Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 12: The Call

     "Why you think I would know of such things?" Katie asked, after several pregnant seconds of pause.
     "Well," Seth replied, "because you're from Russia. Isn't the government pretty much always surveilling everyone there?"
     "Is not always way things seem in American media."
     "How do you mean?"
     "You are thinking of Soviet Union," she said. "And not even under communists was it as bad as Americans always think. Or so my parents tell me. I was born in Soviet Union, but grew up with glasnost and under Gorbachev and Yeltsin."
     "But what about Putin? I hear he's a control freak."
     "Putin cares for power," Katie responded. " He does not concern about peasant goings-on and the like." They sat for a moment, sipping their coffees, before Katie asked. "Why do you ask this?"
     "Oh, no reason."
     "I think you have reason, but do not wish to be sharing." She pouted.
     "Oh, all right," Seth said. "I suppose I can tell you." He paused and looked around the café as though he were expecting someone to be listening in on them. He nodded to where Nita was sitting and whispered, "I think she might be listening to us."
     Katie turned to look. Nita was busy looking busy. "I do no think she has been paying us any mind."
     "Someone has been watching me. It's the government, I think."

    "You are joking again, yes? Why would government be watching you?"
     "Because of where I work."
     "Where are you working?"
     Seth lowered his head and leaned in towards Katie. "I work at Labelle Labs."
     Katie maintained a blank expression and blinked twice. "What is this Labs? Is it something I should hear of?"
     "You've never heard of Labelle?" Seth seemed authentically surprised. "We do research on secret government projects—stuff for DARPA, NSA, military intelligence, the CIA, that sort of thing."
     "So if you work for government, why would government spy on you?"
     "I don't work for the government directly. We're a private research contractor." He looked around again. "I know some departments are working on nuclear technology—others are on chemical weapons, bio-tech, cybernetics, weapons research, all kinds of crazy stuff. Some of the other stuff we're working on … it involves covert operations, stealth, surveillance, that sort of thing."
     "Is government worried about you telling secrets?" Katie asked. She paused a moment and looked around her, intimating that Seth's paranoia was beginning to rub off on her. "Maybe … maybe I should not be talking with you?"
     "What? Why?" Seth appeared to be puzzled.
     "Because if government watches you, would they not grow suspicious of you talking to Russian national?"
     "Oh, Jesus, yeah." Seth's eyes grew wide. "You think they're watching us now? Maybe we should follow that woman behind you … keep an eye on her after we leave."
     Katie's cell phone rang. Glancing at it, she saw it was Gavrilo on the line. It must be something important, or he would have sent a message instead. She held a finger up to silence Seth and answered the call.
     "Yes, Gavrilo."
     "Miss Cavell? What's with the fake Russian accent? Is someone listening?"
     "No. Never you mind this. It is mine own business."
     Gavrilo laughed. "OK, if you say so. I have some information for you regarding your Strange Animal. It looks like it was some kind of joint project with the Navy and some black-box research group. Most of the names have been redacted, but the program was built on some work by a Dr. Celia Wright. She works out of Seattle—used to be a psych professor at the University of Washington."
     "Oh yes, Gavrilo. 'Seattle' you say? Is there anything else? Could you fax me this paperwork please?"
     "Fax?" Gavrilo laughed. "Who the hell uses—wait, is that supposed to be part of your cover?"
     "Stop laughing, this is serious."
     "OK, sorry. I'll get the information to your drop-box. You still using the old ZZ1alpha?"
     "Thank you." Katie disconnected.
     "What was that all about?" Seth asked worriedly.
     "Oh, this was nothing. Is just bureaucracy. Paperwork I need for my exchange studies." Katie covered quickly. "Is for University."
     "Oh, OK." Seth's expression softened a bit. "So, is everything OK? What's in Seattle?"
     "There is professor there who has research materials for Russian exchange students. I must call her later."
     "And Gavrilo?"
     "Gavrilo is my counselor." Damn, Katie thought. What's with the third degree? "Is from University in Moscow."
     "Isn't it pretty late there?"
     "Yes. Is … umm …" Katie did some quick calculations in her head. "Is almost five o'clock tomorrow in morning."
     "Why would he be up so early?" He's not going to drop this, is he?
     "Is counselor for exchange students. He must keep right hours for students in America."
     "Give me your phone." He reached his hand across the table to her.
     "What? Why would you ask this?"
     "Just give it to me. I want to see it."
     "Is personal." She started to worry now. She knew shouldn't have answered the call. Now O'Keefe had had his suspicions aroused. "My friends are on this."
     "I thought you didn't have any friends."
     "These are my friends and contacts from home! These are people I miss and talk to when I can."
     "Hand it over." Seth stood up. "Either that or just tell me now who you work for."
     "I will not!" Katie decided her only hope was to turn the tables on him. "You give me your phone, then!"
     "You'd love that, wouldn't you?" Seth was becoming angrier.
     "I do not know you. You say to me that paranoia was a joke. But now I see it is not."
     "Who are you working for?" He asked. This was just the beginning of a stream of questions. "What agency? Are you with the government? How long have you been watching me? What do you want off my phone?"
     "If I have been watching you," Katie said, "why would I need phone? Would I not have it already hacked?"
     That stopped him for a moment. Katie seized the initiative. "If government is watching you, and I am working for government, why would I need phone? Doesn't government already have phone information?"
     "Yeah," he replied, calming. "I guess … yeah, I guess you would."
     "Besides this, how do I know you don't work for government? Maybe you spy on me, since I come from Russia." The expression on his face went from worry to surprise by way of confusion. "Our countries are not enemies any longer, but I know American government does not trust Russian. Some of your Republicans still call us Soviet!"
     "OK." Seth sat back down. "I'm sorry. I'm just … I worry."
     "Have you so much to worry about?" She reached across the table and put a comforting hand on his arm. "Do they make you do bad things at this lab of yours?"
     "No, it's not …" Seth began. "It's not like that. I mean, cleaning the animal cages isn't much fun, but they don't make me do anything, I'd call bad, really."
     "Clean cages?"
     "Yeah … and bathrooms and hallways … chemical  spills. Just the usual kind of stuff. But—" He was reaching for words—or the thoughts that would help him form the words.
     "What is wrong?" Katie started to feel some genuine concern for O'Keefe. It seemed to her that he was just some guy who got in way over his head—maybe saw something he shouldn't have—and was trying to figure out how to cope. He certainly didn't seem like the type to be involved in industrial espionage. She continued, "There is something, yes?"
     "You know how sometimes when you wake up from a dream it sort of sticks with you all day?"
     "Yes, I know this! I used to keep journal of dreams."
     "OK—right! That's great for remembering dreams." He nodded his head. "But this is more like how the feeling sticks with you, even though you can't remember any of the actual dream other than … vague impressions."
     "What about this feeling?" What was he getting at, exactly?
     "Sometimes," he said, eyes narrowing as he leaned forward again, elbows resting on the table, "I feel that way when I'm there—especially late at night."
     "You feel it is dream?"
     "No …" His eyes became unfocused and he tilted his head forward and to his right. "It's like …"
     Katie didn't want to interrupt, for fear she would influence his words or perturb his thoughts in some way, but she was growing impatient. He just sat there looking past her right shoulder as if entranced. Finally after a full 20 seconds of silence she couldn't help herself.
     "Hello?" She said. "Are you OK?"
     "Huh?" He sat up and blinked several times at her as if suddenly realizing where he was. "I'm sorry, what were you saying?"
     "I was saying nothing," Katie responded. "But you were telling me of this dream or something? At your labs?"
     "Oh, yeah … that," he hesitated. "I— I can't quite remember what I was going to say."
     "Is all right." Katie took his hand in hers and gave it a light squeeze. "I am thinking you are stressing, maybe?"
     "Yeah, it's stress, I guess." He squeezed her hand in return. "I'm sorry. You wanted to talk about games and … and apocalyptic theories or something, right? I didn't mean to get so …"
     "Is fine, Seth. Mostly I wanted to make American friend."
     "Well, I think you succeeded. I mean," he paused yet again before continuing. "I mean, I think we can be friends. I'm not sure why, but I feel like I can … trust you."
     "This is good!" Katie smiled at him. "Is good to have someone to trust and talk with."
     "You know, you have the most amazing smile."
     Katie blushed. "Thank Moscow orthodontist for this, yes?" They shared a laugh.
     "Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow?"
     "Yes, I would."
     "Good, then, let's do that," he smiled. "I have to work tomorrow, so I should get some sleep now, but I'll see you around six o'clock?"
     They exchanged phone numbers and stood.
     "Thank you for the coffee," Seth said. "And the conversation, odd though it was. Sorry for that."
     "Odd is good," Katie laughed. "And thank you for being friend."

     As Nita turned to watch them leave, she noticed that one of them had left a book on the table.

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