Kramer and Shadow are forced to take on a new team member when their nemesis Shelley Harper surfaces with plans to exact retribution from America on a monumental scale. People on all sides have their own scores to settle. Who will be left standing after the dust settles?
Greg Smith has written a strong story with an intriguing premise; one that can easily become all too real in this day and age. LEX TALIONIS takes the reader into Kramer’s doubts and struggles with his own demons as he leads his team against a malevolent opponent. They face an almost untenable situation with survival questionable.
Kramer and his dog, Shadow (both former US Marines) are forced to confront their nemesis and international crime boss, Shelley Harper, when they learn of her plans to exact retribution from America on a monumental scale with help from ISIS. People on all sides have their own scores to settle. Who will be left standing after the dust settles? This story could very easily be tomorrow’s headlines—for real.
It is rare for most people to experience the real meaning of ‘dead weight.’
It was equally strange for the thought to come to mind as Kramer muscled the man into a sitting position against a garishly painted door. It wasn’t the first time he’d needed to handle the dead. He studied his handiwork. For all intents and purposes, the figure appeared to be asleep.
Kramer surveyed the alley and ancient balconies overhead checking for witnesses. No one. A last glance at the body, then he slipped away from the scene.
He had to catch up with his target. The man he was following had entered the medina–old walled city–of Tangier from the port and headed directly into the warren of alleyways. He was wearing white cotton slacks, a bluish grey lightweight jacket, and a white fedora–all of which made him somewhat of an easy figure for Kramer to tail.
Although his Global Security Corporation partners, Darci Tucker and his wife, Maria, hadn’t said as much when they pressured him gently into this assignment, Kramer was well aware it was done out of their concern for him.
The flight from Los Angeles to London to Amsterdam had provided the retired United States Marine captain more than enough time for circumspection, and for the ugly truth to reveal itself. Losing his parents and his fiancée, FBI Special Agent Sarah Hunter, thirty months ago, had decimated Kramer’s life and left him intolerable company for anyone, especially his close friends. Darci and Maria needed a break from him as much as he needed a new focus and a chance to reprioritize his life.
So here he was in Tangier, Morocco, three weeks after leaving LA, tailing a man they suspected had ties with Shelley Harper—a woman at the top of INTERPOL’s ‘most wanted’ list as well as those of most governments worldwide. For Kramer though, the reasons for hunting down the elusive Harper were by far more personal than anyone else’s.
Ahead a shaft of sunlight snapped off a bluish grey jacket and white fedora. Kramer quickened his pace. A minute later he stood at the junction of four alleyways.
As he scanned the crowds strolling the centuries old terraced alleys, Kramer was oblivious of the many things the Moroccan port of Tangier offered travellers—the sense of exotic mystery, interesting history, beautiful vistas, and unspoiled beaches.
One of his favorite movies, The Bourne Ultimatum, had used the medina for one of its glamorous backdrops but it hadn’t prepared Kramer for the spice-filled air with its intriguing aromas that permeated the ancient city.
He overheard a tourist enquire after the most comically named door in all of Morocco, Bab Haha, from a street stall owner who waved a dark olive skinned arm at one of the intersecting alleys. Kramer instinctively glanced in that direction and happened to catch sight of his target. He lit out after Fedora.
Kramer’s situational awareness was as keen as ever but he couldn’t be certain whether his unfortunate assailant had merely been a street thug or someone protecting Fedora. The assignment was supposed to be a simple task of arriving at an address in Cairo where GSC had been informed they would locate the fedora-wearing courier. From there all Kramer need do was shadow the man to his next meeting and capture everything on video, upload the file to Maria at GSC headquarters in California, and await further orders.
It all sounded simple enough—except for the joker who jumped Kramer in the medina alley flashing a dagger. The encounter surprised both of them.
A gap in the buildings afforded him a glimpse of the ancient walls of the Tangier Kasbah that loomed over the medina. Moments later Kramer found himself standing before Bab Haha. It proved to be one of the several doors or gates that lead into the Kasbah.
Kramer glanced at the map to the left of Bab Haha that highlighted the walk tourists could take around the Kasbah. Overall, the old fortified area looked surprisingly small.
He spotted Fedora weaving through the populace and followed him. Houses lavishly decorated with sculptures of cherubs, colorful shutters, and balconies flanked the alley that took him into the Place du Méchouar. He fended off the hordes that descended upon him begging for money or trying to sell something, dodged past the snake charmers and dancers, and skipped around gawking groups of tourists.
At first, he thought Fedora intended to enter the Kasbah Museum but then he ducked through an unassuming door off to its side. The sign over the entrance welcomed Kramer in several languages to enter Les Fils du Detroit, helpfully translated underneath as The Sons of the Strait. He stepped in and found himself transported back in time.
The ten by sixteen foot room proved to be a tiny café. Several people, mainly locals, occupied the two narrow rug-covered bench seats that ran the length of the room. The walls were covered in Moroccan tapestries and numerous old framed photographs hung precariously above the patrons’ heads. A couple of circular, hand beaten bronze tables took some valuable space from the narrow floor and carried several small glasses of mint tea.
The customers paid scant attention to Kramer as he joined them. They continued sipping their hot drinks while a group of four elderly Arab-Andalusian musicians held a jam session at the far end of the room. The authentic melodies and ambiance recreated Morocco’s rich, cultural past.
Kramer accepted a glass of tea and whipped out a tourist guide from his back pocket. He pretended to read it, glancing occasionally at the musicians when, in fact, his focus was really on his target seated opposite.
The man was in his mid-thirties, olive skin, lanky, sported a pencil-thin moustache, and wire-rimmed glasses that framed deep-set dark brown eyes. Thick black, wavy hair flowed from under the fedora and skimmed the collar of his jacket.
He leaned close to an older gentleman dressed in the traditional neutrally colored Moroccan djellaba–a long, loose, hooded garment with long sleeves. The craggy weather-beaten face was topped by a black bernousse, or Fez, and a silvery white beard completed the classical Arabic countenance. Both men were deep in conversation.
Kramer shifted slightly to align himself with his target. Once back in his hotel room he would upload the image and audio file from the second button on his shirt.
Darci Tucker, CEO of Global Security Corporation, had designed the ultra high-tech surveillance device. His wife, Maria, would work her digital wizardry to garner every bit of intelligence from it in order to create the next link in the chain that would hopefully lead them closer to Shelley Harper.
All three had a score to settle with the woman.
He thought that after twenty years’ service in the Corps he would be used to waiting. There was a time when that used to be the case, Kramer thought. “Hurry up and wait’ was pretty much the military mantra, regardless of what branch a person served in.
He leaned on the ornate railing of his room’s balcony. Strains of local and western music drifted up from the labyrinth of streets and alleys. Kramer barely heard them as his mind recounted the day’s events.
After their meeting Fedora had left his elderly contact, whom Kramer tagged as Fez because of his headwear, and retraced his steps across the square to Bab Haha, all the while under Kramer’s close scrutiny. When Fedora continued nonchalantly into the medina, Kramer quickly returned to the cafe in time to catch Fez exiting alone.
The old man was dressed like every other Tangier local, forcing Kramer to follow him much closer than his tradecraft dictated. It was a fine balance between being spotted and losing Fez among the masses filling the streets.
Career Marines always have a certain bearing, a certain look about them that they carry even into retirement. Kramer was no exception. Prior to tailing Fedora Kramer knew he had no chance of being taken for a local so he chose instead to dress as neutral as possible, to find a compromise somewhere between a local and a garish tourist.
Right then he hoped it was working as he shadowed Fez for nearly fifty minutes, all the while moving further away from the medina. Finally Fez turned into a fairly refined-looking building that Kramer took to be an apartment block. Kramer melted into deep shadows across the street from the building and scanned the four stories of blank windows. It wasn’t long before a window lit up from within. Kramer shrank back as a figure appeared and looked out at the street. It was Fez.
The moment Fez turned away Kramer stepped from the shadows and into the street. Miraculously it was empty of pedestrians and he glanced up at the building behind him. It also appeared to be a tenement building, except each had a balcony overlooking the street and facing Fez’s building.
Kramer scanned the vicinity then leaped onto a stack of discarded wooden crates. They teetered under him but held steady long enough for him to seize the railing of the lowest balcony and haul himself up and over. He needed to climb another two floors to be level with Fez’s window.
A few minutes later he was standing on a third floor balcony and peering across into Fez’s place. The old man paced back and forth but still the sight angle wasn’t perfect.
The next balcony across would give a direct line-of-sight to Fez but it was about eight feet distant. Doable, Kramer thought. He stepped up onto the top of the railing and steadied himself with one hand flat against the wall. It was some sixty feet to the cobblestoned street. A fall would definitely put a crimp in his day so Kramer shoved the thought from his mind. He crouched down carefully. Took a deep breath and held it. Then he launched himself into space.
A perfect jump—well, almost. He landed on the other balcony with both hands gripping the railing and one ankle partially anchored atop the wrought iron. A dry raspy grinding sound whispered in his ear, then the railing shivered as rusted bolts worked loose from the ancient stone. Kramer clung to the section of railing as it swung free of the wall with a mournful screech of protesting metal. He felt like a spider with a D minus in web building. The top horizontal bar tore away from the corner upright causing Kramer’s section of rail to drop suddenly and arc out toward the street. All that kept him from toppling earthward was a rusted bolt anchoring the bottom horizontal bar to the upright.
Sweat beaded his hairline when Kramer noticed the bolt bending dangerously. He had only one option if he didn’t want his day ruined.
He sucked in air, held it, and clenched his teeth. His hands let go of the old railing and shot upward. Fingers latched onto the edge of the balcony. Then his left hand slipped. Now he dangled by four fingers. His arm burned as tendons and muscles fought to hold his one hundred eighty pounds. Sweat dripped down his neck.
He craned his neck and focused on the balcony—a three-inch thick slab of concrete. He grimaced as the loose railing swung back and careened off his right knee. It shocked him into action. He swung to his left, seized the concrete with his free hand and focused all his energy into his fingers. They strained to drag his body upward.
First his chin gained the balcony. Then he managed to throw his right leg onto the concrete. The blood roaring in his ears lessened and he heard noises from below—people in the street. There was no way of telling if they had spotted him dangling above their heads. He levered himself up onto the balcony and lay on his back gulping air and staring up at the stars.
The fire in his arms and chest subsided and he rolled onto his stomach and peered over the balcony edge. The half dozen young people below were too busy jostling each other and jabbering and hadn’t noticed Kramer’s acrobatics overhead. He was thankful the railing had held, and not dropped into their midst where it would have undoubtedly caused injury or even death. The group looked up as someone shouted down at them.
Fez was leaning out his window and shaking a fist. Kramer deduced he was speaking Tangerian, the Darija language favored by those living in Tangier and mainly influenced with Spanish. Whatever Fez said worked, as the young people moved on down the street after offering up crude gestures in reply.
Kramer heard a phone ring and Fez ducked from the window. Kramer’s position was now perfect. He pulled what looked to be a normal pen from his jacket pocket and trained it directly into Fez’s apartment.
The old man snatched up his phone. He appeared a trifle agitated and paced about as far as the phone cord would allow, which was all of five feet. Terrific. Fez had to be totally visible if Kramer was to have any chance of filming and recording his conversation. He had almost broken his neck in bringing everything into line, now he hoped it was all worth it. Time will tell.
The call lasted nine minutes twelve seconds. Fez hung up and stood for several moments staring down at the phone. He stroked his beard with long fingers, his eyes dark and brooding. All of a sudden he simply threw up his hands as if to say ‘to hell with it’ then began preparing for bed.
His work done for the moment, Kramer elected to gain the street in a more civilized manner. First he checked the apartment belonging to the balcony he had clambered onto then, finding no one at home, he simply walked through the place and let himself out. Once back on the street he glanced back at Fez’s window. It was darkened. The old man was in bed. Kramer headed back to his hotel, all the while visualizing a long hot shower and a tall cold drink. After he had uploaded his latest file to Darcy, of course.
Kramer turned from the nighttime sights and sounds of Tangier when his phone rang.
He strode across his suite and took his phone from the nightstand as he sat on the edge of his bed.
“Darci and Maria here, mate.” The Aussie’s voice verbalized the man’s larrikinism. Angry or not, he always sounded as if he spoke with a broad smile.
“Get anything useful from the files I sent you?” Kramer asked.
“Useful? Bloody more than useful, mate. You sitting down?”
“Yes,” Kramer answered.
“Oh, well then, hold on to your bloody hat.” Darci sounded utterly jubilant. “You delivered us a bloody goldmine. Tomorrow morning our jet will be there to fly you back to the States. We’ll update you on all the details then and brief you for the next assignment at the same time. This time you’ll be able to take Shadow along with you. See you soon, mate.”
The call ended.
Returning to San Diego was bittersweet for Kramer. It was great to be back home, and he could hardly wait to see his best friends, Shadow and Spirit.
Shadow, his Anatolian Shepherd dog and former U.S. Marine buddy, was a touch over five years old, a hair smaller than a Great Dane, and the older of the two dogs. Spirit, his midnight black Pit Bull was just over three, about a third the size of Shadow, and was rescued by Kramer and Shadow during their first involvement with the FBI when they tangled with the crime lord, Valdiron.
Although he had been in constant contact with his friends and business associates, Darcy and Maria, during his overseas assignment, he was looking forward to seeing them again over a cold beer, or two.
But there was a darkness that overshadowed his return. Despite his every effort to corral his emotions, memories of Sarah seeped into mind triggering a parade of images of their time together. He navigated the terminal, blind to the streams of people, his mind focused on Sarah’s dazzling smile, her sparkling eyes—everything about her. He could visualize her at his side, her arm wrapped fondly around his waist. He could hear her spirited laughter; smell the tantalizing scent of her hair and body.
Their engagement had been agonizingly short. While he savored memories of Sarah, her absence left his soul with a bitterness that ran deep and an emotional barrier that imprisoned him as much as it warded off any possible future romantic entanglements.
“Whoa there, mate.”
Kramer blinked rapidly and refocused. He had been so preoccupied with his thoughts he had almost walked right past Darci and Maria.
“Good to have you back safe and sound,” Maria said. “Though you look like you could do with a good sleep.” She pecked Kramer on the cheek and slipped her arms around his free arm. Though Maria stood five feet nine inches tall she was still several inches shorter than Kramer and her husband, both of whom were six foot three.
Kramer noticed she’d cut her hair while he’d been away. “I like your new hair style, Maria. Despite what Darci says, I think shorter suits you far better.”
Maria crinkled her nose at her husband and tightened her hold on Kramer.
“Thanks heap, mate,” Darci scowled, but the twinkle in his eyes belied his feigned annoyance. “C’mon, let’s get home. Shadow and Spirit are waiting for you, and I’ve a couple of cold ones waiting as well.” Kramer knew the latter referred to the beers Darci always kept on hand.
The trio took the nearest exit and headed for the airport’s multi-level parking station.
“Okay, so what is it about my last file upload that has the two of you grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats?” Kramer was sitting up front with Darci as the Aussie weaved his new black BMW 428i through the afternoon San Diego traffic. Maria sat in the back engrossed in her tablet.
“You can tell him, dear,” she chimed without lifting her head. “You’ve been like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting to do so anyway.”
They all swayed in their seats as Darci dodged around a couple of vehicles and swept onto the on ramp to US 8 North. Home, and headquarters of Global Security Corporation, lay some twenty miles north in Rancho Santa Fe.
“Yeah, that was great work you did for us in Tangier, mate.” Darci shot Kramer a beaming smile. “The video, the last one you took, capped off your whole trip over there.”
“Not forgetting that I nearly broke my neck to take it,” mumbled Kramer.
“Oh yeah, sorry ‘bout that. You being an ex-Marine and all, I knew you could take good care of yourself.” Darci whipped around another car then stomped on the accelerator.
“Former Marine.” Kramer glanced at his friend and shook his head. It was proving a hard task to educate his mate from Down Under.
Darci chuckled. “Right … former Marine. As I was sayin’ before I was so rudely interrupted, that last video proved to be a bloody goldmine of info.”
Kramer listened as Darci detailed their findings that came out of Tangier.
Global Security Corporation, or GSC, employed dozens of operatives worldwide; some monitoring known terrorists and organized crime groups; some working undercover within the same or similar groups. It had been one of GSC’s undercover agents operating in a Netherlands-based terrorist cell who uncovered a link between that cell and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and possibly Shelley Harper’s international criminal network.
Acting on the agent’s intelligence, Darci had assigned Kramer the task of tailing the courier of the Dutch cell, the same man referred to as Fedora in Kramer’s reports. Using GSC’s proprietary software program, IICTNS (Integrated International Criminal Tracking Network and System) designed by Maria to run a facial recognition search, she and her team eventually discovered Fedora’s true identity.
Čazim Kasun was born in 1981 in Paljike, a hamlet of the former Yugoslavia. Raised as a devout Muslim by his Bosniak parents, Kasun had just celebrated his eleventh birthday when Yugoslavia began tearing itself apart.
The Bosnian War ended in November 1995 with an estimated 100,000 people killed and over 2.2 million people displaced, making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. It also left its indelible mark on the fifteen-year-old Kasun, who miraculously survived the conflict, but not before witnessing his mother brutally raped and his father and all Kasun’s friends murdered by Serbian troops during their ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Croat population.
Currently a high-ranking soldier in the Hofstad Network, a terrorist organization of mostly young Dutch, and known to INTERPOL, Kasun was known for his psychotic character evinced by frequent and unprovoked violent outbursts. All confirmed by GSC’s agent inside the group.
“He didn’t look that crazy to me,” Kramer stated. “What about the old guy, Fez, the one this Kasun contacted in Tangier?”
“His name is Anass Harrak,” Maria answered from the back seat. “He’s been on everyone’s watch list for quite some time. He’s suspected of at least three dozen or more murders, some of which may be regarded as assassinations depending on the victim’s political affiliations at the time—none of which the local police have been able to get sufficient evidence to arrest Harrak.”
“The guy’s an old man now. He must have started his career mighty early to have that many notches to his name,” Kramer commented.
“Don’t let his age fool you,” Maria cautioned. “About ten of those murders happened in the past six months.” Kramer gave a low whistle.
“Which, in an around about way, brings me to your last surveillance video that featured Harrak, aka Fez,” Darci cut in.
“Kasun and Harrak’s latest meeting in Tangier was by no means their first. They have a history of working together as couriers. When we cross-referenced their names with INTERPOL’s Counter-Terrorism Fusion Center database we encountered numerous hits. It seems that the Hofstad Network has been dealing with Harrak for several years. INTERPOL believes he is working as a conduit between a large number of European-based terrorist groups and ISIS.”
“Nice of INTERPOL to share that intelligence with us.” Kramer grinned.
Darci coughed. “Well, their data helped verify what our own IICTNS already pulled up. Though our new system far surpasses any other criminal information system—even the renowned CCIS—we always like to verify critical data whenever possible.”
Kramer shot him a glance and caught Maria smiling in the back seat. Kramer shrugged and shook his head. “Anything else INTERPOL shared with us?”
“About ten days ago—and this came from the FBI, not INTERPOL—a diamond courier was intercepted on his way to JFK International carrying a shipment worth in the vicinity of twenty-five million dollars. The courier was handcuffed to his briefcase, but the thieves bypassed that problem by simply cutting his hand off.”
“Brutal but efficient,” remarked Kramer.
Darci glanced sideways at his former Marine friend. Kramer sounded a trifle too indifferent.
“The diamonds were destined for London. The FBI is working on the assumption that they could be intended for funding a terrorist cell in America or abroad. They have picked up a bit of cyber and phone chatter to that effect, but have no firm leads as yet.” Darci refocused on the traffic ahead.
Maria leaned forward and rested her forearms across the two front seats. “Then three days later another diamond shipment was stolen while on its way from the De Beers mines in Namibia bound for Amsterdam. The thieves netted over seventy-five million dollars.”
“We now know both robberies are connected,” Darci said.
“Oh, how so?” asked Kramer.
“Because of the surveillance video you risked your neck taking. You did such a great job positioning yourself on that balcony across from Harrak’s room that you caught his phone conversation clear enough for us to understand every word.”
“Harrak’s side of the call, anyway,” Kramer quipped.
“On the contrary, mate.” Darci chuckled. “Maria and her team of techno wizards have been working on upgrading our surveillance equipment for some time now. The device you used was powerful enough to record Harrak’s caller as well.”
Kramer turned to Maria. “I’m impressed.” She tilted her head and smiled. “So the goldmine I delivered was Harrak’s caller.” Darci and Maria both nodded.
“My team is still working on identifying the caller’s voice. Our chances are slim, but I’m optimistic, nonetheless.”
“So, what about the call?”
“We were able to trace its origin to Limassol in Cyprus, but no exact address as yet,” Maria noted.
“And from what the caller said, we know that Kasun was the person responsible for coordinating the team that intercepted the De Beers shipment,” Darci added. “You may have not noticed it at the time, but your surveillance of the meeting between Harrak and Kasun picked up on Kasun passing what looked to be a key to Harrak and instructions that he would receive a call later that night.”
“The one from Cyprus,” Kramer deduced.
“Precisely.” Darci took the exit off Highway 5 onto Lomas Santa Fe Drive and headed up into the hills toward Rancho Santa Fe and home.
“The key was to a strongbox being held at the Banque Populaire du Maroc in Casablanca,” Darci continued. “It seems Harrak wasn’t too pleased to be told that he had a six hour round trip to drive the next morning in order to collect the contents of that strongbox—namely two briefcases.”
“Let me guess,” Kramer interjected. “Both lots of stolen diamonds.”
Darci took a hand off the wheel and made like shooting a gun at Kramer. “Spot on—exactly what we believe, mate.”
“All very interesting, but at the very outset we thought this business with Kasun was going to bring us closer to tracking down Shelley Harper.” Kramer sounded a little disappointed and agitated.
Darci swiveled his head and cocked an eyebrow at Maria who was still leaning between the two men. He returned his attention to the winding road, leaving his wife to answer Kramer.
“Just before the phone conversation ended, Harrak wanted to know what was so damn important about the suitcases that he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep before heading off at first light. All the caller told him was they were needed back in Tangier before noon the following day. Another courier would collect them from Harrak. The suitcases were needed for an extremely important meeting with a woman the next day—a woman who used to be partnered with a top crime boss in America.”
Kramer’s head whipped round. “Harper?” His eyes were suddenly alive with anticipation.
Darci lifted his shoulders but kept his eyes on the road. “We can only hope, mate. But it’s the best lead to come our way in over a year. Worth following up, don’t you reckon?”
Kramer didn’t answer. His mind was already churning with plans of what he would do once he got his hands on Harper. He would make sure she died slowly—very slowly. His vision was so blurred with revenge that he failed to notice they were approaching the entrance to Global Security Corporation—home—and the two dogs waiting expectantly behind the heavy gates.