Chapter Six: Messenger
Ian Dennis flew into Larnaca International Airport on Cyprus, but he had another airport in mind.
In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus and the Nicosia International Airport, once the island’s principal air hub, was the site of extremely violent encounters between Turkish and Cypriot forces and was heavily bombed. Today, it is deserted, officially closed and, located within the UN controlled buffer zone, has been declared a Protected Area used as the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force.
Fortunately, Ian has a few connections at the UN and in Cyprus security so he arranged for a private visit. He had a meeting this morning with her.
She stepped out from behind a security wall at what was once the Health Control centre.
“I see you continue to abide by the rules of British punctuality, Ian.”
“And you remain mysterious as ever.” He indicated a direction by waving his right arm and she joined him on an uncharacteristically casual stroll through the ruins.
“You murdered him and then had the audacity not only to tell me about it but to suggest a meeting. You have something in mind of course.”
“Of course, Ian, and for the record, it was an assassination. We do not commit common murders.”
To say she was beautiful was to misjudge her appearance and character. She had a presence that transcended what most men would think of as loveliness or sexuality. She was the opposite of what she should be. Instead of being invisible in any environment, she attracted attention everywhere she went, but that was part of her success. She had the face and body of a model, a princess, a goddess, not a killer. Even now, Ian had to resist the feeling that she was more an internationally famous actress, and less a ruthless assassin who had been dispatching drug lords and royalty since she was seventeen years old.
He only knew her as Xiao. This was his third face-to-face encounter with her in the last fifteen years. She was a member of Qian, the secret society of assassins that is only a rumor to most law enforcement agencies including Interpol. She took off her jacket as if to flaunt the gang tattoo on her right forearm.
Ian felt mainly curiosity. He was in no danger at the present. If Xiao had meant to kill him, he would never hear the gunshot and never suspect she was within a thousand kilometers of him.
They came to one of the gates and sat in the waiting area on torn seat cushions covered with debris.
“You kill…assassinated an young MI6 agent in Marrakech with the one weapon that you knew would draw my suspicion, then you texted me anonymously and directed me to meet you here. Why?”
“To warn you that not everything is as it seems.”
“With you it never is.”
“Not with me, Ian. With your investigation. I have the advantage of knowing who I’m working for and I managed to discover why though it would be worth my life to reveal that.”
“You mean besides the money, Xiao.”
These conversations were more like flirting but with a hint of jeopardy. He could still ask the wrong question and she would kill him.
“Why help me? It is your employer who is paying you. Who, the same one who ordered the hit on Kim Jong-nam?”
“The Korean was a loose thread and I was not involved in that death. Amateurs.”
“Krista Bernham wasn’t killed by amateurs.”
“No, and of that I will not speak except to say that she and the North Korean dictator’s half-brother died to preserve the same secret, though in her case, she and I have something in common.”
Xiao didn’t mean the commonality of being women. No, they were both trying to send Ian a message, one here at a dead airport and another from beyond the grave. Kim Yong-nam was killed in a sloppy and obvious way. He never saw it coming. Everything Dennis had discovered to date indicated that Krista knew she had been targeted and the only thing that made sense is that she also knew her son would survive relatively unscathed. She let herself be killed because it was the only way she could get the kind of attention she needed from the MI6 agent.
“You killed Rabah Hadad not just to get my attention but to tell me something. It’s not the manner of his death that’s important, but his mission…”
“Loose threads, Ian. Whatever happened to Fredric Sandoval Lee? What happened to his mistress Anisah Yasin?”
“Precisely, Ian. He didn’t know it all, but enough to where after he had accomplished his mission he was expendable.”
“Yasin is not Qian.”
“The name you call us, no. But then neither were those two stupid prostitutes who poisoned Kim Jong-nam. Amateurs and expendable, but they were all in the right place at the right time.”
“What about me?”
“You are a professional, Ian. Also, you are uniquely positioned to solve yet another puzzle, probably the most profound case of your career. However, if you do arrive at the solution, you will most likely be assassinated. That is the end of my message.”
She stood, brushed loose bits of plaster, plastic, and dirt from the back of her clothing, and then put her jacket on. “This is the third time we’ve met in this manner Ian. I do not believe there will be a fourth.”
He stood as well but dispensed with cleaning off his clothing. It wasn’t particularly cold but it had been raining, so he was wearing a medium length light jacket.
“I suppose we’ll see about that.”
“Wait here ten minutes, then return to your rented car.”
He didn’t reply. He didn’t have to. She turned and walked back the way they’d come. He looked at his watch, a gift from his wife…ex-wife now, noting the time. He sat back down and waited the required ten minutes. Even if he tried to follow her, he doubted very much that he would succeed. When she wanted to be noticed, she drew the attention of everyone for a hundred meters around. When she wanted to disappear, she was a spectre.
London. His office at MI6. The case in Mauritius had gone cold. Winston would continue with the routine investigation. If he was right, the robbers would strike again in a few days or a few weeks. Then perhaps they’d know more.
He was looking at a report. The unknown computer expert who had examined Krista’s professional computer set up said the three corrupted files never contained any data. The proverbial “red herring,” meant to misdirect. The only clues he had were the only clues he was going to have, at least from Krista. But Xiao had provided two more.
The first was the death of Rabah in Marrakech. The assassin had shot him twice in the chest, but the young agent’s contact was Yasin, a woman who could be bought and the only person who could have told Hadad precisely where Lee was and when he had arrived in the city. Ian was having the Oued Tensift dragged. The weapons dealer hadn’t been seen alive since before Hadad arrived in Morocco. No doubt Yasin had killed Lee, disposed of the body, and then arranged for Rabah to be in that particular alley as a set up for his own death.
The second was the site of their meeting in Cyprus. A deserted international airport, destroyed in fighting by two opposing forces, neither one entirely victorious and a buffer set in place between them by the United Nations. Another obvious allusion to North and South Korea.
Krista had discovered something known by the Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. Kim Jong-nam was killed for what he knew, probably because he was an undisciplined whelp who if captured, would have cracked at the slightest threat of pain.
It was a secret so profound that Krista couldn’t or rather wouldn’t report it to her superiors at SIS. She could only leave clues, a trail of breadcrumbs. She must have known the assassin or more likely who had ordered her killed. That somehow told her that although she would die, her son would not, and that his father would come and take the child back home to Edinburgh.
Ian thought of Malcolm Bernham. Those were his spy thrillers on Krista’s bookshelves but from the moment Krista first became involved with him, he had been thoroughly checked and under almost constant surveillance. He was no threat. He’d not arranged any of this. When questioned by Lt. Permalloo as he was removing his son Ian’s personal items from the flat, he said that Krista had requested he ship certain of his books, only very specific ones, to her. She said Ian was getting old enough to read them and wanted to share the stories his Daddy read.
The boy denied this on the spot.
That was the extent of Malcolm’s involvement in the case. Ian was sure of it. But there was someone else behind the scenes directing all of this. Kim Yong-un? Ian doubted it. The young despot was like a blunt instrument, a perfect foil for the American President Trump, both bickering like school children on twitter but backing up their threats with the very real danger of a nuclear war.
Nuclear war. The Jesus Factor. No, that’s ridiculous. Ian knew for a fact that nuclear weapons were very real and they worked as advertised. Corley’s book was just a bit of fiction. Then why was it a clue?
The clock by his bed said 2:32 a.m. He’d had his last cuppa after eight which meant he had to get up in the middle of the night to pee. But that wasn’t the only reason he was awake.
After urinating, she sat back on his bed but didn’t lie down. He wished he could have something stronger than tea and coffee, but unlike cinematic spies, he rarely indulged in alcohol, even in private. Too easy to lose control, just enough control to be a risk.
He’d gone over the protocols that dictated Krista’s work again yesterday. During an investigation, she would gather together a variety of data elements and encode them in protected files using a rotating algorithm. When she had completed her work and was ready to report, the now organized information was encrypted with a separate rotating algorithm and sent to London. The transmission could only be decoded by a specific workstation operated by her handler at SIS. Only the hardware and software on that computer was capable of reconstituting Krista’s data into anything even remotely understandable.
From there, Krista’s handler, a face and a name Ian was not permitted to know, routed her reports to the appropriate section chiefs. The handler was the common denominator. Now that Ian thought of it, the handler was the individual who created Krista’s set up in Mauritius in the first place. It made sense that the same person would have gone to the island after her death to not only attempt to recover the three corrupted files which were not corrupted at all, but to decommission her equipment and have it returned to London.
If the handler had created her secure set up, it would have been easy enough to build in a backdoor in order to monitor everything Krista discovered. If Krista found out about this herself, she would know her life was at terrible risk. Had she made a deal to save her son?
But who was the mysterious person who had accomplished all this and who did they work for? Have they been co-opted by the North Koreans, another national power, a criminal gang, or did MI6 order the death of Krista Bernham?
It probably doesn’t make much sense in real life, but when I happened upon the story called The world’s most eerie abandoned airports and learned of Nicosia International Airport in Cyprus, I thought it would be a cool place for two opposing spies to have a clandestine rendezvous.
Like most of the other stories in this series, this is more of an intellectual mystery rather than an action/adventure story. Yes, there has been murder and the threat of murder, but the real challenge is to find out who really ordered Krista Bernham’s death and why. I’ve dropped some pretty significant clues in this chapter. Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to how this story will end?
Here’s the table of contents so far:
The next chapter is God Rolled the Dice.