I have moved. This will be my last communique from this location.
Making the world safe for freedom and democracy, motherhood and apple pie
I have moved. This will be my last communique from this location.
On Friday night a bunch of us drove over to a sports bar on Mercer Island to watch the UW game. The Huskies almost pulled one out, but almost the entire team got in foul trouble, and when the game went to overtime, everyone started fouling out. In the course of conversation, Matty mentioned that he getting a ton of money back on his taxes, and asked me whether I owed or was getting a refund.
Haven't filed yet. Oops. Luckily, I've got plenty of time. But I probably would have forgotten about it. Of course, the next logical question is, how do taxes work for a covert agent. Well, I'll tell you.
First off, you have to pay taxes. There's no exemption. First, I'm a U.S. citizen, so I have to pay like everyone else. Second, the I.R.S. keeps good records of these kinds of things, and on the off chance that someone digs into my personal bidness, it would look odd to find that I hadn't paid taxes in almost a decade.
But all of the statements, like my cover, are completely fabricated. I get a nice W-2 form, and some nice 1099s, and a couple of others I don't really remember. I used to file the regular 1040A (or even the 1040EZ), but now I just bring everything down to H&R Block and have them prepare it. Every year they complement me, saying that I have the most well-kept records. Heh. Of course I do.
I don't know how the agency handles the corporate taxes for the front company. They probably have the same sort of thing set up, only more elaborate, and any time the I.R.S. shows up, some white men in black suits sit them down in room, have a curt conversation with them, and they all get on a plane back to D.C. I really don't know.
Anyway, I have to head down to H&R Block this week. I'll let you know how much I'm getting back.
Probably the best and worst part about freezing to death is that you don't feel much. You feel cold, uncomfortably so, but you grow most steadily numb until finally, you don't feel anything. The same sort of thing happens when parts of your body are freezing to death.
Gruber got himself some frostbite, which I didn't think was so bad at first, but he warmed it up before we had really settled into a spot where we could rest for a while, and it got re-exposed, which is the worst sort of thing that can happen to frostbitten skin. His foot got all gray again, and he didn't want to go to the hospital. I can certainly understand his reluctance, but frostbite isn't the most dire of medical emergencies. If you need a heart transplant or cancer surgery, then you probably want the Mayo Clinic or Mass General, but even the cash-strapped hospitals in Russia can handle frostbite. So we insisted.
While Gruber was getting treated, we got a call from DeMartino. He'd been in Russia since October, laying the foundation for the ad hoc intelligence network to track темно паника. Turns out this real twitchy guy named Shirokov that he'd been dealing with had agreed to meet us, but only if we had a "substantial force" to back him up. Seems the guy was paranoid that people were after him, and only liked to travel in groups. Whatever. Against my better judgment the three of us left Gruber to meet with the guy at a bar on the other side of town. DeMartino worried that the place was Russian Mafia. All the better, I explained.
See, there's a difference between organized crime and disorganized crime. Ask the people in Baltimore. The mob in Baltimore was tired of people avoiding their legitimate front businesses because of street gangs, so they muscled up and cleaned the neighborhood of street gangs. When police investigated, no one said a word. Why? Well, first, because you don't snitch on the mob. And second, because the mob had cleaned up the streets. People could walk down the street without worrying about getting shot. There are no stray bullets from the mob.
With that in mind, I felt fairly certain that four strangers talking over a beer weren't going to get shot by anyone in the Russian Mafia. Wonder of wonders, I was wrong. Not so much in my reasoning, but the part about getting shot.
Halfway through a Stary Melnik, Shirokov arrives, and not ten seconds after he sits down, takes his gun out and puts it on the table. I can't even begin to describe how quickly the situation escalated. We ask him what the hell he's doing... he tells us he's not afraid to use it... we tell him to put it the hell away... he wants us to know he's serious and we shouldn't mess with him. I'm already heading to the door when the bartender breaks out a hand cannon and tells us in no uncertain terms to vamoose. Shirokov threatens the bartender with some choice words, who squeezes two off. One of them clips Abby as we're out the door, and it's back to the same hospital to handle a gunshot wound. At least it was clean.
Well, you might think that since this is Russia you can arrive at a hospital with a gunshot wound and no suspicion will be aroused. You are wrong. After trying unsuccessfully to quiet the hospital staff, I made a whole bunch of phone calls to sort things out. Not long afterwards, a Standard Issue Street Soldier drops by, asks a few questions, then leaves. Potential problem averted. Meanwhile, the word from Gruber is that they cut off his toes. I didn't take a look at his feet, and thankfully still haven't, but the doctor I talked to explained that they cut a bit off of two of his toes, but only removed the tissue that absolutely had to go. I was assured that he wouldn't have any problems regaining balance and coordination. Gruber was not so convinced.
Shortly after Abby got stitched up, the phone calls I made filtered up to higher levels, and they scratched the rest of the mission. After all that, it still took us three days to touch back down in Seattle, because of some crazy winds up in the jet stream that the military was having trouble with.
There's more, but as you may have noticed, I'm rather busy right now.
I suppose more details are in order regarding the last post. I'll get the trivial stuff out of the way first, simply because it's easier to write about.
I've been busy. Too busy to write much. Right after the W/B trip, I was called into action and sent to Moscow, which as I said, is not very hospitable in January. I had only a short time between the time I was notified I was leaving and the time I actually left, so I called up Matty and asked him would he please TiVo any and all of the Seahawks playoff games. He said "sure thing". Just in case, I called up my parents and asked my dad to record them on the VCR. It took a while to convince him that the Patriots and Seahawks would not be playing two separate games at the same time, but eventually he believed me and said he'd do what he could. As a last measure, I asked the Tech Guys to record the games to MPEG so at worst I could watch them on a computer screen when I got back.
Everyone failed me miserably.
Matty TiVoed the games, but didn't mark them "Save Until I Delete", so they were overwritten by Grey's Anatomy and all of the other crap that his wife taped. My dad couldn't figure out how to get the VCR to work. He only had a month. And when I asked the Tech Guys about it, the response was "You were serious about that?" So like I said, I thought I was going to have to buy the Steelers Super Bowl Champs DVD when it came out, but luckily Keith found a torrent of the Super Bowl somewhere online. It took forever to download, but eventually he burned it onto DVD for me and I watched it, horrible resolution and all, on my TV at home.
The Seahawks got hosed.
Look, I realize it's been more than a month since the Super Bowl. I don't care. I just saw it. I may have seen officiating as egregiously poor as that game, but it certainly wasn't as one-sided as Super Bowl XL. A lot of people around here subscribe to the theory that officials don't lose games, the players do. That's a bunch of crap. In any game, you have X number of opportunities to win. When the officials start taking away those opportunities, and giving them to the other team, it's possible for a team to overcome the odds and win, but the officials are still responsible for what happens. Anyway, it was over a month ago. I should probably just let it go.
Where to begin? There is so much. Where to begin?
Let's start by saying that if you think Moscow is fun in the middle of January, you are sorely mistaken. It's not a vacation paradise in the summer, let alone when it's so damned frigid that the top news story isn't Chechnya or the Ukraine, but the number of people who are dying from the cold. Spending a month in mostly sub-zero temperatures is pretty bad in and of itself, but Abby and Gruber have more to complain about. Abby got herself shot and Gruber got frostbite, had two toes amputated, and the whole mission went downhill from there.
On top of all that, when it was discovered that I was being shipped out of the country on short notice, I asked in all seriousness if someone could tape any Seahawks playoff games that should happen to occur while I was gone, only to return and find out that, no, no one actually thought I was serious about that request, so now I'm going to have to go out a buy a Steelers Super Bowl DVD to find out what happened, and what happened is apparently that the Seahawks got completely screwed by the refs. I've been reading about it since I got back, but I assure you that reading archived stories about the Super Bowl is no replacement for watching the actual game. Thanks, guys.
As if that weren't enough, I received somewhere between 60 and 70 phone calls from my quasi-girlfriend, who left only two messages but apparently doesn't know what Caller ID is. This is about the last thing I'm going to worry about, but the thing that will drive me the most insane until I get everything back in order, since the calls seem to come on a fairly regular basis.
I'm gonna have to break this down into pieces. Right now, I'm hungry.
Well, I had nothing planned for last weekend, until, at the last moment, a trip to Whistler/Blackcomb was scrapped together and I jumped on it, hoping and praying that I wouldn't be called in for anything. Luckily, I wasn't.
It was about a five hour drive to W/B, and we arrived there after dark, and checked into the chalet-type place we were staying in. Because of the way that the rooms were set up, I ended up stuck with this dude Earl who I had met only once or twice, but he ended being pretty cool. Sandra stayed with her sister, which quite honestly was for the best, because she was annoying the entire weekend and the less time we spent together, the better. On Sunday she said she was sore, and didn't want to ski. That was fine, except that she tried to get me to stay in the lodge with her, and I wasn't about to give up probably the only remaining ski day I had all season to sit around the fire and talk about my feelings. That meant that at dinner, she ignored me except to make snide remarks, and hardly spoke at all on the drive home.
Whatever. I wasn't about to let her get me down.
Now, you might wonder, what kind of skier is American Jones? Does he ski with the grace and power of James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service? Alas, no. I don't ski downhill so much as a tumble. I am used to the mountains in the east, where the hill consists of ice and rocks. I could barely hold my own there, so powder is unfamiliar territory. People say powder is easier, but I don't know.... you lose a ski on ice, and you just slide down the hill to where it is. You lose one in powder and it's gone for good.
But I did all right. Didn't slam into anyone else and didn't fall off any of the lifts. That's a victory as far as I'm concerned.
I was planning to post once a day for a week, but plans have just sprung up for a weekend away, so I'm doing that instead. No offense to you non-reading, non-commenting phantom readers, but I have deemed this more important.
There has been a lot of talk in the past few months about our government's use of torture to extract information vital to protecting our nation's security. I won't make any sort of political statements with regard to this particular administration or things that particular people have said with respect to this. But I will tell you some things about torture.
It's an effective means of finding out what you need to know fast. Those in academia who sit in leather-backed chairs on 60 Minutes and talk about how ineffective torture is have clearly never had their genitals exposed to an open flame before. This is not something I've done, or condone, but I've unfortunately seen it done, and I don't know of a quicker way to get a man to talk.
The problem arises when a large governing body makes torture a part of their policy, because large government bodies are very bad at making sensible policies. I don't know any of the people down at Guantanamo, nor do I know how many of them have information that would be pertinent to national security, but I do know that there's at least a few of them who were caught up in something larger than they understood, and don't have Thing One to offer the government in the way of information. And from the sound of it, these folks are being waterboarded.
As an agent, I am basically given carte blanche to complete my objectives, and if that includes blowing out a man's kneecap to do so, that's what I'm going to do. But my employers don't say things like "Torture everyone until you get what you need." I don't look forward to doing it, I don't enjoy doing it, I'm not sadistic about it (like some people who I won't talk about for now), and I expect to hear about it in the afterlife, but whoever ends up judging me will know that I did it as a last resort and did so to save more lives than I ruined.
But people that tell you it doesn't work? Naïve.
As promised, although starting late, one post a day for a week. Promise is void if I get called away on duty.
Well, the move to the new building is complete, and luckily, I'm still in the old building. The reassignments actually made logical sense, which surprised me. I had assumed that they would devise some asinine scheme for moving offices, alphabetical perhaps, or based on seniority. But they decided on geographical location, which means that the people who normally work together are co-located. Makes sense!
Because the other building is smaller, it handles the Americas and the "upper management". That's a decent-sized crowd, but nothing compared to the Eurasia and Africa gang. They're taking down the "Big Board", opting for an online version that's not nearly as cool or Dr. Strangeloveish. That's a tragedy. And there are a bunch of empty offices right now, because they haven't starting filling the positions yet. So imagine an office that was full... then remove 30% of the people in it... then remove a ton of furniture. It's a little bit spooky.
Despite my own protests, I've been moved a short way down the hall. It isn't a big deal... I just didn't understand why I had to move what amounts to six or seven offices down the hall. Right now I overlook an empty bank of cubicles. If not for the conference room, I could probably see straight across to the other side of the building.
The claim is that the new people will start arriving in bunches next week.
Guess who spent Christmas in Kazakhstan?
That was the highlight of the holiday... not being forced to go back to the Cosmodrome to see the EU launch another rocket. I have nothing planned for New Year's... BUT... as a special New Year's Resolution, I will update this journal every day for a week. There is much to discuss in the life of American Jones, and I have been less than diligent in relating it all to you, the reader.