Smoking Catfish in Spider Silk Nets
The Programmer bit into an oral-incinerating tidbit: it was tough like gnawing on a smoldering stick of fish-flavored chewing gum.
“My food is fiery so yours must be a five-alarm blaze.” Tariq spit the bite in a napkin and took a gulp of water—but it didn’t quench the burning. He and Kareem had dropped the others at a hotel then went to a floating restaurant on a Bangkok canal. The menu was written in five languages and the color of ink used for each entrée indicated its level of spiciness.
“It’s mild.” The larger Arab answered quickly in strained voice.
[A fish lives in water,] Loki replayed a clip, [how spicy can it be?]
It was a poorly thought out rationalization. Tariq had brazenly ordered a dried catfish starter printed in reddish-brown ink as opposed to the safer looking tan writing. He lolled his tongue out and he fanned it with a hand.
[Duh! A breeze can’t cool a spice burn.]
It did help in this instance: a giggling waitress spotted his distress and rushed to his aid with a sliced loaf of bread, to sponge away the pepper.
“It’s not bad.” The officer’s face was ruddy and his voice, breathless.
“I’m glad I didn’t order from the crimson ink column like you did?” Tariq chuckled as he saw Kareem sweating profusely. He paid in pain for his foolishness with the weights and now his mouth has to foot the bill.
[Jihad Joe’s whole life is an ongoing masculinity challenge.]
“I like my food hot.” The captain pushed the words over scorched lips: he really meant that he liked it to be cooked. But when Tariq selected an item lettered in orange then Kareem had to better the bravery by choosing his from the scarlet letters. He chewed gingerly and swallowed quickly.
“I haven’t developed your constitution’s immunity to chili.” The older man pushed his fish dish away and opted for fruit and sticky rice.
“Taking another bite,” Kareem sped up the tempo of his mouthfuls and almost swallowed the food whole, “slows the afterburning effect.”
“My biggest fear with ultra-spicy food isn’t the heat on my palette.” Tariq waited until the red-faced man was nearly finished his entrée before divulging the worst bit. “The nastier part comes after it passes through the internals and reaches the exit orifice. There, the burn is excruciating.”
“Really?” The beet color of Kareem’s cheeks paled to a pastel.
“I plan on taking a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher to the toilet to cool my ring of fire.” The Iranian plastered on an envious expression. “That’s just me though. You appear orally accustomed to the spices, so your entire digestive tract has doubtlessly built up the same tolerance.”
“Yah.” Allah! Why did I eat this? “I can take it.” Kareem had a bitter recollection of how badly his muscles hurt after lifting weights. Now, he was seemingly due to suffer anal agony for his one-upmanship.
“Well, this has been an interesting meal and the dining establishment is similarly memorable.” Tariq appreciatively cast about at the collection of wooden islands tied together with a series of footbridges. The Thai staff, both male and female, were attired in traditional costumes and stood ready to serve. “Still, the riveting question is why are we here?”
“We’re here staying at the Mercy Hotel,” Kareem Kareem set aside his apprehension of a next bowel movement, “because it’s located in an Arabic part of Bangkok and it’s an easy walk from gogo bars in the Nana Plaza.”
[That answers where but not why.]
“And is this a holiday inside of a vacation?”
“It’s something like that.” Kareem declined on elaboration and even the topic seemed to irritate him almost as stormily as the repast had. Since Tariq’s agreeing to join his squad, the captain had taken the older man on as almost a best friend—but remained closed-mouthed on many things.
“What are the ground rules of this excursion?” Tariq asked, but he was willing to break any to make contact with Fatima again. Two weeks had now gone by since they arrived from Pakistan and this was the first time the programmer had left the compound.
“There are none really,” the jihad commander said, “but as this is your first time in Bangkok, you may wish to stay close to me.”
“These conveyances alone must account for a full quarter of the air pollution.” Tariq remarked as they took a tok-tok taxi towards the hotel. It was a tricycle with a roof and a padded bench seat for passengers: powered by a lawn mower’s two-stroke engine, burning an oil-gas blend.
“Massage?” The driver handed back a postcard-sized leaflet.
“Is it a soapy?” The younger Arabic man asked.
“What you like.” The driver didn’t have a certainty about what he was touting. He just had to usher farangs to the door to get his commission.
“You’ll find this enjoyable.” The squad leader tapped his finger on the color picture of many Asian women seated on a three-tired bench. Inset, were photos of room’s amenities. The difference between this and a fancy hotel’s flyer was the models reclined on the beds, were fully unclothed.
“This is only a three block walk from the Mercy.” Tariq mentioned as the tok-tok blue-smoked into a parking garage off Rama II Road.
“This will be quite an experience for you.” Kareem described. “First you choose a lady or several. You’ll go to a room where you’ll recline on an air mattress. Instead of the masseuse using oil or powder, she will cover your body with hot soapsuds—and then take it from there.”
“It sounds like you’ve experienced a few.”
“Uh,” Kareem suddenly remembered the line of crap he was feeding Fatima’s father and backtracked, “other guys have told me all about them.”
Inside the lavish vestibule, females sitting behind windows matched the dog-eared brochure from the taxi. The women each wore a circular plastic tag with a number printed on it.
“Is there a lovelier fishbowl anywhere in Asia?” A grinning pimp with a gold tooth asked as he showed the Arabic men to some plush furniture. Sofas were set as if the selection of prospective masseuses was the wide screen at a VIP movie theater. “Would you take some drinks?”
“No,” Tariq quickly chose a forlorn looking Asian lady in a sequined ball gown, “I’ll take girl number seventy two.”
“She’s a very good choice.” The tout began to extol her virtues.
“I imagine I’ll determine her skills for myself.” The programmer cut off the spiel. “I only want to know if she shares a language with me.”
“Tiem speaks good English.” The host hurried off to fetch her.
“I’ll wait here for you.” Kareem peeled cash from a large pocket roll.
“That’s two boring hours for you.” After a stop at an ATM, Tariq now had money of his own. Sam’s amazing ID even came with a working bank account. “I’ll just walk back to the hotel and meet up with you later.”
“Handsome man,” Tiem opened with a stock line, “what your name?” She took his arm and walked towards the back corner of the foyer.
“I’m here to ditch my buddy.” Tariq said as they entered an elevator. He pulled a thousand baht note from his pocket. “You can snooze while I sneak away.” He handed her the cash. “Here’s your tip.”
“San-noose?” Her lips didn’t do the English diphthong easily.
“It means sleep or be lazy.”
[Sheik Romeo bin Sneaky stays pure by only taking three at a shot.]
While slipping away through the exit corridor, Tariq spied the captain headed to the elevators with a trio and his mind tried picturing what might happen in the soapy massage. That is one female sponge for each sidewall and a third to lather the roof. “Puke!” He recalled whose corpulent body they would be scrubbing. “My mind didn’t need to see Kareem like that!”
“We haven’t chatted since 9/11.” A real sheik in his traditional robes reclined on a divan aboard his Grumman Gulfstream IV. “The unexpected attack on the President is a wild joker in an otherwise well-stacked deck.”
The other passenger nodded and he blinked several times.
“Is that topic tender just now?” Ghazi needled his guest’s nervousness.
“I’m not sure what to think about it.”
“Of course you’re not. You haven’t been advised of your opinion yet.” The Arab scoffed, but then stroked with the other side of his sharp tongue. “That is one of your fine qualities and it’s precisely why I’ve brought you along on this trip. I want you to meet some influential people with me.”
“In Riyadh and then in Bangkok.” The diminutive guest presumed the true purpose had more to do with the recent stock market fight, than with the recently failed presidential assassination attempt. “The first destination makes sense but I’m unsure of who we’ll be in contact with in the second.”
“You’ll find the Thailand visit especially enlightening.” Ghazi snapped his fingers for the air steward to set up a chessboard. “You surprised me in our first game. I wonder if you’ve practiced since. I will warn you that if I suspect you’re trying to let me win,” bin Omani chuckled, “I’ll eject you from my plane without landing first to do so.”
The small man didn’t answer but focused instead on the onyx and white marble set being positioned on a walnut and ash wood board.
“King’s pawn.” Ghazi ordered the steward to move the piece.
“I expected an easy game in my share fight after my contractor sent word of an attitude adjustment on Bob’s queen,” Sheik bin Omani changed the subject while his mute opponent considered a counter to the opening, “but my threat had precisely the opposite effect.”
“I shouldn’t know about that.” The man’s eyes were as furtive as a rat in a floodlighted alley. He moved his own piece—it was queen’s pawn.
“After our brief stop in Riyadh I’ll have far more cash available to me, than the software geek and his gay asshole surmise.” Ghazi ignored the comment. “Gaining the use of that money will simply cost me some power chips. I need show I can replace the markers—and that brings me to you.”
As the flight continued eastward to Saudi Arabia, the white side of the board won six consecutive games but the guest offered enough challenge to arrive intact and land along with the aircraft.
“A rooftop sniper shot at the president.” The programmer read part of an Internet story on his search portal’s home page. That was an interesting development but it didn’t impact on his scheme. His reason for being in the Internet café was to make a phone call and he preferred it on landline.
Four pm in Bangkok is four am in Toronto but Fatima awoke easily.
‘The fight between Wall Soft and bin Omani is turning nasty.’ Tariq looked at more world news while waiting for an answer.
“Is that you?” The girl asked on her hopes.
“That depends on if it was me you were expecting.” The programmer briefly described his situation. “Have I missed anything important?”
“Bob Wall bought a bigger boat.” Fatima reported her findings. When not working with, and learning from, Sam or listening to his fascinating stories, the hacker’s apprentice was delving into Low-Key’s backdoors.
“That’s only pivotal if I have a chance to sink it.” Tariq then listened as his protégé told of more of the doings at Wall Soft.
“Its too bad Ghazi is still in the digital bronze-age.”
“His company is,” Fatima bragged, “but I hacked his home computer.”
“Tell me everything!”
“He might there now so you can ask him yourself.” She continued. “He’s booked into an entire floor of suites in the Royal Bangkok Orchid Hotel.” She supplied the details. “It sounds like an awfully big party.”
“It’s more likely he’s traveling with only a few shy people.”
“I was expecting your call after Bijan’s recent email, telling Kareem to stay clear of the compound.”
“His feeling slighted could explain his sudden mood swing to grumpy.”
“That’s all I have. What it like on your end?”
“This is my first time off the site.” He described it as similar to a free trip to Florida, as won from an advertising flyer. The associated cost is a requirement of sitting through innumerable time-share condo sales pitches. “The amoral lifestyle in a jihad resort is complete with zealous diatribes.”
“Be careful.” Fatima warned.
“You didn’t say be good.” He surmised she had already guessed from his description of the compound, but Tariq confessed about Pun anyways.
“Do what you have to and don’t fret about it. Besides, I’m cuckolding you with Sam: after the crotchety ignition finally cranks over, his sex drive has the torque of a diesel tractor.” She fibbed and then said goodbye.
“We’re headed to the Nana Plaza.” Kareem spoke at the hotel room.
“My butt is spewing napalm after today’s chili peppers.” Tariq held the door as a shield, as if he wasn’t wearing clothes behind it. He held back a smile at the jihad leader’s suddenly ashen complexion.
“Come on over later if you start feeling better.” The commander left.
[Is debauchery the only activity in this city?]
“I’m sure there’s much more,” it was a commentary that the squad left a hedonistic compound only to traipse from one sex venue to the next, “a good example might be the unguided motorcycle tour we’ll be taking.”
[We should reconsider taking a guided boat.]
“It’s too late,” Tariq had bought a map at a convenience store and plotted the roads to his destination, “so clam up and memorize the route.” A shop near the hotel offered a motorbike and he had rented it for the day.
Cars and trucks on Bangkok roads are like square links in long chains that move when a traffic light sprocket turns green. The many motorcycles are as ball bearings rolling along in the channel whenever the chain moves, and surging between when the wider vehicle links, need to stop.
[Turn right but stay wrongly on the left—right here—left.]
“Fortunately, I see what you’re talking about.” In Thailand, cars drive on the left side but the right turn they were to take had a ramp that cut left to an overpass that swung right. To make the corner on short notice, Tariq had to change through four lanes of traffic. Doing so was navigating a jagged maze with car bumpers on the zigs, and fenders on the zags.
[You’re surprised I remembered the route.]
“I am actually.” Without the instructions from his back-brain driver, Tariq would’ve needed to pull over a dozen times already to consult a map.
[Does it mean that I’m real or that you’re an autistic savant?]
“I’ve given up on trying to decide that question.” The Iranian had other things to occupy his mind. He was arriving at the Al Qaeda compound’s access road. “Look for a handy spot to hide the bike.”
After walking the motorbike through a shallow ditch, the programmer leaned it against a tree. I hope there are no spiders, snakes or scorpions.
[Or eels, leeches and tropical piranhas in the river.]
“This isn’t the Amazon: I’ve seen loads of kids swimming in the river.” The Iranian switched on a waterproof flashlight he had purchased from a sidewalk shop and ploughed into dense foliage. “The younger ones even dive in wearing only their birthday swimsuits.”
Tariq had worried about jungle creatures and Loki had warned of the aquatic ones but in actuality, slapping the mosquitoes and brushing aside tangled branches kept him too busy to think about the other potential dangers. Finally, he reached the river: it was the same approximate time as it was on the evening when he had spied Osama alone in his courtyard.
The Arabic-Canadian switched off his flashlight and slipped it into his pocket. Clouds obscured the moon and stars but the sparse lights of the city’s edge sparkled the wavelets. He put his wrist through the carry-strap of a diver’s digital camera and stripped to his silk boxer shorts. Then Tariq waited motionless for a mass of water hyacinth to drift by.
[Like transit busses they are everywhere—until you want one.]
“I would wear only a pink pouch g-string and dance mariachi in a gay pride parade if it meant I could stay with her continuously.” Oksana didn’t think of Collin as an asshole and she was now well aware of his real sexual preference. “What anyone else thinks doesn’t matter to me.”
Since moving in with the Russian junky, Collin Hersker had felt he was walking on air. But then, he needed that cushion, because he was sure that fragile eggshells and glass were beneath. Bob’s mouth hadn’t broached the subject of the temporary living arrangements and as if it were a bubble of soap, his asshole’s lips hadn’t dared touching it yet either.
“Your daily report?” Bob Wall arrived in the afternoon but this time he had a valid excuse. Big customers had consumed his earlier schedule.
“Tediously slow gains, but I’m working on an idea.”
“That sounds good.” The CEO nodded sagely then he closely regarded his adjutant and pensively held his chin.
“Is there anything else?” The executive feared his enjoyable tryst in the adjoining suite was now coming under the hatchet.
“There is one other thing.” Wall braced for confrontation. “I pressured you into an uncomfortable situation. I was worried for your safety and I felt your staying there was the best solution.”
“I fully understand that and I’m not offended in the slightest.”
“If you want to move somewhere else,” Bob offered, “I’ll arrange tight security for you, despite whatever it costs.”
“Had you offered yesterday,” the master asshole saw an open avenue and he angled to it, “my answer might’ve been different. Just now though, the company has to suck every financial belt to a tighter notch.”
“I appreciate your devotion.” Bob grinned as a wallet pinch eased up. “You’re living above the store, as it were—is quite handy.”
“You set an example in dedication by giving up the apartment in this trying interim.” Collin wracked his brain for a subtle way to ask Bob not to peek in unannounced, but he drew a blank. There are many times when his barging in would be exceedingly difficult for a ‘gay’ man to explain.
“My schedule over the next few weeks is hectic anyways.” Truthfully, Bob had been also using Collin’s continued stay with the girl for a sideline reason: a period of abstinence, with her only contact being of no physical use to her, may cause his sex slave to appreciate her manly master more.
“Don’t undertake any large expenditures.” The asshole targeted the one outstanding cash problem. “I’ll need liquid funds in our accounts.”
“I’ll be frugal.” For the fib, Wall crossed his fingers behind his back. He would spend as little as possible but the president would be visiting Spokane and Bob needed to grease the influential axel.
“Buying the yacht drastically sliced away our margin for error.”
“I promise that I won’t get another until you give me a thumbs up.”
“That give me the impetus,” as his boss left, Collin fingered his black eye: after a few days of healing, it no longer hurt and the color had faded to greenish grey, “to take my efforts to the next level. I’m not the one who started using grimy tactics but I can fight as foul as Ghazi does.”
He consulted his Rolodex and dialed Dumont, Bach and Ratzler.
“This is Collin Hersker at Wall Soft Systems. I want Jonathon Dumont and Lauren Smyth in my office—pronto.”
“I’ll check if they’re available. May I put you on hold.”
“No, you may not. I didn’t inquire as to their schedules. I told you to send them here: please inform them of my requirements.”
“Yes sir.” The receptionist spoke only to a click and silence.
“A few weeks!” Collin hooted after hanging up. “I would smooch homophobic Bob right on his lips to positively prove my flaming gayness.”
Plenty of the smaller stems passed and then one clump that was as big as a putting green drifted in. It would provide good cover but was far too massive to control. The following one is perfect though. The leafy cluster was about the size and shape of a four-person Jacuzzi tub. The Iranian took two steps and was now up to his waist in the murky water.
He grasped the plants carefully to avoid breaking up the clump. With a further stride, he was up to his chest and the sluggish flow began to pull his feet into a slide along the mud. He briefly ducked underwater and surfaced in the center of the plants, as if the Hyacinth were foam in a bathtub.
[When you can see out then someone can also see in.]
“I’m presuming nobody will closely examine the passing clusters.”
“Was that a long root?” Tariq felt something suddenly brush his thigh. At the same instant, he spied the compound lights ahead. He used a hand to search around his legs but without a hold, the plants began to separate.
[Stop fidgeting and cover up!]
The programmer regained his grip on the Hyacinth root ball but felt more submerged contacts. The Iranian kicked out a foot and it hit a slimy object. Fish are nibbling at my skin. Another slithered up his chest and he dropped his eyes to see a whiskered snout near the surface. It’s a catfish.
[Luckily, your privates aren’t dangling like a wiggling worm.]
There’s someone on the bank ahead. Tariq went stiff as a stump in the water. The dim light showed he would soon be at the outer wall—and that a roving sentry was about to urinate into the river.
The guard’s finger tackle didn’t hook into the codpiece in time. The programmer in the plants had passed by before he heard the trickle behind.
Tariq’s drift brought him to the upstream deck buttress and a swirling eddy threatened to turn his chin’s raft. The man dug his toes into the mud in an attempt to stay positioned. He was soon to pass a critical juncture at the wing of the house and moved to prepare his diver’s camera. Suddenly though, a fish the size of his foot squiggled up the leg of his boxer shorts.
“I don’t have enough hands!” The Iranian hissed: his one was holding the camera and the other wasn’t enough on its own, to hold the Hyacinth. Loki, chase the damned fish from the net of my underpants! The spy in the watery hedge found a view of the gazebo. But in that instant, the catfish in his shorts discovered a mouse that fit in its mouth.
[The pussy-fish is a man-eater. If it has teeth you’ll be a eunuch.]
The underwater maw took a larger purchase. I’m swallowed up to its fluttering gills. The suckling fish flipped upside-down and thrashed in an attempt to get free of the silk shorts net—while keeping an intended meal.
This is unnerving: I can’t take it much longer. He pulled the camera underwater and batted his crotch with it—that just annoyed the fish.
[There are three men on the patio.] Loki called for his attention.
Gamely, Tariq tore his mind away from the interspecies oral sex he was unintentionally engaged in. The figures were arranged in a shallow ‘V’, all facing the water. I’m drifting into view and my camouflage is shifting. He sacrificed the camera and held the hyacinth with both hands.
[The man in the upstream position is Osama.]
Yes, the programmer saw the rangy tall Arab in a turban and a beard, and the downstream one in the Saudi headgear is Sheik Ghazi bin Omani.
The impatient catfish redoubled its efforts and tried to gulp the tender morsel whole. Don’t eat it! At this crucial instant, Tariq floated by and was a five pace distance from the Caucasian man in a charcoal suit.
[There’s a Pulitzer winning tabloid shot—by an unready photographer.]
I can’t believe he is standing here with those two men! The submerged Arabic-Canadian knew the third man’s identity: who didn’t. As the current whisked him by, Tariq ducked under and shooed the lusty fish away.
[The press wouldn’t buy the photos from your paparazzi eyes.]
“Buy as in believe, or as in they wouldn’t dare to buy and print?” Both applications fit perfectly. A pun is a play-on-words and Pun had told him the Thai word for smoking, as in puffing on a cigarette, also means fellatio.
“My smoking gum was fishy,” as he found the deserted road and his motorbike, Tariq laughed aloud, “and the fishy gums were smoking.”
“Send them in.” Collin answered the Wall Soft receptionist.
The barristers entered awkwardly, as truants reporting to the principal’s office. The two stopped and stood through a long uncomfortable silence.
“You both look more fully-clothed in person, than you appear on TV.” The line was quite funny but Hersker’s countenance held no mirth. His better amusement was in seeing the lawyers both livid at the remark but with no comeback for the cutting quip. To let them squirm a bit longer, he looked at his new Russian chronograph—as if checking their punctuality.
“Today,” Collin abruptly spoke, “you can start earning your retainer.”
“Gladly.” Jonathon breathed sigh of relief. He had only expected this to be another brow beating over the public gaffe. Dumont was under dire orders from his named partner father to stoically accept any chastisement.
“What do you want us to do?” Lauren shared a feeling of respite. The very public humiliation had made her and Jonathon into office pariahs.
“I want you in New York gathering some information. Contact brokers or anyone necessary to obtain a list of bin Omani shareholders. You can offer bribes to the administrative staff in Ghazi’s employ and I’ll see that they are paid.” Hersker continued for a few minutes to outline the mission details to the pair of flabbergasted attorneys.
“That,” Lauren was first to find a faltering voice, “isn’t strictly ethical.”
“Is rolling over on someone you represent and disclosing privileged info to land a bigger client, a display of lofty principles?” After rebuking the woman, the executive shifted his gaze to the male half of the tag team. “Lawyers specialize in different aspects of practice. You two have clearly demonstrated your turpitude. In fact, your perfidy is the only qualification that makes you uniquely suitable for this assignment.”
The two ruby-faced lawyers glanced at each other and the brief eye contact confirmed that both were desperate enough.
“I’ll do it.” The pair answered in unison.
“You’ll report only to me.” Collin handed over a card with his private number. “Take the next flight out.” The words served as a dismissal and the lawyers departed as if frog-marched out by a bailiff.
“I wish I could weave a web to trap Sam Levy.” It was mid-afternoon and Katya stared at a spider walking on the stippled plaster ceiling. “After wrapping him in my silk, I could suck out information like his vital fluids.”
‘The sheik and geek are just dancing in the ring and exchanging jabs.’ The Iranian had called last night and the hacker’s protégé gave her take.
‘A soapbox derby is the better sporting analogy.’ Tariq had suggested. ‘We gave strong shoves: gravity will send the carts to a break-neck pace.’
“Thinking of neck-breaking, I’d enjoy snapping Sam’s stiff vertebras.” In the present, Katya heard the phone rang. “His vow can be damned.”
“I’ll get it.” She spoke quietly but doubted Sam would hear even if she had shouted. Not in any particular hurry, she was on her feet and across the room on the third tone. She lazily pulled the door and it moved without sound: her stocking feet made no noise as she stepped into the doorframe.
“Sam?” Scratchy words emanated from the telephone’s receiver. “Do you know who this is calling?” The oblivious forger’s back was turned.
“Yes, I do young son of my very good friend.”
Young son of my very good friend? The girl replayed his words in her mind. She made her breathing shallow to remain absolutely quiet.
“I need some more of your fine work.” A male voice quickly outlined a procedure and a pre-determined time for another conversation. It would be over disposable cell-phones and to give a complete description of a job.
“How much did you hear?” Sam’s cheeks went flour-paste white.
“I caught it all and both sides too. Which old friend has a young son?”
“I—uh—I.” His mind’s flywheel lost synch with his mouth’s gearbox.
“Do I have a half-brother?” The young woman’s hands were on hips as if she were a mother scolding a five-year-old. “I don’t care beans about a stale-dated life-debt promise to a dead man.”
“Katya—.“ The counterfeiter withered under the fuming girl’s glare.
“This secret you’re desperately clinging to,” he was studying his shoes, so she softened, “is like a girl dressed only in a wet silk negligee. I already see almost everything—and you’re tearing us apart over the rest.”
“You just think it’s all that transparent.” Sam defended but the promise he made was becoming far too complicated. “You heard the part about the untraceable phones.” He looked up again. “You can go pick them up.”
“I want you to tell me everything.” The female didn’t budge.
“I’ve wanted to do that right from the start,” Sam paused, “and not just with you either. Your errand will let me think through my thorny issues.”
“We’re going to have an honest and complete discussion when I get back.” She was tempted to wag a finger but that might be overdoing it.
“My dear old friend,” Sam watched out the window for the pickup to drive away. “I hope you’ll forgive my blabbing, but we didn’t foresee this predicament.” He peeled back the living room rug to reveal a loose board. After rummaging, he set the cigar box out of sight beside the couch.
“I’ll tell you all,” the counterfeiter spoke his terms after Katya returned, “but only if you clam up until I’ve finished the phone call.”
“If one dips an oasis too deeply it stops filling the bucket.” A recently promoted Rajah Fakir ladled the favorable opinion out. Being close to the Arabic CEO held increased pay and elevated status, but it came with a steep price tag—as his fellow executives recently advised. “At this turtle’s pace, we’ll all be dead of old age by the time Wall takes us over.”
“My sons,” with an unreadable expression, the sheik regarded the man standing by the desk, “would then be underlings to his.”
“And,” the unexpected look gave Rajah a sudden inspiration—it was speaking his mind that got the junior man elevated. Ghazi had scads of yes men but they weren’t promoted, “that worries me more than if Hersker was buying shares hand over fist.”
“The queen opened with some good gambits,” Ghazi’s thick eyebrows arched upwards and his lips curled up into a repressed smile, “but in this mid-game stage he’s holding his power pieces in behind the pawn shield.”
“He’s waiting for an error.” The assistant tested his bond with the boss by pulling up a chair: since the action didn’t result in an instant death, he sat in it. “Could the board be turned on him instead?”
“I do prefer attacking over defending.” Emboldened by the success of his trip overseas, Ghazi considered a now possible alternate strategy. His mind wandered to the related subject.
The Stryker Group controlled a vast political influence and Ghazi had inherited a large stake in that entity. The bin Omani family had ready cash to bail Stryker out of a long ago situation. With the units under his indirect control, Ghazi had enough voting stock to actually usurp leadership.
“Taking the Stryker Group,” the sheik thought aloud, “would be akin to swallowing a poisoned apple while it’s gripped in the coils of rattlesnake.” Bernard had held the power reins for long enough to have installed many corporate cyanide pills for his protection.
“That man doesn’t just have skeletons in his closet.” Rajah Fakir had a distinct impression Ghazi wasn’t speaking to him and he wanted the boss to have the opportunity to stop before he said too much. “Stryker’s whole basement is full of the bones of his previous enemies.”
“Wresting the Stryker group from Bernard,” the sheik’s eyes focused on his employee, “would easily enable me to buy out Wall Soft Systems.”
“You would also reap the benefits of Styker’s political connections.” Fakir offered a bold snippet and was rewarded with a smile.
“You know that,” Ghazi chuckled grimly, “and Stryker is aware of it. Maybe Bob and his queen are fretting it too.” He shooed his man away.
“But with Wall Soft merged into my company, I don’t need Stryker or his group.” The sheik could now speak freely and he did. “Bangkok was a deft stroke in the art of manipulation. Both those men are now under my influence and Bernard was unknowingly cropped from the big picture.”
At the appropriate moment, Sam dialed his new cell phone and waited for the rings. He took a very deep breath in anticipation of a conversation he had been both dreading and eagerly anticipating.
“Hello,” After establishing connection and confirmation of identities, the boy outlined his requirements—and the words froze in the pit of Sam’s stomach like liquid hydrogen. Why there? Cruel history repeats itself.
“Sam?” The young man took the dead air in his ear as a disconnection.
“I’m still here.” Sam confirmed his continued presence—then paused. Breaking the letter of my oath might in fact be keeping the spirit of it.
“John, when you used that name that I won’t say on a cell phone, so publicly, I began to worry. You threw open a door that’s been shut for a very long time. It might’ve been something your father wanted but I know it’s not what he expected. If you had completed your task in that city, the name would’ve been a capstone to it. You didn’t finish and that word has complicated things. You have exposed yourself to certain people.”
“You know my real name and what I’m doing!”
“I know that and much more but I also made a promise to your father and I’m not going to tell you until I can. You’ll understand when I do but until you fulfill your oath, I can’t. The name you used has now involved dangerous people who could possibly expect you to go to Ukraine because of something your father did. Don’t go there unless you can find a way to indicate that you aren’t. Your father taught how to use misdirection and now you really need it.”
“Join me,” after finishing the call’s business, Sam disconnected and looked to the silent girl: she had kept her end of the pact, “on the sofa.”
“Okay.” Her voice was meek.
“This is John.” Sam opened the box and withdrew a photo that he had secreted from the last set used for false identification.
“He was my brother!” Katya recognized the face and put her fingers across her mouth. John was the young gunman in the Windsor strip club. He saved her life by killing Anaconda and the gangsters. My lack of sexual response to him is now understandable—but how did my glands know it?
“Look closer.” Sam wondered if her use of past tense was due to her shock. “He is your fraternal twin brother.”
“He grew up alone without me too.” Katya’s mind raced to times in her life when the pre-birth memories of him swimming together with her in the womb had sustained her in periods of loneliness.
“He matured in many ways more lonely than you.” Sam Levy hugged her shoulders to quell the shuddering. “Still he wasn’t alone either because he had your father from his birth to the instant of the man’s death.”
“Why were we separated?”
“For good motives, your father killed Kennedy from the Dallas grassy knoll. He only learned afterwards that he was betrayed and the true reason wasn’t honorable. John is on a mission to correct that error.”
“He’s going to the Ukraine and I can help him.”
“John has to be completely focused. He doesn’t know about you and he won’t find out until he’s finished.”
“I met my brother in Windsor.” Katya continued after no words issued from his agape mouth. “I didn’t tell you exactly how Tariq and I finally hooked up.” She gave a brief accounting.
“Your family’s fate has more twists than a licorice factory!”
“The raisins may prove out sweet,” Rajah quoted old Arabic lore and the nubs straining at the material of her tight gown were as plump raisins, “but the juicy grapes are already ripe.” The lady was offering him a bowl of green grapes, but Fakir’s eyes were feasting on the fruits above the dish: those were more like halved pomegranates with thick puckered stems.
“The taste is just to roll over,” Lauren Smyth seductively put one to her mouth: caressed the skin with her lips and then bit it in half, “and die for.”
“The roll-over part is easy,” his enhanced statue at bin Omani gave him access, “but I’m certain Ghazi could make the dying slow and painful.”
“That’s the pessimistic projection.” The lawyer pointed her tongue and with it, she scooped the pulpy insides from the remaining half grape skin. “You should focus instead on the positives. They are before your eyes.”
“They are?” Rajah had stopped breathing while the lady performed the erotic act of eating: he had to gasp for air. The enticing female wore a pale jade evening dress that encased her figure snugly from her chest to the knees and from there it flared to her shapely mid-calves. She had invited him up to her hotel suite, on a pretense of not being ready for dinner yet.
“Those could certainly be yours.” By not specifying what those were, Lauren had deliberately implied that her succulent body parts, that his eyes were in the process of devouring, were definitely included in the deal. “As I see it, Wall could buy bin Omani—and you would loose. Or, a take-over might fail and Sheik Ghazi would no longer need his trusted advisor. But, you are currently in a perfect position to hedge a bet for either eventuality.”
“How so?” Rajah recalled a drop of grape juice that had dribbled down her chin and he wiped his face to ensure he wasn’t drooling too.
“If you provide me with I really want,” she squatted down between his knees and rested her elbows on his thighs, “my employer will handsomely reward you and you’ll earn his favor. If Wall isn’t successful, you will still have the cash and you can further impress Sheik bin Omani with a timely detection of an almost unforeseeable ploy.”
“I could report it to him right now and prevent the action.”
“Will Ghazi pat your back,” her hand tapped his leg to simulate, but the fingertips were also high enough to stimulate, “and say attaboy Rajah?”
“I brought the disk.” The bin Omani corporation executive made his decision: his eyes hungrily flicked to an invitingly ajar bedroom door. “I’ll hand it over to you—afterwards.”
“I’ll call my assistant now.” Lauren stood. “So that—later,” her hands smoothed the wrinkles from the slinky gown: it was snug as spandex and left none of her curves to the imagination, “your money will be here too.”
“Jacqueline Antenenko.” Katya fanned out a passport, driver’s license, birth certificate and credit cards. “Don’t I get a choice of given names this time? Jacqueline has too many syllables. I’ll have to shorten it to Jackie or something. The middle name is abnormal too.”
“Do whatever you like with it.” Sam smiled wryly.
“What’s so special about this ID set?” The young woman squinted to figure out what Sam was up to: he had an odd look about his wrinkled face.
“This and one other I made for your brother, represent the best sets I’ve ever created.” The forger let her absorb that for a pause before explaining. “Your parents never registered your birth but I did—well, sort of.”
“This can’t be my true name,” Katya looked with renewed vigor at the lettering, “because I don’t have one.”
“Your parents initially called you Jacqueline, just as they called your brother, John. The middle one is your mom’s maiden name and your dad’s surname was Antenenko. After you were born, I submitted paperwork and over the years, I’ve kept up a legacy on them. Each year children illegally in Canada have gone to school under those identities.” Sam’s expression was as prideful as William Shakespeare’s must’ve been at the premier performance of Macbeth. “The ID set you’re holding is as good as the real McCoy because it actually is: this is government issued—for you.”
“I have a name!” Katya’s mind waffled. “What if I don’t want one?”
“Then toss it away. This was a labor of love so my godchildren would have a choice. I’ll still make as many false sets as you want.”
“I know what I’ll do with in identity.” Jacqueline had assumed the new persona already. “It should be done in this bulletproof manner.”
“Make yourself at home.” Bernard waved his guest to a den adjoining his office. Two easy chairs sat semi-facing a blazing fireplace. “I brought you here because Mr. Dumont is an acquaintance of mine.”
“Jonathon has gone back to Seattle.” Lauren Smyth apologized. Even the limo driver sent to pick her up had seemed surprised he wasn’t there.
“While your travel ticket was inexplicably and accidentally cancelled.” Stryker sat then took up a poker to rearrange the burning logs. “That was nightmarish service from my airline. Should I fire someone over it?”
“They were nice enough and gave me some compensation frills.”
“I’m sure we haven’t offered nearly enough.” He put the poker down.
“Ah,” Lauren brightened, “Gerald Dumont is who you referred to.”
“Why should I need the son, when his father is already on my payroll.” Bernard clasped his hands together and made a finger steeple. “You on the other hand,” he pointed his two digits at her, “have shown some interesting aspects of yourself—and not just your pink on the links either.”
“I suspect the reason I’m here,” the lady lawyer blushed on the topic of her public shame, “involves information on Bob Wall and Ghazi Omani.”
“I could easily get that from Gerald.” Stryker reclined further back into his chair and crossed his knee: as if in preparation for a lengthy discussion. “I much more eager to learn what really happened to Ethan Smyth.”