“The evidence is strong. The Soviet Union is taking advantage of the present situation and is supporting the guerrillas. Gorbachev has opened up a less agressive diplomatic policy. And while he tries to win over international public opinion he’s also establishing a secret support network for radical movements.”
“Is that your conclusion? Are you sure ?”
“How can there be any doubt, Ralph ?” asked Keith.”Yuri and Alonso are well-known. You saw the stuff on the men who were arrested. Most of them have connections with ETA and the others are well-known agitators.”
“People without an axe to grind. Keith, let’s think together. Everything can be connected to the democratic movements in the URSS.”
“Come on, man, you’re kidding. Is it democracy to send guns to other countries?”
“I’m going to work with a hypothesis, one out of a hundred. I admit that the Soviet Union is not a homeless girl, but let’s suppose that the KGB acted without the knowledge of the Russian government. Remember the nationalist demonstrations in Georgia. A conservative group that wanted to see Gorbachev’s supporters in the shit to fuck up the new policy. Did you see the official Soviet government response?”
“Naturally they say they knew nothing about it. They also say that it’s imperialist propaganda etc, etc. Yuri also claimed to be working for the Americans…”
“The Soviets said the same thing.”
“Ralph, you’ve known about Yuri for a long time. Cut out this bullshit. He’s clever and he was well prepared in case of arrest.”
“Maybe… Keith, things are so black or white.”
“Huh, and I thought I was missing you… You know Ralph, the feeling I have is that you’re always against me.”
“Please don’t cry. The editor was very happy with your coverage of the way events unfolded. Now, he loved the series of articles. He’s jumping for joy. When the story broke, we were the only newspaper to have an exclusive. Because we had a reporter on the spot.”
“The Soviets risked a lot in this operation. They were betting high stakes . That’s the only thing that could justify their jeopardising the new foreign policy. It would have to be something that could turn the tables.”
“Do you have any idea what?”
“The barn exploded. None of the survivors arrested knew anything. Isn’t that strange ? That’s something I don’t understand. Anyhow, I wrote about the possibility of special weapons or even missiles with new technology.” “So you admit that there was something in the air !”
“Ralph, a lot of things’re in the air when you talk about Central America. The place is a mess. You’ll only understand if you go there.”
“Don’t exaggerate. You did very well. You did more than you expected imagined when you left. You came back not only alive but also in love. What about her? Is she in love,too?”
“Don’t ask me. As far as that goes, I know nothing. These Latins are so ambiguous.”
“It’s their nature.”
“And their necessity. In a place where you have to work hard to survive, where everything is possible and an opinion can ruin your life… How could it be different?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t trust them.”
“Come on, you’ve never been outside the major centres of civilisation.”
“Maybe. I’m not smart enough to know how to tame that brunette. How’s it going ? When do you see her…? Talk to me…”
“Give me a break, will you?”
“Can’t you tell me how it’s going ?”
“What do you want to know, Ralph ?”
“Come on Keith, this energy people talk about that brunettes have when…”
Antonia was thumbing through the European papers with reports on events in El Salvador. She read one of them attentively:
Cayman Operation: The Secret Superpower Game.
What could have led the Soviet Union to become involved in Cayman Operation? This is a question that is intriguing experts in Soviet affairs all around the world. Some of them affirm that a group KGB that is opposed to the non-aggressive policy adopted by Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for the plan to supply arms to left-wing guerrillas in Central America. Others believe that Kremlin, in an audacious move at a time when the Soviets and the Americans were having concrete negotiations about disarmament, was directlyinvolved in the operation, or at least had been informed of its existence. The truth is that, despite Gorbachev’s open policy, almost nothing that is decided inside the Kremlin goes beyond its walls. Although Moscow insists on denying any involvement in the operation, it’s crystal clear that its intention is to restructure the balance of power in the Central American region.
“Western secret services discovered that the Russian Yuri Aliekseievich, the organization’s contact with European underground movements, is the man responsible for the acquisition of terrorists, mercenaries and guns on the European black market. Not only this, but he was also responsible for all the steps of the operation. The voyage of the cargo ship Princess of Argel to El Salvador, would have been sponsored by secret accounts in Swiss and Singaporean banks. North-American government sources said that the Princess transported not only arms but also two containers, destroyed during the Salvadorean Army attack. Even the crew knew nothing of their contents. European and North-American defence authorities believe that containers could have been loaded with modern ground missiles or bacteriological weapons capable of destroying the Salvadorean coffee crop, leading to the collapse of the country’s economy. According to the statement given by the terrorists arrested during the operation, there were men responsible for exploding the containers using a remote control in case of emergency.
“In Costa Rica, a Salvadorean guerrilla spokesperson confirmed that the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNLF) was not involved in the operation and again blamed the CIA for the events. He also denied that there is any kind of disagreement between the military and political factions of the Front. His statements, however, are contradictory to what was discovered by our special correspondent Keith O’Brien. According to him, it was because of divergences within the FMNLF that his informer, the Salvadorean Enrique Masperi, probably connected with the guerrillas and responsible for revealing the existence of the operation, obtained the clues that led him to where part of the armaments was stored. The guerrilla’s spokesperson guaranteed that Masperi had nothing to do with the organization and vehemently criticized the CIA, saying that it was interested in blaming people just to cover up its own involvement in the operation and to justify the intensification of repressive action by the Salvadorean Army.
“According to this version, the guerrillas are trying to hide the evidence. With the discovery of Cayman Operation and the consequent re-emergence of the regular Army in El Salvador, the left-wing Central American revolutionaries suffered a set-back. If victory for them in the mid-term looked somewhat improbable, the situation is now much worse.
“In a speech yesterday at the White House, President George Bush said that”The Soviet Union had been looking forward to taking advantage of the weakness and negligence of Western governments to expand their sphere of influence and asked the Congress to approve, with particular urgency, requests for military help to loyal governments in Central America. According to international public opinion, the enemy seems to be inoffensive,” affirmed Bush.”But those who know of the existence of clandestine operations and the real interests of Moscow are still ready to act,” he guaranteed. The North-American President said that he expected that the”clumsy” operation wouldn’t affect the negotiations on disarmament, emphasising once again that”the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
From the apartment balcony in Hampstead they could see in the sky the gradations from the orange to the dark red of the sunset. Some dense clouds reflected tonalities from the water and denied the end of the afternoon. Among them, the blue that sometimes tended to pink and sometimes tended to red. It had stopped raining and cars that passed along the avenue hissed through the water. Keith poured a glass of wine for Antonia.
“I don’t know if this stuff interests you. After all, you know as much as I do about what really happened.”
“Not as much. I didn’t read your first articles. You know, not all the newspapers arrive in San Salvador.”
Antonia was flipping through a pile of newspaper cuttings, magazines, interviews and photographs. Without looking up, she said:
“The weather isn’t helping. It hasn’t stopped raining since I got here.”
She stopped talking suddenly. A tear fell from the corner of her eye.
“Is there something bothering you ?” asked Keith.
Antonia showed him a cutting with shots taken by him. While Keith came over to read it, Antonia reached for the glass of wine on the table. She drank it. The article showed a sequence of photos. Some of them had been taken during the climbing of the mountain ridge, others on the following day when the army surrounded the place and fought with the arm dealers.
“Are you thinking about him ?” asked Keith quietly, stroking her hair.
“Yes. He died for this,” she said pointing at the pile of paper.”Don’t you think it was a waste?”
Keith moved closer to her. He laid his head on her breast. He whispered:
“I shouldn’t have left him alone.”
Antonia craddled Keith’s head in her hands.
“It wouldn’t have changed anything if you had stayed with Domingos. You didn’t have a gun. I’d have lost one more person I like.”
Keith stood up and walked to the window sill.
“Has the body been identified?”
“Darling, you were there. The explosion in the barn incinerated everything within a distance of hundreds of meters. Let’s agree on something? Throw all this away. I want to forget all about this story.”
Antonia was lying in bed, smoking a cigarette. The room was dark. Lights from the cars in the street moved across the ceiling and the walls. Keith arrived, played around a little but then became serious and started to provoke her: “It was you who wanted it this way. Here they are, but you have to guess what they are first.”
“Tickets for a concert?”
“Well, a letter for me ? I’ve been ashamed, Keith, recently. I’m virtually living here. Nobody meets me in Paris nowadays.”
“Don’t tell me … air tickets?”
“Yes. I’ve talked to people at the newspaper. I want some well-earned rest. I’m on holiday and we’re going to get away.”
“Is that a promise ?”
“Here is the proof,” he said throwing the envelope on to the bed. I need to organize my life from now on. I want a fresh start with a beautiful trip** with the woman I love. Come on, open it.”
Antonia looked at him.
“No. You have to come here first. I want to hold you tight. I can’t live without you, my love. Come, now. I want to have you close to me. Later we are going to pack and love each other in a different place.”
The half-opened envelope on the bedside table contained two Air France tickets. Destination: Marseilles.
Keith thought only about getting some rest. After what had happened in Central America, his life had taken a new and unexpected turn. He was the only journalist to have and to publish all the details about the arms delivery. His versatility as a journalist and photographer, the precision and the objectivity of his articles and his fame as a professional journalist, led to the unfolding of a huge diplomatic scandal.
Many Latin American countries reacted against the Soviet Union. Most of them postponed the courtesy visits arranged between state dignitaries. The superpowers also reacted. The United States reinforced their programme of aid to Central American governments and anti-sandinista guerrilla groups. The Soviet Union published articles repudiating the reports, but didn’t convince anyone. Gorbachev’s attempt to improve relations with the West was undermined. The missile limitation agreement was seriously threatened.
The repercussions of the episode and the reports directly affected the journalist’s life. The telephone in the flat never stopped ringing. It was his friends trying to get information and interviews, congratulations from press institutions and even from MoD. Keith at that moment was part of the news that he had helped to publish, receiving commendations and threats. He often received phone calls from angry left-wing groups, representatives of the guerillas and even from colleagues. Scotland Yard offered him protection if the threats continued.
The episode had changed Keith. Not the repercussions of the reports particularly but the time he had spent in El Salvador. Central America was getting away from him and was becoming a confusing mass of events and sensations that had an important role in his life. The news and the movement around him didn’t interest him at all. Something more sentimental, maybe more human had been added to his way of living. He had seen through the solitude of his life in London. He had discovered in distant lands a way of loving that was different from what he used to know. He felt the pleasure of having someone to share moments and was searching in these emotions for a new life, and he didn’t know what it would be like. His new feelings made him a more tranquil person and give him back his old power; but they also brought confusion and uncertainty.
He knew the press. A good time far from home would make them forget about his part in the episode. Some time free of obligations would give him the rest he deserved after so much tension. If that weren’t enough, there was Antonia. They would have, at last, time enough for each other without confusion and fear. A month after Keith’s return from El Salvador, Antonia had moved into his apartment in Paris. However, the repercussion of the subject and the quantity of work that it generated had prevented a closer contact between them.
A short, pleasant trip took them to Marseilles. There they rented a car and went on to Aix-en-Provence. From there, they were going to take the A8 to Tourves where they would take the D5 and other routes to Hyeres. In Hyeres they would go sightseeing through the islands, or else go straight on to Le Lavandou; then they would go along the coast to Cannes from where they would return after twenty days’ rest.
The plate on the table was hot. The waiter removed the cover and the aroma of Provencal spices filled the air. He was serving chicken with asparagus sauce and a steak, a kind of tournedo flambed at the table in a subtle mixture of brandy and rare spices.
“What about the food?”
“It looks delectable!”
“According to the guide book, this is the best restaurant in town. Are you having a good time?”
“With the food?”
“Of course not. I’m talking about the trip.”
“Sure, Keith. Why shouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking about your reluctance to come. I didn’t realize that you wouldn’t like the Cote D’Azur.”
“It’s not exactly that, darling… I was just expecting to go some place else…but I’m here, aren’t I? I’m happy and that’s what matters to me.”
The waiter served them and withdrew.
“It’s funny when you think that the Romans dominated this region for a long time…”
“Where did you get that from honey? Can I help you?”
Keith moved closer and held Antonia’s hand. He leaned forwards and pulled her close to him. He gazed at her. “Only now I feel the importance of what everybody wants and is afraid of saying. I feel the importance of love and the peace it gives us. I’m satisfied, complete and alive.”
They kissed each other gently. When they opened their eyes they began to notice the details of the place. They were in the Languedoc. There wasn’t a better place for a couple in love. At the pituresque restaurant located in the cellar of an old house, only a few couples occupied the candlelit tables, most of them near the stone walls. The Languedoc’s speciality was dishes flambed at the table. There was a mist of spices in the air.
“I can’t wait to finish this dinner, go out and wander about these streets. I’m so light that I could float out of here. I’d like to forget about the rest of the world and live like this, wandering around, free as a bird…”
“Keith if I could jump over this table…and not cause a scandal…I’d really like to live alone with you away from everything,” whispered Antonia.
“I’ve talking too much. I want to hear you now.”
“You’re very funny. You want to hear me so you can eat before your food gets cold, don’t you? Keith, I’m happy, very happy, but I’m afraid. Everyday that passes I get more afraid. The more I fall in love, the more insecure I feel. I feel myself getting weaker. It’s as if love were making me dependent and insecure.”
Keith ate quickly. He swallowed.
“You? Dependent? Come on, tell me another one.”
“I still think he was incovenient.”
“Do we at least have this man under control?”
“He is travelling between Port-Grimaud and Saint-Tropez.”
“If you had to decide on some kind of retaliation, what would you choose?”
“Let’s just frighten him.”
“Come on, this man has to feel the world’s violence. Who does he think he is to be up against us ? Does he think that the superpowers fight with gloves on ?”
“I agree. An outrage. So let’s kill him.”
“We might’ve public opinion against us.”
“Alexei, your men are professionals, aren’t they? How many people have died in car accidents in the world?”
“But there are still risks involved.”
“I’ll take the responsibility.”
“I think we should forget all about this. We need to act carefully.”
“Burkin is always avoiding risks…”
“You should understand that taking risks is part of the game in our work.”
“The chiefs in Moscow’ve approved the retaliation. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“So that’s it. He’s going to die in a car accident during his holiday.”
“Can I send the orders to our men in France?”
“You’re authorized. Now, just between you and me, what made that guy write such a report ?” asked Alexei.
The two assistants shrugged their shoulders. One of them went to open the curtains. The summer sun was shining. The men were bathed in its brightness. A band of light fell across Burkin’s greyish face. The KGB special operations chief, Alexei Kuporossov, made some notes about Keith and put them in his file. He called his assistant on the phone.
“Arrange this,” he said to the man, giving him a slip of paper.
The other assistants walked around the office. Then one of them started to fiddle with an ashtray and the other pulled open the metal door and went away.
Keith slowed down. He braked smoothly before taking the bend. The Citroen held the road well. Antonia made an effort to stay in her seat. After the bend, they took a line across two bridges and then rose in a zig-zag through the cliffs of the Massif de L’Esterel. The road, squeezed between a spectacular mass of red rocks and the sea, was taking them to Cannes. The radio was on. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. The sun was in their eyes. They pulled down the visors.
Antonia brushed her hair and tried to tune the radio. Keith ate a bar of chocolate and continued to drive. They arrived at the highest part of the route. They got stuck behind a van with Greek plates. Keith slowed. Two other cars braked behind him. On the right, beyond the guard-rails, the blue of the sea was sparkling on the rocks.
“It’s a pity you can’t look now, honey, but we are on the most beautiful part of the road. These cliffs are wonderful. Shall we stop at the next parking space to look at the view ?”
“As soon as I get rid of this van.”
They came to the top of the ridge, so Keith leaned out to the left. The road started to descend out. There was nothing ahead of him. He accelerated, swerved to the left and passed the van. One of the other vehicles did the same, close on his tail. They accelerated downhill. A lot of bends appeared. From there they could see the road going down to the bottom of a mountain where the landscape changed completely and it became less winding. Keith felt the steering-wheel tremble. He lost control for a moment. The car started to skid. Keith braked, gripped the steering-wheel and quickly controlled the car. He pulled over.
He got out and discovered that he had a puncture. The van and the other cars he had passed in the steep hill were coming down at high speed. They passed him. Now he had to change the tyre and look for the nearest garage.
While he spoke, the mechanic’s chin moved strangely. His jaw was prominent and large, his face rural and brutish.He hadn’t shaved and he had a scar on his forehead. With his clothes dirty with oil, the man seemed to be more irritated than he really was. He repeated the same sentence for the fourth time:
“It’s going to take a little time. You can wait in the snack bar.”
Keith gave up trying to communicate. He called Antonia and she quickly translated the man’s French. They walked to the snack bar.
“I speak a little French, but this donkey speaks another language.”
“He speaks badly, honey. He explained that the steel belt of the tyre came away and made the puncture.”
“Let’s have some coffee and forget about him. If all goes well, we’ll be in Cannes tonight.”
They arrived at about eight o’clock. They stayed near the Boulevard de la Croisette, not far from the beach. At night, they went out for a stroll, but soon went to their room to rest. They were on the third floor. There was a small balcony over the street which also led to a lounge. Keith was looking at the street. Antonia was stretching her legs after a good shower. With a towel round her head, she was moisturising her skin.
“Don’t you think it’s a coincidence? Two of those cars that were behind us on the road are parked in the street.”
“Come on, Keith. How do you know they are the same?”
“One of them is a red Renault that I couldn’t forget. The chauffeur almost pushed me off the road after I passed the van, before the tyre blew. The other passed us in the street and was parked in the garage.”
“Darling, it must be a coincidence. You seem worried.”
“Since we started our trip, I’ve had the feeling we were being followed.”
“It’s pure imagination. Close the window and come here. You look frightened. I’m going to kiss you to make you feel more relaxed. We’re on our honeymoon,” said Antonia.
Keith left the balcony and walked towards the sofa. He sat beside her and passed his hand around her waist. Antonia leaned back a little. . They kissed each other. She held his hands and put them over her breast. Keith held her tight. They kissed each other again. She let her hand fall to Keith’s thigh, putting it in the gap in the towel. With her other hand, she took the towel from her head. They lay there.
At dawn, Keith decided to leave that hotel and travel aimlessly. Something inside him, some intuition, started to bother him. He drove around the town many times and decided to take a by-road to Juan-les-Pins. On the way, Antonia tried to talk, worried about her lover’s attitude. She couldn’t do anything. She kept quiet and turned on the radio.
Outside Antibes, the couple stopped at a small chalet park, near the beach. There Keith tied to rest, sunbathing in the mornings and going for long walks in the afternoons. His nights, however, were restless: flashbacks and presentiments filled his mind, forcing him think again about the episodes in El Salvador. Confused images whirled in his imagination. Antonia was also frightened and many times she discreetly suggested going back to London.
It was almost the end of the afternoon. The mild four o’clock sun was an invitation for a walk. Keith left Antonia reading on the chalet verandah and went out to wander about. Walking quickly, he reached the beach and went South. A sequence of inlets shaped the coastline. There was little wind. The sea reflected the sun and the waves broke gustly on the sand. Keith skirted the rocks and sang his way up to a small hill that separated the beaches. From there he saw a fishermen’s village and cliffs with mansions among trees. He decided to go down to the next beach. He walked. He descended to the last beach in the North that finished at a top of a mountain. It ran down to the sea, preventing him from continuing. There was no sand, but there were oval polished stones. Keith bent and picked up half a dozen of them. He played with them, throwing some of them at the sea. The others he kept in his hand, feeling their form and substance.
His attention was caught by some fishing boats and a group of youths windsurfing. He walked over. There was a small bar with tables on the promenade. He chose one of the tables closest to the beach and asked for some soda. It was sunset. It was also getting cooler.
Keith relaxed and daydreamed. His senses wandered among the things he could see. Sometimes he stared at the reflections of the sea and sometimes he looked at the green tones picked out by the setting sun. He started suddenly to observe the people on the beach.
First, a fat woman came towards him with a big bathing suit. She was walking slowly. With electric eyes, she was turning her neck frequently, moving her clumsy body as if she were looking for something. Beside her, a little behind, was her husband. A tall and delicate Frenchman, shouting at the woman to wait. Keith smiled. Right after, three strong youths appeared in their shining surf swimming gear.
There were also some people he thought were German. They were tall, blond and they were wearing different clothes from the French.
He asked for another drink and fell to meditating again. A couple passed behind a small fishing boat. The woman, a slim blonde, attracted Keith’s attention because of her shape. Her bikini fitted her buttocks and breasts. Right behind her there was a man picking up stones. Of average height , with black hair and a round nose.Keith sat up and took notice.
It was Domingos Herrera. Keith was astonished. He tensed up and looked at him again. The man was coming towards him, looking for pebbles. It was Domingos. But it wasn’t possible…
Keith stood up quickly. He pushed back his chair, dropping the bottle and the glass. People were looking at him nervously. He went down the sidewalk and ran along the beach towards the man.
“Domingos!,” he shouted.
The man looked up and let the pebbles he was collecting fall. He looked quickly sidewards. He ran towards Keith, rammed into him and ran up the sidewalk.
The journalist was thrown to the floor. He felt the pain of the impact. He stood up and ran towards the street. The man was disappearing round the corner. Keith made an effort to reach him. He ran to the end of the street.
A green Ford with a Spanish plate, moved quickly, getting away the place. Keith, out of breath, tried to see the numbers. He could read only the first three. The Ford turned the corner and disappeared. Keith shook himself and ran back to the beach. The bar waiters were on the street, not knowing what was going on. Some customers stood up to see what was happening.
Keith paid the bill and apologized for the trouble. After he went down to where the blonde woman was. She was leaning on a boat still shocked by the scene. When she saw him she became more frightened and was about to shout. Keith dropped his hands and held them to show he meant no harm. The woman understood and relaxed a bit. Some people approached, keeping a certain distance.
“I’m not here to hurt anyone. I am Domingos’ friend,” Keith said in French.
The woman didn’t understand.
“I only speak Spanish,” she said.
“My name’s Keith. I’m a journalist and I know Domingos,” said Keith in her language.
“My name’s Maria Elena, but what did you want with Leonardo? Did he do anything wrong?”
“Leonardo? I’m sorry,” Keith went on still excited.”I knew Leonardo some time ago in Central America.”
“He never said that he had business there. Why has he run away?”
“This is a long story. Elena? I don’t want to be pessimistic but I think your husband or boyfriend won’t be back in a hurry. Can I help you?”
“I work in a nightclub in Barcelona. I met Leonardo Jimenez there. He is one of our best customers. I was only escorting him. He promised to pay me a lot of money to travel with him. Now I’m broke and I don’t speak French.”
“Don’t worry. Which hotel were you staying at?”
1989 – Copyright of the Portuguese version by
Alvaro Andrade Garcia
Delfim Afonso Jr.
Roberto Barros de Carvalho
1992 – Copyright of the English version by
Alvaro Andrade Garcia
Delfim Afonso Jr.
Roberto Barros de Carvalho
PART 3 (click to continue)