Chapter 30

A few days later, Sascha sat at his desk, sorting through a few hundred emails that had accumulated in his inbox. He recognized the names of a few reporters who had contacted him about university issues that had leaked to the press. There were a number of names that he also recognized, although in a different part of his brain. The chief of a local television affiliate. A New York state senator. An actress who had handed him a cocktail at a holiday ball the year before and told him a mostly-ridiculous story about the way that her cat acted when she forgot to wear her hair in a ponytail. Everyone seemed to know that he was involved in the recent events, which was odd. The Times had broken the story, but details were light. The NYPD hadn't held a press conference, nor had it released a full statement to explain the involvement of some of its own in an international scandal. No one was surprised by this, but the reporters were clearly aching for a story.

Sitting on a stool between Sascha's desk and the office door, his head tilted back against the wall, eyes closed, was Jesse. He looked exhaused but peaceful.

Sascha pulled off his reading glasses and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Jesse. "You're a model of calm," he said. "That's the most relaxed you've been in three months."

"I wish my stomach would catch up," Jesse said without opening his eyes. He had never been good at dealing with prolonged periods of stress, and the pain in his gut reminded him that anxiety had consequences.

"So I'm just wondering," Sascha began. "Wh—"

Jesse opened his eyes. "Look at Gumby," he said.

Sascha frowned. He looked at the green rubber humanoid figure next to his computer screen. He poked it, as he often did, and it responded by jiggling for several seconds. Jesse had given it to him as a Christmas gift the year before. They had a history of giving each other useless gifts that brought back youthful memories. Gumby had been one of Sascha's favorite shows.

"I don't get it," Sascha said. He felt dumb. There was nothing there but rubber.

Jesse grinned. "Look closer. Gumby was a brainy guy."

Sascha leaned forward, rolling his chair toward the desk. He pulled the Gumby figure off of the steel post that lent it the ability to wobble. He ran his fingers over its front and back surfaces. Nothing. It didn't feel heavy enough to contain any hidden material. Something about the way that Jesse said brainy, though, suggested that it wasn't just idle use of the word. Sascha turned the Gumby over in his hand so that he was looking down at its head. At first he saw nothing, but after staring for a moment he noticed an impossibly thin scar in the top of the figure's head. Using two thumbs, he managed to pry it open slightly. Inside, there was a glint of silver.

"USB port in the head," Jesse said. "Ever feel like you need one of those?"

"That's not funny, man," Sascha said. "We might as well have one, but I sure as hell don't need one. You put the goods on a USB stick? And you left it on my desk?"

"Well, technically you left it on your desk," Jesse said. "Nobody knew it was there, and that's exactly how it needed to be."

Sascha worked the USB stick out of the figure, threw it at Jesse, and pressed Gumby's rubber head back into shape. "No more!" he said, carefully fitting the figure back onto its metal rod. He gave it a poke for good measure.

Jesse looked at the device in his hand. The cause of three months of distress. It had given him countless nights of broken sleep. At least one disastrous catnap at work. Nearly the loss of a good friend's life, if not his own.

Sascha was watching him. "Was it worth it?"

Jesse pursed his lips, turning the USB stick over in his hand. "Now that my life isn't being threatened, yeah. It was. But there were a few times, like yesterday, when I would have gladly traded the recording for our safety. It's hard to be idealistic when an armed, raving band of lunatics—especially two of them—have you pinned in a corner. This is the kind of stuff that they can't put on the brochures. Not because it's hard to explain--the Times will take care of that for us—but because it sounds gratuitously romantic, heroic, or whatever else."

Sascha nodded. "It's the same in combat. We don't promote it in the recruiting literature because it would glorify something that takes a tremendous toll on everyone involved, but it can be a defining moment for them too. Not in the sense of validating their preconceived notions about war, but showing them how complicated and twisted the world can be. We want to think that everything is fair, and that debate and compromise is how everything works. It isn't. It just isn't. Sometimes there are things worth doing, and sometimes they suck. People die. But that doesn't make it less important to do the work."

"I think I'm ready to retire after this one. Do you think the university will let me take a pension at 32?"

Sascha's desk phone rang. He shook his head and picked up the receiver.

"Greene," he said. A pause. "Yes, sir. Understood." A long pause. "Interesting. Yes, he did. Thank you very much. Bye."

Jesse raised his eyebrows as Sascha dropped the receiver into its cradle and looked at him.

"It was Johnson, the intern. The head of the NYPD has been indicted on criminal espionage charges. Something to do with a big crime ring in Europe. Forth was just the fall guy. Just the tip of the iceburg. It's hard to say how far this is going to go before it's all aired out. The reason for the delay was that the FBI needed to coordinate with Interpol to take care of some flight risks in Europe before the news broke. It sounds like the capital-p-party is going have a real bellyache."

Jesse was stunned. He had hoped that Forth would see prison time. Based on what had happened in the previous 48 hours, tying Forth to Ingo and establishing that they were cooperating in organized crime would be easy. Jesse had never met the head of the NYPD, though, and couldn't believe that this dust-up was going to have such broad reach. Talk about bringing down an elephant.

"I can't imagine what this is going to mean. Should we take a vacation and lie low for a few days?" he said.

"That's what Johnson suggested," Sascha said as he got to his feet. "Everyone is as bewildered as you are, and there's no way for the feds or Interpol to be sure that they've arrested all the important actors. There are doubtless other agents like Ingo here in the states, and there may be standing orders to retaliate if their leaders run into trouble with the law. You might get that retirement wish sooner than you think. Time to start thinking about book ideas."

Jesse pulled Sascha's coat and his own off of the coat rack. "I'm content with a few nights of sleep," he said. "Then we can talk about book writing and press interviews."

As the two men left the office, they passed a group of students who had gathered around a television set that was mounted on the wall in the hallway. On the screen, an FBI spokesman was reading the list of indictments and taking questions from the assembled press. The headline at the bottom read: "CUNY investigation uncovers corruption and international crime ring. NYPD chief, detectives implicated."

"Just a minute," Jesse said as he walked with Sascha toward the elevator. He ducked into the men's room and pulled the USB stick from his pocket. One of the only remaining copies in existence. He snapped the electronic stick in half, dropped the pieces into the first toilet and kicked the lever on the side. With a certain satisfaction, he watched them bubble to the bottom of the bowl and then disappear.