(Dedicated to Mr. Henry Smith)
Read Part 3 here
For two days now the tasks seemed so mindless, always a point reconnaissance of sorts to gather information. I earnestly hoped they would ask for my reports soon, so I could rid myself of the onus of all of this damning evidence I had. I couldn’t memorize it all, so I had it written down, and hidden. Here’s how I solved the problem of safely absconding the reports (key spy music):
My room was a danger area, because ‘they’ could always roust me as they had done before. It is for that reason that you NEVER keep compromising material in your room. I wrote my reports in my room one page at a time. I tore a sheet from my notebook and laid it to write on a sheet of glass so there would be no writing imprint on the following notebook page.
I took a Chapstick dispenser and broke off most of the stick, and unscrewed the dispenser base from the stem. I stuffed the tiny folded report pages, with the even tinier writing, down into the dispenser tube, then replaced the dispenser base back down onto the stem. I made sure to rub some stick on my lips so it looked genuinely used, and snapped the cap back on.
I had noted through the bathroom window that there was a fenced-in empty lot next to the motel, with the west wall of the motel forming one of the four sides of the empty lot. It was overgrown with weeds and trash, so there was no pedestrian thoroughfare possible—good!
I always travel with a spool of black thread with a needle stuck in it for sewing emergencies. I unspooled about 20 feet of thread, tied one end to the Chapstick tube, anchored the other end of the thread into my last stick of chewed gum. I reached outside my window as far as I could, and I stuck the wad of gum fast to the brick wall. Finally, I threw the Chapstick tube out into the weeds of the lot.
When I needed it, I just reached out and grabbed the thread and reeled in the tube, only to toss it back out when I was done. I was mildly proud of what I considered to be a way to keep my message container in my room, without actually having it in my room. Even on a subsequent room roust, a suit opened and looked out the bathroom window, but never found my device. One evening I actually pulled it back into the bathroom just because my lips were really dry. I applied and tossed it back out.
0600 was the limit of my curfew. As my watch struck 6, I opened my door. I became immediately aware that I and three more men who looked just like me had all opened our doors at near the precise same second. We four paused a moment to blink at each other. It was just sukoshi awkward. We all knew each other, though we ignored each other and went our separate ways. I imagined them doing the same thing I was doing, though at different times and places.
There was an unwritten rule that you never acknowledged each other upon chance contact on missions, as you never knew what the other was doing, and didn’t want to chance a compromise. I couldn’t resist stopping a brother of mine at Dulles airport on one occasion: “Excuse me, Sir… can I pester you for the time?” Just had to do it.
On this day my instructions took me a street corner to wait for a telephone call at a phone booth. What if someone was on the phone at the moment my call was supposed to come in? That would be my own problem to solve. Logic told me to get there early and just Shanghai the phone until my call came in. That would be a simple enough solution.
I leaned against the inside of the booth with the receiver to my ear, and my arm casually draped across the top of the phone where I could subtly hold down the hangup lever until thirty seconds or so prior to my call time.
“You don’t say… you don’t say… oh, me? Oh well, I’m just not worth a darn. Is it hot over there? Yeah well, it’s pretty hot over here… how hot is it? We’ll it’s so hot, this afternoon I saw a Robin dunking his worm in a glass of ice tea.”
I feigned a conversation until it was time. At least one person had come to wait to use the phone. He dutifully formed a one-person queue facing me at five-ish feet. “Yes, I get it pal; you need to use the phone.” He became instantly annoyed as the phone began to ring out in the middle of my faux conversation. He walked away indignantly.
On cue, the phone did indeed sing out:
“Hello… old Jed’s a millionaire… hang on let me grab a pen so I can write that down…”
“Aw, that GD hater hung up on me… third and Peach Tree… third and Peach Tree… my next destination is third and Peach Tree…”
The call had served nothing more than to direct me to another phone booth. I had about six minutes to get there. I flipped through my paper city street map (remember those?) and found my corner. I should have seen this coming; I get it, I had barely enough time to get there, or not really enough time to get there. They were going to try to fence line me, I was sure of that. They wanted to get me out of pattern so I would be lost and see what I would then do.
I’ll play their silly little game, I thought and took off at a canter. “Third and Peach Tree… third and Peach Tree” Actually what would I do if I missed a contact, I wondered… I guess I would curl up in the fetal position on the ground and suck my thumb because I can’t make a decision. This is only a test. “Third and Peach Tree…”
I was in my call window, and just across the street from the phone booth, but the light was red. Sink or swim, I moved quickly out in traffic bobbing and weaving through moving cars. Horns blared, oaths spewed, and in the mix of it all wafted the unspeakable sound:
I unhooked the receiver and:
“HELLO, HELLO… OL’ JED’S A FREAKING MILLIONAIRE… HANG ON, LET ME…”
“THAT COCKSUCKER!!! Eighth and Vine… eighth and vine…” I ran.
Once again I was in my call window minute and closing in on my next phone booth… but it was occupied. I fished two crumpled dollar bills from my pants pocket as I trotted up. Without notice, I pressed my way into the booth and slammed my hand down on the connection lever.
The lady whose call I had so rudely interrupted glared at me like I was stone-cold insane. Before she could speak a held up the two dollars to her and blurted: “I’m sooo sorry, but I’m Clark Kent and I need this booth to change into my Superman costume. The lady hurried out, leaving me with my two dollars as the phone chimed out.
“Chello… Ol’ Jed’s a millionaire… got it.”
I had ‘got’ it alright. The next phone booth I had to be at in this crappy remake of an already crappy movie was way on the other side of the city, and I had six minutes to be there. I finally made it, I had just arrived at the fence line. I wanted to do a 360-degree slow rotation with both middle fingers in the air for anyone out there that was secretly watching or even filming me, but I managed to imagine myself sitting in a room with the Unit Command watching that video.
There was just one thing to do under the circumstances; cross the street and have a seat at that open-air cafe. I would do three things while I was there for the next hour or so:
1.) Watch the phone booth to see if any other dudes who looked just like me came running up swearing
2.) Think about and derive my next plan of action
3.) Have a coffee, of course!
Watch the booth… we’ll, I don’t know if I can handle the booth. I only wanted to watch it out of personal curiosity, and because I suddenly had nothing to do for the rest of the day. I mean, if one of my bros showed up at the booth, it’s not like I was going to run over and meet him. This was a singleton operation; I knew the rules.
The sun went down with me still sitting at the cafe straining to remember any and all instructions I may have forgotten. As I became reacquainted with the time, and the fact that I still had a curfew to meet in less than enough time to get back at a leisurely stroll, it dawned on me that the college-age waitress had been jabbering at me for several minutes about school and nothing, and I hadn’t even been listening. I broke contact and began an easy jog back to my hovel on the inflamed boil in the anus of the city.
(Feature image courtesy of Reuters)