Tuesday, January 6, 2015

60 seconds, chapters 41-44

Forty-first Second
I got there in time to see a street performer setting up at the entrance to the dock. I’d seen him before in lower Manhattan, around the Battery. I remember Denise saying the guy had a lot of talent and he shouldn’t have to be standing in the park, selling himself. I told her to look at his cup. He seemed to be making a pretty good living.
     The singer saw me as I walked to the open gate of the dock and gave me a friendly smile. It almost seemed as if he remembered me.
     Maybe he knew exactly who I was. Maybe he was standing there because he’d been put there by whoever it was who had gotten up that morning and decided to ruin my life.
     I looked out at the pier and watched the boats bouncing around. Everyone was smiling and laughing and having a good time.
     Where was my family? Were they still alive? The people who had my daughter would probably need her to be quiet so they’d give her a toy or a piece of chocolate. But Janey was too smart for that. She would refuse to take anything. Denise would tell her to be quiet, not to say anything to upset them.    
     As I stood there, a little, stout man walked over to me. He was sweating like a pig and he looked annoyed or nervous, or both. He was in a hurry.
     “My name is Corn,” he said, dimly, as if I should have known what that meant. “I’m here to take you to your wife and kid.”
      I looked around. “Who are you?” I said.
     He shrugged. “I’m the man who was sent to take you to your wife and kid.”
     “And you think I’m going with you,” I said.
     “I know you’re going with me,” he said, glancing at his watch.
      “My mother always told me not to go with strangers,” I said. I was hoping he would get mad and say something he wasn’t supposed to say.
     “You shouldn’t always listen to your mother. You shouldn’t listen to her now.”
     “Why is that?”
     “Because if you don’t come with me, your family is going to be butchered.”
     “What if I say I don’t believe you have them?” I said.
     He took out his cell phone and dialed a number, but then he thought better of it and hung up. He put his hand on my arm. “Do you want to see your family or not?”
     “I suppose I’m not in a position to tell you to go fuck yourself,” I said.
     He pointed in the direction of one of the boats. “Let’s go,” he said.   

                                                                        Forty-second Second
The boat they took me to was moored at the end of the dock. No surprise. It was a small yacht, the kind of boat middle class people work hard to keep up so their friends can be suitably impressed. It wasn’t something you’d see in tonier places. It had a decent, open lower floor with no furniture, like an attic or an unfinished basement.
     Corn escorted me down there and told me to sit on a wooden bench that ran the circumference of the boat. He left me alone and went back upstairs. I heard him talking to someone–or it might have been two people.
     A few minutes later, a tall, slim, good looking man in his early forties came down the stairs, with a vacant smile on his face. “Hello, my friend,” he said, and took a seat on the bench. “My name is Rogers. Larry Rogers.”
     “Should I be glad to see you?” I said. “Or should I wish you were dead?”
     “You should be very glad to see me,” he said. “I’m the answer to all your questions, the thing that can make your life much easier. That’s what we’re all looking for. Isn’t it?”
     “Are they here?” I asked.
     Rogers shook his head. “Who told you that?”
     “Mr. Corn,” I said.
     “Mr. Corn says all kinds of things. He doesn’t know what deck he’s playing with, half the time. You know what I’m saying, right? You’ve had to put up with all kinds of people over the years. We’re simpatico, right?”
     “Where are they?” I asked again.
     “I want you to be grateful that I’m giving you the chance to save the lives of your wife and daughter.”
     “What do you want?”
     “You’ve always known this day was coming,” he said.
     “Spell it out,” I said. “What section did you say you were with?”
     “Section?” he said. “I didn’t say. It doesn’t matter who I’m with. What matters is getting to your family–finding them in the safe and sound condition you hope to find them. I can make that happen. The less you ask me, the quicker we go forward.”
     I shook my head. “I don’t have what you’re looking for. The dossier is gone. It was taken from my safe a long time ago. You know that. You all know that. You probably took it.”
     “That would be silly, don’t you think?”  He leaned comfortably against the back board. “We know you don’t have it,” he said. “The question is, who does?”
      “No,” I said. “If I knew, I’d have already told you. I have no great patriotic need to sacrifice my family for national security.”
     “Your daughter attends a quite exclusive private school, up there on ninety-fourth street.,” he said. “You must have made a lot of money in the service of your country.” He laughed.“What do you suppose happened to that dossier?”
     “I don’t have any idea,” I said.
     “I can tell you, if you like?”
     “I’d prefer you to tell me where my wife and daughter are.”
     Rogers sucked at his lip. “Everything in good time,” he said. “But first let’s play a game. Let’s imagine for the time being that you’re a very smart person with a good sense of the seriousness of what we’re dealing with here. Let’s say you’re given only one guess about who you think took the dossier.”
     Corn opened the hatch and climbed down the stairs. He sat beside Rogers.
     “How are we doing?” he asked Rogers.
     “We’re playing a game,” Rogers said.
     I stared at floor and said nothing.
     “You must be curious to know to what lengths we would go to get what we want,” he said. “I’ll ask you again, Who do you think has the dossier?”
     “That fellow’s skank girlfriend?” I said, looking at Corn.
     “Your wife has the dossier,” Rogers said, slapping his knee. I showed no reaction.
      Corn looked at me closely. “He doesn’t know,” he said to Rogers.
     Rogers shook his head. “You’re right,” he said. “He doesn’t know.”
     “Right” I said.
     “You don’t have a clue,” Rogers said. “Isn’t that funny. We should have known all along.”
     “Right,” I said.

                                                                        Forty-third Second
 I was getting the picture.
     “So where does that leave us?” Rogers said. Another man came down the stairs. He was a truck, a sumo.
     Corn looked at the sumo. He seemed very annoyed. “I don’t know where this leaves us,” he said to no one in particular.
     Rogers looked at the sumo. “What do you think?”
     “I’m not paid to think,” the sumo grunted.
     Right.
     “Your wife has been snooping around where she shouldn’t be,” Rogers said in a tone that suggested this had all been decided long before I set foot on that boat. “You should be upset about that. Are you upset?”
     “Why don’t you take me to her so I can give her a talking to,” I said.
     Everyone laughed, including the sumo.
     “Actually, I have a better idea,” Rogers said.
     Corn sat on the floor, cross-legged. “You always do,” he said. The sumo nodded agreement.
     Rogers shrugged. “We’re wasting time,” he said, looking at the sumo.
     The sumo moved closer to me.
     I fidgeted nervously, not because of the presence of the monster, but because I suspected I’d been right. Rogers had figured out every detail of the scenario before I’d ever entered that slip.
     “We all see what’s happening here,” Rogers said calmly. “Our guest is getting upset. He wants to be reunited with his family.”
     “What do you want from me?” I said again.
     “I want you to listen very carefully,” Rogers said.
     “I’m tired of listening,” I said.
      Rogers looked at the sumo and the sumo laid his heavy hand on my shoulder but didn’t press.
     “I’ll tell you exactly what we want from you,” Rogers said, “And I’ll also tell you what you can expect from us, in return.”
     “Tell him,” the sumo said, smirking.
     “Your wife kept up quite a few relationships with friends from her days at the Company,” Rogers said, “Did you know that?”
     “She’s a friendly person,” I said.
     “She was more involved with the Agency than any of us knew,” Rogers asked. “For a few months, she even worked for the DOI.”
     “How does this bring us closer to anything?” I said.
     “Not only did she work for the DOI,” Rogers continued, “she was sent to Hong Kong on a fairly sensitive job, involving the Chinese. I’ll bet you didn’t know that? So close we live with people–in the same fucking quarters–and we don’t have any idea what’s happening right in front of our lying eyes. A level three operator, she was. Can you imagine? I’ll bet you want to hear more? It’s an interesting story.”
     “Why would I believe any of this?” I said.
     “You believe everything everything I’m saying. You’ve had your little suspicions all these years and now everything you’re hearing makes perfect sense. After all, there were all those weeks your wife spent away from you and your daughter. You know, when she was supposedly traveling to Europe with her old friend from college days?”
    “Tell him what else she did,” Corn said.
     “Your wife became a personal favorite of the deputy DOI,” Rogers went on. “She was considered an up-and-comer, as a matter of fact. She was being groomed for a top position. You had already met her, by then. When you married, she was just a step away from one of the most important spots in the New York office. She was on track to the top tier at Langley You never knew this. You thought you introduced her to the business.”
     She’d certainly never said anything to me. I’d been led to believe she’d  wanted to see the world. It was hard for me to imagine how she could have pulled all of this off in secrecy. And yet, we had both been in the same world.
    “Everything was moving along swimmingly,” Rogers said. “But then there was a problem in Hong Kong. A big fucking, annoying, vacation-ruining problem. Your wife was supposed to meet up with the contact–our contact in Kowloon– to discuss the next step. This was one of the most important things the Agency had going. It involved a plot by the Chinese to tap into the most sensitive computer systems of the Pentagon. Platinum national security stuff.” He shook his head. “What do you suppose your wife does at this particularly sensitive moment in history?”
     “Goes for a pee?”
      “Five minutes before she’s supposed to meet with the contact, she meets instead with the agent who has been assigned to be her courier. And guess what happens on that beautiful, romantic Hong Kong afternoon? Your wife decides to have an affair with the courier. I’m not joking. And guess what happens to the operation? It goes right into the fucking toilet; that’s what happens. Instead of taking care of business, your wife spends the next two days screwing her brains out in the safe house we provided in Macau.”
     He paused to gauge my impression. Corn shook his head, disapprovingly.
     “Macau was the perfect love nest,” Rogers said, “because it was the one safe house that was one hundred per cent unsupervised. The courier worked out of Hong Kong so he was versed in the customs. He knew which houses were safe and which were not. That house was chosen by him for good reason. He could do whatever he wanted there. It was the perfect place to bring good friends and fuckbuddies.”
     “Tell him what happened,” Corn said. He seemed to be positively titillated by the story.
     “The whole thing goes in the toilet, that’s what happens,” Rogers said. “She was worse than a horny broad; she was an idiot. A reckless jack-off who caused the whole operation to be abandoned at the time when it would have meant so much to Langley. And you know what the joke was?”
     “I can’t wait,” I said.
     “They couldn’t even fire her ass because the courier was so important to things in that part of the world. They didn’t want to offend him. Everyone at Langley knew he was a waste of life, a randy, irresponsible  asshole without a good instinct in his brain, but they just had to go on tolerating his little peccadilloes. Your wife came back to New York and things were left pretty much the way they’d been. But she was placed on notice. You know what that means. And a little while after that she retired to be a homemaker. Little doting wife.”
     I’d never met this little doting wife, but I got the drift, and I believed him.
    “She lived happily ever after,” Corn said. “An Upper West Side housewife with a doting husband and an adorable little girl to raise. Apparently she’d been attracted to you, in the first place, because she fancied secret agent types. But retirement had its advantages, too.”
     Rogers swept his hand across the room. “Not exactly,” he said.
     “Get to the point,” I said.
     “The point is that Langley wasn’t about to let her just walk away without her performing a little bit of last minute service for the red, white and blue. It was made clear that she’d just missed being brought up on charges and probably put away for a not insignificant time. She understood that at the right moment she might be called on to do something meaningful for the Agency, probably something distasteful. Something no one else wanted–or could–do. And that time came.”
     “Tell him,” Corn said.

                                                                        Forty-fourth Second
Rogers said. “As you know, it’s all about the dossier. This doesn’t come as a surprise to you.”
     “Actually,” I said. “I thought we were beyond this.”
      “No,” Rogers said. “We’re never beyond anything. You screwed up. Your wife screwed up. You seem to be a family of screw-ups. I hope your daughter doesn’t end up being interested in the intelligence business.”
     Corn laughed and the sumo brought his heavy hand down on his knee.
      “The point is that we need those papers,” Rogers said. “I’ve been told there are a number of people in Langley who are getting excessively concerned about this. At a certain point the chits are called in. Consider them called. You see what I’m saying? Your wife was brought back into service and told to get the dossier. I’m sure she would have preferred not to, but there it is.”
     At this point, I wasn’t so sure she’d had to be talked into anything. It made sense to me– the timeline, the long vacations, the late nights out, the days away from the city on business. The collapse of our marriage.
     “So she got the dossier and brought it to you,” I said.
     “Not exactly,” Rogers said. “She got the dossier. Did exactly as she was told. If she came through with this, all would be forgotten and she could go back to her life. But then there was a complication because, you know, screw-ups never change, do they?”
     The sumo moved closer to me.
     “She told you to fuck off?” I said.
     “Something like that,” Rogers said. “She got cold feet.”
      “The allegiances of the married woman,” Corn said. “In the end, she just couldn’t get herself to screw you up the ass.”
     “How did you find out about this?” I said.
     “She claimed not to be able to locate the dossier,” Rogers said. “And, of course, we knew that was ridiculous because we’d been watching her and we knew what she was up to, what she’d been up to all that time. We knew, for example, that she had found the dossier and was getting ready to bring it to us.”
     “How would you have known that,” I said.
     “We were watching everything, I told you,” Rogers said. “We were waiting.”
     “You didn’t get it,” I said, “you must have had a few screw-ups of your own.”
     “Well, she just decided not to go ahead,” Rogers. “We still don’t know why. Maybe she likes you more than we thought.”
     His story made a lot of sense, and no sense.
     “We let her know we weren’t amused, of course,” Rogers added.
     Corn said. “I went to see her at the school where your daughter goes. Nice school for girls up there on the River. I happen to have a kid in that school. We actually ran into each other a few times and she didn’t know what I do for a living. Isn’t that the best? Eventually, I had to tell her.”
     The sumo smiled as if he knew something Corn didn’t.
     “You went to my daughter’s school?” I said.
     “Listen,” Corn said, “you do what you have to do. You know how things go.”
     “Her school,” I said.
     “Relax,” Rogers said.“Your daughter never knew anything was happening. We always try to keep a distance. We had no interest in bringing your daughter into this. Until now.”
     “What do you want?” I asked again.
     “I want the same thing I wanted half an hour ago, and a day ago, and a month ago,” Rogers said. “I want to be able to tell my people that I’ve completed my assignment and that all is right with the world. That’s it. That’s all any of us want. That’s what you want. And your wife is standing in the way of that.”
     “She won’t tell you,” I said.
     “That’s right,” Rogers said.
     “Tight lipped as a tight pussy,” Corn said.
     The sumo cracked his knuckles loudly and Corn flinched.
     “This is where you come in,” Rogers said. “You’re going to go back with us to a table at that cafe–”
     “They’re at the cafe?” I asked. Of course, they were.
     Rogers smiled at Corn and the sumo put his hand back on my shoulder.
     Rogers said, “I don’t care for all this babysitting. It’s not what we do. Our people had a nice chat with them. Your wife had no idea who they were. Or she pretended not to. They took her for a little walk around the south end of the Park. They shared our concerns. But she didn’t actually ask if we were Company. Isn’t that funny? With her background, you would think she would have known where this was coming from. Maybe she’s just a good poker player. What do you think?”
     I felt the pressure of the sumo’s hand.
     Rogers took out a handkerchief and blew his nose, then stuffed it into his pocket. “Our agent saw pretty quickly that there was no point in pushing. She wasn’t going to say anything she didn’t want to say. She kept asking where you were, apparently. The agent said you would be back in a little while. She seemed concerned. You should feel good about that. I think she was afraid we’d already killed you. Corn, here, was upset. He thought the agent should have used a little more persuasion to get her to give up the goods. He doesn’t realize that when you decide to hit a wall, you have to make sure you understand that it’s a wall.”
     “Which leaves us where?” I said, impatiently.
     “Your family is probably wondering where you’ve been. The only one who’s going to get her to give us those documents is you,” he said. “I think we’ve all pretty much figured that out.”
     I wanted to get to the cafe, despite the fact that I had no idea what the particular endgame might be. They knew what my reaction would be and when that reaction would come. And they knew that I still held some cards.
     Rogers said, “We’re going to go over to your wife. She’s sitting with our agent now. They’re probably still talking about the weather.” He looked at his watch.
     Corn put away his cell phone. “I just spoke to Maris,” he said. “He’s entertaining the wife and kid with stories of his exploits in Panama.” He laughed.
      “Good thing,” Rogers said, looking at me. “He was told to keep everything light. We’re dealing with a woman and a child here.”
     I understood the whole thing.
     “Tell him,” Corn said, “we gotta get going.”
     “Look,” Rogers said, “the thing is that your wife isn’t going to just come out and tell us where she put the thing. This didn’t all come up now, my friend. You’ve figured that out by now. People have been in contact with her for a few months. She was planning to get the dossier to a third party, if you can believe it. We know that now. Isn’t that the silliest thing? She was planning to leave the country  and give it to someone altogether off the radar. Now, why would she do something as irresponsible and unpatriotic as that? And then, poof, we have no dossier and she comes back and tells you what she’s done and, poof, you’re free to do to us whatever you want. Go to the press, go to the courts, make our lives really miserable. You might even try to bribe someone. We can’t let that happen, obviously.”
     “Obviously,” the sumo said.
     “So this is the way we’re going to play it,” Rogers said. “He pointed at the sumo–“Your friend here is going to babysit, while Mr. Corn and I join Mr. Maris at the cafe. We’re going to have one last chat with your wife. Mr. Maris may take your daughter for a walk on the pier so that Mr. Corn can talk to your wife alone. Or some variation of that. You have nothing to worry about. Mr. Maris is very good with children; he was going to be a math tutor before he got involved with us. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.” He looked at the sumo. “Isn’t that right?”
     “Mr. Maris wouldn’t hurt a fly,” the sumo said. He flexed his fat fingers.
     I wanted to tear his heart out and then go in for the livers of Corn and Rogers. In the old days, I would have done worse than that but I needed to watch my emotions. I had a surprise in mind and I was getting ready to give it to them. I was salivating. For the briefest the moment I’d forgotten why I was there. All I wanted was bloody pay back.
     “That would be a good idea,” I said.
     Rogers added, “Mr. Maris is ridiculously tall and he’s a pussy cat. He’s kind of goofy-looking, but he’s very professional. He doesn’t like to be threatened, though, so I wouldn’t come to him with a sour attitude. That might throw the meeting off.”      
    I said, “We’re all professionals.”
     “Yes,” Rogers said. “And we’re working on a tight timetable.  What do you say we bring this chat to an end? You’re going to stay here for a while, relax, get settled. Mr. Corn and I will join Mr. Maris and have our conversation with your wife and hopefully, assuming she’s in the mood to make our Sunday afternoon a little brighter, your daughter will be unharmed and we can all go about enjoying what remains of our Sunday.”
     “Sounds good to me,” Corn said.
     “Sure,” the sumo said, easing up a bit.
     “Now,” Rogers said, turning toward the stair, “Mr. Corn and I must be going to see if we can resolve this situation.” He put a foot up on the first step and Corn followed. The sumo’s grip lessened. The men’s backs were to me now and the sumo seemed to loosen up. The window for action was narrow, maybe half a second to react.
      The sumo’s eyes fixed on Rogers and Corn moving up the steps. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a pen canister of Mace that was designed to protect me from Manhattan muggers.
      The sumo had turned back to me and saw the mace but it was too late for him. I sprayed it in his face and he fell with a thud that rocked the boat up and down. At the moment Corn turned to see what had happened, my head bulldozed into his stomach, sending him crashing at Rogers, who lost his footing and fell at the top of the stair, spread out across the open deck.
     I grabbed Corn’s gun. As Rogers reached for his weapon I fired at his right knee. He flexed in half a dozen directions. I dragged his body down the stair. Then, I pulled Corn in and stacked the two of them over the Sumo. For good measure, I shot them each in the leg, twice.
     I took the gun with me. I was going to need it.
     When I got to the top, I shut the door and latched it. The men’s screams faded  with the pleasant sounds of the lazy afternoon. I checked my watch.

     People were waiting for me. People I did–and didn’t–want to see.

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00JGJBV54

Sunday, January 4, 2015

60 seconds, chapters 37-40

Thirty-seventh Second
We had just made love for the second time in three hours. It was the day after my birthday–the one that had skipped Denise’s mind the day before.
     She’d said she was really sorry about forgetting about it, and when it was all over, she moved to the edge of the bed and started crying.
     “What is it?” I said.
     “I want you to leave the Agency,” she said. She had never raised that issue before. The work she’d done for the Agency had ended three years before and the subject of her own employment had rarely come up. She’d had no further contact with any of the administrators, as far as I knew, and none of the people we socialized with in Manhattan were former or current agents or associates.
    “It’s a job,” I said.
     “We can have a life without these people.”
     “What are you talking about?” I said.
     “Our daughter shouldn’t grow up around this.”
      “I’m working the desk,” I said. “That’s all I’ve been doing for years.”
     She knew what I was doing and she knew where I was doing it. 
     “I have a job,” I said. “We have bills to pay. We have a daughter. I need to work.”
     “Sooner or later, you’re going to get us involved,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to keep us away from this forever.”
      I said.“Do you really want me to go in tomorrow and tell them that I’m walking away from fifteen years of my life?”
     “I don’t care what you tell them,” she said.

                                                                        Thirty-eighth Second
The next morning, Denise went away to breakfast with a friend who lived a few blocks away, on Amsterdam Avenue. My daughter had a day off from school.
     I walked into her room and found her playing with her stuffed dog, Mitchell.
     “Can I talk to you for a sec, sweetie?”
     She propped herself up on her pillows. “Sure, daddy.”
     “Do you know what Daddy does for a living?”
     “You help people,” she said, plopping Mitchell’s ears.
     “That’s right. I do that, honey. Do you know what I do to help people?”
     “Mommy says you find people that people are looking for.”
     I wondered what Denise had told her not to tell me.
     “That’s part of what I do,” I said. “What else did Mommy say?”
     She thought about this for a while, played with Mitchell’s ears. “She said you find things people have lost. She said you’re good at finding things.”
     “That’s true, too,” I said. “I’m always trying to help people find things. Do you like what Daddy does for a living, sweetheart?”
      “I don’t know,” she said. “Mommy said sometimes it’s dangerous.”
     “Dangerous?” I said.
     “She says sometimes you might get in trouble.”
     I shook my head. “Daddy is very good at his work and he would never get into trouble, so you don’t have to ever worry about that, okay?”
     “Really, daddy?”
     I took her in my arms.
     “But I had a bad dream,” she said.
     “What kind of dream?”
     “I had a dream that something bad happened.”
     “What was it, sweetheart?”
     “We were in the car and we were going somewhere,” she said. “I don’t know where but I think it was someplace like a candy store or maybe it was Disneyland.”
    “Tell me, sweetheart.”
     “We were about halfway,” she said. “And there was a man up on the road. He looked like he needed help.”
     “Who was it? Do you remember?”
     “I don’t know who it was but he needed our help and you said to Mommy that you could help him if we stopped the car.”
     “And what happened?”
    “Mommy didn’t want to stop because she said he might be someone we don’t want to help.”
     “Did we stop?”
     “You told mommy that we had to help the man and she said okay.”
     “And what happened to the man?”
     “He got into the car with us,” she said. “The man was very big.”
     “What did he say?”
     “He said he lost his plane ticket. He asked you if you would drive him to the airport and you said you would but then he took out a gun.”
     “What did he do?”
     “He shot everybody, daddy.”
     Had Denise told her what I do?
     I asked Janey not to tell her mother what she’d told me. I said I didn’t want Mommy to worry. Janey promised she wouldn’t say anything.
     A few minutes later, I went into the living room and called an old contact. I asked him if there was anything going on against me. He told me that I had nothing to worry about, but that was hard to believe. He’d answered too many of my questions with questions..
 
Of course, Secrecy had been an important aspect of my life for as long as I could remember. But once you leave the intelligence racket behind you–or as much as you can ever leave it behind–it becomes less and less important. It’s not like PTSD. You don’t carry it around like an unwanted friend or a habit you can’t break. If anything, it’s a habit you’re happy to break because other people refuse to let it go.
     In another sense, it becomes even more important to you  because other people are the ones who refuse to let it go. These secrets need to be guarded with care. There are always going to be those who want to learn those secrets, and to make sure you don’t share with others.
     My time with the Agency had been disciplined and correct. I’d completed my assignments, tied up as many loose end as I could, and made as few enemies as I could. Of course, given the scope, there had to be glitches but many of these faded with time. A few didn’t, obviously. Still, there is an impressive accumulation of data and some of it is fascinating. One or two of these bits, I kept to myself during the debriefing that agents receive before they’re set out into civilian life.
     There’s always risk when you withhold something. Someone may be looking for that nugget of information–someone you don’t want to meet, someone who needs that information more than you could ever imagine. But after so many years you think there are certain secrets you’ve earned the right to keep.

                                                                        Thirty-ninth Second
I stood at the base of the stairs, looking north toward the boathouse. My instinct kept telling me to go back there or to the boat basin–where else could Denise and Janey be? I’d searched every turn of the area, up along Broadway and West End Avenue, the side streets between boulevards, and around those avenues. I’d found nothing. I hadn’t been able to search the dozens of boats at the dock. If they were still nearby, they were there. They had to be.
     As I moved past the cafe, on toward the boathouse, I spotted someone I hadn’t seen in years, an old friend, who had moved to Boston, ten years ago. He was sitting on a bench looking out at the Hudson.
     “David?” I said.
     He looked up and smiled. He seemed to be expecting me. “You haven’t changed for a day,” he said, sadly.
     “A lot has changed,” I said.
     “We need to talk,” he said.
     I understood. “I like talking” I said, sitting down.
     “We don’t have much time,” he said, looking toward the boathouse a hundred yards away.
      I was grasping certain things about the peculiar architecture of this day. Familiar faces, unfamiliar faces.
     “I know about Denise and Jane,” he said. “I saw them sitting at the table with you.”
     “Why didn’t you come over?”
     “I can’t tell you that,” he said. “You have to listen to me. I can’t stay long. We’re probably being watched.”
     I trusted David. I’d always trusted him and he’d given me plenty of reasons over the years to continue trusting him. But this repetition was troubling to me. What did the appearance of all these people from the past have to do with the present? Where was the line between the dots? “What did you see?” I said, not expecting much.
     “I saw them leave with a man,” he said.
     “Why were you watching us?” I said, my voice rising a little.
     “You know better than to ask me that. You understand the script. Take what I say. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to help you. I saw them leave with a man. I don’t know who the man is and I don’t know why they were taken. Maybe you know that. Maybe you don’t. That’s all I can say.” He corrected himself quickly. “That’s all I know.”
     “Where did they go?” I pressed.
     He looked toward the boathouse. Then he said nothing for a long time, thinking. I didn’t interrupt his thoughts.
     “The Agency is behind this,” he said finally. He seemed to be getting ready to unburden himself. “I can’t say who but there’s been a problem at Langley. You’ve been dragged into it. And obviously, I think you figured this out by now.”
     “And?” I said.
     “Your name came up for whatever reasons. I don’t know. Spring cleaning, I expect. They were looking over the files and wanted to make erasures. Your case lingers like a bad odor in some of those offices. That dossier is a problem for them. They know you have it and they want to make sure you don’t have it any longer. Sometimes things are plain. That paper is causing all kinds of problems.”
     “Where is this going?” I said.
     “The boathouse,” he said. “I think they’re being held there. But I’m not sure. They know what they’re doing. You can’t always see in plain sight. You know that better than anyone. They’re expecting you, I think. They want you to come over so they can say hello. I’m guessing they want to talk documents, reason with you, maybe. That’s why they have your wife and daughter. Otherwise they’ll move to another option and you don’t want that. They’re pissed off.”
     “What should I do?”
     “Negotiate with them. That’s what this is, a negotiation. You have something they want; they have something you want. That simple.”
     “There’s a problem,” I said.
     “What’s that?”
     “I don’t have the dossier.”
     “They’re not expecting you to just walk up and hand it to them.”
      “I don’t know where the dossier is. I don’t have it anymore.”
       I looked toward the boathouse.
     I wondered about David’s appearance. We had barely spoken for ten years and now, like the others, he had materialized at precisely the right moment. What were his interests? Just a good deed on a pleasant afternoon? Everyone I’d known or preferred not to know seemed to be showing up to offer help. Where were all these people coming from?
     “What should I tell them?” I said.
     “I would come up with a damned good story,” he said. “Not that they’re going to believe you.”
     “A story?”
     “And that assumes your family is down there at all. I’m not sure about that. Watching this is like watching a game of three card monte. You think you see something but the moves always elude you. I didn’t see where they took your wife and daughter. I’m just assuming. My assumptions haven’t been that accurate these last few years, to tell you the truth.”
     “Thanks for the advice,” I said.
     “I wish I could take you to them. I have this problem with involving family members. It’s against my code. Isn’t that rich? After all the shit I’ve done. After all the shit we’ve all done. It’s a nasty thing. You know what I’m saying. I knew what he was saying.
     And he walked away, just like that. Gone.”

                                                                        Fortieth Second
A crazy thought. The makeup of the walkway, stone, cement, the hardest ground in New York, leading me to the hardest decision I would ever have to make.
      What if Denise and Janey were being held on one of those boats? What if I found the right one? What would I need to do? Act without hesitation, without a thought? Would I be prepared to do anything? Would I be prepared to risk their lives to save their lives? Would I be prepared to give my own life for theirs? Would I be prepared to lose all of our lives in one desperate move?
     The answer was easy. I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to save them. I had trained for a million operations like this. I had been in places with names no one had heard of, on jobs no sane person would have taken. I had learned lessons I wished I’d never learned about people I wished I’d never met. I’d come through with shining colors and sometimes I’d been honored. But not always. Sometimes you just risked everything for rewards that were never acknowledged. This was that kind of an operation. The reward would be saving Denise and Janey. That was enough. No one would ever hear of it, no one would ever know about it. That was all I needed. That was all I wanted now. I needed this day to be over and the three of us to be back up there on the twelfth floor of our Upper West Side apartment building, safe.
     Safe.
     I moved a little faster toward the boathouse.

     The ground beneath me seemed to get harder, more resistant as I walked along. I couldn’t help playing out a hundred bad scenes that would take a turn when I got to the boathouse. When I started asking questions.

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