JOSEPH DeCarlo made the right turn from West Broad Street into Westerre Parkway. Considering the heavy traffic on a late weekday afternoon, he was pleased that it had taken him only thirty-five minutes from the airport to his office in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Time was of the essence, especially given the substantial contract he had signed with the British Security Service MI5 just the previous afternoon.
MI5’s annual budget was estimated to be more than 200 Million British Pounds, more than 400 Million US Dollars, of which, according to his research, about thirty-nine percent funded the fight against Irish and domestic terrorism. Joe was more than willing to charge his share for services to be rendered, which would be accounted toward that thirty-nine percent.
He was also pleased to be back in Virginia, where the sun was shining, and temperatures were high even in late September. He had missed wearing his Armani sunglasses, and the ride to the office presented a welcome opportunity to do so.
The trip to England had been his first outside the American continent. After spending only a weekend in London, he already despised everything British, including the weather. He regarded his contacts at the MI5 as snotty bastards and considered taxi rides in London an act of international terrorism. London’s taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging passengers from foreign countries.
On the way from Heathrow Airport to the MI5 headquarters in central London, near the Palace of Westminster, he had seen all the main tourist attractions, including, but most certainly not restricted to Buckingham Palace, the House of Parliament, and Tower Bridge.
He knew he was the victim of a scam, but he had no way to prove it. The involuntary sightseeing tour had cost him a little over eighty English pounds, triggering a mental note to extort his new client, who, in his mind, was ultimately responsible for this highway robbery.
He had endured two never-ending days of endless meetings with no chance for a late-night beer or any other leisurely activities. His new business partners appeared to be ignorant of any hospitality beyond warm coffee and stale pastries in a large conference room without windows or heat.
And the people he met were as cold as the weather. They all held their individual expertise, and everybody meticulously presented him with background information, rules, and regulations. Their high degree of zealousness made him wonder if they would ever get to the point. Toward the end of the last day, they finally did.
The return flight from London into New York’s JFK airport had been smooth and uneventful. He had enjoyed the luxury of First-Class, which helped him to get some sleep during the flight over the Atlantic Ocean. The connection to Richmond was quick, despite the expected delay through Homeland Security and US Customs. Still, he hated flying in the two-engine Turboprop.
He parked his 1992 Volvo in the ample space behind the office building on Westerre Parkway. Parking in front of the building was reserved for clients only. He walked toward the building’s main entrance but stopped at the end of the parking lot to look at his car. It stuck out like a sore thumb in the presence of a fleet of Cadillacs, Mercedes Benz’s, and BMW’s. He shook his head, and, after a few moments, he turned to enter the building.
All offices in this built-to-impress environment shared receptionist and secretarial services. Rents were steep, and the revenues barely justified the expense through his first years in business, but in the long run, it had paid off for Joe to keep up appearances.
He had been an FBI agent for twenty-six years but quit his job out of frustration. His hope was that, after the September eleventh debacle, things at the bureau might improve, but ultimately, he was disappointed. In his view, the ineffectiveness remained. Maybe it had taken a different form, but it was still there. He could retire – not a tempting thought – or follow a career as a freelance security consultant.
In the end, he opted for the new career, and he had been careful not to burn any bridges behind him. The friendly contacts he maintained at the bureau handed him a few assignments, which looked on the surface like easy tasks for any private investigator. Ultimately, however, the assignments in question required specific skills, blurring the line between legal investigation and criminal activity that, if published, would have been embarrassing for the FBI. By hiring Joseph DeCarlo, they counted on his loyalty to avoid such embarrassment.
His fledgling career finally took off with his first work for the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley. It was also his contact at the CIA who had initiated the connection with the MI5.
Joe opened the large and heavy glass entrance door, entered the spacious, marble-covered reception area, and walked toward the reception desk.
“Hey, Cindy,” he called out to the receptionist, a pretty woman in her early thirties. She looked up with a smile.
“Hey, Mr. DeCarlo. You’re back! How was London?”
Dressed in the required blue uniform, white shirt, and red, white, and blue tie, she reminded him of the flight attendants during his flight with British Airways earlier that day. It was also part of the book of regulations – probably a piece of colossal dimensions – that employees addressed tenants only by their last name. Any violation of the rules could result in being fired on the spot.
“Business, just business,” Joe answered with a profound lack of enthusiasm. “No time for any tourist activities.”
Their chat was interrupted as a man in his forties entered the reception hall from the back of the building, accommodating the various offices. Internally he was known as “The Chancellor” because, in fact, he was German, and he represented a German company that sold military electronic equipment to the Pentagon. He also shared his name with a former German Chancellor.
“Hello, Mr. Kohl,” Cindy called out to him. “I put your copies plus the original into your mailbox.”
The Chancellor, a man with a blond haircut a little too progressive for his age, rimless glasses with tiny lenses, white shirt with thin blue stripes, navy blue pants, belt, and suspenders, walked over to the mailroom to pick up the papers. He then returned to his office without acknowledging their presence. Joe pushed the sunglasses up above his hairline, and both he and the receptionist looked after the man. They were speechless for a few seconds.
“You’re welcome,” Cindy couldn’t help to blurt out.
“Oops!” She blushed with embarrassment, putting her hand over her mouth.
“I shouldn’t have said that. I am sorry, Mr. DeCarlo.”
He smiled at her. “Cindy, it’s me! I won’t tell anybody.”
“By the way,” he said, in an attempt to cheer her up. “Do you know about the best food in London?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“It’s called take-out pizza! They deliver it to your hotel room. You take the pizza and throw it away. Then you eat the carton. Without a doubt, that’s the best food in London!”
Joe watched the receptionist. She looked at him for a brief moment without an expression on her face and finally started giggling. He was glad the joke had worked, and he smiled.
Then he changed to a more serious demeanor.
“Sorry,” he said. “Back to business.”
He cleared his throat and continued, “Cindy, I need your help setting up a meeting. I will need a large conference room, either Thursday or Friday, starting sometime between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. for several hours. I will be expecting about four or five people, and we’ll need some catering, preferably a continuous supply of coffee and some sandwiches.”
Cindy looked surprised. “They’re going to charge you an arm and a leg for that. Business must be good.”
He grinned. “Big contract with a client. I’m even thinking about buying a new Volvo.”
“Ooh!” she swooned. “Business is going well!”
“Hey, I know it’s late, and you’re probably ready to go home, but could you let me know in the morning what’s available?”
“You got it,” she said. She was still smiling.
“Have a good night.”
“You too, Mr. DeCarlo!”
He walked over to the office area through a hallway as impressive and as marble as the reception area until he reached a glass door with the engraving, “DeCarlo & Associates Security Consulting Services.”
He nestled to retrieve the key from his pockets, and when he found it, he unlocked the door. Once he had settled in with a cup of vanilla flavored coffee in his hand, he spent the rest of his day with phone calls.
Two days later, he stood in front of an assembly of specialists, all top-ranked in their areas of expertise. Tom Watson, or Tom-Tom as everybody called him, was an Australian citizen with permanent visa status, specializing in electronic surveillance from wiretapping phones to video surveillance.
Chris Jankowski was a computer whiz specializing in accessing password-protected computer systems and planting undetectable programs to record computer activities.
Ken O’Brien, also known as Kenobi, was responsible for coordinating reconnaissance activities, especially those involving tracking a subject. His assistant, Ethan Lipinski, was considered one of the best lock breakers anywhere.
Joe handled the laptop connected to a projector and presented the first slide of an old black and white photo of a young man with blond hair. He had already told them in brief about his visit to London.
“The subject’s name is Finnean Michael Whelan,” he started his introduction of their target. “According to the information I received from MI5, he is still a member of the IRA, or, to be precise, a more recent spin-off, the Real IRA. Apparently, during the seventies, Whelan was the IRA’s top man on sniffing out the activities of British Intelligence, not only in Northern Ireland but also in the United Kingdom. He was responsible for reconnaissance prior to planned bomb attacks on the Brits, as well as monitoring the operations of their intelligence services.”
Joe switched to the next slide, which was similar to the first, and looked at it with dismay.
“Sorry,” he said, “But they didn’t have any recent photos.”
He turned back to his associates. “He presently lives in Boston, so that’s where we will need to start. I’ll give you the specifics later. For now, let’s just say the people at MI5 want him, and they want him with a passion. Our task in this scenario is strictly restricted to surveillance. The MI5 wants to know every step he takes 24/7, from when he wakes up in the morning to when he wakes up the next morning, which means that we won’t get much sleep.
“They have assured me that he will leave the country soon, and the actual surveillance mission should not take more than two days. Don’t ask how they know. They wouldn’t tell me. Our mission ends as soon as he steps into a plane either to Ireland or the UK.”
Ken raised his hand to get Joe’s attention.
“Sorry,” he said. “Nothing personal. I like working with you, and I like taking your money, but why didn’t they contact our guys, like the Homeland Security Department, and have the guy extradited?”
Joe smiled. He and Ken went a long time back, and the one thing he appreciated most about Ken was his no-nonsense attitude.
“Actually, they did,” he explained. “However, our guys insisted on some hard-proof evidence that he is indeed the terrorist they allege. It seems, due to his exceptional knowledge of the workings of British Military Intelligence Services, he has worked as a consultant for the CIA for the last twenty-something years. Naturally, they were reluctant to give him up without solid evidence.
“The information I have is that the whole matter hinged on the source of the information the MI5 provided. Obviously, the Brits were unwilling to reveal their source, and that’s where the deal went downhill. However, our guys, trying to sustain a friendly relationship, pointed out there was nothing they could do if Whelan left the country voluntarily, without direct involvement by the MI5. Consequently, my contact at the CIA recommended our services.”
“Believe me,” he added wryly, “a lot of things have changed after September eleventh. No more loyalty for former employees. I can tell you a story about that.”
Ken nodded while Tom cleared his throat and raised his arm to signal that he, too, had a question.
“If I remember correctly,” he asked, “wasn’t there some kind of pardon for IRA members? The Good Friday Agreement, I believe. This guy may be a hardcore Irish Republican with a criminal past, at least in the view of the Brits, but is he officially a felon?”
Joe nodded. It was a valid question. “Obviously, this whole matter is not about the past. First, he doesn’t have a criminal record. They never managed to catch him with his pants down. This assignment is about what he is allegedly doing now.”
“Then what is it? Why do they want him so desperately?”
Joe remembered asking that same question of his new clients in London, and they were reluctant to disclose any background information. Still, he was relentless until they finally conceded.
He remembered Sergeant O’Reilly, the closest thing to a liaison during his visit, walking toward the far end of the conference room where a high-ranked, uniformed officer sat and watched. Joe already hated the prick because he wouldn’t give him the time of day. He just sat there watching with contempt clearly written on his face.
O’Reilly whispered into the prick’s ear, obviously delivering Joe’s rationale for requesting the information. The prick just sat there and looked at Joe without any indication that, in fact, he was listening to O’Reilly. Suddenly, he nodded and impatiently waved O’Reilly away, who made his way back to Joe to give him the information that he was about to share with his team.
“He is building a new illegal army in Northern Ireland, and the first item on his action plan is to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland.”