I’m back in Singapore swinging the blacksmith’s hammer down on Pack of Lies. It took a few days to get back into the rhythm of the city after rural BC for three months. In particular, my calorie consumption has had to halve because I’m no longer burning thousands of calories a day hiking the fields and standing in the chilly water fishing for steelhead. The wife is also less keen on grilling meat for every meal and watching me down the better part of a bottle of hearty red to go with it. So the culinary good days are over for now. However, the fishing ended up being pretty good after all, and I managed to depart with all my fingers and toes, too.

Anyone who has been away from home for three months can tell you that the in-tray always holds ugly surprises. HSBC must know that I write awful things about their bank in my books (and now, my blog) because they didn’t bother to contact me before honoring twelve separate charges of US$100 each to Apple iTunes over a one-week period in September. I didn’t detect the fraud until my return, and had choice words for them. So what this tale of woe have to do with conspiracy fiction? Nothing unless someone reading the book wonders why HSBC is getting so much stick. I sure hope the bank’s senior retail banking execs in Singapore and Hong Kong get Pack of Lies in their stockings next Christmas. It’s going to make for awesome holiday reading!

*  *  *  *  *

Singapore seems pretty much unchanged, only wetter. It’s an atmosphere conducive to work as there aren’t any bears or deer in the yard to draw you to the window every five minutes, or satellite HDTV live sports. I’ve got to face facts: there are too many temptations in BC for me to get much writing done when I’m there. I’m better off in staid Singapore working the imagination.

Bradley West

Singapore

November 19, 2016

 

READY, FIRE, AIM!

Much of the action in Pack of Lies occurs in Pakistan. As part of my background research, I read and took copious notes on The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall. The author is a Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times reporter who was based in Afghanistan and Pakistan for ten years starting in 1999.

the-wrong-enemy-coverSource: Interpolicy Digest, book review by Fahim Massoud Review of The Wrong Enemy by Carlotta Gall

Gall’s premise is that Pakistan’s leaders covertly support the Taliban in Afghanistan to ensure that the country remains unstable, thereby eliminating one potential enemy to the north. This policy has the double benefit of ensuring that the US keeps pumping money into Pakistan. It’s a delicate balancing act, as the Taliban in Pakistan is actively trying to undermine the domestic government. Gall doesn’t mince words, saying that the Pakistan government is perfidious, driving violence in Afghanistan for their own cynical, hegemonic reasons. “Pakistan has been the true enemy,” is her summary because “For [twenty years] the Pakistan military has manipulated the media to hide the truth of its support of Islamist terrorism.” (Prologue, page xxi.)

That several Pakistani journalists were followed, intimidated, beaten and occasionally murdered by the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) and/or Special Branch of the national police force only increases her dislike and distrust of the Pakistan government. This is not dispassionate reporting, but rather recounting of events with the urgency of an eyewitness to atrocities.

Gall identifies four taboos for journalists based in Pakistan: (a) the presence of the Taliban in country; (b) Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (estimated today at one hundred twenty bombs); (c) I.S.I.’s covert operations; and (d) political intrigue among the senior military officers. Violators may disappear into jails, or killed with their bodies dumped. The murderers never come to trial. It seems so very South American. Her principal focus is the Taliban, with Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, receiving much attention as it is home to many madrassas (radical Muslim schools) that are either Taliban-run or Taliban-tolerant.

The Wrong Enemy is a well-researched polemic. Gall makes a strong case that senior government and military figures in Pakistan protect the Taliban even as they personally profit from the billions of dollars in annual US funds given to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. So why did/does the US put up with this behavior? Because the US is worried about the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons even more than it’s worried about keeping Afghanistan out of the Taliban’s (or al Qaeda’s) control. The US can’t afford to offend the Pakistan military to the point where it severs all ties and tries to protect its atomic arsenal on its own.

The groups or countries that would like to steal Pakistan’s nukes and triggers includes the usual terrorists, plus Iran. Add two countries that would strike Pakistan if they knew where the weapons were hidden: Israel and India. The Pakistanis view the US as an untrustworthy ally as well. On one hand, the Americans will supply hundreds of millions in manpower, technology and arms to safeguard the nuclear weapons. On the other, the Pakistanis are convinced that if the US ever found out where all the bombs were, then the US would attack and destroy them all. This would leave Pakistan at the mercy of mortal enemy and nuclear-capable India. (India also has larger and better-armed conventional forces, and has already won three conventional wars against Pakistan.) So Pakistan’s leaders have to balance the wishes for personal enrichment and military hardware against the certainty (in their minds) that the US is actually a false friend.

*  *  *  *  *

Students of this ugly geopolitical muddle will find The Wrong Enemy worthwhile. Curious readers might just come away depressed. Conspiracy authors rejoice, however, at the richness of the material waiting to be mined. Pack of Lies incorporates some of Gall’s arguments in the utterances of the DEA’s Travis Ryder, and our anti-hero Bob Nolan’s discussions with his Pakistan host/captor, Mikaal Chachar.

 

SEA OF LIES DELETED SCENE (II)

This is the second Sea of Lies deleted extract chronicling the misadventures of Bert Nolan and his sidekick Michael McGirty. The October 2016 blog (see http://bradleywest.net/mh17-final-report-russia-fired-missile-world-shrugs/) started at Washington State University and currently has our two young heroes-in-waiting in a drug runner’s tunnel at the US-Canada border.

From October as the two college students descend the ladder at the US end of the tunnel’s entrance:

“Here, look for a light switch,” McGirty said as he handed the flashlight to Nolan.

“Light switch my ass! Watch your step. There’s a trip wire. Your dealer buddy Brice has booby-trapped this fucker.”

New material:

“Goddamn, my quads are fried,” McGirty knelt for the fourth time and rubbed the front of his thighs. Up ahead, Nolan stopped. He could use a breather, too. They’d been traveling fifteen minutes and, by his reckoning, had covered about three hundred meters. He was moving carefully, looking for more booby-traps and pausing frequently to listen for sounds of pursuit. There were small gauge rails laid which made walking even harder. The air was surprisingly fresh and reasonably warm, so it wasn’t all bad.

“Let’s get moving. The tunnel’s beginning to slope upward, so we’re probably near the end.”

“Ease past that wire hanging down. Don’t touch it,” Nolan said

“What wire? I don’t see any wire.”

“I’m shining the light on it. It’s sticking out of the wall on your left. If your arm hooks it, we’re going to eat a ball bearing sandwich.”

“Oh, right. Yeah, let me give that a miss. Thanks.”

“Don’t touch the other wall! There’s probably a pressure switch buried there. We’ll be just as dead.”

“Shit, shit, shit! I’m not touching anything except the ground,” McGirty blurted.

“Good. Looks like we’re near the end. Check out the carts and ropes over here. And look at the produce. That’s got to be a couple million dollars of bud.” Bert shone the flashlight around the enlarged storage and staging area. McGirty let out a low whistle. The smell of cannabis resin was rich in the still air.

From ahead they heard a nervous voice. “Freeze, motherfuckers!” Bert switched off the flashlight, dropped flat and pulled out a pistol.

McGirty stayed where he was. “Hey, is that you Brice? It’s me, Michael. Big Duck. I’m with a friend.” Whispering, he said “Don’t shoot anyone, Bert. This guy’s our ride.”

*  *  *  *  *

For five thousand in cash Brice agreed to their one-way transfer to the Kamloops cabin hideaway. No Samaritan, the dealer had been upfront with McGirty. “Look, man, this is business. You say you’ve got 5-0 on your asses and need a ride in a hurry. Sounds like this is going to be a good day for me to clear out this end of the tunnel anyway. So I’ll drive you to your cabin in the woods, but I’m going to need five grand in my pocket—and another five if you need another ride.”

McGirty said, “Don’t sweat it. I’ve got cash on me.”

The dealer never took his eyes off Nolan throughout this exchange with McGirty. The shotgun barrel wobbled in Bert’s general direction. Their stoned host said, “Where are we heading exactly?”

Nolan said, “I just drove up there three days ago. It’s about four hours from the airport, so maybe three from here. Just get on 1 East and take it to the 5 North. I’ll show you from there.” Nolan was fed up and fingering the nine in his left hand trousers pocket. He wished his right arm was solid because he really should pop this bozo to get his attention.

The fifty-year old hippie with phony-cool ponytail and glasses handled the 12-gauge like it was a mop handle. The dealer turned back to say something to McGirty and the barrel swung away.

Quick as a pit viper, Nolan snatched the stock with his left hand and with a jerk disarmed Brice who took a step back and raised his hands in startled disarray.

Nolan was now in charge. “Here, let me hold this. Looks to me like someone might get hurt. Big Duck, you get in the front. I’ll ride in the back with Mr. Remington Pump. Let’s get going. There’s going to be roadblocks soon, and we need to be past them.”

He added in a flat voice. “If you ever point it at my friend or me again, you’d best be ready to pull the trigger, or I’m going to shove the barrel up your ass.” Nolan put the long gun into the back seat of the black Dodge Caravan, and the drug dealer saved face by collecting a wad of bills from McGirty. He didn’t bother to count the money, stuffing it into the front pocket of his cargo trousers.

McGirty got into the front passenger’s seat while Brice slid behind the wheel. The car reeked of pot. Nolan slid the rear door closed and sat behind Brice with a Glock in his lap. “Your friend’s a real dick, Big Duck,” Nolan said.

“Steady now. Brice is our ride out of trouble. He also fronts kilos of prime weed on credit. So let’s take it a bit easy, Bert. I know you’re hurting.”

*  *  *  *  *

As the Caravan pulled out of the dirt driveway at the Logan cabin, McGirty turned to his friend and said, “Couldn’t you have at least tried to be civil? Three hours of a slow burn from an angry dude with a gun at your back is going to make anyone drive badly.”

“What did you want me to do? Tell him politely he was about to run off the road? You can’t rely on people like that. He’s not coming back to pick us up even if he wants to do it for free. I’ll make other arrangements.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“The cabin’s got plenty of food, booze, satellite TV and Internet. Just stay off your email and all your social media. I’m hanging onto your phone. The cops will have your mother calling you every twenty minutes hoping you’ll pick up for even a second so that they can trace us. Just lay low.”

Nolan realized that he sounded like Bob Junior, saying the same things he’d long mocked his father for uttering. He wondered what was going on with Mom, Dad and Mei Ling. He should check his encrypted Safe-mail account.

Nolan looked at his friend who was worse for wear. “We both need sleep. But by dark tomorrow we need to be out of here. Once Brice realizes there’s a reward on us, then he’ll rat us out.”

Reward?

“You can count on it. They’re trying to squeeze my father, and now that we’ve trashed two G-Men then they’ll be doubly keen to find us.”

“So what do we do? We’re both banged up to shit.”

“My father left twenty grand here in cash for an emergency. My sister took five on Monday and I’ll give you back the five you dropped on that asshole. That leaves ten for me and at least five for you. We need to buy or steal a car. Then we need to get seriously cashed up as we could be on the run for a long time. We have to disappear, probably with new IDs. You know anyone who can score us good quality fake licenses, social security cards and similar?”

“I do, actually.”

“Big Duck, you’re getting more interesting by the hour. Get some ice on that lip. I’ve got beeswax to pack into those tooth stumps. I’m gonna eat a handful Ibuprofen for starters. You want some?”

“Yeah, about half the bottle, plus a six pack of IPA. And a protein shake.”

“Breakfast of champions, even if it’s lunchtime.”

“Bert, how are we going to get cashed up? The feds have frozen our bank accounts.”

“I think we give it a week and then sneak back and stake out the tunnel on this side. The next time Brice pops up with a sack of money we rip him off. He sure isn’t handy with a gun, and I’m betting that the person who placed those booby-traps isn’t on the payroll. If he was, then we’d have met him earlier today.”

With that news, Nolan pulled the padlock key out of its hiding place and let them in. McGirty thought the cabin was just fine, especially once he got an IPA open and they’d lit a fire.

Bert went on line and was left disheartened by Dad’s lame email, “I will help when I can, but I’m afraid you can’t rely on me for much right now. Love you guys.” Goddamnit. That meant Mom, Mei Ling and Dad were in the shit.

*  *  *  *  *

“Mr. Poulton, I wanted to thank you for driving out here in the middle of the night. Michael and I have been through a tough time, what with that deer jumping in front of his Silverado and all.”

Albert Poulton, proprietor of the Tunkwa Lake Rainbow Lodge, and long-time Bob Nolan fishing host, hadn’t been particularly busy given that it was still a month from ice out and spring fishing. So an evening phone call from someone identifying himself as Bob Nolan’s son had allowed a quick response. What Bert had asked for was a ride on Thursday morning into Kamloops where he might rent or buy a vehicle. Al was glad he’d overridden Bert’s protestations, and had driven out to their cabin right away. From the looks of those two, both should be in the ER. “Men, I’ll drive you back to my place for the night, then we’ll get you looked at by a doctor in the morning. I can drive you around and help you find a rental car as well. Have you eaten?”

“Sort of,” Michael volunteered. “We each had two protein shakes, four Ibuprofens and three beers.”

“Peanuts. Don’t forget we ate peanuts, too,” Bert said.

You ate peanuts. I can’t chew for shit with this lip and two broken front teef.”

Al decided that these guys were alright, but too jacked on adrenaline for their judgements to be trusted. He wondered why the Nolan boy had a pistol in his jacket pocket and another in the waistband of his trousers. “Take whatever you need, and let’s leave in five. It’s about an hour to the resort. I’ll put you up in our honeymooners’ cabin as it has a little more floor space.”

“Don’t you say one word, Nolan. Not a single friggin’ word,” said McGirty.

*  *  *  *  *

Elaine Poulton was the only daughter from an Alberta family of rodeo cowboys. A registered nurse, she even had absorbable sutures on hand to stitch Big Duck’s torn lip back together. She couldn’t do anything for his teeth, however, other than to replace the beeswax. Bert’s arm needed to be re-splinted with something more sophisticated than a broken carpenter’s level and duct tape. He gritted his teeth while she cut the tape and peeled it off. “Looks to be a pretty good set. Of course, you’ll need to get an X-Ray to see if it’s off more than a few millimeters, in which case it has to be re-done. Your nose also looks broken. Do you want me to straighten it?”

“I’ll take a look at my nose later, ma’am, and maybe give it a tweak. Let’s stay away from hospitals and X-Ray machines. The people who are looking for us will be waiting,” Bert said.

Al jumped in. “You remember Bert’s father Bob? The keen trout fisherman who now lives in Singapore? The one with the silver Wyatt Earp mustache? Bert told me on the drive over that’s Bob is a codebreaker with the CIA in Singapore, not an IT manager at the embassy. And Bob found out that the CIA was involved in hijacking that Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared last weekend. So now his family and him are on the run. The US government is trying to shut them up. It’s like something out of a movie.”

“Well, I never,” replied Elaine with genuine surprise in her voice. With two grown sons of her own, she knew how to handle young men at one in the morning. “You boys, head into the kitchen. I’ll reheat some roast moose and get a couple of slices of apple rhubarb pie out as well. Then it’s straight to bed for you two.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Bert and Big Duck in unison. Al slipped out of the living room and into his home office. He looked up a phone number and dialed.

*  *  *  *  *

Sixty kilometers away from the Tunkwa Rainbow Lodge, Special Agent in Charge Fillmore watched with satisfaction as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police operative kicked in the front door and lobbed in two flash bangs. Three men went in low, flashlights on and guns at the ready. Twenty seconds later, they were back outside.

“It’s empty,” said the inspector as he took off his googles and pulled up the Balaclava.

“Lord Almighty,” said Special Agent in Charge Myron Fillmore and hit speed dial on his cell.

Not only had the raid on the cabin come up empty, but also the RCMP’s search of the premises and surrounding area had produced zero as well. There were three sets of fresh fingerprints in the cabin currently being analyzed in Quantico, but short of a miracle they were out of leads. He turned to his Mountie counterpart. “Can you put up roadblocks?”

“We certainly can, but that cabin had been empty for at least two hours before we got here. At 80km/hour that’s a one hundred sixty kilometer radius. Add another hour to set it up, plus the fact that there aren’t enough policemen in the province to—”

“You’re right. Roadblocks are impractical. I’ve just received confirmation that the blood in the Silverado isn’t Nolan’s. That suggests McGirty was injured when he hit that deer. That’s likely to be his blood in the bathroom sink as well. So let’s focus on hospitals, clinics and veterinarians.”

The RCMP inspector said, “From the wax wrapper in the toilet wastebasket, one of them seems to have lost teeth as well. Is there anything else the RCMP need to know other than they are armed, dangerous and wanted for aggravated assault on federal agents?”

“Just for your ears, Bert Nolan is the son of Robert Nolan, a CIA operative in Singapore who seems to have been a mole for either China or Russia. Big Nolan’s on the loose as well. We need Bert Nolan alive. We need leverage over his father.”

“That puts another wrinkle on matters. Let me get some more men out from Vancouver.”

*  *  *  *  *

The rap on the door had Bert rolling out of bed with an FBI-loaner pistol in hand. He’d forgotten about his arm and grimaced in pain. Big Duck kept snoring. There was a dull light creeping around the drapes.

Al Poulton’s voice rang out, “Bert! Michael! Time to move.”

Ah, right. Dad’s friend the fishing lodge fellow. Man, what time was it? Only 7:15. They’d got about five hours’ sleep. Time to rent a truck, get back to the cabin and figure out the next steps. He initiated Phase I by none-too-gently prodding McGirty’s inert form with his foot. Next, he opened the door to their host.

“Bert, listen up. There’s not a lot of time before you have to take a decision as to what you’re going to do. Better wake your friend.”

“I’m up,” said Big Duck, not sounding as if he was.

“A couple hours back, I checked the police frequencies on my shortwave radio. It was a present from your dad. He used to monkey with something called numbers stations, so he left an old shortwave radio at the lodge for when he visited every summer. When he bought your cabin, he got a higher powered model and told me to keep this one. Anyway, before going to bed I checked law enforcement traffic. There’s a big police operation on that involves the FBI and RCMP. A dwelling has been raided, but they came up empty. I didn’t learn any more, but I reckon that was your cabin. It’s going to be too risky for you to stay here in case there’s a coffee mug or T-shirt that’s got the name of this resort on it. There’s no going back there either, that’s for certain.

“You’ve only two choices, other than turning yourselves in,” Al said. “Hide out in the woods, or get back across the border ASAP before they really put the clamps on. There was talk on the radio about moving infrared devices around. I know that the US-Mexico border has thermal imaging scanners looking at every vehicle that crosses in either direction. I don’t think we have that on the BC-US border, yet.”

“What do you think?” said Bert, manipulating his nose with left thumb and forefinger, getting a couple of cracks as cartilage and bone realigned. It hurt like hell, but all the cobwebs were gone.

“Central BC is so sparsely populated that within a couple of weeks they’ll have searched every building within a hundred kilometers. So you two either have to go full-bore and turn into mountain men, or you’re going to have a chance it on a quick return to the US, sneaking back under their noses.”

“I’m no Jedidiah Smith, that’s for certain,” Big Duck offered. “But why the US? Why not stay in Canada, but go somewhere with more people like Vancouver?”

“You have any secret friends or sources of funds in Vancouver? Anyone that the cops couldn’t find and who would keep you both hid for a month or more until the heat was off?”

“I don’t,” said Bert.

“Nope,” confessed Big Duck, thinking that there’s no way Bert would stay with Brice or any other of McGirty’s dope-supplying contacts up here.

“I didn’t think so. Look, someone who worked for me over ten years is now an independent long haul trucker. Joe Bob Clerk mostly pulls containers of birch flooring down from northern BC mills to West Coast building supply outlets. It happens that he’s headed to California and overnighted in Kelowna. I’ve spoken with him, and he’ll re-arrange the load to put a hidey-hole in the middle of the pallets. We’ve just got to get you to Kelowna before ten. It’s a two- hour drive, so let’s get a move on. You’re going to stand a better chance hiding out in your native country where you have more room to roam.”

“Fair enough,” Bert said. “How far is Joe Bob going?”

“His drop is in Redding, CA. He’s a driving fool and aims to be there by early morning tomorrow. He’ll sleep a few hours and turn it around to be back home late Saturday night, a 2600km round-trip. He’s only a little guy. Looks like a gnome with a goatee, but he’s a great fellow. Just keep him away from the booze.”

“Alcoholic and drinks till he passes out?” Bert ventured.

“Nope. Makes him aggressive as hell. Joe Bob loves finding the biggest guy in the bar and then kickin’ the piss out of him. Best for you two if you kept him away from the roadhouses. You don’t want the police showing up at a brawl he started.”

Big Duck double-timed it into the bathroom while Bert sent a WhatsApp message to his father’s Sri Lanka burner.

to be continued . . . .

©Bradley West, 2016

 

THE OTHER SIDE

Coming back to Singapore and re-reading the first 29,000 words of Pack of Lies after being on break since August reminded me of one of those recurring bad dreams that haunted my young adulthood. In my nightmare, I am a college student once again. I haven’t studied at all for a final exam because I’ve forgotten I’d registered for the course. Plus I’d skipped all the lectures. So now the exam is in twelve hours, and I have to learn the entire course material overnight. This is pretty much what happened senior year in college, and boy it left an impression on my psyche. In retrospect, I wish I’d have gone to that class.

In any event, I re-read and edited the WIP twice, and was relieved to rediscover that Pack of Lies is off to a solid start. I’ve now re-outlined the book, written character biographies for the half dozen most important players, and authored a new chapter. Bob & the Gang are deep in Pakistan, which explains the review of The Wrong Enemy as the lead article in this latest blog.

Just as the momentum is building, I’m off to Sri Lanka next week to do PR for Sea of Lies. Dang.

 

LOCKER ROOM MOTIVATION

Carlotta Gall took the name of her book from a line uttered by a respected US diplomat:

Richard Holbrooke, US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan

 “We may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country”

Irrespective of what you think of President-elect Trump, someone on his campaign staff has a sense of humor. Long after the outcome was obvious, CNN finally called the election for Trump . . . and Clinton made her concession phone call . . . and a ruddy-faced and ebullient candidate addressed the cameras while the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want played in the background. Time will tell whether the American people “. . . Get what [we] need.

In that same vein, Andrew Jackson had the presidency stolen from him in 1824 when his plurality of electoral college votes didn’t sway the House of Representatives who instead voted for rival John Quincy Adams in what Jackson dubbed, “a corrupt bargain.” Four years later, Jackson won handily and purged the civil service while stuffing Washington with his cronies, bringing one supporter to utter this immortal phrase:

Senator William Marcy

1828

“To the victor belongs the spoils”

From that same period, perhaps at the dawn of the press era with mass circulation newspapers and higher literacy rates, came another quotable quote from an English playwright.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

from the play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, 1839

“The pen is mightier than the sword”

Let us hope that Bulwer-Lytton was right, at least in reference to the coming four years.

 

HUE AND CRY

In my former profession as a stockbroking research head, I was a huge proponent of pyramid writing, something covered in detail in an August, 2015 blog called Unqualified Advice | Writing Tips from an Unpublished Novelist (Unqualified Advice August 2015 Bradley West). While I’m happy with how Sea of Lies turned out, the process was much more time consuming than I want to (ever!) go through again. Fortunately, another author has been down this path, and figured out a better way.

I stumbled onto Randy Ingermanson’s website and the seminal article “How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method” (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/). The light went on: here was a blueprint for writing fiction faster (and better, I hope).

Instead of a “pyramid” (a structured outline), the snowflake method accretes plot and character development on a layered, bottom up basis. The snowflake approach urges aspiring novelists to flesh out their major and minor characters before committing to the final storyline. To that end Ingermanson identified ten steps in designing a novel (see the article for a good how-to piece).

Once the design phase is done, the author is free to start writing and be creative. But by submitting to this initial discipline, one can avoid spending five hundred hours “writing a wandering first draft of your novel when you can write a solid one in one hundred and fifty [hours].”

So I’ve snowflaked Pack of Lies, and we’ll see if this gets me to finish line faster than before . . . I sure hope so!