EXCERPT FROM OPERATION PAYBACK
Brian Fox threaded his low slung sports car between three lanes of traffic and pressed down on the gas. At six feet one inch tall, and one hundred and eighty pounds in weight, he fit snugly into the black leather seat of his vintage 1965 Austin Healy. He glanced at his wristwatch, and then up shifted to fourth. Of all the mornings to sleep in, he chided himself, as he pressed harder on the accelerator triggering a second Webber carburetor to cut in. The Healy’s six cylinder overhead cam made sweet music to his ears as he accelerated past a Ford sedan and a four door Plymouth. He watched the two North American dinosaurs shrink and disappear in his rear view mirror as he pushed down on the throttle. He removed his hand from the gear shift long enough to crank the heater knob to full open and then he switched the heater fan to its highest setting in an attempt to draw some warmth into the chilly cockpit of the Healy. The addition of a hardtop at the beginning of fall had helped matters somewhat but by the end of November there were enough icy drafts leaking through the passenger compartment of the British sports car to overcome any warmth that trickled in from the antiquated heater. Nevertheless, Brian enjoyed the challenge of driving at this time of year when the cold weather thickened the oil in the Healy’s shocks turning an already superb road machine into the equivalent of an Indy racer. He dropped back to third before drifting through a sweeping left hand curve onto Redpath Crescent, and then pulled to the red line before up-shifting again. Another week or two and the white stuff would hit the streets. Salt would be spread onto the roads and the Healy would have to be put away for the duration. As he made his way through the city, the Mountie’s thoughts left the sports car’s cockpit to review the dossiers he had been studying over the weekend. The first dossier that came to mind was one on Alfredo Herrera. Not much was known about Herrera although street talk had it that Alfie was into some heavy drug action. The young man seemed to be out of place in the world of international munitions brokers and drug dealers he was allegedly running with. The key to Alfie’s involvement with these people could well lay in his choice of college courses thought the Mountie as he downshifted again. Before he dropped out in his third year of University, Alfredo Herrera had switched his major from Modern Languages to Political Science. A car horn blared in his ear and the Mountie’s thoughts swung back to the pavement rushing only inches beneath his seat. Better to be a few minutes late than to have an accident, he chided himself as he slowed to a modest twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. A second dossier popped into his mind. This one was concerned with the manipulations of duly elected governments in the Caribbean and the southern hemisphere. The Soviet Union was thought to be behind these destabilizing influences along with her ally Cuba. External forces allegedly backed by Cuba were reported to be gathering on the island of Jamaica where they were purported to be attempting some kind of political coup during the upcoming Jamaican elections. The head of this group was suspected to be a Cuban agent provocateur named Marcos Esquinapa. The dossier on Esquinapa was thin to the point of being emaciated. He was born in Cuba. He was of medium build and short at about five foot six or seven. He had no known identifying marks or scars.
Brian Fox turned down Peel Street and then swung onto de Maisoneuve Street, avoiding a meter wide pothole that would have torn the mufflers from the undercarriage of his low slung car.
Damned road construction! Did it ever stop?
He completed the last leg of his journey without further event, arriving at the RCMP headquarters building on Dorchester Boulevard a few minutes after nine AM. The ultra modern glass and aluminum headquarters structure loomed like a cold fortress over the street, blocking out the morning sun and creating a pocket of frigid air by the entrance to the underground garage. The Healy’s engine reverberated crisply off the concrete walls as Brian entered the building and descended in a circular route to his parking space. He waited a moment before switching off the car. Oil pressure good. Water temperature good. He turned off the ignition and the engine died instantly. Juggling an armload of file folders, Brian made his way to a bank of elevators a short distance away. He signed into the building at the mezzanine level and then switched to one of six waiting cars on the north wall’s bank of elevators. Seven floors later he stepped into the sterile ambiance of an open-aired office filled with strategically placed desks and movable room dividers. Brian signed in and picked up his messages before hurrying through an office that was filled with uniformed and plain-clothed RCMP officers. Weaving his way through a maze of walkways and aisles that divided the office cubicles, he was assaulted by jangling telephones, clicking keyboards and the monotone drone of muffled conversations. This was G section, a division of the RCMP whose members were referred to as the cream of the crop. There were no junkies to deal with here. No bank robbers or thieves. Hookers occasionally but not the street variety. The prostitutes G section dealt with could carry a conversation about the world commodities market, the New York Mets or the theories of Sigmund Freud.
The question came from Jerome Laframboise, a big moose-jawed Frenchman from the Gaspé region of Quebec. At six foot-four Jerome was built like a lumberjack, with massive shoulders and hands the size of kitchen skillets. Laframboise was so tall and large that he looked like an adult in pre-school sitting at his standard issue desk. Brian was glad to count the man amongst his allies rather than his enemies. The Mountie’s smile disolved into a frown as he looked up at the small red light that glowed above a door to a free standing structure in the center of the open-aired office. The twenty-five watt bulb situated above the door to the conference room was unquestionably lit, indicating that a meeting was in session. The door below the red light was the only entrance into a lead-lined room which had no windows. The War Room was a room within a room, an island in an ocean of policemen, totally safe from wiretapping or electronic eavesdropping.
“How long has the light been on?”
“Only a couple of minutes.”
“Any messages come in this morning?”
“One from Thibeault over at homicide looking for more information on the Alevera murder. He says they had a crime with a similar MO in Ottawa last year that they’ve tied to the Goldberg crew.”
“If he calls again, tell him that we’re still waiting for the DNA results from the blood found at the scene. Tell him I’ll get back to him as soon as this meeting is over.”
Brian dropped his armload of documents on his desk and then eased open the door to the darkened conference room.
“You’re late, Brian” Chief Inspector Alphonse Leroux called from the darkness as light spilled into the War Room from the outer office. The only other light in the conference room came from a small slide projector that sat at the closest end of a long polished rosewood table. Without bothering to look up, Chief Inspector Leroux directed Brian to a chair while he fiddled with a cassette of slides in the projector’s carousel.
“Sorry Sir. Traffic was heavy this morning.”
“Take a seat Brian but first say hello to Cal Russell of the Central Intelligence Agency,” the Inspector said without responding to the Mountie’s excuse and without raising his eyes from the machine. “You already know the rest of the task force.”
It took a few seconds for the Mountie’s eyes to adjust to the darkness after the conference room door swung closed behind him. When he could see again he nodded to Russell who was seated next to the Chief and then found his way to the nearest empty chair across the table. Light from the Kodak projector revealed Calvin Russell to be of medium build. A bit thick around the middle, but otherwise in decent shape for a man of about fifty years of age. He was dressed in a dark suit with a striped tie. Russell’s hair was short and curly. His complexion was tanned although it was difficult to determine how much was due to tan and how much was due to his race in the darkened room. Harry Connors was down from Toronto. John Brophy was in from Halifax. Brian knew the seven other members of the task force having worked with all of them at one time or another during his nine year career.
Chief Leroux cleared his throat and began speaking.
“Gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please. Commander Russell has recently come from the United States,” the Chief began, grappling for his mustache as he always did when he spoke to two or more persons at a time. “to enlighten us with some new information on the Herrera file. Some of the material that he has brought to us today we have seen before. But some of the material is new and should be of considerable interest to those of you actively involved in the Herrera case. However we may have to change the name of the file because according to this latest information we are now certain that Alfredo Herrera is little more than a front for this man.” The Chief snapped the projector’s remote control button with a practiced flourish to display a grainy image that had been taken sometime over the last thirty years. A slim man of almost tiny stature stood glowering into the camera lens from the pull down screen on the far wall. The man was wearing a European suit with narrow lapels and a narrow tie. His face was leathered with age and his hair was slicked straight back over two ears that protruded like dried apricots from the side of his head. His eyes were obscured by the shadows of a jungle quite possibly in South America.
“This is the only known photograph we have of Marcos Esquinapa. As you can see, we have a man who would be about forty to fifty years of age today. His height is five-seven or eight. His weight is approximately one hundred and fifty pounds. His hair is receding and possibly dyed. Don’t let his appearance deceive you. This man is extremely dangerous.”
The video machine clicked one more time.
“Ahh yes our own Alfredo Herrera. Born in Cuba circa 1970. Alfie came to Canada as a landed immigrant in the early eighties. Height, six feet-one inch. Weight, one hundred and seventy pounds. This is a photograph taken from his most recent McGill College yearbook. Alfie represents a local embarrassment, until we can ship him off to Archambault. Or perhaps, since Ontario has a higher class of criminal, we should ship him off to Millhaven, n’est ce pas, Harry?”
“We can always find space for a new college student,” Harry Connors responded dryly. “In fact Millhaven has the most modern library in the prison system.”
“Eh bien. Another first for Ontario. But perhaps our Alfredo does not need libraries, since he dropped out of University. It is during this period, he is presumed to have linked up with the man we know as Marcos Esquinapa. We believe the link between the two men was made through Alfredo Herrera’s sister, who works at the Cuban Consulate on Redpath Street.”
The slide projector clicked to reveal a photo of an attractive female with long dark hair. Even though the image was grainy and shot through a long distance lens the young woman’s beauty was undeniable. Her lips were naturally full and sultry without the need of collagen. Her eyes were dark and perfectly lined with eye shadow. Her carriage was proud and straight. With prescription eye glasses she appeared intelligent and with her bored expression she looked like a model from a high fashion magazine.
“Marguerite Herrera is twenty-nine years old and she is presently working as a receptionist at the Cuban Consulate in downtown Montreal. When Marguerite began working at the consulate her brother, Alfredo, was little more than a small time drug dealer selling marijuana and hashish on campus. Today Alfredo Herrera operates strictly at the multi-ton level and rarely touches any of the contraband himself. Bank records show only nominal deposits in his current Canadian bank accounts. Six thousand three hundred dollars in the main branch of the Royal Bank. Nine thousand dollars in a second account with the Toronto Dominion. We suspect he has other accounts around the province and around the country. His passport which was handed in for renewal in April of this year, suggests that he may be banking the bulk of his money in the Bahamas or in Switzerland. We know that last month Alfie signed a real estate option on a six hundred thousand dollar property in Upper Westmount and that the deposit check came from the Cayman Islands. Not bad for a college dropout, n’est ce pas?”
Guided by the Chief inspector’s index finger the slide projector ratcheted ahead to a picture of a sandy coastline, bordered by tropical forest and crystal blue water.
“I will now call on Commander Russell to brief you on the island of Jamaica as the Caribbean is more in his area of expertise than my own.”
“Thank you, Inspector Leroux,” the CIA man responded with a distinctive Midwestern twang. Commander Russell slid his chair closer to the slide projector and then with a stab of his finger he sent the machine back to the picture of Marguerite Herrera.
“Too bad this pretty little filly’s not on our side,” he chuckled.”
His index finger struck again and the slide projector moved backward with two audible clicks until the picture of Marcos Esquinapa returned once more to the screen. “He looks a little like Charlie Chaplin doesn’t he? Don’t let his looks throw you off. Marcos Esquinapa is without doubt, one of the most dangerous men you will ever encounter. Our information has it that he was behind several assassinations in Bolivia and El Salvador, as well as being responsible for the murders of several Cuban expatriates living in the United States. He uses a dozen aliases although he usually sticks with a Latin or Middle Eastern profile.”
It came from John Brophy of the Halifax detachment.
“Do we have any idea of Esquinapa’s present whereabouts?”
“According to US immigration records, Esquinapa returned to New York from Montreal last week by the same route he entered under the name of Eduardo Matisse. We found this out after he left of course. He departed the United States two days later taking a direct flight out of Kennedy to Kingston, Jamaica. A check of Kennedy airport turned up the car he was driving in the Terminal’s long term parking. We have it staked out, but there is no guarantee that Esquinapa will return for it. In fact I would say it is extremely unlikely that he will.”
“What do our Canadian immigration records tell us about Marcos Esquinapa’s visits to Canada?”
Russell deferred the question to Chief Inspector Leroux with a nod of his head.
“We are still searching the Telo cards,” the Chief Inspector answered with a tug at his mustache. “Immigration should have an update for us by late this afternoon.
“Has Esquinapa been spotted anywhere outside of the Montreal area?”
“We believe his drug business is centered exclusively in Montreal.”
“Do we know how Herrera and Esquinapa are getting their drug shipments into Canada?”
“Possibly through the Cuban Consulate. Possibly by ship or by land through Mexico and then through the United States. Lab analysis suggests that Jamaica is the source of the marijuana seized in raids on Alfredo Herrera’s dealer network. The nitrogen-rich soil and high bauxite content in the leaves and stems makes that fact quite conclusive.
“What information is there to support the hypothesis that these guys are running drugs to support an overthrow of the Jamaican political system?”
“I’ll field this one,” the CIA man said as he leaned forward to pick up on the question. “Check this out boys.” He clicked the Kodak machine three times in rapid succession until a picture of a rusted freighter ship appeared. This slide was followed in quick succession by a photo of shipping crates being unloaded by a dock crane. The CIA man loosed his grip on the projector’s shuttle control when a close-up slide of one of the crates flashed onto the screen. The crate had been broken open to reveal the contents to be a number of carbines in waxed paper. “These pictures were taken in Jamaica last month. The ship is the Anna Maru, a privately owned freighter operating under Panamanian registry. The rifles in the crates are American made M-16s.” The slide machine clicked back to the now familiar scene of sand and water. “Jamaica’s mountainous topography and sparse population make it easy for any outside group or military force to access the island.” The projector clicked again to reveal a photo of a large, bearded black man with shoulder length braided dreadlocks and a wide toothless smile. “Blackbeard is a well known smuggler of marijuana and cocaine on the island of Jamaica. Blackbeard operates his various illegal businesses with the compliance of the ruling government of Jamaica, a government, I might add, that was placed in power largely through Blackbeard’s support. Blackbeard intends to use those M-16 rifles I just showed you to prolong the leadership of the ruling party of Jamaica. When Prime Minister Nigel Higgens first gained power some years ago, the island of Jamaica was on its way to financial self sufficiency for the first time since its independence from Britain. Crops were productive. Tourism flourished. Aluminum was still the miracle metal of the decade. Today all that has changed. Other metals such as titanium and molybdenum are stronger and lighter than aluminum, largely replacing it in the marketplace. In addition to this declining need for bauxite, Jamaica’s banana production has fallen from a ten year high of sixty million metric tons to a little over thirty million metric tons last year. During the same period, coffee yield has fallen sixty per cent. Sugar cane is down forty per cent. Last June the International Monetary Fund examined the GNP and other factors in Jamaica’s financial portfolio and turned down Prime Minister Higgens’ application for loan payment rescheduling and a new capital loan of six hundred million dollars. The situation has since turned into a standoff with the IMF demanding changes in Higgens’ government and the Jamaican leader refusing to comply. Higgens has now turned to neighboring countries for financial assistance. Cuba has offered him support in rebuilding the island of Jamaica as a New People’s Republic. Central Intelligence Agency investigations have since turned up solid evidence that Higgens intends to subvert the free democratic process of Jamaica’s upcoming elections, in order to hold on to power. With Cuba’s help he aims to turn the democracy of Jamaica into a communist republic. Gentlemen neither the United States nor Canada has any intention of letting that happen. The Central Intelligence Agency will spearhead an operation to excise and remove this threat to democracy. We will accomplish this by working in unison with this RCMP task force to plug the arms leak into Jamaica and to dismantle the drug operations of Marcos Esquinapa and Alfredo Herrera. Are there any questions?”
“I have one” It was an officer named Newberry, a slim red-haired chap with an amazing ability in computers and higher mathematics.
“If there is some sort of revolutionary conspiracy building in Jamaica, why haven’t the papers got on to it?”
“Prime Minister Higgens has been very clever in concealing his nefarious activities. Instead of involving his military or police, as one might expect, he has armed Blackbeard and his civilian posse to do the dirty work of harassing and killing his political opponents. This year alone Jamaica has seen over seven hundred politically-motivated murders and the year is only half over. To put that in perspective, that’s just about ten times the worst murder rate per capita of any major city in the United States or Canada. Prime Minister Higgens uses Blackbeard’s posse to accomplish most of these killings. The bastard supplies them with American made M-16s and then turns around and blames the killings on the CIA.”
“Any line on where these M-16s originate?”
“We suspect the M-16s were purchased on the illicit market in Canada or the United States and somehow smuggled into Jamaica, possibly as machinery or farm equipment. The short answer to your question is we don’t know . . . yet.”
“Could Herrera and Esquinapa be using the same method to get the weapons out of Canada that they use to get drugs in?”
“We are investigating that theory and looking at four possibilities. The Cuban embassy is one possibility although we haven’t yet determined how large shipments would be smuggled in a small diplomatic pouch. We are of course investigating the supply shipments to and from Cuba very carefully right now. We are also investigating the possible involvement of the First Nations Indians on the Cagnawaga reserve who have been smuggling cigarettes and alcohol between our forty-ninth parallel borders for years. Since the Cagnawaga reservation straddles both Canada and the United States the Indians claim to have a legal right to continue smuggling commodities across borders within their reserves but no matter how the court rules that right does not extend to drug trafficking. The most logical way to ship large loads of contraband into Canada and the US is by sea and by air and we are concentrating on those two possibilities by stationing AWACs in the Caribbean corridor to detect illegal movements of marine and air traffic.”
Questions persisted throughout the morning as Commander Russell continued his dissertation on the dangers faced by the free world from drugs and terrorists until the meeting broke for lunch. When the meeting continued again after lunch Brian Fox heard more theories and saw more slides, until slides merged with other slides, faces morphed into other faces and Brian’s thoughts became overwhelmed with speculations and hypotheses. Just before three o’clock Brian was summoned by messenger to the office of Chief Alphonse Leroux who had not returned to the War Room for the afternoon session. Thanking God for small mercies, the Mountie made his way from the conference room, excusing himself with palms upraised in apology to Commander Russell and the others. He stopped briefly by the water cooler to let his eyes adjust to daylight before continuing along a corridor to a small but private office cubicle at the north end of the office. There he found the Chief sitting at his desk. Brian knocked on the glass door of the Chief Inspector’s office and entered.
“Come in,” the Inspector said. “Have a seat, Brian.”
“I prefer to stand, if you don’t mind, sir.”
“I understand,” replied the Chief, with a smile that indicated a sense of accomplishment in his own escape from the all day meeting. “How was the afternoon briefing?”
“I thought we spent a lot of time on geography and not enough on the major suspects.”
“That is because there is very little information on the major suspects beyond what you and the rest of the team have already seen today, Brian. We need more information about these men. And we need hard evidence. We need serial numbers from containers and we need the shipping routes of those illegally exported M-16s. We need someone to go down to Jamaica and get this information.” The Chief stared hard into his agent’s eyes as though seeking some sign of disapproval. Finding none he continued. “We need someone to liaison with the CIA’s operatives in Jamaica, someone who has an established knowledge of the drug scene in North America as well as intimate knowledge of the main players in this case. You have been on the Herrera case longer than anyone else, Brian. Therefore you are elected. Do you have any problems with that?”
“No sir,” the RCMP agent responded.
“Good. We expect you to get on the trail of these drug traffickers and put a stop to their illegal activities. Canada still maintains excellent relations with Jamaica, but you can expect little help from the Higgens’ government if you get in trouble down there. In fact, you might well consider yourself to be heading into hostile territory.”
Again the Chief Inspector searched for some trace of dissent in the Mountie’s face.
“Curious, isn’t it?” he mused when his search proved unfruitful. “America expends enormous resources defending democracies around the world and yet those same democracies are often being subverted by American made weapons. It reminds me of our French Canadian ancestors who fired their canon at the Iroquois and then paid those same Indians a reward for every cannonball they brought back. It makes no sense. Nevertheless the Americans have asked for our help in this matter, Brian, and Canada intends to give it. Should you wish to decline this assignment there will be no blemish on your record.”
“When do I start,” answered the Mountie with a grin?
“I will brief you with all of the details later but I can tell you that you are booked on this Saturday’s flight to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Upon arrival you will liaison with a local CIA agent named Davin McCready. You will be traveling as a visiting tourist on a golf holiday. Not the most original cover I realize, but adequate under the circumstances. “
“I suppose I better buy some golf clubs.”
“There is a set of clubs in the equipment locker you can requisition. Or you can wait until June and receive a set as a wedding gift if you prefer.”
“I see you have received the invitation.”
“Yes and Claire and I will be honored to come to your wedding this June. How long have you and Sharon been going together now?”
“Since I first joined the Academy.”
“That would be almost ten years then.”
“Nine years eight months and twenty-two days.”
“Eh bien. Well best wishes for your wedding Brian and good luck on your mission.”
The Chief extended a hand that conveyed a surprising amount of emotion as he rose from his chair to indicate the end of the meeting. “Before you leave for the day stop by the lab,” the Chief Inspector added as he broke off contact and returned to shuffling papers on his desk. “Our lab specialist, Doctor Demers, has a few surprises that should make your trip a little more interesting.”
Postscript: Montreal roadwork is an on going nightmare in Quebec where Canadian winters play havoc with the asphalt. Rain water sinks into crevices and cracks in the asphalt and then expands as the weather turns cold and the water freezes creating monster sized potholes. An Austin Healy 3000 has one of the lowest clearances of any sports car ever made and just traversing a set of raised train tracks is enough to rip the exhaust and mufflers off. I completely understand Brian Fox’s concerns about his vintage car and I have even suffered damage to my own vehicles on Montreal roads. On another note I have always admired the RCMP as a police force. I even tried to join the force at one time although the physical standards were very tough in those days. One of the requirements of the Montreal RCMP was to have a combined seventy-two inch expanded and relaxed chest measurement which I could not develop even after months of working out at the gym. After being rejected by the Mounties I tried to get into the Montreal MUC police force. They had a minimum weight requirement of one hundred and sixty pounds which was a milestone that I did not reach until my late twenties. When I was unable to find a place in either police force I went back to my studies at McGill University to pursue a course in journalism 101.