CLOSER TO GOD
Sea of Heartbreak
The water has always meant a lot to me. Off the beaches of Oahu I made my mark, surfing Queens and body-surfing Sandy. Victoria Falls called me from the far Northern canyons of Upper Kenya. Its thunder only evident form reports spoken by people who’d been there. I was not one of them, but I was going to be. I just knew it. But I couldn’t go before I finished what I was about.
Jomo Kenatta Airport in Nairobi is a mess. But so is the whole country. I drove the Pajero there, following my drop of the Lebanese. I had dumped him on the edge of town, to be taken back to where ever the hell he was going to hide out, by local taxi. Burt, Tom and Walt were my concern. I needed them gone in order to consider and act upon what I had learned from the nearly dead Lebanese. I threaded my way through traffic in front of the airport, easily and fluidly, like a man piloting a vehicle in which he really did not care who he violated or struck. I was all of that.
I pulled over at the SAS sign. I waited for the three men, who had been my mission companions, to depart. They too could take cabs to wherever they were going, as they would not be getting rid of their armament in the airport proper. Tom and Walt got out without comment. Burt stayed in the font passenger seat, however. I motioned for him to go, but he simply shook his head. I shrugged. What could I do? The mission was over. The team dispersed independently following a mission. There was no precedent for the way the man was acting.
When the Pajero’s doors were closed I sat in silence, the car’s tiny six cylinder engine humming quietly.
"Well, what the hell is this? Where do you want me to deliver you?" My questions had merit and made sense. Burt chose not to interpret things that way.
"Take me wherever you're going," he said, nonsensically.
I massaged my forehead with my left hand. Some local in uniform pounded on the car’s curbside fender. I put the shift lever in first and pulled away into the sea of chaotic traffic I so much enjoyed swimming in. I did not drive with a purpose. Instead I eased along with the other ill-mannered drivers avoiding contact.
“I’m headed toward the embassy,” I said, not comprehending why Burt was still in my car.
“Figured…” he replied, “but that’s probably a bad idea.”
I was stunned by his response. I pulled the Pajero to the side of the road, running two wheels up over a cracked and broken curb. We sat there. Women walked by with stuff piled four feet high atop their heads. Passing cars beeped in anger at the slight blockage our vehicle left by the side of Outer Ring Road. They were not without complaint. Only Mombasa Road was busier.
“Is Burt your real name?” I asked, not looking at the man.
“Is Jack Donner yours?” he replied. I nodded.
“Bertram Lauren, like the clothing guy, Burt said. I gave him my hand and he took it.
“You want to tell me about it?” I began, hoping for anything, but not expecting the response I got.
“You have a reputation, with that big brain of yours,” he began, telling me without saying it that he had known my real name all along. Burt was removing himself from the realm of normal Knuckle-dragger stock very quickly. “Back there, out on the Serengeti, you missed something. I thought you’d catch it, but you didn’t.” He didn’t go on, although I waited.
I thought back to our operation.
“The suppressor,” I said, tentatively. I had caught it subliminally. We had been given an assignment out on the Veld of Africa. There was no need for a suppressor. Silencers were large, uncomfortable to carry and difficult to properly conceal. They also identified anybody who had one as a potential professional killer. Why had Burt carried one, then installed it with me by his side? I turned my head to look at the bigger man, for the first time since leaving the airport. I felt a slight taste of fear. I didn’t like where our conversation was going. At all. But I said nothing. There was nothing for me to do but wait. I was unarmed and trapped inside a vehicle with someone who was not only well armed but a coldly-capable professional killer.
“I don’t work for State. Whatever that guy said once about a warm bucket of spit, well he should have been talking about State.” Burt spoke the words in obvious frustration, not looking over at me. “And you’re an agent for Christ’s sake. We don’t do agents. Not ever.”
“John Garner, Vice-President under Roosevelt,” I replied, still uncertain of what might happen. “He was talking about the Vice-Presidency as a job, but I understand what you mean.” Burt’s comment about me being an agent, therefore not target material, had jarred me. I had responded from the analytical quadrant.
“Why’d you talk to the guy? The mission brief said that we were, under no circumstances, to question or listen to the man.” Burt made his comments as if under great duress. I hoped that he was not still making up his mind about what he would or would not do.
“I found our instructions to be questionable,” I replied, honestly. “The mission is mine once the operation begins. You know the rules. The dead agent was named Smith. Ex-Marine. Decorated. Class act. He had a wife and three kids. You?”
Burt looked over and met my eyes.
“No, I got nobody,” he stated, his voice flat.
“Me either,” I replied, my voice pitched to the same tone.
“For them, then,” I finished. Burt shook his head.
“Brain damage would be too light a phrase to use for this kind of thing. More like brain death. We don’t know anything. We have nothing. What the hell can we do?”
I breathed easier. It didn’t seem, for the moment, like I was going to die on the front seat of a rental Pajero in downtown Nairobi. The car’s air-conditioned interior was, again, cool enough.
“Haggerty. He’s who we have,” I said.
“Just what do you know?” Burt asked.
“The Lebanese was dead on Haggerty’s orders. He was the one sent in to out Smith. That’s what he said, and I believe him. But what the hell was Smith doing in that prison? And why did he get taken out for the revelation? By who? No, all we have is Haggerty. What were your instructions, and from who?” I waited for Burt to consider. The kind of thing we had become involved in was off the books. There was no Agency support or approval for what we were discussing.
“My Control Officer told me that there was a possibility that you might go rogue,” Burt said, his mouth twisted into a strange smile. “Its not unheard of you know, especially with…well… your track record.”
Somehow, Haggerty, probably with the support of one of the many Assistant Secretaries of State, had reached deep into Agency Operations. The violation was monumental. I reflected for a moment. Such things happened in movies, like ‘Three Days of the Condor,’ but not in real life. Not in my experience, or the experience of any of the senior agents I had ever known.
“I’m going to the embassy. You in or out?” I put my right hand on the knob of the center shift lever.
“I don’t know,” Burt answered, but his own hand did not grab for the door handle. I put the Pajero in gear and headed North on Outer Ring. I drove the car carefully, trying to think of every detail of what had happened.
“Why was the Lebanese out there in the game park? What was he doing with the Masai? They aren’t normally violent, but they had him pretty painfully tied,and in bad shape.”
I talked to myself, as Burt made no comments at all. The roads to the embassy took us through Muthaiga where the Safari Park Hotel was located. Once a retreat for British Army Officers it had grown to be my favorite hotel in all of Africa, when I could cheat the Agency out of enough money to stay there.
The embassy loomed up from one side of the road we took winding around the Kenya Teachers facility. The place was built like the concrete and steel blockhouse it had been intended to be. The previous embassy, taken out by terrorist bombs years before, had been downtown by the Railroad Station. The embassy was totally obvious in its American ugliness, even without the huge U.S. flag waving out front.
I drove around the side of the structure where a big driveway led to the underground garage. It was blocked near its entrance by huge movable chunks of stone. I stopped to wait. We didn’t wait long. A Marine Staff Sergeant walked up the ramp to our car. I sighed in relief. It was Stevens, the contingent commander. I’d known him in Hong Kong when he’d been a Buck Sergent. I wondered if he’d recognize me.
“You packing, sir?” he asked, making no motion to salute, instead moving up and down the side of the Pajero to see what he could of the vehicle. I said that we were.
“Get out and go down the driveway. They’ll see you on the camera and let you in. Leave the keys.” We did as instructed, my faith in the United States Marine Corps once more confirmed. Once inside we waited for the Staff Sergeant to return, while a PFC and a Corporal stood silently by, checking us out but not being invasive about it, or patting us down. The Staff Sergeant was buzzed through the steel door. He tossed the car keys to me, then walked past us through an open door.
“Better see the DCM about what to do. The Communications Director is out of embassy,” he threw over his shoulder. I moved to follow him, waving Burt to accompany me. The Deputy Chief of Mission was second only to Ambassador Haggerty himself. I understood the Staff Sergeant’s predicament. The Communications Director was code for Embassy CIA contact. Every embassy and consulate in the world had one. Without him to front for us, someone of upper management power would have to make decisions, which fit into my plans exactly.
Three flights of stairs up at a run brought us to a hallway inlaid with exotic woods, common to Eastern Africa. Burt and I stood catching our breath. Stevens saluted crisply, pointed at an open office doorway a few yards away, then departed back down the stairway. I walked into the office, its floor covered with a beautiful baby-blue rug so thick that my entrance was made in complete silence.
A middle-aged woman sat at a large desk facing the door, flanked by two smaller desks nearby, where two younger women sat. None of them paid immediate attention to our presence. I noted that atop the larger desk was a small nameplate with the word “Haggerty” carved across it, and presumed we were in the Ambassador’s outer office.
“Is Haggerty in?” I asked, deliberately failing to use the man’s title. I wasn’t in a formal mood. The woman looked up. A Bose Sound Machine behind here played some country tune as she appraised us. “How did I lose you, oh where did I fail…” came out of the expensive little device.
“Who’s asking?” she asked, “And what are you doing up here unannounced?”
“I’m Jack Donner and this is Burt,” I waved one hand back, as I spoke, my tone mildly respectful. I ignored her second question. I also noticed her color and expression change.
“Who let you in?” she asked, as if inquiring about pet animals, her voice becoming more demanding. The other two women stopped working and looked at us, reacting to her tone.
“Is Haggerty here or not?” I overrode her, raising my voice slightly.
“I’m Haggerty,” she shot back, standing. I noted that she was a beautiful well-formed woman.
“You’re Paul Haggerty?” I was shocked.
“No, I’m his ex-wife, Joyce. I’m the DCM.”
“They allow that?” I squeaked out.
“Who?” she said, leaning aggressively toward me, putting her hands down on the surface of the desk. I just shook my head, nonplussed, then decided to regroup. State was a weird place I hated and would never understand.
“I’m here about Smith, who died a few days back. You probably heard something about that.” I moved a step closer to her.
“Leave us,” she stood, sweeping her arm toward the two other women, who instantly filed out, closing the thick wooden door behind them. “I presume, for whatever misplaced reason, that you’re here to report the accomplishment of your mission?”
I stared at Joyce Haggerty in wonder. I had never been a part of any direct mission discussions with embassy staff before. It was unheard of in my experience.
“It would seem that just about everyone knows about that mission,” I countered, indicating my surprise, as I thought more deeply about it.
“Did you perform it successfully?” She said, crossing her arms, and looking back at me with a severe expression.
“Maybe you misunderstood something, either before, or right this minute,” I said. “I don’t report to you. I don’t take orders or mission assignments from you, and I sure as hell don’t discuss the results of such matters with you, or your husband, for that matter.”
“Ex-husband,” she said, raising her own voice. “So what are you doing here then?”
Her comment stopped me. What was I doing there? I was coming right back at a man who had somehow co-opted operations people at CIA to risk taking me out if I failed to perform to specification on a mission. But I wasn’t going to say that.
“The Lebanese told me Paul sent him in, to give the information about Smith.”
Slowly, Joyce returned to her seat, looking pensive.
“What are you going to do?” She asked, after a minute. I was surprised again. She was giving me nothing by her responses. Did she know? What did she know? How deep was she in? It was almost like being debriefed by an Agency Control Officer. You gave, you did not get. I liked her. She was bright, good-looking, enough miles on her to give her wisdom, and she didn’t take any shit.
“Paul and I are going to have a little talk,” I told her, truthfully.
“About what?” she came back.
“About what Smith was doing in that prison. About what the Lebanese was doing in that park. About why an experienced agent was killed in an allied country that couldn’t give a damn about his affiliations. And some other personal stuff.”
I didn’t tell her that I was going to have a possibly terminal discussion about someone who had ordered me dead.
“Don’t,” she stated. I saw honesty in her expression. “Go your way and leave it alone. It isn’t your job or your fight. Get on an airplane. You don’t want to be anywhere near this. You’re not that good, no matter what your reputation, otherwise you’d have just done your job.”
She knew I had not allowed the Lebanese to be killed. The longer I was in front of the woman the more she was getting out of me.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“He’s not here,” she responded, shaking her head.
“That’s not what I asked, I pushed her. Burt moved to my side.
“I’m not telling you. I need him undamaged, for the moment, and I don’t like the look of your pet gorilla.” I marveled at the woman’s courage, even if she was in her own office inside a U.S. Embassy. She knew she wasn’t in front of regular diplomatic personnel. She also had let me know that she either knew, or had guessed, that I might have good reason to be violently disposed toward her ex-husband.
“You know this is going to resolution in some fashion. I can’t let it go, not and survive out here. Look at us. We have nowhere else to take this, and I think you know it.” I looked at the man standing next to me, to make sure Joyce had not reached him emotionally, but I need not have bothered. Burt had reverted to his Knuckle-dragger role. He stood impassive, as if there had been no insult intended by the woman’s harsh words. I looked back at her, and we waited.
The CD repeated its play, the same song coming up again; “…the lights in the harbor don’t shine for me…” played quietly through the room.
“What is that song?” I asked.
“Its called ‘Sea of Heartbreak,’ she answered.
“How very appropriate,” I said. She sniffed, but I saw a fracture in her visage when she did. Quickly, she turned her head, then leaned forward to take a call. Somewhere inside the hardened career woman was a heart.
Burt and I waited some more. Finally, she was done.
“I’ll take you to him,” Joyce relented. She stood, then walked around the desk. She wore a knee length blue dress. Classy. I liked the effect, but I gave no indication. I didn’t have to, as she read me anyway.
“I don’t like people who do what you do, or in your line of work, so don’t bother with the phony charm. You have no morals left, if you had any to start with.” I could not help smiling at that. Not that she was wrong, I hadn’t resolved such issues for myself yet, but that she would say it to my face made her more attractive still.
“Just tell us where he is and you can avoid being seen in our company,” I said, not being able to avoid smiling at her last insult.
“He’s at the Safari Park Hotel, not far from here, but you’ll never find him without me, and besides, I don’t trust you…and Brutus here,” she pointed at Burt. “Nobody else out there will know what you are. None of you people look like you should.”
I wondered how I should look. We followed her, as she opened the door and headed for the stairs. It was fun to follow her. For some unaccountable reason her company made me feel human for the first time since the mission had begun.
Blood might flow across the wooden floors of the Safari Park but I would endeavor to see that it wasn’t hers. She moved fast down the stairs, getting ahead of us.
“How did I lose you, oh where did I fail…” I sang, almost inaudibly.
“On the sea of heartbreak,” Burt whispered, coming down the stairs right behind me.