Chapter One: Arrival
Ian Dennis hated long flights, not because he didn’t like to travel but because he could never sleep while in transit. He was here to work and jet lag would get in the way. True, there was only a three-hour time difference between London and Mauritius, but the flight was nearly twelve hours long. Fortunately, he’d been able to get a direct route from Heathrow, otherwise he might not have gotten here for another twelve.
Everyone who saw him arriving at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport supposed Dennis was just another British tourist on holiday. Only a few police officials knew the MI6 agent was here to investigate the murder of an accountant from Scotland and the brutalization of her autistic son. The recent string of robberies was unusual for a small island but he suspected and feared this might not be a robbery.
“G’morning, Dennis. Good flight?” He and Winston Permalloo shook hands. They’d met on several previous occasions and Ian liked the younger man who currently was a lieutenant on the local force which handled police, security and military functions on the island. His superiors knew Permalloo to be the only covert agent native to Mauritius, but what few of them suspected that he was also an MI6 double-agent.
“Bloody didn’t sleep a wink as usual. Thanks for the pick-up, Permalloo. Everything set up?”
“As well as could be, Dennis. We can talk more once we get to my car.”
It seemed to Ian that the wait for his luggage was interminable, but that was just because he was tired. Winston brought him a strong coffee, illustrating that caffeine could only fight so hard against fatigue. The balding middle-aged man drank it down as quickly as the heat of the liquid permitted and he frowned at the bitter taste.
Permalloo carried Dennis’s single suitcase while the Londoner continued to pack his carry on. They made their way to short-term parking, stowed the luggage in the car’s boot, and then got into the vehicle.
“All secure in here, Ian. We’re free to talk.” Winston put the key in the ignition and fired up the motor.
“Then would you please tell me just how the hell a top SIS data analyst was murdered during a robbery right under your noses?”
“You’ve been called here to help me find that out Ian, including whether or not it really was just a murder.”
That’s what Ian was afraid of. That’s what his superiors were afraid of. The official police report stated that 41-year-old Krista Bernham, senior manager of a local data services company, had returned home late one evening from an outing with her 11-year-old son Ian when they were attacked by four men. In an alleged robbery, the suspects tied the boy to a chair whilst they beat his mother and then smothered her with a pillow. Easily sold items such as the television, computers, gaming consoles were all missing, as was all of Ms. Bernham’s jewelry.
However, Bernham had also been working on a number of rather sensitive cases for the British Secret Intelligence Service. Her expertise was collating masses of seemingly unrelated data elements in order to derive meaningful security information. Dennis himself had once suggested giving her the code name “Sherlock,” but only in jest.
Was it just a robbery or had her cover been blown? If the latter, she’d have been more useful alive than dead, so if this were an assassination rather than a local crime, then what she knew must have been of vital importance to whoever ordered the hit, and also must not have been reported to SIS or logged before she died.
“Where’s the boy?”
Permaloo had just pulled out of the parking area onto the main thoroughfare as Dennis closed the police file. He was too experienced and perhaps too jaded to be affected by the photos of the dead woman, but he still felt shaken by the haunted look in her son’s eyes. He had been beaten but suffered only superficial injuries. The police exaggerated his condition to the press so they’d have the excuse to isolate him.
“Mahebourg Hospital. It’s not too far from here. Figured it would be convenient for you to see him straight away. We’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
Dennis was going to need another coffee before seeing the child. He’d been assigned this case for two simple reasons. The first being that he was an experienced field agent and had investigated fourteen similar incidents in the past two decades. The second, and perhaps more significant under the circumstances, was his being good with children.
Ian was a divorced father of three. He and Evelyn decided to call it quits a few years back when she realized she couldn’t take his frequent absences and the very real threat that one day or one night, he might not come back home. Along with Phillip, Marcie, and Roger, she was moved by the agency to an undisclosed location, given new names and new lives. He only called or visited at random intervals to avoid being tracked. He loved his family more than his own life, which was exactly why Ian chose to give them up.
“Good enough. His father will be here tomorrow. Once he arrives, it’ll be the devil to get any sort of statement from the boy.”
Bernham was also divorced and her ex had no idea who she was or what she really did for a living. For that matter, neither did the child. Dennis would hate to treat the man as a criminal and forcibly keep him from his traumatized son all for the sake of his investigation. He had twenty-four hours to get all possible useful information from the eleven-year-old, the only witness to the crime.
“He’s here on the third floor,” Permalloo instructed as they got off the elevator. “We’ve got this wing secured.”
They had to show ID to the officer in the lobby and again to the one at the elevator. As they exited, there was yet another officer waiting. MI6 had really tightened the screws to get this much local police security assigned given their limited personnel.
“Very good, Sir.” The uniformed and heavily armed police guard handed Dennis back his ID.
“Thanks,” he said absent-mindedly as he returned it to his inner jacket pocket.
“Down this way, Ian.” Winston led the way. The officer at the door had seen them leave the elevator and have their IDs checked so she forewent the formality.
“How is he, Winston?”
“Not talking. We left him a pad of paper and some pencils in the hopes he might write something down, but I’m told all he does is doodle. Soiled his bed twice, so I’d say not well.”
“Thanks.” Ian patted the younger agent on the shoulder. Winston nodded at the officer and she opened the door. What might Ian find when he went inside? Did the boy hold the key to finding the men who had been committing a string of robberies on the island for the past six months or did he possess an even more sinister secret?
After writing the original Mauritius Intrigue flash fiction story, several readers expressed an interest in seeing it expanded or at least said it was the beginning of an interesting mystery. Last night, I crafted a separate but related tale called The Lady is Murder, which was about another spy story murder occurring over 9,000 kilometers away in Marrakech. What’s the connection?
As I was getting ready for bed, suddenly everything began to click. I had the expanded story. All I had to do was write it. It’s a longer story, so I can’t tell it in one post. This is just the first chapter. Hopefully, you’ll find the mystery as interesting to read as I am finding it to research and write.
Oh, when I was a kid in the 1960s, I used to watch a TV show called The Man From U.N.C.L.E starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Each episode of this cold war spy series was titled after the name of the mission which was usually something like “The Such and Thus Affair”. That’s how I decided on a title for my secret agent story.
For the next part read Chapter Two: Ian.