THE CAYMAN OPERATION: Keith O’Brien missing.
The English journalist Keith O’Brien – who, after uncovering Cayman Operation, was resting on the Cote D’Azur between Antibes and Juan-Les-Pins with his girlfriend – has not been seen for a week and there are no hints of where he is. For security reasons, the identity of the girl – who has already left France and is in a safe place – has not been revealed by the police.
The news was released in London and confirmed by French and Spanish police, who are also co-operating in the case. Sources from Scotland Yard believe that the journalist may have been victim of a KGB reprisal. Tom Laughwood, in charge of the case, has not dismissed the hypothesis that he might have been killed. What is known is that, a little before disappearing, O’Brien was involved in an incident on the beach with an unknown person accompanied by a dancer of Spanish nationality.
The news of Keith O’Brien’s disappearance sparked off a series of demonstrations all around Europe. Human Rights organisations re-staged, yesterday afternoon, a demonstration in front of the Soviet Embassy in London. Security has been intensified in all East European consulates in the West.
The Soviet Union’s Ambassador to London, Leon Dievuchkin, was non-committed when asked about the latest events. “We regret what has happened to the journalist Keith O’Brien and we hope he can be found as soon as possible,” he said. “This is not the first time they have tried to involve our country in scandals of a political nature,” he emphasized. “The Americans are trying to find a reason to avoid signing the new arms limitation agreement,” Dievuchkin continued, saying that the Soviet Union would soon prove its innocence in the episode. Because of the disappearance of the journalist, many countries from the EEC promised to consider economic sanctions against the Soviets. Among the experts in Soviet affairs, there is a rumour that Gorbachev’s opponents in the Communist Party Central Committee are not concealing their satisfaction at the latest events. According to the specialists, the case of Keith O’Brien may be the principal anti-glasnost recipe.
The telephone rang yet again in Keith’s London flat. The sound of the bell echoed among the furniture and the rooms. Nobody answered. Antonia let the phone drop and sighed as if she were on the point of giving up. She was in London, after trying to find Keith in France.
Her boyfriend, according to what she could remember, had arrived at the chalet early in the evening that he disappeared. Keith was with a strange blonde who had said nothing, waiting for him by the door. He entered, said hello and in a few words he explained that he had to solve something, he didn’t say what. She only felt a certain reserve in his voice, a perceptible change in intonation. Then he went out with a briefcase and didn’t come back. He took some clothes with him, all his money, his diary and various documents.
The following morning, Antonia, sensing something abnormal in the air, telephoned the French police. A couple of detectives were put on the case and quickly associated the name of the journalist with the episode on the beach in Cap D’Antibes, seen by a local detective. It was not difficult to find the blonde’s room and her companion in a luxury hotel nearby. They found nothing else but the manager angry about the unpaid bill. Neither the companion, the blonde nor the journalist were found. What was known about Keith was that he had left the woman at the train station and had been seen alone, for the last time, in the station cafe.
The investigations continued but didn’t reveal very much. The blonde had crossed the frontier with Spain and the French police could do nothing more. The Spanish had no interest in the case. The businessman Leonardo Jimenez, her escort, wasn’t found there and his name did not appear at the passport control. The Spanish authorities promised to check the departure files at the frontier with France, but they didn’t know how long it would take. Up to that moment, nothing had been found.
As she was sure it was a case of kidnapping, Antonia internationalized the incident, seeking out the European press and some friends in Interpol. She had little success. Despite publishing news about the strange episode in the South of France, almost nothing concrete had been added to the case. One or another chancellor made a speech accusing the KGB.
In London, hoping to find him, Antonia had telephoned his house many times in the last few days. After one more failure, anguished, she went into the street. She called a taxi and drove to the London Chronicle building. “Ralph, you must help me. I feel that Keith is in danger. The French police say that two well-known Russian agents had been discovered asking questions at the same places we’d been to.”
“Take it easy, Antonia, everything will be all right. Keith’s done this before and came out safely in the end.”
“Don’t you understand? This time it’s different. They could already have killed him. He maybe never come back again…”
“…so don’t just stand there. Help me. Publish more on the case. You don’t mention the subject anymore. Ralph, he’s your friend.”
“I know, I know. The problem is that the press can’t go on announcing that a man’s disappeared. Keith vanished, I know, but I can’t do more than I’ve done already.”
“You must, Ralph !” she said, her voice rising.
“I can’t do anything else. The case doesn’t interest people. There’re other things to worry about.”
“Ralph, how can you be so insensitive? He’s the newspaper’s reporter and has disappeared.”
“I’m getting sick of that. For almost two months I’ve done nothing else but looked for a lead.”
“What I can recommend you is to be calm. Relax. Take care of your life. Let’s wait a little longer and things will solve themselves. You said before that he could be here in England. Let’s be reasonable.”
“I don’t want anything else from incompetents, nothing ! You’ve missed the guy and exposed yourselves so that the French police could photograph you. You are a bunch of idiots. That’s what you are,” said the chief to the agents that had been in France.” The man was right under your noses and now nobody knows anything about him. General Dimitri wants your butts. By the way, were they sunbathing or working in Cote D’Azur?”
The two agents stood motionless. One was staring fixedly at the pattern in the rug. The other was constantly looking away, searching for an non-existent point in the air.
“He was very lucky,” said one of them.”Everything was ready for a crash on the road. At the exact moment the car had a puncture. Later, when he arrived in Cannes, we programmed an accident for the next day. The guy left the hotel early in the morning and disappeared. Nobody was expecting that.”
“He must’ve noticed something.”
“He disappeared and I’m afraid we lost sight of him.”
“Well, the rest I already know. It was come out that you’d been to Antibes asking questions. The police photographed you at their leisure and you got out quickly before something worse could happen. Meanwhile, the newspapers showed your beautiful smiling teeth.”
“Nobody would’ve thought that a provincial detective would be interested in our presence there.”
” `Nobody would’ve thought, nobody was expecting this!’ Come on, everything happens in this kind of job. Maybe the CIA was also interested in the guy. It might not have been difficult for them to discover who you are. And they’ve scored some more goals with the noise from the press.”
“Give us a chance,” said the agent, pulling at his long nose.
“Just one more chance.”
“This is unbelievable. Sure, I’ll give you a chance… But where’re you going to look for him? Where are you going to find the man ?”
“What’s going on with the investigations in Spain ?” asked the agent who had been silent up until that moment. The chief handed him a file.
“Read this, and be ready to act.”
Not only the investigations by the CIA and the KGB but also those of the Spanish police failed to uncover very much. The information was contradictory and there were no clues as to where the journalist was.
The nightclub La Guapa, on the outskirts of Barcelona, was visited and revisited many times. Maria Elena testified again and again and Leonardo Jimenez’s life was investigated. The photographs at the beach in the South of France, an artist’s impression of the businessman and interviews with girls from La Guapa were in the main newspapers and magazines on the Continent and in America. Despite the intense search and suggestive clues, few people could concot a coherent hypothesis.
The blonde girl said that she had met Leonardo Jimenez in the nightclub where she used to work. He said he was a businessman who had just arrived in the city and who wanted to build up a shoe factory. He often went to the nightclub looking for company. He quickly became well-known not only because of the high prices he used to pay his companions but also for the extravagant parties he used to throw. Furthermore, it was known that he had a green Ford that was rented. Nobody knew where he lived, the location of the factory or if he had any friends. He was always alone.
Some investigating agencies managed to discover that the man took frequent trips to Switzerland and Luxemburg, probably to withdraw money from his accounts. He had a regular bank account in Spain. The personal details he had given to the bank were false and the branch clerks didn’t remember much of him.
Some days later, an old woman who had read the paper appeared, saying she was the landlady of the house where he had been living. Her statement added almost nothing. Her guest seemed to be honest and had paid a year’s rent in advance. He went about on his own. He bought all the furniture and utensils in the market in Barcelona. The only thing she could add to the description was that he had a strange accent that she couldn’t recognize.
Fingerprints in the house didn’t reveal much. After goings on in France, the man returned to Spain, picking up some clothes and other belongings. He had vanished into thin air. His Ford was found later in Castellon. A group was uncovered in the Spanish Ministry of the Interior which may have been responsible for his false passport. But this had to be dropped because the information might compromise the reputation of the state security and endanger important refugees.
There was a story about the presence of the KGB in France that led many people to believe in a kidnap or in the assassination of the journalist. A lot of newspapers published and investigated this possibility. Even Antonia considered it. She searched for possible leads amongst the organized crime of Marseilles. She directed her attention to the area around Juan-les-Pins.
Others tried to open up new areas, especially the KGB. The agency knew that they didn’t have the journalist in their hands. As well as the Spanish connection, they investigated other regions in France. After some dead-ends, they came up with some useful information. The journalist had left the blonde in Nice and had probably gone North alone. Based upon this supposition, they thought his route might include London. They concentrated their attention on the Paris-London traffic.
The CIA also suspected this and worked with their French colleagues watching the border in northern France. The investigations were successful. They discovered that the journalist had returned to England. This was quickly passed on to Antonia by her friend in the CIA who had worked in El Salvador as a clerk in the embassy.
A woman stood apart. She was wearing a pleated white dress and a big hat was hiding her hair and face. She was in the middle of a bright square. The sun fell on the scene, dissolving outlines and bleaching out details. The square was silent. Leaves spun in the dust. Pale houses appeared vaguely in the distance. The woman ran towards an ancient building, an old house with wide doors and windows.
Keith headed that way, sure that it was Antonia. He entered the building. The door gave on to a large living room, sparsely furnished. The wooden floor gleamed, impeccably smooth. He heard footsteps, looked up at the stairs where he glimpsed the ankles and shoes of a woman. He ran towards her without hearing his own steps. They ran up two flights. Breathless, he could hear nothing. They passed through rooms and corridors and travelled in old elevators. A pantographic door closed behind him. He went up several floors.
When the elevator door opened again, he was in front of the set of stairs and saw the woman arrive. He couldn’t see her face. She turned round and ran towards a wide, windowless corridor.He walked more quickly. Everything was silent. Rugs and old trunks. The woman reached the end of the corridor and passed through a wall. Keith was walking more slowly at that moment. He hesitated, but he passed through the wall too.
Everything dissolved. A lot of lights cast bland and colourless tones. The outline of things were indistinct. They were apparently on a great, limitless patio. Keith tried to call her. He became confused. Did he know that woman?
Did he know her name?
When he tried to see her again, he saw himself in front of a flight of marble stairs. She was on the last step, about to open a white door. He ran up, excited and out of breath. He went to the door. She had already passed through. He walked more quickly and held the door-knob. He took a step back and looked at the design. There was a golden snake with two green, shining eyes.
Suddenly someone touched his shoulder. He was sweating and was afraid of looking back and seeing the dead man who had been walking on the beach in France.
Keith stretched out and struck the telephone beside his bed. He woke up in a fright. It was not yet morning. He looked around his room, searching for something. He turned on the light. A pile of paper, pen, lighter, an envelope of aspirins half-opened were on the bedside table. There were also some visiting cards and an ashtray full of cigarette ends. His heart slowed. He took a glass of water from the other side of the bed. He swallowed it in two mouthfuls. He put his head under the pillow and fell asleep again.
In the morning a doorbell rang in the hotel room. Breakfast arrived. Thomas Whitehead, the representative of an English agro-chemical enterprise answered it. He gave a small tip to the waiter and went to the bathroom. Keith was proud of his new identity. His hand trembled while he was putting in his contact lenses. He had changed. He had just dyed his hair, his eyes were brown and he had grown a beard. Washed and brushed, he had breakfast and went out, locking in his room signs of Keith O’Brien.
“Can I help you, sir ?” the French photographer Philippe Montferrand asked at the other end of the line.
“My name is Thomas Whitehead. I was told by the BBC to look you up as soon as I arrived. Terry Wilson told me that maybe I could count on you. I’m looking for some information.”
“If you’re from Terry, everything’s OK, man. In my opinion, there’s no mystery. Is there anything that I can clear up on the ‘phone ?”
“I’d prefer to meet.”
“I’ve been rather busy recently.”
“I’m not going to take long. It’ll be brief.”
“Here in the hotel?”
“Are you going out tonight?”
“Well, I have to go downtown to get some documents.”
“It would be better if we could meet there. Do you know somewhere quiet ?”
“Well, let me see, there’s the Valet. It’s near the corner of Avenida Cuscatlan with calle Delgado.”
“Excellent. I know the place.”
“Is five o’clock OK?”
“How can I identify you?”
“Well, I have brown eyes and my hair is almost red. I’ll be wearing a red shirt and blue jeans. Moreover, I’ve got some of your photos. It won’t be difficult for me to find you.”
“I didn’t think I was famous in Europe.”
“See you there.”
“Right. Thanks a lot.”
“Not at all, bye.”
Keith put the phone down and coughed several times. He reverted to his normal voice by singing and got ready to go out. He had been in El Salvador for two weeks without raising any suspicions. He knew that he had to be careful and that he was a marked man. Thomas Whitehead wouldn’t last long. He would start behaving like a journalist and then he would be more exposed. For this reason his appointment with Philippe would be risky; but he needed help from someone.
Keith O’Brien was a marked man. The KGB agents had instructions to kill him at all costs. Concern about international opinion regarding a possible assassination no longer existed. It was not necessary to plan an accident. That same week the Soviets started pursuing the journalist again. From the statements of the waiter and from a man who saw the incident in France, they concluded that a man with the name of Leonardo Jimenez was in fact Domingos Herrera, a key figure in the events in Central America and said to be dead.
Based upon this new hypothesis, the main inquires were conducted in Central America. Informers from the Central-American continent said that a strange Englishman was doing the same thing as Keith O’Brien had done previously. He had been in the same village in the Northwest of San Salvador and had visited the family of the dead informer. Some peasants said that they had seen this man with fair hair and brown eyes in the region. It might be another person, but it could also be the journalist in disguise.
The agents in Salvadorean territory had, however, lost the track of the man and couldn’t say where he might have gone after passing through the villages. The KGB kept up the surveillance and closed all possibilities of failure. They had men following Antonia Vidal and Ralph Foster. If they met the lover or friend, they would be accompanied by two of the best killers in the organization.
Concerning the search for a Spaniard called Leonardo, the instructions were also strict. If they found him, they would get as much as possible from him as they could before killing him. His head was worth its weight in gold for the Soviet agents. There was no hope for the people involved in Cayman Operation.
The Valet was crowded with customers. There were round tables overflowing onto the sidewalks that were full of people all day long. Beer and savouries attracted clerks, the unemployed and all those who wanted to escape from the hot weather with a quiet conversation under the shadow of a fig tree. Philippe was sitting down at one of the tables. He was drinking his third beer. He was getting impatient. His watch read a quarter past five.
A tall man with reddish brown hair approached and asked to sit down. Philippe greeted him and offered a seat. Thomas Whitehead introduced himself. The photographer kept his eyes on the man’s features. Something about the man reminded him of someone he knew. Before he could decide anything he heard the man say:
“Let’s not waste our time. I’m O’Brien, Keith O’Brien.”
Philippe was surprised. His companion’s voice had changed, was different, more relaxed, close to the one he knew.
“It’s me. Don’t you remember your friends anymore?”
“Well,” answered Philippe,”you have changed a bit.”
“It was necessary.”
“I didn’t expect to find you here. Let’s do something. I’m going to order an extra dose of tequila and two more beers, because I’ve already seen that things are going to be on fire Mr…”
“You son of a bitch!”
“Hey, come on, the waiter is waiting for your order.”
“Fuck off. How did you have the courage to do what you did?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Didn’t you? You played according to the United States’ point-of-view. After your article, things got worse than ever. The army has more power and more money, much more money. There are a lot of people who want your ass…”
“Calm down. I know that you are angry with me. I respect your ideological position. I’d like you just to listen to me for a few minutes. Then I’ll listen to your problems.”
“I’ll try. You know, if I were a decent man I’d get out of here and leave talking to yourself.”
“I’ll be honest and objective. I’m exposing myself coming here to talk to you. My life is in danger now. I’ve got more information in Europe that can add things to Cayman Operation. Deep connections that are still a mystery to me. I found Domingos. Do you remember him? Alive and kicking! I couldn’t talk to him, but something happened. The KGB followed me during my trip to France. I can’t trust anybody else. The size of Cayman Operation seems to be bigger than came out in the press. I’m sensing crazy things in the air.”
“What’s the point?”
“I want you to listen to me without interrupting. I need you. There are things that I can’t do. One of them is to see Yuri and get from him some details to fit with what I’m going to tell you. Another thing, Philippe. Despite everything that happened, I’d like you to take me to the guerrillas. And I know you can do it.”
The photographer laughed. He refused, reminding him that his reputation among European journalists wasn’t very good. He told him that he wouldn’t be involved. Keith stopped, waited some minutes and started to talk again, this time in a more balanced way and more slowly. He had some notes in his hand and he read them aloud. The fig tree rustled in the wind. Philippe’s expression changed.
The CIA office in Britain investigating Keith O’Brien’s whereabouts met a discreet clerk from the immigration service. He was an expert in false passports. The man, who was accostumed to working for Scotland Yard and other Western forces in Europe, had no difficulty recognizing Keith O’Brien and pointing out his new identity: Thomas Whitehead. With these data, the CIA discovered that the man had left London on a flight to Miami. From there, he flew to Central America, destination: El Salvador.
A file with the route and dates of the journalist’s itinerary was delivered to the Latin American Desk of the Agency in Washington. They also knew that the KGB was trying to find the journalist in Central America. Assassins connected to the organization had entered El Salvador.
The CIA staff responsible for the development of the Cayman Operation had a meeting and decided to monitor the situation closely, sending agents to find the journalist before the KGB did.
The service that was the responsible for the hotel registers, kept by the police of the Salvadorean capital, was called in. They quickly discovered the hotel and the room where there had been an employee of an agrochemical – Thomas Whitehead. Three agents were dispatched to the place.
At the same time, in Spain, a body similar to the one previously reported by people as Leonardo Jimenez was found in a wood near Sevilha. The man had been shot five times and had been get alight with gasoline, making the body almost unrecognisable.
“We falling behind in the investigation. There are no signs of him in Europe. The dead man in Spain was Domingos. The next one will surely be Keith. Information networks over the whole world are following your friend and you don’t lift a finger to help. Neither you, nor the management of this god-damned newspaper. Doesn’t, the news about this situation at least interest you? It’s obvious his life means nothing to you…”
Ralph scratched his nose and became impatient. He turned his chair and shuffled his feet. Antonia had insisted on visiting the newspaper in order to find something out about her friend. She had, as time passed, become increasingly bad-tempered and aggressive, especially when she came up against the inertia of Keith’s friends. “My life isn’t the same. I’m getting older by the day with this useless search and you don’t even give a damn.”
“Antonia, I’ve already said it and I’ll say it again: Keith knows how to take care of himself. If it had been a kidnapping we would’ve known. He must be trying to discover something. Don’t you think you are turning this into an obsession?”
“Obsession? Christ ! I give up. Ralph, go to hell! I don’t want to know anything else about you. I’ll do it myself. I see that I can’t count on you.”
The editor remained impassive. He was tapping his pen on the desk and avoiding eye contact. Antonia stood up and came over to him, jabbing her finger at him:
“Listen carefully. I’m going to find Keith and then he’ll know how you’ve been behaving.”
The woman swung round and left the room, slamming the door behind her. Ralph walked to the window and waited to see her pass down the street. Smiling slightly, he sighed. He was acting his part. He knew about his friend. He had no details about what exactly had happened in France, but he was sure that Keith was all right, following up his inquiry.
The woman hurried away, looking angry. Ralph watched her and asked himself if it were possible for someone to act so well. He was not thinking about himself, but about her. Because, according to Keith, she was working as an undercover agent.
Three days after the meeting between the two pressmen in the Bar Valet, Keith left without leaving any clue as his destination. He walked through lanes and shops downtown until he felt sure that nobody was following him. He took a taxi to a small suburban guest house in San Salvador. There, according to what he said in the bar, he met Philippe. Together, they went, as hitch-hikers, on a truck to the north of El Salvador.
Through changing the scenery, Keith was silent. The movements of the truck and the constant presence of Indians and people around him inhibited his curiosity about what Philippe had in for him. Even when night came, he said nothing. What was attracting his attention more was the impression that the stars, because of the movements of the truck, were moving in the sky.
Maybe Philippe was accustomed to that way of travelling. The familiarity with which he spoke to other people, the ease with which he negotiated with the authorities at the frontiers and the fluency of his Spanish showed that this kind of journey was something quite normal for him. It was the first time in many years of professional contact that they were doing something together. That night Keith felt a kind of admiration towards the Frenchman.
At the end of the journey the Englishman felt very ragged.Every bone and muscle was aching. Philippe tried to talk to him in their small room in Opico. Keith’s eyelids gently closed and he saw nothing more.
1989 – Copyright of the Portuguese version by
Chapter 13 (click to continue)