Time in the Fog: “The Briefing”
Old Glory was caught in the wind of a coming storm. The day, to an inside observer, was deceiving. The sun cast down its light on the verdurous landscape around Langley, unchallenged by a single cloud in the sky. The trees swayed in a sinuous fashion that lent an almost whimsical quality to the view. And the flag waved, outstretched and impressively, its edges were neatly sewn, not a single tatter to be witnessed; its colors more vibrant in the spring setting, stars popping out of the deep blue, red and white side-by-side in a festive pageantry. People made their way along the sidewalk underneath it, completely ignoring the pride on full display. On the inside it was a perfect day, but on the outside matters were much different. The humidity had picked up since the morning making the early afternoon thick with its moisture. Clouds were on fast approach from the west and the wind was picking up with each passing minute. Off in the distance, out by the horizon, thunder was heard. Something severe was coming this way. And only if one was paying close enough attention on the inside, could the observer see these signs, too.
Agent Robins sat in the office of the Supervisor to Special Activities. She watched the flag waving as she waited. She observed her colleagues moving along the walkway, some with purpose, others not. Then she turned her attention to the title on the desk: Supervisor Jack Haggins. A thought came to mind that made a small crack of her lips. She turned her attention back to the flag outside as the smile faded.
She stood from the chair to meet Haggins. His round, red face was only partially covered by his greying mustache. Last time she saw him he was thinner, more clean-shaven, and had a gold band around his left finger. His body still perspired in the same way she remembered, as were his hands thick and warm. “Supervisor Haggins.”
“Christ, Myra, we’re not in a council meeting, you can cut the formality,” he said with a smile as he moved around to his chair. He was holding a folder with the typical confidential notifications labeled on the outside: strictly for high personnel, and those deemed fit. The name on the front read: Operation ONYX.
“Fair enough. Supervisor Jack, then?”
He feigned amusement poorly. “Good one. Please, sit back down. Sorry it took so long, you know how these things go. Gigantic wastes of time. What I wouldn’t give to have been doing this fifty years ago.”
“No air conditioning back then,” she said, still standing.
He huffed into his chair, tossing the file down. “I suppose. No women, either. Pluses and minuses, huh?” He smiled and motioned to her chair. “Sit, please.” She complied. “How are things in Analytics?”
“They’re going well enough.”
“Good. Good. You know I talked with Hank about you the other day. You’re a real asset to them. He’s lucky to have you—his words. Can’t say I’m not surprised, of course. You always had a keen eye for detail—for the most part. How would you say your time spent over there has gone?”
Myra hesitated to answer, trying to read his face. Before she even got up this morning she managed to come up with at least four plausible scenarios as to why this meeting would be held. After a few minutes she had already narrowed it down to two. “I think we both know my thoughts on the position I currently hold.”
He smiled. “I believe we do. You’re over-qualified for that position. Hank knows it. You know it. Everyone.” He looked at the file on his desk. “You’re wondering what you’re doing back in the DO, no?”
“Something like that.”
He turned and looked out over the yard. The flag caught his eyes perhaps, perhaps not. “What a beautiful day. Shame to be cooped up inside.”
Silence formed around his last words and smothered them. The two remained mute for no more than seconds, but it gave Myra enough time to see where this was going. A penchant for theatrics, she tried to shortcut Haggins’s routine: “Jack, what’s going on?”
He turned back to her with the slightest hints of pride and pleasure in his physiognomy, which to the untrained eye would confuse for concern. “Does the name Martin Conrad mean anything to you?”
She couldn’t help but shake her head. It was what she had thought all along, though slightly modified. “What the hell is this, Jack?”
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes. You know it is. What is this about?”
“Well. You know it’s all entirely classified, but for old times sake, let’s say we had some operations in Nigeria.” He slid the file over to her without making eye contact. Myra received it, but did not open it. She waited for him to continue. “Let’s say US interest in the region has… elevated with the rise of Boko Haram and its new affiliations with ISIL. And we have received orders specifically from what might very well be considered the most important seat in the free world to… increase our attention and counterterrorism focus in Africa—more precisely in states like Nigeria, rich with economic, political, social strife, infested with these Boko-type terrorist sects. Let’s say all that. Then throw into this mix an additional potential terrorist group with, at the time of investigation, unknown affiliations whose motives seem undefined and leader politically… manipulable… yes, and heroin is a strong financial motivator for this group—we’ll go ahead and call them: Hada Yaki—so, for the sake of the good ole days, and friendship, let’s also say it is very possible we sent one of our more senior agents to Nigeria to make contact with Hada Yaki. A typical support and reconnaissance operation. We sent along the agent and a few other junior field agents to assist him in bringing this group into the light to then infiltrate, and help us (and the Nigerians, Nigeriens, Cameroons, you get the idea) fight Boko Haram, end further ISIL expansion in the African continent, further reduce the threat of terrorism, blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean.” Haggins leans forward in his chair, propping himself up on his elbows, hands collapsed together. “So. Let’s say this all happens, and everything is going well. Reports come back each week and everything is hunky dory. Until, one day, about six months into the operation, your senior agent sends you a report that one of the junior field agents has gone rogue, defected to the Hada Yaki and helped them wage a series of successful, bloody campaigns against the government, innocent civilians, and even some of the black sites where we don’t exist, but do. That this has been going on for nearly two months and you are just learning of it as soon as… ten days ago.” He let out a sigh.
“And this hypothetic field agent is named: Martin Conrad?”
“Codename Deepshit. And he has done quite an outstanding job so far as new leader of Hada Yaki. They’ve assassinated politicians, police chiefs, massacred towns, made successful raids of military bases, destroyed important pipe lines for the refinery industry, raped girls, have virtually stolen the heroin trade right from underneath us. Their attack on one of our sites killed several contractors, Nigerian civilians, and at least two agents, plus we lost valuable intel and property.” Haggins loosened his tie. “That’s not even all of it. There’s more, I just don’t feel like expounding at the moment.”
The two paused in order for the information to sink in and questions arise.
“Why? Why?” he leaned back in his chair and swung side to side. “Christ, who gives two shits about why, and focus instead at the real matter at hand: what are the necessary steps that need to be taken next in order to mitigate the already clusterfuck this has become… especially before anyone above the Deputy Executive Director finds out, OK?
“So this is why you’ve called me into your office. You want me to advise you?”
He faced eased and some color was returning to his cheeks. “Something like that, yes.”
“You shouldn’t have gone to Nigeria.” She placed the file back on his desk, and stood up.
“Oh fuck off, Myra. Quit crushing my balls and sit down.” He point to the chair. “Do you want to help or no?”
She remained standing.
“Sit…” though he didn’t say it, he face said it for him: “Please.”
She sat back down.
“That’s more like it. OK. Yes, your advisement is part of this new objective. What I had in mind was connecting you with some of the juniors there now, and having you work with them to find Conrad and—”
“You don’t know where he is?”
“Why the hell would you be sitting here if I did? No. Of course we don’t.”
“Not even regionally?”
“We’re working on it. It’s a big country and they’re a small guerrilla outfit.”
“Spare me. I know. But if you were to work with our guys there, that would tremendously… hasten matters.”
“You want me back out there?”
“For this particular mission? Yes.”
“You think I’m ready?”
“We’ll get you back to field-ready. In fact, you can start today.”
“What about Hank?”
“I’ve got you on loan, we’ll say. He and I already talked about it, he’s on board. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but knows its something serious. Mostly no one knows—and we want to precisely keep it that way. You help us get him. No one can track and find quite like you, Myra. That’s no bullshit. That’s always been the case. Plus you have a better understanding of Deepshit than anybody else. He learned from you, trained with you… it only makes sense for you to locate him for us and—“
“Is this a nullification mission?”
“Hell no. Or at least we hope it doesn’t come to that. No. This is strictly retrieval. Another reason it makes sense to have you go. You know him. He knows you. You can bring him back. The intelligence alone he might provide is worth not… wasting that opportunity. If Hada Yaki is tied into Boko, then he will be instrumental to us. By the time you find and capture him, who knows how much activity he will have made with them. That could be very—”
“Why not get Tanner to do this?” she asked, staring at the flag outside. It flailed wildly in the wind as it fell between the gusts, its colors saturated and wet. The rain torrented in undulations.
“Tanner, that Impetuous Fuck-twad Worthy of My Foot Up His Ass, is the hypothetical senior agent who fucked things up enough. He let the leash get too long and didn’t pay close enough attention. No. No. Scruples. That’s what we need right now. Attention to detail. That’s what you have. Unparalleled expertise in the field. Plus your history with Agent Conrad and Western Africa.”
“What about other senior agents?”
Haggins paused, not for thought but surprise. “They’re all either too deep in other matters, don’t have enough familiarity with the region, subject, or wouldn’t be able to execute the mission in the fashion or with the speed we need it carried out.” He leaned forward coming as close as he could, adding: “Honestly, Myra, I would have thought you’d be behind this all the way. You’ve been dying to get back out there. Now’s your chance.”
“There won’t be another I’m guessing.”
He fell back, exhaled. “I don’t really need this bullshit. I’m giving you a second opportunity here. Try to, at least, pretend for a moment that you’re grateful. This is your one and only chance to right your RAINCOAT fuck-up.” He shook his head. “You know Tanner would be jumping at this right now, don’t you? He’d already be on a plane. Not sitting here.”
“He’s careless. You want scruples.”
Silence took the room once more. The wind died down outside. The flag lay limp, wrapped against the pole. Two people came out in a hurry to take it down from further exposure to the storm. “Yes or no. Are you in or are you out?”
She paused to watch the two men fold the cold, drenched flag and take it inside. A thought came, then went. She turned back to Haggins: “Yes.”