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Death of a Spy

Michael de Mare

    I was working on a military-funded project in the computer science department at Clarkson University. The pay wasn᾿t great but I was in it for the PhD I would get when I finished my thesis. People said that there are only two seasons there, winter and the Fourth of July, but last year it snowed on the Fourth of July. It was almost the end of the spring semester when I got an unexpected phone call from the FBI.
    “Hello, this is Special Agent Smith with the FBI. Do you know Kevin Jones?” It was a woman᾿s voice.
    “Yeah, we worked together in Russia. Is he in some kind of trouble?”
    “Yeah, he found trouble. He᾿s dead. Someone hit him on the head with a baseball bat.”
    “Where? Who?”
    “It happened in Santa Clara, California. He was in the parking lot of a nightclub and someone ambushed him. We don᾿t know who. Have you got any ideas?”
    “Not yet, but I will soon. I have to finish up the semester here and then I will meet you in Santa Clara,” I said.
    “Did you do anything I should know about in Russia?”
    “We stole some pretty big secrets. Beyond that, just the usual.”
    “Whatever the usual is for spooks.”
    I knocked on the door of my adviser᾿s office. “Yes?” she said.
    “I won᾿t be needing the summer funding. I got an internship out in California,” I said.
    “I see. Who is this internship with?”
    “It᾿s military stuff. I can᾿t really talk about it.”
    “Okay. I think that you would finish your degree faster if you stayed here this summer, but that is up to you.”
    I couldn᾿t leave for a couple of weeks, so I started looking into who the suspects were. One was a militia group he had been attending. They were called the Santa Clara County Liberty Brigade. This was the second incarnation of the group. The original group was in prison for attempted murder of a cop using the same trick. The other was a hacker gang that he was giving some technical advice to. As far as we knew, he was on good terms with both.
    I booked a flight from the nearest airport, Syracuse, to San Jose for the day after the spring semester ended. I would have to change planes three times, but that is par for the course when flying out of a provincial airport like Syracuse.
    I had loose ends at the university to tie up, starting with my status report for the semester. It was due on Friday and had to be approved by my adviser. I thought about what I had accomplished that semester. I had written a research paper that was rejected by a prestigious conference, given some talks at the university, and worked on my thesis. It seemed like a good semester. I wrote it up in latex and sent it to my adviser for approval.
    Around mid afternoon, I walked home to my apartment in downtown Potsdam. My roommate, a Chinese electrical engineering student we called Bruce, was already home.
    “I am going away for the summer,” I said in Chinese. “I will be back in the fall.”
    “What about the rent?”
    “I will pay my half of the rent, don᾿t worry.” The monthly rent for the apartment was $600. It wouldn᾿t be hard to cover my half.
    “Okay. Let me know when you are leaving.”
    “End of the semester. You᾿ll see me go.”
    During the time remaining before my trip, I acquainted myself with the transcripts of Kevin᾿s meetings with the militia group and the hacker gang.

    Agent Smith met me at the airport. “Thank you for taking over Kevin᾿s undercover assignments. That is the only way to crack this case.”
    “Kevin and I were tight. Russia is a tough place.” I said.
    “We have a car for you to use. Who do you want to check out first?”
    “The militiaheads. Where do I find them?” I said.
    “The leader goes to a shooting range by highway 101 every afternoon at 5:45.”
    “That is where I will start.” I said.
    “Good choice. The leader, Pat Duncy, was inside at the bar when it happened. The rest of the group have alibis that check out, too. Still, it seems too coincidental.”

    I rented a 9mm at the shooting range. Carrying a gun can be too hard to explain. I was shooting at a silhouette target and getting some pretty good groupings when the militia leader, Pat, started shooting at the target next to mine. Pat was about twenty-five with short hair and a square jaw. There was nothing about his appearance that would suggest that he would say the crazy things that I read in the transcripts.
    “Nice shooting,” he said.
    “Thanks. I want to be ready when the shit hits the fan,” I said.
    “I know what you are talking about.”
    “When Obama cancels the election, it is all going to hell,” I said.
    “I know what you᾿re saying,” he replied.
    “They will probably round all of us dissidents up and put us in secret FEMA camps,” I said. Conspiracy theories are easy for someone who lived in Russia as everyone there is a conspiracy theorist. It had to do with the tightly controlled press and the Russian culture.
    “You live around here?” he asked.
    “I᾿m new in town. As near as I can tell, this whole valley is full of com-libs.”
    “Why don᾿t you come to our group. We are getting ready to resist federal tyranny.”
    “Sounds interesting. Where do I go? When?” I was in.
    “Be careful. The government killed one of our members and they are trying to pin it on us.”
    “The government, huh? Why would they do that?”
    “Kevin knew stuff. He wouldn᾿t tell it to us, but we knew that he knew stuff. Be careful.”

    I arrived at Pat᾿s apartment on time for the eight o᾿clock meeting. When I got there, he answered the door with a 9mm handgun on his belt. I went in and there were a dozen people sitting on chairs and the couch.
    “Attention everybody! We have a new member,” Pat announced. “This is John Shmee. I met him on the shooting range yesterday.”
    I waved to everybody. Then Pat passed out an attendance sheet. When it came around to me, I put in the requested information which was name and email address, and I signed it.
    “Okay, let᾿s get started,” Pat said. “Does the committee investigating Kevin᾿s murder have anything to report?”
    A man with grizzled hair down to the small of his back stood up. “We found out that he was hanging out with computer hackers before he died. So maybe it was the NSA trying to cover up their ECHELON project. ECHELON intercepts all the Internet traffic and analyzes it.”
    “Okay, keep studying it guys. Whoever did it was definitely trying to set us up. Right down to the way they staged it just like the old group hit that cop. Does anyone else have any ideas or information?”
    There was a long silence. “Okay, we will move on. There is a law in California that allows people to carry handguns as long as they are not concealed. We call that open carry. I propose that we all carry our handguns openly to protest the concealed carry laws.”
    There was a lot of nodding of heads and murmur of assent. I nodded my head too, as my head swam with all the crazy things that they said.
    Pat pulled out a sheaf of papers. “Here is some interesting stuff that I got in an email from another group. I will read you the highlights. ιThe FSB obtained a secret document showing plans to round up American dissidents—-᾿”. That was all I heard as the letters FSB filled my head with thoughts. The FSB was the successor to the KGB: feared secret police in Russia and dangerous spies in the rest of the world. Obviously they were feeding conspiracy theories to the militia movement. This was an important piece of intelligence. I was sure that the analysts who would be listening to the recording that I was making would consider it a big deal, even if Agent Smith, who was listening live in the parking lot, didn᾿t.
    After the meeting, I asked Pat where I might find a karaoke bar.
    “The Acapulco, I hang out there Saturday nights,” he said.
    “Maybe I will see you there, then.” I replied.

    I went to the club early Saturday night because I wanted to see what would happen when he walked in with that gun hanging off of his belt. I was disappointed, though, as everybody figured he was a cop, or it wasn᾿t a real gun, or that it was just someone else᾿s problem and ignored it.
    At eight o᾿clock the karaoke started. The MC passed out song books and scraps of paper and instructed us on how to sign up to sing a song. I signed up for Lawyers, Guns and Money by Warren Zevon and turned my slip in.
    A waitress came to take my order. “I᾿ll have an iced tea,” I said.
    “A Long Island iced tea?” she asked.
    “No, just an iced tea.” I said.
    “You know that there is a two-drink minimum on Saturday nights.”
    “Uh, what type of beer do you have?”
    She ran down her list of beers and I ordered a local brew called Anchor Steam. She took orders from the other people at the table and moved on.
    I figured that having a couple of beers in my system would make me feel better attempting to sing, as well. When my beer arrived, I paid cash for it and sipped on it. I noticed that a lot of people were drinking margaritas and other mixed drinks.
    People started singing. Some of them were pretty good, others were painful to listen to. Some of the songs I hadn᾿t heard in ten or twenty years. After a while Pat was called up to sing My Way. I watched as he gave an emotional performance in the spotlight with that gun hanging off of his belt.
    Then the MC called me up. I stood there stupidly holding the microphone, blinded by the spotlight, and the MC told me to look at the monitor for the lyrics. The music started and the lyrics started appearing. I sang the best I could, which is not well, but Warren Zevon isn᾿t exactly Frank Sinatra either. After I finished I got a round of applause, so I guessed that I did it right and took my seat.

    Around eleven o᾿clock I decided that I had had enough. I got up and headed out the door. As I walked to the parking lot, I suddenly heard Pat yell, “JOHN!” Then there was a gunshot and behind me someone groaned and there was a thud. I turned around and Pat was on the stairs to the porch with his gun in his hand. Right behind me there was a man on the ground clutching a baseball bat. Pat came running to me and I said, “You saved my life.”
    The sirens started almost right away, as Agent Smith came running from the parking lot. She felt for a pulse on the body᾿s neck and said, “I think he᾿s dead.” She pulled a passport out of the hip pocket and opened it up. “Friend of yours?” she asked handing me the passport.
    It was a Russian passport. I opened it and examined it carefully. “I don᾿t know him, but he looks like a KGB thug.” I said.
    As four police cars and an ambulance pulled into the parking lot she said, “I would start checking my tea for polonium if I were you.”

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