136 Matthews St.
An American expatriate and a Pakistani cab driver walk into a bar. Bullets are sprayed in their direction as they sit on their stools. They don’t know why this happened and they don’t know that this is just the beginning of their troubles.
What if I told you that Nagasaki and Hiroshima were not bombed so that America could end WWII.
You think you know how the world works? Dan Owen, experienced man of the world, thought he knew. When asked to look into the disappearance of his wife’s cousin he learns otherwise.
The manuscript I am presenting to you is an international conspiracy, fast-moving and inspiring. Dan Owen is an American living in Pakistan, Sacchi , a native Pakistani is his friend and father-in-law. These men have a chemistry that impels this story. The book opens in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan with the main character disembarking a merchant vessel and being confronted with a family crisis. The main character, Dan, is married to a Pakistani. His in-laws respect him and request that he help solve the crisis. As he looks into the mystery he uncovers facts that lead him deeper into an international conglomerate. As the pair get close to answers Dan’s wife is kidnapped.
The chase is on. The main characters cross borders and travel long distances via many modes of transportation to find the kidnap victim. As they progress additional team members are gathered along the way.
What they uncover behind the conglomerate is a group of men who are more influential than national governments. The teams’ digging irritates this "Union of Six" to the point that the teams’ only possibility of survival would be to take down or expose this unholy alliance. And the survival of the main characters wife hangs in the balance.
I am very proud of the story that I have written and I hope that you can help me deliver it to the audience that it deserves.
A married father of four reared in Connecticut, I graduated from a federally funded military Academy then went to work overseas for several years. All the places mentioned in my novel I wrote about because I knew them.
I came home and went to work in engineering locally for a while. I went to Hawaii and worked oil spill cleanup ships, OSRVs, for a period. I moved to Florida and helped a startup business in a plant engineering capacity.
I was married in Florida and my two oldest children were born there. We then moved back to Connecticut because this is where our family resides and our youngest two were born here.
Chapter One (Human Union)
Gangways, to most people, are the means to get on and off a ship. For me, they take on a more mystical meaning. When traveling from land to vessel it denotes the start of a voyage. One that surely will entail at least one, if not several adrenaline inducing incidents, causing excitement, frantic readjustment, lost rack time, and more often than not, bodily injury to some hapless crew member.
Mechanical catastrophe is another reliable source of such entertainment. Amazingly this sort of malady brings on a quite similar list of symptoms. The one major difference being that the crew has some control over the severity and duration of these matters, while in the case of weather they have none.
Another and I think the most interesting of all causes of shipboard travails is the result of crewmember social interaction. This can result in many different levels of entertainment, from the mild, like someone getting drunk and falling down, to the extreme, such as the last calamity, someone turning up missing.
Now, you have to understand that a crew has quite a varied make up when it comes to the personalities and social status. Often being referred to as floating cities, a ship in order to operate, has to have people from all levels, from the skilled to the unskilled.
Well, it seems that the Boson’s mate mustered his crew out eight mornings ago and came up one short. The missing crew member being Hector Gonzalez. Gonzo, as he was referred to, was a wide bodied Hispanic given to orneriness, booze and gambling. Oh yeah, and proliferation. Gonzo had a brood so large and far flung, even he was not sure of the numbers.
On questioning the assembled men, the Boson ascertained that none of them had seen Gonzo since the evening before, not even his bunkmate, Andre Bigalo.
With further questioning of Andre, it turns out there was quite a big poker game that night and Gonzo was the main monetary beneficiary. This statement brought quite a bit of grumbling from the rest of the men, so Boson Bob, yep, that’s his name, ordered everyone except Andre, up to the captain’s office, where I happened to be going over some requisitions with the old man. This is where I first heard the story, along with the Old Man.
The Old Man happened to be the same age I was, forty-two, and a college classmate of mine. It really is a small world.
Anyway, after the rundown of what the Boson knew so far, the captain cut to the chase, like they have a habit of doing, and asked if anyone was unhappy with the outcome of the poker game. Andre replied to this with a grunt that led me to believe that this was an understatement. It turns out that Gonzo was caught cheating and this caused the game to break up around two a.m. After a lot of shouting and shoving everyone went their separate ways, Gonzo with at least two thousand extra dollars in his pocket.
Just, then, able bodied seaman Jurgin came in and reported no luck in locating Gonzo, so the “Old Man” ordered a Williamson turn and a back track of our course for eight hours. We all knew that this was futile, but it was a necessary exercise. I know if I were overboard, it would be comforting to know that standard operating procedures were to U-turn and go looking as soon as I was noticed missing. In the North Atlantic, at this time of year, if you fell or were helped over the side without proper equipment you would not last one hour, let alone eight, but these were the “standard operating procedures”.
So that explains why, as I am walking down the gangway, going up are four Pakistani policemen and the American Consulate, Bob Cranston.
“Hey, Bob”’ I said.
“Hey, Dan” he shot back.
They were radioed several days ago about the incident and would be questioning the poker players, to no avail, I am sure.
I have known Bob Cranston for several years now, ever since he came to the Karachi American Embassy. Usually quite jovial, he does not seem to be in the mood for joviality at the moment. Basically, he likes the diplomatic parties, not the diplomatic responsibilities. So we just exchanged greetings as we passed on the gangway. Now, traveling down the gangway from ship to shore gave me a different feeling, though usually, there was a good supply of excitement and readjustment in store here, also. And this time would prove to be no different.
The Port of Karachi was always a sight to see, it was a mixture of the old, the new, and the anachronistic. Modern cranes, semi’s and forklifts interspersed with camels, horses and jackasses, all moving every which way to their own symphonic melody. I liked the contrast. That is why I had come to make this particular city my home, out of dozens, if not hundreds of others I have disembarked at on a regular basis.
At the foot of the gangway there was a knot of jabbering Pakistani’s flanked by four beat up yellow cabs. All Pakistanis, one way or another, were part of my adoptive family. Usually there would be two or three of them here to greet me when the ship docked but they were out in force today, all yammering and pointing in my direction. Over the years I had picked up a smattering of Pakistani, but when they got this excited, I could not understand a word. So when I reached the group, I smiled and motioned, trying to calm them, but it took some doing. Finally, the crowd silent, one man and one woman stepped forward. The woman, who came up to my underarm, wrapped her arms around me and put her head on my chest.
The man proceeded to stammer as intelligibly as the crowd had been. So again smiling and shushing, I got him to speak clear enough for me to understand.
“Dan Owen, we are so glad to see you are home safe, but we are sorry to be saying that Marisha is not”; he finally got out, with noticeable anxiety.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said tersely. I was getting exasperated. Finally, the woman in my arms spoke. But first she stood on her toes and pulled me down to kiss me on the lips.
“It is my cousin Marisha, she did not return home from work three nights ago. We spoke to the police, but they were no help”.
Boy! Did I know? Karachi police have one purpose for existing and it is not law and order. They have raised the shakedown to an art and would put any New York beat cop to shame.
This family though, prosperous as far as Pakistani’s went, did not have the funds to financially back an investigation by the Karachi city police.
Jasmine, the love of my life, looked really worried, as did the whole group of on lookers.
“Did anybody go to Gilbardco and ask about Marisha?” I inquired.
Gilbardco was the international conglomerate Marisha worked for and I was told Jasmine had gone to look for her cousin, but was told she had not been seen in three days and would soon be out of a job.
At this time we were all moving toward the taxis and grabbing seats. These cars were the family’s’ lifeblood. To see them all sitting here and not out earning money, punctuated the direness of the situation.
“I’ll go to the embassy and see if I can get them to help. They’ll be able to get some action”, I said, knowing with three days gone by it did not look very good.
Riding in the back of the lead cab through the city, I was warmed by a sense of well being that made me feel a little guilty, considering Marisha’s predicament. But I was home for a long stay and Jasmine was beside me. The narrow dirty streets were alternately lined with hovels and multi-story homes surrounded by stonewalls with glass imbedded in the cement on top as a security measure.
The economy of Pakistan, like that of many of the countries in this part of the world, was run along the lines of the caste system. There were those with wealth, which amounted to homes and automobiles and those who labored for food to keep from starving. The latter group far outnumbered those in the former and whichever group you were born into was the group you remained in.
Jasmine had the good fortune to be a member of a family that was on one of the upper rungs, so we pulled into a gated driveway and stopped, allowing several aunts and uncles to get out of our cab. After they disembarked, Jasmine, her father, and I, went on to the American Embassy.
The Embassy was a large white stone building, five stories high, with marble stairs and hallways, which had all seen better days, but still exhibited some elegance.
I could never see this building without it triggering a memory of an educational experience that occurred when I first started coming here many years ago. At the time I was a young American and a new member of the Maritime industry. One thing I did know, even if I was a beginner, was that taxi drivers made the best tour guides, and as long as you negotiated and finalized the fee before setting off, they were relatively economical. Especially considering the competitively strong dollar.
Approaching a heavily bearded, turbaned and robed driver, I discussed and negotiated an all expense paid trip to one of the local tourist attractions. For ten thousand rupees, about ten bucks, I was going to be admitted and guided through one of the many opium-processing factories in the city. Twenty minutes later we stopped in a square and got out.
I was immediately surrounded by a hoard of children chanting “baksheesh”. They were looking for a hand out, and even though I wanted to give something to all of them, I knew if I did I would soon be overrun by hundreds of children, all insisting on their share. So I pushed through with the help of my guide and headed toward a non-descript open-air building, with no doors or windows. Just holes where they should have been.
Inside, we walked through deserted passageways until we came upon a small group of men sitting around a boiling pot of thick gray liquid. My guide explained that once sufficiently distilled, this would be the finished product. This was the poppy, a product my illustrious guide stated, that was derived from the plants that were stacked high all around us. All the men had stood and greeted us when we arrived, but they were now motioning for us to have a seat amid the expanding circle around the pot.
Once seated, one of the very thin and scantily clad men produced an object I had never seen before. It resembled a pipe, with a very large bowl, but it had a hole no larger than a dime in which to put the tobacco. Now remember, I did say this was a learning experience. He then proceeded to reach into the pot with one finger and fish out a small amount of the viscous fluid with that finger, which had to hurt. He then rolled it into a ball about the size of a pea. Placing the pea into the pipe he then handed it to me and still learning, I accepted.
Now, holding the pipe clumsily I inhaled, as he lit it with a stick match till the pea was ash. Almost immediately, a warm flush of good feeling radiated out through me from what seemed like the center of my being. I wanted another one, if felt so good, but the men waved me off, saying I should not have more than one. Being the pushy American and still learning, I insisted on another. Ultimately they relented with what I felt was unwarranted concern in their eyes.
The second pea gone, I was up and ready to go. Remembering some of my shipmates talking about a party at the American Embassy, I was ready to party!! My illustrious guide, still with that concerned look in his eyes, deposited me ten minutes later, on the doorsteps of the Embassy. Little did he know that a dozen years from now, I would be his daughters one and only romantic interest and her mine.
So up I went to the party, on the roof of the American Embassy. It was a cafe style setup with umbrellas and potted trees and my shipmates who were all glad to see that I had made it. There was backslapping and hand shaking, but there was something wrong because as people came up to me and they moved away, their voices seemed garbled and their images began to distort in a disturbing manner. I had started sweating profusely as this was going on and then suddenly, my stomach starting to spasm and I made an agonizing dash for the edge of the building and puked over the side, down five stories to the street below. After doing this several more times I did not feel any better and was escorted back to the ship and put to bed by the First Mate and Chief Engineer. I was done with my lessons for the day.
Since then I have gone to many parties on the roof of the Embassy, but never back to that non-descript building with no doors or windows. It seems that my body was telling me that the bad effects of opium far outweigh the good and that I would be much healthier without indulging.
After asking a few questions at the reception desk I was informed that not only had Bob Cranston gone to my ship to sort out that mess, but the whole upper echelon had gone there also. I was not going to get any help here right now. Then it struck me that I did have another way to attack the problem. Gilbardco, the company Marisha worked for did import/export business out of Karachi and one of their main suppliers was Malmoud, an old friend of mine who had a manufacturing plant in the heart of the city.
Malmoud was a large Bedouin type individual, who stood out in a crowd in this country because he was an extraordinarily large Bedouin type individual. Another striking quality was his perpetual grin, which tended to force his cheeks up on his face and thus hide his eyes. Because of these later two distinctions, it was not easy to ascertain Malmoud’s actual mood or intentions. These traits seemed to be some of the first cases of genetic engineering. Every male in his family was the same, like clones, from his grandfather down through to his children. Furthermore, being from a long line of salesmen, they used these characteristics to their advantage. This congeniality, even friendliness, they constantly exuded gave the buyer a sense of luck that this man had taken to him instantly and he would naturally be given the best deal humanly possible. The unaware customer would walk away feeling blessed and enriched.
In actuality though, customers at his “factory outlet” store paid retail or higher prices to receive these glorious sensations, but did receive fine quality and craftsmanship. Malmoud’s family is in the business of manufacturing and sales of hand carved and inlaid rosewood. Everything from ashtrays to dining room sets.
The first time I visited Rosewood Inc., again being escorted by my future, unbeknownst to him, father-in-law, I entered into the showroom and was amazed by the beauty and delicate artwork that these pieces of furniture were. All intricately carved and inlaid with brass and ivory, they were showpieces for any household.
After discussing certain pieces and haggling over prices some, Malmoud, in his genial and conspiratorial manner, offered to give me a tour of his manufacturing facilities. Since I came from an industrial city back in the states, I had a good idea or thought I did, on what such a facility would entail.
Thinking his factory certainly could not be in this mostly tenement-like part of the city, I figured we would have to drive to it. I was not sure I wanted to go through all that. Malmoud waved for me to follow him and led me around a partition wall. There, in a room no larger than a car garage sat at least forty Pakistanis in loin clothes all bent over their individual pieces of work, with chips and curls of wood, everywhere. There stood Malmoud, teeth showing, eyes hidden, looking like the proud father.
Since that time, he had expanded into two more garages and eighty more men in loin clothes to satisfy his dealings with Gilbardco. When we arrived, he was standing out front in his pose of paternity, older, yes, but certainly not showing it.
“Dan, my oldest and dearest friend how wonderful to see you”, he says in his passable English.
“Cut the shit! Malmoud, I am not buying anything and you know it”.
“Old habits are hard to break, my friend”, he says.
“Tell the Red Sox about it. Again, they’re falling behind as they approach the wire”, I jibe him. Malmoud, a die-hard Red Sox fan, had on his faded Red Sox cap he bought at Fenway Park, the one time he visited the states and I took him to a game.
“Can we go inside and discuss something in private, it’s important,” I said edgily. I am not normally this testy, but I am supposed to be on vacation and enjoying myself and I certainly am not.
His show room obviously has changed, more modern and he actually has an office with a door now. Jasmine and her father waited in the car, she does not particularly care for the sleazy type, and I cannot blame her.
Taking seats, he says, “What’s bothering you, my good friend?”
“Well, for one thing, I am supposed to be relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor and instead I am sitting here talking to you.”
Malmoud, never one to be offended, just smiled and replied, “How can I help?”
“You know Marisha, Jasmine’s cousin?”
“The last time she was seen was three days ago at Gilbardco.”
“You know all this already?”
“Then you know why I’m here and what I need to know?”
“And nothing. I can’t help you my friend. I will share what I know, but it is of no consequence. The ones you need to talk to are over at that embassy of yours.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“What I can tell you is that Gilbardco is the key. From what I hear, Cranston is in tight with them, so he should be able to shed some light. But even if he does help, which is unlikely, you may be sticking your hand into a basket full of cobras.”
“Let me worry about my hand and where I stick it.”
“I only say this because I care for you, and even though she can’t stand the sight of me, I care for your Jasmine, also.”
“If I can help in any other way be sure and contact me. My sons like you and can aid in many ways a Westerner may not understand.”
“Always cryptic, that’s what I like about you, Malmoud, you can take the most mundane aspect of life and turn it into a spy novel. Well, I will be going now and I will keep your offer in mind.”
Passing through the showroom, on my way out to the cab, it occurred to me that maybe the years and his children might have softened old Malmoud. I would have to discuss it with Jasmine. Maybe she saw it too, though she has not shown any softening toward him.
Getting into the cab, I instantly rattle off the little Malmoud had told me for Jasmine’s benefit.
“Why don’t we try Bartlett,” Jasmine asks, and her father agrees by nodding.
“He runs in those circles as well as Cranston and he will certainly be more informed than that Malmoud character,” she states with conviction.
I start to say, “You know I think maybe you should give Malmoud another chance”, but by the killer look she throws me; I quickly change course and say, “okay, to the museum and Bartlett”.
As we bumped and bounced our way to the Pakistani Federal Government Museum, I reflected on what I knew about Salim Bartlett. Being a Pakistani, English mutt and a bit on the effeminate side he never really fit in with either community, but hovered back and forth and in between. The museum he was curator of was government mandated and not really a museum at all. What it amounted to was a display of regional art all depicted in different ways by the use of ivory. Ever since the banning of the public sale of ivory, the only legitimate source was the government “museums”. Everything on display was for sale, and guess who got the proceeds. Certainly not Bartlett, a clerk who worked for clerk’s wages. The government profited immensely from their own mandate. As far as I can see, this is some sort of conflict of interest or something, is it not? This sort of corruption, though amazing, does not really surprise me anymore, but it does rub something in me the wrong way, causing an uneasy feeling whenever I enter one of these “museums”.
This time is no different. Hanging everywhere and laying in display cases from wall to wall are small pieces of huge, proud, majestic animal, that by some sad twist of fate are having their futures, or lack of it, determined by what I think are smaller, lesser creatures who happen to inhibit the same planet. That uneasy feeling is not getting any better.
Bartlett, effusive as always, comes charging out, like a rogue elephant, to greet us, hugging each of us in his order of affection for us. In other words, Jasmine first. The two of them jabbered away in Pakistani, unintelligibly. I patiently waited for the pleasantries to be concluded.
Seeing a look of seriousness and concern come over Bartlett’s face, I deduced that they were over and that Jasmine had stated the solemness of our visit. He escorted us to a cluttered workshop in back and gestured to the stools along the bench, but only Jasmine’s father, getting up in years, accepted. Tools and materials were strewn everywhere. It was here that the manner of display was concocted, not the actual items for display. Bartlett, to his credit, also felt uneasy about the government treachery, but in this country a good job was much more important then one’s scruples. So he lived as best he could with the unease he felt, but I am sure it took its toll in some hidden intimate way, as these things often could.
Somehow, Bartlett explained, Gilbardco had wheedled its way into the ivory trade, too. In some way dealing with the Pakistani government, and thus being able to export this precious commodity without any repercussions. When both government and Gilbardco officials came to the facility, often-confidential matters would be discussed within earshot of Bartlett, because I presume, of his seeming ineffectuality. Just such an occurrence had taken place yesterday and now Bartlett replayed what information he had.
The Gilbardco Pakistani division president and vice-president, the top federal customs and trade commissioner of Karachi and Bob Cranston had all converged simultaneously on the museum at three o’clock yesterday afternoon, just in time for the Gilbardco daily export shipment. Seeing one or two of these men arrive would not be unusual, Bartlett said, but in combination it was “quite remarkable”. His words not mine. Coming in behind them, lugging a large shipping crate came four workmen wearing white jumpsuits. The Pakistani bureaucrat told Salim that this box was for today’s shipment and handed a pile of paperwork, all necessary for its smooth passage out through Pakistani customs, and in through Chittagong, Bangladesh customs. Bangladesh is a country to the East of Pakistan, known to have more than a courteous relationship with the Pakistani government officialdom.
This established succinctly and with authority, which the official obviously felt was tantamount to a commandment, he withdrew to the clutch of men by the door. Bartlett, directing the workmen to the backroom shipping department, and handing the paperwork to his assistant, quickly returned to the front showroom in a conscious attempt to glean what he could from their surreptitious conversation. As he related this to us, he was obviously as excited as a small child on a grand adventure, James Bond, Jr. Anyway, pretending to work on a display case he sidled his way slowly, as close as he felt he could, without drawing suspicion. It was close enough, because he could hear bits and pieces of the discussion; one that he felt was filled with agitation and intensity.
He was able to pick up the mention of Marisha’s name and something about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, this from the Gilbardco Vice President. Then the President, Mark Phillips, an American, asking of the trade commissioner if they were sure the crate would be taken care of properly at the other end.
At this time I looked over at Jasmine, and saw a very pale Pakistani with her hands to her face and her father’s comforting hands on her shoulders. I urged Jasmine and her father to go out to the cab and told them I would finish hearing what Bartlett had to say.
It turns out he didn’t have much else to say. So I asked him a few questions; Like “what the hell Cranston was doing with all this time?”; And he said, “he just stood there with his head bobbing up and down and back and forth, not putting anything into the conversation, just taking it all in”. The professional diplomat who’s in for one hell of cage rattling.
When I went outside, through the rear window, I could see Jasmine in the back seat of the car, looking disheveled and sobbing. I got in and tried to calm her, saying things like, “we do not know anything for sure, there could be other explanations and Bartlett’s information could be faulty”, knowing in my heart none of these were likely to be true and feeling more morose by the second.
“Sacchi”, I yelled, that is Jasmine’s father’s name. “To the Embassy, I’ve got some diplomatic butt to kick”, and the car shot out from the curve, bald tires screeching.
Sacchi, being the professional driver that he is, had us at the front steps of the Embassy in a heart beat, mainly because my heart stopped beating and did not start again until the cab stopped. Traffic control here doesn’t even resemble traffic control in the states, it is every man, woman, child and animal for themselves.
Bounding up the stairs, three at a time, I was still steaming, but my anger was ebbing with the effort. I did not even stop at reception, and hooked a left up two more flights and down the long tall hallway to Bob Cranston’s end office. Half expecting it to be empty, I was surprised to see the back of somebody’s head facing the window behind the desk, as I swing the door open. The person in the chair swiveled around to face me and sure enough it was Bob. What I had not noticed when passing him on the gangway was that Bob was looking a little more haggard than usual today. He cracked a smile, which looked a little more forced than normal. I quickly sat down in the seat facing his desk and he told the party on the line he had to go and hung up quickly.
“Dan, nice to see you are home safe and sound. Have a nice trip?” he asked, noticeably edgy.
“ Don’t gimme no shit, you got some splainin’ to do Lucy, so get to it.”
Spreading his palms in a gesture of openness, he had the gall to say, “What’s eating you?”
Bob and I have been palling around for a number of years now, probably because we got along so well and were around the same age, but our backgrounds could not be more dissimilar. Where I came from a manufacturing town and went to engineering school, he was from Bel-Air and did the rounds of the Ivy League schools studying smoothness. It was his casual easygoing attitude that drew us together, but at the moment, this character trait I liked so much did not seem to be in evidence. I wish I did not have to push him on this because I am sure it was going to ruin a perfectly good friendship, but if he had anything to do with Marisha’s disappearance, his quality rating would drop way below acceptable friendship levels.
If it had been most any other cousin of Jasmine’s, I probably would not be here right now. Marisha and Jasmine grew up very close, almost as sisters, and even as adults they were thick as proverbial thieves. If anything has happened to Marisha, Jasmine will be in mourning for a long time to come and will probably feel the effect for the rest of her life. So I had to push on.
“Bob, I am sure you are well aware, Marisha is missing, and you better start telling me something or this is going to escalate into something nasty”.
“Okay, Okay, calm down. I have heard she is missing, but”....
“No Bob, not but.... I wanna know everything and you know a lot more than but”.... My anger was returning threefold and Bob was beginning to fidget with things on his desk, a pencil sharpener, a pen set, the telephone.
I stood up, grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked him half over his desk. As I stared into his face, steaming, I saw tears start to well up in his eyes. I pushed him back down into his chair, realizing Bob was not much of a tough guy.
Now, blubbering, he told me he had nothing to do with it but Mark Phillips said that Marisha had walked into his office when he had stepped out and left some highly sensitive confidential documents on his desk. Phillips, you remember, is the Gilbardco division President, and a world-class asshole, I might add. Having the upper hand, I pressed Bob for more and out poured everything he knew, I am sure. It seems like he had been dying to dump it on someone. When he was done, he not only looked relieved, but also smaller, as if this information had been swelling up and festering inside him and when I prodded him, it spurted out, so now he felt much relief, even healthier. He was not off the hook yet, and I told him that as I turned and walked out the door, down that long tall hallway.
As I headed back to the car, I ran through the facts, as I knew them. They were not much, but it was a good start at getting to the truth. When Phillips got back to his office after only being gone about a minute, he found Marisha standing over his desk with a stack of papers in her hand and her head down reading them. She worked as a poor secretary and what she was reading was a letter she had just typed and was checking for errors. But, seeing the anger on Phillips face, she knew this explanation was not going to do any good, so she dropped the papers on the desk as Phillips stormed toward her. Stopping at the desk, Phillips picked up the phone, punched a few numbers and moments later two giants in suits loped in, took Marisha by the elbows and escorted her out the door never to be seen again. At least, that is, Bob presumed until the next afternoon at the museum when the shipping box was deposited for shipping to Bangladesh.
All of this had been relayed to Bob by the vice-president, Phillips’ assistant asshole, who I gathered liked to talk. Well, I certainly hope this was true, because shortly he was going to be given the chance to spill his guts. What I could not understand was what the hell could be on Phillips’ desk that would warrant this kind of reaction. I know, as does everyone else with half a brain, that as an international corporate conglomerate, Gilbardco was mixed up in all sorts of borderline machinations, but that is no great revelation. Rules bending and special deals were the norm and these secretaries saw and overlooked them on a daily basis. There is nothing in them to kill or die for. Well, I am sure the weasels over at Gilbardco will be able to shed some light on that aspect, but first I needed to get Jasmine home. She certainly does not need to be involved in this.
Getting in the car I gave Jasmine and her father an abbreviated, slightly shaded version of what I found out, one which did not reflect the certainty of Marisha’s fate. Then I suggested Jasmine hold down the fort while I try to find out more. She just nodded, I do not think I was fooling her any with my vague description of Bob’s explanation. She agreed to go home, and twenty minutes later we let her off in the driveway, half a dozen of her family coming out on the porch to receive her.
Without hesitation, Sacchi punched the accelerator and we rocketed toward Gilbardco corporate headquarters. It did not seem that Sacchi was fooled either, by the way he was gripping the steering wheel, looking like he was about to rip it out of the dashboard. He was a little man and even though middle aged, he was exactly what people meant when they talked about someone being wiry. His forearms, legs, back and chest had nothing on them but muscle. Even though I was twice his size, I seldom was able to overpower him at arm wrestling, much to my embarrassment. So, right now I am glad I am not that steering wheel.
“These men will pay for their arrogance.” Sacchi spits.
“Hold on now, Sacchi, there’s more here than you or I know right now. Before we go deciding who and how someone is going to pay, I think we should determine the why first, don’t you”?
“I care not why, I only care that those responsible pay, and pay dearly!”, he respat.
“Listen Sacchi, calm down and listen”, I said. Pausing, waiting to see some visual sign of relaxing of his forearms. I did not see any, but continued on anyway.
“Marisha probably, well, more likely than not, is dead, we can’t save her, as much as I wish we could.” His arms seemed to tense even more, if that were possible. “Hear me out will you? If she died for no explainable reason, it will tear Jasmine apart all that much more. If we, you and I, can find out what it was that caused her death and maybe clear that up, then we might be able to ease your daughter’s pain. Then Jasmine will be able to see some good that resulted and concentrate on the good parts of Marisha’s life. Are you listening, Sacchi, do you hear me?” His arms and hands seemed to loosen a little. I think I was also convincing myself in the process.
“What are you saying, Dan, that we should not take vengeance on these men?”
“You are not listening. What we need to do is calm down and go at this intelligently, not emotionally. We need to find out what Phillips was protecting. There was something in that office, he felt, that could not be revealed and it certainly was not any trade or import/export violations, lawyers handle those, not thugs.
He seemed to be beginning to comprehend, his elbows were starting to bend and relax. As I leaned over the front seat I could see realization spread across his face, though the determination was still there, that was good, useful and practical.
“We can not just go storming in there all righteous and demand to be told everything, not with these guys. They will just clam up and we will never find anything out, “ I said, as much to myself as to him.
“So what do you plan on doing?” Sacchi begged.
“That’s right, that is just what we are going to do. Plan! Think this through and plan a course of action. Take us to the Lion’s Den, Sacchi”, I said, and sat back and began to formulate.
This city does not offer much in the way of bars, unless they are in a big expensive hotel for foreigners or attached to whore houses. The Lion’s Den was one of the few that was neither. It was not much of a bar either, amounting to a couple of tables, a ten-foot bar, and a half a dozen stools under a thatched roof, but it did have refrigerated coolers and Orangeboom beer. Orangeboom was the closest thing to Budweiser I could find in these parts.
Sitting at a table, two Orangebooms in front of us, constantly swatting at flies, we were both deep in thought, though Sacchi looked more like a caricature of someone in thought.
Smiling at his intense look, I said, “We have to get into that office when no one is around. We might find what Phillips is hiding. I doubt it, but we might. If not, maybe we will at least get a lead.” To this, he nodded with the understanding of Confucius.
Sacchi is a man of few words. The fact that he lived his life here, grew up in these alleys and back streets and drove a cab here for the last thirty years, actually made him almost as wise as he was acting, at least when it came to the intricacies of this city. He now enlightened me as to how simple was the solution to our problem, in a manner that conveyed the feeling that the answer was so elementary; I should not even have asked the question.
His cousin on his mother’s side once removed or something, works as a night janitor in the building that we needed to get into and he has a pass key for all the offices on all the floors, plus the service entrance door. Seeing that the information we were looking for was so important that it had cost her life, I doubt that the janitor could have the key to that office, but I did not say this to Sacchi for fear that I might discourage him. I just nodded sagely and asked whether this man worked tonight and if so what time. I was informed that he indeed did work tonight and every night from ten in the evening until ten in the morning. With this Sacchi rose from his chair and headed off, informing me that he would tell his cousin to expect us at midnight.
Sitting here alone, contemplating how well my vacation was going so far, the anger Sacchi was feeling before gripped me with such force, that I flung my beer into the street, spraying several passersby with beer and glass. They barely even took notice of it, just kept going on about their business. Sometimes these peoples stoicism riled me, the way they accepted so much hardship and abuse, coming from every direction, plodding on and putting the blame not on their fellowman but accepting all as some divine ruling or fate over which they have no control. I can see their point though, that a large part of what went on around them was beyond their control, or at least I can see why they thought this was so. For the most part these people are born into situations that begin to grind them down from they day they are born. Having little or no education, little or no work and little or no alternatives, they plod on seeking only enough for subsistence and being thankful for that. I cannot help feeling that with proper leadership, proper guidance and help, these people, all of them, could rise above that subsistence level and be able to know what it really means to be healthy and happy. I have such a wish for all of mankind, a strong, deeply intense feeling that every man, woman and child should have all they need to be healthy and happy. I also have no idea how or when this might occur and no idea why this is going through my mind at this particular moment.
All this time I had been sipping at Sacchi’s beer but it had gotten piss warm, so I waved Jalil, the bartender, over and he brought me another beer.
“You please not throw this one in street, Dan Sir, I will get in big trouble,” he said to me.
Jalil quickly swept up the mess as if it was a daily occurrence and repositioned himself on the stool behind the bar. We were the only people at the bar and I wondered how he managed since whenever I came here, my companions and I were the only ones present.
As these thoughts were running through my mind, I noticed a white Mercedes sedan, with dark tinted windows, rolling down the street from left to right. This street, though open to traffic was more like a footpath and was used like one, too. People had to part as the vehicle traveled slowly along. As it came parallel with the “café”, I noticed the rear passenger seat window start to come open, then stop only about two inches down. As I continued to stare at the vehicle a round piece of pipe inched out from inside the car. The tint of the cars windows was so dark that I could not even detect movement let alone see who was inside.
All of the sudden, as I curiously looked at the piece of pipe protruding, the familiarity of the machined surface dawned on me and turning toward the bar and Jalil, I yelled, “Down”! Which was immediately followed by a long burst of automatic gunfire and a subsequent squealing of tires as the car sped away, with people diving to make room, several not making it.
Lying on the gravel floor next to the table I was just sitting at, I sniffed at a strange smell. It was a curious smell. This country is full of strange odors, but I thought I was familiar with them all and could even identify them, but this one I could not put a label on. Then I realized what an odd smell the combination of burned rubber and gunpowder made as I pushed myself up off the ground, brushed myself off, and checked for holes. Satisfied that I had gotten most of the dirt off and that there were no holes where there should not be, I started to survey the situation. In the street there were several pedestrians in different stages of rising from the pavement, but it looked like they would all make it. Turning back toward the bar, which was now pock marked with bullet holes, Jalil was nowhere in sight, which I took as a good sign, thinking he dove to the floor as I had when I yelled my warning.
Walking around the bar to give Jalil some help to get up on his feet I had such a rush of anguish that I thought I would loose my upright status and had to place both hands on the counter to keep from collapsing. Though I could not refer to him as a friend, the amount of time I had been coming to this establishment and his perpetual congeniality made Jalil more than an acquaintance. The thought of his wife and four children caused me to lower my head on my arms and tears began to well up in my eyes.
The amount of blood pooling out from underneath his face down body, convinced me there was no hope of Jalil being alive, but I rolled him over and checked for a pulse anyway. People were beginning to converge on the bar now, and I could hear sirens wail in the distance. My head was swimming with thoughts and emotions, not the least of which was rage. I knew that if I stayed here, it could be days before I could explain this situation and be free to get on with what I knew needed to be done. The cops, who would do almost nothing to find the killers would hassle anyone involved so thoroughly and incessantly, that the besieged would often begin to feel somehow responsible. In this way, so their thinking went, you would never be involved in something like this again and they would have done their job in discouraging crime in their eyes.
I walked away, slowly at first, people staring at me. Then when the incoming police vehicles passed me, I ran. I ran hard, burning the rage that I felt. The tragedy and unfairness provided enough fuel to get me several miles from the scene, before I slowed down to a walk again and started looking around to see where I was.
Realization of what I had done unconsciously amazed me. Sprawling out before my eyes in the fading sunlight of the day was a huge white building with a profusion of large dark tinted windows, making it so modern it looked out of place. At the side of the entranceway was a sign, denoting its purpose. Gilbardco International, Pakistani Corporate Headquarters, it read. I had traveled nearly five miles to the outskirts of the city and my mind and probably my rage had directed me right to this spot, this building.
Back at the bar everything happened so quickly that I had not had time to make a solid connection with those events and the ones of earlier in the day. Now, staring at this structure, making this concrete association, my blood began to boil again. I felt as Sacchi had. I wanted to rush into this building and rip and tear at anything within my reach. I quickly turned away and started walking; knowing for now this was the smart thing for me to do.
“What’s with this guy? Is he nuts or something? We try to whack him and an hour later he’s standing at our front door staring at us.”
Directly over the entrance, on the top floor of the Gilbardco headquarters was the office of the Division President, Mark Phillips. Though Dan had not known it at the time, as he stared at the building, breathing hard and sweating from his exertion, Mark Phillips and Bob Cranston stared back at him with amazement and not a little trepidation.
If that woman they had to get rid of was any one of the other dozens that worked here, there would be nothing to worry about. The fact that she was somehow related to this displaced American engineer, might have caused Phillips to handle the situation a little differently, but not being one to reflect on past misdeeds, especially his own, he had ordered Dan Owen eliminated. He knew with this done, no one else would come around to the American Embassy asking questions and demanding answers.
After Dan had left his office Cranston had called Phillips all hysterical and Phillips had cut him off with a terse “Shut up and get over here, now!”
Though he had little to fear from embassy personnel, he always made his best effort to keep all dealings regarding this subject unrecorded and undocumented. That is how he had been ordered to handle things anyway. The one time he wrote something down, that damned secretary had to walk in when he was not there. He had no compunction about getting rid of her, but if any of the "Union of Six" found out what was going on, they would have no problem with making him disappear either.
“What are we going to do now, Mark?”, Cranston asked him.
“Quit your sniveling, you wimp. Nothing has changed as long as he has not talked to anyone important. I’m sure he hasn’t, he has always been pretty much a lone wolf. So as long as we stop Dan Owen in his tracks, the problem ceases to exist. The sooner we do that, the less chance it has of escalating.”
“But we tried that, and it did not work.”
Turning away from the window, Phillips strolled over to his desk and plopped down in the big, plush, leather chair behind it. The office was immense, with high ceilings and a modern polished look of opulence not very common in this country or this region of the world for that matter. He did not particularly care for this third world nation and did not like being assigned here, but the fact that he could do or have anything that he wanted, helped to make up for that. If he were still back in the states, he probably would be a lower echelon corporate flunky with a matchbox of an office and a townhouse condo for a home. He smiled to himself when he thought of the grand style in which he lived here and knew he would do anything to hold on to it. He leaned forward, punched a button on his phone, and barked; “You two get in here, now!”
After turning away from Gilbardco, I walked back the way I thought I had come and flagged down the first cab I saw. My clothes were soaked through and my thoughts were on Jasmine. When I got in the back of the cab, I did not realize how familiar the interior of it was or notice who was behind the steering wheel.
Knowing the area and making the connection between it and Gilbardco, Sacchi asked me if I had confronted the men inside. Actually, the way he put it was a bit more graphic. He had been by the Lion’s Den, but did not stop when he noticed the police cars still there. He had inquired about me to a friend and had been pointed in this direction.
“No, Sacchi, I did not tear them new assholes. I contained myself just like I told you to do.” I replied with a startled look on my face, surprised by Sacchi’s timely arrival.
He had been by his cousins house and had made the arrangements for tonight at midnight and now wanted to know if we were still following the same plan.
“They tried to kill me Sacchi, they killed Jalil. What about his wife, his children, and what will they do now, how will they survive?”
Sacchi could be a mountain, he could be a rock when he wanted, and that is what he was now as he spoke soothingly.
“Listen Dan, it is sad that Jalil had to go so soon. His wife and children will be taken care of by his people, believe me. What you have to do is worry about yourself; it was your body that those bullets were meant for and there will be more to follow. What happened to Jalil was his fate.”
Instead of the calming effect that he was attempting, this last statement inflamed me to the point that I screamed.
“No Sacchi, not fate; it was those damned to hell, corporate hoodlums back there and they are going to wish they never lived, when I finish with them.” It was my turn to loose control.
“Well, it is too bad about Jalil, but I am glad the fools missed you. When I went by afterward and saw the cops and all the bullet holes, I was really terrified; but it was not you I saw on the ground when Achmed stopped me and told me he had seen you slip away. Good thing you did not stick around, those policemen would have had you thinking you pulled the trigger.”
“I know, Sacchi, I know.”
“What do we do now ‘till midnight, Dan.”
“Well, first we get to Jasmine and reassure her that everything is all right. I think this is going to take awhile to straighten out, so you should stay with her to keep her calm.”
“No way, Dan, I’m with you!”
“These guys aren’t playing, Sacchi, they mean to kill me. I wish the hell I knew why. What are they trying to hide? If they get both of us who will take care of Jasmine?”
“You know damn well she is capable of taking care of herself. She’d rather have me looking after you than sitting at home pacing the floors. Besides, I can be of great help to you and my cousin doesn’t even know you. I know this city better than anyone, and....”
“Okay, okay, you win; we’ll do this together, just don’t get yourself hurt because I’ll just end up blaming myself.” I said finally as we rumbled into the driveway; Jasmine and entourage coming out to meet us.
We could not stay long because we knew either the police or Phillips’ men could show up looking for me at any moment. I quickly explained the happenings of the last few hours to Jasmine, who got more concerned and frightened, as the tale progressed. But, as Sacchi had pointed out earlier, she is strong and knew just what to say and what needed to be done. She ordered everyone to quickly pack a couple of days of clothing and started making arrangements to get them all to a friend’s farm that was one hundred twenty kilometers away, in a different province. As she was doing this, I hugged her and kissed her and said good-bye, as did her father. As we drove away, I turned to look at the house; she had drawn a lace curtain aside and was slowly waving at us with a sad smile on her face. She may be tough but her worry was obvious.
“I’ve just the place to kill a few hours.” Sacchi said jauntily, like he thought we were going on a picnic.
“Shut up and drive, and don’t use the word kill either”, I grumbled, trying to express my feeling that this was not a happy occasion.
Sacchi sank down into his seat and put his hurt expression on, succeeding in making me feel guilty.
We parked the car about five blocks from Gilbardco headquarters and started walking through the dark.
We had succeeded in passing the time without much trouble. I had soon found out why Sacchi was in such high spirits, as he drove us down to the docks and led me up the gangway of a Chinese container ship. On the fantail there was a card game going on and he quickly sat in while I took a seat next to the gunwale and watched the marine traffic going in and out of the harbor. The night air was cool. I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, Sacchi was shaking me by the shoulder, saying it was time to go. If he seemed happy before, he now seemed elated. I surmised he had done well in the card game by the fist full of money he held tightly.
Five blocks in this part of town was close to half a mile. The distance seemed appropriate because we did not want them to see us coming. When we were halfway there, we cut across a field and through come shrubs, into a wooded area so we could approach the building from the back.
Sacchi’s cousin was waiting for us at the service entrance just like he said he would. He motioned us inside with a big toothless grin. Sacchi exchanged some words with him and we began to follow him up the dimly lit cement stairs. It was the emergency exit stairway for which his cousin Marsallah had a set of keys. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the top floor that Sacchi said was the level Phillips’ office was on. Passing through the emergency exit door into the outer office area, I liked what I saw. The lighting was dim, but enough so we could make our way around and the large paned outer windows allowed us to view the entrance driveway and parking lot below without, as I remembered from earlier today, being observed by anyone on the outside of the building.
The three of us sidled over to the double doors that exhibited Mark Phillips’ name. At this time, Marsallah explained to us that the guards made their rounds every hour on the hour so we had approximately forty-five minutes, to be on the safe side. After explaining this, he turned to leave. He had taken several steps toward a bank of elevators before I remembered he had not unlocked Phillip’s office door.
“Hey, where are you going?” I whispered.
“He’s going to do his work.” Sacchi answered for him.
“But he hasn’t let us in the office yet.”
“He’s not allowed to have that key, besides he doesn’t even clean this floor, why would he have it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, how are we supposed to get in there now, without a key.”
“I didn’t tell you, Dan, because I didn’t want you to worry, besides I’ve got everything under control”, he said as he simultaneously reached under his robe and produced an industrial size jigsaw.
Annoyed, I said, “What are you going to do with that, did you bring an extension cord too?”
“Ah, Dan, not to worry, battery operated” he said as he raised the power tool, depressed the trigger and it buzzed to life.
The double doors to Phillips’ office were oak and about two inches thick, so it took Sacchi about twenty minutes to carve enough out so we could get them open; all the while, I was watching, nervous, sweaty, going gray at an accelerated rate and feeling the beginnings of my first ulcer. So when the noise finally ceased, I felt such a relief I actually sighed. Sacchi turned away from the door and toward me, with a large and what I thought was a madman’s grin. Maybe it was the light, I do not know, but he was sure proud of himself as he turned to face the doors, pushed lightly and they swung smoothly open on what seemed like well oiled hinges. I was still reveling in the silence as I stared at the mess Sacchi had made of the door and the pile of wood scraps on the floor.
“I think they might know we have been here, what do you think?”
Sacchi just shrugged and moved into the huge room and I followed. For an office, it was conspicuously empty of file cabinets so I strode directly up to the desk. Scanning the surface I saw nothing of interest, but I did pocket Phillips’ business card, which had his home phone and address on it. I thought that might come in handy. Sacchi was busy checking out the bar set-up, pouring himself a drink and moving on to wall hangings and the like, so I focused on the drawers of the desk.
“Dan, look” my father-in-law said, louder than I thought was necessary.
So I shushed him as I looked up from what I was doing to see what he wanted. He was pointing to the wall clock. It was nearly time to go, so I frantically searched for something to pry the desk open and was rewarded with a poker from the fireplace. Accompanied by loud screeches, all five desk drawers were opened in short order. Riffling as fast as I could, I still had nothing when Sacchi grabbed my arm and hauled me toward the door. Passing through the destroyed door, I looked back into the office and wondered when the cyclone had come through. I made a little mess around the desk, but Sacchi had made no effort at all to conceal our infiltration; everything, I mean everything was upended. I liked it. I wish I could be there when Phillips showed up.
We pushed through the emergency exit door, me behind Sacchi, and swiftly headed down the cement stairs. As we were reaching the final landing an alarm began clanging. I guess they found our calling card. We burst through the door out into the back parking lot, crossing that as fast as we could, heading for the woods. At this point, I had passed Sacchi, so when I heard something metallic sounding bounce on the pavement; I slowed and turned to see what it was. My diminutive, father-in-law was bent over retrieving his jigsaw. He is a mad man, I thought, as I hurried back, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and hauling him along with me, leaving the jigsaw behind.
Scrambling across the lawn area toward the densely wooded section beyond, there was a muffled yell followed by an explosion. Not wanting to take the time to turn to find out its source, mainly because I already had a good idea what I’d see, I urged Sacchi along, soon reaching the cover of foliage. The woods enveloped us as we pushed on, now heading parallel to the road toward our car. There were several more reports, but who ever it was must have been firing blindly because, due to the thick undergrowth and trees, I knew he could not see us. We scrambled onward as hard as we could for several minutes till we reached the edge of the field we had to cross to get to the car. Again, I had to grab Sacchi by the scruff, to keep him from shooting out into the open. Here, we stopped, looked and listened for anyone who might have noticed and been curious about our vehicle. Registering nothing, we simultaneously bolted across the fifty open yards, jumped in and revved away, in what felt like one swiftly timed motion.
Sacchi in the driver’s seat and I in the front passenger, I kept waiting for the acceleration to stop and our speed to level off, but my driver seemed to have forgotten that he had floored it and his foot remained glued to the floorboards.
“Sacchi, we made it, you can slow down now,” I reported. But it must not have been loud enough because we were still accelerating and heading into a ninety-degree left hand turn.
“Sacchi, slow down, you’ll kill us, you jackass!!” I screamed this time and reached over and yanked his foot off of the accelerator.
The car immediately began to decelerate but it was too late, we were on to the curve, and Sacchi was doing his best to negotiate it, straining with the wheel. The tires screeched and I was thrown against the car door. The mad man behind the wheel held on long enough to get us around the bend.
“Are you nuts? Are you trying to save Phillips the trouble by killing us yourself or what?” I said as the car drifted down to a normal speed and Sacchi just shrugged and gave me his impish grin.
We rolled, slowly now, towards the heart of the city. The streets were relatively deserted, except an occasional rival cab that Sacchi good-naturedly waved to as they passed. We crosshatched haphazardly for a while in silence. I was elated to have gotten out of there in one piece. Slowly the realization that we had not gotten much for our efforts eroded away at the elation and put me in a somber, confused state, out of which I now tried to navigate myself.
The reason we had gone in there tonight was to try and find a clue as to what had started this business in the first place. Phillips was attempting to hide something so important to him that he felt murder was not above and beyond the call of duty. We had gotten in and out, barely, without a scratch; though Sacchi did lose his jigsaw, which I am sure he will bring up shortly. I was hoping to come out of there with something tangible, something concrete on which to base our explanation for Marisha’s disappearance and subsequent death. Or was I? My previous notion that there likely would not be anything substantial in there came back to me. Maybe the actual reason for our little excursion was different. Maybe upending Phillips’ office was actually the official plan all along and I did not want to admit it to myself. Recalling how I had preached to Sacchi about controlling our desire for immediate and indiscriminate retribution, I wondered if tonight’s debacle was not a muted result of those desires. We certainly did not accomplish anything except putting our adversaries on notice that we were now taking the offensive that we were not sitting back somewhere waiting for them to come get us. Maybe that accomplishment alone was worth all the effort we went through this evening. Then again, we may have just poked a stick in the proverbial hornets nest and were about to get stung for our trouble.
I pushed that thought aside as being unproductive, concluding it was too late for any regrets. We had to move forward not looking or turning back. We had to keep our sights on the objective, and in doing that; my mind kept coming around to Phillips. He started this. It was his office, his papers, and his actions, which had precipitated all the subsequent events. So it was his business card I reached into my pocket and pulled out.
“Sacchi find a place to park so we can think and talk about our next move.”