The Überlingen Collision Affair

briefcase

© Kyle Thompson

2 July 2002 – London

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” MI6 operative Ian Dennis could hear himself asking that question in his mind over and over again. How the hell was he supposed to find the courier’s briefcase amid the widely scattered wreckage of the Tupolev passenger jet? The horrendous mid-air collision with the 757 cargo plane could have sent it anywhere and by rights it and it’s classified contents should have been destroyed.

“The case is covered with genuine faux leather to be sure Dennis, but that conceals the titanium shell. Our man paid a small fortune in bribes to get in on board in Moscow so rest assured, it would survive the crash. It was designed to do just that.”

“Yes sir, Mr. Wilks. But why? This was supposed to be a milk run from Moscow to Barcelona. The courier was part of a UNESCO committee escorting a bunch of children on a school trip to Costa Dorada.”

“Thank you, Dennis. I am familiar with the facts of the Op.” A casual observer would conclude that Richard Wilks was in ill temper because what Ian had called a “milk run Op” had gone terribly sour but in actuality, he was always disgruntled. At age 72, he was one of the last of the old guard at MI6, his career as a field agent having spanned three decades. He was a young agent at the start of the cold war and he had a hand in the fall of the Berlin Wall (though very few were aware of that fact). Truth be told, he hated life behind a desk, but he had been forced to it at age 60 due to a botched hip replacement after being severely wounded in shootout in Sangi, Pakistan.

“Your security clearance does not justify you knowing the full details of the courier’s Op, Dennis. Your job is to go to Überlingen in the guise of an adviser to the German Air Accident investigators, retrieve the briefcase, and return it to London. You are not under any circumstances to attempt to open it.”

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The Ganesh Chaturthi Affair

celebration

© Lavanya

“This is fabulous, Ian. You’ve been to Ganesh Chaturthi here in Kolkata before?”

Ian Dennis could barely hear his assigned companion Victoria Craft over the celebratory yelling, music, singing, and chants as different representations of the elephant-headed god Ganesha appeared before them.

“Yes, Victoria. Over the years, the job takes you all kinds of places.” He felt a bit strange having an escort half his age, but he was her trainer and this was her first op. The two MI6 agents had been instrumental in preparing for the cessation of a forty-year dispute between India and Bangladesh over a common border that demarcates the eight divisions of Bangladesh and the Indian states.

She leaned up so he could feel her breath in his ear, “Do you think it will end?” He knew she meant the shoot-on-sight policy of India’s military on illegal immigrants crossing over from Bangladesh.

“That’s why we’re here. The pact will be signed in three days. If the killings continue, we put a stop to them. Meanwhile, pretend you’re on holiday.”

I wrote this for the FFfAW Challenge of February 13, 2018 hosted by Priceless Joy. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction between 100 and 175 words. My word count is 174.

The image of the god Ganesha is distinctive, so it wasn’t hard to trace it to the annual Hindu celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi. You can learn more about it by reading 14 Most Ingenious Idols Of Lord Ganesha This Year! and What is Ganesh Chaturthi? Why is it celebrated?.

Since the image of Ganesha in the photo appeared to be a float with the date 2011, I decided to set my story then, specifically on 2 September. I looked up the year and lo and behold:

September 5 – India and Bangladesh sign a pact to end their 40-year border demarcation dispute.

I also looked up when the celebration occurred in 2011 and it was held between the first and the eleventh of September, which was perfect.

The disputes over the Bangladesh–India border have historically been very difficult (and that’s putting it mildly) including this:

The border is used as a route for smuggling livestock, food items, medicines and drugs from India to Bangladesh. Moreover, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh cross the border to India. Because of a large number of illegal immigrants crossing from Bangladesh into India, a controversial shoot-on-sight policy has been enforced by the Indian border patrols. This policy was initiated with reports of violence between the illegal migrants and Indian soldiers. The border has also witnessed occasional skirmishes between the Indian Border Security Force and the Border Guards Bangladesh, most notably in 2001 (emph. mine).

I know a lot of people in my country complain about President Trump’s stance on illegal immigration from Mexico and other Latin nations, but frankly, that’s not nearly as brutal as the situation described above. You can click the link I provided to learn more.

Once again, I dusted off MI6 agent Ian Dennis last seen in the flash fiction piece The Bristol Connection and showcased in the short series The Mauritius Robbery Affair. In this case, I’m involving MI6 in covertly “facilitating” the India-Bangladesh agreement, which I’m sure the Indian government especially wouldn’t appreciate given Britain’s colonial history in their country.

I set the action in the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) since it is relatively near the India-Bangladesh border. Ian needed someone to interact with to further the plot, so I invented an agent-in-training Victoria Craft. Perhaps we’ll see more of her in the future.

Oh, I apologize in advance if I’ve mischaracterized the celebration, Ganesha, any individuals, or the nations of India and Bangladesh. I’ve never been there and am getting all of my information on the internet, so any errors in this wee fictional tale are mine.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.

The Bristol Connection

hogarth

William Hogarth’s 1756 painting “Sealing of the Tomb” displayed at St Nicholas Church in Bristol – © BBC.com

Ian Dennis didn’t look like a spy, which worked to his advantage. Although the MI6 man fancied himself a “Sean Connery” type in his youth, he was now middle-aged with thinning blond hair and a bit of a belly paunch.

No one gave him a second glance as he walked into the newly reopened St Nicholas Church in Bristol, which had been closed since World war Two due to bomb damage. Ian absolutely loathed conspiracy theories, particularly the pseudo-religious type depicted in those Dan Brown books, but if his source was right, the renovated triptych “Sealing of the Tomb,” originally painted in 1756 by William Hogarth, contained both ancient and modern clues to the identities of the people behind human trafficking.

In the 18th century, Bristol was a center for the transport of slaves to America. If the triptych’s clues bore out, then it was today as well.

I wrote this for the What Pegman Saw writing challenge. The idea is to use a Google maps place and street photo as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 150 words long. My word count is 147 (and on the first draft, too).

Today, the Pegman takes us to Bristol in the UK.

After finding its location using Google Maps, I looked up the local news and found this item at BBC.com dated 23 January 2018: St Nicholas Church closed since World War Two to reopen.

The church had actually still been open as a museum since sometime in the 1950s and displays what I gather is a quite famous triptych (three paneled painting) called “Sealing of the Tomb” painted by William Hogarth in 1756.

In looking up Bristol, I discovered it was heavily involved in the slave trade in the 18th century. I looked up William Hogarth thinking I might tie all of this together somehow and for a moment thought I had something. He’s buried at St Nicholas Church but in Chiswick, London, not Bristol.

The most controversial thing I found about him was that he was a Freemason and often used Freemasonry symbolism in his paintings. There are all kinds of Masonic conspiracy theories, but for 150 words, I wasn’t going to do that much work, so I made up some stuff.

I decided to revive MI6 agent Ian Dennis, last seen in the eighth and final chapter of my Mauritius Robbery Affair series. Since part of the theme involves slavery, I invoked a human trafficking storyline pulled from my Mikiko Jahn series.

Although Ian views fictional works such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with distaste, I decided that’s exactly the sort of story I was going to write (I’ve never read the book nor seen the movie and after reading several reviews, have no intention of doing so).

One last thing. My work is purely fiction and yes, it does involve real people and places. However in no way am I suggesting that the actual William Hogarth was involved in slavery or any sort of criminal conspiracy, nor am I saying there’s anything sinister about the St Nicholas Church in Bristol or the painting “Sealing of the Tomb.” I made all that up just for giggles.

To read other wee tales based on the prompt, go to InLinkz.com.