It takes only a couple of sentences before you know you’re in the land of satire. That realization comes with reference to the President of the United States recent performance on Dancing With The Stars. Then you’re catapulted to Las Vegas where covert agents are holding a convention and everyone in attendance has the same surname—Smith. To assure all that this is a politically correct soiree, the American hosts have invited participants from al Qaeda, Islamic State, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Boko Haram. Quickly, an Australian detective, and sometime secret agent, is engaged in bar talk with a German realtor ostensibly looking to sell worthless desert to visiting rubes. Then by chapter’s end the gumshoe is chewing the fat with a casino owner and former criminal who had a sex change. The author quips, “A disguise is one thing but did he go too far?” One gets the impression that the only thing that’s going to be flowing faster and more furious than mayhem in upcoming chapters is wacky wisecracks and pistol packing puns.
It was almost three years into his first term as president, and Gus Snoodle and his advisors were a little nervous with their standing in the polls. There had been few scandals, no escalating wars, and the commander-in- chief’s performance on “Dancing with the Stars” had been inspiring. The man didn’t have the charisma of Kennedy or Clinton but, after all, he was a Republican, and it always takes time to cement a reputation. The election results may have been a surprise to many and the outcome could have been different if the former Governor of Arizona hadn’t helped Snoodle carry the Southwest. Vice President Geronimo Jordan was not popular outside of Phoenix and Tucson but his wife was. Rada Jordan was fifteen years younger than her husband and she was foreign. A little bit of European chic goes a long way with the female voters.
Over the years, Arizona had been a Republican stronghold and John McCain had been the standard bearer. The new power couple had come from nowhere and were aggressive, ambitious and newsworthy. Gus Snoodle had been happy to go with a compromise candidate but once in the Oval Office, he liked to keep the VP at arm’s length. He should have watched him more closely.
Las Vegas tends to be a popular choice for a convention and it doesn’t matter whether you are wheeling and dealing or finding an excuse for a tax deductible junket. The Mirage Resort and Casino is found at the best end of the strip and on a daily basis hosts any number of conferences. The Syncopation Reality Company doesn’t do conventions, as such, but they always keep a team on hand to infiltrate the symposiums and manipulate the poor buggers who attend, who are usually in holiday mode and often alcoholically compromised.
Manfred Knuth met Paddy Pest at the bar, after the latter gentleman completed a sixty-minute session at the gymnasium and slot machine hall. The realtor made the first play.
“You seem to be a pretty fit dude—lucky too. Did you win all that cash on the bench press machines or the bicycle slots?”
Out of habit, Pest eyed-off the newcomer with suspicion, but the Australian was generally gregarious and carefree when he came into easy money. He caught the attention of the barman and soon his new found friend was cradling a sour mash whiskey.
“Thank you very much. Your generosity is appreciated, but let me buy the beer nuts.”
Pest smiled because they both knew the nuts were free. Nevertheless, he was happy to introduce himself, although not prepared to release the specific details of his trip to Las Vegas. The second International Convention of Covert Operativeshad been long in the planning and difficult to organize. Many members lived in the shadows and proved hard to locate. The event was booked as the Smith Family Reunion—all the delegates claimed to be named Smith.
If the con artist had realized Paddy was a detective and sometime secret agent, he may have sought a more gullible prospect. It didn’t bother him that the fellow resided in Australia, as he often sold worthless land in the desert to non-nationals. The Aussies were usually easy marks, as they fancied timeshares, one of Manfred’s specialties. Being a professional huckster, the SRC representative would always tread warily and small talk was the essence of his opening gambit.
“‘Paddy’ seems Irish but isn’t ‘Smith’ of English derivation? I seem to recall arrowsmiths, coppersmiths, even goldsmiths.”
“I’m Australian, actually, but my forebears were Celtic blacksmiths. Surely, you had such a profession in America during the wild west days?”
“Possibly, but they would be from the Deep South. My people came from Germany. My grandfather used to sell hot air to the dirigible people. Count Zeppelin was a personal friend.”
Paddy Pest was ready to believe the chap’s granddad might have been a close pal of the Red Baron, and who could argue with his hot air credentials? These kinds of things can be hereditary. The sleuth from Down-Under had met hucksters before but Manfred’s pitch came across as novel, and the gumshoe was keen to see where it might be heading. He authorized another hit on his tab and urged the stranger to continue with his story. Time could be his friend, at least until his lady friend arrived.
Nadia Nickoff appeared half-way through Manfred’s discussion regarding the fruit bowl opportunities in the Mojave Desert, not far from Las Vegas—unfortunately, not close enough for immediate inspection. The dissertation trailed-off into oblivion as the Belarusian beauty brushed past the hot-air salesman, and planted a lingering kiss on Paddy’s most prolific orifice. She eyed him up and down, and satisfied with what she saw, snapped her fingers for the barman. Paddy didn’t want to be impolite and immediately introduced his new-found friend to the minx from Minsk.
“Manfred, I’d like you to meet Nadia Smith. Nadia is one of the delegates at our conference.”
Because Mr. Knuth was mesmerized and almost gagging on the lady’s perfume, his greeting was slow in coming. The lady took a sip from her recently arrived vodka cocktail and proffered her hand for kissing. Her smile was totally irresistible and the German became a willing captive of her seductive and captivating magnetism.
“Hello darlink, I am liking you already. Are you another Smith from the West? I vill embrace everyone. You are so ’andsome, so young.”
I think it is fair to say Nadia was more Smith and Wesson than anything else. She had been a competent KGB assassin and, although no longer the nubile young killer of days gone by, she was still attractive and in good physical condition. Certainly, Manfred thought so, because he couldn’t take his eyes off her exquisite form. Her choice of apparel redefined the alluring concept of the seductive cocktail dress, and this was all she appeared to be wearing.
Nadia’s natural brown hair was pulled back from her face, and no member of the male race could hope to avoid her penetrating blue eyes, which lingered long and lasciviously. Should you fraternize with this femme fatale, you would immediately be pitted against a woman not to be underestimated. Paddy Pest was well aware of this fact because she had tried to kill him on a number of occasions. Of course, all this happened before Perestroika and Glasnost.
Once the delicious delegate arrived, the presence of the SRC representative seemed superfluous, and the gumshoe made his farewell with appropriate grace and dignity.
“We have to split, Manny, but I’m sure we’ll cross paths again before the reunion is over. I’ll look forward to further discussion regarding your prognostications for the Mojave Desert and the Tumbleweed oasis development. Nadia is looking for a warm retreat, away from the chilling winters of Belarus.”
Having made their farewell, the man and his companion disappeared into the night and the real estate rogue reveled in his reverie.
“What a likable couple,” he reflected.
Nevertheless, he learned little about them, apart from Paddy’s blacksmith lineage; and, what about the woman? When she brushed past him, he felt something against her leg. Was it a gun? Manfred Knuth knew something about guns.
The International Convention of Covert Operatives was an initiative sponsored by the U.S. State Department, under the auspices of the vice president. Evidently, the White House thought it would be nice to give the second banana something to do.
In an effort to be politically ecumenical, the Americans, as host nation, invited operatives from al Qaeda, Islamic State, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Boko Haram. They fully expected all of them to decline on the basis of passport difficulties, but all these organizations advised they already had members on the ground in the United States, and would be delighted to send representation to the convention. Predominantly, these people were the big winners at the tables. Saman Smith won a gold Cadillac and Mohammad Smith hit the jackpot at the slots. He scored a weekend for two at Lake Tahoe and the word was he would be accompanied by his granny, known to all as Bambi.
The thing about reunions is you touch base with people you haven’t seen for some time, and Paddy was in his element. Through the years, the sleuth had accepted employment offers from various régimes in roles always deniable. The Aussie snoop didn’t mind, as it gave him the opportunity to operate outside his own country, where he often became mired in boring mainstream investigations. Over time, the fellow acquired some kind of international reputation and although he couldn’t be compared to James Bond, he did promote his self-imposed license to thrill, which resonated with certain female members of government agencies, friend and foe. In this instance the lucky woman was Nadia Nickoff, a former protagonist, who had become a victim of his charm and magnetic personality.
The convener of the get together, Leon Butterbum, may have failed to truly appreciate the nebulous nature of Paddy’s reputation and his inadequate grasp of reality. He asked him to present a paper on alternative opportunities for coverts in Oz. Leon was a serious person from the State Department, who also failed to realize most of the delegates were there for a good time, not a long time.
Paddy, of course, got it wrong but did highlight the fact his hometown was particularly progressive. The administration had made the most dramatic and extraordinary conciliatory gesture towards a former enemy— they appointed the Taliban to run their transport network. Paddy tabled all the facts and figures, and supported them with his verbal summary.
“Since taking on their five-year contract, fare evasion has dwindled to less than 1%. Limbless graffiti artists are no longer a threat, and the compulsory wearing of hijab and niqab has reduced the incidence of communal flu on our trams, trains and buses.”
Although there appeared to be grudging support for the peacekeeping initiatives of the Melbourne authority, one of Moscow’s meanest delegates felt obliged to mock Paddy’s goody two-shoes presentation.
“Zis may be true, comrade, but since the Mujahedeen and other jihadist organizations drifted towards respectability, rogue members have gone private and signed up with assassination.com. There iz a glut on the market for contract killers and our rates are being discounted. Where iz the justice?”
The prospect of cut-throat criminals on the poverty line with no chance of gainful employment was an appealing thought to the crime buster, and he smiled at the absurdity of it all. As Pest gathered his papers, prior to the lunch break, he caught sight of the CIA contingent deep in discussion. If there were cheap killers on the loose, they would want first bite at the cherry. The American delegates were talking animatedly, and Paddy reflected on his past history with the world’s largest clandestine organization. He didn’t realize somebody was standing next to him.
“Hello, Paddy, long time no see.”
The Mirage Hotel and Casino is owned by an entertainment consortium called Milton, Grimes & Malkovich (MGM) and Nicky Mickey Milton was one of the founding fathers. Actually, he was more of a mother, if you take into account his sex change operation in 1989. Mickey had been running guns into Nicaragua for the CIA and it wasn’t long before it was his turn to run. A disguise is one thing but did he go too far? Anyway, Mickey is now Nicky, and the lady signs some big checks.
Few people doubted government money kept this hotel afloat, so Paddy allowed Ms Milton to buy lunch. She selected one of the outdoor areas, the Paradise Café—a good choice. The only thing missing was Hawaiian hula girls to perform under the imported island palms.
“It’s a nice place you’ve got here, Nicky. What did it set you back, a few billion?”
“Something like that, but let’s not talk about me. The buzz is you’re a legend in your own lunch hour back in Australia. Do they realize you used to work for the Contras along the Mosquito Coast? Those mines you guys planted blew up a lot of shipping, and the Sandinistas put a fancy price on your head. Ever wanted to revisit for old times’ sake?”
“Not with luxury like this at my disposal. All this soft living hasn’t gone to your head has it? I can remember when Mickey Milton was happy to sleep three to a bed and bathe in a river full of piranha.”
“My God, are you talking about last week’s Realty Roustabout party? Have you meet Manfred Knuth yet? He’s one of us.”
“Get out of here. A spy? I don’t believe it. He seems such a regular guy.”
“It’s a good cover, Paddy. He sells worthless land to worthless people, who are usually worth less than they think. He can float around all the casinos and not raise any suspicion. We entertain high rollers from every country, and if we can compromise them in any way, we will. Doesn’t it make you feel good to be an American?”
“I’m an Australian, Nicky; Manfred is German. We are both appalled.”