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The Operative (Excerpt 2)
........... continued from last issue ...............
A wave of excitement swept over Michael as he turned into the familiar flat by the road. He felt like a traveler coming home after a long time away. The perimeter fence looked slimy – courtesy of the overflowing water tank up ahead, dripping onto it. Michael edged sideways on his way to the back door. He gave the signatory knock and waited. A bolt was pulled back. A key turned and the metal door opened. Nekky, the girl with the nerdy glasses and the habitual blank stare held the door open long enough to treat him to her blank stare, and then she walked back into the flat, leaving the door open. He had long given up on the idea of trying to decipher the model of a human robot Nekky was. The Professor surely must have seen some value in her to have kept her.
Inside the flat, Nekky had already returned to her place behind a desktop computer, alternately peering into a file on her desk and at the computer screen. Against the wall opposite Nekky, an obese guy in thick spectacles sat at a computer, typing onto the keyboard and stopping to jot into the page of a book. Michael wondered what code the hacker could be working on at the moment.
“Hey, Stan,” Michael greeted as he walked into the office.
The obese guy looked up and pushed his glasses up his nose. His face broke into a warm smile as though realizing for the first time the existence of a fellow human on a lonely planet.
“Long time, no see,” his said in a voice too shrill for his size. “Where have you been?”
Stan laughed at the joke.
“Is the Professor in?” he asked, gesturing at the closed door of the Professor’s office.
Michael gave him a thumbs-up and strode towards the Professor’s office. He did not knock before pushing the steel door in. The Professor was engrossed on a map on the wall with his back to the door. Occasionally, he moved a colored thumb pin to some new point on the map. Michael stood in the small space in the middle of the office, never attempting to bother the Professor. He looked about the cramped office, at the stack of papers and the sagging shelves. Never for once had he chanced upon the Professor sorting through any of those materials. His guess was that the stacks of books and papers were all a ploy to frustrate any attempt at a search in the event of an intrusion. The Professor glanced at his wristwatch and then turned around. His eyes searched Michael for what seemed to be ages.
“There is a job,” he said flatly.
Michael said nothing. He strained to keep the relief from showing on his face.
“It is a small job, but never to be taken any lightly due to the diplomatic implications.” He paused to tug at the collar of his gray shirt beneath his tweed jacket. “Any reservations?”
“I am up to it, Prof.”
“There is a large warehouse somewhere downtown, fifteen kilometers due east to the wharf. You are to take a peek at the activities going on there. I need hard evidence.”
“What I am expected to see, Prof?”
“Something out of the ordinary.”
“Drugs, human trafficking, arms, hostages..”
“Arms. But scratch above the surface in case there happens to be more.”
“I must warm you that you are absolutely deniable in this case. Go in and out without being noticed.”
“Am I going in without arms?”
“Do what you must do, but never you get caught and never you bring any shit back to this agency else I will plaster it all over your face.”
A smile broke Michael’s face. It amused him to see those rare moments when the Professor got animated. “I am still your best operative, Prof.”
“And regrettably the only one.” He stuck a hand into his trouser pocket. Michael thought about a man fondling for his keys. Out there in the field, such gesture would have amounted to an act of hostility. The professor handed him a small flat envelope.
“The operational funds have been transferred into your account. Officially, your mission has begun.” With that, he turned his attention back to the map on the wall. Michael knew when a meeting was over. He made for the door.
Michael alighted from the tricycle and paid the driver. He stood by to watch the tricycle whir away to join to the fast traffic on the highway. It was late afternoon when the streets were not expected to be busy with human and vehicular traffic. He had taken the precaution to stop some distance away where the lane leading to the supposed warehouse branched off the highway. He shrugged to adjust the mailbag slung across his shoulder, tugged at his withering baseball cap and began the slow trek. A handful of pedestrians strolled past him, but none paid any special attention to the trekking courier worker with a bag nearly full of mails. He felt confident that he was playing the part well.
In a few minutes, Michael branched into the lane. A few walk down the lane, the warehouse came into view. His heartbeat increased. He felt alive. There was no telling if the Professor would have approved, but he had carried a pistol stashed into a hidden compartment of the mailbag. His only regret was that it did not make for easy reach in the event that he needed it, but then the Professor had made the mission sound like one which required subterfuge and deception. Go in and out without getting noticed, he had warned.
The warehouse stood on a raised platform of floored earth. Walls separated it from the buildings on either side, but it had no gates. There was no soul to be seen around the premises and no sounds issued from within. Michael stood from across the warehouse and pondered the building like one trying to take his bearings. His eyes made out some faint tire marks on the floor. They must have been the made by a large vehicle, surely a truck. Some point to notice, enough incentive to get curious.
He rummaged into his bag and brought out a clipboard. Detaching the pen fastened onto the clipboard, he strode with feigned hesitation towards the warehouse. His ears were piqued for any sounds, his muscles tensed and his eyes sharp, but nothing happened until he was a few paces away from the giant steel doors.
Footfalls approaching from the right wing of the building caused him to halt. Relief washed over him – it was better that someone accosted him than shoot at his through some hole in the building. The footsteps belonged to a man. He rounded the corner and stopped a few paces away from Michael. The fellow was a fairly large man, a few inches taller than Michael and with an air of authority about him. There was something else that sent a chill through Michael’s bones – the man had eyes that seemed to contemplate either strangling him or putting a knife into his throat. They were the eyes of a dangerous man, one who would not bat an eyelid before snuffing the life out of another.
“This is a private property What business do you have here?”
Michael thought he had not noticed the man’s lips moved all the while.
“Sorry. I have a mail to this address.” Michael held out the clipboard. “If you would ….”
“You got the wrong address.”
“Really?” Michael looked again at the clipboard. He looked up and down the street, hoping he was acting convincingly stupid enough. “Perhaps you can help me take a look and point me in the right direction.” He scratched his head. “I just got this job …… and I’m new to this place …”
The man snatched the clipboard from Michael. His face contorted into a frown as he looked at the clipboard. Michael stole the moment to take a look at the vicinity. There were no cameras, no thermal sensors, no surveillance systems. There could be alarms, but there was no guaranteeing anything.
“Get the fuck out of this place and ask someone else,” the man said as he tossed the clipboard to the ground. Apologizing, Michael stooped over, swept up the clipboard and hurried away from the premises. Without turning to look, he was sure the man was standing there watching him leave. His instincts told him that there were more than a pair of eyes watching him as he strode towards the main road.
Everyone knew him as Mr. Otondo, the Chief Security Officer of Deep Cs Corporations, a new maritime company. Not only was he respected in the company for his history as a retired Army officer, but top executives knew that Mr Otondo had the ear of the C.E.O. Rumors even had it that the both men had a history together.
His presence in the office building that morning caused some stir amongst the office staff. They had thought he traveled out of state on official duties. The secretary snapped to attention on noticing the automated glass doors sliding open, and Mr. Otondo walking in with determined strides.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Is the C.E.O in?”
He walked to the padded doors and knocked just as she was picking the phone receiver to notify her boss. The C.E.O was lying on his back in one of the soft settees set in a sitting arrangement at one corner of the magnificent office, far removed from the large mahogany desk and shelves of leather-bound books on maritime history and laws. Mr. Otondo closed the door behind him and walked towards his boss. The C.E.O saw him in his peripheral vision and closed the book he had been reading. Michael read the front page In Biafra, Africa Died.
“You want some scotch or brandy?” the C.E.O asked, still lying on his back.
“You will want to sit down to tell me what brings you here so unexpectedly.”
Mr. Otondo took the offer to sit down, all the while wondering how his boss got the nerve to keep cool in the midst of a tempest. If there was anybody to fear between the both of them, he pondered, it had to be the boss and not him.
“We had an intruder a few moments ago.”
The C.E.O’s gaze was unflinching and betraying no emotion. His smooth face belied the fiery furnace in his piercing eyes. Mr. Otondo took his boss’ silence as an invitation to continue.
“I thought it prudent to come first to you before I do anything.”
“You have a theory going on in your head, I believe. Spit it out.”
“He came as a mailman. I nearly would have fallen for his trick until I caught his eyes seeking out possible places for surveillance system. I am thinking he is a police detective.”
The C.E.O’s eyes bore hard on him. “You assured me that the Police are on our side?”
“They are on our side.”
“You still don’t want any drink?”
“I am okay.”
“Then you have to get going.”
Mr. Otondo got to his feet.
“You know that we can’t mess this deal up.”
Mr. Otondo nodded.
“Sort this issue out. We have only six days until the owners of the goods come for the pickup.”
Mr. Otondo strode out of the office. The C.E.O returned to the book from where he had left off.