The U.S. is focused on the crisis in Asia as China moves aggressively against Taiwan and desperately needs European help. France seizes the chance to challenge the U.S. and forge an alliance with China. And Gus Tyler is trapped in a geopolitical storm.
Tyler faces a powerful prosecutor as the international press trumpets his guilt. But a determined lawyer and Tyler's own son, a tough Air Force officer, have a different plan. For Gus Tyler, the search for justice will lead from a pampered Western Europe to a far place--the wild and lawless slaughterhouse of the Southern Sudan.
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A FAR JUSTICE
By Richard Herman
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Richard Herman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSchiphol Airport, the Netherlands
Gus Tyler stood in the main concourse of Holland's international airport, a rock in the mainstream splitting the flow of humanity surging past him. He looked for the familiar face of his son, but Jason wasn't there.
An attractive young woman bumped into him and dropped her bag. "I'm so sorry," she said. Her breast brushed against his arm as he bent over to pick up her carry-on bag. "We were on the same plane," she murmured, obviously attracted to the tall and lanky American. At fifty years of age, Gus Tyler was still fit and possessed a full head of dark hair that was only now turning gray at the temples. He hadn't lost the straight teeth and crooked grin so characteristic of his generation of fighter pilots, and he could easily pass for forty.
He returned the smile, his eyes alive with amusement as he handed her the bag. He was being hit on and it was a welcomed ego stroke. "Right. You reminded me of my daughter at first." She blushed at the gentle brush-off and pushed past him. He picked up his old green Air Force B4 bag and followed her, still looking for Jason.
A pretty young woman, heavy-set with short blonde hair and big blue eyes, was holding a sign with his name. "Colonel Tyler?" she called. He waved and pushed through the crowd. She was not the type Jason usually dated, much less proposed to, and he was anxious to meet the woman who would soon be his daughter-in-law. "I'm Aly van der Nord," she said, extending her hand. "Jason had to work this evening. How was the flight?"
He dropped his bag and took her hand. Her grip was firm and strong, not the least bit feminine, and he liked her serious nature. "You would not believe." His flight out of Sacramento on Monday afternoon had been cancelled and he had been endlessly delayed by weather and more flight cancellations. He had finally reached JFK in New York where a helpful ticket agent suggested he fly into Holland rather than Belgium. KLM had done the rest and even booked him on the train from Schiphol to Brussels. "It's very kind of you to meet me." She picked up his bag with an easy motion. "When you were delayed, Jason couldn't make it. He has to lead the honor guard for a ceremony with the general." His son was a technical sergeant assigned to the Air Force Security Forces detachment at SHAPE, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, in Belgium, and the general was SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. "So I jumped at the chance." She led the way down the main concourse. "If you want, you can stay with us tonight and Jason will drive up tomorrow. He's scheduled for a week's leave. Or I can drive you down to Casteau tonight. It's about a three-hour drive, depending on the traffic."
Gus did the math. It would be after midnight when they arrived. "I am pooped," he admitted.
Aly smiled and Gus felt much better. "Good. It will be a chance to meet my parents and they want to show you our farm. How is Mrs. Tyler doing?"
"Not too good, I'm afraid. The quacks thought it was multiple sclerosis at first, but now think it is a rare form of lupus."
"Jason told me," was all she said.
For some reason, Gus completely trusted the young Dutchwoman. "Did he tell you about Michelle?" Michelle was their oldest child and had never married. It took time to explain how happy she was and what two great twin boys she was raising.
"Jason is very proud of his sister." She gave him an easy smile. "Things like that don't matter anymore."
Jason has a winner here, Gus thought.
Outside, a cold North Sea wind whipped at them as they hurried to her car. Suddenly, Aly stopped. "This is embarrassing," she said in a low voice.
For a moment, Gus didn't understand and only saw three people huddled together against the cold, blocking the sidewalk. Then he saw the banner. "I don't read Dutch, but it looks like they've got the beak about the US."
"It's an old slang expression for when someone is angry."
Aly laughed. "I like that. Don't worry about them, they're harmless." She walked straight toward the small group without fear. They politely stepped aside and cleared a path.
Then he saw the man holding a poster. His face was a mass of burn scars and his ears and lips were gone. Plastic surgery had reconstructed part of his nose but the fingers on his right hand were stumps. Only his eyes were normal. The two men stared at one another as if they had met long ago but couldn't remember where or when. This guy is straight out of hell, Gus thought. The man held the poster up. The words
U.S. WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ - 1991
were written in black and splattered with red paint drops to represent blood. The man saw Gus's reaction and spun the poster around.
HIGHWAY OF DEATH
was printed in bold letters over the famous photo of the charred head of a dead Iraq soldier staring at the cameraman. Slowly, the man brought the poster next to his face. In the half-light of the street the two merged, and the poster became a dark mirror into the past. Gus froze, unable to move as the ghosts of war surged out of their walled niche, demanding their freedom. Silence bound the two men. "You were there?" Gus finally asked.
The man's mouth cracked into an open slit. "Yes, I was there." His words were soft and sad.
Gus didn't believe him. "Was it bombers?"
There was no anger or hurt in the apparition's words, only a melancholy echo. "I don't think so. It was night and I couldn't tell. At first, there was only one airplane. It flew very low and bombed the trucks in front. Then it maneuvered very quickly to bomb the rear of the convoy and trapped us. It came back one more time and flew down the highway, dropping its death. More planes came later. I tried to run away but couldn't hide in the desert. I dug a hole but they found me."
"Come," Aly said, taking charge and bringing Gus back to the present.
"Have a nice day," the man said as they walked away.
"You mustn't let it upset you," Aly said. "They all claim to be victims to get money from the state. He has told the lie so often he believes it himself."
Gus stared straight ahead. "He was there."
Henri Scullanois sat at his desk in Le salon de la rotonde, his office in the Quai d'Orsay, the high temple of French foreign policy. His face was expressionless but he was pleased with the thick, elegantly bound document on his desk. The title said it all.
An Investigation into United States War Crimes In Iraq, March 19, 2003 to January 20, 2009
The name was underneath the title in smaller type.
Denise Du Milan Prosecutor International Criminal Court
France's investment in the United Nation's International Criminal Court in the Hague had finally paid dividends, and Denise Du Milan, the court's newly appointed prosecutor, had accomplished a near miracle. Somehow, she had triggered an investigation and overcame the inherent prejudices of the court's Pre-Trial Division. The presiding judge hated women, another judge detested the French, and the third disliked people in general. But she had made a compelling case for the "reasonable basis" required by the Rome Statute that had created the International Criminal Court. He sensed the hand of Denise's husband, Chrestien Du Milan, at work in the background, busily pulling strings and calling in past favors.
He considered Chrestien Du Milan a fool, a dilettante who still played the old-fashioned game of sex and politics. But as Scullanois's wife, Renée, had cautioned, Chrestien Du Milan was a force in French politics that could not be ignored and that a political liaison was in order. That was her shorthand way of telling Scullanois she was sleeping with Du Milan. His intercom buzzed. "Minister," his secretary said, "Madam Prosecutor Du Milan is here."
"Please show her right in," Scullanois said. He stood in front of his desk and the historical grandeur of the room engulfed him. Sunlight streamed through the large bay windows at his back, backlighting the Minister of Foreign Affairs with a halo. His secretary escorted Denise Du Milan through the massive double doors and quickly withdrew. As always, Scullanois tried to stand more erect when he saw Denise. She was tall and thin with a wild mane of dark auburn hair gathered at the back of her neck. At thirty-six, she was considered one of the most beautiful women in France and fashion magazines were acutely interested in whatever she was wearing. It was an expense Chrestien Du Milan gladly bore.
They ritually bussed each other's cheeks, and Scullanois motioned to the two exquisite antique chairs by the bay windows "The court's approval of your petition for investigation has astounded us all. And someday, you must tell me how you deal with the Dutch. They are so, ah, so boringly bored."
She gave him a ravishing smile. "The Dutch can be a bit provincial. Thank God the court is more cosmopolitan. Fortunately, everyone on the court fully understands the need to bring the Americans to justice, especially after the wretched Iraqi affair."
Scullanois carefully considered his next words and relied on Renée's advice. "I have tried to seek a common ground and return them to the community of nations, but I have not been successful. They are so full of themselves - and dismissive of all others as they blunder through the world. They cannot ignore us as if we were small, willful children."
Denise arched an eyebrow. Chrestien had said the same thing the evening before, and although she hadn't asked, she suspected that he had been with Scullanois's wife. The coincidence was too much and she was certain that Scullanois was also playing the old game of sex and politics. While she accepted that as part of life, something deep inside rebelled and demanded a little payback. But that would have to wait. "They are a culture of the moment, and now they use globalization as a weapon. Truly, it is the new American colonialism, and they are incapable of thinking beyond the next quarterly balance sheet." Her voice rang with the same clarity that made her a force in the courtroom. But more importantly, the very inflection of her tone captured the genetic codes buried deep in the language that defined the French psyche.
"Your investigation could not have come at a more opportune moment," the foreign minister said. He waited to see if she understood the political ramifications of her investigation.
She did. "You are, of course, referring to the United States' feeble efforts in the United Nations to stop the Chinese from re-establishing their sovereignty over Taiwan."
"Chinese patience is at an end," Scullanois said. "They are preparing to use military force if necessary. Their preparations should be complete by the first of the year. Of course, the United States is trying to use the UN to constrain China. We are ready to support the United States in the Security Council, if they become a member of the International Criminal Court."
"Which will never happen," Denise added. "They claim it would subject their military to our jurisdiction in any conflict beyond their borders." She allowed a tight smile. "Which it would."
Scullanois came to the heart of the matter. "If you can bring an American to trial for war crimes, it will offer us an opportunity to establish an alliance with China. It will convince the Chinese that their interests are our interests. How better to do this than by embarrassing the United States in the court of world opinion and allowing China to regain Taiwan? We can change the orientation of China away from the United States and towards France. This can open economic windows that we can build into a greater Franco-Sino axis."
"But all this would be in violation of the constitution of the EU," Denise said, touching on a subject best avoided by mere mortals. But they were above those constraints.
Scullanois answered in a low voice. "Then the European Union must not learn of it. Unfortunately, the minister of justice tells me there are, ah, other 'legal' difficulties with your investigation."
"There is a jurisdictional problem," she replied. "We can only try an individual from a country that is a member of the court."
"A major difficulty as the United States is not a member," he allowed.
"The Americans allow this foolishness called 'dual citizenship.' We must find an American soldier who was born in a country that recognizes this dual citizenship and is also a member of the court. Of course, he must have fought in the Iraqi war and killed at least one civilian."
Scullanois thought for a moment. "But considering the American position on the court, imprisoning one of their citizens is politically unthinkable."
A whisper of a smile flickered across her lips. She believed that the current president of the United States was a fool and she was more than willing to challenge him. "We have a narrow window to act while the United States is occupied by the Taiwan crisis. As long as the Americans need Europe's support in the United Nations, they will not risk our anger by challenging the court's jurisdiction. We can extend that window by delaying in the United Nations."
Scullanois thought for a moment. "Can the court act fast enough?"
"With the proper help, it can." She stressed the word "help."
"Brilliant," Scullanois said. He wanted to ask her about Chrestien's role in all this but thought better of it. There might be some hidden costs he had not considered. However, he was confident Renée would find out and tell him. The image of a naked Denise waiting in a bed flashed in his mind's eye. He considered making an offer, but dropped it. "I'm quite sure our bureaus can identify at least a dozen or so names and, ah, provide all the required 'help' the court will require. Of course, our role in all this must remain secret to avoid complications with the EU." He thought for a moment. "But taking one of these people into custody may be a problem."
"Americans love to travel," she replied. "I'm quite sure something will present itself."
"I will speak to the prime minister this morning."
Denise leaned forward. "I can move forward on a moment's notice."
NATO Headquarters, Belgium
Aly held onto Gus's arm as they walked down the quiet halls of NATO's headquarters, and she was proud to be part of his family. Gus and Jason had spent five wonderful days on her family's farm and the two big Americans had done yeoman labor helping her father build a new barn to breed and raise pigs. Her mother had repeatedly commented on how they looked more like brothers than father and son, and Aly suspected that her mother had a crush on the elder Tyler. But who could blame her? Now Gus was wearing his new uniform and was going to administer the oath to Jason so he could re-enlist. Aly van der Nord overcame the no-nonsense part of her Dutch nature and decided she loved her future father-in-law.
The man waiting for them was a younger, but much bigger and more muscular version of Gus. "We're doing it in SACEUR's conference room," Jason told them. "The general is going to be there." He held the door and led them down the hall. "I believe you know General Hammerly." General Douglas Hammerly, US Army, was the new Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
"I met Doug during the Persian Gulf war in Saudi Arabia when he was an up-and-coming major. They called him 'the Hammer' then."
"We still do," Jason admitted. "What the general wants, the general gets. We've got a videophone so Mom and Michelle can watch."
"That's super," Gus said, feeling not quite so guilty. He had been away far too long and it was time he returned home. They entered the conference room where the video camera was set up and six other security cops were waiting. An airman dialed Sacramento and Michelle's voice came over the loudspeaker. "We're all here," Gus's daughter said, "and Mom can hear and see you all."
"Hi, Hon," Gus said. "I'm catching a flight out of Schiphol tonight and should be home tomorrow."
"Mom says she'll be here," Michelle replied.
General Hammerly came through the side door that led to his office and extended his hand. "Gus Tyler, it has been a while."
Excerpted from A FAR JUSTICE by Richard Herman Copyright © 2010 by Richard Herman. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A welcome change from the past tomes! An engaging tale and suspensefull! Also, I want a Cassandra, the good we could accomplish!!