Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Dinner in Paris

To London, where I dropped off a piece of analysis for Sir Harry (effective bribery in Yemen, if you must know). Travel now had become a dream, what with Hank Grimsby and his Lear jet at my beck and call, and Sir Harry's granting me diplomatic immunity. (He owes me more than he could ever repay.) Thus no more fussing at airports and obnoxious people waving wands up and down my person, and female officials looking with ill-concealed envy when I removed my Christian Louboutin stilettos.

Now, my assignment completed and Sir Harry pleased, I felt the need for a fine dinner. I was also hungry for something else, and thus got in touch with the Compte de Rienville, whom I knew was confined to Paris until Sarkozy straightened out certain issues related to French pensions. The way this policy change has enraged the left, you'd think that working until age 62 was a complete loss of liberty, fraternity and equality. Suck it up my freres et soeurs. Everyone else does.

The Compte was delighted to learn of my intent.

"I suggest," I said, "The Tour d'Argent tomorrow night. About 7:30 pm. I feel the need for their pressed duck."

"No chance, cherie," he replied. "The Tour makes reservations weeks ahead. Weeks."

"You let me worry about that," I replied. "See you there."

Hank Grimsby readied my plane, and once airborne, I made a certain phone call. That done, I settled back and relaxed with earphones and Debussy. In Paris, after a luxurious bubble bath and some primping at the Georges Cinq, I taxied to the Tour, and was soon ensconced at a table, with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot nearby on ice. I had just had my first sip when the Compte slid in beside me. After a kiss and a hug, he was curiosity itself.

"How on earth did you do it?

"Do what?"

"Get a reservation. It would have been impossible."

"Well," I replied, with just a soupcon of smugness, you know the U.S. Marine saying: 'The impossible we do every day. Miracles take a little longer.'"

"You are not a marine."

"Ah, but I am a woman of mystery. And mystery is a good quality in a relationship, n'est pas? Now let's to the canard."

The Compte knows when he has been stymied, and dropped the subject. At least for now. I could almost see into his brain, filing this little event under the heading, 'Things to be examined later. In depth.'

What I had done, of course, had involved my new friend and resource, the wonderful Rachel. In that I had saved her ass big time, she was delighted to help me out as occasion merited. This was one of those times. Using the program WRAITH, she had taken over the Tour's reservation software, and made a substitution: the Compte de Rienville and Lady Strunsky replaced Martine Aubry and guest, who were flung out somewhere in cyber space. I was OK with this. I mean, what is a socialist doing in the Tour d'Argent in the first place?

Dinner proceeded, with much talk of finance, currency wars, and budget cutbacks. Boring, perhaps, but not if you own a major international sugar beet enterprise. Over dessert, we got round to the American efforts at fiscal restraint, something the Compte said was almost non-existent.

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," I said. "Look at the death penalty thing."

"What the hell has that got to do with saving money?"

"A lot. Did you know that a fair number of states are seriously considering dropping the death penalty?"

"Ah," he exclaimed. "Enfin, ethics and reason show themselves."

"Er, not exactly. You see, the bean counters have discovered that it costs a horrendous amount of money to support the death penalty. Appeals can go on for years, expensive appeals. A life sentence, on the other hand, is a far cheaper alternative."

The Compte looked down glumly, then said, "So no flash of humanity?"

"No. But it still is a Good Thing, even given Eliot's lines in Murder in the Cathedral.

"You're getting away from me again. What lines?"

"Eliot wrote, dealing with Thomas Becket's concern that he may be acting out of a desire for martyrdom, 'The last temptation is the greatest treason / To do the right deed for the wrong reason.' Says it all, really.

And it does.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Exercise In Reciprocity

For once, a serene and quiet morning. Over a leisurely breakfast, I was ruminating about Toronto's mayoralty campaign, and the three main contenders. In the world of Shakespeare, this contest would be among Sir John Falstaff, Richard III, and Oberon. The Falstaffian miles gloriosus of the piece is of course Rob Ford, hell bent on saving every cent for the taxpayer (and possibly destroying the city in the process. Or not -- Lord knows the spending spree of the last eight years has been unconscionable). Then there is George Smitherman, whose past history in the provincial government cost tax payers millions (the electronic health fiasco). All one has to do is change the first "m" in his name to "l", and -- well, you get the picture. Finally, cometh Joe Pantalone, our beneficent Oberon, who will maintain things as they are, and for whom I would cast my vote in a heartbeat, given one proviso: that money grows on trees.

So I pondered, until Irving appeared.

"It's him. On the secure line."

I sighed, shoved the remnants of a cheese omelet aside, and got on the line.


Sir Harry was in no mood for pleasantries. "This Israeli software thing. Give it and that woman Rachel back."

"I think not." How the hell had Harry found out? Irving was as tight-lipped as they come, and Tilly Hatt could be tortured all the day long and never tell. (I know -- I was tied up in the adjoining cell in Mogadishu). But then, Harry had a wide circle of contacts, some of whom were no doubt in Israel itself. Doesn't matter, he'd found out.

Sir Harry continued. "Then you'd better fix it some other way. They are really, really angry, and are liable to commit some very untoward actions."

"I had better fix things then."

"Just get it done, Simone. Get it done." And he rang off. Terse. That was the word for Sir Harry. Terse.

A wee bit of background. Rachel, a stunning brunette, computer wizard and Israeli friend of my minder Irving (himself ex-Mossad) had arrived the other day at the Manor. She had fled from Israel, and had brought with her a piece of software she had developed. The software was entitled WRAITH, and it allowed access into computers without the users ever knowing that such access had occurred. I thought this rather neat.

Turned out that Rachel was dead set against the Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 borders. She had used WRAITH to misguide and frustrate those settlers, mainly by sending necessary building materials to all the wrong places, usually deep into the West Bank, although not Gaza -- Rachel had no use for Hamas. The Palestinians were delighted. The Israelis were not.

I saw some other uses for such a piece of software, but also knew the Israelis would persist until they got that software, and hopefully Rachel, back in Israel. Things could get nasty, and, my serene breakfast now ruined, I was forced to give the matter a great deal of thought. And then inspiration came.

I rambled through the Manor, and finally found Rachel and Irving in the gym, fencing. Of course. What else would you do on a gorgeous morning but hack at each other with pieces of metal? The two were so intent at their craft that it was a shame to interrupt, but needs must, so I simply turned off the lights. Nothing brings swordplay to a sudden halt faster than darkness -- think about it.

They were upset, but then I explained to them what I wanted.

"I don't know if it's possible," said Rachel.

"It had better be, sweetie," I stated. "It's either that prison in Tel Aviv. Oh, and Irving, you're riposte needs work. Now off you go."

The reference to Tel Aviv seemed to work, and the two disappeared into the computer room. Five hours later, success was reported.

The next day, after contacting my pilot Hank Grimsby, Irving and I were winging our way to Ottawa, where Canadians' tax dollars go to die. We were heading to the Israeli Embassy on O'Conner Street. Irving had a contact there, whom he referred to as Levi. The chances, I thought, of that being his real name were doubtful in the extreme.

We landed, got a cab. and soon were at O'Conner Street. I made for the entrance, but Irving stopped me.

"We're to use another entrance. Behind the building. No point in involving the Ambassador in this. Public figure and all."

This made sense, and after a rather extensive but, dare I say, somewhat enjoyable body search, Levi being rather good-looking, we were ushered into a plain room and got down to business.

The gist of the whole thing was as follows. We would keep a copy of WRAITH, but also give the Israelis software that would detect WRAITH when it was being used.

"We want the woman," said Levi.

"No you don't. She's far more valuable to you where she is. Throwing her into prison solves nothing, and you also lose a significant asset."

"We've already lost that asset," Levi said flatly.

"Actually, not so," I replied. "Here's why." I opened my compact, carefully lifted the powder tray, and withdrew three memory sticks. "Some body search. You, Levi, have to get more familiar with women. Now listen. The first stick contains WRAITH. The second contains the software that will detect its use. The third," and here I paused for effect, "contains the complete schematics for ALL of Iran's nuclear facilities. And from time to time, more stuff will be sent. Rachel believes in Israel. She just doesn't believe in the sort of irredentist behaviour that the settlement program represents, and wishes dearly that Bibi would get off his ass and do something about it. Now do we have a deal?"

Levi sat back, his eyes riveted on the memory sticks. Finally he said, "I'll have to clear it with my superiors, but yes, we have a deal."

Ain't reciprocity wonderful?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Of Deflections and Reflections

A loud screech of brakes on an otherwise quiet afternoon heralded the arrival of Matilda Hatt at the Manor. I peered out the conservatory window, and shuddered as I saw her rented Camry, the model with stoppage problems, just centimeters behind my Bentley. The door banged, and soon Tilly flounced in, trailed by an upset Irving, slowly replacing his Glock into his side holster. Well, you never know.

Tilly was wearing a clingy cashmere dress -- Armani, I thought -- and looked stunning.

I invited her to sit down, and complimented her on her outfit, adding "Bit unusual for you, isn't it?" (Tilly usually dresses as a poster child for punk rock groups.)

"I'm meeting someone tonight. Contacts in North Korea. We're trying to get a handle on the latest 'Dear Leader' known as Kim Jong Un. This person --"

"Is going to fall into a honey trap."

"Duty calls, my dear. And he's rather good-looking."

"Always helps the scenario along."

Irving was standing in the conservatory entrance, taking this all in, but then left after hearing a voice calling him.

"Who's that calling?" asked Tilly.

"Uh, that would be Rachel, his new found friend."

"Really! Hadn't realized that your minder has a little social life. Good to know. Now to business, but first, is your Grey Goose stock, ah yes, still on the sideboard. Want one?"

I acquiesced. "Over ice."

Tilly nodded, made the drinks, then curled up on the sofa and got down to what was concerning her. It was, of course, the whole business of the WRAITH software recently obtained by yours truly courtesy of Rachel and Irving, although Tilly was unaware of the source.

"First,Simone," she began, "you owe me big time. I managed to deflect the interest of the Powers That Be from wondering how those Predator drones went so badly astray, and got them focussed on something called Stuxnet, and now everyone is fussing about in Belarus, examining the Siemens Corporation, de-constructing servers in Denmark and Malaysia, and, no surprise here, appealing to Microsoft for help. So you are off the hook. And for all this help, I only ask one little thing."

What Tilly wanted was access from time to time to WRAITH.

"I'll talk to Rachel --"

"Hah!" exclaimed Tilly. "I thought as much. The woman appears, the software also appears, and--

"And I'll talk to Rachel," I continued. "She would have to be dead certain that any use could not be traced back to here."

"Lifted it, did she? But your condition is not unreasonable. Like to meet this woman. It's always exciting to discuss something with a person who's committed high treason. I wouldn't," she added, "need access very often. Just when I have to enter a red zone. It would be rather neat to quietly deflect the ungodly away from what might be at issue. And I will have another Grey Goose. If only to stop thinking about the current mess."

"What mess?"

This led to a long diatribe on the current political scene, a Congress deadlocked, an indecisive president, the growth of the Tea Party, a witch running for the Senate, and topping it all, Sarah Palin. I tried to explain the impasse in historical terms, mentioning that when the American Founders first borrowed the separation of powers doctrine from Montesquieu, they couldn't conceive of an age where allegiance to a party could be put before allegiance to country.

"Be that as it may," said Tilly, "it's sad. Although....there's always...Hillary. Let's say that Obama has had enough, and wants to fend for Michelle and the kids rather than fend for the country. So he doesn't run in 2012. Then Sarah P. gets the Republican nomination, and Hillary wins for the Democrats. What a cat fight that would be!"

"That's the Grey Goose talking."

"Yeah, I guess. And I've whined a bit, haven't I? Departed a bit from your little credo. One. Don't whine. Two. Make the world a better place. Three. Get as much happiness as possible. Did I get them right?"

"Missed one."


"When travelling in the southern U.S., never, ever, crush the mint in a julep."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Yes, I know, very late with this one, but there was not a lot I could do about it. That's what happens when you have a new computer installed and programmed. That's what happens when Rachel appears.


To cut right to the chase, Rachel is a colleague of my minder and butler, Irving, and at his request was staying at the manor "for an interim period" as Irving put it. Now I am well aware that nothing is so permanent as the interim, but this was OK. Turns out that Rachel could do almost anything with a computer, given one that was well-equipped. Hence the upgrade, a kind of tit for tat arrangement. A room for her, a state-of-the-art machine for me. As for Irving, he was grateful.

Turns out that Rachel knew Irving in his Mossad days, and I suspected that he knew her not only as a colleague, but in the Biblical sense as well. This attraction appeared not to have diminished over the years; the number of dewy-eyed glances between them that I noticed would suggest that the attraction remained a strong one. This did not surprise. Irving was a handsome devil, physically adept, and very, very smart. Rachel almost matched his six feet, was drop dead gorgeous, and as mentioned could make a computer sing.

And this was where the trouble started. Rachel had re-vamped my computer room, putting in God knows what devices and peripherals, so much so that the room now resembled a NORAD control centre. I was OK with this -- Rachel assured me that the information she managed to garner from the world's cyber systems would be of enormous use. What she was less forthcoming about was how she and Irving were using the system.

Bit of background now. Rachel had left Israel under a bit of a cloud. She was dead against further settlements into Palestine, and had disrupted computer-ordered construction supplies meant for the outlying settlers. These were sent instead to the West Bank, Ramallah to be exact, where they were gratefully received. The uproar this caused when it came to light was such that Rachel decided to get the hell out, even given strong support from a goodly portion of Israeli citizenry. Others, particularly in the Knesset, were not so forgiving, so Rachel took off. At least, that was the story I was given.

This should have tipped me off that Rachel was a bit of a loose cannon, but Sir Harry had me hard at work analyzing the North Korean succession -- one insane idiot preparing to transfer power to another insane idiot. So it was that for a time I was unaware of the following, all of which emerged after a frantic calls from Matilda Hatt of the CIA, and Sir Harry.

Rachel was indeed brilliant, and had developed a piece of software she termed WRAITH. This little piece of programming allowed her to surreptitiously take over another computer system, with the organization or person being totally unaware that such a thing had occurred. Rachel, had worked in Unit 8200, the signals intelligence arm of the Israeli defence forces, and had used WRAITH to send a virus that crippled Iran's computer systems, bringing work at Iran's newest nuclear power station at Bushehr to a crashing halt. This was looked upon as a Good Thing by her employers, particularly since Ahmadinejad had refused to believe such a thing was possible by the Allah-forsaken Israelis and ordered the arrest of four engineers working at the power station. They were now languishing in the pleasant confines of Evin prison in Tehran, and totally baffled at why they were there.

But it was the Predator drones that did her in. Somehow Rachel had tapped into the guidance systems of these weapons, and several times had altered their targets to focus on the Number 2 in Al-Qaeda, old Ayman al-Zawahri himself. She just missed him twice, but he had been rattled enough to disappear, not only from those hunting him, but his own troops. The Americans, needless to say, were also rattled, and by concentrating mightily on where the disrupting signal was coming from, had zeroed in on Toronto.

This prompted a call from Tilly Hatt.

"Simone, just what the hell are you up to?"

"Nothing. Although there's a Mayor's race on, and --"

"Well, you'd better bring 'nothing' to a stop, she interrupted. "At least where the Predators are concerned. I can deflect the issue, but it must stop."


That's when I learned of the signal disruption, something further confirmed when Sir Harry called and inquired about some very sophisticated software that had somehow disappeared in Israel, and they wanted it back. Badly. One didn't need to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots, and I had very extended conversation with Rachel and Irving, and they agreed to down tools for the moment. For certain Rachel needed a secure place to stay for a while, and Irving was obviously smitten, but she had brought unwanted attention and would likely create more. On the other hand, this WRAITH thing....

Nothing for it, then, but to have a good think about it all, so I told them that I would give them my decision shortly, and headed for my decision-making place. I filled the Jacuzzi with hot water, bubbles, and jasmine oil, threw off my clothes, slapped Das Rheingold on the surround sound, and sank in. The only way, really to decide things.

Doesn't everyone?