COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part Nine: Active Measures
Active Measures: Russian term for intelligence operations that will affect another nation's policies or actions. These can be either covert or open and can include a wide variety of activities, including assassination. —Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage
It was close to six in the morning when the security guards put me in a locked conference room on the fifth floor—no windows, only one door. The table was littered with scrawl-covered notepads, empty Snapple bottles. There was an overhead projector, a whiteboard that hadn't been erased, and, fortunately, a computer.
I wasn't a prisoner, exactly. I was being "detained." It was made clear to me that if I didn't cooperate, I'd be turned right over to the police, and that didn't seem to be a very good idea.
And Goddard—sounding weirdly calm—had told me that he wanted to speak with me when he got in. He didn't want to hear anything else, which was good, because I didn't know what to say.
Later I learned that Seth had just made it out of the building, though without the truck. I tried e-mailing Jock. I still didn't know how I could explain myself, so I just wrote:
Need to talk. I want to explain.
But there was no reply.
I remembered, suddenly, that I still had my cell phone with me—I'd tucked it into one of my pockets, and they hadn't found it. I switched it on. There were five messages, but before I could check my voice mail, the phone rang.
"Yeah," I said.
"Adam. Oh, shit, man." It was Antwoine. He sounded desperate, almost hysterical. "Oh, man. Oh, shit. I don't want to go back in. Shit, I don't want to go back inside."
"Antwoine, what are you talking about? Start from the beginning."
"These guys tried to break in your dad's apartment. They must've thought it was empty."
I felt a surge of irritation. Hadn't the neighborhood kids figured out yet that there was nothing in my dad's shithole apartment worth breaking in for?
"Jesus, are you okay?" I said.
"Oh, I'm okay. Two of 'em got away, but I grabbed the slower guy—oh, shit! Oh, man, I don't want to get in trouble now! You gotta help me."
This was a conversation I really didn't feel like having, not now. I could hear some kind of animal noise in the background, some sort of moaning or scuffling or something. "Calm down, man," I said. "Take a deep breath and sit down."
"I'm sittin' on the motherfucker right now. What's freaking me out is this fucker says he knows you."
"Knows me?" Suddenly I got a funny feeling. "Describe the guy, could you?"
"I don't know, he's a white guy—"
"His face, I mean."
Antwoine sounded sheepish. "Right now? Kinda red and mushy. My bad. I think I broke his nose."
I sighed. "Oh, Jesus, Antwoine, ask him what his name is."
Antwoine put down the phone. I heard the low rumble of Antwoine's voice, followed immediately by a yelp. Antwoine came back on. "He says his name is Meacham."
I flashed on an image of Arnold Meacham, broken and bleeding, lying on my dad's kitchen floor under three hundred pounds of Antwoine Leonard, and I felt a brief, blessed spasm of pleasure. Maybe I had been watched when I'd dropped by my dad's apartment. Maybe Meacham and his goons figured I'd hidden something there.
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about it," I said. "I promise you that asshole's not going to cause you any more trouble." If I were Meacham, I thought, I'd go into the witness protection program.
Antwoine now sounded relieved. "Look, I'm really sorry about this, man."
"Sorry? Hey, don't apologize. Believe me, that's the first piece of good news I've heard in a long time."
And it would probably be the last.
I figured I had a few hours to kill before Goddard would show up, and I couldn't just sit there anguishing over what I'd done, or what would be done to me. So I did what I always do to pass the time: I went on the Internet.