Faruk was in the hall talking to Mohammed, a staff photo-journalist, when he waved at Abdullah, motioning for him to come down toward his office.
“What are you up to now that you’re a famous photographer?”
“Just taking some shots of the girls selected for the Club Med calendar.”
. “Not bad,” Faruk said. “I really like this one of the redhead at D’jour’s.”
“Yah, me too. Sabrina’s real funny, and speaks French as well as English.”
Mohammed walked in and said,” I’m going home unless you need something else.”
Faruk replied. “Hey, come and take a look at my nephew’s photos—he’s pretty good, with girls anyway.”
“Wait a minute,” Mohammed remarked. “Go back one. I think I saw someone I recognize. There, that’s the one. The guy behind the redhead at the table, the one smoking a cigarette. I’ve seen him somewhere before.”
Faruk got home late, stopping on the way to share a cigar with his brother who was just closing up the café. After watching the sun set over the sparkling waves lazily rolling in from Cyprus, he stopped at the grocer to get some orange juice for his breakfast, and by the time he plopped down in his reading chair everything inside and out was dark, except for the flashing red light on his answering machine and the blue neon glow reflected on the apartment wall from the pharmacy in the alley.
“Hi Faruk, it’s me, Mohammed. I remembered who that guy is in your nephew’s photo. I can’t recall his name, but he’s American, and I’m pretty sure he’s CIA.”
“Yah,” said Mohammed, “it’s him all right. Let me cross reference the photo file number on the computer to get his name.”
Clarridge, Duane R. (“Dewey”)
Central Intelligence Agency
Chief, Latin American Division/European Division 1981-1988
Top CIA official responsible for covert war in Nicaragua. November 1985, assisted Oliver North in HAWK missile shipment to Iran. Indicted November 1991 on seven counts of perjury and false statements. Trial aborted by Presidential pardon December 24, 1992.
“What do you say we look up old Dewey’s pals in the National Security Archive document reader on the Iran-Contra scandal?”
“OK, we got Rafsanjani’s nephew Bahramani; Ghorbanifar; Hakim; Khashoggi; the rest are all too political.”
“You’re right. It’s none of the Iranian arms dealers from the Reagan era. So maybe it has nothing to do with arms.”
“Yah, probably a good thing since Washington invaded Tehran last winter. Wouldn’t want them shooting up American occupation forces with US weapons.”
“Hey, maybe the redhead might remember something.”
* BBC World Service--Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Free Iraqi Forces, was assassinated this morning in Baghdad by a car bomb. No one has yet to claim responsibility, but US commander General Benny Banks noted that Shiia guerrillas had recently stepped up sniping and fragging of his occupation forces in the Iraqi capitol. A twenty-four hour curfew has been imposed.
Faruk looked up from the Chalabi file on his desk and greeted his nephew. “What are you up to today? Want to do some work for me?”
“Some photography?” he asked.
“Well, it’s about photography. One of those photos you took, the one of the redhead at D’ jour’s—I think you might have caught a French movie star at the table behind her. Would you mind taking the photo by and asking her if she remembers him and his companion?”
After sipping his orangeade for half an hour, the redhead stopped next to him and asked, “Are you on assignment today, or do you just like our juice?”
“Oh,” he replied, “I was wondering if you could look at the photo of you for the calendar again. You might have served a French movie star.”
“Really?” she asked. “Let me see.”
Abdullah laid the photo on the counter and pointed to the two men in sunglasses saying, “This one with the big ears, and his friend with the prizefighter’s nose.”
“Oh yah, I remember them,” she said. “They left a nice size tip. Big Ears came here two or three times this week, but not this morning. And they weren’t French—Big Ears was American, and Broken Nose was Israeli I think.”
After Abdullah rounded the corner onto the boulevard, Big Ears sat down at one of the sidewalk tables in the redhead’s section.
“Espresso, and baklava, and a fresh ash tray, please.”
“Very good, it’ll just be a moment. By the way, my photographer friend thought you were a French movie star. I told him you were American, but you might think about going to France, huh?”
“Your friend, he was taking pictures here?”
“Yes, but only for a calendar of Beirut waitresses. You and your friend just happened to be in it behind me.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“Sorry, all I know is his name’s Abdullah, and he goes to the internet café on the boulevard for his e-mail. Maybe they can help you.”
When Faruk returned to his office after lunch, Mohammed was busy packing his gear and said, “I’m off to Baghdad. Al Jazeera just reported Bremer has been kidnapped and is being held hostage somewhere. I have to fly in with the Reuters crew in half an hour.” Beirut Times- -L. Paul Bremer, former civilian administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and current special envoy to the Iranian Provisional Authority, has been abducted by masked gunmen who managed to kill several guards at his Tehran embassy residence in the middle of the night. A communiqué from Kandahar said only that Bremer would be held hostage until all US forces departed from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. As proof of their intentions, a finger of Paul Bremer was delivered today by Taleban emissaries to Northern Alliance figures in Kabul.
Before Sabrina could tell Abdullah about talking with Big Ears that morning, the two of them were whisked off the beach promenade and into a large black Mercedes sedan by three men who stuck pistol barrels in their guts, and lead them by their upper arms to the car.
When Abdullah failed to show up for dinner, Ahmed, working late at his cafe, called his brother Faruk at home to ask if he’d seen him. “Not since this morning. He was going over to D’jour’s to see a redhead waitress and then to the beach.”
CNN’s coverage of the chaos in Baghdad made Faruk shiver: plain as day, Big Ears, Dewey Clarridge, was standing off to the side in a doorway behind General Banks. Two days ago he was in Beirut. Now, right after Chalabi’s murder, he turns up in Baghdad. Then the TV reporter from Tehran mentioned someone named Downing, the interim CPA administrator in Bremer’s absence, who announced his people were expecting to make contact with the kidnappers soon.
“Downing, Downing, where have I heard that name?” Faruk said to himself. Then Bush was on from Washington announcing the reassignment of General Wayne Downing from the Department of Homeland Security to the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq, I mean, the Iranian Provisional Authority--in Iran
. That was it; he was Tom Ridge’s deputy, one of the formulators of the Bush policy on the War on Terrorism. He and Clarridge were old pals from the Reagan White House.
Mohammed went for Cokes with Salim, the Al Jazeera photographer he’d met in spring 2003 after an American tank blew away the Palestine Hotel. As they wandered down the alleyway toward a soda shop, two men walked out of a doorway, paused, and left in opposite directions. The one, followed by three gunmen, jumped into a car and drove past slowly as they exited the alley. The man in the center of the back seat was Duane Clarridge. Mohammed stopped Salim and said, “I need a photo of the guy walking down the alley ahead of us. Run up and get him to stop and turn.”
While Mohammed was in the air heading back to Beirut, Salim, in Basra, wired his boss in Qatar that Saddam Hussein's cousin, General Majeed, had been seen the day before meeting with an unnamed ex-CIA agent. Al Jazeera ran the story that night. Having missed his dinner appointment, Mohammed had been unable to fill Salim in on Clarridge, or, the need to sit tight on it for a few days. Faruk, meanwhile—concerned for his nephew’s life--put the word on the street that they had nothing to do with the Al Jazeera story.
At Ahmed’s cafe, CNN carried the response to the capture of Majeed: White House spokesman Eugene Scalia announced today the capture of General Majeed in Damascus was the result of the close cooperation between American and Israeli intelligence in Operation Roundup, the new joint defense, intelligence and diplomatic venture between Israel and the United States launched in May. Vice President Cheney will present the administration’s five hundred billion dollar supplemental request for the venture to Congress tomorrow. According to Benny Banks, General Majeed is being held in an undisclosed location.
Abdullah and Sabrina sat quietly in the back of the Mercedes between the musclemen as they passed the hippodrome and other Roman ruins of Tyre, twenty miles north of the Israeli border. As they approached the crossing at Rosh Hanikra, their guards pressed the barrels of their pistols into their ribs as a reminder to stay quiet.
The Lebanese customs officer asked the driver for identification and passports from his window in the booth next to the car. The driver handed four passports to the official explaining, “My nephew and niece had theirs stolen at the beach when we were visiting Tripoli. I told them to leave them at the hotel desk, but you know how young people are.”
The official laughed and replied, “Yes, always with their minds in the clouds. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ask them to step out of the car and answer a few questions and sign some forms.”
When four soldiers left the checkpoint headed toward the car, the three men pulled their guns and started shooting, wounding the two guards severely, but were quickly killed by the other soldiers. When the smoke cleared, three men lay dead on the pavement, and the customs official held three Israeli passports and two Lebanese young adults in custody.
In the mountains of northwestern Iran, in a small village near Tabriz--one hundred miles from the Azerbaijan border--Paul Bremer sat handcuffed and tied to an uncomfortable wooden chair in a cold, dark room with no light or window. Bremer’s handcuffs, covered with dried blood from the rudimentary surgeries of the preceding week, had rubbed deep welts into his wrists when he struggled and thrashed before fainting from the pain of non-anesthetized amputation.
Hesitatingly, solemnly, Faruk explained to the two young people, “I’m so sorry. I had no idea it would come to this. Abdullah’s photos at D’jour’s caught an ex-CIA spook meeting with an Israeli counterpart. When he asked Sabrina about them, somehow they must have figured it out. They threatened the newspaper and all of us if this came out. Al Jazeera has already reported that the unnamed US spook spotted with General Majeed in Basra had been seen in Beirut the day before. I’ve arranged for a boat to take us to Cyprus to lay low until we can sort this out.”
When Faruk walked into the airport lounge closest to the gate where Mohammed’s flight had arrived, he glanced up at the TV screen tuned to Al Jazeera, whose anchorwoman announced, Israeli special forces today rescued US hostage Paul Bremer, taken in Tehran last week. The dramatic raid involving commandoes from the same brigade that rescued Israeli civilians held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda in 1976, was carried out with only minor injuries to the soldiers. All the captors are reported dead.