The reporter crossed the park and followed me into the bar. Amazing how my tip about murders in the government spy game motivated him. I was feeling kindly. Christian even. I could be charitable anticipating that Amy would soon be back in my lovin’ arms.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what happened,” I said when he’d sat down next to me. “And, don’t use my name in your story or I’m dead meat. ”
He nodded. Reporters will do anything for an exclusive, until they get subpoenaed, and then they’ll give up their mother.
“So tell me about this Amy you mentioned,” he said. “Who is she? Where’d you meet her?” The reporter was about 30 and I knew he’d get my story into his Internet news site. That’s how things work today. Innuendo, rumor, hearsay.
I pointed to him when the barmaid came over with the drinks. My Jameson and his Chardonnay. He coughed up the money. In other circumstances, I might have kneecapped him just for ordering Chardonnay.
“I last met Amy at the Peninsula’s bar in Kowloon. She’d just come in by train from Shenzhen. I was debriefing her.”
“Wait, you’re going too fast. She’s Chinese-American and was leaving the Mainland to meet you at the Peninsula Hotel? Was she CIA?”
I resisted an urge to break my glass over his nose for interrupting. “NSA, CIA, Defense Intelligence.” I sifted memories of Amy in her yellow silk cheongsam
with the mandarin collar. “We moved around a lot, landing at an agency you never heard of. It was both professional and personal. Nothing like love in the afternoon with Amy. Until I discovered her lovers were a sequential thing.”
“We all have a bit of that. Keeps us on edge. She’d just eliminated the terrorist who placed that bomb in that Bangkok night club. Remember? Jammed a pen into his eyeball and brain.”
“She killed him?” He cringed.
“Amy had become what you’d call a sociopath. Beautiful, talented, charismatic. And a stone cold killer.”
The news guy drained his wine and signaled the barkeep. I could see he was a sucker for drama.
“You also mentioned a judge named Rothenberg and called it ‘pay back,’” he said. “He turned up dead in Washington.”
“I’ll get to Rothenberg, but first you got to understand Amy.” What memories, what pain, I thought, remembering being kicked out of her love life. “Amy Huang with her degree from Columbia. And me, a Boston boy, we were a sure and certain thing in the years following 9/11.”
This young newsie needed educating. “You know there’s more than a million Americans with top secret clearances, working as consultants, contractors and Christ knows what else? There was a bit on 60 Minutes
. How tough it is separating the patriot from the pathological.” I emptied my glass and caught the barmaid’s eye. “He’s still paying,” I told her, pointing to the newsie.
“You said she loved you.”
“Until she met a foreign national, guy name of Theodor Rajic who freelanced. I’d met him once or twice. They fell head over heels in love. They’d meet at airports, bars, any place you could drop your bags. Rajic was a technology hotshot whose talent was hacking. Did a number that screwed up the Iranian banks. Looked Irish, except for his eyes, like staring down a rattlesnake.
“Then Rajic made a major mistake. He was supposed to take out a Pakistani guy, a wizard who’d opened up a new level of secure communication among the prayer-rug population. This Mohammed guy…”
“Aren’t they all named Mohammed?” the reporter muttered. “By the way, I never got your name.”
“I told you, my life depends on anonymity. There’d been a quid pro
, apparently. The Paki had given Rajic a pass instead of killing him when he had a chance. Later, Rajic punked out, looked the other way and let his target escape. The Agency got highly pissed and wanted to have Rajic deported back to Serbia, as a traitor at least or a terrorist at worst.”
“I still don’t see where Judge Rothenberg got involved.”
“You’re getting ahead of the story. Rajic was an embarrassment. Worse, he was a naturalized American, so ICE wanted to send him back to Belgrade. But Rajic had a top secret crypto clearance. They worried he’d pull a Wikileaks, so they settled on a secret trial. Would he have ratted out the U.S? Become another Edward Snowden or Julian Assange? ¿Quien sabe
? I tried to get the word up the line that Rajic was loyal to America, but….” I let that thought hang for a moment. “Rothenberg was the judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court who got the case. Rajic couldn’t put up a defense because, obviously, there’s no defense counsel in a secret trial.”
“Else it wouldn’t be secret,” the reporter said.
“You’re learning. So — poof
! — Rajic disappeared. Locked up in a detention site outside Washington.”
I let that sink in and savored my whiskey. Jameson is for Catholics, Bushmills for Protestants. This was as close as I was going to get to God.
“You haven’t brought in Amy’s part. Her connection to Rothenberg.”
“Thing you have to understand is motive. Amy had become totally infatuated with Rajic. When I ran into her, she told me what she knew about Rajic’s loyalties. I told her what little I’d heard about Rothenberg ramrodding the trial. She went ballistic that the Agency made him disappear. God knows, I still believed she was level-headed, that our mission was to keep America strong. But, Rajic was convicted. A week later, the good judge got into his car to get the Sunday bagels when — ka-boom
The reporter snapped his fingers. “Something similar happened to another guy in Washington a few days later. Killed in his own driveway. Guy’s name was Scalzo. John Scalzo.”
“He was Rajic’s case officer. Who d’you think had a motive for the two killings?” I waited a second for him to process the connection. “Amy. Payback for making her lover disappear.” I smiled sympathetically. “See now why you’ve got a tough murder story to pitch to your editor? No sources, no attribution, no Rajic. And no Amy, an assassin who’s gone to ground.”
“Well, I thank you. I’m going to try substantiating some facts if I can. I’m not letting this go.” He got up. “I appreciate you talking to me. I still don’t know your name.”
I saluted him with my glass, feeling like a Raymond Chandler hero. “Thanks for the drinks. I don’t have a name.”
The nice reporter walked out the door. He’d renewed my confidence in the Fourth Estate and faith in the American Way. The story would start circulating about the mad spy who got even. This called for another Jameson.
Half an hour later I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Amy, darlin’. Thanks for coming. I was just talking with a good man who wanted to sell me burial insurance, but it’ll have to wait till I’m buried. After I’m dead, of course.”
“Jamie, dear. Always meeting on short notice.”
Her kiss was a benediction. Amy was as lissome and inviting as a flower in springtime, a girl to die for — or kill for. With my competitor gone and her the chief suspect she was free to swing back into my arms.
“Any idea how long you’ll be in town?” There was invitation in her voice.
“Just a day or two. I’m going off the grid, to Rio. Permanently, and live like a rajah. Join me? Oh, and did you know Rothenberg and Scalzo have gone to pieces? Literally.”
! I’ve been on this other thing. What happened?”
“Something about the way the bomb that killed the judge was wired same as the Agency taught you. Scalzo got it with a sharp instrument in his eye, the way you did that guy in China. Word at the Agency is that you killed them as payback because they made Rajic disappear. Perhaps you should be worried. Even more so when you think of how crazy they are about the Chinese, Fu Manchu, the yellow devil and all that. The media will have a field day.”
Her fine Asian skin went white. She picked up my drink and drained it. Thoughts were going around in her head like ice cubes in a blender.
! I’m their suspect?”
“Number one, darlin’. You’ll disappear like Rajic if you stick around.”
“After all my goddamn years, after putting my life on the line….”
“There’s no loyalty anymore, in love or war.” I waited ten seconds, and then offered, “I have an idea. Why don’t you join me in Rio? We had a good thing once. You know those lunatics in the Agency make up their rules as they go along.” I’d made up my own rules, too, Getting rid of Rothenberg and Scalzo was a means to my own end.
“Maybe I will, Jamie. You’re saying I shouldn’t go back to the office.”
“No one’s in your corner anymore, Amy. Except me. We might even have stories to tell our children, God willing.”
Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure. His work has appeared in print and online in over two score publications including Rye Whiskey. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries. He now moderate a writing group in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to die there.