Tears of the Princess
By Melodie Thomas
Edited by Holly Hart
Saturday, October 16, 2010
It was Monday, four days after the attack, before the Baltimore police department felt they had enough evidence to support Lin’s and my story and gave us permission to leave town. It took the majority of those four days before I could talk without sounding like scratching sandpaper. The bruise around my neck was still pretty dark when we boarded our flight out of Dulles, on our way back to Tucson, and I receive a fair number of second glances from people in the airport, including the TSA inspectors. I concluded that I would never be able to fly through Dulles again without a body search. I think my picture had been added to some database with a red flag.
Background information on Sloan was as vague as expected. Though Kathy got a copy of it from her sources in the Baltimore police department, O’Keefe was true to his word and sent a copy to her as well. The report identified Sloan as a former Green Beret, but reported no employment activity after leaving the service. I am not sure where she got it from, but Kathy also had a copy of Sloan’s financial records, which showed cash and investments in excess of one million dollars. The Baltimore police did not think there was anything significant in the finances, but Kathy did, and I agreed with her. How did an E-7, with ten years of service, and no other obvious means of income, accumulate that kind of money? There just seemed to be something here that was not adding up, and I knew what it was, but proving it could be another issue.
As Kathy waited with us at the airport, she told us that two of the congressmen that were part of the investigative committee had contacted her and setup meetings. However, they were not treating the investigation as a critical issue, and had setup the appointments in the calendar as they would for anyone for whom ‘they’ were doing a favor. Kathy laughed as she told us this was a standard approach, to act cooperative, while dragging their feet to come up with a better story. Kathy planned to ‘throw another log on the fire’ with her column this week, as she planned to name all thirteen congressmen who were part of the committee, and ask a few open questions about what happened to the records. She was also going to drop a hint that a ‘high ranking official’ had been heard saying that the office of the President was somehow involved in this activity. She expected two things to happen because of that. First, the White House would come out with a statement that could be used for ground work on future questions, and, second, it would start dividing the political parties. Since the current President was a Democrat, the Republicans in congress would feel duty bound to start asking even harder questions of the White House, maybe get a little political infighting started.
As for me, the attempt on my life had me spooked, really spooked. I had been in dangerous situations in the past, but always while trying to protect someone else, or bring someone to justice, and in each case I had someone backing me up. Now the attacks were personal, I was the target, and the only backup I had was Lin and the rest of my team. With that thought bouncing around in my head for a couple of days, even worse scenarios started forming in my mind. If Smith was desperate enough to take an open shot at me, what else was he capable of doing? Attacking my friends, family, loved ones? I could picture him using anyone to get leverage on me to shut me up or draw me into a trap. I needed to get people away from here and under cover the best that I could.
I asked Lin to call her uncle and explain what was happening and see if there was anything he could do to help us. That actually took more work than I was expecting as Lin still thought of her uncle as part of the evil done to her, even though I knew he loved her very much. I finally had to ask her which she would prefer, to try to mend fences with her uncle or see me or my family killed. She gave in. I felt bad because I knew it was a cheap shot, but I also knew that given the chance, her uncle would welcome her with open arms. I also knew she desperately needed her family back, and that became more evident while she was talking to him and fighting the tears when he said he loved her and would always be there to help her.
I called Brenda and Mom, with the story that Lin and I were going back to Singapore, and would like to know if they wanted to come along to meet Lin’s family. Both jumped at the chance, even though my mom seemed to know there was more going on than I was telling her. I posted a message to Charlie’s email account, giving him an update and recommending that he and Maria join us in Singapore. I posted an update to Sunan, and asked him to give the update to Abdullah, and to let Abdullah know that we would be in Singapore late Friday night. My last call was to Mary Beth. Though I did not think she was in any danger, I needed to let her know my fears so she could take whatever action she felt necessary.
Lin and I were on a Tuesday morning flight back to Tucson, where we packed the rest of our things, then caught a Wednesday afternoon flight to Los Angles, where we met Brenda and Mom for a Thursday morning flight to Singapore. As soon as Lin and I walked into the hotel in Los Angles, my mom walked up to me, touched the bruise on my neck and shook her head. The look of worry in her eyes said everything that needed to be said.
We landed at Changi International Airport at one o’clock Saturday morning and stumbled our way through immigration, baggage claim and customs. As we exited the customs area, into the main terminal, Lin was talking to mom about the humidity and temperature in Singapore, when she suddenly stopped, a shocked look on her face.
“Hello puteri yang cantik, rumah dialu-alukan,” Lin’s Uncle said, with a big smile, standing ten feet in front of us.
He opened his arms towards Lin and took a hesitant step towards her. Lin let go of her bag, which I caught before it hit the floor, and took a similar step towards her uncle. By the second step, Lin was all but running as she threw herself into her uncle’s arms.
“Uncle?” Lin said in a muffled, tearful voice as has arms wrapped around her.
Lin’s uncle, whose name I didn’t even know, held her tightly and looked at me with moist eyes, mouthing the words ‘Thank you’. I still did not know the whole story of what had happened in Lin’s past, but I was pretty sure it was very emotional.
They held their embrace for a few moments before, “And who are these other two lovely ladies?” Lin’s uncle asked.
Lin stepped back from her uncle, turning towards us, wiping tears from her eyes. “I am sorry, I am acting like a child. Uncle, this is Linda and Brenda McNeil, Dan’s mother and sister. This is my mother’s brother, Uncle Ngiap Fong Phang.”
“My friends just call me Nip,” he explained as he shook hands with all of us. “It is easier to pronounce for most.”
After the introductions, Nip led us out of the terminal, where a police van was waiting with two armed guards. This was our ride to the hotel. On the way to the hotel, Nip explained that one of his best friends was the head of the dignitary protection team from the Singapore military. Nip had given his friend a call and explained the situation to him. I guess it took some work, but Nip’s friend was able to convince their superiors that his team had nothing else to do right now and could use the field practice. In the end, he had arranged for three shifts of four guards each at the hotel during our stay. The guards were part of their covert operations team and made it their goal to be close, but invisible. Nip told me they considered every assignment part of their training program and he even challenged me to try to spot them. However, he also explained to me that he did not know how long we could keep them, but at least for a few days.
We reached the hotel around two in the morning and Lin had already made it clear to me that she had already spent her last night away from me. I don’t know why, at my age, it bothered me so much that my mother knew that a woman was going to be spending the night with me in a hotel room, but it did. However, I was more than happy to have Lin at my side. While checking in I caught myself trying to spot the detail. There were very few people around that time of night so it should not have been that hard. After a couple of minutes, I started laughing at myself, as in my current mental condition, they could have been standing right in front of me with neon signs and I probably would have missed them.
After a fairly restful night, Lin and I met Mom and Brenda for breakfast around nine thirty in the morning.
“This afternoon,” Lin said as she poured coffee for all of us, but her, having her normal tea, “you have been invited to my uncle’s house for the afternoon meal. My mother and sister will also be there, and they are very anxious to meet you, especially Dan.”
I let out small groan into my coffee cup, which earned me a smile from Lin, along with the elbow to the ribs, and a dirty look from my mother.
“Daniel, you will behave yourself and you will attend,” Mom scolded.
“Oh, he will be there,” Lin said, with that bright smile of hers. “He is just suffering the same case of nerves that I had meeting you for the first time.”
“Nervous meeting me?” Mom declared. “Why would anyone be nervous meeting me? I am just a sweet old lady who is friends with everyone.”
Brenda had to suddenly turn her head and grab her napkin to avoid spraying the sip of coffee that she had just taken. “Geez, Mom,” Brenda sputtered, “you may be a sweet old lady, but I would rather be interrogated by the Gestapo than face your questioning.”
“What a horrible thing to say about your own mother!” Mom exclaimed, a shocked look on her face, moving her glance from Brenda to Lin.
Lin held her smile, but raised her hands as a defensive gesture just as my cell phone rang. I checked the Caller ID, then showed it to Lin.
It was from Abdullah. “Good morning, Inspector,” I answered
“Good morning, Dan, I hope all is well,” the familiar voice came through the phone.
“We are fine, Abdullah, and yourself?”
“Fine, fine. Dan, I am just across the causeway in Johor Baharu, and I was wondering if you and Lin would have time for a late morning coffee with me? I can be there in about two hours.”
“We would love to.”
“Excellent, I have a few pieces of information for you and some ideas that we need to discuss. I will leave now. Where are you staying?”
I told Abdullah what hotel we were in and said our goodbyes. Lin said the meeting would not interfere with the plans for the afternoon, so shortly after breakfast, Mom and Brenda walked over to one of the neighboring malls to explore shopping opportunities in Singapore, while Lin and I waited for Abdullah.
We migrated to the outside patio for coffee and tea while waiting. About an hour and half later, Lin spotted Abdullah entering the patio area and walking towards us. I was not positive, but I think I got the first look at the protection detail, as a waiter that I had not seen before intercepted Abdullah just before he got us and asked him if he could be of service. Abdullah indicated he was coming to see us and the waiter escorted him the rest of the way to our table. I think the waiter was about to ask if we were expecting company, when Lin jumped to her feet and greeted Abdullah with a cheek kiss, offering him her chair, as she moved to sit beside me. The waiter smiled and walked away, without asking Abdullah if he would like anything.
“Abdullah, good to see you again,” I said, rising to my feet and offering my hand.
“Good to see you as well, Dan,” He took my hand, but then pointed at his own neck with his left hand. “However, I can see where you have had a few problems since we last met.”
“We have had a few unfortunate developments, yes,” I replied with a smile.
Lin rolled her eyes at the ceiling, “Oh, aren’t we being macho today. Someone tried to kill him, Abdullah, and if it had not been for some intervention, they would have succeeded.”
Abdullah sighed, “Dan, I know there is a lot more to this case than you have told me. I know you are keeping a lot of things to yourself, but we are about to enter a phase where I may be of more assistance if I knew exactly what we were dealing with.”
I was quiet for a few moments while I thought about it. I still had a problem of not knowing who to really trust, and even though I liked Abdullah, and had a lot of respect for him, I really didn’t know him.
“Dan,” Lin said, in a semi stern voice, “you need to tell him.”
I nodded, “Yes, I really do. However, I don’t think this is the place to go into that much detail.”
“I would agree,” Abdullah said, “however, a week from today, assuming we have not tipped our hand somehow, the buyers should showing up. I would like to suggest that you and Lin return to Kuala Lumpur as soon as possible so we can work through some details on how we are going to set up this operation and you can brief us on what you are willing to share, so we know what to expect. Besides, I may be better suited to offer you some assistance should your friends decide to come back and try again.”
Lin gave me a worried look, and slid her hand into mine under the table. “Have you learned anything new from your captives?”
“Actually, we have, and that is one of the things I wanted to talk to you about and another reason why I would like to you come back to Kuala Lumpur soon.”
Abdullah signaled a waiter for a cup of tea and we waited while the tea was delivered, and poured.
“With a little bit of persuasion, our guests from the hotel have become quite talkative.” Abdullah smiled as he noticed the grimace on Lin’s face at that last statement. “Do not worry, my dear, we have done no permanent damage to them. One of the biggest weapons you have, when interrogating someone, is their own imagination.
“The truth of the matter is most people, when subjected to pain and discomfort from torture, usually harden their resolve for resistance, because they learn they can tolerate and survive. However, if you leave to their own imagination what is going to happen, they usually break themselves down faster than anything you could actually to do them. A person’s fear of the unknown is always worse than their fear of what they know. All we have to do is make them think they are going to be suffering great pain and humiliation, the rest they do to themselves.”
Abdullah took another sip of his tea, “Anyway, without going into a lot of details, we learned that the buyers arrive at two different locations. The Chinese gentleman will arrive by plane and he will post the flight number on the web page that we put the pictures on. The western couple, which I believe you think are from Bosnia, always arrives by boat.”
“That would make sense,” I interrupted, “as Robert Brajovik always did see himself as some form of sea Captain.”
Abdullah just looked at me for a moment, “If my suspicions are correct,” I continued, “the western couple is known as Robert and Anya Brajovik. The name Anya was given to us by both the guy in Thailand and one of the prisoners from the Hotel. The description matches what Sunan and the Japanese dirt bag told us. However, I have yet to be able to prove it.”
Abdullah slowly nodded, “I think there are many things you need to tell me, dear friend.”
“Abdullah, I promise, Lin and I will come to Kuala Lumpur in the next day or so and I will tell you everything. Absolutely everything that I know or think I know and my theories behind them. Very few people know the whole story. I will share it all with you when we are in a safer place.”
Abdullah thought for a minute, “I think that is reasonable and I look forward to hearing the story. I will tell you why I think that is important. We discovered that the only security the arriving buyers have seems to be that they personally know the two drivers that will be picking them up. If they do not see the expected driver, they will just walk on past and return to where they came from.
“Your man Sunan, who is a wonderful boy, by the way, is the only person on our side that knows what the Chinese gentleman looks like, and if you are correct, you are the only person that knows what the, what did you call them, Brajoviks, look like.”
“What does that matter if they are going to be looking for the driver?” Lin asked.
Abdullah smiled again, “Through my wonderful powers of persuasion, I know who the two drivers are, and discovered that not only are they willing, but extremely happy to help introduce us to the people they are supposed to pick up.”
“You trust them?” I asked
Abdullah chuckled, “Not in the slightest. However, I do trust they know whatever punishment they thought they were going to get will look like child’s play compared to what will happen if they cross me. Besides, we will have them wired for sound, GPS tracking units on their cars, and people watching, which is where you and Sunan come in. More than that, I would like to wait until you come to Kuala Lumpur and we put together a detailed plan of action.”
I thought for a second, “We have plans this afternoon, but there is no reason we can’t go to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, is there?” I asked, looking a Lin.
“No reason I can think of. We can get the ten am train and be there late afternoon. Would that work out?” Lin answered, directing the question to Abdullah.
“That would be perfect,” Abdullah answered, “I am on the afternoon train today and will be home tonight. Give me a call when you arrive, and let me know where you are staying. I will have a car pick you up Monday morning. Now, I need to be getting along so I can get the afternoon train home.”
“What about your Mom and Brenda?” Lin asked, after Abdullah left for the train station, “And, Charlie and Maria are arriving at midnight tonight.”
“Well, I think we will get Charlie and Maria tickets on the same train we are on. They can catch up on their rest during the ride.”
“We are going to bring Maria along?” Lin asked in surprise.
I smiled, “I am guessing that Charlie will be arguing for it anyway, and I am pretty sure between Charlie and Abdullah, she will be fine. As far and Mom and Brenda, I am hoping they can keep themselves entertained here for a week or two. Neither has been here before and there is enough shopping that I’m not expecting that to be a problem.”
Sunday, October 17, 2010
The family gathering at Uncle Nip’s house was completely uneventful, at the same time, somewhat disturbing. I discovered quickly, that I did not need to worry about leaving my mother and Brenda in Singapore for a few weeks. My mom and Nip’s wife hit it off immediately. Both were about the same age, both with grown children and both active and vivacious. Within minutes they were acting like old friends and making plans for the coming days. Lin’s sister was obviously very close to Lin and a strong bond could be seen between them. However, her sister treated me with a fairly cold shoulder. She was cordial, but not open and not willing to talk beyond simple greetings.
Lin’s mother was a complete surprise. Though she was younger than Nip, she looked nearly ten years older, haggard and well worn. Most of the time she would not even acknowledge my presence, let alone talk to me. Though she was warm towards Lin, her child, there was still something there that seemed off. Lin at told me that her mother had accepted Lin as her second daughter, but honestly, that was not what I saw. It was obvious that Lin’s mother had lived, and currently was living a rough life, and I could not tell if she simply was not accepting Lin for who she was, or was blaming Lin for the rest of the evil in her life. I found out from Nip, that Lin’s English birth name was Vincent Lynn Wei, and Lin had chosen the name Lin Vin Wei after her final operation.
The whole time we were at Uncle Nip’s house, Lin’s mother addressed her as Vince, not Lin. The interesting part was Lin did not seem to notice, or mind. It seemed that Lin was so desperate for acceptance by her family, that she was willing to take that acceptance on their terms, not hers, almost like she was groveling for any form of family acceptance. I found that to be sad and painful as Lin Vin Wei was a wonderful woman. Why couldn’t her family see that? Her aunt and uncle had no problem accepting her, and their love for her was obvious. Trying hard not to show it, I was more than willing to go when it was time to leave that evening. Time spent with Nip and his family was enjoyable, but watching Lin’s interaction with her mother and sister was painful.
After returning to our room to pack, Lin and I decided to meet Charlie and Maria at the airport to make sure they knew and were prepared for the plan of going to Malaysia, and because we just wanted to see them. We arrived right at midnight, which was about fifteen minutes after their flight was scheduled to land. At almost exactly twelve thirty, we spotted Charlie pulling piggybacked suitcases with Maria at his side. It seemed kind of strange watching them, with Charlie well at six foot plus and Maria barely reaching five four, but they seemed happy together.
As they cleared customs and entered the arrival hall, Maria spotted us and immediately broke into a run with a giant smile. She ran into Lin’s arms and started rapid fire Tagalog while Charlie caught up.
“Hey, Boss,” Charlie greeted with his hand extended, “good to see you.”
“You too, Charlie” I said taking his hand but distracted by the excited voices of Lin and Maria next to me.
Lin had just as big of a smile and Maria had and there were talking rapidly, and almost jumping up and down. Lin suddenly released Maria and threw her arms around Charlie.
“Congratulations, Charlie.” Lin declared during the hug.
“Congratulations for what?” I asked, puzzled over all the commotion.
“They are getting married, Dan!” Lin exclaimed as she released Charlie.
At the same time Maria showed me the diamond ring on her left hand and stepped up for a hug from me. At that moment I was very thankful for the hug, because I was able to hide the shocked look on my face. My initial reaction was this was pure foolishness. They had only known each other a few months and only been together a few times and now were getting married? Fortunately, the few moments that passed in the hug allowed me to get my composure back and show a smile to Charlie and offer my congratulations. I would talk to him about this later.
The next morning Lin and I met Charlie and Maria for an early breakfast, since we had tickets on the ten am train. After the breakfast plates were cleared, Lin and Maria excused themselves to use the restroom, leaving Charlie and me alone at the table. I needed to talk to Charlie, but I had no idea how to approach the subject.
“You think I have lost my mind, Boss?” Charlie asked with a smile, before I could figure out what to say.
“Well,” I smiled slightly, “I am kind of wondering if you have misplaced part of it. I mean this is a huge surprise and happened pretty fast. Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
Charlie thought for a second, as he lost his smile. “Honestly, Dan, I am scared to death. I have never had anyone before and this feels like a big step to me. At the same time, I don’t want to be without her. I feel more comfortable and relaxed when I am with her than I have ever felt in my life. Her family treats me like I am part of the family and my family just adores Maria. Maria spent more time with my mom that she did with me, and even with the language barrier, they were laughing and talking, often late into the night.
“I am not sure I know how to define love, but if it has anything to do with feeling like you just belong with someone, that they bring out the best in you and make you feel like you are someone special to them, then I am in love with Maria. I don’t want to lose her, Dan, so I took the leap.”
I said quietly for a few minutes thinking about what he had just said. I understood, because that was the way I’d felt about Stephanie and the way I was feeling about Lin Vin. Both of the women that I have fallen in love with were not even born that way, and I am sure there were a lot of people questioning my sanity, so why should I be questioning Charlie’s?
“I know you are just trying to look out for me, Dan,” Charlie said, “but, like you, this is my life and my choice. You can think what you want, but I would prefer your support and acceptance.”
I smiled at him and extended my hand across the table, “You are right, it is your choice, and you will always have my support. Congratulations, partner.”
After settling into the train for the ride to Kuala Lumpur, Charlie and Maria almost instantly went to sleep. Charlie had turned in the bench seat so his back was leaning against the window, and Maria snuggled in beside him, with her head on his chest. Watching them across the aisle, I felt myself filling with hope for them. Charlie needed someone like Maria, and Maria had to feel like she was living in a dream, compared to where we found her. I hoped it would all be good for them.
Turning back to my seatmate, I was concerned about Lin. She had been very quiet since we got on the train, and spent most of her time just staring out the window at the passing landscape. Her attitude was withdrawn, no friendly chatter, no touching or handholding. There was something bothering her.
“Care to share your thoughts?” I whispered close to her ear.
Lin gave me weak smile, “Don’t have any thoughts to share, just watching world go by.”
I chuckled softly, “You remember that agreement that you shoved down my throat, the one about us telling each other everything, even the bad stuff?”
Lin looked down at her lap and nodded. She looked at her hands for a few minutes, “I was just thinking about my family, or lack of family maybe a better way to put it.”
“About your mom and sister not really accepting you for who you are?”
Lin nodded again, “But, it’s really not all their fault. I put them all through hell because of my father’s hatred of me. It made life on both of them very hard. So, I am pretty sure they blame me for their broken home.”
“No,” I said, “you didn’t make your father an abusive bastard, he did that himself. You may have given him a place to point the blame, but you did not create him. He likes to abuse women. Since none of your brothers have an issue with him, you just gave him someone to blame for his behavior. You did not create him. So, if they are blaming you, then they are blind and putting the blame in the wrong place.”
Lin sat quietly looking at her hands. I could see a tear forming in her eye and watched the teardrop grow in size until it started slowly sliding down her cheek. I slowly reached my arm around her and pulled her to me; she turned and pushed her face into my neck.
“It is just so lonely,” Lin mumbled from my neck, “and I get so jealous of people that got to grow up with a family. I was so angry and hurt when I was tossed out, that I just lashed out at all of them, did everything I could to embarrass and bring shame to them. I did so much damage to so many people, and to myself. I hated who I was and what I became and I wanted all of them to feel the pain I was feeling.”
Lin didn’t sound like she was crying but I could feel the wetness on my shoulder. “Your aunt and uncle seem to care a lot for you.”
Lin sat up a laughed softly, wiping the tears from her eyes, “They are the ones that have the most reason to hate me. My uncle has been on the police force for over thirty years, and the only reason he is still on foot patrol is because of me.”
Lin turned and looked out the window, I just sat and waited. “The police would raid the area regularly, and my uncle would always try to find me and get me out before the raids. He found me in almost every condition imaginable. He found me drunk, drugged, naked, and in very compromising positions with customers. Each time he would hustle me out of the area before the raid, to keep me out of the police focus, to keep anything off of my record. He would find me in an ally where some guy would dump me after beating the hell out of me, he even broke up a gang rape that I was the subject of, but instead of arresting the guys raping me, he got me out of there before the rest of the officers arrived. All of his fellow officers and superiors knew he was doing it, and because of it, he was never promoted. He gave up his whole career because of me.” Lin sobbed softly.
“From what I have seen, and what you tell me, he loves you very much. Even your Aunt treats you like their daughter.”
Lin was continued sobbing softly, but nodded her head, “But I don’t deserve it, I hurt them so many times. I just want someone to want me. Is that too much to ask?”
I gently took Lin’s shoulders and pulled her back to me, “Somebody does want you, Princess. Somebody does, and I think more people love you than you will admit to. I have not said it straight out, so I will say it now. I love you Lin Vin.”
Friday, October 22, 2010
What I had expected to be a long, slow and stressful week actually turned out to be a short, fast and stressful week. First thing Monday morning, we met with Abdullah and his team commanders so I could brief them on what I knew of the Brajoviks, and my theories, based on the evidence that I had, how they could be involved. I shared the picture that I had on Anya Brajovik, but I did not have a picture of Robert. Abdullah was correct; I was the only one that could identify him. Sunan might have been able to, but he knew the Chinese man, and I did not.
The rest of the day, along with most of the week, was spend reviewing what Abdullah had learned from the prisoners, interviewing the drivers over and over about their routine and discussing what could possibly go wrong. We visited the expected arrival sites multiple times, looking for where we could station ourselves to spot our suspects, identifying where the drivers were expected to meet their passengers, and kept repeating the question, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’
The airport was going to be fairly easy, at least easy for finding our suspect. There was a single international arrival point, and the Chinese guy would be telling us, via the website what time he would be arriving. Even knowing the time, we did not fully understand the routine, or if he had any escape plans should he see something he did not like. We had to assume that both parties were very smart and had well established routines, with safety valves and escape routes.
Maybe he would arrive hours early to simply watch his back trail. Anything out of the ordinary and he would never leave the terminal He could just buy an outbound ticket, or maybe he already had one and would just check into an outbound flight a few hours later. Checking airline schedules, the first international flight arrived at seven thirty am. We needed to have our surveillance teams in place before that, just to be safe.
Hours were spent analyzing the movements that the Chinese guy would go through from the time he stepped off of the flight, and where possible signals could come from. Regardless of the ideas thrown out, there was nothing that he could do, shy of making a phone call, before he passed through immigrations and customs. We still wanted to have someone watching for him as he exited the plane, just to track his actions. The only person that could do that was Sunan. Abdullah arranged for Sunan to move through customs and immigrations without questions so he could attempt to locate and follow the Chinese guy.
Abdullah had both of the drivers brought to the hotel and put in separate rooms. The victims were actually given the guard duty, and that seemed to scare the drivers worse than Abdullah’s threats. Abdullah also made it clear to both the drivers and the victims that as long as the drivers cooperated, they were our ‘friends’ and would be treated well. However, should they fail to cooperate; the Cambodian victims would be the ones deciding their punishment for failure.
Finding the yacht was going to be another problem. The driver told us that he would just drive to the marina early in the morning and wait. The marina consisted of four docks, each containing over twenty four slips for docking. The driver then waited for a phone call telling him which pier to park at and when to be there, but usually that call did not come in with any more than a few minutes before he was expected to be at the pier. The only thing working in our favor was there was a single access road to the marina, so all vehicles needed to enter and exit at the same point. We had no idea what the yacht looked like and the driver had never seen it either. All we could do was count on the driver getting the call.
The driver that was charged with fetching the Chinese suspect stated his routine was very simple. He always parked in generally the same place, stood outside the car and waited, with a front and rear door open, as well as the trunk. His charge would approach him, and once inside the car would make a phone call. The call was always short and the driver never heard the conversation, but once the call was complete, they would just sit there until the Chinese guy received a call in return. Once the call was received, the driver would be given instructions to proceed to the hotel. These calls were obviously some kind of signal, but we had no idea who was on the other end. None of the other prisoners admitted to getting a call, so he could be calling Brajovik, or someone we didn’t even know about.
To avoid unnecessary political issues, we waited until Major Yunram arrived from Thailand on Wednesday afternoon before putting together the final plan. I was concerned about having the Major around Sunan, but through the planning sessions, he didn’t seem to pay any attention to him, apparently just thinking him just another American as far as I could tell. Just to be on the safe side, I had planned to request the Major accompany me to the marina, just to keep him away from Sunan. I was surprised that before I could make that request, Yunram insisted that he be part of the marina team, he actually stated he had no interest in the airport. Another strange thing happened when we briefed Yunram on the Brajoviks. I showed him the picture of Anya and he barely glanced at it and tossed it aside, like he didn’t care or he already knew what she looked like. Something smelled fishy here.
Our plan seemed solid, even though we knew there were a thousand ways it could fail, if for no other reason than all of the things we did not know. Both of the cars would be wired with GPS tracking units and audio transmission devices on the inside. Cell phones provided to the drivers would also be bugged and have separate GPS devices. Abdullah also had both cars equipped with remote kill switches and automatic door locks, so the cars could be shutoff and any time by us and the people inside, kept inside.
There would be three surveillance teams deployed at each location. Sunan would be our eyes on the inside of the airport, and we would position observers at each of the piers in the marina. Since we were not sure we understood all the signals and checks that might be in place, our goal was not to make a move on either group until both groups were in the cars. Getting them in the cars also eliminated any argument that we had the wrong person. Why would they get in the car, otherwise. There was also a concern of them being armed. The Chinese guy would be just getting off of an international flight, so unless someone planted something for him at the airport, the chances of him being armed were slim. The Brajoviks were another story, we were not really sure how they were arriving, other than by boat. Trapping them in the cars would minimize their ability to run, and spread the chaos.
By lunchtime on Friday, we had completed our final walk through of the plan, and check of the equipment. All of the teams had rehearsed their roles, radios were tested, GPS units installed and tracking and the drivers adequately scared into understanding a mistake on their part would be very bad. Yunram, who was quite pleased with his own bravado, gave the last speech to them. However, I still think the drivers were more frightened of the Cambodian victims then they were any of us.
Lin and I had just returned to our room to change clothes, with the plan of spending the afternoon at the pool, when my cell phone rang.
“Dan McNeil.” I answered to the unrecognized U.S. number.
“Dan, Kathy Walsh.”
“Hi, Kathy, what’s up?” I answered, checking my watch and realizing it was about one in the morning where she was.
“You been watching the news?”
“No, can’t say that I have. Been a little busy here.” I put the phone on speaker so Lin could hear the conversation as well.
“Kind of figured that, so thought I would give you a call. The White House did come out with a statement calling my last article a pure fantasy, kind of like I thought they would.”
“Should we be talking about this on the phone?” I asked concerned that others would be listening in.
Kathy laughed, “Always the cop. Think about it, Dan, if I am talking about it, it is going to in the paper tomorrow. No one needs to go through the trouble of tapping my phone, just buy the paper.”
Well, she did have a point, “Okay, what happened?”
“It was just the normal weekly press conference, but we primed the pump a little with the press corps so the questions started coming up about the President’s involvement in a human trafficking activity. Of course, he denied all of it and claimed someone had an overactive imagination. Made a joke out of it. Questions became more pointed about his office telling the FBI to, quote, ‘stand down’, unquote, their investigation into the case. Again, full denial and more claims of lunacy.
“The President was then asked, point blank, if it was untrue that he had sent his Chief of Staff to the FBI with direction to drop the case, which is when we got the first glance at the gold mine. Instead of answering that no one in his cabinet had any such conversation with the FBI, he said ‘To my knowledge…’, followed by the denial.” Kathy chuckled.
I was quiet for a second, looked at Lin and shrugged, “Sorry, Kathy, I am not getting it. Why is that such a big deal?”
“Plausible deniability, Dan. He did not deny that someone in his office was involved in this case, with the FBI; he denied that he knew about it. That is a big difference. If the President had given a complete denial, and it later turned out that someone was talking to the FBI, or anyone else, that denial would be brought back against him. Trying to separate himself from the activity means he either knew about it, and is planning on sacrificing someone if it comes out, or, he suspects that someone is involved, but is holding the party line while trying to protect himself.
“Even the boys on Capitol Hill grabbed that tidbit right after the press conference. The Republican leaders of the House and Senate came out with statements within hours that if the President knows of someone on his staff interfering with a criminal investigation, then he needs to come clean with it, as well as an explanation as to why. The Republican leaders also declared they wanted to know what happened to the two months of missing records from the investigating subcommittee, and called on their party members with knowledge to step forward.
“I think that statement has started bearing fruit when I got a call a couple of hours ago from one of the five Republicans that sat on the committee involved in your case a year ago, asking if I could meet with him tomorrow, or, I guess today now. Anyway, I am not expecting a full confession or a sudden opening of the vault of secrets, but I am expecting to see some posturing to either protect themselves should the truth come out, or figure out how they can take advantage of the political fallout.”
“I guess that is your world and you know what you’re doing in it,” I said, looking at Lin with a shrug. “Anything I need to be doing?”
“No, just keep doing what you are doing and keep me posted on anything new you learn. Other than that, I will do the same and talk to you later.”
“Okay,” I answered, “take care and be careful.”
Maria had made a special request of Charlie for dinner that night. During her almost two weeks of traveling with Charlie, they had eaten about every kind of food there was, except Philippine food and she was missing it. Though she readily admitted she like American food, she thought it was a bit heavy and large portions, she really want Lin, Sunan and me to join them for a traditional Filipino dinner, assuming we could find a restaurant. A call to one of Abdullah’s assistants solved the problem by directing us to what was claimed to be the best Filipino restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
As the five of us were seated at a large, round table, Abdullah’s security detail, which did not even attempt to be covert, took other tables, or stood outside the door. All of us were given menus, but the role of selecting the meal fell quickly to Maria, who slid her chair close to Charlie to they could share and discuss the menu. Watching them brought a smile to my face. As they were both pointing to things and talking about the options like a perfect working team, there was no doubt they belonged together.
There had been a number of times throughout the week that I had doubts about my decision to bring Maria along. Though she stayed out of the way, she was very timid and meek. Very much the wall flower that was either very close to Charlie’s side, or somewhat hiding behind him. She was really no trouble to have with us; I was just concerned that she may be overwhelmed or frightened by all of the events. At the same time, I could see she and Charlie were very good together, and having her with us brought out a side Charlie that I had never seen before.
“Squid???” Charlie declared, looking at Maria, somewhat surprised and worried.
Maria smiled at him as if she knew she just pushed a button and was expecting the reaction.
“I would love squid.” Lin chimed in.
“Me too,” added Sunan, making Maria’s smile broaden.
“Great,” Charlie added with resignation, “can we get some chicken adobo too, so I can have something to eat?”
“O-O, Mahal ko” Maria answered while signaling for the waitress.
“I will try almost anything,” Charlie added, looking around the table, “but I can’t handle the boiled squid, sorry.”
Maria was finishing giving the order to the waitress when my cell phone rang, it was Abdullah. “Abdullah, decide to join us for dinner?” I asked in greeting.
“I wish I could,” came the response, “however, our Chinese friend just posted on the web page. He arrives at twelve forty five tomorrow.”
I looked at everyone at the table, who were looking at me, “Game on.”
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