Will he be able to escape and solve the riddle of the Boys Club, as well as punish them for their moral turpitude? He wouldn’t be the Maltese Cat, if he couldn’t.
“Escheatment”, Book 1 in the Maltese Cat Book Series continues with new adventures. Enjoy:
Chapters 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6, 7 & 8, 9 & 10, Chapter 11,
Chapters 12 & 13, 14-16, 17, 18, Chapters 19 & 20,
Chapter 21, 22 & 23, 24, 25, 26, Chapters 27-29
Chapter 30, 31-32, 33-34, chapters 35 & 36,
Chapters 37-39, 40-41, chapters 42-43, 44-45, chapters 46-47
Shandur Night with the Taliban
The star-filled night sky coruscated above the three men as they left the shelter of one of the entertainment tents, venturing out into the frigid mountain air. They had been dined and were subjected to an encomium by the Chitral captain. As lauded guests, esteemed for their playing ability, they had been entertained by musicians and belly dancers and had imbibed freely of the local mulberry liquor. The dancers were mesmerizing. Bruce was fascinated by the series of scars made from cuts on some of the girls’ arms and wondered what kind of cultural madness this could have been. But once out under the refulgent stars, they realized that it was not only the drink that allowed them to appreciate the majestic beauty here in a valley below the towering, snowcapped peaks in the distance. They were jovial and talkative as they meandered through the other tents, trying to find their way back to their own temporal abode.
Suddenly, they were grasped from behind – all three of them. The Maltese Cat reacted instinctively, clasping his own hand on to the foreign hand at his throat. He selected the man’s two smallest fingers and quickly bent them back, breaking the chokehold the man had on him. Supinating the man’s hand around and upward, the Cat had the man under full control, ready to deliver an incapacitating blow, but his actions were cut short by the cold steel of a knife blade at his throat. He relaxed. As he did, his assailant with the knife backed away while the man who had attacked his throat held his hand in pain and stayed at a distance. Looking around he saw that Bruce was also held at bay by three armed men. Kaiser, much larger than his opponents, commanded enough respect to have been seduced at rifle point. In all, there were nine men, dressed as Pashtuns. The ones with the rifles pointed them all in one direction and Kaiser interpreted their commands by saying,“They want us to go with them.”
Bruce looked on curiously, “Oh, you think?”
The three companions were led through a maze of tents until they came to one as non-descript as any other. For all the Cat knew, it could have been one right next to their own tent.
They were ushered inside.
Adjusting to the dim light from a candle, the three men were urged to sit on the dirt floor. An elderly man in similar Pashtu garb sat in front of them on a carpet. He spoke, his eyes fixed on the Maltese Cat.
“You play well,” he said, in remarkably fluid English.
“Thank you. We were lucky.”
“You are too modest. You should try our national game of Buzkashi. It might challenge you.”
“It might get me killed,” the Cat replied. He knew Buzkashi as a national sport of Afghanistan and one of the most brutal games in the world. At least he had established who he was speaking to.
“You have been asking questions.”
The Cat only nodded.
“Where did you get this information?”
“It is readily available over the internet.”
“This is no longer a Taliban account.”
“But you still use it.”
“Not for some time.”
“But it is active.”
“Then someone has been stealing from us.”
There was a heavy silence. Then the elderly man spoke again. “Do you know who has been stealing from us?”
“No,” prevaricated the Cat. In actual fact, he did not know. He had yet to figure out what was going on. But he was not going to volunteer that information here, to this stranger.
“You mentioned young businessmen. Americans?”
“I have my suspicions, but I am not certain,” the Cat said.
“When you are certain, I want to know.”
The Cat did not respond. If it were discovered that it was the Boys Club, that would be the same as a death sentence for the boys. The Maltese Cat punished. He didn’t kill.
The old man stared vacantly at the Maltese Cat and said nothing.
Then he nodded and said, “Makha de khah.”
(Goodbye in Pashto.)
The Maltese Cat responded with what little Pashtu he had learned over the past few days, “Shpa mo pa kheyr.” (Good evening.)
The elderly man remained seated as the Maltese Cat and his two companions rose and exited the tent, glad to be away.
Bruce asked, “What the hell was that about?”
“You didn’t think I came here just to watch polo, did you?”
“No, I thought you came for the tasty baby goat meat.”
“So that was what we had tonight.”
“Not even sure of that. So what was that about?”
“Better you don’t know too much, Bruce. Wouldn’t want these fellows showing up on your doorstep.”
“Well, when they come to disembowel me, I’ll be sure to keep you in my thoughts.”
“Always did think you were sweet on me, lad,” the Cat smiled.
Later that night, lying in their tent on a bundle of blankets, the Cat’s thoughts strayed back to the demeanor of the elderly man. Although the man was playing it close to his chest, he did seem to be oblivious to the fact that the Bern account was being used. Did that mean he had no knowledge of the finances of the organization? Did he not know anything about the transfers? Or was he simply an accomplished fabulist? None of those questions would be answered here. It was time to leave.
The three men were scheduled to be picked up at 10 in the morning but, obviously, there had been some delay. It was noon and still the driver and truck had not appeared. The Cat’s cell phone chimed. He saw that it was Tommy.
“Hey,” he answered. “You’re up late.”
There was a 13 hour time difference. 11 pm in San Francisco.
“Got some information you might need.”
“Shoot. But make it quick. My battery is low.”
“Effie found some hidden folders buried way down deep in Van Houten’s computer. His contact at the Bern investment company is a Herr Bernard Egli. I did some checking online. Swiss nationality. Age forty-six. Looks much older on his photos. Married. Two young kids that attend Institut Le Rosey. That means money. Get this, though. He used to work at the
same Swiss bank where the Taliban account is. He was allowed to leave after a scandal involving some irregularities in the accounting department occurred. He still works with them, though, and I can imagine he is the one who arranges for the picking up of the deposits. At any rate, we have traced a Turks & Caicos Islands account that the Boys Club uses back to Egli’s investment company. From the Turks & Caicos, the money goes to a Panama company. Same one that the yacht is registered to. Same one that has been paying off our boys’ credit cards. There are a number of other companies that are involved, but it all seems to lead back to Egli.”
“Good work, Tommy,” said the Cat. “Send me all you’ve got by e-mail. I’ll be coming back soon, but I have to do some work still.”
The truck finally appeared at 2 pm and the party of three left Shandur, all with varied memories.
The polo experience had been delightful, the encounter with the Taliban, informative. Now the Cat had to use the information he had collected and try to find out how it fit into the overall puzzle.
Lt. Governor Thornton and Willie Blackstone
The on-site trailer was parked in a corner lot in Compton, California. On the other side of the lot the foundation of a building was in progress with rebar still sticking out of the concrete floor. Piles of sand were set off to the side, awaiting the cement mixers to create the finishing touches before lumber would be brought in to erect the building that would fill the lot.
The trailer served as a temporary office for the Blackstone Construction Company and its construction foreman. Inside, Lt. Governor Grant Thornton was in a heated argument with the owner and founder of the construction company, Willie Blackstone.
“So, when am I going to get to start breaking ground?” Blackstone asked.
“I told you. It’s all in the works. Some things take time.”
“I got men on the payroll. They got mouths to feed.”
“I’m working on it,” Thornton insisted.
“You were paid good money to get things moving.”
“Good money? You call that good money?”
“Twenty grand?? Yeah, I call that good money. Maybe that isn’t much to you but that keeps one of my men working for six months. So, yeah, I call twenty thousand good money.”
“It’s not the money. I would have gotten you the contract even without the money.”
“That’s a load of… Why did you ask for it then? My company wouldn’t have gotten the contract without the payment.”
The two had originally met at a predominantly African-American Pentecostal church in nearby Lynwood. It was one of the first community meetings Thornton had held as the newly installed Lt. Governor. Governor Foley and his Lt. Governor wanted to show that their administration was reaching out to the poor, in particular to South Central Los Angeles. This area had been ravaged in the 1992 riots and the neighborhoods had never really recovered. Compton had one of the highest crime rates in the United States.
Gangland warfare and drug related crimes were the mainstay. In addition, political cronyism was still at large in these communities. Lynwood’s former mayor was sentenced to 188 months in federal prison in 2006 on corruption charges, and s couple of Compton’s mayors had also faced corruption charges. Thornton had ‘pressed flesh’ with the community organizers and the pastor of the church and had promised to support low-cost, state supported housing projects. Willie Blackstone introduced himself as a builder in the area. Thornton saw this as a potential advantage, politically, to have a local company engaged in the reconstruction of this part of the city. However, later, when he had reviewed the various company bids, Thornton saw that Blackstone lacked the experience and expertise. Many other companies were more qualified. Some of the others also had made political contributions to the governor’s campaign. When Thornton met once again with Blackstone to give him the bad news, the streetwise Blackstone had appealed to Thornton in the time-tested way. Cash. That had a profound influence on Thornton’s decision-making process.
Eventually, the decision was made in favor of Blackstone’s company. Everything was set to begin but Governor Foley had sat on the state’s funds in preparation for a press conference. Blackstone was growing increasingly impatient.
Grant Thornton felt smug and secure. He knew that Blackstone could never blow the whistle on him. If he did, he would be committing professional suicide, admitting to an illegal act of bribery. Still, Thornton wanted the project to go through. The governor wanted to take credit for the rebuilding of the inner cities but Thornton knew he could spin it in his favor by the next election. After all, he was the one in all the publicity shots taken in the community while Foley sat in the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento.
Thornton had made several subsequent visits to this community, armed with press photographers and camera news crews, showing him playing basketball with the local youths. Thornton, at six foot two, had played forward on his high school varsity basketball team in La Jolla. He thought he was still a pretty good player. The local Compton players didn’t quite share his view but they knew that they would be on television with the Lt. Governor so they palled around with him, hoping to show off for the evening news.
Now, Grant Thornton decided that the meeting with Blackstone had reached its end.
“You’ll get your funding. Soon,” Thornton assured Blackstone, and left the office.
Blackstone was not well educated, formally. He had left high school to go to work. He had never attended college. But he had street smarts and he didn’t trust this brash, young politician. Now he opened his desk drawer and removed a digital recorder. He played back the recording. The voices came across clearly.
“You were paid good money to get things moving.”Blackstone had selected his words well. He did not say, “I paid you well.” He just lured the Lt. Governor into admitting thatthe politician had been a party to graft. Blackstone was not going to get caught like a number of local businessmen and city officials. He had made sure that he was not the one who made the payoff to Thornton. Instead, he had another person, someone not on his payroll, hand over the $20,000 to Thornton in front of a warehouse in Compton. The money was in unmarked bills and wrapped up. The courier was instructed to just hand the package over and disappear. Even if the meeting was filmed, Blackstone wouldn’t be in it. The same reason applied to why he arranged to meet Thornton in the trailer instead of in his regular office.
Now he had evidence against the Lt. Governor. Who knows when it might be helpful?