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Excerpt from The Gatekeeper of Lies

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'The Gatekeeper of Lies'.Chapter 2

Washington, D.C.


The room was large and austere - a high, white, heavily embossed ceiling with a pale gray carpet and silver gray drapes the only color against ivory walls. A man stood facing a long narrow window. The only window where the floor-to-ceiling drapes were pulled back on a dark ominous sky and showed steadily falling snow gently layering the courtyard five floors below. The leaden sky matched his mood and he did not turn as a series of taps sounded through the closed door.

"Come in."

The man who entered was not young - his above-average height reduced by a pronounced stoop as if the weight of the slim file he carried was more than he could bear. He closed the heavy door with a soft click before turning.

"They've agreed."

An explosive sigh escaped from the man at the window, who remained looking down into the courtyard below.

"Conditions?"

"Only one, that if we find him we let them know his whereabouts. They want him back."

"What the Hell is this?" The man at the window turned to face the room. Anger was evident in the set of his broad shoulders under the expensive suit and the hard ridges around his mouth. "First they've never heard of him, then he's unavailable, then uncontactable, and now goddamn it, if we find him - if we find him, mark you - we can use him."

"Read his file." The older man placed the slim folder with a scarlet stripe running diagonally across the front on the glass top of the desk between them. "It arrived an hour ago." He held up his hand to forestall the obvious query. "It had to be cross checked."

"And?" The question came softly from taut lips as the head of the CIA's Balkan Department drew his chair back while picking up the folder. He dropped heavily into the chair reaching for a pair of reading glasses on the desk. The older man waited until the other was settled.

"He's our man. I can't see why the French are so concerned about passing him on. Our relations are still prickly after Iraq. I suspect - no - read the file first. Everything checks and Dan Quarry confirms the dates of the Bosnia operation."

"You don't say," Chase said sarcastically, "do you know how high I had to go to get clearance for this? Did you think the Elysée Palace would palm a lemon on us?"

"No," the older man passed his hand wearily across his face while sitting down in another chair. "But he's our man, it's almost too good to be true. I had to check."

The man behind the desk looked up sharply. "Almost - what does that mean - there's a catch?"

"It's in the file Ed, I'll fill in the gaps when you've finished." The silence between them lengthened, broken only by an occasional grunt from the man reading. Finally he finished and, pushing his chair back while placing the file carefully on the desk, looked up at the Deputy Chief of Balkan operations.

"I'm sorry David, you were quite right of course. Hell, I wonder why he walked out on them; they obviously don't want to give us the reasons. It's pretty certain they aren't going to be much help in this. Can we find him? How deep has he gone?"

"Very deep I suspect, it's been over four years. Dan Quarry arrived last night from Azerbaijan. He's with debriefing right now but I warned them I might need him at short notice. Dan remembers Molnar very well. They spent ten days together extracting that imbecile of a UN diplomat who got caught up between the Croats and Bosnian Muslims."

"Has he any idea where Molnar could be?" Tapping the file cover irritably with a stiffened index finger, "The location information in here is about as useful as a concrete parachute."

David Hanratty smiled briefly; he'd heard the analogy before. "I'll call and ask him to come up. I think you need to hear what he has to say directly; it might clarify a few things."

Edward Chase pushed the desk phone over to his deputy. "OK David, call him, you obviously spoke to him before he went into debrief."

Hanratty tapped a key and spoke quietly into the speakerphone. "Barney - yes, can you have Dan come to Ed's office? - Yes, you can have him back before lunch. - Thanks." He looked up, concern evident in the lines on his face. "Yes, I met him at the airport and also had breakfast with him this morning. We went over a lot of ground. Dan's had a rough time and I suspect he needs to be pulled out of line for a while."

Edward Chase studied his deputy for a long moment and the silence deepened between them. They'd worked together for more than a decade and he valued the older man's judgement more than he admitted even to himself. Finally he spoke, a frown furrowing his brow. "You're telling me we can't use him? Hell, this doesn't involve anything more onerous than finding a missing field agent and bringing him back into the fold."

"No, we have to use Dan, he's the only agent we have who can ID Molnar and may have some idea where he could be. What worries me is that Molnar's not our agent and obviously doesn't want to come back in. He told his superiors to take a hike and might take serious offence at being found. I also find it interesting that the French want him back so badly, yet did not approach us for assistance when he dropped out of sight. There is nothing in that file to indicate why." A tap at the door interrupted the conversation,

Chase rose to his feet and walked to the door, opening it. A stockily built man with an unremarkable face topped by thinning sandy hair entered the room. Dark circles under the eyes spoke of the kind of fatigue that comes from long days and short nights. He smiled at Chase, "Hullo, Ed. You look well."

"Dan," Ed Chase gripped his agent's hand firmly. "David tells me you got in last night. I'm sorry we had to haul you out at such short notice but we need your help in an urgent problem that the Secretary wants solved yesterday. Grab a chair and I'll have Celia bring us in some coffee."

The three men waited until the elderly secretary bustled out leaving a tray with three cups of coffee. The door clicked shut and Chase tapped the unopened file lying on the desk. "OK, in a nutshell, the US Government wants Tomas Molnar neutralized." He held up his hand at the startled look on Quarry's face. "You remember the photographs that Molnar gave to you for safekeeping? The ones that showed the massacre at Rogatica - did you ever have a close look at them?"

"No, not really. They were the usual horrors and, apart from a quick look, attached them to my report."

Chase dragged both hands down his face. "Well you're in for a shock. One of our young research people on the UN war crimes project ran the pictures through the match computer and guess who showed up?"

Quarry's look of puzzlement changed suddenly to one of comprehension. "No ... surely not?"

"Yes - I know what you're thinking so listen before you respond. Yes, we've been building Bergorian up in the run for next year's Armenian elections and part of your brief has been to plant positive stories in the local and international media and, while on that subject, let me say right now that you've done a very good job. The US government is absolutely determined that Bergorian end up as the next president. We need a strong anti-drug man at the head and with our help start moving hard against the Iran/Iraq drug trade which is financing the terror networks. The present government seems incapable or unwilling to stop the flow into Europe and you know how fanatical Bergorian has been since his only daughter died of an overdose. He's our best bet, well educated and has strong emotional ties to the US. As you know he did his graduate degree at North Western. But guess what? Our friend and protégé shows up clearly in one of Molnar's pictures. It's a doozy and if it gets out any chance of him being elected goes out the window."

"What the Hell was he doing in Bosnia? He's Armenian, I know they don't like the Muslims next door in Azerbaijan much but why get involved in the Serbian conflict?"

"We don't know, but there is no mistaking our man." Chase slid open a drawer under his desk and slid a large 8" x 12" glossy across to where Dan Quarry sat.

The agent picked up the photograph and his face became ashen. "Oh shit - oh shit." The glossy fell from his fingers and slid across the table.

"I agree. It's not very pretty." Chase returned the photograph to the file in his drawer. "In your report you said that Molnar gave you the pictures in Paris. Why?"

"You recall the two of us spent ten days together in Croatia getting that French UN diplomat out. It's in my report." Quarry shook his head still in shock. "Six months after that operation I met Molnar in a Paris restaurant. I was in Paris to debrief on the failure of Tanker's mission - you remember that balls-up - and left the embassy late in the evening. I was tired and needed a drink before turning in. There's a small place near the embassy and, looking for a seat, I noticed Molnar in a dark corner nursing a drink - very drunk. He didn't recognize me at first, then nodded for me to join him. He's an aristocratic sort of fellow, speaks flawless English for a Frenchman, probably educated at one of the better Brit schools, holds his drink well but he'd had more than a few by then.

He let me ramble on about our time in Bosnia then suddenly placed the packet of photographs on the table. 'I've just returned from Bosnia. Will you keep these for me, Dan?' I must have looked puzzled but he was very insistent. 'I know there are other pictures of atrocities on file but these - ah these - they're very special.' He looked for a moment as if he was looking into Hell. 'I saw what they did, Dan. I heard the little ones screaming - I hear them still - see them still.' He went very quiet and didn't speak for a long time, you could see he was hurting. When he continued I remember that his voice was devoid of expression - absolutely flat. 'I watched them, Dan, and could do nothing - nothing at all. The Serbs must have thought that so far back from the front they were safe from prying eyes. I took the pictures and after extraction showed them to my superiors but no one was interested. They said everyone coming out has horror stories and these were just one set more. They had plenty of reports.'

We spoke of other things and for a while he seemed to relax then suddenly gripped my arm hard and spoke so softly that I strained to hear what he was saying. 'One day the bastards will pay - these pictures will see to that. I have the negative'- he said negative not negatives and at the time I thought it was just a slip due to speaking in English - 'in a safe place but your people might be able to use these prints.' Naturally his control would expect all the negatives but now I guess, from what you are implying, he must have held a single or perhaps a set back. We talked a little while longer and he told me he was being reassigned to the African desk. That was the last time I saw him."

David Hanratty coughed gently. "Your report never explained what he was doing at the massacre site."

"What? Oh ... right, you both know Molnar is an agent for France's DGSE, but at that time he was attached as liaison to the French Foreign Ministry. Serb irregulars were hijacking French food convoys to refugees but Belgrade blandly denied any responsibility even though all of us knew what was going on. The French Foreign Ministry wanted proof - inconvertible proof so, as the most experienced man they had in that zone, he was dropped at night by parachute with a camera and long lenses. There was a convoy due in two days and the spot was a favorite for hijack attempts. He dug himself a hide and waited. The rest you know."

Edward Chase grunted, "We've discovered that after a black operation somewhere in Central Africa he never returned to Paris."

"No - what happened?" Quarry blinked, "Oh - I see, fell off the map did he?"

"Something like that and now you have to find him for us. Did he say anything about resigning? Your report states that you spent several hours together in that bar and that you put him into a taxi to his hotel. You obviously covered a lot of ground. Can you remember if he mentioned a place, town, country or somewhere he would go in extremis?"

Quarry chuckled, "Ed, as an old field agent yourself, you know that sort of information is buried deep. It's not the sort of stuff you talk about ... to anyone. We were professional allies brought together to get the diplomat out. I liked him and he's a pro. I guess he felt comfortable working with me, an American, maybe even trusted me but no, I don't recall him passing on such a confidence. In any case it would have been in my report."

Ed Chase stared hard at his agent. "He saved your ass on that mission, didn't he?"

Dan Quarry locked eyes with Chase, his voice suddenly hard, "Don't add two and two and get five Ed. Yes, he knifed that Serb soldier who stumbled over my hide. I would have done the same for him had the Serb tripped over his. Everything about that meeting in Paris is in my report and I'd remind you it was written the following day so everything was fresh in my memory."

David Hanratty spoke quietly. "Easy Dan, Ed knows your loyalty is not in question. But if I can elaborate?" He looked at Chase while raising his eyebrows questionably. Chase nodded.

"Dan, you've met Bergorian, and from all your reports and others coming in he's obviously the best candidate for the Armenian presidency from our perspective. Our government has invested a considerable amount of time, money and effort into ensuring he has the best shot. We don't know what he was doing at the massacre site. It's possible that he was caught up in it by mistake. Even if - even if - he was complicit, look at the alternatives. Let's say he's exposed by Molnar's photographs before the election; we can expect that hard-line, corrupt, ex-communist, Velo Kikorian, to win. In that case we know Kikorian will manipulate a resumption of the war with Azerbaijan. I don't have to remind you how many died in the first two go-arounds. If our man wins and is then exposed, the US can say goodbye to any sort of credibility in Central Asia for at least a decade. We have huge investments in the Caspian oil fields. For the first time in 70 years some sort of middle class is beginning to emerge in the entire region and it's driven almost entirely by outside investment, but, as you know better than most, it's a fragile start."

Hanratty held his hand up as Quarry started to speak. "I know you're aware of all I've said Dan, but it bears repeating. Whatever any of us in this room think, it's been decided at the highest level to protect Bergorian. We need to find Molnar and convince him not to use the negative or negatives in his possession. You're the only man we have who knows Molnar well enough to swing this."

Quarry stared at his two superiors in disbelief. "You're asking me to find a man, a trained agent who deliberately disappeared, somewhere in the world?"

For the first time Chase smiled, a thin smile. "No, Dan, not the whole world. Our French friends claim to have credible evidence he stopped running in Canada. They don't have the resources or proximity to find out where Molnar is hiding, but we have. You'll have access to everything you need at Langley and CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, will allow access to their data base."

"What about my agents in Armenia? I didn't expect to be away more than a few days."

"Phil Carleton will sit in on your debrief. He replaces you in the country as soon as he's received all the relevant information you can give him."

"What if we locate Molnar and he refuses to comply? This is one very hard hombre. Are you authorizing termination?"

Chase shook his head, "No, at least not until we locate and talk to him. We can offer him protection from the French who are very interested in getting him back and a sizeable cash payment for the negatives."

Dan Quarry rose to walk over to the window. He flexed his shoulders before turning to face the two men watching him. "OK, you both know what you're asking. I'll give it my best shot, but it's a very tall order. Shit, the Brits still have no handle on Lord Lukan after all these years and their resources are as sophisticated as ours. So, what's the plan?"

David Hanratty picked up the file from the desktop, "Read this, it has some information you may not know. We're putting out that you're on part time, resting up from your last assignment, doing some research for me on past projects in the Balkans. It'll allow you a lot of flexibility, coming and going, if you have to follow leads at short notice without exciting interest."

Picking up the file, Quarry ruffled the pages absently. "Do I have office space at Langley? And what about disbursements for travel accommodation? If you want this low key I'll need access to non-receipt funds."

"Celia will have a package for you tomorrow with apartment and vehicle keys. There's an initial tranche of cash and a key to a safety deposit box which will be topped up as needed." Edward Chase tapped the top of his desk. "We have eight months to the election but we need to find Molnar much sooner than that."

Chase spun his chair to face the window and, rising, walked past Dan Quarry to peer out the window at the snow-packed streets below.

"Damn," he muttered, "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

"What is?" Quarry asked, startled.

"The snow." Impatiently sweeping his hand across the glass, Chase growled, "I'll never get home tonight, the traffic will be fouled up right across town."


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The East Wind | To Taunt a Wounded Tiger | A Lie to Comfort the Dying | The Gatekeeper of Lies | The Consequence of Memory



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