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The Seventh TreasureA novel
By Len Camarda
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Leonard Camarda
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Alpujarras
The rain was getting heavier. Still reflecting on her pleasant afternoon near the mountain village of Capileira, Gina put on her headlights and switched the wiper blade of her Mercedes 500 SL to a higher speed.
Just outside of the city of Granada, Capileira crowns the Poqueira Gorge, an area in the heart of the Alpujarra Alta where the last Andalucian Moors sought refuge after their expulsion from Spain at the end of the sixteenth century. Those areas of Spain, where Arab and Spanish cultures and architecture mixed, exuded a magic and mystery to Gina, and the villages in the Alpujarras still preserved their Moorish character—whitewashed, cube-shaped houses, clinging to mountainsides—very similar to the villages in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
The wind picked up as dusk descended, and the road became more challenging for the old 1986 convertible Gina had purchased in Switzerland a few years ago. She had loved driving up the curving mountain roads to her afternoon rendezvous, top down and enjoying the cooling breeze, which grew ever cooler after each ascending curve of the road. Now, returning home in the rain, she just looked forward to seeing signs that would guide her to National Highway 323 and back to her apartment in Granada.
She felt a sudden queasiness in her stomach as she rounded a sharp, descending curve and the brake pedal went soft. The car made the curve, but she felt the centrifugal force take her much closer to the edge of the road than she wanted to go. Let's slow it down, baby, she said to herself and started to pump the brakes, easy at first, but then harder, faster, and with greater anxiety. That queasiness now permeated her whole body as the car continued to accelerate down the tortuous road, made more treacherous by the steady rain. What the hell is going on? her mind screamed as she wove left and right, faster and faster down the mountain. The brake pedal now went all the way to the floorboard without effect.
Huge pine trees and a wall of boulders lined the road to her right, but she had to make it to that side of the road—quickly. She tried to fight the forces that were sliding her to the left on a long, winding curve. Night had quickly fallen; beyond the road, she saw nothing but blackness, save the tiny lights of the villages in the distance. She turned the wheel hard right toward the trees and ominous rocks and fishtailed violently. Four thousand pounds of silver-blue metal strained against the wet road, sliding toward that black nothingness.
There was a barrier on that side of the road, wooden telephone pole–like stumps connected by braided metal cable. That will hold me. The car will be badly damaged, but it will be all right. A good driver, she instinctively turned left to correct the spin out. It corrected the tailspin and straightened the car's trajectory but took her head-on into the roadside barrier at the end of the curve, hitting the cable hard. It didn't sound like she thought it would. No loud bang, just a kind of soft crunch and a sudden forward lurch of her body as the barrier stopped her momentum—she thought. Then a slow, forward tilt of her body, and suddenly, she was thrust backward as the remaining strands of the cable snapped and the car plunged down. I'm going over, she thought somewhat calmly, aching fingers still tightly clutching the steering wheel. Then she thought of Gino as the lovely, silver-blue Mercedes quietly floated through the air, its headlamps lighting up the pine-dotted landscape below it.
Chapter TwoBaghdad, DC
Gene Cerone put on the stereo as he walked into his Powder Mill home only a short drive from his office. The preset FM station played mostly oldies—a lot of Sinatra, soft doo-wop, and big-band music from the forties and fifties. This range of music probably appealed to folks over fifty like him, and it was soothing. Gene always could escape into the music.
He opened a white wine, Gran Viña Sol, an inexpensive but delightful chardonnay from Spain his sister Gina had turned him onto some years ago. When they would come home to New Jersey for the holidays, they all brought something, and one Christmas, Gina brought a case of Spanish wines, reds and whites, which he thought were terrific. Gene kept a modest wine cellar dominated by Spanish and Italian wines, with a few California cabernets to be patriotic. Nothing French. He poured himself a glass of the cool, amber-colored wine and dropped himself into the soft leather chair in his den. Running his fingers through his hair, he thought about the events of the day.
The office for Eugene Cerone was the Attack on Principal (AOP) Unit of the US Secret Service Special Agent Training Center in Beltsville, Maryland. He had more than thirty years with the Secret Service and was barely in his midfifties. For the last three years, he had headed up the AOP unit, whose responsibility was to develop real-world crisis scenarios for agents in protective mission training. The exercises were sometimes held at the Beltsville training facility but more often than not, were on location. This meant using hotel facilities, airports, streets and highways, golf courses—anywhere his budget could support and his arm-twisting could elicit—reflecting potential real-life situations for the principals the Service was charged to protect. That meant simulation exercises involving the protection of the president of the United States, the vice president, and their families, as well as foreign dignitaries, realistically staged and executed by the AOP team.
The planning and execution of these exercises had all the aspects of a Hollywood production, except that it was real-time and the trainees were not aware of the plot twists and turns that would confront them. They were indoctrinated to react within a set of protocols, but at times, they were forced to improvise. The principal would be put in harm's way, and the agents' responsibility would be to prevent the incident altogether or to prevent harm to the individuals they were protecting and ultimately to ensure the apprehension of those attempting the deed.
The simulation today had been a bust. The group in training this week was made of veterans, currently part of several protective details excluding the president's. There were eleven of them, seven men and four women, and they blew it.
The exercise involved the protection of the vice president—an actor stand in—and was carried out at the Capital Hilton Hotel on Sixteenth Street NW, about two long blocks from the grounds of the White House. It was the same place as the John Hinckley Jr. assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, when Eugene Cerone was part of the presidential protection team in August 1980.
Josh Bigelow planned and was responsible for the AOP simulation exercise this day. Gene had recruited Bigelow from Lester Dreyfus's Digital Light Brigade, made famous for its incredible special effects, which had dominated Hollywood film spectaculars since their first Galaxy Conquest movie. They wrote the book on film innovation and continued developing it beyond the movie audience's imagination.
Cerone knew it was not good enough for any agency of the US government engaged in security or protection to rely entirely on its own thinking. We're too inbred, too structured, too process oriented, Cerone believed. We need to tap into the imaginations of the most creative minds in the country. Digital Light Brigade was one such place where there were no boundaries on innovation and creativity. Cerone was thinking about hooking up with Hollywood when he took over the AOP Unit. Then 9/11 confirmed they had to think differently, and on September 18, 2001, he sat down with Lester Dreyfus.
Josh Bigelow graduated from Cal Tech with an engineering degree and worked for Silicon Graphics before joining DLB. He had made some money before the Internet bubble burst in the late nineties but had strong feelings about social responsibility. In the spring of 2002, he was the Service's first recruit from DLB. After completing the standard agent training programs, he became part of the AOP unit. Today's simulation was Bigelow's first as project leader, and Cerone thought how fortunate the Service had been in getting this talented young man.
Josh Bigelow staged this event as precisely as he had dozens of scenes in The Return of the Pharaoh, his last project before leaving DLB. Today delivered a double whammy. First, the vice president stand-in's motorcade was damaged by an explosive device—compressed air, confetti, and red dye—at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Eighteenth Street. Then, the coup de grâce: As the protection team rushed the injured vice president to George Washington University Hospital—the same place Ronald Reagan was taken after the 1981 assassination attempt—a suicide bomber ambushed them at the emergency-room entrance. More white smoke, confetti, and red dye.
Josh's compressed-air delivery devices functioned perfectly. Everything looked so real, but at that moment, his emotions must have been very mixed. It was, after all, the ultimate gotcha. But this wasn't a movie set. This could be life or death for the leaders of our country, and in this simulation, the principal was lost. If not lost by the first event on Connecticut Avenue, the pregnant woman suicide bomber at the hospital finished the job for sure. The terror from nameless roadside bombers in places like Baghdad and Kandahar had finally been transported to our nation's capital. In this case, the bad guys had won again, and the Service had lost the vice president! At least theoretically.
That was what Gene Cerone was thinking as he sipped his wine and tried to wind down in the comfort of his den with Johnny Mathis singing "The Twelfth of Never," a song about a time that would never be. He reflected on this war on terrorism, the conflicts throughout the Middle East and the hordes of people who truly hated the United States. Are we up against the Twelfth of Never here? Will there ever be an end in sight?
It was already 8:30 p.m., and Cerone should have been thinking of dinner. The music had now moved to the Skyliners, singing "This I Swear," but he couldn't get the haunting Mathis tune out of his head. He sat with his feet up on a worn ottoman, slowly sipping his wine.
Chapter ThreeThe Call
The next morning, Cerone was in the conference room with Josh Bigelow and the full staff of AOP project leaders and direct-reports. They had convened right after the incident and had been going through debriefings and minute-by-minute, step-by-step analyses of yesterday's simulation ever since. Gene had already met with both Deputy Director Danny Boggs and Service Director Ed Barnes—colleagues from the Reagan protection team—and alerted them to the events of yesterday. While troubled by the seriousness of the situation and the failure of a group of veteran agents, no one was shocked. The suicide bomber had yet to surface on our shores, but everyone believed it was only a matter of time. The same could be said for a large-scale attack on a civilian population either with chemical or biological agents. The question was always "When?"
Cerone's administrative assistant, Nancy Tanaka, entered the conference room. Apologizing for the interruption and well aware of what had happened in the training exercise, she said Gene had a call from Granada, Spain. A captain from the National Police Corps needed to speak with him. "It sounds urgent," she whispered.
Cerone knew that his sister Gina had moved to Spain some months ago. He rose and quickly left the room, his brow furrowed with concern. He went to his office, a short distance down the hall, and picked up the receiver of the phone. "Eugene Cerone here," he said.
A woman's voice responded, "Un momento, Señor."
There was a click, and then he heard a deep and heavily accented voice say, "Señor Cerone, this is Capitàn Julian Balmaseda of the Policia Nacional, in Granada, España. Are you related to a Señorita Gina Cerone?"
"Yes," Cerone replied, "I am her brother. Is Gina all right?"
"I am sorry to bring you such noticias," Balmaseda said, "but I have to inform you that your sister has been killed in a traffic accident."
The world went into slow motion for Cerone. He heard the words Captain Balmaseda was saying, but they seemed distorted, echoing as if coming from a deep cavern. The events of yesterday and the concerns about "what must never happen" suddenly moved to a whole other intensity. Yesterday was just an exercise, another scene crafted by the Digital Light Brigade. Yesterday, nobody died—not really. But what did he just hear? Your sister was killed? He asked the voice on the other end of the line to repeat what he said. Gene went through the "What? Are you sure? When? How? But are you certain?" routine.
The result was the same, "Your sister was killed ..."
He took down all the pertinent information from Captain Balmaseda and gently returned the phone to its cradle. Nancy Tanaka stood at the open doorway and could see the lost expression on Gene Cerone's face. His glazed eyes then focused on Nancy. "They said my sister is dead."
The years of investigative experience then took over, and he began to give directions to Nancy. "Here." He handed her the notes he had written. "This guy is supposed to be a captain in Spain's National Police Force. He said the American embassy in Madrid has been notified of an accident involving my sister. Call them and check up on this Balmaseda and confirm what he has said." Cerone stayed seated at his desk, staring blankly at the open doorway. Only a few minutes passed before Nancy returned to Gene's office.
"They have the same information, Gene. I'm so sorry."
Chapter FourBaby Lotion Hair
Gene turned his chair toward the window behind his desk and looked out in the direction of Little Paint Branch Park, really seeing nothing except the image of Gina, his beautiful, bright, energetic little sister. It didn't seem real. Sorrow soon grew to overwhelming feelings of guilt.
He had not been close with his sister. The primary reason had been the age difference between them. Gino, as he was called as a boy and young man growing up in Harrison, New Jersey, was seventeen years old when his sister was born. She was a change-of-life baby, they told him. He remembered being embarrassed by his mother's pregnancy. Certainly not naive about the birds and bees at his age, Gino just did not want to picture his middle-aged parents "doing it."
The birth was uneventful, even for his mother's advanced age of forty-four years. Baby Gina was a beauty. Her eyes were a green, almost emerald, color, and they got greener as she grew older. Gino's mother kept Gina's hair long with soft flowing curls when she was a little girl. She used to rub Johnson and Johnson's Baby Lotion in her hair so that it always shined and smelled beautiful. Staring out into an overcast morning, he could remember that smell so vividly.
The guilt began to swell. After his freshman year at Rutgers University, he moved to the campus dormitories, and his life simply evolved further and further from his sister's. With him working part-time in the campus police force, where he was turned on to a career in the US Secret Service, the estrangement evolved even further. After graduation, with a big assist from Frank Doherty, chief of the Rutgers University Police Department and a retired Secret Service agent, Gino entered the training program for special agents of the United States Secret Service.
That was when Gino became Eugene, his birth name. The service was very WASP-y in those days, though there seemed to be an extraordinary collection of Irishmen he came in contact with as part of the recruitment process. Very few Mediterranean types appeared to be members of the Service, and Gino felt that Eugene or Gene would work better for him. He had no intention of hiding his Italian heritage or changing Cerone, but he felt he didn't have to wear it on his sleeve every day. So, Gino became Gene on that first day of criminal investigation training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia—a world apart from Harrison, New Jersey.
Nancy Tanaka had remained in the doorway while Gene looked out his office window. "Can I get you anything, Gene? How can I help?"
Turning back, Gene said, "You know, she used to call me Double-O Seven like James Bond. It was so hard to be part of her life when she was growing up. I was never around. I always tried to get home for the holidays and for all the special events involving Gina, but it became so difficult when I joined Reagan's protective detail, way back when he was a candidate for the presidency. I always brought her gifts from wherever I traveled, but it was like a pit stop into her life. Never there for very long. When she was about thirteen or fourteen, she began to write pretty regularly, and her letters always began 'Dear 0 0 7.' She thought I was someone special. I was in the Secret Service, a secret agent. Even now, when she would email, it was still Dear '0 0 7.' God damn it," he said forcefully, thumping the desk with his fist.
Excerpted from The Seventh Treasure by Len Camarda Copyright © 2012 by Leonard Camarda. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 The Alpujarras....................1
Chapter 2 Baghdad, DC....................3
Chapter 3 The Call....................7
Chapter 4 Baby Lotion Hair....................9
Chapter 5 Granada....................13
Chapter 6 Mercedes Garcia Rico....................19
Chapter 7 Gina's Odyssey to the Alpujarras....................33
Chapter 8 The Season of the Moors....................39
Chapter 9 Curiosities....................49
Chapter 10 Gut Feeling....................57
Chapter 11 Kilometer Thirteen....................63
Chapter 12 Bye, Gina; Love Ya....................79
Chapter 13 The Other Man....................83
Chapter 14 One of the Good Guys....................95
Chapter 15 Whispers....................99
Chapter 16 Claro, Teniente?....................105
Chapter 17 The Safety of France....................111
Chapter 18 José Melilla....................113
Chapter 19 The Legend of the Seven Treasures....................117
Chapter 20 La Familia Zahorí....................127
Chapter 21 The Pledge of Silence....................133
Chapter 22 CSI, Granada....................139
Chapter 23 What Can I Do to Help?....................151
Chapter 24 Call Me Gino....................155
Chapter 25 Getting Organized....................161
Chapter 26 The Alhambra....................167
Chapter 27 Converging Pathways....................175
Chapter 28 The Evil Empire....................183
Chapter 29 221b Baker Street....................193
Chapter 30 Feliz Navidad....................197
Chapter 31 Noche Buena....................205
Chapter 32 Recruiting the CIA....................211
Chapter 33 The Profilers....................221
Chapter 34 They Ride in Limousines and Not on Camels....................231
Chapter 35 Catch Me If You Can....................241
Chapter 36 No, You Can't Do That....................247
Chapter 37 Minister Garcia de Paredes....................255
Chapter 38 News at Eleven....................269
Chapter 39 On Deck, Don Mattingly....................273
Chapter 40 In Living Color....................277
Chapter 41 The Shadow Companies....................281
Chapter 42 The Original Torre de Siete Suelos....................295
Chapter 43 The Tale of the Bewitched King....................305
Chapter 44 The Girl....................311
Chapter 45 And Then There Were Nine....................317
Chapter 46 A Gathering of Berbers....................323
Chapter 47 Chivi and Xabier....................329
Chapter 48 The Spiderweb Is Full of Flies....................339
Chapter 49 Three-Eleven....................345
Chapter 50 Sunday Was Just Politics....................349
Chapter 51 What?....................359
Chapter 52 Promises Not Kept....................361
Chapter 53 Find the Money!....................365
Chapter 54 The American....................373
Chapter 55 Poof, Gone....................383
Chapter 56 Ray's Toys....................391
Chapter 57 Bloodline of the Sultana....................399