he’s using and a room number.”
Having to get this information on our own wasn’t ideal, but the Philippines wasn’t exactly the Israelis’ backyard, and they hadn’t been able to offer all that much. Manny traveled toManila frequently from his nominal home in Johannesburg, taking as many as ten trips in a year. He never stayed for less than a week; the longest of these visits had lasted two months. He’d been doing this for a decade: presumably because customs control in Manila isn’t as tight as it is in, say, Singapore, making the Philippines a good place for meetings with the MNLF, Abu Sayef, Jemaah Islamiah, and other violent groups in the region; possibly because he liked the price and variety of Manila’s well-known nightlife, as well. He always stayed at the Peninsula. There were a few surveillance photos. That was all.
With less than the usual dossier to go on, I knew we would have to improvise. Where to hit Manny, for one thing. The hotel was our only current nexus and so presented a logical choice. But if Manny died in the hotel, it would absolutely have to look natural; otherwise, there would be too much investigative attention on the other guests, including Dox and me. Staying elsewhere wouldn’t have helped; it would have kept us too far from the action.
The level of “naturalness” a hotel hit itself would require isn’t easy, but there were other problems, as well. Most of the ruses I typically use to get into someone’s room depend on the target’s anonymity, yet Manny was well known to the hotel. And even if I did get into the room while Manny was out and then waited for him to return, what if the bodyguard swept the room immediately before his arrival? What if Manny came back with a bar girl? In the current terrain, I couldn’t control for these variables, and I didn’t like that.
Still, I wanted the room number. Partly in case a better opportunity didn’t present itself and we had to use the Hotel Room Expiration as Plan B; more important, so we would know on which floor to place the video camera that we would use to track his movements. We could have tried placing a camera in the lobby, which would have been easier because it would have savedus the trouble of finding out what floor he was on. But there were downsides to the lobby, too. With all the people coming and going through the hotel entrance, we’d have to scrutinize the grainy feed constantly to pick Manny out of the crowd. And if the lobby was always our first chance to see him on the move, we’d have to scramble to follow him out of the hotel—behavior that any decent bodyguard would key on in a heartbeat. So I decided we would use the lobby only if we had to.
Even low-end hotels don’t give out their guests’ room numbers, though, and the regal Peninsula Manila, with its expansive, marble-lined lobby and white-uniformed bellhops, was anything but low-end. And even if we found an indiscreet employee, we wouldn’t have known who to ask for because we didn’t know what name Manny would be staying under. So, while leaning forward to ask some typical questions about Manila and environs, Dox had taken the liberty of placing a few adhesive-backed transmitters under the long front edge of the marble reception desk. When Manny checked in, Dox would be able to listen in on his conversation with the clerk.
I waited two minutes, then heard the twang again. “Well, it’s good news and bad news. Our friend is here under the name Mr. Hartman. But all the clerk said to him is, ‘Mr. Hartman, your room number is written here.’ ”
I’d received the same treatment when I checked in and wasn’t surprised. The hotel staff was well trained.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“Sure, there’s something else,” I heard him say, and I could imagine his trademark grin. “He took the elevator on the Ayala Tower side.”
The hotel had two separate wings—the Ayala and the Makati. Now we knew which set of elevators to focus on. We were beginning to triangulate.
“You get on with him?” I asked.
“I tried to. But the bodyguard was awfully polite and insisted that I just head on up by my lonesome.”
All right, his bodyguard had some tactical sense. Not a surprise. “Did he get a good look at you?”
“Good enough. I think we can expect him to recognize the best-looking fella in Manila next time he sees me.”
I nodded. Letting Dox run ahead was a calculated risk. Soon enough we would be
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