Wide Tracking

Townsend couldn’t help smirking each time he ComSatted the read-out of Aphra’s transponder. And got back analytics and vectors from Langley or Eustis or Cheyenne Mountain or wherever the hell they bounced the stuff around. Yes, he was thinking, the often-vilified public sector still has a few tricks up its sleeve, bitch. He was getting better dope off her bug than she was, unless he missed his guess, better idea of where it was.

One thing he knew, after computing the various aspects of the bounce, the velocity and positioning vis a vis currents and depth charts, and whatever else they threw into the algorithms, the “career”, as they put it, of the device was consistent with human powered small craft. In other words, he mused, they’ve got a rowboat or a canoe or something out there and have been paddling for almost four hundred miles. Averaging about 4 miles an hour during times actually in motion,, consistent with a fairly long, efficient craft of some kind. Stopping sometimes by day, sometimes by night. Sometimes waiting for a few hours, then sprinting by built-up areas by night. Pattern pretty clear to him. On the lam. Running and not wanting to be seen. Either that or a tourist with really peculiar tastes in when and where to picnic.

Another thing he knew that she probably didn’t was that whoever or whatever she’d tagged had just crossed a line. Specifically, into Belize waters. Bummer for him because the DEA, and in fact the U.S. in general, had a lot less clout down there than in Mexico–where he could practically order dinner and some Mexican cop or Marine would bring it and not ask for a tip.

But the thing she knew and he didn’t was gnawing on his butt. Namely, who the hell had that tracker and what the hell it all meant. Without which, nothing made much sense and he was at a momentary loss. Extremely frustrating.

For a guy most people would see as having everything anybody could want, and having done a bang-up job accomplishing everything he’d ever undertaken in life, Townsend Hardley led a life heavily beset by frustration.

Like right now, for instance. The guy was about to show up any minute who could put him right on top of the thing, but not knowing what was going on, he didn’t know how he could use it.

Show up here at the oddest, possibly coolest café he’d ever seen. In Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico, of all places. The guy had said he couldn’t miss it, and there was no doubt of that. “La Flota” reminded him of the long, slim houseboats he’d seen moored on the rivers in Amsterdam and Paris. But was moored alongside a municipal pier near the fishing fleet and some grey hulls with big white numbers that had “interdict” apparent in every detail. Below in the skinny hull, the galley was hip-wide and six yards long with two cramped tables. And four more… not really tables, more like counters… in the open air on the upper deck. Giving views of the jade green lagoon, the tangled mangroves to the east, and the wide sweep of Chetumal’s park-like malecon. Townsend lounged, the only customer at four in the afternoon, and looked around sipping some really good coffee alleged to be from Yucatan. And wished the guy who’d said he’d meet him there would hurry up and meet him there.

At about the same time, just one time zone to the east, the Far Right Honorable Elijah Jacob Weatherwax was pitching a fit.

“Who else is onto this thing?” he bellowed at quivering underlings who tried unsuccessfully to slouch down below the line of sight over his precariously cluttered desk. He brandished a wad of graph paper with lines plotted in three different colors, shaking it at them while his jowls rolled around like varicosed pit bulls. “You can see it here, right here, shit, all over the place here…it’s getting pinged and it’s squealing on us like a stuck shoat. And not to anybody we know and admire. Probably reading it contemporary, like the frigging scores crawling across the screen under Mushburger and Madden’s faces. Jesus!”

“The tech morlocks down there told me her transmitter isn’t linear-secure. Whatever that means.”

“It means they’re all over her ass like her little sister’s pantyhose, that’s what it means. It also means something like, you know, we just might be cornholed and hornswaggled here. End up running round hiding our faces and crotches, trying to find some deniability to scootch down behind. Or just end up sucking hind titty on whatever she’s down there trying to root out.”

He took another look at the plotter paper and threw it at them. “Did you just pull that stuff out of NSA stock and give it to her?”

“No, she uses her own hardware. Software, too, I guess.”

“Great. Just so all-fired great I could dance a Sunday jig. We’re down there with a bluelight special from Spies R Us and she’s getting her crack sniffed by… well, golly guys, I wonder who it might be? The Creep, maybe?”

“I don’t think they call it that anymore, Senator. Just The Committee.”

“I was referring to a defector from our bosom, who is now employed by that self-same committee, with an end to getting another four years for President Saddam Osama and pissing in our pockets as we all go down.”

“Could be,” Hutchins said. He’d about had it with this cornpone ass-chewing. This guy couldn’t really fire him. “Or maybe the Cuba Cigar Cartels. Or the Kremlin/Vatican hookup, or that Al K. Eeda guy. Or the Elders of Zion…”

“Oh, very humorous, sonny. They are onto her is what I’m saying. Because you let her go down there with a slingshot.”

“Senator,” Collinsworth said, drawing courage from Hutchin’s sarcasm, “I don’t see how you can blame us for this. Even if we’d given her the best stuff we could get, she’d still be in the field with available technology. And she’d still be up against…”

“The Committee, yeah, yeah.”

“I was going to say, she’s up against the Government of the United States.”

“Well, sheeeit,” the Right Honorable said, deflating into his chair. “Ain’t we all, these days?”