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Chet always felt like a law-abiding citizen, but here he was in a Nairobi jail. Jerry G had promised Chet that he wouldn't get dangerous work from the CIA. He'd just do background stuff. This project had seemed like heavy intelligence gathering from the beginning. Picking up a letter at a drop box here and there, delivering classified materials that couldn't travel in a diplomatic pouch, retrieving parcels, interviewing people who didn't want to be seen with known CIA agents--that was background. He was not background. He was foreground, and maybe he'd inadvertently entered the forget-about-you zone. One rule in the CIA is they don't hire outside contractors and, if they do, they don't know you if you're caught.
Finding a New Place to Start
Chet and Wende looked helplessly at each other on the backbench of the Ford van. The trip to the gaol, as the Brits call it, from Mombassa to Nairobi was hell. They were caught and wondered if anybody would care. They looked spent. Wende's white blouse was half torn from the blast at the hotel and from the rough treatment of the guards who had pushed them into the small, windowless and foul-smelling Ford Escort panel van. The fat, surly guard posted with them only glared at them during the journey from the coast to the capital. And he smoked. Only the mesh of small vent holes between them and the driver's open window kept them from choking as they bounced along the many ruts in the national highway from the Indian Ocean to Nairobi.
Wende dropped her head on Chet's shoulder and put her arms around his neck as if she were hanging on to him for dear life. She sobbed softly in his ear. As the van bumped along Wende dug her fingers into Chet's back and whispered in Spanish, "Diga me. Por favor, dígame por favor acerca del día. . . ." She bit her lip, struggling for the Spanish words to ask Chet to explain something to her.
Chet looked over at the guard. The guard glared at them as he heard words he didn't comprehend.
"You're making the guard nervous with your Spanish. Besides," he dipped his head to tease her, "your mother might be Spanish but you're not too good with the language." Chet winked at her.
"Okay, just because you speak perfect Spanish and French and everything else let's talk in English or whatever." She half smiled at Chet and then looked over at the guard with disdain. "I wanted to say that you know about me, my husband, family and my relationships. I know only a little bit about your work. How did you get me tied up in this situation?"
"Well," he said, "believe it or not, it started at my Dad's birthday party. It seems like a long time ago. Lemme see, as I recall, I was about to cut Dad's birthday cake in the party's waning moments when the Filipino kid Fred who cares for Dad came running out of the senior home waving his arms at me to come inside quickly. I asked my wife to do the cake honors and left our family and friends on the patio to answer the phone. It was Jerry Gimani calling me from Langley, Virginia."
Chet lowered his voice to a barely audible level, "I was needed in Marseilles on an assignment to find out information on a nest of terrorists in France and Spain. That's what got me here--and you here, too, and you saved my skin."
Wende squeezed him at the compliment.
He continued, "They (whoever they are) needed some fresh eyes on the ground. Jerry said he could explain if I would take the red-eye and be at Dulles in the morning. Well, I told him I needed time to get the tickets, to pack and to rearrange work assignments for my staff.
"But Jerry told me, 'Look, this is just a nice vacation assignment. You deserve it.' I should have suspected something then."
...The van screeched to a halt. The back doors flew open, and the guard on the side bench grabbed Wende by the neck of the T-shirt under her blouse and pulled her roughly toward the opening. Chet reached out to protect Wende, but a tall, lean guard leapt into the van with his truncheon aimed right at Chet's neck. Chet swung his head to the side, and it hit so hard that the butt of the truncheon nearly ripped the wire mesh behind him. The next thing he knew they were on the ground behind a big, dark building with their wrists handcuffed behind their backs.
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Chet and Wende felt like midgets to the big black man who entered the room. His bulging muscles overwhelmed the short sleeves of his shirt and his bulk almost filled the small interrogation room. "I am Captain Mwabe of the Kenya National Police."
He must have been a bit over six feet. A bulging gut hung down his front, pulling at his shirt buttons like a pregnant woman's belly. He was oil-black with a small pea head and red eyes that seemed to peer at everything. He put on small gold-rimmed half glasses as he sat down. He picked up the papers from the long, stained, wooden table. He could barely see to read the papers in the dimly lit room. The cement walls were marked with water stains and the green mold that one sees in decaying buildings throughout the developing world. One high- wattage light bulb with a flat, black lampshade glared from the ceiling. Little bugs darted at the light. It was November, but it was still hot.
Even the early evening air hadn't relieved the sticky heat of the day. Mwabe's eyes moved briefly to the back wall of the dingy room, where a badly mildewed photograph of Kenya's president hung lopsidedly on the bare wall. Next to the presidential photo, a statement-of-justice document rested on yellowing paper behind a cheap, black dime-store frame meant to assure prisoners--if they could read--that they had rights in the Republic of Kenya. The reader needed good eyesight and powers of concentration to grasp the meaning of the small type of this decorative wall hanging.
Mwabe looked intently at Wende, who sat at his right. Chet followed Mwabe's gaze. Sitting low at the table, Wende's shoulders hunched forward, but even stooped and without make-up, she was still good-looking. She looked more like a teenager than a woman over 30. Her short hair framed her pert face with its button nose. Her blond roots peeked through the black dye job she had done more than a week before. A white T-shirt was visible under her white blouse. Her small, firm breasts rose and fell with her breathing. She was a head-turner even in this tiny room.
Wende engaged Mwabe's eyes--probably not a smart thing to do. His lips curved to a malicious grin. He showed no teeth. The captain again surveyed the papers on the table before shifting his eyes to the other wall and then down to Chet.
Chet sat straight. He looked tall in the hard, black metal chair. His upper body was well-sculpted. His gray eyes attracted Mwabe's gaze. Chet looked like a soccer-football player in his gray T-shirt, blue running pants and white running shoes. Mwabe tried to determine who and what Chet was. From his appearance he could be a half-caste black, a Muslim or one of those light-skinned American Negroes he'd seen in the States while he was at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He hated arrogant black Americans more than he hated white Americans. He felt that blacks tried to take all the advantages--not to be American but to live off of America. But what was this guy? He had high cheekbones and a soft, pleasant face. Maybe he was North African-French? There were plenty of those half-castes around, and they seemed to get the pretty girls, like this one. He must be 40-something . . . how'd he get this young girl? Mwabe wondered.
Chet almost winced from the captain's question-filled gaze. Mwabe motioned to the guard behind him to pick up the papers and take them away. The guard was young and deep ebony-colored like Mwabe, but with pronounced cheekbones and brilliantly white teeth. He wore a well-fitting uniform and a smart London Bobby cap. He was a good advertisement for the Kenyan police force. As the young man stepped out, a spindly white man came in. He was short and long-nosed, with thick, black, plastic glasses that didn't fit his small head. He had balding black and gray hair. He had the air of entitlement. He didn't identify himself. As he sat down, he said to Mwabe in a heavy German accent, "So this is what we picked up for you." Mwabe wasn't moved by the remarks and didn't reply.
Then Mwabe asked, in a perfect upper class British, "Which of you is a citizen of Spain?"
Wende moved her gaze to his eyes and said, "I am," in flat American English.
Mwabe looked at the grizzled white man sitting next to him frowning.
"Ma'am, I wish to be polite, but you are not Spanish," Mwabe said in a pleasant but menacing tone.
Wende looked down at the table and said, "My mother is Spanish, and so I have dual citizenship in the U.S. and Spain."
"Is that so?" Mwabe said with precision. "May I see your passports?"
"Well," Wende began to speak but stopped to look at Chet.
Chet said, "Our passports are in our rooms at the North Beach Hotel."
"Well," started Mwabe, in a pleasant tone, "you are traveling without identification, is that right?"
Chet said, "I guess so, but the U.S. embassy can identify us."
Mwabe looked at the man to his left who was fidgeting with something that looked like a Palm Pilot. "Well, Mister Rabin, maybe your people are wrong." Mwabe suggested they leave to discuss the documents and when they left the room, Chet looked across the table and said, "In the van you asked me how I got into this mess. But there is something I want you to know. I feel better now than I did when I left home. Warm inside for a change."
Wende looked up and stared at him.
"Wende, there are things I could say, but when I left Dad's party something happened that makes sense now. My Dad had a cat sitting on his lap at the party, a stray that wandered in earlier that day. When I came back from the telephone call that got me here, the little cat was sitting on my wife's lap. It jumped down and came over to me and rubbed my leg, shivering as if it were frozen cold. I looked at my wife and felt the same cold. I think it was a message."
Rabin walked back into the room, looked down at his Palm Pilot and said in clipped Germanic accent, "We are never wrong. These are the operatives who set up the hotel and airport attacks. We know this. The Mossad are never wrong, so the two of you had better tell the truth right now," Rabin spat out.
Mwabe stood up and pulled out a small truncheon holstered in his belt. He moved to Chet and set it on the table next to him. As Mwabe leaned toward Chet, the young guard entered with the passports and set them on the table in front of Rabin.
Rabin said, "Well, well, a Spanish passport and an American one for the lady and two passports for the man, too." Their passports bore the same names but different occupations and identities. Obvious fakes.
Chet sat up to get a look at the passports, and Mwabe, with one swift blow, slapped Chet hard. Blood spurted from Chet's broken nose, splattering the table and Mwabe's shirt. Mwabe's movement had been so fast that no one could have reacted. Chet's head went down. Wende jumped up. Mwabe swiveled, grabbed his truncheon and brought it down on the table hard, cracking the wooden table down the middle. The table swayed but didn't collapse. Wende started sobbing.
"Mister Lake, who are you and why are you here?"
Chet was bent over, blood still gushing from his nose and face. He tried to speak but nothing came out; he could hardly breathe.
Mwabe turned to Wende and said, "Maybe you can help him talk, little lady." Wende was paralyzed with fear.
Mwabe put his index finger in the air and motioned for Wende to move closer. When she did so, he reached out and grabbed her right breast and squeezed. Wende howled and jumped up, flailing to knock his hand away.
Chet had one eye open watching this. He tried to move. Mwabe kicked him in the stomach with a quick, hard blow. Chet and his chair collapsed, and he tumbled onto the floor, holding his stomach.
Mwabe said again in even tones as he released Wende, "Who are you and why are you here?"
Chet struggled to his knees and then half stood and said, "I work for the U.S. government."
Mwabe said in a slow, measured voice, "I can do worse to your little slut--watch me."
He moved toward Wende, who was still on her feet. Chet lurched up, saying, "What do you want to know?"
Mwabe turned and said, "Let me play with the girl first."
Chet could barely see, but he moved toward Mwabe with his arm up. Mwabe took his truncheon and brought it down on Chet's left shoulder. As Chet was going down, the door behind Rabin opened and two white men rushed in. One was Hal Forsythe, CIA station agent in Kenya, and the other was Jerry G, of Langley, Virginia.
That was the last thing Chet Lake saw of Kenya. As he fell, his only thought was that his shoulder had felt the same way when he broke it in the game against the Cleveland Browns. Green Bay lost the game, and he was cut from the team the next week. As he lost consciousness, the entire story came back to him, and he worried whether he would lose this game, too, and be dropped by the CIA squad.
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Chet's story unfolds as he recovers...