When Gary boarded the 9:30 flight to Erbil, Kurdistan, he wondered if he mistakenly entered one of those FBI training aircraft, where they practice terrorist simulations and kidnappings. Virtually all the seats were heavily patched up with grey duct tape. Many of the overhead bins were also duct taped shut. A map of the region was taped to the forward bulkhead, so the passengers could see where they were going as they entered the aircraft. The cities of Erbil, in Kurdistan, Iraq, and Amman, Jordan, were circled with a red felt-tip marker. Another red line joined the two.
Presumably so that if Erbil was not your intended destination, you could still exit the aircraft while it was on the ground. I hope this is more than just wishful thinking, and that the pilot has better maps. Gary thought.
The aircraft was a Royal Jordanian Embraer EMB-170. It only had one class of service, and was set up with two seats on either side of the aisle. Gary walked down the aisle looking for a seat without too much duct tape. He found one in the rear, sat down, and watched the other passengers come aboard. It was a motley crew of locals that drifted into their seats. They didn’t seem surprised at the patchy decor, so Gary assumed they had flown this aircraft before and were not terribly concerned. Soon they closed up the aircraft and he heard the engines spooling up. Gary looked around. The flight was almost empty. He could see about 20 others, including two women. One woman, attractive, wearing a western suit, was going through a briefcase. The other woman was heavily veiled. Gary was not surprised to be the only American on the flight. He looked out the window, expecting to see the ubiquitous duct tape holding the wings together, but there seemed to be no evidence of it, or they had run out of tape when they got to the wings.
He closed his eyes and leaned back on his seat, wondering if this trip was such a good idea.
This all started about six months ago, in the Spring of 2006, when the company he worked for in Los Angeles ran out of money one day, and laid everybody off. Gary, on the plus side of 60, found himself unable to get another job. He spent the days reading voraciously, hoping to find a solution to his rapidly dwindling savings account.
Due to his former military background as a helicopter pilot, a story in an aviation magazine about the lack of aircraft in Iraq piqued his interest. When the US invaded Iraq, they torched every aircraft that could possibly ever be used against the US military, including crop spraying airplanes and helicopters.
Gary knew that they would need aircraft for seeding and spraying the crops. The typical aircraft used for spraying would not work, since they could also be used for nefarious purposes. Gary thought that helicopters, with their reduced speed and range, would not be as much of a threat, and could work for this purpose. During his research, Gary found that almost all the helicopter companies had ties to the military and were involved in the war, except one – Enstrom Helicopters.
Gary went on their website and found that Enstrom Helicopters had no representatives in the Middle East. Further research exposed that although their use as a spraying aircraft was limited, there were a few Enstroms spraying crops in the Midwest. The primary use for the Enstrom had always been for police and training purposes.
A few days later Gary took a flight to Menominee, Michigan, where the factory lay next to Lake Michigan. After spending the day visiting the factory and getting a familiarization flight on the Enstrom 480B turbine model, Gary sat down with Jerry Mullins, the CEO, and told Jerry about his idea to sell Ag helicopters to Iraq, to replace the hundreds of Russian made helos the Americans destroyed upon arrival.
Before he left the factory, Gary had become the representative of Enstrom Helicopter in the Middle East.
Now Gary was flying in a dilapidated aircraft on his way to Erbil, to try to sell helicopters to the Ministry of Agriculture. Gary had been told by Ali Rimawi, a Royal Jordanian pilot he met in Amman, that the Iraqis could only buy American helicopters, lest the Marines shoot anything down that was not made in the USA. He also introduced Gary to AbuNoor, an enterprising young Kurd, who had parlayed a food truck outside a US military base, into a multimillion dollar operation providing food to the Americans throughout Iraq. AbuNoor’s trucks scoured the countryside daily to provide fresh vegetables and fruit for the Americans. AbuNoor also had a cousin who worked at the Agriculture Ministry and could help Gary navigate the process of participating in the tenders to purchase helicopters for the government.
Gary was interrupted from from his reverie by an announcement over the PA in Arabic, that he assumed was informing them, of their imminent landing in Erbil. Gary looked out the window and could see a large city below. In the middle of the city was a tell, on which the Ottomans built a citadel in the 14th century. Gary had read that Erbil was considered to be the oldest city in the world, having been founded over 4,000 years ago.
Soon the aircraft landed and Gary walked through an empty brand new airport, that was obviously not finished. Workers were still painting walls and installing neon lights overhead.
In no time they were through customs and immigration. Then Gary saw a man with a sign with his name on it. Thankful not to have to navigate a new city alone, he approached the man and shook his hand.
“I’m Gary.” Gary said.
“My name is Saad. Welcome to Erbil. I work for AbuNoor. Come.” He said with a smile as he grabbed Gary’s carryall and led the way to his vehicle, a black Suburban with all its windows tinted black.
“This is armored to B6+. We can take high powered bullets.” Saad said opening the heavy car door.
“Like for an AR-15 or an AK-47?” Gary said.
“Yes.” Saad said proudly.
“How about an RPG?” Gary said.
“Well, maybe not. But nobody is shooting RPGs in Erbil. When we go to Baghdad we have more protection.” Saad said.
Saad kept chatting away like a tour guide, until they arrived at a large white villa in a residential neighborhood.
“This is one of AbuNoor’s houses.” Saad said proudly.
“He has many?” Gary asked.
“Oh yes. He is very important and has to have protection. He never sleeps in the same house at night. That way he can’t be kidnapped.” Saad said.
The guard opened the front door and motioned them in. Saad led the way to a large living room, where the walls were all lined with couches and large pillows.
“This is AbuNoor’s majlis, where he meets with visitors. You sit here and wait.” Saad said pointing to a corner next to a table with a modern multifunction telephone.
Gary sat as Saad left the room. The walls were adorned with a couple of very large photographs, one of the President of Kurdistan, and one of the Iraqi Prime Minister. The floors were covered with overlapping large Turkish rugs.
A few minutes later the door opened and a corpulent man, with an engaging smile and a large Saddam Hussein type mustache, entered followed by Saad. Gary rose to meet them.
“Welcome. Mr. Gary.” AbuNoor said.
“Thank you AbuNoor. It is ok if I call you AbuNoor?” Gary said.
AbuNoor nodded. “Yes.”
“AbuNoor doesn’t speak much English. I translate for him.” Saad said.
Saad then turned to AbuNoor and they spoke Kurdish for a few minutes. When they stopped, AbuNoor smiled and nodded.
“AbuNoor asks if you know about airplanes.” Saad said.
“Yes, I am a pilot. I learned to fly in the military and I have owned a few airplanes and helicopters.” Gary said.
“Good. Very good.” Said AbuNoor.
“AbuNoor wants you to buy him a G5. You know G5?” Saad said.
“G5? That’s a very expensive Gulfstream airplane.” Gary said.
“Gulfsteam, yes.” AbuNoor said.
Gary wasn’t expecting this. He wasn’t quit sure of the current prices, but he thought a G5 was going to cost about $25 million.
“I need to look into this. I will call a few dealers and see what we can buy one for.“ Gary said.
“Buy cheap. $20 million?” AbuNoor said.
“I will check. I will let you know tomorrow. Ok?” Gary said.
“AbuNoor also wants you to help get McDonalds dealership in Erbil.” Saad said.
“A franchise? I will also check into this.” Gary said.
“Also Coke and Volvo Penta trucks.” Saad said.
“These are big companies. It won’t be easy.” Gary said.
“AbuNoor says that he will pay you 5% of what it costs, or $50,000 cash now.” Saad said.
Quick math told Gary that 5% of a G5 was over a million, but it was going to cost to get the franchises, even though he had no idea of how to go about doing this.
“I’ll take the 5%. But there will be expenses that have to be paid up front.” Gary said.
“Ok. That is good. No problem Mister.” Saad said.
AbuNoor started talking to Saad in Kurdish while occasionally looking at Gary. Saad nodded throughout.
“AbuNoor knows you want to sell helicopters. He will introduce you to his cousin from the ministry tonight.” Saad said.
During the next hour, Saad and AbuNoor told Gary about the empire AbuNoor had built, emphasizing the fact the US military still owed AbuNoor $50 million for invoices for food and services. This red flagged for Gary.
How do I make sure this guy has money to do all this now, and this is not a wishful thinking trip. Gary thought.
“Gulfstream will want to know that you have the funds to pay for this now. What is your bank?”
“HSBC” AbuNoor responded.
“Good. They will ask for a contact at HSBC that can vouch for you. Can you give me the name of your bank officer?” Gary said.
Saad translated and AbuNoor looked at Gary with a frown.
“Tell AbuNoor, that banks always want to talk to other banks. Just to make sure they are not wasting their time. It’s normal procedure.” Gary said nervously.
“AbuNoor will give you that name tomorrow.” Saad said.
Then AbuNoor got up and shook Gary’s hand.
“I will take you to your hotel now so you can make your calls. I will pick you up at 6 to go to dinner.” Saad said as AbuNoor walked out the door.
An hour later, Gary sat in his hotel room trying to digest what had happened today. The first thing was, that names were going to be hard to remember. Gary learned that AbuNoor just meant Noor’s father. It seems that he had a daughter named Noor, and he was was Abu, meaning father.
So what happens when girls have the same name? All the fathers have the same name too?
The second thing was, how could Gary help with the franchises. Gary had no idea. If he had known, he would have prepared for this. Buying a G5 was easy. Maybe not for $20 million, but buying was a simple commercial transaction. Getting a franchise was going to be much harder.
A few hours later the phone rang in Gary’s room. Saad was in the lobby waiting. Gary tucked his shirt in, and walked out the door, with his jacket over his arm, to meet Saad.
“We are going to AbuNoor’s cousin’s home for dinner. He’s the chief of a nearby village.” Saad said when they were pulling away from the hotel.
“AbuNoor does not eat at the same place every time. AbuNoor is very important, and ISIS would like to capture him.” Saad said.
“Does that mean we are spending the night there?” Gary said.
“No. I will bring you back to your hotel tonight.” Saad said.
Gary didn’t answer, but looked out the window at the traffic surrounding them. Since the working day was over, families were coming out to meet friends at coffee shops or shopping malls. The streets were packed with laughing families.
Why are all these people smiling? Don’t they know there is a war, a few hundred miles south?
Saad continued the running travelogue as they drove out into the country.
“Is it far?” Gary asked.
“Inshallah soon.” Saad said.
Finally they arrived at a small village, and Saad drove up to a large house on a hill overlooking the village. Half a dozen vehicles were parked out front. Saad hit the horn. The gate opened, and Saad drove into the courtyard.
After parking the car, they entered the villa and were led into the majlis. AbuNoor saw them, and waved them over. There were over 20 men in the room, smiling and laughing. They all turned to look when Gary walked in.
AbuNoor introduced Gary to everybody by calling the room to attention and talking in Kurdish. The men laughed and clapped Gary on the shoulder as he walked past.
“AbuNoor told them that you are here to save him from the Americans. You are giving him an airplane so AbuNoor can fly to heaven and get away from them.” Saad said.
AbuNoor led Gary to a washroom so the two of them could wash their hands before eating. Then Gary followed AbuNoor to a large room, where a large circular table had been set in the center of the room with seats for 12. AbuNoor told Gary to sit next to him. The rest of the seats were soon taken, leaving a number of men standing around.
The table was covered with plates full of all kinds of local food. The men that were left standing were now reaching across the table, picking food with their hands and stacking it on their plates. It appeared that a couple of muttons had been slaughtered for this event. Soon everybody had a full plate, including Gary who had his plate filled by AbuNoor. After putting something on Gary’s plate, AbuNoor would lick his fingers and make yummy sounds. Then he would look around the table for more things to put on Gary’s plate.
Soon Gary was picking at his food with his fingers, while trying to divine what the conversations around him were about. One young man at the other side of the table was getting louder, and pointing at AbuNoor’s cousin, who was sitting on AbuNoor’s other side. This led to a heated argument, that only ended when a couple of the men standing around, whispered in the man’s ear, and led him away. Soon conversations continued where they had ended off before the argument.
Slowly the mounds of food on the table were disappearing. Servants were walking around the table offering thimbles of bitter tea.
Then in a lull in the conversation, a shot was heard in the distance. Gary discretely looked around the table to see if anybody else noticed it. It was obvious that they did, but purposely ignored it. A little later Gary noticed the two men, who had let the boisterous young man out of the room, quietly come back and resume eating. The third man never returned.
After dinner they returned to the majlis, where a couple of servants poured glasses of Johnny Walker Red to everybody, as if it were tea. Soon people started leaving. Before midnight Saad drove Gary back to Erbil.
“What happened there, Saad?” Gary said.
“What do you mean?” Saad said.
“The man at the table who was arguing and was led out of the villa.”
“Nothing.” Saad said.
“I heard a shot. Was the man shot?” Gary said.
Saad looked at Gary carefully before answering.
“He was a thief. He dishonored himself and his chief.” Saad said.
“So they killed him?” Gary said.
“Don’t know. Maybe they scared him. Maybe they killed him. It was done as…what do you call it? To show others?” Saad said.
“Whatever, it’s brutal.”
“You have to be strict and strong. It is the chiefs job to give justice.” Saad said.
Gary had no idea of where the village was. They had driven a couple of hours to get there, and if they were driving over 100 kph, then they drove over 200 kilometers from Erbil. They could be anywhere, from halfway to Baghdad or Mosul, or even in Syria or Iran. Wherever they were, there was no law as Gary knew it. The local chief was the absolute law.
“What happened to the cousin from the ministry of agriculture? I thought I was going to meet him today?”
“You will meet him tomorrow. Today was family. Tomorrow is business.” Saad said.
Gary was pensive for the rest of the trip. He was trying to digest everything he had observed. By 2 a.m. he was back in his bed at the Sheraton.
Gary got up at 8, had some breakfast, and started calling some aircraft brokers he knew in Europe. New G5s had a 2-3 year waiting list. As he suspected, there were a few used G5s on the market in the States. Gary logged on to an aircraft brokerage web site, and downloaded the specs and available equipment and photos, to show AbuNoor. He spent the rest of the morning doing research on the items AbuNoor wanted.
Shortly after noon, Saad called and informed Gary that he was on his way to pick him up to meet the man from the ministry. Fifteen minutes later Saad and Gary were driving through the crowded streets of Erbil.
They arrived a nondescript small grey building.
“This is a government building?” Gary said.
“Yes. It belongs to the tax people. The man from the agriculture ministry sometimes also works here when he’s in Erbil.” Saad said.
Fifteen minutes later they were sitting on some metal chairs in a hallway, waiting for the man from the ministry. A young boy came by and offered tea, which they gratefully accepted. Five minutes later they were ushered into a conference room where two men sat waiting around a table. Saad went up to them and shook hands, Gary followed. Introductions were made and they all sat down. Fortunately they all spoke passable English.
“Mr. Gary, this is Deputy Finance Minister, Mohammed Shoukri, and Mr Abdulmalik Aboud, who works at the Ministry of Agriculture.”
“Nice to meet you both.” Gary said.
“Welcome to Erbil. Do you like Erbil?” Abdulmalik said.
“It’s very nice. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to visit a lot of the city.” Gary said.
After a few minutes of exchanging pleasantries they came to the point.
“What aircraft do you have for us?” Abdulmalik said.
“Enstrom helicopters. It is a single turbine-engine, that is being used primarily by police and training in the US. It can be fitted with an AG kit so you can spray. I am the dealer for the Middle East. The company is American.” Gary said removing brochures from his briefcase and passing them around.
The two of them poured over the brochures and chatted among themselves for a few minutes.
“One million one hundred thousand dollars, and that includes everything, the agricultural kit, shipping, and some spare parts.” Gary said.
“We are tendering for 8 helicopters soon. You should submit this helicopter for the tender.” Abdulmalik said.
“I’d love to. How do I do that?” Gary said.
“When the tender docs come out, you fill them out and submit them. Oh, but you have to register your company to be eligible.” Abdulmalik said.
“Where do I register?” Gary said.
“You submit the documents to me.” Abdulmalik said taking out some papers from his bag and handing them to Gary. Gary scanned them quickly.
“I see there is a price to submit for the tenders. Is it $5,000 U.S dollars? Do you take American Express?” Gary asked.
“Yes, $5,000. The money goes directly to the ministry, and the completed documents to me at the ministry, or by email.”
“Do you know when the tender will happen?” Gary said.
“Maybe next week? Inshallah.” Abdulmalik said.
After agreeing to follow through the following week, they said goodbye, and Saad drove Gary to AbuNoors house, where AbuNoor was waiting for them.
“Did you have a good meeting?” AbuNoor said.
“Yes, very good. They asked for $5,000 just to submit the tender.” Gary said.
“Yes. The ministry has no money, so every 3 months they would re-tender and use the money to pay salaries.” AbuNoor explained.
“So is this for real? Or are they just looking for people to support them all year long?” Gary said.
“They really need the aircraft. They will do it now.” AbuNoor said.
“How are they going to pay for it if they have no money?” Gary said.
“They don’t have money for expenses, like salaries. We are in war. This is normal. But the ministry has asked the central government for money for agriculture. They need this to grow food. It is a priority for the government. They have agreed to do this.” AbuNoor said.
“Do you know who else is participating in the tender?” Gary said.
“4 or 5 companies.”
“Is there any way to get preferential treatment in the tender?”
“Make sure you enter on time. If you are late you can’t participate.”
“Yes, but can your cousin help?” Gary said.
AbuNoor looked at Gary and smiled.
“There are away ways to expedite things. If you make my cousin your partner it would help a lot.” AbuNoor said.
Gary realized that if he did that, he would lose half of the commission.
“How much commission do you make on this?” AbuNoor asked.
“7%. It’s about $700,000 depending on the extras.” Gary said.
“No, not enough. My cousin wants at least one million for himself.” AbuNoor said.
“I see. Enstrom can’t pay commissions like that, so we have to rearrange things. We’ll create a company here, or in Jordan, and that company buys the helicopters from Enstrom, and then we resell them to the ministry, and increase the price to $1.5 million each.” Gary said.
“Do you have 10 million to buy them first?” AbuNoor said.
“No. We do back-to-back letters of credit or something similar.”
“Ok. I will talk to my cousin. It sounds ok.” AbuNoor said.
Feeling better about this, Gary continued.
“I have checked around for your Gulfstream. There are 3 available for sale now. They all have US registrations. You know, you will need US government approval to move them to Iraq. I have people in the US that can help with the permits.” Gary said.
“How much? $20 million?” AbuNoor said.
“No. Depending on how many hours on the engines and things like that, it is closer to $25 million.” Gary said.
“What about McDonalds? And Volvo?” AbuNoor said.
“I’m working on it.” Gary said pulling out copies of pictures and specs of the G5s he downloaded, and passing them around. AbuNoor leaned back and started reading the specs and pictures.
That afternoon Gary sat on the telephone in the Sheraton setting up a company to participate in the tender. He also discussed with the lawyer the buying of the helicopters as a dealer, and reselling them.
“As the dealer, you could buy all of them yourself, and nobody could tell you what to sell them for, so it could work.” The lawyer said.
Comfortable that his plan would succeed, Gary told the lawyer to set the new company up.
He then called Saad and told him that he needed to get back to Amman to get things ready.
“Do you know when AbuNoor wants to buy the G5?” Gary said.
“Soon. The Americans owe AbuNoor $50 million.” Saad said.
All of a sudden Gary felt the rug being pulled out from under him.
“He has to wait for the Americans to pay him before he can buy it?” Gary said disheartened.
Fuck! I should have taken the $50,000 fee in cash, instead of the 5% of maybe nothing. The franchises were going to be extremely hard to get, and he didn’t think AbuNoor would get them, since he didn’t really have an organization like the ones the companies would expect to deal with.
“The Americans are going to pay next week. This is not a lot of money for the Americans. This is for the food that AbuNoor gets for the military. They pay every month. Well… they are a bit late. They should have paid last month, but AbuNoor has it under control.” Saad said.
Gary wasn’t so sure. The military could delay things endlessly.
“I want to get back to Amman. It is easier for me to work there. I have to sign some papers with the lawyers to bring Abdulmalik into the company. Tell AbuNoor that I will come back when he wants me. You and I can chat during the day for whatever we need.”
That evening Gary flew back to Amman in the same aircraft that brought him, duct tape and all.
The following day, Gary went to the coffee shop of the Four Seasons Hotel. The Wi-Fi at the Radisson SAS, where he was staying, was notoriously slow, and another American he met there had recommended the Four Seasons as a place to work on-line. He found an empty table in the corner and plugged his laptop into an outlet. A waiter quickly came by, and Gary ordered a coffee and a croissant. A few hours later he ordered a sandwich and continued working.
At 5 p.m. The lawyer came by with the paperwork for Gary to sign. In a few minutes it was done and Gary scanned it at the Business Center and sent it to AbuNoor. He then called Saad.
“Saad, I just sent AbuNoor the copies of the documents making Abdulmalik a partner in the company that will participate in the helicopter tender.” Gary said.
“Good, good. AbuNoor spoke to him and they are opening the tender next week. You must fill out the papers he gave you with the name of the new company. Then you must pay $5,000 directly to the ministry as they don’t accept American Express.”
“Ok. I will do it tomorrow from the bank. Any news about the money for the G5?” Gary said.
“No. The Americans will pay soon. Can you negotiate a better price?
“We can make an offer, but it must be serious. They will want to talk to the bank to make sure we have money. When AbuNoor has the money we can make a better offer.” Gary said.
“Ok. Soon.” Saad said.
That evening after taking a nap, Gary went back to the Four Seasons to have a drink and listen to music. He found a table, sat and looked around. A few tables had a couple in them, having late afternoon tea. A few tables had men chatting. Then he saw a beautiful woman sitting by herself working on her MacBook. Her long hair was like iridescent silk, changing colors as the light shined though it. Her fingers were so incredibly graceful, as she tickled the trackpad. She unconsciously made a loose french braid with her hair, that slowly came apart as her raven hair danced in the sunbeams that shined through the windows behind her. She had no rings on her fingers. When she saw Gary looking at her, she demurely smiled.
How could anybody have such an incredible smile? Lit up the entire room.
Something about her seemed familiar.
A few minutes later he realized she was the lady on the flight to Erbil. He got up and walked to her table.
“Good evening. Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say hello. We flew on the same flight to Erbil the other day. I was sitting in the back of the airplane.” Gary said.
“No bother. Yes, I remember you. Did you like Erbil?” She said.
“Yes, very much. Do you go there often?” Gary said.
“Yes. I have a project in Erbil. I am an architect.” She said.
“My name is Gary.” Gary said reaching to shake her hand.
“Karma.” She said taking his hand.
“May I sit down, or is that not appropriate?” Gary said.
“Oh, you Americans, this is Jordan. Men and women can sit at the same table.” Karma said indicating where he should sit.
Gary sat across from her.
“Can I buy you a drink?” Gary said.
“Thanks. I’m drinking coffee.” Karma said pointing to her half full cup.
“What are you building in Erbil?” Gary said.
“A house for your new friend.” Karma said.
“My new friend? What do you mean?” Gary said surprised.
“AbuNoor. He is building a new house.” Karma said.
“How did you know he was my friend?” Gary asked.
“An American arrives in Kurdistan, who is not connected to the military? Not many of those. Besides I overheard AbuNoor talking about you.” Karma said smiling.
“Small world.” Gary said.
A waiter passed by and Gary asked him for a scotch and water. Then turning to Karma he asked her if she would like one as well.
“Yes, thank you.” Karma said.
The next hour they spent talking about architecture in the Middle East and the constraints imposed by religion and repressive governments over the years. Soon Gary started feeling hunger pangs and they ordered hamburgers at their table. Gary wanted to know more about AbuNoor, but was hesitant to ask directly, as he didn’t know how close she was to him. Gary did not want to step on AbuNoors toes. Eventually, Karma described her relationship as purely business, and how AbuNoor had heard about her when he read in a local paper how Karma had won a prize when she graduated from university with a degree in architecture in Amman. Now she travelled to Erbil every week for a day or two to make sure construction was going as planned. He also learned that Karma was still living with her parents, and enjoyed coming to the hotel to be able to think and work without her siblings making noise in their home.
After a few hours Karma stifled a yawn.
“It’s time for me to go home.” Karma said.
“I have really enjoyed chatting with you. Will you come tomorrow?” Gary asked.
“Maybe in the afternoon. I have to prepare some letters and print them in the business center.” Karma said getting up.
Gary also rose and shook Karma’s hand.
“Good night and thank you for the hamburger and drinks. I enjoyed chatting with you.” Karma said.
Gary returned to his hotel and went to bed. His last thought before falling into a deep sleep was wondering if Karma was beautiful because of her genes, or if it was the whiskey making her so. He decided it didn’t matter at all.
The next day Gary spent the morning calling Volvo and McDonalds to no avail. They referred Gary to the Middle Eastern office, who in turn suggested he speak to headquarters in the US, and Sweden. By now Gary realized that without a large corporate infrastructure AbuNoor could not compete.
After lunch he called Enstrom to update them on the previous day’s meeting. They discussed the best way to ship the aircraft to Erbil. They would have to go by ship to Mersin, Turkey, and then by truck to Erbil. Any other route would take them through war zones, and make insurance prohibitive. Gary discussed setting up a service center in Erbil to support the helicopters, and a sales office, when the war ended.
When he finished his calls he closed his eyes and thought about the future. He envisioned himself spending most of his time in the area, selling helicopters throughout the region, flying his own aircraft, being courted by the various governments looking to update their fleets.
Soon he realized that he was getting way ahead of himself, counting his proverbial chickens. Somehow, he couldn’t help himself.
If I don’t visualize this, it won’t happen.
He then decided to go to the Four Seasons to see if Karma showed up. He need to keep his mind from going all over the place. Seeing Karma again would help.
Gary took a shower, shaved carefully, and put on some clean clothes, thinking about Karma. An hour later he walked into the Four Seasons. He looked around the lobby and business center and couldn’t see her. Disillusioned he went to the bar and ordered a scotch and water.
What did I think? That she would be waiting for me?
Gary took his cell phone out and started playing with it. He had just acquired a new one with a local sim card and was trying to familiarize himself with it.
All of a sudden his heart jumped. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Karma being seated at a nearby table. She was wearing a grey pant suit, and carrying her briefcase. Gary looked at her and wondered if she was meeting anybody, or if she had come to relax after work. After a minute Karma looked around the room. When her eyes found him, she gave him an enigmatic smile, that virtually stopped Gary’s heart. Gary gave her a small wave. Karma responded with another wave, that Gary took for an invitation to visit her. Gary took his drink and walked over to her table.
“Hello, Karma. Did you have a nice day?” Gary said shaking her hand.
“Very productive, thank you.” She said.
“May I join you? Or are you waiting for somebody?” Gary said.
“My sister may come.” Karma said.
“Older or younger?”
“Older. She thinks that I need a chaperone to sit here. She’s old fashioned.”
“I will tell her that no harm will come to you while I am here.” Gary said.
“She won’t like it if you are here, at all.” Karma said smiling.
“I can charm her when she comes.” Gary said.
“She doesn’t speak English. How is your Arabic?”
They both looked at each other and laughed. They continued chatting and drinking for an hour, while nibbling on nuts.
“Nuts is not proper food. Would you like to have dinner with me?” Gary said.
Karma tilted her head slightly. “Where?”
“I don’t know of any good places in Amman. I only know here and in my hotel, the Radisson.” Gary said nervously, wondering if she would take it wrong.
“How is the food at the Radisson?” Karma said mischievously.
“Delicious” Gary lied.
“What is your room number?” Karma said in a soft voice.
Gary looked at the room key in his pocket. “132”
“You go now. Go to your hotel room and order some wine and dinner for us. I will be over in two hours.” Karma said softly.
“Sounds great. I’ll be waiting.” Gary said getting up and walking over to the waiter’s station to pay the bill.
An hour later Gary looked over his hotel room for the 10th time since he arrived at the Radisson. It was still clean. He sat on the bed and turned on the television. The only station with any English was a movie channel that was playing bad old movies. He looked at his watch again. She was due to arrive at 9 p.m. And it was only 8 now. Maybe he could get into this movie and help the time go faster. All of a sudden he realized that if his wishes came true and she came, he didn’t have any contraceptives. And he had no idea of where to get some.
Gary remembered the bellboy who helped him when he arrived and went to look for him. He found him in the lobby opening the door for customers of the hotel.
“Good evening Mr. Gary. Can I help you?”
Gary approached him and spoke to him softly.
“Do you know where I can get some contraceptives?”
“Conracetis?” He said confused.
“Contraceptives or rubbers? For sex?” Gary said blushing.
“Ah! You mean Trojans?”
“I will get them for you. How many do you want? A dozen, two dozen?” He said laughing.
“Just one. Thanks.” He said embarrassed.
“I will bring them to your room.”
“Thank you.” Gary said leaving, his face turning a dark shade of crimson.
The buzzer on Gary’s door rang at 8:30. Gary hoped it was the bellboy. It was, and he was carrying a plastic bag with a green cross on it, the symbol for pharmacies in the Middle East. Gary paid him and gave him a $10 tip. He put the Trojans in the drawer of the bedside table, next to the Koran and the Bible. Then he leaned back and, after giving the room a cursory look, started watching television. All of a sudden he remembered to order food. He grabbed the Room Service menu and picked up the phone. He ordered two steaks and french fries and a bottle of wine. Then he lay back on the bed to wait.
The food arrived before 9 and Gary was grateful for the distraction, as he was getting tired of constantly glancing at his watch. He checked the fries and took one. It was crunchy, as he liked. He leaned back on the bed to wait.
Suddenly he woke. He looked at his watch. 10:30.
Oh shit. Did I miss her? Maybe she came and knocked and I was asleep?
Gary got up and went into the bathroom and splashed water on his face.
I knew it was too good to be true. She’s not coming.
Gary looked at the untouched food. He took another fry. It was no longer crunchy. He had no appetite. He pushed the cart against the wall and started removing his clothes.When he went to brush his teeth he heard a knocking on the door. He returned to the bedroom and started pushing the cart to the door. He hid behind the door and opened it slightly, in order to push the cart out.
Then he saw her. Karma was there.
“Open the door please. I don’t want to stand here.” Karma said.
Gary remembered that he was only wearing his underwear.
“Let me in. I don’t want to stand here.” She said pushing the door open and exposing Gary in his underpants.
“I’m starving. Did you leave anything for me?” Karma said pushing the cart back in the room, ignoring Gary.
“Sorry. I was going to bed. I thought you were not coming.” Gary said.
“I can see that.” Karma said sitting on the bed and pouring herself a glass of wine.
Gary walked over to the closet and pulled out a pair of trousers.
“You don’t have to do that for me. I think you are cute.”
Gary blushed. “You have your clothes on.”
“Listen, I’ve never done this before. My family wants me to get married to an older cousin of mine. I don’t know what to do. If I say no, they will be very mad. Women here have to do what their father says. The Koran advocates severe punishment if you disobey your father. Most women here marry quite young. I wanted to finish my studies and my father agreed, but now he wants me to get married. I’m 24 and most women here have a 3 or 4 children by my age.”
Gary didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”
“After meeting you yesterday, I decided that I didn’t want to get married without making love to another man. I hope you don’t find me too forward. I didn’t think you were going to ask me, so I pushed you.” Karma said chewing on a piece of steak.
“I’m happy you picked me.” Gary said nervously sipping on his wine.
“I must tell you. I am a virgin. Is that ok?” Karma said.
“Of course. Have you ever seen a naked man?” Gary said.
“Only my brothers when they were small. Oh, and now you.” She said looking at the bulge in my underpants.
“How much time do we have. When do you have to be home?” Gary said.
“Not much. How much time do we need.” Karma said.
“As much as we have. We can make love in 15 minutes or 4 hours.” Gary said.
“Ok. Lets do it fast. Show me what to do.” Karma said as she started unbuttoning her blouse.
“Let me do that for you.” Gary said reaching for her blouse.
“You will be gentle with me?” Karma said nervously.
“As gentle as you wish.” Gary said as he unbuttoned her trousers, lowered the zipper, and let them fall to the floor.
The next day, after lunch, Gary was sitting in his room working on the tender documents when there was a knock on the door.
“Come in!” Gary said assuming it was the maid service, or somebody to refill the mini bar.
The person obviously didn’t have the master key, so Gary got up and opened the door. Karma stood there.
“Can I come in?”
“Of course, come in.” Gary said.
Karma quickly looked down the hallway, and was relieved not to see anybody.
“I wasn’t expecting you today.”
“I know. I hope you don’t mind. I have to have dinner with my family tonight so we can’t meet later.”
Gary looked around the room.
“I don’t have much to offer you. Do you want me to order something?” Gary said.
“No, thank you. I wanted to ask you a private question.” Karma said.
“Please, go ahead.”
“Last night. Is it always like that?”
“I’d like to say it is, but love affairs seem to taper off. It’s the excitement of new love, that makes the difference. After a while, you get used to each other and it is not quite as exciting.” Gary said.
Karma looked at Gary pensively.
“Can we do it again? To see the difference?” Karma said.
“You mean now?” Gary said.
“Yes? Thinking about you this morning has made me wet inside. Is that normal?”
“I’m not an expert on women, but I would say yes. If you want to have sex with somebody, thinking about it will make you wet.” Gary said smiling.
Karen was standing by the bed when she lifted her sweater over her head, and unfastened her skirt, letting it drop to the floor.
“If I marry my cousin, will it feel this good?” Karma said unsnapping her bra.
“I doubt it. What we are doing is exciting because it is forbidden. What you will do with your husband later is expected of you and you will quickly bore from it.” Gary said.
“Shut up and kiss me. Please?” Karma said pulling Gary close by the shirt.
The rest of the week Karma and Gary spent as much time as they could together. Karma would text Gary when she had an hour to spare, and they would meet at the Radisson. Between trysts Gary would call Saad and see if there were any updates on the money for the G5. Saad always said, “Inshallah soon”. Then he would call Abdelmalik, at the ministry, to see if the winner had been chosen yet.
“Very soon, Mr. Gary.”
“How many companies submitted proposals?” Gary said.
“Do we have an advantage?”
“I think so. You are going to set up a service center here in Erbil. That will give many jobs. The minister will keep that in mind when he decides.” Abdelmalik said.
“Do you know when he will decide?” Gary said.
“Inshallah this weekend.”
“Inshallah” Gary said hanging up.
Thursday afternoon was the beginning of the weekend. Nobody worked on Fridays. Gary knew he had to tell AbuNoor that franchises were not available until the war was over. The only other thing pending was the G5, and Gary couldn’t start that until AbuNoor got the funds to pay for it. Apparently the military seemed to be paying some bills, but they were withholding the $50 million that AbuNoor claimed he was owed. So Gary had nothing to do till Saturday, when the week began in Iraq.
The last thing that Karma said when Gary last saw her, was that she would try to call him next week. This weekend was for her family.
On Friday, Gary went for a walk in Amman. He looked at a couple of short term apartments to rent. Living in a hotel was expensive, and Gary wanted to compare prices. After seeing a couple of apartments, he spoke to the manager of the Radisson. The Radisson was willing to let him keep his room, for about the same as renting a short term apartment. The convenience of having a restaurant, and clean sheets weekly, tilted the decision in favor of staying at the Radisson.
That evening he sat in a new recliner that the hotel had brought him, and watched television. While enjoying an Egyptian version of Candid Camera, his cell phone rang.
“This is Abdelmalik in Erbil. The ministry has awarded the helicopter tender to our company.”
“Wow! Fantastic! This is very exciting news. Thank you. Wow, this is wonderful!” Gary said, jumping out of his chair. “What now?”
“You send the aircraft. We need them fast.”
“Well, yes, but we need the money first. The company won’t send them unless they get the funds first. When will we get the funds?” Gary said.
“Inshallah this week. You should call Mohammed Shoukri at the Finance Ministry. He will give you the funds. Why don’t you send a helicopter now as a sign of good faith?
“It costs one million. The company doesn’t have a spare helicopter to send you. They will build them quickly and send two a week, starting in 3 weeks.” Gary said.
“That is too slow.”
“I wish it could be faster. Let me see what we can do to expedite things. I will call them now. I will let you know tomorrow.” Gary said looking at his watch. “It is still early enough to call the factory tonight.”
Few minutes later Gary was on the phone with the Director of Sales, Tracy Biegler.
“We got the tender.” Gary said by way of introduction.
“What tender?” Tracy said.
“Iraq!” Gary said.
“I know, I was just kidding. It was so long ago you started this, that I had forgotten.” Tracy said joking.
“I am so excited. I’ve been here a couple of months and it is expensive and exhausting.” Gary said.
“When are the funds going to be wired?”
“I’ll know tomorrow. I will call the Deputy Finance Minister tomorrow and let you know.”
“Well done, Gary. This is very good news.”
The next morning Gary tried calling Mohammed Shoukri at 9 a.m. He was informed that the Deputy Minister would not arrive in his office until 11. For the next two hours Gary looked at armored cars that were available for sale. A month before Gary’s arrival, three hotels had been bombed by insurgents. It was not safe for an American to wonder alone anywhere in the Middle East these days. Muslims were very upset at the American incursion into Iraq, under the pretense of finding nuclear capabilities, or weapons of mass destruction. Everybody in the Middle East knew that Sadam had gotten rid of the half constructed nuclear reactor years ago, and there were no weapons of mass destruction.
Finally at 11:30 Gary reached the Deputy.
“Good morning, Deputy Minister. I spoke to Abdelmalik last night, and he informed me that we had won the tender for the helicopters for the Agriculture Department.” Gary said.
“How do we proceed now?” Gary said.
“You come to the Ministry, we sign some papers and we give you the funds.”
“To Baghdad? The Ministry in Baghdad?” Gary said.
“I don’t have the resources to travel to Baghdad.” Gary said.
“Ok. Come to Erbil. We’ll sign in Erbil.”
“Ok good. When do we do this?”
“We’ll give you the money in Erbil next Thursday.”
“On Thursday? Are the banks open to wire the funds on Thursday?” Gary said.
“No wire. Cash. We’ll give you cash.”
“Cash? $10 million in cash?” Gary said.
“Yes. After you sign.”
“I can’t be walking around Erbil with $10 million in my pocket. I need to wire the funds to the States, so they can release the helicopters.” Gary said computing the weight of the transfer in cash in his mind.
Oh boy. 100 Kg of cash in a couple of bags. No way I can safely transport that anywhere.
“It’s no problem. I will come to Amman next Thursday and we can sign, and I will bring you the money. We can meet at the Four Seasons. You get me a suite for me and my wife at the Four Seasons for the weekend.” He said.
“That sounds great. Consider it done. I will meet you here at the Four Seasons on Thursday.”
“Inshallah.” Said Gary.
Gary called Karma.
“Can you talk?” Gary said.
“Yes. I’m in Erbil today. I heard about your tender. Congratulations.” Karma said,
“Oh, I was going to surprise you. I guess you heard from AbuNoor?” Gary said.
“Yes. He was happy you got the tender. He says that now you can work on his things.” Karma said.
“Ha ha. Sure. I called because I missed you this weekend. I want to see you. When are you back?” Gary said.
“Tonight late. My brother is picking me up. I can’t see you today. Maybe tomorrow?”
“Yes. I want to celebrate with you. Let’s chat tomorrow.” Gary said.
The rest of the day, Gary spent making various arrangements, including calling the Arab Bank, where his lawyer had previously opened a corporate account for the company. He informed the bank manager, that he would be making a large deposit on Thursday, and to please keep the bank open late. The bank manager told Gary that was impossible, until Gary told him that he would be making a $10 million cash deposit. Then the manager offered Gary an armored car to pick up the money.
By the end of Saturday, Gary thought he had covered all his bases and called Tracy Biegler, the sales manager of Enstrom, at home, and gave him the news. Tracy told Gary that he could have the first two aircraft as soon as 3 weeks from payment. Gary told him that he would be coming to the factory after the payment was made, to make sure that everything was going as planned. Tracy suggested that Gary check with the office on Monday about shipping options, since they would require 2 aircraft for each 40’ container, including some spare parts. When Gary got off the phone, he was certain that he had done everything possible to make this a smooth and painless operation.
That night Gary dreamt of Karma and helicopters.
When Gary woke up on Sunday, he knew this was going to be the longest week of his life. He didn’t have much to do except wait for the arrival of the minister on Thursday at the Four Seasons.
After lunch, Gary received a call from Karma, and they met in Gary’s room. When Karma entered the room, she was distant and upset.
“What’s happening?” Gary said.
“My family is pressuring me to marry my cousin. They want to do it soon. If I don’t give them a date soon, they will pick a date for me to marry him. I don’t know what to do.” Karma said.
“Can you delay things while you are building in Erbil?” Gary said.
“Not for long. They don’t care about that. They only want their daughter to get married. People will think there is something wrong with me or my family, if I’m not married.” Karma said with tears running down her face.
“What other choices do you have?” Gary said.
“I can run away. I can kill myself. Not many more than that.” Karma said.
“Maybe you move to Erbil? I’m sure you can do very well in Erbil. AbuNoor can help you get clients.” Gary said.
“I’ve been thinking about that. Are you moving to Erbil now that you got the tender?” Karma said.
“Probably. It is not my favorite place, but I think I have to, so I can build up the helicopter business in Iraq.” Gary said.
“Maybe we can live together in Erbil?” Karma said.
“That would be nice, but I don’t know if it would work in reality.”
“I know. I need a hug now.” Karma said.
Gary reached for Karma and she slipped into his arms. In a few minutes they were lying in bed and Gary was doing his damnedest to keep her mind off her impending problems. He succeeded.
Thursday morning was a a beautiful morning in Amman. Gary took a small walk around the hotel to stretch his legs. He didn’t like being cooped up in a hotel for so long. As he left the hotel he noticed a man standing by a column, taking Gary’s picture on his cell phone.
The rest of the walk was spent trying to figure out who, and why he did that. At first he thought it could be the police, then a competitor in the helo business. Finally Gary decided that maybe it was a relative of Karma’s. That worried him the most. Muslim men went to extraordinary lengths to protect the family from dishonor, and what Gary had been doing could be considered serious dishonor in Jordan. If the man was still there when he returned to the hotel, Gary would try to take his picture and show it to Karma, the next time he saw her.
When Gary returned to the hotel, the man was still there, but partially hidden by some bushes. Taking his picture would let the man know that he had been seen, and Gary didn’t want to alert him. A few minutes later Gary looked out of the window in his room, and saw the man there, chatting with the doorman. Gary took his cell phone and took a few pictures of the two of them.
Not good pics, but enough to identify him later.
The flight from Erbil with the Deputy Minister was scheduled to land in Amman around 4 p.m. Gary wanted to be at the Four Seasons when the Deputy Minister arrived to welcome him and his wife, so he arrived early. He parked himself in the lobby, where he could keep an eye on the front door, and ordered a coffee and some pastries and settled down to wait.
Without much exaggeration, Gary looked at his watch at least 50 times by 8 p.m. He had drank 5 or 6 coffees and his blood pressure was through the roof. He tried calling the airline every hour, to check on the Deputy’s location, but understandably they were reluctant to give him any information.
At 7 p.m. Gary called his “partner” Abdelmalik in Erbil.
“Mohammed Shoukri hasn’t arrived yet. He was supposed to be on the 4 p.m. flight today.” Gary said nervously.
“Inshallah he will be there soon. Yesterday he told me he would be in Amman with his wife for the weekend. Maybe he comes tomorrow?”
“I’m getting a bad feeling about this. What could go wrong?” Gary said.
“You signed the tender agreement, sent the $5,000, and we sent you the approval by email. It’s done. Nothing could go wrong.” Abdelmalik said.
“From your mouth to God’s ear.” Gary said hanging up.
Finally he tried calling the Deputy Minister on his mobile phone, and there was no answer.
At 10 p.m. Gary went back to his hotel to try to get some sleep.
He probably missed the flight and would be in Amman Friday morning. No problem. Oh shit, what if he was stopped with 100 Kg of cash? Nah, he probably had security with him.
Gary tossed and turned all night long. Finally he fell into a troubled sleep at 4 a.m.
When Gary woke up Friday morning, the first thing he did was check his laptop to see if there were any emails to explain the missing minister. Zilch, nada.
He called the minister on his cell phone, desperately hoping that he would answer and promising to meet today in Amman. No answer.
Oh boy, something is seriously wrong here.
Gary then took a shower and went down for breakfast. As he exited the elevator, he saw the man who took his picture the other day, standing outside the hotel watching him.
Oh fuck! I had forgotten about this guy. What the fuck does he want?
Gary went into the restaurant and ordered a light breakfast. Although he wasn’t hungry he realized that he needed all his energy to deal with whatever was going on. While he waited, he called Saad. Perhaps Saad could find out what was going on.
“Good morning Saad.” Gary said.
“Good morning Mr. Gary. How are you?” Saad said.
“I’m a little concerned. The Deputy minister did not come yesterday, as he promised. I haven’t been able to reach him.” Gary said.
“Inshallah I can find him. I’m sure it’s all ok. I will call you later.” Saad said.
When Gary finished his breakfast he decided to go back to the Four Seasons. Maybe the Deputy Minister had arrived another way.
Of course, he was carrying so much cash he probably took a private plane. He probably is waiting at the Four Seasons, wondering why I’m not there.
Gary grabbed a cab and headed for the Four Seasons. As soon as he arrived, he went to the front dest and asked if Mohammed Shoukri had arrived.
“Not yet, Mr. Gary.”
“Could he have arrived under another name?” Gary asked.
“I don’t know. Did anybody from Iraq arrive in the last 12 hours?” Gary said.
“People are coming from Iraq every day. Without his name I can’t help you.”
Gary went back to his table, with the view of the front door, and waited. When a waiter arrived, Gary asked for his usual, a coffee and some pastries. The next flight from Erbil was due at 4 p.m. Gary decided to wait, in case the Deputy Minister arrived today, instead of yesterday.
Maybe I didn’t make it clear when we were meeting? Maybe it’s today, and I’ve been freaked out for nothing?
The next four hours were hard for Gary. He kept calling Mohammed in Erbil, but got no answer. He got up and paced the lobby for a while, needing to stretch his legs a little.
When he looked outside the lobby door he spotted the man who had taken his picture the other day at the Radisson. He was talking to the doorman.
Who is this fucking guy? Why is he following me?
When Gary returned to his chair, his cell phone rang.
“Mr. Gary. I spoke to the Minister’s cousin and he tells me that Mohammed’s wife died on the way to the airport last night. It is customary for people to honor 40 days of mourning. So you shouldn’t keep calling his mobile. It is upsetting to him.” Saad said.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Please convey my deepest sympathies.” Gary said.
“I will tell him.” Saad said.
“Does that mean that he won’t be able to come and sign for 40 days?” Gary said.
“Yes. For 40 days you mourn with your family.” Saad said.
“Yes, but… Can somebody else come and sign for the ministry?” Saad said.
“No. The Minister in Baghdad cannot come to Erbil. The Deputy was here because he is Kurdish and his family lives in Erbil. The Minister is a very busy man. You have to wait till the Deputy Minister can come. Inshallah he will come in 40 days.” Saad said.
After the call Gary sat back relieved. At least there was not a problem with the tender. The problem was a death in the family, not business. Now all he had to do was wait 40 days. He thought about flying back to the States, but in case this was resolved earlier, he decided to stay in Amman and wait.
At least Karma can help me pass the time.
Gary paid the bill and decided to walk back to his hotel. He needed to get some fresh air and think.
That evening Gary had dinner alone at the Radisson. Something still did not feel right, but Gary didn’t press it, as he didn’t want his bubble to pop. He really needed this to work. He had spent his last few dollars on this trip. He had organized things so that he would make almost a million on the tender, and after that he could draw a nice salary from the company. His problems were over. All he needed was to close this tender. Gary wasn’t looking forward to updating Enstrom about the delays. When he finished dinner he went back to his room and called Tracy, at Enstrom.
“You are not going to believe what happened.” Gary led off when Tracy got on the phone.
“Tell me.” Tracy said.
“The Deputy Minister was on the way to the airport in Erbil, when his wife had a heart attack and died in the car.” Gary said.
“You shitting me?” Tracy said.
“No shit. He didn’t show up, and when I checked, was told that there had been a death in the family.” Gary said.
“Sorry to hear that. When are you rescheduling this?” Tracy said.
“In 40 days.”
“What! 40 days? In God’s name, why?” Tracy said exasperated.
“There is a 40 day mourning period in the Middle East. He cannot do business for 40 days.” Gary said.
“Unfuckingbelieveable! Tell them to send somebody else.” Tracy said.
Gary repeated what Saad had told him.
“I’m going to have to release the 2 helicopters to another buyer. We can’t hold them. When you get the money we will reschedule your delivery.” Tracy said.
“I’m sorry.” Gary said.
“Yes, I’m sure you are. Good luck in getting this back on track.” Tracy said hanging up.
On Saturday morning, the start of the working week, Gary called his lawyer and informed him of the latest developments. The lawyer confirmed that 40 days was customary for mourning, but was surprised that Ministry work would stop. Gary repeated what Saad told him about replacing the Deputy.
“It’s customary for families to mourn, but work usually doesn’t stop.” He said.
“I don’t know what to do.” Gary said.
“Give him a week and try him again. A week should be sufficient. Let me know what transpires.”
A little after Gary finished with his lawyer Karma called.
“I need to see you today. It’s urgent. Can we meet somewhere else? Not the Radisson?”
“Ok. Give me an hour. Call me back and I’ll tell you where.” Gary said.
When he hung up the phone, he called the Crowne Plaza, another hotel where Americans were known to frequent and made a reservation for one night. Then he took a taxi to the Crowne Plaza and checked in. When Karma called, he was looking over his room.
“Hi. The Crowne Plaza Hotel. Room 425. I’m here now.”
“Ok. I’m coming.” Karma said.
An hour later, a knock on the door announced he had a visitor.
Gary looked through the peephole and saw Karma alone. He opened the door.
Karma came in and gave Gary a big hug.
“They know about you.” Karma said.
“Fuck! I was worried about that. Do you know who this is?” Gary said pulling out his cell phone and showing her the pictures of the man outside the hotel.
“My other cousin. He’s been watching you?” Karma said alarm showing on her face.
“Outside the hotel yesterday, and today at the Four Seasons, he was talking to the doorman.” Gary said.
Karma started crying.
“They are forcing me to marry my cousin this week. They took my passport away. I wanted to warn you. I don’t know what they will do, but you should be careful. I cannot see you anymore. I have to leave now.”
“Do you have time to maybe relax a little now? One for the road, as they say?” Gary said smiling.
“I will have to live on the memories we made. Thank you for everything. I will never forget you. Please never call me again. If they find me with you, they will kill both of us.” Karma said as she reached for the door. With a sad look, she turned looked at Gary and briefly waved.
After she left, Gary looked around the room. He had not touched anything. He went downstairs to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager.
“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I booked a room today, but I just found out that my wife already has a reservation at another hotel. I thought we were meeting here, but she’s been waiting all morning for me. I would like to cancel my booking. Is that alright?” Gary said.
“When did you make your reservation?” The manager asked.
“This morning. A couple of hours ago.” Gary said.
“Ah yes. I see your ticket here. You are lucky. We run the charges at midnight. You are free to go.” He said ripping up the invoice and handing it to Gary.
Gary took a taxi back to the Radisson. He looked around and was grateful he didn’t see the cousin lurking around. He went to his room and opened the mini bar. He took a bottle of Vodka and mixed it with a juice. Then he sat on a chair and took a long drink. When the glass was empty he took another miniature vodka and mixed another drink.
Gary was saddened that Karma had made that decision. Well, actually the decision was made for her. Gary could not think of any other solution possible. Marriage to a Muslim in Amman was not feasible. Besides, he loved making love to Karma. He wasn’t in love with her. Although Gary was impulsive, getting married to a Muslim, was beyond the pale. This was about sex, nothing else. Karma knew this, and was insatiably curious. She wanted to experiment. Unfortunately, this would not be possible in her new life. A woman had a a very defined role in Muslim society, and sexual experimentation would get her flayed alive or worse. She could never pretend she enjoyed it, or her new husband would never trust her. It was sad, but this was the only outcome. They had both known this, but it was better this way. Soon this would only be a lovely memory. She would soon have 3 or 4 kids and would spend all her time taking care of the children and cleaning the house.
The next day Gary went through the motions of getting up and going to the Four Seasons. Ostensibly to work, but hoping to see Karma there. Instead he found Ali, the Jordanian Airlines pilot, who introduced Gary to AbuNoor. They sat and chatted, and Gary told Ali about the wining the helicopter tender to sell to the Agriculture Department. When he told him about the “death in the family”, Ali was pensive for a minute.
“This is odd. If this were a regular government tender, I would be surprised, but this was not regular, so I cannot comment. That a ministry person would put off closing a deal due to a family death…” Ali said.
“Yes, I wondered why they didn’t send anybody else.” Gary said.
“Maybe you should go to Erbil and close there?” Ali ventured.
“So what do I do with two suitcases full of $100 bills walking around Erbil?” Gary said.
“You have a point there. Safer that they come here.” Ali said.
“Unless you can get a small plane and bring me yourself.” Gary said.
“I’m flying to Europe tomorrow. If you have not solved this, call me in a week. Maybe we can do something.” Ali said.
“I was joking, but if you can do it, it would save me a lot of trouble. I can pay you for the flight, or whatever.” Gary said.
“Let’s talk about this when I get back. You have my mobile number?” Ali said.
“Good. I have to leave now. Let’s chat when I return on Thursday.” Ali said getting up and shaking Gary’s hand.
The next few days Gary spent trying to follow up on AbuNoor’s requests. He contacted friends of friends who could possibly help with the franchises, but to no avail. Nobody wanted to discuss franchises in a war zone.
Finally, on Thursday, Gary tried to contact Mohammed Shoukri on his cell phone. It had been a week, since they were scheduled to meet in Amman. Still no answer.
Next he called Abdelmalik.
“Hello partner. I still have not heard from Mohammed. Have you heard anything?” Gary said.
“No. Inshallah this week.”
“What if I come to Erbil to sign and get the money. Can we do it then?” Gary said.
“Of course. We would love to have you. The problem is that Mohammed has the money. You need to get it from him.”
“I can’t find him! This is so frustrating. Maybe I will come to Erbil and see if I can find him.” Gary said.
“You are welcome. Let me know when you come.”
Then Gary called Ali.
“Are you back in Amman?”
“Yes. I just landed. How is your project going? Did you find your friend?” Ali said.
“No. Nothing has changed. I would like to talk about the solution we discussed last week.” Gary said.
“I will call my friend who has an Air Taxi Service here in Amman. Sometimes I work there, when I have no flights scheduled on the airline. Maybe he has a King Air we can use. I will let you know. When do you want to go?”
“Tomorrow? I have nothing to do here except wait for this guy.” Gary said.
“I’ll call you back.” Ali said.
An hour later Ali called back.
“I have good news. My friend who owns Arab Wings, has a personal Beechcraft Barron that we can use. The King Air I mentioned is out on a charter, but the Barron should be fine, no? It’s just you and me? And the money is not more that 1,000 lbs? It will be about 2.5 hour flight. The Barron is also cheaper to fill up than the King Air.” Ali said.
“That’s great. I like the Barron. A friend of mine has one and I’ve flown it many times.” Gary said enthusiastically.
“We can leave tomorrow at 9 a.m., is that ok? Oh, how are you going to pay for this?” Ali said.
Gary’s heart dropped. He was almost tapped out on his credit cards.
“I’m going to put the gas on my Amex.” Gary said.
“Fine. I will pick you up at 8 a.m. at the Radisson. Don’t forget your passport.”
“I never move without it. No worries. Thanks, see you tomorrow.” Gary said.
Finally they were doing something about it. For the first time in a week, Gary felt hopeful.
He went downstairs to the restaurant for dinner and found a table facing the lobby. After ordering something light to eat and a glass of Jordanian wine he leaned back and relaxed.
All of a sudden Gary’s heart stopped. He saw Karma’s cousin with another large man in the lobby. They were heading towards the restaurant. Gary had to move quickly. He got up and headed for the restrooms.
That’s going to be the first place they look when they don’t find me.
Instead he entered the service entrance and went up to the second floor. From the hallway window, he could see the lobby entrance. He would wait here till they left, and then…Gary didn’t know what to do.
What if they came back in the middle of the night?
After 15 minutes, Gary realized that they were not leaving and were going to wait for him in the hotel. He needed to get out of the hotel now. Somehow Gary knew he was not getting a wedding invitation, but something more permanent. His mouth was dry. He was having trouble breathing.
I need to relax, or I’m going to be useless, have a stoke, and die.
Gary closed his eyes and tried meditation. He called it stress-med. An old friend had taught him that in life-or-death situations, sometimes you need to force yourself to relax, and not get overwhelmed by the situation. He tied it. It helped a little.
Gary had to find a place to hide until 8 a.m. He needed a place with a lot of traffic, where people sitting around would not stand out. It would be best if he could close his eyes and rest, but keeping out of Karma’s family’s clutches was primary. The places with the most people milling about were the shopping malls, but they closed around midnight. Gary decided to got to the Mall, and go to a movie for 2 hours. Maybe he could get a little sleep there. Then take a taxi to another hotel and wait in the lobby till dawn.
Satisfied that it was the best he could do on short notice, he again took the service elevator and went to the basement looking for another exit. Eventually he found himself on the street on the other side of the hotel. He started walking fast, trying to get away from the hotel. A block further he found a taxi stand. He asked the driver to take him to Mecca Mall. A short drive later Gary was dropped off at the mall.
Gary was somewhat comfortable that nobody would find him here, at least not today. He walked up to the theatre and bought a ticket to an Arabic movie, thinking that if he didn’t understand anything, he might be able to sleep a little.
Two hours later Gary left the movie with a splitting headache. It was a mistake to spend two hours listening to Arabic without a clue as to what was going on. He walked to a coffee shop and found a table where he could make a quick exit if discovered, and ordered a sandwich and a soda.
People were slowly going home, so Gary realized that he needed to find a hotel lobby to park himself, for the rest of the night. The only other large hotel Gary knew, was the Grand Hyatt. Gary had spent a little time there and was familiar with the layout. That would have to do. He had seen airline crew staying there, so it probably had traffic all night long. He took a taxi to the Grand Hyatt and hoped for the best.
When he got there he spent the next 30 minutes getting familiar with all the exits, and then found a table in a corner, where he could order a drink and wait out the night. He then texted Ali and told him to pick him up at the Grand Hyatt, not the Radisson. Satisfied that there was nothing he could do now, he tried to relax again.
The night was endless. He kept ordering coffee and tea and sandwiches and made sure he tipped the waiters well. Eventually dawn broke over the city and people started coming and going through the lobby. Gary walked into the restaurant and ordered coffee and toast. He knew he needed good food, but he absolutely had no appetite this morning. When he finished he had a huge urge to have a cigarette. He hadn’t smoked in 10 or more years, but now he desperately needed a cigarette. He asked the waiter to please bring him a pack of Marlboros.
When he opened the pack, he smelled the sweetness of fresh tobacco, something he had not experienced in years. Nervously he lit a cigarette. Gary coughed with the first puff, but then it became a familiar comforting feeling. The best cigarette of the day, Gary remembered, was the one with the morning coffee.
At 8 a.m., Ali pulled up to the Grand Hyatt in a BMW 520. Gary walked out of the hotel and got into Ali’s car.
“Good morning. I see you got my message about the change of hotel?” Gary said.
“What happened? Why did you change?” Ali said.
“Long story. It’s about a lady.” Gary said.
“What do you Americans say? Can’t live with them and can’t live without them.” Ali said winking.
Gary didn’t want to get into it, so he changed the subject.
“Did you check weather?”
“Yes. Clear all the way.”
They landed in Erbil International Airport at noon. Gary needed a base, so he suggested going to the Sheraton and making some calls from there.
When they got to the Sheraton, they sat the lobby and Gary got on his phone. First he tried calling Mohammed. Still no joy. Then he called Saad.
“Hello Saad. This is Gary.”
“Mr. Gary, congratulations.” Saad said.
“Thank you. I’m trying to reach the Deputy Minister. Do you know where he is?”
“He’s resting in Sharm-El-Sheikh.” Saad said.
“Where is that?” Gary said.
“In Egypt. It’s a resort on the Red Sea. Everybody goes there to rest.” Saad said.
“I thought he was in mourning about his wife.” Gary said.
“Yes. He is. But the family decided to go away to rest. Why do you need him? Is everything ok?”
“I want to close the helicopter deal.” Gary said exasperated.
“You already closed. What do you mean?” Saad said.
“He didn’t come. He never came with the money to Amman.”
Saad was quiet for a minute.
“Everybody here knows that he paid you $10 million for the helicopters. Now they are waiting for the aircraft.”
“We agreed to do that, but he never showed up. He didn’t come with the money.”
“Mr. Gary, you are funny.”
“This is not a joke. What do you mean everybody knows here?” Gary said.
“He told AbuNoor that you were calling all the time. Finally he went to Amman and paid you, so you would stop being so rude.” Saad said.
“When did he say he did this? Because he never showed up.” Gary said.
“Mr. Gary. I will call you back. Let me check with AbuNoor.” Saad said.
Gary looked at Ali who was drinking a cup of tea with concern on his face.
“What happened Gary?”
Gary repeated the call with Saad.
“It looks like the Deputy Minister told everybody he went to Amman and paid me for the helicopters. Now he’s Sharm-somthing in Egypt on vacation.”
“How much was the contract for?” Ali said.
“$10 million US” Gary said.
“I’m afraid he’s gone for good. With $10 million in cash, he’s gone. You won’t find him. I bet his house is sold and his neighbors don’t know where he went. He certainly is not in Sharm-El-Sheikh. Maybe he’s in Brazil, but not in Egypt.” Ali said.
Gary looked at Ali and felt this incredible pressure across his chest.
Fuck! I’ve been conned. Nobody is going to believe he took the money and ran. They are going to assume I stole the money.
“I don’t know what to do.” Gary said nervously.
“If the government thinks you have the money, they will expect the helicopters in due course. If they think you are running away with the money, they will arrest you. Did you tell that man on the phone that you didn’t have the money?”
“Yes. He works for AbuNoor.” Gary said.
Ali thought about this for a few minutes.
“I think we need to leave Erbil. Now. They may come looking for you. AbuNoor has been having problems with the Americans. They owe him money. He may use this as leverage to get his money, and turn you in.” Ali said.
Gary got up and Ali followed him out the lobby door. Ali hailed a taxi and told the driver to take them to the airport. They were quiet during the ride. Gary was just starting to realize that he was in very serious trouble. If they thought he stole the money, they would be looking for him everywhere. Fortunately he went to Erbil in a private aircraft, and his name was not on the manifest. If they checked the airlines, they wouldn’t find his name. He was safe for a short while.
Gary needed help. The only person he could think of was Ali.
God! I hope Ali is not another cousin of Karma’s. I need his help.
The flight back to Amman took 2 ½ hours. Gary needed that time to plan something. He couldn’t go to his hotel, the cousins would be waiting to skin him. If he checked into any other hotel, the police would know by midnight. Which means that Karma’s family, with a small bribe, would know in hours.
“I am really screwed, Ali. I don’t know how this got so fucked up.” Gary said.
“Operating in the Middle East requires that you have a sponsor.” Ali said.
“A sponsor? What do you mean?” Gary said.
“We are a tribal society. Our allegiance is to our tribe. Everything is all about protecting your tribe. If you come into our tribe, you need the protection of somebody we trust and respect. Otherwise you are fair game, and they will go out of their way to cheat you or destroy you. If they don’t like your sponsor, they will go out of their way to hurt you, and therefore make your sponsor look bad. Now you are in trouble and they know you don’t have a sponsor, so they can do whatever they want to you.”
“I had no idea…” Gary said.
“So tell me what happened yesterday that you had to move hotels?” Ali said.
Gary told Ali about Karma, without any of the private details.
“Do you have a death wish?” Ali said.
“No. Of course not.” Gary said nervously.
“Look. When we get back I’ll drop you off at the Grand Hyatt. You wait there and don’t speak to anybody. I’ll swing by the Radisson and see what I can find. Then I’ll come and tell you what I find.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.” Gary said, relieved that he seemed to have an ally at this moment.
“Whatever, you need to get out of Jordan. If Karma’s family finds you, they will kill you. If the Kurds find you, they will torture you till you cough up the $10 million.” Ali said.
“But I never got the money.” Gary whined.
“Doesn’t matter. If you can’t give them the money, they will torture you to death.” Ali said.
“Oh God, what did I get into.” Gary said.
“We admire your American spirit of adventure. But when you go abroad, you should know the local customs. They can really screw you up if you don’t.”
“I’m done. If I get out of this alive, I am staying away from the Middle East for good.” Gary said.
“If Karma’s family is rich, they may follow you to the States. Be careful.”
The rest of the flight was passed in silence, except for communication with Air Traffic Control as they approached Marka, the international airport in Amman.
The landing was uneventful and they taxied to Arab Wings. Ali led Gary to another section of the building, so they would not have to pass through security. Fortunately, nobody seemed to be looking for him here, so in 15 minutes they were back on the road towards the Grand Hyatt.
When they arrived, Gary got out of the car and thanked Ali.
“I’ll be waiting for you here, in the lobby. Good luck.”
Gary walked into the hotel and found a quiet table where he could keep an eye on the traffic in the lobby. He realized he had not eaten since breakfast here this morning. It seemed like it was 100 years ago. He ordered a club sandwich and a coke and sat to wait for Ali.
A little more than an hour had passed when Gary saw Ali in the lobby, looking around for someone. He waved and Ali came over and sat down.
“Not good news. It seems the family still wants you. There are at least 4 people camped out in the lobby waiting for you. You cannot go back. What do you have in the room?”
“My Apple laptop, 2 suits, shirts, another pair of shoes, my files for the tender…that’s it, I think.” Gary said.
“Consider them lost. You cannot go there, or send anybody to get them. They will be watching the room.” Ali said.
“Fuck!” Gary said.
“That’s not the worst part.” Ali said.
“What could be worse?” Gary said anxiously.
“AbuNoor told his cousin, that you were claiming not to have the funds, and the cousin reported you to the police.” Ali said.
“He was going to be my partner.” Gary cried.
“Well, he says that he helped you get the tender, and now you are going to steal all the money. He is really mad. It seems that he told some retired Peshmerga soldiers, that he would share with them the $10 million you stole if they found you. I’m afraid they may already be looking for you here in Amman. The Peshmerga are Kurdish tribal warriors, that are looking for a battle. They used to fight Saddam’s soldiers, but now they don’t have anybody to fight. $10 million in cash seems like a good reason to fight again.” Ali said.
Gary’s world had come crashing down. He was having a hard time breathing.
“Can I fly back to the States?” Gary said.
“They will be watching the airports. They know you have to get out of Jordan.” Ali said.
“I am so fucked. What if I go to the US Embassy?”
“The Americans will turn you over to the police first. The Jordanians have their noses so far up the American’s asses, you won’t get out alive. You will simply disappear.” Ali said.
“But I’m American. They can’t do that.”
“Not officially. But they will convince the Americans that you have broken some local laws and the Americans won’t do anything about it -till it’s too late.”
Gary sipped his Coke and wondered if he was every going to get out alive. Ali’s phone buzzed on the table and Ali answered it.
After a few minutes he hung up the phone.
“My colleague at Royal Jordanian has gotten sick, and Crew Scheduling has asked me to fly tomorrow to London…I have an idea.” Ali said.
“What if I can sneak you onto the aircraft without anybody knowing. They will be looking for Gary. What if we pretend you are a Jordanian pilot, and sneak you into the cockpit. You don’t need a visa to get into the UK, so when we get to Heathrow, you pretend you are a passenger.” Ali said.
“Oh my god, it could work. Can I borrow a uniform, and when we get to the UK, I just change back into my clothes?” Gary said wishfully.
“That is what I’m thinking. You could fit into my clothes. I have a jacket from when I was First Officer, with 3 stripes, you can wear. It’s too tight on me now. We can say you are a replacement pilot going to the UK, if we’re asked. The only problem is an identification card. You don’t have one. However, before 6 a.m. Security is lax, and I can probably sneak you in. Fortunately the flight is early, so we should be able to do it.” Ali said.
“It’s risky for you.” Gary said.
“Not so much. I can always say that you tricked me, and I never checked your ID. Don’t worry about it.” Ali said reassuringly.
A wave of relief washed over Gary. He started tearing up.
“Tonight you stay at my house. My wife and children are away for a few days.” Ali said.
The next morning Ali took Gary, dressed as a First Officer, to the baggage section of the airport, and had Gary wait under the jetway of the aircraft. Then Ali walked up the stairs to the jetway and into the waiting Airbus. Gary nervously waited, while hoping nobody would question why he was here. Specially since he couldn’t speak any Arabic. Ali told Gary that if questioned, to say he was a British pilot on loan to Royal Jordanian.
Thirty minutes later Ali entered the area that Gary was hiding in.
“Let’s go. Follow me and don’t speak to anybody unless I tell you to.”
With Gary’s throat so dry he couldn’t even answer him, he nervously followed Ali up the stairs.
The cabin crew was so busy seating passengers they never questioned another pilot going into the cockpit.
An hour later, the Royal Jordanian aircraft was out of Jordanian airspace, and Ali looked back at Gary sitting on a jump seat, and smiled. Gary wiped a tear from his eye and said thank you.
Eventually Gary returned to the States without any further incidents. He moved to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where any Middle Easterner would stand out like a sore thumb, and got a job in a biker bar. Although he never felt totally safe again, he stopped looking over his shoulder after a year or so, and married a local girl.
One day Gary found a lost kitten by the side of the road and took her home. He named her Karma.