An innocent bystander
Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place
And I'm down on my luck
Yes, I'm down on my luck
Well, I'm down on my luck
In the Continuing Adventures of Our Hero...
I literally have no idea where I am right now. It's not like they've a bag over my head and dragged me off, no. This ain't a James Bond flick. They drove their blacked out SUV into an underground parking garage and lead me down a few thin grey and nondescript hallways to a single, windowless door. Once inside, a whole lot of nothing changed. Same grey walls, same fluorescent lighting, same artificial cold air. Except the room comes complete with furnishings; metal chairs set at metal table. One for me, one for the paper pushing desk-jockey that will join us.
It all looks frighteningly familiar.
At least I'm not handcuffed to the table this time.
Only two of my robotic friends joined me, standing sentry at the door, and I imagine the third stands guard outside the door in case I make a run for it. They've got to know that I've been in this situation before so guard or not… If I want out, I'll find my way out. Catch me if you can, motherfuckers.
After about what I think to me three minutes, the door opens and we're joined by a stately older man with a well-tended potbelly wearing blue suit and blue and green checkered tie. Oh, look at him, bucking convention. He carries two folders, one thick and one much smaller compared to the other. Take a guess which one is mine. In a show of defiance and arrogance, I put my feet up on the table and lean back, balancing myself precariously on the back two legs.
The chubby man looks me up and down, examining me for all I'm worth. His face remains expressionless. "Charming," he says flatly.
"Just wait," I answer and clasp my hands behind my head. Body language 101: remain in or take on a relaxed posture in situations where your enemy threatens to keep your target unaware and in the hopes they do the same but always remain alert and ready to go.
His bushy grey eyebrows go up for a brief second. He exhales and drops the files on the table with a smack. It's meant to spook me but he gets zero reaction from me. He then takes his time settling into his chair, more things meant to intimidate and worry me.
"Do you know why you're here today?" he asks.
"I bet you're gonna tell me," I retort.
He opens the thicker of the files and settles on the very first page. "Allow me to start by saying, you're an impressive operative, Smyth," he starts. "A tad on the insolent side for my tastes, but no one's perfect."
"Thanks," I say cheerfully, unfazed. "It's always nice to hear a compliment."
His fingers flip through the pages of my file. The man is an expert at keeping his emotions hidden. Except the momentary ever slight downward curve of his lips at one point. I can only hope that it's about my recent near death experience. If not, well, shit.
He looks up at me. "You are something else, to say the least," he says.
Every last little thing about me is contained in that folder, typed up by analysts and researchers and factfinders over the years, even before I was forced into this profession. The basics and the more not so basic things. Hell, they even know my favorite sex position and the toppings I like on my pizza. Anyone with the right clearance can find out anything they want about me.
"Man, this is weird," I say. "You know everything about me and I don't even know your name."
"McAuliffe," he says.
"Okay, Mac," I say, smirking. "Let's play a little game."
"We don't really have time…" he says, but fuck him.
"So, where to start…" I say. "You're Scottish in ancestry and you're very proud of this. Not just your last name, but your tie. In fact, I suspect that you play the drums in a Scottish bagpiper group. Based on your fingernails and clean fingertips, you don't play the pipes."
I take my feet off the table and sit normally. "Now I say clean in a metaphorical manner, because the tinges of yellow on your cuticles and staining of your teeth show that you enjoy tobacco," I pause to think and suddenly lift my hand. "Cigars, most likely. Such a classy fellow like you wouldn't be caught in such an uncouth activities such as cigarettes. You're married and have been for a long time. Just because you take off your ring before interviews doesn't mean the perfectly circular mark doesn't stay there."
He pulls his hand away, places it on his thigh.
"That little sunken part of your upper nose… You should wear glasses, but… maybe that make you feel old… You don't wear them so you squint a lot." My own eyes zero in on an animal hair on his jacket. "Oh, what kind of dog do you have?"
"A terrier," he answers as he tugs at his tie.
"Scottish, I bet," I say confidently.
His mouth opens but he says nothing.
"And this is usually where the target starts telling me all about their dog, right down to their walking habits," I say and lean back proud and accomplished. Suck on that, old man.
He clears his throat and slides the thinner folder closer. He turns it around to face me. With a smooth, flawless motion that comes with years of practice, slides the thinner folder toward me, spins it around, and flips it open.
Her black and white headshot stares back at me. "Do you know her?" Mac asks.
I laugh. "You can't be serious. Aren't y'all supposed to be better at this? This is why nobody takes you seriously anymore."
He stares at me.
"Porshe is nothing more than a model and ring announcer," I tell Mac. "Y'all's can't be picking random Russians and hoping you get it right."
"How much do you actually know about Vetrov?" He asks.
"I mean, the basic stuff," I answer.
"What about her past?"
"Grew up in Russia during the tail end of the Soviet era, wanted to be an astronaut - cosmonaut, parents were in the military, came here to work, stayed…"
We stare at each other. He nods. "Please," he says with an outstretched open hand over the file, inviting me to read. I lift the photo and begin reading the summary.
This isn't just a file built to use against me, this isn't simple investigative material to protect their operative. I wish it was. They've been following Porshe for a number of years now, even before she came to The States. She is a person of high interest to the CIA. They believe she might be a sleeper, a possible cast-off from the Illegal operation in 2010, a second generation of Cold War spies trained and ready to act on a moment's notice. They currently have no proof, but lots of connections that just need one thing to link all the chains together. Vetrov knows all the right people, has the right job, the right past, and now, thanks to me, the right lover.
I no longer have my shit together; I can feel the color drain from my face and the muscles in my back tighten to hold me up reed straight. My eyes blink rapidly and frantically as my brain processes this overload.
"Vetrov appears to have conveniently left out what her parents did in the military," he says. "And how they still feel to this day."
"They weren't just pencil pushers and file clerks and mechanics or some other innocent employee of the Red Army," he says. "They were diehard, dyed in the wool Communists and still are to this day - that's on the fourth and fifth page."
I don't bother to look.
"Mr. and Mrs. Vetrov were proud to serve The Soviet Union as decoders and helped to track US spies and assets in their motherland," he continues. "We can't say for sure, but their work most likely lead to the execution to our men and women working very hard to protect the country…"
"They were doing the same thing, doing what they thought was right to protect their country and its people," I quickly interject.
His eyes narrow and he nods. "Hm."
"I still don't understand what this has to do with Porshe," I say. "My parents are - were ignorant fucktwat Christian bigots who hated their own daughter… I clearly didn't follow in their footsteps."
"The Vetrov family is notorious for their anti-American and anti-Capitalist views," he explains. "That was drilled into Vetrov throughout her life. On top of that, like mother, like daughter. Why not pick up where her parents left off?"
"You're taking a huge leap here, Mac," I say and fold my arms across my chest.
"You've seen the evidence, Smyth. It's all right there," he insists, tapping his finger on the file. "And now she's involved with you. It's all too perfect."
I snarl at him. "What are you trying to say, Mac? I suggest you be careful because their chairs aren't screwed down…"
One of the sentries steps forward. Mac puts his hand up, stopping him and sending him back to his post. "Listen, Smyth, we accept that you have Socialist beliefs and aren't keen on the current government, but we never had any reason to suspect that you might…"
He abruptly stops.
"That I might what," I snap, leaning forward. "C'mon, Mac, you know you're dying to say it."
He sighs. "There is real worry that you may have been comprised or that you could be, especially by Vetrov."
Treason by a citizen of the United States is punishable by death. In the CIA, traitors and double agents don't get trials, they get disappeared. The idea of this, of me being accused of treason is insulting.
"How fucking very dare you," I shout. "I would fucking never and you good god damn know that shit, Macaroni."
"That's the tenacity we love about you, Smyth," he says with a smile.
"And this is the bullshit that I hate about this place," I snap back.
"Now, Smyth, understand that we are just protecting our interests and agents."
"I'm so glad y'all care," I say sarcastically and roll my eyes.
"For as pissed off as you might be right now, this is a good thing. If she's spying on you, trying to turn you, or get information from you, we know that she is. We can use this to our advantage," he says.
I stare at him for a long time. "You want me to spy on Porshe…"
"Information gather, confirm or deny, discover and disclose," he says flippantly. "Comprise, distort, furnish with bad intel…"
"Porshe is not a Russian sleeper agent." I slap my hand against the table.
He smirks. "Then consider that your mission, proving that Ms. Vetrov is not a Russian intelligence agent."
He has a point. I sigh and roll my eyes. "I didn't sign up for this."
"You're the one who decided to take on a mistress," he says with a shrug.
Motherfucker. I let my head fall on to the table with a light thud.
...To Be Continued…