I’m not an easy person to get ahold of. It’s not convenient, but it’s how I live. How I continue to live, I should say. I don’t have a landline or an internet connection.
I don’t carry a cell phone. I buy prepaid smart phones at various locations, making sure that none of those locations can be used to map out a circle around my home.
I take the newly purchased smart phones and wrap them in alternating layers of plastic and aluminum foil, creating a poor man’s faraday cage.
Then they go into a box half full of foil wrapped phones.
When I do want to make an electronic connection with someone, which is about once a week (though not on the same day of the week, my paranoia again) I travel to a random location.
I do mean random, I actually roll a series of dice to come up with a series of numbers that I use to pick a location somewhere in a four hundred mile radius.
Sometimes I end up three blocks away, sometimes one state over.
Whatever random location I end up in, the routine is similar. I activate the smart phone and log into an online message board, where my handler may have posted a coded message.
The coded message must contain at least two words that tell me that my handler is safe, and cannot contain any of a half dozen words that would indicate duress.
Today I was in a laundromat of all places, actually washing a small load of clothes from the thrift store down the street.
I could have just sat inside, there wasn’t anyone to notice, but discipline demands that my cover story be perfect and without flaw.
I had arrived via an anonymous series of cabs and buses, doubling back and forth, always paying in cash, and eventually arriving here, seventy miles from home.
I logged into the message board using the laundromat’s wifi, and found a coded message. Checking for any sign of a trap, I committed the relevant pieces to memory and logged off.
I dismantled the phone, destroying the sim card and tossing the phone into the wash with the secondhand clothes.
The pertinent bits from the coded message indicate a physical dead drop. I know its old school, but I still prefer the analog methods of meat space to the newer methods of cyber space.
This particular dead drop was located under a pedestrian bridge in a nice park about forty miles from home. I dressed for a jog, adding a fanny pack to hold the package that was waiting for me.
I carefully placed a wig on my head and checked myself in the mirror. At the laundromat, I’d had dirty black straight hair, and was dressed poorly in sweat pants and an old parka.
Now I was wearing a fashionable jogging outfit, and had short and curly blond hair.
A ball cap and sunglasses obscured my face, and earbuds nestled in my ears at one end and plugged into an iPod with a dead battery on the other completed the look.
As I approached the drop location, I was confident that I hadn’t been followed, and that no one was surveilling the drop location.
I feigned a muscle cramp as I approached the bridge, and as soon as I disappeared under it, I leaped up, snatching the grey plastic tube from its place under the supports of the bridge.
I had the tube inside my fanny pack and was back to fighting my imaginary cramp in my hamstring by the time I jogged back into the sunlight on the other side of the bridge.
I stretched my legs out at a nearby park bench, while checking for anyone who seemed out of place.
Satisfied with both my counter surveillance check and my acting performance, I continued my jog, finishing a nice thirty minute lope through the park.
I open the tube carefully. It’s specially constructed to shatter a glass vial of acid if opened incorrectly, which will destroy the onion skin paper rolled carefully inside.
I read through the terse words written on the single sheet of translucent paper. “Potential client. No info available from standard checks. Female, sounds very young."
A phone number was written on the next line. I didn’t like the ‘no info’ part. That could mean a hastily put together legend that hadn’t been properly backstopped. Could indicate a trap.
Then there was the ‘Female, sounds very young’ bit.
I suppose I have a bit of a soft spot for a damsel in distress, and I was intrigued as to how someone that young could have found a way to contact me.
I decided to call. The voice that answered was very young, but had a deep current of weariness that comes, not from age, but from high mileage.
I used a voice scrambler, and I was at another random location, a McDonalds this time. “You contacted me. What do you need done?”
The young but not young voice came back with a hint of barely restrained excitement. “I didn’t think you would call. I didn’t think you were real.”
“What do you need done?” I asked again.
“I… I… I need someone killed.” She responded, nervousness replacing the excitement in her voice.
“Who? When?” We’d get to my fee in a moment.
“Can we meet? I… I don’t think you’ll understand over the phone.”
“I don’t do face to face meetings with clients” I said, even as my curiosity began to uncoil. I made a half-hearted effort to kill it, but it continued to rise.
“I really need this… I don’t… You won’t… I have to show you.” There was a lengthy pause, then, “Please.”
I could feel the price of that ‘please’, and I knew that this girl was scared and ashamed to ask for help.
My curiosity was roaring, desperate to find out what could drive someone to reach out to someone like me.
“Very well. Be at Mountain View Park at 10 AM tomorrow morning. Sit on the park bench on the north side of the park. Come alone, and don’t tell anyone where you are going.
Have this phone available when you get there. Do you understand?”
She answered in a voice full of relief, “I understand.”
I hung up and dropped the phone down a storm drain halfway down the block.
The next morning I got up at five and hit the road. I zigged and zagged my way through the city, making my first pass by the park at half past six.
Thirty minutes later, I was ensconced in a small coffee shop two hundred yards from the park bench. At a quarter past eight, I was jogging through the park while checking for traps.
At nine-thirty I was standing in an empty studio apartment a block over and two floors up from the park bench. I watched the flow of traffic, alert for anything out of the ordinary.
I was wary of a trap, but so far everything seemed kosher.
A girl arrived at five minutes to ten, carrying a cheap backpack and dressed in the stereotypical plaid skirt and white blouse of a school uniform.
I watched her sit on the park bench for twenty minutes before I called the number from the day before. I watched her stir on the park bench, and pull a small phone from her backpack.
I’ll be damned, this girl couldn’t be over fifteen. How had she figured out how to contact me? “Get up and walk to your left.
Cross the street at the next crosswalk and walk in front of the apartments for four blocks.” I hung up before she could answer and watched as she rose from the bench and began to comply.
I ran for the downstairs entrance to the street.
I cracked up the door and waited for the girl to pass by. I saw her coming maybe a second before she passed my door.
I jerked open the door and caught her backpack, yanking her into the apartment entrance. She yelped quietly, but I got her inside the building and hustled her up the stairs.
As we entered the apartment I shoved her into the center of the room as I shut the door. She turned slowly to face me, breathing heavily.
Upon closer inspection, there was no way this girl was older than twelve. Her eyes widened as she caught her first glimpse of me. “You’re… you’re a… a girl!” she sputtered, her eyes wide.
I shrugged. “I prefer to think of myself as a woman, but potato, potahtoe. How old are you?”
She hunched her shoulders in what looked like a familiar defensive gesture. “I’ll be thirteen in two months.”
I was amused, but tried not to let it show. “So. Who do want killed?”
Her face darkened with hate. “My stepfather.”
It was all I could do not to take a step back. The hate on her face, in her eyes, in her voice.
That kind of hate had been forged, honed and sharpened carefully and diligently over a long period of time. That kind of hate has spawned legends of revenge and war.
That kind of hate doesn’t belong anywhere near a twelve year old. I narrowed my eyes.
She didn’t look me in the eye. “He… he… did things. To me. I… didn’t say anything."
Now she looked me in the eyes, and hate, rage and shame boiled inside hers as her long hair fell away from a purple bruise on one cheek. “But last night he went to my little sister’s room.
She’s only nine.” Tears struggled to escape her eyes as she dug into her backpack. Her hands emerged with two handfuls of crumpled bills. “I saved my allowance for the last four years.
Stole and begged and borrowed whatever I could get.” She thrust out her hands with the money that should have bought movie tickets and clothes at the mall.
“There’s seven hundred and forty-five dollars. I don’t know how much you charge, but…” she trailed off.
I folded her fingers tighter around the money, and let the rage building within shine out through my own eyes as I met her gaze.
“Keep your money sweetheart. I’ll do this one for free.”