This follows Sixteen: A “Quiet” Chat
He sat there, four young Russian women hanging on him, serving him, all but worshipping him. Money paid for that. It paid for so many things in the New Russia. But that man, that centre of adoration, was not Russian. At the bar, someone had called him Chinese.
That wasn’t true. Junsang Chay came from North Korea.
Chay represented North Korea within the networks of Vladivostock. So many illicit shipments moved through the port and the airfield that the regime needed a point man. Apparently, Chay qualified.
Rather than a government flunky or secret operative, Chay was an entrepreneur. You could be that while representing North Korea. Corruption ran to the very top. Even while the nation starved, the generals and bureaucrats knew there was money to be made. What of the Beloved Leader, the newly-resurrected Kim Manil? No one yet knew.
And what of Chay and his loyalties? Did he have two masters? Well, money might be his true master, but he also served two other forces. Which did he serve best? He had facilitated a package from Vladivostock to Kathmandu. That package had nothing to do with North Korea and everything to do with the instruments at play in the Nepalese capital. Who, then, pulled Chay’s strings in that particular operation?
The Beduoin sat at the bar, nursing his beer, listening to those around him yet focused on Chay. He knew of Chay’s ‘extracurricular activities’ because Jack Forbes–the man who had passed himself off as CIA handler “Hitch” Hitchens–had told him of them.
Perhaps not “told” him. Revealed might be a better word. The Bedouin had a way of getting answers. It didn’t require pouring water, slivers under fingernails, or even bright lights. The Bedouin simply concentrated, held the subject’s focus, and the subject would answer.
As one might expect, this proved handy for an intelligence operative.
If anyone could tempt the Bedouin to torture, Hitch would be it. The Bedouin’s interests, though, never swung toward the sadistic. Still, there was something about Hitch, something that made the Bedouin angry.
It didn’t matter. Hitch was out of the equation. He had told the Bedouin what the Bedouin needed to know. His usefulness at an end, he himself had ended. The Bedouin could only imagine that the fish of the Arabian Sea, just beyond Mumbai, had picked clean most of the weighted body by now.
Chay’s package was important. Hitch hadn’t known why, or what it was, but he had tried to hide his knowledge of it. He tried to hide his knowledge of many things. Most of them didn’t surprise the Bedouin. He knew a rogue element of the CIA was involved in Kathmandu. He knew some Chinese were involved, but that the People’s Republic was being set up for a fall. He knew the Russians had some kind of arm’s length involvement.
He didn’t know who, in the end, really pulled the strings.
Chay put him a step closer to that. Now he had to get closer to Chay.
Just in front of the corner booth in which Chay lounged, two large Russians in badly fit suits stood guard. Their poor tailoring had the benefit of clearly outlining that both carried handguns, and rather large ones. Their eyes scanned the bar. They seemed to exude hostility, ready to pounce should it be reflected at them.
These two were for show. These two deterred casual interest, intimidated the gawkers, removed the paparazzi and press. These two gave focus for those measuring protection, but they were not the protection.
Sometimes the show was enough, but you never have the show without the substance. The most expensive bodyguards in Vladivostock were of the ex-Spetznatz variety. If you had a Spetznatz standing post, you knew there were two you didn’t see. If you saw none, expect the worst.
The Bedouin expected the worst. However, the trail had led him here. He had no other trail, no other tips. If Chay proved a barren asset, the Bedouin might have to go to Kathmandu. That’s what the opposition wanted. They expected him there. He had survived so long by avoiding the expected.
A man moved out of the background. Before he spoke, the Bedouin sensed him. This man did not put on shows. This man did nothing extraneous. Ex-Spetznatz.
Ex- Directorate O. Ex-Hunter.
This man had captured post-humans, had killed sorcerers, had removed the brains of parapsychs from their still-living bodies.
This man knew more than Chay.
“You seem interested in that Chinese guy.” The man spoke Russian.
The Bedouin turned and faced this hunter of men. His slightly round face had strong features, with thin lips and cold eyes.
Evgeny. This one’s name was Evgeny, but nothing more. His mind presented a fortress with only a single portal. Strong defences guarded that portal.
“I’m sorry?” The Bedouin spoke English.
“You understand me.” Evgeny took the empty stool beside the Bedouin. “You speak Russian very well. My name is Evgeny. Should I call you Ahmed?”
Had this man read the Ahmed Zeghida file? Could the Bedouin be that lucky? Never rely on luck, but never pass up an opening. Still, this could be left for later. This could be one of many options for when this meeting turned to violence.
And the Bedouin was certain that it would.
“Ahmed will do,” the Bedouin said, in Russian. “How is it you know of me?”
Evgeny smiled–almost sincere. “I’ve read about you for many years. I expected that I would meet you some day. I didn’t expect it to be like this.”
“Like this?” The Bedouin raised his eyebrows: do go on.
“Do you know of me, perhaps?” Evgeny waited, and perhaps saw the answer in the Bedouin’s eyes. “Perhaps not. Just a cog in a machine, it is true. My government work was exemplary, but being exemplary, is not known. My work now promises more of the same. Surely, you can understand the frustration.”
“An artist without an audience?” The Bedouin raised his glass in salute. “Yes, I can understand the frustration. You have an audience now.”
The bartender brought Evgeny a bottle of vodka and a shot glass without being asked. A regular? A parapsych? Planned? A small detail that might inform the Bedouin’s next actions. Evgeny filled his glass and tapped the Bedouin’s with it.
“You will not find me so easy to unravel.” Evgeny drained the glass, then re-filled it. “They thought they had you in Delhi, you know. Then they thought that you would follow their lead to Kathmandu. I told them where you would be found. I knew Forbes should have been removed.”
Evgeny laughed. It sounded genuine. “Now you are playing the part. Not so easy, Ahmed. Not so easy at all.”
“Can I be blamed for trying while you are being so forthcoming?” The Bedouin controlled his facade as he always did. Nothing came to his face or eyes other than what he wished to project.
“I wish it had turned out different, you know.” Another shot done. Evgeny did not pour another. “You are not without an audience. I, for one, relished each report. I applauded you, even when I opposed you.”
The Bedouin felt the tickle, just inside his spine. Trouble. Big, bad, ugly trouble. “But it is over now.”
“You sound so serene, as though you accept the outcome.” Evgeny’s brow knit. He honestly looked concerned. Did he control his emotions as tightly as the Bedouin controlled his face? Could he project such sincerity at a whim, or was he honestly pained by this situation?
One eyebrow raised, Evgeny gestured to the glass of beer. “Really?”
The Bedouin smiled. “A weakness.” There, three metres back and to the left, another man acted calm, but stood coiled, ready to move. He had two firearms and a needle of sedative marked for the Bedouin. There, a metre and a half to that man’s right, a woman. A parapsych. Did she cover others? “We all have our foibles.”
“Do we?” Evgeny tapped the rim of his glass. “Perhaps. But perhaps some of us are not allowed weakness. Perhaps some of us have exorcised it.”
“Perhaps some of us are fooling ourselves.” The Bedouin leaned toward Evgeny. “I want to know who they are. I want to know who pulls Chay’s strings and yours. I will get this information from you or from him. I am giving you two choices, tell me and profit or do not and still fail.”
“You know, don’t you.” Evgeny’s smile had taken on a predatory gleam. It had begun.
“I know. You won’t walk out of here alive, and neither will your people. This is not a game. I take no pleasure in this, but I am very good at it.”
“It’s too late,” Evgeny said. “It is a game, a game you have lost. Chay knows nothing and I don’t know enough. Even if you win here, you lose.”
The Bedouin concentrated. It put him at risk. The effort he expended left him unable to track the other two assailants. Every fortress had a weakness. Evgeny was about pride. He wanted the challenge, needed it. These walls will never fall.
But pride went before exactly that. “Ah, yes, the Algerian bit. I take it you’ve read the Ahmed Zeghida file? The one important thing that the file does not tell you is that Ahmed Zeghida died before his first birthday. I am not Algerian.”
Nothing. Evgeny shook his head. “The semantic trigger? You must be desperate. It had to end this way, you know.”
“Yes, I know.” The Bedouin felt the blood trickle from his nose. Its flow roared in his ears. Feels like an ice pick right there. Damn that hurts. Focus. Focus. “We all have our foibles.”
Evgeny’s eyes went blank. His walls fell. The Bedouin would have only moments. “Tell me”
Movement behind him. Evgney began to speak.
A gun shot.
Followed by Eighteen: Who’s Taking the High Road?