Ingrams & Assoc 1: Double Bluff Ch. 02byjezzaz©
Despite working late the night before, reading the operation doc and doing web research, April came in early the next day. She felt she had a handle on what needed to happen to fulfill the operation goals and had printed out various documents to distribute at the morning briefing.
As she went to the conference room, she stopped before opening the door, psyching her self up, doing mental relaxation exercises. As she did so, she became aware of someone behind her. She turned and looked up at Dermot, who looked down at her kindly.
"Nervous?" he asked.
"A bit," she replied.
Dermot smiled at her and said, "You are going to do fine, April. One thing, though, before we go in. I've asked Desirea to ride shotgun on this. I have confidence in you, but this is a big deal and you know it's operational procedure. All newbies are closely supervised on their first op."
April's eyes widened. 'Desirea!' she thought. 'Oh crap!'
Dermot read it in her eyes and said, "Don't let her reputation worry you. The ball buster is an act. In reality she's all about people doing their best and her helping them to reach their potential. Good luck, April!"
He moved past her and opened the conference room door and entered. April stayed outside for a few moments more, thinking about what Dermot had just said.
Desirea McGee. The most experienced field agent in the office, apart from Jessica Ingrams herself, and she didn't do field work any more. Desirea had some legendary operations under her belt and she was a figure of awe from the rest of the agents. She was forty-two, looked thirty-two, and was a statuesque Amazonian woman – she was the splitting image of Wonder Woman.
She was also hard-nosed, did not suffer fools gladly, swore like a sailor and told it as she saw it. She had been devious beyond belief when out in the field, but when at the office, she was open as she could be. She was detail-oriented, almost as much as Dermot. She was the anti-blink, never making a statement till she knew everything about a situation. However, once she'd done that, if she thought something sucked, she said so, and sometimes it rubbed some of the agents wrong.
But she could also be persuaded she was wrong, which was a rarity, and she was scrupulously fair. But she was terrifying – the concept of having this woman breathing down her neck for the next four to five months was not a comforting one.
April took a deep breath and opened the conference room and went inside.
She got coffee and a Danish – gourmet, of course – and sat down near the head of the table. Dermot was already sitting and finishing his pastry before he got the meeting started. April looked around the table. Desirea was at the other end, along with Talia from research, Tom from resources and others. Jessica herself stopped in for a moment, nodded at April, helped herself to coffee and walked out again, after exchanging a knowing look with Dermot that April didn't miss.
After he finished his Danish, Dermot wiped his mouth and stood up.
"Right, you rabble," he started, grinning, "we've got a good one here. This is an unusual one. This is preventative, not picking up the pieces like we usually do. Now, you all know our new field agent, April Carlisle, and this is her first op. So everyone pay attention and give her everything you can. You know this shit can go south easily and we need to give her all the support we can. April, you are up."
With that, he sat down and looked at her. There was a moment's silence and then April stood up, cleared her throat, glanced at the documents in front of her and began speaking.
"Ok folks, this is what we have. Targets' names are Paul Silverano and his wife, Jenny Silverano. Both are resident here in Washington. They have three children: Milly, who is four, Tommy, who is six and Paulie, Jr., who is nine. Paul and Jenny are all about their kids – their last vacation was at DisneyWorld. They, on the surface, have a happy marriage. Neither one is messing around, at least not obviously and there appears to be genuine love between them, or at least that's what they show people. Jenny is a bit of a ball buster and can be abrasive, while Paul is laid back but totally in charge and in control.
"Paul is a negotiator over at State. He's been on staff about fifteen years now – he's an indispensible part of their team there – and they are elbow-deep in some negotiations for an under-the-table treaty with China about cyber warfare, and he's regarded as pretty much the only person they will talk to seriously.
"Now, tangentially, the IRS apparently has some new toy they've been experimenting with. It's all very hush-hush and I can't tell you about it, beyond the fact that it does handwriting recognition and is used to match up bank accounts with their real owners, based on signatures. The idea is to track down those hiding their wealth. Like I said, it's all very experimental and we can't talk about it, so read it for yourselves in the briefing document.
"What is interesting is the fact that a calibration pass using this new toy turned up an account that the IRS is pretty convinced belongs to Paul Silverano, which has almost four hundred and seventy thousand dollars in it. It's not in his name, but they are convinced it's his. They don't know where the money came from, and are worried that he might be compromised, have sold out or is being blackmailed – this could be a slush fund for payments, and so they did more digging.
"Given the treaty negotiations, State is very concerned about his welfare right now, which is a pity, since Paul is about to get some very bad news, namely that Tommy and Paulie Jr. are not, in fact, his kids. There is a medical office at the building where Paul works – he's not based in the official State Department building, but in a satellite office -, and his kids get seen there if there are any issues, simply because there's almost no wait, and since it's all on the government anyway, it's just easier all round.
"So they have a DNA system in government now; it's for use in identifying bodies in case of terrorist attack. Everyone that goes through that medical office gives a sample, and one of the researchers doing extended information gathering noticed that the DNA profiles for our Paul and two of his kids don't match.
"Now normally the government would look at something like this, tsk a bit and move on. They don't get involved in this kind of domestic issue. However, what they didn't take into account is the fact Paul's uncle has now just been diagnosed with untreated Hepatitis B, and his liver is failing. Of course they are looking for a donor who matches genetically, and guess how they are going to do that?
"The DNA test is going to reveal to Paul that his children are not his and the fear is he's going to fall apart and the treaty with China will do the same. The moment that marital strife entered the picture, all the other agencies that State would normally tap to look into this dropped this like a hot potato, and it landed in our lap. So, our mission here is to 'handle it', whatever that means. We have to ensure that he's able to successfully conclude the treaty negotiations. And preferably not go into a straight jacket afterwards."
There was silence as everyone digested the mission. April took the opportunity to take a quick swig of coffee, and then she continued.
"Now, as to whose kids they actually are, it looks like they are the result of two different trysts by Mrs. Silverano. As luck would have it, the individual fathers' DNA is on record in the same system. Paul and Jenny Silverano are part of a close-knit group of about four other couples, and the fathers of these two children are Michael Corano and Tony Fastino. Both are married themselves, both with children. Apparently this little lot grew up together in New York, in the Bronx, and have stuck together through thick and thin over the years. They all made government their careers and are spread out throughout the Washington political infrastructure. Corano and Fastino all use the same medical facilities that are on offer for government employees that Paul Silverano does, hence them being on file.
"According to the files, there's one other of this little group who is not local, one Brad Tomlinson. He grew up as part of this little gang, but went into the sciences and works at a bioresearch lab out in Palo Alto in California, working on DNA analysis. As a group, they meet every six months in Vegas and Paul gets out to San Francisco when he gets the chance to go fishing with Tomlinson.
"So, we know this little bombshell is coming, and coming fast. We need to get in there and build in some damage control. What documentation we already have is on the table, I did some preliminary research on these guys with stuff I could find on the web and also some very sketchy thinking into what his reaction is likely to be and possible counters. Any questions?"
She looked around the room. Everyone was digesting the information or looking at the papers in front of them.
Desirea said, "Can we head this off at the pass? Make it so he never knows?"
April answered, "I doubt it. While State employs this medical group, they don't own them. They can bring pressure to bear but ultimately it's both a question of medical ethics, and I should point out that this medical group has a high degree of moral integrity. The top guy makes a lot of bones about it. But it's also a question of inevitability. You can't go around shutting down every DNA test that might be applied to these boys. It's going to happen at some point."
Desirea persisted, "Yes, but down the line isn't now. Not when there is a treaty being negotiated."
April nodded but then said, "Yes, that's true, but if it doesn't come out now, the medical group leaves themselves open for a lawsuit later, when it does come out. They did DNA tests. They knew. Why didn't they tell him? You can see it from their point of view."
Desirea nodded back, acknowledging April's point.
Talia raised her hand and asked, "Do we know why the wife did it? I mean one child could be an accident. Two seems premeditated...?"
April nodded again and said, "I agree.-We don't have the research to really know though, and I'm uncomfortable making those kinds of assumptions. We need to know. I think finding out is going to matter, but it won't be everything here. Without knowledge of the situational psychology, we are going in blind."
One of the research assistants asked, "Do we know how he's going to react?"
April pursed her lips and then answered, "I don't have a profile yet, but reading what I have, I don't think it will be good. This guy appears to have a great marriage and life going on. He's doing well at work, pretty wife at home, three kids, hell, he even coaches the kids' swimming teams! Now, Silverano does have some history with coming apart at the seams. He had a breakdown in his senior year at university, when he discovered his mother was cheating on his father. While he's a rock solid negotiator, he's a man just like any one else. This news will impact him and given his history, it's not going to be pretty, and State is justifiably worried. They have a lot riding on these negotiations, and they just can't take the risk. Yeah, I don't think this is going to go down well at all. But then if it was, we wouldn't be here, would we?"
They spent another few minutes going over the research to date, and then April said, "Ok folks, this a high-pressure situation. We have about twenty-five days before the DNA results come in. We need to be in place by then. I need research to give me background on both targets, the kids and the other fathers and their families in five days. I will be working on a profile and plan and we'll reconvene a week from today. OK? Let's go, people. I need everyone here to step up their game. We all need to prove why we are paid the very large salaries we are."
There was some grumbling from the research people about the compressed time frame as the meeting broke up but April was pleased with her performance. She was gathering her documentation when she realized that Desirea was standing next to her. She looked up and waited for the other woman to say something.
"You did well in that meeting, but you understand the pressure you've just put these people under, right? There is no way you'll get enough background in five days to do a proper profile."
"Yes," replied April, "but there's not really any choice, is there? I'm pretty sure that most of this op is going to end up improvisation, and I'll have to do some modification of the profiles and plan as I go; I just don't think there's any way around that. We don't have the time to do the normal in-depth stuff."
"No," replied Desirea, "I think you're right. Wow, what a first op to lose your virginity on! Ok, well, good luck. I'll be watching with interest."
April let go of a breath she didn't know she was holding as Desirea left the room. She smiled as she thought about what Desirea had said, and then stopped smiling when she thought about all the work she had ahead of her.
They rushed it. Desirea was not happy with the final profile results, nor was April. They got what info they could in a short time, and even though it was a lot – particularly from online, since government employees shit paper and webpages — there were still gaps. They were nowhere near understanding the psychology of either participant in this drama, and all April could do was plan ahead for every contingency she could think of. Everyone knew that this one was going to be more seat-of-the-pants than most of their missions, but it couldn't be helped.
Seven days later everyone regrouped in the conference room. Desirea walked in last, clutching her personalized coffee mug, which had the phrase "You don't have to be mad, disturbed, criminally insane, a psychologist to work here, but it helps" inscribed on it.
When the door had closed, a tired-looking April stood up and said, "Ok. So we all know where we stand. We've all shared the Intel and background we've gathered. I've circulated my preliminary plan and most of you have seen it and commented on it. For those that haven't or haven't had time to do a deep dive, the basic idea is that I'm going in to replace Paul Silverano's PA, who has just gotten shingles. Apparently." She paused as a few chuckles went round the room, then resumed. "Silverano leans on his PA more than most, and she's almost a part of the family. If I can behave appropriately, it should allow me to get close to Jenny too, and figure out the lay of the land. Fingers crossed that I'm good enough to do that. I'm going in as an adopted kid, and we are going to make a lot of that, so he gets comfortable with the whole concept. Seeing a well-adjusted person who was adopted is a step in the right direction of getting him more comfortable with the whole idea of raising someone else's kid."
Dermot nodded and jotted something down.
"Ok, so we all know what we are doing? We are going to have to be majorly flexible with this. I honestly don't know what is going to need to be done until I am in there and get an idea of the personalities involved. So everyone be on their toes, don't turn off your cells and be available. This is my ass on the line. Questions?"
There were only a few, regarding communications protocols. After that, it was time for April to leave on the assignment. She visited her office for the last time for a while and as she exited, she saw Jessica Ingrams standing outside.
"Got a second?"
April looked at her watch, then realized who she was talking to, and said brightly, "Sure. Can't be too long though, gotta report for duty."
"I just wanted to say good luck. This is a bit of a twisted one for you to lose your cherry on – very much a baptism of fire. But you can pull this off. I have confidence in you. So far I've not seen any reason to regret hiring you, so get out there and make this bad situation better, ok?" Jessica smiled at the end of her statement.
"I'll do my best," replied April. Jessica offered her hand and April shook it and then April was on her way down to the garage, where her pick of the company's fleet of cars – all older model sedans and pickup trucks – awaited her. She looked longingly over at her Nissan Z, parked at the back and now covered for the duration and sighed, and got in the silver Honda and drove out of the parking lot.
An hour later, she was sitting in the office of Gary Mercer. Mercer was the only person outside of Ingrams who knew who she was what she was doing. He was older – past fifty-five she judged – lots of product in his hair, that could not possibly still be as dark as it was presented, and his tan was fading. He radiated the word gray. April thought he probably slept in gray pajamas. He wore a sharp suit with iron creases in it, and she idly wondered if he was a player – when he smiled he had the look of a shark. When he smiled, it gave her the uncomfortable feeling he was about to go for her neck.
"So Miss... Hougham, is it?" he asked with that insincere smile.
"Yes. Mary Hougham," she replied.
"So you are one of Ingrams' people are you? I thought you'd be, oh, I don't know. Older? More glamorous?" Mercer made no bones of his doubtfulness of the whole enterprise.
April smiled back patiently. "We like to blend in, Mr. Mercer. Makes it easier to be forgotten when we are done."
"I see," he said. "Well, we've got you in as his PA. I hope to God you can actually do the job. Right now is a stressful time for everyone, with these negotiations. If you are going to pass as a girl from the pool, you'd better be competent or you won't last long. Paul Silverano is used to his old PA, and does not like change."
April nodded. "I'm sure it will be no problem, Mr. Mercer. I've been briefed and I think I can handle it." She did wonder what this guy's deal was, and decided to give him a flaunt, as they called it back at the office, and see if he bit.
She leaned forward to get something out of her bag and in doing so, deliberately gave Gary Mercer a good look down her blouse, and when she sat back, she uncrossed her legs, leaving them just slightly apart, using body language to send an invitation.
The moment she made eye contact with Mercer, she knew she'd made a mistake. His eyes were cold and his expression was closed and icy. He said, "I hope to God you did more homework on Paul Silverano than you have on me, because if you had, you'd know I'm gay. Your little tricks won't work on me, Miss Hougham. Please remember that."
April avoided looking at him as he handed over her pass and details of her assignment.
She was silent as Mercer led the way to her desk in the antechamber of Silverano's office. He knocked on the closed mahogany door as April looked around. It was a standard reception room – desk, filing cabinets, computer, nice window overlooking parking. Wooden paneling all round, plus carpet, decent chair, recessed lighting – a comfortable and well-appointed office, as she had expected.
She turned her attention back to Mercer when she heard a voice shout, "Come," from within the office itself. Mercer twisted the handle and opened the door and ushered her inside.
"Paul, do you have a moment? I wanted to introduce you to your temporary PA. This is Mary Hougham – the pool just sent her up."
Paul Silverano sat at his desk. His office was messy but well designed with lots of storage built into the wood paneling. There was a small couch in the corner, with a TV table, plus coffee table and small occasional table for very small conferences. One wall was covered in pictures – everything from portraits of Silverano with various dignitaries to pictures of him fishing with friends, and even hand-drawn pictures from his kids were framed and arranged.