Chapter Thirty-Four

After the first night in the hotel, Liquida began to relax, if only a little. He settled in, buoyed by the notion that if the FBI was going to batter down his door, they would have already done it.

The next morning Liquida got up early. He had a busy day ahead of him. He slipped down the back stairs of the hotel, grabbed a taxi, and told the driver to take him to the Gare du Nord, the train station in North Paris.

The Gare du Nord is one of six main train terminals serving the Paris area. There Liquida purchased a one-way ticket on the Eurostar, the Paris-to-London run through the Channel Tunnel for later that day. He used his old Spanish passport to buy the ticket.

The trains ran every hour. The trip on the high-speed rail took two hours and fifteen minutes.

Liquida pocketed the ticket and then took a taxi out into the northern suburbs. These were neighborhoods of desperation housing thousands of immigrants, mostly from countries in North Africa. A good portion of these were asylum seekers from regimes of repression. Many were living in France illegally, constantly under the hammer of the French immigration service. For many of these people, deportation to their homeland meant torture or worse.

A few years earlier the French government announced a crackdown, threatening to repatriate any and all immigrants who lacked proper documentation to be in the country. Within days vast fires raged through the northern suburbs. Each night scores of cars were torched as rioters rampaged through the streets.

The government got the message. It eased its immigration policy, and the riots stopped. But the subterranean tensions between immigrants, most of whom were young, and the French government remained. Many began to look for other lands of opportunity, places where permanent political asylum might be easier to obtain. One such place was Britain.

Some stowed away on boats and ships; others looked to the Channel Tunnel. They hoboed on freight cars and buried themselves in the cargo on trucks. Some even tried to cling to the undercarriage of the high-speed Eurostar. At least a dozen paid with their lives. French and British authorities tried to put an end to it. The French constructed a double fence along the tracks at the tunnel entrance near Calais. They made efforts to cordon off the rail assembly yards. And while the numbers were down, the most desperate among the asylum seekers continued to try.

Liquida knew that to the right buyer a Spanish passport and a one-way Eurostar ticket to London would be an irresistible offer. He was prepared to make a generous sacrifice regarding the price, on one condition: that the ticket and the passport were used today. He would even provide transportation back to the northern rail station by way of his own taxi. All he needed was a candidate with a compelling itch to test the waters of asylum in Britain and a passing resemblance to his photograph on the Spanish passport.

This was easier than it might seem. It was a category of passport fraud generally known as “imposters.” The most common were stolen travel documents with a photograph close enough in appearance to the thief to be ambiguous. In Liquida’s case, many of the asylum seekers in the suburbs were Iranians with dark hair and a complexion similar to his own.

A good portion of passports, depending on the country of issue, could be anywhere from five to ten years out of date. At times Liquida had used passport photos showing a full beard and mustache, long hair down to his shoulders, only to stride through immigration clean-shaven with his hair cropped short. The inspecting officers never said a word. They saw what they wanted to see-an aging hippie gone straight, the holder of a valid passport walking by in front of them.

The introduction of holograms, intended to tighten up on passport fraud, only made it worse. Now the immigration officer had a toy to rely on, the ultraviolet light. Either the hologram was there or it wasn’t. Once it was caught in the light, it provided the false assurance that the passport was valid, when in fact the identity and the information on it might well be false. The hologram that was intended to detect manufactured passports became the center of attention and reinforced the notion that the picture was irrelevant.

Only fools used manufactured passports. Liquida wouldn’t even touch “stolen blanks,” passport documents taken from official stock or purchased from corrupt bureaucrats and completed by somebody else.

He used only the best, genuine passports issued by government agencies using false identities, usually people who were dead. This was what the Spanish passport was. Except for the fact that the FBI now had it on its radar screen, the Spanish document was triple-A rated. With it you could enter the United States without a visa, as Liquida had on two occasions.

Because the passport numbers were actually entered into the computer system of the issuing government, the fraud, the fact that everything written on it was false, was virtually undetectable.

It was why Liquida liked to use Bruno’s services. His people had corrupted half the passport offices in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Asia. Give him a day, and he could get a genuine passport from any member nation of the UN displaying your picture along with the name and vital statistics of Michael Jackson. You could moonwalk through immigration.

By noon the Spanish passport in Liquida’s pocket would show an exit stamp leaving France through the Chunnel with a matching record in its immigration computer. A corresponding British entry stamp verified by its computers would follow.

Where the passport went after that, Liquida didn’t care. If he got lucky, it might end up at the North Pole with the bearer disappeared under the ice cap, though Liquida wasn’t counting on it.

He had actually considered two other possibilities; one, going to London himself on the Spanish passport and coming back on the new one that Bruno had given him. But he couldn’t because the new passport would be missing the British entry stamp. The minute he tried to leave he would be picked up at immigration. The second alternative was burning a body in a car in the suburbs and leaving the partially charred passport as the only identification. But the convenience of that plan was a little too symmetrical for the FBI to swallow. A living, breathing, moving passport was better. It would buy him time, which at the moment was all he needed.