|Disclaimer||All Invisible Man characters are copyright Stu Segall Productions and the SciFi Channel. This story was written for fun. No profit is being made, and no infringement of their copyright is intended.|
The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you're playing by other people's rules, while quietly playing by your own. -Michael Korda (1919 - 1973) US publisher
IRS Offices, Washington DC:
"Hal, we’ve got a situation here that could use your help." The voice on the phone belonged to Jim Kimbar, a long time friend.
Hal’s eyebrows rose in surprise. His curiosity was piqued, it wasn’t often that the GAO called in outside help. "What’s up Jim? What can we do for you?"
A half-hour later Hal Ward put down the phone and considered his options. As head of the IRS office in DC he’d made it his job to get to know every one of his staff personally. But, given the sensitive situation Jim had just described, only one name came to mind to handle it. He got up from his desk and went out onto the main accounting floor.
Eberts barely glanced up from the reams of computer printouts blanketing his desk as he looked back and forth between them and the blinking monitors of two computer terminals at his workstation. He was hot on the trail of what looked to be in excess of one million in tax fraud perpetrated by the Isanc Corporation. The funds had been carefully diverted through multiple US and foreign accounts in an attempt to ‘launder’ the money and avoid payment of taxes owed. But they hadn’t been concealed well enough to get by Eberts. During his years at the IRS, Eberts had developed a reputation of being able to sniff out tax fraud in the most unlikely places. He had the insights of Sherlock Holmes and the propensities of a pack rat coupled with the persistence of a mother-in-law. In short, he was someone you definitely did NOT want on your ass - especially if you were less than honest regarding your tax returns.
The trail of bank transfers and other electronic data transactions he was currently following had led from New York to Luxembourg with a surprising detour through Columbia, Missouri and Plover, Wisconsin. ‘Of all places’ he mused. ‘Although,’ he thought in retrospect, ‘perhaps not so surprising.’ Small town banks generally didn’t have the high tech monitoring systems typical of multi-national banks. Therefore, out-of-the-way places and small towns often provided ideal sites for hiding funds away from prying eyes.
"Mike," his boss began, approaching his desk, "we have a situation that needs looking into."
"It’ll have to wait until I’ve finished with this," he replied, not looking up. "There are some time-sensitive materials here and I don’t want to let this trail get cold."
His boss leaned against the cubicle’s wall, grinning. "You sound like a detective. Don’t worry about it. You can hand that over to McAdams. He’s familiar with the Isanc situation, and you can bring him up to date on your investigations before you leave."
Eberts looked up from his work, eyebrows raised. "Leave? Where am I going?" Eberts moved away from the computer screens, giving his boss his full attention.
"We have a little job for you in California. Come to my office in ten minutes and I’ll brief you."
Mike Eberts watched his boss walk away towards the center of the IRS building where the executive offices were. He wondered what kind of assignment would require him to leave his desk and his computers.
Eberts stepped off the plane, squinting into the bright California sunshine. Washington had been overcast and raining for the past week, so his eyes took awhile to adjust to the brighter conditions typical of southern California. He reminded himself to acquire a pair of sunglasses before doing anything else.
He hailed a taxi that would take him directly to The Agency offices, planning to check his small bag at the hotel later. Tipping the driver a very proper 15% and carefully pocketing the receipt, he stepped out of the cab and surveyed The Agency building. The Agency was currently under the auspices of the Department of Fish & Game, housed in a rather unimpressive brick office building. The large blue & gold seal marked the main entrance right next to a door marked "HUD document shredding facility." ‘Handy, that,’ he thought. ‘I wonder if they’ve made use of that opportunity?’ If they had, his job would be that much harder, though not impossible, of course. In these days of computerized record keeping, he could find trails of electronic transactions that people usually forgot existed - if they ever knew about them at all.
He walked into the building, briefly scanning the posted directory to locate the office of the individual who had been identified only as "The Official." He had already begun investigating the Agency before leaving DC and was, of course, already aware that Charlie Borden was its chief officer, although few government documents acknowledged the existence of the Agency at all. He’d leave it up to Mr. Borden to decide what he’d like to be called.
He was mildly surprised as he walked through the Agency hallways. The floors were scuffed, the walls clearly hadn’t seen new paint in years, and what office furniture was visible looked like it had been picked up at a yard sale. ‘What a dump,’ he thought. ‘Its hard to believe that these are the guys who made over 17 million dollars disappear in the past 3 years.’ He shook his head absently, thinking that whatever it was, they obviously hadn’t spend it on this building.
He approached the secretary’s desk. "Mr. Eberts here to see The Official," he said presenting his card. She looked up at him quizzically, her brows furrowing deeper as she read his card. "IRS?"
"Yes, I have an appointment with The Official." Eberts didn’t feel it was prudent at this juncture to explain any further. Leaving them guessing was often an effective method of intimidation. Uncertainty often made even the most stubborn businesses more cooperative with an audit.
"Go right in" the secretary said. "Third door on the left." She watched him walk down the hallway to the door and enter The Official’s office.
He found himself in a long narrow room, banked on one side by windows overlooking the street. Venetian blinds filtered the sunlight to cast slanted rays across the room. Several chairs and a small conference table occupied the space between the door and a very large desk at the opposite end of the room. Seated behind the desk was an even larger man with sharp eyes and a business-like manner about him. He rose to greet Eberts.
"Mr. Eberts, welcome to The Agency." The large man smiled as he crossed the room. "I hope your flight was comfortable," he said ingratiatingly. "What can we do for you?"
The man’s smile seemed superficial to Eberts. He scanned the man’s expression for hints of any bribery that might be forthcoming - trying to get a sense of who this man was and whether he might be covering up financial double-dealings.
"Mr…?" Eberts began. He wasn’t sure whether to breech protocol by naming The Official just yet.
The large man didn’t offer to fill in a name for him, leaving Eberts’ sentence hanging awkwardly unfinished.
"Ah...well," Eberts began, "I’m a special auditor working for the IRS. The GAO has called in our assistance in examining certain irregularities in the finances of your agency."
"Irregularities?" The Official did his best to look genuinely puzzled. "I can’t imagine what’s concerned them. We are very careful about expenditures," he gestured indicating the room’s Spartan décor, "as you can see."
Eberts decided to go for the direct approach. "The GAO is most concerned with the apparent disappearance of approximately 17 million dollars in funds over the past three years," he began. "Funds provided to this agency for…." He stopped, puzzled. "What exactly does this agency do?"
"We protect the welfare and liberty of the American people" the Official replied. His expression quite serious. There was a genuineness about this reply that caught Eberts’ attention.
Eberts knew there was only one type of government agency which would give that kind of reply. ‘Spies’ Eberts thought to himself, ‘Oh cool.’
Although he himself worked for the Federal government, the IRS was nowhere near as glamorous as he imagined other departments to be. He’d long admired the exploits of the more ‘sexy’ agencies like the FBI and CIA - not to mention childhood influences from seeing so many spy movies. This was as close as he’d ever gotten to those kinds of departments.
He searched for an appropriate response, "hm, well... um." Not sure where to go from here, he finally replied, "that’s fine Mr. Uh… Borden, however I’ll need to see your account books and related files." He decided to smooth things over as much as possible. "Just to make sure the GAO has the information it needs."
"Of course, of course," the Official said picking up the phone. "Anything you need."
He called out to the secretary’s desk.
FBI field offices: Richmond, VA:
William Bock dialed a familiar number to his contact at the GAO. "Has everything been taken care of?" he asked.
"Of course Bill," his friend replied. "We’re on it even as we speak. I’ve got one of our top men out there ready to nail them."
"Thanks, Jim. This means a lot to the Bureau. The Agency is a tired relic left over from the cold war. It should have been put out of business years ago."
"My pleasure, and don’t
worry, I’m sure your department’s budget allocation will be substantially
larger next year without them sucking off the top."
Agency Offices, San Diego:
By 10:00 the next morning Eberts was up to his elbows in printouts, documents and assorted files. The desk he’d been assigned in his ‘temporary office’ was nearly buried in papers. His first observation was that the Official and his tiny staff had done a surprisingly decent job of covering up something. That is to say, at first glance everything seemed in order. Expenditures on paper products, document printing, and office supplies were extraordinarily high, and since they were ‘consumable’ products these items wouldn’t normally be available for inspection or auditing; a classic maneuver to hide funds. However, Eberts also realized that the amount of money that was claimed to have been spent would generate a huge amount of paper products. The sheer volume of such supplies would require a warehouse larger than The Agency’s entire office building.
He looked across the pile of papers on the desk in front of him and stared into space, thinking. ‘So, what have they really spent the money on?’ he wondered. Certainly nothing in the equipment or facilities of the building hinted at where the funds were being spent. Even the van they had used to pick him up this morning at the hotel looked like it was on its last legs.
He leaned back in the chair, putting his arms behind his head. But, he mused, he hadn’t expected this to be easy. The first pass on paper records was often uninformative - even in relatively simple fraud cases. And this Agency appeared to be involved in espionage activities, after all, Eberts reminded himself, so he would expect them to be good at hiding things.
He smiled, the excitement twinkling in his eyes. Just the thought of what The Agency might be involved in made his heart race. He liked his job; he was good at it. Possibly better than anyone else in fact, which was a satisfying boost to his ego - most of the time. But dealing with spies, and an intelligence agency that supported them - well, it was hard to avoid visions of James Bond, Star Chambers, secret intrigues, and other things much more exciting than balance sheets. He wished for a moment that he had training as an FBI or CIA special agent, or that he had the kind of skills the Agency could use; that somehow he could find a home doing something more exciting than being a paperwork detective.
Sighing, he turned his attention back to the computers on the desk next to him and began running electronic traces on the Agency’s financial transactions for the past 3 years.
Four hours later, he hit a wall.
He had anticipated that tracing all Agency transactions would be especially complex. The Agency had been shuffled from department to department like a foster child that no one wanted. Hence, the financial transactions and other operations records stretched across a Byzantine maze of computer operating systems, accounting systems, and multiple levels of security clearance.
In spite of all that, he had cleared numerous hurdles and was making progress. He had begun to form a picture of what was happening, which made this roadblock especially frustrating. Small and otherwise insignificant financial transactions were flowing through many dozens of accounts, small companies and even smaller foreign banks and financial organizations. Individually they weren’t much. Taken together however, it was clear that The Agency was funneling millions of dollars out of the easily-traceable records and into…. What?
To solve this mystery, he would need to gain access to all the computer systems of the various department which had housed The Agency over the past several years. He ran his hands through his hair, groaning, then reached for the phone, knowing he’d have to call in a few favors.
"Hello, Carlson here."
"Jack, I need a favor."
"Hi, Mike. What’s going on? I thought you were in California"
"I am, that’s why I need the favor."
"Oh?" The voice on the other end of the line perked up.
"I’m looking into some records here that are quite complex and crisscross a number of accounting systems. They each have separate clearance requirements and procedures." He paused briefly to consider his next words. "I need to get a top-level clearance approved and through the system ASAP so that I can trace what’s going on here."
‘There’ he thought, ‘that sounded urgent enough to get some action while remaining sufficiently vague to protect the interests involved.’ Eberts still didn’t know what his superiors’ motives were in making this inquiry, and he wasn’t sure about what activities the Agency might be involved with. Best to be as discrete as possible at this stage.
"Sounds intriguing, what are you working on?"
Damn, how to cover this without offending him. "I’m sorry Jack," Eberts said, cultivating his most regretful tone of voice, "but its classified. They want it all handled quietly. Sort of, ‘under the chupa,’ so to speak."
"Well, you know I’d be glad to help out if I could..."
Eberts cut him off before Jack could commit himself to not helping. "I’m afraid I’ll be very tied up with this investigation for the next few weeks. So I won’t be able to do a thorough audit of your department’s books that we’d scheduled for this month," he began, "but I’m sure I can trust your accounting to be top notch. I’ll just sign off on it when I get back." He knew he was throwing Carlson a big chit. He hopped it would be big enough.
"Oh, umm... yeah, sure thing. Oh, and I’ll see what I can do about the other matter. Will Monday be OK?"
"Monday’s fine, Jack."
Eberts was elated, "and thanks." Once his clearance was through, he’d be
able to trace Agency transactions to hell and back - and finally get to
the bottom of what’s going on here.
Secret Desert Compound near Calexico, California.
Kevin Fawkes poured boiling water from the teakettle into a large mug. Though it was his usual nightly ritual, the orange herbal tea was especially welcome this evening. It had been a long, but very productive day. They’d finished the last of the long series of tests on the Quicksilver gland. After the debacle with Simon Cole almost 10 months ago, he had been especially diligent; making sure everything - every contingency they could think of, was checked and double checked…and checked again just to make sure. The simulation models alone had taken weeks to construct. He still winced whenever he thought about Simon Cole. Although federal agents were trained to take on risky missions, even suicide missions for the good of their country, Kevin nevertheless felt ultimately responsible and guilty about Cole’s death.
He wanted everything as perfect as possible before they enrolled another human subject. And now, at last it was. Tomorrow he would call the Official and begin the process of selecting the next subject from the list of volunteers. Even if everything ran smoothly, that screening and selection process would take months; it had for Cole. After they’d begun that process at the Agency, Kevin could turn his attention back to testing gland-removal techniques. ‘After all,’ he thought, ‘no agent would want that gland in his head permanently.’
He carried his steaming mug over to a large, well-worn chair next to his personal computer. He always got ready for bed by winding down at his PC: looking at the latest news, reading on-line scientific journals and checking for any hits from his ‘bots.’ Kevin had placed several bots to canvass the internet for a wide range of topics, from optics and neuro-cognitive research, to local and hometown news. He enjoyed this last piece the best. Reading his hometown paper on line made him feel like he was still connected to his old town, his friends and his aunt back in Cold Springs. It was a great time to relax and get a broad perspective on the universe outside his lab.
He had gotten a chuckle out of John "Pizza" Pizzetti’s election to town Sheriff a year ago. John had been one of Darien’s friends in high school and was his primary competition for class screw-up, Kevin recalled with a bemused smile. Those two had gotten in a lot of trouble together. John’s example gave him hope that Darien could also get his act together at last.
"Oh my God!" Kevin sat bolt upright in his chair, his heart suddenly racing. A bot he had placed ages ago, to track any news on his brother had just dropped a bomb on him. The newspaper headline plastered across his computer screen read: "Molesting Burglar of the Elderly….." Wide-eyed and nearly holding his breath, he read with growing alarm the lead article in the San Diego Post
"I can’t believe this," he said to no one, for he was alone in his room. "He said he was going straight. He promised he was going straight! Aw Crap" Kevin ran his hand through his hair, and shook his head slowly, dismay mixing with heartache. "Damn it!"
‘Its not even like him’ he thought. ‘Molesting? When the hell did that show up?’ His brother was a simple thief, a cat burglar. ‘That can’t be right.’ His logical mind was already kicking in, analyzing the situation. Even if Darien were inclined that way - and Kevin was sure he wasn’t - Darien wouldn’t stop to do something like that in the middle of a burglary. It just didn’t make sense.
Kevin leaned back in his chair and thought about Darien’s record. His brother had already done time in Soledad Penitentiary. Along with Folsom and San Quentin, Soledad was one of California’s three maximum security prisons. The only prison worse was Bakersfield. Like the federal penitentiary in Marion Ill, Bakersfield prided itself on being a ‘roach motel’- prisoners checked in, but they didn’t check out.
His mood shifted to anger. ‘Its gonna be his third strike goddamnit! Doesn’t he realize what that means?’ Kevin knew that Darien was running the risk of getting sent to Bakersfield. It was the worst prison in the California system; a dumping ground usually reserved for the most violent criminals and ‘lifers,’ but sometimes third-strike offenders were sent there just to make an example of them. Although another stint in Soledad would be bad enough.
He rose from his chair and laid down on his bed staring at the ceiling. He took a deep breath, trying to clear his head. ‘OK’ he thought with a sigh, ‘he’s an idiot! But he’s my brother. What can I do? How can I help here?’ His first impulse was to check where the trial was being held and go there, but then he thought; ‘No, I need a plan if I’m going to help him.’
He got up and headed toward the phone. He needed to talk to Charlie.
Agency Offices, San Diego:
Eberts was so absorbed by the data scrolling across his computer screen he hadn’t noticed that most Agency personnel had left the building hours ago. It was nearly midnight and Eberts was muttering to himself… "The QS-2300 project?" He’d spent the better part of a week tracing hundreds of financial transactions across dozens of companies, organizations, and multiple foreign banks. Sooner or later, most of the money had ended up back in Calexico, California, just north of the Baja peninsula, directed to something called the ‘QS-2300 project.’ Fascinating.
But why go to all that trouble? Surely projects, even classified ones, could be funded without all those convoluted machinations. Whatever the Agency was working on in Calexico, they were certainly being careful to hide it - even from the rest of the government.
Another mystery: the funds spent on the QS-2300 project, whatever that was, had stopped cold about ten months ago. However, only a month later another financial trail picked up. Similar routing, similar amounts, but the end of the trail was earmarked as "QS-9300." The financial transfers related to that project were current. Whatever it was, it appeared to have replaced the older project, which Eberts deduced was either unsuccessful, or had been successful and was now moving on to ‘new and improved’ status.
He leaned back in his chair looking off into space, thinking. For the first time, Eberts truly felt like a detective. He only hoped that at the end of this trail, those projects would prove as fascinating as he imagined this Agency ‘spy racket’ might be.
Then he noticed an anomaly. His brows knit together as he leaned forward to examine the computer screen more closely. "Alright, let’s see where you lead," he said, as he began working the keyboard.
An hour later he sat back from the computer, contemplating the results laid out before him. "Houston, we have a problem," he muttered to himself. Although he had not yet been able to identify each transfer and financial transaction in the byzantine routing the Agency had developed to keep their projects secret, there was a loss of funds. Small but consistent, such that about 8% of all funds were being siphoned off. Given the funds that were flowing to the QS projects this added up to a substantial amount of money over time; millions fact, during the past three years.
Eberts got up from the desk for the first time in hours and stretched his cramped muscles. Finally! A break that seemed relevant to the original reason the GAO sent him here. Until now, all he’d found was that substantial funds were being used to finance a classified project that was probably totally legitimate. Here however, was a clear sign of embezzlement. ‘And now,’ he thought, ‘its time to find who’s behind this.’ His investigation would now focus on discovering the person or persons behind the embezzlement.
Eberts began pacing the
floor, considering his options. If he could work with The Official, things
would go more smoothly. If The Official was involved however, that would
make things more complicated. But he realized he was at an ‘informational
dead-end.’ He had complete access to the financial systems, but to find
the ‘perps’ as they say, he’d need access to project files and personnel
records. To find out what was really going on, he was going to have to
confront The Official.
Agency Offices, San Diego:
Eberts entered the Official’s office. "Excuse me, Mr…?" Eberts still hadn’t managed to wring the Official’s name from him, and he was beginning to get annoyed with the awkward way his sentences kept hanging. "Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me."
The Official rose to greet him. "Not at all, Mr. Eberts. Frankly, I appreciate your being so forthcoming about all this."
"I’ve found a number of financial irregularities…" Eberts began.
"Well, as I’ve said, the Agency uses a lot of paper products and.."
Eberts was tired of the Official’s attempts to brush him off. He forged ahead, "…amounting to a net loss of over two million dollars…"
"Yes, well I’m sure we can account for…"
"… from your QS-2300 and 9300 projects," Eberts concluded.
The Official stopped abruptly and regarded Eberts with apprehension. Although at the moment, Eberts was unsure of whether he was more alarmed at the financial losses, or at the knowledge that Eberts knew about his ultra-classified pet projects.
He looked solemnly at the Official, "I haven’t yet been able to determine who’s behind it, but someone is diverting funds away from those projects."
The Official’s expression changed to focused concentration as his brows knit together; "Show me."
During the next two hours Eberts walked The Official through a virtual tour of the multitude of financial transactions, bank accounts and routing pathways he’d uncovered. The Official was alarmed at the monetary losses, but his greatest concern was clearly for the security of his projects.
Eberts had observed the Official’s reactions closely throughout the meeting, and he was now certain that the Official had no involvement in the embezzlement. He took a chance at satisfying his curiosity; "What is so important about those projects? What are they? What does this Agency do?"
The Official fixed him with his most piercing gaze, as if trying to read Eberts’ intentions, trying to decide whether he wanted this information to help, or hurt The Agency. He finally settled on the latter.
"Mr. Eberts, The Agency has been around since the Cold War. We’re temporarily sponsored by Fish & Game, but we’ve been with the Bureau, the CIA, NSA, and DOD," he said, pausing for emphasis, "among others. We deliberately keep a very low profile so that we can take on the cases that other agencies either won’t or can’t because of their visibility. I was completely sincere when I told you that we protect the liberty and welfare of the American people. The QS-9300 project is one of the tools we need to do our job. In fact," he paused again, looking at Eberts with a wry smile, "it will be our ultimate concealed weapon."
Eberts was fascinated. This was as close as he’d ever gotten to the James Bond-ish activities of the government he worked for. Beyond an almost adolescent excitement with the jazzy nature of espionage activities, he was deeply affected by the Official’s commitment to his work. Although he still didn’t have a clear picture of what exactly their activities were, he knew in his bones that the Agency was vital to national security. It was important, it made his current position at the IRS feel exceptionally meaningless.
"Um…. I see," was all he could come up with for a response. It felt totally inadequate.
"Eberts, I’m impressed with the work you’ve done here." The Official nodded, indicating the mounds of paper work on the conference table. "I think you’d make a fine addition to The Agency. You have a lot to contribute; you’ve made that clear already." The Official paused, fixing Eberts with his most sincere gaze, "and I think you could do a lot more good here than at the IRS."
"A job?" Eberts mouth was agape. "You… you’re offering me a job with the Agency?"
Totally out of character, Eberts made a momentous decision without hesitation or a even second thought. " I accept." Then he paused a moment, "Um… my years of service will still count toward the pension, right?"
The Official smiled and placed a hand on Eberts’ shoulder, turning him around toward the door as if helping him to leave the office. He didn’t want to seem as if he were giving Eberts the bums rush out the door, but he had an impromptu meeting with Kevin Fawkes in just a few minutes that was weighing on his mind.
"We’ll talk about that later, Eberts, when you’re settled in." The Official was using his best snake-oil salesman voice to obfuscate the pension issue. "Right now, just get back to work on this problem and find our financial leak."
Eberts cleared his throat, "having clearance for the QS-9300 and 2300 projects would help a lot," he began. "In fact, I don’t think I can make any more progress without it."
The Official took a breath and considered Eberts carefully. "I’m afraid access to those files requires special clearance. That information must remain classified, until you’re cleared to know. Most of the agents working for us don’t even know about those projects. In fact," he mused, "there’s only one person outside The Agency who knows anything about them." He paused for a long moment then came to a decision.
Picking up the phone on his desk he dialed a single number. "Marsha," The Official glanced up at Eberts with a enigmatic smile. "Get the President on the phone."
"I don’t know what else to do," he said, pacing all the while. "I mean, I suppose on the one hand he got himself into this, and he should damn well get himself out of it." He glanced up at the Official, a desperate look on his face. "But on the other hand…" Kevin stopped and regarded Charlie.
Charlie Borden had been a friend of the Donovan family for over two decades. He’d first met Kevin through his uncle, Peter Donovan, and had come to regard him as his own nephew. He’d never really gotten close to Darien though. He’d only met him once…maybe twice, but then, Charlie and Dr. Donovan had never socialized at the family home. They had usually met at work, the lab or other outside settings. In later years these meetings had increasingly included Kevin Fawkes, whom the Official had liked almost immediately.
The Official had always regarded Darien as the black sheep; a good-for-nothing punk, an unfortunate genetic anomaly in this otherwise very fine family. He had no inclination to help this career criminal avoid his just desserts, but Kevin’s faith in his brother spoke volumes. Maybe there was something of worth to Darien Fawkes. At the very least, he should look into it… for Kevin’s sake.
Kevin had been going over and over the situation; "I mean, they’ve got him up on ridiculous charges. Molesting in the middle of a burglary? Come on, he’s being railroaded. I have to help him," he concluded, "or at least, I have to try." He slumped into a chair opposite the Official’s desk, looking as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
"It’s a hell of a risk, Kevin," Charlie replied. "How can we be sure he won’t just walk off with this? Can we risk setting an invisible thief loose on the community? Not to mention having $17 million in research dollars walk out the door with him."
Kevin’s practical, problem-solving brain came to the rescue. "I’ll talk with him before I make him the offer," he replied. "If I don’t get the sense from him that he’s serious and willing to commit completely to this, I won’t go through with it. Hell, if we have to, we can assign an agent to work with him and keep an eye on him. He’ll need that anyway, at least at first while he’s a rookie himself."
Kevin locked eyes with the Official, his expression determined and unwavering. "I want to offer him this opportunity. It’s a chance for him to turn his life around and do something good for a change."
"Kevin, you are the senior scientist on the QS projects, but this is a very serious departure from our usual procedures," the Official began. "I know how you feel about your brother, but…" his words died out. Then, suddenly he couldn’t do it; he couldn’t look Kevin in the face and just turn him down flat. He caved. The Official took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh of resignation. "Alright, I’ll probably regret this in the morning but, I’ll consider it."
Kevin jumped up from the chair, his expression brightening a thousand degrees. The Official put up his hand to cut off whatever he was about to say. "That’s all I can promise for now. Give me 24 hours to think about this."
Almost before Kevin Fawkes was out the door, the Official was on the phone. "Eberts, I have a job for you. Come up to my office."
Eberts practically jumped out of his chair in surprise. He hadn’t expected to speak to the Official again until he called to give an update on his progress. Whatever had prompted him to call sounded important, maybe even exciting. Eberts hoped he was about to get a ‘real’ assignment as an intelligence operative of The Agency. He had spent the morning familiarizing himself with the QS projects, and everything he had read was simply fascinating. He was so glad he’d accepted the Official’s offer, that he had barely winced at the flack he received from his superiors at the IRS when he’d turned in his resignation. Finally, he felt like he was involved in something important - where his contribution could make a difference.
OK, granted, his contribution still consisted of auditing financial records, but he had gotten his foot in the door. One thing at a time. After he proved his worth at this, maybe it would lead to ‘field assignments’ - those exciting activities that were the heart of intelligence activities; or so his imagination ran.
But he was by no means finished tracing down the financial leaks on the QS projects. Moreover, he was used to assignments following each other in an orderly fashion. Finish one, tie up loose ends, then move on. Still, he was looking forward to starting whatever it was as soon as he had this financial mess cleared up.
When he entered the office, The Official was seated at his desk, only just hanging up the phone. He glanced up as Eberts entered the room. "Eberts, we have a situation that’s going to require some fast investigation."
"Ah…. certainly Sir. I’ll get on it as soon as I’m finished tracking down this financial leak."
The Official looked at him squarely, "No, this has to take priority."
"But we’ve discovered evidence of actual embezzlement going on, surely we can’t…."
"Shut up Eberts, this is more urgent," the Official cut him off.
Eberts grimaced. He wasn’t at all happy about being told to shut up. Certainly none of his former superiors had spoken to him that way. Still, he was willing to concede that maybe this was just the Official’s naturally gruff style. Putting up with some attitude was a small price to pay for the exciting opportunity he’d been offered.
"Eberts, I need you to track down all possible records on one, Darien Fawkes. School records, medical history, employment, hell - if he’s ever gotten a parking ticket I want to know about it. And Eberts," he called out as he turned to leave - "there will be an extensive criminal record.
Criminal record? Eberts wondered if this Fawkes person was a suspect in some secret Agency investigation - he might just be getting deeper into intelligence activities sooner than he’d thought. He paused, recalling this morning’s research. Wait, wasn’t "Fawkes" the name of the lead scientist in charge of the QS projects?
His confusion showed clearly on his expressive features.
"Yes, ummm.. what am I looking for? I mean, what exactly are we trying to determine?" He paused to elaborate. "It helps speed things up if you know what to look for…um, specifically." He paused again and added, "You did say time is of the essence?"
The Official sighed. Eberts was right, this couldn’t work as a ‘need to know’ assignment. "Sit down, Eberts," the Official began. This was going to take awhile.
At 1:00 last night he returned to the rooms he was renting until he could properly search for an apartment. But sleep hadn’t been an option; at least not for several hours, not until he’d had time to go over the records again. He fell asleep on the couch somewhere around 3 o’clock while reading the umpteenth file folder.
His alarm clock went off at 6:00 as usual and, despite his exhaustion, he dragged himself into the shower and then began preparing the report he’d make when he returned to the Agency. He had to summarize everything he’d found and bring a well-considered opinion to the Official today…if he could manage it through the fatigue.
He’d found quite a lot.
There was a long juvenile record including vandalism, breaking & entering, home invasion and an eight month stint in a juvenile corrections facility.
The adult record was longer and even more extensive and included: petty theft, theft, fraud, grand theft, unlawful entry and multiple burglary charges. The record showed convictions in 1989, 1992 and 1997 for burglary (among other things) with, he noted, an additional theft charge in 1994 that had resulted in acquittal.
Eberts had reviewed Mr. Fawkes’ school and psychological testing records as well and incorporated those into his report. He understood why Darien Fawkes might have interested the Official. His skills as a burglar could be made useful to the Agency’s espionage activities. He was apparently more skilled that Eberts had initially given him credit for. In his records search, he had uncovered a connection between Darien Fawkes and a series of unsolved high-profile burglaries in southern California. In each case Fawkes’ credit card had been used to rent a motel room in a given town during the week in which a major burglary or series of burglaries had occurred. Because these had happened at odd intervals and in different counties, the separate law-enforcement agencies responsible for the individual cases had not discovered the pattern. Eberts had seen it and was quite certain that Mr. Fawkes was responsible.
Eberts paused at the keyboard, trying to gather his thoughts into some semblance of a formal report. Quite frankly, and off the record of course, he thought the Official was crazy to even consider making Mr. Fawkes an Agent. Why on earth would he even think of doing this? He was aware that the Official had some feelings for Kevin Fawkes and understood the sense of wanting to help someone, but really! Granted, Darien Fawkes was very intelligent, highly skilled as a thief and highly deceptive, but those same qualities would make him difficult to manage as a special agent. Eberts would have to convince the Official to find another way to help Dr. Fawkes’ brother. Making him a federal agent, not to mention the subject for the I-Man experiment, was out of the question.
Now, he just needed to convince the Official.
An hour later, Eberts wasn’t sure things had gone well. He had reported to the Official his summary findings, and had anticipated immediate agreement.
"So you don’t think using Darien Fawkes as our next I-Man would be a wise decision?" The Official looked at him levelly.
Eberts eyebrows rose toward his hairline in surprise. He thought he’d made that obvious. "In my opinion sir, it is an unjustifiable risk."
Eberts tried to get to the heart of the matter quickly. "My chief concern is that he has a serious personality defect. He’s highly intelligent and comes from a good home, yet he’s a career criminal. Even when its in his best interest not to steal, he does. His records from both school and prison confirm this; he’s self-destructive, he’s impulsive and he disrespects authority." Eberts was running out of steam, but hoped that he’d made his point as best he could. "Frankly sir, I don’t see how one could defend the decision to use him."
The Official continued to examine the documents in front of him, frowning in intense concentration. Eberts couldn’t fathom what he was considering; it seemed to be an open-and-shut case. Finally, the Official looked up from his desk. "Thank you, Eberts. I’ll speak with you about this when I’ve made my decision." He rose from his chair, "In the meantime, get back to work on that financial problem."
Feeling dismissed, and still uncertain as to the impact his report had made on the Official, Eberts reluctantly returned to his office. He mused regarding his relationship with his new employer; ‘That man is such an enigma,’ Eberts thought. ‘I wonder if I’ll be able to read him better when I’ve worked with him longer?’
Kevin Fawkes entered the Official’s office, palms sweating. He hadn’t been this nervous since defending his thesis at Yale. Correction, he thought, he’d never been this nervous. He felt that his brother’s life was on the line, and he didn’t know how else to save him.
The Official looked up when he entered the office. His expression was deeply concerned, but he wasn’t smiling. Bad sign.
"Kevin, sit down," Charlie gestured toward a chair next to his at the conference table. Kevin swallowed his nerves and waited for him to begin. "Kevin, I’ve known you since you were a kid. Your uncle and I worked together for years, and I’ve come to think of you as family." Kevin felt his heart sinking…whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good. "So I won’t beat around the bush with you, or make this pretty." He paused, taking a deep breath before continuing. "We’ve got a major problem. I’ve had our people investigate your brother’s case and I’m still not convinced that we should use him as our next I-Man."
Kevin started to protest, but the Official held up his hand to quiet him. "Now, hear me out, I want to help you. Darien does have a few things going for him," the Official said, smiling slightly "besides you. He’s intelligent, he’s resourceful, and he hasn’t committed any violent crimes - all of which argues in his favor."
Kevin interrupted to defend his brother, "Darien hates violence. In fact, several of his arrests happened when he was trying to help someone, when he could have been trying to get away."
The Official looked solemnly at Kevin. "We know that," he was thinking of his conversation with Eberts this morning. "Nevertheless, he has an extensive criminal record; burglary, breaking and entering, home invasion. And he’s been in and out of prison several times." The Official sat down next to Kevin Fawkes. "He may be your brother, but how can we risk putting this kind of technology into that type of person? He’d be a loose cannon."
Kevin had a thought; "What if I found a way to control him? What if we put a tracer in the gland, or found some other way to maintain control over the agent with the gland?"
That caught the Official’s attention. "Control him? How?" If Darien Fawkes could be reliably controlled, he could be made into an important asset for the Agency.
"Most simply, we could install a GPS-type tracer so that we’d know where the agent was at all times." Kevin continued for several minutes, brainstorming a variety of alternatives - everything he could think of in hopes of catching the Official’s interest.
This was precisely what the Official hoped to hear. Even more than adding Darien’s skills to the Agency’s profile, Charlie wanted to help Kevin; and as a friend of the family he also felt some desire to save Darien - even if it meant saving him from himself. He looked at Kevin and thought, ‘To hell with what Eberts said, if there’s a chance we can make this work it’ll be worth it.’ The Official narrowed his eyes, regarding Kevin seriously, "Whatever you come up with, it will have to be a very reliable means of control, something that will make him accountable to us. Can you do that?"
Kevin jumped up from his chair. "Give me a couple days to come up with an answer. I need to talk with our lead biochemist, Dr. Arnaud de Thiel."
"We’d still be taking a big risk, Kevin, but if you can do it, I’m willing to back you."
Kevin was already heading
for the door. "I’ll call you in two days to let you know what we’ve come
up with." He paused at the door, turning to look at the Official again.
"And thanks, Charlie." He didn’t need to add ‘this means a lot.’ He knew
that Charlie already knew that. Kevin strode down the Agency hallway, heading
for the parking lot and his car. He’d have been calling Arnaud even now,
but security forbid cellular contacts into the compound. He’d be there
in an hour.
As he drove past the security checkpoint into the compound Kevin thought about Arnaud. Arnaud de Thiel had come into the QS projects near the beginning, three years ago. He was a brilliant biochemist. Together, he and Arnaud had solved the problem that had resulted in Simon Cole’s permanent invisibility. Unfortunately, it had been too late to help Simon. Dr. de Thiel was also a good project strategist. It was Arnaud who had suggested to Kevin and the Official the means of re-routing funding so that the QS projects were undetectable even to other government agencies. It had worked brilliantly. They had been able to maintain complete secrecy from other government departments who might use their superior influence to ‘borrow’ the Agency’s technology to enhance their own image. The QS project was going to be a life-saver for the Agency, and so Kevin and his team were dedicated to keeping it secret.
As soon as he reached his office in the lab, he paged Arnaud. In the lab, Kevin explained the situation to Dr. de Thiel, and outlined his first idea for a control device. He wasn’t satisfied with it and he knew Arnaud would immediately try to improve on it.
"Agreed," Arnaud began, "A GPS tracer is an awkward method of control. It is merely a crude way of sweeping up after the fact. What we need is something more pro-active, something that will motivate the agent to come back to us." He paused a moment to reflect.
Kevin looked at him with satisfaction. It had been such a coup for his project to get Dr. de Thiel. The man was simply brilliant, and Kevin had utter confidence in Arnaud’s abilities. He found himself smiling - if anyone could solve this problem and help him get Darien out of trouble, it would be Arnaud.
"If we could alter the chemistry of the gland or the quicksilver itself," Arnaud continued, "it would allow us more direct control over the agent. For example we could alter the gland’s chemistry so that the agent would need chemical supplements on a regular basis." He leaned back in his lab chair, arms folded behind his head, the picture of confidence. "Rather like when a diabetic requires regular insulin injections. Control would be perfect because the agent would feel ill if he didn’t come in for regular supplements."
Kevin leaned forward resting his chin on his hand. His brow was furrowed, deep in thought. "I don’t like the idea of making the agent sick." He narrowed his eyes, looking intensely at Arnaud, "Could we alter the gland’s chemistry such that it would stop producing QuickSilver without regular supplements? That way, the gland would simply stop functioning. We would have control as long as the agent wanted to continue using invisibility."
"Difficult," replied Arnaud. "The absence of QuickSilver production could lead to premature degradation of the gland’s tissue." He shrugged, "Perhaps when the process is cheap enough to consider the gland ‘disposable’ we could, but otherwise…" he left the thought hanging in the air.
Kevin sat back in his chair, and stared at the ceiling as he searched for alternatives. He was lost in thought and didn’t see Arnaud’s grimace. ‘He’s such an idiot,’ Arnaud thought to himself. ‘What an inadequate means of control. The agent would only need to return if and when he wanted to use the invisibility. Much better to induce an illness.’ Arnaud brightened at his next thought, ‘or, better yet, an addiction! Yes, introduce a cerebral disinhibitor that acts like heroin or morphine into the gland’s chemistry; the agent would have no choice but to return regularly for his shots.’ Liking this line of thought much better, Arnaud managed a smile which looked both sincere and appropriately sober as Kevin’s attention returned to his lab partner.
"Regular supplements or illness?" Kevin said, not expecting an answer. "Its not a great solution. Can you do that without damaging the gland?"
"Certainly," Arnaud smiled confidently. He got up, walked over to his console, and began punching up several programs while he talked. "We can use a retrovirus to implant a change in the RNA that controls the gland’s quicksilver production. The quicksilver itself would then carry the altered biochemistry and thus the entire process would be self-sustaining." He grinned at Kevin. "Just give me a few days to develop the virus."
On the way back to his rooms, Kevin Fawkes was deep in thought. ‘What am I doing? Am I going to turn my brother into a junkie, dependent on his next fix? Darien will never agree to this. He hates drugs….and needles. He’ll never go for this.’
A voice from the back of Kevin’s brain spoke up: "Not if you don’t tell him."
He paused at his door. ‘Could I do that? Just not tell him about this side-effect? No,’ Kevin shook his head, still wrestling his conscience, ‘Its unethical. Extremely! I’ll just have to tell him everything and persuade him.’
That annoying voice spoke again: "Yeah…right. No way in hell will he agree."
‘OK, so don’t tell him,’ Kevin continued arguing with himself, ‘because if I do, he won’t agree and he stays in prison.’ Just the thought of Darien behind bars again was enough to make Kevin feel the panic rise again in his chest. He’d heard enough repugnant stories about life in prison and feared that the reality was even worse. He had nightmares each time Darien had been in jail before, and was desperate to keep him out this time. He disliked the choice he was making now, but he liked the alternative even less. ‘And its only temporary,’ he told himself and his conscience. ‘Its only for as long as he has the gland. I’ll have the removal process worked out in a few months.’
‘Besides,’ the big brother in him finally spoke up, ‘its for his own good.’
Eberts straightened up, a look of concerned resignation on his face. "So we’re going ahead with using Darien Fawkes as the next I-Man?" It was an unnecessary question to which the Official didn’t bother to respond.
"Eberts, contact the Justice Department. We’ll need to arrange for a pardon once we have him."
"Um, sir…. He hasn’t even been convicted yet."
"It seems likely that he will be," the Official continued. "We need to ready for that outcome."
Eberts thought for a moment, took a deep breath and said, "Sir, regarding the judge assigned to this case: I took the liberty of reviewing his record while I was investigating Darien Fawkes." The Official’s eyebrows went up at this. Clearly Eberts was more thorough and efficient than even he had imagined. Eberts continued; "the judge in this case, Judge John Beale, of the second district court, has a history of very lenient sentencing. Perhaps we could take steps to persuade Judge Beale to consider being less lenient in this case?" Eberts paused, unsure if he might be overstepping some boundaries here.
The Official chuckled, shaking his head in amusement. "Eberts, there’s an agent in you just waiting to come out. What do we know about this judge?"
Eberts walked over to the computer and tapped on the keyboard for a moment. Without taking his eyes off the computer screen he commented, "I take it we’re looking for a means of persuasion?" The Official didn’t feel any need to respond, his intention was well understood by his new right-hand man.
Fifteen minutes later Eberts left the computer and returned to the Official’s desk. "Judge John Beale has a record of service on the court bench going back to 1976, when he replaced Judge Salvatore Marcus. He’s a registered Republican, and has worked on the San Diego county Board of Electors. His record on the bench is exemplary; he has a history of being very conservative in his rulings, and he’s on the list for a Federal Judgeship that will be opening up in the Sacramento Federal court next month." Eberts paused for breath. "He also took third place in the San Diego county gardening competition last summer."
At this last statement, the Official rolled his eyes then glared over his glasses at his assistant. The man was brilliant at finding information, but he sometimes lacked a good sense for discriminating what was important and what was irrelevant trivia.
Eberts set the printout on the Official’s desk. "Sir, perhaps when you speak with Judge Beale you could suggest that the Justice Department would greatly appreciate it if the maximum sentence were imposed?"
The Official looked curiously at him.
"The maximum sentence for aggravated burglary on a third strike offense is life….without parole." Eberts continued, "it would have the effect of making Mr. Fawkes more inclined to accept our offer."
The Official shook his head smiling rather grimly at his assistant. "Eberts, I like the way you think." He added to himself, ‘Machiavelli would be proud. The IRS does train its people well don’t they?’
"Eberts, get to work on making arrangements with the Justice Department," the Official reached for the phone, "while I give His Honor a call."
Two hours later Eberts returned to the Official’s office to report on his progress. He spoke almost before he had shut the door. "How did things go with the Judge?" His curiosity was just about killing him.
"Quite well. He was very receptive to our suggestion that it was in the best interest of national security that Fawkes be given the maximum sentence. It’s a good thing we called, he said he wasn’t planning on going for the maximum, just three to five years for the burglary charge." The Official shrugged, "That’s to be expected I suppose. The molesting charge was obviously over the top; just lawyers adding in as many charges as possible to ensure a conviction on the charges more central to the case."
Eberts placed some documents on the desk in front of the Official. "I contacted the Justice Department as you instructed. Everything is all set, they’ll be ready to issue a pardon within 24 hours after we notify them of a conviction." He handed a pen to the Official, "Just sign here."
The Official smiled as he signed, "Eberts, you’re a model of efficiency." He handed the pen back. "Now, get back to work tracing the source of the financial drain on the QS-9300 project." The Official replied, "We’re gearing up to begin the final phase of that project and I want everything secured before we move ahead."
"Should we inform Dr. Fawkes that there’s a problem?" Eberts inquired. Clearly if there was an embezzler, or worse, some kind of ‘mole’ inside the project, the lead scientist should be informed.
"Not until we have a suspect. I don’t want to tip our hand that we know anything is going on until we know who’s behind it."
Eberts spent the next several weeks tracing the financial routing from the Agency’s official account that was accessible to any GAO auditor, through the dozens of transfers and individual transactions that each wave of money made on route to the project. Eberts reclined in his office chair, relaxing for what seemed like the first time in ages. At last the wall he’d been beating his head against for the past three weeks had broken and he had a clear picture of the financial routing and the embezzlement scheme. Across each financial transfer a small percentage of funds were siphoned off. These ‘siphoned’ funds always followed the same route; diverging away from the main stream of funds at a bank in Philadelphia, then to London, back to Banco Internacionale de Caribbean, and finally to an account in Zurich. From there, as with all numbered Swiss accounts, the trail went cold.
He shook his head and muttered to himself, "These have got to be the toughest set of security protocols I’ve seen in ages. A good corporate embezzlement racket would have given up its secrets a week ago." He chewed the end of his pencil absentmindedly in frustration. "And I still haven’t run him to ground."
He looked up, suddenly intense as he mentally reviewed his latest inspiration. "I’ve been going at this all wrong. I’ve been trying to trace the transfer of funds from the beginning."
He stood up and began pacing the room, talking to himself. "It has to all be ending up with the embezzler. If I begin with the QS project personnel I can backtrack their finances and see where the money lands." He broke into a wide grin, certain this would work. "Gotcha now."
The first step was to stop the bank transfers responsible for the financial drain on the QS project. Stopping further losses was critical to the project and the Agency, but moreover, it would give the guilty party cause to change his routine. This alone could provide ample opportunity for mistakes which would reveal his identity.
Eberts began making phone calls. Starting with the first bank in the chain where the siphoning was occurring, he used his experience as an IRS agent to pull all the right strings and put a halt on future transactions. This was going to be a long, but very satisfying day.
Secret Compound in Calexico, California 1:00am, Wednesday
"Merde!" Arnaud de Thiel cursed as he re-entered his PIN number and tried again to gain access to funds in his account in Banco Internacionale de Carribean. For the third time, the account came up dry.
He had infiltrated the Agency accounting systems ages ago to arrange matters so that almost all transfers were automatic. But the final transfer between Banco Internacionale’ and his Swiss account had always required a manual transfer. Somehow, the funds scheduled to be deposited in the Caribbean account hadn’t arrived. The Missouri bank that was one stop ‘upstream’ from the Caribbean account hadn’t deposited the funds on schedule. He couldn’t make a phone call to the bank to discover what had happened because the base was on ‘high alert’ status. It had been locked down securely ever since Fawkes’ brother had arrived. All phone calls in or out were heavily monitored. Arnaud could however, have a nice friendly ‘chat’ with his brother, Huisclos - and send a coded message to have him check the banking situation.
He hoped the Official’s lack of respect for his abilities would be corrected soon. Sighing, he returned to his office and began sifting though the core dumps from the past month’s computer files. Log entries were a very effective, very thorough way of checking computer security. It was also a very tedious and time-consuming method. But seeing no clear alternatives, Eberts dove into the mounds of paper printouts blanketing his office.
One week later…
Eberts rubbed his eyes for the twentieth time that morning. He’d spent weeks picking though the minutia of countless core dumps and computer programs. His exhaustive examination of the Agency financial printouts, thousands of pages in fact, had finally revealed several ‘back doors’ that bypassed computer security at the compound. Worse, sensitive data concerning the QS project had already been transferred out of the compound by means of these back doors. He went to the Official’s office to report on his progress and get permission to delete those program loops, and stop any further data leaks.
The model security systems accessible at the Agency were taking the program grafts in stride, and it finally looked like he’d succeeded in designing a program that would install successfully on the first pass, and thus avoid detection by any guardian programs the thief might have placed into the system.
With security completely
tightened down, he would be able at his leisure to examine the core dumps
and discover if any data had already been transmitted out of the project
base, and if so, by whom. Things were finally falling into place and he
could shift his efforts to tracking down the source of the data leaks.
************ An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. - Niels Bohr (1885 - 1962) Danish physicist************
But who could his opponent be? He had looked at all Agency personnel when he’d first joined the project, and there was no one who had the financial or auditing background to detect his scheme.
Arnaud’s calculating mind drew the logical conclusion, clearly it was time to move into phase II of his plan, which meant he needed to finish transferring the project data out. He returned to his rooms and initialized his personal computer. This was only possible because the security procedures designed to stop all outgoing messages on the computer systems had hidden flaws that Arnaud himself had helped to install. However, when he accessed his system administrator account and typed in his underground data transfer codes, "Access Denied," appeared on the screen.
Arnaud hissed under his breath, "nom de nom!" He glared at the computer screen as if it had personally offended him. Could someone have set up a ‘firewall’ to block his access to the data transfer system? Those data access routes were triple encrypted and should have gotten past any security firewalls. In fact, they shouldn’t have been detectable. ‘How the hell did they get blocked?’ Arnaud thought. Frustrated, he tried again using older codes he hadn’t accessed in over a year. "URL 401, Unable to Authenticate Sign On," appeared on the screen. Arnaud drew the only remaining conclusion; some ‘little prick’ had installed coded firewalls.
He was enraged, pacing the floor like a caged leopard. Who could have done this? Obviously, someone new to the project who wasn’t there when Arnaud came on board. So, who was new? Darien Fawkes? He dismissed that idea rapidly. ‘No, he’s no computer wizard’ Arnaud thought, ‘he’s a petty thief. The only thing that little prick sees in a computer is its resale value.’ Arnaud was furious. Just when Fawkes had demonstrated the success of the project and Arnaud was ready to transmit the data to his brother, security was locked down tighter than anything.
The blocks had to be coming from outside the compound. The Agency? Who there was skilled enough to set up new security like this? He was stumped. Worse, this could only mean that whoever was hunting him was already closer than he’d anticipated. Any day now, whoever was behind this might discover his late-night extracurricular data transfers. It was time to initiate his backup plan. He would have to abandon electronic data transfers and take the project information out of the compound physically, on data chips. He hoped to quietly smuggle the data chips out of the facility without attracting any notice. But he wasn’t taking any chances. He would need his brother and their guerilla forces standing by, in case a more decisive show of force proved necessary. It was time to call Huisclos again.
Arnaud paced his rooms, reviewing his plans and the events of the last few hours. That had been a close call, too close. Fortunately, Dr. Fawkes’ brother had already displayed his first ‘episode’ of quicksilver madness, making it relatively easy to convince him that Darien’s accusations were the ravings of a mind gone out of balance. He was paranoid and imagining things; that was an explanation Dr. Fawkes was willing to accept…temporarily. Arnaud was also certain it wouldn’t last. He had delayed that inevitable outcome by recommending to Kevin that his brother be kept under sedation while enzymatic tests were run to determine the cause of this unexpected breakout of "quicksilver madness." But he could only buy himself about twelve hours with that tactic. After that, Darien would have to be awakened. Kevin Fawkes was too smart, and Darien too convincing to be dismissed for long. Soon, inevitably, Darien would convince his brother of the truth, that Arnaud was smuggling data out of the compound. Best to move quickly.
He had planned to raid the compound by force only as a last resort. Being locked out of his data access portals had forced him to initiate that plan into action. He would take the QS project data out of the compound on magnetic bubble-disks, and taking any equipment he might need - including Darien Fawkes - and destroy the remaining project records. Interesting to think of a human being as ‘equipment,’ he mused. Yes, the younger Fawkes would make a nice ‘floor model’ for his auction. How better to convince buyers of the truth and value of invisibility than by demonstrating it before their own eyes? The ‘little prick’ could be difficult, but Arnaud was sure he would find ways to make him agreeable. Another taste of quicksilver madness, bribery with a shot of counteragent, and perhaps holding Kevin hostage as collateral should do the job nicely. But this unexpected discovery by Darien had made it a necessity to advance his plans more quickly. He would have to signal Huisclos to move up the planned raid to 9:00 the next morning.
Agency Offices, San Diego: Thursday, 9:00am
He couldn’t believe his eyes, the report had spit out only one name: Arnaud de Thiel. Kevin’s right-hand-man, and second in charge of the QS project. He reviewed the program again, to make sure he hadn’t made an error. The results were the same; Dr. de Thiel was the only QS team member who was always on line at the same time the back door programs were activated. "Hmm, step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly," Eberts muttered as he resigned himself to the truth. This Dr. de Thiel was apparently a lot more devious, and possibly more dangerous than anyone had ever imagined.
Eberts headed out the door of his office, intent on speaking to the Official immediately. As second in charge of the QS project, Dr. de Thiel had full access to all QS project data, and the knowledge necessary to make use of it. If Dr. de Thiel was indeed the leak, the entire QS project could be in jeopardy. Eberts wasn’t sure of the procedures involved in arresting someone so highly placed, but he was certain it would require the Official’s direct involvement.
When Eberts entered the office, the Official was seated behind his desk looking tense and very pale. He was on the phone with someone, leaning forward as if he would jump right through the phone to get to the person on the other end of the line. "…you can’t reach anyone at the compound?" he was saying. "Well, what about security?…..I see. Get a strike team down there immediately." He paused a moment, listening, and replied into the phone "I don’t care how secure it is, I’d rather over-react and have it turn out to be nothing important, than ignore the problem and jeopardize this project. Now, get someone out there!" he bellowed. "And continue trying to raise Dr. Fawkes by phone."
The Official sat in his darkened office brooding. His grand plans for an I-Man program were in ruin, Dr. Fawkes was dead, and the only scientist who could replace him had turned out to be a terrorist and a traitor. The events as they had unfolded were entangled with his decision to hire Eberts.
Everything he’d asked Eberts to do, he had done by the book…brilliantly. Too brilliantly, in fact. He’d been so fast and so effective that he had ‘spooked the perp.’ The Official had allowed Eberts free reign to block Arnaud’s embezzlement scheme and thwart his plans to steal the Quicksilver technology. In doing so, Eberts had set a match to that powder keg, touching off the sequence of events leading to the disaster at the compound. ‘No,’ the Official corrected himself, ‘that’s not entirely true.’ It hadn’t been Eberts acting alone. He too, had grievously underestimated Dr. de Thiel’s treachery, and his potential for violence.
He had underestimated Eberts too. He would have to reign Eberts in a bit and restrict his authority for awhile, until they were both more comfortable with his abilities and how they fit into this dangerous occupation. He wouldn’t tell Eberts why he was restricting his authority. As things stood, Eberts didn’t know that the raid on the compound was a direct reaction to his own interventions, and he didn’t need the guilt he would undoubtedly feel if he was told. What happened was entirely the fault of Arnaud de Thiel.
What was left now, was to salvage what remained of the Quicksilver project, locate Darien Fawkes….and somehow start again.