Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter Forty-Three: Subterfuge

“There’s no such thing as a ‘pretty good’ alligator wrestler.”
 ~Johnny Knoxville

James Southworth was no fool.  And on top of that, he was acutely aware of how closely Edward Carpenter’s phones, emails and PERSON were being watched.  And given his own past association with West, it was very likely that the Agency was keeping at least some tabs on him as well.  Getting this information into West’s or Caprenter’s hands was going to be tricky.  But he’s done this kind of thing before.

He sealed the large manila envelope shut, placed it into his briefcase, and left work at his usual time.  Rather than going strait home, however, he went downtown.  If anyone was watching him? They would see him stop, going into a bar for a few drinks, come out and get into a cab, rather than drive home drunk.  He wouldn't even be the one to call the cab - the bartender would do that for him.  But he would give him the number, and tell him who to ask for.  He needed a specific cag. He needed Jackie.

“Going home, Jimmy?” The jovial cab driver bellowed from the open window as Southworth pretended to stagger out of the bar, even though all he had done for over an hour was to nurse a single drink.
“You got it, Jackie.” Southworth got in.

Once they were a few blocks away, the driver’s tone got lower and more serious. “What’s up Jim? You look like you’ve got some business for me.”
“I’m leaving a package for you,” the Agent answered, dropping the drunk act. “Don’t let it fall into the lost and found, OK?”

“Yeah no problem.  Anything I need to know?”
“Nope. Simple delivery job.”

“Same rate?”

“There’s a little extra in there for you. This one’s pretty important, OK? Find someone you can really count on.”
“Those are the only types I work with, Jim. You know that.”

“I know. And thanks.”

When his shift was over, cab driver Jackie Coons pulled his cab into his garage and looked into the large, manila envelope that Southworth has left for him. Inside there was a medium sized envelope, stuffed fairly tightly. This was not for him.  There was a note instructing him to get the second envelope into the hands of an independent courier – one of HIS guys, who had friends of his own and who could be trusted.  There was also a thousand dollars in cash.  He had done this so many times that he didn’t even WANT to know what was in the next envelope.
He grabbed his phone, and dialed. “Hey, Shane? I got something for ya.  Metro Center, six-A.M.? OK, see you then.”

The next morning, Shane Goodson coasted into the pick-up and drop-off area outside of Metro Center, a area way too small for the number of cabs it had to accommodate.  He was far from the only bike messenger there as well, but it didn’t take him long to find the CAB he was looking for.

“Here’s you go Shane. This one’s special: Take today off.”
The courier raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

“Oh yeah. Trust me.  This is for a friend. He’s paying very well.”
“OK, bro.  I will take care of it.” And with that, he took the envelope and pedaled off to find a place to sort out today’s job.

Sitting down to a hot cup of Joe in a crowded shop a few blocks away from the Mall, he opened his package.  Inside were three standard sized mailing envelopes, one of which he could tell contained more than just paper.  When five-hundred dollars fell out and spread across the table, he almost died of shock.  He quickly gathered up the bills, looking around suspiciously, forgetting he was no longer in the old neighborhood: No one was going to rob him in here.
He found his instructions.  He had three more people picked out within a few minutes.

Roberta Wiggins has known Shane since grade school.  She knew that he occasionally supplemented his income running contraband – usually pot.  She helped occasionally in these endeavors, for a nominal cut.  This was not like any of those, however.  The letter was dropped into her mail slot while she’d been at work – a blank envelope with only his initials in the upper left-hand corner revealing its origin.  Inside her apartment she opened the envelope:  Five Hundred Dollars in cash – many times her usual payment – some instructions and a flash drive.

As Alvin Demoros was getting ready for work, there was a knock at his door.  He opened it to find a letter waiting for him outside. There was no address, and only “SG” written in the return address spot.  He opened it to find what looked like a “free pizza” coupon, some instructions with an email address, and five hundred dollars in cash.  He wasn’t sure what Shane was up to this time, but he knew better than to ask. 

He left a few minutes early so he could stop at Kinko’s to scan and email the coupon.

Joelle Desiree had no plans to go out that day.  She was out of work, and out of money.  Her mail that day was another collection of “past due’s” and “final notices” until the last one:  Five-Hundred dollars cash, and just a simple task for her to execute.
Tears started to fall from her eyes. “Bless you, Shane!”

West’s phone beeped.  An email:  Free Pizza.

“Wait a second…” He opened it up and sure enough, it was a coupon for a free pizza, “good for today only, then the offer goes south.” He snapped out of his daze and seep-dialed Edward. “Eddie, meet me at the club… We’re having pizza.”

Roberta was not usually one to play tourist.  But today she was nothing more than an anonymous woman enjoying the fall weather in our nation’s capital.  She walked along the National Mall, on the Constitution Avenue side, with the Washington Monument at her back, until she reached the fifth park bench on the northern side.  She sat down.  She fished the flash drive out of her purse.  Placing an inch long piece of double-sided, foam tape on one side, she reached down to pull up one of her knee-length stockings and subtly stuck the drive to the underside the bench.  She then left to treat herself to lunch, and see some of numerous sites the city had to offer.

A knock came at the door of the High and Low.  Edward, Epiphany and West had been waiting inside. West got up to answer the door.

“You West?” Alvin asked.
“That’s me. Free Pizza?”

Alvin already had five hundred dollars in his pocket, but still felt a bit disappointed. “Um… Yeah.”
West took the box, before stuffing another hundred dollar bill into the delivery guy’s hand.

“Hey, Thanks!”
“Don’t mention it. EVER.”

Alvin gave an understanding nod before leaving.
Edward was still unsure of what was happening. “What’s going on, West?”

“Not sure… Let’s see…”
West opened the box. All were shocked. Written in black market on the inside of the box lid was:

“Whoa.” Edward didn’t know what to think of this. “A trap?”

West studied it for a moment and thought back to the coupon. “No I don’t think so.  Pretty sure this is from one of our guys. Maybe they found out something.”
“So why the Pizza?”

“Couldn’t risk calling or emailing either of us.  Must be something big.  I think you’d better do what he says, and you should probably go alone.”
“And the… outfit?”

“Wear it. It’s so someone who doesn’t know you can find you.”
“I’ll look ridiculous dressed like that!”

“You’ll be wearing something unlikely to be similar to what anyone else might be. Whoever’s meeting you can’t risk confusing you with anyone else. So do it.”

It was a cold morning.  With no jacket over his red polo, Edward reached what he’d hoped was the right bench and sat down. “Yellow shorts, black socks and no jacket,” Edward grumbled to himself. “This had BETTER be good!”
He looked around. Only a couple of very sparse crowds in the distance. After a few minutes he noticed a tall, young modestly attractive black woman walking toward him. He looked at her for a few seconds. She never shifted her gaze to him, never made eye contact.  He went back to waiting.

She walked past him, eyes fixed on something on ahead in the distance. “Under the bench, sweetie,” she said, barely loud enough for him to notice. She never broke stride. She didn’t speed up.  She never even looked at him.
“Huh?” Edward said to her back, as she kept walking. “Under…” Without bending over too much, he reached down, first between his legs and then to the side…

“I don’t know about this,” Edward said to West.

“Yeah… Pretty much first rule of cyber-security: Never plug in a strange USB Drive,” Epiphany added, recalling her time spent behind an IT desk.
West sighed. “Look, guys, I hear you, but I have no doubts this came from Southworth.  Seriously: Just use one of the older laptops, with no internet connection. If it looks fishy, we’ll just destroy it.

Epiphany grabbed a beat up looking laptop from behind the bar. Edward shut down the wireless router, just to be sure.  The plugged it in and were greeted with a directory containing just a few files. Edward opened the one titled, “readme.1ST.”
                One of the attached files contains a list of every person involved with the operation to take down you and your companions.  The operation will commence in a matter of days, so whatever you plan to do, you must act quickly.  The other is a chart showing the agencies involved with each phase of the operation, the tools they bring to bear, and the organization of each team.  Hoping this effort counts the same as those of N and W.

“Yeah, that’s from Southworth all right,” West concluded.
Edward opened the file titled names.lst. “Fuck me, there must be… Christ, there are over two-thousand names here!”

Epiphany looked nervous for the first time in a very long while. “W-What are we going to do?”
“youcan’tkillthem,” West muttered almost silently, as if resigned to the inevitability of being overruled.

But Edward just sat silently for a moment, then breathed a sigh of relief. He had long ago formulated his plan, but needed this very information to see it though.  “I’m going to make them forget. Each and every one of them will forget everything they have ever known about me… just after destroying every file, every email, every memo… everything within our government that has my name on it, that they have access to, right down to my old security clearance, driver’s license and birth certificate.  I’ll leave my memory in the minds of those in Congress, both those immune to my influence and those that aren’t. Let me become a true phantom to them.”
West looked at him, shocked by the simultaneous show of restraint and ostentatiousness. “Wow. OK. That’s… That’s a good idea, actually. A REALLY good idea. And I THINK I might have a suggestion that will help with that.”

West proceeded to tell him about a secret utility, almost like a virus, that he could mention in the ‘fates’ of anyone in the NSA or CIA that would greatly expand what each and every one of them would have access to.
 “What will it do?”

“If you get someone to activate it, it will permeate every database in our government, and delete every file with a mention of you in it. It will make you… not exist.”
“You’ve, uh… used it before?”

“Intelligence uses it whenever someone REALLY has to disappear. It’s an extreme measure, to be sure, but it’s effective.  And as it was created by the Government, for the Government, there’s nothing the systems can do to defend against it. They won’t even try to, actually. It will finish whatever part of the job the people involved leave undone.”
“Wonderful. If we’d have had this several months ago, our President might have spent some time campaigning.” Edward was truly grateful, but still frustrated this it took so long that the loss of the White House and Congress now seemed inevitable.

“Meh, don’t bet on it.  The President’s been a lost cause for some time now. And what you’re proposing would likely have strengthened his resolve… not to mention make him look a little crazy.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Hey, changing subjects, have you found anything else out about our now likely 45th President, Jack Johnson?”

“Only that he’s sealed pretty much all of his files – academic, medical, legal…”
“And… you don’t have any ways around that?” Edward asked with a smirk.

West sighed. “At this point? Not without attracting attention, seeing as how closely they’re watching us. So… one thing at a time, OK?”
Edward nodded. “Yeah, I’m sorry. One thing at a time.  I’ll take care of this right away.”

“It’s a lot of names,” said West.
“Oh… Epiphany and I have dealt with long lists before. We’ll manage.”

“It will be just like old times,” she added, squeezing his arm.
As it worked out it took them three full days, without breaks for food or rest.

In the Oval Office, President Obama impatiently dismissed the last of his aides.  Directors Panetta, Mueller and General Alexander were scheduled to arrive to give their briefings.  It was only a formality before the full force of the United States government would be brought to bear on Carpenter, his associates, and to the extent that it was in his power, their supporters in Congress.  The order was already in place. It was non-rescindable under any circumstances, including a threat on the President’s life.  By this time tomorrow, Democracy would be restored to the country, even if it was only to the benefit of his successor.

But the appointed time came and went without any of the men showing up.  The President of the United States was not a man whose meeting you showed up late for.  He rapidly fired off impatient emails to each of the three men.  All accepted the invitation electronically, without any explanation for why they were late.
Once they arrived, it was clear that each was very confused.

“Report?!” the President asked in exasperated frustration.
“…On?” Director Panetta inquired, as the other two men just looked at each other and shrugged.

“CARPENTER!” he yelled, the stress finally reaching the end of his patience.
“Who, Mister President?”

The President looked to each man in turn, hot flashes and nausea growing within him. Quietly, he tried again. “The operation to shut down Edward Caprenter, that involved almost every agency in the Federal Government, and which I’ve spent the last few months working with you on in place of campaigning.  Ring a bell?”
Again, confused and growingly nervous glances between the three men. “Mister President…”

“…We’re sorry…”
“…sounds important…”

“…no idea…”

“…you’re talking about.”
The President opened his access portal to the Government’s classified information database.  He entered a query for “Edward Carpenter.”

No results.  Not even the original death videos that by now were all over the internet.  He closed that down, and went into his public records database. Again, he searched for Edward Carpenter.

As the President slumped in his chair, none of the three men present could ever remember him looking so thoroughly defeated.  He had sacrificed his chance at a second term in order to focus all of his efforts into this one operation, one that he was assured could not fail. And against all odds, it had: Utterly and completely.
And in just a few more weeks, he would be defeated officially.

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