colleague, Jake Horowitz, and I were research geneticists.”
Christie almost moaned audibly, remembering the previous conversation he’d had with Nishioki. He knew the scientist had tried to dumb down the discussion for the layman. But he remembered the crushing headache he’d gotten trying to follow the scientific jargon. He hoped he wasn’t in for a repeat performance. “Yes,” he said, “I know you and Dr. Horowitz were scientists. You were the ones who developed the theory that, on rare occasions, the mating of the right male with the right female can produce superior offspring, or something like that.”
Nishioki chuckled. “That’s close enough. Without getting overly technical, our theory suggested that with so many possible genetic combinations, once in every so many million conceptions a being is conceived that is superior to others of its species. Think of them as beta models, Nature’s way of furthering the evolution of the species.”
“I get that, but what do these so-called recent developments have to do with that?”
“As I was about to say, Jake and I theorized that these superior beings might be the result of further evolution of the human species. Among hominins, and humans in particular, the rate of speciation—the introduction of a new species, is dramatically faster than for other life forms. For example, Hominins split off from the last common ancestor we had with the great apes more than seven million years ago. Yet, over the just the past thirty thousand years—a mere flash in the time continuum—human evolution has sped up dramatically. For example, within that period, humans have developed thick, straight black hair, blue eyes, fair skin, and other traits. Evidence indicates this happened as a result of the enormous increase in global population over that time. That allows for countless unique mutations. Theoretically, natural selection takes over and that genetic trait becomes widespread, perhaps global.
“Now, it appears that perhaps we should have been looking in the other direction as well. Based on newly discovered evidence and research, these superior beings, the Sleeping Dogs, may be a modern manifestation of our ancient ancestors. Until very recently, it was accepted that there had never been interbreeding among Homo sapiens and other hominin species.”
“Now there is an emerging body of evidence to the contrary. Homo sapiens, our hominin species, migrated out of Africa into the Caucasus region more than sixty thousand years ago. We believe the initial wave arrived in Western Europe not more than ten thousand years later. They encountered an earlier race of hominins we call Neanderthals. Although Neanderthals became extinct some thirty thousand years ago, there was a lengthy period of time during which the two species coexisted.”
Christie interrupted. “Hold on a second, Doc. You’re not going to tell me that our ancestors, ah, had sex with ape-men…or women.”
“Indeed. We now have evidence that confirms interbreeding did occur. The recently discovered bones of an individual who lived in northern Italy some thirty to forty thousand years ago appear to be those of a Homo sapiens/Neanderthal hybrid. A five-year study by a large group of international scientists, including paleogeneticists, provides the strongest evidence so far that such encounters took place around sixty thousand years ago in the Fertile Crescent region of the Middle East. It determined that modern humans of non-African descent carry between 1 and 4 percent of Neanderthal DNA, but it varies in individuals. The sum total of Neanderthal genetic material in modern Homo sapiens is twenty percent or greater. It also is possible that we share a common African ancestor with the Neanderthal.”
“So, you’re saying we have a…genetic… commonality with Neanderthals?”
“Actually, Neanderthal and modern human genomes are about 99.5 percent identical. Until recently, we thought our closest evolutionary relative was the chimpanzee. But we share only about 95 or 96 percent of our genes with chimps.”
Christie pondered what Nishioki had told him. “I take it that you’re suggesting that the reason the men of the Sleeping Dogs unit are stronger and quicker than the rest of us is because their Neanderthal DNA is more prominent?”
“That is one possibility, but it no doubt is more complicated than that. We expect more evidence of interbreeding to surface as research continues. There may be DNA from other, as yet undiscovered, hominins lurking in our genomes.”
“You mean other than Neanderthals?”
Nishioki chuckled. “Possibly. The European Early Modern Humans, or EEMH, from whom all those of European ancestry descended, are the ones who interbred with the Neanderthal. These early ancestors are often erroneously called Cro-Magnon after the place in France where the first remains of these people were discovered. These people were every bit as large as humans today, and they were more powerful and physically robust. And, intriguingly, their brains were one-eighth larger than modern man’s.”
“You’re losing me, Bill. So what are the Sleeping Dogs, Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon?”
“Actually, they could be both. The interbreeding between the two hominins resulted in a genome that contains DNA from both. That’s where Jake Horowitz’s and my theory enters the picture. Given the hundreds of millions of children conceived by modern Westerners, all of whom have this DNA, it isn’t illogical to theorize that on some infrequent occasions the right genetic combination occurs, and you have a physically and intellectually superior being.”
Christie thought about this for a few moments then said, “If that’s true, there is something that doesn’t fit.”
“What is that?”
“One of these Sleeping Dogs, Quentin Thomas, is black, not of European descent. And another one, Marc Kirkland, is Jewish. His grandfather Anglicized the family name from Krickstein when he emigrated from Europe in the early 1900s. His ancestors aren’t originally from Western Europe. How did those men get the DNA?”
“Very simple. In the case of Quentin Thomas, there very probably were one or more white ancestors in the family tree. It is well known that some slave owners engaged in sex with their female slaves. Kirkland’s situation is even easier to explain. Although his family originally belonged to one of the twelve tribes of Israel, they eventually settled in Europe as a result of the Jewish diaspora. While there may not have been any large degree of interfaith sexual activities given the nature of those times and the frequency of pogroms, there unquestionably were some.
“But there’s yet another interesting phenomenon that needs so much more research. It involves the development of genetic mutations in advance of the need for a particular trait. It’s as if Nature senses a future threat to the species and begins to mutate it to better respond to the threat.”
Christie mulled over what Nishioki had said. “So, I guess either way the bottom line is these Sleeping Dogs are a dangerous bunch.”
“You have no idea, Mitch.”
“Have you ever seen them in action?”
“No. The laboratory has always been my milieu. But I couldn’t help hearing things.”
“Not only are they enormously powerful and quick, but they also have dispositions toward violence. And an almost insatiable bloodlust. That said, they also are extremely bright and perceptive. And introspective. They can spend countless hours studying, practicing, and perfecting something so that they can be better at it than anyone else.”
“You have an example?”
“Yes. Kirkland, of whom we were just speaking, may be the finest swordsman alive. He spends much of his time meditating and practicing the martial arts.”
“All styles. He’s like the late Bruce Lee is said to have been, endlessly curious about each and every martial arts technique or weapon. Because of my own ethnicity as a Japanese American, I am a lifelong devotee of Aikido as well as Iaido and Kendo, which are Japanese sword fighting styles.”
Christie interrupted him. “What’s the difference between Iaido and Kendo? A sword is a sword.”
“Essentially, Iaido is the art of drawing and sheathing the sword. Kendo is more focused on the art of fighting with the sword.”
“What does this have to do with Kirkland?”
“He was the best swordsman I have ever seen.” He paused briefly, as if contemplating his choice of words. In a reverential tone, he said, “He may be on a comparable level with the greatest swordsman of all time, Miamoto Musashi.”
“Surely you’re not going to tell me he actually used his sword in combat situations.”
“Consider how quick these men were. Quick to size up a situation, quick to respond to it. And Kirkland had an incredible katana, a Japanese blade made for a samurai warrior by an ancient swordsmith. I have seen it. It was a remarkable weapon. The smith reputedly folded over and hammered out the impurities in the steel more than thirty thousand times. It is written on the blade in an old style of Japanese that, when tested, it cut through five human bodies in a single slice. And that was by someone far less powerful than Marc Kirkland.” There was an unmistakable note of ancestral pride in Nishioki’s voice.
“Did you ever see him slice someone up?”
“Of course not, but, as I said, I heard stories from the other members of the unit. There was one firefight where he supposedly used his katana exclusively. When it was over, his personal body count was said to have been more than thirty. His colleagues said he was a spinning, slashing blur. Heads and limbs were flying everywhere, and blood flowed in torrents. He even sliced two of his armed opponents completely in half.”
“Damn! ‘Bloodlust’ might have been a euphemism.”
“There really isn’t a term to describe it, Mitch.”
“I’ll remember that if I’m ever around any of those guys.”
“Mitch, you would do well to remember that, as deadly as they all were, there was someone most of them looked up to with respect, perhaps even fear.”
“Who was that?”
Coming Next in the Sleeping Dogs Series of Political Thrillers
by author John Wayne Falbey
THE YEAR OF THE DOG
Will Levell survive his wounds to lead his group of patriots in the good fight against the forces seeking the destruction of nation states and the formation of a one-world government? Or is the AGU too far along in its plan to seize global power? Will the USA become a weak third-rate power? Can Whelan reunite the Dogs? Does he even want to? Has Mitch Christie really gone over to the other side? Will Maksym succeed in eliminating the Dogs? Or will Larsen have his vengeance on the man who killed his family? Is Whelan’s family safe in Ireland? Is Federov really dead? Will Nadir Shah succeed in creating an Islamic caliphate that encompasses the entire Middle East and beyond? Can the Russian president succeed in rebuilding the former Soviet Union? What factor will the Chinese play in the Year of the Dog? What new global problems emerge in the weeks and months ahead?
These issues and more will be addressed as the Year of the Dog arrives on an already explosive international scene.
A Note From The Author
This novel is a work of fiction and isn’t intended to preach, or to praise or condemn any specific political philosophy. It’s just a story. It was fabricated, however, on events occurring in the U.S., and globally, in today’s headlines. It tells the story from the perspectives of various players. Likewise, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. What is not entirely fictional, however, is the theory of genetics explored in the book. It’s based on considerable research, but does include a certain amount of speculation. The statement that scientists have determined that those with Western European bloodlines have some Neanderthal DNA is true. The European Early Modern Humans, or EEMH, from whom all those of European ancestry descended, interbred with the Neanderthal. These early Homo sapiens ancestors were as large as humans today, and they were more powerful and physically robust. Intriguingly, their brains were one-eighth larger than modern man’s.
Reading Group Guide is available at: .
Throughout school, I received top grades for my writing efforts. My English teachers and creative writing instructors uniformly encouraged me to write. But, like John Lennon famously said about life, I was “busy doing other things.” Now I enjoy writing and work continuously to become better at my craft, but the story isn’t all about me. There are many people to whom I am especially grateful. Not the least of which are my readers. I write for you.
A great many people have contributed to the experiences that have shaped me as an individual, and developed the perspectives that shape my writing. I’m grateful to all of them, even the ones who were involved in the not so pleasant experiences. Each of us, after all, is the product of the sum total of our life experiences.
Without doubt, the most important person in my life is my wife, “Annie”. She has been my most ardent supporter in this effort.
My dad, a self-described (tongue-in-cheek) “fine Irish bastard”, played a major role in my desire to write. He encouraged my thirst for adventure stories as a youngster. More importantly, he totally freaked out when, at about age ten, I announced that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I remember the salient bits and pieces of his diatribe: “freeze to death…bare, unheated attic…starvation…no friends…no money”. It was a blessing in disguise. I spent years moving in other directions and gained much valuable experience and insight, which, hopefully, have made me a better chronicler of the human condition.
At a very early age, my mother taught me to read and took me to the local library where I was introduced to a vast treasure trove of adventure. She also instilled in me toughness in the face of challenges, an unwillingness to settle for second best.
Our son Ryan, an articulate, intelligent young man, spent many hours proofreading my efforts and offering valuable comments and suggestions, including cover art and layout. Do not be surprised to see his name on bestseller lists one day.
I owe a special thanks to my beta readers: Joe Braden, Jim McGowan, Ryan, and others. I don’t publish until they’ve read it.
I’m grateful to Caitlin Alexander, a former editor at Random House and freelance editor for independent authors. She provided invaluable developmental and line edits, feedback and constructive suggestions for improvement on reader engagement, structure, narrative voice, dialogue, pacing, plot, character development, suspense, and marketability, with a particular eye toward tightening the manuscript to a more commercially viable length.
My thanks also to Tatiana Villa at Vila Design for her creativity and talent in designing the cover of the book.
For current information on my works in progress, and more, visit SleepingDogs.biz and sign up for my short and occasional newsletter.
About the Author
John Wayne Falbey writes techno-political spy thrillers and adventure novels. His debut novel, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, has become an international best seller on Amazon.com and was endorsed by Compulsory Reads. He also is the author of The Quixotics, a tale of gunrunning, guerilla warfare, and danger in the Caribbean. A native Floridian and former transactional attorney, Falbey is a real estate investor and developer in Southwest Florida. As his wife likes to say, Wayne has “more degrees than a thermometer,” (4) including a doctorate in business. He actually spent five years in the “enemy camp”—creating and chairing a Master of Science program in real estate development at an academic institution in Florida. He invites you to connect with him at , where you can sign up for his newsletter announcing publication dates, signings and appearances, and other matters relating to the Sleeping Dogs thrillers and other novels by the author.
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The world is descending into chaos. America is like a rudderless ship—its elected government gridlocked and ineffective. Its unprotected borders are penetrated daily by agents of its worst enemies, drug cartels dispersing crime and addiction in its cities, and illegals carrying a variety of diseases. Unchecked deadly plagues are spreading globally. Rogue governments spit on Old Glory and defy a weakened America to stop them. Religious fanatics are dedicated to butchering all the world’s citizens who don’t convert to their beliefs. The future of America and the nations of the free world seems grim. And the worst is yet to come. A group of international power brokers is close to achieving their goal—a single world government with them running all things financial. But appearances can be deceiving. Behind the scenes, a shadow government of old fashioned patriots is working to change the course of events. Armed with deep financial resources and critically placed in the military and intelligence communities, they just might succeed. And they have an asset no one else has: the deadliest hunter/killer special ops team—the Sleeping Dogs. But the six of them are being stalked by a mysterious, brutal killer. Book 2 in the Sleeping Dogs trilogy takes the reader all over the globe as Whelan and the Dogs fight to stop a power-mad cartel. The Dogs are back; expect a high body count!