Invasion of Privacy: A Novel by Christopher Reich
“Felix will be there in ten.”
“Nothing out here but tumbleweeds and horseshit.”
“Welcome to Texas.”
Special Agent Joe Grant of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stared out the window of the Chevrolet Tahoe. The ground was barren, scrub sprouting here and there out of the dirt. Across the yard stood an old windmill, the kind with the tiller and the spoked wheel. Farther down the road he spied a telephone pole strung with wires. Beneath it sat the rusted carcass of an ancient tractor. He sighed. The place had probably looked the same in 1933.
“Stay back a ways once he pulls in. Don’t want to spook him.”
“Now you’re even talking like a cowboy,” said Fergus Keefe, a supervisory special agent from the Cyber Investigations Division and his colead on the case. “That ought to go over big in D.C.”
“Ain’t there yet.”
“If half of what Felix says is true, this is your ticket to the show.”
“I’ll believe it when I’m holding the plane ticket in my hand.”
Sacramento’s the last stop, they’d promised him. You’ll get to D.C. straight after that. But that was before Semaphore came around. Semaphore threw a wrench into everything. If he wasn’t so good at his job, Joe thought, he’d be in Washington right now, looking at the dome of the Capitol Building and giving briefings on the Hill. Instead he was parked in the questionable shade of a cedar tree on an abandoned cattle ranch smack dab in the middle of Texas Hill Country. D.C. might as well be on the far side of the moon.
“Felix is turning onto RR 3410,” said Keefe.
“Roger that. Wait right there. He sees that dust behind him, there’s no telling what he’ll do. He’s nervous enough as it is.”
“Felix” was the confidential informant’s code name. For Felix Unger, the OCD half of the Odd Couple.
“I’m pulling over,” said Keefe. “He’s all yours. And don’t take any chances.”
“You think he’s packing? Felix? A PhD from MIT? The guy’s annual 401(k) contribution is bigger than my entire salary.”
“I prefer to think of him as a pill-popping drunk with two DUIs and a reckless endangerment under his belt.”
“Point taken.” Joe laid a hand on his Glock. Tell an agent to be careful and he’s going to check that his piece is where it should be—in Joe’s case, holstered on his waist, butt facing out for the cross draw. He forgot about the weapon and switched off his phone, staring at the picture of Jessie and Grace on his wallpaper. He ran a fingernail over their faces, but it didn’t bring them any closer. Getting so big. He said it every time, just like he said he’d be home more often and he’d stop letting “the job” take precedence over his job as a father.
Joe drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. The exterior temperature gauge read 102, but it felt hotter. Across the yard a clump of tumbleweed rustled. He leaned forward, eyes glued to the windmill. Come on, he whispered. Give us a breeze. The windmill shuddered but did not turn.
Times had changed. You didn’t need a windmill to pump water out of the ground. And you sure as heck didn’t need wires to send a voice from one person to another. Joe knew all about phones and cables and all things telecommunication. He knew more about digital technology than he’d ever wanted to. Semaphore had taken care of that.
Officially it was Operation Semaphore, and it had brought him to Austin two months earlier. For the record it was a routine transfer, a lateral move from Sacramento to shore up the Austin residency’s glaring manpower shortage. He came billed as an agent who knew his way around municipal corruption cases, with a stint overseas policing piracy of intellectual property.
But the record didn’t say everything.
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