Authors: Murray McDonald
A passport was placed on the table as the two men sat down. No words, just the passport placed carefully on the table, the writing facing the passenger. It was his passport; he recognized the creases on the bottom right corner.
“I’m Mr Smith,” announced the older man. He didn’t bother to introduce his younger colleague. “So, Mr…” he stopped, waiting for the passenger to confirm his name, a first test. Did he even know the name on the passport?
“Fox, as my passport no doubt has informed you,” replied the passenger. He wasn’t going to be intimidated.
“Your passport has informed us of many things, Mr Fox,” he emphasized sarcastically. “Most importantly that it ain’t yours!”
“Sorry?” he asked, incredulous. Having used many passports over the years that weren’t his, to be accused of his legitimate one not being real, was rather ironic.
Smith held out his hand to his colleague and received a file which he opened and laid in front of him. “Were you in the army, Mr Fox?”
“Any particular branch?”
“Yes but that’s classified, above your pay grade,” smiled Mr Fox. He would play them at their own game.
Smith did not react. Not good. A low-level immigration official would have risen to the bait. Smith was obviously not immigration and he was probably way above the pay grade.
“Any other branch of government?” Smith moved on.
“Yes,” replied Mr Fox simply.
“Are you still employed by the government?”
“Who do you work for now?”
“Myself.” He was tired and his hotel suite was beckoning. “What is this all about?” asked Mr. Fox.
“Any siblings, brothers or sisters?” clarified Smith, ignoring the question.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, only child, my mom struggled to even have me. What the hell is this all about?”
Smith put out his hand and three sheets of paper were delivered by his young colleague. Smith selected one of the sheets before laying it in front of Mr. Fox.
It was a printout of the front page from the Laredo Morning Times. 'Medal of Honor Winner Slain By Drug Gangs’ was the headline.
A fellow winner had been slain. Mr. Fox was instantly outraged and read on. Captain Sean Fox’s (retired) mutilated body was delivered to his young widow…
A Medal of Honor winner with his name had been murdered, shocking but no relation, at least as far as he knew. His parents had died in a car crash when he was fifteen so he wasn’t great on knowing his extended family. He read on.
…by UPS. The gruesome contents of the parcel were identified by DNA as formal identification of the remains was not possible. The son of ex Chief of Staff General James Fox…
Sean’s head shot up at his questioner. That was his father!
As Smith gathered that Mr Fox had hit the point of realization, he pushed a second page across the table. The photo of Sean Fox in uniform next to a very attractive young woman stared up at him.
“Yep, that’s me but I don’t know who she is, don’t remember this one being taken,” he offered.
“Your wife on your wedding day?”
“I’m not married.”
A third sheet was a wedding certificate. His wife’s name was Katie.
“Doesn’t look much like you, no beard, well groomed hair and I’d say this guy was a good thirty pounds heavier.” The questioner pointed to the wedding photo and opened the passport to the photo page; it matched the wedding photo.
“Six months in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban,” offered Sean, tugging at the beard and ruffling his unkempt hair. The weather-beaten skin that was not otherwise hidden by facial hair was brown and leathery. His clothing, straight from Kabul, didn’t help prove his identity as the handsome clean-cut all-American hero he was claiming to be.
Smith shook his head. “Honestly, after everything I’ve just shown you, you’re still seriously claiming to be Sean Fox who died three months ago? And looks nothing like you?”
Sean nodded his head vigorously. “That is me,” he pointed at both photos. “And that’s obviously not me,” he said pointing to the headline proclaiming his death. “I’ve heard of identity theft but this is ridiculous!” shouted Sean, now outraged.
Smith stood up. “I tried,” he turned to his younger colleague. “Your turn,” and left the room. Sean noted the red light on the camera go out as the door closed.
The young man stood up. At 6’8” and 280lbs, he was a formidable sight, even to Sean.
As he reached down into his briefcase, Sean braced himself. Expecting the worst, he positioned himself in his seat ready to retaliate to any attack. He relaxed as the young man pulled out a small plastic tube, removed its stopper and retrieved a wooden swab.
“Can you open your mouth, please?” he asked very courteously.
Sean opened his mouth and the swab was run along the inside of his cheek. The swab was re-inserted into the tube along with the stopper.
“Thank you,” he offered before leaving and closing the door behind him. The door clicked after closing; it was locked again.
Sean figured it would be a few hours for the results to come through and another couple of hours while they re-checked them. Whoever was in that photo looked like Sean Fox but it obviously wasn’t. Sean was alive and well and sitting in an interview room at Newark. How they messed up the DNA check he didn’t know but it would be cleared up soon enough. All Sean knew was that the wife he didn’t know was in for a hell of a shock.
Vincent Black couldn’t have had a more apt surname if he had been able to pick it himself. He was Director of the National Clandestine Services (NCS) Division within the CIA; assassinations, political action, covert operations, pretty much anything the US wanted to influence, but deny knowledge of, fell under Vincent Black. Or, as he was more affectionately known, due to his being the Master of the Dark Arts, 'V’. Whether he knew the reference to Voldemort from the Harry Potter novels or not, he appeared to be more than happy with the acronym.
Black had personally approved every man that had entered his service since his appointment over 15 years earlier. In that time, he had had to make many phone calls and pay visits to many grieving families. He took all of them personally. There was nothing more devastating to Vincent Black than losing one of his men; they were the cream of the crop, the most complete warriors available to the US Government in its fight against terror. His men were the front line. His men made America strong.
Losing his men in the fight against terror was devastating. Losing one of his men, even a retired one, to a Mexican druglord was unthinkable. The news, three months earlier, of Sean Fox’s death at the hands of a drug cartel had resulted in a rage never before seen by his staff. The details, when they had come through, had not helped. The remains consisted of a brutally beaten torso and a head. The head was detached and was devoid of pretty much everything a head should have; eyes, teeth, nose, ears had all been removed before death. Genitals had been removed from the torso and recovered from the stomach, partially digested, suggesting death had occurred some hours after their consumption. Horrific did not begin to describe the death that one of his most decorated men had gone through. Sean Fox was a legend within the division; one Distinguished Intelligence Star and two Intelligence Stars; he was the man that would never say no; the man that when the chips were down, you could rely on and most importantly to Vincent Black, he was the son he had never had.
The revelation that Sean had been married was surprising. To discover he had been acting as a bodyguard to some two-bit hoodlum was too shocking to believe. However, the more he looked it into and checked, the more it appeared to be true. Nobody could deny the evidence. The body was that of Sean Fox. The DNA was checked and triple checked at Black’s insistence and proved it beyond doubt. Sean Fox, one of the CIA’s best, was dead, mutilated by scumbags unfit to tie his shoelaces.
In the three months since Sean’s death, not a day had gone by that Vincent Black had not thought of Sean and wished vengeance upon his killers. It was within his power. He could order a squad of men and equipment into Mexico but it would be his last act as Director of NCS. Black had been overlooked for promotion many times and for one simple reason, he was the best man for the job. He truly was a master and America could not afford an apprentice in a role so crucial. Above all, Black was a patriot and he could not and would not let his personal vengeance affect America’s ability to defend itself. Black was a modest man but he knew America needed him exactly where he was.
Black’s phone buzzed. He had left instructions not to disturb him.
“It better be important, Jane,” he threatened.
Jane ignored the threat. She had worked for him for every one of his fifteen years as Director. She knew the hard man exterior was only a façade. She also knew the death of Sean Fox was the reason for the mood and all the more reason she was ignoring the threat.
“I have an Agent Smith from New York on the line. I think you’ll want to talk to him.”
“What’s it …” he didn’t get a chance to finish asking. The line clicked, she had just connected him.
“Hi, is that NCS admin?”
“I think you’ve got the wrong line, who is this?”
“Agent James Smith, I’m part of the joint counter terrorism task force based in New York.”
“Hold on, I’ll put you back to my assistant.” Outwardly calm, inwardly seething, he reached for the button to transfer the call back to Jane.
“Wait a minute, will she be able to get me Sean Fox’s records?...”
Black’s finger hovered over the button. On hearing Sean’s name, it retracted immediately.
“…I feel I’m getting the run around here!” exclaimed Smith, frustration clear in his voice.
“Why?” he asked, not letting his hopes rise. Sean Fox was dead.
“We’ve got some guy, looks like a Taliban fighter, with Sean Fox’s passport, claiming to be him!”
“Where are you?”
“New York!” said Smith.
“You said that already, where in New York?” an impatient tone cut through Smith.
“Who is this?” demanded Smith.
“Director Vincent Black, now where are you?!!”
Smith, a long in the tooth CIA agent, was well aware of Vincent Black and who he was.
“Newark Airport, Sir,” he responded quickly, sitting a little straighter in his chair.
“I’ll be there shortly.” He hit the button that ended the call and was immediately reconnected to Jane.
She cut across him. After fifteen years, he didn’t need to ask, she pretty much read his mind most of the time.
“Car’s waiting, jet’s fueled and ready to go.”
Sean woke up as the door opened. Vincent Black entered, took one look at Sean, saw through the hair and broke into a huge smile.
“I knew it! I fucking knew it!”
As Sean stood up to greet him, Black pushed past Sean’s outstretched hand and uncharacteristically embraced him. Had Sean been able to see behind him, Black was wiping a small tear from his eye.
“Are you going to tell me what the fuck is going on?” Sean pulled back from the embrace and looked at the inane grin on Black’s face.
“You’re not fucking dead is what’s going on!”
A knock at the door, followed by the appearance of Smith, interrupted the re-union.
“We have a problem.”
“My DNA checked out!” replied Sean stating the obvious, smiling at Black.
Sean walked towards the door. He’d hung around long enough, his suite was waiting.
“Not so fast. As I said, we have a problem,” repeated Smith firmly.
Black looked at Smith, surprised at his forcefulness.
“So the guy that’s dead wasn’t me, not my problem, goodbye.” Sean opened the door, followed closely by Black.
“That’s the problem. It was you in the headlines. According to the DNA, you are definitely dead.”
Both Sean and Black stopped in their tracks and looked back at Smith. Sean had the door half open.
“Sorry?” asked Black, struggling to comprehend why the obvious error had not been resolved.
“The DNA from the murder victim matches that on your records and the sample you gave us today. Three separate techs have confirmed it.”
“Impossible!” exclaimed Sean. “What’s the chance of a DNA match?
“One in six billion but I think a match with someone who looks like you and takes your identity would be around, oh, one in no fucking chance,” explained Smith succinctly.
Sean thought about what Smith had just said. It didn’t change anything. “Not my problem. I’m out of here!” He opened the door fully.
“Wait a minute,” said Black, turning back towards the small table, wanting to see the results for himself.
Sean was tired and frustrated. He wanted to get to his suite. The bath, steak and comfortable mattress were calling. But with Vincent Black sitting back down, he was left with little option.
“Just check the fingerprints,” offered Sean, taking a seat.
“Not that simple,” replied Black, fully aware of the dead Sean’s lack of digits, hands, arms, feet and legs for that matter. He passed the file that sat in front of Smith to Sean.
Sean opened and witnessed what somebody had done to him. He was immediately incensed. “Holy shit!”
“Not a pretty sight,” agreed Black.
“No,” agreed Sean. “But not just that,” he pointed to a mark on the side of the torso and lifted his shirt - the same mark.
Smith just looked from one to the other. “That’s seriously weird!”
Black looked at the mark and considered the evidence. “There are two options Sean. That’s you or there’s another, sorry, was, another Sean out there exactly like you. You must have had an identical twin.”
“For God’s sake V, you knew them better than me! My mother was desperate for kids and having me was difficult enough. She was desperate for more and trust me, if I had a brother, twin or not, my mother would have kept him.
“I know, I know, it just doesn’t make any sense!” replied Vincent staring at the evidence.