by Judith Shantz
Vladimir Varyshkin stood just inside the door of Mr. Olivier’s office, arms folded across his chest, looking very much like a stern version of Mr. Clean, but in sharper clothes. Everything about him spoke of power and cunning.
This wasn’t Vlad’s real name but it was close enough that he easily responded to it without any hesitation.
Ten years ago, Vlad had been a rising star in a data center that was housed in the bleak bunker of a Cold War building on Rossiyaskaya, less than a kilometer from the Kremlin. At the time he wasn’t interested in being a rising star in anything. The job provided him with everything he needed – enough money to pay his mother a few rubles for feeding him and doing his laundry, for drinking bad vodka with his old school buddies, cheering on his favorite soccer club, and playing endless Chinese video games. Simply put, he was perfectly happy to be a Russian version of a slacker dude.
But Vlad had talent and he had failed to hide it. When he was at work, he was meticulous and accurate. In high school he had studied foreign languages and had become quite adept in English. He even spoke a little Mandarin. These attributes were not overlooked. He was soon asked to try his hand at data analysis. He proved to be quite skilled, so other tasks, some very complex, were sent his way.
Eventually, just as he was leaving the department one evening, his supervisor approached him and told him to wear a suit and tie the next morning. He had been scheduled for an important meeting. Vlad shrugged. The next morning he arrived in the same worn black slacks but topped by a borrowed brown corduroy jacket and stringy red tie. Still the slacker, but in different clothes. His supervisor cringed but said nothing.
Vlad was startled to learn that the meeting was with the SVR, Russian Intelligence, and at first he thought he had committed some thought crime or failed to pay all his obligatory taxes. But by the end of the meeting, Vlad was offered an “opportunity.” An opportunity, he was led to understand, he could not easily refuse.
That was the beginning, and five years later, Vlad Varyshkin was a new man with a new identity and was embedded in the United States. He had a robust and envious scholastic and work history and the best forged papers that money and power could buy.
McPherson sat slumped in the chair and, even in this lower light, Vlad could see the sweat beading along the man’s hairline and across his forehead. Vlad’s nose twitched in silent disgust. Finally Perry hoisted himself from this demeaning position and laid the file on Olivier’s desk. He folded back the cover and was surprised by the unintelligible contents. There were pages and pages of computer printouts of simple spreadsheets. He ran his fingers down the columns looking for clues. The ones with times and dates were fairly simple – date, start-time, end-time. But the others with odd names, initials, and disconnected words and symbols meant nothing to him.
He turned and looked at Vlad. “What does this all mean?” He was feeling a little more confident now that he saw it was all just gibberish.
Vlad stepped forward. “They are print-outs of the day’s logs. Mr. Olivier likes a hard copy to go over at the end of the day. But all the information is digitized and securitized.”
“But what does it mean? Except for some times and dates, it all looks like nonsense.”
“Some are code names for individual people and some are symbols for things, like dollar value, evidence data, conversations, law enforcement contacts, etc. Just because this is a hard copy, don’t get the mistaken belief that it is not sophisticated and that Mr. Olivier doesn’t have a firm understanding of its contents.”
“I still don’t get it. What’s the significance of all this data?”
“Every piece is part of a communication. Some with Mr. Olivier. Some between other individuals. The symbols in the last column represent key words in the conversation.”
Vlad stepped forward and ran his fingers across the headings. “The first three columns are dates and times. Pretty easy to see. Then sender and recipient. The sixth is type of communication. You know, cell phone, text, etc. The last contains key words in the communication. The digital version has the full text.”
“Who are the people involved? I don’t recognize any of these initials, if that’s what they are.”
“They are people, many of whom you know. They, too, are in code. For instance, this one is you.” He placed his forefinger on the cell with the initials DW.
McPherson ran his eyes across the line. He could see the date and time but the rest was just a row of symbols. Was this his phone call to Olivier last Tuesday morning? What had they talked about? The plan with Don Martin? Or was it the money? Suddenly, nausea rose up from somewhere deep in his gut. Had he threatened Olivier? He couldn’t remember. Was that recorded?
McPherson stood unsteadily beside the desk, blood draining from his face and sweat starting to soak his crisp white shirt.
His voice practically croaked, “Why does DW stand for me?”
Vlad couldn’t suppress a slight grin. “Dr. Who,” he said. “Perhaps it’s time to reinvent yourself.”
Joseph Yanity had a problem. Sitting across from him was a beautiful young Indian woman. Beautiful and earnest. Earnest in the way that you seldom saw in young Americans anymore: intense, sincere, but very naïve.
He actually really liked her – a woman who wanted to make a grand gesture to the tribe and with no thought of anything to gain by it. But she was the wrong person at the wrong time. If it was merely a matter of the Tribal Treaty and the lawsuit, he might have been able to give her a role to play. She might even have been useful. But the Treaty rights were just the visible part of a much more intricate scheme. He couldn’t let that be jeopardized by a do-gooder, no matter how pretty she was.
What he actually said to the non-plussed young woman was gentle and appreciative. “I am really honored that you would go so far out of your way for our tribe. Now, why did you look so startled when I mentioned the student – Annabelle Watson?”
“She was taking a tour of the campus and then she disappeared – now everyone is looking for her.”
Oh shit, thought Yanity. This is getting worse. But what he said out loud was, “Maybe that should be our first concern. As I’m sure you can tell, I’m not a full-blooded native so I don’t do tiptoeing silently through the forest in my moccasins very well. But I do believe that a human life may be at stake so I think we ought to go find her.” Would that be enough to appeal to this lovely creature’s better angels?
Apparently it was and Netta agreed to take him around the school grounds, show him the places Annabelle had last been seen and help him join in the search.
“I imagine the school’s Security Office will already have taken the lead on looking for the girl. Are we likely to meet up with either of them?” Yanity asked, gently fishing for some clue as to what might lie in their path.
“Oh, I certainly hope not,” said Netta emphatically.
“You don’t sound like you approve of them.”
“It’s not that I don’t approve. It’s that I am very uncomfortable around them. The Sergeant is just a buffoon and I don’t believe that he is very effective. But the deputy really makes…makes my skin crawl. She is always touching me. She seems to assume we are great friends. She is very pushy. I always try to avoid her.”
“Well, that paints a pretty clear picture,” said Yanity. “I guess we had better get going.”
It was well after dusk when the two of them met up again in the school parking lot. Yanity had left his own vehicle parked out on the street and walked onto campus, bringing two flashlights with him. They quickly made the tour of the likely places but Joseph was eager to get into the woods. Netta was surprised by how well he seemed to know his way everywhere they went.
“I think we should check the bluff first. It’s a really rocky area and if Annabelle found her way out there and fell, she could really hurt herself,” Yanity said. Netta shuddered. That would be horrible. They followed some of the main trails for a while, and then a few game trails, with Yanity inching them ever closer to the bluff.
Once again Netta had that feeling that there was something she was missing – something just beyond rational thought, something more like intuition. She stopped suddenly. “Wait,” she said. “Mr. Yanity. I think we’re going about this all wrong. Maybe Annabelle didn’t just wander off. Maybe her disappearance is part of a plot to discredit your lawsuit. You yourself said her ancestor had also been responsible for the Treaty terms that were filed. Let’s go back and talk to the police. Tell them about the lawsuit. What you know about the girl’s ancestor.”
“I’m not sure this is the right thing to do, Netta. We should let the courts handle the situation.”
Yanity turned to resume his way toward the bluff but suddenly a huge beam of light lit up the forest around them. They both spun around, shielding their eyes from the light. But the spotlight had dropped and was now shining on the figure on the forest floor – the semi-conscious, and very tightly bound, Annabelle Watson.
“No time for that, Yanity,” said the woman with the spotlight. “Now that we have her, we can use her for ransom. There’s no time to waste.”
Netta dived to the ground to start untying Annabelle but Debra stepped on her hand. “What about your friend here, Yanity? She’ll have to go.”
There was no pretension left in Perry. He stumbled toward the door but Vlad got there first. He slowly opened it and made a mock humble bow. “I’ll escort you to the edge of the estate, per Mr. Olivier’s request.”
Perry was past hearing. He was actually lurching toward the forest where he longed to hide and become anonymous. Every plan seemed to be in ruins and he could see no way to resurrect them and no way to escape his fate. Reinvent himself as what? A federal prisoner? As a dead man? He started to cry.
Vlad made sure that McPherson got started on the right path and watched him for a moment. At one point he heard a crack and a thrashing sound, along with a couple of sharp profanities. Vlad snickered. Such fun listening to him snivel!
Phil Bradley checked his watch. Only an hour till moonrise, which might prove most unhelpful. Of course, it would be only a fat crescent moon tonight and maybe the sky would cloud over by then. He was dressed all in black, flat black, no leather. Black watch cap pulled low on his forehead. Black buff pulled up to his eyes. Black trail runners with big, sturdy lugs on the soles.
His kit, as he called it, was all close at hand in his vest pockets – flashlight, binoculars, night vision glasses, phone. He slipped his badge into his pants pocket, just in case. But for these surveillance expeditions he preferred not to go armed.
He laughed to himself when he thought that by late tomorrow morning he would be teaching a class on English romantic poets. “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” indeed! Oh, If they only knew.
Phil Bradley was a good and popular teacher. He genuinely loved English literature and was sincerely interested in teaming up with the new environmental science teacher and looking for ways to integrate their subject matter. But for now, teaching was simply the perfect cover for his other job.
Bradley knew the woods, the rocks, and the bluff like the back of his hand. And he knew every bay and cove around the little dinosaur spine of rock sticking out into the Salish Sea. He skirted along the edge of the trees until he had to crouch down and make a run for the hiding places among the rocks. From there he could watch the “traffic.” He was there to count the kayaks and canoes running the shore line under cover of darkness. How many men? (or people?). How many bundles of contraband? How many shadowy forms hiding from the law? He would record it all – times, GPS coordinates, types of boats, number of paddlers, number of passengers.
That would be his priority tonight, but he also wanted to find that missing girl.
Marie skulked silently along the forest paths just as the moon was rising. Normally she loved the moonlight but tonight she sought darkness. There was something afoot, so to speak. At least that’s what she would have said if she could speak.
The forest was full tonight – not only with the little night creatures who lived there, but with humans – some of them very bad humans.
Eventually she came across a human she knew quite well. He has lying face down on a deer trail, damp and chilled. She licked at his face which tasted of salt but his only response was a hiccup of bad breath. But she didn’t want him to die; she was, after all, a kind cat.
And, at least this human hadn’t yelled at her or kicked her out of the way. In fact, if she could sneak into his office while he was there, he would often share morsels of his favorite treats, lush pieces of foie gras (she wished they’d leave the cognac out of the recipe) or fat little sardines from a tin. Once she even had some caviar. Oooh – to die for! She climbed up on his back and spread out her big, hairy body to keep him warm.