Dirty Bop to Blighty: part 1

NAW_1_Queen

fiction by Diana Deverell

FBI Special Agent Dawna Shepherd leaned on the railing of the Queen of Scandinavia’s topmost deck and glared at the Norwegian coast.

July sun glinted off saltwater and seagulls argued over the thrum of four engines as the ferry plowed between a long, windswept island and the scenic shore.

Morose, Dawna inhaled coconut-scented suntan oil overlaid by diesel exhaust fumes and tried to relax her taut shoulder muscles.

Why was she feeling so twitchy?

She was supposed to be herding eighteen East European police officers through an on-board conference, but she’d left them congregated at the open-air Sky Bar where most were enjoying a late afternoon smoke break. She’d climbed one deck higher to avoid conversation while she tried to pinpoint what was setting off her BS- detector.

When she spotted Armenian cop Alek Talatinian peering at her from the top of the stairs, she knew her time for thinking was up.

Threading his way through half-clad ferry passengers sunning themselves, he bounced with each stride and the strong sea breeze was ruffling his shaggy salt-and-pepper hair to an Einstein-do. Clearly, he was bursting to tell her something.

Like the other participating cops, he was a graduate of the eight-week leadership training course offered by the FBI-sponsored International Law Enforcement Academy, the ILEA, in Budapest.

Dawna had been his class coordinator and she’d seen him single-handedly resolve the mock bank robbery that was a standard part of the course. Man was sharp—and excitable.

She put her concerns on hold and returned to the only task she’d been given by the conference leader: keep the participants focused on the training topic.

Alek was in his mid-40s—at least five years older than Dawna and definitely five inches shorter than her six foot three. And he was very pleased with himself.

“You cannot fool me,” he crowed. “I know what you are planning.”

“Of course you do.”

Dawna relaxed with her back against the railing to avoid towering over the hirsute Armenian and tilted the brim of her ball cap to give him a clear view of her lips as she spoke slow, non-Texas English.

“The conference agenda states precisely what will happen during the modules tonight and tomorrow morning before we dock in Newcastle.”

“Dawna, Dawna, Dawna.” Alek was shaking his head. “You underestimate me. I see how the conference structure fails to support the official conference goal.”

Had he spotted the same anomalies she had?

“Spell it out for me,” she said, folding her arms.

“Supposedly we are here to jointly address the problem of illegal migration from China to the United Kingdom.”

“And we just had two three-hour lectures giving us all the facts,” Dawna reminded him.

The morning and afternoon sessions with teams from Europol and Scotland Yard had emphasized that after the U.S. hammered shut the preferred harbors in America, the number of Chinese entering British ports illegally had skyrocketed.

A United Kingdom destination was now half the price of one in the U.S.

When the illegals were inside British borders, they disappeared into what had become the largest Chinese community in Europe.

ILEA partners UK and Europol had jointly proposed the two-day conference to educate and brainstorm with law enforcement officers from countries transited by the Chinese.

They’d supplied the simultaneous English-to-Russian translator and the PowerPoint programs in English and Cyrillic. And they’d also chosen to hold the event on board a ferry, insisting this venue would demonstrate the smugglers’ favorite means of bringing the illegals into Britain.

Dawna repeated the party line. “Cooperation among you ILEA grads is key to addressing the problem.”

“But cooperation in this group is impossible!” Alek blew air across his lips, a splutter of disbelief.

“We Armenians have been at odds with the Georgians and the Azerbaijanis since the beginning of the last century. And the ceasefire between the Russians and Georgians may fail at any moment.

“Perhaps Ukrainians and Moldovans share a common interest in stopping the traffic in women from their countries, but that puts them in direct conflict with the Russians. We will accomplish nothing together.”

Dawna agreed with Alek. She was about to say so but he barreled on without a pause.

“I think your reason for choosing us is because we all understand Russian. You need a common language since you plan to drag us from our sleep tonight and force us to deal with one of your famous simulations. Tell me I’ve guessed correctly.”

Dawna shook her head.

“Can’t do that. I have no instructions to yank anyone out of bed. Look, you make a good point about the participant mix. I wasn’t personally involved in the selection, but maybe the organizers decided it was time to encourage you to cooperate. So don’t read too much into the Russian-speaking thing.

“You’re attending a senior alumni conference,” she added. “We don’t typically include the type of hands-on training exercise you experienced in Budapest. And certainly not at night, disturbing 1,500 civilian passengers who’d be sure to get in our way.”

She could see that Alek wasn’t convinced.

“Something else bothering you?”

“The route is wrong,” Alek replied promptly.

“If you were serious about educating us on this issue, we would follow the same path used to move the illegals. We would embark from Calais or Amsterdam and experience first-hand what the British authorities are dealing with.

“Instead, you distract us with spectacular views from every conference center window today. Tonight, we will be at your mercy in the middle of the North Sea. And the timing—so soon after the summer solstice, we will have light enough for whatever midnight drama you stage.”

He lifted his chin. “I, for one, am doing what you trained us to do. Preparing my own plan to preempt yours.”

“On the basis of such weak evidence?” Dawna managed a convincing laugh. “Wrong mix and wrong route?”

Alek folded his arms to match hers. “How about the fact that those rockers speak American English?”

“You mean the British Hells Angels?”

Dawna had spent a year in the FBI’s biker crime unit and she recognized the European designation for gang members.

This morning she’d watched with interest when the six Harley-Davidsons rumbled on board. All the riders had sported HA OF UK patches.

“You heard them talking American?”

He imitated her accent. “Jes’ like you-all, pardner. And each of them has movie-star teeth. Of course, they are undercover operatives. Here to act out a terrorist takeover of the ship is my guess. If I look carefully, I am sure I will find others hidden among the crew.”

Dawna sighed.

“I see you won’t give up easily. Tell you what, I’ll double-check with the conference leader. Put your preemptive plan on hold and concentrate on illegal migration until I get back to you.”

Alek unfolded his arms and gave a slow nod.

“I trust you, Dawna. If you tell me nothing will happen tonight, I know nothing will.”

A blast from the ferry’s horn cut him off.

Dawna glanced at the approaching harbor and checked her watch. The ferry was docking in Stavanger, the last port of call before turning southeast toward Newcastle.

“I need to freshen up,” she told Alek. “I’ll see you in the conference center in 20 minutes. We can resolve this pretty quickly.”

You can,” Alek corrected her. “I will rely on you.”

Giving him a wave, she headed down the stairs, the first leg of her descent from Deck 10 to Deck 4 where her cabin was located. This break had done nothing to calm her.

She’d made the same two observations with which Alek had begun. He was right about the participant mix. Her past assignments in Budapest had shown her who could work together and who could not.

Combining the folks in this group was counterproductive.

But the Department of Homeland Security was the lead U.S. agency on illegal immigration and they’d organized the conference without seeking Dawna’s input.
Without inviting her, in fact.

She was here only by chance because she’d been assigned to Copenhagen for the summer, filling in for the vacationing FBI legal attaché covering Scandinavia.

Then, illness left Homeland Security one staffer short for this illegal migration conference and she’d been tapped as a last-minute sub—apparently by someone who hadn’t first cleared her selection with William Keedy, the conference leader.

Last night, his welcome had been lukewarm and he’d brushed off her attempt to be briefed with a breezy insistence that she’d be up to speed in no time.

Weaving between clusters of passengers, Dawna reminded herself that she’d tried to ease her nagging disquiet about the ferry route by telling herself the Bergen-Newcastle choice was an economy measure.

Tired of paying the £1,000 fine for every illegal their ferries transported to Britain, a Danish shipping company had offered use of the Queen’s on-board conference facilities gratis.

As soon as Dawna got this assignment, she’d Googled the ship and learned it was built in 1981 and was less technologically advanced than more modern ocean liners. Yet the mirror- and glass-accented interiors conveyed an impression of luxury.

Combined with the onboard casino and disco, plus its scenic route, the ferry package undercut the educational goal.

You want people to treat illegal migration seriously, you don’t take them on a mini-cruise.

And now Alek had raised that third red flag. If the boat was secretly packed with Department of Homeland Security operatives, Keedy might well be preparing a training surprise for the participants.

But why was he surprising Dawna?

Dawna wouldn’t allow the Department of Homeland Security to blindside her.

But first, she had to identify some of the DHS ringers. Confronting Conference Leader Keedy with that information would make it much harder for him to weasel out of her questions.

She rubbed her forehead. Good plan, but difficult to execute. Be tough to spot misfits among the passengers, tougher still among the crew.

All the cleaners and stewards wore matching mud-colored T-shirts and spoke an English dialect that only others from Newcastle could understand.

The ship’s officers, sailors, and deckhands communicated in Danish and dressed in a variety of uniforms. Restaurant staff had their own garb.

It was like being in a huge hospital where anyone in the right outfit can pass for staff and the lingo is incomprehensible to outsiders.

The public address system blared out yet another announcement, interrupting her evolving plan. An enthusiastic female voice switched from Danish to English, inviting all children to a Pirate Club bingo session on Deck 4.

Illustration: Liz Argall

Illustration: Liz Argall

By then, Dawna had made it down the stairs to Deck 7, the top stop reached by the public-access elevator. She hurried across thick blue carpeting to beat any bingo-obsessed kids to the empty car, punched the button for Deck 4, and heard a male voice beg for her attention.

“Ma’am, could you wait a sec?”

The Texas accent put her on full alert. Could she be so lucky that one of Keedy’s secret army was about to give himself away?

She pushed the button to hold the doors and turned to observe a lanky 20-year-old in a blue coverall dashing to catch the elevator. He was trying not to spill coffee from his paper cup.

“’Preciate it,” he breathed, landing safely inside.

His eyes met Dawna’s at the same level. They were clear and blue. “I was s’posed to be back in the engine room five minutes ago.”

The young man’s accent was damn unlikely for a Danish sailor in the merchant marine. She peered suspiciously at the name­tag velcroed to his chest pocket.

“You don’t sound like any Bo to me,” she drawled.

He laughed. “Short for Beauregard. Had to change the spelling when Daddy got homesick and moved us all to Copenhagen.”

Was he claiming to be Danish-American?

The elevator was descending fast. “You born in Texas?” Dawna asked.

“Near Midland,” Bo replied. “And you?”

“Amity,” Dawna said, testing him.

“Amity! My great-granny lives there. Bet we know some of the same folks.”

“My Grandma Oly’d be about the same age as your great-granny,” Dawna said.

“I heard that name.”

Bo narrowed his eyes, then widened them in triumph. “Short for Iola, right? Your grandma’s Mrs. Burnett! She and Nana bowled in the same league.”

“Homeboy!” Dawna grinned back as the elevator opened on the fourth level. “Got time to talk?”

“Not just now.”

Bo headed for the stairway down. “But I get a dinner break at 6:30. Meet me right here, okay?”

“Count on it.” Dawna followed him from the elevator and peeled off at a sharp left to reach her cabin.

Beau/Bo’s story rang true. He was no undercover operative from Homeland Security—she’d have to keep looking.

Fifteen minutes later, combed and focused, she joined the crowd pushing through the door to the Deck 9 conference center. These seasoned cops arrived precisely on time and all reclaimed seats used earlier.

Dawna slid into her spot at one end of the back row, her gaze on William Keedy as he waited impatiently to begin his pre-dinner wrap-up speech. She recalled that he’d also been in place before she arrived for the morning session, his I’m-way-ahead-of-you-all posture unmistakable.

The room was aft, directly under the bridge, and windows filled the curving wall, affording an excellent view of the ferry’s departure from Stavanger.

Dawna assumed that the simultaneous translator had disembarked there as planned, along with the Scotland Yard and Europol experts. For this speech, Keedy was relying on a less-skilled interpreter, pausing every three sentences to allow his remarks to be repeated in Russian.

Ignoring the last view of Norway, Dawna studied Keedy.

Now, everything about the man struck her as intentionally deceptive, from his relentlessly soft-spoken demeanor to the not-too-long-but-not-too-short length of his dishwater blonde hair.

She wondered if there were corrective lenses in his glasses or if they were part of the mild-mannered bureaucrat disguise. She noticed that unlike the participating policemen, Keedy’s loose-fitting casual khakis and polo shirt weren’t concealing a beer belly, but a well-toned body.

Dawna glanced at the pairs of cops scattered over five rows of chairs.

Alek was front and center, next to his look-alike countryman Hayk, another graduate of a Dawna-coordinated ILEA session.

She also knew the sweet-faced Georgian woman who was sitting one row back on the right-hand side. Oksana had met her husband at ILEA and she was now so pregnant with their first child, she’d had to produce a note from her OB/GYN before the airline allowed her to board the flight to Bergen.

Dawna didn’t know Oksana’s companion, a Tbilisi constable named Edvard.

Huddled at the other end of the same row were the two Russians, both beefy Slavs with hedgehog haircuts.

Dawna had met Boris and Vladimir at ILEA. They were competent but had carefully avoided doing anything—good or bad—to stand out.

The other three pairs of cops sat in the remaining three rows, each couple surrounded by empty chairs. The seating was a mosaic of xenophobia.

They listened attentively as Keedy announced a major program change.

Participants would not divide into small groups to prepare presentations on aspects of the issue as shown on the printed agenda. Instead, for the next hour, they’d watch the first half of a specially prepared training film in English with Russian subtitles.

The regular dinner break would be extended to eight o’clock. He hoped they’d use the additional free time to relax and get better acquainted.

Following the break, they’d finish the film. Tomorrow morning’s wrap-up schedule remained the same.

Hushed comments rippled through the group. Alek turned toward Dawna and gave her a long look, as if to say, You see, I’m right.

The lights went out for the film. Dawna heard the faint clink of neck chains and ID bracelets as lawmen squirmed in their seats. Pens tapped against notepads and shoe soles jittered against carpet.

Beneath the heady blend of a dozen designer colognes from the onboard tax-free store, she detected the odor of nervous sweat. Clearly, Alek wasn’t the only cop made edgy by the changes.

Dawna registered that Keedy had moved and was standing motionless at the back of the room, only three feet from her. He’d worn neither gold chains nor bracelets with his outfit. And he’d made no joking remarks to liven his talk.

She sniffed warily. He was completely odorless. No scent, no humor, no bling. Not a man she would trust.

What was worse, now that the experts from other sponsoring services had left the ship, she was the only staffer not from Homeland Security.

She moved her shoulders, trying to ease the tension building there. What was Keedy up to?

Alek’s guess of a mock terrorist takeover was plausible. It fit with the Homeland Security mandate. Keedy might have clearance from his superiors to surprise the participants with an exercise.

But why keep Dawna in the dark? Were elements of the simulation he had in mind so inappropriate by FBI standards that he knew she’d protest?

On the running video, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection was explaining how employees of air, sea, and land commercial carriers should secure their facilities and conveyances against smuggling.

Dawna could tell the film’s target contraband was cocaine. The information was only marginally applicable to human trafficking and not intended for law enforcement officers.

Now, the audience was completely still and silent. Only the most skilled police officers made it into and through the ILEA course. Keedy’s attempt to lower the session’s stress level hadn’t lulled these graduates into a laid-back holiday mood.

They seemed to be reading his blatant abandonment of the conference goal as a strong indicator that he planned something still further from the formal agenda.

Like a bad ballplayer telegraphing his next move, he’d put all the cops on alert, every one of them feverishly wondering how best to react and counter.

Dawna too.

She no longer planned to confront Keedy. His play was in motion. Talking would achieve nothing.

No, she had to block him. Soon as she got out of this session, she’d phone her best contact in D.C. and put him to work speed-backgrounding Keedy.

They’d discover his likely focus and decide how to thwart it.

When the film reached midway and the lights came up, she hurried out, bypassing the elevator and thumping the stairs all the way down to Deck 4, working her cellphone as she went.

Damn! No signal. When she reached Bo at the agreed spot, she pocketed her phone. She’d try again in 15 minutes. For now, she’d give all her attention to Bo, an insider on the Queen and potentially a useful ally.

“Dirty Bop to Blighty” was originally published in the September 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. A native Oregonian, Diana Deverell was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and served in Washington, D.C., San Salvador, and Warsaw, before she moved to rural Denmark to write full-time. Visit www.dianadeverell.com for more about her writing.

It also appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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