Twenty-five year old Eileen Kateb could only hear the sound of her own breathing and her soft footfalls as she slowly made her way between the columns of the Cathedral de Sacre Coeur, which had recently been converted to a library. Her grandparents had quietly immigrated to England during the heyday of French rule over Algeria, so she could have blended in among the millions of Muslim women in the coastal city of Oran who looked just like her. However, she chose to dress as a European instead of clothing herself in a hijab, because, after all, Houari Boumédiène and his thugs knew she was here. That was the point.
“You can stop right there, Miss.” The man stepped out from behind one of the pillars to her left about ten meters ahead. He was average height, medium complexion, dark hair slicked back with Brylcreem, neatly trimmed mustache, pressed tan suit. He looked like an Arabic Peter Sellers. “I’m surprised the Americans didn’t send a male representative.”
“Actually, I’m British, and James Bond was too busy killing SPECTRE agents and seducing women in the Bahamas to accept this assignment, or perhaps you haven’t seen that movie.”
“In fact, I have, and it’s interesting you chose to reference the latest 007 film, since both you and the fictional MI6 operative have nearly identical missions.”
“Then let’s get on with it, shall we, or should we wait until someone arrives to check out a book?”
“Chairman Boumédiène has arranged that the library be closed today so our privacy is assured. I have been authorized to accept NATO’s offer of £100 million in diamonds in return for the B28RI device. All that remains is negotiating the details of the exchange.”
“It is here in Oran?” She remained perfectly still, but her right hand stayed within an inch of her Walther 9mm, concealed on her hip beneath her light jacket. Eileen had no doubts her opponent was similarly armed.
“Quite, but its exact location will not be revealed as yet.”
“Then I suggest the exchange take place at sea, let’s say 65 kilometers off your border, between here and Almeria.”
“That would be acceptable. We can arrange for a small tanker to have engine trouble at…”
“I can give you the exact coordinates.” She recited the longitude and latitude. “You’re not going to write it down?”
“I have an excellent memory, Miss…may I know your name?”
“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. Call me Miss Aasma.” It was her grandmother’s sister’s name, the one who was raped and murdered when she was fourteen by a French soldier in this very city nearly sixty years ago.
“A lovely name to be sure. You may refer to me as Mr. Aziz since we are both using aliases. Now as I was saying, we can arrange for one of our tankers to have engine failure at the specified location, say 1 a.m. on the 27th.”
“Two weeks from today. Yes, and we can arrange for a Spanish freighter to come to assist you. It will be fitted with the necessary equipment to transfer your cargo to our vessel, as well as a nuclear expert to verify the authenticity of the device, and that it has not been tampered with.”
“That is acceptable. Naturally, we will have our own expert available to validate the authenticity of your method of payment. Will you be at the exchange, Miss Aasma?”
“Is it necessary?”
“No, but I find our conversation pleasant and I was hoping to see you once more.”
“You will be there?”
“The Chairman insists. He puts a great deal of trust in me, and he is not by nature a trusting man.”
“I can be there, Mr. Aziz, though I doubt at that point we’ll have much to talk about.”
“Pity. I have been occasionally known to indulge my whims, and you are a beautiful young woman, particularly for a spy.”
“Look at it this way. As the man who negotiated a £100 million deal with the British, I’m sure your reputation will cause many beautiful women to become available to you.”
“Alas, this arrangement must remain most secret, so I will have to trust my inherit charms to draw women to me.”
“Take comfort that your nation and your Chairman are about to become exceedingly wealthy.”
“Though we were, however briefly, the first Arabic nation to become a nuclear power. You should tell the Americans to be more careful.”
“Rest assured, we already have.”
“Then I shall see you again in two weeks, Miss Aasma.”
“Until then, Mr. Aziz.” She fluttered her eyelashes for effect. In return, he bowed slightly and then disappeared behind the same pillar from which he appeared, though this time, she could hear the receding sound of his crisp footfalls from deep within the shadows.
The British agent turned and walked back the way she came, and unbidden, the memory of the recent American pop hit “Eve of Destruction” intruded, an event she now believed she had helped avert. Eileen agreed that the Americans should be more careful with their B-52s and their Hydrogen Bombs, all but one of which had been retrieved after the fatal air crash three months ago.
I wrote this for Thursday photo prompt: Pillars #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Each Thursday, Sue posts one of her original photographs to be used as a prompt for crafting a poem, short story, or other creative work.
Last night, just for giggles, I again watched the 1966 cold war science fiction film Fantastic Voyage starring Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch. That gave me the idea to respond to Sue’s prompt by writing my own wee cold war thriller set in the same year. I went to Wikipedia and looked up events that occurred in that calendar year and settled on the 1966 Polomares B-52 Crash. Click the link for the details, but basically, an American Air Force bomber had a mid-air collision with a refueling tanker. The bomber was carrying four B28RI Hydrogen Bombs, three which landed near the Spanish fishing village of Palomares, and one in the Mediterranean Sea. All of them were recovered, but in my small fictional tale, I’m suggesting there was a fifth one which made its way into the hands of the Algerian government. The bombs were equipped with their own parachutes, and the one that ended up in the sea was blown there by the wind. What if another one had been sent much further south?
Here’s a photo of a similar device.
After consulting Google Maps, I looked up Algeria, Houari Boumédiène, who was Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Algeria from 19 June 1965 until his death on 12 December 1976, the city of Oran, the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball starring Sean Connery and Claudine Auger, and Barry McGuire’s 1965 protest song Eve of Destruction (YouTube video). My story takes place in April of 1966.
It was fun to write.
Oh, £100 million in diamonds was the same amount of payment demanded by SPECTRE for the return of two stolen Hydrogen bombs in the aforementioned James Bond movie.
15 thoughts on “The Algerian Exchange”
Interesting development of the characters, James.
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Thanks, Sue. Cold war TV shows and movies were full of such transactions.
I imagine there was more than a grain of truth to them too.
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Another excellent story 💜
Thanks, Willow. I liked yours, too.
Thank you James 💜
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Nice little bit of spy intrigue. I wonder what real-life spies, especially in the Cold War made of James Bond – to them they were probably comedies!
Most people disagree with how the entertainment industry depicts their industry. The really good spy would never be suspected of being a spy. He or she would appear absolutely ordinary, the last person you’d ever expect to be a secret agent. You’d never even see it coming when they shot you.
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Well written, James, and full if intrigue. I enjoy spy stories and this short story is a class act!
I enjoyed that! A good read.