Foggy Bottom, Washington, DC
Smythe and Jones had scheduled to meet the following week, but a significant and potentially career ending threat had been identified. The previous evening Jones had been detailed to escort a small party through Chinatown to enjoy an evening of dining and a cabaret show. But Jones had seen the figure from the distant past, and those memories of that past had come flooding back to put fear through his veins. Jones did not believe in coincidences, but now he had to speak with Smythe and discuss the potential threats to their very existence.
The meeting would be conducted in the usual offices in Foggy Bottom, the oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC. The area was known for the Kennedy Center, Lisner Auditorium, State Department and the infamous Watergate Hotel. It consists of a mixture of residents and buttoned up professional workers in government, corporate organizations and industry. It is a premium area for commercial and residential properties, with some of the most in-demand spaces in all of DC. The area is also home to boutique restaurants, cafes, and patio styled diners.
The offices were contained in an older style building that from the outside looked a little tired and neglected, but this was intentional to hide the activities of the staff who occupied the building. There was a minimalist style reception area with a permanently manned desk, with usual computer accessories and double doors leading into the heart of the building, there was no seating for visitors and no other furnishings. The plaques above the desk indicated the building had capacity for tenants on all four floors but only the second floor was occupied.
The offices fronted as an overseas development agency, the windows were tinted, and special screens had been placed around the offices to ensure that all personnel were shielded from any outside observation. They were indeed truly luxurious premises with the highest grade of security, ex-navy seals on 24/7 duty, bomb proof infrastructure and government grade technology protection.
A sound proof office had been arranged together with the usual refreshments, the coffee was always good, fresh arabica beans, real cream and a box of donuts, after all why the expense if working there was hell? They did not need to use the normal protocols and got straight down to business, and that business was Max, who had disappeared from the school all those years ago.
The school had been in a very isolated location several miles outside of Augusta, originally an English trading post on the Kennebec River. The city had grown to be the capital of Maine with attractions including the magnificent Maine State House, the Old Fort Western, the oldest surviving wooden fort in the United States. The city is also the home of the Pine Tree State Arboretum, a 224-acre park and botanic garden, with six miles of hiking, biking and cross-country skiing trails, which are open for free, all year round.
About 90 percent of Maine is forested, the highest percentage of any state. This includes some 12 million acres in the northern part of Maine where few people live. Those had been some of the major selling points for the very rich and influential parents who needed their often wayward and self-obsessed kids to achieve at least graduation and then attend the universities of choice for the elite families.
Miss Tremblay had been teaching at the school for three years and had grown quite attached to Max who was always joining in with her discussion groups, extra study periods and historical and cultural visits. She was popular with the teaching staff and most of the kids and managed to raise the bar in the Maths results for some of the more troublesome kids, quite an achievement and most beneficial for the school.
Smythe and Jones were both from wealthy, respected and influential families and both resented the presence of Max who had no traceable history or known benefactors. They treated Max with contempt at every opportunity, much to the delight of many of the more repulsive students and those who disapproved did not show it through any credible actions.
Max was a loner and happy to maintain a very low profile around the school. Several kids had been beaten up by unknown persons and claimed it was local kids who were jealous, but the attacks were never proven, and people kept their suspicions to themselves. Max knew otherwise, and the attacks were always in revenge and very carefully planned, the victims would always be alone and away from the school premises.
The disappearance of Ms Tremblay happened over a scheduled home-visit weekend midway through the summer semester. Smythe and Jones had informed the head teacher that their parents were attending a global conference and they would not be able to collect them for the weekend and arrangements were made for to stay at the school. Ms Tremblay had been due to go home as soon as possible the next day, which was Saturday morning, unfortunately the sickness of fellow staff had put her behind schedule, and she still had marking to catch up with and a few lesson plans to finish.
On that fateful Saturday morning Ms Tremblay had made good time, packed her car and after a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee left the school, heading for home, which meant taking the road northwards through the forests and in the opposite direction of town. Smythe and Jones had also been up early that morning and left the school wearing hiking gear together with camping equipment and supplies for an overnight camp on the trails around the school.
Ms Tremblay had caught up with them a mile to the north and offered them a lift for the first few miles to the old mining camp where they would take the old trail through the forest and down to the river. This had been their intention from the start and they were pleased that she had been so trusting. She had suspected nothing and had driven into the lumberyard before being tricked and tied up. They had wanted revenge for her always preferring the company of Max to any of the other guys in the class and wanted her to pay big-time for it.
They had not intended to kill her but after the teasing escalated into a frenzied sexual assault there was no other choice, and neither wanted the police or jail or worse. They had dumped her body in the car and driven further into the forest and the edge of the quicksand. There were warning signs everywhere, but they had no other option but to dispose of the car and the body. It was not known how deep the quicksand was, but they were relieved after what had seemed an eternity, as the car finally disappeared into the belly of the forest and the last of the bubbles rose to the surface, surely this would never be found.
According to the local news agencies Max had disappeared at the same time as Ms Tremblay, a French and Maths teacher from an exclusive Private school outside the state capital of Augusta, Maine. Their disappearances had provoked local rumors, speculation and gossip, including one theory that the two had run away together, but could not be validated. Interviews with staff and students indicated they had a very close relationship at the school and shared a passion for theater, museums and art galleries. They had shared many extra curriculum activities during the free periods on Wednesdays and at the weekends. Local gossips insisted that it was more than that and had to be of a sexual nature. There had been wide reporting on local news channels and extensive searches made around the school and other premises which had achieved nothing. Subsequently the local law enforcement had no leads and the case was closed three months later due to lack of any substantial evidence or useful information.
The outcome had been a blessing for both Smythe and Jones who had been in the same class as Max, but they still had their own doubts and concerns, but for very different reasons. The school had closed several years later due to the meltdown in the financial markets, and the truth had remained buried for years. Only Smythe and Jones knew the truth about the disappearance of Ms Tremblay, but they did not know the complete story on Max, who had also disappeared over the same weekend. The sudden return of Max put both their lives into a state of abject panic!
Smythe had graduated and went to Harvard to study international law, had been the smartest of them all and was given the option to join any of the top three law firms in the USA. There was real shock when they were all turned down and Smythe opted for obscurity and chose an obscure agency which specialized in forensic law across the dark web. Smythe had the charm of a skunk and had few friends at Harvard, and could not really care less, the future was planned and there was little chance of any deviation. Other students were delighted that this beast was out of the frame and new opportunities presented themselves. Smythe had smiled and knew that the 24/7 working day and the endless accountability would not be the future, there were new horizons and exciting challenges ahead.
Jones had graduated and went to MIT to study AI and psychology, and like Smythe he had been a brilliant and friendless student. The professors had hated the persistent air of superiority in the kid who breezed through the courses and made them look like beginners. Head-hunters came calling with mouth-watering sign on fees, but like Smythe they were rejected for the very same reasons.
Smythe and Jones did not need the money, it was simply the desire for power and the fact that neither had a choice, they had literally sold their souls to the devil. They had both continued to serve the agency and now two of the most powerful directors of any global government agency, but very few knew of their existence or their real objectives. They had their work and each other, just like the old days, but those old days were coming back to haunt them, and both knew that fear could lead to mistakes and reprisals.
Jones had taken a shot of Max on his cell and that image was on the screen in-front of them. It was not a perfect image, sideways and from behind, very little to go on, but it was a start. The image was sent to room 23 in surveillance, with immediate priority, and that meant to be done by yesterday. The geeks in 23 delivered as if by magic and Max was looking straight at them from the screen. Room 10 had the image and within seconds it was made available for all USA security agencies. It would not take long before Max was confirmed on a flight from Ronald Regan Airport, Washington, DC with connecting flights to Moscow, where agents would be waiting.
Smythe and Jones knew immediately why Max was going to Moscow, there would be only one show in town in the next few days and that meant the Zodiac Program had been compromised. To put it bluntly “the shit had just hit the fan” but where the hell was it going to land? The coffee was cold, and the donuts were stale as they left the building an hour later. There were plenty of questions, but some of the answers would be found in Moscow and they knew that everything was beginning to escalate out of their control and the run-away train was heading to Russia!