Friday, May 4, 2012

Night Chill, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 Evening in Paradise

[Copyright (c) 2012, John V. Tieso.  All Rights reserved.]

Colon, Panama, Six Months Earlier. Small planes had been arriving all day at the small airport at the outskirts of Colon. Most carried three to five passengers, usually men, and usually carrying weapons as they emerged from their planes. The airport had once been a lucrative business for the Colon tourist trade, but had been closed since Aeroperlas had suspended flights. Now, only the occasional small plane landed here without assistance from a flight tower.
Today however, things were different. Small jets were coming in constantly, dropping off their passengers, and departing quickly into the sun, and at low altitude. One among the arrivals was different. A small, white Jet stream executive jet rolled along the tarmac, and came to a stop just outside the last hanger at the end of the runway. The plane’s side door opened, and a set of stairs was lowered, so that a tall man, wearing dark glasses, a dark conservative suit, and a red fez, could deplane. Behind the man was another person, less formally dressed, wearing a dark turban, and a flowing caftan.
At the bottom of the stairs was a limousine, with a driver waiting at the open rear door. The driver bowed slightly as the tall man entered the rear door, followed by the other man in the caftan. The driver closed the door, walked around to the driver side, entered the front door, and started the engine. In a few seconds, the car was moving down the dirt road toward the city. 
            The limousine moved through traffic like a knife, cutting a swath for itself as it went along city streets, eventually coming to a stop at a small dock at the local harbor. The driver turned off the ignition, opened his door, and moved to the rear of the car, opening the door.
            "Sir, the boat for you is at the end of the pier," the driver said, as he pointed the way. Both men exited the limousine, the man in the caftan carrying the bags. In a few moments, it became clear that the boat waiting for them was a large, ocean-going yacht. The two passengers climbed the gangway together. Once aboard, the yacht slowly left the dock, and headed out toward the clear, blue ocean.
            Both men settled into comfortable chairs that had been provided on the deck and watched as the yacht first turned east into the ocean, until it cleared the harbor of Colon. Finally, after about an hour, the direction changed to south. It was just barely possible to see land in the distance, but, over the next few minutes, the shore to be getting larger, getting closer.
            The direction soon changed once again, and the ship was now headed directly toward the shore. In the distance, both men could see a dock at the shoreline, and, behind it and the tree line, a pastel-painted resort. They had arrived at Portobello, their destination.
            Two men were standing on the dock, as the yacht reduced speed and edged into the mooring. A crewmember threw a line to one of the men ashore, who secured it to the pier. Then, the small gangway was extended, and the two passengers walked over to the dock. Another crewmember from the yacht carried their bags. With the man carrying the bags in the lead, the small group started along the dock, and then up path toward the resort buildings.
            "Good afternoon, sir," said the person at the desk to the man wearing the caftan, as he approached the desk.
            "Good afternoon, this is Mister Tabriz,” the man said as he pointed to the other gentleman that accompanied him. “I believe you have reservations for us."
            "We do, sir," responded the clerk, "The bellman will take you to your suite.” The clerk rang a small bell, and  a gentleman arrived at the desk wearing shorts and a guayabira shirt with a large, brightly colored floral pattern. The desk clerk handed him the room key, and the man, a porter, picked up the luggage that had been left on the floor by the crewmember from the yacht.
            "This way, if you please, senor," he said as he began to walk away from the desk toward the wide stairway to the second floor, with both of his new guests following at a short distance.
The suite the two men entered was large, and airy, at the end of the second floor corridor, and facing the ocean. In the center of the entry room was a large, round table without chairs. In its center was a huge vase with a combination of dried flowers, and assorted leaves common to Panama; well arranged. Sitting on the table was a small sealed envelope, which the man in the caftan picked up on his way to the bedroom with the carry baggage.
"Jorge Ribera, our host, welcomes you, Sidi," said the man in the caftan as the other man, the tall one in the suit, as he entered the bedroom. "His invitation asks that you join him for drinks on his veranda in one hour," the man continued.
"Tell him that I would be happy to do so, Amid," answered the tall man
"Very well, sir," responded the servant, as he left the room to make the phone call.
"Mister Ribera's room, please," Amid said to the operator.
"One moment, please," replied the operator, "I will ring you through."
"Thank you very much," responded Amid. In the background, he could hear the phone ringing, then being picked up.
"Yes," said a voice at the other end of the phone, followed by a pause.
"This is Amid, assistant to Mister Tabriz. I wish to speak to Mister Ribera, please."
"Give me a message," said the man on the other end of the phone, "Mister Ribera does not take calls."
"Well then," said Amid, "Please tell Mister Ribera that Mister Tabriz will be happy to join him on his veranda for a drink at nine o’clock, if that is convenient."
"It will be convenient," said the voice, and nearly immediately hung up the phone, leaving Amid with only a dial tone. Amid called the desk to get a room number, only to find that Ribera was at the other end of the same corridor.
Mister Ribera will meet with you at nine," said Amid, as he walked into the main sitting room, where Tabriz had gone to get a drink. Amid found him sitting in a large stuffed chair, facing the ocean. "His rooms are at the other end of the corridor."
"Thank you, Amid. I do not believe that you will need to accompany me. Perhaps you want to rest early. It has been a long trip for both of us."
"Thank you, Sidi. I am tired.” Amid gave his traditional Arab salaam, and backed out of the room, going immediately toward his own.
            Several minutes later, Amid could hear the sound of automobiles. Looking out his window, he saw the first of several limousines pull up to the small resort, and he  could now see that it was apparently hidden along the wall of several hills, accessible only through a guarded and gated entrance, or from the sea. At the entranceway, the arriving visitors were those who had arrived in their private planes over the course of the day at the same airport in Colon.
            Amid stretched out on a chaise in his room, intending to rest his eyes for short time. He would not fall asleep until his master had completed his meeting and returned.
Sometime later, he heard the front door of the suite open, and then close again. His leader was on his way to the meeting.

St. Louis Hotel, New Orleans. The officers left the Hotel St. Louis, went down the street to a small coffee shop, and sat down to talk. Rick Kehane spoke first, while stirring sugar into his coffee.
“Why do I feel that we are no further along than we were before we spoke to Gillespie?”
“Actually, we know quite a bit,” responded Agent Jim O'Neill, “Has anybody gone over to Hertz to get the rental agreement on that car Gillespie identified?”
Kehane spoke into his cell phone, asking the central dispatch to put him through to the Office of Detectives, and then he asked for Joe LePore. “LePore, did you get the rental agreement from Hertz?”
“Sure did Rick, got it this morning,” LePore responded.
“Did you send it to fingerprints?”
“Got that back a few minutes ago. They sent the prints to the FBI. We had nothing on them. The FBI came back and said they had the prints, but no name to attach to them, other than someone named Amid Fatoullah. He was apparently involved in something recently in Boston. They are following the lead up there for us. Nothing else, though. We did find the car at the Airport a couple of hours ago. No other prints. The airport manager said two people were in the car. They boarded a private jet with a flight plan to Atlanta.”
“What about descriptions?” Kehane asked.
“Skimpy,” LePore responded. “One was very tall, about six-foot-four  in a double-breasted suit. Looked Arab the airport guy said. The other guy with him was shorter, about five-feet-six, also in a suit, thinks it was grey, and spoke broken English. Not much to go on I’m afraid.”
“Have you checked with the FAA?”
“Did that. They didn’t go to Atlanta. Went off the flight path over the Bay. Last sighting had them going south, in a general direction toward Central America. Could have come down anywhere.”
“OK. Thanks. At least we have some information. Keep trying, will you?”
“Sure thing, Rick. We’ll keep plugging at it. Out here.”
“Talk to you later Joe.” Kehane pushed the button on his phone and closed the cover, putting it back in his pocket.
“I might be able to help you some, Kehane,” suggested Agent O’Neill. “Let’s see what I can do.” He dialed a number, and a voice came on quickly. “ FBI, New Orleans. How might I help you?” asked the voice.
“This is O’Neill. Put me through to intelligence, will you?”
“Right away, Agent O’Neill.”
“Intelligence, Smith here, O’Neill. What can I do for you?”
“Need to find out about a small private plane that left Armstrong International last evening—late last evening—headed south, but with an Atlanta Flight Plan. Could you see if there were any other contacts after they left assigned flight path?”
“Sure. I’ll see what Coast Guard, DEA, and the others have. Back to you shortly.”
“Thanks, Smith,” responded Agent O’Neill. “Give it a few minutes, boys, and let’s see what we get here.” The woman was still waiting for his coffee order—she had been back three times—and now he ordered a latte, no cream.

Portobello, Panama. “Well, my friend, Tabriz. I see you have arrived,” said a tall, dark-skinned portly gentleman, sitting on a chaise in the middle of the room. He rose and extended his hand as Tabriz came through the door to the suite. “We have a lot to discuss, even before the rest join us in the morning.”
Tabriz nodded, and extended his own hand, joining it with that of his host. “Jorge Ribera, how long has it been?” he asked, and then added, “What brings you to me?”
“Tomorrow, my friend. Tomorrow, I will unveil for you my new plan for getting cheap drugs into the United States. Cheaper than before—still good quality—but priced to sell, as the Madison Avenue, New York mouthpieces say.” He laughed heartily, quickly joined by Tabriz.
“Very well, Jorge, but there are other things we need to discuss as well.”
“I understand,” Ribera responded, “But first, let us have something to eat and drink.” He pointed to the refreshments being brought into the sitting room, and placed on a table near the center of the room. “ Come,” he added, “Enjoy, then we will talk further.”

In the bar downstairs, several of the other guests were sitting around a table, watching the dancers on the small stage. The show was not much, but it was better than watching the television, either channel, over poor reception, or walking along the beach. To these men, time was money, and they were anxious to see what deal Ribera would propose.
‘What are we doing here, in this place?” one man asked.
“Ribera said he had a major deal,” said another.
“It had better be a good deal,” answered a third, “Or I will be one unhappy man. There are too many deals today to sit around a nothing place like this and wait, without any idea of what is on the other end.”
“I agree,” Said the first man who had spoken, “But I have had good luck with Ribera. He produces what he says he will produce, and has few of these meetings. Something big is happening here. He does not like to call people together.”
“I also agree,” said another, “Usually his talk is one-on-one, with only one or two others at most. Something different is happening here.”
“Let’s have another drink,” said the first man, waving to the waitress. “Another round here, right away,” he yelled across the dance floor space. She waved an acknowledgement, and started toward the bar to order the drinks.

“All right my friend,” said Ribera, as he and Tabriz resumed their seats after sampling the refreshments that had been brought into the room.. “What is it you need to discuss this evening? What cannot wait until tomorrow?”
“Jorge,” Tabriz started, “Over the past three years, I have been gradually moving equipment, supplies, and arms into North America. Some of its results you have seen, in the support provided to those who took down the Towers, and embarrassed those who thought the Pentagon was impregnable. While I disagreed with the Leader on supporting bin Laden on the Towers, and what it would cost us as a result, I also overestimated the ability of the Americans to respond. True, the Americans took out several of our cells, and drove others deeper into their anonymity, but, overall, we have tested the Americans several times, and found them still unable to understand us.”
“I publicly brought two ships to Boston, and gave the American agents many opportunities to stop what was easily perceived as an effort to import arms, and perhaps other things. They jumped at what little they found; and failed to find the real purpose of our shipments. We shipped them cheap Egyptian tractors. Into the tubes of the tractors, we inserted small amounts of drugs. They sniffed out the drugs, and released the tractors, completely missing the real cargo.
Those tractors were built from titanium; and the major parts can be dissembled to produce other things. The Americans, or the Canadians dissembled not one tractor; and some tractors reached Nova Scotia as originally planned. By the time the Americans even became interested, over twenty shipments had been made; on most, the customs people did not even find the drugs.”
“Then, we gave them another chase, when we sent some smallpox cultures through Orlando to Fort Lauderdale. Again, we gave them a scare. A broken packing box, and a minor release that was quickly contained. They sent agents all over the world; eventually blamed the Russians for part of the problem; and closed two factories in Russia and Uzbekistan. However, in their eagerness, they miscounted, and we still have cultures for future use.”
“You don’t intend to do that again soon, do you Tabriz?”
“No, my friend. Never do the same thing twice. Always look for new places to pierce their security, and then show their lack of invincibility. We will preserve the cultures, but they will not be used, at least for the near future.”
“How then can I help in your efforts?” asked Ribera.
“Quite simple,” responded Tabriz. “I need your services with the oil and gas cartels in this part of the world. I have tankers to carry liquefied natural gas, and I want to establish an import business in the Port of New Orleans.”
“I am already arranging to do that, but I need a reliable source of supply for that effort. I will pay in first quality opium, which you can process in your laboratories, for further distribution and sale. These others you have invited can help you do that. For my part, the payments get me suppliers, and protection against disruption. Can you do that?”
“Of course, but what are we talking about here?” asked Ribera.
“Let’s start with twenty million US in uncut opium value, with five million to follow each month for your services.”
“Twenty million is a lot of uncut opium to move without getting public notice. Can you do that?”
“Without problem. It will come with the same ship that arrives to take on the gas. I can also arrange that your processed drugs go with that ship to New Orleans; in reasonable quantities, of course.”
“This is a very powerful proposal. Let me think on it overnight.” Ribera rose from his chair, and Tabriz responded in turn. They started to walk toward the door.
“Make this proposal, your proposal to the group tomorrow. We will all become rich men, even richer than we are now,” said Tabriz as he shook the hand of Ribera, and went through the front door to the corridor.
“Tomorrow morning, my friend. You will hear my answer,” responded Ribera, as he closed the door.
Tabriz started walking down the corridor toward his own suite, feeling that he had hooked a partner. Ribera, meanwhile, sat back down in his chair, and began to think about his relationship with Tabriz, and the realities of what he had just heard. From what he knew of Tabriz, he had expected no less, but the sheer volume of the proposal astounded even him.

Bonny Island, Port Harcourt, Nigeria (Two months later). Bonny Island is located in the Niger Delta of Nigeria near Port Harcourt on the Bonny River. As a country with abundant oil, gas, and other  natural resources, it a location highly desired by international firms, especially those that drill, refine, and sell oil and gas. Its gas reserves are largely burned in the atmosphere, although it exports enough to be the 10th largest in the world. Massive super-tankers for oil and even larger Liquid Natural Gas Tankers (LNG) are frequent visitors to the docks at Bonny Island.
Bonny Island also has connections to the world of terrorism. The area surrounding the Island the that portion of the Delta have been the scene of a major civil war in the late 1960’s, which resulted in the creation of a breakaway country—Biafra— later reincorporated with Nigeria. Nonetheless, the rules of trade in Nigeria foster international company involvement, and these, in turn use large number of their own and independent tankers to bring Nigerian oil and gas products to world markets.
The Bonny Island refineries for LNG were started in the early 1990s  by the  Government of Nigeria who entered into collaboration with three international firms. Port Harcourt is the closest city to Bonny Island. Ferries are the main form of transport to and from the island. A series of large docks and gas connection pipes mark the locations for the LNG ships to fill their holds and move out into the southern Atlantic Ocean.
One of these ships is the LNG Tanker Emden Crown, The ship had been in port nearly 10 days to load the ship to its capacity of nearly 120,000 cubic meters of LNG. Once loaded, the ship received clearance to leave the harbor for its voyage to the United States.

Within minutes after port clearance had been received, the Emden Crown had started to weight anchor. This was to be the crew’s first opportunity to ship LNG from Nigeria to the United States, the captain wanted to waste no time in leaving on this particular voyage. His company had a new contract that called for delivery of large quantities of LNG to Louisiana, and Captain Ionnascu did not want this first shipment to be a disappointment.
Corfos, Greece is the home of Captain Constantine Ionnascu when he is not on the bridge of his ship. The captain is single, with an aged mother who sees him seldom, and two sisters who compose his family, if you do not count the sheepdog that accompanies him on his voyages. Ionnascu was named, as was the custom in those days, for the former king of Greece, Constantine, but seldom mentions that fact, unless asked, and then only quietly. Even thirty years later, the question of royalty in a discussion among Greeks can bring only raised voices, and strident remarks, later regretted. Best not to mention the subject at all.
Ionnascu had spent his early career in the Greek Navy as a logistician and eventually as a ship’s captain, mostly on supply vessels. When he retired, after an accident at sea that caused the still obvious limp of his left leg as he walked, he signed on to several LNG tankers, becoming captain of a smaller vessel, the Ishara Maru, and then the Emden Crown.
For the last six years, Ionnascu had been the master of the Emden Crown, a Liberian-flag vessel, owned by a consortium of Middle East interests rather than a single corporation, a situation very confusing to anyone not involved in multinational shipping. He had many owners to please, and no single owner as the leader. Each voyage saw the ship controlled by one of the owners, or at most two owners who might have a joint LNG venture. In this case, there was one controller of the voyage—but this company was not an owner. Rather, the ship was being leased to an outsider—Tabriz Shipping in Cairo—and he was dealing with a completely new set of rules and procedures governing his voyage. Nonetheless, he studied the requirements well and felt ready for his undertaking.
Normally, his contact for the specifics of pickup and delivery  of a cargo, regardless of who was controlling the voyage,  was BG Terminals, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria—the current port-of-call. In this instance, BG was not involved; all coordination was with Tabriz Shipping. He knew little about that company, except that it had very specific requirements for pickup, loading and delivery that were more stringent than many of the owners, and Tabriz was a varied shipper of many products, not just LNG. That in itself was very odd, since the LNG community was very close-knit, and Tabriz was not among the major players in the market. 
Today, moving on the morning tide, with a brilliant rising sun the eastern sky, Captain Ionnascu was at the height of his career. He watched the ship carefully as a mother watches her young, while the ship was refitted for its new contract. With the exception of one day, when he stayed in his compartment with a small cold, or flu, he was constantly on the bridge, or walking the ship, supervising the changes that had to be made to accommodate the connections needed by the American port.
Now, they were ready, he, and his ship, and they were moving out to sea on a high tide. Soon, they would be out of the Gulf of Guinea, and headed for open ocean. Then, it would be north, and west toward the Atlantic trade lanes, and the United States.

“This is WWLTV, New Orleans, Following up on our earlier story of the killing of Jimmy Galanto, head of the New Orleans Longshoreman’s Union. As Brad Pennington told you earlier, he has apparently the victim of a gang killing—three Middle-eastern killers who stabbed him repeatedly in the back.”
“We now know that the car was found abandoned at the Airport Garage and the killers have apparently escaped the country in a small plane headed east toward Atlanta.”
“NOPD is still not releasing any information or the results of the Galanto autopsy. We do understand that the Local has started plans for a large funeral in two days from now. It will pass through the Quarter and the Waterfront and end at the Cathedral where the Funeral Mass will be said by the Archbishop of New Orleans.”
“More at Eleven here at WWLTV .”

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