The Terrorist’s Game
“I would have made a lousy stripper. I’m just not very comfortable exposing myself.”
“My life is complicated,” Cameron said. “I grew up poor, did what I had to do to make a living. I found my place at Google designing elite security for rich important people. I’ve met people from all over the world, but they came to me, to invest in the programs which I designed. I’ve never gone out and done anything. I want to live my life, instead of living vicariously through a computer. I don’t know how else to explain it. I felt like my world wasn’t reality, and I wanted to see what real life felt like.”
Talia understood how he felt. She’d spent her childhood locked up in her mother’s world. Clarissa Anderson was a victim of the media. Clarissa had spent her life in front of the camera, beginning when she was six, and it finally turned her into a paranoid hermit. Unfortunately, Talia had been a young girl when her mother had capitulated over the edge into certifiable insanity, so she was locked up for years with tutors instead of in classrooms with teachers. There had been no school for her, no close friends, no dances, no parties. She had no adolescence to speak of. She applied to New York University, was accepted, left her mother’s home, and never looked back.
Talia called her mother often to make sure that she was still healthy, and knew well that Tyrell was her mother’s source of information about what was happening in her career and life. But her relationship with Clarissa was strained to say the least. Talia and her mother had not seen each other much more than on the holidays in the last couple of decades.
Talia didn’t understand her mother. She didn’t care what the public thought. All of her secrets were guarded for reasons of personal safety and national security, not by choice. The idea that paparazzi could push someone over the edge simply because of overexposure, seemed ridiculous. She had a thick skin and prided herself on that fact. She believed that she was the toughest woman in the world and had yet to see someone prove her wrong.
“I understand,” she finally answered. “My mother is insane. Everyone in the world knows that. I was eight years old when she officially went crackers. I spent most of my time locked away in her mansion in Connecticut with tutors and body guards and servants. I barely got to date until I ran away to college. I was extremely sheltered. I learned how to drive at twenty. I was behind in social development in every way.”
“How did you overcome it?” Cameron asked.
“Who says I overcame it? I hate people; no offense. I would love to spend the rest of my life not having to deal with the masses, but it’s my job.”
“Your job continually puts you in the public eye.”
“Ironic, huh?” She took another sip of her wine. “I have a need to tell people that they don’t get it. I think that’s why I stick around this town and advise people what to do with their beach houses and expensive 57th Street apartments and sometimes their governments.”
“Why do you feel like you always have to be in charge?” he asked.
He was amazed at how her mind worked. He felt that if he spent a lifetime, he would still have no idea what made her tick. She could be bare bones honest with him and he would still think that there was a hidden labyrinth of layers inside of her psyche. She was the single most guarded individual he had ever met.
“Security systems are easy,” she said. “That’s my bread and butter so to speak. It’s terrorism and the public that makes me crazy. It’s like no one is paying attention. There are patterns and signs in everything these separatists do. You can’t believe a word they say. A very wise man told me that years ago, and he was right. I keep shouting the obvious from the rooftops, and on any given topic, it falls on deaf ears. The leaders of the world will ignore these groups until they eventually take over the whole damn planet and every government and church in it. It gets so frustrating that I don’t even know why I keep trying. I guess I have a need to make people see what they don’t want to.”
“Okay, let’s say I’m the general public. What is it that I’m missing?” hr asked. “What am I missing? What should cue me in to the reality of separatist behavior?”
“You don’t want to get into this, do you? I thought this was a one shot deal for you to convince me that you’re a nice guy.”
“Maybe this is part of me convincing you that I’m nice. I want to know what goes on in that head of yours. I think that a lesson in terrorism might give me a clue. Try me.”
“You’re insane. Fine, I’ll tell you about my career. It took me three and a half years to get our government to understand that the Russian terrorism network The Alder Nation, was in no way connected with Middle Eastern separatists.” She paused. “You read my books, right? When the Russian network started to gain worldwide recognition, they called themselves the Northern Taliban. Most people presumed that they were Muslim because of the name, but it was a diversion. The group is in no way connected to the Taliban and is in no way Muslim. It took me years to convince any government of that.”
“What made you believe that they weren’t Muslim? I had trouble following your process in the book.” Cameron was fascinated. “Most known terrorist groups in that part of the world are Muslims. I don’t mean to sound prejudiced, but they are. What led you to believe otherwise?”
He stared at her. “What?”
“That’s the name that the leader of the Northern Taliban took for himself long before the group changed their name to The Alder Nation. That was how I knew that they weren’t Muslim.”
“What is the name?” he asked. “I’ve heard plenty of Russian, and even speak a little, but I’ve never heard anything that sounded like that.”
“Where did you learn Russian?”
“I live in Seattle. Russians are a large section of our tourists and business. Street signs are sometimes printed in Russian and English and Japanese. We’re diverse in Washington.”
She had been to Seattle once. She forgot about the signs that appeared in multiple languages. The airport printed a lot of signs in up to eight languages.
“Stay alert,” she told herself. “Did you ever hear the story of King Arthur?”
“Yes, of course,” he replied.
“After Lancelot and Guinevere betrayed Arthur, he fell apart and the kingdom of Camelot went to hell. He sent out his knights of the roundtable to find the Holy Grail. He believed that things would return to normal and life would be good again if he could have the cup of Christ.”
“I know the story. I watched some movies over the years, but I don’t remember the details.”
“They found the grail, and Mordred still killed Arthur in the battle for the kingdom.”
“Yes. What does any of this have to do with Russian Separatists?” he asked.
“There are some who believe that the reason the grail didn’t have the desired effect on Arthur’s life is that the grail didn’t rightfully belong to him. There are those who believe that the Holy Grail rightfully belonged to the person who was made its keeper, and no one else. That person was Percival.”
“Okay,” he said, confused.
Talia stopped speaking, because the waiter brought their food. She politely waited until their dinner was neatly placed in front of them, then she thanked him and asked him to thank Bitsie for the amazing food.
She was starting to relax, and although she knew she would probably tell him too much about her life if she kept drinking wine and didn’t care. It felt good to have a social evening with stimulating conversation. Cameron seemed genuinely interested in her world and was exhibiting a passion for it that she didn’t encounter often.
The waiter brought them another bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
“So, you were saying?” Cameron asked.
“лерсиваљ is Russian for Percival. The son of a bitch named himself Percival, the rightful keeper of the Holy Grail.”
“Where did she learn such things?” he wondered. “So this was your basis for surmising that the Alder Nation isn’t Muslim?”
“What more do you need? Percival has been hailed as the noble knight who guarded the Holy Grail. He had the cup of Christ that would give him eternal life, yet he didn’t drink from it. Instead, he let King Arthur drink from it so that Arthur could live forever. How noble is that?” she replied.
“It’s noble, but how does that prove your theory?”
“Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet. They don’t follow grail lore.”
“Isn’t grail lore for Catholics? Why would a Russian follow it?” he asked.
“Russian Orthodox is based in Catholicism. The hierarchy includes the Pope,” she explained.
“I had no idea,” he replied. “Why did he choose a name from the legend of King Arthur instead of something religiously significant?”
“The mystery I suppose. He couldn’t call himself God or Jesus, because people would catch that in a second. Every language has a name for God. He chose a name that most people would never catch onto, so he could deliberately mislead people. It’s a game, like when a serial killer leaves a signature clue behind. Russians historically don’t read the legend of King Arthur. Most people would never recognize the Russian pronunciation of a name like Percival.”
“God, you’re brilliant!” he exclaimed.
Talia blushed. She hadn’t blushed in years. “Thanks. I learn things as I go. I’ve learned a lot about Russian people, their lore, their lives, their politics. I was only ahead of the game at first. After they changed their name to The Alder Nation, anyone who knew anything about Arthur could figure it out.”
“I guess I know nothing, because I don’t get it.”
“Alderly Edge is the place in Britain where legend states that the knights of the roundtable are sleeping; waiting to be awakened to rule the world again. That’s where the current name of the group came from.”
“It’s odd, I’ll give the Russian bastards that. I wish that they would make their political ambitions public, instead of playing games behind the scenes. Political change is the only effective change, don’t you think?” she asked.
“I guess that’s true. But, traditional war is all but gone. Some would say that radical change is the only effective change.” He suddenly remembered the elections on television. “By the way, did you happen to see the results of the elections in Russia?”
She had been so distracted by Cameron that she forgot all about Election Day in Russia. “I forgot. Who won?”
She felt a flutter in her stomach and wanted to faint. She was terrified that her daughter would suddenly be living with the President of Russia.
“Eduard Sokolovsky,” Cameron said. He was proud that he knew something about Russia that Talia Anderson didn’t know. He saw her face and was afraid she was going to faint.
“Are you all right?” he asked her.
Talia stood up, shakily. “I’m fine.” She tossed her napkin onto the table. “Would you excuse me for just a moment?” Without waiting for him to reply, she bolted from the table.
“What the hell did I do now?” he wondered. He watched the doorway to the building. He waited. He looked at his watch. He finished his dinner.
“She’s not coming back. What the hell was that all about?” he thought.