Friday, August 12, 2016

Chapter 10

At the Lotus

Russian contact, Diana Belova, C.I.A. agent, Jace Marshall and a knowledgeable Indian taxi driver, Raahi walk together, still barefoot around the magnificent Baha'i House of Worship better known, perhaps as the "Lotus of Bahapur" Temple.

Diana inquires, "What do you know of the Baha'i Faith, Mr. Marshall?"

"I know that Count Leo Tolstoy wrote: 'We spend our lives trying to unlock the mysteries of the Universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Bahá'u'lláh in Akka, Palestine, who had the key."

"You flatter me, Mr. Marshall, to quote our beloved Tolstoy. Perhaps I have misjudged you as merely an office boy from a gray cubicle at your C.I.A. Headquarters. Perhaps there may be some substance to you after all. What else do you know?"

Jace felt the pressure of a condescending attitude, but she was Russian and very attractive. He would give her some latitude to let her think she was playing with his head. Besides, she still had the computer flash drive with the evidence he needed about existence of "The Consortium".

He continued with last night's homework regurgitation. "The Bahá'ís today live and work in some 1,20,000 localities in 165 independent countries and 45 dependent territories around the world. Embracing people from more than 2,110 ethnic, racial and tribal groups, the Bahá'í Faith is at present the most diverse organized body of people on the planet. The Bahá'í literature has been translated into more than 800 languages of the world."

"Yes, yes, yes", Miss Belova interrupted before he could spew anymore facts and figures he memorized last night reading the Internet files from his laptop computer which was in his briefcase. "I know all of that. You sound like you are giving me an elementary school book report. What do the Baha'i believe?"

Jace tried to speak, but sounded no words before Miss Belova interrupted again. "Wait. I will tell you. Bahá'ís believe that throughout human history the Creator has educated humanity through a series of Divine Manifestations. These Manifestations include: Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad. Would you like a quotation from their Holy Writngs".

Now Jace would put her to the test. This was also getting interesting. Last night's Scotch may have had something to do with today's recall abilities. Besides, he really loved the softness of her voice and the way she rolled her r's when she said, Misterrr. Marrrshall. "Yes, I would."

Diana began, "And I quote: 'The divine Manifestations since the day of Adam have striven to unite humanity so that all may be accounted as one soul. The function and purpose of a shepherd is to gather and not disperse his flock. The prophets of God have been divine shepherds of humanity. They have established a bond of love and unity among mankind, made scattered peoples one nation and wandering tribes a mighty kingdom. They have laid the foundation of the oneness of God and summoned all to universal peace.' - Bahá'í Holy Writings. End quote. Are you impressed Mr. Marshall?"

Jace was impressed, both with Diana and her knowledge of the Baha'i Faith, but he had to focus on the problem at hand. "It is a beautiful and idealistic religion, but what has it to do with our problems at hand?"

Origins of the Consortium

"Very well, Mr. Marshall. Since you are in such a big hurry, I will tell you. In 1947, when rumors spread about a possible UFO crash near Rosewell, New Mexico and there were suspicions of an official cover-up, a group of extremely wealthy people brought together the smartest scientists and the smartest political scientists to play 'What-If' intellectual games. Surely you have played these games yourself.

"They played the scientists against the political scientists and then played them both against the best theologians of the day. Their main interest was to discover the best way to move the world's nationalist-type civilizations toward one homogenized world of lasting peace and unity as a One World Government, One World Civilization, One World Banking. In short, a general redistribution of wealth, food distribution, manufacturing and agriculture to benefit all of mankind rather than those who  merely had possession of the land all the recources were closest to. The haves would no longer hold sway over the have nots. There would be nothing for everyone to fight about. There would finally be world peace.

"This would also be necessary if the Earth should be contacted by visitors of another planet. There would be a need for one leadership source with which to communicate and possibly effect treaties. You know how the United Nations and N.A.T.O. fight, discuss and disagree on nearly every issue with respect to their own needs, wants and desires to capitalize on issues. These things would be eliminated under the One World Government plan of these wealthy men who called themselves, "The Consortium".

"For the past sixty years, they have moved their money and wealth from this country to that country in ways which effect the total efforts of other countries, thereby dictating what governments will do in reaction to those events. Do you understand all that I have told you?"

Jace wasn't sure if Diana was being truthful or being a crackpot conspiracy theorist. He'd heard these types of theories before. Several books had already been written, but he never read them because they were not really science fiction, they were just out there. Jace responded, "I understand. So as the Baha'i Faith recognizes and respects all the various religions of the world and desires to unify them all into one faith for the betterment of all mankind, this Consortium wants to unite all the people of the Earth under the same socio-political control."

"Very good, Mr. Marshall. You DO understand. However, the plans of original Consortium have been altered due to recent deaths and replacements into its membership. No one knows who these people are. Many agents have died trying to discover their identities. They do not want this information known and they are ruthless in their efforts.  To control and rule the Earth's population is their only goal. Where they were once idealistic and benevolent, now they are selfish, ruthless and far away from their original pureness of purpose, which was their foundational theory from the beginning. Under their new plans, the ideas of individual freedoms will be totally abolished and replaced with despotism and very strict regimentation - for the benefit of the state ... their "state" ... the state of the Earth under their control only. What do you think of that?"

It sounded too much like a play into his own sense of national patriotism. This was quite a mouthful coming from a former Soviet Russian, who may or may not be an agent of that regime.

>>>> Next: Chapter 11 >>

Chapter 9

Hotel Restaurant

Jace sat in the hotel restaurant reading the Washington Post over his second cup of coffee. His breakfast was being prepared in the kitchen. There was bad news everywhere, good news nowhere. The world was truly going to hell in a hand basket. He almost hated to read the newspapers anymore, but it's important to keep in touch with goings on at home.

One article near the back pages caught his eye and he folded the paper around in preparation to give better attention. "U.S. Raising Cash to Fund Rescue" The Treasury Department announced plans, Monday, to borrow $520 billion in the last three months of this year as merely a down payment. Officials project the government would need to borrow $365 billion more in the first three months of 2009, meaning the next president will confront an ocean of red ink.

Jace understood little about the finance of governments. He figured, you pay taxes and the government uses taxes to pay for things it needs but where, in the world, does the world's most powerful nation borrow that kind of money? Aren't we considered the world's richest nation? Shouldn't we have our own money? Almost a trillion dollars - geez, that's a lot of zeros. It's not a new car or braces for the kids' teeth type of loan, that's for sure.

It was Election Day in the U.S. and the entire world was watching. They'd had fully two years of this political bickering between the parties about how the government would be run and by whom. Selfishly, the whole looked to the candidates to see what one or the other would do or could do to benefit or harm relations with their respective countries, but it was not their decision.

On the opposite page was a smaller article about candidate Baligh al Din's 92 year-old grandmother passing away. She had partially funded his education and helped raise him as a boy. Sadly, she would not see the outcome of today's elections in America. Jace thought, "Well, that could gather a few sympathy votes." He wasn't too fond of al Din. It was too soon after September 11, 2001 to be electing a person with an Arab name. Forget about his politics; both parties lie and say anything to get elected. He'd been through too many elections to realize that one truth. A grand scheme of plans for the country always take a back seat to emerging world situations.

The waiter brought breakfast and he put the paper down, thanked the waiter and asked about his special request. "Yes, sir." the waiter replied. "There is a Spencer's Hypermarket nearby and we can obtain the peanut butter for your sandwiches. Will the 'Skippy' brand be satisfactory?"

"Yes, thank-you. I'm sure that it will." Jace tried not to show his amazement that 'Skippy' peanut butter was actually available in India. In a couple of hours, Jace would meet his mysterious Russian contact at the Lotus Temple of the Baha'i and he'd better have these sandwiches so that she could recognize him in a crowd of tens of thousands who visit the temple daily.

Jace finished his breakfast and took his newspaper to the lobby to wait for Raahi. His phone call to the company store last night assured him that Raahi would be available today. He still wondered why this crazy Russian insisted that his taxi driver join them today. He would have to find out.

Raahi Arrives

Raahi arrived in the hotel lobby and greeted Jace in the lobby with a good morning, "Namaste", which Jace returned, likewise. It seemed more ... special and civilized, somehow than the "How ya' doin', sport." that he gets back home.

The waiter brought the three brown paper bags and his check. Jace added a generous gratuity and signed the bill. It's not every restaurant that will go to the local Hypermarket to buy a jar of peanut butter for a hotel guest.

Raahi seemed strangely silent during the ride through Delhi to the temple and he drove like he had some sense. Something was on his mind, but he was dutiful to his job as a good taxi driver. Yesterday, he had been animated and talkative as he barreled through the roadways. Jace thought It was not his place to get too personal.

Jace and Raahi took the long walk up the pathway toward the temple building. He was surprised at the lack of unfortunate beggars and people constantly trying to sell you junk. Raahi spoke for the first time since the hotel, "Is it not a beautiful place, Mr. Marshall? More people visit here daily than visit the Taj Mahal."

"It is magnificent, Raahi. Very beautiful." Raahi was definitely true to his name's meaning, 'knowledgeable traveler'. Jace would have thought the Taj Mahal would have been a bigger attraction in India. Jace looked for a place where he and Raahi could be seen. He decided to walk up the steps to the temple itself. It would be easier than he thought to meet his contact because areas were roped-off and no one is permitted to simply wander the grounds. At the top of the steps they were reminded to remove their shoes, place them in a bag and check them as no shoes were permitted inside the temple.

Jace looked at his watch. It was 11:29 a.m. and he was right on time. He looked around, eye direction shaded under his sunglasses to see if anyone seemed to be noting his presence, but no. It became an instinct when doing secret work abroad. Jace turned to look down the pathway and watched the many pilgrims, tourists and curious silently filing into the temple. He turned around again to look toward the temple and ten feet away stood a beautifully tanned, dark haired, barefoot woman in a deep red, almost burgundy saree. Her painted toenails, matched the color of her Saree and fingernails. Upon our recognizing her, she placed her hands in a prayerful manner, bowed slowly and softly said, "Namaste". Jace walked over to within five feet of her.  Raahi was just to the left and behind Jace. Simultaneously, they put their hands together in like fashion and repeated, "Namaste".

Jace Meets Diana

The woman smiled and Jace could see that she had bluish-green eyes that pierced his very soul as he stared into them. It seemed like an eternity in coming, but she spoke, "Did you enjoy your dinner last evening, Mr. Marshall? I understand that beef meat for human consumption is very much impossible to find in a country that worships the bull as sacred."

Jace smiled and tried to be cool, "I enjoyed it very much. The French fries were also a nice touch. Thank-you." That was it? That was all he could say? It seemed an odd way of confirming that she was indeed his contact and also that she had somehow arranged his dinner.

She smiled, stepped forward, extended her right hand to shake hands with Jace, "My name is Diana Belova. It's a pleasure to meet you." Jace took off his sunglasses with his left hand to get a better view and eliminate that communication barrier between them that wearing sunglasses might interrupt. Jace could feel the delicate softness of her hand and appreciate her perfectly polished finger nails.

"The pleasure is mine." Jace responded, still pretty much speechless. He would allow her to take the lead in this conversation. It was her meeting. All he wanted was the information on the titanium computer flash drive. He wasn't going to volunteer any information that could be used against the United States. After all, he knew nothing about this .. “Agent”.

Turning to Raahi, she said, "Hello, Raahi, my old friend. It's very good to see you again."
Returning to Jace, "Did you bring our lunch, Mr. Marshall? I thought we might picnic near here and talk a while."

>>>> Chapter 10 >>

Chapter 8

Trial and Error

Still laughing, Jace picked-up the telephone receiver and pushed the number for the front desk switchboard. There was no way contacting an underground Russian agent in a city of 18 million people could be so easy. A sweet sounding female operator answered.  “Yes, Mr. Mitchell. How may I help you?“

“I’d like an outside line, please.”

“Of course, sir. Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Oh, operator. Can you tell me what is the correct prefix numbers for this person’s telephone number; 634-5789?”

“Would you like me to access that number for you, sir?”

“Yes, operator. Thank you.”

This had to be some sort of prank. Jace remembered when the Wilson Pickett song was first introduced to the American public over the radio. Kids, drunks and just for fun, people would dial that number just to see who, if anyone, was on the other end. To the folks on the receiving end of those calls, it was most annoying. So much so that the all the American telephone companies stopped using that number everywhere. I suppose somebody somewhere whined, “There oughta be a law …” and Congress passed one.

The operator came back on the line. “Sir, I’ve tried all the proper area codes. I’m sorry, sir. That telephone number is not a valid telephone number anywhere in India. Would you like to try another number?”

“No. thank-you. You have been most kind.”

Contact Made

Jace hung up the phone. He knew it couldn’t be that easy.  Yet, he wondered …  This Russian Uri or whatever his name is, has to be somewhere in India. He has information that I need on a little titanium computer flash drive. Once again he picked-up the telephone receiver and without dialing for an outside line, he just pushed the digits 6-3-4-5-7-8-9. A special circuit which was secretly installed in his phone was automatically redialing another number. The phone rang almost a full ring before someone answered.

“Congratulations, Mr. Marshall. You can now add Russian code breaker to your resume.” She had the sweetest Russian accented voice that Jace had ever heard. This was, indeed, a surprise.  “Meet me tomorrow morning at the Lotus Temple of the Bahai at 11:30. Bring your taxi driver with three brown paper bags containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some potato chips in each.” With that short conversation, the phone went dead. Jace hung-up the receiver without saying a word and two seconds later, the phone emitted a single puff of white smoke which smelled ‘electronic‘.

“Well“, Jace thought. “I guess she doesn’t want just everyone who uses this room to have her home phone number. Wait. How will I know her? How does she know me?  More questions than answers. What about Raahi?”  He would have to find out tomorrow.

>>>> Chapter 9 >>

Chapter 7

Returning to Local HQ

Jace was explicit in telling Raahi that he was in no hurry to get back to the company store. He thought that might allow him to drive a little bit slower and more sanely. Jace needed time to think about what was really going on here. This case was beginning to sound  more like a broader conspiracy rather than a simple terrorist attack on an American-owned company especially since the boy was killed the night before the bombing. Was he was killed because someone found out that he was using credit card numbers from the list for personal use or was he killed to hide the evidence of the existence of the lists and the purpose of the company?

The evening air smelled sweet and pungent of Indian herbal cooking. He and Raahi hadn’t eaten all day and even spicy Indian food sounded good to him now even though years of irregular meals had left him with a tender stomach. Dinner would have to wait, but it was eventually going to be very hard to find an American cheeseburger in vegetarian India. He would give all the lint in his pockets for a bacon double cheeseburger right now.

As Jace and Raahi walked into the company store, A.I.C. Sachigian was waiting for them. He had a sad look on his face. “I sure hope you found out something because Jagrati Malhotra and her grandmother are dead. We have no other witnesses in this case. She was the last survivor. We were taking them both home in a company car when their car was pushed onto a railroad track from behind while waiting at the crossing. Agent Singh is also dead. The only witnesses to the accident were the engineers who were trying to stop the train and didn’t get a good description of the old pickup truck that pushed them. We‘ve put out an A.P.B. with the local police, but they’ll never find anything. This was a professional hit.”

“Damn!” She was such a sweet kid. Damn, damn, damn.  A.I.C. Sachigian was right. It was a professional hit. This really narrowed the possibilities now. The boy and the girl were both killed to keep them quiet about Elect-Co. That worksheet was now the only key piece of evidence they had left. This was definitely a conspiracy investigation and not a terrorist action. It also meant that somebody was watching … watching very closely.

Jace took care of immediate business, faxed the Elect-Co worksheet to Supervisor Ray, after he phoned the director from a private office over the secure line and got Raahi paid. Raahi, then gave him a lift to the hotel. Jace needed a drink. Another thing about India, no bars.

Checking In

The man at the front desk had a room reservation all ready for Jace and a porter was on-hand to carry his luggage. Jace signed-in and was about to pick-up his room key. The desk man compared his signature to one they had on-file in their computer. The computer also had his facial identification and a biometric comparison scan was in progress. Jace didn’t see the hidden camera, but it had to be around there somewhere.

The scan complete and identity confirmed, the desk man stopped Jace for a moment by reaching out and putting his left hand on top of Jace and the room keys. Silently, he reached down under the counter and located a small unmarked package wrapped in brown paper and tied with jute string and handed it to Jace. It was the size of a pack of cigarettes, but Jace didn’t smoke. It was too small to be a cheeseburger, so he waited until he got to his room to unwrap it.

Unlocking the Room

Unlocking his room door, Jace walked inside. Somebody must have also been reading his mind. On the counter was a covered serving dish and next to it a bottle of 12-year old, single malt scotch. He lifted the lid of the serving dish and found a bacon double cheeseburger and fries - still steaming. First things first. Where was the ice? He was no James Bond gourmet, just a poorly paid, public servant with simple tastes.

After drinks, dinner and a hot shower, Jace decided to open the brown paper package to see what else was new and different.  Letting the paper and string drop to the floor, Jace found an old Wilson Pickett cassette tape. What kind of joke was this? This is the Compact Disc, digital age. Where am I going to find a cassette tape player? In India?

Beside the Phone

Jace went over to the phone by the bed and prepared to call the front desk when he noticed the bedside table drawer was slightly opened. He pulled on the handle. Oh, this guy had a sense of humor. Stashed underneath the Gideon’s Bible was an old, battery operated GE cassette tape player.  Now he felt like a cross between James Bond and Jim Phelps of the old Mission Impossible TV series. Was this tape going to self destruct? This cloak and dagger stuff was amusing sometimes and he had just enough scotch by now to snicker just a little bit.

“Huh. What the hell?”

He loaded in the cassette tape and poured another scotch and added one ice cube. Wilson Pickett and his good old sweet soul music. How refreshing in this land of very different music. Through each and every song he tried to figure the significance of the lyrics. He played the entire first side without a clue, then flipped up the player door and turned the tape over then played the back side of the tape. He laid across the bed, half in - half out of consciousness with his drink on his chest and was nearly asleep when “the song” came on.

"If you need, a little lovin’
Call on me.

"If you need, a little huggin’
Call on me.

"Oh, I’ll be right here at home
All ya gotta do is pick up the telephone and dial

"6-3-4-5-7-8-9 (that’s my number)

"No more lonely nights, when you'll be alone.
All you gotta do is pick up your telephone and dial now...

"6-3-4-5-7-8-9 (that’s my number)

Jace quickly came to his senses and started laughing hysterically. What else could he do? He should be looking for his Russian contact and this crazy Russian found him first and gave him the phone number in the lyrics of a 35 year old rhythm and blues song.

>>>> Chapter 8 >>

Chapter 6

Traveling Through Town

Raahi drove like a madman, wildly beeping his horn every few seconds while buzzing through the narrow, winding passages that barely passed for streets in this section of Delhi leaving blue/black clouds of smoke in his wake. Jace had some tough assignments and ridden in many forms of conveyances in his long career but this taxi ride would challenge the best of them for top honors as wildest ride ever.

Jace held on with both hands tying to keep some semblance of balance while juggling his baggage in the back seat. He should have dropped them off at the company hotel, but he made the mistake of telling Raahi he was in a hurry. Raahi was a good taxi driver all right, but only because he didn’t run over anybody on the roads.

They arrived at the home of the boy who worked at Elect-Co and had reportedly stolen the working pages and was using the credit card numbers to purchase things for his family over his home computer.  Jace looked at the outside of the dingy place and was sure he would not be sitting down in there. No telling what he would be sitting in.  He knocked at the door, while Raahi stood to his left and slightly behind him to serve as interpreter in case they spoke no English.

Interviewing Mother

A middle aged woman answered the door, dressed in a traditional sari with an all black shawl draped over her head. She put her hands together, prayerfully and quietly spoke through her missing front teeth, “Namaste.  May I help you?”

Jace replied likewise. It was a nice custom to be greeted in such a manner. He was also glad she spoke English and since he still wasn’t sure about Raahi, Jace asked him to wait in the taxi. Besides, someone had to watch his luggage in this neighborhood.  Raahi looked a bit rejected, but did so.

The woman motioned for him to come inside and sit.  “Would you care for some tea, sir?”  She could see he was American and surmised that this was about her son and his involvement with the American computer company, Elect-Co.

As poor as she seemed, she still had social graces. Jace replied, “No, thank-you, ma’am.  I would not trouble you for my comfort.”  The room was surprisingly clean, so he sat down. He looked around the small three room dwelling to see several signs of new purchases, but they were all small items and feminine in nature. No doubt gifts purchased for her by a loving son, that is, except for the brand new computer that sat on a small table in the corner of the room. Nothing else in the room looked either out of place or out of the ordinary, given the circumstances.

Jace began, “We are very sorry that your son was killed. We are working very hard to find out who is responsible for the terrorist attack on the office building and will bring them to justice just as ..

The lady interrupted, “My son was not killed in the explosion, sir. He was stabbed 11 times in the streets as he walked home from work the night before the explosion took place. The police say they are investigating also, but because we are poor, the police do not seem to want to find anyone.”

This information took the wind right out of his sails. Jace really thought he might be onto something. Perhaps he was. “Oh, I did not know that he died in that way. I am so very, very sorry for your loss. “  He stood up and walked over to a shiny new, hand-painted ceramic figure, gently picked it up and asked, “Is this a gift from your son?”

“Yes, it is. It is the representation of our Hindu God, “Vishnu”. He is the preserver and sustainer of life, the principles of order, righteousness and truth. We pray to him daily. Now that my son is gone … “ tears began to well-up in her sad, dark brown eyes … “I do not know how I will survive. We pray that Vishnu will help us in some way.”

Jace was now in an ethical bind. He should respect this grief stricken woman and just leave, but he had to ask about the working pages. This was his only real lead. “Ma’am, I have to ask you just one more question. Did your son ever bring any of his worksheets home to work at his computer here?”

“I do not know, sir, but these are his things. If you are careful, you may look through them if you think it will help.” She motioned to a small carved wooden box, the size of a cigar box - the kind you find in America, hand-made in India. Among his coins and a few other small things was a pocket notebook. Inside it was a folded-up, single sheet of paper listing twenty-five, American-type names and what appeared to credit card numbers.

Jace motioned upwards with the paper in his hand and asked, “May I have this?”

The woman looked at the type-written list and said, “This does not belong to my son. If this paper can help you find who murdered him, please take it with you.”

“Thank-you“, Jace responded. Now he was ready to leave, but he had to do something first. He knew that this proud woman would not accept charity so he simply reached into his pocket and withdrew a paper bundle of Indian Rupees and gave it all to the woman with both hands. It amounted to 5,000 Rupees, but that was only $100.00 in U.S. dollars. “This is the money that we owe your son for his last day at work. He always did very well. You should be proud of him.”  She smiled through moist eyes, but could say nothing. It was the very least Jace could do.  Sure it was a little white lie, but who did it really hurt?

Oh, yeah. Raahi! He would have to be paid somehow. That was all the Indian currency Jace had. No sweat. He had to go back to the company store anyway. He could get more cash and fax the work-sheet to Langley. It was now the night shift there again and Supervisor, Ray would have to be let into the loop. He needed more help. This was something solid to go on and the director had to be told.

Now, where was this mysterious Russian agent I was supposed to meet and how would we locate each other in the fifth largest city in the world with a population 18 million people?

>>>> Chapter 7 >>

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chapter 5

Landing in New Delhi

The company LearJet landed on time at Indira Ghandi International Airport and taxied toward a private hangar near the end of the runway. It had barely come to a full stop when a small Shell Oil tanker truck came slowly rolling toward the plane. Jace Marshall looked out the porthole window for the limo which the Director had informed him would be there waiting. Hhmm. Looked like a no show on the limo. He would have to hoof-it to the taxi stand after all. The co-pilot opened the door and let down the ramp to offload, while the captain supervised the refueling and inspected the aircraft.

Jace grabbed his brand new suitcase of clothes and necessaries that someone at the C.I.A. had furnished him for the trip and also the briefcase which he found on the plane with his initials engraved in the handgrip. “Nice touch. What is this, my birthday?” he muttered to himself. Jace stood-up and bumped his head on the interior ceiling. He wasn’t going to stick-out like a sore thumb in northern India, was he?

Meeting Raahi

As he stepped out of the plane and looked ahead toward the hangar, a yellow Tuk-Tuk (taxi) trailing blue smoke from burning oil from it’s exhaust roared up and stopped.  The small brown driver got out, put his hands together, prayerfully, bowed and said, “Namaste. Mr. Marshall. I am Raahi Vineet, which means “knowledgeable traveler” in your language. My last name is unimportant. Please call me Raahi. May I help you with your luggage?”

Jace returned the gesture with the appropriate, “Namaste, Raahi, please call me Jace. I prefer to carry my bags with me, if you don’t mind. By the way, that’s a great name for a taxi driver.”

“I believe it was my destiny to be a taxi driver in this life because I was named so. I can take you anywhere you like and answer any questions you have. I am a good taxi driver.“, Raahi replied.

Jace got into the back seat with his luggage and Raahi closed his door, got into the driver’s seat and sped away toward the private area of customs reserved only for special visitors. It had all been arranged. Without much delay, Jace was en-route to the “company store“, as they called the local office of the C.I.A. It was time to meet with the lone survivor, a Miss Jagrati Malhotra.

At the Company Store

The local agents had picked-up the young lady at her residence and drove her to the company store. She was only being interviewed and was not under suspicion of anything. She was just a sweet, but educated kid who ran late to work one day caring for her elderly grandmother. It seems her good deed was a positive thing for her Karma and kept her from harm the day of the explosion.

As Jace and Raahi came into the office, Jace could see young Jagrati and her grandmother were quietly having tea. He spoke to the agent in charge. “How is she holding up?” he asked, nodding to the young lady.

“I’m A.I.C. Sachigian and you are Marshall?” It sounded an awful lot like attitude to Jace.

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m sorry if my manners are a bit rusty, but I’ve been on a plane all night and this is not my deal. I asked to be rotated out of the Middle East desk at Langley and was looking forward to some rest. Now I’m here. So can you cut me some slack? We’re all on the same team here.” Jace fired back.

“Yeah, sure. I guess so.” Turning toward the ladies in question, A.I.C. Sachigian answered, “Well, the young girl is very upset that she is the only survivor and that all her friends were lost in the explosion. Now she’s out of a job, too and worried she can’t find another one to support herself or her ailing grandmother.”

“Mind if I talk with her? Does she speak English?”

“Sure, go ahead. I told her you were coming just to talk.”

Jace and Raahi walked toward Jagrati and her grandmother. Jace didn’t know what Raahi’s function was other than taxi driver, so he turned and asked him to wait in the chairs at the front of the office. Raahi complied.

Witness Interview

Jace walked slowly over to the table and asked the ladies for permission to sit down with them. They acknowledged with a slight nod, unsure about what was going to happen next. “My name is Jace Marshall and I’d like to ask you some questions about what happened yesterday. Is that all right?”

Again, Jagrati nodded.

Jace already had most of the information about her initial questioning in his head from the fax he received on the plane. All the usual background stuff. The who, what, where, when and why stuff that is a routine part of gathering information. What he wanted to know was why was this particular floor of the entire building singled out for destruction. What was Elect-Co doing on the seventh floor of that building to cause someone to want it destroyed? Jace began.

“Would either of you like your tea warmed a bit?”

“No sir, we are both fine. We do not wish to be bothersome.”

“It’s no trouble, really.“ They nod again in the negative and Jace begins the questions,  “Jacgrati, what is your job at Elect-Co?”

“It is a very easy job, sir. We just sit at our computer terminals and ~ how do you say it? Surf the internet.”

“Are you searching for anything special or different?”

“Yes. We are seeking internet pages that have advertisements for America’s presidential candidates.”

“Do you have a favorite candidate?

“No sir. We are not allowed to choose. We must find only pages for the Democrat candidate, Baligh Husan al Din. Sometimes when we click with our mouse cursor on his opponent‘s advertisements, we have discovered that an advertisement for Mr. Baligh al Din will very oftentimes appear on the same page. Since we get paid for every time we find an advertisement, we have found this to be a very useable shortcut for adding to our wages.” Jacgrati begins to cry again. “I was quite successful at this job and was earning very good wages, but now I can earn nothing and will have to suffer trying to find another job.”

This was an odd way to earn a living - surfing the internet and clicking on political advertisements. How does that work?

“Tell me how your pay was arranged?” Jace asked.

“It was very easy to keep score for ourselves. That way we could not be cheated out of our due earnings. We click on the Internet advertisements for Mr. al Din and go to another web page which asks for donations to his campaign. We have many lists of people who wish to voluntarily donate money and their credit card numbers, so we provide this service for those people because they do not have internet services. When we complete donations for an entire page of people, we earn $25.00 in American money or one U.S. dollar for every name more than one page. We get paid every night before we go home, but I sometimes work later because my grandmother has special times that she must do certain things and I am always late for work. My employer didn’t mind my being tardy, sometimes because I was so successful at my work.”

Jace was impressed with this young lady. “I’m happy that you were so successful at your work. Can you tell me how much each person donated to Mr. al Din for his campaign?”

“The amount of each donation was always the same. $2300.00 U.S. Dollars each.”

“And you had lists of these names and credit card numbers?”

“Yes sir. We started out with three pages per day and could get more when we needed them and if time would allow it.”

“Jacgrati, Do you know how many people worked at Elect-Co?”

“I do not know exactly, but my friend, counted 700 computers at one time and we had three shifts of people working all the time - twenty-four hours in a day. I think they added some more computers for the next floor on top of us, but I do not know anyone who works on that floor.”

“Do you have any of those lists that I could see?”

“No sir. We are not allowed to take them out of the building because we have to sign for them when we get them from our supervisor and our supervisor signs when we return them all checked-off before we can get paid.”

“I see. Well, I guess that is that.” Without those pages, Jace would have no evidence. This was clearly a violation of Federal campaign fund raising laws as far as he could tell from this conversation, but without the names to double check on, and the building and everything in it, blown up, there was no chance at finding anything further.

“Jacqrati, are you absolutely certain that no pages ever left the facility?”

“Yes, sir. I’m certain.” She thought for a moment. She seemed puzzled because she wasn’t sure how to address the issue.  She was sure it would get someone into trouble. Then she spoke again, “Mr. Marshall? I do not want to get someone into trouble, but I suppose it won’t matter now that he is dead. I heard of a boy who managed to steal a page from the supervisor’s desk after he had turned it in. He was using his computer at home to purchase things using the credit card numbers from the page. His family is very poor.”

What a break. If he could, somehow get a hold of that page, he could verify if the girl’s story were true. He could also verify if the credit card holders actually knew what their credit cards were being used for. With that many computer operators and that many credit card holders, this scam was sure to top the list of biggest of all time. That's not to mention violations of several campaign contributions laws. This had probably been going on ever since al Din announced his candidacy. The maximum individual contribution is $2300.00 for the primary and another $2300.00 for the presidential election campaigns.  Are there this many Americans with high limit credit cards? He questioned. No wonder this guy could raise money so fast for his campaign advertising and travel expenses while big contributions stayed under the radar.

He had to phone this one into the director. But first, he had to take a little ride. “Raahi, are you ready to go for a little drive?”

>>>> Next: Chapter 6 >>

Chapter 4

Inside the Consortium

In a large secluded room, darkened, sound-proof and without windows, somewhere in the world, sat twelve shadowed figures wearing very well tailored black suits and black ties sitting around a single large round table lit by a single spot light centered on the table. Each sat quietly, hands folded left hand over right hand on the edge of the table, leaning only slightly forward into the light so that only their hands and faces could be seen by the others. Each wore only a single wide gold band on his left hand little finger but no other jewelry or wrist watches. The figures sat looking at each other in recognition, but still in complete silence. As soon as everyone appeared acknowledged and satisfied that all was as it should be, someone spoke.

“Everything is proceeding as we have planned. The European Union and the United States are very much weakened, financially. The market price of crude petroleum has reached an all-time high. Their largest manufacturing companies are letting go of many skilled workers who cannot find other gainful work. The major manufacturing industries themselves are nearing bankruptcy. Production capacity for all military weapons is severely weakened.

The unemployed people cannot pay their taxes and must depend upon their governments for support. They will eventually lose their homes. There is demand destruction that threatens their government’s ability to collect taxes on oil products. The oil producing countries have lowered their production by 1.5 million barrels per day and still the economies are unaffected. Their own real estate and business investment greediness has caused near collapse of their respective economies.

There is world-wide panic in equities markets, commodities markets and money markets. The governments of the European Union and the United States are seeking additional funds to finance what they cannot provide for their people through tax collections. Even their vast military presence, worldwide will be curtailed due to their lack of available funding to pay their soldiers.

These funds, we must withhold from them to create a larger demand and more political unrest, thereby raising our potential for greater return and absolute dominant control.

The time is right for a collapse in capitalism. The time is right for a collapse of N.A.T.O. The United Nations will become powerless without the United States. Russia and China have agreed they will chose not to be involved or come to their defense. It is a battle they will not want or have to fight.

The time is right for the end of the power of the United States. Soon, our carefully created agent, Baligh Husan al Din, who has been given that name, which in Arabic means ‘Eloquent Sword of Faith‘, will be freely elected by the American people and nothing further can detour us. The time is right for world-wide revolution. No one will use nuclear weapons on each other because neither can be construed as the true enemy of their own destruction. We will simply pick up the pieces and reorganize them into our New World Order - target date, December, 2012.

>>>> Next: Chapter 5 >>

Chapter 3

The Candidate Backstage

Presidential candidate Baligh Husan al Din sat backstage for a few minutes as he waited for his introduction to the podium during the Miami, Florida support rally. This would be an important speech, but he wasn't worried about his words, getting a warm reception or what the media might say. After all this time on the campaign trail, this event was like preaching to the choir in anticipation of their taking his message to their friends and picking up a few more undecided votes during this final push before election day.

Baligh al Din was, of course, was a naturalized American by birth to a French descendant white woman, who had been selected by his father for her beauty, intelligence, liberal political ideas and more importantly, the fact that she was an American citizen. His father was of royal blood in his homeland in some African country whose borders are always changing and ethnic fighting is a way of life. When his mother became pregnant with him, his father waited until after the child was born to be sure the woman would produce a male heir before he married her. She was fortunate that she produced a son on the first pregnancy. In his homeland, a woman gets two chances to produce a male heir to the royal men or she's executed as unsuitable and a replacement found. There was no such thing as divorce.  These are things the American public must never know.

These Americans, al Din thought to himself, were like sheep and they always want to appear to be on the winning side of any debate, political race or war. That's why poll numbers are so important to a political campaign and why the broadcast media is encouraged to repeat the figures relentlessly, especially since he was ahead by a slight margin. Winning is everything and no one wants to even consider being on the losing side. A person must never "waste his/her vote" by voting for someone who wasn't already going to win, according to the polls, that is.

Like sheep, these Americans - sheep mated with pigs. They only work to consume everything in sight. They are fat and lazy. Their cars, houses and lifestyles must be bigger than that of their neighbor. They must have material things or their lives cease to have purpose, it seems. Even his classmates at Harvard Law School, were no different. They only went to school to go to parties, meet other people of wealthy families and plan for the day when they would receive their inheritance and do their own thing, meaning the world was their playground. Once they passed their bar exam, their careers and lifestyles were assured.

Americans pretend to be so religious and indignant when their ethics are called into question, but their churches are more like tax-exempt businesses than sanctuaries for the soul. They go through the motions and rituals, but there is no real soul to these people or this society, he thought. I remember that I was forced to attend a fundamentalist Christian church for twenty-four years in order to prove that I was one of them, but my father taught me the right way, the true way through his many letters and writings all the while I was growing up in America.  Without a sense of purpose or real religious conviction, these people would be easy to sway with the power of his speeches. Sheep.

Baligh walked over to the mirror, leaned-in and looked carefully at his nose under the makeup lights. No scars remained from the first botched Rhinoplasty his mother arranged for him on his sixteenth birthday. A second surgery was required to correct the mistakes of the first doctor to attempt to make Baligh appear more Caucasian.  After the first botched surgery, his father took matters into hand and arranged a second surgery.  He had also arranged a tragic automobile accident for the first plastic surgeon.

His father had also been educated in the United States and knew that Americans worshipped the so-called, 'face people', the beautiful people of Hollywood even more so than their teachers or priests. He had studied American history, their Constitution and understood the people very well.  For these people to hear the message, he had to have the correct appearance and have a well-known and respected background. His father had orchestrated every single residence, school playmate, teacher and body guard his whole life with only one goal in mind - to have his son, one day become President of the United States and the most powerful leader in the world.

Baligh hearing the beginning of his introduction cleared his throat, took a drink of water and put on his suit coat then headed for the stage. As part of his stage presence, he would cross the stage, shake hands with as many people as he could while waving to the crowd with his free hand as today's choice for high school marching band played his theme song. After reaching the podium and waiting for the cheers and applause to die down a little, he would take off his suit coat, roll up his sleeves and begin his remarks. Every speech drew him closer to his goal of becoming president. If he failed to win the election, "The Consortium" would no longer have use for him. He would win. He was not a gambler and had aces up his sleeves.

Jace enroute

Flying at 39,000 feet in a route over the North Pole, Jace Marshall woke up from a nap. He didn't want to, but the FAX machine was making a terrible racket. He got up and cleared the paper jam, hit the reset button and a new FAX transmission began. It looks like more news about the New Delhi explosion from our agents on the ground there. He thought to himself, "Why is it that this thing works up here and I can't make a simple cell phone call?"

Near Landing

It was wheels down at Indira Ghandi International Airport in less than an hour as Jace Marshall reviewed the secure faxed information he'd just received. Actually, there were two. The one that caused the paper jam was from the agency in Delhi who reported a lone young woman survivor of the office building explosion. Interviewing her would be his first order of business.

The second secure transmission fax was from the Director. He had been personally investigating rumors of a well-financed group known only as "The Consortium" with suspected ties to known terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan with possible links to al qaeda. It was also believed that there were also large sums of money and arms trails to Iran and Syria who were financing the insurgents against the newly formed democratic government of Iraq. He was to contact our Russian asset in Delhi and receive a titanium encased computer flash drive with the digital evidence files. It was of critical importance that the Russian asset not be compromised in any way. He had been our man on the ground since the Russians were in Afghanistan.

Jace reached into his pocket and pulled out his Zippo with the Marine Corps emblem, the eagle, globe and anchor symbol emblazoned on the front. He remembered what the symbols meant. The eagle was, of course, the symbol of the United States. The globe represented a readiness for service throughout the world. The fouled anchor represented the traditional ties to the Navy. He rubbed the symbol with his thumb and wondered where the rabbit hole this assignment was beginning to dig would eventually take him.  He flipped the lid, struck the spark wheel against the flint and it lit. Then he moved the two single sheet faxes under the flames and held on to them both - testing his endurance for pain before letting them fall into the large, glass ashtray on the table before him.

Just then, the co-pilot came back into the LearJet cabin. "Sir, We're beginning our approach into New Delhi now. The temperature is 86 degrees, humidity is 100% and the sun is shining. The local time is 2:00 P.M. There will be a car waiting for you on the tarmac to take you where you want to go. The Captain and I hope you had a pleasant flight."

"Wow", Jace thought. "The director is giving me the royal treatment this time. Usually I have to hoof-it to the taxi stand."

>>>> Next: Chapter 4 >>

Chapter 2

al Din in Florida

It’s eight days until the presidential election and the candidates are beating the bushes for any fence-sitter votes. The race is very tight by the latest polls, but the junior Senator from Chicago has a slight lead over the senior Senator from New Mexico. Today, candidate Baligh Husan al Din is giving a speech at a Florida rally where they expect 65,000 supporters. The party chairman says they are busing thousands of college students, voters and even migrant workers into the stadium to fill more seats and create a big 100,000 audience display for the news media. It will cost millions of dollars for 850 buses, 47,000 box lunches and cash payments for non-English speaking migrant workers who don’t care where they go as long as they get paid and get a ride back. Baligh is unconcerned about the money. It’s the least of his worries. His campaign cash-well is full with more cash on the way, now that the polls have him leading his opponent by a slim margin.

As they discuss the protocol arrangements for his speech and security issues for the day, an senior staff member rushes into the room with the morning newspapers only just delivered to the hotel. The headline reads, “Explosion Rocks New Delhi Office Building”. Baligh reads the first and second paragraph of the story, looks up with a frown furrowing his brow, then drops the newspaper on the table. The plan is ahead of schedule, but this action was very premature and could awaken the wrong sort of attention. He hoped the media would go off on their usual tangents to lead investigators in the wrong directions looking for terrorists or something, at least for a couple of months until his Inauguration Day.

Jace in HQ Briefing

Arriving at C.I.A. Headquarters, Jace Marshall scans his security pass and the turnstile opens. One of the on-duty security guards recognizes Jace and steps forward towards him then stops in his path.  “Sir, the director wishes to speak with you as soon as you arrive.”

“Thanks, Bob. Tell him I’m on the way up, will you?” Jace thought to himself, Geez, something big must be up. The director, ..  here at 3:00 a.m.?

The elevator door opens and the night shift supervisor standing right in front of the door, hands Jace the report file on the New Delhi explosion. “Geez, Jace, you look like hell, but you’ll have to get your own coffee. We‘re pretty busy up here this morning.“

“Nice to see you too, Ray.“ Jace didn’t have time for coffee. He’d have to operate on guts today. Coffee time was a luxury he couldn’t afford.  He opened the file as he walked briskly down the long hallway toward the director’s office.  The photos seemed to indicate a well-placed, shaped explosive charge designed to blow-up everything only on the seventh and eighth floors. This was rather sophisticated and unusual for terrorists, who would rather just blow-up every damned thing.

He was about ready to knock on the director’s door when it opened in front of him. The director asked, “What took you so long?”

Jace half-grinned. He knew the director’s sense of humor very well after all these years.

“Have you seen the file on the New Delhi explosion?”

“Yessir. Ray handed it to me as I got off the elevator, but I haven’t yet read the report.”

“Jace, you’re the most experienced agent I have in this area and I want you to handle this personally. You are to report only to me and share your information with no one else. I can’t emphasize the importance of strict confidentiality. This is a very sensitive matter.”

“Isn’t everything around here?” The director knew Jace’s sense of humor too, but this wasn’t funny … not this time.

“Do you know anything about the businesses in that office building?”

“Not yet, sir.” Jace replied.

“The seventh floor of that particular office building houses an American-owned business named Elect-Co. They process credit card transactions over the internet. We’ve been watching it for sometime, but we don’t have any solid evidence yet. I need you to go over there and find-out what you can ASAP.  The company jet is standing-by and you’ll find some clothes already on the plane. There's a car downstairs with the motor running. Have a good trip. … And Jace, be discrete in your investigations.”

Well at least he could finally get some coffee on the long plane ride and have some time to read the file reports.  A bit of shut-eye would also be nice, too.

>>>> Next: Chapter 3 >>

Chapter 1

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons past or present is purely coincidental.

Dateline: New Delhi, India

06:53 India Standard Time

It was a beautifully warm early morning rush hour in New Delhi, India and people were hurriedly going about their daily business. The markets were already open and full of customers who had arrived especially early to hand-select the best fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices for their dinner tables and restaurant fare. The smell of the spices brought a small burn to the nostrils and water to the eyes, but it was familiar and fresh.

Along the crowded streets heading into town was beautiful, young Jagrati Malhotra - whose given name means "awakening" -  rapidly walks to her job at the computer support facility downtown. She works handling credit card transactions for an American company. It's all done by computer and the Internet these days and she is only one of several hundred men and women working at Elect-Co. Today, she is going to be late by fifteen minutes. Her tardiness will save her life.

As she turns down the street toward her office building, suddenly an explosion rocks the earth beneath her feet and she falls to the ground. She looks up from her hands and bloody knees to see the seventh floor of her office building - the floor which her company occupied - is engulfed in flames and the whole side of the building toward the street is blown outward as people in the streets run in all directions looking for safety and helping others who have also fallen down with the concussion of the blast. The rubble from higher up the building begins to roll down toward the street as flames and black smoke with the odor of burning rubber wire insulation permeates the area.

"Dear God!" she prayerfully exclaims as even more bricks and window glass fall through the billowing clouds of dark smoke and flames, then into the streets below. Jagrati wanted to run toward her friends and workmates to see what she could do to help the injured, but she could see that there was no way. Besides, her feet wouldn't move as she now stood there frozen in an emotional mixture of shock, fear, sorrow and helplessness. The horrors of this day, Jagrati would never forget as long as she lives.

At Langley, Virginia

Half a world away, the night shift is on deck at C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Only a skeleton crew is on board as the news of the explosion that rocked New Delhi scarcely a few hours ago comes across the wire services and from agents in the overseas field offices.

The whole street side of the office building has now collapsed and over 1,500 people are presumed dead or missing in the rubble as firefighters battle the continuing blaze while  police maintain a safety perimeter. So far, no terrorist group or organization has claimed responsibility and it looks doubtful that this was any sort of accident. The damage seemed too specifically targeted to only a certain area of the building to have been a mere accident.

Space-orbiting spy satellites were being retasked in order to get overhead photos of the street scenes from above. Those will show the blast radius and other special cameras could tell if the detonation was nuclear or conventional. That information should become available fairly soon. With the little known at the time, there is nothing to do but wait and gather as much information as possible. Meanwhile, …

Jace Marshall

In the bedroom of a nice suburban neighborhood home in Falls Church, Virginia, the telephone sitting on the cherry wood nightstand rings. The red LEDs of the digital alarm clock is the only light source in the room. It's 2:36 A.M. A strong right hand with a Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor tattoo on his forearm reaches for the phone and picks up the receiver. His voice is broken and his head a bit foggy from interrupted sleep. "Marshall.... This better be good."

A voice on the phone tells him the news. Jace Marshall has been with the C.I.A. for a long time. He was transferred to the C.I.A. right out of the Marine Corps after he had completed Basic and Infantry Training and passed through Officer Candidate School. He'd like to think he's seen everything, been everywhere and done everything in his career. This assignment will show him a whole new threshold of bad. The voice on the phone continues. Jace answers, "How many killed?" (muffled, indistinct answer) "Has any terrorist group claimed responsibility?" (again a muffled response.) "Any wire photographs available?" (muffled reply) "Have our satellite photos come through yet?" (response) "Well, wrap-up what you have so far for me, will you? I'll be there in 20 minutes."

Jace was half annoyed to be awakened from a sound sleep. He had been busy on the Middle East desk for the past two years and he only recently rotated out to get some rest. However, nearby India, being a nuclear power, had been a place of interest to him for a long time, but there hadn't been anything of significance to work on from India in quite some time. He wondered, "Why there? Why now? Trouble with Pakistan? What, the hell, is going on?" Too many questions and not enough answers. He wished he could have had a few more hours of sleep, but he knew he could survive on less ever since he worked on the Middle East desk. This was going to be a very long day.

>>>> Next: Chapter 2 >>