Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan 1998

Reads: 131  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan 1998 was a ghost written piece by one of favorite people. It is a fanciful recount of younger and given to me as a birthday present.

Submitted: September 27, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 27, 2016

A A A

A A A


1.  There was someone in his room. Instantly RC was completely awake. A rustle, a movement, something, it didn’t matter what had triggered his senses and he was as fully awake as if it were midday. He still hadn’t moved, was still lying on his side in bed, but every muscle was tensed and ready, every sense straining to detect the intruder. One eye opened a crack and still without moving, RC surveyed as much of the room as he could. The light in the room was barely grayish: outside day was approaching. There was a darker shadow coming out of the pool of darkness near the door, slowly advancing towards the bed. It must have been the click of the lock that had awakened RC. RC’s mind raced: his only advantage lay in the fact that his assailant presumed him to be asleep. His fists clenched under the covers as the intruder drew nearer. As the figure bent over him, RC’s fist suddenly flew out and caught the intruder in the throat, while a powerful kick caught the man in the groin and sent him sprawling backward across the room, in the process causing him to drop the wicked looking 8-inch blade he held in his hand. In the next moment, RC was out of bed, had snatched the knife, and was standing with his foot on the man’s throat, but further measures were not necessary. RC’s kick had sent him flying and in his awkward landing, the man had struck his head against the corner of a table and was out cold.

RC stopped for a moment to think. What did this intruder want of him? Left alive, what further damage would he do? And, perhaps most importantly, did he have a confederate outside the door, waiting for him? R did not dare risk a light, but opened the curtains slightly to let in some of the breaking daylight and knelt down to examine his assailant. He was short, less than 5’8, slim, and dark olive skin, black hair and beard. RC rose to look out the window. He was on the ninth floor of the hotel, in a room facing the rear and looking over a service alley. Under the windows of the floor below ran a narrow ledge a somewhat grim architectural flourish that seemed to serve no real purpose. In less than a minute the inert form of the intruder lay on the ledge, out of sight to anyone who chanced down the alley and in a rather difficult position from which to extricate himself, when he finally came to.

Silently, RC pulled his windows shut and closed his curtains to within a fraction of being shut. In the dim light remaining in his room he moved noiselessly over to the door. The lock and doorframe showed no obvious signs of damage the entry had been a professional job. RC relocked the door and stood with his ear against it for a full minute. No sounds came from the corridor outside. Satisfied that his assailant had been alone, RC propped up the pillows on his bed and lay down again upon it.

Sighing, he shook a cigarette out of the pack on the table beside the bed and glanced at his watch. He would not sleep again before his 7:30 wakeup call, a full two hours from now. He had arrived in Baku late and had not checked in to the hotel until after 1:00, hoping for four or five hours of sleep before the round of meetings scheduled to begin at 9:00.

2. Baku, long a backwater of the Soviet system, had suddenly captured the notice of the world. RC was not the only outsider there the town was crawling with Americans, Brits, Arabs, Russians, even Germans and French. They were all there for only one reason oil.

Vast pools of oil lay under the Caspian Sea. The thought of it caused spasms of pleasure in a host of disparate groups: the governments of the surrounding countries who saw varying degrees of national and personal wealth within their grasps; the oil companies dreaming of the enormous profits to be made from extraction; the governments of countries jousting for the pipelines and shipping routes required to bring this liquid gold to market; and those countries that dreamed of cheaper imports. In the next tier down, the oil support companies, pipeline builders, and suppliers were jostling each other for their own front row positions at the party. Finally, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its jackbooted police forces had permitted the rise of dozens Mafias and crime syndicates in all the former states, willing to sell themselves and their services many times over to any and all bidders. They were lurking around the edges of the legitimate negotiations with no pretense of anything but greed.

The US had finally, with a combination of diplomacy, pleading, and not too subtle threats of military might, forced an agreement among the nations involved on shipping routes. Deadly afraid that the wealth of the Caspian would flow through Iran (one of the most logical routes for a pipeline) and give yet more economic power to its enemy, the US had muscled through an agreement that the oil would flow west, across Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, and link to existing routes in Turkey and thence to Turkish ports. This plan ignored the bitter hatreds between the peoples of these countries and their deep mutual distrust. It also ignored Russia’s desperate need for capital and strong belief that any claims made of oil by its former states rightly belonged to Russia. Other nations left out of the potential bounty to be reaped by the transport route were also making last ditch attempts to plead their cases or destroy those with better: Chechnya, Iran, Iraq, even Kazakhstan all had what they believed to be legitimate claims.

Nonetheless, representatives of all interested nations had gathered in Baku to initial the proposed pipeline agreement and to establish the rules of ownership of oil that lay under an international sea. For while the stick of international pipeline routes had been laid down, the carrot of national ownership of oil reserves was open to generous interpretation. Today final negotiations were to take place; the signing was scheduled to be held at the presidential palace the following day.

R was in Baku for a nutritional health care conference, coincidentally running at the same time. He was to present a paper that afternoon on nutritional abnormalities in populations bordering the Aral Sea area, and over the course of the three day conference he planned to attend other presentations and spend some time at the Ministry of Health, reviewing new programs to address some peculiar nutritional deficiencies recently discovered in Azerbaijan.

RC doubted that the shadowy figure that had seemed so bent on taking his life was enraged over nutritional studies. How knows however, he thought to himself smiling.

3. RC was dressed and waiting in the lobby of the hotel that morning when he was approached by a young, attractive woman. Are you RC, she asked. Receiving a nod in assent, she went on. I’ve been assigned as your guide and translator. She introduced herself as Ludmila and directed RC to a small black car. We will go first to the Ministry of Health, offered Ludmila, You will have plenty of time; you are not scheduled to make your presentation until 11:00. Ludmila climbed into the back seat with RC as the driver swung out into early morning Baku traffic.

As they drove through town, Ludmila chatted to RC about herself she was a graduate student in anthropology her family, her knowledge of English. RC listened with scant attention. He was wondering why their driver was heading away from downtown towards what was clear even to a stranger was a lower class neighborhood. Suddenly the driver veered the car into a side street and screeched to a stop.

Without even thinking, RC threw Ludmila to the floor of the car and threw himself on top of her. At the same moment, the roar of automatic weapons rang out and the car was sprayed with rounds of bullets. There was a pause in the shots. RC raised his head. The driver, betrayed by his fellow conspirators, was slumped over the wheel with a bullet through the neck. RC could see no one in the streets around him, but knew that his attackers were only waiting for a sign of movement from him to open fire again. At that moment, however, a delivery van turned into the street. Finding his way blocked, the driver leaned out the window and began to shout. R climbed to the front seat, shoved the driver out the door and sped away.

Following directions offered by the badly shaken Ludmila, RC negotiated his way to the Ministry of Health. Betraying no sign of their difficulties en route, RC made his way to the podium to deliver his paper and address the questions and comments of his colleagues. The paper was a huge success and he was invited join the Minister for lunch. The oil conference was the chief topic on the minds of everyone and even in this well-informed company there was wild speculation as to what benefits the new money would bring and who would enjoy them. Although he nodded in agreement at the grand plans of the Minister, RC privately doubted that much of the oil boon would trickle down into the villages and towns of Azerbaijan.

After lunch, RC asked if he could use a vacant office for an hour before going on to his next appointment. Sitting in a quiet corner of the Ministry, RC up-linked his laptop via a scrambled satellite frequency and checked his email. Scrolling down the list of messages, he stopped at an unexpected name. Why in hell is Pete Cheswick sending something to me, he thought. He and Pete had worked together out in Ethiopia a couple of years previously; the last RC knew, Pete had settled in Nairobi as project manager on a nutrition program supplying refugee camps in Sudan. Idly, RC opened Pete’s message, but as he read it, he straightened and a look of pain crossed his face.

Hi RC:

Haven’t heard from you in a while hope everything is going well.

Life is pleasant enough in Nairobi, but it’s a bitch trying to get anything done. Do you remember Laurie Chisholm she was in Addis with us for a bit. Anyway, she got into a spot of trouble assaulted out on the road while she was in Uganda. Driver killed, Laurie’s in hospital in London. Took a little while to get her there you know how that works.

I thought you might want to know. If I’ve misremembered, sorry for passing on a bit of depressing gossip.

Look us up next time you’re in town Jane and I would love to entertain you.

Pete

Pete hadn’t misremembered at all, he just didn’t know the real story, but then, no one did beside him and Laurie. A flood of memories washed over RC before he could shut them out. Laurie’s laughter, Laurie’s eyes looking over at him from across a dinner table, Laurie’s frown of concentration as she focused on her work. Laurie’s body, small and neat, her skin soft and white and silky, her gentle touch. Laurie’s passionate lovemaking, her cries as she lay beneath him, their desires melding into one. For two years he had loved Laurie. The look of pain on her face when he left her the last time rose unwanted to his mind and he struggled to clamp it out and return to his messages.

The anguish on his face was only momentary. RC’s features reassumed their usual even, pleasant arrangement. He read through the rest of his messages, sending instructions to his assistant, greetings to his mother, responding to a query from an associate. Finally, almost as an afterthought, he answered Pete Cheswick:

Pete:

Thanks for letting me know about Laurie. What a shame; I hope she will be all right.

I may be in Nairobi in the fall and will certainly be by to see you and Jane.

RC

He sent one more message off to a friend in London before signing off and heading out to US Embassy, collecting Ludmila on his way.

4. RC told Ludmila to return for him in an hour and entered the embassy alone. Escorted by a staffer, he passed through the more public offices on the first floor and took an elevator down to a basement three floors below. In a conference room guarded by marines, a group was working around a large table. RC recognized the Secretary of State and the Vice-President surrounded by a phalanx of undersecretaries and aides, all studying piles of documents. A gray, middle aged man with a slight paunch came forward at RC’s entrance. This was Alex, RC’s friend and chief contact within the US government.

Ah, there you are, he said, shaking RC’s hand. Glad you could make it. I understand you had a little trouble this morning.

Nothing too serious, said RC. RC put his briefcase down on the corner of the table and opened it. Taking a few sheets of paper out, he walked over and handed them to the Secretary of State.

I think this is what you’ve been waiting for, he said, smiling only briefly.

Yes, I believe it is, sighed the Secretary. I think this is the last piece we needed before we could announce the treaty at the conference tomorrow. Thank you very much.

What RC had brought was an agreement, signed by the government of Iran, that it would no longer block the proposed pipeline route. The negotiations had been long and acrimonious and the agreement bitterly opposed by fundamentalist elements within the country. RC had finally gotten the government to initial it only the day before.

RC shook the Secretary’s hand and turned to leave the room. Alex joined him at the door.

You’ll be with us at the reception tonight? RC shook his head. I thought as much. Well, good luck. I’ll see you in a few days in DC.

The faithful Ludmila was waiting for RC as he emerged from the embassy. Linking her arm through his, she led him toward the waiting car with no driver this time.

I never thanked you for saving me this morning. Isn’t there something I can do to show how grateful I am? Perhaps you will let me take you to my favorite club for a drink. I’m sorry, Ludmila, but I must return now to the hotel.

As they pulled up in front of the hotel, Ludmila said, I will see you tonight, won’t I? There’s a dinner and dance for everyone at the conference.

RC leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. Of course, I’ll try to meet you there. Thanks for your help today you were fantastic.

But that evening, as the Secretary of State clinked glasses with her counterpart from Russia and the nutritionists sweated to the strains of a loud band under a disco ball, RC was strapping himself into a seat on the British Air overnight flight to London. But here his thoughts were of his next assignment in the mountainous country of Kazakhstan in Central Asia bordering China, Russia and Tibet.

The End


© Copyright 2017 Richard Columbia, PhD.. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments: