Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

Thomas was met by a staff car from the embassy. He didn’t rush tossing his single bag in the trunk. He didn’t want any Russian or Azerbaijani agents thinking he was in a hurry. He paused to pop a sucker into his mouth, stretched, then climbed into the car. Be boring. That was the key when you thought you were being watched. Then, if you had to speed up suddenly, chances were good you might surprise and lose whoever was trailing you.

It was a thirty-minute drive from Baku International Airport to the bay-side region that housed the embassies and the city’s commercial district. Thomas never got to spend more than a day or two at a time here, though that was something he still meant to do. He had been to the local bazaars, to the Fire Worshipper’s Temple, to the State Museum of Carpets–a museum with a name like that demanded to be seen–and to the most famous local landmark, the Maiden Tower. Located in the old Inner City on the bay and at least two thousand years old, the eight-story tower was built by a young girl who either wanted to lock herself inside or throw herself into the sea–no one knew for certain which version was true. Thomas knew how she felt.

Thomas was taken to see Deputy Ambassador Williamson, who had returned from dinner and was sitting behind her desk, waiting for him. They shook hands and exchanged a few banal words. Then she picked up a pen and noted the time on a legal pad. Moore and Battat came to her office moments later. The agent’s neck was mottled black and gunmetal gray. In addition to the bruises, he looked exhausted.

Thomas offered Battat his hand.

“Are you all right?”

“A little banged up,” Battat said.

“I’m sorry about all this, Pat.”

Thomas made a face.

“Nothing’s guaranteed, David.

Let’s see how we can fix it.”

Thomas looked at Moore, who was standing beside Battat. The men had met several times at various Asian embassy conferences and functions. Moore was a good man, what they called a twenty-four seven–an agent who lived and ate his work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Right now, Moore was making no attempt to conceal his dark, unforgiving mood.

Thomas extended his hand. Moore accepted it.

“How have you been?” Thomas asked.

“That isn’t important,” Moore said.

“I’m not happy now. There was no reason for this to go down the way it did.”

“Mr. Moore, you’re correct,” Thomas said as he released his hand.

“In retrospect, we should have done this all differently. The question is, how do we fix it now?”

Moore sneered.

“You don’t get off that easily,” he said.

“Your team mounted a small operation here and didn’t tell us. Your man says you were worried about security risks and other factors. What do you think, Mr. Thomas–that the Azerbaijani are wet-wired into the system? That we can’t conduct a surveillance without them finding out?”

Thomas walked to an armchair across from Williamson.

“Mr. Moore, Ms. Williamson, we had a short time to make a quick decision. We made a bad one, a wrong one. The question is, what do we do now? If the Harpooner is here, can we find him and stop him from getting away?”

“How do we bail you out, you mean?” Moore asked.

“If you like,” Thomas conceded. Anything to get this out of reverse and moving ahead.

Moore relaxed.

“It isn’t going to be easy,” he said.

“We’ve found no trace of the boat Mr. Battat says he saw, and we have a man watching the airport. No one who fits the description of the Harpooner has left today.”

“What about working backward?” Thomas said.

“Why would the Harpooner be in Baku?”

“There are any number of targets a terrorist for hire could hit,” Moore said.

“Or he may just have been passing through on his way to another republic or to the Middle East. You know these people. They rarely take a direct route anywhere.”

“If Baku was just a layover, the Harpooner is probably long gone,” Thomas said.

“Let’s concentrate on possible targets in the region and reasons for hitting those targets.”

“The Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran are our biggest concerns,” Williamson said.

“The people in NK have voted themselves an independent republic, while Azerbaijan and Armenia are both fighting to claim it. The whole region will probably explode when Azerbaijan gets enough money to buy more advanced weapons for its military. That would be bad enough for both nations, but with Iran just fifteen miles to the south, it could end up being quite an explosion. As for Iran, even without the NK situation, Teheran and Baku have been gnawing at each other for years over access to everything from offshore oil to Caspian sturgeon and caviar. When the Soviet Union watched over the Caspian, they took what they wanted.

And not only are there problems, but the problems overlap,” Williamson added.

“Sloppy drilling by Azerbaijan has caused a quarter-inch-thick oil film in parts of the sea where Iran fishes for sturgeon. The pollution is killing the fish.”

“What is the oil situation, exactly?” Thomas asked.

“There are four major oil fields,” Williamson said.

“Azeri, Chirag, Guneshli, and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and the Western Consortium members that underwrite the drilling are convinced that international law protects their exclusive rights to the sites. But their claim is based on boundaries that are defined by fishing rights, which both Iran and Russia insist do not apply. So far, the arguments have all been diplomatic.”

“But if someone perpetrated a new action somewhere,” Thomas said, “such as an embassy explosion or an assassination–” “There could be a disastrous chain reaction reaching into a half-dozen surrounding nations, affecting oil supplies worldwide, and drawing the United States into a major foreign war,” Williamson said.

Moore added sarcastically, “That’s why we like to be kept informed about covert actions in our backward little outpost.”

Thomas shook his head.

“Mea culpa. Now, can we all agree to look ahead instead of back?”

Moore regarded him for a moment, then nodded.

“So,” Williamson said, looking down at her notes.

“As I understand this, there are two possible scenarios.

First, that the individual who attacked Mr. Battat was not the Harpooner, in which case we may have nothing more than a drug smuggler or gunrunner on our hands.

One who managed to get the drop on Mr. Battat and then slip away.”

“Correct,” said Thomas.

“What are the chances of that?” Williamson asked.

“They’re unlikely,” Thomas said.

“We know that the Harpooner is in the region. An official from the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research was on a Turkish Airlines flight from London to Moscow and made a tentative ID of the Harpooner. He tried to follow the target but lost him.”

“You’re saying an INR guy and the world’s most wanted terrorist just happened to be on the same flight?” Moore said.

“I can’t speak for the Harpooner, only for the DOS official,” Thomas replied.

“But we’re finding that more and more terrorists and spies take the diplomatic routes.

They try to pick up intel from laptops and phone calls.

DOS has issued several alerts about that. Maybe it was a coincidence; maybe there was a diskette or phone number the Harpooner wanted to try and steal when the official went to the rest room. I don’t know.”

“The official was able to identify the Harpooner based on what?” Williamson asked.

“The only known photograph,” Thomas told him.

“It was a good picture, reliable,” Moore assured her.

“We were notified and did some checking,” Thomas went on.

“It fit with some intel we had picked up independently.

The passenger was traveling under an assumed name with a fake British passport. We checked taxi records, found that he had been picked up at the Kensington Hilton in London. He’d only been there for one night, where he met with several people who, according to the concierge, looked and sounded Middle Eastern. We tried to track the individual in Moscow, but no one saw him leave the terminal. So we checked flights to other areas. Someone matching his description had shown a Russian passport in the name of Gardner and flown to Baku.”

“It is the Harpooner’s boat,” Deputy Ambassador Williamson said suddenly.

“It has to be.”

The others looked at her.

“You’ve heard of it?” Thomas asked.

“Yes. I went to college,” Williamson said.

“Gardner is the captain of the Rachel in Moby-Dick. It’s one of the ships that was chasing the elusive white whale. She failed to capture him, I might add.”

Thomas regarded Battat unhappily.

“The Harpooner,” Thomas said.

“Dammit. Of course. He planted that for us to find.”

“Now, there’s a smart terrorist,” Moore said.

“If you recognize the allusion, you would have thought it a joke and wouldn’t have bothered to pursue. If you thought it was real, then the Harpooner knew just where you’d be looking for him. And he would be there, waiting to stop you.”

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