Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Five: Cloak and Dagger

“He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”
 ~Thomas Paine 

As Edward and West pulled into the designated parking garage to meet their intelligence liaison, Edward couldn’t help but shake his head at the cloak-and-dagger feeling of this particular meeting.  West backed the car into a space with a solid cement wall on both sides of it.  He was risking getting boxed in and pinned down, but there was no chance of hitting from behind, as it had no blind spots to approach from.
“We’re going to do this like we did back at the Lincoln. You remember?”
“If he pulls, I light up his chest but won’t fire unless he does first.”
“You got it. Only go ahead and light up his chest right away this time. I want them to know I’m not taking any chances.”
“Will do.”
Edward got out and walked about forty paces before stopping and leaning up against one of the cement pillars.  He flipped up the collar on his black trench coat, and drew his wide-brimmed fedora downwards, obscuring his face.  When the agent arrived fifteen minutes later, wearing a tan trench coat and hat, it was all Edward could do to keep a straight face. “You here for some deep-throat action?” he muttered to himself sarcastically.
“You Carpenter?”
“That’s me.” Edward was careful to avoid standing between the other man and West.
“Well I… HEY!” The man’s eyes opened wide as he noticed the laser-dot on his chest.
“You’re OK.” Edward replied, dismissively. “Just precautions. I don’t know you from Adam, and it wouldn't be their first attempt.  If I really wanted you dead, you’d be dead already. What do you have for me?”
The agent handed him a manila envelope. Inside were three lists. The first list was headlined with names like, ‘Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,’ ‘Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei’ and others that Edward recognized as belonging to the power structure in the Islamic State of Iran.  The second began with Iranian reform politician ‘Mir-Hossein Mousavi’ and included many names he did not recognize, save for the occasional political prisoner or dissident exile, living abroad.  The final list was headlined by ‘Kim Jong-Il’ and included individuals close to the North Korean despot.
“OK. Tell your boss that once my people have had a chance to vet these lists, we’ll move forward with Iran as soon as Israel signs their peace accord with the Palestinians. North Korea… I’m still waiting for the State Department to set up a meeting with a delegation from the South.  I’m not moving forward without a commitment from their government that the newly integrated population will be properly cared for.”
“Um… He was hoping that this could be taken care of rather quickly.”
Edward gave the man a looked that feigned sympathy. “Was he now?  And why is he so impatient?”
The other man suddenly took a keen interest in something on the ground.
“All right, fine.  Well I’m not in any hurry at all. Iran was not only my price for his endorsement of the work we did in Israel, but it was part of my offer to the Israelis for proceeding. Besides… I wouldn’t want your boss to suddenly come to the conclusion that I wasn’t needed anymore. Tell him to keep his shirt on. We’ll take care of it.”
The two men parted ways, and Edward got back into the car with West. “OK, question for you. Aside from the obvious, why would Panetta be pushing for us to take care of these things so quickly?”
“You mean, aside from merely wanting them done, and having no reason to put up with you anymore?”
“Well… RUMOR has it that he’s being considered for the Defense job.”
Edward was stunned. “Secretary?! You mean… Gates’ job?”
“One and the same.  So either he doesn’t want to be associated with this situation in his new position, or he doesn’t want his successor getting credit for it in this one.”
“Any rumors about his successor?”
“Some General, I believe.”
West pulled out of the garage, and drove back into the city, glad to be finished with the night’s activities and out of an underground, enclosed space that he was afraid they wouldn’t be able to leave without a fight.
Rather than go back to Manassas, Edward had West take him back to the High and Low, where Epiphany was waiting. Renovations were now well underway, and the building above it had several small studios in it that were furnished out as apartments.  Edward opened the door to find Epiphany laying out on the bed, wearing only a long t-shirt and panties.  She was surfing the web on Edward’s lap-top. The tablet lay at the foot of the bed.  Glancing down at it, he could see that both traffic lights were green. 
“Everything go smoothly?” Epiphany asked suspiciously.
“Oh yeah, no problems. Panetta’s apparently on the way to bigger and better things, so he’s pushing for us to deal with Iran quickly.”
“And he can go fuck himself. We’ll deal with Iran once the Israelis sign their peace accords.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Well… Then they and Iran will probably take care of each other, no?”
Epiphany frowned. “Isn’t that exactly the kind of thing we’re supposed to be preventing?”
Edward sighed. “Yes, but I think this will work out.  Lieberman said he’s going forward with it. And… there’s this.” Edward indicated the green traffic lights on the Tablet. “So we’ve got to be doing something right.”
Epiphany frowned. “Those haven’t stayed red OR green for more than a few hours lately it seems.”
“Hey: I’ll take uncertainty over a clear decision on Gabriel’s part that we should be destroyed.  Peace in the middle east – starting with Israel and extending to Iran, and breaking theocracy’s hold over there – will go a LONG way towards world peace.”
“What about Korea?”
Edward thought for a moment. “That’s a different situation. The government there is arguably the worst in the entire world. Murderous madmen, acting more like parasitic viruses than leaders.  And while there is no shortage of pro-unification sentiment in the region, the reality of re-integrating all of those people will be drawn out and expensive. And, as you know, there will remain those who refuse to integrate; who will remain faithful to the unfulfilled promises of the previous regime.”
“OK, and…?”
“AND… I want to have at least some sense of a guarantee from the South that they will be committed to seeing it though: Investment, education, infrastructure… The burden on their welfare state is going to be immense for the foreseeable future.”
“And if they DON’T give you these guarantees?”
Edward shrugged and shook his head. “Well, I can’t abide the thought of Kim Jon Il remaining in power.  And those people do deserve better. I just don’t like the idea that the suffering they might experience will go from being one forced upon them by that psychopath, to being the result of sloppy planning on MY part.”
“Doesn’t it amount to the same thing if you do nothing?” A glint in her eye.
Edward smiled knowingly, thinking back to Epiphany’s cheerleading of Edward’s New Year’s Eve plan, realizing that had she not pushed it, had she not been such a FAN of the idea, it may never have come to fruition. “Oh, don’t worry… We’ll be fixing things there one way or the other. I just want to at least TRY and line up that commitment first. AND… I want to make sure Intelligence isn’t screwing with me on these lists.”
“How will you find that out?”
“Well… I’m going to have two people other than myself check them out first. I figure you and Bob can go over North Korea’s list. Paul and West can confirm Iran’s bad-guy list. And then John and Gretchen can check out Iran’s good-guy list.”
“And Starling?”
More head shaking from Edward. “Hank? He seems to have immersed himself in his research.  I know where he is, but he’s made it very clear than he’s not interested in politics right now.”
Epiphany made a tsk-tsk sound. “You, uh… regretting your hero worship yet?”
Edward turned away, so she wouldn’t see how annoyed he looked. “It wasn’t hero worship. I wanted him for matters related to science and that’s what he’s doing right now.  If anything comes to a vote, he can phone it in or defer to the rest of us unless he has some reason to object or get involved. It’s fine.”
He looked back to see that she had moved right up being him, and was smiling deviously. “I know. I just wanted to see you get riled up.” She draped her arms around his shoulder pulling him in even closer.
He closed his eyes, and breathed in deeply, savoring her essence.  He opened them back up to find himself lost in her gaze. “And why would you want to do that?”
Laughing softly, she pulled him gently towards the bed.
The next morning, Edward had asked his friends to meet with him at the High and Low. Not surprisingly, Gretchen was the first to arrive: As much from her own eagerness as the fact that she still had her regular job a few miles away in the executive building.  Epiphany was still asleep, and Edward had just started a pot of coffee brewing at the bar when she walked in, and handed him a cup.
“Thanks. Still carrying for the office?”
Gretchen laughed, though slightly embarrassed. “No, not today. I took your advice, and Jay’s picking up today. This is just for you guys.”
“Well, I do appreciate it. I’m going to let this pot go anyway, just in case, but thank you.”
Gretchen just blushed and smiled. She was always eager to do whatever she could to help, but had no idea what else to say in that exact moment.  After a brief, but still awkward silence, Edward got down to business.
“I need your help.” She nodded in understanding. “I have here a list of political prisoners, dissidents and opposition politicians from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  See… Some big is going to happen there before too long.  Some of these people, possibly all of them, and possibly others, are going to be the primary beneficiaries of this. So will the U.S., Israel, Lebanon, the Middle East and the World at large.”
“Wow. OK. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to find out as much as you can for me about everyone on this list. In particular I want to know if anyone here will amount to little more than a State Department puppet – a second Shah, if you will. What I’m HOPING is that all of these men and women are strong supporters of secular, liberal, popular democracy; whether or not they are necessarily pro-west.  I also want to know where their talents lie – whether some would be better suited for certain roles, say… the courts as opposed to the legislature, or foreign affairs as opposed to domestic, that sort of thing. I want to know who will be the best choices for each role, so that the country of Iran can thrive and develop into a new beacon of secular democracy in the Middle East. Can you do that for me?”
“Um… Yeah… It will take a LITTLE time, but… Why? Why do need this? And why me?”
Edward had to be careful here. He did not want it to appear as if he was pulling all of the strings, especially as John and Paul likely overheard his boast to the late Prime Minister as they flew back to the U.S. after turning the tables of him as their jailer. “I have a feeling that something is going to happen over there; something very similar to what happened HERE. And it just so happens that we may have some… influence as to the choice of certain appointments, as it pertains to forming a replacement government. The thing is? I don’t want our guys to just go in and install a bunch of pro-west puppets. Because that won’t last. And yet… given the potential power vacuum? That will be a tempting strategy. I just want to make sure, as best as I’m able to, that whoever fills that void isn’t going to go and make our jobs any more difficult than it already is.  They need to have both the support of their people, and a dedication to making secular democracy work.”
“And they have to support the treaty between Israel and Palestine, right?” She was smiling hopefully.
“You got it.  Will you do all that for me?”
“Yes!” too enthusiastic, she thought. “I mean, yes, I will. Whatever you need, just let me know, OK?”   
She stayed only a few more minutes, finishing her coffee with him and then headed off to work. A similar conversation followed with John.  As West and Epiphany already knew what was going on, they required no sanitized explanation.  Which only left Robert and Paul.
“I feel that something is going to happen there like what happened here on New Year’s Eve.  If I’m not much mistaken, all of these men are either directly responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in the world, or are complicit in maintain these despicable regimes hold on power. What I really want to know is whether any of these people are basically innocent populists who our own government merely finds to be inconvenient.
By now, each man had been witness to enough of Edward’s hunches and premonitions coming true that neither the fraud-detecting accountant nor the renowned skeptic even bothered to ask anymore how or where he came by his information. If either thought he was pulling someone’s string, neither could see how he found the time to do it – he seemed to spend as little time as possible outside their company, and made no effort to get to know more than a handful of contacts on anything resembling a personal level.
All the same, Paul was perplexed. “Not to be flip about the loss of life on the magnitude you’re talking about, but why exactly do we need to know?”
“For what it’s worth, it would do me a great deal of comfort to know that judgment continues to fall primarily on the wicked, as opposed to the convenient, if you catch my drift.” He didn’t, but agreed to do the necessary fact-finding.
Professor Todd was not so easily satisfied.  He stared back at Edward with seemingly knowing eyes, which peered deep into his consciousness. “Edward, I don’t suppose that WE are going to have anything to DO with these events that you are… foretelling, are we?”
Edward looked the closest thing he had ever had to a mentor directly into those piercing eyes…
And lied.
“I hope not, Bob. I hope not.”

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