IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
February 9th, Thursday Afternoon, FBI Headquarters
Pete was in my office, and he was steaming. “I don’t want to go into the Cage, Jack.”
I nodded, “Fire away.”
“First, how did you find out about Clyde Smith being the hacker?” he demanded.
“Pete,” I said, stretching out my hands. “Need to know, baby. Need to know.”
“Well, I’ve got ‘the boss’ and three other perps, Jack. So, give me the freedom I need to properly investigate this.”
“What are you talking about, Pete?”
“All of these perps are religious fruitcakes, Jack. They are probably all dirty and I intend to go deep and figure out what they are up to. You need to let me get to the bottom of it.”
I was still nodding, but only to placate him as I continued to listen.
“I want to surveil the Presidential candidate’s employee who communicated with our hacker,” he said.
I’m afraid he noticed me wince.
“You’re not going to tie my hands anymore, Jack. You’ll keep getting your reports, but something funny is going on here, and it needs to stop before it is out of control.”
“Before what is out of control, Pete?” I asked with as much patience as I could. But I knew what was coming. He had already told me. His prejudice against religious people was dominating his judgment.
“Jack, in our business, coincidences don’t just happen.”
I nodded in agreement.
He went on, “The only reason I am huffing and puffing at this, is because too many paths have crossed that in the course of normal events should not have.”
“So, what are you guesstimating is the level of infiltration, Pete? Who are our perps, what are their crimes and what do they want?”
Pete withdrew his notepad and gave me the lowdown. I took some notes.
“Did you know, Jack, that the Religion Consultant of each of the two candidates. . .”
“Are husband and wife?” I finished his question. “Yeah, I know. It caused quite a ruckus up here when we vetted them over a year ago. They have impeccable records and both candidates are aware of the potential conflict of interest and they trust them. I wouldn’t, but they do.”
“I’ll come back to those two, Jack, because they cross paths with Perps #1 and #2.”
“You’ve started numbering them?” I wanted to laugh.
“Yes, and as of now, I count at least five.”
“At least five perps? How did we go from one hacker to five perps, Pete?” I was incredulous. “Is there anything inherent in their activities which make any of them suspect of criminal charges? Anything?”
“No,” Pete said a little disappointed. “I mean, besides the hacker, no.”
“I’m just reading between the lines here, Pete, but you sound like you are saying, ‘There is nothing in their activities which make them suspect, but because their tracks touch, I am bothered and I think they are dirty.”
Pete nodded his head. “Once we learned about the wife meeting the hacker on a recent campaign trip, we looked into the husband. And guess who he’s just met with?”
“Surprise me, Pete.” I said.
“A Christian looney-tune from Macon, just outside of Warner Robins, near the hacker.”
“I know where Macon is, Pete. So, you are going to charge this other person, with what? Guilt by proximity?”
He ignored me and continued. “I am calling him Perp #3. We briefly looked into this guy. On the surface he seems to be a mild-mannered regular guy, but he was fired by MPTU under suspicious circumstances. In addition, Jack, he is a ‘Christian’ guy who comes to D.C. once a month to pray with Congressmen (and women), Senators, and their staff. He is, apparently, very well liked, has lots of open doors, and is making inroads on both sides of the aisle.”
“So, what?! Maybe he’s lobbying for something. And what do you mean, Pete, ‘both sides of the aisle?’ How does he get away with that? Does he lie to one side or the other or both?”
Pete cocked an eyebrow and said, “No, Jack. We’ve checked his website and his social media. He claims to, ‘not care about their politics,’ if you can believe that.”
I sat up now, scribbling furiously and mumbled. “Who comes to D.C. and doesn’t care about politics?”
Pete said, “Here’s a quote from one of his posts, ‘I don’t give a rip about their politics, I’m merely there to pray for them, bear their burdens, then they cast them on God, Who gives them peace.’ Some mumbo jumbo and lies like that.”
I sat back, thinking about my old mom. Pete started to speak again, but I needed to think. I held up a hand.
I wrote down my mom’s initials and then the question, “What do you pray?” I remembered her telling me she prays for people by burdening, no, bearing. . .peace. . .casting. I don’t recall, but some things like that.
I looked at Pete and said, “Clearly the guy is a loon, Pete. But we have a lot of loons on the Hill, so what?”
Pete continued, “Well, it appears he met with Perp #5, this last Friday night for dinner.”
“If by #5 you mean the husband, Jude, who works for the other candidate, why is this an issue? They’re both in the Holy-Roller business.” I said. “As of right now, I can tell you, I completely disagree with you assigning Perp’s #3, #4, and #5. I think you’ve flipped, my old friend.”
We were both steaming mad. I needed to reel this in so we could, as a team, get to the bottom of the hacking. So I asked, “Tell me about the Counterintelligence (CI) guy you are calling Perp #2. Is he who led you to Perp #1?”
“Yes, and as you know, he made direct contact, a few weeks ago with Perp #4 and has been in periodic text/email contact since then.”
“Wait, wait, wait, Pete. Quit calling the wife and the husband Perps #4 and #5. I can’t believe you, man.”
I stopped and shook my head. The more Pete talked, the more this sounded like the Keystone Cops. “Tell me about Perp #1. Have you decided who he is?”
He just nodded his head and showed me the photo of a very beautiful middle-aged woman.
“He is a she?” I asked, impressed. I gave a long low whistle, and said, “We don’t haul them in just because their gorgeous, old buddy.”
That’s when Pete pulled out a Criminal Rap Sheet as long as my arm, with what looked like Supplemental Complaint Reports, for each entry.
“Who is this woman?” I asked.
“She is a pastor of what is today called a mega church, and I believe, Jack, she is trying to insert herself into both parties so that by this November she can sell her influence for personal financial gain.”
“Can’t she just be a good looking. . .” I didn’t even finish the sentence.
He pushed over the Criminal Rap Sheet, which read:
- Husband’s Death, Suspicious
- Business Partner’s Death, Suspicious
- Mother-in-law’s Death, Suspicious
- 3 Ministry Partner’s Deaths, Suspicious
- These last three left her in sole ownership of her T.V. stations, her radio stations and as a result, her offshore holdings quadrupled.
- There is a fourth ministry partner, but he is in hiding, so now all of the moneys from his hundreds of foreign churches go directly to her. Apparently, this also gives her some approval to change her title from ‘Pastor’ to ‘Apostle, Pastor.’
“I don’t know, Jack, I don’t get it.”
I looked over the list again and then asked, “Pete, what connects her with the other Perps?”
“Perp #2 is the connection. He seems to be in most, if not all the locations, when somebody mysteriously dies. Plus, he attends her church, an hour and a half away from his home. And this is Georgia. There are tons of other churches he can go to. Anyway, he is in contact with her much more than a typical parishioner would be. He lives a lifestyle way above his monthly income, and as you know, he works with hi-tech computers at Warner Robins Air Force Base, in the Counterintelligence unit.”
I shook my head back and forth trying to take it all in.
“He’s the centerpiece, Jack.”
We sat there not saying anything for a few minutes. And then I asked, “Okay, Pete, say you’re right. What do you want to do?”
He started to open his mouth and I said, “And don’t tell me surveil. We are not going to get ourselves embroiled in surveilling anyone’s campaign.”
“So,” I went on, “Where do we go from here?”
I could tell I had just taken the wind out of his sails, but I didn’t care.
“Well,” he said, “Since you nixed surveilling, let us begin by asking discreet questions about our perps.”
“And who are you calling your perps?”
He started to hold up five fingers and I stopped him. “No, your Perps #3, #4, and #5 are not perps. Get that out of your head, unless you find something concrete.”
“I’ve gotta ask questions, Jack. Or I can’t discover anything.”
“Discreet questions?” I asked.
Pete sat there and didn’t move for a long time. Then he let out a long sigh. That was his tell, his body language which told me he’d agreed to my request.
“Discreet,” he promised.
I lifted my finger slightly and he took a breath.
“Pete,” I said, “besides the CI guy from Warner Robins, what makes you think any of them are dirty?”
“A hunch,” he nearly spit the words out. And he repeated them, “A hunch.”
I shook my head.
I don’t know what else Pete said; I was busy thinking about my meeting earlier in the day with my latest clandestine recruit, pimple-faced Billy, whom I was growing to trust, more and more.
Finally, Pete left, and I picked up the file Billy and I had walked through.
Same Day, Earlier, FBI Headquarters
It was just after lunch when Billy entered my office and sat down.
“First let me ask you Billy, did you get your first two paychecks?”
“Holy smokes, yes, sir! You doubled my tithe.”
I have no idea what that meant, but he was happy and that was what I wanted.
He went on, “But how did you know my bank account information?”
“Is that a serious question, Billy?” I asked. “We’re the FBI, for crying out loud.”
“So where are we at with our do-nothing hacker?”
“And influencer,” Billy added.
That got my attention. This was new. “And influencer?” I queried.
“Yes, but may I ask something?”
“The last time I was here, I brought you the Warner Robins Air Force Base Counterintelligence worker, Clyde Smith’s head on a platter. I expected the gig to be up and for you to take him into custody.”
“You were surprised he stayed on the job, Billy?”
“Yeah. I mean, yes, sir.”
“Why do you think I left him on the job?
“The only thing I could imagine was there is a bigger fish out there that you are hoping he leads us to.”
“We’re gonna make an agent out of you yet, son. So, tell me why you are calling this guy an influencer now, and can you tell me on whose behalf he is trying to influence? His own or someone else’s?”
Billy looked at me trying to be as serious as he could, “You know boss, sir, each time we’ve talked about this operation, I get the feeling you know a lot more than you’re telling me. May I ask, why?”
I smiled big at him. “Billy, you can call me Sir, you can call me Boss, you can even call me Dude, like a lot of your age likes to say. And do you know why?”
He just shook his head, and I went on, “Because I trust you to do the absolute best job for me, so long as you are not distracted.”
He smiled broadly, and I felt bad having to put him in his place, but he needed to learn this lesson in a way he would never forget it.
I put on my hard sounding, first sergeant voice, “But listen to me clearly, you snot-nosed geek. If I’m not telling you something, there is a reason behind it. Now I need your exceptional work ethic and I need your very precise capabilities. But I need your focus on the things I direct you to, and nothing else. You are to trust me that when you need to know something, I will tell you.”
His mouth tightened then quivered slightly, and then tightened again. I let him struggle for another moment, and then added.
“I’m very proud of you, son. I’m very proud of you, Billy, and I need you. So, keep busting your tail for me, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” he said solemnly.
“Now tell me why you are also calling him an influencer.”
“I noticed he tried a new cyberattack. He has started to do what is called an Eavesdropping Attack.”
“Is that as obvious as it sounds? Is he trying to figure out what your religion consultant is doing?”
“And then what does he do when he grasps what the consultant is thinking or saying.”
“Well,” Billy scratched his head.
“Don’t think, just speak.” I said, a little more roughly than I wanted to.
Billy began speaking immediately. “He’s not listening to everything on the Religion Consultant’s computer. He is only focusing on religious contacts who are in her database, which seem to have advice for her, but I don’t see where she has ever asked for advice from them and in addition, I don’t see where she added them into her database. I think he put them all in there, not her. And now he’s striking up conversations with these friendlies.”
“Friendlies?” I asked.
“I’ve been watching some spy movies,” Billy confessed with an embarrassed grin.
I tried not to smile and asked him to tell me about the emails.
“Nothing to tell. He’s talking a lot of holy-roller God-talk, as if he is trying to convince Issy of the various contact’s credibility by saying things like, ‘I’ve been praying and God has told me. . .’ a couple of them even added, ‘praying all night long.’”
I lifted my finger and he quieted down. “So, let me get this right, Billy, our Perp, Clyde, is sending emails to Issy, as if he is this or that particular contact in her database?
“Can you tell if she’s buying it?”
“Hard to say, sir. I get the feeling these emails are meant to intimidate her into believing their might be something mutually beneficial in a business or campaign relationship with them.”
“Fat chance of that happening,” I said. “I have read her work history. The woman is tough as nails.”
And then I sat back and wondered if Pete’s concerns weren’t so far out of bounds. He may not have the right perps, but the wacko attitude of these religious contacts is real enough.
It was all making my head spin, so I asked, “Billy, do people actually believe stuff like that?”
“Yes, sir.” he said.
“But, Billy, isn’t that a little silly. I mean, how does God speak? In an audible voice?”
Billy looked like he wasn’t sure how to answer and I just realized I may have insulted him. So, I added, “Billy, my mom says she talks to God, and she obviously talks audibly but I’ve never asked her how God answers her.”
He looked as if he were weighing his words. “First let me tell you; I read the tone of this guy’s words and knowing what we do about him, I’d say he is lying, which means he hasn’t heard from God.”
“Safe answer,” I said, “Now, I really am curious, so tell me, how does God answer when you pray to Him?”
He took a deep breath and said, “I have heard from God often, boss. . .”
This sent up a gargantuan red flag in my head.
Billy continued, “But I have never heard God speak audibly. . .”
“Whew, I’m glad for that detail.” I thought.
“Usually when God speaks it is by Him prompting my spirit, my guts, or my conscience about a particular subject. But I know me, sir, and I want to verify, if you will, that what I ‘heard’ is really from God, so I check Scripture, the Bible, and see if what’s in His Word confirms or contradicts what I think I’m sensing is from the Lord.”
“I confess, Billy, a lot of that went over my head.”
“Sir, if a person has a relationship with Christ, it begins to make sense.”
And then he stopped.
“Sir, a bad-guy is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of a very decent staffer in my office. That’s the bottom line.”
“Alright, Billy, I’ll accept that answer, for now.”
“Thank you, sir.”