Friday, January 25, 2013

Fiction Friday: Terms & Conditions

Part 8 Part 9 Part 10

11. April, Part One

           RED stood for “Read, Execute, Destroy”. That the envelopes were themselves red was a coincidence, but it did make things easy to remember. If you mentioned a “RED job” or a “RED file”, everyone in the company knew exactly what you were talking about. They’d then remind you to stop talking about it.
           Protocol for most field jobs was simple. We would receive a sealed manila envelope -- sometimes hand-delivered, sometimes via dead drop -- which would be marked with a place (either a street address, map coordinates, or basic make-a-left-at-the-weird-tree directions), a date (or range of dates) and, occasionally, a specific time. Inside the envelope would be a short dossier on the asset to be retrieved, helpful information about available resources in the area, and any supplemental material unique to the job at hand. We would spend anywhere from an hour to a day doing recon and making plans, then call in to dispatch, check for any changes, and let them know we were on the clock. What we did from that point on was our business and ours alone. Headquarters didn’t want to hear from us unless the parameters for “complete” (as outlined in the dossier) were met, or unless things went really, drastically wrong.
           RED files came with a slightly different protocol, designed (it was whispered) by Parker himself. Regular jobs gave specific locations and were more fuzzy about the time frame. RED jobs were the other way around. All we knew upon receipt was to make sure we were in, say, Minneapolis at 4:02 p.m. on June 27. Where in the city wouldn’t matter, although downtown would be a safe bet. And then, at 4:02 p.m. on the dot, local time, one of us would get a call that told us to open the envelope. No call meant no assignment; we were to shred and burn the envelope unopened, discard our current phones and wait twenty-four hours before contacting the office for a new assignment. We burned three out of every five envelopes we received, and we always waited ninety minutes after the deadline, just in case. We weren’t about to get hauled out on the carpet because some dork of an intern back at HQ forgot that time zones were a thing.
           When the call did come, we had seventy-two hours to locate, secure and deliver the asset, regardless of circumstances, legality or collateral damage. If we couldn’t get it to the transport team within the allotted time, we were to destroy it or render it inaccessible -- bury it at a construction site and watch it get covered with five feet of concrete the next morning; mail it to Colin’s aunt at her missionary outpost in Djibouti; or just burn down the building with the asset inside. They told us to be creative, and we were. It didn’t matter how we did it, so long as it got done. Upon completion, we would call and leave a message; then, when the call was returned and confirmation received, we would shred and burn the file and call it a night. Read, Execute, Destroy. It paid well. Parker was a creep and Ben was a weirdo, but it was still a step up. And no one could say it wasn’t exciting.
           And then one day in April, we got the call and opened the envelope and the asset to be retrieved was a 15-year-old girl.
           Michael immediately called Parker on his direct line and asked him what the hell was going on. Parker told us (Michael put his phone on speaker) that AGATE was adding a fourth “A” to their motto: Anyone. We were to do what we always did: Retrieve and secure the asset, and hand it off to the receiving team as indicated in the enclosed materials.
           And if we couldn’t secure the asset?
           Parker was confident that we would. He was also confident Michael wouldn’t let the company down. He was also very busy. He hung up before we could press the issue. Michael knew better than to try and call back.
           The file had the girl’s name (Margaret), her picture, the name and address of her school (some high-brow sleep-away dealie) and her class schedule. Through sheer dumb luck, it was only a few blocks from where we parked. Michael sent Rosemarie and Steph to scout out the school and stuck me in a nearby coffee shop with a laptop and one task: Find out everything I could about this girl that wasn’t in the dossier.
           Five hours later, I knew that Margaret (nickname: Maggie; favorite ice cream: chocolate; favorite band: Queen; favorite color: blue) was the subject of a custody dispute between two (formerly) married CEOs. Both were lawyered to the gills and the proceedings had been gridlocked for months. Recently, the (ex-)husband’s brakes had been cut; the authorities suspected the (ex-)wife, but couldn’t find hard evidence. Margaret boarded at the school, had a bodyguard detail and spent her weekends with her friends instead of her parents, which we all agreed was understandable given her circumstances. (I found most of this information through standard search engines and free public websites. Stay away from social media, kids.)
           Reading between the lines on the dossier, it was obvious one of the parents had contracted AGATE to slip through the hedge of lawyers so they could -- do what with her, exactly? Skip the country? Have a birthday party? Spend a weekend shopping? From what I could find, both parents had means and motive. The mother was apparently nutty enough to try it -- but based on the court reports, the father wasn’t much better. And we couldn’t know for sure that the client wasn’t actually one of their parents trying to extract a beloved granddaughter from the chaos.
           And how was this all supposed to go down, anyway? This was a far cry from jimmying a desk drawer to get to a stolen patent application. With the exception of one Benjamin Tobias Olivier, esq. (a tiny toy poodle who would not stop barking unless someone cradled him), we’d never had to recover an asset that might object to being recovered. And the dossier was specific that the handoff had to take place at a private hangar at the nearby international airport, which significantly upped the didn’t-feel-right factor. We sat in the van for close to two hours, talking it over and going around and around in circles. Steph wanted to charge in and rescue the girl, no questions asked. Rosemarie wanted to follow protocol and get the job done. I agreed with Steph, but with the proviso that discretion was in order. Colin thought we should flip a coin. Michael had us put it to a vote, but we deadlocked every time.
           And then Ben spoke up: Why didn’t we just ask the girl what she wanted to do?

Part 12

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