II. Professional Jerk, Amateur Spy
Harris hung the phone up and sat down on the bed. He was trying to decide how responsible he should feel about the man on the phone’s death. Did he get shot as a direct result of losing the diamonds? He seemed to think that was a reasonable conclusion. If he was expecting a mule to show and the mule showed up empty handed and told him a story about a stranger stealing his bag and giving him a weird business card, he’d probably make him call the number on the card and then shoot him too. It just made sense.
“Damn,” He said out loud. “This is going to take at least a few days to clear up.” He continued, but this time he just thought it: “This isn’t the time to be talking to myself,” as he continued to consider the situation.
He felt responsible for Rodger’s death, probably because he was. And because he felt a pang or two of guilt over it, he was willing to spend up to two days trying to find out who did it. One day didn’t seem like enough time and three days was out of the question. He was only planning on staying a week and didn’t want to waste half of it solving some murder he felt was only mostly his fault.
After a while of quiet contemplation and internal debate, Vincent Harris decided that calling his boss would be in his best interest.
He took out his work phone and hit the only button on it. He listened to the ringing sounds while mentally drafting his conversational opener.
At the other end of the line a red light lit up on Agent 34’s new desk, letting her know Harris was calling. She had just come from a briefing about Project Ruiner and was now formally and officially his boss. So far it wasn’t a bad gig. That was mostly because he was on vacation. She was supposed to be on paid leave as well but wanted to get a head start at her new position.
The briefing she just left had lasted three hours, and most of it was about Harris’ peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. She’d spent some time in the field with him and quickly realized he was a bit touched in the head, but that experience didn’t quite cover just how big of a pain in the ass he often was according to his mission files.
“What the hell could he want?” She sighed. “He’s on vacation like he wanted.”
She answered the phone. “Yeah,” she said.
“How’s it going?”
“Spent all day listening to how much of a dick you are. Other than that, it’s not too bad.”
“I’m not that bad.”
“That’s not what all these files say. Do you know how many times I’ve heard the word ‘insubordination’ today?”
“Christ, I’ll play, how many times?”
“About twice as many times as I’ve heard the phrase ‘direct refusal of orders’.”
“Neither one of those is a number. Remember a few days ago when I saved your life about five times? One of those times was because I was being insubordinate while directly refusing orders by the way. Then I cleared our names, got us a month off paid, and got you that fancy new job. Remember that?”
“Yeah, so….What have you done for me lately?”
“Look I need a favor…”
“Why should I?”
“I hate repeating myself. Here’s a tip- I also hate being told what to do and I hate being treated like a super-powered robot. Don’t do those two things and your bosses will wonder how you tamed the Ruiner. Now the favor….”
“Fine,” She said, even though it really wasn’t.
“I got a guy killed, well, mostly killed.”
“He seemed really nervous and we had the same backpack and I wanted to do a switch-a-roo…”
“A switch-a-roo, like on all those spy TV shows…”
“Were you handing out those cards again?”
“The ones with the sword holding angel on them. You hand them out to people you want to help and then they always end up dying. I know you’re going for a Remington Steele or Equalizer kind of thing, but it’s coming off real Airwolf.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never seen Airwolf,” he lied.
“Really? Stolen helicopter? Everyone he loves dies? Weird guy in a white suit? Ahhh….whatever. I was talking about the business cards you had made up. There’s one in the file. I saw it today.”
“Fine. You got me, that’s something I do here and there. Now that favor I need…” before he could finish, his other cell phone started to ring.
“Look, never mind. I gotta go, see you in a month.”
He hung up one phone and answered the other.
“Hello,” he answered, trying his best to sound like a confused regular person who wanted to know why they got switch-a-rooed.
“I know who you are and where you are staying. I also know you have something of mine.”
“All’s I know is I accidentally got the wrong bag at the airport. I haven’t even opened it, honest. I…I…am I in some kind of trouble?”
The man’s voice made an effort to sound kinder, “No, no trouble at all. Not yet at least.”
“I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Well, my new friend, that’s up to you. Write down this address and be there in under thirty minutes. If you can do that there shouldn’t be any trouble.”
“Okay. Let me grab a pen and some paper.”
“Okay. Let me know when you’re ready.”
“Okay, I will. I don’t want any trouble, just give me a second.”
Harris began counting. He guessed he’d make it to 45 before the man on the phone said something about how long he was taking. Every few seconds he made sure to make some searching noises. Somewhere in the mid-20s, the voice on the phone interrupted.
“There should be a pad and pen on the table by the window. All hotels have them.”
“This is a motel, sir. I can’t afford a hotel on my humble salary,” he laid it on a little thick that time and made a mental note to reign it in a little. He didn’t want to seem too pathetic and arouse suspicion.
“Ahh, a motel. Try the dresser then. Near the television.”
“Got it! Thanks. Ready.”
The man said the address and Harris heard it, then he wrote it down and promised to be there as soon as possible. The man thanked him and said he was looking forward to meeting with him. Harris mentioned again how he didn’t want any trouble and the man on the phone tried to reassure him there wouldn’t be any as long as he did as he was told. Harris agreed that that was his intended course of action and the two politely said goodbye and hung up. It didn’t escape Harris’ notice that the man who called him had to have been the same man that killed the guy he gave his card to. He pushed that fact right up his sleeve for now and prepared himself for his meeting.
The address Harris had been given led to a hotel less than a mile away. Harris tried to walk it as conspicuously as possible, in case someone was looking for him. He peeked behind him often and would stop to let those behind him pass. When he saw a patrol car, he crossed the street and quickened his pace. Stuff like this was what passed for fun to him and he was really enjoying himself.
“Great vacation so far,” He thought.
He reached the hotel and knocked on the room number he was given. A tall Spanish man, around six foot four opened the door, looked both ways, gestured for Harris to enter, and shut the door.
“Thank you for coming. I know you have many questions and I assure you I will not be answering any of them. Please hand me the bag.” He extended his hand towards Harris to relieve him of the dead man’s backpack. Harris handed the bag over while doing his best fish out of water impression.
“Now, this is where things get complicated,” said the Spaniard.
“But still trouble free, right?”
“Again, that is up to you. I have a problem and you are part of it.” The Spaniard began to rifle through the backpack and quickly retrieved the diamonds. He spent a few moments inspecting them before continuing, “The man whose bag this was is now dead.”
“Because of the accidental bag switch?”
“Yes. Now my problem is that he was supposed to deliver these diamonds to someone. Obviously, he can’t do that now.”
“Why…why can’t you do it?”
“Because,” he answered while reaching into his back pocket and producing a badge encased in a leather wallet. “I work for Spanish Intelligence and the person who is supposed to get the jewels knows what I look like.”
“You’re….you’re a sp..spy?”
“Yes, please calm down, there is no need to be afraid of me. Our countries are allies.”
Harris took a minute or so to feign calming down. When he felt like he looked like homeostasis returned he said, “Can I help? My uncle was a PI and I would work with him here and there. I’m not a real spy like you, but I’m willing to learn.”
“I’m happy to hear your offer. I had much the same idea. I’m glad we agreed without things getting messy.”
“What do I have to do? I just want to put this behind me and get back to my life.”
“Do as I say, and this will all be a memory in a few hours. I trust you can drive?”
After a crash course in basic spying (during which Harris asked a total of 200 questions and nearly reduced his instructor to tears several times) the Spanish man went to the bathroom. It sounded like he was kicking the wall for a while, then the toilet flushed. When he returned he reassured Harris for the umpteenth time that this was child’s play and he had nothing to worry about. He then handed over a set of car keys.
“It’s the black ’88 Aries,” he said.
“One of the best. Good luck to you, report back here when you are done.”
“Exactly! Are you sure you’re not a spy? Now go, time is of the essence.”
Vincent Harris pulled out of the hotel parking lot, ran a stop sign, made a left and headed towards Philadelphia on his first amateur spy mission.
He smiled to himself as he looked in the rearview mirror and merged onto the Platt Bridge, “God damn. A real live switch-a-roo. That’s another one off the bucket list.”