THINGS DONE: BAIT AND SWITCH
All I wanted was a night on the town, a chance to relax with milady, and what do I get?
A face to face with some suit who may very well be Edward Runtz.
Dammit, I remember something AD used to say when he was about to blow someone to smithereens in ‘Nam. “May you get al the karma you deserve.” Shit, I know I’m not clean, but even for someone as perverse as myself, I think this is extreme.
I don’t tell Mel about it until we’re back at the shack. I ask her if she’d noticed him. She said no, she really hadn’t noticed anyone else all night. That, and she’d enjoyed a lot of Beaujolais. I didn’t want to alarm her, to ruin what had been an absolutely glorious night out, but it’d be worse to delude her, just in case the suit was actually Runtz. She’s in this with me. She’s got a right to know. I really would prefer to protect her from the reality that constitutes my existence, but as she once said, in for a penny, in for a pound.
How about a ton, dear heart?
Our discussion is cut short by the appearance of AD and Jam.
“Wild Turkey’s all gone,” I tell him.
“Never fear.” He flourishes a bottle of Yukon Jack. “Care to share?”
“I’ve been drinking all day. Might as well stay consistent.” Mel grabs all four of our glasses and AD pours a generous shot for each of us.
“We might have some news for you,” Jam announces quietly.
“You’ve got a fix on Jimmy?” Mel asks anxiously.
“Maybe,” Jam continues. “We have reason to believe she’s in Iran.”
“Iran? What the hell would she be doing in that miserable pit--”
“Her mother’s Persian,” AD explains.
“I thought her mother was dead.” She’d never come out and said it, but I’d assumed it. Her mother’s whereabouts and name were always given as unknown. Lois never once mentioned her mother.
“She’s alive and well and teaching computer science at the University of Tehran. She went underground for a number of years. Needless to say, she wasn’t about to resurface during the Khomeini years,” Jam continues, in an unusually quiet voice.
“She divorced Runtz when Lois was a toddler. She was supposed to have custody, but during a visit, Runtz kidnapped the child. Due to his dealings and her status as being in nonagreement with the political regime in power, and a Baha’i to boot, there was no way for her to fight back for her daughter,” AD explains. “Lois apparently thought she was dead, but what’s really been the case is that she’s been quietly looking for her for several years now.”
“Do you know from your ‘sources’ if Jimmy or Lois actually entered Iran?” Mel asks, sipping her Yukon Jack.
AD pours himself another generous shot. “A woman fitting her description entered the country several weeks ago. Not using her own name or any of her hacking nyms, of course. ID looked legit, but some of my people can spot the best forgeries on the planet, and they’re convinced this one was from one of our favorite workshops.” AD chuckles. “She’d have to have money. These people don’t come cheap.”
“They’re easy, but they sure as hell ain’t cheap,” Jam adds, trying to crack a smile. “I’ve used them myself, and I know their work.”
“The woman went to the house that’s currently rented to one Professor Nooshin Etemadi. A check of Lois Runtz’s birth certificate in London indicates that that’s the name of her birth mother.”
“She’s safe, then.” Mel concentrates on those things that a mother would.
“So far as we can tell, she is. Our intel is pretty certain that it’s her at her mother’s house.”
“Has Jimmy entered the country?” I ask, half hoping he’s there and mostly hoping he’s not. The Iranian government still doesn’t look favorably upon US nationals.
“Our sources think, but haven’t yet confirmed, that he’s in Switzerland. Most likely trying to buy a black market visa, if he has any idea where Lois is. We don’t have as much information on that as we do from the sources on Lois Runtz.”
“What would happen to him once he crosses the border into Iran?” I had this misguided belief that once I knew something of his whereabouts, I’d calm down about Jimmy, but instead, the Yukon Jack and my ulcer are eating away at my insides.
“If he’s got a good enough visa, he’ll probably get through all right, once he’s gotten consent to travel. As to what he’s going to use for a reason, well, just how creative is Jimmy?”
“Oh, God. If he says he’s going to visit relatives, he’s screwed.” Jimmy’s a fair-haired boy. Convincing anyone he’s got relatives in the Middle East would be a good trick for anyone that looked like him, and he’s not the type to come up with a great story on his feet.
“He could dye his hair,” Mel suggests, smiling. “Even Jimmy would think of that.”
The idea of Jimmy with a bottle of Grecian Formula amuses me slightly, but not enough to ease my worry.
“My sources will stay on it. We’ll let you know as things develop,” AD promises. “You guys have a nice evening out?”
“We went to Los Campanos on the big island,” Mel explains, although her glee is somewhat dimmed by now.
“Oh, my Gods, that’s a carnivore’s paradise! And you didn’t invite me?” AD puts on his best mock-injured expression.
“We were trying to get away from you,” I say, helping myself to some more Jack, and both women laugh. Jam winks at us knowingly.
“Mr. Warmth, Charm and Personality strikes again,” Jam pats AD gently on the shoulder. He grins back at her wickedly.
“Los Campanos! Whatever you didn’t have this time, make sure you have it the next.” AD smacks his lips.
“Would have been the meal of a lifetime. Except I think we saw someone. And I think he saw me.”
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen AD turn pale. Even in ‘Nam, he was one cool cookie. Some guys in the unit wondered if he was a sociopath. I knew AD was a nutcase, and still is, but he’s not of that ilk.
“Did you hear him?” Jam looks almost as pale as AD, despite her deep coloring, and she’s clutching at her liquor glass with shaking fingers.
“No. Couldn’t get close enough.” Damn, do I miss my toys back in DC. If any occasion ever called for a bug, this was it. And miniature surveillance cameras. And...
God, I want to go home.
I describe him. “I asked Byers and Muladharma to send all their intel.”
“When was this?”
“Soon as we got in the door.” Which was, I believe, about three hours ago.”
“Lessee. Midnight-thirty here...9.30 p.m. next day there. Let’s see if he answered you back,” AD says, jumping towards my computer.
I muscle past him. “Excuse me, but you don’t have a license for that thing.” It’s my computer. I’ll drive, thank you.
There’s email from both Byers and Langly. Since Byers was the one I wrote on this, I open his first. He’s got several files attached, and a two-line message:
“You have to leave. Will discuss arrangements later.”
The files need a fair bit of decryption, which takes time. No one speaks, an anomaly when the four of us are in the same room. I think everyone’s too nervous to talk. That’s certainly true in my case.
The photos we get from Byers are of somewhat better quality than the ones I’d previously been able to obtain. I study them carefully, and as I do, I feel my guts lurch.
“Was that the guy you saw?” AD asks.
“That was him.”
AD begins pacing. “Email Muladharma back and tell him we’re going to get off here ASAP. I’ll map it out and he can make the proper arrangements for us. Jam, Mel? We need to pack. We’ll push off at sunrise.”
“That’s rather sudden. Do you think that’s necessary?” Mel asks, trying to keep voice and expression neutral.
AD looks at her sharply. “Honey, if it’s Runtz--and Frohike here, while he’s a drunkard, a derelict and an all-around loser, has pretty good powers of observation--then we can’t get our butts off this island fast enough. So let’s move, people. We’ve got a lot of work to do in the next five hours.”
I’m going to have to return the rig to JR, but I think I’ll leave it on his doorstep just before we push off, get as much from Sri Lanka as we can.
My responses are from Muladharma, who’s most likely on full alert and isn’t planning to sleep anytime soon. Byers doesn’t respond, and when I inquire where he is, Muladharma simply responds that he gave him the night off. They’ll be plenty to do later on. We inform him that we are leaving Cayman Brac via boat. He says to mail him our itinerary as soon as possible and he’ll do whatever he can to insure safe passage.
He indicates that our final destination, regardless of route, should be Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The Grateful Dead said, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been.’ They didn’t know the weirdest was yet to come.
We don’t sleep. Muladharma and I exchange emails all night per AD’s instructions.
We’ll sail to Caracas, Venezuela, where Jam has a number of contacts and Muladharma has a number of friends. (I was tempted to ask if there was anywhere in the world where he didn’t know someone, but right now, it might just look contemptuous. I’d rather have him as an ally, especially since we’re dependent upon him for safe passage. After that, we’ll fly to Buenos Aires--Jam has contacted some people that she claims “owe her major league big time” and have assured her of their assistance. I’d prefer to have better false documents, but we have a few left from the safe in DC. We haven’t adequate time to have them drawn up, premium quality or otherwise. From Buenos Aires, a long-ass flight to Western Samoa, then to Brunei, and from there, forward to Colombo.
“You’re gonna miss a hell of a trip,” I joke to AD.
“I’d rather take the virtual tour,” AD comments. “We need to find a way to stay in contact. Take the laptop.”
“I can’t just take it. It’s Jolly Roger’s.”
“Excuse me, but who do you think got him all his equipment? And believe me, he didn’t have to pay retail for it. If he has an issue with it, he can take it up with me, and trust me, he won’t.”
I sigh as I pack the few things that I’d come here with. “Right now, if you could keep up on Jimmy, and try to make some sort of contact with him, however indirect, I think that’s the main thing.”
“That’s what we have in mind. I have someone in Zurich. They’re already scoping him out.”
“Might spook the boy.”
“It’s not going to spook him half as much as if he tries to enter Iran. I think dealing with one of my contacts would be far preferable to facing a clerical court in Iran.”
Now there’s an image I don’t want to entertain.
“Someone also needs to let Lois know he’s looking for her.”
“Done. Received confirmation a short time ago.”
“Any indication as to how she reacted?”
“Said if there was any way to get to him and tell him not to attempt entry into Iran, do it. She’d try to arrange a rendezvous in a neutral country. The trick for her will be making any moves without her father’s knowledge. I don’t have confirmation on this, naturally, but I’m sure he’s aware of her movements.”
“He’d have to be one cold bastard to threaten his own daughter.”
“If there was any man alive who would, it’d be him.”
If he’d harm his own flesh and blood, he’s even more of a monster than I imagined.
Mel is packed and ready. “As I’ve said, it’s not how I planned to take a world tour, but I’ll take a vacation any way I can get it.” Her smile is wry. I’m sure she’s terrified. I know I am. Knowing her, though, she’s unlikely to discuss that much.
“It’s 0430. We need to get the rig disassembled,” I tell AD. “Make yourself useful for a change.”
“What about your cruises for the day?” Mel asks AD, concerned about his own business.
He grins at her. “I’ll just tell ‘em, gone fishing.”
We all laugh.
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