Allegoria Paranoia

SUBROSA

 

 

Chapter 9

When I left Eoin Cogan's pub, I moved carefully to make sure I wasn't being followed.  The dark streets were deserted.  I decided to walk off the whisky and hike all the way home.  The walk lulled me.  It was time to be in bed asleep. As I approached the bridge over Regent's Canal, I noticed a light on one of the narrow boats.  It was Thad Spratling's.  Then I saw that Thad was perched on top of the long cabin of the boat, watching.  I went to the bank of the canal and climbed aboard.

"Morning, Thad," I said.  "What keeps you up so late?  Watching the stars?"

The night was thick with haze.

"Hullo, Jack," Thad said in a matter-of-fact way.  "No.  I been waiting for you."

"For me?  Why?"

"Are you in some kind of trouble, Jack?"

"I don't think so," I said.  Then I said, "Maybe.  What's wrong?"

"There's somebody been watching your place.  Seems like they've been waiting for you to get home."

"So you've been watching them," I said.  "Is there only one?"

"That's all I've seen."

"How do you know he's looking for me?"

"Just a guess.  Your place has been busy lately."

"You're pretty observant.”

"When I'm not taking tourists on the canal, I've got plenty of time.  I notice things.  Like that official-looking fellow who was waiting for you when you got in about suppertime."

"You saw him, did you?  That's impressive, Thad.  I appreciate it.  Is it the same man?"

"No.  That one was upperclass," Thad said.  "This one is a thug."

"What does he look like?"

"He's in that car over there.  Been sitting since about eleven.  Every so often he gets out and walks back to the end of the block, like he's looking for someone.  So I got a pretty good look at him.  He's tall and thin but steely-looking, with a big mustache like mine, only his is dark."

"I think I know who it is."

"You must be in something deep then.  That man is trouble for sure," Thad stated.  "I wouldn't go home tonight if I was you."

"Good advice," I said.

"You got a place where you can stay?"

"I think so.  You better get to bed now.  I don't want you to fall into any trouble on my account."

"I'll be all right.  What about you then?"

"I can't tell you what's going on.  You'll know soon enough, I think," I said, "but do me a favor, will you?"

"Sure, Jack.  If I can."

"If you don't see me for a couple of days, give Scotland Yard a call and ask for a man named Entwhistle.  Tell him what you told me.  If everything's okay, I'll see you soon."
I slid quietly off the boat and walked carefully along the edge of the canal.
When I got to a phone booth, I called Zorn.  The phone only rang once.

"Yeah," the voice said.

"Zorn?"

"Yeah.  Is that you, Jack?"

"Yes.  Were you asleep?"

"No."

"What's up?" I asked.

"They wouldn't let me use the computer."

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you when I see you," Zorn said.  "Look, I'm running the stuff now.  What are you doing?"

"Things are getting deep.  I need a place to stay tonight.  Is that extra bunk still available?"

"Sure.  But you may not want to sleep when you hear what I have to tell you," Zorn said.

"I'll see you in a while," I replied.

"Okay," Zorn said and hung up.

It was three a.m.  The streets were deserted.  I walked to Paddington Station and eventually got a cab. All the way to Tower Bridge and St. Katharine's Dock, I wondered what Zorn had to say. I told the cabbie to let me off at the bridge. I walked the rest of the way to the boat basin and stood for a while as I had the last time, looking for watchers. I didn't see anyone, but it was dark even with the artificial lights all around the buildings and boats. I could easily have missed a man standing in the shadows. I walked along the dock to Zorn's boat and went aboard. The printer was humming.  Zorn was sitting in a folding chair in front of the computer.  He had a big blue-steel pistol in his hand.

"Nice gun," I said.  "You can put it down now if you'd like."

"Oh sure," Zorn said.  "Sorry."

"What is it?  Nine millimeter?"

"Yeah.  It's supposed to be like a Beretta.  The guy I bought it from said it was effective."

 

"You got that right.  You think you might have to use it?"

"I don't know," Zorn said, perplexed.  "I hope not.  I just have it on board in case of an emergency."

"Is this an emergency?"

"You decide," Zorn said.

"What is it?"

"I don't know," Zorn said.  "They led me to believe I had their authorization to help you gain information on Price."

"And?"

"I told my contact I needed the supercomputer to decrypt Price's records.  He said he'd check and get back to me."

"So what happened?"

"When he called me back, the answer was no," Zorn said.  "And it wasn't just a bureaucratic no.  It was like stay the hell away, man.  The sky is falling.  He told me to lay off, that my assignment is terminated."

"What do you think happened?"

"I don't know.  That's the thing," Zorn said.  "I told him what we found out, and what we were looking for that needed decoding."

"What did you say we were looking for?"

"Price's dealings with Libya.  It's what I thought they wanted you to have."

"So what exactly did you tell him we found?" Jack said.

"I've been thinking about that," Zorn said.  "I wrote down everything I remember saying." Zorn looked at a piece of printout paper on which he had written notes. He spoke as he read the paper, "I told him we looked in Omni Arms' files."

"And then?"

"I said we found weapons sold all over the place," Zorn said.

"Nothing else?"

"The only other thing I mentioned was about that Saudi Arabian bank, IBIC."

"Well, either Price got to his buddies inside the CIA, or we've come across information that's really hot."

"Which is it?"

"I don't know.  It might help if we knew what was in Price's files."

"We do," Zorn said.

"What do you mean?"

"That's what the computer is printing now."

Zorn pointed to the pile of spreadsheet paper neatly folding itself onto the floor at their feet.

"How did you decode it if you couldn't use the Langley computer?"

"I used my own supercomputer.  That's why I've been up all night."

"You mean you decoded all this yourself?"

"No.  When I helped put in the computer at Langley, I programmed the encrypt/decrypt function.  They must have lots of other encryption stuff I don't know about, but from what I was given, I developed a program on my master computer in California."

"And that stuff never got erased," I suggested.

"Right," Zorn said.  "I wasn't sure it was still in there, but it was.  I fed in the data from Price's files I recorded last night and sent it to California.  It only took a couple of minutes to decode, but this printer's been typing it out for almost an hour."

I sat and watched the data spill on to the floor.

"Well, what do you think?" Zorn asked.

"I think this is piracy.  No wonder you were sitting here with a loaded gun.”

"Oh, it's not loaded," Zorn replied.

"Have you looked at any of it yet?"

"No.  It's just been piling up here on the deck."

The printer stopped.  We both stared at it.

"I guess it's about time," I said.

I picked up the top page of the spreadsheet and three of the attached pages came along with it, accordion-fashion. "This could take forever," I groaned.

"Let's decide what we're after," Zorn suggested.

"First, evidence that Price cut the deal with Qaddafi for twenty-one tons of American C-4 plastique," I said.  "Then we should look for the reason your CIA buddies pulled the plug on your mission.  Let's divide this in half.  I'll take 1980 to 1985.  You take '86 to the present."

"Sounds good," Zorn said.

We shuffled through the spreadsheets, taking notes.

Then I let out a yell, "Yes.  This is it:  July 1980.  'Twenty-one tons of drilling mud from Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. via Frankfort, Germany to Tripoli, Libya.’"

"Drilling mud?  What's that?" Zorn asked.

"It's the stuff oil drillers use to keep drill bits lubricated as they drill down through rock."
"But drilling mud isn't C-4," Zorn said.

"I know, but they shipped it as oil drilling mud.  This must be it."

"How do you prove twenty-one tons of drilling mud was really plastic explosive?" Zorn wondered.

"I think I can piece it together.  The indictment in New York.  These records.  It might not hold up in court, but it would be enough to publish."

Zorn didn't respond.  Instead he went back to the record of Price's transactions.  Then I found something else.

"This is weird."

"What?" Zorn asked, looking up from his own search once again.

"This is for AK-47s.  Not the Chinese imitations.  These are the real thing, straight from Russia, via Turkey, to Libya.  And further down, here," I pointed to the sheet, "Dragunov sharpshooter rifles from Czechoslovakia, to Turkey, then to Libya."

"Strange patterns,"Zorn said.  "See what else you can find."

We went back to the accordion piles of paper.  After a few minutes we sat back and looked at each other. 

"What do you think?" I asked.

"I think these guys make money no matter what."

"Yep.  Price sells legal weapons through Omni Arms.  Price sells illegal arms on his own.  He makes money either way."  Pointing at the printout, I said, "Look here. What if Price encourages the buyer and seller to arrange payment through a neutral and not very scrupulous international bank?  No one needs to know who's buying what from whom.  The seller, broker, and buyer never even have to meet.  The bank could handle the whole transaction."

"So who's your favorite full-service bank?" Zorn asked.

We both answered the question at the same time:  "IBIC."

"That's why they pulled the plug on you, I bet.".

"So what do we do now?" Zorn asked.

"We ought to get some sleep," I suggested.

"It's getting light out," Zorn said.  "I don't think I can sleep."

"It might be better if one of us stayed awake, so if you don't mind, I'm going to crash," I said and lay down on the bunk.

"That's fine.  I'm going to make myself some coffee," Zorn said.  I was already half asleep.

The rose tattoo.  I awoke in a sweat.  The image of a rose tattoo on a man's arm played in my waking mind. Zorn sat in the folding chair drinking coffee.  It was full daylight outside.  The bright sun made the cabin of the boat uncomfortably warm.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"It's after eleven."

"What day is it?"

"Friday," Zorn said.  "What's the matter?"

"I was having a weird dream.”

"Was it about Omni Arms?"

"There was an arm with a rose tattoo on it," I said.  "I saw Eoin Cogan last night before I came over here.  He was talking about Stoat.  Stoat's been following me, hanging around my flat.  He knows I'm alive.  Eoin said Stoat has a tattoo of a rose on his forearm, just like Fick."

"Would you like some coffee?" Zorn asked.

"Yeah.  Thanks.”

Zorn poured us each a mug.

"What do you think it means?" Zorn asked.

"Maybe nothing.  Is it significant that two ex-Special Forces men, who worked at a secret training base in Libya, both had rose tattoos?  That one is dead, probably because he violated the rule of silence, and that the other may have killed him?"

"Interesting questions," Zorn said.  "When does something mean anything?  The Positivists think meaning inheres in the objects.  That's probably nonsense.  I think field theory is closer to it."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Facts have no meaning in isolation.  Facts have meaning in the aggregate, as a field.  Patterns of facts.  Not isolated atoms," Zorn explained.

"So how do you know if something means anything?"

"I think it's context and repetition," Zorn said.  "If a fact has meaning, that fact will appear in a certain context and that context, or a similar context, will reappear.  It will be repeated."

"What about the rose tattoo?"

"You don't have enough to go on.  Not enough of a pattern.  Inadequate context.  Not sufficient repetition," Zorn concluded.

"Thanks for the lecture," I said.

"You're welcome," Zorn said.  "Always glad to help."

"What are you going to do today?" I asked, changing the subject.

"I think I'll get in touch with my Company representative and see what happens when I ask him about IBIC," Zorn said.

"You really going to do that?"

"Yeah, I think I might," Zorn said.  "What about you?"

"I've got to do something about Stoat.  He's becoming a risk to my health.  Besides I can't even go to my flat with him stalking me."

"What are you going to do?"

"A bunch of things.  It's spiraling wider and deeper.  I'm trying to catch up to it."

"Yeah," Zorn said, and then, "You want something to eat?"

"Sure.  I'm starved.  What have you got?"

"There's some bananas, apples, bread.  Let's see what else."  Zorn rummaged through his tiny refrigerator.  "I've got some orange juice.  That's about it."

"Sounds good.  I'll have one of each," I said.  "I need to use your phone." I called Entwhistle at Scotland Yard.When I was put through to the detective, I said, "There was a notorious fugitive staking out my flat last night."

"You mean Stoat?" Entwhistle asked.

"None other.  You want to see if he's still there?  I'd like to go home now."

"Where are you?"

"I'm at my friend's boat at St. Katharine's Dock."

"His name?" the detective asked.

"Tom Zorn."

"We'll get some men on it.  Stay put."

"No.  I'm going home.  You might want to give some protection to Zorn too.  Stoat and his buddies aren't pleased with him either."

"Stay where you are," the detective repeated, but I hung up on him.

"I hope that'll do it," I said and grabbed a banana.  “I better get going.  I don't want to keep Stoat waiting."

"You think he's still there?" Zorn asked.

"I doubt it.  He probably doesn't go out much during the day."

"You want to borrow my gun?"

"You might need it," I said.

"I won't use it," Zorn admitted.

"Then I'll take it.”

"Here," Zorn said and handed me the nine-millimeter.  Then he opened a compartment and removed three full clips of shells.

"Thanks.  I'll call you later," I said.

"If I don't hear from you again by this evening, I'm going to call the police."

"Don't worry.”

I left and took the Tube home.  It was after noon when I reached the Little Venice Landing Stage.  Thad Spratling was perched atop the cabin of his narrow boat, just as I had left him the night before.

"Hey, Thad.  Catching some sun?" I asked.

"Well, you're the cool one," Thad said.

"Is our friend still around?"

"Naw.  He cleared out about four.  You got other visitors though."

"It's probably Scotland Yard."

"I'd say that's it.  They're sitting in that sedan over there," Thad said and pointed.

"Thanks, Thad.  I appreciate your watching over me."

"It's nothing, lad."

I crossed the street and entered my building.  I checked the mail on the table in the hall.  There was a telegram reply from the editor of Rolling Stone.  I opened it.  "DIBS" was all it said.  That was enough.  The article would appear in the September Rolling Stone.  It would mean a big paycheck.

I looked through the rest of his mail.  Among the usual bills, there was a note addressed in a small, neat hand.  It was from Teller.

Dear Mr. McGlashan,

I hope that you are well when this reaches you.  I believe that you are in considerable danger. I have some information you may find interesting.  Perhaps we can talk when I arrive in London.

Yours sincerely,

J. Teller

Teller was coming to London.  Astounding.  What information could possibly take him away from Iona? Teller was right when he spoke of the considerable danger, I thought.  I was reaching into the pockets of my Jacket for the pistol and clips when two detectives from Scotland Yard came through the entry door of the house.  If it had been Stoat, I would have been dead.

"Good day, gentlemen.  You from Scotland Yard?" I said.

"Right," the one in the glen plaid raincoat said.  "We're supposed to keep an eye on you for a few days until we capture the fugitive, Charles Stoat."

"Good luck to you then," I said.  "Police have been looking for him for years."

"Will you be at home for a while, sir?"

"Yes, I will," I said as politely as I could in response to the deferential officer.  "How shall I inform you if I wish to go out?"

"We'll just watch the door, sir.  And of course the back garden, should anyone enter or leave that way.  It would be best for you to stay at home for now, but if you go out, just don't move too fast.  We'll keep up.  It's what we're paid for."

"Thanks," I said.  "I appreciate that."

I went upstairs and unlocked the door to my flat.  I opened the door carefully.  I couldn't see anyone inside.  I went through the door and looked in the bathroom and the one closet.  No one was hiding in my flat.  The place had not been trashed.  I was safe to go about my business. I felt even better when I pressed a full clip into the grip of the nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol.

I placed the pistol on my desk.  I took off my clothes and threw them in the closet, then got fresh clothes and walked to the bathroom, picking up the pistol as I went. 
I shaved and showered.  I dressed in the bathroom.  When I went back into the main part of the flat, I put on my blue blazer again and put the gun in the right-hand pocket. 
Then I dialed Torsky at the Israeli Embassy.  Torsky was his usual pleasant self.

"What!?"

"I need some information," I said.

"I don't have time for this.  Buy an encyclopedia."

"It's about IBIC," I said.

"No," Torsky said, then reconsidered.  "The kiosk.  Speakers' Corner.  Hyde Park.  Twenty minutes."

"Right."

I waved to the police as I headed east to Edgware Road.  One followed me on foot and the other in the car.  I walked down Edgware Road to Marble Arch and through Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner.  Torsky hadn't arrived yet.  I looked across Hyde Park to the Serpentine.  I could see Torsky's shambling bear walk as he crossed the bridge.  In a minute Torsky stood by the kiosk.

"You're becoming a pain in the ass," Torsky said.

"I'm glad to see you, too," I said.  "By the way, I'm being tailed by two Scotland Yard detectives.  I thought you should know."

"Oh great.  Why didn't you bring a brass band?  You're supposed to ditch these guys.  They probably got photographers and video cameras.  I can't afford this."

"Simmer down," I said.  "They're here for protection.  Stoat is trying to kill me."

"I wish him luck," Torsky said.

We walked south to the Serpentine and then went along the water.

"You want to hire a boat?" I suggested.

"Yeah.  You can pretend we're having a date," Torsky said. 

"You can row," I said.

We hired a boat and went out on the long meandering pond.  It was a beautiful day.  I was enjoying the fact that Torsky was monumentally pissed off.  The two men from Scotland Yard sat on either side of the water and walked up and down occasionally as Torsky rowed along.

"There," I said, "I don't think anyone will hear us now."

"Not unless they got a boom mike," Torsky said, chopping the water with his oars.  "You know you really are becoming a pain in the ass."

"You already said that.  How about 'thorn in my side.'"

"Cut the crap," Torsky warned.  "Did you use my name to confirm a story about C-4 in the Harrods bombing?"

"Yeah."

"That's all I need, reporters calling the embassy and asking for me personally."
Torsky was gesticulating so wildly that one of the oars fell overboard into the water.  He leaned to retrieve it and almost swamped the boat and said, "The last thing I need is publicity. You really do have brass balls."

"Chutzpah," Jack said.

"Right," Torsky growled.  "He knows one word of Yiddish."

"So, did you confirm the story or not?" I asked.

"I confirmed it," Torsky said. "On condition they don't use my name." Torsky slapped at the water with the oars.  "I keep trying to get rid of these terrorist bastards.  And then everybody keeps giving them a new chance to blow us up.  So why don't you do a story about this stuff?"

"I am," I said.

"What?" Torsky said.  "Then you're not writing about IBIC."

"Yes, I'm writing about that too."

"Bad idea," Torsky said.  "You're going to gore somebody's ox if you do that."

"Yours?" I said.

"Not mine," Torsky said.  "But some important people at the Central Institute for Intelligence and Special Missions in Israel have a real soft spot for IBIC.  I don't see why anybody would want to deal with those Pakistanis.  They're a bunch of thieves."

"I thought IBIC was a Saudi Arabian bank," I said.

"No.  Pakistani.  The oil sheikhs are just major stockholders," Torsky said.

"So, what's IBIC?”

"Somebody should put them out of business."

"Why?" I said.

"I'm not supposed to say."  Torsky rowed toward the upper end of the pond.

"Yeah, but you want to say.  If IBIC is doing stuff that could harm Israel's interest, I can bring the facts to public attention.  That would be good, right?"

"If anyone finds out I talked to you, it won't be good," Torsky said.

"I'll guarantee your anonymity," I said.

Torsky looked at me.  His mouth drew down at the corners, and his eyes looked cold. "People who don't keep their word end up dead," Torsky said.

"Fine," I said.

"So what do you need to know?" Torsky asked.

"You tell me.  What is there about IBIC I should know?"

Torsky shipped the oars, and the little boat lay dead in the water. 

"To start with, IBIC has been handling arms moving out of Eastern Europe to the Arabs.  IBIC's East European trade is so big they went to Russia to promote weapons deals and open a branch in Moscow.  Now that Russia and the others are strapped for cash, it's going to get even worse."

"Did they actually open a branch bank in Moscow?"

"Not yet, but they got one in China," Torsky said.  "IBIC is the unofficial financier for all the arms coming out of China, and they all end up in countries that are not our friends."

"Great," I said.

"That's just the beginning," Torsky said.  "These guys are in tight with all kinds of terrorists  The terrorists even have accounts with IBIC here in London."  Torsky leaned forward in the boat to make sure Jack heard his next words.  "The story now is that IBIC is financing and brokering nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan.  Iraq, Syria, and Libya are in on it.  It's supposed to offset Israel's nuclear advantage.  We call it the Islam Bomb.  The United States is getting smug now that Russia is defunct and the nuclear threat is gone, but you're missing the point.  Do you think the United Stated would be safe from nuclear war if the Arabs dropped the bomb on Israel?  How can you be so dumb?"

"If IBIC is doing all this, why is your country reluctant to shut them down?" I said.

"Somebody thinks IBIC is useful," Torsky said.  "If you really want to know, why don't you go ask the CIA."

"The CIA?  They don't want me learning anything about IBIC.  What's their interest?"

Torsky sneered at me. "You'll have to find that out for yourself," Torsky said.  "I'm not touching it.  But if you want to know, look how IBIC got started and how it operates.  You'll get the picture."

"Thanks," I said.  "Can you give me a lead?"

"Talk to Lloyd's of London.  They're really pissed off at IBIC," Torsky said.  "Here's a name." 

He rested an oar under his elbow and wrote a name on a slip of paper.

"Thanks," I said.

"Do me a favor," Torsky said.  "Don't send any more reporters my way to get your stories checked.  The British don't like having me here as it is.  If I get any more calls, I'll deny I ever heard of you."

With that Torsky rowed to shore in short, powerful strokes, getting me soaking wet.  I didn't say anything.  The information Torsky gave made it a good trade.
Torsky checked the boat in, and we walked west along the Serpentine in silence until we reached the Italian Gardens.  Our Scotland Yard shadows kept a respectful distance.
Torsky finally spoke again, "Get yourself a holster for that gun if you're going to carry it.  The pistol and clips look sloppy sitting there in your pockets."

"Pretty obvious, huh?"

"Even my grandmother would have noticed," Torsky said.

"Thanks," I said.  "There's one thing I wanted to tell you before you leave.  It might help you to know that I got a copy of Price's records.  They show a transaction for 1980 with Libya for twenty-one tons of oil drilling mud.  Court records in New York say they delivered the C-4 to Libya disguised that way."

"Price," Torsky said.  "You say you got it in writing?"

"It's on a computer printout of secret Omni Arms records.  I got them decoded," I said.

"You get those records to me," Torsky said, "and you can call me up anytime."

"I'll get them," I said.

"How much you want for them?" Torsky asked.

"Nothing.  I'll give them to you.  What will you do with the information?"

"It's better if you don't know," Torsky said.  "When can you get me the printout?"

"Maybe tomorrow.  I'll call you.”

"Use this number then," Torsky said, handing me a card with only a telephone number written on it.  "I'll be waiting."

With that Torsky turned and walked away toward Queen's Gate and Kensington Road.  I watched the enormous man until he disappeared from view. Just then one of the two detectives from Scotland Yard appeared at my side.

"Wasn't that Torsky?" the detective asked.

"Who?" I asked.

"Joshua Torsky, the Mossad hit man," the detective said.

"No," I said.  "That was an old friend of mine from the States."

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I'm sure that was Torsky.  There couldn't be two men in the world who look like that."

"I'm sure you're right about that," I said. "As for the rest, I really couldn't say."

I turned and walked north toward Bayswater Road.  I walked with my hands in my Jacket pockets, feeling the pistol in my righthand pocket and the extra clips in the left.  But there didn't seem to be anybody but the Scotland Yard detectives tailing me. I waved to Thad as I walked by the narrow boat.

"How's it going, Thad?"

"Quiet enough, Jack.  No one's been around that I've seen."

"Thanks," I said and crossed the street to his house.

I walked up the four flights of stairs to my flat.  I put the key in the lock with my left hand and opened the door.  My right hand was around the grip of the nine-millimeter pistol, my finger on the trigger.  This is no way to have to walk into your own place, I thought as I entered.