On Monday, January 18th, the mid-west was hit by the first major U.S. snowstorm of the
new year. The 28-inch blizzard turned the four-hour drive to St. Louis into a 14-hour nightmare.
When I arrived at the outskirts of the city on Tuesday, I checked into a truck stop motel/diner.
My two-week trip was already profitable and I was not going to waste money on fancy hotels
while chasing a china egg. In the industry, a china egg is a big story that is so fragile it breaks
before you can get your hands around it. I slept like a baby and woke up starving on the 20th,
glad I chose a bunk with a restaurant.
* * *
I really don't like icy roads, Station Chief, Ken Fowler thought to himself as he presented
his identification badge to the Marine guard on duty at Gate 4-E. Snow and rain are okay, but I
can't stand ice. The 55 year-old native New Yorker continued to contemplate the weather as he
exited the elevator six floors below ground level at Langley.
"Morning," he greeted a young Marine. The soldier nodded and handed him a stack of
folders marked "Top Secret." "What's in store for me today?" Fowler asked, as he entered his
office. By the time he reached his desk, the Marine had disappeared. Hell, he wouldn't know
anyway, everything's encrypted.
Fowler sipped on his forth cup of coffee and retrieved the sixth file. The former analyst
from Yale opened the manila folder to find an envelope containing a grade ten white op. Grade
ten, haven't seen one of these in a decade, he said aloud. Fowler turned on his computer to access
the decoder files. He clicked on Top Secret and a firewall screen instructed him to enter his
password and personal data. The Station Chief placed his right index finger on the Digitek
keypad and postured his chin on the composite bar of the retinal scanner. The steel door to his
office slid shut and locked automatically. "Shit, that almost gave me a heart attack," Fowler
gasped. It's been a long time; don't forget procedures. The screen displayed a collection of
letters, numbers, and symbols that needed to be manually applied to the encrypted file. The
procedure required the station chief to translate what was in the grade ten file ASAP and then
destroy it. The code for the file was only valid for one day, after that he would have to go to the
undersecretary of the CIA to obtain a re-coded file, not a good career move. Okay, let's see what
has me locked up. Fowler broke the seal on the envelope and noted the code name on the file,
Sedition. Not another KGB relocation case, he thought to himself. Hell, they're only grade four
or fives at best.
Four and a half hours later, Fowler looked up at the Navy clocks that displayed the dates
and times in strategic parts of the world. The one denoting United States Eastern Standard Time
read 4:25 p.m. His stomach was protesting the absence of lunch and his bladder was not happy
either. He knew he had to call the Undersecretary within the next 35 minutes and decided to
forego a trip to the john. Fowler picked up a secure line and dialed the number listed in the file.
The Undersecretary answered on the first ring.
"What do you think?" the voice on the other end of the line asked.
"This is either the work of a Hollywood producer, or we're in for a clusterfuck," Fowler
answered, as he searched for a candy bar in his desk drawer.
"That's a different point of view," the Undersecretary replied. "You've never done field
work; you've always served as an analyst or station chief, right?" Fowler bit his lip. He knew
there was no, "undersecretary," it was a ghost title. For all he knew he could be talking to the
head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
"Yes, that's always been my strong suit."
"Never married?" the voice asked.
"No, only to the Company," Fowler answered, trying to mask his contempt.
"You were very good at black ops; and even better at white ops, I might add," the voice
"Thank you," Fowler quickly replied.
"You know, 65% of the American public believes what the government tells them," the
"That's what white ops are for, sometimes you have to protect the people from
themselves," Fowler replied.
"I agree. The reason you received that file was due to your distinguished record and
discretion. Our ears have informed us the reporter has already contacted Mr. Dark. We believe
he's currently trying to locate Dr. Thompson in St. Louis, where she's living under the alias of
MaryLou Butler. We need you to do whatever is necessary to ascertain what he knows and how
much proof he has," the Undersecretary ordered.
"How far do you want me to take this? Termination?" Fowler asked. The silence on the
other end of the line enabled the Station Chief to hear the tick of each clock on the wall.
"No. Your job is to determine his location and prepare to have him discredited if
necessary. The character assassination may prove a little more difficult than usual; he broke the
arms sale scandal in the 80's and won a Pulitzer Prize for it."
"Yes, I remember that, I did some damage control," Fowler replied.
"I know, you did very well with that damage control. The file on the reporter is outside
your office. I've cleared your schedule and pre-approved unlimited personnel and financial
support. Ken, we need this one." The phone went dead as Fowler heard the steel door unlock.
He retrieved the manila envelope, re-secured the door, and headed for the john.