Authors: Murray McDonald
“Adopted?” offered Smith, trying the other most obvious explanation.
“Nope,” replied Vincent. “I was there just before Sean was born and she was definitely pregnant.
“A mix-up at the hospital and they switched the babies by accident?” grasped Smith, looking for a rational explanation.
“He’s the spitting image of his father,” replied Vincent shaking his head.
Sean considered the possibility. Perhaps but then he remembered. “Nope, I was tested after my parents’ crash. I was a perfect match for my mom if she needed a kidney.” Sean went quiet. Even after twenty-five years, the memory hit hard. His father had died instantly and his mother had died 48 hours after the crash. She had never woken up. He had never had the chance to say goodbye, to either of them.
Black noted the change in mood and moved on. “OK, so no siblings or mistakes at the hospital. Which brings us back to there’s something wrong with the evidence. There’s an error somewhere. We’re just missing it.”
“Simple. The wife. She’ll be able to sort it out,” suggested Sean.
“Whose wife?” asked Smith.
“The dead guy’s!” said Sean. “You just need to go see her and she’ll clear it up for you.”
“Wait a minute,” suggested Black. “Exactly what has this got to do with the CIA?”
“Somebody’s impersonating one of our officers?” offered Smith, helpfully.
“He retired 18 months ago,” replied Black, disappointment heavy in his voice. Sean had been his rising star, his protégé, the son he never had and as far as Black had envisioned, his replacement as director of the NCS and potentially beyond. However, two years earlier, following a political cluster fuck, three of Sean’s colleagues had been killed after their mission was leaked by an over eager Senator. Sean himself only just survived and six months later, after a full recovery and serving his notice, he left the Agency, vowing never to work for 'Uncle Sam’ again.
Smith looked back at the passport and the date of birth, quickly calculating Sean’s age, ten years younger than him. “You retired at 38!”
“It’s complicated, politics, wanting me to ride a desk. Anyway, that’s all history. I’ve just made in a year what the government would’ve paid me in twenty!”
“Doing what?” asked Black, surprise barely hiding the suspicion at how such a sum could be earned legally.
“All legitimate, don’t worry V,” replied Sean, sensing the concern.
“So what now?” asked Black. He had always hoped Sean would come back. A couple of years’ break after twenty years’ service wasn’t a bad thing. Unbeknownst to Sean, his final termination had never been filed. As far as Black was concerned, before Sean had been reported killed, he had been on an extended career break.
“Florida. Gulf Coast. As clichéd as it sounds, a charter boat and a house on the beach.”
“I meant about this guy,” Black pointed to the photo of the corpse.
Sean had promised himself that it was over. For over twenty years he had put his life on the line for others. He had no family of his own, no roots and nowhere to call home. He wanted a family. He wanted a home. He wanted not to be used. For the last eighteen months, he had worked for himself. Tracking and saving two kidnapped execs from the hands of the Taliban had been exceedingly lucrative.
“It’s not my problem.” He pushed the photo towards Smith, indicating to whom he believed the problem belonged.
Smith lifted the photo and placed it back in the file. In full view of both of them, he closed the file and wrote 'stolen identity, case closed’ across the front.
“I’ll re-instate your passport and Social Security numbers. Be aware, it can take some time to filter through the system. So you should probably call your banks and insurance companies asap and let them know it was an error.”
Black stood up and looked at Sean and asked “Drink?” as he picked up the file and flicked through the rest of the contents.
“Definitely! Right after my date with a bath and a razor.”
“Excellent,” he replied, extracting another photo from the back of the file. “Imagine,” he pondered, showing Sean the photo. “If somehow he were your brother, this young boy would be your nephew!”
Sean looked at the photo of the young boy in his school uniform and if it hadn’t been for the Colonel Santos Benavides Elementary School logo on the boy’s sweater, he would have sworn it was a photo of himself. The likeness was impossible to deny.
Twenty minutes, a shower, shave and hair trim later, a very different Sean Fox, the one resembling his passport photo, was boarding Vincent Black’s CIA gulfstream jet. The stewardess who earlier would have scowled at the Talibanesque Sean smiled warmly as he boarded.
“Still got it, I see,” chided Black. He had always been envious of Sean’s ability to attract the opposite sex.
Sean just shrugged. He didn’t really pay much attention. Black seemed to notice it far more than Sean.
Sean slumped into one of the seats and strapped himself in. The last place he wanted to be was on another airplane. He had spent the last two days travelling. All he had wanted was his hotel suite but Black had pulled the cute kid card.
As the plane took off, champagne was offered and accepted. Shortly after, the pilot announced their descent to Washington D.C.. A rather confused Sean turned to Black. “Washington? I thought they lived in Texas?”
“They do,” he said, nonchalantly looking straight ahead. 'I need to get back to the office, it’ll just be a quick stop to drop me off.”
“Whoa, wait a minute, you’re not coming?” asked Sean grabbing Black’s arm.
Black retrieved his arm. “I told you back at the airport, this is not a CIA matter.”
“Somebody’s been impersonating me! I was CIA!”
“Yes you were,” replied Black, the disappointed tone unhidden. “You’re on your own. The ride to Texas is a personal favor from me, nothing to do with the CIA.”
Sean had no issue with being on his own. He just didn’t know why he should be heading to Texas. He should have been going to Florida if anywhere.
Deputy Director Mikhail Beryutov replaced the handset and wondered exactly why, as Head of the Science Department within Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, he would care. He had no idea. The name Sean Fox meant nothing to him and the fact that he had just been reported as arriving in the USA was even more perplexing. Why should he care? Certainly in the five years he had been in post, he had no dealings with a Sean Fox or America for that matter. He had assumed they had contacted the wrong office but the caller had been insistent. He had his orders and was to inform the Head of the Science Department as a matter of urgency and alert him to the news.
Exactly what the news was, other than an American had arrived back home, he had no clue. The fact that two agents were being sent to the location was even more surprising. Mikhail, in his five years, had never ordered any agents to do anything. He had teams of scientists that worked for him, not agents. He himself was a particle physicist by education, far removed from the previous incumbent, a KGB Colonel, old school political appointee who had held Mikhail’s post from before SVR’s transition from the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, over 20 years earlier.
Mikhail was a brilliant scientist and had not risen to his office through luck or by association but through genuine hard work and ability. An ability that came from a quizzical mind that never liked questions or situations to go unanswered. Mikhail picked up his phone and called the Director’s secretary, perhaps he would understand why Mikhail should care about Sean Fox. The secretary made a big deal of squeezing Mikhail in at short notice. She huffed at how busy the Director was and how inconvenient this request was. Eventually, a slot was made available, five minutes at 7 a.m. the following morning. Mikhail thanked the empty line, the secretary having hung up and already berating the next person who dared need her boss.
Mikhail dialed the number he had jotted down on his pad. The phone rang twice before it was answered.
“Hello?” answered a young American sounding woman with laughter in the background.
An American answering in English threw Mikhail somewhat. He responded in the only language he spoke, Russian.
“This is Mikhail Beryutov, Deputy Director SVR, to whom am I speaking?”
Mikhail could have sworn he heard the woman snap to attention.
“Aleksandra Demietriov, Sir,” came a clipped and respectful Russian response. The laughter had died instantly.
“Where are you, Ms Demietriov?”
“We have just picked up a car at San Antonio Airport and are on our way to Laredo, as per our orders, Sir.”
“Who gave you those orders?”
Mikhail wondered if the line had been cut as no answer was forthcoming. “Hello?” he prompted.
“Sorry, I’m confused Sir,” replied Aleksandra. “The orders are signed by Mikhail Beryutov, Deputy Director SVR. You, Sir.”
It was Mikhail’s turn to be lost for words. Falsifying orders by a Deputy Director of the SVR required serious clout.
“What are your orders once you get in position?” asked Mikhail.
Agent Aleksandra Demietriov turned to her colleague, a far more experienced agent than herself. She covered the mouthpiece and filled in the gaps he had not heard from the conversation, namely the Deputy Director asking what his orders were. His response was instant. He took the phone from his younger colleague and disconnected the call. Agent Pyotr Travkin had worked in America for over 20 years for the SVR and another 10 before that for its predecessor, the KGB. The field trip with the attractive young newbie had taken on a new edge. Never, in his thirty years, had anything like that happened before, not even under Soviet rule. Deputy Directors did not call field agents and certainly never asked what orders the agents had received from them.
He pulled their car over and retrieved the file that had sent them across America at a moment’s notice. He read it again and checked the details more carefully. Everything was in order. Everything, of course, except for the signature or the phone call, one of which had to be false.
Alex’s phone rang again, the number simply said 'International’.
“What do I do, Pyotr?” asked Alex, holding the phone limply.
Pyotr took the phone from her and answered. “We will call you back at headquarters!” he barked into the phone, ignoring the alleged senior member of staff’s protestations.
Mikhail slammed the phone down after being rudely dismissed by the man on the line. Never in all his years had he been spoken to in such a manner. He was a Deputy Director of the SVR. As he reached to call again, his phone rang.
“Yes!” he barked.
“Deputy Director Beryutov?” asked the man who had just hung up on him.
“How dare you hang up on me!” exclaimed Mikhail, furious at Pyotr’s behavior.
“I apologize, Sir.” The deference to Mikhail’s position and apology removed some of Mikhail’s fury almost instantly. “I needed to confirm you were who you said you were. We are in the field and have to take precautions for our safety, Sir.” Pyotr wished he hadn’t been quite as blunt on the earlier call and explained his actions as quickly as he could.
Mikhail reminded himself he was dealing with Agents operating in a foreign country and not scientists working in ultra secure labs and facilities. Calling them out of the blue and asking orders that he had given them would appear rather odd.
“You are right, Agent…?”
“Travkin, Pyotr Travkin, Sir.”
“It is I who should apologize. Of course you had to check I was who I said I was.”
“Thank you for understanding, Sir, but if I may Sir, you called and asked us what our orders were?”
Mikhail didn’t know how to respond. Subterfuge was not his game but he wasn’t about to let the agents know he wasn’t in control.
“I just wanted to check what version you received, the latest version was the correct one.”
As Pytor read the orders to him, Mikhail’s blood ran cold but he remained silent and let Pyotr finish.
“Is that the correct version?”
Mikhail would have no part in it but his name was all over it. “No, it is not, observe and await further orders.”
Mikhail put the phone down and breathed, something he hadn’t done since Pyotr had read out his orders. Mikhail was in a game way above his already elevated position.
Luis knocked loudly on the door and entered. He, as nephew of El Jefe, could interrupt when others could not. El Jefe turned towards the interruption. His orders had been clear and his orders were never disobeyed. He was not to be disturbed. The anger in his face was not missed by Luis.
“I’m sorry, Uncle,” Luis began, averting his eyes as his uncle dismounted the young bride he had been 'breaking in’.
“It had better be good, nephew!” he spat. The use of the word nephew was not wasted on Luis either. If he had not been his nephew, he would already be dead.
Luis watched as the young bride struggled to cover her dignity with the wedding dress that had been lifted to allow his uncle’s entry. Tears streamed from her eyes, no doubt as much for the indignity as for the memory of her young husband, slain just moments after their marriage. Her perfect day had become the last day of her life as she knew it, her husband killed before her eyes, raped by his killer and destined to spend her life repaying her husband’s debts in El Jefe’s whorehouse. Her life, just hours earlier full of so much promise and dreams, was over.
“I’m sorry, Uncle, but we have news from Laredo I thought you should hear immediately!” Luis eyes fell on the young bride, a real beauty and such a waste.
El Jefe turned to the bride. “Out!” he barked, understanding his nephew would not discuss business in front of her.
El Jefe had no concerns over talking business in front of others. He knew that the fear he evoked silenced everybody. Luis, however, was more cautious and never discussed business within the earshot of others, or for that matter in a room he had not personally swept for listening devices. Cell phones had been consigned to emergency use only and never used to discuss trafficking plans. All supply and sales communications were done through encrypted emails, their codes changed daily. Luis was the brains behind his uncle’s brawn. Arrests and interception by authorities had reduced significantly under Luis’ stewardship and profits had increased dramatically.