The Catalonian Candidate
by Bruce Cantwell
Part One - No Good Options
You know that in Spain they call hidalgos the descendants of families who are free from any mixture of Moorish blood... They will not admit that during seven centuries Islam took root on Spanish soil. I have always thought it ungracious to deny such ancestors. We owe entirely to the Arabs those exceptional qualities which have drawn in history the great design of our past. They bequeathed to us their scorn for money, their disdain of lies, of death, their inexpressible pride. We inherit from them their rigid attitude against everything that is low, and likewise an unaccountable laziness toward manual labor. In truth we are their sons and it is not without reason that we continue to dance their Oriental dances to the tune of their “ferocious songs.”
Pierre Luoÿs, La Femme et le Pantin
The Appropriate Action
“The senator would like a word with you,” the executive protection agent said, just close enough to Walter Forbes’s ear, the one without the earpiece, and with just the right volume that his words would be understood but go unheard by nearby waitstaff.
It took the beefy, forty-eight-year-old P.I. a while to negotiate a route through the rows of tables to Senator Guy Morton. It seemed that the senator had eyes in the back of his head, for though Forbes approached from behind, he set down his wine glass and stood on cue. The agent Forbes had spoken with had signaled an agent in Morton’s sight line to cue him. He thought, these guys are good.
Morton glanced toward the podium set up on the Granite dance floor. Forbes followed him. The senator checked to see that the mike was off. It was, but he unplugged it anyway. He’d likely been burned a time or two by a live mike.
“Don’t look now,” said Morton, “but two of the busboys here tonight bear an uncanny resemblance to the men who kidnapped Michael Santore.”
“Okay,” said Forbes, unsure why Morton told him this.
“Look where I look.”
Forbes followed the senator’s gaze. There stood two Middle-Eastern looking men attired as busboys.
“Butterfield is watching them. All the employees passed through a metal detector and x-ray. They’re not carrying guns. They don’t have explosives strapped to their bodies. They’re not handling the food, but they are handling silverware. Butterfield has the men keeping an extra close eye on them for that. We don’t have a positive ID yet.”
Morton paused and looked into Forbes’s eyes.
Forbes said, “It sounds like he has things under control.”
“Keep it down.” Forbes thought he’d spoken softly, but he hadn’t matched Morton’s hushed tone. The senator continued. “If the ID is positive, Butterfield is authorized to take the appropriate action.”
“It all sounds to me like you know exactly what you’re doing.”
“Except we have a woman in FBI detention and a forensics team scouring her computer for links to terrorist networks.”
Forbes’s pulse quickened. He understood Morton’s thinking. He also thought it dead wrong. “That’s the first time anyone has used the T-word in all this. I don’t see it.”
“Okay. What if I use the T-word that has come up? Tehran. Would you accuse me of being too deferential to the men and women on this evening’s guest list? Sometimes they have difficulty drawing the distinction.”
“I’m not a politician.”
“I’m not asking you to be,” said Morton. “I’m asking you to work out a signal with Butterfield so that if you receive any late-breaking-news from our ongoing investigation that suggests that these two men are any more dangerous than the courteous, efficient busboys they appear to be, he can take the appropriate action.”
“Okay, that’s twice you’ve mentioned the appropriate action. What is the appropriate action?”
“That’s above your pay grade.”
“Is he going to detain them?”
Morton was silent.
“Is he going to perform enhanced interrogation?”
Forbes leaned in to Morton’s ear. He really didn’t want this next part to be overheard. “He’s not just going to shoot them, is he?”
“Butterfield is authorized to take the appropriate action.”
Forbes’s face burned. “You can’t put that on me.”
Morton’s face didn’t change at all. “Wrong,” he said. He drove his fore and middle fingers into Forbes’s chest with each syllable. “I-just-did.”
Then his face assumed a grin, he turned and retraced his steps to his table. The Cabinet Minister must have been telling a funny story. Morton laughed without missing a beat. Forbes returned to his position and looked up at Butterfield, who held his right hand waist high with his five fingers extended, palm flat. The open hand turned so the thumb pointed up. It was an innocent enough gesture, not something you’d associate with an execution. Forbes wanted to give Butterfield a much simpler universally recognized hand signal but nodded that he understood.
What had begun as a routine information security assignment had placed Forbes on the front lines of the War on Terror. He took a closer look at “the terrorists.” They were two men of Arab descent. They were in the country illegally. And they were second class citizens waiting on the privileged delegation from Israel.
The occasion was innocent enough. A consortium of software developers had come to ink a deal with the industry behemoth. The size of the deal had captured the imagination of government officials from both nations. Forbes, Morton, and agent Butterfield looked at the same people in the same room, but what they saw couldn’t differ more.
Whether you viewed the atmosphere as benign or sinister depended on what you thought of that woman in FBI detention: the woman who’d pierced the senator’s armor, infecting his phone and his mind. She was a woman of many talents. When she sang, she could set your heart aflutter. When she danced the flamenco, another body part would stir, but chief among her talents, the skill that had captivated the cynical senator, was her innocence. There was no question that she’d wanted him. There was no question that he’d wanted her. The question was what else she wanted. That was for the men, and, hopefully, women of the FBI to discover.
Forbes didn’t believe for a moment that she wanted the death of any or all of the men and women in that room. He didn’t believe that the next voice in his earpiece would tell him otherwise. He glanced at the two busboys who patiently waited to collect empty plates and refill water glasses. He looked at the senator eating his salmon. He decided right then and there that he wasn’t going to vote for the guy. He wouldn’t necessarily vote for his opponent, but he wasn’t going to blacken the oval by Guy Morton’s name.
His earpiece crackled to life.