Diplomatic Immunityby Grant Sutherland
Diplomatic immunity, n: freedom from arrest...and submission to police regulations usually accorded by international law to diplomatic agents.* From the most exciting writer of international thrillers since Robert Ludlum comes a riveting tale of intrigue that propels us into the heart of the United Nations. Here conscience and loyalty will collide in one man’s desperate race against time.
Shock waves ripple through the UN at the stunning news: a special envoy has been murdered in the basement. In the midst of a high-stakes General Assembly vote, the last thing officials want is more controversy. But Sam Windrush, a deputy in Legal Affairs, is determined to pursue his friend’s killer--despite roadblocks created by everyone from his supervisor and foreign ambassadors to his lover. Even worse, each of his suspects is protected by diplomatic immunity. Each can escape justice.
In less than a week UN officials will wrest the investigation away from am. In less than a week his fourteen-year career will be on the line. And as time runs out, Sam will face an even greater threat. A new suspect not protected by diplomatic immunity has come to light. The only suspect Sam wants to eliminate...the only one he cannot.
*Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language
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"We're going to be late," Patrick O'Conner remarks unhappily.
We have just emerged from a twenty-minute session in the local Starbucks, Patrick, over two light grandes, telling me his woes. Now he considers the thickening crowd on the sidewalk before veering right, wiping the last muffin crumbs from his mouth with a handkerchief as I fall into step beside him.
"You know," he says, continuing his complaint as we walk, "it's unbelievable. This thing's been on the cards how long? Years. And here we are, the whole jamboree set to start -- for chrissake, they'll be voting on it in two days -- and still no one knows the numbers. Tell me, Sam. Really. What kind of cockass thing is that?"
This question, in variations, is one I have been listening to every day now for at least a month. So I incline my head but offer no comment, and as we push our way through the sightseers, Patrick goes on delivering his latest thoughts on the subject, the main matter of debate at Turtle Bay, in fact, for over a year: the elevation of the Japanese to a place at the top table of international diplomacy, a permanent UN Security Council seat. What Patrick refers to in private moments, in his inimitable Australian way, as the Nip Question.
"Every tinpot bozo lining up for his say, and the Japs still walking around like a buncha zombies, like it's in the bag, as if it'll all go through on a nod from Uncle Sam." He shakes his head, disconsolate. He swears.
And then, mercifully, he lapses into a thoughtful silence. He is not a tall man, and is in his late fifties, but as he barrels forward, the crowd parts around him like water around a stone.
Patrick O'Conner, the UN's Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs, has been my boss for almost three years. I have become accustomed to his moods, but today, this morning, his disgruntlement has gone into overdrive, reached an altogether higher order of magnitude. He sweeps a hand across his forehead. He sets his bulldog jaw tight. He does not look happy.
Patrick, as everyone in the Secretariat knows, has fallen out of favor lately with the thirty-eighth floor. Breaking with his usual practice, the Secretary-General no longer calls Patrick to his side at the onset of any crisis. He has ceased to find Patrick's speechwriting talents indispensable. He does not invite Patrick back to his grand Upper East Side residence, as he once did so often, to shoot the breeze and drink whiskey till all hours of the night. And everyone knows, too, that the reason for Patrick's fall is the vote, just two days away now, on Japan. Following Patrick's advice, the SG has forced the pace on the vote, driving it to the top of this year's General Assembly agenda. Patrick, in a rare miscalculation, was certain the Japanese had the numbers. In fact, they still may. But the whole thing is so delicately balanced now that no one can call it, and if the worst should happen, if Japan loses the vote, then the SG, after all his efforts, will look like a fool.
Which is why for the past several weeks Patrick has been kept at arm's length from the thirty-eighth floor. Should the need for a scapegoat arise, Patrick is shaping up as ideal material.
Now Patrick shoulders his way impatiently through the sightseers and tourists who have gathered near First Avenue. It is not just me. Patrick O'Conner is unhappy with the world.
"Speak to Hatanaka," he tells me as we bump together in the throng.
Right, I think. Okay, now I get it. Why Patrick has asked me to Starbucks for a quiet word, why I have just spent twenty minutes listening to his beef. He has been softening me up, priming me to comply with this request. Speak to Hatanaka.
When I pretend not to have heard, Patrick touches my arm.
"I want you to speak to Hatanaka. Get him to ease off this crap he's talking, trashing his own bloody country. Who's he think he is anyway, running a private campaign? Is that what he's paid for?"
I concede, reluctantly, that Toshio Hatanaka has probably overstepped the mark.
"Overstepped? Christ, the way Hatanaka's playing it, there is no bloody mark." Patrick shakes his head in disgust. "You hear the latest? He's sent out a letter to all the senior delegations telling them how a Security Council seat's incompatible with the Japanese Constitution. Can you believe it?"
"It won't change the vote."
Unfortunately, he has a point. Toshio Hatanaka, committed pacifist and twenty-five-year UN veteran, has become more involved than he has any right to be in this. Now I ask Patrick exactly what it is he wants me to tell Toshio.
"Tell him he's out of line. Pull his bloody head in."
"You think I haven't tried?" We turn face-to-face, edging our way through the crush toward the steps down to First Avenue. Part of the crowd down there is chanting, placards held high. "Of course I've damn well tried, he's just not listening. But you two seem to get along, yeah? You've wasted enough time on that Third Committee bullshit with him. Anyway, try to speak to him, will you? See if you can talk some sense into the man's thick head, make him see this isn't just some pissy point of procedure he's screwing around with here. This is the big game."
"And you want Toshio to butt out."
Patrick shoots me a look. "Sam, I'm asking you to speak to the man, that's all. If you don't want to, don't. But I don't wanna be hearing any more about your principles. You know he's in the wrong. Speak to the man."
We emerge from the crowd at the head of the steps and pause; even Patrick is momentarily silenced by the sight. Turtle Bay, UN headquarters, in all its General Assembly opening day glory. Sightseers line First Avenue both ways; a motorcade of black limousines slowly snakes its way into the forecourt of the Secretariat building, the thirty-nine-story office tower where Patrick and I both work. Delegates are strolling across to the garlanded entrance, the rainbow colors of the African national costumes shimmering in the long line of gray suits. Everyone shaking hands. Smiling. One hundred and eighty-five flags flapping in line. There is, undeniably, a real sense of occasion.
Just below us on this side of the street, the maroon-robed Tibetan monks -- a shaven-headed cluster, they have been camped here on a hunger strike for two weeks -- cease their chanting as the Chinese delegation disappears into the UN buildings. The monks lower their FREE TIBET placards and peer curiously through the line of New York cops to see what might happen next. Or maybe in this age of celebrity they're hoping for the same as the ranks of sightseers crowding behind them: a glimpse of somebody famous, a face they recognize from the style magazines or TV.
Well, I think, here we are. My fourteenth time and the thrill, though muted by the passing years, still rises. The flags fly. The limos disgorge the mighty. It is the third Tuesday in September, and here we are once again at the gathering of all the nations of the earth.
Patrick turns to me. "Speak to Hatanaka." Then he looks at his watch as he begins shouldering his way down the steps. "We're going to be late," he says.
We are not late, of course. The delegates and the presidents, the prime ministers and the foreign secretaries, various senior UN staff, all of us are gathered in the Delegates' Lounge, everyone busy seeing and being seen, the only two things you can do at a gala occasion like this. The moment he spots James Bruckner, the U.S. ambassador, Patrick moves in swiftly to press the flesh, leaving me alone by the wall. Most days this place has the feel of some airport lounge built and decorated in the fifties. Long rows of high windows and clean, spare lines. Today the effect is enhanced by all the suits, the different-colored faces; it looks as though half a dozen jumbos have just arrived and unloaded several hundred VIPs.
Mike Jardine, deputy head of security here at the UN, weaves toward me through the crowd. He finishes delivering some command into his walkie-talkie, then turns to stand at my side. He tugs at the collar of his jacket and straightens his tie.
"Fun day?" I venture.
He tilts back his head. "Shit fight of the year. All we need now's the frigging ticker tape."
There is not the trace of a smile on his pallid face. His hooded eyes continue to sweep left and right as he tells me that we appear to be down one delegation.
But the Japanese, with everything they're playing for this session, will not be staying away from the opening. When I offer him this judgment, Mike grunts.
"No-shows I can deal with. You ask me, they're just holding back for the grandstand entrance, the Streisand thing. Get here last, everyone's gonna notice." He makes a face. "Jesus. And I used to think I had problems down at the Hall."
City Hall, he means, a reference to Mike's old job of running security for New York's mayor. Mike left the NYPD five years ago to come and work here at UN headquarters, an appointment that has turned out to be one of the more inspired of the last Secretary-General's tenure. Just before Mike joined us, relations between UN Security and the NYPD had hit an all-time low. On one celebrated occasion a fistfight broke out during some ambassadorial lunch at the Park Plaza, four of NYPD's finest versus four of our guys, eight grown men slugging it out in the john over who was protecting whom. That those days are now behind us is largely due to Mike. He is respected on both sides of First Avenue.
I ask him if he's seen Toshio Hatanaka. He shakes his head.
"But I've seen your girlfriend," he says.
When I give him a look, Mike grins. I'm starting to wish I had never told him. Then someone reports a "red" over Mike's two-way. Mike groans.
"Red?" I say.
Code, he tells me. Something the security guards don't want to broadcast. "Basically, a first-class screwup," he says. Backing away into the crowd, he tells me to enjoy the big party.
This seems to be my cue to mingle, so I do, drifting through the crowd, nodding pleasantly to the half-remembered faces from some committee meeting last week or last year, talking briefly, moving on. Unlike Patrick, I have none of the politician's instinct for working a room, so no one I speak to here is a name. English, the Latin of our age, rolls around me in a hundred different accents. Other languages too; my ear tunes in to the Spanish conversations, scraps of French, but I can't see Toshio anywhere.
"Mr. Windrush," says Jennifer Dale, sidestepping a Pacific Islander, planting herself in front of me. "What brings you here?"
"You're too early."
She holds up her nearly empty plastic cup. "Too late."
Glancing over her shoulder, I tell her I seem to remember something about an agreement we had. She looks around.
"Yeah, well, some places are so public, they're private." Then she faces me, smiling now, a professional woman at ease among suits. "Relax, Sam," she says quietly, "I'm not going to jump you."
I take a moment with that. Jennifer Dale and I, as Mike knows and some others have guessed, enjoy a relationship that goes well beyond the professional. But she's probably right -- there is nothing wrong with a senior bureaucrat like me from the Secretariat exchanging pleasantries with the U.S. ambassador's legal counsel at a gathering such as this. So gesturing around, I ask if she's made many new friends this morning.
"Everybody wants to be my friend, Sam. That's one of the joys of being an American."
"I'm an American."
"You're Secretariat," she reminds me, grinning. "That puts you firmly in the twilight zone." She waves to someone behind me. "You know, this isn't as bad as you said it was going to be. I think I might even be liking it."
Give it time, I tell her. Wait for the opening General Assembly speeches.
She nods and sips her drink and looks past me. There is a stir over by the door. The Japanese delegation finally arriving.
"I guess you heard we got a letter from Mr. Hatanaka."
"I heard," I say.
"We're considering a formal protest."
"Bruckner not happy?"
James Bruckner, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Jennifer's boss. The U.S. has been lobbying for decades now to get Japan a permanent Security Council seat; Bruckner has been spearheading the campaign all this last year.
"Ballistic," Jennifer tells me.
When I reprise the assurance I gave Patrick, that it won't affect the vote, she simply raises a brow.
"Anyway, we'll know Thursday," she says, referring to the day scheduled for the vote. "And I tell you, Sam, ballistic's going to seem mild if the Japanese lose. Bruckner will be out for scalps."
Her drift is clear, but I ask anyway. "I'm meant to pass this on to Toshio?"
"We'd be much obliged."
"You think I'm going to?"
"It was worth a try."
She smiles and I smile back. If she wants the message passed, she is going to have to do it herself. Then our conversation slides into a lighter vein. We start comparing notes on the celebrity guests, mine just the usual remarks, so much smaller in the flesh than on TV. But Jennifer has a gift for verbal caricature, which she uses now, skewering several of the big names with words, imagined anecdotes, solely for my entertainment. She is dry and ironic, and really very funny, a quality I completely failed to notice when I knew her the first time around. Which was, incredibly, almost twenty years ago now.
We went through Columbia Law School together. Correction. We enrolled the same year and joined the same study group our second semester. After that our paths diverged. We'd see each other in class or around the campus, but we weren't friends, and after graduation we totally lost touch. Yet, when she appeared in the doorway of my office six months ago, I recognized her immediately. Her honey-colored hair is a shade darker-dyed, I have since learned, to disguise the first wisps of gray-and her face, lined at the corners of the eyes, is somewhat fuller, but otherwise the years have treated her well. In many ways she seems to have grown into herself, become the formidable presence she always promised to be. But formidable or not, and despite her nonchalant air, the upcoming vote on a permanent Security Council seat for the Japanese has her worried.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Grant Sutherland was born in Sydney and grew up in rural western Australia. After studying at the United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore and then at the London School of Economics, he returned to Australia and worked in the financial markets before embarking on a writing career. The author of two internationally published novels, Due Diligence and East of the City, he now lives with his wife and two children in Oxfordshire, England.
From the Hardcover edition.
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The UN is shocked by the news: a diplomatic minister is found murdered in the basement. No one is more devastated by the news than Sam Windrush, a deputy in Legal Affairs, for him the murdered man was his friend, someone who through a personal tragedy has been linked to him for years. Intent on catching the killer, Sam moves full force into action, even though his superiors want him to abandon the investigation. Since the murder has cast an uncertainty on the outcome of a high stakes assembly vote, the UN does not want anymore controversy, thus making Sam's investigation impossible. Battling various roadblocks - set up by everyone from his supervisor, and foreign ambassadors, to his lover - Sam soon finds he is in way over his head, and one wrong move could cost him his life. Not willing to give up, Sam continues on a maze of deception, where everyone is a suspect, every suspect has a hidden agenda, and every suspect is protected by diplomatic immunity. With his job, and life on the line, Sam must find the killer before it's too late. 'Diplomatic Immunity' is a full-throttle thriller, that entertains, while offering an exciting look into the heart of the Unted Nations. Thriller fans take note: Grant Sutherland has written a novel that ranks with the best of Ludlum, and should cement him a place on all the best-seller lists. Twisting plot, page-turning action, and top notch writing make for an excellent thriller, and 'Diplomatic Immunity' has all of them. Nick Gonnella