... "The Summa Angelica" - (Operation Brown Folder), the novel is setup at the printers and coming out on or before Nov 11, 2011 ... thank you so much for your comments. This might be the last chapter I'd post before the novel comes out. The novel its 378 pages, 53 chapters and an epilogue.
Tuesday, September 7, 9:00 A.M.
Summer in Zürich wafted in the air, but cooler fall weather had rudely barged in with sudden discharges of rain and occasional thunderstorms in the past few days. A mix of cloud and sun with chances of showers was forecast for tomorrow, though no forecast, really, could be trusted. At least not in Zürich; the Swiss wouldn’t care.
Today, skies were clear, the foothills getting greener by the minute — and clear skies usually determined the rest of the day.
The first to arrive was Director Guevara; a first trip to the LOFT Operations Command, and the only forecast he could’ve foreseen for his operatives in the near future was bleak; dark clouds ahead for the next mission — for gross lack of coherent information.
The LOFT OC was built during OBF, Operation Blue Folder, the last black op, and designs for the ultra-high-tech OC were patterned after the BASEMENT OC in Hong Kong. Megan and Frank made sure the place mirrored HK’s operations command to minimize staff re-training. The LOFT is an Interpol NCB, a National Central Bureau.
The LOFT or Lufthansa Operation at Fingerdock-‘B’ Terrace was located at the old Unique Company’s Fingerdock-‘B’ terrace structure appropriately located at the loft of the building; no direct entrance from the visitors’ terrace, but a blue side door, with a missing doorknob, directly from Zürich Airport’s railway station located underneath the terminal, served as access. With the exception of an elevator from terminal level to mezzanine, Kloten’s LOFT was the BASEMENT’s more up-to-date twin.
Zürich International Airport, also called Kloten Airport, was located in the canton of Zürich, Switzerland. Partly located in Kloten, straddling Rümlang and partially in Oberglatt, the modern international flight gateway, managed by Unique Airport, was hub to Swiss International Air Lines. Zürich’s air traffic control was the responsibility of ‘Skyguide’ and Interpol agents must liaise with this group whenever a need arose.
Guevara entered through the side entrance to the LOFT. He knew the portal was generously peppered with tiny hidden surveillance video cameras at all angles designed to watch all activities at the entrance. His entry was secured by a right handprint, read off the right doorjamb, about eye-level; an ingenuous idea which would make it look like he was only leaning on the jamb. The public would be unaware that a heat-sensitive handprint digital scanner or hds verified his identity; another of Megan’s inventions. A faint beep, suggesting valid entry, triggered an unlocking mechanism.
The knobless blue door opened into a ten-by-ten spartan lobby. Closing the door activated another right-hand hds above a false elevator button, which would separate the lift doors.
The lobby, beige, no windows, decorated simply by an old wooden armchair and a small empty desk, led Guevara to the private elevator, which would ascend only upon verification of his left handprint acquired through yet another hds, adjacent to the buttons inside the lift. A dead hand would beep failure and the lift doors would remain open.
The elevator buttons lit up when pressed, but only for show; the lift wouldn’t move, doors wouldn’t close. Only authorized covert assets knew where that hds was installed; it was designed to blend in with the beige colour of the elevator wall.
Guevara ’s verified handprint, set against a unique ‘asset’ database from the LOFT server, closed the lift doors. The database ran 24/7. A backup server at TAHOE would take over in case of failure. The counterpart room at TAHOE was accessible only via a chamber behind Guevara’s desk.
A double failure at the LOFT and TAHOE would activate software in a separate database at the ‘Strategic ON-line Y-connector’, or known as the SONY among Folder operatives, located at the headquarters of Interpol in Lyon, France hooked up to I-24-7 network along with mobile and fixed network devices called MIND and FIND. Additional Push-Pull technologies allow synchronization of these databases between NCBs. Triple failures were highly unlikely, however, if such was the case, entrances would remain locked and sealed.
Forced or unauthorized entries would seal the blue door with a dead bolt pushing rapidly through the upper jamb, rendering the lift useless and alerting Interpol security.
Several hidden surveillance cameras were strategically poised to watch activities inside the lift.
The LOFT in Zürich was an ideal location for an OC. It was global-centric and accessible from any part of the world; satellites were easily directed from that area.
9:00 A.M. was not particularly too early for a light sleeper, especially for an early riser like Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. And he had every reason to get to the LOFT ahead of his team. It was the first time he saw the LOFT since it was built for OBF and Guevara needed a heads-up on the case; he was in-charge of folder operations, a name given to various clandestine missions, but it would be Interpol dictating final say on all covert movements. The folder names were for convenience only. It would benefit the spooks should they talk about coloured folders out in the field; would definitely be puzzling for eavesdroppers to comprehend.
As usual, morning ritual for Guevara wouldn’t start if coffee wasn’t brewing. Between sips, he reviewed the contents of a brown folder; elbows resting on a long cherrywood table, palms on cheeks supporting an almost sleepless face.
Around the cherrywood were additional brown folders, arranged neatly, covert asset’s name printed on each, in bold letters, waiting for the group to arrive at ten; Interpol’s LOFT agents were very much organized.
Che Guevara was a simple man, yet brilliant. A father figure, hair parted to the right of center, sees the world through gold-rimmed pair of glasses making him appear like an accounting professor than NBI chief. He hardly cracked a smile, let alone a grin. A bet would surface around TAHOE (the National Bureau of Investigation’s Taft Avenue Head Office Entity, his office in Manila) counting the number of smiles or grins he would cast in a day, at meetings, at the cafeteria or at briefings. Zero usually claimed the prize. A bar topnotcher, forty-eight-year-old, married, two boys, lovely homemaker wife, past master of Jacques DeMolay masonic lodge # 305 in Manila, a modest 3-bedroom house at Greenheights Village, drove a 'green' Toyota Prius, non-smoker, Mensa member, old-currency collector, coffee monster — ten cups a day, maybe more, his only bad habit. Calm, cool and collected, his wife would often chuckle, ‘he'd be buried with a coffee maker’.
It was roughly quarter to ten, Zürich time, when covert operatives strolled in with bounce in their steps, laughing and joking. High spirits and warmer smiles dripped; conversations about Joe & Patricia’s nuptial took center stage. At ten, everyone who acknowledged presence had arrived.
“Good Morning, welcome to The LOFT. Hope you had a nice trip. First, I’ll go through regrets. Sonny decided to pass and I won’t blame him; he needs to recuperate. He’ll be staying at Equatorial Guinea with Wolfy.”
A few murmurs surfaced above the hum of the OC’s massive file servers.
Guevara talked about Cynthia Grace ‘Wolfy’ Wolfram, EG’s CIA bureau handler; half Sonny’s age. During a botched OBF sub-operation in Ikoyi, Nigeria, Sonny lapsed into unconsciousness after a bullet cracked through his helicopter window while preparing to lift, entering his left shoulder, hit a bone, exiting at the back of his neck just missing his spine and a few critical blood vessels. He was flown to Boysie’s Dream, the floating OC, sailing to Malabo.
C.G. Wolfy took a puppy-dog-liking to the old man. When he came through at Malabo Hospital, Wolfy offered to play nurse for him.
"Isn't he too old for her?" Tiamo whispered.
"She collects antiques." Bernie whispered back then chuckled.
“No snide remarks please,” Guevara shot an order across the bow; a slight grin tried to peek. He masked it by taking another pleasurable sip of java while darting his eyes around the cherrywood to ensure no wisecracks would seep through.
Guevara paused to sweep a glance around the area. The place was awesome. The LOFT sprawled out from the elevator onto a landing strip that led to a ‘three-step’ up to the main floor. Underneath, false floors ran kilometers of cables interconnecting all monitors, data servers, consoles and electronic devices that made up the command center. Like the BASEMENT, this place had to cover almost an entire floor, the size of a regular city block. The interior glowed from the lights of several huge monitors hanging from rafters arranged around the perimeter at irregular intervals.
When the murmurs died, Guevara continued.
“Sonny would join us later if he so wishes. Myk Meng and Dennis Feng sent regrets too. Myk wishes to concentrate on CAPO, and Dennis with DINAHT. As we all know, both were tremendous help in our missions in past two folder operations and both are chief commissioners of their respective crime-fighting groups in Hong Kong; they’re sorely needed by their departments. They will be missed. We’re down three agents, including a pilot.”
Guevara took a lazy sip to get everyone in on the subject. A well-timed pause gave him yet another chance to view around the huge setup. He couldn’t believe the technology around him. When Jeneral Wiranto ordered ‘spare no expense’, he wasn’t kidding. The Jeneral financed the whole construction of the LOFT with his own private funds.
“Please take a moment to review your folders in front of you. I’ll give you a few minutes.”
Guevara scanned the area with yet another visual sweep. He thought a visitor would be dazzled in awe by the sheer volume of satellite monitors and latest technology. A bank of smaller CRTs covered a sidewall flipping surveillance camera views around the exterior and inside the elevator. Other monitors were dedicated to interior LOFT surveillance.
A bank of CRTs kept a vigilant view outside the blue door; in and around the railway terminal area.
Along the far wall, a huge glass board, bolted at eye-level, illuminated from beneath with a soft fluorescent glow, showed a digitized map of the world accessible via a ‘Google Earth’-type software facility. The global map was of a special top-of-the-line latest technology design. Finger-touch sensitivity, on screen controlled zoom, multiple screens, three dimensional topography, satellite mapping and standard viewing were among some of the neat features available without consulting a massive handbook explaining its intricacies.
“Alright, listen up. Ron Bello will head this mission, however— all are integral to it. We couldn’t yank anyone without jeopardizing the operation; suffering the mission.”
Guevara always left room for others to ask questions and he did it with finesse by sipping his favorite beverage. He glanced at Ron, perhaps waiting for him to say something, but Ron appeared deep in thought — as usual — often, he went into a trance recalling items offered by a super-active eidetic memory.
Ron Bello was the youngest of three boys from Santa, Ilocos Sur in the northern reaches of Luzon in the Philippines. He excelled in sports especially in the martial arts and had earned a black belt ranking from the International Tae Kwon Do Federation four years earlier. Since then, he’d been teaching local kids free on a part-time basis.
Although his troublesome nature during grade-school had made a complete turnaround in high school, he’d been known to disobey orders on occasion, which wouldn’t sit well with associates as a special agent of the bureau.
Despite a reputation for insolence, Ron, a young lawyer, understood he grew up with a silver spoon, but such things never remained in his head for long. In most cases, even his enemies had to admit that Ron identified more with less-well-off friends than with spoiled rich amigos. However, those who knew him had said his arrogance and wilful disrespect for those he disliked might be his downfall. Others had hinted that his bullying attitude, hot-tempered, rebel character might someday wreak havoc on assigned undertakings. Despite his shortcomings, he was fiercely loyal and conscientious to a fault.
Lately, he’d been more subdued and compassionate since his teenage years. At five eleven, he towered over most Filipinos, thirty three-inch waist and cholesterol of 3.0. Ron’s 170-pound physique made local girls swoon when he did chores in the front yard or running a regular five kilometers around the oval track.
A rich man’s son, twenty-three, married to a childhood sweetheart, he lived modestly choosing a four-door Civic while rich pals scooted around town in flashy sports cars; favorite ride was a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. Ron earned a bullet in a shoulder during a skirmish in Palawan during the last black op mission. He’s well healed now.
“Any questions Ron?” Guevara asked, staring at his incorruptible protégé.
“Yes sir. Initial intel indicates an international incident. How sure are we on this?” Ron asked, breaking a frown.
“There were updates which didn’t make initial intel; they’re added today to your individual brown folders. It was confirmed that according to Helena Kim and Mike Oziel’s investigation, the donor or seller was a Mannix or Manuel Ortiz, an ex-SEAL, which makes him American. He sold or donated an ancient artifact that belonged to a New Yorker, but we’re still confirming real ownership — could be European — who knows. We’re still digging. Nevertheless, either owner would make its theft, causing six murders at a Canadian museum, a definite international incident.”
“Was it confirmed that Mannix was still alive?” Ron pushed another query.
“Officially, sources said, he’s dead—”
“—of course that’s what our reports would say, sir. US military has a habit of ‘killing off’ top operatives to go underground for a deeper mission. Why was he walking around donating an ancient New York- or European-owned book to a Toronto museum? Weren’t there plenty of US-based museums — so, why Canada? Wasn’t he K-I-A in Afghanistan for a purpose? Just wondering out loud, sir.”
“That’s allowed Ron. And that’s what the reports had filed, but we don’t know a heck of a whole lot as yet. Reports also said he became a mercenary just before he died,” double-quoting his fingers in the air on the word died, then continued, “and I’m using the dead word loosely — which could mean, and this is pure conjecture, he was no longer SEAL-active when he was killed in action. But you have a good point, Ron, and we’ll follow that lead later in case he rose from the dead due to a covert mission.”
Ron nodded, sat back, folding his arms with a deep sigh.
“Yes Valdez.” Guevara pointed at Isabel Ahmarri Schutzwald trying to gain attention waving an index finger.
“Will I be travelling to Toronto? Or am I staying here at the LOFT?”
Guevara pulled a grin. Everyone noticed. Bernie made a face; his eyebrows rose copying the grin briefly, but his was exaggerated. Bob smiled, Ron did too. Valdez chuckled. Megan giggled. Frank and Capt. Alejandro remained composed, but with a slight smirk. Tiamo tittered; dropped a glance at Jerry who was about to laugh, but suppressed it; his lips pursed. He knew someone won the bet. Guevara’s grin was a rarity.
Valdez had been cooped-up in the OCs at prior black ops and she possibly dreamed of being out in the field; Guevara picked up on it and his face returned to seriousness.
"Excellent question Valdez. Everyone will relocate to Toronto. Especially you — we need your knowledge of forensics. You will assist local forensic experts, Inspector Harris Stevens and Detective Helena Kim, two of Toronto’s finest.”
Megan piped in with a big smile, “That’s grrreat; I can visit my alma mater in Waterloo, but who’s gonna look after the LOFT?”
At Megan’s question, Guevara took in another scan of the massive LOFT. He was looking for a quick answer. His glance took him around tempered clear-glass partitioned spaces that stretched to one whole area of unobstructed view, owing to the partitions serving as walls. Each cubicle was wide enough to accommodate four large oak desks and inside glass cubicles, Interpol staff worked diligently at their assigned tasks.
“Thanks for reminding me Megan. Interpol will take care of the LOFT and will send some of their satcom experts to operate the servers and satellites.”
“Awright, mate; I get to travel too. I knew I’m not ready for retirement yet. Toronto, here I come.”
Frank Alexander’s glee couldn’t be contained. As the oldest member, he couldn’t get himself to retire while getting stuck inside the fort. He loved adventure.
Franklin Alexander's cover was building manager for Zetland, a Masonic lodge in Hong Kong. Frank was Bernie George's MI6 partner, expertise were electronic wiretapping, computer system engineering; retired last year from MI6, recalled for the highly successful Hong Kong ‘Operation Red Folder’ investigation. Frank and Megan designed the Hong Kong OC, known as ‘BASEMENT’, from scratch. His grandfather features and short platinum-white hair would best fit to grace a cover of AARP magazine.
A native of Manchester, his family lived in the suburbs of London. Frank recently filed LOA to join yet another operation — the recently concluded OBF. As a consequence, the Zetland was resigned to the fact that Frank might not even come back and would slip into retirement after filing yet another LOA for the Toronto mission. Frank felt the leave of absence for this new black op would not take long to accomplish. He couldn’t pass the opportunity.
“I was hoping you’d tag along Frank. I couldn’t do without you and your brain.” Guevara raised a thumb. He was impressed with Frank’s expertise in designing the LOFT with Megan.
Guevara stole another quick view of the surroundings. The latest electronic toys and gadgets were installed. He sighed and a quick nod manifested itself as if in final approval. A huge operation indeed, he might’ve thought.
“Where would we operate then? Are we building yet another OC in Toronto?”
“No Tiamo, but thanks — good question — I was waiting for someone to ask. Captain Alejandro Bulastog graciously offered his 127-foot ‘Burger’ tri-deck custom aluminum motor yacht as our OC again. Boysie’s Dream is our floating Toronto OC — by the way, let’s all greet and welcome him as the newest initiate of the folder operations. As you know, he was classified volunteer during the last black op.”
Everyone cheered, clapped and hooted. When the noise ebbed, Guevara continued.
“The Dream will float along Lake Ontario, over to Flushing Bay, New York via St. Lawrence, or wherever it would be needed as the case maybe, and will serve as satcom patch point. The signals will originate from the LOFT, of course, but we would control it aboard the floating toy.”
“Thanks all for that warm welcome; there’s a bottle of Dom Perignon awaiting you on board,” the captain teased.
“Aye, aye, captain and welcome to the club,” Bernie added.
More table slapping, cheering and clapping followed. A hand rose breaking the noise.
“Quick question, sir. Since we wouldn’t have Sonny to mess around with, in the meantime, would Jerry be full time as my lawfully-wedded aircraft sidekick?” Bernie threw in one of his familiar British banter harassing his co-pilot.
“Well, why don’t we ask Jerry himself — if he wants a divorce?” Tiamo went along for the joke.
The room erupted with laughter. Jerry Choi had a hard time trying to keep a straight face to banter back.
Bernie or ‘B’, as the assets often called him, loved to joke, play guitar and hammer hard a Hart electronic drum set for stress release. A single father, his daughter remained with an ex-wife in the Peak District of Manchester where he was born and raised. Bernie’s long hair would easily spot him as a rocker in a heavy-metal concert, but air-traffic control section chief at Chek Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong was his cover as an MI-6 operative to monitor drug trafficking. Bernie piloted helicopters and numerous types of jet-propelled aircraft.
“Without a ring, I won’t do it, B.” Jerry shot back.
“Don’t worry, Jerry, I’ll call you every now and then; you’ll get a ring from me as often as you’d like.”
A few groans echoed, succeeded by a few giggles.
The agents often resorted to comic release as they had done in the past prior to start a new covert operation; to mask anxiety. Deep down, they’d be less candid if they would say they weren’t scared. Often, they realised they could be attending their last meeting.
“Where’s Adnan?” Bob Loblaw threw a question; his eyebrows met above his nose.
“Glad you asked, Bob. How could I forget him? Adnan, as you all know, was badly tortured in Nigeria and since then, he opted to go back to being Chief Inspector of Kuala Lumpur’s Crime Investigation Division. He’d like to recuperate much longer for his wounds. I wouldn’t expect him to be back any time soon, but he said he’d be more than willing to help. Philip Foerster, as expected, couldn’t make it either — he heads back to Lyon to monitor our operation; Jimi and Vargas opted to stay back. Jimi will look after TAHOE while I’m gone and Vargas needs to be at PUERDO for obvious reasons.”
Guevara climbed to his feet, walked the short steps to the brew and refilled his cup. Again, he swept a visual go-around the premises with admiration. In the massive main room, the well-appointed LOFT boasted several 60-inch HD monitors hooked up to satellite feed. Attached to the walls, 360-degree viewing was made available across all areas of the LOFT. At a corner, a console setup was dedicated to ‘diplomatic access’ for every Interpol country’s representation. Beside it sat a gateway console with direct passage to the American CIA/FBI/NSA digital records for data-mining retrieval and to its immediate right, a portal for dedicated direct access to the Canadian CSA/CSIS connection. Through direct secure dual-gateway to the SONY at Lyon, France, a two-way scrambled satellite feed was available.
In no time, coffee in hand, Guevara was b ack in his chair for another round of Q & A.
“Here’s the latest. We’ll fly to Toronto aboard our Lear Jet 85, one of the Jeneral’s fleet. Thanks to Brother Gus, all his aircraft were re-assigned to Interpol. Prior to his death, he dated, signed and sent a letter of intent to that effect to Col. Foerster. He willed his flyers to be used for Interpol’s covert use.”
Guevara sipped more while a pall of gloom crossed the cherrywood and swept through everyone’s faces. Since Gus’ suicide, ending OBF, almost everyone had written him off as the good guy that turned bad. But with his generosity and good heart would be remembered; showing utmost respect for his group.
“Gus also deposited another $100 million for our next operation, like he did the last time. The rest of his properties went to three surviving children living in Scarborough. I’ll be flying with you guys so I could straighten it out with his kids; to tell them he was a great man despite of what they knew about him. We will be billeted at the new Delta Hotel in downtown Toronto and some of you will shuttle between the OC and the hotel. Others will travel to New York for inquiries. While in Toronto, we’ll gather intel from Harris and Helena at the FIS and we’ll coordinate with them.”
Another sip of coffee broke Guevara’s momentum reminiscing about Jeneral Wiranto’s legendary generosity, which enabled the quick construction of the LOFT. Guevara kept in mind that central to the entire LOFT technology was that all audio and video transmissions were hushed from eavesdroppers securing the LOFT from deliberate compromise by proprietary software designed by Megan and Frank. It would take ‘cryptanalysts’ forever to crack a deprecated algorithm of the LOFT’s randomly-generated advanced wireless network protocol. Guevara was confident the security measures were ‘hack-proof’.
“Excuse me sir.”
While in mid-thought, a LOFT Interpol analyst handed him an update bulletin from FIS.
Guevara briefly stared at the latest report.
“Okay, here’s fresh intel from FIS. Apparently, the last owner of the Summa Angelica is a Mr. Norbert Champion, a Manhattan multi-millionaire. He filed a missing report and even called it in as, quote, a threat to US national security. That’s good — now we have a name to attach to the old book’s owner.”
Guevara enjoyed another pause with a drink, for effect, while collecting his thoughts. He proceeded to let them in on his plans.
“Alright, here’s what we’ll do. I will either head back to Manila or stay at the OC after speaking with the Wiranto children, but as usual, I will monitor the mission from either location. Some of you will travel to Manhattan to interview Mr. Champion; others to the OC. According to NYPD reports, Mr. Champion was in extreme panic. I would suggest you take it easy on him. He might cooperate quickly — hopefully. Later, I’ll re-assign each of you; where you’d be stationed. FBI Wesley and CIA Aaron might join us later. Some of you had met both in Austria. Interpol recently applied to have them join us to replace those we’re missing. If all goes well, we’ll have them with us in New York — questions?”
A quick sip of the cup led to the next query.
“Yeah, I have one — what do we call this operation?”
“That folder you’re holding, Ron. Operation Brown Folder,” Guevara pointed with a nod.
Suddenly his Blackberry buzzed. The caller ID showed ‘A. Espozito’.
“Well, speak of the devil; I’ve got Aaron on line.” Guevara announced, and then pressed a button before placing the unit on the cherrywood; external speaker was activated.
“Guevara here — what’s up Aaron?”
“Sorry couldn’t make it there, but I’ve got something from a CIA analyst about a missing Summa Angelica. Skip Weber briefed me about it. When’s the team scheduled for Canada?”
“We’re leaving in an hour, stopover for refuel at Gander, Newfoundland and touchdown Toronto Island in about eight. We’re heading straight for Delta Hotel downtown, Bremner and Simcoe; we’ll meet you there. What have you got?”
“—we got that.”
“—and two US senators?”
“That — we don’t have.”