Tracker by Courtney Webb
Available in Draft2Digital.com
The trip to Belize went as planned. The tour group stayed at a little discount hotel. It was not as close to the beach as Denise would have liked, but what the heck. She spent time by the pool and sipped exactly one Mai-Tai each evening and enjoyed watching the sun go down. There was time to catch up on her reading and had fun eating dinner with other Americans. Of course, many of them were definitely approaching their golden years at a running gallop, but she didn’t mind, made her feel younger.
There had been one problem on her trip. Denise was in the habit of carrying her ID and money in a little over-the-shoulder bag. One evening toward the end of her trip, she had draped it over the back of her chair and forgot it. She had been speaking with Daniel and Helene, an interesting older married couple. They both laughed like the dickens as she told them the story of buying her ticket in cash. Chuckling, she described the look on the travel agent’s face as they walked her to dinner and found a table.
Half an hour later, Daniel had seated Denise like the lady she was. Grabbing the menu, she looked for the least expensive item she could find.
Suddenly “Oh, my gosh,” she remembered her purse and leapt to her feet. Rushing back to the cocktail table. “Oh, no!” Denise cried. The bag had disappeared. She raised hell with the kitchen staff and the manager. Although they assured her they would do a ‘complete investigation’ nothing ever came of it, the bag was gone.
Denise stamped her foot at the manager. “Fortunately for you, I have another passport in my luggage. Expired of course.”
The manager gave a helpless shrug shaking his head. “So sorry, Senorita.”
Helene and Daniel were so kind and solicitous when she finally came back to the dining room. Helene patted her on the hand. “Do you have enough money to get home, dear?”
“Money? Oh, no that’s okay, everything is paid for in advance and I left most of my money in the office safe.”
Helene nodded then spent the rest of the meal clucking comfortably about ‘foreigners.’
Denise was able to get back into the States with the old passport. She had to answer a lot of questions and then immediately apply for another once she was home, but still, she was safe and snug back in her little condo.
She hated when things didn’t go according to plan, but some days…When she went to pickup her new passport she asked the girl “What if my old one shows up?”
There was a pause. “Don’t ever use your old passport again,” the counter agent was terse. “Not unless you want to have Homeland Security officers all over you. The passport has been flagged.”
Denise wasn’t exactly sure what ‘flagged’ meant but she didn’t feel like asking any more questions so she grabbed up her new document and left in a hurry.
Life returned to normal for Denise after this mad-cap week in Belize. She was back to her usual routine as a senior researcher at the science lab. She still drove to the bank every Friday and cashed a check for her weekly spending amount.
She patiently waited in line. Finally, in front of the cashier, he said, “You know Miss Smith; you are probably one of the only customers I have who still uses checks to get money out of the bank.”
Denise laughed and replied, “If you think that is something, guess what else, I don’t have a home computer, a TV or a landline telephone. I don’t even have an email address!”
The clerk gasped, mouth open.
“Nope,” continued Denis, “don’t believe in those things. Just more ways for people to get into your pocket!” She didn’t add the part where she also believed it was more ways for people to spy on you too. But, she didn’t want to sound crazy so she shut up. She got her money and left. When she got home, she would carefully place the money in envelopes marked for their uses. She prided herself in going ‘all cash.’
Denise’s life continued seemingly without event. She was totally unaware of the van parked down the street from her condo, tracking her movements. Denise who had rarely had so much as a speeding ticket in her life had come to the attention of the authorities. The famous Men in Grey. It had all started when her passport had been stolen and then marked. While processing the new passport, the agent assigned had noticed a distinct resemblance between Denise and an FBI most wanted poster. A female international spy, wanted and on the run for selling government secrets.
The agent marked the file and sent it to her boss who in turn, sent it on to the agency looking for the woman. The local office opened a file on Denise Smith.
The two agents reviewed the material they had on Smith. Agent Tim Curl read it to his partner, “Denise Smith, age 42 years, not married, lives alone, long time researcher at a drug lab. No credit cards, no ATM cards, no TV, no land line, no computer, no email address, no internet banking. Uses a computer at work but only for company business and never takes any personal messages. Does all her correspondence by mail. Has one cheap cell phone that she rarely ever uses.”
His partner looked at him thoughtfully. “Looks like she is hiding something to me.” Curl shook his head in agreement and they decided to set up surveillance on Denise.
Denise continued getting books and videos from the library and eating top ramin for lunch at work. She loved to read romance novels and to watch old movies. She had decided that all cable company charges for channels were a scam and modern TV programs were a joke. “Give me an old black and white any day,” she said to herself as she checked out her latest selections.
The guys in the van followed her to work a couple of days but couldn’t get close enough so returned to her condo. They felt they would have better reception here if Denise made any phone calls or tried to contact someone. They waited for days with little success.
“She’s cagey, that one,” opined Tim Curl. Sandy, his big burly partner grunted.
“How do you think she is transmitting the data?” asked Sandy.
Tim shook his head. “I don’t know. She’s not making any calls on that dumb cell phone of hers, there’s no phone in the condo, we checked. Any messages on the company computer are pretty regularly screened by their IT guys and we don’t think she even sends that many at work because she tells everyone ‘I don’t like computers’. He made a little girly gesture with his hand.
Sandy laughed. However, in the end, they were back to staring at their monitors.
Denise looked at her package happily. “Only $39.99 for this new tracking device,” she told Frisky the cat. “And you can wear and it to track your heart rate, miles walked or run and it shows a breakdown of the calories you used exercising. I love this! With this little baby in place,” she waved it in the air, “those last five pounds will be a thing of the past. I can’t wait!” Frisky waved his tail.
The next day was a Saturday and dawned bright and beautiful. Denise woke up and went through her usual routine, eager to try out her new tracker on a short morning run. She popped a multivitamin and mixed up the green energy drink. It was supposed to be good for you, so she tried hard not to look at it while chugging it down. She had no overtime this weekend so her time was her own. She didn’t want to run too far, hard on the knees. But she could drop down to a walk by the time she got to the park and cool down that way. “Maybe a coffee in the park,” she poured kibble into Frisky’s bowl. With a twinge of conscience she had splurged on Science Diet for her ‘best cat.’
That Friday Tim and Sandy had gotten reamed by their boss. “I thought you said this one looked good!” he shouted. “We have gotten Intel that another data transfer is about to happen, this weekend and on your watch!” he yelled some more.
“Boss, boss,” Tim had his hands up, placating. “We are watching her, we have the stolen passport, and we know she was in Belize at the same time and same place as when the last data was delivered. She is the right age, right height, right color; she fits all the profiles. We think she is the one, we haven’t been able to get her doing anything yet,” he pleaded.
“Great, great,” said the big guy. “But, by the way, you are both on duty this weekend, got that!” and he stormed off. They looked at each other glumly.
Saturday morning, bright and early, Tim and Sandy were parked inside the van drinking strong coffee and eating Dunkin doughnuts. They had moved the van closer to Denise’s condo.
“I can’t help thinking that she is going to do it this weekend. We have got to keep her close,” said Tim. Sandy was adjusting his headphones.
Inside, Denise had suited up in T-shirt, spandex ¾ length pants with the little zipper in the back for keys, and running shoes. The new ones that she had splurged on; Nikes. “With complete arch support,” she reminded herself. She proudly clipped on the little tracker device on her T-shirt so that it could get an accurate reading. She went out the door and carefully locked the lock and zipped the keys into her pocket. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and hit the button on the tracker to start it. She stretched a couple of times and then started a slow jog to the park.
Tim hit Sandy in the arm, “That’s it!” he said excitedly.
“What’s it?” Sandy queried through half chewed doughnut.
“It’s that gadget on her shirt. It must be a low frequency, so we are not picking anything up. Get your gun,” he said to Sandy quietly getting out of the van to follow Denise.
Denise jogged while checking her watch occasionally to see if she was making good time. She tried reading the tracker upside down but decided it couldn’t be done and it would have to wait until she stopped. She jogged about twenty minutes and started her slow down walk as she entered the park. She checked her pulse a couple of times to see if she was getting it high enough. After walking a bit she decided to get that coffee at the vendor stall in the park, cheaper than Starbucks. She was getting her Americano, hot to go, when she stopped. There was the older gentleman whom she had met on her trip to Belize.
“Mr. Marshall, Mr. Marshall, hey it that you?” she held out her hand for a shake with the older guy when she got tackled and knocked to the ground. Sandy had done his job with a nice flying tackle and had grabbed her before she had a chance to hand off the data stick attached to her shirt to her contact person. Mr. Marshall, the contact person, took off running in a surprisingly fast fashion for such an old guy.
Back at their headquarters, Denise was explaining over and over again that she was not who they thought she was. Tim and Sandy had by this time confiscated the tracker device and had given it to one of their own IT guys who confirmed that it was indeed nothing but a heart rate and calorie counting device. They at long last had come to the realization that Denise was not, in fact, ‘their girl’ but they still had a lot of questions about the man she had met at the coffee carrel and why he had run off.
Denise gave them as much information as she could and by data tracking through the AAA club records and airline records they were able to confirm that Daniel Marshall and his wife Helene had been on the trip to Belize. Denise was able to identify them both and the agency confirmed that Daniel and Helene were actually professional ‘transporters’ of information.
A couple of hours later Denise was released. They had fed her with high calorie doughnuts and terrible coffee. She was sure her diet was ruined for a week.
“But, why were they interested in me?” she had asked them.
“It was your passport they were after,” Tim replied. “You may not have noticed it but you are the same age, height, and weight and hair color as Mrs. Marshall.”
“But she is so much older than me,” Denise said.
“Play acting and makeup,” said Tim “mostly to get your confidence.”
“Didn’t you have a drink with them of some kind the evening you lost your passport?” asked Sandy.
Denise considered a moment. “Yes, I did. I was going to order my regular Mai Tai but Mr. Marshall insisted that I try some kind of local drink, forget what he called it. Too strong.”
“Right,” said Tim. “They either put something in your drink or got you to talking so much that you forgot your bag on the chair. ‘Marshall’ escorted you to dinner and she went to powder her nose and circled back and snatched up your bag with the passport before you knew what had happened.”
“But why did she want it?” queried Denise.
“She needed a new name to get through customs. Customs officials were alerted to both of them and have been on the lookout for any of their aliases. Also, stolen passports are very expensive to buy so this was quick and cheap.”
Denise shook her head, she couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this had ever happened to her. The agents had been extremely solicitous of her and were literally trying to brush her off when their boss came in and stopped them.
“We appreciate your help Ms. Smith. These are really bad people selling some pretty valuable stuff and we would love to catch these guys. Your assistance is of course helpful and we are so sorry for any rough stuff.” He glared at Sandy.
“But, but……” Denise struggled with what to say. “Why me, why did you think I was involved?”
The Boss sighed a bit, “Miss Smith, you matched the description of one of the people we we were looking for. You were also at the right time and the right place for what we believe was the last stolen data transfer point, that being Belize. Also,” he paused, not sure he should say this, “you are so, well, off the usual grid of most people, it made us somewhat suspicious.”
Denise stared at him trying to grasp the significance of his meaning. He smiled at her and excused himself from the room. She accepted a ride home from the two arresting agents and they smiled and waved goodbye in good PR fashion. They were hot to get after the Marshall’s.
Denise let herself back in the condo. They had given her the Tracker back but it was hopelessly pulled apart now and of no use. They had given her a form to fill out to make a replacement claim.
She sat down at her kitchen table, a little stunned by the events, thinking. Finally, she said out loud to Frisky the cat, “Well, maybe one ATM card wouldn’t hurt.” Frisky looked thoughtful.