The Prodigal's Return
by Dwight Geddes
June 10 6:30 A.M.
It was a typical June morning in New York, and Blake Casson was already at work. In that sense, he was not unlike the millions of others in the city that morning, but his job description and qualifications were not to be found in any newspaper help wanted section.
For years he had worked for the United States government, but for the last few he had plied his trade in the private sector. As his profession went, he was one of the best. At this particular moment he was lying among the bushes, high upon the banking next to the Grand Central Parkway, by the Queens Boulevard exit in Queens. He was barely visible from three feet away; in a moving car on the parkway he would be impossible to detect. Four hundred feet away from where he now laid was the Kew Motel, where his Pathfinder 4x4 sat in the parking lot. He had positioned himself directly next to the split in the parkway. He could see the Grand Central winding it's way to the Bronx while the Jackie Robinson Parkway sped toward Brooklyn. His appointment was expected at six forty-five, and Blake was ready.
Every morning Felix Kaufman was driven to the offices of his Manhattan law firm accompanied by a cadre of bodyguards. He was the chief negotiator for the Israeli government in their dealings with several major banking concerns on the East Coast, and Blake had been hired by very wealthy Arab sympathizers to make sure that Felix did not live out the week. Blake had followed his target discreetly for three days and decided that here would be his best opportunity. He unzipped his duffel bag and pulled out his weapon; a .35 Remington XP100 with a 7X scope. He quickly attached the silencer, rested it on the ground beside him and peered down at the traffic below. The Grand Central Parkway had been under construction for several months now, and at this particular juncture, the steady stream of morning commuters had been reduced to a stop and go snarl. He raised the rifle to his shoulder and adjusted the sights. The target would be along any minute now. Traffic was crawling as everyone tried to merge from three lanes to one, in typical New York fashion.
He spotted the car; a black Mercedes S600 with lightly tinted windows. From his surveillance he knew that Kaufman would be sitting in the right rear passenger seat, with a bodyguard beside him, and another one driving. He saw the car winding its way toward the first of the many orange construction cones. It was now a little over three hundred feet away. Blake knew that the ideal distance for his weapon was about one hundred and fifty feet. He squinted through the scope and focused on the slowly approaching target. The driver was obviously used to local driving, negotiating his way around the other vehicles that were not as adept as he at cutting cars off. He could make out the outline of his intended target reading a newspaper. Blake had calculated the exact point where he would take his shot, and he began a mental countdown. Five, four, three, two, one….
Phhttt! The silenced bullet split the relative quiet of the morning. It traveled the short distance and dissolved the right rear window into tiny fragments of flying glass. Smoothly, and with no wasted motion, he squeezed off two more rounds into the vehicle. The second bullet shattered the windshield and sent the car lurching into the rear of a van; the third ruptured the gas tank. The resulting explosion was deafening. Blake rose quickly and stuffed the rifle into the duffel bag. The first bullet had hit the target, of that he was sure, because he had seen the head snap backwards and to the left. In a low crouch he trotted back to where he had parked his vehicle earlier, not even wasting a glance at the hysterical carnage developing below. This job was over. June 13 7:00 P.M.
"I am very happy to see that all of you could make it this evening, gentlemen." The speaker had just entered the conference room, and all eyes were focused on him as he strode to the head of the table. There were nine others sitting or standing around the room when he entered. They were all between the ages of forty and sixty, and all African-American. Indeed the men gathered in the conference room of the midtown Manhattan office building were all among the most successful blacks in America. It was this quality they shared that led to their union, and also to their deference to the older gentleman who was about to speak again. "As you all are well aware, there is one topic on the agenda tonight, and that is our South African initiative." He paused for a second before continuing. The room was silent as everyone focused on him and his next words.
"We have been examining the situation for some time now, and the operation committee has conferred with our budget committee and arrived at the course of action." Another pause. He turned to an aide and instructed him to start the projector. It was done, and the lights in the conference room were dimmed.
"Oswald Iseku is a name I am sure you are all familiar with." The screen showed an image of a slightly overweight, dark skinned black man in his forties, wearing combat fatigues and smoking a cigar. He stood in what appeared to be a mountain camp surveying a group of approximately five hundred men.
"He is a very popular figure in many parts of the country, but an unknown entity in the world view. He is considered to be the most charismatic, intelligent, capable leader in the country by most of the people familiar with the situation over there. He has some other key attributes that make him an attractive choice for what we have in mind: no smothering media coverage, limited funding, and no weapons supply. We have provided him with all of these, but our agenda will only be manifested if he is the leader of the revolution." The screen flickered, revealing a makeshift guerrilla camp in a mountain clearing.
"These gentlemen are the full time members of the South African Liberation Front. Two thousand, five hundred and seventy strong. The most active anti-government group operating in South Africa today. They operate from small camps in Namibia, and conduct lightning strikes against specific targets in South Africa. Their leaders are Walter Siloso and Van Koos. Both are capable gentlemen, but neither one is dynamic; neither can serve as the peoples' representative once the revolution reaches it's zenith. Mr. Iseku, however, can." The screen flickered from the pictures of the two black men back to Oswald Iseku. "We have made some overtures to Mr. Iseku and expressed our conditions to help him." He in turn has organized with Messrs. Siloso and Van Koos to form a coalition that will lay the ground work for the overthrow of the pacifist government in power now." A snap of his fingers and the aide reappeared and turned the lights back on. "Mr. Iseku requires some conditions from us. Most can be done with no problems, one cannot. Mr. Gold will explain further."
At this time a short, balding, heavyset gentleman stood and addressed the group. "We have selected our representative, gentlemen. His relevant information is in the folder in front of you."
"Blake Casson? Wasn't he a basketball player?" uttered one member at the far end.
"I see you are familiar with our choice. For those of you who are unaware however, Mr. Casson played forward at Georgetown."
"Yeah, I remember him," another piped in. "I saw him in the Final Four. Boy, was he smooth!"
"Isn't Ghost Squad just a myth?" asked the youngest member of the group, looking up from the paper handed to him, a scholarly looking gentleman with horn-rimmed glasses.
"On the contrary, Dr. Murray, Ghost Squad was and still is the best kept secret in and out of the armed forces. The best thing Dick Nixon ever did. Only thirty people, trained in everything form hand to hand combat, through advanced computer warfare. The elite anti- terrorist group. You have no doubt heard of Delta Force?" He paused again. "Well, these people train Delta Force." The leader spoke again, as if to enforce the point Mr. Gold had just made.
"Blake Casson retired from Ghost Squad three years ago because of an injury related to a covert government assignment in the Mid East. The fact of the matter is that he was since recruited by our group and has performed some freelance work for several different parties."
"What work is he going to do here?" asked Mr. Lockridge, a plump man at the far end of the table. Mr. Gold's dome had a sheen of perspiration that made him appear anxious under the bright lights in the room. He nodded to the acknowledged leader of their group. It was he who responded, gripping a cigar in his right hand that he used to punctuate every word.
"Mr. Casson will orchestrate the removal of the president and opposition leader of South Africa. They will be replaced by a new regime. Our regime. It is time, gentlemen, for us, the prodigal children of Africa to reclaim our birthright, and begin the payback process."
It was about eleven in the morning when the secretary paged Martin Levine Esq. on the intercom. "There's a Mr. Gold on the line; he would not say what he was calling about, but he said you knew him. Do you want to speak to him?" Marty told her to hold all calls. He picked up the receiver.
"Mr. Levine, this is Stephon Gold, how are you?"
"Not bad, Stephon, what can I do for you?"
"I have a job that requires the services of your client." There was a pause. "Can we meet with you and your guy, say eight-thirty at Gordon's Diner?"
"Gordon's diner. That's in Queens, right?"
"You never wanted to meet my guy before, why now? Who'll be there?" Stephon Gold chuckled.
"This is a major project, so my associates and I think its time for a face to face. Don't worry, it's a safe spot. And we'll cover the dinner."
"Ha, ha! Okay. See you then."
Marty hung up the phone and sat for a minute, toying with the business cards laying on his desk. 'Martin Levine, Esq.' was in gold raised letters. He was a commercial real estate lawyer, dabbling as an agent for several music groups and sports figures in his spare time. He also was the intermediary for Blake 'Hannibal' Casson, one of the most notorious assassins in the world. It was this qualification that Stephon Gold referred to, and it was this client whom he picked up the phone to call.
The number was for an address in Jamaica Estates, Queens. The owner of the house was known as Mr. Casson to his neighbors, a quiet, mysterious man who seemed kind of young to own such a spread, and was almost always away on business. It was a lavish estate overlooking the Parkway, and the purchase of it was conducted by Marty a year ago. It was a straight cash deal, nice and quick, no question asked. This estate was where Blake Casson convalesced between jobs, and this was where Marty Levine found him.
"Hey big guy! You awake?"
"Okay, listen. I got a call from the black diamonds we did some work for a couple of months ago. They have something for us. They want to meet tonight at eight-thirty. You know where Gordon's is?"
"Uh huh. It's...ah...over by the Cross Island Parkway. Rosedale, right?"
"Yeah, that's the place. See you then."
Marty hung up and returned his attention to the folder on his desk, a concert proposal for one of his groups.
The sunlight streamed through the window, cascading over Blake's nude body lying on the bed. He squinted at the alarm clock that stood on the night table. He had gone back to sleep after Marty Levine's phone call. He slept until two in the afternoon, before the sun finally got to him. He jumped out of bed and did his exercises before showering. When he got out of the shower he examined himself in the mirror. He was lean and wiry looking, and as he stood staring at himself he traced the scars etched over his body with his finger. The ugly purple scar on his neck, a reminder of that last near fatal mission in Israel. A long jagged cut extending from his back around his rib cage, acquired in Berlin from an East German operative back in his Ghost Squad days. Both wounds had been avenged, the former by a drive-by in Tripoli, the second a year later when he ran into the operative while on another assignment in Libya.
The East German had been found with his throat slashed in the rear of a movie theater, and the East German secret service had never discovered who had taken out one of their top agents. But that was the story of Blake's life -his relentless drive. He was a very methodical man, never one to be spurred into impulsive behavior. The last time he had done something impulsive, it was on that fateful day so many years ago when he decided to join the CIA. He was twenty-two at the time, high on life because of his status as a big-time college jock, fresh out of school and cast out to fend for himself in the real world. He was an exception in school, mainly because unlike his teammates, he actually attended classes and graduated in four years. But he was also exceptional because he graduated third in his class while pursuing studies in languages. He was of a mixed race background, the product of a union between a black American soldier stationed in Germany after the war, and a gypsy from the Basque region. Fluent in German, French, Spanish and English before the age of sixteen, he attended Georgetown University on an academic scholarship, and started the first game of his freshman semester as a forward on the basketball team. It was his propensity for languages that interested the CIA most. After graduation, and over the strenuous objections of his father, he joined them as a field operative.
Years later, when reflecting on it, he admitted that he had done it on a lark; but the first time he killed someone he knew he had found his calling. He literally had a nose for covert operations, and word of his prowess and ingenuity spread through the intelligence community. The code name Hannibal was given to him after he was screened for Ghost Squad by a long forgotten colonel who had likened him to the fabled African general. The general's report said 'he had never seen a colored agent who could think about whether to kill you, how to kill you and how to get way with it while slicing your throat.' Ghost Squad was the high point for him as an operative for the American government. He knew there were few roads out of that type of work, and as luck would have it he made it out alive, and was still able to continue, albeit on his terms. Now he was thirty-five years old, a step away from retirement, with a house in New York, an apartment outside Zurich and a couple of million dollars tucked away in Swiss and Cayman accounts. He was almost at the culmination of an incredible career. He walked out of the bathroom and got dressed, wondering what this new job was all about.
June 14, 8 P.M.
Gordon's Diner stood about one hundred feet from the Cross Island Parkway, in the peaceful, residential area of Rosedale, Queens. It was a quiet place, run by an Italian couple for thirty years. Many pictures hung on the walls of the celebrities who had dined there over the years. Mayors and mobsters, actors and moguls, they had all passed through the doors of Gordons. It was here that Blake arrived at eight for his meeting with Marty and the others. The diner was half-empty, but the scent of food wafted throughout the entire dining area. Blake sat at the back of the room and ordered coffee. Within five minutes Marty Levine strode in.
"Hey, what's up, paisan?"
Blake smiled. Marty was one of those people who could blend in with any group. Very engaging, the two had been friends since their days at Georgetown. While Blake had joined the ranks of the CIA, Marty had parlayed his father's money into a thriving practice of his own. They had kept in touch, and when Blake was recuperating at Marty's summer home in Cape Cod some years ago, contemplating his future, Marty had asked him to do a favor for some friends of his. The fee was nominal, but they had entered into an agreement based on that, and now both were much wealthier for it.
"So, what's going on with your practice?"
"It's going. I got this big deal looking into right now with some investors. They want to build condos in downtown Brooklyn; near Red Hook. I think they're crazy, but hey, it's not my money, you know what I mean?"
Blake smiled. Same old Marty.
At that moment, the door opened and three middle aged black men walked in. Marty looked up and waved them over, reaching out to embrace the first one, a stocky, balding fellow.
"Stephon! How's it going?"
"Great, great. Marty Levine, these are my associates, Edward Forbes and Tony Lockridge."
"The pleasure is mine."
Marty ushered them over to where Blake was sitting and made the introductions. Blake stood up and all three newcomers at the table flinched slightly at his height. The one who had made the introductions, Mr. Gold, queried his height.
"Six-four. Good enough for Georgetown, but not enough for the pros."
They all sat down, and Blake sensed that the other two were deferring to the eldest of the three, Mr. Forbes. It was he who spoke first after they had all ordered coffee.
"As you well know, we have utilized your services in the past, Mr. Casson. This is a different situation, however. This is a more, ah, personal issue and as such needs more, um, personal attention on our part."
Mr. Forbes laughed. "You haven't heard the whole story yet. What we are planning is not an act of symbolism. It's not about material gain for us, although this project can be very rewarding to everyone involved. What this is, Mr. Casson, is the boldest stroke by any collective of black men since Toussaint L'Ouverture kicked the French out of Haiti."
He paused and stared at Marty and Blake. He had their full attention. He continued.
"We are planning the overthrow of the government of South Africa."
He stopped there. The silence echoed about the room. The effect of this semi-speech was lost on no one. Marty had a fleeting thought that any second now he would hear thunder or some such sound effect.
Blake looked nonplused.
"What makes you think you can do that?" he asked.
Edward Forbes looked at him, a look akin to arrogance, and Mr. Gold interjected quickly.
"Blake, you don't mind if I call you Blake, do you? Good. We number in our group ten of the fifty richest black men in America. Our combined net worth could float this country's banking system for the better part of a year. We are no strangers to international, ah, skullduggery. We have undertaken operations in the Caribbean, Europe and right here at home. What we are proposing is something we have examined carefully and have made advance preparations for. This is not some crackpot terrorist group plot, and it's not a simple assassination. This is beyond that." He looked at Marty Levine briefly. "This is about our paying our dues in full."
Edward Forbes cut him off, and his words commanded attention from everyone at the table. "Mr. Casson, I am the richest African American in the US. I possess everything anyone could ask for. What I don't own I can obtain in mere minutes. I am risking everything I have spent my entire life acquiring because this is a cause for me. This is not about money; this is about pride and respect for who we are. Who I am. On the world scale we are consistently the low man on the totem pole. This undertaking is one majestic stroke that can begin to right that fact." He paused and stared into Blake's face.
"One million dollars, Mr. Casson. Half in an account of your choice tomorrow by noon and the other half upon completion. Your job would be to kill both the President of South Africa, and the leader of the Zulu tribe, in conjunction with the rebels wresting control of the government from the present regime. If you decline, we leave here as friends, this conversation never took place, and there will be no hard feelings. You accept, and you stake your claim to immortality and a chance to rewrite the pages of history. It's your call."
Blake was staring straight at Forbes as the older man spoke, and after a moment's hesitation Forbes continued. His voice softened. "I knew your father very well, Blake. I'm sure he mentioned me to you before he passed away. Back in the days he and I fought the enemy in Vietnam and here at home. He was a fine man and a true believer in our heritage of success. You know the heritage of success, Blake? It's the way the few of us lead the many. We are the present, we have the chance to chart the future and we are going to do it."
He looked Blake in the eye. "Your old man cared and I know you do too." Blake was silent, his eyes locked on Edwards Forbes. His face betrayed no emotion. He picked up his coffee, draining the cup before responding. "It will take more than just killing these two to take control of the country. What's phase two?" Stephon Gold filled in the blanks.
"We have reached an agreement with the most influential anti-government groups in the country. There are arrangements for a coalition group that will step in and deal with any problems that might arise." He paused while the waiter came to take their orders. No one felt hungry. Mr. Gold continued after the waiter walked away.
"We have been laying the foundation of this plan for quite some time, Blake. Through companies we own, we have taken measures to undermine their already unstable economy. Both of the groups we selected to work with have members and sympathizers deep within the government and Zulu group. Anti-government sentiments are running high right now. The time is ripe." He leaned backwards and took a sip of his coffee. Satisfied, Blake was still staring at Edward Forbes. It was he that he addressed when he finally spoke.
"My father had spoken of you over the years. Some good things and some bad." Forbes nodded. The subject of Blake's father was touchy one for both men, but for different reasons.
"Well, we were very close for a while but over time…well...I guess we kind of didn't stay in touch." He shrugged. "That inevitably happens when you try to build a business. You often sacrifice family and friends. He was a good man, though. We shared a vision of a future for Black America. Where we diverged was how to go about getting there. I am a businessman and he was a nationalist. I think if he were here now the idea of what I am doing and your role in it would make him very happy indeed."
Blake's eyes had still not moved, they remained locked in on Forbes' face as the older man spoke. Finally he nodded.
"Okay. You have a deal. What's the time table?"
Gold looked at his watch. "We will need you to be in Johannesburg within two days. You would liaison with our local associates there." Blake nodded, and glanced at his watch.
"Perfect." He turned to Marty Levine as he rose to leave.
"Do you thing, Marty. I'll call you later. I've got something to take care of."
The restaurant in Jackson Heights looked like any of the dozens of others in that part of Queens. The entrance was ordinary, one small sign in the window proclaiming the name as Hacienda Del Sol. The inside was sparsely lit, with several patrons seated in private booths lined against the walls. For those who wished to observe and be unobserved there was another dining room, separated from the main room by a huge, one-way, smoke colored mirror. One corridor next to the bar led to a small conference room, forbidden except to a select few patrons of Del Sol. There was a small table in the back room, an overhead bulb and six folding chairs. It was here that Antonio Enrico Gazza, restaurateur, social luminary and father of three, sat pleading for his life. Three other men were there; Michael Ayala, chief enforcer of the de la Vega cartel, Enrico Armand, the most famous Hispanic lawyer in New York and personal counsel to the de la Vega's, and Luis Concepcion, head of the Jackson Heights arm of the cartel.
Luis Concepcion could instill fear in most men. He stood six feet two inches and tipped the scales at a rock solid two hundred and twenty-five pounds. He was a fanatic weight lifter and had a volatile temper; traits that helped him rule with great discipline. His angular features gave him a very evil countenance. He reminded Gazza of a bird of prey. And his eyes; his eyes were like a fish. Pale and cold. Now those eyes bored into him.
"What's goin' on, huh, Rico? You pinching my yeyo?"
Gazza took a sip of his Bacardi and Coke and tried to match the stare as calmly as possible. "Luis, you know I don't use that…"
"Who said shit about using? My boys in Maine said they delivered five kilos and now I only got four and a half. Whas' up man? You cutting a deal someplace?" Gazza was clearly uncomfortable. He hated dealing with these…thugs. Concepcion was his brother-in-law, a rich a powerful ally. It was his money that bought this restaurant, and he never stopped reminding Gazza of the fact. 'A gift' he had called it. Some gift! It turned out to be a front for the de la Vega's and for the last couple of years had prospered from it's reputation for fine food and local big-shot clientele. Big shots like Ayala, Armand and Concepcion. "I didn't touch your stuff, Luis. I will check with my staff tomorrow morning, first thing, but please, your guys could have made a mistake…." Concepcion flashed him a disdainful look. "Just get your shit together, Rico. My boys don't cross me."
He rose suddenly. His bleached blonde hair grazed the light bulb, creating an eerie specter as it swung wildly. He now spoke through clenched teeth. "Find my fucking shit, Rico. I ain't got time for this, alright?"
Antonio Enrico Gazza nodded sullenly in response. Concepcion stalked out of the back room and through the narrow hallway to the main dining area. There were approximately twenty patrons on this weeknight, and the conversations hushed as he walked by, trailed by his two cohorts. Concepcion nodded toward a couple of patrons whom he recognized, and stepped outside into the unusually chilly June night. His silver Lexus was parked in front of the restaurant. He strode forward toward it and died before his hand touched the door handle. The hit was simple and brutally efficient. Reading the paper the next day, the old-timers in Ozone Park shook their heads and laughed at how easily it was done.
As Concepcion was the primary target; he went first. Two bullets entered his back, slamming him forward into the parked car. A third bullet passed through his neck, severing his cartoid artery, and shattering the windshield of the Lexus. The alarm wailed, giving the silenced massacre its own macabre soundtrack. The lone gunman in the black ski mask had been crouched behind the garbage dumpster to the left of the restaurant's entrance. As Concepcion stepped toward the car, the killer came out from hiding and opened fire with a silenced 9mm Mini-Uzi. Ayala managed to pull his pistol, he even had it halfway raised before one bullet punctured his torso under his collarbone and another bored into his chest right between his breastplate.
Michael Ayala, chief enforcer to the de la Vega cartel, never saw the man who killed him. The lawyer, Armand, was riveted to the spot. He didn't carry a gun as he considered it beneath him. Always the quick thinker, he thought furiously of how to talk his way out of this. There was an eerie stillness, save for the bleating alarm, and Armand seized the moment to beg for mercy. He had barely opened his mouth to speak before two bullets struck him in the face and his lifeless body was flung against the parked Lexus.
Antonio Enrico Gazza had rushed outside as the last body crashed to the ground, and he saw the man in black lower his gun and disappear around the corner. Gazza's first impulse was to give chase, but the gravity of what had just happened struck him like a physical blow. !Conyo! The kingpin of the de la Vega cartel shot to death in front of his restaurant! He took a fleeting glance at the bodies again and elbowed his way back into the restaurant to call the police.
The e-mail was sent to Dennis Marsh at around the same time that Blake was dispatching Luis Concepcion to the great siesta in the sky. Dennis Marsh was a low-level agent in the New York City office of the Central Intelligence Agency. The message came from an operative he was in charge of monitoring, code-named Jackie Robinson. Dennis didn't know too much about the agent. As a matter of fact Dennis didn't know too much about a lot in the CIA. Dennis Marsh was a year out of Brown University, and his status was that of an analyst. Basically his job entailed sitting around answering phones, monitoring news broadcasts and routing electronic messages in and out of the Caribbean and Central America. Dennis didn't know it at the time but the message he received from Jackie Robinson triggered a series of events that was about to turn the whole world upside down.
The message was simple: "Operation Rhodes Reversal is a go. Catalyst heading toward target. Everything should go down within a week. Advise as per usual channels." Dennis Marsh reread the e-mail and thought of what to do next. A few months ago, he had first reported to his superiors the increase in activity as reported by Jackie Rob, of the group called 'the Africa Concern.' He had subsequently been summoned to Washington to meet with the Director, Jeff Payton. Payton had shown a very keen interest in the activities of the group, and particularly the operation called Rhodes Reversal. Mr. Payton had requested that any further news of this operation be sent to him immediately. In his own words, "If it's a snowstorm, the phone lines are down and there's no way out of New York City, ski your butt down to DC. And get here fast." Dennis had thought he was joking, and had smiled at the directive. Payton didn't smile. He wasn't joking. With that encounter in the forefront of his mind, Dennis Marsh made the call to the number he had been given that afternoon several months ago and had committed to memory. It was picked up after one ring. Marsh relayed the contents of the e-mail, answered a few questions, and then hung up the phone. He had done exactly as requested, and he suddenly felt as if his future in the CIA was about to get a lot brighter.
Blake dialed the number to an exclusive condo complex in Cape Town, waiting the few long seconds until the call was connected.
There was a pause, then a gasp of recognition. The voice of Olivia Donovan came over the circuitry as clear as if she were sitting next to him.
"Blake? Oh my goodness, this must be either my lucky day or the day to wear my raincoat. How are you mon cherie?" She sounded genuinely pleased to hear from him.
"Good, how have you been?" It had been over a year since they were last together.
"Oh, I'm doing okay. I have an exhibition coming up in San Francisco. It's scheduled for the June 24th through the 30th. I'd love if you could make it."
"That could be arranged, but how about my seeing you a little sooner?" There was a pause before she answered. "How soon are we talking? I can't leave the country before then."
"I'm coming there tomorrow, baby. Where are you going to be the next few days?"
"That's fabulous! I'll be between here and the capital for the next couple of days. Call me here when you arrive, okay?"
"Sure. See if you can get away from your sugar daddy long enough to spend some quality time with me, alright?" Olivia Donovan laughed, a throaty, sexy laugh if there ever was one. "Don't worry about anything, Blake. Remember, you're the one always running off." It was his turn to laugh. "Yeah, okay. Touché, Miss Donovan. I'll give you a call."
"I'll be waiting."
Jeff Payton, as Director of the CIA, was in charge of monitoring not only foreign groups operating in the United States, but also US groups operating outside the United States. He had first heard of the Africa Concern approximately three years ago, and had closely monitored their activities since they were brought to his attention by an eager young intern trying to make brownie points.
He was fascinated by their accomplishments. Payton had been a field operative in the 60's and 70's when the Black Panthers and other groups had running battles with the authorities. It was widely held, and ultimately confirmed, that these groups received no help from the black establishment. This was different. The Africa Concern was the black establishment, possessing money and resources that few other domestic groups had at their disposal.
Payton had watched in fascination as this group secured casino rights in several Caribbean countries that had to that point, steadfastly refused to allow any form of gambling. They had engineered a bloody coup in Haiti that restored the democratically elected leader to power. One of the members had been rewarded with a lucrative and exclusive sugar-refining contract, and substantial tax breaks were given to companies owned by members of the Africa Concern.
He had watched all of this in an ubiquitous fashion, noting everything but taking no action. But this, this was dynamite. The possible ramifications were overwhelming. Payton pushed his chair away from behind the sturdy mahogany desk and walked across the room to the coffee maker in the corner of his office and poured himself a cup. Black. He slowly paced back and forth contemplating the information he had just received from his agent watching the group. Several things were clear now: The government of South Africa was moving, in fits and starts, toward some semblance of order. If a coup succeeded or even worse, if it failed!, the country would be plunged into chaos, and billions of dollars in US investments could be wiped out. That, coupled with South Africa's nuclear weapons and the complicity of influential American interests spelled major trouble, and a dangerous international incident.
He drained what was left of his coffee and walked across the room and out the door. It was dark in Washington, and he thought to contact the President's Chief of Staff, Ryan Conlon, by his pager. Ryan usually left the office around eight, and since he was a bachelor with a very circumspect private life, it was usually best to reach him on his pager. Actually not that private, thought Jeff, as he hurried down the corridor to the elevator. Rumors had been circulating for quite some time now that Ryan the Rake, as he was called, was sleeping with the US Attorney General, Lisa Gorman. Jeff Payton nodded at the Marine sentry posted at the elevator, pressed the down button and began to formulate a plan of action.
The date of June 17th would become etched forever in the mind of Richie N'kama. Richie was a lanky twenty-four years old, barely tipping 175 pounds on a six-three frame. He had lived in the village all his life, and when fighting with the Zulus of the Inkhata Freedom Party intensified during the early 1990's, he helped to organize the township defense unit to patrol the borders of his hometown of Boipatong. By the time he had reached his twenty-first birthday, he had become one of the leaders, and as the reputation of their citizen defense patrol became more widespread, his village enjoyed relative peace amid the disturbances raging nationwide. On this particular night N'kama was far away from the problems of his township. It was 2:00 A.M. and he was lying in bed with Betty Krizten, his girlfriend of two years, and mother of his infant daughter. Baby Ellen was with Betty's parents on the other side of the village, and her absence had led to a quiet, enjoyable evening. Betty prepared dinner. While they ate, they discussed everything from national politics to Richie's younger brother Patrick, who was scheduled to start on the South African soccer team in the upcoming Olympics. They drifted off to sleep around 1:00 A.M., exhausted after passionate lovemaking on the small bed they shared.
It started about 3:00 A.M. The first indication was the low rumble of approaching vehicles from the northeast. No one ever accounted for the security patrol assigned to that section, their bodies were never recovered. The attackers moved swiftly, fanning out in small groups from the armored personnel carriers. Their methods were simple and brutal, and there were eleven people dead before the first alarm was sounded. Armed with clubs, machetes and rifles, the attackers savagely set upon the sleeping residents of Boipatong. They did not use their guns until after the alarm was sounded, and as members of the security unit rushed from their homes trying to assemble, they were sprayed with automatic weapon fire. Bullets punctured gaping holes through the paper-thin walls. And then it ended, as suddenly and eerily as it had begun.
The attackers jumped back into the waiting vehicles and sped away, leaving the screams of the wounded in their wake and adding another generation of widows and orphans to the blood soaked legacy of South Africa.
Richie N'kama raced over toward the scene the moment he heard the gunshots, leaving Betty in their own home. As he approached the area, his stomach began to tighten. The house where Betty's parents lived was between two others that had been raked by bullets. The front door had been knocked off the hinges, and Richie rushed in through the doorway on the verge of panic. He did not have to go beyond the living room. Betty's father had fought valiantly against his attackers. He lay prone on the floor, half of his skull bashed in by some blunt instrument. Richie leaped over his father-in-law's dead body, searching wildly for the others. Nowhere. He barely heard the familiar voices of the remaining members of the security detail calling for others to help with the wounded. He was oblivious to all as he scoured the house for his daughter. Nowhere.
He began hoping against hope as he raced out to the backyard. His heard stopped. Baby Ellen had died in her grandmother's arms. The old lady had vainly tried to fend off the raining slashes of the machete to protect her ward. Something in the mind of Richie N'kama snapped at that instant. He stared in muted disbelief. He knew his life was over. His daughter, his baby, had been taken away. And just as the lifeless bodies lay bleeding on the ground, his body was just as devoid of life. He reached down and pried his baby from her grandmother's death embrace and cradled her in his arms. The tears flowed freely down his face. His life now had only one purpose: Revenge.
Blake Casson sat in the rear of the Gunnery Bar, his back to the wall, in a position to cover the front and rear entrances. He had gone to 25 Wheaton earlier, and was informed by the doorman that Mr. Maragh was out on business, and would meet him at the Gunnery Bar between 8:30 and 9:00 P.M.
He was listening to the music playing on the bar's jukebox, and he drifted off into private thoughts. A Bob Marley song was playing, and he felt the words addressing him. "You running and you running and you running away, but you can't run away from yourself...." He knew why he had taken this job. It was not just for the money, he had enough of that to keep him comfortable for a long time. No, it had more to do with the conversation he had back in that diner. It was the chance to do something. Something that made a difference in the world, not just killing one capitalist to make another richer. Something to make his father smile in his grave, or heaven or wherever, and be proud. No, it was not just another job to Blake, this was penance.
"You running and you running...."
When Ed Forbes, the richest black man in America, looked him in the eye and explained that he too was laying everything he had worked his entire life for on the line, Blake knew that this was what he had searched for. This was his absolution, and he would have done it for free. "...Every man thinks his burden is the heaviest...." Blake closed his eyes and winced. His father had lived and the last ten years of his life without speaking to him. Blake knew that it all stemmed from his involvement with the Company. His father had been involved with many early black power groups, even before they became known as such. He suffered in the white man's military so that his children would not have to ever suffer, and he was wounded when Blake told him that not only was he going into government service, but he was going to work for the despised CIA. "Who feels it knows it, Lord"
He was an only child, and his upbringing while not luxurious, was by no means poverty- stricken. He had never even been into a housing project until the CIA sent him in undercover. He knew after the first time in there that he was as much an outsider as the white officers who patrolled the area in their squad cars. He felt different, thought differently, hell, he even looked different. And it ate at him because he knew that in the eyes of his superiors he was no different. But he decided to turn this anger to his advantage, and he approached each assignment as though it was a crusade. His cold, methodical tactics were the marvel of the intelligence community, and made him reputedly the best black agent the agency had ever had. But that was not enough. And when the chance presented itself to join Ghost Squad he did. That's when he really took off. And he hadn't looked back since. Until now. "You can't run away from yourself." This mission was his absolution.
This particular pub was a favorite of the supporters of the Arsenal Football Club, whose nickname was the Gunners. It was also a favorite meeting spot for Sonny Maragh, international arms dealer, an insight to his cynical humor.
In the truest tradition of British rowdies there were about thirty patrons singing their favorite team songs and getting progressively drunker. Blake sipped a McEwans ale and looked on in detached amusement. It was about 8:50 and Sonny had not yet appeared. Blake rechecked his itinerary. There was a flight leaving London later that night direct to Johannesburg, arriving at 7:00 A.M. Once in the country he would make his way to the Krueger National Park where he was to meet an official of SALF who was to escort him to their headquarters. He had not decided how he would take out the President, but as he had learned early on in his career with the CIA, plan carefully, and take the high percentage shot. The most important thing was to get the job done. The second most important thing was to escape cleanly, because capture could create an international scandal and certain death. He was positive that a chance would present itself, just as it had with Luis Concepcion. He thought about that job and smiled to himself. He had followed Concepcion for days until he saw his chance when Concepcion went to the restaurant. The whole scenario was perfect, because he parked two blocks away and set up outside the restaurant for an hour until his target reappeared. He and his bodyguard did not have a chance, and the group that had paid for the job only a week before sent him a $50,000 bonus for the quick and professional way in which it was executed.
At that moment Sonny Maragh entered the bar. Sonny was a stocky man, with wavy silver hair and a constant sheen of perspiration on his dark, ruddy face. He spoke with a deep resonating bass, thick with the distinct accent of an educated West Indian. He was well known in London society, very wealthy and never shy about it. Rumors abounded about the source of his wealth, but few knew that it came from his standing as the number one arms dealer operating out of Europe. His legitimate business as an importer of art and antiques provided the ideal cover, and the money he spread around liberally bought many powerful acquaintances. Sonny Maragh was alone, but even as he brushed by the rowdies at the bar he received no more than a glance. He was wearing a burgundy sports jacket, white polo shirt and white slacks, and when he spread his arms wide to embrace him, Blake noticed that he had gained a few extra pounds.
"Blake! How t'ings, man?"
The accent, coupled with the familiar smile, made Blake smile to himself.
"I'm doing alright, Sonny. How is your wife?"
"Ah! Spending money as usual. She recently started a scholarship fund for some children from Ethiopia. The Queen is going to give her some award for it next month. Wha' you drinkin?"
"McEwans. You know how it goes, when in Rome...."
"Ha hah! Waiter, two more here!" He turned back to Blake and his tone was now serious.
"So what's the project this time, Blake? You going to kill our Queen? I know it must be something like that because everywhere you go important people die."
The waiter reappeared and placed two more ales before them. Blake leaned backwards, took a sip of the bitter ale, and studied his friend. Sonny was about fifty, and it showed. He was what West Indians referred to as a coolie, a mixture of Indian and African ancestry. He and Blake had met ten years before in El Salvador. Blake had entered the country with an advance unit from Ghost Squad to rescue two CIA operatives who had been captured and were about to be publicly executed. The advance group was to design a plan of attack, and they had spotted Sonny Maragh in the capital. At the time Sonny was a high level representative for Adnan Khashahoggi, and when they approached him, he cut a deal with them. For a modest fee, he told them not only where the CIA men were being held, but also information about a cache of arms he had just delivered for the government, compliments of the Kremlin. Within twenty-four hours, Ghost Squad had freed and airlifted the two spooks out of El Salvador, and the airplane hangar housing the weapons had been blown up on its supposedly secret airstrip outside San Vicente.
Over the years they had developed a kind of camaraderie, one which grew after Blake left government service and Sonny split with his boss. Sonny was now one of the most well connected arms dealers in the post-glasnost era of international arms trade, while Blake 'Hannibal' Casson was one of the most feared assassins alive.
'This is only a pit stop, Sonny, my real agenda is too sensitive right now.'
"Understood. I just heard about that job you did in New York for Cartegena's crew. Good show, Concepcion was a pig."
Blake's surprise at his knowledge of that job must have registered ever so briefly, and Sonny took it as a cue to continue.
"I keep tabs on you, my friend. But I wonder if this project of yours have anything to do with the shipment of SAMs and Mac-11's I sent to my friends Van Koos and Siloso in Cape Town yesterday?"
Blake smiled. "You are in the wrong line of work, Sonny, you should be a detective." Sonny erupted with his great belly laugh. "Doesn't pay enough, my friend, but if they need guns, I may be able to help!" He sipped on his ale before continuing. "I imagine you wanted the first available flight, so I have you booked on one leaving in an hour. If you are ready, just go into the little boys room and retrieve the papers you wanted from behind the commode. Do you want me to take care of your car?"
"Yes it's the blue Vauxhall. There is a passport, some credit cards and other papers in there from my local forger. You will be needing them."
"Good, I will take care of it personally. See you outside in two minutes, I'm in the olive Jaguar." Sonny Maragh downed the rest of his drink and elbowed his way out the front door, while Blake headed to the men's room.
Richie N'kama knew that this was his chance. He stood in a crowd of about two hundred people from his township, and they were milling around outside the gathering of still smoldering huts that represented what was left of his village. It was a strange scene: On one side stood approximately fifty heavily armed police officers on full alert, scanning the crowd of blacks with stoic expressions on their faces. Behind them stood about fifty reporters and camera people jostling for the best possible angles for their reports. The tension hung over everyone, it showed in the faces of the nineteen-year-old police officers standing in front of their Casspirs, gripping their rifles so tightly their knuckles were pale around the barrels.
A few of the braver reporters ventured across the twenty or so feet of dusty road separating the police from the residents, to get "a sense of the mood." Richie stood on the fringe of the group, and he stared around him in a detached, vacant manner. People were jostling each other to get closer to the road; the word had spread very quickly that President deBurgos, with a full battalion of the world press in attendance, was going to examine the scene of what had been dubbed in sound bites worldwide as the 'Biopatong massacre.'
A short speech condemning the violence was expected, and then he was scheduled to meet with leaders of several black groups to discuss national political reform. This was purely a photo op for deBurgos, but it would help in his aim of projecting the image he sought worldwide as a moderate, but conscientious leader. Several women wept openly as others tried to comfort them. But what can you say to comfort someone who had just lost a loved one in a spate of senseless violence? Richie knew the answer only too well. But he also knew that he would avenge the deaths. Today. Soon. For everyone. A high pitched wailing went up from the rear of the group, and a murmur ran through the crowd as two shiny stretch limousines appeared around a bend four hundred feet away. The time is now. He started to move through the crowd toward the road. He had a .38 Smith & Wesson in his waistband and he could feel tiny beads of sweat trickling down his torso and forming a small rivulet around the stock. He felt a sense of detachment from the events around him. In his mind it was him and the approaching vehicles all alone in the dusty hovel that had been his home.
Sweat was staining the armpits of his shirt, and his palms felt clammy. He was at the front of the group now, right next to the road. The police officers were extremely agitated by the restlessness of the townspeople. Next to him a heavyset woman, who looked to be in her forties, started to scream loudly. The noise startled Richie out of his trance-like state. He saw two other women run to her side to comfort her. The motorcade was now only twenty feet away. The woman broke free and proceeded to rip open her blouse, still screaming and crying loudly. Richie felt anger rising within him. She was protesting; he vaguely recognized her as the mother of one of the township patrol members. The baring of her breast was a traditional symbol of grief for his culture. But she will ruin his plan! He looked back up the road. An officer was racing up to the motorcade, frantically waving his arms to stop them. "NO!" Richie reached for his gun and started after the officer. Suddenly gunfire erupted. A fusillade of bullets tore into the crowd of blacks, and in the first ten seconds six people fell dying to the dry earth. Several people knocked Richie down trying to flee, and in the jostling his gun fell and was lost from view.
As he tried to stand, a knee from another person struck him in the temple, and he fell down again. People were screaming all around him, and he saw blood on his shirt from a stricken protester who was prone next to him. He looked around wildly for the cars. Even now they were turning around to leave. He jumped to his feet, pushing people aside as he tried to get out onto the road and toward his target. The woman who had bared her breasts staggered in front of him, a large crimson stain covering the front of her skirt. She had been shot. He pushed her aside, his entire body and mind engulfed with rage. This could not be happening! He fought the throng, pushing in the other direction and broke into a run toward the disappearing vehicles. A figure moved next to him; he saw a shadow descending and before he could duck, the butt of a rifle came crashing down on the side of his head. The last thing Richie N'kama saw as the world turned pitch black was the small red taillights of the President's departing limousine.