Books: Baden-Powell's Beads: London (Book 2)

London Beads (Book 2)Synopsis: The mystery of the beads continues.

Homeland Security agents, Patrick Dartson and Adnan Fazeph, are at their base in Washington D.C. when a beautiful, Mediterranean seductress, Cheri Hassan, confronts them about the Zulu beads. One day later, Patrick receives a panicked call from Memphis nurse, Pam Blanchard, concerned that a dangerous and sexy woman is asking for Dr. David Freeman, a holder of the Zulu bead. Freeman receives a cryptic letter from England, strongly requesting an audience.

All roads lead to London where we learn more of the beads’ history and how they came to South Africa. What do Arabs working through Scotland Yard want with them? How and why are the Rastafarians involved? Why would someone pay Cheri one million pounds per bead? What makes them worth the life of one of our four heroes? And why are those hunting the beads so anxious to get them out of London?

 

Sample Chapters - Chapters 1 & 2

C H A P T E R   1

London, England
April, 2005

So what if a few Zulus had to die.

Agent Raoul Livingston pushed away from his desk, rolling his chair toward the picture window at his back. At the last possible moment, he spun the chair and landed his feet squarely on the coffee table. From his vantage on the twentieth floor of the New Scotland Yard building, he could see Westminster Abbey and the Thames River several blocks east.

He studied his reflection in the glass. Approaching his forty-fifth birthday, he could see more of his father’s Egyptian face staring back at him. At least he still had a head full of dark, straight hair— compliments of his English mother. Might be a few pounds heavier than in his youth, but still in great shape. At six-foot two and with his strength and experience, he could take on any of the younger agents.

 Most days, overcast prevailed here in the great city of London. This morning’s sun burned brightly through the tinted glass. He leaned back and soaked up its rays. Reminded him of another place, another time…

“Mister Livingston,” the phone speaker squawked.

“What is it, Marjorie?” he responded, not opening his eyes.

“A courier here to see you, sir. Says he has something he can give only to you.”

Livingston bolted upright in his chair and rolled back to his desk. “Put the package through the screens and send him in. I’ve been expecting this.” His pulse quickened as he cleared a space on his desk. Finally.

“Oh, and sir—Mister Churchill is right behind him and looks to be in a hurry.”

“Stall Churchill. I’ll just be a minute.”

“I’ll try, sir, but you know how he—”

“Thank you, Marjorie,” Livingston said, cutting the connection.

He peered more closely at the monitor on his desk as a man appeared outside his office door, carrying a small package. Livingston’s excitement continued to build. Even in this day of terrorism, he had no fear of this package, contents unknown. To be allowed into this part of the building, the courier had already passed a background check and been through two screening points. Nevertheless, Marjorie stopped him and while yet another agent patted the man down, she ran the small box through a scanner used on all incoming mail. Apparently satisfied, her back still toward the camera through which Livingston watched, she gave the thumbs up. Livingston pressed the buzzer on his desk and the lock on the office door clicked open. Marjorie directed the courier in.

The slight man marched to the front of Livingston’s desk and snapped to attention. His dress was not anything that would draw attention, but Livingston noted the crisp appearance of the shirt and jacket and the tight crease in the pants, shoes shined, hair short and neat. Even the man’s hands looked well tended, though strong.

“Sir.” He stared straight ahead, holding the package in one hand at arm’s length, thrusting it toward the director of SO13, Special Operations, Anti-Terrorist Branch.

“At ease, Barton. We’re civilians now, remember.” Livingston reached for the package.

Barton crossed his hands behind his back and assumed the formal ‘at ease’ stance.

Livingston shook his head, but did little else to discourage this disciplined behavior. The Yard would be better if they could recruit men like Barton.

“Where’d you get this?” he asked the smaller but no less formidable man.

“Normal channels, sir. From across the pond, I believe. Hand delivered.”

Livingston caught Barton glancing his way and had to stifle the urge to chastise the formerly lower ranking field officer. The young man was a valuable asset, one of several working not for the Yard, but for Livingston directly: his own small personal army.

“Any messages come with it?”

“Just one, sir. ‘Fourth still at large.’ ”

“What?”

“‘Fourth still at large,’ sir.”

Livingston studied Barton face. If he knew more than he was telling, he was doing a damned good job of covering it up.

Marjorie’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Mister Churchill insists on being seen immediately, sir.”

Livingston drew a deep breath and let it out. “Very well. Send him in.” Placing the package on his desk, he leaned forward on his knuckles. “That will be all, Barton. Thank you.”

“Sir.”

Livingston caught the slightest beginnings of the ingrained snap salute, but Barton was able to stifle it. Pivoting on his heels, he marched from the Director’s office, passing a very steamed Churchill. Barton acknowledged him with a curt nod. Churchill stormed past the younger man and headed straight to Livingston, who stood behind his desk. Churchill’s blustering cowed the younger staff, but Livingston, secure in his position, did not fear the man technically in charge of British intelligence.

“Good morning, Mister Churchill. May I offer you some tea?” He knew Churchill had little patience or time for small talk, which was exactly why Livingston tried.

“Stow it, Livingston. Anything you’d like to tell me—or do I have to drag it out of you?”

“Please, pull up a chair, sir,” he said, gesturing to the high-backed, hand-carved seat to the right of the desk. Moving from behind the desk, he crossed to the ornate tea setting on the credenza to his left in front of the window. Churchill made no move to sit.

“Mind if I fix myself a spot, sir? Haven’t had any since breakfast and I’m afraid I’m developing a dreadful headache.”

“Tell me what you know about these killings in America—state of Tennessee, I believe.” The look on his face did not appear to be one of information seeking. Livingston suspected he already knew all the critical details.

“Only what I’ve read in the reports, sir. Dreadful business, really. Three African nationals. Two shot and one strangled. Apparently involved in kidnapping some Americans. Had it coming, from what I can see.”

“Any connection with the unsolved murders here—the elderly gents?” When Livingston didn’t respond immediately, Churchill pounced. “You have anything to do with this?”

“What, with the killings, you mean?” Livingston looked up from his tea as he continued to stir in the cream and sugar. “Certainly not. I wouldn’t object, though, if it proved to be the solution to our little problem.”

“The Americans said they can account for two of the killings, but that of the third remains a mystery. They say they talked with you during their investigation and you were aware of their goings-on. Is that true?”

“Quite right, sir, but our involvement stops there, I assure you.” He sipped his tea and smacked his lips. “The American agent thought there perhaps to be some connection with our killings. I merely confirmed we were investigating some African nationals as possible suspects.”

“Zulus?”

“Well, yes sir. But we have no solid connection to our cases. We are making progress, though.”

“We lose three elderly citizens, suspected victims of murderous Zulus, and now three Zulus, running amuck in America turn up dead and you don’t see the connection?”

“I didn’t say that, sir. If the two events are related, we’ll know soon enough.” He again sipped from his cup, holding the saucer with his other hand. “Sure I can’t interest you in some tea? It’s really quite good. Special blend I’ve imported from—”

“The South African ambassador is raising hell with the Prime Minister, who in turn is demanding answers from me. I want answers, Mister Livingston. And I want the right answers. I’m going to tell the PM we had no involvement in the slayings in America and offer our help in the investigation. Anything you wish to add?”

“No, sir. I think that about covers it.”

“Don’t let me find your fingerprints on this, Livingston. I’ll have you in the Tower.”

Churchill stared a hole through him. Striking Livingston’s desk with his fist, he turned and stormed from the room.

The door slammed and Livingston watched on the monitor as the Director of Scotland Yard raced past Marjorie’s desk, sweeping his arm across the top and brushing a pile of papers off onto the floor. Marjorie glanced up at the camera and shrugged.

Livingston gently placed the delicate tea cup onto the saucer and pulled his chair to his desk. Opening the top drawer, he extracted a small but lethal looking letter opener and broke the seals on the recently delivered package. Inside was a wooden humidor containing twenty hand-rolled, expensive, Cuban cigars—his favorite blend. He lifted each individually, caressing them between his fingers and running them beneath his nose. Seventeen he returned to the box and placed in a drawer of his desk. The remaining three cigars, he lined up side by side on the mat covering the desk top. These felt different to his experienced fingers. Frowning as though preparing to sacrifice his children, he slit open the rolled leaf of the first. Tobacco spilled onto his neat desktop. Probing the stogie with the letter opener, he teased out a small wooden bead. Repeating the process twice more with each of the other two cigars produced the same results.

He swung the magnifying lamp on his desk over the beads. Poking them with the letter opener, he examined them from all sides, memorizing the patterns of carvings. Through how many hands had these ornate little items passed? How much had changed in the world since their creation?

He swept the beads into an envelope and crossed to the wall safe on the left side of the room. Pressing his eye to the retinal scanner, he spun the dial back and forth until he heard the familiar click of the lock opening. Placing the envelope inside the safe, he removed a small phone and pressed one button for the stored number.

Talata bass,” he said in Arabic. Three only.

Closing the flip phone, he moved to secure the safe when the same phone rang. Livingston paused, frozen in place. This phone was for one way communication—message delivery only. Never was it to be used for conversation.

The phone rang again. Slowly, he removed it from the safe, sweat popping out on his brow and upper lip. Again it rang.

Opening the flap, he put the phone to his ear. “Yes,” he mumbled, as though someone might be listening from within the sound-proof room of his office.

“Get other bead. You will be contacted for delivery of the three,” said the muffled voice in Arabic.

The line went dead. Livingston stood staring at the phone. Carefully, he replaced it and secured the safe. He returned to his desk and swept the ruined cigars into a large ash tray. Lighting the leaf produced the soothing aroma he knew so well. A shame to burn all three, but he could get more. He was anxious to hear the story of the retrieval of the three beads. Why was the fourth not included?

Pulling up a secure site on his computer, Livingston checked off three names. Twenty-one more, but he had leads on all of these. All except the one in America that had belonged to Alphonse Baroni. Was that the missing fourth bead and if so, who had it now? Was his agent in the U.S. still in pursuit of it, or awaiting orders? Hopefully, the latter. The beads had gone missing for over a hundred years. A few more days wouldn’t matter.

 

^top

C H A P T E R   2

Washington, D.C.

Patrick Dartson and Adnan Fazeph occupied the only two chairs in front of the vacant desk of the Director of Homeland Security. Michael Cisneros was a soft spoken man with the media, but not behind closed doors. With the recent terrorist threats from London, he would not be a happy man today. The two agents shifted nervously in their chairs, but did not discuss the recent events in Memphis. Never knew who might be listening. Three African nationals had been killed, and Adnan was responsible for one of these. He’d also shot and killed a woman supposedly traveling with the Zulus. Though justifiable, they were hardly necessary in the name of national security.

Cisneros entered his office and quietly ignored the two agents, now standing in front of his desk. He shuffled a few papers into a drawer, pulled his chair up tight, and leaned on his forearms, hands clasped loosely. He looked from Patrick to Adnan.

“We’ve got terrorists in London threatening to blow up subways, air traffic around the world in a panic, and you two are off on a lark in Memphis, hunting Zulus! This had better be good.”

Patrick spoke first, as he usually did in these situations. His team had been called on this carpet before.

“Sir, we were following leads from the British on suspected murderers from Africa, now in the U.S. As it turns out, terrorism of the masses wasn’t their aim, but they did pose a threat to some Americans. We tried to take the Zulus alive, but that didn’t work out. The killings were necessary, as I explained in my report.” Patrick kept his eyes on the Director.

“That’s not the issue, Agent Dartson. Why weren’t the locals handling this case, or the FBI? Why was an anti-terrorism SWAT team in the middle of this?”

Patrick was aware the Director knew the answer to that one, so he owned up.

“The target was a friend of mine, sir.”

Cisneros stood and paced the small space behind his desk. Patrick glanced at Adnan, who shrugged and raised his eyebrows. Both men stood quietly at attention.

Finally, Cisneros let out a deep breath and his face softened.

“I’m not really upset,” he said, gazing out his window, his back toward the agents. “Your job is to sniff out these things and act on them, nipping them before they mushroom into media events. I understand this will occasionally lead down a strange path. Under the circumstances, I think you did well, but officially, you’ve been reprimanded and placed on two weeks administrative leave while the killings are investigated.”

Patrick felt the tension flow from his jaws. He knew his partner was feeling the same, but he also knew the Director wasn’t finished.

“What you men do with those two weeks is your business.” He looked from one to the other. “I’d appreciate it if you’d do nothing requiring a submitted report. Understand what I’m telling you?”

The agents traded knowing glances and smiled at the Director.

“Yes sir. Very much. Thanks be to you sir, and a blessing on your family. May all your days—”

“Get the hell out of here,” Cisneros said, obviously trying hard and unsuccessfully to stifle a grin at Adnan’s supplicant act. It was no secret that Adnan Fazeph was an invaluable tool to their organization because of his ability to blend into terrorist cells. His normal speaking voice had a slight British tinge, as his parents had been British nationals of Middle East origin. His broken English was an act—one he constantly practiced. Since their deaths at the hands of radical Muslims while teaching at the American University of Beirut, Adnan had devoted his life to combating these vermin terrorists.

Patrick grabbed his friend by the arm and pulled him from the Director’s office. Adnan continued to face the Director, making small bows on his way out the door.

#

Once safely outside and away from security cameras, Patrick lightly backhanded Adnan across the shoulder. “What the hell was that? We’re getting reamed by Cisneros and you’re acting like it’s all a big joke.”

“Come on. You know he not mad. He go through motions to satisfy someone on Hill. Besides, I think he like my poor little immigrant routine.”

“You do read him better than I do, but still, that was risky.” Patrick glanced at his watch. “What’s your take on this two-week leave business?”

“I think he give us license to find killer of big Zulu, as long as we do it below radar screen.” Adnan replied.

“Good. That’s what I thought also.”

“You still have list of names of bead holders?”

“Sure,” Patrick replied. “But why would Banta’s killer leave Memphis? He knows there’s a fourth bead and probably has guessed David Freeman has it. You’d think he’d go after that one.”

“What’s big deal anyway? We know why Banta wanted it. Had something to do with his brother being killed and Zulu history. You think other killer is Zulu also?”

“Possible, but I doubt it. I can’t shake the feeling the Brits are involved somehow.”

“But why would British want beads?” Adnan asked.

“Money, power, tradition, I don’t know. But someone nearly beheaded Banta just for the three beads he’d gone to so much trouble to collect. There’s a big piece of this puzzle missing.” Patrick steered Adnan toward the car. “We assume the beads originated in South Africa and were brought to England by Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, over a century ago. He presented one to each of the original nineteen Scoutmasters he’d trained in Gilwell Park, outside of Chingford, England. I assumed the beads were made by the Zulus. Maybe that’s wrong.”

They approached their car. Patrick worked the keyless lock and Adnan climbed into the passenger side.

“Maybe Banta’s killer will simply ask David for bead,” Adnan said.

“But why hadn’t he done that before? Why all this business of letting the Africans do the dirty work with the bead holders being ritually beheaded? It doesn’t make sense.”

“You think Freemen would surrender bead if asked?”

“Doubt it. You saw how reluctant he was to give it to me. He’s got some strange attachment to it.” Patrick drew his mouth tight and stared at the road as they pulled into traffic. “You hungry? Want to stop somewhere and get a bite before going home?” He knew the answer to that one before asking. Adnan was always ready to eat. Patrick worked out hard to maintain his athletic build. He had no clue how Adnan stayed so thin, yet ate like a starving refugee.

“Yes. Very much. You pick. Adnan so hungry, could eat a—”

“Yeah, I know. You could eat a goat. You’re starting to smell like one too.”

Adnan jerked his head toward Patrick, raising one arm and sniffing his pit.

“Really? Oh, no. This very bad, very bad. What if we meet ladies in restaurant? How this happen? I shower three days ago. You take me home. I put on more deodorant before eating.”

Patrick laughed. It felt good to get away from the tension.

#

Cheri Hassan followed two cars behind, her long black tresses dancing in the wind whistling over the convertible. She checked her make-up in the rearview mirror, not so much because it needed attention, but to play the part. The car she tailed pulled into a popular D.C. restaurant, one frequented by the young, single, on-the-move crowd. One lap around the crowded block would give the two men ample time to be seated. Pulling into the parking garage, she watched for a reaction from the attendant. There it was—she got it. Her strength was her ability to turn heads and she constantly checked it, just as she religiously checked the ammunition in the small .32 semi-automatic in her handbag. In a town loaded with women trading on their looks, she worried that at age 33, the leers might one day stop.

Once in the restaurant, it took only a moment to find them. Their position in a booth against the far wall made her work harder. Tipping the hostess, Cheri pointed to the table she wanted; a small, high, two-seater, positioned to catch the eye of the agents. Flipping her hair over her shoulder, she dropped behind the young lady so as to afford everyone a full view. With shoulders back, head held high exposing her long neck and ample cleavage, high-heels complimenting her shapely slim legs minimally covered by her tight micro-mini skirt, she presented taller than her five-foot seven frame. Appearing oblivious to the stir she created, Cheri followed to her table, thanked the hopelessly outclassed young woman, and positioned her bar chair around the small elevated table so as to afford the two men a good view. Gliding into the seat, she crossed her legs, somehow slowing the passage of time in the process, or so it would seem to the hoard of men who would tell their buddies about this later.

The young, not-so-bored-anymore waiter immediately took her drink order as she opened the menu to peruse the day’s offerings. Most D.C. women would go blind before donning reading glasses in public, but the confident air with which she placed a pair on the tip of her nose only added to her allure. She only needed them in dim light anyway. 

#

Patrick looked past Adnan to the spectacle unfolding before him in the poorly lit D.C. eatery. The small warning signal that flashed in his brain was quickly snuffed by the surge of the primal male. From off in the distance, he heard a familiar voice calling for him, searching…

“Patrick. Patrick. You hear what I say? Have you had the tilapia? I no feel like steak tonight.” Patrick felt his friend place a hand on his arm. “Hey, man. You okay?”

Patrick shook his head and blinked his eyes a few times.

“You might as well turn and look,” Patrick said. “Everyone else in the place is.”

Adnan shifted in his seat and glanced over his right shoulder in the direction indicated by his friend. Years of training and field experience dissolved as the agent did a not-so-subtle double take.

“Smooth, man. Real smooth,” Patrick said.

“Middle-Eastern, early thirties, man-eater. Maybe I should take this one,” Adnan said.

“No. You get the tilapia. I’ll be right back.”

Patrick slid from the booth and ambled across the few feet separating them from the woman.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I couldn’t help but notice you might be dining alone. Would you care to join us?” Patrick stood before her, bending low enough to be heard above the din of the restaurant.

Looking up with friendly eyes, the beauty replied, “And how do you know I don’t charge by the hour?” The accent was British with just a touch of Arabic.

“Just a hunch, though I’m sure you could command top dollar.” He threw her his best grin. “My guess is you’re a spy.”

“Very good. And what do you do?”

“Oh, I’m just a writer,” Patrick said, the warning light in his head getting brighter.

“Written anything I’d know?”

“One small book: The Iliad. Ever heard of it?”

“So you would be Homer.”

“No, he’s Homer,” Patrick said, pointing to Adnan, who waved and stuffed in another mouthful of chips. “I’m Jethro. And you would be…?” he asked, extending his hand.

“I’m Elli May,” she said, taking his hand in her long, slim, yet strong grip.

Beautiful, quick, intelligent, well-versed in American pop culture—there’s more here, he thought. Her grip tightened.

“Listen…Jethro, I’m a little tired. Don’t think I’ll have any dinner tonight. All I really need is that small wooden bead you have, then I’ll be on my way.”

Worlds collided. Patrick jerked his hand away as though burned and straightened his back. Though he tried not to lose his poker face, the request had been so startling, he wasn’t sure he’d pulled it off.

“Oh no, you’ll have to work harder than that.” He fell back into his confident banter. “I don’t give things to strange ladies before dinner. Join us?”

“No thanks. I think we’re done here… Jethro. Pleasure meeting you,” she said, releasing his hand and gathering her things. Downing the rest of her cocktail, she stood, adjusted her skirt, smiled and vanished from the scene.

Patrick let out the breath he must have been holding. It was rare for him to be bested in a one-on-one confrontation, be it verbal or physical. Feeling dazed, he returned to the table and seated himself across from his partner.

“That no take long. I could do that bad,” Adnan said.

“She asked me for the bead.”

“Yeah, right,” Adnan said, chuckling.

“I’m serious. She said she wanted the wooden bead I had.”

“But you no have bead.”

“I know that…and now she does too, I’ll bet.”

#

Cheri pulled out of the garage, working into traffic. The Homeland Security agent didn’t have the bead in his possession. Of that, she was sure. No need to play the game and wake up in some strange apartment. Throw them an early curve ball and watch for the reaction. Never fails.

The Zulu, Banta Manjabe, had only three of the beads when she killed him. The fourth must still be in Memphis, with that doctor. Should have checked before she left, but things had gotten too hot. No, she’d done the right thing. Retrieving the bead from Dr. David Freeman would be easy.

The evening air blew cool across the olive skin of her bare arms and legs. She ignored the cat calls and undisguised stares as she worked her way through traffic. She’d need to get to Memphis soon; tonight, if she could catch a late flight. The downside of tipping your hand early was the need for speed. The two Homeland Security agents would waste no time.

 

^top

Photo credits: Guitar © by Alexandr Mitiuc; Caduceus © by James Steidl; Fleur De Lis © by aves — Fotolia.com