The Consulate Conspiracy, Page 1Oren Sanderson
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The Consulate Conspiracy
Copyright © 2021 Oren Sanderson
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Translation: Yossie Bloch
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When exactly did it start, that chain of events culminating in Jay’s collapse, gurgling, into my arms? The more I think about it, the more I change my mind. When he suddenly collapsed, I was completely overwhelmed and naturally did not think of anything logical except for the name “Freddy” — that, for some unknown reason, got stuck in my mind.
But over time, as the days went by, I stubbornly tried to pinpoint the first moment that started it all, and it’s really hard. It’s like the saying: a butterfly flaps its wings on the other side of the globe, and it makes a tornado in Texas. But who the hell was that butterfly?
For me, it all started with a phone call from my darling boss Noni, the day before Dan Almog, new Consul General of Israel to the Southwest, arrived in Houston. But something else triggered it, long before that hazy afternoon. Something or someone, still waiting around the corner in the dark to strike again. I could sometimes see it in my dreams, sly, tricky, elusive. I think I should have started my little investigation with “Freddy,” but it took me too long to understand that.
I would forget Noni’s phone call almost immediately after I hung up. He had caught me at a bad time, and it seemed unimportant. Like most of his calls.
“You must take good care of the new consul general.” Noni is the vice consul, and he called me at home, just as I was working on the tail unit of the B-24 model I had been assembling for three weeks. It was the J-version of the plane, the classic World War II bomber. You need to appreciate the beauty of the tail unit to understand why the phone call was so inopportune. The plane itself is not very rare. Eighteen thousand Liberator bombers were produced across America, on production lines everywhere, here in Texas too, fifty years ago. I had assembled four models so far and was working on the fifth. The Liberator is an airplane that can do almost anything: transport, refueling, anti-submarine warfare; but first and foremost, it’s a bomber. Its assembly has to be done slowly and patiently. When it comes to this type of work, you just cannot hurry.
“Sure thing,” I answered Noni, after a pause to let him feel that I had given it good consideration, hoping that I’d gotten him off my back.
“He must feel comfortable.” Noni didn’t respect my priorities, he just continued relentlessly. “You must welcome and greet him warmly. Make him feel wanted. Make sure there are no snags, no hurdles.”
I moved him to the speakerphone to keep my hands free for model assembly. The double tail of the plane required concentration.
But Noni went on. In his meandering, he tried to arrive at something else. He tried to find out if I knew something he did not. But what snags was he talking about? What hurdles? Usually Noni’s polished Hebrew delighted me, but now it was a nuisance. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine,” I reassured him, trying to end the conversation as soon as possible.
Noni had been depressed for the entire week. He was about to give up his dream temporary position, which had lasted for all of two months, being in charge of the Israeli Consulate General in Houston — The Man, El Hombre. Our man in Texas. And he liked it. It was a vast region, flooded with endless opportunities daily, if you wanted to be hosted by governors, oil robber barons, old-timey movie starlets, and eccentric millionaires. Well, billionaires to be correct. Practically speaking, it meant being responsible for Israel’s foreign relations in a huge slice of the country, from New Mexico through Oklahoma up into Kansas, then down through into Arkansas and Texas until you turn east to Louisiana and the cherry on top: New Orleans. Nothing like a three hundred fifty mile night ride in a private helicopter to “our own little Paris.”
On the other hand, he had to make a good impression on the new consul general. Noni, a thin, pimply man, was making heartbreaking efforts to dress like a diplomat. He spoke with an air of importance that no one took seriously. He had two more years left to serve in Houston, and he didn’t want the new man to turn them into hell. Efrati, the outgoing consul general, dwarfed Noni during the months that they worked together, treating him with a harsh mixture of condescension and contempt, which pushed Noni with terrible, daily despair into the thick, heavy arms of his vicious wife Shoshi.
That was why I intended to help Noni with or without these snags and hurdles. I was actually helping anyway. The job of an information officer at the consulate was very convenient for me, and I did not intend to endanger it.
Houston was an ideal place for me. It combined the opportunity to study business administration with the second richest Jewish community in the United States. First place was Miami, but not for my interests. It consisted mainly of friendly old people unable to do anything. When they were younger, they had been grasping and ambitious; now they were busy with prostate issues and sometimes with golf. No, Houston was the place for me: out of sight, out of mind, uniquely suited for making money, and acquiring American business experience. But you couldn’t screw up, you couldn’t get in trouble. You didn’t have too many Israelis or other people you knew underfoot.
The only relative I’d had there, Yasek, was considered capable and connected. But shortly after I arrived, he decamped to Florida himself. He had finagled a comfortable business arrangement with a resort; a wealthy widow he’d encountered on one of his trips to Atlantic City had been looking for just such an opportunity. So now I was all alone in H-Town.
One of the first things I did in Houston was to buy sheets of balsa wood from which I could carve airplane model parts with my knife. Oh, I also brought the special enamel paints for professional models. There’s no better way to calm down and relax. And I certainly could have used some relaxation
; the family pressures in Israel had already burst through everywhere.
It was only here in Houston that I began to focus on the Liberator. Efrati, who was a member of the Liberator club, piqued my interest in this unique pursuit. I had one nickel model, which Boeing gives only to a select few. I had another molded plastic model of the H-version of the plane, in which the machine-gun turrets are armored and offer better protection for the crew. The Liberator on which I was working has a double tail that requires extra caution in its assembly. It has special ribs that make it possible to seat a machine gunner underneath.
In Houston, the Liberator club was active, and its members were trying to restore a plane and render it operational. All my attempts to become a member of the club had failed so far. You needed recommendations from registered members of the club, and these were very special and uncommon people.
I did not intend to spoil the festive occasion of the new consul general’s arrival. Noni, on the other hand, as if out of some perverse desire to sink his chances right from the beginning, found some reason or other to travel to New Mexico the same day. Whatever, that was his problem, not mine. I could not let him ruin the reception for Almog.
At the car wash, I was a hard-ass with the Mexican kids working there, so they’d do a good job once it came through the tunnel. The metallic blue color of the Ford Grand Marquis now looked particularly resplendent. The white leather seats added the kind of glamor that suited Israeli consuls general or blue-haired American women. He’d be fine, our new consul general. We’d make sure he’d be in business nice and fast, political appointment or not.
On the way to the airport, I opened the windows and let the desert wind blow. The official car swept across the highway, whisper-quiet, amid the scorched, green and dusty mesquite shrubs. I was quietly humming with the sound system, an Arik Einstein tune.
Terminal D of Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is named after Congressman Mickey Leland, and it is regularly decorated with flags representing the countries of the world, one hundred seventy-eight. Some of them are already torn, but that does not detract from the solemnity of the cosmopolitan atmosphere. In the days of Presidents Johnson and Bush, there had been a lot of VIP arrivals. Now, with the new president from Arkansas, there were fewer.
The air was compressed and tense. The arrival of the new Consul General of Israel to the Southwest was considered an event. There were three uniformed policemen waiting for him at Leland, along with a few plainclothes officers. Then there were Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agents from the State Department, HPD airport police, Texas State Police, and two FBI agents who chewed gum at a steady pace — nervously, mouth closed.
“There was an alert,” said Jay, commander of the airport police, glancing up at me from his height of five foot one, including heels. Gerardo Romero Alfredo Delanconia, better known as Jay, was responsible, and he did not take his job lightly. He circulated among the police officers, looking worriedly as the K9 unit’s dogs sniffed around for explosives, talking with his men in short sentences. He’d never let on that he himself didn’t know what to expect.
The fact that I had served in the IDF, as a squad commander in the legendary Golani Brigade, was enough for him to become a close friend. “Let’s just get through this in one piece, that’s all,” he said frankly as he sidled up to me. “Don’t overreact to the security extravaganza. The biggest danger is keeping the dogs from pissing on the carpets. The general manager, he’s just looking for a reason to fight with me... I never bring the dogs into the passengers’ halls, but the feds insisted this time. Now I’ve got the K9 unit living it up in the halls, panicking the passengers.”
“Well, the feds are right about that. The dogs can’t smell anything from the outside.”
“That’s a real problem here. You gotta be careful.”
“I don’t think that a terror attack is likely,” I said. “But as with any warning, you cannot ignore it.”
“So what are you saying?” His mustache slumped nervously.
“Nothing’s going to happen, but feel free to do whatever you think is necessary.”
“Get a load of that!” Jay blurted out with admiration from under his mustache. A well-endowed flight attendant was passing by us, pulling her rolling luggage like a model on the runway.
“All that for one night?” Jay asked
“Barely enough for one night, Jay.” She smiled back at him. “You have to learn how to invest in love.”
“Oh.” Jay sighed as we watched her disappear. “I would invest anything if she would just let me. I would die to make her my dedicated sex slave.”
“More likely she’d make you her slave,” I said.
“Even better. Tools, toys, electric shocks. Just tell me when and where.”
Jay’s short sleeves threatened to explode, and he was careful to shine his insignia daily. His thick black mustache turned him into a South American generalissimo.
“How are things from your side?” he asked. “It looks really bad. Where are Dorothy and your security guy? What kind of pathetic reception is this? Honestly, it’s a shame. No representative of the governor’s office? Even for the Consul of Sri Lanka, they sent a rep.”
“They gave up after the third time we had to reschedule. You cannot blame them.”
“And where on earth is the vice consul? You know, the shy nerd?”
“He went to New Mexico.”
The heat outside becomes unbearable, and we go back inside the terminal.
“Today out of all days? Not a smart move on his part, on the first day with a new boss.”
“His wife pushed for it, hard. She likes shopping there, the cheap prices.”
“Can you believe that?”
“And he also had a consular matter to settle.”
“You mean the scientists?” I should not be too surprised that Jay knows. They were arrested in a closed military area. “I gotta say, your scientists are in serious trouble. Fuckin’ assholes, if you ask me.”
“I couldn’t say.”
“Well, we’ll see,” Jay said noncommittally. “Anyway, it’s a helluva start with the new guy.” He was trying to make me nervous as he was.
“We’ve already transferred two boxes of his unaccompanied language. Nothing interesting inside. Your new guy, I understand, is a general.”
“Yes, but where we come from, generals are something else. Most of them are very capable.”
“That’s horseshit, man. Generals are the same anywhere in the world. The only difference with you guys, is that you know how to do the job right. You don’t waste time talking, don’t mess with all sorts of regulations, don’t deal with crap from human rights groups about the First Amendment or Fifth or anything. That’s what I call true freedom.”
“Don’t tell me you’re against the Constitution, Jay?”
“No, God forbid!” He put on his John Wayne impression. “The Constitution of the United States is defended by our finest and best people. You know: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and us — law enforcement. We are the last line of defense for our great nation. You, Mickey, should know it better than anyone else.”
“Okay, man,” I said. “Calm down, I have no doubt about that.”
We were strolling in front of the big windows, looking at the runway, waiting for the Delta flight to land. I hoped we’d soon be done with all of this, so I could get back to more important things. The radio on Jay’s collar chirped. “Copy, over,” he barked back.
“A second warning now on a bomb in the airport,” he said. “I don’t know if this is what every senior Israeli representative gets.”
“Completely normal,” I said, because he expected me to say something. “With Efrati, his predecessor, it was the same.”
“No way,” he said abruptly. “It wasn’t like that.”
/> “Well…” I tended to agree. “Perhaps the incoming consul general requires a few new arrangements. It might be a little different.”
“Completely different,” he pronounced, surveying down the hall. He sharply inhaled as he looked around to see if there was anyone hostile or suspicious. Then he spat into a receptable in the corner for the tobacco-chewing public. “See, first warning was about a bomb. The message was that they wouldn’t let a murderer serve here as a diplomat.”
“Just like that? A written message?”
“No, a phone call. Some woman, hysterical.”
“Do you believe there’s a bomb?”
“Doesn’t matter what I believe. There’s an alert, we got to take it seriously. Don’t try to tell me it’s routine. A consul general starting out here being called a murderer? That’s quite a hole he’s gotta dig himself out of to get any respect here.”
“He is not a murderer, and you know that. Don’t play this game. “
“We got a message. We can’t ignore it.”
“Do me a favor, Jay.” I grabbed his elbow to convince him how serious it was. “The guy’s clean as a whistle. He’s one of our best men: honest, brave, decisive. These bomb scares are not good for anything. You told me, that’s enough. Don’t spread it around; it’ll get momentum. You’re doing the bad guys’ work for them.”
“You kidding or what? Whoever told us ain’t gonna keep it as a secret. Wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve already contacted the media.”
“Okay. So, at least, don’t share it with my new boss. The incoming consul general doesn’t deserve to be greeted with this news the second he gets off the plane. Let him breathe a little, Okay?”
Major General Dan Almog had flown on the midnight El Al flight from Tel Aviv to New York’s JFK, from which he’d taken a Delta flight to IAH. It was scheduled to land at eleven fifty in the morning local time. The terminal was empty as Jay returned from another patrol, unable to calm down.
“You know what a buffer is?” he asked me suddenly. It took me a moment to understand what he was talking about.