Greenbelt, MD – Monday, Feb. 24, 6:30 a.m. EST
“Thanks for coming with me,” Anna said, as Mel barreled north up Rhode Island Avenue toward Maryland. “And for driving in this crappy weather.” The windshield wipers on Mel’s new electric car throbbed. Shaw’s turn-of-the-century row houses shone in the sleet and headlights.
“No problem,” Mel said. “The crack of dawn is my time. Did this bozo say why he wanted to meet way out there—at the scenic Greenbelt metro station, the proverbial end of the line? It’s a bit far from Langley.”
“He mumbled something about commuter camouflage and NSA proximity.”
“Oh, right. Now we know where to discover spooks at clandestine meetings.”
“It’s not every day a CIA hack wants to be a source. This guy’s got an agenda, and I’m going to figure out what it is.” Anna’s phone blipped. “It’s Raven,” she said, clicking on the most recent message. As she read it, her face hardened.
Mel glanced right and noticed the stony countenance. “And?”
Anna exhaled in a whoosh. “Oh. My. God. Holy crap.”
“You’re fogging up the windshield. What!”
“Sasha and Ingrid. Raven says they’re dead.”
“Both of them?”
“Yes. Her text says: ‘Sasha and Ingrid are dead. Car accident. Uploaded new audio and video.’”
“What does that mean for your story?”
“I don’t know. That’s the only text she sent.” Anna made a face as she opened her email and OfficeBox, and tried to access the files Raven sent. “This stuff won’t download here. Bad service, or maybe the files are too big. I’ve got to see this ASAP—but we can’t go back now.”
“That’s fucked up,” Mel said. “I mean, that Sasha’s dead. Weird to think he’s your friend—but I can’t say I’m sorry.”
“Was,” Anna said, biting her lip. “Was my friend. Or wasn’t, ever, actually. He was one messed-up dude.”
“A ‘messed-up dude’? How about two-faced, deceptive, manipulative mother fucker!?”
“Yeah, that,” Anna said, shaking her head and staring out the window.
Mel’s maps application occasionally broke the silence. Following the robotic voice, Mel crossed Eastern Avenue into Maryland and kept going through Mt. Rainier and Hyattsville. They turned east, crossed the railroad tracks and wound their way up Kenilworth, which provided some open road. Anna remained lost in thought, and Mel didn’t press her.
When Mel pulled into the fire lane at the Greenbelt metro station, Anna kicked back into gear.
“I’ll scan the crowd,” she said.
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Mel asked
“Are you still thinking about Sasha?”
“No,” Anna snapped.
After a moment, Anna replied. “I feel stupid for trusting him, of course. I can’t believe I didn’t see through all that flirtatious crap, his stupid charm. All that background information he was supposedly imparting to me, his dear friend. He must have set that in motion years ago. And I had no idea—but right now, I don’t have time to dwell on my gullibility. I have to look for de Jeanbourg. He has a brown hipster beard.”
They caught glimpses beneath scarves, hoods and the occasional umbrella. The windshield wipers pulsed, keeping the light sleet and a few snow flurries at bay.
“You think he’ll drive?” Mel asked.
“Who knows,” Anna said. “If he does, what’s most inconspicuous? Basic four-door?”
“Dingy old minivan?”
“Maybe he rides the metro. And there he is—at 2 o’clock. Navy blue beanie, open blue-and-white golf umbrella. Brown beard. See?”
“Here we go,” said Mel. She pulled toward de Jeanbourg and lowered the window. “I believe I’m your ride, sir,” she said, unlocking the car with a lurch.
“Right,” he said, shaking his umbrella off, then getting into the back.
“Let me introduce you two. Mel Allen, Charles de Jeanbourg, Charles, Mel,” Anna said, waving her hand back and forth.
“Mel,” he said.
“Which way, John-bird?” Mel asked.
“It’s de Jeanbourg—soft ‘j,’ the ending sounds like ‘pour’ not ‘iceberg’.”
“Staying here is fine,” he said. “Sorry I’m late. There’ve been developments.”
“No kidding,” Anna said. “What’s this about Sasha and Ingrid?”
“You heard already? Social media is bad for us law enforcement types,” de Jeanbourg said.
“Rabble’s always a step ahead.”
“Should I take that as confirmation? Or an insult?” Anna asked.
De Jeanbourg shrugged and tipped his head, holding his hands outward and open.
“And if I’m the rabble, why do you want to talk to me so badly?” she continued. “Again?”
“Don’t get your pretty feathers all ruffled, Jones. The truth will set you free, or me in this case, and my employer. That’s the reason I want to talk to you. I want you to know the truth. I’m screwed if you don’t.”
“I thought you were screwed if I do,” she said, ignoring his obnoxious bird comparison. “I doubt your bosses will like it, if you reveal CIA secrets.”
“Now, now. What makes you think I’d do that? I’m going to steer clear of CIA secrets. I’m going to tell you everything that’s not CIA. Nothing classified, secret or top secret. Not even confidential. And all of it on deep background. Got it? No video. No audio. You can’t quote me. Understood?”
“What a surprise. Deep background. Information seeping in, like osmosis.”
The precipitation had stopped. Mel shut the wipers off.
“It’s not that you can’t use the information,” de Jeanbourg said. “After our little conversation here, I’m sure you’ll be able to secure the story with other quotable sources. You’ll know where to look. Double and triple check everything. Please! Be my guest! Corroborate! Get other people on the record and pin it down,” he said, leaning forward from the middle of the back. “Thank me later.”
“Let’s get on with it,” Anna said.
“There’s one problem,” de Jeanbourg said.
“Now what?” Anna asked.
“Your friend, here. She needs to step out.”
“But you’re the one who said you didn’t care if she drove me out here.”
“I didn’t care about the drive. But I do care if she listens to our little talk,” de Jeanbourg said.
“She has to go.”
“But why? She already knows what you look like,” Anna said, chuckling. “Your cover’s already blown.”
“I don’t have a cover, Anna. I’m an analyst. I’m out in the open. Everyone knows where I work,” he said. “But it’s my policy. I want to speak to you, the journalist, alone.”
“This is silly, de Jeanbourg. A policy? What policy?” Anna asked. “Where’s she supposed to go? There’s nothing here. And it’s freezing outside.”
Mel cut in, “It’s fine, Anna. I don’t care what Da Jerk-Bird has to say. I can wait inside the station. No problem. Text me when you’re done.” Mel stepped out. “One thing, though,” she said, holding the door open. “Anna, take the driver’s seat, in case you need to dump this pseudo-hipster and get outta here.”
Anna smiled. She got out and walked around to the driver’s side. “Thanks,” she told Mel. “Really.” Anna sat down behind the wheel and slammed the door shut as Mel marched into the station.
Before Anna had a chance to ask a question, de Jeanbourg said, “Mock me and my policies, if you want to, Jones. But I’ll say it again: I’m a great source.”
Copyright © by Wolf Bahren. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher with “permission requests” in the subject line at email@example.com. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.