AS FARID’S ASSISTANT AND THE brothers point their guns at each other with grim faces, I break the tense silence with the five pillars of Islam: a faith in the oneness of God and that Muhammad is the final prophet, prayer five times daily, almsgiving to the needy, Ramadan fasting, and one pilgrimage in a lifetime to Mecca for those who are able.
Farid nods and settles back into his chair. We now have détente instead of a Mexican standoff. “That’s impressive for an American ... and for a man who has no belief in Allah, you know a lot about Islam.”
“Don’t ever put a gun in my face again, you got that?”
“I have to guard myself since I refuse to pay protection money. But I do commend you on your demeanour. You didn’t flinch when you saw the pistol so this must not be the first time you’ve looked down a barrel, is it?” I shake my head no as he refreshes my tea serving. “Sometimes I react before I think, the weakness of my passionate nature.” He returns his gaze to the laptop and translates what is in the electronic documents and more importantly, what is not.
“So there’s nothing about money, wire transfers, bank deposits, offshore accounts, stock, bonds, bearer bonds, anything of the sort?” Farid shakes his head sadly. “This doesn’t make sense. Kyril had his hand in every vice known to mankind and now he’s coordinating a suicide attack?”
Farid points to the screen. “Here, the way the instructions are written, it seems more like an itemized list of what needs to be done. It also shows directions to training camps in Pakistan for jihadists who want to defend Islam. Did this Kyril know Farsi?”
“He could barely speak English. I wouldn’t think he would know how to speak your language, too. He wasn’t a Muslim either … well, at least that I know of.”
“He could have it for blackmail purposes. It seems this man is capable of it.”
“Was, as he is no longer among the living, and yes, that sounds more like Kyril, to blackmail.”
“This mission is set to proceed on a practice run soon before the final attack.”
“The target is?”
“It doesn’t say. It does say there is a five thousand pound budget.”
“You can buy a lot for five thousand. How’s it going to be attacked?” Farid shakes his head. “The location of the cell?”
“It does not say. Wait,” Farid says after reviewing the laptop screen. “He drops a clue here to himself, a train schedule. It has departure times for a Turnham Green station.”
“I know that stop. Is this al-Qaeda?”
“If it is, there is no evidence on here but I wouldn’t suspect there would be anyway.” Farid stands up, takes a few steps, paces back and forth as he ponders something. “I have seen many men in your position in the years I have been doing this. The look you have, the determination, I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“There’s something bigger here than money, Farid. People’s lives are at risk.” He nods as he rotates the small charm bracelet with silver studs with blue eyes painted on each one. It is the Turkish version of a good luck amulet. For a pious Muslim, it is unusual that he is wearing it.
When I stand up, Farid asks, “One last thing.” Looking at him sitting there, a small and petty man who envisions himself an isolated pasha within his darken realm, he adds with a wink to be a cheeky git, “God bless the queen.” Ignoring him, we take our leave and soon are back among the throng of shoppers as men walk by like waiters with Turkish tea on silver platters, declining their offerings as I have already had too much, needing a bathroom. We wave all the soliciting shopkeepers away, too busy realizing that this whole thing has been a goose chase. There is no Öbergemau fortune, no financial reward, no nada.
Moving back up the hill, Bugsy asks, “Boss … would that suicide mission be the reason why Eran was after Kyril?”
“Could be,” I reply, still limping along.
“That ginger beer stuck a gatt in me noggin’! They is all pikeys that need sorting out, guv’nor. I’d sic me staffie crosses on them any day of the week, always telling porkies about not wanting to blow things up but they always have the hump about something or another and they wonder why no one wants them in their country. Tell ‘em all go home to Jihadistan. Sod the bloody lot of ‘em!”
How can I tell Dr. Patel that it has all been a dead end, that there is no fortune, that I have no idea who killed our colleagues? After getting back to the hotel room, I pack immediately after arranging a commercial flight back to the U.K. The brothers know they are not needed for now, disappointed as I am at the present circumstances.
“Bloody ‘ell, guv’nor,” Spyder says with a stunned expression, looking up from my laptop at the room desk. “I just Googled Is Elvis Presley Jewish and this is bloody shocking. I can’t believe me peepers.”
Bugsy quickly reads over his brother’s shoulder. “Is this possible, boss?”
“There’s a first time for everything,” I reply snapping the notebook shut and putting it into my carry on bag. “Not a big deal in the whole scheme of things, don’t you think?”
“But this is Elvis we’re talking about, guv’nor.” He adds in a sorrow, “I’ll never listen to Burning Love quite the same again.”
After grabbing my bags, I rush for the door. “Gotta catch the flight! I’m already late.”
“Jog on then, you mug and Merry Christmas,” he says departing through the room door behind me, waving. He adds with a grin, “Oh, I mean Happy Hanukkah, the dog’s bollocks of holidays. You get eight of them, don’t ya!”
“Hanukkah’s already passed but thanks for the sentiment.”
“And thank you for the quid!” he winks at me, an unlit fag dangling from his lips.
“Watch yourself, Billy No Mates,” I reply, hitting the lift button.
“Who me, guv’nor? Youse the one without the mates,” he half replies, his attention already on some nearby slender Turkish bird with long jet black hair and a brilliant white tooth smile that catches his eye. He moves toward her, “Hey luv, you have a match?” She grins at Spyder, her natural beauty looking coy, inviting. In his own words, another smitten kitten that he has to hit it and quit it. Some men have that certain je ne sais quoi and some guys don’t, me being in the latter category.
“You know how barking mad he is sometimes,” Bugsy comments, joining me in the lift before the door dings closed, his red t-shirt of today a profile of Karl Marx, pseudo-Moses looking with his famous long hair and flowing beard, reminding me the father of communism descended from a long line of rabbis.
After firing off a text to Jaya that I am coming back into London, I have the concierge call a taxi then send a text to D.I. Tew that a terrorist attack is imminent in London and that I will debrief him after arrival.
All around the airport lobby, I see groups of Muslims making an early exit to their Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Men are dressed in their ihram, which is two pieces of white unhemmed cloth, the top draped over the torso, the bottom secured by a white sash with sandals on their feet. The women are dressed so simple white or black dresses with their hijab head covering. The idea that they are all dressed so simply shows that all adherents’ are regarded the same to Allah, no matter if they were of royal blood or of the poor in the street. Something about that egalitarian idea appeals to me.
The scene reminds me of Samir and if he is going to make the journey with his four wives to Mecca as he told me he would do this coming season. After checking in and before going through the security check point, a small, thin, swarthy looking man in a dark suit fast approaches me, hands me a small piece of paper with a phone number. This time I recognize the accent as soon as he says in warning, “Please call this number after your arrival into London. There is much to be discussed, Mister Templemann. Please do call as we will find you if necessary.”
Bugsy is right: the Mossad does not give up easily.
AFTER MY FATHER’S PASSING, IT turns into a summer of weddings. Besides my work demands, the travelling, the investigating, the case conclusions, I also take dance and horse rising lessons. For someone who grows up in south Texas, I am teased a bit. I write it off as a character building exercise; at least I think of it as that, sitting in the hot tub, my bones and muscles aching from the day’s lessons. One of Woodruff Hall’s servants explains the various titles, the interactions between members of the aristocratic families, charity work necessities, official and semi-official events. There seems to be a laundry list of what one needs to know to not cause a faux pas and be branded a social pariah.
It is ever so curious that this world exists onto itself, a holdover from antiquity, or at least since the restoration of the crown back in the 1600s. But it is a modern world as most have regular day jobs. Lesley herself heads a global Christian charity that helps children with various diseases and ailments across the world. She is in her element when she visits them in the hospital wards, clinics; being a temporary, surrogate mum, she reads, holds them, wipes away their tears, patiently answer their questions about British royal life. In reality, she is only distantly related to Her Majesty and is not close enough to the crown to be an HRH. However, she does have a tiara, a magnificent heirloom that will live for the ages.
After another wedding, listening to the Tony Bennett torch standards filtering in from hidden stereo speakers in the nearby rented foliage on the bandstand, I turn to the recognizable voice. Poppy waves at her reddened, fatigued face with a paper fan as she walks up, her physique within a cream-colored, brown stripe dress making her look like an ice cream cone.
“I am so out of shape, dear Jonathan. Please escort me to grab some refreshments?” She interlinks her arm into mine. “I thought those vows would go on forever in this heat. Some traditions must not be changed,” Poppy protests again. “How else can we have civilisation? Why do people feel compelled to leave God out of the ceremony and feel they can filter His message about commitment and love with a bunch of new age mumble jumble.”
“Sorry for being a prickly pear about it all but I’m a born again Christian and we must draw the line somewhere. By the way, Lesley came to the Lord on her own. I had nothing to do with her decision.” She adds in a whisper, “Though she needed our Saviour to help in her struggles at that time.”
“I see,” I reply, though I know nothing of which she speaks. Glancing about, Lesley is chatting with a group of young teenagers who are the beneficiaries of one of her charities brought in from overseas. None of them are white and few speak English well. This transition to our world shocks some of them: shoes and airplanes are de rigueur. She seems animated, happy and makes a small laugh. Socializing is what she is about, never met a stranger, the total opposite of my personae, me more analytical, circumspect, requirements of the profession I practice.
“Did you receive the set of Woodruff Hall’s published diaries I sent you?”
“Yes, I did. Thank you so much. I have been reading them. It’s fascinating the history of the manor. Can’t imagine it originally began as a diary farm where human health experiments were conducted and now not only supporting a winery but is a nexus for this nation’s major internet infrastructure. And to think it was almost wiped out in a devastating fire.”
“I thought you would like them, knowing what an amateur historian you are. Lesley’s father was actually the last person to keep the diaries before his passing. I don’t think it much interested Lesley to keep them going. She’s more of a people person than an academic.”
Someone waves at Poppy which she returns. “From what I am hearing you and Lesley are getting along smashingly. I’m quite the matchmaker, aren’t I?” She pats me gently on the arm as we move down the small hill. “Our Lesley is quite the special young lady, has been her whole life.” We pass several people and couples along the way, exchange greetings and pleasantries about the nuptials, but my attention wanes because I spot someone in the distance who is talking to my date. Poppy’s light blue eyes lose their mirth. “I don’t want to seem intrusive but Lesley’s very special to our immediate family, as you probably know. Poor dear, losing her mum and twin when she was far too young. I helped raise her as the child I never had. She is very, very special to me and many others.”
“I understand. She has said as such.”
Poppy smiles at that admission. “And so needless to say, any young man that enters her life, I make an effort to get to know him and not through a cursory way either.”
“Understandable. I would be protective of her, too.” She goes about something else less strenuous in tone and I follow her back up the gentle slope. The younger kids are gathering around playing, keeping the balloons floating in the air while knots of people are chatting. Only a few attendees are moving about in the main white reception tent. It seems too hot to be dancing at the present moment. When we arrive at the refreshment table, Poppy is served white wine. Afterwards, she is careful with her larger frame as she sits into a flimsy chair, the perfume lingering a bit in the air around her as I prepare my Earl Grey with a ton of sugar and an equal amount of milk.
“Well, I am glad you are here today. I feel I need to bring something to your attention.” My eyebrows arch up. “Oh, nothing bad, I can assure you. Our family is a bit different as you already know the situation in which Lesley was raised.”
“Indeed,” I reply.
Poppy’s eyes glance around before she says, “It involves Woodruff Hall and it has nothing to do with Oswald Mosley’s idiotic political views I can assure you.” Poppy pauses as she reaches for her wine, gathers her thoughts. Whatever she is about to say, it troubles her. She sips, seems nervous. “As you know, what I tell you is in great confidence and is not to get back to Lesley. Agreed?” I readily nod. She drinks again, prolonging the dreading silence as the wedding party begins dancing in its gaiety once more. “She may be my niece, but I know her, a cautious sort. You’ve probably figured out that she doesn’t share much of herself, that you have to drag it out of her.”
I smile in that knowing way.
“But she has shared a bit with us about you. Oh, I can see it on your face that you weren’t expecting that. It’s nothing bad. It’s none of my business really but I do know she does love you. It’s nothing she’s said out loud either but I know her. I can sense it. And there’s a reason why I am telling you this.” She pauses before she adds, “There’s something you have to get use about her. Lesley is not just a Lady but a woman and she’s waiting for your initiation.”
I ponder her words, glancing at some nearby dancers yelling in their fun as I try to think of how to react. “I’m sorry, I thought this discussion was about Woodruff Hall? Am I missing something here?”
Poppy laughs in a quiet and affectionate manner. “That is so typical of me. Please forgive me, Jonathan. There are several things I wanted to say and I do believe I got them all jumbled up. What I meant to say, in regards to Woodruff Hall, the estate does not belong to us. We’re caretakers. My husband and I have a Kensington flat not too far away from Lesley’s and we have a home in the Lake District. I imagine Lesley has never shared this with you?”
I shake my head.
“That is normal for Lesley. This is a good habit. For those who know of her in these circles tend to send their sons, cousins, ex-husbands Lesley’s way, hoping that it’s a match. But she is very, very selective so feel lucky, young man. What I have to say to you needs to be known by you or whatever man comes into her life on a permanent basis.”
My eyes implore her to tell me already.
“Woodruff Hall, everything in it, the estate, all the enterprises, it all belongs to Lesley. Yes, I can see the reaction on your face, Jonathan. You didn’t know she is so posh.” The mirthfulness is gone from her voice. “This is not easy information to digest considering the life long ramifications. Well … if it comes to that. This is why I suspect Lesley is cautious with her heart. She knows some men are after what she has as opposed to who she is.”
“I … I … I didn’t know.”
“I know you didn’t, dear, which is why I wanted to say something before you heard it through other venues.”
The amount of wealth at Lesley’s command is staggering. As I think about it, I wonder how she still comes through such royal circumstances to be normal as any bloke on the street. But that one name comes to mind the one I do not want to think of. “Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you-don’t,’ is he posh in his own right?”
She smiles compassionately. “Lesley did tell me he unnerves you. But to answer your question. Yes, he has a privileged background, which makes his political affiliations all that more troubling, knowing his upbringing. He should remember this country’s recent history. There was a reason Lesley’s great grandfather was considered England’s worse Briton of the twentieth century.”
“I just thought—”
“No need to explain yourself at t’all, dear. I know what you’re thinking, that he has designs on her money. I can assure you he has no intentions. Personally, I just think that because of who he has become, he has lost friends. Lesley is loyal and I think he reacts to that. He is just a man who is without friends that are not political cronies. You are aware of his party’s platform beliefs?”
“I can assure you he and his hacks do not represent the view of the majority of the British people. And I do know my niece will not attach herself to such a man who harbours those beliefs. You see the children here today she serves. They come from all corners of the world. It does not matter to Lesley if they are black, yellow, red, purple, refugees, believe in Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, or no belief at t’all. The only thing that matters is that they need the charity’s services and she is here to assure that happens.”
Poppy reaches for her bag, and starts rummaging through it and pulls out a small creased photo. She hands it to me. “I think this was taken a few months before the accident.” Lesley looks similar to her mother who is truly attractive as well. This is the second time I have seen Elyse’s photo.
Lesley has a small wooden framed photo of them on her nightstand together alone taken when they are six. They are wearing matching white blouses, shorts, shiny buckled shoes and they grin infectiously. They are a mirror of each other, and it makes me wonder how much she must miss her other half. Handing the photo back, I add, “I can understand why she went through a dark period.”
“Poor dear, to start her life with such a tragedy. Who wouldn’t be affected from such an event? I didn’t mean to sadden you.”
“I bet Lesley would give all her millions away if she could have Elyse back again in her life.”
“In my little pop psychology, feeble mind, I think the trouble Lesley went through earlier is because her whole life has been a journey to complete herself once more as she was in childhood.”
Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you don’t’ is dressed in a grey morning suit walks up with a large grin, a drink in his hand. I hate to admit it but he is movie star handsome with that coiffed black hair, blue eyes, chiseled jawline, a tad bit taller and slimmer than me so I have to look up when I stand. Able to find attractive female companionship is not a problem. He extends his hand and I shake it vigorously. “Good to you see again. How’s tricks? Hope you don’t mind our bland English gatherings.”
“Actually, I like weddings, the most optimistic moment in the newlyweds’ lives.”
“Well for me, I’m always the groomsmen and never the groom.” His smile is disarming, winking at Poppy who coos back in smiles. “These things can be quite dull, trust me, Jon.”
“Doesn’t stop you from attending,” Poppy says in a teasing manner, tapping him with her fan after she stands up.
“Who can pass up this brilliant affair of free food and drink? Plus it’s the best time to find a potential mate,” he says sipping at his scotch in a clear plastic cup. Anyone with half-a-brain can tell he is the consummate little charmer with the put on faux continental manners and self-deprecating wit.
“Oh you,” Poppy says laughing before turning to speak to an older couple walking nearby.
Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you don’t’ turns toward me, whispers so Poppy does not hear. “Watch the ‘ol gal closely. She likes her toddies a bit too much.” He winks at me in conspiracy. “When you get a chance, we need to share a drink. I have some people that can use your professional acumen.”
“And they would be?”
“Those who will guide Britain’s future by embracing her past.” After a few more words of weather commentary at normal volume, he leaves to join a knot of people nearby.
We continue on with Poppy’s arms back into mine. “I would not fret about him, Jonathan, just a harmless rogue. He’s had a crush on Lesley since boarding school, but our Lesley is a smart gal. She has seen through him since childhood. She won’t be fooled. His ghastly right wing politics are not exactly attractive either.”
When Poppy and I get back, we both wave at Lesley, who waves back with a smile, turning back to her charity kids, continuing her conversation. She glances at me and I grin in response that she matches. Something stirs in me. Even though I now know she has a fortune, owns Woodruff Hall and all its ancillary businesses, she is still just plain ‘ol everyday Lesley to me and she would still be in my life even if she had not a penny to her name.
Excusing myself, I interrupt her conversation, asking Lesley to dance. It is only us initially on the floor as the tempo switches over to jazzy Louie Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Our Love Is Here To Stay’. Soon we are lost in our little world amongst the gathering couples. “What are you grinning at?” she asks in a smile as we twirl around.
“I know a secret you don’t.”
“And that would be?”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, Your Grace.”
“You’re teasing me.” Her hazel eyes are twinkling as I nudge closer to her cheek, breathe in her amber perfume, hold her close, and revel in the moment knowing the mindless, political ambitions of Sir ‘I-have-a-title-and-you don’t’ will never come between us or our love for each other, his sidelong glare from afar burning a hole into me.
“Sir? Sir?” a feminine voice asks, a gentle hand on my shoulder, my bleary eyes opening to the warmly smiling British Airways business-class stewardess with the crisp Oxford accent. “We’re preparing for landing into Heathrow, sir.”
THOUGH I HAVE A SENSE of gloom and anxiety because of everything that happens on this trip with gun battles and corpses and despite the authorities needing to speak to me immediately, I am ever so happy to see the massive sprawl of London. It is good to be home, though I am not a citizen. The Clash sang it right: London is calling. I always will be a Yank on a work visa, but over time, I have gotten use to black mini-cabs, red phone booths, tea trolleys, double-decker buses and those other symbols of British life we come to expect. And it is Christmas time so all the decorations are out reminding everyone of the pending holiday.
After an hour or so of slow, tedious painful counter-surveillance measure, I determine that no one is watching me, at least anything I can detect before entering the flat. Every nook and cranny within my walls is checked for anything out of place. If the Mossad is watching me, or whoever possibly killed my colleagues, they are subtle, perhaps even allowing me my guard down before they strike.
There are no voice messages on my mobile other than D.I. Tew replying to my mine that he fancies a natter about my earlier text and can we get together as soon as possible, as soon as I land? He will send a car if necessary. Throwing everything on the floor, I jump into the shower, initially yelping, feeling my wound. Looking into my small fog free mirror in the shower, the face staring back seems old with evident creases, bloodshot eyes, and I am too tired to shave the emerging facial hair.
For the first time ever, I double check the burglar alarm to make sure it is turned on before retiring. Lying down in my comfy bed, instantly, I am asleep despite the paranoia feeding me energy. Once waking up, I unpack, gather the dirty clothes to drop off at the cleaners, and check e-mails. On the telly the BBC News channel plays with the mute button on while I sit down on my squeaky couch and reread Farid’s e-mail translations.
They are here, that cell, whoever they are.
Are they awake now, planning our destruction as I think about them?
MI-5 needs to know what I know today; I can make that Mossad call afterwards but I will wait until I visit Dr. Patel. So many things happen on this trip that it fills my head with endless tangential connections. Peeking out the curtains, I see nothing in the quiet street out front. That Bangkok incident has to tie into what happens in Krakow which leads to Romania which produces that result in Sophia. This is no coincidence and I would be a fool if I think so otherwise. And where do my dead colleagues all fit into this?
Around the flat are many assorted framed photos of varying sizes of Lesley that I have yet to throw out, so it almost seems an outdated shrine. What would Dr. Patel read into that?
That thought reminds me and I grab Lesley’s signature necklace, place it in my front pocket, from the night stand that she left behind by accident so I can have Jaya post it to Woodruff Hall.
While the Earl Grey tea cools, I go through my post, count the number of accumulated past due bills. Mentally calculating what is in the bank and how much I owe, that really sinks my spirits. In the pile is a postcard from Sophia, Bulgaria showing the cathedral we had followed Kyril to. After flipping it, a message is printed out: “Sorry ‘ol chap, couldn’t help myself, being the ‘ol army cryptographer that I am but this is an easy one. Since you helped us, I felt I owed you one. This is what those buggers are after: Hail Caesar! Shift three: 8, 15, 28, 22, 8 – I’ll add on one more hint: תחילה הייתה שניים, עכשיו יש דבר אחד.”
It is dated the day the garage gun battle happened.
Hebrew? I cannot read Hebrew.
How come Eran just didn’t bloody tell me!