اغیار خو وايي د دوزخ ژبه ده
– زه به جنت ته د پښتو سره ځم
Amir Hamza Shinwari
It had to be secure, it was still on paper. Specifically a crisp manilla folder, of the kind that signaled that the material within had been hastily collected, and was too sensitive to be entrusted to electronic network. Of course, the intelligence community is filled with very sensitive people, of very delicate feelings, so far more ended up in these folders than was proper, only to be entered into the electronic form after it was too late to correlate with all of the other very, very, sensitive information, from other very sensitive people. He'd seen it before.
The table was also ostentatiously nondescript, a plastic beige top, with black metal cylinder legs at the corners, it's oblong shape was precisely two meters long by one and a half meters wide. And at it sat two rather soft white men, with husks of white five o'clock shadow. The one on the left sported a double chin and filled out his blue pin-stripe suit rather tightly, while the other was not quite as clearly over-fed, but still had not seen hard mileage in a long time. The were bent over small blackberry's thumb typing responses to the flood of messages that were marked “urgent,” and “unread.”
Neither looked up as a third man was ushered into the room by a uniformed Marine corps MP, dressed in his best duty uniform, pressed tight against his thin chest and hard muscles.
This third man was different, clearly broad shouldered, a product of beef, milk, and corn, he was not, however, soft in the way the two older men were, nor ripped and muscular in the way the Marine was. Instead he had a quite heft to his torso, and bulk across his barrel chest and along his legs. He was not quite built like a fire hydrant, but he gave the impression that a football player gives in a suit: a kind of over-wide for italian tailoring. His suit was grey, with very fine gold pinstripes. It had seen far more mileage than either of the others. It's softness from wear not detracting from its expense.
The window behind them, a broad panoramic view of a moderately wooded backdrop, had an odd darkness and seemed to create artifacts to view. A skilled eye would have recognized that it was polarized, and that lcd swatches were constantly scrambling to obscure vision in. It created the impression that the outside world was crawling with insects slightly too small to see. There were almost imperceptibly off white LED lights focused on the table, and the rest of the room, as a consequence, took on a slightly blue-gray cast. There were filing cabinets, with one being of gray metal with a combination lock that was clearly the GSA authorized secure cabinet, several wooden overhead office cabinets, and on the left, a secretarial station with a wide screen and keyboard, the actual computer hidden from view, or perhaps within the screen, it was hard to tell. On the right wall was a large projection screen.
When the door closed, the on the window, horizontal and very thin, rotated shut, and the lights increased. It was only then that the heavier man looked up and met the gaze of the man entering the room. With that a false smile boomed across his face, completely absent the involvement of any muscle above his nose.
“Mr. Fischer, great to see you again.” He half stood up and extended a hand across the table to the broad shouldered man, who without expression stepped forward and accepted it. The second man behind the table stood up and offered his hand afterwards, with these formalities completed, their faces went back to neutral.
“I would prefer we stick to professional names.”
“Yours has not been reactivated yet.”
“I have not been on the bench that long.”
The second man allowed himself a very trace of a smile.
“Expedited.” The heavier man added, his voice a kind of east coast metropolitan sharp.
The standing man, Fischer, raised an eyebrow. “That is the charm of this department, expeditious, in every sense of the word.”
The heavier man soured only slightly, his face pulling forward as he spoke:“Would you like a chance to get off the bench?”
“Of course I would. That or be given the option for a decent retirement. You know that Michael.” He nodded to the heavier man.
“Mike is fine.”
“Glad we are back on speaking terms.”
“We were running out of choices.” He spun around the crisp folder and sat down himself.
“Do I have a few minutes to familiarized myself with the case?”
The thinner man slid a few documents.
“You will need to sign these first. They are for your emergency clearance and the subject areas.”
“Thank you Gabe. Are these in addition to the ones I've already signed.”
Mike piped in. “Those are bogus. These are the operative documents.”
Another eyebrow raise.
“I see I am going to have to catch up on a great deal.”
The folder was stamped with various access controls in addition to Top Secret. Fischer noted one in particular: RESTRICTED. This is why he had been dragged off the bench, contractors and other conveniently disposable people, such as interim clearance holders, could not see it. Hence reaching down into the vaguely disreputable marginal members of the community. He sat down and gingerly turned pages. He was immediately greeted with graphic images of at least two prisoners, both with thick black hair, and seeming to be of vaguely middle eastern extaction by their facial features. It was, however, dangerous to jump to conclusions. However what could not be confused was that they had been the beneficiaries of a great deal of rough handling: splotchy bruises, many of which were only partially healed, while others were fresh, a genera of dishevelment that came from sleep deprivation and lack of access to sanitary facilities, a bloated look from being fed and starved.
As he turned the front matter, and without looking up.
“This is John's work.”
Michael nodded, however Gabe spoke.
“Yes it's the baptist's work.”
“Yes it's the baptist's work.”
“An extreme rendition?”
“It is in the file.”
“It's on their faces. Is this his case, or is this merely prefatory?”
“This is product.”
“Am I under need to know the source?”
Gabe leaned back. “This is your case. John's missing. And we think he may have met an untimely demise outside of Kandahar.”
“Do you have a proof?”
“Only partial, his right hand. The pictures are at the back.”
“So why not Coal. His Arabic is superb, while mine is sub-par, he forgets more about the Pashtun and their dialects every day than I could learn, and he's been in country.”
“He's also been redeployed.”
“As in retired.”
“Nice to know. Why is it?”
“What, that he spent his weekends with a mouthful of cock finally gave you two the creeps?”
“That was the issue, yes.”
Fischer looked up and bore his eyes into Michael's. “That's why he's so effective in the field. He carries his own honey with him.”
Gabe leaned over the table.
“This is the kind of attitude that got you sent to the bench.”
Fischer looked back and tilted his head with a slight smirk.
“So I should have an attitude more like the baptists? That way the two of us could be pushing poppies up together.”
“Coal is out. He failed life style and poly.”
“Unfortunate, he's better than any three other people for this.”
“You sell yourself short, you engineered a jail break in Afghanistan. That's no small accomplishment.”
“That was a long time ago, under the Soviets. Completely different. And I was young then, horribly young.”
“Coal is out, you are in. That's the word from the Office.”
“Wonderful, another Political Department production. Which fresh faced flunky has been reading polls again?”
“That's the way it is. Are you on or off the bench for this one?”
Fischer grimaced. “I guess I'm in. That's the phrase of the season, isn't it?”
Mike leaned back and Gabe slid the documents closer.
“Sign these, then, and you are the Apostle again.”
Fischer signed dutifully on each line, with his own pen, which he then laid down as he rotated the papers back to Gabe.
“Can we get down to cases.”
“You assume there is more than one?”
“There is the case the Baptist was on, the case that caused that case, and the case of finding whatever remains of him.”
Mike leaned back. “The first you don't have need to know, the second is in the file. The third is what we are going to talk about.”
“Excellent.” Fischer leaned slightly in as if receiving conspiracy, or communion.
Mike took a deep breath. “Gabriel, you can brief him on this.” He stood up, slightly having to straddle the chair beneath him before pushing it back with his foot with a slightly awkward half stomp. He pulled out his blackberry and began thumb typing as he left.
There was quiet until the door closed.
“Even less for formalities than ever?”
“He's under a great deal of pressure Avery.”
Fischer relaxed and leaned back on his chair, adopting a happy grimace and smiling.
“I don't have a need to know. So are you my case officer?”
“Expressly not. Michael will assign one shortly out of the pool.”
“I was getting worried that this was important. It isn't like we pull disgraced radical agents and handing them SCI material with incriminating photographs every day.”
“Here's to hoping, for your sake, that these don't get wiki-leaked.”
Fischer gave a half smile. For just a moment.
“Glad to know you are always looking out after my interests. Shall you expound on the topic of finding the Baptist?”
“This was a routine rendition and enhanced interrogation, we flew the subject by military transport to Ram, switched him over to a flagged civilian craft to Yemen, where he was switched to a medical helicopter and landed in Damascus.”
“Assad is still being helpful. That must be saving him the attention of the US Air Force, or any of our Company irregulars.”
“It's a nasty world.”
“I'm sure you do your best.”
Gabriel let his eyes narrow as he tried to figure out which end of that he was on.
“Continuing, the Baptist was there to render the subject, whose connections with Palestinian terrorists made it possible that some of his information was ticking.”
“How do you know that?”
Fischer gestured at the part of the file that contained a synopsis of “First Subject's” dossier.
“He's a fat former Iraqi security thug who has more thumbs than fingers.”
“You know him?”
“He worked for Al-Samedi, one of our more elephantine assets.”
“That's not in the dossier.”
“The Company is holding out on you. Al-Samedi worked for Langley as a plant in the INC, and was sent over to Iraq, later rising to head of security and defmin. Subject One was one of his brokers. If he has contacts with anything Palestinian, it has big tis and was born in the Bronx. We never let anything native get near him.”
Gabe leaned back.
“Are you sure of this?”
“I can give you his case officer over at the company if you like. He'll confirm everything right down to his taste in orifices.”
“You are saying this file.”
“Is a heavily edited concoction for your consumption. Subject One is a former low level asset who worked for an asset. His job was procuring hookers for Baghdad defense ministry, along with hashish, alcohol and assorted other vices.”
“Do you recognize Subject Two?”
Fischer stared down.
“No, but there are no fat Palestinians like that since Arafat.”
“According to the file Subject Two is associated with the Taliban, and is originally from Egypt.”
“Possible. My Egypt work was cover.”
“Something about children's health?”
“Telling Harvard graduates that they were making a serious mistake rationing medicines to children, since the Madrasas were picking up families.”
“Your usual policy of tact in full force.”
“There are a number of people who might still be breathing if I were listened to.”
“That's what got you on the bench?”
“No, hasn't Mike told you? It was that blow up over Hyskos. After that I was ghost writing security memos.”
“I read them, excellent work.”
“I'm complimented. I'm sure the termites think so too.” He looked towards the secretarial station and noted that the chair still had a slight depression from someone having sat in it. Mike only typed with his thumbs, and Gabe worked with his mouth.
“Don't under-estimate the importance of termites.”
“So the case officer has already been assigned.”
Gabe startled. “How do you know that.”
“Restricted. And no other eyes. Who ever was typing at that station, is on the case. Ergo, case officer. Ergo, assigned.”
Gabe flushed, he never liked being caught in a lie, however small.
“It doesn't make a difference. Yes, an officer has been assigned.”
“You don't have need to know on that.”
“I would advise you to look more closely, there is already fluff in the file, and someone at the Company is holding out on you.”
“I do not have random access to the Director. Maybe you do?”
“No but Jay is very talkative.”
“He's been warned to be more circumspect.”
“He doesn't like bungles. It makes the committee look bad.”
“You think this is a bungle?”
“Bungle in the jungle. Fresh imported cluster of fuck. It says here in the file. 'The ladden planes flew in, and the empty planes flew out.' Why would the prisoner say that to John the Baptist, as if it might save him?”
“That is as it should be, if this is a resupply: planes with supplies for Air America fronts, or other Company activities in Afghanistan.”
“But then, he would not have said it as if it were something wrong. He'd have used it as a defense against accusations that he was not doing his duty. But there's something else.”
“Something else from the file catch your attention?” Gabe leaned closer, he also switched off the recording system, and pressed erase.
Fischer swung the dossier around.
“That's a fib.” He pointed at the description of the fourth day of the interrogation.
“Gabe, have you ever stuck a man's dick in a socket?”
Gabe flinched again.
“I haven't participated in enhanced procedures personally.”
“It takes two people, unless the subject is so messed up that he can't fight it.”
“Day four, and it goes on for...” glancing downward, “nine more days. Subject One had plenty of fight left. He wasn't going to get the fleshlight treatment without push back. There was a second person. One to hold him down.”
“Yes. That's the real subject of this case.” He took the quizzical glance and added: “It was Mike's plan, if you couldn't see through it, you were out.”
“Happy happy. Joy joy. So who was it?”
“Jack Spade. We think he's gone rogue.”
“How, would you know?”
“I'm being serious.”
“So am I. How would you know if Jack Spade went rogue?”
“If he emptied out the accounts that he wasn't supposed to have access to and was last seen in Dubai at an upscale hotel.”
“When was this?”
“Four days ago.”
“So my real assignment is to find out what happened, why the Baptist's hand was sent by courier, and why the Jack of Spades is AWOL in Dubai?”
“And they were on this rendition together.”
“And the subject wasn't popcorn like Hamas, but something important that would legitimately lead them to Afghanistan?”
“The Hamas connection runs from arms coming out of Kandahar. They call it 'Air Genghis' in the file.”
“Ah, the laden planes of note. However, not a Palestinian angle, the only way the Saudis or anyone, let's a Palestinian near Dubai is if they are cleaning a toilet. There isn't enough slush in Hamas to afford two nights there.”
“Privately I'm inclined to agree.”
“So can we go back on the record, since we need to produce some bull to go with this shit.”
“After you give me your pen.”
“Sure.” Fischer slid the pen over. “But I warn you, it is clean.”
“I'll let the monkeys be the judge of that.”
“Sure. Now put us back on the record.”
“You don't want any more?”
“Why, so who ever lied to you can lie to me. The less I know of the party line, the better this will go.”
“You have enough?”
“John the Baptist. Jack Spade. Play the players, not the cards. Just give me the real case officer, and I will make my way from there.”
“This is starting to sound cowboy.”
“You'll follow my every move until I drop off the grid, no matter what.”
“Off the record, the real case officer is Brianna Perlmutter. Cover for this is Megan Bright.”
He passed the pen back, having quietly wrapped the information on a rubber band around it.
“Thank you Gabe.”
Gabe pushed the recorder again, and they chatted over details of the file as if it meant anything. Fischer read it while the talked, committing to memory the pictures, details of the rendition and interogation. At the end of an hour, he slid it back. Gabe closed it, taped it shut, and checked it in to the gray safe.
“I think we are done here, Fischer.”
“Yes. I'll wait for the fluff bunny to call me.”
“Remember need to know when communicating.”
Meaning, Fischer understood, that the fluff bunny couldn't know that he knew the real case.
Gabe buzzed for the escort, and a minute later the door opened for the MP who was outside.
They shook hands.
Fischer had walked in the room. And Apostle walked out.