John reached into the shoulder bag he always carried with him and pulled out a file folder, which he handed to me. “Our friend, Congressman Archibald Cunningham, is a rogue CIA agent named Byron Rogers.”
I felt myself pale as I took the folder from John. “A rogue CIA agent?” I asked. “You never told me I was dealing with a professional!”
John held his hands up in mock surrender. “Amanda, I didn’t know that he was a pro until the CIA got in touch with me and told me about Cathy’s investigation. They’re keeping Byron’s existence as secret as they can, and given the public nature of some of the operations the CIA has botched in recent years I would think that would come as no surprise. “
I smiled up at John. “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you call one of our targets by their first name,” I commented.
John just shrugged. “I don’t think that I could call him Mister Rogers and keep a straight face,” he admitted.
“Reasonable,” I agreed and turned back to Cathy. “You said that this Byron Rogers is a rogue. What was he involved in when he went rogue?” I asked.
Cathy grimaced at that. “At the time he was involved in the same kind of investigation that you and I are performing now,” she answered. “Byron was tasked with infiltrating the El-Kahir terrorist network for the purpose of gathering information about their activities, their contacts, and their bases of operations. The intelligence he provided was to be used as the basis for military strikes by American assets on station in the Middle East. What we think happened, he tried to dig too far too fast, and he got caught. Instead of killing him, the terrorists decided that they could use him, and he agreed to it. When he came back to the States he had a new name, a slightly altered face, and a new background. He also had a new mission and the first thing he did was run for office.
“What we think is happening, he’s using his political power to siphon money from his constituency and route it to various overseas accounts held by the El-Kahir network. These funds, along with whatever other funds he’s raising through whatever other means he’s using, are being used to purchase weapons and train operatives. We also believe that his presence on certain committees is allowing him to pass certain sensitive intelligence information on to the El-Kahir network.”
I shook my head in confusion. “Wait a minute. How can he be siphoning money from his own district?” I demanded. “That’s impossible. A congressman never has direct access to the tax funds collected in his district.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Cathy agreed. “But what he can do is stage various fund raising activities with the public intention of raising money for his chosen political party. That’s what he’s been doing, and that’s the money that he’s been sending El-Kahir.”
I shook my head again, this time in disbelief. “Surely you guys knew who he was when he came back, yes?” I asked.
Cathy shook her head. “The agents who were out looking for him were combing the Middle East, and no one thought to look at our own borders. He slipped right past us before we even knew he was back. By the time we found out about him he was already a public figure, and a rather high profile one at that.”
“You know,” Aaron cut in, “I’ve been all over this case nine ways from Sunday and there’s something that I still don’t get. The CIA has all kinds of covert special operatives, just like the UNID does, but the key difference is that the CIA also employs assassins. Now I know for a fact that it wouldn’t be that hard for you guys to send someone out to take him down and make it look like some tragic accident. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to wager that your operatives have a lot of experience with those kinds of scenarios.”
Cathy smirked mirthlessly. “From what I’m told certain elements of the Operations Directorate was all set to do just that,” she replied. “Someone a lot higher on the food chain than the DDO intervened and decided that we needed to see just how badly he was compromised. Thus, the covert investigation.”
“Assuming everything that you’ve told us is accurate,” John said, “and I’ve no reason to believe that it isn’t, then the CIA knew who and what Byron was when you asked the UNID for help.”
“It also means,” I interjected, “that my mission was doomed to failure from the beginning. If he’s anywhere near as professional as I think he is, then the data I stripped from his computer is tainted, worthless. My entire operation was for nothing.” I let a little bit of snap creep into my voice at that. It wasn’t hard to do because I was actually pretty honked off. If the CIA had let us know what was going on from the beginning then John and I would have approached the matter differently. We never would have performed an information raid at all. However, that simply would not be possible because the CIA never tells anyone the whole truth, and the UNID forgot that when they answered the CIA’s call for help.
“Actually,” Cathy corrected, “your operation served a very important purpose: it let Byron know that he’s being investigated. It let him know that someone is out there watching him.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If there was one thing that had been stressed in UNID training it was that you never let the mark know he’s being conned. “And this is going to help us how?” I demanded.
“What it will do,” Cathy answered, “it will make him more cautious, it’ll force him to take precautions and if we apply enough pressure then it may just force him to make a mistake.”
John and I shared a look that needed no translation. Both of us had a bad feeling about this whole affair.
“The CIA seems to have some kind of agenda where all this is concerned,” Aaron said. “Why don’t you tell us what your superiors have in mind.”
So that’s exactly what Cathy did.
John and I tried to talk her out of it, we really did. So did Aaron, but his hands were just as tied as ours was. This was a CIA operation and we were just along for the ride, or at least that’s the way the CIA saw things. You know how with some people they get this thought in their head, this huge mistake that they just have to go out and make and there’s nothing you can do to talk them out of it? Well, that was Cathy and the CIA. Nothing we could do would change their minds.
* * *
Once the meeting was over John and I decided that we needed to talk about a few things, so I took him back to my place. The first thing we did was decide that we were hungry, so I unthawed a couple of chickens and made us some Cornish game hen, accompanied by mixed vegetables and wild rice. True to form, I outdid myself and John went to great things to tell me that I was probably the best cook he had ever encountered. “A pity you’re not ten years older and a little blind in one eye,” he lamented. “What a life we could have together.”
After dinner I opened a couple of bottles of beer, and we retired to the living room. “Is it just me or does the CIA seem somewhat constipated of late?” I wondered.
“It’s not just you,” John answered. “The UNID analysts have noticed the same thing. Based on the evidence we’ve been seeing we thing that the CIA is currently divided into two factions. One faction supports the Bush Doctrine of all-out war against terrorism, but the other faction has been compromised and is actually on the payroll of some of the terrorist groups.”
I shuddered. “That’s a scary thought,” I observed. “Which side is the most dominant at the moment?”
John grinned mirthlessly. “Unfortunately for us, the faction that supports the terrorists is currently dominant,” he answered. “We’ve been watching CIA anti-terrorist operations for a few months now, and we’ve been noticing a disturbing trend: At least eighty-five percent of the operations mounted against the El-Kahir network, both at home and abroad, have been compromised. In all instances the agents in question have been killed. At least, we thought they had. Now that it’s been revealed that Archibald Cunningham is Byron Rogers our analysts are going to have to rethink that position.”
I stared down into my beer bottle for a moment. “Do you think that Cathy knows that she’s being set up?” I wondered.
John shrugged. “Given the nature of her mission I’d like to think that she’s intelligent enough to clue in,” he told me. “However, given her dogged support of the obviously asinine orders she’s been given I have to say that I don’t know what to think.”
I looked back up at John. “If the CIA has any real hope of getting Byron in custody then they need to lure him into a sense of complacency,” I said. “The best way for them to do that is to create a set of circumstances that convinces him he’s no longer a target. Eventually he’ll relax, and that’s when he’ll make a mistake. This business of alerting him to the fact that he’s under investigation will only make him more cautious, and that’s a dangerous thing to do to a professional.”
“It’s certainly problematic,” John agreed.
“Then why are we going along with it?” I demanded.
John leaned back against the couch cushions and breathed a deep weary sigh. “We’re going along with it because certain events are already set in motion, and it’s too late to make things stop. This investigation has already taken certain turns that it shouldn’t have, and if we switch gears and change our strategy now that in itself could alert Byron that he’s being watched. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” I took a long pull of my beer. “I don’t like the way the CIA used us on this one,” I commented.
John shook his head. “You mean the way they used you to do their grunt work for them,” he corrected. “Neither do I, and I intend to have a few words with the CIA liaison to the UNID when I see him again. They should have told us the truth from the beginning and they didn’t.”
“And I’m the one who’s going to have to pay the price for that oversight,” I said bitterly.
John looked me in the eye and I could see a faint trace of hope in his expression. “Maybe it won’t be you that pays the price,” he ventured.
* * *
The more John and I talked about it the more we agreed that somehow, some way, the CIA was going to botch this operation. The divisions within the internal structure of the CIA pretty much demanded that would happen. We also agreed that my original objective was now irrelevant so we set ourselves a new goal.
It seemed obvious to us that if the CIA really had any intention of capturing Byron alive for interrogation they would be handling things a lot differently. To my way of thinking that meant one of two things: either they were intent on killing Byron or they were intent on ensuring his freedom. Given the divisions within the CIA I was inclined to think that both possibilities were true.
So John and I agreed that under the circumstances my objective had to be to take Byron alive and turn him over to the FBI. The FBI could decide what to do with him, but the key thing was that Byron had to be taken alive. The problem with that was an ex-CIA field operative wasn’t all that likely to allow himself to be captured alive, not if he could possibly help it. So I was going to need an edge to be able to force the issue.
After John left I ventured into my small storage room and came out with a small cardboard shoe box. I took the box into the living room and set it down on my coffee table before opening it. Inside the box was a taser pistol.
The taser had been a gift from Aaron shortly after the UNID had assigned me to Washington. He told me that someday it might come in handy. I had simply thanked him for it and then stored it away.
The advantage of a taser over a pistol is that it virtually guarantees the ability to bring in your target alive. You can’t really do that with a bullet. I put the taser into my purse and put the shoe box back in the storage room. Then I went into my bedroom to select my wardrobe for tomorrow. Under the circumstances, I thought that trousers should be the order of the day.
* * *
On the one hand, my part in the whole operation was absurdly simple. On the other hand, it also gave me a chance to practice my intrusion skills some more, and that is never a bad thing.
My task was to infiltrate the Congressman’s apartment and plant a variety of electronic audio and video surveillance devices which would all broadcast on the same range of frequencies. Their transmissions would be recorded by my Portfolio, and they would also be recorded by an FBI team that would be waiting down the block.
The placement for the objects was simple. Each camera went into a corner of Byron’s study and each was pointed inward towards the center of the space. Each camera would be paired with a microphone, and additional microphones would be planted amidst the paraphernalia and keepsakes scattered across Byron’s desk, his shelving units, and the low table that was the centerpiece of his conversation nook.
Once the devices were planted I left the building and went home. I set my alarm, popped a sleeping pill, and went to bed. The next day would be very trying and I would need all the rest I could get.
That morning I put on a black silk pant suit that I hadn’t worn forever and reported to work. Cathy was already there and was dressed in her usual professionally provocative manner, wearing a short black skirt, white silk blouse, black blazer, and black stockings. She smiled at me as I came in the door and tossed me a thumbs-up. It was nice to see one of us feeling good about what was to come, because I sure as hell didn’t.
Byron came in fashionably late as always and locked himself in his office. The day was pretty uneventful, just the usual nonsense associated with working for a high-ranking government official. After work we all retired to Byron’s apartment for a late-night session. I think it was about nine in the evening when Cathy asked to speak to Byron in his study.
With Cathy and Byron in the study the second part of my assignment came into effect. I sat down on the couch and keyed my portfolio to show me what was happening in there. The screen came to life, showing me the view from the cameras I had planted. I used an earbug earphone to catch the audio.
Cathy was seated across from the Congressman’s desk; long legs crossed elegantly, her short skirt riding high on her thighs. “What I wanted to talk to you about,” Cathy was saying as I put the earbug in my ear, “I wanted to talk to you about your future, Byron.”
The Congressman frowned at her, wearing a most convincing mask of confusion. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t understand.”
“Yes you do,” Cathy returned, “and both of us know it. Tell me something, how is Mohammed El-Kahir these days?”
A chill of fear danced up and down my spine, and I knew in that moment that Cathy had gone too far, too fast and blown the entire operation. But this was a CIA affair and I was just along for the ride, according to them. So I sat there and watched the screen.
Byron, the Congressman, whoever he is, cocked his head at Cathy. “The name sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t think of any reason why I would have anything to do with someone of that stature, if my recollections of the name are correct.”
“Neither could the CIA,” Cathy said, “not until the day they sent you out to the Middle East to infiltrate the El-Kahir network and send all the information you could gather back to the States. The Operations Directorate was quite distressed when you disappeared. They mounted a search and rescue op, but the agents involved never found you. They assumed that El-Kahir had you killed after your interrogation, but it wasn’t until after your return to the States that we discovered that wasn’t true, and ever since I got this case I’ve been wondering one very important thing: what did El-Kahir offer you to get you to switch sides?”
Byron just smiled at her as he stood up from his chair. He paced around his desk and around Cathy, back around behind his desk, and then he repeated the circle. His face bore an expression of bemused calculation as if he was amused by what Cathy was saying was hilarious to him, the ramblings of a child. “What makes you think that I’ve switched sides?” he asked. “What makes you think that I’ve had anything to do with these terrorists you speak of?”
Cathy grinned. “You don’t need to deny it,” she said. “I’ve been in your files and I’ve already seen all the proof I need. I know who you are and I know who your contacts in the El-Kahir network are. I know that you’ve been laundering their money. I know that you’ve been sending them weapons and war materiel. I know that you’ve been siphoning off party donations from your own district and depositing that money in offshore accounts. I know that you’ve been using your committee privileges to send them classified intelligence.”
“If what you say is true,” Byron returned, “and I am involved with a global terrorist network like the El-Kahir network, then what reason would I have to keep you alive? By detailing to me the depth of your knowledge of my supposed operation does that not make you a threat to me? Logically I would then be inclined to kill you, yes?”
Cathy shrugged. “Logically, I suppose that would be true,” she agreed. “Of course, that could be a mistake. I’m sure that between the two of us we could find some way that I could prove myself useful to your efforts.” Now Byron was grinning, but it was a most predatory grin, the look of a hunter about to pounce on his prey. “I have no doubt,” Byron said, “that you have a great deal of ways to prove yourself useful to anyone you wish. Certainly it’s been proven to me.”
Cathy’s grin became seductive as she uncrossed and crossed her legs. Her skirt seemed to ride up her thighs another inch or so. “Your appreciation of my skills is heartwarming,” she purred.
Byron slipped his hand into his trouser pocket. “Unfortunately for you, my appreciation of your obvious skills and appeal is not necessarily enough reason to ignore the threat you pose.” As he said it he came around behind Cathy. His hand emerged from his pocket and his arm extended to the back of Cathy’s head. An instant later there was a flash of light and the sound of an explosion. Cathy flew out of the chair and slumped over the top of the desk, a pool of blood forming on the desk under her head.
My worst fears had been realized, and I would be the next one killed unless I did something fast.
I closed my Portfolio and got up from the desk, left the apartment and closed the door behind me. I strode down the hall and slipped into a storage closet. I knelt down on the floor and reopened my Portfolio, slipped the earbug back into my ear. The screen came back to life, showing me the footage being transmitted by the cameras I had planted. Byron was systematically searching Kathy’s body, emptying the pockets of her blazer and dumping them on the desk beside her body. He rifled through what he found, but did nothing else with it. Then he went into apartment proper for a moment. When he came back in he had a vexed expression on his face, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Had he found me still in the apartment I would probably be dead too.
Byron picked up the phone and dialed a number. “It’s Cunningham,” he said into the receiver. “My cover has been blown and I have a body on the deck. I need a cleanup detail ASAP.” Then there was a short pause. “Not good enough,” Byron said. “I need you here faster than that. Better. I’ll see you then.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the radio that Aaron had given me. “Unit two to unit one,” I said into the microphone.
“We saw it,” Aaron answered. “The call has been traced. A team has been detailed to intercept the cleanup crew, but it will be a moment before we can get to the primary target.”
I cursed to myself. “We don’t have a moment,” I protested. “We need to get to him now or else all this is for nothing.”
“I’m aware of that, Unit Two,” Aaron returned. “There’s nothing I can do.” “Understood, One,” I said. “I’m going after the primary target myself. I’ll try to keep him busy until you get there. Out.”
Okay, Amanda, time for some action. I pulled a removable storage disk from one of the compartments in my portfolio and pocketed it, then made sure that the portfolio was recording everything that was happening in the office. That having been done, I closed the portfolio and stashed it on the top shelf of the closet, behind a couple of bottles of concentrated cleaner.
I didn’t bother knocking; I just walked in through the apartment door and stepped into the study. Byron turned to me as I stepped inside. “There you are,” he said, a touch of panic in his voice. “I was wondering what happened to you. Somebody broke in here and killed Kathy.”
I just shrugged. “Nobody broke in,” I told him. “The person who killed Kathy is still in this room, and I’m looking right at him.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out the disk I had stashed. “I’ve got a recording of the whole event right here.”
Byron’s eyes widened a shade and he frowned. “You don’t have anything on that disk,” he told me. “And even if you did the smart play would be for you to run and hand that over to the news services, not stand there and face me down with it. I guess you’re about as intelligent as Kathy was.”
I shrugged again. “Kathy was handicapped by her bosses,” I asserted. “I believe you might be familiar with them, having worked for them once. They call themselves the CIA.”
Byron’s right hand twitched, inched towards the pistol that was lying on its side on the desk. “It really isn’t all that healthy for a simple secretary to have such a big mouth,” he told me. “Something bad might happen to you, like what happened to Kathy.”
I smiled. “Anything must be an improvement after having slept with you.” If you really want to honk a man off, insult his sexual prowess. That’ll do it every time.
Byron’s right hand twitched a little closer to that firearm. “Pity you never got the chance to experience that yourself,” he told me. “You might change your mind.”
“Or it might make me go lesbian,” I countered. “The very thought of doing it with you makes that idea very tempting. Besides, I hear girls are a lot more fun.”
Byron laughed. “You know, for someone who’s on the losing end of this proposition you have an extremely persistent sense of humor,” he said. “One might wonder why you insist on antagonizing me, being that I’m armed and you aren’t. In fact, one might be given to wonder what’s stopping me from killing you here and now. Certainly that would seem to be the advantageous course of action from my perspective.”
“You could kill me,” I acknowledged. “But it really wouldn’t do you any good. See, I just mailed out copies of this disk to all the major news services. No matter what else happens here your political career is as good as ruined. That should make it a little easier for the CIA to get their hands on you.”
Byron laughed again. “You silly, silly girl,” he chided. “The CIA has been funding my little operation here from the beginning.”
Given what John had told me about the divisions within the CIA it didn’t surprise me that he said that. In fact I took it as confirmation of the UNID analysis, but the trick is to never let the mark know how much you know. I shook my head. “Impossible,” I asserted. “The CIA isn’t in the habit of supporting terrorist groups.”
Byron grinned maniacally. “You don’t know the CIA very well, do you?” he said. “The CIA has long been in the habit of assisting foreign powers when it suits their interests, as it just so happens that it suits their interests to assist me in my little endeavor, which makes that information you claim to have sent out to the news services meaningless.”
Byron’s hand flashed and came up holding the pistol leveled at me. The instant the weapon was level he pulled the trigger, but it didn’t do him any good, for I had already dived behind the guest couch. I rolled onto my knees, pulled the taser from my pocket, and steeled myself for what was to come.
Byron roared and leaped over the couch, landing in front of me. I reached out, grabbed hold of his legs and pulled them out from under him. He tumbled to the floor and lost his grip on the pistol. I dived over him and pushed the gun away, saw it slide under one of the shelving units. I pressed the taser against the small of Byron’s back and pulled the trigger. The darts fired by the weapon drove themselves into his body and the wires attached to those darts carried a small scale electrical shock which made him twitch and scream for a long moment before he finally passed out.
A quick search of the desk drawers revealed a roll of duct tape, which I made use of to secure Byron’s hands behind his back. Once that was accomplished I made use of the roll again to fashion a gag. And that’s when the FBI team stormed into the apartment, with Aaron in the lead, to save the day.
* * *
After all was said and done I was able to retrieve my Portfolio. I copied the surveillance recordings onto the same removable disk I had used to taunt Byron, and added that to the pile of evidence that I had gathered. The whole kit and caboodle was handed over to John for transport to the UN. The FBI, I’m told, spirited Byron out of his apartment and took him off somewhere nice and secluded, where they could question him endlessly without having to worry about such trifles as constitutional rights. They also arranged to have Kathy’s body removed and turned over to the CIA.
I had liked Kathy, even if I had found her to be more than a little misguided. But she had made a critical mistake and in the end she had paid for that mistake with her life. In my line of work its worth remembering your first mistake is often your last one.
About a week later I got a visit from John. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a social call. It seems that the CIA had indeed gotten word of Byron’s capture. They had determined where the FBI was interrogating him and had sent several agents to pick him up and return him to CIA custody. Of course the FBI had allowed this to happen.
Somewhere between the safe house and Langley, however, Byron had managed to escape from his bonds and kill his captors. An in-depth search of the area where the transport vehicle was found yielded no evidence of where Byron might have gotten to. The UNID surmised that Byron had made contact with his associates in the El-Kahir network and was halfway to the Middle East by the time the CIA found out about it. The American government, for their part, decided that absolutely nothing had happened. As far as they were concerned Congressman Cunningham had never been arrested by the FBI, had never killed in cold blood a CIA agent investigating him, and had never at any time had any connection whatsoever with the El-Kahir terrorist network.
His absence from Congress was easily explained. It seems that the man had committed suicide. The obligatory suicide note had been found next to a body that had approximately the right physical characteristics. Unfortunately, the body was missing a good portion of its head, which made identification using dental records somewhat problematic. Given the presence of the note, however, most people weren’t inclined to contest the notion that the body was that of Congressman Archibald Cunningham.
That’s the problem with my line of work. You can do everything in your power to bring the bad guys to heel, you can gather all the evidence you can get your hands on and build a case against them so airtight that the ablest shyster won’t be able to spring them from prison. Sometimes that means you win and the threat level drops somewhat. But sometimes the bad guys win anyway, and all of it was for nothing.
Does that mean I intend to quit anytime soon? Hell no. This is what I do, for better or for worse. I’ve got my reasons, but it boils down to this. I’ve seen enough madness and strife in my years to want to do something useful towards making this world a better place for everyone, regardless of their origins. Fighting terrorists is a way to do that. And besides, somewhere along the line I discovered I was good at it.
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J A Tyzuk