|The Missing F_ctor By Daniel Lorti|
The outside dinners during his travels were taking their toll. He made a mental note to set up a golf date for the next day. The fashionable neighborhood in Newport Beach, California was quiet at this time in the morning. Diane had left early with a friend to go to Los Angeles for the day but out of habit he kept the door to the study closed. He stifled a yawn, a reminder he arrived home the prior evening from business meetings in Kuwait. The advantage of flying west was the time zones were in your favor. He enjoyed the exotic and varied cultures he encountered and formed an integral part of his profession.
He smiled as he recalled the previous evening. As usual after a long absence, he and Diane enjoy a romantic interlude starting with a cocktail followed by a candlelight dinner complete with a bottle of fine wine. He sighed contently and reached into his briefcase. He placed his notebook computer, passport and Motorola satellite phone on the desk. It was a perfect time to write trip reports, go through the pile of mail and check the messages which had accumulated. He took another drink of coffee and set the cup down. His steel-blue eyes took in the comfortable warm feeling of the beam ceiling, paneled walls, the built-in floor-to-ceiling bookcase and cabinets, the padded high-back armchairs and walnut plank floor with the forest-green throw rug. The large flat screen PC monitor and the accompanying keyboard were to the right of the desk. The cabinets housed locked filing cabinets, television, fax machine and printer on slide-away drawers to maintain the traditional atmosphere of the room. A framed oil painting of an old English foxhunting scene complete with riders on horses, groundskeeper and barking dogs hung on the wall behind his desk. The double French doors on the side of the study each contained a leaded glass panel with clear English Flemish glass panes and opened to the backyard. They filled the study with distorted rays of the early May sun. A slight breeze disturbed the trees in the rear yard. As was typical, the weather was cool to start the morning with a promise of being pleasantly warm by noontime.
The ring of the satellite phone interrupted his reverie. Jim checked the display out of habit. He answered with a cautious hello.
â€œFactor, is that you?â€ questioned a familiar voice with a sense of urgency.
A frown appeared on his face as he recognized the voice. â€œCarlos? Why are you calling?â€
â€œJust listen,â€ was the clipped response. â€œThereâ€™s a real serious problem. Borichov and I have been made. I just managed to get away. Iâ€™m on my way south if you read me. Borichov thinks you did it and has made arrangements on you. Theyâ€™re already on the way, you understand? Get the hell out of there right now and get lost.â€
The phone went dead before Factor could reply. He stared at the phone and slowly placed it down. He swallowed and fought an impulse to react. A sense of dread coupled with the sudden chill in his bones took his breath away. He sat erect in his chair and willed himself to relax. It was if a block of ice had been placed against his bare back. He stretched his legs and took deep breaths. He was keenly aware survival in his business demanded paranoia and deliberateness in reading between the lines. Procrastination was never an option.
To take his mind off the danger Carlos Sengrettiâ€™s call represented, Jim reviewed the past. He was a first-generation American of Italian and French parents born and raised in New York City. He learned to survive and thrive on the streets. After graduating from high school at seventeen his father, recognizing Jim needed both discipline and direction, encouraged him to enlist in the Air Force over the objections of his mother. His aptitude and intelligence, with a modest command of language skills, found him assigned to Air Force bases on foreign soils. More often than not, his assignments were prefaced by tough survival training curriculums. After four years in the Air Force, he enrolled at Arizona State University. He received bachelor and master degrees in electrical engineering. It was during his final year he met Diane who was getting her degree in communications. Her beauty, resourcefulness and independence attracted him. She went to work for a large corporation and advanced in a public relations position. They were married three years after they graduated.
Eager to get back in the defense area after college Jim went to work for a major aerospace and defense contractor which, in turn, led to work under subcontract to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies analyzing U.S., Soviet and Warsaw Pact radar and weapon systems. After the Cold War ended, his efforts included analyses of NATO systems. Aerospace employers sent him internationally to gather information and market their sophisticated defense products in Europe and the Middle East, most often to third world countries and their militaries. He acquired useful and powerful contacts resulting in a transition to an independent consultant. Thereafter, he became registered with the State Department as an arms dealer. He preferred to work alone and, as time progressed, became acutely aware of illicit arms dealing. He rejected the temptation to participate in the trafficking of illegal goods. That is, until he met Carlos Sengretti.
Last December should have been the end of his involvement. Jim suspected Carlos had been careless or greedy, probably both and the arms deal had been uncovered by the U.S. Customs Service. Apparently Mikhail Borichov surmised Jim was responsible for the leak and, seeking vengeance, placed a contract with a Russian hit team to kill him. Sengretti must have managed to elude U.S. authorities and was on his way to South America. Jim realized if he was to save his family and himself, he had to disappear immediately without a trace. He harbored no illusions it was an empty threat. He had witnessed too much about Borichovâ€™s methods of business and temperament to believe he could reason with him.
His concern was Diane and how he could soften the blow. He couldnâ€™t reveal any of the information he possessed and place her in danger. Nor could he tell her where he was going. He had to make a clean break with his present life. Further, he had to make unpredictable decisions to protect them both, buy time to assess his predicament, and determine a future course of action against the threat. Jim glanced at his watch and saw barely a half-hour had passed since Sengrettiâ€™s call. He calmly rose from his chair and left the study. He climbed the stairs to the master bedroom where he gathered jeans, shirts, underwear, toiletries, sneakers and a windbreaker into a small travel bag. He returned to the study and opened the wall safe. He extracted $10,000 in cash and placed it in the bag. Diane would have access to ample finances to start again. He placed his watch and wedding band in the safe. He pulled out his wallet and pocketed some of the money leaving the credit cards. It also went into the safe. He glanced at his sat phone. He doubted the police would go through the trouble of checking the calls. It wouldnâ€™t matter, there was nothing incriminating. As far as the computers were concerned, the data was protected by password and encryption. If anyone happened to gain access, without a roadmap they would just be saturated with clients, customers and products information.
He exited at the rear of the house. In his intense anxiety, the sounds of the door closing and latching, birds singing and occasional passing traffic were amplified to distraction. He shook off his apprehension and looked back at the house one final time. â€œIâ€™ll be back, Diane. I promise.â€ Carefully he made his way down the rear hillside slope, thankful the foliage masked his departure.
Jim walked away and reached the end of the block. He turned his head and slowly looked both ways to check for any strange vehicles. He saw an older model car with Florida license plates and two occupants driving away from him. The hairs in back of his neck stood. At once he chided himself, donâ€™t appear suspicious or youâ€™ll attract attention. He waited until the car turned before making his way along the brush to the back entrance of the tract. Take a deep breath and walk casually, he thought.
He had no doubt Sengretti told the truth. What did surprise him was Carlos took the time to warn him. Everything he learned about the man indicated a selfish and uncaring attitude. Enough of that; concentrate on whatâ€™s going on. How much time do I have, two or three days? Iâ€™ve got to lose myself. Think. I need a disguise. Anything changing my appearance will help no matter how simple or mundane it is. How about transportation? Taxis, trains and buses donâ€™t require ID and cash is routinely accepted.
He made his way to a local gas station, bought a baseball cap and sunglasses, and stashed them in the bag. After walking another block, he hailed a passing taxi and directed it to the downtown area within a few blocks of the Santa Ana Greyhound Bus Terminal. On the way, they passed a novelty store. He stopped the cab, got out and walked back to the shop. He entered and searched the aisles and found a small theatrical makeup kit. Okay, assume someone is searching and checks taxi records. Letâ€™s put a little confusion into the process. In a nearby alley, he put on the cap and sun glasses along with a beard from the kit.
At the bus terminal he separately bought tickets to three destinations; San Diego, Tucson and San Francisco. He went into the menâ€™s room where the beard was discarded and replaced with a moustache. The cap and sunglasses went into the bag. He acknowledged it wasnâ€™t a great disguise. Hell, itâ€™s not even a good one but uncertainty and confusion was what he wanted to accomplish. It should throw anybody off at first glance. He boarded the bus heading for San Francisco. The long bus trip would give him time to think about his next move. He was mindful Diane, used to his jobâ€™s idiosyncrasies, would only notify the police of his disappearance after a number of days when she didnâ€™t hear from him. He planned to avoid the resultant missing person search.
He couldnâ€™t quell the jackhammer thumping of his heart as he unwillingly thought of the June the year before, when he attended the Paris Air Show and the ensuing events.
Chapter Two â€“ The Proposition
The Previous Year, Friday, June 15
Jim Factor had flown to Paris a few days before the opening of the Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget Airport just north of the city. The elite international aerospace trade fair was held every other year. It displayed the latest high technology hardware by global defense contractors and was ritually attended by military representatives from countries around the world who comprised the customer base. The temperature was not yet uncomfortably warm and rain was not in the immediate forecast. Crowds of Parisians, students, tourists and expatriates roamed the streets of the city while half again their number flooded the outdoor cafÃ©s. They waved glasses of wine and cigarettes animatedly as they conversed, oblivious to background music, the neighboring tables or the street sounds about them. Waiters wearing their traditional black vests over white shirts with white aprons around their waists deftly maneuvered their way around tables taking and delivering orders, miraculously without incident.
Jim preferred the Queen Elizabeth Hotel on the Av. Pierre 1er de Serbie, right around the corner from the prestigious Georges V Hotel and the popular promenade for the ostentatious aristocrats of old, the Avenue des Champs-Ã‰lysÃ©es. The Queen Elizabeth was far less pretentious than Georges V but picturesque and more comfortable in its own right with deep piled sofas and 18th century wall-coverings. The small ground floor restaurant served a cuisine as good as anywhere in Paris. His third-floor suite contained 18th and 19th century furniture, a four-poster bed and a marble bathroom. A terrace overlooked the narrow, cobblestone street where activity went on to well after midnight, and street cleaners and delivery trucks started the day at sunrise. An early summer wind blew the scent of opened blossoms and bakery smells in through the opened window. He could have requested an inside room facing the quiet rear grounds but fancied the day-long echoing sounds of people on foot or scooters and traffic horns. Noise never disturbed his sleep.
Jim began his obligatory appearance at the Paris Air Show. It afforded him an excellent opportunity to visit with contractor clients and visiting customers in the week before and during the exhibition.
When he arrived back at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel lobby in the late afternoon of the opening day, he was given a phone message. Monsieur Carlos Sengretti desired to have a business meeting with him in the evening. He struggled to recall that Sengretti was a Florida-based small arms broker and puzzled there could be anything in common between them. He took the small lift up to his room where he took off his jacket and loosened his tie. He sat down at the desk, called the number on the message and was put through by a hotel switchboard operator.
When it was answered, he said hesitantly, â€œMr. Sengretti? This is Jim Factor. Iâ€™m returning your call.â€
An amiable voice with a South American accent responded, â€œMr. Factor. Thank you for contacting me so quickly. I would like to meet with you regarding a business matter tonight if itâ€™s not terribly inconvenient. Have you eaten yet?â€
Jim wrinkled his brow. â€œNo, I havenâ€™t. Could you tell me what you would like to discuss?â€
â€œIn due time, Mr. Factor. I will pick you up in front of your hotel at eight. I will explain over dinner and I assure you it will be most interesting and profitable.â€
Jim hung up the phone and shrugged. He hadnâ€™t any plans for the evening so he might as well see what Sengretti had on his mind. Unbuttoning his shirt he decided he had time to clean up. He was curious about the call. Perhaps Sengretti had run into a possible customer demand for a big ticket item and wanted to pass it on for a finderâ€™s fee. In this business, it rarely happened but who knows. Well, no harm in checking.
Sengretti arrived in a taxi promptly on the hour. Jim noticed the onset of dusk was accompanied by a drop in temperature. He climbed in the cab and they shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. He started to speak but Sengretti shook his head. Jim looked closely at the man by his side. Sengretti was short and slender with a square chin on a narrow face, long dark hair combed straight back, thick sideburns, a thin mustache under a thin nose and a dark complexion. He wore a diamond stud earring and had a gold bracelet on his right wrist. He was dressed in a dark green, long sleeve silk shirt, brown slacks and hand-tooled leather loafers. The man definitely was South American.
The cab took them to the La Taverne du Sergent Recruteur on a narrow side street within the proximity of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The restaurant, he knew from past experience, offered country French cuisine served on wooden tables and chairs. They entered and were seated at the back of the restaurant according to the wishes of Monsieur Sengretti. The room was not yet filled at this relatively early hour. Jim waited until the waiter departed after depositing a wooden bowl containing various types of sausages with a cutting knife and a bowl of vegetables along with the house bottle of red wine.
He impatiently demanded, â€œOkay Mr. Sengretti. What is it you want to talk about that couldnâ€™t wait until tomorrow?â€
Sengretti poured each of them a glass of wine. He raised the glass and appraised the color and viscosity. Satisfied, he began. â€œMay I call you Jim? And I am Carlos. I am in a position with a client, who shall remain nameless, to make a very handsome commission on an arms sale but I require your assistance as a consultant.â€ Before Jim could protest, he continued as if anticipating the response. â€œOh yes, I am aware you function only with major clients and are only concerned with legitimate arms deals but I beg you to listen to my proposition before you answer. This is for your ears only.â€
Jim sipped his wine, curious as to where this was going. â€œGo on,â€ he said.
Sengretti took a drink of wine, paused to look about the restaurant at the scattered diners, and explained in a lowered voice. â€œWithin the past two months, I have been contacted by a man who introduced himself as having interests in South America and I suspect is affiliated with a drug cartel. Heâ€™s in the market for sophisticated weaponry and gave me his requirements.â€ He hesitated for effect and took a drink of wine. â€œI went through the list; the content isnâ€™t important for now. I told him the cost would easily exceed $10 million. I felt then, as you do now, my time was being wasted. I observed no change in his expression upon hearing my estimate. Rather, he surprised me by indicating it was acceptable.â€ Seeing Factorâ€™s skeptical expression, Sengretti added, â€œTo test his credibility I informed him I required a $500,000 retainer and sixty days to make confidential inquiries on the availability of his requirements and explore logistical arrangements.â€
Jim raised his eyebrows at the substantial sum requested and nodded his approval at the precaution taken. â€œI gather that was the end of it or did he make a counter-offer?â€
â€œNo to both counts. I received the total amount within forty-eight hours in an offshore bank account I provided. I also received future contact instructions.â€
He shrugged. â€œImpressive. How does that concern me?â€
â€œI am interested in hiring an experienced arms broker such as you who would guide my best interests while I conduct the necessary transactions. I am willing to pay cash for your counsel. Shall we say $75,000 as a retainer every three months, in advance, plus a fee when we meet and expenses?â€ Seeing he had Jimâ€™s attention, Sengretti continued. â€œIn the meantime I have made quiet inquiries and been referred to a Russian national, Mikhail Borichov. Do you know him?â€
â€œNot personally. Iâ€™ve heard the name.â€
â€He has been presented as a broker of weapons with contacts in the governments of Russia, Bulgaria and Lithuania and reported ties to the Russian mafia. He claims to associate with a well-known Bulgarian military electronics company, KAS Engineering. He states heâ€™s in a position to sell a whole range of weaponry from Kalashnikov assault rifles to rocket-propelled grenade launchers at low prices through Cortex International, his company in Bulgaria which is licensed to manufacture Russian weapons.â€ Sengretti paused for effect. â€œNow, for the major requirement of my customer; he is interested in acquiring a respectable number of Russian Igla SA-18 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles or SAMs with infrared or IR heat seekers designed, as you know, to destroy low-flying airplanes and helicopters. The customer would prefer the U.S. Stinger SAM but he realizes the weapon is inaccessible and, anyway, wants to maintain a low profile.â€
Jim picked up his wine glass and took a moment to reflect on the proposition. Hell. Sengretti could get much of the information off the Internet and other sources. All he would be doing is pointing out the pitfalls and suggesting alternative avenues. He couldnâ€™t deny the fee was good. The money could be routed to his Swiss account to further isolate his involvement. His interest thus peaked, Jim stated. â€œYou mentioned cash. I take it weâ€™re talking U.S. dollars. If I agree to assist you, I would want the money wired to a bank account in Europe. Is that a problem?â€
â€œNot at all.â€
â€œOkay, hereâ€™s my second condition. I want no part of the actual implementation of any transaction. My only role will be to strategize, identify potential problems and issues, and suggest ways of circumventing them. The execution of any scheme developed is between you and Borichov. My exposure is to be limited to just the two of you. If these conditions are acceptable, Iâ€™m your consultant.â€
They shook hands and settled back.
â€œJim, I have a question relating to your business if you donâ€™t mind.â€
â€œIs it true your services are paid exclusively by commission?â€
Jim nodded. â€œIt is for the most part. I front the expenses which can be significant since a sale, if it occurs, can take up to eighteen months. Itâ€™s the reason I maintain a number of clients and products. Occasionally, Iâ€™ll ask for a retainer or fee when information gathering is requested. How about you?â€
â€œMy business is different. I insist on a large up-front payment with the final due before delivery. Obviously, in many cases I cannot rely on my customerâ€™s integrity. My suppliers demand full payment before the products leave their possession. My fee comes off the top.â€
As Jim prepared for bed, he thought back to the meeting. He knew the arms transaction being considered would be illegal. On the other hand, he consoled himself again with the knowledge Sengretti could get the advice from others. He had made it clear he could back out anytime. Anyway, heâ€™d soon find out if it was a serious proposition. He looked out the open window onto the street and took a big breath. To say he enjoyed his living as an arms dealer brokering, arranging and facilitating arms deals was an understatement. He liked the independence which suited him fine. Interfacing with people was relegated to clients and customers. Business-wise he preferred European defense companies to their U.S. counterparts principally because he didnâ€™t need to obtain prior written approval for proposed transactions from the State Department. In addition, the commissions were greater since his international clients didnâ€™t concern themselves with the U.S. 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He didnâ€™t have any problem that the law unilaterally prohibited American companies from bribing foreign or domestic government officials or employees but it indirectly capped commissions under the inference large amounts were an indication of under the table payments. This led U.S. arms dealers like him to seek international clients and directly contributed to an increase in foreign arms sales at the expense of American companies. Jim observed the increasing number of businessmen, with military and security backgrounds who went into arms brokering. In some cases, they obtained small arms as cheaply as possible and shipped them by circuitous international routes to conflict-torn countries and regions of human rights abuse. Mikhail Borichov was no exception. Jim chose to stay away from arms dealing destined for individuals and organizations. Instead, he focused on technology driven weapon systems whose end user was a legitimate third world countryâ€™s military. A major reason for his success was the technical expertise he possessed to understand the theory and operational complexities of the systems he sold, and detailed knowledge of the competitionâ€™s systems from his years as an intelligence analyst.
He admonished himself. Come on, Jim. Letâ€™s not continue with this holier than thou bullshit. Not to say he hadnâ€™t bent the laws. Years in the arms trade and exposure to large money deals had subdued his moral unrest. Some of his commissions were siphoned to his numbered account at the Union Bancaire PrivÃ©e in Geneva, Switzerland. His familyâ€™s vacations in Europe were financed by wire transfers to local European banks from that account. His wife Diane knew nothing about the existence of the account or of his customers or the arms transactions consummated over the years. It had nothing to do with trust; it was that the business was not one which lent itself to sharing with family and friends in these days of political correctness, not to mention the requirement to divulge overseas bank accounts to the IRS.
He sat before his notebook computer and instituted an Internet search on Mikhail Borichov. Although it was established he would be just a third party consultant to the planned arms deal, he felt the extra precaution was necessary. He saw Borichov was no stranger to the Internet. He was listed as a prominent small arms weapons supplier whose multitude of wares included assault rifles, machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, and mortars. He profited from systematic proliferation of small wars and local strife in mainly smaller nations. Africa, in 1998 alone, lay claim to eleven major armed conflicts and was the most war-torn region in the world. It was alleged Borichov supplied weapons to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in and to governments directly or indirectly involved in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Angola, Burundi, Chad Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe were mentioned. There were cryptic references to the ruthlessness of Borichov in his suppression of competitors and unscrupulous dealings with opposing sides of conflicts accepting cash, diamonds and other valuable commodities from warring factions.
He closed the computer and leaned back. He resolved to tread carefully in his dealings with Sengretti and Borichov, and terminate the association prior to their arms deals implementation.
Borichov was clearly a dangerous adversary.
Before the Paris Air Show had run its course that week, Jim received a confirmed deposit to his Swiss bank account of $75,000.
Chapter Three â€“ Arms Deal Meetings
The Previous Year, Tuesday, July 10
The first meeting between the parties was scheduled less than a month after the Paris Air Show. Sengretti contacted Jim from Florida and confirmed the involvement of Mikhail Borichov. Sengretti and Borichov had concurred the meetings would take place randomly in large European cities. The first was to be held in DÃ¼sseldorf, Germany.
As the capital of the Federal State of Nordrhein-Westfalen since 1946, DÃ¼sseldorf had developed into an important political and economic metropolis in the course of the twentieth century. Jim was familiar with the city as a result of trips to several German firms. He had flown into the Rhein-Ruhr Airport several times. He gathered his luggage and went outside to stand in line at the curb for a taxi. The weather was agreeable although the blue sky held patches of gray clouds. He welcomed visiting these old cities. Europe for him was a comfortable business and vacation ground. For prudence and efficiency, he had arranged his travel schedule to attend the meeting at the back half of a visit to Blohm+Voss AG Naval Shipbuilding in Hamburg. It was a simple matter to take a Lufthansa Air shuttle down in the late afternoon.
Jim was aware the traditional luxury hotels were situated in the center of the city. He favored the Steigenberger Parkhotel, situated on the KÃ¶nigsallee, a world-famous boulevard with exquisite jewelry shops and pricey fashion outlets like Chanel and Prada. Only a few yards away from the KÃ¶nigsallee laid the heart of DÃ¼sseldorf: the historic Old Town. Sometimes known as â€˜the longest bar in the world,' DÃ¼sseldorf 's Altstadt contained some two hundred bars, cafÃ©s and restaurants. Despite its relatively small size of just a few blocks, large crowds flocked here on the weekends filling most of the bars to bursting point. When closing time loomed, the revelers continued partying until the wee hours in one of the nearby clubs. The Altstadt wasn't just for night owls. Row upon row of atmospheric old town houses had been converted into shops and boutiques. The main railway station was centrally situated and endowed with a striking clock tower. Five times a day, locals and tourists gathered in front of the carillon to marvel at the glockenspiel, a chiming clock with mechanical figures that re-enact the story of Schneider Wibbel. Wibbel was a dressmaker who insulted Napoleon and was sent to prison. Instead of going to prison himself, Wibbel sent his apprentice who died in jail, leading everyone to believe Wibbel was dead while in reality he was alive and kicking. Over the centuries, Wibbel has come to represent the typical, clever Rhinelander. Schneider-Wibbel-Gasse, a small street in the center of Old Town, was named after the cunning dressmaker.
Borichov had selected the ultra-exclusive Schloss Hugenpoet housed for over fifty years in the historical Wasserburg or Castle on the Water. The hotel had a total of twenty-five rooms and offered small private conference rooms. It was actually located in Kettwig, a suburb of Essen, but easily reached quickly by car from DÃ¼sseldorf . On arrival, Jim found the hotel lobby to his taste as he checked in. The eventful history of the Wasserburg was displayed through various precious features such as the marble staircase and collection of art works. His reserved luxury room contained 17th century furniture and provided all the necessary comforts. An antique desk in the corner of the room held a dinner invitation and the name of the next day conference room.
Jim harbored a little trepidation about the evening and the uncertainty of what he was getting into. He comforted himself with the thought he could get out anytime he wanted, no questions asked. On the other hand, heâ€™d been advanced $75,000 just to listen and comment. What could be the harm in it? Still, he couldnâ€™t shake off the uneasy feeling. He took the elevator down to the ground floor and made his way to the restaurant. He gave the Matre dâ€™ the name of the reservation and was guided between tables to a private booth at the corner of the dining room. His two dinner companions were already seated. They rose and Sengretti made the introductions. Carlos wore a brown double-breasted black suit, light blue shirt, and black and red striped tie. Jim noticed his choice of jewelry was more subdued. Borichov was dress in a dark blue, pinstriped Sevile Row suit expertly tailored to minimize his upper-body bulk. A breast pocket handkerchief matched his royal blue tie. Bushy eyebrows, a close haircut, large jowls, thick neck and high forehead made up most of his face. His recessed brown eyes reflected intelligence and hardness.
Mikhail Borichov smiled and extended his hand. â€œMr. Factor. I know of your work and am not a little jealous of your elite clientele. Itâ€™s a sincere pleasure to meet you. Shall we dispense with the formalities? Please call me Mikhail.â€
Jim relaxed at the warm greeting. â€œNice to meet you as well, Mikhail.â€
They sat down. Borichov set the tone of the dinner conversation. â€œPerhaps we can learn about each other without discussing the reason for our meeting until tomorrow. There are several dishes I can recommend for your pleasure. We will start with a drink.â€
He motioned to a waiter who stood on the outskirts of the booth and orders were given. When the drinks arrived, they toasted to a successful business transaction and to each other. True to his earlier suggestion, they ate and talked in social and general business terms.
Wednesday, July 11
The following morning they met at nine in one of the hotelâ€™s comfortable conference rooms. Borichov opened a large briefcase and placed an electronic unit on the table. He explained. â€œBefore we begin, I want to cover some security issues. This is a KAS Engineering state-of-the-art microwave scanner and white noise frequency generator. It transmits across frequency bands to search for any listening or recording devices using a principle of retro-reflection. It then cloaks discussions with an appropriate jamming signal. It is strictly precautionary. In addition, it is absolutely essential you purchase and use phone cards at all times from public telephones when it is necessary to discuss details with one another. Cell phones used in public are safe as a rule but I strongly recommend you keep the conversations vague just in case. Lastly, keep note taking to a minimum employing vague or shorthand references.â€ Satisfied he had their attention and agreement, he turned towards Jim. â€œYou have the floor.â€
Jim lectured them on the issues confronting an arms sale comprised of weapons banned by U.S., European Union or EU, NATO treaty and international law. He pointed to a rareness of agreement in all of the entities and the lack of international arms transfer controls; weaknesses that were open to exploitation. â€œThe unilateral action of the U.S. in attempting to enforce an embargo of illicit arms into Central and South America has to be taken seriously. Keep in mind that the EU will indirectly cooperate through their inspections of international cargo egressing from the Mediterranean.â€
He pointed to the wall screen. â€œThere are five main avenues used to circumvent the regulatory process and the degree of complexity is related to the breadth of the arms sale. The first is the use of loopholes and enclaves of weak regulation between national legal systems to conduct legal but unethical business via third party countries. Second, one places a reliance on personal contacts and networks more than corporate identities. The third consists of arranging complex international banking transactions and company formations in cooperative countries. The fourth involves the use of agents and techniques employed in the modern transport industry for covert deliveries to sensitive destinations. The fifth avenue relies on corruptible officials and weak law enforcement.â€
Borichov observed as he inclined his head towards the screen, â€œMy business with the African continent and Middle East were mostly straightforward arms deals. I have utilized some of these measures you have described though not all at one time. However, I acknowledge the scope and the large financial gain of our proposed venture. Do you have any recommendations to propose at this time?â€
Jim nodded. â€œI propose drop shipping be considered in conjunction with creating a documentation trail and money laundering. It will require an experienced transporter. The sheer physical size of the arms dictates a sea shipment. I donâ€™t have to caution you against an approach requiring accurate records especially about paymasters, payments and cash depositories.â€
Sengretti chimed in, â€œThe transportation Iâ€™ve used in the past are aircraft, trucks and boats. It seems to me transportation is the least of the problems we have to worry about.â€
Jim countered, â€œOn the surface it seems so but itâ€™s not as simple as it sounds. Thereâ€™ll be Customs officials at every border, seaport and airport whoâ€™ll want to inspect the paperwork. Some may even expect bribes. Remember, any suspicion or misstep may result in a wholesale inspection of the cargo.â€
Borichov smiled knowingly and added his agreement to the retort. â€œQuite so. Generating unimpeachable documentation will be extremely important if this deal is to succeed.â€
The discussion between the three men on the virtues and application of each of the possible avenues went on for a second day. At the end of the last session, Borichov recommended he and Factor develop a preliminary scheme that could be expanded upon at the next meeting. This time it would take place in Amsterdam. Once again he would make the arrangements.
Wednesday, August 8
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Jim arrived at the Amsterdam Airport from London on a wind-swept rainy day. The airport was only ten miles southwest of the city center but the traffic and the extreme shortage of parking places in Amsterdam proper made a taxi convenient for transportation. From previous visits he considered Amsterdam, The Netherlands' capital, one of the world's best hangouts. The city was a canny blend of old and new; scattered art installations hung off 17th-century eaves. Autos give way to bicycles and triple-strength monk-made beer was served in steel and glass grand cafÃ©s. Many of Amsterdam's canals were filled in around the start of the twentieth century, mainly for sanitary reasons. The remaining waterways were still fairly dirty but he knew firsthand there was nothing like seeing Amsterdam by boat. The houses looked impossibly balanced, leaning, looming and jostling on both sides of the canal. Small colorful cars lined the canals like a row of metallic flowers. Bridges arched over the water, some of them opening for tall water traffic; and all those magnificent houseboats, ranging from restored barges overflowing with plants and pets peering from the portholes to sleek purpose-built 'arks' with feature windows and sundecks.
The last time here he had come with Diane. She read in a tourist brochure Amsterdam had over half a million bicycles, an ideal way to get around although you needed to get used to the idea of having your bike stolen. The brochure also stated that Amsterdam, as a cosmopolitan cauldron, had been enticing migrants and non-conformists for decades. It was a thriving city and one of the hardest for travelers to leave, judging by the number of expatriates that hung around the bars and coffee houses. This made it an ideal meeting place where nationalities blended into the cultural atmosphere. Jim considered Borichovâ€™s preoccupation with caution on the extreme side but agreed with the carefulness expended. Actually, he enjoyed the meetings and appreciated the deliberateness and thoughtfulness of the planning process.
The taxi took forty-five minutes to reach the Krasnapolsky, a renowned hotel on Dam Square facing the Royal Palace. An executive room had been reserved for Mr. Factor. The room had enormous walls, red satin wallpaper, ornate period furniture, old embroidered throw rugs on polished wooden floors, a ten-foot sofa with heavily padded arms and gold tinged pattern, a large wall tapestry, and two large windows. A bottle of champagne with a white linen cloth about its neck nestled in a bucket by the table along with a basket of fruit. A small, white desk with thin ornate legs held a dinner invitation and the following dayâ€™s private conference room information. In the evening they gathered in the dining room and kept to the format of exchanging pleasantries.
Thursday, August 9
The mood of the meeting convened in one of the private conference rooms of the hotel was upbeat. Borichov once again went through the electronic cleansing ritual and when satisfied started the presentation by declaring; â€œThe conceived scheme we are to discuss was designed to make the arms transaction appear legitimate from the very beginning. Jim has been extremely instrumental in identifying weaknesses and hazards, and suggesting possible workaround solutions. It relies on a combination of elements such as front companies on both sides of the Atlantic, money laundering, bribing government officials, and drop shipping. Accordingly, our first step requires Carlos to set up a front company in both Florida and New York while I will be responsible for setting up bank accounts on the European side to conduct money transfers without questions or major documentation.â€
Sengretti spoke up. â€œMy client wants assurances the product is exactly what he has ordered. He wonâ€™t put up any money without proof.â€
Borichov nodded and replied. â€œI expected his demand for verification. Your customer will need to put up another sum of goodwill money to cover our time and expenses, shall we say $1 million. When it is received, we shall start executing the scheme and provide the necessary evidence. Does he wish to directly see the product?â€
â€œI canâ€™t speak for him there. When this meeting ends, Iâ€™ll change my flight plans and meet with him. Iâ€™ll bring up both subjects.â€
â€œCarlos, one more thing; the less people who know the details associated with getting the weapons to your customer, the safer we all will be. Be prudent on offering explanations. I wait to hear from you before the next meeting is planned. At that time we shall go into the details so Jim can critique the arrangements.â€
They broke up shortly after the presentation. Borichov left immediately for the airport and his private plane. Jim and Carlos were staying overnight before taking their airline flights. They met for dinner in the hotel restaurant where they discussed the events in lowered voices careful not to divulge details.
Carlos sipped on the wine. â€œYou know Jim, when we first started out two months ago I wondered if I was overly cautious by bringing you on as a consultant. Iâ€™d have to say it was one of the best decisions I ever made. You know the intricacies of arms dealing and youâ€™re doing a fine job of keeping us from tripping over our feet.â€
Jim lifted his wine glass. â€œThanks, Carlos. Itâ€™s been interesting to say the least. I am curious to hear if your client will step up to the next phase of the venture. After that, you and Borichov will have your hands full developing the details of the transactions. I am anxious to see where itâ€™ll be headed.â€
Monday, August 13
Carlos Sengretti arrived in Miami, went through Customs, and took an airport limousine to his home. He dumped his suitcase on the bed and went into the living room to make a drink. He had just spent three days in Medellin, Columbia with the Cali cartelâ€™s leaders discussing the type of weapons sought and their estimated costs. This time he was treated with deference. He did not reveal details of his business associates and offered to take a representative of the cartel with him to Russia to witness the shoulder-fired SAM in an actual test. They declined the invitation fearing that the potential for exposure from any overseas trip would jeopardize their security. Instead, they insisted on proof in the form of a videotape which shows Sengretti witnessing the firing. The $1 million installment would be wired to his Cayman Islands bank account within the month. He chose to wait until the transfer went through before notifying Borichov and Factor. After that, he had things to do. He made up his mind Factor should accompany them on the Russian trip.
Thursday, September 6
Borichov set up the meeting with KB Mashinostroeniya, the Design Bureau in Reutov, Russia, located in Central Russia not far from Moscow. The huge complex with test ranges and a landing strip occupied over ten square miles. Borichov served as the Russian translator for Factor and Sengretti when they met with senior officials. He explained the purpose of the visit was to obtain technical information and a videotape of a missile firing for an unnamed customer who was interested in purchasing a quantity of Igla SA-18 Grouse SAMs.
Factor was particularly interested in the proceedings since in the past he had been privy to Stinger SAM live firings in U.S. Army exercises. He knew the Russians had obtained black market Stingers left over from their war in Afghanistan and performed reverse engineering to bring their earlier versions of the missile to a more advanced state. They were told earlier in the year the Kolomna Machine-Building Design Bureau, also located in the area, earned about $40 million in a deal for the delivery of over two-hundred Igla portable SAMs. They were prepared to give them a good price of $4 million for twenty-five of the missiles.
Jim closely observed the canister, sight setup and even the firing protocol was similar to the U.S. missile. Preparing for firing at a target flare mounted on a distant tower, a technician placed the missile tube on his right shoulder and aimed the missile. Jim noted he carefully made sure it was balanced on his shoulder. The Igla system obviously was heavier than Stingerâ€™s thirty-five pounds. Satisfied, the technician activated a bottle of nitrogen to cool the missileâ€™s IR sensor. An emitted high-pitched sound signaled the missile seeker had detected and locked onto the target. The operator pulled the trigger launching the missile.
At one side, a cameraman filmed the sequence and the subsequent impact of the missile with the tower. He had been directed to make sure only Sengretti was present in the video for the entire test since Borichov and Factor had previously made it clear they were to be excluded. Borichov informed Jim he already had a license to manufacture the older SA-16 Gimlet model. Accordingly, it had earlier been decided Cortex would purchase the updated missiles and receive shipment. Satisfied with the visit and the weaponâ€™s performance, they needed to await the outcome of Sengrettiâ€™s next customer meeting.
Wednesday, September 19
Jim was ecstatic when he heard Milan was to be the location for the next meeting. In keeping with his previous practice of scheduling prior visits to clients, he flew into Marseille, France the day before to meet with Dassault Electronique in St. Cloud, France, an aircraft avionics manufacturer. Northern Italy loomed in his heritage and he always enjoyed the trips made there whether for business or vacation. One of his clients, Alenia Aeronautica, an Italian aerospace company, had a large division near Milan. Al-though other visitors normally shunned rental cars in favor of taxis, he was comfortable driving in the city. Milanâ€™s layout is best understood as a historic nucleus around the Cathedral, from which a star-shaped axis of arteries spread through modern suburbs to the ring road. One had to cope with street signs which were largely unreadable at night because they were generally situated on the upper unlit sides of building corners.
He had taken a short flight into Malpensa, Milanâ€™s largest airport thirty miles northwest of the city, handling transcontinental and other international flights. Situated on the flat plains of the Po Valley, Milan is the capital of Lombardy and Italyâ€™s richest and second largest city. Wealthy and cosmopolitan, the Milanese had a reputation as successful business people, equally at home and overseas. Embracing tradition, sophistication and ambition in equal measure, they were just as likely to follow opera at La Scala as their shares on the cityâ€™s stock market or their chosen football team AC or Inter Milan, at the San Siro Stadium. Jim was aware visitors were generally not drawn to the city for its culture which he considered a pity since the city center had many museums and a particularly good selection of world-class art exhibitions and individual pieces. The center possessed an attractive number of quarters where a cocktail of architectural styles â€“ the grandeur of Imperial Austria, the grace of Renaissance Italy and the optimistic bravado of the Belle Epoque stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a very modern and stylish effect. Milan remained the capital of Italyâ€™s automobile industry and financial markets, however, its fashion houses stole the limelight. The sunny and mild climate always brought out the genuine warmth of the regionâ€™s inhabitants.
Jim drove to the Grand Hotel et De Milan. Once home to composer Giuseppe Verdi for twenty years, it was located on one edge of Milanâ€™s Quadrilateral now regarded as the home of Milanese fashion, only steps away from the La Scala Theater. He had to hand it to Borichov; the man knew his way around Europe. As before, a suite was reserved in his name. The gracious guest suite was individually designed and decorated with Italian fine fabrics, parquet floors, objetâ€™s dâ€™art, period furniture, marble bathrooms, and state-of-the-art amenities. In a separate area in the second room, he found up-to-date technology for Internet access, direct-dial telephones with voice-mail, fax, additional phone lines, and video and stereo equipment. A message on the desk gave the instructions for reaching the ground floorâ€™s elegant lounge reserved for his business meetings. The Restaurante Don Carlos held his reservation for eight in the evening.
He unpacked and changed. Promptly on the hour, he stood in front of the restaurant. The dining room had terra-cotta floors, clean white walls hung with dramatic contemporary paintings, large windows overlooking the outside street, and discreet round tables topped with white linen, crystal glassware and candles. He was shown to the table where Borichov and Sengretti were already seated. They greeted each other warmly and sat down to the initial offering of wine and bread. Business would wait as usual until the next morning.
Thursday, September 20
Borichov took the floor, opened his briefcase and performed his routine electronic sweep. Signaling all was well, he deferred to Sengretti who stood to one side with papers and a videotape cartridge in his hand.
Sengretti began. â€œAs you know, my last meeting with the customer was in August. As per the customerâ€™s instructions, a videotape was made of the Igla missile system and the test firing.â€ Carlos proceeded to insert the cartridge in a VCR and played the tape complete with a Spanish narrative and audio of the firing. When it ended he resumed. â€œAlong with a copy of the videotape and technical data, I reported the findings to the customer. Within days, he agreed to a purchase price of $16 million and is prepared to release an additional $10 million when the logistics are in place.â€
Borichov responded by applauding and Jim joined him.
Jim noted. â€œYour customer gets more than the amount of missiles he requested and the deal could clear $10 million in profit. Iâ€™d say that was a good payoff for the work youâ€™re going through.â€
Borichov corrected him. â€œDonâ€™t forget we have extraordinary expenses in the logistics and transportation of the weapons. However, I wonâ€™t deny we will have an excellent share left.â€ He asked Sengretti, â€œAre you ready to start the details at your end?â€
Sengretti was pleased with their reaction and nodded. â€Iâ€™m prepared to set up two companies in Tampa, Florida. It will take sixty days to complete the paperwork. The first one shall operate as an import/export company. The second shall be listed as a securities company with an office in New York. This company will act as the escrow agent for the transaction.â€
â€œExcellent.â€ Borichov rose and stood in front of them. â€œI am poised to open two accounts at an offshore bank which will receive the money wire transferred from the U.S. Within days, this money will be transferred to another bank where the buyer of the weapon systems or, should I say the paper recipient, will be expecting delivery. From there I shall make transportation arrangements. In the interest of security for our venture, I propose each principal complete his part of the scheme by, say, early December. We shall meet once more to review the exacting details and have Jim function again as devilâ€™s advocate to critique the final plans and preparations.â€
Thursday, December 6
When Jim learned Paris was to be the site for the meeting, he was both surprised and amused. It was as if Borichov decided to take them back to where the venture originated. Jim arranged a meeting with the Eurocopter Group, the former French Aerospatiale helicopter company, near Marseille, France. From there he took an Air France shuttle flight into the Paris Orly Airport. The weather took a turn for the worse. France was caught in a cold wave which extended from the U.K. into Germany and as far south as Rome. Gloves and scarves accompanying a top coat were necessary accessories if one was to brave the icy wind-driven temperatures.
Borichov had made reservations at the Hotel Trocadero Dokhanâ€™s. Jim was impressed by the elegance and charm of this Parisian townhouse between the Place du Trocadero and the Arc de Triomphe. His room was an elegant blending of sophisticated period dÃ©cor and leading edge comfort. As always, a corner desk held a dinner invitation and the name of the functional conference room for the next dayâ€™s meeting.
Friday, December 7
The significance of the date did not escape Jim as he put on his suit jacket and stepped outside of the room. Over three score years had passed since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Talk about an unsettling coincidence. He shrugged it off. He was looking forward to hearing the final details of the complex scheme which had evolved over the past six months.
Borichov excised the electronic demons and settled back in his chair. He deferred to Sengretti who referred to written notes. Jim saw a flash of anger in Borichovâ€™s expression at this break of protocol.
â€œI began with setting up a company called Saturn International LLC in Tampa, Florida whose business is the import and export of construction machinery. Next, I created TransStar Corporation, a securities brokerage firm in Tampa and established an office in New York. This company will act as the escrow agent. Each of these companies opened bank accounts with two separate banks in Florida. TransStar will receive a $7 million wire transfer from my Cayman Island account. In turn it will notify Saturn International and issue a Line of Credit for the money.â€
Borichov interjected. â€œAbout the same time, another company and two bank accounts on the Isle of Man were opened in order to facilitate the European financial end.â€
â€œWhen I receive the payment,â€ Sengretti continued, â€œas an officer of Saturn International, Iâ€™ll instruct the TransStar securities company office in Florida to transfer the money to its New York office and account at the Central Bank of Seychelles in the Federal Reserve Bank. A few days after that, $6 million will be transferred from New York to the Isle of Man.â€
Borichov added. â€œFrom there, it will be wired to a Cortex International account at the Skoras Bank in Vilnius, Lithuania.â€ Borichov turned to Jim. â€œCortex will in turn wire $4 million to KB Mashinostroeniya who, on receipt, will ship the missiles to Cortex. Because Cortex can sell these kinds of weapons only to governments, on Jimâ€™s advice we have arranged to acquire an end-user certificate from the Republic of Lithuania. Money will exchange hands and we will have the documentation signed by and bearing the seal of the Lithuanian Minister of Defence.â€
Sengretti resumed. â€œIâ€™ve assured my client when the missile systems are used, they could not be traced back to any source and the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence would issue a false letter of receipt upon delivery of the weapons.â€
Jim reviewed the intricate steps of the scheme noting the objective of the legal arms transaction accompanied by bona fide documentation was accomplished. It would take the weapons as far as Lithuania where the transportation was to originate. Timing had to be keyed to the $10 million payment, which meant Sengretti had to go back to his client and assure him of their readiness. â€œI want to remind you again to be careful of activities in the U.S.â€ Jim cautioned. â€œThe enforcement of the international arms brokering controls is being aggressively pursued by the U.S. Customs Service. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate them. Their extensive powers of investigation include wiretaps, search and bank account seizure warrants, and undercover sting operations. Once they become aware of large sums of money moving via wire transfers, flags will come up. If you adhere to the agreed upon plan of action and take the necessary precautions, itâ€™ll appear as a legitimate transaction and avoid their attention.â€
An installment payment of $10 million was wire transferred to the Cayman Islands in early February. Following verification Borichov ordered the SAM systems. By April, Cortex had received the shipment and reshipped them from Bulgaria to Lithuania without incident. Borichov had arranged for the transport of the Igla missiles through the services of Aristotle Zuni, the Greek owner of merchant ships who, for a price, had offered one of his vessels to smuggle the Russian missile systems to a Puerto Rican port. Zuni would send the ship into the Black Sea to Varna, Bulgaria to pick up the weapons systems from Cortex. He would use the bogus paperwork provided by the Lithuanians stating the cargo ship would be transporting forty 20-foot containers of machinery and general cargo to Puerto Rico. Four cargo containers with the missile systems would be commingled with the others in order to pass inspection at the Straits of Gibraltar. Once in Puerto Rico, they would be transferred to a South American-bound ship.
It was at this meeting Jim decided he had gone as far as was prudent and chose to extricate himself from further involvement in the impending illegal arms transactions. He informed Sengretti and Borichov he was terminating his services. By then he had collected $250,000 in cash channeled into his Swiss account.
Chapter Four â€“ Mikhail Borichov
Sunday, May 5
Mikhail Borichov walked out of the spacious master bedroom suite smoking a cigarette. He savored a passion for fine living and favored foreign cigarettes and Russian vodka. Underneath the long red velvet robe monogrammed with his initials on the sleeve he wore black silk pajamas with black slippers. Borichov was well aware of his keen business acumen, violent temper and his feared reputation. His mind wandered back to his youth growing up in the corrupt atmosphere of Moscow where one either succumbed to the squalor or took chances with crime until old enough to join the military. He learned the streets and the inherent brutality associated with asserting power. Once in the military, his intelligence and initiative led to the Moscow Military Institute where they discovered his aptitude for languages. He trained as a translator and was sent to embassies and consulates in Central Africa where he developed relationships in the under-developed countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave him and fellow comrades the opportunity to assemble a fortune by exploiting their international contacts stealing, buying and selling new and used Russian weapons.
He acquired a high-level contact in the Russian mafia when his sister married Dimitri Federov. With a major loan from Federovâ€™s organization, he started Cortex International, a Bulgarian arms manufacturing company. It functioned as a merchant buying and selling quantities of arms and supplying ammunition and weapons to Somalia, the Congo, Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan. His strategy was to employ long-distance flights from Eastern Europe to Central African airfields. For large shipments with various distribution sites, he favored his Ilyushin Il-76 for arms delivery from Bulgaria to Andulo. Such flights would normally require refueling stops in the sub-region. For this purpose, local air-cargo companies with East European owners were in place to handle aircraft operations. He frequented the sub-Saharan region due to the lack of sufficiently skilled air traffic controllers, radar equipment and motivated personnel to monitor the vast air space between the southern border of Egypt and the northern borders of South Africa.
Borichov entered his library where books lined one wall from floor to ceiling. The sunlight streaming in the heavy glass panels of the library windows was filtered by the branches of a large tree in front of the villa nestled at a moderate elevation in the wooded foothills west of Varna. The busy Black Sea port of Varna stretched out to the distant haze in the front of the house punctuated by the lighthouse at Sveti Georgi Point off Varna Bay. He grunted with a slight sneer as he recalled it was once a resort for the Russian politburo elite. He observed his armed guards with automatic weapons patrolling his property on the perimeter of the surrounding stone wall. Turning from the window, he crossed the room to a large desk, settled his large body into the chair and turned on the computer. His face clouded in rage as he thought about the Bulgarian arms transfer which was supposed to go smoothly with the Lithuanian documentation. Somehow, U.S. authorities had been alerted to the scheme. Since he and Sengretti had the most to lose, it could only have been Factor who revealed it. He swiveled in his chair, picked up the phone and dialed a number.
â€œDimitri? This is Mikhail. I have a favor to ask. I have a disposal problem in the U.S. and you have assets there.â€ He winced when he heard the superior tone of the voice at the other end.
â€œBorichov, those sensitive assets are for my business interests, not for your pleasure and personal use. Any compromise of them could place us all in a dangerous position.â€
â€œI would use them for a very simple clean-up job related to our company which would not involve any exposure. Please, Dimitri.â€
God, he hated begging to this Politburo member who besides being a Russian mafia head with a large organization was his brother-in-law. What had his sister Erika seen in him?
â€œBorichov, you shit, just this once I will do it. Donâ€™t ask me ever again. If anything goes wrong, remember Iâ€™ll find you. It better not affect my investment. Iâ€™ll fax you the necessary contact information and inform them you will be in touch. Keep in mind the expenses are yours.â€
Borichov hung up the phone with a cold smile. â€œNow, Mr. James Factor, you shall pay dearly for your treachery.â€ He opened a desk drawer and extracted a file folder assembled on Factor with multiple photographs. He prepared a fax header sheet with the information and transmitted it to the U.S. number given to him by Federov. Next, he arranged a money transfer to the bank specified in the instructions and sat back. Now, for the other pressing business, a search in his personal organizer since he needed to find a customer for the Igla SAMs intended for Columbia. There still might be an opportunity to make a profit.
Chapter Five â€“ Russian Hit Team
Sunday, May 5
Two brawny men lounged in a rundown Miami suburb house with the curtains closed. Sergey Kasakov and Petra Shovinstky similarly dressed in worn slacks and colorful beach shirts read the newly arrived fax from Dimitri Federov cryptically describing their next assignment for Mikhail Borichov. As a seasoned hit team, they knew a file on the target would soon be received.
Sergey frowned and turned to Petra, â€œI donâ€™t much like the idea of doing a job for someone other than Mr. Federov. Itâ€™s one more person who knows about us. And of all people, itâ€™s Borichov. The bastard nearly got us killed selling weapons to both sides in the Congo.â€
Petra shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t see we have any choice. The faster we do it, the sooner weâ€™re rid of him.â€
Both men had been together since their early years in the Soviet Army. They had an easy familiarity going back to combat action against the rebels in Afghanistan and Angola. Sergey handled firearms and explosives while Petra provided electronics skills and backup. After they left the army they hired out as mercenaries in the Congo teaching tactics and small arms skills until Dimitri Federov recruited them as a hit team and based them in the Miami Beach area with its proximity to the Central and South American area. They interfaced with other criminal organizations and conducted hits in Europe and the Americas. Both men were of average height and tanned with muscular physiques from lifting weights in the fenced backyard of the rented house. They routinely kept in shape by practicing a version of Russian karate on a mat in the garage. A padlocked, heavy-duty garage locker held the tools of their trade; armor vests, pistols and knives, assault rifles, sniper scopes, ammunition, night finders and electronic surveillance equipment. In addition, false IDs, counterfeit passports and currencies from various countries were stored in the locker.
They spent the next few hours packing clothes, cleaning guns and loading the nondescript used car before turning in to get some sleep. The last thing they did was to install another license plate on the car. They expected to pick up the wired expense money in the morning at the bank on the way out of Miami and drive non-stop to Newport Beach, California. There would be little opportunity to rest once the information on the target arrived from Borichov during the night.
Tuesday, May 7
Newport Beach, California
It was early morning when they entered Factorâ€™s neighborhood. They had taken turns driving from Miami and other than for hygiene were fresh. They were both looking at street names and house numbers. Sergey caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror of a figure behind a bush looking at them before he turned the corner.
Petra exclaimed, â€œThereâ€™s the house. Slow down.â€
They drove past examining the front entrance and garage door.
Petra observed. â€œThereâ€™s no alley behind the house so everything we do has to be from the front.â€
Sergey agreed. â€œIn this neighborhood, we stick out in this car. Weâ€™ll need something else.â€ They turned and left.
Chapter Six - Flight
Tuesday, May 7
Bus to San Francisco, California
Jim had to come up with a strategy during the time the bus made its way to Northern California. He closed his eyes and reflected on his personal characteristics and habits which could undermine his attempt to escape detection. It would be wise to limit the use of his engineering background. He had to assume a cold determination if he was to achieve the objective of getting out of this mess. It meant storing away the memories of his former life while he ruthlessly pursued essential survival skills. Suddenly, he felt the travel bag leaving his grasp and opened his eyes to a bearded, ill-kempt passenger trying to take it from him.
Jim grabbed the manâ€™s wrist hard and growled, â€œWhat the hell do you think youâ€™re doing?â€
The man drew back his other arm to strike him but Jim bent his wrist down. At once the rage kindled by his situation fueled his reflexes. He jerked the wrist until the manâ€™s head came near. He launched his fist from the depths of his anger and caught the man flush in the face. The passenger dropped unconscious to the bus floor. Several nearby riders turned at the sound but quickly looked away. The bus driver yelled and pulled the bus over to the side of the highway. Jim explained the man had tried to rob him. â€œIâ€™ll put him off at the next stop. If he has any complaints, he can put a claim in to the company. In the meantime, heâ€™ll sit in the front where I can keep an eye on him.â€
Jim sat back in his seat in order to catch his breath. That was close. It doesnâ€™t appear anyone paid any attention. He relaxed and resumed his thoughts. â€œAn older appearance may be better suited. Iâ€™ll cut my hair short and grow a beard for the first time in my life. I wish I hadnâ€™t shaved this morning.â€ His first priority was to find a room for the night before it got too late. Hotels were out of the question and he certainly couldnâ€™t take a chance on sleeping in the streets. Maybe he could locate a room and board. Then what? How about work? Heâ€™d have to consider some type of manual or unskilled labor. Jim inwardly grimaced. Shit. This telltale New York accent of mine was a detail I hope the driver hadnâ€™t noticed. Speaking slowly should mitigate it somewhat. San Francisco has a variety of ethnic cultures; which one should he choose? He would have to leave the U.S. and its obsession for bureaucratic paperwork. Europe would be a logical final destination with its many cultures and territorial privacy. He knew the Continent and spoke a little French, Italian and Spanish. His Swiss bank account would give him financial freedom. If they surmised he would head for Europe, he would also be assumed to go to countries frequently visited over the years. How about Spain? France and Italy with ties to his heritage, business and vacations were out. So it was Spain but where? He had a fondness for coasts. The Costal del Blanca region on the eastern part of Spain was moderately populated and within reasonable distance to neighboring countries by rail and air.
He looked around the bus out of the corner of his eyes. There werenâ€™t many passengers and a few had dozed off. With a start he realized he hadnâ€™t given a single thought to his clients, customers or his Kuwaiti partner. That part of his past now had to be shoved aside. He had to think quickly. â€œWhat trade could he learn in San Francisco which could be usable and untraceable?â€ For the first time in hours, he allowed himself a smile as a notion found its way in his thoughts. He would seek any employment in a marina to get a basic knowledge of boats, not just any boats but reasonably sized boats with a bridge and quarters. In this way, he would be apt to be exposed to the nuances and his technical training would provide him with more options. He would allow at most six months before he made the next big move assuming he was successful at losing himself. The key to survival was to change his lifetime of habits, take on a new identity, and patiently bide his time. He had to remember paper trails can be followed and use it to his advantage. He needed to get fake ID. Interestingly enough, he felt it might not be difficult in a state harboring so many illegal immigrants. He realized he should take a nap during the bus trip but his mind kept him too occupied.
Newport Beach, California
Late that afternoon, Diane Factor pulled into her driveway. As the garage door rose, she saw Jimâ€™s car was in its regular space. Entering the house, she called out to him and received no answer. He was probably in the study with the door closed so he would not be disturbed. She would leave him alone until supper was ready.
In the evening, Diane paused at the study door, turned the knob and entered. With a surprised expression, she saw that the room was dark and empty. He must have had to leave for business on short notice and taken a taxi to the John Wayne Airport. He even left his phone. She futilely searched the house for a note. He must have really been in a hurry. Never mind, heâ€™d contact her as always when he had a chance.
It was early afternoon when Sergey drove the old model Chevrolet Caprice north along Pacific Coast Highway into Newport Beach. Lights in the Factor house indicated it was occupied. The problem was maintaining surveillance on a street where the houses were set back and spaced apart. A parked car would draw attention.
They searched afterwards for a low-end motel where the ground floor rooms had doors facing the parking lot. Headed towards Huntington Beach, Sergey selected the first one he came to and rented a room with two beds for a few days. They noted their lightweight and colorful Miami Beach clothes fit the coastal scene. Their large, muscular appearances and European accent were accepted as normal tourist traits and aroused no undue attention.
When they had settled in their room, Sergey addressed Petra. â€œWe have two choices; barge right in at night and hope to get the job done or plant a phone tap at the house and pick our time. Factor wonâ€™t be expecting us so it would be simple enough except for the neighborhood. Letâ€™s be careful and plant the tap first. All itâ€™ll cost is a few extra days.â€
Petra nodded. â€œSuits me. Weâ€™ll need a truck which would be normal in the area. Iâ€™ll check the classifieds for a carpet cleaning company we could hit for one. Iâ€™m going out to change the license plates on the car.â€
Chapter Seven â€“ Destination
San Francisco, California
Hours later the bus pulled into the San Francisco bus terminal. Jim decided to gamble and try to find a room in the Mexican area of the city. It would provide an opportunity to get quickly lost without a trail, look for a job and at the same time acquire Spanish for his eventual flight to Spain. It would be necessary to find a way to obtain false ID but working part time or for cash would forestall the eventuality. He didnâ€™t want for money but it was important to have a visible source to avoid questions. He went to the phone booth in the bus station and opened the telephone directory. He searched the restaurant pages for a geographical trend in Mexican restaurants. There seemed to be more of them in the Mission area south of the city. Satisfied he had identified the section, he took a cab to one of the restaurants on Dolores Street. He paid the fare and looked up and down the block. He walked down the street towards a nearby residential area. Darkness was rapidly falling and he realized he had to find a place to stay before too long. A stranger at night in the neighborhood was going to raise suspicion or run into trouble. He stayed close to the shadows making their way in his direction.
Suddenly, two Mexican youths came out of an alley and confronted him. One of them with his hand in his jacket pocket asked him what he was carrying. The other moved around to block his path. Jim grasped the handle of his bag tightly. He looked up and down the street but they seemed to be alone. He didnâ€™t see anything within reach that could be used as a weapon. He was again told to hand the bag over. He had no choice but to make a stand. He pressed his back against a buildingâ€™s wall and waited. The closer youth pulled a knife and waved it back and forth. Jim forced himself to stand still and let him get closer. He planted his left foot against the wall and moved his right foot slowly out. When the knife holder was within reach, Jim thrust out from the wall and kicked out making solid contact with the manâ€™s groin. He quickly turned to face the other thug, bag in hand defensively. The man looked down at his groaning companion, turned and fled. Jim stepped over the fallen assailant and walked rapidly away. After a while, he checked behind him and saw with relief things were quiet.
Once he was on a residential street, he slowed his pace and paid attention to the homes. He paused at a house where a sign on the front porch advertised room-to-let. He didnâ€™t think twice. This beggar canâ€™t be choosy. Taking a deep breath, he climbed the steps to the front door and with apprehension pressed the doorbell. He had just started the beginning of a new life.
The porch light went on and the front door cautiously opened. A woman with an apron peered at him through the closed screen door. Accompanying her were cooking smells while a Spanish radio station played from within; both were unrecognizable. The woman was five foot three in her mid-fifties with a roundish figure and a wisp of graying hair across her forehead. With an easy and friendly manner, she asked his business in Spanish. Jim pointed to the sign resulting in her closer scrutiny. Satisfied, she opened the screen door and motioned him in. As he reminded himself to speak slowly, it dawned on him he had not given any thought to a new name and background. He stammered out a name of an acquaintance he was friendly with in France. â€œHello, my name is Nicolas Germain. Iâ€™m interested in your room.â€
The woman introduced herself in accented English as Marie Queterras and led him upstairs to an end bedroom. The room was clean and efficiently furnished. It contained a double bed with night table, dresser with a mirror, a wooden chair with a seat cushion, an adequate closet, a wood floor with a large throw rug, and an aging print of a boat on the sea over the bed. There was an overhead light, and a clock radio and lamp on the night table. To the side was a window whose view was obscured by evening shadows and curtains. She pointed to the hallway bathroom and, with eyebrows framing a question, informed him. â€œThe room is $80 per week with breakfast and supper promptly at seven in the evening. It has a lock for your privacy. I clean the room and change the linen once a week.â€
Jim nodded his approval, reached in his pocket and paid for a week. When the door closed, he locked the door, placed his bag in the closet, took off his shoes and lay fully clothed on the bed. He tried to review his steps leading to the present but within moments the hectic events of the day and the security of the room like the overhead light were shut out by a deep slumber.
Chapter Eight â€“ Carlos Sengretti
Wednesday, May 8
Atlantic Ocean off Central America
Carlos Sengretti stood at the railing of the aged, heaving freighter smoking a cigarette. He pulled up the collar of his suit jacket to cover his neck against the biting wind. Occasionally, random drops of sea spray fell across his face. He scrutinized his soiled white linen pants and jacket. His fine silk shirt was dull and wrinkled from the humidity. Two weeks ago he was on his way to making more money than he ever had with an arms deal which would have positioned him at the top with the big players. He would have never had to worry again about scratching out an existence brokering small arms. In frustration he threw the cigarette over the side and tightly grasped the rail with both hands ignoring the flakes of rust and dirt that permeated the metal surface.
Black smoke billowed out of the two stacks into the wind stream. The deck was unevenly discolored from grease, oil and salt. The ancient freighter was one of hundreds that plied the eastern Central and South American coasts picking up and discharging cargo. It was on its way to Caracas, Venezuela after leaving Miami. Afterwards, its east-southeasterly direction would take it to Brazil where he had obscure relations and would get lost until the heat died down. He didnâ€™t dare go back to Columbia where his customer would undoubtedly take his revenge on losing over ten million dollars. He still had good money on him even after paying the captain an exorbitant amount for the passage, no questions asked. At least the stateroom was clean if furnished with a sagging bed, worn desk and tarnished fixtures. The captain stocked the cabinet with liquor and the food was passable. He bemoaned the events which led him to skulk out of the country hunted by the U.S. Customs Service for illegal arms transactions activities. The sheer stupidity of his action weighed on him. He pounded the railing with his hands until the pain and blood forced him to stop.
Carlos thought back to his poor childhood in BogotÃ¡, Columbia where he was born and raised. The heat and the rain were always with them. The rain gave the people their identity. At certain times in the afternoon, BogotÃ¡ was a river of umbrellas. It seemed that the city was full of contradicting contrasts; gray by day and colorful by night, surrounded by green mountains protecting the vast valley, sunshine intermingle with rain, professional beggars, and abject poverty next to modern shopping centers. It was a city where energy and chaos, insecurity and emotion, violence and creativity came together. His father labored as a shoemaker and his mother cleaned the houses of those who had wealth. It was she who insisted on and enrolled him in a catholic school to get the education which had eluded them. He learned to read and write in Spanish and English. Later, his mother managed to get him a job doing odd jobs for the people who owned those houses. One of the men, Henry Mendoza, had seen the intelligence behind the brown eyes and the eagerness with which he attacked the jobs given to him. Soon, the boy was running errands involving packages not to be compromised. His reading and writing capability allowed him to rise in statue above the other boys and even the older ones soon reported to him. In time he was making good money and wearing stylish clothes. In his late teens, he was sent on business to different areas of Columbia but the city he took a fancy to was Medellin. Although Venezuelaâ€™s chief manufacturing center, it gained notoriety as the headquarters of the cocaine cartel that became the worldâ€™s leading distributor of the illegal drug. Violent turf battles and reprisals became commonplace. Additionally, the cartel was forced into open confrontation with the Columbia military aided by U.S. military advisors. Assault rifles and numbers were no match for the armed helicopter gunships with infrared sensors employed to track and destroy their cocaine factories and trafficking carriers. With his command of English and his inside knowledge of the cartel, Carlos was often sent out of the country to purchase arms and explosives. He conspired to have the arms shipped to the port of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and transported by truck through Honduras and Nicaragua to Costa Rica. There he arranged sea transportation into one of the north coastal cities of Columbia. He skimmed weapons off the shipments and sold them independently to mercenaries in Honduras and El Salvador. Later, he added his money to the cartelâ€™s to get lower prices and resold the weapons for a good profit.
During his early twenties, he decided to relocate to Tampa, Florida and set up an office to broker small arms. It gave him a presence to U.S., and Central and South American markets. Accumulated contacts enabled him to thrive for several years but he came to realize Europe could give him access to more sophisticated weapons. It was at military aviation and arms shows in the U.S., Farnborough International in England, and the Paris Air Show where he met large-scale arms dealers. He began to formulate a plan whereby he would approach members of the cartel about acquiring specialized weapons to counter the military threat to their business interests. He flew to BogotÃ¡, met with his benefactors and laid out a scheme for acquiring equalizing weaponry. Upon their approval, he took the short flight to Medellin and met with the cartel. He explained the U.S. barriers to anti-helicopter missiles were formidable but he could get a similar weapon from Eastern European sources. If they provided him with $100,000 expense money, he would look into the prospect and report back to them. He estimated it would take ninety days. During the trip in Europe, he learned numerous Russian arms available on the arms market included the sought-after shoulder-held, surface-to-air missile or SAM. Inquiries brought him face-to-face with Mikhail Borichov of Varna, Bulgaria. He collected vital information on missile capability, availability and prices.
Carlos returned and briefed all of the interested parties in Medellin. He stated the weapons would cost around $15 to $20 million U.S. dollars. The price took into account the expense necessary to covertly transport the weapons from Europe to Columbia. In May, he was authorized to pursue the purchase and a commitment was made to provide him with an initial $500,000 to transact the business. Carlosâ€™ first priority was to acquire insurance protection from any potential Borichov treachery. He remembered James Factor, an American arms dealer he had briefly encountered during an arms show. He was certain Factor would be attending the upcoming Paris Air Show and decided to enlist his help with an enticing proposition.
He lit up another cigarette oblivious to the cold wind, salty mist and throbbing hands. God, what a fool heâ€™d been. Jim Factor was brought in and within months of the Paris Air Show, the three of them had developed a bold scheme. He had kept the secret of his customerâ€™s identity from them but they had seen evidence of the money behind him. Borichov orchestrated the events in Europe with Factor identifying risks and recommending ways of circumventing discovery. Then, in December, Jim decided he had gone far enough and bowed out. As far as Carlos was concerned, Jim had earned the money he was paid. Between Borichov and himself, they implemented the details of the plan over the next four months. The money from the cartel had been successfully routed through a front company to an overseas, offshore bank in the Isle of Man where it had been rewired to Borichovâ€™s bank account in Lithuania.
He had continued to operate out of his Tampa, Florida office. Cell phones and phone cards handled overseas calls. One day in March, he received a visitor who inquired about getting electro-shock weapons and stun guns prohibited from export by U.S. regulations into an unspecified country. Against Jimâ€™s admonition about the potential pitfalls of illegitimate activities in the U.S., he accepted a retainer and promised an answer in a week. It never occurred to him to check out the authenticity of the request. He should have thrown the guy out of his office. Whatâ€™s the expression? When youâ€™re out hunting bear, you donâ€™t stop to chase rabbits. He had been repeatedly warned about the devious U.S. Customs Service. His office had been bugged, then searched and his financial transactions with Borichov uncovered. If it hadnâ€™t been for a drunken binge with one of the local girls in Orlando, he would be languishing in jail right now. He had barely spotted the stakeout at his home and kept going. When he contacted Borichov to warn him their scheme had been compromised. Borichov instantly assumed Factor had talked and turned them in. In an outburst laced with profanities, he vowed he would get a hit squad to kill him. Sengretti hung up with a cold sweat. If Borichov ever found out it was his fault, heâ€™d be the dead man. He had to protect himself but Jim had been an okay guy. In a rare moment of guilt and conscience, he called his satellite phone number and warned him.
He kept a locker in a Tampa storage area especially for such an emergency. After a taxi dropped him off, he went to the locker and removed clothes, money and a counterfeit passport. He took a cab to the train station and left for Miami. Upon his arrival, he took a taxi to the waterfront. He perused the Shipping News for a freighter leaving within twenty-four hours for South America. It was a simple matter after that to locate the captain and strike a bargain. He had considered notifying the cartel of the loss of their money and cargo. You could bet they were going to ask, more likely insist, he meet with them. He knew theyâ€™d assume he lined his pockets with their money. Their methods of extracting information and dealing with disappointment and failure were a matter of record. He had witnessed the horrific brutality growing up. He was not going to take a chance on being found, not by the cartel and not by Borichov.
Chapter Nine - New Day, New Place
Wednesday, May 8
San Francisco, California
Daylight and sounds emanating into the room from the slightly opened window awakened Jim. He glanced, without moving, at the bedside clock. He had slept for over twelve hours. The door was still locked and his bag was where he left it. He undressed and put his few clothes away before he went to the bathroom for a shower. He decided against shaving and used the contents of the makeup kit to plant some gray in his hair. A short haircut would help. He put on a pair of jeans, shirt and sneakers. The casual clothes he wore from home were stored in the closet and the dresser.
There was the problem of where to hide the money. Renting a safe deposit box at a bank without proper documentation was out of the question. The room would be cleaned on a regular basis and besides there didnâ€™t seem to be any places large enough to conceal the cash. When Jim had turned off the light, he noticed it was an older oversized fixture. He pulled the chair up underneath, stood carefully on it and unscrewed the glass dome over two light bulbs. He then unscrewed the light bulb assembly and let it hang by the wires. There was a gap inside the ceiling surrounding the assembly. After confirming the area did not get overheated from the burning light, he arranged the cash inside the ceiling but away from the opening. He reassembled the light and sat on the edge of the bed. He needed to come up with a plausible background and reason for his appearance in San Francisco. After considering several explanations, he decided he would admit reluctantly having been released from prison for a minor offense and a preference not to dwell on it. This would also account for his reluctance to get personal, lack of trade skills, and choice of part time and low paying jobs. He put on his windbreaker and went downstairs to explore the house. A lack of curiosity on his part about the home and its inhabitants might raise unwanted attention and draw suspicion.
Marie Queterras heard the footsteps on the stairs and walked over to greet him. â€œGood morning, Mr. Germain. Everyone has already gone to work but theyâ€™re usually home by six.â€ She continued as if anticipating his question. â€œMy husband Joe works for a contractor and my son Jimmy is an engine mechanic. He even has his own garage.â€ She paused, waiting for him to volunteer his situation.
â€œPlease call me Nick. Iâ€™ve recently been released from prison for a stupid mistake and Iâ€™d rather put it behind me.â€ He added politely and in a sincere tone. â€œIf it creates a problem for you and your family, Iâ€™ll leave and seek a room elsewhere.â€
She shook her head and sized him up. Finally, she responded. â€œDonâ€™t worry about it. Iâ€™ll make sure my family knows itâ€™s a sensitive subject so they donâ€™t pester you.â€
Thanking her, Jim turned and went out the door to the street. In the daylight, he could see it was a working class neighborhood with sounds of traffic and scattered barking dogs. There was a concrete driveway alongside of the house that led to the rear garage. He sensed rather than saw the alley behind the house. He noted the wooden fence on two sides along with the garage and the house framed the backyard. The lawn was freshly mown and trimmed. The centerpiece in the backyard was a large leafy tree. An outdoor table with four chairs rested on a concrete slab underneath a patio overhang alongside a barbecue. The house was old but well maintained. A stroll down the block revealed the condition of the rest of the homes similarly reflected a pride of ownership. He continued walking and passed by several retail stores. He went into a gas station with a local map on the wall for lost motorists. Jim determined he was about five miles southwest of a marina next to Fishermanâ€™s Wharf. The map showed it was accessible by a nearby bus line. He decided tomorrow he would spend the day there. Tonight though, at the dinner table, heâ€™d inquire about the marina from the men.
He stopped at a small neighborhood department store. He went in and slowly perused the aisles. He purchased a plain waterproof watch, an inexpensive wallet and a pullover sweatshirt. Outside, Jim remembered a laundromat on his walk and on an impulse returned to it. He entered and looked for the traditional bulletin board, a staple for small business and sales advertisements. He thought, Itâ€™s time to prepare for my future course of action. He harbored no doubts his running would be temporary. However he had to acquire the skills to survive and more, to strike back. He quickly found something of interest, Spanish and English tutoring. His gaze wandered to a circular on self-defense courses taught in small groups at a local martial arts studio. He made a judgement; Iâ€™m going to need six months.
He exited and continued to explore the neighborhood around the Queterras house for the rest of the day. Two blocks away, he found another place of interest, a barbershop. He sat down on an empty chair and motioned short with his hand. Afterward, when he looked in the mirror, he saw an unfamiliar sight and forced a smile. He hadnâ€™t worn a crew cut since the Air Force. Toward late afternoon, he started thinking about dinner and his first encounter that evening with the entire Queterras family.
As Jim approached the dining table, Marie took his arm and brought him to her husband and son. She introduced him as Mr. Nicolas Germain. He requested they call him Nick. Joe Queterras was a large man with brown weathered skin and broad shoulders, black curly hair, large callused hands and a ready grin. Jimmy appeared to be in his early 30â€™s and as tall as his father but leaner and more wiry with strong hands and evidence of grease under his fingernails. Both men had washed and changed into clean jeans and short sleeve shirts. Jim was treated friendly as they passed the dinner dishes.
As they ate, Joe turned to Jim and volunteered, â€œIâ€™m foreman of a commercial construction crew for one of the largest development companies in the city. There are usually five or six projects going on at a time. Mine is a five-story apartment house about ten miles from here.â€
Jimmy put his fork down and added, â€œI have a garage a few miles from here with two employees. We specialize in piston and diesel engine overhauls and repairs.â€
Thankfully, or more than likely because of a word from Marie, no one asked him any personal questions. As the dinner was completed, Jim informed them, â€œIâ€™m new in town and looking for a job. Iâ€™ve been told marinas are a good source of part-time work.â€
â€œWell, Nick,â€ Jimmy replied, â€œYouâ€™re in luck. My garage has done a few marine engine overhauls and repairs for the Pier 39 Marina dry dock company. If you like, Iâ€™ll be happy to run you over tomorrow to meet the manager on my way to the garage.â€
That night as he lay in bed, Jim thought about Diane and her reaction to his disappearance. He had deliberately left his things out in the study so she wouldnâ€™t think anything was amiss except he had to hastily go out of town. It had happened before. She was a head-strong woman and he needed to buy time before she became suspicious or took any action. To take his mind off Diane he recalled his business meeting two days before Sengrettiâ€™s phone call.
Chapter Ten - The Recent Past
Monday, May 6
The small elevated windows on one side of the room resonated in their frames from the vibration caused by the unmuffled roar from a Kuwaiti Hornet F/A-18C fighter as it accelerated down the runway adjacent to the headquarter building. It drowned out the sounds of the viewgraph presentation on the airborne electro-optical pod offered by Jim Factorâ€™s client, Northrop Grumman. The briefing was being held in the Royal Kuwaiti Air Force Commanderâ€™s conference room at the Ali Al Salem Air Force Base co-located with the Kuwait International Airport but on the opposite side in a large secured area. The headquarters was in one of the large single-story buildings with cinder block construction and plain white walls. The military buildings contrasted sharply from the modern multi-storied civilian airport terminal across the runway. The interior of those walls were punctuated with pictures of Kuwaitâ€™s royal family and Air Force fighter aircraft from a number of other nations. In one corner of the room, the Kuwaiti flag stood upright in its stand. Although it was mid-spring the outside temperature was well over 110 degrees even this late in the evening but the efficient air conditioning kept the room at a comfortable level.
Jim absentmindedly fingered his Kuwait Air Force Base visitorâ€™s picture badge hanging on his suit breast pocket while listening to the assembled uniformed Air Force representatives discuss the pod in Arabic. He was the only one in the room wearing a suit. They all spoke excellent English but preferred to revert to Arabic for the deliberations. He was on personal terms with Brig. Saber M. Al Suwaiden, the Air Force Commander, BG Faleh Abdullah Al Shatti, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Col. Farid Al Anzi, Aircraft Maintenance. He observed his Kuwaiti partner and friend, Ahmad Al Matawa, wearing the native white dishdasha, listening attentively to the discussions and interjecting an occasional comment. Ahmad, in keeping with the upper-level Middle East custom of sending their youth abroad, obtained his primary and college education at Oxford in England and spoke with an acquired British accent. Jim was marketing airborne navigation and reconnaissance pods for forty Boeing F/A-18C/Dâ€™s in the Royal Kuwait Air Force inventory. He was aware that English and French contractors were also vying for the lucrative contract.
Ahmad turned and held up his hand to get Jimâ€™s attention. â€œMr. Factor. A question has come up about using the pod for ground targeting in conjunction with airborne laser-guided weapons.â€
God damn it, here we go again. Both he and Ahmad had gone over this issue and its ramifications many times over the past two days. The U.S. State Department had repeatedly rejected offering this advanced technical capability of the pod. It had less to do with trusting Kuwait than their concern the technology would be compromised to neighboring Iran through porous security. It was a bullshit excuse. The real reason for the denial was the U.S. Air Force, under pressure from Northrop Grumman, wanted to keep it out of the hands of the competition as long as possible. It was a misguided strategy since both the English and French offered the additional capability to some degree. Anticipating the inquiry, they had agreed on a tactic to skirt the problem.
Jim replied softly as if reluctant to divulge a potential work-around solution to the U.S. embargo. â€œThe laser targeting feature, as you are aware, is an option not available for export at this time.â€ He saw them shift in their seats with frustration and annoyance. He paused for effect then added. â€œHowever, it could be retro-fitted later on. The pod has the potential to be modified for the function providing unmatched performance with any on the market.â€ He continued in a low voice. â€œWe would have to talk further about this possibility off-line from this meeting.â€
Ahmad turned to the Air Force officials and expanded on this explanation in Arabic. Jim knew they understood his English reply but Ahmad was giving them some extra material relating to their question. They nodded in agreement and looked up. The Air Force groupâ€™s spokesman addressed him. â€œMr. Factor. We have the information we need and will evaluate the pod during the coming week. We shall include Mr. Ahmad Al Matawa for his insights. Thank you for your exacting presentation. The fact Northrop Grumman is a major contractor of the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft weighs heavily in your clientâ€™s favor. We will await the clarification on the obtainability of the advanced capability.â€
Jim quickly interpreted the response. Damn. Itâ€™s their way of telling me the English and French would include targeting in their versions. He nodded his head to show he understood the unspoken message. â€œThank you for your time today and I look forward to answering any questions you may have through Mr. Al Matawa.â€
As the meeting broke up, Jim gathered the viewgraphs and notebook computer and placed them in his briefcase. On the way out of the room, he gave an imperceptible nod to Ahmad that implied they would talk in the car. They walked under the glare of brightly lit lights. He could see the unfilled bullet holes in the walls, a poignant reminder of the Iraqi invasion in August 1991. As they walked towards the visitorâ€™s carport to get Ahmadâ€™s car, he glanced at his watch. It was almost eleven at night. By Middle East standards, this time was part of the business acumen due to the afternoon hiatus because of the intense heat of the day.
They exited the Air Force base in silence. Once on the highway, he frowned as he asked. â€œAhmed, are they really serious about wanting the laser targeting option for the pod? Even if they got it, what in the hell would they use it for?â€
Ahmad cleared his throat and lit a cigarette before replying. Jim, used to this pattern of deliberateness, patiently waited. Ahmad shrugged and replied after a moment. â€œI would say it was a clear statement they want the feature. The Europeans have offered it to them. Itâ€™s like the Jonesâ€™ next door has it and they want it too. It doesnâ€™t matter they may not need it. And my friend, they know they can arm twist because the English and French are chomping at the bit to sell them a complete pod system.â€
He paused with a sly smile. â€œJim, they know you have the technical knowledge to direct the development and installation of a modification. We could tell them we would provide the upgrade if they purchased the pod. I dare say theyâ€™d pay extra for the retro-fit just to have it.â€
Jim shook his head and answered with a touch of irritation. â€œOur arguments on cost-effectiveness, size, and operational simplicity should have gone a long way. We could promote a condensed delivery schedule but we know goddamn well their budget approval cycle will eat up the time anyway.â€ He looked outside and reflected. â€œShit. If we could lick this obstacle I figure theyâ€™d acquire twenty of them for half their F/A-18 fleet. The training, spares and upgrades could bring the total amount to over $50 million.â€
Ahmad thought a moment. â€œOut of curiosity my friend, how much and how long do you estimate it would take to develop this modification for the pod?â€
Jim considered the question. â€œTo start with, it would have to be done in another country to avoid a conflict with U.S. export laws. There is certainly precedent for things like this being done by foreign powers. The Japanese helped Iran get the appropriate parts and maintenance for the Grumman F-14 Tomcats left there when the Shah was overthrown. The expertise can also be found in Germany, Italy and Sweden. The Pacific Rim may not be such a bad location for shielding the project and keeping the cost down. It would isolate and protect our involvement. My guess is the development and testing could be within a year and would cost around $500,000; producing twenty kits at $50,000 each would add another million.â€
Ahmad rapidly made a calculation. â€œI would say it amounts to an extra $100,000 per pod.â€
â€œI make it at $75,000.â€ Jim suddenly grinned. â€œOh I see; our commission. Itâ€™s not a bad return considering it would be around $2,000,000. Of course, theyâ€™d have to award a modification kit contract as soon as possible with at least one-half down. Theyâ€™d be committed with the advance payment.â€ He shrugged. â€œAnyway, itâ€™s a moot point. I doubt they would do it.â€
Ahmad turned towards him with an ironic smile. â€œIf they want the targeting, nothing would stop them. You know how they favor U.S. military products. Besides we have an edge because of our good friends on the Air Force committee. Let me get their feeling on it this week.â€
The large silver Lincoln Town Car with Ahmad at the wheel came to a stop in front of a barricade framed by police cars and Humvees with flashing red lights. Soldiers stood in the shadows with weapons trained on the two occupants. Ahmad lowered his window and spoke in Arabic to the Royal Kuwaiti Army sergeant who had approached the car. He switched to English and pointed at his passenger. Jim handed over his American passport and Ahmad showed his driverâ€™s license. He explained. â€œWeâ€™re heading for the airport.â€ The army man returned the ID and motioned them on. The barricade swung open and the Lincoln went through.
Jim noted. â€œThese stops used to be rare.â€
Ahmad agreed. â€œSadly, everything has changed since your 9/11.â€
The carâ€™s air conditioning quietly blew at full strength and managed to keep the car at a comfortable temperature even though the outside temperature was still above 100 degrees at one oâ€™clock in the morning. Powdery white sand swirled across the straight modern concrete highway illuminated by the evenly spaced overhead halogen streetlights. There was a minimum amount of traffic bound for the Kuwait International Airport. Ahmad Al Matawa had been his contact, representative and friend since they met at the end of the seven-year Iran-Iraq conflict in 1987. Ahmadâ€™s appearance belied his keen intelligence and the immense wealth of his family. Outside of the window Jim could see the intermittent contemporary-shaped water towers that were part of the landscape. He appreciated the Kuwaiti nights when there was hardly any traffic. The prohibition on liquor sales kept the populace home at night instead of in restaurants in order to drink their illicit alcohol. He had adjusted easily to the regionâ€™s late dinner hour custom of anytime between ten and midnight.
Jim leaned back in his seat. â€œAhmad. Weâ€™ll need to follow up with Colonel Farid. You can bet our competition will hear about tonightâ€™s meeting and its outcome. I assume weâ€™ll be played off against them as usual?â€
Ahmad nodded his agreement. â€œIâ€™ll host a small dinner for the appropriate senior officers within the week. What should I tell them our position is on the targeting request?â€
Jim hesitated. â€œFeel them out on the possibility of purchasing modification kits with the pods to accomplish their objectives. Meanwhile Iâ€™ll give some thought how it could get done. Iâ€™m scheduled to meet with a couple of our European clients next week to review some of their new military products.â€ As an afterthought he asked, â€œJust out of curiosity Ahmed, what do you think the chances are theyâ€™d go for a separate funding line for the kits if they ordered the pods?â€
Ahmad pondered the possibility. He looked carefully at Jim before answering. â€œIt could be as high as forty percent.â€
Jim gasped in surprise tinged with a sense of apprehensiveness. â€œYouâ€™ve got to be kidding.â€ He checked the dash clock as if to put the possibility behind him. The British Airways flight to London was scheduled to leave in slightly more than two hours. All European bound flights from Kuwait left around two in the morning resulting in arrival times in major European cities from early to mid-morning. Within ninety minutes of landing at Heathrow, he would be in the air to Los Angeles. He closed his eyes and relaxed. Once on the plane, he would reset his watch to London time and take a nap. He was looking forward to getting home to Diane.
Ahmad pulled the car over to the terminalâ€™s departure curb and motioned to a porter to collect Jimâ€™s suitcase from the trunk. They walked into the terminal. Ahmad took him around the customs line directly to the passport control office where he was quickly waved through. They shook hands.
â€œLet me know if anything else comes up, especially on the option.â€
Ahmad smiled and bowed. â€œYou can be sure I will call right away.â€
The business class lounge was in the main terminal. Jim entered and gave his ticket to the reception hostess. She verified his seat and gave him a boarding pass. He went to the bar, got a bottle of water and sat in one of the oversized chairs. Heâ€™d have to wait until his flight left Kuwait when he would be served a drink on the aircraft. Businessmen from all nationalities started to filter into the lounge to await their flights. He pulled a paperback novel from his briefcase to avoid being drawn into a conversation. As he turned the pages he thought about the consequences of his offer to provide a way around the U.S. export control restrictions of the podâ€™s functions. God, he almost wished the Kuwaiti Air Force would reject the proposal even though it would also doom any chance of selling them the electro-optical pod. What in the hell had got into him? Come on, who was he kidding? The money would be more than ample. Eighteen months ago he would have expressed a take it or leave it attitude. With trepidation, he knew it stemmed from his past dealings with Sengretti and Borichov. He told himself to forget it. After all, he had made a nice tax-free amount from legitimate consulting on the perils of illicit arms transactions. Well, maybe not that legitimate because he had been involved in the preliminary planning for an illegal arms sale and subsequent smuggling. He congratulated himself for quitting while he was ahead. Anyhow, it was behind him and buried in the past. These thoughts vanished when his flight was called and he left for the boarding gate.
It was early evening the same day and many hours later when Jim gathered his suitcase and computer bag from the taxi and took in his house with a fond and eager expression. The front slope of the hillside on the other side of the street afforded his cherished privacy. The tri-level home with its enclosed courtyard gave the entrance a Mediterranean atmosphere. He walked to the front gate and rang the doorbell. He gave a chortle when his wifeâ€™s voice came through the intercom.
â€œWho is it?â€
He replied with a grin. â€œA man with a package.â€
â€œGo away,â€ came the reply, â€œbefore I release the dogs.â€
He laughed as the gate was buzzed unlocked. The front door opened and his wife looked out. An apron covered a tall slender woman with reddish hair wearing a red chiffon dress and heels. They clung to each other for a time and went inside.
Wednesday Night, May 8
San Francisco, California
Jim wiped the tears from his eyes at the recollection. He wondered how long it would take Borichov to send someone after him; probably very soon. He was always quick on action and short on patience. Jim had to keep himself busy both mentally and physically to maintain his isolation, sanity and safety. It was a matter of being patient and systematically working at all aspects of his new persona. He never took anything lying down and he wasnâ€™t about to start. Preparation was the key element of his future actions. He found himself looking forward to the next dayâ€™s trip to the marina. He felt it might provide Nick Germain with the direction which could affect his future. Still thinking about his near term plans, he closed his eyes and peacefully went to sleep.
Chapter Eleven â€“ A Start for Everyone
Thursday, May 9
As Nick Germain, Jim was up early and went downstairs to the kitchen for coffee where he found Jimmy sitting at the table. Joe had left an hour earlier for his construction site. The cloudy day contained an early morning chill as Jimmy drove down Market Street towards the Embarcadero for about thirty minutes before they arrived at the Pier 39 Marina. He went into a parking garage across the street.
They walked crossed the trolley tracks to the sidewalk which ran along the dark green water. Jim looked out at the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay. As they approached the marina, he spied white sails unfurling against the backdrop of the gray mist. Seagulls rode the light breeze and called to each other as they neared the opened entrance of the marina. An aquarium with its colorful displays beckoned to the passing visitors. Clustered throughout the complex were restaurants, fishermenâ€™s cafes, specialty stores, food shops and bars. There were two and three levels of businesses in the large central complex. On the eastside of the marina were boat docks. Jim noticed the docks were designated by letter in increasing order in direction from the shore out to the open water.
The Pier 39 Marina was geographically situated on the San Francisco waterfront between the San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge and faced north into San Francisco Bay. In a northwesterly direction slightly more than a mile into the bay, Jim could barely see the outline of the infamous Alcatraz Island through the fog. He involuntarily shuddered as he thought it would be anything but a casual swim with the treacherous currents and the fifty-five degree water temperature. Three miles west of the marina, he could see the two majestic towers of the Golden Gate Bridge seemingly floating on top of a cushion of fog extending into the bay. He heard an intermittent foghorn. Mixed in with the sounds, was the incessant honking of sea lions as they lounged on the jetty rocks to the west of the marina. The marina enjoyed a favorable location with its proximity to the nearby scenic Fishermanâ€™s Wharf, Telegraph Hill and Embarcadero.
Jimmy led the way to the Halyard Boat Company where he introduced Jim to Mike Sweeney, the manager. Sweeney was a stocky man in his late 40â€™s with windblown hair, swarthy skin and casually dressed in a pair of blue cotton slacks with a light yellow shirt with rolled up sleeves. They shook hands and Jimmy explained the reason for the visit.
â€œSorry Nick, right now thereâ€™s nothing available here but the boat owners are always looking for help with odd jobs at the spur of the moment. They may call me or Charlie Ford at the Dockside Marine Hardware store right on the pier. Check with him too. Leave your phone number with me in case anything comes up.â€
Jim thanked him and they walked outside. â€œJimmy. Thanks for taking the time and for the introduction. I think Iâ€™ll stay and look around.â€ He assured him, â€œIâ€™ll take the bus back and see you tonight.â€
Jim walked down the pier to Dockside Marine Hardware. The front windows displayed all types of brass nautical accessories for boats and yachts. He entered and asked for Charlie Ford. A young salesman pointed to an older man talking to a customer. Jim wandered into the electronics area and inspected the various navigation systems. As he was reading the application sheets, he heard a voice behind him.
â€œCan I help you?â€
The owner of the question had white hair, a large white mustache, dark rim reading glasses at the bridge of his nose, a pair of jeans and a white shirt with pencil and pen in the breast pocket.
Jim asked. â€œCharlie Ford?â€
â€œYep, thatâ€™s me. How can I help you?â€
â€œIâ€™m Nick Germain. I was at Halyardâ€™s earlier asking about odd jobs in the marina and Mike Sweeney suggested I stop by your store and talk to you too.â€
Ford replied. â€œWe frequently get boat owners asking about assistance with their boat. Leave your phone number and Iâ€™ll call if something comes up.â€
Jim gave him the Queterrasâ€™ phone number and thanked him.
The sun broke through the overcast as Jim went to take a closer look at the boat dock area. He noted the cardkey-locked gates at every lettered dock designed to keep out unauthorized visitors. While staring at the boats, a man carrying a large carton walked up to the gate. He stumbled and dropped his cardkey. Jim was close enough to put out a hand to steady him and picked up the cardkey. He slipped it in the slot and the gate opened. He held out the card. The man took it and smiled appreciably. â€œGlad you happened by when you did. Thanks.â€ He held the gate open for Jim who slipped in.
Jim slowly shuffled along the F dock on planked walkways that hosted the slips, moorings and utilities to the boat owners. He was instantly caught up in the variety of shapes and sizes of the boats. He had never really paid attention to boats and was enthralled by the contours and streamlining generated with fiberglass and plastics. Absorbed, he almost didnâ€™t hear the shout from the bridge of an impressive 57-foot Viking cruiser. Glancing up he saw a distinguished looking man with pepper gray wavy hair wearing a pullover, Bermuda shorts, and cap beckon to him.
â€œHey friend, can you give me a hand?â€
Jim climbed the short boarding ladder to the large aft deck. He observed the poser of the question was in his early fifties, trim and bronzed from the sun. He had a confident manner about him and stuck out his hand.
â€œIâ€™m Wayne Collier and you are?â€
â€œNick, Nick Germain, How can I help you?â€
Collier asked if he knew anything about marine electronics to which Jim answered hesitantly. â€œNot much.â€
Collier laughed. â€œIâ€™m still learning myself.â€ He turned serious. â€œHereâ€™s my problem, Nick. I want to take the boat out for a few days but the new radar and navigation system is throwing me.â€ He pointed to the wood paneled console containing an impressive array of illuminated instruments on the right side of the bridge. Dual chrome throttle controls were positioned to the right of a stylish steering wheel. A ten-inch CRT display was mounted on the left side. â€œThink you can figure it out from the manual?â€
Jim instinctively replied. â€œIâ€™ll take a crack at it. If I canâ€™t, you donâ€™t owe me a fee.â€
Collier laughed easily again. â€œThatâ€™s rich. I get a no-charge guarantee from a maintenance man. Okay, Nick, youâ€™re on. Hereâ€™s the manual.â€
Jim sat down in the captainâ€™s seat and positioned the manual in front of the radar and navigational color display and controls. He silently reflected that, compared to complicated weapon systems operational manuals, this one was relatively simple. He had to be careful not to let on he was as much interested in the technical aspects of the system as its operation. He followed the steps outlined for setting up and calibrating the system, then went out of the bridge to the antenna installation on the roof. The manual recommended more height separation to avoid multipath interference with the boatâ€™s structure. He could see the GPS antenna to the right and slightly above the radar antenna. He followed the microwave line from the antenna housing and the GPS antenna down to the inside of the bridge and the rear of the console. Satisfied the cables were connected properly, he turned on the system. The display had a color LCD.
The operational manual was straightforward and graphically illustrated. The X-band radar had a thirty-six nautical mile maximum range limited by the line-of-sight or LOS. The system permitted a navigational map overlay called a chart plotter on the display. A short search produced a box of chart cards labeled with the corresponding index. Jim pulled out the Northern California coast chart and inserted it into the bottom right slot built into the display. The GPS receiver downloaded the marina coordinates and in moments the coastal area was superimposed on the radar display. The radar return for the coast neatly superimposed the map overlay. The movement of the boat and the map coincided to present a clear picture to the pilot.
Jim called Wayne Collier over to the radar/chart plotter display and went through the capability and the operational procedure. He mentioned the radar antenna height recommendation.
â€œThatâ€™s a nice job of figuring it out and explaining it. How much do you want for the time you spent?â€ Collier asked.
Jim shook his head. â€œI spent less than an hour and besides, it was interesting.â€
Collier inspected him closely. â€œYouâ€™re a terrible businessman but I like you. Tell you what. I have a law firm in the city and generally take clients for a cruise. Join my party on the boat Saturday morning as my guest and letâ€™s check out the system together when weâ€™re in the bay. Iâ€™ll pay you $200 for the day but I also expect you to mingle and have a good time.â€
Jim agreed and left the boat.
After supper, Jim went to his room and turned on the radio. He was interested in the news even though he knew his disappearance would hardly create a stir. The Queterrasâ€™ house was as safe a haven as he could have hoped for. He decided to buy a small TV with an earphone attachment so his interests in programs would go unnoticed. He thought about his interaction with Wayne Collier during the day. The interface with the marine electronics interested him more than he would have imagined. He was already looking forward to the cruise on Saturday. Tomorrow, heâ€™d drop by a department store and purchase appropriate clothing. The casual ones he fled with were too expensive looking.
Newport Beach, California
In a neighboring city, Sergey and Petra located a carpet cleaning service with a number of trucks and vans in an opened rear parking area. They figured a truck wouldnâ€™t be noticed missing right away and time was what they needed. Petra hotwired the van and drove it away noting coveralls inside the interior. Sergey followed closely in their car. Petra parked the van in the lot of an all-night market and climbed into the car. Sergey told him. â€œTomorrow morning Iâ€™ll call Factorâ€™s house and try to catch them out. Weâ€™ll transfer the equipment to the van and go if no one answers.â€
Friday, May 10
When Sergey called, an answering machine responded on the third ring. He hung up the phone and pointed to the door. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€
He parked the carpet cleaning van in the Factor driveway and watched Petra with his satchel go around the side of the house. The wiretap was best placed on the line entering the house rather than the old way of placing bugs on the phone receivers.
In less than three minutes Petra walked back to the van and placed his satchel on the seat. He put on a set of headphones and dialed the Factor telephone number. â€œOkay, itâ€™s working.â€
Sergey pulled out and went back to the marketâ€™s parking lot where they abandoned the van and drove to the motel.
Chapter Twelve â€“ Marina Business
Saturday, May 11
San Francisco, California
Jim managed to time his entrance at the gate with the other guests. When he arrived at the dock slip, Wayne Collier greeted him and introduced his wife Jeanne and their guests. Jeanne Collier was a striking blonde who wore a nautical blouse and white shorts revealing a trim athletic figure and deep tan. Her energized conversation held sway over the guests who were a combination of businessmen and friends. The interior of the yacht held three well-appointed staterooms and a galley. It featured wood-grain cabinetry in genuine teak and holly flooring. An LCD flat screen TV, DVD player and surround-sound system provided entertainment. A cook worked in the galley staffed with a two-burner electric cooktop, a convection oven and microwave. The salon lounge focus was a wrap-around sofa with color-coordinated throw pillows which encircled an adjustable marble top coffee table.
Minimizing his interactions with the guests to avoid personal questions, Jim spent most of the cruise on the bridge. The system operation was flawless but on successive radar scans it was evident dead zones occurred due to structural ground plane interference. Collier came to his side with two of the guests and described the system capability in surprising clear detail. He gave Jim the credit for his education. Later in the day, one of the guests asked Jim for his contact information.
At the end when the guests had departed, Collier approached Jim. â€œHereâ€™s the $200. By the way, I thought you looked comfortable talking with the guests. I know they enjoyed you.â€
Jim replied carefully. â€œThanks, Mr. Collier. Theyâ€™re nice people. Mr. Wallsky asked me for my phone number.â€
â€œBob Wallsky has a smaller boat here at the marina. Perhaps he needs a little work done on it.â€
â€œOne other thing; I noticed the rooftop antenna installation does generate a degrading effect on the radarâ€™s performance. You should consider getting it raised when you have a chance.â€
â€œNick, How about personally seeing it gets modified? I have open accounts at Halyard and Dockside Marine. Iâ€™m leaving town for several days and itâ€™ll be sitting here. Youâ€™ll need a pass to work on it. Iâ€™ll stop by the Harbor Masterâ€™s office and leave your name.â€
Jim agreed and gave his goodbyes. As he strolled away, he felt a little envy. These people had achieved a successful career without fear of reprisals. He wondered if he would ever regain his old life again. He lost everything because he let his greed override his good sense. It felt good mingling with Collierâ€™s guests and operating the electronics. He looked forward to seeing what he had to do to change the antennaâ€™s position.
Monday, May 13
Jim arrived at the marina and went straight to the Harbor Masterâ€™s office to register for a dock pass. The receptionist asked him for his name and ID. Flustered by the question, he hastily explained. â€œIâ€™m Nick Germain. I lost my wallet a couple of days ago with my entire ID.â€ He pulled out his recently purchased wallet to illustrate his statement.
The lady in a sympathetic tone assured him. â€œThatâ€™s okay. Mr. Collier vouched for you. Please sign here for your cardkey and pass.â€
Jim signed and accepted the items.
Jim had already determined the radome assembly alteration had to be performed by people familiar with the nuances of fiberglass structures. He decided to talk to Mike Sweeney who was surprised to see him so soon. He related his encounter with Wayne Collier and the required change in the yachtâ€™s antenna installation.
Sweeney sent George Volmer, a boat carpenter, with him to obtain the necessary modification information. As they climbed on the roof of the bridge, Jim judged that a twelve inch platform mounted above the roof would allow the antenna microwave beam to freely pass over the boat without obstruction. Volmer stated it could be built out of fiberglass and painted within a few days. The existing holes would be filled and painted at the same time. Jim emphasized he wanted the entire assembly and installation to be undistinguishable in appearance. Volmer nodded his agreement and left. Jim took the additional connector length dimension to Charlie Ford to order new cables.
These tasks accomplished, Jim had another important element in his strategy to address; he left the marina and took a cab close to the address listed on the Spanish tutoring card. The man who answered the door had a slight build, glasses, thin mustache, and an articulate manner. He gave his name as James Ortega and revealed he was a local high school music teacher who gave language lessons on the side. Jim was informed the lessons would cost $10 an hour. He asked if Jim spoke any Spanish at all and was told some brief conversational phrases. Depending on his school schedule which normally kept him busy in the morning to mid-afternoon, Ortega agreed Jim could take lessons at his convenience with an advance phone call.
Sweeney called him after a few days to tell him the antenna platform was finished and ready for installation. Jim stopped by Dockside Marine to pick up the new cables and met the carpenter at Collierâ€™s boat. Between the two of them, the antenna housing and cables were installed and the holes professionally filled and painted. Jim turned on the radar and noted with satisfaction the bothersome blind zones were gone and the radar returns were sharper. He called Collierâ€™s office number and left a message with his secretary. When Collier returned and visited his boat, he looked at the job and noted with satisfaction the quality of the modification and the radarâ€™s performance enhancement. Jim was chagrinned and secretly pleased to get $150 for what he perceived as a simple task. More importantly, he learned a little about marine electronics and modifying boat structures. It appeared he could maintain his cover while learning a little tradecraft.
Chapter Thirteen â€“ Anxiety for All
Monday, May 13
Newport Beach, California
A week had passed and Diane still had not heard from Jim. She became concerned and went back to his study, searched his desk and turned towards the safe. She was surprised when she found it unlocked. She felt a little guilty but looked in. She saw the combination taped to the inside of the door. In it was his wallet, ring and watch. The wallet had his IDs and credit cards but no money. She looked through the papers, took the combination and locked the safe. All of this was strange. It was obvious Jim left on purpose but where and why. Although it was like Jim to keep business matters from her, it was unlike him not to call or send an e-mail to let her know he was fine from wherever he traveled. If she hadnâ€™t heard anything by tomorrow, she would go to the police.
Tuesday, May 14
Diane described the events of the preceding week including her discoveries in the safe. No, she had not seen any signs of a struggle. Sergeant Todd Greenwell from the Newport Beach Police Department had arrived on the scene as a follow up to her visit to their station. He was sympathetic and thorough inquiring about marital problems, money issues, failing business, and health concerns. Diane had to laugh however painful the questions seemed because their parents, relatives and friends would probably ask the same things in a more delicate manner. She could not tell if and how much money was missing from the safe. His business papers were kept under lock in file cabinets in the study. Jim had the only combination because of his business dealings. She inventoried his clothes closet and drawers but wasnâ€™t able to determine what was missing. She gave him photographs of her husband.
At the same time the investigating officer was at the Factor residence, Sergey and Petra were getting ready to pose as utility men to gain access to the house and perform a complete search. As was their habit, they used a phone card to call the house to make sure no one was there. On the second ring, a woman answered. Sergey heard some sounds in the background.
He asked. â€œIs Mr. Factor in?â€
He was shaken when a male voice with an authoritative air came on the line and asked who it was. Sergey hung up and stared at Petra.
â€œWe got trouble,â€ was all he could say.
Their easy job just got complicated.
Within days the NBPD ran a check with U.S. Customs Service and found Jimâ€™s passport had not been used since he arrived back in the U.S. the day before vanished. At the same time credit card records showed no recent transactions. He had not appeared on airline passenger lists. Taxi companies had no record of picking up anyone either at the house or in town fitting his description. Sergeant Greenwellâ€™s check of hospitals and the morgue came up empty. The Factorsâ€™ bank accounts revealed no withdrawals or cashed checks for over two weeks prior to his disappearance. Greenwell examined phone logs and Jimâ€™s computers for clues into his whereabouts but without success.
Chapter Fourteen â€“ Another Marina Job
Thursday, May 16
San Francisco, California
As Jim was leaving, Marie Queterras informed him he had received an earlier call from Bob Wallsky asking him to phone. Jim called back and a meeting was set at Wallskyâ€™s boat later in the morning.
Bob Wallsky was a slightly portly man with a contagious smile. He wore a tee-shirt, cargo shorts, sockless loafers and sunglasses. He escorted Jim up the gangplank to the aft deck of a cabin cruiser smaller than Collierâ€™s. However, whereas Collierâ€™s boat was for pleasurable use, it was obvious Wallskyâ€™s passion was fishing.
Wallsky confided. â€œYour attitude and the results with the electronics impressed Wayne. He thinks you have a lot on the ball and heâ€™s a good judge of people. My boatâ€™s a 31-foot Pursuit, specially equipped with Lee outriggers, marlin tower with controls, rod holders, pulpit, 65-gallon bait tank, transom fish box, and extra fuel capacity. I take my investment clients out for fishing mixed in with a little business so I want them to catch something. I monitor the fishing fleet frequencies but I really need to get an edge by installing a good fish finder. Iâ€™ve talked to a few salesmen but I canâ€™t tell if theyâ€™re peddling smoke. Do you think you can make sense of their products and advise me on it? Iâ€™ll certainly pay you for your time.â€
â€œMr. Wallsky, Iâ€™ll research it. Let me have the literature they left.â€
Jim walked away troubled and wondering what he unexpectedly had gotten into. He felt uncomfortable about getting involved in a situation employing his technical knowledge. Perhaps he was too cautious because the tie-in was a reach. He shrugged off the uneasiness and headed for the marine hardware store.
Charlie Ford informed him fish finders are sonars with a plastic transom transducer. The transmitted signal keyed a timer that stopped upon the reception of a reflected signal. After evaluating several models, they decided a Furuno FCV667 was best suited to Wallskyâ€™s conditions. Jim had no idea of the cost Wallsky had in mind. In order to explain the selection process, Jim compared the various models in a table with cost as the last entry. At the bottom he inserted his recommendation. Satisfied, he set out to attend his first Spanish lesson.
Friday, May 17
Jim met Wallsky near the marina at the Bayfront Restaurant and gave him the table summarizing the evaluation of the applicable fish finders. â€œThe cost on the best choice is $545 not including installation.â€
Wallsky concurred. â€œNick. How about taking care of it? Make sure itâ€™s installed and running properly when it comes in. Use my accounts at Halyard and Dockside.â€
After the meeting, Jim was surprised Collier and Wallsky hadnâ€™t raised the issue of a fee. Well, after all, he was doing it for the education so heâ€™d take what was offered. Frankly, he was intrigued by the level of sophistication and the amount of technology the marine systems had adopted from military counterparts and the eagerness of boat owners to acquire them. He ordered the fish finder from Charlie Ford. Then, he went to get another Spanish lesson and see about the self-defense course.
Newport Beach, California
By the end of the week Sergeant Greenwell called Diane Factor to say, lacking any indication of foul play, she should file a missing person report. Her husbandâ€™s picture would be distributed to other law enforcement agencies.
After Greenwellâ€™s call, Diane went back into the study and sat in one of the armchairs. She felt Jim was in trouble and was tackling it the way he always did with everything, by himself. She regretted nothing about her marriage. She recalled their college days when he would prefer to study alone and hard, made few friends and did not mind the isolation. She attributed it to his youth and his parentsâ€™ preoccupation with running their business. On the other hand, he admired her social skills and the many friends she had acquired and kept in touch with throughout the years. Jim appeared to others to be self-absorbed and uncomfortable with small talk and to a degree it was true. He was always good to her and their respective families and friends. He just kept to himself and avoided confiding in others. Diane rose from the chair and left the study closing the door unconsciously behind her. She went into the living room, pulled the window curtains closed, curled up on the sofa and cried herself to asleep.
Chapter Fifteen â€“ Self-Defense
Friday, May 17
San Francisco, California
The self-defense class was located in a martial arts studio converted from a retail store. The front windows were papered to ensure inner privacy. Men and women, young and old entered and left the premises most often in white karate outfits with white sash belts. A sign advertised martial arts and self-defense, listing jujitsu, aikido and tae kwon do. Jim walked into an open room with wood floors and padded mats in three main areas separated by freestanding six-foot high screens decorated in white rice paper and with red Japanese characters. There were three small groups per area each with an instructor. One of the groups was listening to an instructor, the other were going through arm and leg movements.
The third group was breaking up and their instructor returned their bow before waving goodbye. He was the only one wearing the white two-piece outfit with a black belt. The other two instructors were wearing brown belts. The black belt was in his 30â€™s, about six-feet tall with blond hair and a modest beard on a handsome if rugged face. He walked lightly like a dancer. He lacked large muscles but his arms showed definition like a wrapped steel cable. He approached Jim and inquired with a trace of humor. â€œHello, big guy. How can we help you?â€
â€œI saw your ad and it intrigued me. People always assume a tall man can take care of himself but I rather doubt it if I came across someone who knew what they were doing.â€
â€œTrue enough. My name is Chris Muncie. And you are?â€
â€œWell Nick, thereâ€™s self-defense and then there is self-defense. We start teaching defensive tactics ranging from the use of non-lethal force to survival tactics. The method is based on instinctive movement, practical concepts and sound principles. This is coupled with the ability to develop skills from an individualâ€™s natural defensive and offensive movements. These skills are thoroughly enhanced through training scenarios against grabs, strikes, weapons and ground attack. Through the training scenarios, the individual is better prepared both physically and mentally to function during the pressure and distress of a violent attack.â€
Jim replied. â€œIt sounds like what Iâ€™m looking for. Do you work with individuals or just groups?â€
Chris looked at Jim more closely before he spoke. â€œI recommend you start with a group for the initial stages and then, depending on your development, we can advance to individual instruction.â€
Jim looked about the large room and pointed. â€œThere are two harnesses at the end of the room hanging from the ceiling and on pegs to the side; what are they for?â€
â€œItâ€™s an idea I came up with. The more advanced students use them to learn balance awareness while executing their moves against an opponent. The braces on the harnesses are rubber which allows up and down as well as side to side motion. At the beginning only the combatant has it on for their movements against the opponent. Itâ€™s interesting because at first the non-harnessed opponent has the edge. Eventually, the harness becomes familiar and the wearer uses it to escape the opponentâ€™s thrust and parry back with speed and agility.â€
â€œIt seems the wearer might adjust to being on his toes more to push off and keep balanced.â€
â€œVery good observation Nick. Itâ€™s exactly what happens. We then take the wearer off to be the opponent and the other puts on the harness. When both have picked up on the nimbleness and movements it affords I put them both in the harnesses to go against each other. When they get too good at it, which doesnâ€™t take long, they go off of the harnesses and back to the mats. The results have been outstanding for accelerating their training and efficiency.â€
â€œI can see it would happen. Itâ€™s a terrific concept.â€
â€œTell you what; Iâ€™m finished for the evening. Letâ€™s grab a beer and Iâ€™ll tell you more about the class.â€
As Jim and Chris walked down the block, Chris explained. â€œBeginning students are introduced to the fundamentals of the art. This consists of blocking, striking, rolling, falling, footwork and basic self-defense. Physical fitness, exercise and flexibility enhancement are a major part of the curriculum. Once confidence sets in, the studentâ€™s mental attitude undergoes a transformation as well.â€
Jim asked. â€œWhatâ€™s that outfit you wear?â€
â€œItâ€™s called the Do-Gi or just plain dogi. It comes in different weights depending on the individualâ€™s skill; lightweight for children and beginners, medium weight for tournaments and heavy weight for serious practitioners. The belt is an obi and the color designates the advancement and skill level of the wearer. The common colors are black, brown, green, purple, orange, blue, yellow and white. Youâ€™ll see other forms of martial arts with other colors such as red, gold and silver.â€
Chris pointed to the entrance of the Foggy Bottom Bar. They entered and sat in a booth. A pretty waitress with a ponytail approached. She smiled at Chris. â€œBeers?â€
Chris nodded and pointed to Jim. â€œConnie, meet Nick Germain. Heâ€™s considering a karate class.â€
She examined Jim appreciably, â€œIf anyone can teach you, itâ€™s Chris.â€ She went back to the bar.
Chris smiled. â€œConnie enrolled at the studio a year ago and can now handle herself. As for me, I was a Navy Seal for over twelve years and decided I wanted to do something else. I got out and opened the studio. How about you?â€
Jim carefully chose his words. â€œIâ€™m fairly new in San Francisco. I just started doing boat jobs at the Pier 39 Marina and stay at a house not far from here.â€ He caught Chris examining his hands and added. â€œThe work deals with boat accessories like electronics as opposed to scraping barnacles. Before that, I spent a little time in prison.â€ Jim thought it necessary to maintain the same background he gave the Queterras. To his relief, Chris changed the subject.
â€œGetting back to martial arts. Students learn proper training skills utilizing the five components of fitness; cardiovascular strength, flexibility, muscular strength, muscular endurance and body composition. Intermediate and advanced students are taught more detailed and intricate movements.â€
â€œChris, suppose I am interested in making sure the guy who attacks doesnâ€™t disable me and when I counter, he doesnâ€™t get up to try again. Then what?â€
â€œWe can make sure your individual training encompasses striking methods with restraining tactics, ground fighting skills, weaponry and more. Our method is meant to be gentle on the victim but devastating on the attacker. The techniques are swift and powerful while exhibiting gracefulness and balance.â€ Chris took a drink of beer, paused and added. â€œAre you in some kind of trouble?â€
â€œNo, nothing like that. I just want to make sure I can defend myself. Can I take as many classes as I want?â€
Chris shrugged. â€œThe lessons on a group basis are reasonably priced but the individual lessons cost more. You can take them at your pace and, of course, your expense. When you sign up, youâ€™ll get fitted with a dogi.â€
After chatting awhile, they left the bar and went their separate ways. Jim found himself taken by the gentle and open nature of Chris although he knew heâ€™d be a dangerous adversary. He was also impressed with the training rigor available. Intrigued and determined to start preparing for an unpredictable future, he made up his mind to start the lessons in the mornings before going to the marina.
As Chris climbed in his car he reflected on Nick. For all his appearance and stated background, he talked and behaved like an educated man.
Saturday, May 18
The next morning, Chris was surprised to see Jim waiting for the studio to open. â€œHey Nick. I guess I didnâ€™t scare you off last night by telling you about the training involved. Come on in and Iâ€™ll fit you with a dogi. Youâ€™re the first one so Iâ€™ll take you through some basic movements once youâ€™ve changed.â€
Jim felt he was fit enough to take the training in stride and was shocked to be breathing hard after only ten minutes of warm-ups. He noted Chris was a patient and observant teacher who slowed down the lesson to coincide with his pupilâ€™s energy level. After the hour was up and other students started arriving, Chris closed the lesson by instructing Jim in the traditional bow. Jim paid for the lesson in cash. Chris watched him leave after changing back to his street clothes and thought, he wonâ€™t be coming back.
On the way to the marina, Jim could feel the stiffness and soreness of his legs and shoulders after the session. â€œSo much for thinking I was in shape.â€
Chapter Sixteen â€“ Chris Muncie
Sunday, May 18
San Francisco Suburb
Chris drove into his condominium complex and admired the well-kept appearance of the surrounding grounds. People would say it appealed to his neat, orderly military background and was a major reason for buying it but basically he hated to do any yard work. He remotely opened the garage, parked and let himself into the house. He had a three-bedroom unit because he wanted the extra space. He had converted a bedroom into a combination office and den. The other smaller room remained a guest bedroom. He looked around the living room as he went into the kitchen.
It definitely had a manâ€™s touch with a dark leather couch highlighted with brass buttons next to a sturdy wood coffee table. He checked the answering machine in his office. The mail consisted of two bills and advertisements. He sat in the office chair and used a remote to turn on the TV. His mind was on the dinner he had with Nick. The guy was strange, no, not strange but withdrawn and private. He couldnâ€™t tell if he was hiding something or just reluctant to discuss anything of a personal nature. He seemed to be a nice guy and had been comfortable in his presence. He tried to suppress a smile. There was a time the same description fitted him right down to his spit-shined combat boots.
Born Christopher Daniel Muncie, he lived in Wichita, Kansas until he was seven. His fatherâ€™s job as an aircraft mechanic took them to San Diego, California. There, the ocean waves rising and falling in rhythm and throwing themselves against the shore while wet-suited surfers rode their surfboards held a unique fascination. He watched them enviously for hours from the pier and beach. He satisfied himself with body surfing and swimming under the watchful eye of his mother. On his ninth birthday, he received a surfboard which kept him in the water through school. In high school he made the swimming and water polo teams. He tried out for football but lacked the bulk that distinguished the punisher from the punished. This led to an interest in judo and karate. His wiry frame and endurance was suited to track. His grades steadily improved.
After high school, he was recruited by a naval officer from the Navy Special Warfare Command in Coronado next to San Diego. For eighteen months, he was trained in unconventional warfare, direct action and specialized reconnaissance. Afterwards, he had been assigned to a sixteen man Seal platoon deployed in small units worldwide in support of fleet and national operations. He was involved in covert operations in Bosnia and reconnaissance operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After twelve years, he had felt a need for a different type of life style.
He moved to San Francisco and completed his training in martial arts resulting in an instructional certificate. He used his savings to rent a store and turned it into a martial arts studio. In three years, he managed to build up a clientele from mostly word of mouth referrals and hired a staff of three instructors. He had developed the harness but he lacked the funds necessary to obtain a patent and get it on the market.
He was still single. Women acquaintances had drifted in and out of his life. The only one he now dated on a regular basis was Connie. He was too occupied with the studio to devote the necessary attention needed to foster a close relationship. He shrugged. He didnâ€™t need to look for company; heâ€™d let it find him. How did he get into this melancholy? Oh yeah, thinking about his evening with Nick.
Monday, May 20
On Monday morning, Chris was once again surprised and pleased to find Jim waiting at the studio. â€œAll right, Nick. So youâ€™re still interested after that workout. Change and letâ€™s go through more of the lesson.â€ After a half hour, Nick was sweating but kept up until the hour was over. Chris remarked. â€œThe lesson will be cheaper for you if you join a group at a later hour.â€
â€œChris, I kind of like it this way if it doesnâ€™t bother you. Iâ€™ll pay as we go along.â€
â€œNot at all, see you next time.â€ When Nick had left, Chris again wondered about Nickâ€™s life and why he felt it important to learn to defend himself.
The lessons started first thing every morning and lasted for an hour six days a week. Chris observed Nick always paid cash for the lessons and quietly speculated about his background. He didnâ€™t seem to fit in with the laborers, blue-collar workers and the health conscious crowd frequenting the studio. He worked hard during the lesson and was progressing rapidly through the basic movements. He remained, for the most part, quiet and reserved. He took Chrisâ€™s banter during their sessions in stride but never responded in kind. He made up his mind to ask Nick to dinner the next time he came in.
They went out to a nearby Asian restaurant where he was surprised by Nickâ€™s knowledge of the Chinese dishes and his adeptness at handling the chopsticks. He observed his table manners and noticed he was growing a beard but kept his hair short. Chris brought up a number of topics to obtain his reaction but they were deflected by neutral comments. It was only when Chris brought up the Iraqi response to the United Nationsâ€™ resolution on arms inspection that Nick became animated by the discussion. Chris mentioned he had seen action as a Seal in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. Nick was going to add something but caught himself. On the whole, both men enjoyed the evening and each otherâ€™s company and parted pleasantly.
Chapter Seventeen â€“ Initiatives
Newport Beach, California
Diane Factor woke up to a state of depression which had consumed her ever since the telephone call from Sergeant Greenwell. She took a long shower to clear her head. It was obvious the police had more to do than worry about a possible missing person. She realized she couldnâ€™t let it go without taking some kind of action. She inherited her stubbornness from her father who had built a small general store into a large retail chain. After high school, she went to college and graduated with honors. Eventually, she had risen to the post of Director of Communications for a large biotechnology company. By then, Jim was making a good income and they had enjoyed each otherâ€™s company when traveling together. She maintained her athletic figure through tennis and exercise class.
She thought, this wonâ€™t do. I am not going to wait around and mope. She wrapped herself in a bath towel, went to the phone and left a message for Sergeant Greenwell. Within the hour he returned her call.
â€œSergeant, I want to pursue another avenue to find my husband. Do you know a good private investigator I could contact?"
Greenwell hesitated momentarily. â€œMrs. Factor, I happen to know an excellent one. This fellow worked with the Los Angeles Sheriffâ€™s Department and later here as a detective. Heâ€™s tough, stubborn and smart as they get. His name is Adam Weatherly and he has an office nearby in Santa Ana.â€
Diane dialed the number she received from Sergeant Greenwell.
A woman answered, â€œWeatherly Investigations.â€
â€œMr. Weatherly, please.â€
After a moment, a man came on. â€œHello, this is Adam Weatherly.â€
Her first impression was he had a low no-nonsense voice. She blurted, â€œMr. Weatherly, I was referred to you by Sergeant Todd Greenwell. My name is Diane Factor and I would like to talk to you about my missing husband.â€
â€œHow long has he been missing?â€
â€œGoing on two weeks,â€ she replied.
There was a pause. â€œMrs. Factor, letâ€™s meet in an hour. Give me your address and phone number.â€
When the doorbell rang, Diane opened the door and was surprised to see a man neatly dressed in a well-fitting suit with a white shirt and a fashionable tie. He was 5-foot, 10 inches with a muscular build and a nose that had been broken sometime in his past. He had a small diagonal scar on the left side of his rugged face. His size belied the quiet force emanating from him. His eyes held an intelligent gleam. He introduced himself and she invited him into the house. Diane showed him into the living room where they sat across one another. She folded her hands in her lap and looked straight at him.
â€œMr. Weatherly, tell me about yourself.â€
Weatherly was taken aback by the unexpected question. He had expected to be confronted by an angry or despondent wife not one who wanted to probe his background. He smiled. â€œWould you like the Readers Digest version or?â€
â€œThe version you feel describes you best, Mr. Weatherly.â€
â€œOkay, let me know when I begin to bore you. Iâ€™m originally from Los Angeles. My father worked as an insurance investigator so you might say it runs in my genes. I studied criminology and law at the California State University at Long Beach. When I graduated, I joined the LA Sheriffâ€™s Department. After six years, my interest and success led to an assignment in investigations. They had a problem with me, I didnâ€™t know when to quit a case. I was offered a similar position with a promotion with the Newport Beach PD and took it. I had more freedom but the story was the same after a while. After four years I left to start my investigation agency. At the beginning it was touch and go but my former colleagues were generous with referrals. I hired two former law enforcement nerds and weâ€™ve been busy ever since. We are generally successful in finding people within thirty days although thereâ€™s no guarantee itâ€™ll always be the case.â€
Diane nodded. â€œThank you for your candor. Let me bring you up to date on my husbandâ€™s disappearance.â€ As they sat in the living room, Weatherly was walked through all of the events of that first day and the subsequent police activities. He asked to see Jimâ€™s study and the police report. She opened the safe and he examined everything and made notes. He saw that the papers in the safe were personal to them; mortgage, loan, car registration, insurance, a will and the savings account.
â€œI donâ€™t see his business papers.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re over here behind the cabinet doors in locked filing cabinets.â€
â€œMrs. Factor, you seem to suspect your husband may in some sort of trouble which would make him run off like he did. Why?â€
â€œI think because he left all of his IDs and the open safe. Jim isnâ€™t your everyday kind of professional. Heâ€™s an arms dealer and has been very successful through the years. I see your frown. Not that kind. Heâ€™s brokered large weapon systems for Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin although over the years he preferred to have the European aerospace industry for clients. His customers are mainly in the Middle East. He wasnâ€™t always in the business. He previously worked in the corporate world. He just preferred to be independent. Jimâ€™s profession took him into rather precarious situations like Desert Storm. I gather he associates at times with less than respectable customers. I can also tell you it had to be something drastic to make him react like he did. I am not being overly emotional. There is something else I think is important. It is in his character to face problems himself rather than confide and ask for assistance particularly if there could be trouble. This is the reason Iâ€™m seeking help.â€
â€œYou should know before we continue, my fee is $500 a day plus expenses with a $5,000 retainer. The sooner we can begin, the better itâ€™ll be. Two weeks have passed and the scent has to be faint.â€
Diane took a checkbook from her purse and wrote a check. â€œDo what it takes.â€
â€œMrs. Factor, to continue, do you have any idea why your husband might have left or been kidnapped? Usually, a woman, finances, health or danger are a reason.â€
â€œMr. Weatherly, we have adequate finances, our health is good and my husband is devoted to me. I believe something particularly dire and serious must have occurred for him to leave suddenly.â€
â€œOkay, I see the phone logs showed no calls that morning. Did your husband have a cell phone? Thereâ€™s none listed in the police report.â€
â€œGood heavens, I completely forgot all about that. When he travels he carries a satellite phone. I picked it off his desk when it happened and left it in the bedroom in case he called.â€ She went away and came back with the phone.
â€œLet me have it. Iâ€™ll return it in a few days. Iâ€™ll also contact Sergeant Greenwell. Then Iâ€™ll be back in touch. In the meantime, please let me have photographs of your husband in casual clothes and in a business suit.â€
â€œMr. Weatherly, one more thing. I want to be brought up to date right away when there is any progress.â€
After Weatherly left, Diane pulled out her telephone list. Itâ€™s about time to bring both their parents in on her suspicion and action. She informed them about the events which had transpired up to her hiring a private investigator.
â€œNo, it wouldnâ€™t do any good to come here. The police will do what they can but I believe this investigator acting on my behalf will be more effective.â€
She promised to keep them informed. She hung up the phone. She was thankful they hadnâ€™t inquired about personal problems. They had also taken it as something involved with Jimâ€™s business dealings.
Sergey and Petra listened in on Factorâ€™s wife telephone calls regarding his disappearance and hiring a private investigator. Sergey observed. â€œWell, we know itâ€™s useless to get into the house now that the son-of-a-bitch has taken off without leaving a clue where heâ€™s going. It makes the job tougher for us. The PI could be a break if he tracks Factor down. I say we hang around and monitor his progress through the calls. Letâ€™s find his office so we know where to find him.â€
When Adam returned to his office, his two associates greeted him. They were always curious and eager when they took on a new client. Elaine Marks handled the phones and computer-oriented information searches while Marty Burns specialized in all types of surveillance technologies. Both college graduates were working for police departments when Adam had recruited them.
Adam ran down the information he received from Diane Factor. He handed Elaine the satellite phone and number. â€œLetâ€™s get the phone records for the last two years. Do the usual stuff on repeated numbers tracking down callers and their location. Letâ€™s scan these photographs and generate copies with a beard and moustache. Make a set with and without a hat.â€
He addressed Marty. â€œI need a wiretap placed on the Factorâ€™s phone. Weâ€™ll monitor calls in case he tries to contact his wife or if she gets a threat or ransom demand. Place a video camera somewhere near the front of the house to keep an eye on the street. In their upscale community, weâ€™ll be able to observe any unusual traffic. Iâ€™ll contact Todd Greenwell and get his insights on the matter.â€
When Sergeant Greenwell came on the line, Weatherly thanked him for the referral and quickly got down to business. â€œTodd, whatâ€™s your impression of the Factor woman? Is she genuinely concerned and more important, do you think she is holding back anything?â€
Greenwell sighed. â€œShe feels thereâ€™s more to it than a simple disappearance and it definitely has her worried. Did she tell you heâ€™s an arms dealer? Maybe something went wrong.â€
â€œIâ€™m going to look into that angle. Thanks again, Toddâ€
â€œAdam, keep me in the loop. I donâ€™t want to get egg on my face.â€
When he got off the phone, Adam related what Greenwell said. â€œElaine, make sure we check out all international calls to and from the home and compare them with the cell phone calls.â€
Chapter Eighteen â€“ Marina Work
Monday, May 27
San Francisco, California
After a week, Bob Wallskyâ€™s fish finder arrived and was installed by the manufacturerâ€™s representative under Jimâ€™s watchful eye. The technician described the sonarâ€™s characteristics, the different features and options, and demonstrated the operation. The sophistication, details and the resulting performance were impressive. When the job was completed, Jim called Wallsky with the news. Wallsky asked Jim to meet him at the dock for a trial run.
Wallsky was excited about testing the system. Jim explained how the fish finder functioned. They headed west as soon as they exited the marina and entered San Francisco Bay. Within fifteen minutes they passed under the Golden Gate Bridge into the open choppy water of the Pacific. Both men put on windbreakers. Wallsky turned north along the California coast and reduced the speed to a slow cruise. Jim activated the fish finder. Experimenting with the settings, they were enthralled by the returns on the display.
Wallsky stopped the engines, went to the rear of the boat, pulled a fishing rod from a holder and took a fresh fish from a bait tank. He skillfully put it on the hook, settled into a large swivel deck chair bolted to the aft deck, lit a cigar, and dropped a line in the water. Jim noted the fish finder gave returns in their vicinity when Wallsky yelped with pleasure. A few minutes later, a ten-pound sea bass lay on the floor of the boat. Wallsky grabbed it by the gills, expertly removed the hook and released the fish into the water.
â€œPerfect!â€ He yelled and slapped Jim on the back. He started the engines and returned to the marina. Wallsky asked him to wait a moment. He returned with some money, counted out $250 and placed it in his hand. â€œThanks. Nick. Itâ€™s exactly what I wanted.â€
Jimâ€™s experience with Collier and Wallsky led him to contemplate putting out a circular targeted at selective boat owners about his availability on sophisticated marine accessories questions or problems. This type of work appealed to his technical nature and seemingly would pay more for less time than other types of marina jobs. He became friendly with Miguel Rodriguez, a Mexican immigrant who had grown up performing boat-related jobs at the Cabo San Lucas, Baja, Mexico marina and moved to the U.S. as a young man. He had tried his Spanish on Miguel and could actually understand his response. Jim decided to find him and discuss the possibly of helping each other at the marina.
It didnâ€™t take long for Jim to locate Miguel who was polishing brass and scrubbing the topside of a twenty-nine foot Monterey 296.
â€œMiguel,â€ he called out. â€œCan you take a break any time soon?â€
Miguel grinned. â€œIâ€™m ready now.â€ He wiped the sweat off his face with a handkerchief and climbed down to the dock.
They sat on a nearby boat locker while Jim summarized his thoughts. â€œMiguel, Iâ€™ve done work for a couple of boat owners involving a degree of technical knowledge.â€ He described the jobs he did for Collier and Wallsky. â€œI figure there are more like them with similar needs. Perhaps their systems arenâ€™t working well, theyâ€™re not using it correctly or they want to upgrade to bigger and better. Iâ€™m willing to pay a finderâ€™s fee if you run across someone like that. If it requires more than I could handle, Iâ€™ll hire you to work on it with me. What do you say?â€
â€œIt sounds better and more exciting than the stuff I usually do. I know the other guys working here who may want to get in on it too. Iâ€™ll talk to them.â€
Jim walked away thinking about the problem with expanding his activity. He only accepted cash although some of the boat owners might attempt to pay by check. He needed a bank account but the lack of a social security number was an obstacle. He had to get false ID. He heard undocumented immigrants had sources. Asking the Queterrasâ€™ was out of the question. As he walked, he suddenly thought of another possibility. The subject was too sensitive to discuss in the open. He turned around and went back to the boat where Miguel was working.
â€œHey, Miguel,â€ he yelled, â€œdo you have time later on for a beer?â€
Miguel motioned with his hands, twenty minutes.
At the nearby Bayfront bar, Jim drew Miguel over to a quiet table. They talked about boats, jobs and pay. Finally, he broached the subject of cash and checks. â€œMiguel, I have a problem. People want to pay me with checks and I have no way of cashing them. Any ideas?â€
Taking a drink, Miguel slowly replied. â€œDo you have any ID at all?â€
â€œNo, I lost it all a while back. Can you help me with it?â€
â€œLet me make some calls and get back to you.â€
Miguel sought out Jim the following day. â€œNick, I know a guy who will do it but if you approached him heâ€™ll spook. He charges $300 for a good ID.â€
â€œI want to go ahead with it.â€
â€œYou went out of your way to include me in your plans so hereâ€™s what Iâ€™ll do. Write down your full name, place of birth and birth date. Iâ€™ll give it to him with your payment and he wonâ€™t have to meet you.â€
Two days later, Jim had a social security number and a false birth certificate. He chose a different birth date to make him three years younger and listed Boston as a place of birth in case his accent was noticed. He used the ID to open a savings account in a bank blocks away from the marina. After this, he had business cards printed with his name and the Queterrasâ€™ phone number. He let Marie know he might get some calls at the house. He assured her if it got too annoying, heâ€™d get another phone line installed with a voice mail option.
Chapter Nineteen - The Investigation Begins
Wednesday, May 29
Newport Beach, California
Adam was on foot canvassing the neighborhood around the Factor residence with the photographs when Marty called on his cell phone. â€œAdam, get back to the office quick. We have something to show you.â€ He returned to his car, made a U-turn and raced back.
They were both waiting when he came through the door. â€œYouâ€™re not going to believe this.â€ They voiced in almost unison.
â€œOkay. Elaine. You first.â€
â€œThe satellite phone and home phone had several repeat numbers but the one most interesting occurred on the satellite phone the morning he disappeared. The number shows up again almost six months earlier and continues back nearly a year. Itâ€™s from a cell phone and the last call was from Costa Rica. Before that, the calls on the number were from Florida, and various European countries including Bulgaria.â€
â€œGood work. Do a crosscheck with the names and numbers in Factorâ€™s organizer. The police report has this list. Okay, Marty, your turn.â€
â€œAdam, I went to the Factor house to install the phone tap this morning and almost had a heart attack. Someoneâ€™s beat me to it. If it wasnâ€™t the NBPD which I seriously doubt, someone else is very interested in the Factors. I planted ours in a way where I can monitor their pickup while we independently eavesdrop.â€
Adam stared at both of them. â€œThatâ€™s some kind of news and it may be a big piece of the puzzle.â€
Marty continued. â€œI placed a MiWatcher II color digital camera in the tree on their front lawn facing the street. By the way, after I found the other tap, I placed another camera facing the house in case our friends get careless when they return. A motion detector will trigger the cameras. The MWII automatically transmits the digital images with date and time stamp. A dedicated phone line isnâ€™t necessary; itâ€™ll use normal phone lines for transmission. The outputs will be transmitted from the Factorâ€™s garage by a cell phone connection.â€
â€œGood work you two. Itâ€™s beginning to appear our Mr. Factor has gotten himself in trouble serious enough to deliberately take off. Now besides looking for Factor, we have another party to find. Iâ€™ll keep up the canvassing while you two work out why he skipped. Iâ€™ll work on how he did it. Iâ€™ll ask Mrs. Factor not to use her home phone line if the call concerns her husband.â€
Adam performed a sweep of stores in the Factor residential vicinity. He noted the nearby gas station. Factor would have needed some quick transportation. He called his office. â€œElaine, didnâ€™t the police report say there was a cab driver who thought he had a passenger that resembled Factor? Where did he pick him up and drop him off?â€
â€œThe police report says that he was picked up at the corner of San Joachim Hills Road and Marguerite Parkway. The taxi dropped him off not far from the Santa Ana Greyhound Bus Terminal. It was about nine-thirty in the morning.â€
â€œBingo. The pickup occurred within a block from me. What did the police check at the bus station reveal?â€
â€œNothing. No one identified his picture.â€
â€œIâ€™m on my way there now.â€
He drove around the area containing the Greyhound Bus Terminal carefully looking over the types of shops. He stopped when he saw the novelty store. The clerk thought he recognized Factor but couldnâ€™t recall a purchase. Weatherly surveyed the shelves and found a variety of beards and moustaches. He thought, if it were me, Iâ€™d want to alter my appearance before traveling.
When Adam entered the bus terminal, he went straight to the managerâ€™s office. He showed his badge and told Ray Gomez, the manager, he was trying to get information on a person who caught a bus over two weeks before. â€œLook, I know itâ€™s a long shot someone will remember him but maybe something about the man stuck in their mind and itâ€™ll jog their memory.â€
Gomez asked the ticket sellers to come into the office. Adam showed them the pictures of Jim Factor. Both tellers shook their heads.
Adam persisted. â€œMaybe there was something odd about the man like nervousness or overly cautious that might have seemed suspicious.â€
One of the tellers thought a moment and turned to Gomez. â€œThere was something but I canâ€™t think of when it was. I sold a ticket to this guy and later he came back and bought another ticket. I thought it was strange he didnâ€™t exchange the first ticket because it wasnâ€™t cheap. Then I saw him at the other ticket window. I figure he was buying tickets for people with him but as far as I could see he was alone.â€
Adam pressed. â€œCan you at least remember the destinations?â€
The teller shook her head. â€œSorry.â€
Gomez thought a moment. â€œHey, if he didnâ€™t return the unused tickets, I can check which buses were one passenger short. The time will tell us what other buses went out around then.â€ He sat at a computer terminal and checked the passenger sales and numbers for the date and time. â€œOkay, both the San Diego and the Phoenix buses was one passenger short. The only other bus at the time went to San Francisco and the passenger number matches the ticket sales. The bus driver was Jerry Spears. Heâ€™s due here tomorrow afternoon. Iâ€™ll call you when he gets in.â€
Chapter Twenty â€“ Measures
Friday, May 31
For three weeks Sergey and Petra maintained constant vigilance over the Factorâ€™s house with the planted wiretap monitoring the progress of the police effort and Mrs. Factorâ€™s call to the private investigator. They located his office in the phone book. Factor had not tried to contact his wife. Her call to the private investigator was troublesome.
â€œDamn it, this isnâ€™t getting us anywhere, Petra. My gut tells me heâ€™s cut out for good. We may do better to concentrate on the PI to see if he gets anywhere.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t we personally find out if she knows anything?â€ Petra asked.
Sergey rolled his eyes upward. â€œLet me know when you have something useful to add.â€
Sergey called Borichov and informed him that the recent events placed their continued phone monitoring at risk. Borichovâ€™s response was predictable.
â€œDamn it. You took too long to get there and now this. Sooner or later, heâ€™s going to surface. Keep watching the wife and investigator. I want him found, I donâ€™t care how long it takes.â€ Borichov slammed the phone down.
They packed in silence and checked out of the motel. They made it a rule never to stay in one place for long. There were plenty of motels that suited their needs. Petra took the wheel as Sergey made a call to the Factor house. When there was no reply, he told Petra to drive by the house. There was no sign of activity so he continued around the corner and parked.
He instructed Petra. â€œGo get the tap. Itâ€™s too risky to leave it while the police and the PI step up the search. Weâ€™ll monitor the house for short periods.â€
Within minutes, Petra returned and they drove off. â€œWhatâ€™s our next move?â€ Petra asked.
â€œLetâ€™s find out more about the PI and see if heâ€™ll lead us to Factor.â€
The retrieval of the listening equipment was heard and captured by Marty who promptly contacted Adam. He downloaded the video from the two cameras into their computer system. The camera facing the house did not show any intruder. The street-facing camera, however, captured the passage of a car with two occupants a few minutes before the tap went dead. Elaine used computer enhancement on the passenger. The license plate was caked in mud probably deliberately and could not be read. The car was an older model dark Chevrolet sedan. When Adam arrived and viewed the results, Elaine had already made prints of the car and the passenger.
â€œGood work. Itâ€™s time to have a talk with Todd Greenwell and see what they can turn up on our friends.â€
Greenwell was impressed with Adamâ€™s progress and entered the photographs into the FBI database. â€œIâ€™ll call you if we come up with a match.â€
In less than a day Sergeant Greenwell was contacted by the FBI who wanted to know where he obtained the photographs. He gave the details and ended by revealing their contact was lost. The FBI agent informed him the men were known members of the Russian mafia and considered dangerous. â€œWeâ€™ve been trying to get these guys for some time. Weâ€™ll send out a bulletin on their car. If they keep to their pattern, theyâ€™re on the road returning home. Unfortunately, we believe theyâ€™ll switch cars before heading out.â€ Greenwell filled Adam in on the conversation.
Adam called on Diane Factor and delivered a progress summary on the investigation.
â€œThere are two avenues Iâ€™d like to pursue. The first deals with the circumstance of Jimâ€™s disappearance. Thereâ€™s reason to believe he felt his presence would a pose a serious danger to you. We need to find out why. The second avenue will be harder. We have to find him and he doesnâ€™t want to be found.â€
Without hesitation she authorized him to continue the search.
Chapter Twenty-One â€“ The Investigation Continues
Monday, June 3
Newport Beach, California
Adam developed a time line of Jim Factorâ€™s actions since he walked out of the house. Jerry Spears, the bus driver, did not remember seeing Factor as one of his passengers but mentioned a person who sort of fit the description was involved in an incident during the trip. Adam was sure San Francisco was Factorâ€™s next stop. The question was; did he get off along the way or did he continue on? It would have been late in the afternoon when the bus arrived in San Francisco. Given the dayâ€™s hectic events, Adam would bet he decided to stay put and hide. Traveling presented a certain risk. Hotels were easy to check but on the other side of the coin, boarding houses were impossible. He had to hand it to Factor. He showed no sign of panic and was thinking on his feet.
Not for the first time, Adam reviewed his own life. He was in his late 30â€™s and in law enforcement since graduating from college. He maintained his fitness proficiency at the police gym and regularly frequented the gun range. Once married, his wife had difficulty adjusting to the long hours of detective work occupying his time and filed for divorce. She met a land developer while selling real estate and now had both time and money.
He wrinkled his brow, rubbed his chin and thought, â€œOkay, put yourself in Factorâ€™s shoes. Itâ€™s getting towards dusk and he needs a place to stay for the night. Heâ€™s been careful all day and wonâ€™t be lulled into going to a hotel no matter how safe or easy it may be. He probably wonâ€™t take a chance on sleeping on the streets if he has cash on him. It leaves him looking for a room but where? Assume the guyâ€™s resourceful and finds a room, location unknown, where they donâ€™t keep records and donâ€™t ask for ID; maybe a bed and breakfast or rooming house. Factor thinks he can get lost in San Francisco. Why not? Itâ€™s a large city with a diverse ethnic population. Heâ€™ll want to get a job although with his cash he doesnâ€™t need to. No, heâ€™ll get a job because he has the semblance of a plan by now. Heâ€™ll be analytical and thorough, say a menial job where he can get paid in cash because he doesnâ€™t dare use his identity. Itâ€™s time to talk to Mrs. Factor about her husbandâ€™s hobbies and interests to obtain a further insight into him.â€
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