Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 05: The Agent

         Katie abruptly left the registrar's station after pretending not to have the required paperwork, or to even understand what was going on around her—the language barrier and all. What was with that guy? How had she missed with him?
          After all her careful preparation, working on her "chance meeting" with the target, he had completely blown her off. Her "Svetlana" character had never failed to hook a man before. Usually her eyes and smile alone were enough to get a man to at least talk to her. Hell, every other man in the BMV was making eyes at her. Could he have known? Impossible! Hanlon had been very careful—they never met at the lab, so O'Keefe would never have seen her there. Besides, the man struck her as kind of goofy—she doubted very much that he even so much as suspected he was being watched.
          O'Keefe had seemed to be obsessed with the frumpy woman ahead of him in line. Maybe he was just realistic enough to know he wouldn't have a chance with a woman that looked like Svetlana. She had practically thrown herself at him, though—that had always been enough to make men lose logic altogether. So why hadn't it worked with him? She might have to try a different tack.

          Sergeant Michael Hanlon, USMC, Ret. was everything one would expect in a former Marine. That is to say, he was clean and neat, he had perfect posture, and he was utterly diligent in his duty. He was an honorable man who did his job to the best of his ability, and even at his age he could probably kill you before you even had time to fully form the words, "Oh shit!" in your mind, let alone say them out loud. Unfortunately, very few of the people around him had anything like his sense of professionalism. Frankly, he thought most of them were idiots, though he would never say so out loud.
          Katie McEllern stood stiffly before him. She had never served in any armed forces, but she knew this meeting was nothing less than an inspection.
          "You came highly recommended," he began. "But I never heard of you before last week."
          "That's the way it is in my line of work, Mr. Hanlon. If I do my job right, very few people know I've done anything at all."
          "So how am I supposed to tell the difference?" He paced around her where she stood. "And you will address me as Sergeant, Sgt. Hanlon or Sir. Mister Hanlon is my dear departed father, God rest his soul."
          They were in the middle of a hotel suite. The meeting had been arranged for here because Sgt. Hanlon didn't want Katie to come into contact with the target before she had all the details.

          Katie stepped outside and quickly scanned the parking lot. There he is. Seth O'Keefe was getting into an older model Camaro. It was light metallic blue and rusty, the driver's side door coated in primer. The license plate was "S3CR3TS" and on the back were several bumper stickers—most of the Heavy Metal Band Name variety, and one which read: "Labelle Research: We Know What We're Doing, So You Don't Need To."
          He backed out of his space and drove towards her. Quickly she turned to her left and walked past a flower shop and then a music store. She stopped and watched the reflection in the window while pretending to look at a collection of instruments. She noted that the hood of O'Keefe's car was also covered with primer. West-siders, she thought. Do they ever finish what they start?
          Once he passed her, she made her way across the parking lot to her own car: a late-model white 4-door Honda Accord—about as inconspicuous a car as one could find. They'd sold hundreds of thousands of the things, after all. She would have to catch O'Keefe's attention some other way. Perhaps after casually bumping into each other one or two more times she might convince him that Svetlana was his "destiny" or some such nonsense. She'd have to play it carefully, though—if he suspected he was being watched, running into her too many times too soon might set off alarm bells in his head.
          As she pulled to the end of the parking row, O'Keefe suddenly sped by, going the opposite direction from the one in which he'd left. Hmm … curious, that. What's his hurry? He hadn't so much as looked in her direction, so she decided to tail him—all the way to the library right next door to the shopping center where the BMV was located.

          "We think we may have a security leak at Labelle Research. That's something I will not tolerate."
          "And so you want me to plug your leak?" Katie replied, "I can do that."
          Hanlon handed her a folder. "O'Keefe is the name. Seth Davis O'Keefe. He seems to have taken an unusual interest in the labs."
          "And curiosity is not something you encourage—at least not outside the scientific staff." She took the folder and sat on the couch. "Please, make yourself comfortable … Sergeant." She motioned to the chair across the coffee table from her.
          The sun was just rising, but her room on the 14th floor faced west. The red-gold light was beginning to stream between the other, taller buildings in the area and create an intricate interplay of shadows and reflections on the river. It was a beautiful autumn day in the Midwest, with bright skies and just a few large puffy clouds floating about. Katie could get lost on a day like this, were she outside, but for now—down to business.
          She leaned forward on the couch and opened the folder on the table in front of her. There was a picture of an average-looking guy with medium-length blond hair, sideburns and a soul patch. He had light grey eyes that gave his face a sort of empty look. There was a data sheet attached:

Seth Davis O'Keefe
2500 Cortona Rd.
Columbus, OH 43204

Birthday: September 24, 1983 
Sex: male                    Race: caucasian
Ht: 5'10"                      Wt: 170
Marital status: single

Education: 2 Years at CSCC, no degree
Department: maintenance

          O'Keefe parked his car out away from the bulk of the cars in the lot. What? He's afraid to get a scratch on that beat up old piece of shit? She noticed that the passenger door was a darker blue than the rest of the car—the rest that wasn't primer, that is. She watched as he checked that his doors were locked and then made his way to the library. He had a large book in his hand. It appeared to be the book that O'Keefe and the frumpy woman had been discussing in line at the BMV. Holy Shit, she thought. He's trying to track that woman down!
          Katie parked her car nearer the building and went inside.
          O'Keefe was standing at the counter arguing with a library clerk. It seemed the library didn't just give out information on who had checked out what books.
          "But this is important," he was saying. "I think this woman's friend is the love of my life. Don't you understand? Don't you have a single romantic bone in your body?"
          "I'm sorry sir," replied the librarian. "My hands are tied."
          O'Keefe slumped. "Fine then." 
          He turned to walk away when the librarian interrupted him.
          O'Keefe turned back, hopefully. "Yes? You changed your mind, and can help—"
          "No," he replied. "But I can't let you leave with that book. It's library property and you're not the patron who checked it out."
          "How do you know that? Did you look in the computer and see who did check it out? Who was it?"
          "No, sir. You just now told me you didn't."
          "Oh … yeah." He turned and bolted for the door, the librarian yelling after him.
          Katie stifled a laugh and hurriedly turned towards the nearest display shelf. She doubted O'Keefe would notice her in his desperate rush for the door, but she didn't want to take any chances.
          She turned to watch him push his way out the door and stumble into the parking lot. He dropped the book in the process, doubled back, picked it up and ran for his car. 
          Katie walked back outside, casually. O'Keefe almost fell once again and then spent several seconds fumbling for his keys and dropping the book once more in the process. He unlocked the car and dropped the keys, as well, before picking them back up, along with the book and getting into his car. He almost slammed his own leg in the door, he was in such a rush. And he never once stopped to look around him. If he had, he'd have realized that no one from the library was chasing him.
          The car started and O'Keefe pulled out of the lot with a squealing of tires. He screamed by the library and into the shopping center parking lot. Someone in a pick-up truck had to swerve and stop to avoid him as he pulled out on to the main street and headed west as fast as he could, the blare of the pick-up's horn behind him.
          What an idiot, Katie thought. Could he really be involved in industrial espionage?

          "Wait … this guy works in the maintenance department?"
          "He's basically a janitor," said Hanlon, finally sitting down. "We know we have a leak, and believe it or not, he's our most likely suspect."
          "So … he never graduated college, never married, and he's native to the area. Seems an unlikely candidate."
          "Well, it all seems to check out. We run down records on everyone who applies to work for us. Though …"
          "Though, it's always possible his records have been doctored," she finished for him.
          "Yes—that." Hanlon continued, "And it's always possible someone else got to him after he came to work for us."
          "A competitor, you mean. Like another research lab?"
          "Maybe. Or, possibly even a foreign agent."
          "So … you think the Chinese or the Russians or someone might be using the janitor to get top secret information out of your government-contracted research facility?"
          "Or, the Israelis, yes."
          "The Israelis?"
          "Oh, yes. There are projects at Labelle that would definitely interest them."
          "Such as what?"
          "Well, obviously, I'm not at liberty to divulge that information. To be honest, I'm not exactly privy to all the goings-on in the research department myself."
          "Aren't you the head of security?"
          "Yes, but there are some things even I'm not allowed to know."
          "I see."
          They sat in awkward silence for several minutes. Katie shifted uncomfortably on the couch, looking over the target's file, while Hanlon sat in his chair, still as stone.
          Finally, Katie said, "Well I would suggest I start by either making contact with him or running my own background check."
          "However you wish to handle it. My sources tell me you know what you're doing."
          "Your sources are correct. You know my fees and expense arrangements?"
          "Yes—they're fine."
          "All right then. I'll take the job." They both stood and reached across the table to shake hands. "I'll have the contracts sent over this afternoon and will begin work in the morning."
          "Thank you, Miss McEllern."

          This day had been nothing but a waste of time. Perhaps it was time to do a little more background work.

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