Boracko Lake, Bosnia-Herzogovina,
Saturday, February 16th, 2019.
Twenty minutes later, when the big red bus pulled to a stop in front of the Nebeski Lodge, Geistmann disappeared before the Dane had fully awakened. He momentarily wondered why a prosperous Danish businessman would choose to travel by bus or train, instead of renting a car. But he quickly surmised the reason, which further heightened his alertness.
Hefting the forest-green bag, he bustled across the Nebeski lobby to the front desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two beefy men, both marked by prison pallor, neither carrying a hunting rifle, and both wearing hiking gear -- cargo shorts (like his own), bush jackets, and sturdy boots -- exit the elevator to his right. The men hurried to the desk, arriving at the same moment he did. They seemed anxious to be on the trail -- it was almost eleven, by now. One of them was clutching a room key. Since the clerk was apparently away from the desk at the moment, Geistmann seized the opportunity.
In his character as a garulous Brit, he greeted them ("Cheerio"), and suggested they leave the key on the desk, rather than waiting. "I'll make sure the clerk gets it. Oh, my! You gents do speak English, don't you?" Their expressions of incomprehension prompted him to switch to bad Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian. "Just leave the key on the desk," he repeated. "I'll make sure the clerk gets it."
The hikers seemed uncertain, but just then, the clerk, a young, tie-and-jacketed local man, materialized from the shadows behind the desk. Dropping the key, and dismissing the English busybody with a brusque nod, the key-bearing hiker exited the Lodge with his partner close behind.
"Good morning," Geistmann said to the clerk, still speaking broken S/C/B. "The name is Casper Featherstone-Whistler. I have a reservation."
"Of course, sir," replied the clerk, in lightly accented English. He proferred a registration card and a gold ballpoint pen. "If you will kindly ... "
Of course," said Geistmann, starting to fill in the card. He had noted from the key, which lay on the desk in front of him, that the hikers' room was 412, which he knew was at the end of the fourth-floor corridor facing the rear of the Lodge. "I've come for the birds," he said, as he wrote. "I'm particularly interested in the Lesser White Front Goose and the kukavica." He pretended to be proud of knowing the S/C/B name for the Common Cuckoo.
"Of course, sir," said the clerk. "Many travelers stop here to view those particular birds."
"Good, good. Do you happen to have a corner room available on a high floor?" asked Geistmann, who knew that the Lodge had only four floors (plus the main one, where there were no guest rooms). He also knew that, in mid-February, most of the rooms must be empty, especially since it had not yet snowed in Bosnia this winter.
"Of course, sir," said the clerk. He produced the floor plan that Geistmann had already studied on the Nebeski website. "You can pick your choice." He circled 401, 405, and 411, which was directly across the hall from 412. Both 411 and 412 adjoined a stairway leading directly out of the building through a side exit.
"Is 412 occupied, then?" asked Geistmann. "Oh, yes, I know it is. Those two gentleman entrusted me with their key a moment ago." He thrust the key toward the clerk. "They were in a hurry to see the birds, I think."
"Oh, no, sir," said the clerk. "They are hikers. I doubt they have any interest in birds." Then, to Geistmann's surprise, he leaned forward and added, in a conspiritorial whisper, "Those two are military men, sir, Lieutenant-Colonels Kasun and Stankovic." He mispronounced the officers' rank as "col-on-els." His facial expression of distaste explained his flagrant disregard of the confidentiality expected of hotel clerks the world over. Or ... was this business proving too easy?
At that moment, out of the corner of his eye, Geistmann saw three men racing toward him with machine pistols poised. Two were the hikers, who had returned through the front entrance. The third was the Dane, who had materialized to his right, presumably from the side entrance at the bottom of the stairs. The clerk had once again disappeared.
In a flash, Geistmann leapt over the desk. Then, not waiting to be shot through the façade, he sprinted into the dark area in back. A moment later, the two soldiers and the Dane, who Geistmann surmised must be a mercenary, all opened fire, riddling the desk and shattering the large mirror behind it. Emitting a scream, followed by several pathetic groans, Geistmann disappeared. Guns at the ready, the three men warily approached the desk.
Before they could get there, the English birder flew through the front door behind them and, with his duffel still slung across a shoulder, felled all three assailants with a single burst from his own machine pistol. As he fired, his mind flashed back to the fantasy version of the primal execution, that of Armande Toularelle. The four corpses merged into a bloody explosion of chicken guts and feathers. Then, from the duffel, he extracted a placard, which he placed on the floor between the corpses of the two soldiers. The message was simple:
As he surveyed the scene for a moment, Geistmann was pleased that his shoulder, which still ached a bit, had not impeded the operation. Chen had done her usual excellent job. Once again, he vaulted the desk, and exiting through the rear door, jogged through a wooded area 200 meters to a secondary, untarred road. The rented SUV was pointed north, toward Konic and Sarajevo.
Putting the hotel registration card in the glove compartment -- a souvenir -- he reloaded the gun, and placed it under the passenger seat with the safety on, so that it would not accidentally fire, on this bumpy road. The binoculars still hung from his neck. To keep them from banging against his sore shoulder, he opened the top button of his heavy shirt, tucked them inside, and closed the button. But checking the rear view mirror, he decided he looked ridiculous, as if he were wearing a pair of false, misshapen breasts. So he undid the button and transferred the binoculars to the glove compartment.
Then he sat motionless for a few seconds, listening to the voice that seemed lately to have invaded his brain. "What's wrong with you, Armande? First, in Hawaii, you get yourself shot by being careless. Then, you set up this Bosnian operation so haphazardly that you almost get shot again. And you only escape by using a gun, yourself, which you almost never did before. Attention to detail, Armande! You used to pride yourself on that. And finally, as you seem not to have noticed, your enemies are now everywhere."
When the voice had finished scolding him, it exited, stage-left. Still motionless, Geistmann realized that, besides his other recent failings, his energy levels were beginning to decline from the stratospheric levels to which he was accustomed. He replied to the voice with a single word,"Age," and at least for the present, it remained offstage, allowing him to get on with his business.
First, he texted Samir Gupta, his man in Vancouver, directing him to arrange for the re-location of Elica and Iosub to someplace new, preferably on the mainland of North America. Since Iosub was now a twenty year-old college student, since Elica had long been entreating her husband to allow her to return to work, and since they must remain well-hidden, the factotum would have his work cut out for him. For the next month, or two, at least, Samir would be forced to earn his ample retainer. Added to that would be the also-substantial costs of the relocation from the Islands. That reminded Geistmann. He must engage in an operation to replenish his resources, which his last bank statement had indicated were seriously depleted. And he must do so very soon, before the problem became critical.
In 2013, when Arnold Weatherbee and Piet Dykstra had been apprehended (thanks mostly, he remembered, to the meddler, John Robinson), both of them had presumably been interrogated. Piet, especially, must have given up the identities of many members of Geistmann's support network, which had vanished like morning mist. Six years later, Geistmann was still scrambling to replace it -- and he was bleeding money.
His financial woes also had other, related causes. After 2013, no longer had he been able to piggy-back onto INTERPOL's or, for that matter, the FBI's tech services. Of course, in the post-Weatherbee-Dykstra era, he had initially subsisted on crumbs from the FBI table. He remembered how Bob Martinez had used two captured BlackBerries to locate the African Cartel's arms dealer, Gaston Cedrescu, so Geistmann could maim him, in Accra. And the FBI had continued to support his work against the Cartel for months, all the way up to the climactic events in Ethiopia and Somalia, which took place, in quick succession, during December 2013.
But even then, most of the Bureau's assistance had been purely operational. He had not been adequately remunerated for doing their bidding, despite the fact that their whopping budget of U.S.$8.4 billion for that year included a substantal tranche for "special agents." He had often speculated about the pay rate of John Robinson, his "partner" (often silent) in the successful campaign to bring down the Cartel.
One particular transaction rubbed salt in the wound. In 2012, when a private undertaking had somehow netted him U.S.$200K that had belonged to a Cameroonian banker, he had donated the money to charity, via one of the Bureau's dummy banks, the Bank for International Cooperation, in the state of Delaware. Now, he wished he had kept the 200K.
During the six years since Africa, other factors had added to his isolation. Beginning in 2016, the division in FBI ranks between pro- and anti-POTUS factions meant that he no longer received any money, at all, from the Bureau. The "Fred faction" still seemed to be in his corner, but who knew for how long? Geistmann deeply resented being collateral damage to bureaucratic squabbles. Even lone wolves sometimes needed the protection of the pack.
His current expenses dwarfed his income. Left largely to his own "devices," besides Samir, Geistmann had been paying daily stipends to four or five oranges scattered across the globe. Since two of them operated out of poor countries, you might have thought their rates would be lower. No such luck! Talent cost money, and the going rate for top techies, no matter where, was an open secret. If he wanted to economize, of course, he could "downsize" these oranges, but then he would have to drastically curtail his use of all electronic devices –no texts, emails or even phone calls, and no Internet -- which would be a form of slow suicide.
Weaponry, too, was no longer cheap. By now, the flood that had accompanied the demise of the Soviet empire had all but dried up. This was thanks, primarily, to the ever-growing needs of the ever-growing numbers of terrorists, separatists, revolutionaries, ethnic supremacists -- whatever. Then, there were the forgers, who serviced the same burgeoning clientele, and the bribe-takers: the myriad corrupt military personnel and law-enforcement officials, whom Arnold and Piet had somehow managed to keep in check.
Geistmann had a particular scorn for self-pitiers, but thanks to financial embarassment, he felt himself slipping into their ranks. As he sank into these gloomy thoughts, the inner voice strode back onto the stage: "You've said it, yourself, Armande, the root problem is not money, but age. Ten years ago, you would have batted these problems away as if they were gnats. Now you sit there feeling sorry for yourself. Get a grip!"
Forcing himself to obey this stern admonition, Geistmann fired up the engine of the SUV, and drove off through the woods. "Of course, I favor gun control," he announced to the world, tossing his weapon through the window into a convenient pond. "But the rules should apply to everyone." As he accelerated to 65 kph , he burst into a favorite song, singing it, as usual, in the language in which it sounded silliest:
"Baa Baa be'be' noir, As tu du a laine?"
[Baa baa, black sheep, Have you any wool?]
If readers are interested in Reading Geistmann, it is available as a free PDF from the author. Please visit www.ronsinger.net for contact information.
And Geistmann in Africa (Geistman II):