Here is the next chapter in this writing experiment. The reaction thus far has been very positive. Thank you for all of the comments and encouragement. This has been a fun exercise that has forced me to think through my writing in a different way. I’m not laying out chapters before hands. Writers often separate themselves into outliners and ‘pantsers’ for those who write by the seat of their pants. In this exercise, my pants have no seat at all. I’m just throwing it out there without editing or proofreading. In fact, I’ve gone back and fixed a couple grammar and punctuation issues in the previous installments as I re-read them to write the next part.
The story is taking an interesting turn. I’m still not sure where it’s going, or who this guy works for. The pictures each week give a clue as to where I’m going. If you have thoughts on the direction of the story based on this week’s story, feel free to comment.
As usual, your thoughts, comments, and encouragement are welcome.
Road Kill – Part 3
Aconite? Poisoning? Homeland Security? This was starting to sound like a bad novel with me as the main character. After Agent Winslow finished with me, she made no secret of her annoyance at my lack of information sharing. Frankly, I had little to share. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to poison me or even bother with me at all.
The bottom line was that I am just an analyst. It may be in a super-secret, under-the-radar government agency, but I didn’t know enough parts of the big picture to be a threat to anyone. The agency was specifically structured in this way. I might be responsible for tracing bank accounts or real estate transactions. A colleague might be responsible for listening to phone conversations or reading emails. On their own, the transactions, emails and conversations might indicate a portion of criminal activity taking place, but not enough to identify a specific person or group. Old Eddie Snowden made the agencies like the NSA a bit jumpy. They couldn’t risk any of us knowing too much. They pretended it was for our good, but most of us knew the truth. Government bureaucrats definitely didn’t like to put their jobs at risk by putting too much knowledge in the hands of lowly analysts.
I was fine with that. I was putting away a good portion of my salary, making careful investments, and racking up the airline and hotel points so that I could be my own boss someday and not be part of the bureaucracy. I could put up with them in order to reach my goals, but I would never become one of them.
As I left my temporary pseudo holding cell in bowels of the Atlanta airport, I headed for the nearest Delta counter to try to somehow get to Phoenix. I had missed two possible connecting flights. There was still one that could get me there by 4PM local time. This was the time of year when Arizona aligned with mountain time. In the Spring, when clocks were moved forward an hour, Arizona remained on their current time and switched to west coast time. I was there once in the Fall when the clocks were turned back nationally, it was very confusing.
I was put on standby for the 3PM flight which, without the use of a flux capacitor, would get me there by 4. I went off to P.F. Chang’s, in the A concourse, to have some lunch while I waited. Before my Kung Pao chicken arrived, my cell phone vibrated to life with the number of my boss displaying on the lock screen under the name, Mr. Smith.
“Hello,” I said. This was the super-secret greeting we were to use when answering our phones; No names, no identifying comments or phrases, just hello. Very clever, high-espionage stuff.
“I heard about your morning,” the voice on the other end said in a government-issue monotone. “Come into the mother ship. Your other trip is cancelled. Head to the federal inspection station from where you are now and someone will be there to meet you.”
“Do I have time to eat lunch?”
The silence on the other end of the phone meant that my comment was not a valid question. The fact that I was being instructed to head somewhere immediately meant that lunch was not important at this moment.
I got up to leave, handed the waiter a couple of twenties and an explanation, and headed downstairs to catch the train to the federal inspection station on the lower level of Concourse F. When I got there, Special Agent Winslow was there along with the two muscle bound agents from our earlier encounter.
“It looks like they want you in Washington. There’s a charter waiting for you.”
A charter. Someone wanted me there quickly. This did not make me feel good at all. Good news had a very slow travel schedule in Washington. Bad news traveled at supersonic speed.
“Why a charter?”
“I have no idea,” Winslow said. “Someone from your agency, whatever it is, reached out to my boss and getting you on this charter safely became my first priority.”
We stepped outside where there was a stereotypical black SUV waiting for us. One of the muscle-heads drove. Winslow sat in the front seat and I sat in back next to muscle-head number two. The SUV was piloted to a remote runway near a hangar in the back of the airport. A gulfstream jet waited with one engine already running. The two muscle-heads, who I would later find out were agents Harper and Lowe, grabbed duffel bags and my checked luggage from the back of the SUV. Apparently I was going to have company.
We boarded the jet. It had six plush passenger seats and a long sofa. I picked one of the seats and Harper and Lowe sat behind me. Almost immediately, the lone flight attendant closed the door and we taxied to the runway and quickly ascended for our short flight to Washington, D.C.
As the plane descended, I realized that we weren’t landing at one of the commercial airports in the metro area. In fact, we were landing in a rural airport outside of D.C. All attempts I made to ask my companions or the flight attendant where we were going resulted in the information being on a need-to-know basis and, apparently, they didn’t need to know.
The plane landed smoothly and pulled directly into a small hangar. As I exited the plane, there was yet another black SUV waiting to take me to the mother ship. The mother ship was our affectionate name for a large house that served as our headquarters. It was located in a sparsely populated area between Manassas and Stafford Virginia that was southwest of D.C.
I could tell we landed near Manassas as we took familiar roads toward our destination. We entered the gravel driveway from a heavily gated access road and emerged near the well-maintained 120-year-old farmhouse with a rustic exterior that contradicted what was found inside. I entered the living room and made my way to the basement stairway. The living room was tastefully decorated and did little to betray the function of the dwelling. The basement, however, was surreal and daunting. The floorplan of the basement exceeded that of the house by about 20 times. It spread out beneath the driveway and the surrounding fields and forest to a space of about 200,000 square feet. There were cubicles and offices that were teaming with activity.
My destination was the office of the person that had interrupted my Chinese-American lunch. He had no title or first name. He was simply known as Donovan. Whether or not this was his actual last name was unknown, but he looked like a Donovan.
As I entered his modest office, his sharp blue eyes turned my way. He had a severe flat-top haircut that indicated a military background. The shape of his head and well-muscled neck that strained against his dress shirt and tie looked as if no other type of hairstyle would be allowed. The sleeves of his white shirt were, as always, rolled up on his forearms which bore the scars of past battles and, perhaps, tattoos that had been covered up.
“Have a seat,” Donovan gruffly directed without any hint of a greeting. “We’re going to need you to stay here for a while so we can sort this out.”
“Sort what out?”
“We don’t know yet. Obviously you have been compromised. Some person or group that you have been analyzing wants you to stop. While you’re here, we’re going to have to go through every case you’ve been on and try to figure it out. While we do that, you’re here.”
“Does that mean I can’t leave?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
Again, silence answered my question in the affirmative.
“We have to determine what’s going on. You will be debriefed and we will figure out what information triggered the attempt on you this morning. We’ve had some clothes brought in for you. You are to have no contact with anyone outside of the mother ship until we get through this.”
“Now wait a minute,” I started to get as angry as I dared with this man. “Am I in custody? What’s going on here?”
“Your status depends on what we find out. You can help yourself by cooperating fully so that we get through this quickly.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the answer, but it appeared I had no choice. When I became part of this organization, I signed an agreement that basically gave them the right to ‘assign’ me as they saw fit. Right now it appeared I was being assigned to the mother ship without any definitive end to the assignment. I would cooperate and prove to them I had nothing to hide, and also knew nothing, or so I thought.