With the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature underway, Dubai-based author Alexander McNabb pens a short story exclusively for Time Out readers.
Gerald Lynch strode through the Park Hyatt’s cool Arabesque reception, ignoring the ‘good morning’ offered up by the doorman, the girl in the long beige kandoura, the receptionist and the dark-uniformed staffer who passed him in the glass corridor. Blue-eyed, his dark hair a widow’s peak, Lynch hefted his leather jacket over his shoulder, his other hand in the pocket of his jeans.
He caught the glint of a camera, a tiny dome of smoked glass nestled up in the corner and added it to his mental audit of the devices he’d already encountered in his short stay in Dubai.
Brian Channing was spread out on a sofa in the coffee shop. He had a little tray in front of him bearing coffee in a porcelain cup and a decorative little selection of Lebanese sweets in paper wrappers. He had chosen Wealthy Tourist In White Linen, his artfully rumpled two-piece offset by a pastel blue shirt. Channing waved Lynch to a chair. ‘Gerald. Good to see you. Must be years since you last saw this place. Changed a bit, has it? Isn’t this an exquisite little hotel?’
‘If you like this sort of thing.’ Lynch took no pains to mask his distaste. ‘What’s the big emergency, Brian? The Embassy people made so much fuss trying to pick me up the barman ended up smacking one of them because he thought they were trying to kidnap me. Half of Hamra nearly got involved.’
‘I heard. Unfortunate, but then you’re supposed to carry your secure mobile at all times. Even out on the town in Beirut.’ Channing bit off a chunk of nut brittle and finished his coffee with a flourish. ‘Come on. Walkies.’ A waitress rushed to push open the double doors out into the patio overlooking Dubai Creek. Little boats bobbed. On the opposite shore was parkland, cable cars swinging against the vast blue sky,
a Creekside ride.
Channing shouldered his jacket and led the way down the warm stone steps towards the decking and sounds of rope slapping against masts. Only when they were standing in the Marina did Channing halt. Leaning on the railing, he addressed the Creek.
‘In the hotel behind us, at noon, a high-ranking Russian intelligence official called Sergei Anasenko is going to hand you the complete technical specification and blueprint of new technology they have developed for jamming ultra-fast, frequency-hopping radio signals. If it works, clearly it has the potential to render every drone programme NATO has redundant.’
‘I don’t get it. Why me?’ ‘He asked for you by name. We have been very careful indeed with our Sergei and gone to great lengths to establish he’s as pure as snow. He checks out at every level. But we’re damned if we can work out why he’s so in love with you, to be honest Gerald. I rather thought you might have an idea.’ ‘None at all. Anasenko? He ever work the Middle East? Come to Beirut?’
‘Never. No connection with Dmitri or Jaan Kallas, no relationship with The General and no time served in the region. Desk boy, Moscow-bound all his life. More a politician than a field man, an espiocrat. Technology is his thing. Hardly your type, is he? Yet after two years’ work bringing him in, we get to the end game and, right at the last minute, he insists on a handover in Dubai and to Lynch and nothing but the Lynch, so
‘So a handover in the most surveillance- rich city in the world to a man he doesn’t know from Adam. That makes no sense whatsoever, Brian.’
Channing squinted and rooted in his pockets for a pair of Ray-Bans, which he settled onto his fleshy nose. ‘You can ask him why yourself, you’re due to knock on the door of room 211 in,’ Channing peered at his watch, ‘one hour, 20 minutes.’
Lynch waited for the door to open, playing with the key card in his pocket. He’d taken a room himself, ensuring his camera tracks were linked to the fake ID he’d flown in on. He also took the precaution of waiting a while after checking in then returning to a different receptionist and having his key card re-swiped, claiming it wasn’t working properly. ‘No problem, it happens,’ he told her. ‘Room 211.’ He knocked again and then used the key card. Pulling the door closed behind him, Lynch cursed softly. Anasenko was lying on the floor in a bathrobe. There were signs of a struggle, a chair pushed over, a table lamp on the floor beside the
Lynch crossed the room and pulled a paper tissue from the box on the desk. He knelt, feeling for a pulse, pushed back the curly brown hair from the corpse’s ears, checking the pale skin for any needle marks. The lamp was close to Anasenko’s right hand. Lynch noted the hand was still wet, the switch on the wall set on but the lamp off.
He pulled the robe up from each wrist, but the cause of death looked obvious. Lynch scanned the room. On the bed was a manila envelope. Lynch untucked the flap and slid the documents out. Blueprints, a slide-bound sheaf of papers. A memory key. He slipped the envelope into the back of his trousers and left the room without a backward glance.
Channing was peevish. ‘Electrocuted himself? Balderdash. Don’t believe it. A waste of time. With Anasenko dead, we can’t tell if this was supposed to land in our hands or if it was just a stupid accident.’
‘You really think we’re going to declare an interest in this to the authorities? Come on, Gerald. No, we’ll just have to proceed on the assumption this is all bunkum until proven otherwise by the analysts. You can go home, Gerald. Go back to your bar in Hamra and drown yourself. Take your mobile.’ For which small mercy Lynch was, at least, profoundly grateful.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, InterContinental Festival City until Saturday March 8. For the full schedule, visit www.emirateslitfest.com.
About the author
Based in Dubai, British author Alexander McNabb has lived and worked in the Middle East for over 25 years. Previously a journalist, editor and magazine publisher, he now advises companies with their online communications. McNabb is the author of four books: comedy-thriller Space, Olives A Violent Romance, Beirut An Explosive Thriller and Shemlan A Deadly Tragedy.
He runs a blog, fakeplasticsouks.blogspot.com, and Tweets regularly via the handle @AlexanderMcNabb. You can listen to him every week on Wednesday from 12.30pm-1pm on Dubai Eye radio station’s (103.8FM) The Word, where he talks about digital and technology in general.
Beirut and Olives are available from Book World by Kinokuniya at The Dubai Mall (04 434 0111); Space and Shemlan are available from Amazon.com.
Meet Alexander McNabb
The author will be taking part in the Of Spies, Conspiracy and Censorship discussion at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Saturday March 8 at 5pm. He will also be moderating the Criminally Thrilling discussion with Simon Kernick and Deon Meyer on the same day at 1.30pm. Tickets for each event are Dhs65.