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Chapter 1

He was not angry. Not now. It was too late for that. As he lay on the ground staring at a pair of shoes that were inches from his face, he felt a deep, profound disappointment. The shoes were worn by the person who had just shot him. How sad and strange that he missed the hints that led to this moment. So many peculiar things had occurred and now – the deafening roar of the discharged weapon fading – he could see how silly and stupid he’d been in not figuring it out. He, the smart one! The one too cynical to be taken in by lies. And if regret was not enough to torment him as he slid away, it was that damn poem – a poem of all things! – kept repeating in his head like a skipping vinyl record: “Happy are men who yet before they are killed can let their veins run cold.”

 

 

Six months earlier.

 

 

They looked at each other in near silence.

The only sound came from Marty’s school-bus yellow No. 2 pencil he tapped on top of his desk like a droning metronome.

“It feels demeaning,” Dennis said.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Marty said. “It’s nothing of the sort. It’s a project you could take on without skipping a beat. You’d be done in a couple of weeks, maybe a month.”

More silence.

“Dennis, this is the perfect assignment to get you up and running again. Get your sea legs back. Open and shut in a month, max.”

“This kind of thing is more suited for a junior investigator,” Dennis said. “What about that new hire, the kid you hired about a year ago from Army CID?”

“No,” Marty said. “I can’t have some beginner chasing down this one.”

“But an MIA?” Dennis said. “I can’t remember being asked to evaluate a Missing-In-Action investigation. I didn’t think we had purview over that kind of stuff. Operations folks police their own work.”

Marty sighed.

“Dennis, the Inspector General’s Office has a wide scope of practice and you know that. We have efficiency experts, accountants, lawyers and a small team that does the really crappy work. You’re on that team, and you’re on that team because you’re good at it. The IG has been asked to review a prior investigation into an MIA. I’m repeating myself here but you’ve just returned from a six-month medical leave of absence and this is the perfect assignment for you. Please trust me on this one, OK?”

Silence fell over the two men again, but it was different. Dennis’ expression was one of reluctant acceptance. Marty beamed in victory, the kind of small victory dance that millions of managers have every day after cajoling employees to take on tasks they tried to avoid.

“Four weeks max,” Marty repeated.

“OK,” Dennis said, standing.

“Read the report I sent you and get your travel planned,” he said. “We’ll go over the case tomorrow and get you going.”

***

“How does it feel to be back at work?” Dr. Forrester said.

“OK,” Dennis said.

“Just OK?”

“Well, I suppose it’s better than sitting at home.”

“Must be nice catching up with your fellow workers there,” she said.

“I guess,” Dennis said.

“You don’t sound very enthusiastic about being back,” she said.

“No, I’m glad I’m back at work,” he said. “It’s just that I know what they’re saying about me. I hate gossip. It was easier when I didn’t have to see my co-workers face-to-face.”

“But you don’t really know what they’re saying about you, Dennis,” she said. “Try not to let your imagination get ahead of reality. I’m sure they’re glad to see you. Just get back to work and I’m sure things will be back to normal.”

She stole a glance at the clock on the wall behind him. Like one of Pavlov’s tired, drooling dogs, Dennis was trained to know the session was coming to a close. He wondered sometimes whether Dr. Forrester knew how irritating that little upward glance was to her patients.

“I’m going to be traveling soon and may have to reschedule some appointments,” Dennis said.

“Really?” she said. “Travel will be good for you, Dennis. Just let me know what dates you can’t make and I’ll try to reschedule them. I have to say that you’re doing quite well. I’m confident that getting back to work will do great things for you.”

***

There are deep, dark holes and there are deep dark holes.

Dennis knew he had recently climbed out of a deep dark hole and was just at the lip of it, timorously peering into daylight. He liked the idea that he was done with the darkness. Still, he was aware of the perverse magnetism of the dark cavern below. He had thought he had climbed out before, only to fall back into the inky abyss.

This time was different though. He could feel the warm, life-giving sunshine on his face. It would take a lot of energy, he knew, but he wanted to stay out of that damned hole. Dr. Forrester was right. Marty was right. Get going. Move forward; the past will take care of itself. Move toward the light.

***

“I don’t quite understand the problem,” Dennis said.

“What do you mean?” Marty said.

“Why the IG’s office needs to review this investigation.”

Marty looked down at his open file folder, frowned and looked up at Dennis. An outsider observing the two men would think their relationship was odd. Their interchanges were punctuated with long silences and small physical gestures like a tapping pencil, or scratch of the tip of a nose. But it was nothing more than the well-established non-verbal ritual of two adults that had worked together for many years. Dennis, slightly introverted, felt comfortable with silence; Marty, slightly extroverted, used silence as a tactic.

“We’ve been asked to vet MIA investigations in the past,” Marty replied. “Just because you haven’t pulled one of these assignments doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Dennis said. “I’ve read the report from those two Operations guys and I don’t understand what else they could have done? The investigation seems thorough and I don’t see why they’re being second-guessed. That’s the demeaning part, Marty. You don’t have to send me on a Cub Scout assignment to get my sea legs back. Why not attach me to a legitimate project?”

“Ah, I see,” Marty said. He shut the folder, threw the pencil onto the desk and leaned back in his creaky office chair.

“I don’t have to tell you that since the Iraq War started four years ago, our department has been raided and we have very few investigators remaining.”

“Yes, I know that,” Dennis said.

“And it seems half the crew here in the IG’s office is about to retire and God knows how they’ll run the place when we’re gone. They don’t pay us worth shit.”

“Yes, I know that too,” Dennis said.

“You know what you should never do, Dennis?” Marty asked.

Dennis braced himself for the exchange, one that he’d heard many times.

“You should never have three kids, and then get divorced from a woman who does not remarry,” Marty said, his voice rising. “And then do you know what you shouldn’t do next?”

“No, what shouldn’t I do next?” Dennis said without looking up.

“You should not marry another woman and have two more kids,” Marty said. “That’s what you should not do. You following me?”

“Yes,” Dennis said. “That’s something I won’t do.”

They stared at each other.

“Still,” Dennis said, “I don’t mean to be a pain, but this case doesn’t seem to warrant a follow up.”

More silence.

“Rep. Daniel Barkley,” Marty said, as if he were speaking a complete sentence with subject, verb and noun.

“Rep. Daniel Barkley,” Dennis repeated slowly. “Republican from New Hampshire, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.”

“He has requested that the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency look into the disappearance of an agent, to wit, the MIA in question here.”

“Why would the chairman care about a junior agent that has disappeared in a friendly country? Out of thousands of agents that are actually in hostile countries? And was this an official request from the Intelligence Committee?”

Marty smiled. “Now that’s the cynical, suspicious, no-bullshit investigator I was looking for. It doesn’t matter who asked what of whom; it’s none of your damn business or mine. The IG ordered me to review the validity of a prior investigation and you’re the investigator I’ve chosen. Simple as that. Any questions?”

“No,” Dennis said. “I guess not.”

“And permit me to make a very strong request,” Marty said. “Actually, an emphatic request, if that’s not too strong.”

Dennis stared, unsure where Marty was going.

“I’d like you to tone down your normal investigative style, Dennis. It’s OK to take one of our pompous, narcissistic field agents or station chiefs down a few pegs with your confrontational style, but it’s really not appropriate with folks in a backwater Consulate.”

“My style?”

Marty smiled. “You know exactly what I mean. Play clean. Be nice. Don’t piss anyone off.”

Dennis stood up and turned to leave.

“Sure you have no questions?” Marty asked. “Did you read the last page of the report?”

“What are you referring to?” Dennis asked, turning to face Marty.

“The treaty requirements,” Marty said. “Please pay attention to that. I don’t want us to get into any trouble over there.”

“Remind me again,” Dennis said, confused.

“The U.S.-Australian Security Pact. Requires us to be shadowed by a friendly when we’re investigating any intelligence activity on Australian soil. Anything you do inside the Consulate in Perth, the Embassy in Canberra or any U.S. installation is our stuff, of course; when you physically investigate anything outside of those facilities you need to be shadowed by an Australian investigator. I agree these pacts are silly – please don’t start about that – and we routinely disregard them. But the Aussies have become a pain in the ass since the start of the Iraq War and are threatening to pull their ground forces out. The IG would greatly appreciate not receiving a complaint from the Australian government about a breach in our Security Pact.”

“I haven’t been shadowed by a friendly in years.”

“Dennis, please let their guy follow you around.”

“Fine.” He turned, opened Marty’s office door and walked past his assistant, Lorraine. She smiled at him and he smiled back. He had taken several steps before he heard his name being called. He stopped and looked at Lorraine.

Lorraine tilted her head toward Marty’s open door.

Dennis returned to the doorway and stuck his head in.

“New Hampshire,” Marty said. “The MIA’s parents are from New Hampshire, the same New Hampshire that our Rep. Barkley is from.”

Dennis nodded and turned again.

“How are you doing, Dennis?” Lorraine asked.

“Feel great.”

“Good to see you back,” she said. “We missed you.”

“Thanks, Lorraine. It’s good to be back.”

***

A bump.

It was nothing more than a small thermal disturbance that jostled the airplane but it was enough for him to taste that copper-metallic sensation of anxiety in the back of his throat. He cinched his seatbelt tighter. The pilot illuminated the seat-belt sign and the serious voice of the co-pilot directed passengers to check that their belts were fastened.

Dennis looked out the window of the passenger jet. At 36,000 feet there was a thin smear of haze between the jet and the dusty gray-red soil of the Nullarbor Plain a mile below.

Another thermal shook the airplane and Dennis clutched his armrests, his heart now racing far ahead of itself.

Calm down, he thought.

But he could not calm down. It was the same embarrassing fear Dennis had battled his entire adult life. He could take on the most delicate assignments in the oddest corners of the Earth to confront the CIA’s most troublesome employees, but he would pulsate with anxiety when an airplane ran into turbulence. He knew, according to Dr. Forrester, it was related to his fear of losing control, but that knowledge did not seem to help.

Thank God no one is sitting next to me, he thought, closing his eyes. Breathe, let it out slowly; breathe, let it out slowly.

After 10 minutes the jet stopped shuddering and he waited to see if they were clear of the chop. Satisfied they were in clean air, Dennis flagged a stewardess and asked for a glass of water.

***

Regina, the mother hen in the travel office, had warned him about the jet lag he could expect from the long flight to Western Australia but Dennis failed to pay attention to her recipe of pre- and post-flight sleep, over-the-counter melatonin, blindfolds and bourbon.

Over the years he had taken to the air on every conceivable form of transportation from vintage DC-3s to state-of-the-art Russian Mi-24 Hind helicopters. He barely tolerated the air travel and treated it as a kind of penance that offset the perverse pleasure of his job, which was to hunt bad people in the Agency.

Still, as he sat on the springy hotel bed in the Hilton in Perth, Western Australia, he felt exhausted and tried to remember what Regina had recommended about jet lag. Was he supposed to go to sleep immediately as if he was still on U.S. Eastern Time, or was he supposed to stay awake until nightfall?

Overcome with fatigue, he fell backwards onto his bed, arms flopping out to each side.

He stared at the ceiling and focused on the infinitesimally small blinking red light of the smoke detector – blink: 10 seconds later another blink; followed by yet another blink …

At first he did not comprehend the sound; it was loud and disturbing. His unconscious interpreted the sound as if it was a jet taking off but the sound continued at non-jet-like intervals and he found himself staring at the hotel telephone on his bedside table.

“Hello,” he said hoarsely.

“Mr. Cunningham?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Stephen Casolano. I work at the US Consulate here in Perth. I was just checking to see if you got in alright and if there was anything I could do for you? The Consulate General asked me to check in.”

“No, um, I’m fine, Stephen. Just trying to catch up on some sleep.”

“Absolutely, sir. Sorry to have woken you.”

“Not a problem.”

“Well, good afternoon – um, goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight, Stephen.”

Chapter 2

He poured himself a large glass of water from the bathroom faucet and set up in front of his laptop. He had grown to resent the Agency’s digitization of the intelligence business and their infatuation with new electronic devices and security software.

Truth be told, Dennis had sinned in his handling of computers. He had fried two laptops on previous assignments and was determined not to do it again. The Agency insisted that all sensitive material for traveling personnel be digitized, encrypted and loaded onto specially constructed laptops. After three attempts with the wrong password, the hard drive would be destroyed by the release of a small amount of acid that ruined the hard drive’s thin magnetic coating. Any attempt to open up the plastic shell of the laptop would also release the acid.

After the second laptop was destroyed – and a new one sent out by diplomatic pouch to Bangkok two-and-a-half years ago – Marty threatened to ground him.

“If you can’t remember a simple goddamn password, Dennis, then you don’t belong out there any longer,” Marty said. “You can sit at a desk here in Langley and battle coronary artery disease and hemorrhoids like the rest of us. Simple as that.”

Dennis reached for his wallet and extracted his Virginia driver’s license. Holding the laminated object six inches from his face, he read the tiny text he had made with a thin-tipped Sharpie pen. Of course it was against Agency rules to write down your username and password, but like so many Agency rules, he didn’t care. The fact that the Agency required passwords to change every six months further displeased him and justified his rebellion.

He typed his password in.

The password failed.

“Damn,” he said. He tried to judge whether he mistyped the password, or in fact made a more egregious error in miscopying the new password in the first place.

“Come on, Cunningham,” he muttered. “Get it right this time.” In times of stress Dennis had developed the habit of referring to himself in the third person.

With painful deliberation he typed in the username and password, double-checking every click of the keyboard.

The computer unlocked and he found the file he was looking for.

 

GOVERNMENT FORM D-10

TOP SECRET

FOR USE BY THE INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. IT IS UNLAWFUL FOR ANY UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL TO READ THE CONTENTS OF THIS FORM. PLEASE CONTACT THE INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE IF YOU COME INTO POSSESSION OF THIS DOCUMENT.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DATE: OCT. 10, 2007

INSPECTOR: DENNIS CUNNINGHAM

ASSIGNMENT: REVIEW THE PRIOR INVESTIGATION OF THE DISAPPEARANCE OF AGENT GEOFFREY GARDER, UNDERCOVER AT U.S. CONSULATE IN PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA. AGENT GARDER FAILED TO REPORT TO WORK ON SEPT. 3, 2007 AND WAS REPORTED MISSING ON SEPT. 5 WHEN CONSULATE EMPLOYEES ENTERED HIS APARTMENT. WEST AUSTRALIAN POLICE WERE NOTIFIED OF HIS DISAPPEARANCE AND HIS LEASED AUTOMOBILE.

 

BACKGROUND: AGENT GARDER, AGE 29, HAS BEEN EMPLOYED BY THE AGENCY FOR 6 YEARS IN THE DIRECTORATE OF OPERATIONS. PLEASE SEE GARDER’S ATTACHED PERSONNEL FILE. THIS WAS HIS SECOND OVERSEAS ASSIGNMENT.

 

GARDER’S ASSIGNMENT AT THE CONSULATE WAS “HUMINT” ON AUSTRALIAN MINING AND MINERAL INDUSTRY. AGENCY SOURCES HAD RELIABLE INFORMATION THAT SEVERAL NON-FRIENDLY COUNTRIES HAD SET UP SHELL COMPANIES IN ASIA, AFRICA AND AUSTRALIA TO FRONT ILLEGAL PURCHASE OF VALUABLE MINERALS FOR DEFENSE-RELATED PROJECTS.

 

AGENT GARDER’S ALIAS WAS: GEOFFREY JANSEN. HIS COVER WAS DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE CONSULATE GENERAL IN PERTH. HIS IDENTITY AS AN AGENCY EMPLOYEE WAS KNOWN ONLY TO THE CONSULATE GENERAL, AS IS SOP FOR AGENCY-STATE DEPT. COOPERATION.

 

AGENT GARDER HAD BEEN ON SITE FOR 11 MONTHS PRIOR TO HIS DISAPPEARANCE. INTEL FROM HIM HAD BEEN ORDINARY AND GENERATED NO COMMENT FROM LANGLEY ANALYSTS. HE WAS SCHEDULED FOR RE-ASSIGNMENT IN DECEMBER. HE WAS NOT AWARE OF THE RE-ASSIGNMENT PLANS.

 

AGENT GARDER WAS FULLY VETTED DURING HIS TRAINING AT CAMP PEARY. ALL PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENTS WERE NORMAL. HE HAS NEVER BEEN DISCIPLINED.

 

MARITAL STATUS: HE IS SINGLE, BUT POST-DISAPPEARANCE INVESTIGATION SHOWS HE HAD BEEN DATING AN AGENCY EMPLOYEE IN LANGLEY (SEE PERSONNEL ATTACHMENT, ALSO DEBRIEF FROM RHONDA SAMPSON). SAMPSON REPORTS NO CONTACT WITH AGENT GARDER AFTER SEPT. 1. EMAILS BETWEEN AGENT GARDER AND SAMPSON END ON SEPT. 1. SAMPSON REPORTS THE RELATIONSHIP WAS INTIMATE THOUGH STRAINED BY LONG DISTANCE. SURVEILLANCE OF SAMPSON WAS INITIATED ON OCT. 4 AT THE DIRECTION OF THE DEPUTY I.G. TO DATE THIS SURVEILLANCE HAS PRODUCED NEGATIVE RESULTS.

 

ON SEPT. 23 TWO AGENTS FROM DIRECTORATE OF OPERATIONS WERE DISPATCHED TO INVESTIGATE AGENT GARDER’S DISAPPEARANCE. (SEE ATTACHED REPORT). CONCLUSION: CRIMINAL (NOT CLANDESTINE) FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED. AGENT GARDER IS FEARED TO HAVE BEEN VICTIM OF RANDOM CRIMINAL ACT. AT THE TIME OF THE REPORT, AGENT’S AUTOMOBILE HAS NOT BEEN RECOVERED. INVESTIGATORS EXPECT ADDITIONAL DETAILS RELATING TO HIS DISAPPEARANCE ONCE HIS VEHICLE IS RECOVERED.

 

AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE INVOLVED IN INVESTIGATION; SECURITY PACT REQUIRES OVERSIGHT BY AUSTRALIAN INVESTIGATOR ON NON-DIPLOMATIC PROPERTY. COMPLIANCE REQUESTED.

 

ASSIGNMENT FOR INSPECTOR CUNNINGHAM: FULL REVIEW OF PRIOR REPORT ON DISAPPEARANCE OF AGENT GARDER. PRESS LOCAL AUTHORITIES ON LIKELY SCENARIOS REGARDING CRIMINAL ACTIONS AGAINST AGENT. FINAL REPORT EXPECTED WITHIN 30 DAYS.

 

He re-read the assignment form and painstakingly reviewed the accompanying reports. Dennis tried to remain excited about the assignment but he knew it was what he and the other investigators referred to as a “Grade D” assignment – pure, bureaucratic dog shit.

Chapter 3

A life is a trajectory, much like an artillery round, Dennis believed. It starts with an explosion out of the womb – OK, not a great metaphor but stick with the idea – and follows a parabolic arc across time with varying gravitational influences on the projectile exerted by objects like marriage, sickness, war, idiotic families – crap like that. The other end of the arc was another womb, of sorts – a coffin that held a body in the ground.

It wasn’t the most original concept about existence, but he didn’t care. It suited Dennis just right; it was blunt, cynical and approximately accurate.

Here was his conundrum, sitting in a hotel room on the west coast of Australia – was he near the end of the arc, or somewhere near the middle? Lately he was consumed with an overarching sensation that his life was about to end. He had even experienced panic attacks, which he found more disturbing than his fear of turbulence – at least in an airplane he knew the cause and effect of his hyperventilating behavior. The free-floating anxiety attacks, on the other hand, were unpredictable and upsetting.

And of course there was the enervating sadness that seemed to follow him when he wasn’t anxious. So much had occurred over the past half-year that his psyche was exhausted, regardless of Dr. Forrester’s spirited pep talks.

With his wife gone, he was now alone: really alone. He was, by his own reckoning, a workaholic widowed father who lived by himself in a small house in Arlington, Virginia. He knew vaguely that it would not stay this way forever, but his appetite for change had been lost.

His friends were all grizzled agents and analysts of assorted intelligence services spread throughout the Washington, D.C. area. It was a small community consisting almost entirely of men that worked for an alphabet soup of obscure and not-so-obscure organizations like the CIA, the FBI, Naval Intelligence Service, the Army Intelligence branch, the National Security Agency, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and many others. Men often switched jobs just to fight boredom or to get away from the personality conflicts that seemed to be a backdrop for this kind of work.

For the past six months Dennis had rarely hung with this crowd, hunkering down instead in his house watching TV and reading books that he never quite seemed to finish. He found himself in an alternating flux of lethargy and anxiety.

“It’s entirely normal to feel sad in these circumstances,” Dr. Forrester said in their first session. But in a later session she had gone further than Dennis expected one afternoon by pointing out, almost as an afterthought, that Dennis had likely been depressed for years in reaction to his childhood.

Dennis expended a great deal of energy avoiding the past and was a reluctant patient for Dr. Forrester. He just wanted to get well enough to go back to work. Forget the past; move ahead. More than anything he needed to get out of his little Cape Cod-style house in Arlington and get back to work. He needed to prove his worth to the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency. The fact that he could not remember who the current IG was didn’t matter. Work = Survival, he reckoned.

***

Dennis had rented a Holden Barina, a small car made by General Motors’ Australian subsidiary. The US Consulate was on St. George’s Terrace, not far from the hotel. He reminded himself that Australians drove on the left side of the street, which meant that the steering wheel was on the right side of the car. If that was not complicated enough for a jet-lagged American investigator, he inadvertently turned on his windshield wipers instead of his directional signals when he pulled out of the hotel.

“Goddamnit, Cunningham,” he groaned as he lurched down Mill Street with the wipers screeching across his barren windshield. “Stay on your side of the road.”

By the time he arrived for his appointment, he was running late. He was met by Casolano, the public relations officer.

“I’m so sorry I woke you up, Mr. Cunningham,” he said, holding out his hand. “Please forgive me.”

“Really not a problem,” Dennis said.

“Well, I hope you got some sleep nevertheless,” Casolano said.

“The CG is just finishing up a meeting with the West Australian Farmers Federation and will meet with you in about 15 minutes. Can I get you something to drink while you’re waiting?”

“No, thank you.” Dennis flopped onto a large faux leather couch in the waiting room, picked up a copy of the Consulate’s newsletter and leafed through the 14 pages of US propaganda: the Consulate General opening the W.A. Prime Lamb Sire Sale in the town of Moora; the Consulate General welcoming a Fulbright Scholar from the University of Wisconsin; the Consulate General commemorating Remembrance Day at the State War Memorial in King’s Park; the Consulate General blah, blah, blah. While he knew that someone had to wave the flag out here in the farthest reaches of the globe, he still could not fathom why anyone would choose to do that for a career.

Dennis did not have much respect for the State Department and their employees, which he and his Agency cohorts derisively called “staties” in mixed company and “pussies” in private. He was sure that State Department employees were equally disapproving of Agency employees and had charming nicknames for them as well.

After 20 minutes, a door opened and a group of men left the CG’s office. There were parting handshakes and cordial salutations delivered.

A tall, angular man stayed in the doorway after the group left and said finally, “Mr. Cunningham, please come in.”

At 5 feet 10 inches, Dennis always felt disadvantaged by taller men. Dennis was a rugged, handsome man by most standards. His square jaw was complemented by short-cropped, brown hair at the top, a slightly dimpled chin at the bottom and penetrating ice-blue eyes in the middle. Dennis’ eyes were his single defining physical attribute; they were deeper and bluer than most. Some women found them mesmerizing and attractive; others found them penetrating and unnerving. A naturally muscular 175 pounds, with a short, thick neck, Dennis was not easily physically cowed. Still, the patrician bearing of someone like the Consulate General made Dennis feel inferior.

Dennis settled into a wooden chair in front of a huge mahogany desk. A name plate, angled severely, reported the desk belonged to “Wilson St. Regis.” The room was huge; several large windows looked down on parkland and a river a quarter-mile away.

“So, Mr. Cunningham,” the Consular General said, “you’re here on official business. I see you’ve been sent to follow up on the disappearance of Geoffrey Jansen.” He stopped, adjusted his half-height reading glasses and looked down at a folder. “Ah, but that was probably not his real name, was it?

“Well,” he continued, “this is quite an unfortunate incident. To my knowledge we’ve never encountered something like this here. I mean, we’ve had an occasional AWOL, and you expect that, especially from the younger folk who might have partied a little too hard and got distracted, but never a tragedy like this.”

Dennis studied St. Regis closely. His file said he was 61 years old but he looked older. He was tall and thin, with a remarkably sharp chin. His thinning gray hair was combed straight back, a tuft at the center of his forehead surrounded by two expanding bald areas at the temples. His nose was long and hooked downward slightly, giving him a hawkish appearance.

As was Dennis’ custom at this stage, he said nothing. A little birdy – perhaps the tiniest bird known to mankind – tried desperately to get Dennis’ attention to remind him of his boss’ entreaty to play nice, but it was a very small bird fighting against a powerful headwind of old habits and a brooding anger.

“So, Mr. Cunningham, how may we help you?”

Dennis stared blankly at St. Regis.

“Mr. Cunningham?” St. Regis repeated.

“Are you the only one in the Consulate who knew Garder – his real name was Geoffrey Garder – worked for the CIA?” Dennis said.

“Yes,” St. Regis replied. “I believe so.”

“What do you mean by that?” Dennis asked.

“I mean that as far as I know, no one else was aware that Geoff’s employer was the CIA. No one ever raised the issue with me, nor did I have occasion to raise it with anyone else.”

“You were the only person in this office authorized to know Garder’s employment situation,” Dennis said.

“That is correct, but as I said, no one here questioned me about him so it was not an issue,” St. Regis said.

“Did you know what his assignment was? His Agency assignment, that is?”

“No, of course not,” St. Regis said. “You know I wasn’t authorized to know that. I’ve been in this business a long time, Mr. Cunningham. You grow accustomed to the secrecy. It’s the nature of the beast.”

“So what happened to Garder?” Dennis said.

“Frankly, I haven’t the faintest idea. You know he traveled a fair amount around the state. It was not unlike him to be absent from the office for two or three weeks at a time. I’m mystified. I met with two of your fellow CIA agents already and told them everything I know about the young fellow.”

“I’m not an agent,” Dennis said.

“You’re not? Well, what are you then?”

“I’m an investigator.”

“An investigator for whom?”

“For the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency. You talked to two agents in a different department at the Agency. I’m an investigator in the IG’s office.”

“Well, the distinction is all yours,” St. Regis sat back stiffly in his chair, “because I seem to be answering the same questions.”

“So, was he a drug addict?” Dennis distractedly panned the room.

“Excuse me?” St. Regis rocked forward, turning his left ear toward Dennis.

“Which one of your gracious Consulate employees was supplying him with drugs?” Dennis said.

“Good lord, Mr. Cunningham.” St. Regis stiffened. “We don’t have ‘suppliers’ here at the Consulate. Who told you that? That’s preposterous.”

“So?” Dennis said.

“So what?” St. Regis’ cheeks displayed flushed red circles the size of silver dollars.

“Who was selling him drugs?”

St. Regis put both elbows on the mahogany table and leaned even farther toward Dennis, his face pinching tightly at the edges.

“I know about you, Cunningham,” he sneered in a near whisper. “I checked up on you. At first I couldn’t get anything, and then a very old friend at Foggy Bottom helped me out. Told me all about your reputation. Even your nicknames. About how foul it was to deal with you.”

“My nicknames?” Dennis said. “Really?”

“Yes. ‘Dennis the Menace’ was one.”

“Oh, I’ve heard that one before. That’s all? Just one?” Dennis said.

“I can’t repeat the other ones,” St. Regis said.

Dennis stood up. “I’m glad you checked up on me. You would have discovered that if I catch you hiding information from me, you’ll be in serious trouble. I apologize for my brashness but I’m afraid over the years I’ve found that an inordinate amount of time in investigations is wasted on niceties and politeness. I think we understand each other well and I hope to have my investigation completed as soon as possible.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Keith Yocum has worked in the publishing industry for many years in jobs ranging from copyeditor, reporter, newspaper founder to strategic planner. He spent part of his childhood overseas in the Panama Canal Zone and Western Australia, and has a life-long interest in other cultures, rugby union and B&W photography. His favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway, Jo Nesbo, Nathaniel Philbrick and Henning Mankell. He lives on Cape Cod and thoroughly enjoys being 30 miles away from the mainland.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
http://www.keithyocum.com
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
Aboriginal rock drawings are some of the oldest artwork in the world, dating back 40,000 years in some cases. The use of this artwork for the cover was meant to relate back to the character Jimmy, who appears in a vital scene and proves to be resourceful, resilient, funny and lifesaving.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Absolutely, without a doubt: Michael Keaton.

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