“A project or mission that is not officially sanctioned or has an official record.”
Officially I’m in the South of France, sunning myself on the Riviera, and at least a dozen witnesses will swear they saw me. A document trail shows that I flew over on Air France, and I hired a Jaguar for the week. After flying in, I made a few casual acquaintances and told them I was going on a driving trip across France for several days, being very vague about where I was going and when I’d be back.
However, that was only a cover. I drove into the night until I reached a small clearing in the middle of nowhere and hurried aboard a small plane that took me back to where I had just left. My double would continue my trip, making sure to stay away from people and only be seen from a distance.
Part of me wished I still were driving through France, but there are certain jobs only I could do. I “borrowed” a car from a local car dealer, but I would return it before anyone missed it. I was parked next to the pier, waiting for them to arrive.
The lights from Artie’s Bar and Grill reflected off the water. I considered going back in, but the stench of beer and whatever they were smoking was enough to give me a migraine and drove me out the first time. I waited in the car.
About one a.m., a small light appeared on the horizon and blinked for barely a second—my signal. A few minutes later, a small watercraft eased out of the shadows and bumped against the sandy beach near the pier’s pylons. I shifted my pistol in my hands and waited for them to climb out of the boat.
The last thing I wanted was gunplay because a gunshot would echo for miles. I didn’t want to be discovered or deal with unexpected dead bodies—too many problems.
Officially we had nothing to do with the escape of a war prisoner and his return to his homeland, but wheels had been set in motion several weeks ago that guaranteed that he would be returning. The only problem was that no one currently in the company knew what he looked like now. It had been years since he’d gone under deep cover, and intel revealed he’d changed his appearance voluntarily several times since then. Upon capture, his captors tortured and disfigured him even more.
I was the only one left from the original training crew who knew him well and would know things only he’d know. It was my job to vet him or kill him.
Two figures emerged from the shadows of the pier. Silhouetted against the moon and water, they were easy targets if one had a mind to take them out. At this point, I hoped that I could avoid having to kill who I hoped was my closest friend.
Leaning against the car’s front fender, I had my gun in the shadow but ready.
One man spoke as he approached me. “Nice night for a swim, eh?”
“Yes. If you enjoy freezing your ass off,” I countered with the response to the passphrase.
A cool breeze blew in off the water as he spoke. “You have the necessary papers?”
He pulled a plastic pouch from inside his jacket, handing it to me. I read enough of the enclosed documents in the full moonlight to tell they were real.
The second figure hung back just behind the man I was talking to, and I spoke. “Lenny?”
He stepped forward, taking off his cap. “Roger, it’s good to see you again.” He pulled me into a hug. I let him wrap his arms around my shoulders and tried to remember what I could of our days.
“You know I have to vet you, make sure you’re Lenny Storm?”
He nodded. “Yes, ask me anything you like.”
We got into the car. I had him slide into the back seat while I got behind the wheel. Turning around in the seat, I asked him, “Remember Betty Summers?”
“Yeah, let me think, the name sounds familiar.”
“Should remember, you dated her for almost a year. “
”Yeah, that was before she got into the Mensa program, and I wasn’t good enough for her.”
I had been studying all the old records from back in training to remember as much as I could. I had to pull out something more obscure. If he were a trained agent, he could bullshit me all day, and I’d probably never realize it. There had to be a tell to show me he was the real Lenny. We made small talk on the drive back into town and to the motel where I had a room. He seemed to know all the old gossip and who had been doing what with whom.
Once in the room, I could see the damage they’d done to him. His face had healed, but he looked like a stranger to me, not my oldest best friend. I could tell by how he got out of the car and moved that he was in pain, but he never said a word. I tossed him a big bottle of painkillers, and he grinned and thanked me. While he took a handful of pills, I considered what to do next.
“Lenny. It’s time for the hard questions.”
Easing himself down on the bed across from me, he eyed the pistol still in my hand. “You going to put that away?”
“I’d like to, but…”
“You’re still not sure who I am.” I nodded yes, and he continued. “I get it. I wouldn’t trust me either.”
We sat and talked for the next several hours. Topics included old instructors and the missions we worked together right out of training. He seemed to know everything he should. But something still wasn’t quite right. There was a lingering doubt in my mind that he was the real Lenny. Something he’d said or hadn’t said didn’t ring true, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Finally, I sat up straight and aimed my pistol at his head. “You’re not the real Lenny Stone. You’re a very good copy. You studied everything, did your research well, and even found out stuff no one else knew. You almost had me fooled.”
His face suddenly turned hard, and he sat upright and tensed up.
“You went through hell for nothing. Getting your face mangled to pass as Lenny, but you’re not him.”
I picked up my phone and hit a button. “Control, this is Zero-One Twenty-Three on the rescue mission. It’s a NO GO.”
“Terminate,” was the response, and the line went dead.
I tossed the phone to one side and screwed a suppressor on the end of the barrel. Leveling the pistol at “Lenny,” I asked if he had any last words.
“What gave it away?”
“The real Lenny wouldn’t have hugged me in a million years.”
Thud times two, and “Lenny Storm” lay dead on the bed. I made another phone call, and within an hour, no trace remained to show that we’d ever been here. Another hour later, I was on my way to the South of France. Sun on the beach and maybe fishing from that beach.
Sometimes this job sucked big time.