“Hum,” she thought to herself musing. She rummaged through her purse, ah, there they were. She had some coupons in her envelope that were about to expire, she needed to get over to the store pick up those items while they were still good. She sped off full of her next mission.
The trip to Belize had gone as planned. It was an AAA group tour and they stayed at a little discount hotel that was not as close to the beach as she would have liked, but oh well. She spent a lot of time by the pool there and sipped exactly one Mai-Tai each evening watching the sun go down. She had time to catch up on her reading and actually had some 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 just 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 gotten involved speaking to an interesting older married couple and had left with them. No more than a half hour later, she realized what she had done and rushed back to the table, too late. The bag was gone. She raised hell with the kitchen staff and the manager and although they assured her they would do a ‘complete investigation’ nothing ever came of it and the bag disappeared.
Fortunately for Denise, ever mindful, she had another expired passport with her in her luggage. She was able to get back into the states with that and a photocopy of the lost passport. She had to answer a lot of questions and then immediately apply for another once she was home; but she was home safe and sound in her little condo.
She really 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 assured her. “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 just took her new passport and left.
Life had pretty much returned to normal for Denise after this mad-cap week in Belize. She was back to work as a senior researcher at the lab and things were back to their usual routine. She still drove to the bank every Friday and cashed a check for her weekly spending amount. As she stood in line, the cashier who she knew told her, “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, disbelieving, mouth open. “Nope,” continued Denise, “don’t believe in those things. Just more and more ways for people to get into your pocket!” She didn’t add the part where she also really 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 on as normal and she was totally unaware of the van parked down the street from her condo that was 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’. It had all started when her passport had been stolen and then ‘marked’. While processing the new passport, the agent assigned to the replacement had noticed a distinct resemblance between Denise and an FBI most wanted poster of an international espionage agent, 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 and they then, opened a file on Denise Smith.
The two agents reviewed the material they had on Smith. Agent Tim Curl reviewed it with 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 her life, getting books and videos from the library and eating Top Ramen for lunch at work. She loved to read and watch old movies. She had decided that all cable company charges for channels were a scam and she though modern TV programs were a joke anyway. “Give me an old black and white any day,” she thought 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 very close 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 a number of days with little success.
“She’s cagey, that one,” opined Tim Curl. Sandy, his big burly partner nodded in agreement.
“How do you think she is transmitting the data?” asked Sandy.
Tim shook his head. “I just don’t know. She’s basically 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 with not a lot to go on.
Denise looked at her package happily. She had spent $39.99 to get the brand new tracking device that you could wear to track your heart rate, miles walked or run and a breakdown of the calories you had burned up exercising. She loved this! With this little baby in place she felt sure that those last five pounds would soon be a thing of the past. She couldn’t wait to try it out.
The next day was a Saturday and it 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 really good for you, so she tried hard not to look at it too much while chugging it down. She had no overtime this weekend so she was foot-loose and fancy free. 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. She might even treat herself to a coffee on the way back.
That Friday Tim and Sandy had gotten reamed by their boss. “I thought you said this one looked good!” he shouted at them. “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 pleadingly . “We are watching her, we have the stolen passport, and we know she was in Belize at exactly 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 just 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 both nodded their heads 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 just can’t help thinking that she is going to do it this weekend. We have just got to keep her close,” said Tim. Sandy nodded.
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 completely splurged on, Nikes. “With complete arch support,” she reminded herself. She proudly clipped the little tracker device on her T-shirt so that it could get an accurate reading of her exercise. 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 very 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 satisfied herself that she was just going to have to wait for the results when 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 to do some good. 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 that older gentleman who she had met on her trip to Belize.
“Mr. Marshall, Mr. Marshall, hey is 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 just 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 there was nothing else in the design except a heart rate and calorie counting device as stated. They at long last had come to the realization that Denise was not, in fact, ‘their girl’ but they began to have 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 the airline records they were able to confirm that Daniel Marshall and his wife Helene had been on the trip to Belize and both had a questionable past. Denise was able to id 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 thought, “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 just 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. The customs officially have been alerted to both of them and are on the lookout for any of their aliases. Also, stolen passports are very, very expensive to buy so this was quick and cheap.”
Denise shook her head, she couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this ever happened to her. The agents had been very solicitous of her and were literally trying to brush her off when their boss came in and stopped them.
“We really appreciate your help Ms. Smith. These are very bad people selling some pretty valuable stuff and we would really like to catch them. Your assistance is very 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 thought we might be 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, very, very off the usual electronic 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 real culprits.
Denise let herself back in the condo. They had given her the Tracker back but it was sort of 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, just a little stunned by the events, thinking. Finally, she said out loud to Frisky the cat, “Well, maybe one ATM card wouldn’t hurt.”