THE scratch of the Montblanc pen whispered in the quiet, well-appointed office. Thick stone walls and double-paned bulletproof glass worked to dampen the traffic noise of downtown Washington, DC, and sumptuous carpet and soundproofing in the walls kept his office a haven of solitude amidst one of the busiest cities in the world.
Richard Burns, executive assistant director of the Criminal Investigative Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, flipped through page after page, initialing and signing. The Bureau may have moved into the digital age, but paperwork still made the gears turn. With a sniff, he closed the folder and tossed it into his outbox for his assistant to pick up. At least he didn’t have to write out his full title every time.
He was reaching to replace the fountain pen in its box when the buzzer on his phone interrupted him.
“Security just called, sir. You have a visitor,” his assistant’s tinny voice announced over the speaker.
“Who is it? I don’t have any appointments until two.”
“The ID provided is for a Mr. Randall Jonas. Central Intelligence Agency.”
Burns looked at the phone in surprise. “Send him through,” he said as he stood and began straightening his tie and suit jacket.
It took five minutes, give or take, and the buzzer went off again. “Sir, the escort is here with Mr. Jonas.”
Burns walked around his desk to greet his old friend when he came through the door. Randall Jonas had been one of three men in Burns’ original Marine Corps squadron who had returned from Vietnam. Earl Grady was the other. They were like his brothers, and Burns would never turn down a surprise visit from one of them. But when the door opened and Jonas was shown into his office, Burns knew immediately that something was wrong.
“You look like hell,” he said before he could think of a more appropriate way to say it.
Jonas nodded. “With good reason.”
Jonas didn’t look at all like the sharp CIA section chief Burns saw for an occasional drink at an upscale DC bar. Jonas looked worn, mussed around the edges, wild around the eyes. He was a large man with a lantern jaw, trending toward heavy in recent years, with gunmetal gray hair and eyes that were a washed out brown. He was usually full of good humor and charm, more a mischievous gnome than a spook. Right now, though, he looked like a bear being chased through the woods by bigfoot.
Burns offered him a hand to shake and then gestured toward the leather sofa in the corner of his office. “Forgive me for skipping over the pleasantries, but it seems like you might want me to. What’s happened?”
Jonas dragged a hand through his hair. “I really stepped in something nasty, Dick. I was about five minutes from being detained at Langley,” he said as he thumped onto the couch and pulled at the knot of his tie.
“You what?” Burns sat down across from Jonas.
“I came across something I was never meant to see. Long story short, someone within the Company has been using government assets to pull personal jobs for profit, and then offing the assets when they got wise. They turned the CIA into a hit service.”
“There was some paperwork that made me suspicious, so I started snooping around. And when I followed the trail, that son of a bitch led right back to me.”
Burns blinked at him. “What?”
“Richard, focus for me here. Someone’s setting me up to take the fall for ordering private hits. I found out before they got everything in place. So I picked up and ran.” Jonas waved a hand, dismissing any further detail of his escape from Langley.
Burns nodded, frowning hard. Abuse of power happened in the alphabet agencies just like anywhere else. Only it usually ended with death and destruction instead of bankruptcy, bailouts, or moving a factory to China.
“Someone within the CIA is eating their own. And you’re the fall guy. I gather following the trail in reverse can’t prove your innocence.”
“No, they’re just notes from one lackey to another, issuing orders,” Jonas said, leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “It’s bad, Dick. I’m being framed for misuse of resources, running operations on my own authority, unsanctioned elimination of personnel, and if it really goes bad, treason. I’d definitely be put in jail for the rest of my natural life. That’s if whoever is responsible doesn’t just come after me as well. Assets are being cleaned. People are losing their lives.”
“I need some help, and you’re the only one I trust right now.”
Burns realized he was staring, and he nodded curtly. He knew this man, had known him for the better part of forty years, and he knew if Jonas said it, it was the truth. Even if he was a damn spook. “What do you need?”
“I need a contact brought in.”
“From what details I was able to pull together before I ran, there’s just one guy still alive who has the information needed to point to the bastard in charge of all this. They tried to clean him a year ago, but he got away.” Jonas shook his head. “They’ve been eliminating agents, Dick. Agent and handler teams going down or disappearing—for a couple of years now. Slowly, almost randomly, and I can’t say I would have caught on without coming across that file and getting suspicious.”
Jonas nodded as he sat up and then leaned back, looking truly miserable. “I’ve worked my ass off for the Company, Dick. I’m not going to let it go down this way. There’s a cell inside, one that’s not sanctioned and not supervised. I’m not sure how high it goes, other than too high if they’re gunning for me.”
“Do you have the stats on this contact? The one with the information?”
“Sort of. He went dark over a year ago. I’ve been in touch with his former handler.”
“Okay. We’ll get him pegged down and then I’ll send an agent after him. We’ll bring this to someone we can trust.”
“You can’t dispatch FBI resources, Dick. They’ll be monitoring everything.”
Burns raised an eyebrow at the paranoia, but that was a spook for you.
“Look, Richard, I don’t know much about your operations, other than the CIA uses you and whatever assets you’ve cultivated over here for certain jobs. I know you’ve got the means to do this off the board.”
Burns pursed his lips and scratched at his nose, trying to hide the discomfort. “I might know someone. I’ll mobilize him. And until we can get this mystery asset of yours in, you’ll stay here. Even the CIA isn’t going to storm FBI headquarters to get to you. Who’s the contact?”