The Cairo Deception: Chapter 3

There were five of them in total. They were sitting at the bar, directly opposite Jack, and across the room. 

Ali Abber, a notorious Cairo gangster, and four of his henchmen. They were sitting on bar stools, with their backs to Jack. Jack could see their faces in the mirror behind the bar.

Ali Abber was sitting to the left of his men. Jack had never had the displeasure of making Ali’s acquaintance, but he knew him by reputation. Many people in Cairo knew Ali Abber by reputation. 

Ali Abber was short and stocky, in his early thirties. His black hair was close-cut and thick. Ali’s face was bisected by a long diagonal scar that ran from just below his right eye, to the left corner of his chin. The scar was said to be the product of a childhood knife fight. According to the stories, Ali Abber had been a boy of twelve at the time of the fight, and his opponent had been a grown man. Ali Abber had gotten the scar, but Ali had gutted the grown man. 

Or so the stories went. Jack saw no reason to doubt them.  

Jack had not seen Ali and his men enter the bar. It seemed to him, though, that they had appeared there directly in his wake.

A coincidence, to be sure, but not the only one. Jack feared that he had been deliberately betrayed. 

It had all started with a quarrel with Tahmid, the man he had hired to serve as his digging assistant, guide, and interpreter. Jack had dismissed Tahmid after finding the garnet. He had no further need of the Egyptian man’s services, after all.

Jack had given Tahmid a bonus when he terminated his employment. The bonus was more than Jack could afford, given the meager cash reserves that he had brought to Egypt with him. 

“Is that all, boss?” Tahmid had asked. 

When Jack had asked him what he meant by that, Tahmid had replied, “What I mean, boss, is that you’re a rich man now.” Jack had been less than discreet about what he was digging for out in the desert. As a result, Tahmid had some grasp of the garnet’s worth.

Jack had reminded Tahmid that he wouldn’t be rich until he returned to the United States and found a buyer for the garnet. This was true. He couldn’t give Tahmid cash that he didn’t have. 

His assistant had walked away, but he was clearly unconvinced by Jack’s explanation.

And then just yesterday, Jack had seen his erstwhile assistant, Tahmid, in the bazaar district, talking to this same Ali Abber who was now sitting at the bar. 

Jack had watched, out of sight of the two men, as Ali had slipped Tahmid a handful of Egyptian pounds.

The exchange was technically none of Jack’s business. He had no claim on Tahmid—especially now that Tahmid was no longer in his employ. If Tahmid now wanted to work for one of the most notorious hoodlums in Cairo, that was his business. 

It was, however, an odd coincidence: Ali Abber and his men showing up at this bar—a bar that Jack was known to frequent—the day after he had seen the disgruntled Tahmid talking to Ali.

Jack was pretty certain that Ali and his men had not been in Rossi’s Bar when he’d entered. They had come in after him.

As if they had been following him.

Jack reminded himself that the garnet wasn’t the only significant object that he had on his person tonight. Also in one of the interior pockets of his jacket was a Model 1911 45-caliber pistol. The M1911 had a seven-round cartridge. 

One round for each man at the bar, with two rounds to spare.

Jack was no stranger to rough-and-tumble dealings among men. He had served in the U.S. Army during peacetime. He had been in his share of scraps—especially during his boyhood in Indiana. 

But he had never killed a man before. And he didn’t want to start tonight, not if he could help it.

Moreover, any sort of gunfight in a bar would set in motion consequences that Jack could not predict or control. Even in the Wild West that was Cairo. To simply remove the weapon from his jacket, and display it in a threatening manner, would bring consequences. Most men in Cairo were armed, in one way or another. But there were rules about such things. And one rule was: You didn’t brandish semiautomatic handguns in a crowded bar.

Then another coincidence occurred. Ali Abber turned around on his barstool. He was about to make eye contact with Jack—or so Jack thought—when:

“Hey, you! get out of here!” yelled a voice very close to Jack’s ear. 

Chapter 4

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 54

They were at dinner the following night, when Barry realized that his spirits were at an all-time low since he had come to terms with his new situation. 

The North Koreans had not broken his spirit—not yet. But the execution of the young woman, and the changes at the tour agency, had made an already intolerable situation even more intolerable.   

Tanaka had left the canteen early tonight, pleading gastrointestinal issues. So it was just Barry and Anne.

Given the probable hygiene standards in North Korea, it was a wonder, Barry thought, that all of them weren’t doubled over a commode, all the time.

“How are things going with at the tour agency?” Anne asked.

Barry shrugged. He didn’t want to go into it—the death of the young woman, the probable deaths of Mr. Lee and Mr. Ki.  

“You look like you’ve been through something,” Anne persisted. “Some kind of trauma. I mean above and beyond the ordinary trauma of being here.”

“I made a move,” Barry said. “Something that might have gotten us out of here. It didn’t work out.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Not now,” he said. “Maybe another time.”

He realized that now he was the one keeping secrets, even though he had insisted that they need to work together. But he couldn’t get past what he had seen: the young woman’s murder…And after Jung-Ho had lied to and manipulated him.

Damn you, Jung-Ho, Barry thought. Someday, I’ll see you up against a wall.

But he knew that this would never happen. How could it? He was completely powerless here. 

“Are you done eating?” Anne asked. 

Barry looked down at his empty plate. Dinner tonight was the same as always: rice, vegetables, a bit of meat. Weak tea. 

“Yes. Let’s get out of here.”

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They were walking across the compound, when Anne asked him for news of their own country. Oddly enough, this was the first time the topic had come up.

“We don’t get much news in here,” Anne said. “We catch some tidbits from the state-run media. That’s about it. So Donald Trump is really president?”

“Yes,” Barry said. “Donald Trump is really president.”

“Is he popular?”

Barry smiled at the question. He suspected that he and Anne might have different political leanings. “That’s a matter of opinion. Politics. Let’s hope that we’re both able to vote in the next U.S. election…whomever we each vote for.”

“Speaking of which,” Anne said, “Jung-Ho told me something about the politics of this country.”

“You and Jung-Ho have private conversations?” Barry said. “Sounds cozy.”

Then Anne told Barry how Jung-Ho had been trying for several years to seduce her.

Although he held his tongue, Barry must have appeared skeptical of Anne’s explanation. 

“I string him along,” Anne said. “That’s all. Do you really think that I could…be with him? After what they did to Kevin?”

He was tempted to challenge her. But then he thought: Hadn’t he played nice with Jung-Ho, too, in order to angle himself into an advantageous position?

“No,” Barry said. “I suppose not. Anyway, what did he tell you?”

“Jung-Ho seems to think that there’s going to be some shakeup in the top leadership of North Korea,” Anne said. “He claims to have some involvement in it. Keep this yourself, of course, please.”

“Sure,” Barry said. “Of course.”

He was singularly unimpressed by Anne’s news. His only objective was to get out of North Korea. He didn’t care who ran this place. 

He also didn’t see a path whereby any change in the country’s leadership would bring about their freedom. The entire regime was so lawless. What were the odds of their being freed by a new man, or a new cabal, in power? 

Probably close to zero, Barry thought.  

Chapter 55

Table of contents

Blood Flats: Chapter 12

Back into the woods again. Lee had no idea where he was going now—except that he was still traveling south. It would be about noon: He allowed himself a brief glance upward and saw that the sunlight filtering through the tree leaves was intense, burning the outlines of branches into negative images across his retinas. 

Perhaps he had made a mistake in leaving Tradd’s gun where the young father could find it. Tradd might be tracking a short distance behind him even now, as the law was surely tracking him.

He passed a deer blind that was suspended about a foot off the ground. There would be no hunters in June but the deer blind spooked him nonetheless: It reminded him of a machine gun pillbox on four wooden legs: He imagined Sheriff Phelps taking aim at him, sliding a rifle out from the wooden structure’s firing slit. 

Was the image a premonition? Was that how this was all going to end? A bird darted across a shaft of sunlight in the middle of the trail and Lee started, expecting Tradd or Sheriff Phelps or perhaps someone else.

Calm down, he told himself. You have to think. You have to get your wits about you.

Lee also found that he was haunted by the parting look that the boy, Zack, had given him. He pictured the young boy telling his grandchildren about the incident someday, the way that old-timers sometimes told stories about chance encounters with famous outlaws from the 1920s. He knew that he was no John Dillinger or Baby Face Nelson; and at this exact hour much of the county still regarded him as a war hero. But that collective opinion of him would surely change—just as Tradd’s opinion of him had shifted in the flicker of an instant. The false accusations and the circumstantial evidence would be enough to damn him in most people’s minds.

Whatever Lee’s true motivations, whatever the truth of what had happened in the trailer, the young father would recall only one fact: that Lee had held a gun on him and, by extension, his family. And when the law learned of the incident it would only add to the weight of his apparent guilt. He was going to end up dead or behind bars—and probably dead—through a series of his own miscalculations and plain bad luck.

The trail descended and rose again and the woods abruptly ended. Beyond the woods was not the uncut meadow or cultivated field that he might have expected, but a stripped landscape of dirt and uprooted trees. The land had been cleared in a wide semicircle, and the uncomfortable fantasy of being an outlaw in the woods gave way to an even more uncomfortable reality: He was an outlaw in the open daylight.

Lee heard the sounds of the heavy equipment before he saw the men working: A county work crew was adding an extension to Route 257: The new road would pass by the campground where Lee had been an unwelcome guest at the campsite of Tradd and his family.

He sensed that he was walking into a bad situation; but once again going back the way he had come was not an option. Lee walked forward, trying his best to appear nonchalant, hoping that he would be able to make his way without attracting attention. It was a hope that soon proved futile.

“Hey, you can’t cut through here!” the leader of the work crew shouted at Lee above the rumbling of a road grader. He was in his early fifties and he had a considerable paunch. He badly needed a shave and a cigarette dangled from his lips. The crew leader had been talking to the crewman operating the grader when he noticed Lee. The massive yellow machine was about to transform a strip of this bumpy field into a more level surface that would become the next increment of the Route 257 extension. Black smoke belched from the machine’s vertical exhaust pipe.

The crew leader signaled for the crewman operating the road grader to hold on for a moment. He came jiggling over to Lee, shaking his head and muttering beneath his breath—no doubt cursing this fool who didn’t have the sense to stay away from a construction site.

“You can’t cut through here!” the crew leader said. He was close enough for Lee to smell the man’s sweat and the cigarette.

The .45 was tucked in the waistband of Lee’s pants at the small of his back. Lee did not think that any of the county work crew members were close enough to notice the outline of the gun beneath his shirt. But they were pausing their tasks and gawking now, as men engaged in tedious work will do in the presence of any unexpected diversion. 

“I’ll stay away from the equipment,” Lee said. He knew that these words would not placate the man even before they were out of his mouth.

“No, you don’t understand,” the crew leader said. “This is a restricted area. You get hurt here and the county is liable. That would mean my ass and probably my job. I’m not going to lose my job because some fella wants to take a hike through the woods.”

“I’m just passing through,” Lee said.

The operator of the road grader had now killed the engine of his machine and was climbing down from the cab. 

The crew boss removed his cigarette from his mouth, turned his head and spat in the dirt. “I can’t let you through here. Look—we’ve got pits and trip hazards all over the place. This is a dangerous area.”

I’ve witnessed a double murder, for which I’m now on the run, and this guy wants me to concern myself with “trip hazards” Lee thought.

Nevertheless, Lee was now facing a potential confrontation with two men, as the crewman from the road grader was beginning to walk toward him. He was a large man who looked like he had a temper—the sort of guy who regularly engaged in knock-down-drag-out bar fights on Friday nights—just for fun.

“What’s the matter, dude? You hard a hearin’?” the road grader driver called out. “You’re in a restricted area.” 

A few more exchanges of words and there might be a real confrontation, Lee realized. He had the .45 of course, and the crew boss would back down in an instant if he saw it. But that would expose his presence to yet another set of witnesses. And the crewman from the road grader might call Lee’s bluff. Some men were daring and stupid enough to charge a loaded firearm.

“Tell me where I can go,” Lee said.

“Now that’s the spirit,” the crew boss said. “You got two choices: Go back in the direction you came from, or take that road outta here.” He jabbed a thumb toward a gently declining hill at the edge of the construction area. Lee could see pavement through the breaks in the trees.

Since Lee could not retrace his steps in the direction of Tradd, he would have to go down the hill, then. 

He eased his way backward, taking short steps so that he would not take a pratfall and then roll down the hill. The road crew probably interpreted this maneuver as fear of an attack. In reality, this was the only way Lee could keep them from seeing the .45. 

“Show’s over!” the crew boss shouted to his subordinates, seeing that Lee was going. “Back to work!”

Lee walked through a short band of trees and undergrowth and came out on a two-lane highway. His first impulse was to head for the grassy expanse on the opposite side of the road. Another forest lay beyond it. 

Then he heard the thucka-thucka of the helicopter.

Chapter 13

Table of contents

The Consultant: Chapter 47

Jung-Ho and Sgt. Park walked him outside. They took made a sharp left turn past the far end of the building in which Barry was housed. They were walking away from the main compound, the canteen—the portion of the camp with which Barry had grown somewhat familiar.

They were taking him to a secluded area of the Yang Suk camp enclosure, obviously. But what for?

Perhaps this was where it was to end, unceremoniously, with a bullet to the back of the head. Perhaps the North Koreans had decided that Barry—however valuable his knowledge of marketing might be—was simply more trouble than he was worth. 

Without slowing his pace, Barry turned to Jung-Ho.

“Are you going to shoot me now, Jung-Ho? Is that where we’re going?”

Jung-Ho gave Barry a bemused half-smile. “Is that what you want, Barry?”

Before Barry could decide how to answer, they came upon the scene which was obviously their destination. 

And suddenly, understanding dawned on Barry. The North Koreans weren’t going to shoot him.

They were going to shoot someone else. 

The victim was standing before the chain-link fence that kept them all captive in here. Standing a little distance away were two guards with AK-47s. They were holding the weapons at port arms.

Their target was a young Korean woman. Her hands were bound. Her ankle was chained to a stake mounted in the ground. 

The two armed guards were watching over her as if she might escape at any moment, an absurd prospect. She looked like she had already endured a beating. She had one black eye, and a swollen lip.

There was something familiar about the woman. Barry took a closer look, and recognized her: She was the young woman whom Jung-Ho had offered him as a “reward” for his performance at the DPRK Tour Agency.

The young woman he had spent the night with—or part of the night with—whose name he had never learned.

“No,” Barry said. “You can’t!”

“Barry,” Jung-Ho said, as if addressing a small child, “it should be apparent to you by now that we can do anything. Anything we want…anything we deem necessary, to accomplish our objectives.”

Barry didn’t imagine for a moment that Jung-Ho was bluffing. The life of one young woman meant nothing to him—meant nothing to any of them. 

But nor did Barry want to reveal his secret…about the email. And what guarantee would he have that Jung-Ho would grant the woman a reprieve, anyway?

I’m in no position to negotiate here, I suppose, Barry thought. 

“Confess what you did,” Jung-Ho said. “Or she pays for your crimes.”

“Please!” Barry said. “Don’t do this!”

“Confess,” Jung-Ho said, implacably.

“And I have your word?” Barry said. “You won’t harm her?”

“I promise,” said Jung-Ho, “that if you confess your crimes, she will not be executed to pay for your crimes. Yes, I promise that.”

“All right!” Barry said, finally relenting. “I accessed one of the computers at the tour agency. I sent an email to my family.”

“Really?” Jung-Ho looked at Barry with a hint of a smile. “How did you manage that?”

When Barry hesitated yet again, he prodded. “Come on, Barry, tell me everything. You know we’ll find out, eventually.”

At his wits end now, Barry reluctantly gave Jung-Ho a brief account of what he had done, how he had accessed Mr. Lee’s computer.

“Very well, Barry,” Jung-Ho said. “Confession is the first step to self-criticism, which is the first step to self-reform.”

The guards were still waiting, holding their assault rifles against their chests. Jung-Ho nodded, and called out to them in Korean. 

They raised their guns at the woman, who began to shriek.

Barry started to run toward them. Before he could dodge or duck, Sgt. Park swung one massive arm and knocked him to the ground.

From the ground, Barry looked up just as the guards were firing. The young woman’s body was jerked to and fro in a hail of Russian- or Chinese-made bullets. A few seconds later, she was nothing but an obscenely ruined corpse, lying on the ground. 

Barry started to get up. He was ready to kill Jung-Ho—literally kill him.

Sgt. Park held Barry down with the sole of one boot. 

“You bastard!” Barry said, fighting for air beneath most of Sgt. Park’s weight. “You liar! You promised! ”

“I didn’t lie to you, Barry. I told you that if you confessed, she would not be executed because of you. I have kept my end of the bargain. She was executed because of her father’s crimes against the state. Her father, formerly a factory manager, was heard to speak ill of the Supreme Leader. Her father was executed weeks ago.”

Still lying beneath Sgt. Park’s foot, Barry realized that Jung-Ho had thoroughly beaten him. He had manipulated Barry into confessing everything. 

And Barry had gained nothing for his efforts, apparently. Presumably the American government had done something. But whatever they had done, it had accomplished little but to annoy his captors. 

The cavalry wasn’t coming. Neither was the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. Marine Corps. 

He was no closer to gaining his freedom than he had been before he sent that email. 

Chapter 48

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When ordinary life goes awry

Joseph Finder is the master of the suspense novel in which ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary situations.

His stories often take place in corporate settings. (His books were a major influence on at least one of my novels, The Eavesdropper.)

The Switch is a novel about what can happen when you pick up the wrong laptop by mistake in the airport security line.

An ordinary situation…but not so ordinary.