Tools of the Trade 18

Tools of the Trade Chapter Eighteen

“What is this, some kind of a sick joke?” asked the detainee. A man known at one time to Ibrahim only as Jamal.

“Oh I think not,” Ibrahim Saudi said while glancing towards the open window and looking distracted as if by far greater problems, or perhaps out of boredom.

“You can not keep me here without recourse to the open tribunal of the faithful. I demand my rights!”

“I’m working on that part Jamal. Don’t hold your breath.”

For his part in this little drama Loomis was playing the part of an officer in Jawad Ayyub al-Masari’s Division of Internal Security, the DIS. As neither Masari nor anyone else in government had been consulted in advance, because this ploy was all Kronnin’s doing, he hoped what ever they might learn was worth the risk Being found out by either side would have unfortunate consequences.

“On second thought Jamal, if you continue to refuse to cooperate, holding your breath could be a very useful ability. We have been watching you for some time and have made recordings. I will play just one of them for you. Pay attention, it will be your life if you do not.”

The reputation of the DIS was going to have to make this work cause there was no way Kronnin was actually going to authorize any kind of torture, much less killing the guy if it didn’t.

In his Ibrahim Saudi persona Loomis had seen the man several times and even spoken to him once. Loomis had him labeled as a low level street thug, just the kind of a role he himself was playing, though without the thuggish part. It came as a surprise when viewing one of Captain Kronnin’s surveillance videos he recognized Jamal greeting and then speaking with a prominent political opponent of the Masari government. A third man was also present. They didn’t know who he was but he had been followed by the real DIS to a hotel used by off worlders.

With that information a bit of money changed hands and they had a name, Roger Imhoff. The company Imhoff purportedly worked for was a construction firm out of New Britain. Harmon Cowan had talked to the New Britain Trade Minister and mentioned there was a construction project Cardoman wanted to get underway at the Jeddah Mine but he needed to hire some supervision for the local builders as none of the Cardomans or locals on planet had the right kind of experience.

The New Britain minister was pleased to let the Cardomans review their personal files in an attempt find someone to do the work. And the official files showed no mention of a Roger Imhoff. A comparison of a DNA sample lifted from the man’s doorknob could not be matched to any in the Altie planetary database, not even a close enough match to turn up a relative. That was enough to get this operation going and the first good lead they had come across.

A tranquilizing dart as Jamal left his usual coffeehouse a few evenings later and they tumbled him into an empty food vendors cart and wheeled him into the lower level of a warehouse that the Cardomans had rented.

They toted him up to the third level and lashed him into a high backed wooden chair and waited for the drug to wear off. It was important that they begin the questioning while he was still confused. And he was confused and Loomis/Saudi was going to make it worse.

“You’re in way over your head Jamal; we know all about Roger Imhoff and have been following him ever since he landed. The only reason we haven’t picked him up yet is because he leads us to so many people like you. People willing to sell out their soul and their planet for a bit of cash now and a basket of empty promises later.”

The real reason why they hadn’t picked up Imhoff was because when they went for him right after bagging Jamal he was gone. He had left most of his personal belongings behind but tossing the room turned up nothing to help. The only way that made sense was if Imhoff, or someone working for him, was also following Jamal and saw the takedown. But the lies were coming easy so Saudi continued.

“Names Jamal, the names of everyone you know who is in on the conspiracy and what they do and where and when they do it. For that we will permit you to live.”

Jamal frightened as he was didn’t believe for a moment he would be left alive once he was wrung dry. “You are a bigger fool than I have been if you think that I will believe I will ever be set free,” he said.

“I did not say you would be set free Jamal, I said left alive. This is how we propose to do that. You will first give us two names and we will check that you have told the truth. If a lie that is the end. If not there is a ship leaving here for New Hope in one week. You could be on it.

“New Hope is not in agreement with our religious and governmental principals, at least where capital punishment is concerned. They will not extradite you even were we to ask once you are there. That being the case, they are also very particular about whom they let visit. Once on board the ship you will send us all the other names that you know. And we will not seek to interfere with you in any fashion save to bar your return to Altoona. Provided the additional names you mention also check out.”

“If you lie to us Jamal, trust me here, we will send someone to kill you! We will tell the Caliphate what you have done and they will likely send someone to kill you! And we will tell the fine folks governing New Hope what you have done, and they will not send someone to kill you. Their reaction to your presence will just make you wish they would.”

“Quite a shame really, you being an only child and your parents both dead. We did find a few relatives, but they all seem to despise you every bit as much as I do. It took a bit of coaxing to get your mothers brother to admit he had even heard of you. And then the stories he told! Simply shocking! And thus—the need for a more complicated solution.”

“Think it over and have two names ready for when I see you next.” With that Ibrahim got up from the desk, walked over to him, and slapped him hard enough to knock both Jamal and chair over and left the room.
Captain Kronnin viewed the interview through a hard wired screen in the outer office. No emissions at all from this show and all of the video encoded with a built in self destruct. “You were fine Ibrahim.” They were both staying in character all the time now so to make slips less likely. Kronnin still used the name Loomis every once in a while but Ibrahim Saudi had learned not to react when he did that.

“Except for maybe the last part where you slapped him and knocked the chair over. I don’t know where we stand on that. It might be considered torture.”

“Omar Mohamed,” that was the name Kronnin was going by, “I see it like this. If I met Jamal in a bar and we got into a brawl because I knew he was out to do me harm, and I beat him senseless, nobody would think twice about it. Depending on the local system I might pay a fine or even do a few days jail time. Sure it would have just been a bar brawl and be viewed as a fair fight.”

“But in reality with my background and training it would have been just as fair as what you just saw. Me slapping him while he was tied in a chair. And he would have been hurt much, much, worse in the bar fight. So I say, What’s the problem?”

Omar/Kronnin scratched at his newly grown beard before answering, “I will need to think about that but off hand it makes a lot of sense.”

brahim left Jamal on his side for a couple of hours while he took an afternoon nap. That was a custom easy to get along with. And wasn’t much surprised when after returning Jamal gave up two of the names. Saudi knew if the positions were revered he would at least have bitched and moaned a bit first. Must be a cultural thing.

The Captain, and his chief and only agent, dithered around trying to figure which one to grab first. It turned out that Hashim Mohamed was out of town, what was it with all those, Mohameds anyway? Whatever happened to diversity in naming in Islamic society? At least there was diversity in spelling. That meant Mohammad el-Najur was next on the list.

They had Jamal in a room on the same third floor, and kept him sedated when they brought in his co-conspirator el-Najur and took him to the buildings upper level. Ibrahim tried the same routine that had worked so well on Jamal but with far less success. Najur was one of those rare zealots who was ready to be a martyr for his faith. He almost seemed to be looking forwards to it.

“Why no drugs Sir,” Ibrahim asked Omar after the initial failure. “I know nobody does it but we could get what we want without torture and be far more certain that what we got was actually true.”

“That’s a hard one. It’s just something both sides have come to an agreement about, like no use of nuclear weapons on a populated planets surface. It doesn’t really seem to fall into that same category and on the face of it looks irrational. Much of what we humans do could be characterized similarly. I think it’s a wise policy so long as both sides adhere. You start with drugs for interrogation and it’s not such a stretch to see it leading to full fledged chemical warfare agents on the battlefield, and I am certainly willing to forgo that.”

“Yeah, there is that. So what next with drugs and real torture ruled out?”

“Not sure, we can’t just keep him here. We’re tied down enough till we get Jamal on a ship. Got any ideas yourself?”

“How about this. We let him escape and then see where he goes. So long as he thinks it was his doing he won’t be worried that we are following.”

“I like it,” Omar said, “and I can already see how to make him think that the escape is all his doing…”

Kronnin and Loomis needed more help if they were to accomplish much. That was easily arranged given the amorality of most of the Altie underclass. But how to be sure that someone brought in stayed bought. Kronnin absolutely ruled out going to al-Masari for help. If his service was as riddled with collaborators as they believed it to be that would be a fatal error.

Almost accidentally Ibrahim found the third member of their nascent spy ring, Gaza al-Omari.

There was a beggar boy, not unheard of but uncommon sitting cross-legged in the dirt outside of the wine shop that served as the entrance to an establishment serving harder stuff below. Not exceptional in itself, but rare, al-Masari did not like to have notice of any flaws in the political system on public view. In a bit of what was usual charity for his current role Ibrahim stared with disgust and threw a few coins into the boy’s earthenware bowl.

“Thank you Master, may Allah bless you and all of your relations,” the urchin said standing first then kneeling and touching his head to the ground in what must have been his normal routine.

At just that time, down the center of the street, came a man of obvious importance, based on the number in his entourage. The camel one of his men was riding brushed up against the boy and sent him headfirst into the hard side of the building. Though dazed and shaken the youth had enough of his wits about him to remain silent.

“What is your name boy? And get along home,” Ibrahim said, “this is no place for one such as you. Your father will not be happy if you get him into trouble by being reported as one interfering with the passage of his betters.”

“I am the son of Gaza al-Omari, kind sir, my father is ill and it is my duty to provide for him and my mother who stays home to tend his injuries.”

“Where do you live boy?”

“On the street of the camels, noble sir, my father served in the army but was sent out after coming back from the Abbas mines. He is hurt sir and will recover but now we have so little.”

Ibrahim reached once more into his purse and pulled out a golden coin visible only to the boy in front of him. “Take this now and tell no one, not even your father where it came from. If I see you again it will not be a pleasant meeting. Be gone!”

Eyes wide the boy tucked first the coin and then the bowl into the folds of his robe and fled from the street as if chased by demons. He did not run but moved along rapidly casting looks right and left to see if someone might be following in order to relieve him of his unexpected wealth.

Ibrahim was going to do something with the information just gathered but it would have to wait. The cover of an illicit alcohol dealer was far too important to risk. After completing his transaction below the wine shop Ibrahim returned to the warehouse and told Omar what he was up to, and then went to the street of the camels to see how it would turn out.

Gaza al-Omari lay in a back room. Were it not for the boy being home and telling his mother of the gold piece Ibrahim would not have gained entrance. Gaza was one of those that survived the Calp attack on the caravan Ibrahim had been escorting from Wadi Abbas. He survived but was deemed to be too infirmed to remain in the army of al-Masari. He would be welcomed back after a complete recovery but for now was on his own and not doing well.

Irwana al-Omari was thin and weary but not submissive or retiring. If not for her manner of dress she would have fit into the poorer classes on almost any Indie World. The house, one in the middle of a string sharing common walls and without doubt a common well and lighting circuit, contained three rooms. The largest, leading to the doorway and the street, was the only decent sized room and ran all the way across the front. A light blanket on the well worn divan against one wall showed where the boy, whose name was— here it comes again— Mohammad, slept.

The rear was split into two areas, one an open work room where Ibrahim could see wash tubs and several baskets of clothing, far more than for a family of three. Irwana must take in laundry and been doing it even before her husband was injured. There was a door in that room leading to a courtyard that would hold the communal well and sanitation facilities at the rear of the building.

The smallest room was the bedroom occupied by her husband Gaza. He could be seen propped up in bed through the open doorway a curtain could be pulled to block.

Ibrahim did not dwell on the obvious poverty but said to Irwana, “I have heard of your husband’s situation and out of respect have come to request an audience, and should that meet with his desires, perhaps I may be able to offer a chance for modest employment until he is completely recovered.”

“Please take a seat,” the woman said, clearing away the blanket from the divan, “I am sorry I have no coffee or tea prepared in advance, but your visit was not expected. I will ask my husband if he would choose to receive you at this time.”

She went into the bedroom and closed the curtain behind her. Ibrahim could hear the low tones of a whispered conversation. A few minutes later she returned and saying that her husband would be honored to see the esteemed gentleman. Irwana took him into the room. She had never once asked his name. That was something that just wasn’t done when dealing with cultural superiors or potential employers. Irwana left the room and closed the curtain once more.

“Please be seated,” were the first words al-Omari said, indicating a bench at the side of the bed, then, “I know you, or have at least seen you before. Yes— I have it now, you were a worker with the caravan. I welcome you to my home.”

“Thank you, and permit me to introduce myself. I am Ibrahim Saudi though no longer in the caravan trade. I have found a more lucrative position in the wholesale business along with some other sidelines that have turned out well. And hearing from your son about your present situation, I came by to present my respects and see if we might find something of mutual interest to engage us.”

There was a knock on the door frame then Irwana brought in a tray with a porcelain pot of steaming tea and two cups. She poured, and leaving the pot on the small table in the corner of the room, excused herself again.

“As you can well see any employment would be welcome, I am able to get out of bed now but only for short periods of time. A few more weeks and I will be able to get along much better, but the doctor who released me from the service said that it will take at least a year and expensive therapy if I am to recover enough to rejoin my former unit. How could I be useful to one such as yourself?”

“Alas, it is as Allah wills, and thereby perhaps not at all. Before we go into what I require it would be helpful if you told me a bit more about yourself and especially how you see our current problems here on Altoona.”

It was done slowly and with innuendo and inference but by the time Ibrahim left several hours later he had the third permanent member of the spy ring.
Two weeks after that Jamal was on a ship bound for New Hope, Mohammad el-Najur was on the streets and Gaza had taken a position at the warehouse. Gaza did none of the heavy work but gradually took over Ibrahim’s responsibilities on the warehouse lower floor, preparing orders, handling the paperwork and acting as the intermediary between that part of the business and Omar’s offices on the top floor. Ibrahim was spending all or most all of his time out in the city.

Shortly after being hired Gaza began going out at lunch time and often after work. He stopped at various places as instructed by Ibrahim, and without being obvious made it apparent to any who cared to notice that he was extremely displeased with the treatment he had received at the hands of the present government. It wasn’t long before he was approached and quizzed on the operations at the warehouse. He did not play up his importance or talk about the illegal portion of the work other than to vaguely praise Omar Mohamed for his shrewd insight and knowledge of where money was to be had and profits made.

Gaza at first would say nothing concerning his patron’s customers even when asked in a most direct fashion. As he became friendlier with those he talked with and share a drink or two, he started to sometimes mention things that hinted at the true nature of the business. It was not long till he was approached by one of his new friends, a certain Sami Abu Zuhri, who wondered if some of the military supplies going to the Cardomans might not find their way to groups which were looking to correct some of the present Altoonan governments evil practices.

Gaza acknowledged that for the right kind of money it might indeed be possible. For himself he averred he wanted nothing but his master would not likely feel the same and in any events some palms would need greasing to make this thing happen. He promised to see what he could do and as it was a lunchtime contact went back to work.

“Well done,” Omar said when Gaza informed him of the conversation. “As you probably know we handle none of the Cardoman military equipment, all of that is kept under guard by their own forces—but I think I may be able to come up with a source for black market Altoonan weapons and such. Let this Abu Zuhri know I am interested and have him be ready to set up a meeting with his principal in say three more days. You have done well and I am also happy to see that your son no longer begs on the street. Ibrahim has eyes everywhere.”

It wasn’t much, but the initial offering was easy to come by. There were a few captured weapons and a bit of ammunition for the same already in Cardoman hands. The ones salvaged from those that had attacked the transport caravan. Fewer than a dozen mixed rifles and pistols and only a few hundred rounds of ammunition that hadn’t cooked off. Twenty grenades. One small crates worth in total. It would be enough to get them started.

Kronnin wasn’t looking to supply the government opposition with massive firepower. After all they were the other side. A little would need to go a long way. Omar had Gaza set up the meet but let him know Ibrahim would attend as his deputy and representative.
Ibrahim was dressed in quite a bit better fashion than was his norm. He was seated in the entrance and lobby of the finest hotel on the planet. He had been there before, when he was looking to visit with Roger Imhoff and had found the man’s room vacated. No one would recognize him from that foray. Several men went in and out not seeming to notice him, but Ibrahim had to think he was under observation.

He read an Arabic version of the local paper. He wasn’t good at it yet but could get by reading as well as many and better than most, he was making steady progress. Now if he could just learn how to write it. Ibrahim was barely beyond the sign your name stage. The new alphabet was so blasted strange to one used to standard English.

Not much later a bellman handed him a note with a room number and nothing more. Ibrahim turned over a small denominational coin and headed to the lift.

The suite was two floors below the top of the building but took up almost half of the floor. Standing in the entryway to meet him was—-Roger Imhoff. Ibrahim had thought he was ready for anything but this was something he had not considered. It was only all the practice with Omar that kept his surprise from showing,

“Welcome Ibrahim Saudi, I am Moqtada al-Sadr and at your service.”

“Honored noble sir, I shall endeavor to please.”

Moqtada showed Ibrahim into the most luxurious room he had ever seen or even imagined. And that was saying something. Houris, yes they did exist, another dream come true. Moqtada spared nothing as far as Ibrahim could see when it came to living the life of an Arabian Potentate. Drinks and food came well before he deigned to get to the real business of their meeting.

With a wave of the hand the food and drink was swept away and the room, entertainers scurrying out, was empty but for the two of them. “I wish I had more time but other matters await my attention. If you would, please Ibrahim, tell me of your Masters intentions.”

“That, most unfortunately, is beyond my instruction and indeed my knowledge. I have a manifest containing the list of those few items we have gathered to date which you may find of interest. It is my master, Omar Mohamed’s wish, that he continue to remain behind the scenes. But he has assured me that should this meeting go well, he would move heaven and earth to attend to your needs kind Sir. He prays forgiveness for the scarcity of many of the items you have requested but in as little time as available has done what was possible.

“Omar Mohamed told me, as his agent, that if this first small delivery meets with your satisfaction, he will be able to improve upon it, but that will take time. He begs forgiveness for intruding upon you with so little on hand, but says should Allah wish it so, in the future many things are possible. He entrusted me to handle our first meeting and do whatever seems proper so that the relationship might flourish, and as I can see how poorly we have met your needs, I present this first small shipment as a gift.
“Moqtada al-Sadr— I pray as my master Omar’s servant—Hold us in your debt that we may serve again.”

“The honor is mine,” Moqtada replied. “I understand fully the difficulties involved in transactions arraigned on such short notice. Perhaps as a small token of my esteem you might present him with this small parcel as an indication of continuing interest and respect.” With that Ibrahim was handed a small purse, very heavy for its size. “And some thing for you also Ibrahim, for you serve your master well.” He gave to Ibrahim a pass card to one of the fancier night spots in town reputed to deal in something more intimate than food and drink.

“Feel free to use this for your personal use at any time friend Ibrahim. Should your master wish to contact me the gentleman in charge will always know how to reach me. Final words were exchanged and Ibrahim was escorted from the building feeling quite pleased with the way it had worked out. And Imhoff/Moqtada was very well pleased as well with what he had seen. Omar was someone that with cultivation could turn into a real find.

“A fine job Ibrahim,” Omar said upon Saudi’s return. He placed the purse on his desk and counted out the coins. “Easily twice what the lot was worth. And oh so fascinating to have reacquired the missing Imhoff. This is the kind of break we’ve been praying for so let’s make the most of it. Another thing to work on is finding if this Sami Abu Zuhri is more than a go between for Imhoff or a bigger part in the larger organization”

Ibrahim said, “I was expecting Moqtada to try to buy me out from under you or at least try a little bribe for inside information. Let’s keep Gaza working on that end. If he keeps up with the anger at the Altie Military he should look like a prime addition to the anti-government forces. Moqtada was quite obviously put in place and funded by the Caliphate. I have a feeling Sami Abu Zuhri will turn out to have ties into the civilian side.” He then asked “What about el-Najur, Hashim Mohamed, and the rest of the names we got from Jamal?”

“We don’t have the manpower to follow them but I did have Cowan at the Trade Mission scan the publicly available records. Nothing outwardly amiss but if there were then Masari would have already picked them up. If I can’t think of anything else within a couple of days, much as I hate to do it, I’ll probably turn the lot over to the DIS. Might be best, but I would rather get someone like Gaza inside than shut down the part of it we know about.”