Barking up the Wrong Tree

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by David Macfie

James Blind, the Man from AUNTI (Allied Unilateral Nuclear Treaty Inspectorate), read his latest mission brief from “P”, AUNTI’s chief.

“An informant reported an organization – ‘Casper the Friendly Ghost Toy Company’. Based in Rome, they’re a nuclear arms dealer fronted by a successful toy manufacturer. Speed advised – big deals in progress to a middle eastern country and three terrorist organizations. Air ticket and hotel reservation attached.”

In the hotel eight hours later, Blind was on his laptop, searching for the toy company. He looked everywhere and found nothing. He phoned reception and enquired. They hadn’t heard of the company. He searched for companies recommending great places to shop in Rome. Still he got nothing. He decided to sleep on it.

After a restless night, Blind began again. He worked tirelessly, until finally, he admitted he was barking up the wrong tree. Then, he had a wild thought. He googled “Number of places named Rome per Country”. The laptop returned 18 in America, 2 in Belgium and 1 each in Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Jamaica and Indonesia. He was flabbergasted.

In a fit of pique, he called “P”.

“You sent me on a bloody wild goose chase. There’s no such company in Rome, Italy. But there are another twenty-four places, called Rome, around the World.”

“Calm down, James. Control yourself and remember who you’re talking to.”

James felt like he’d walked into a door. “P’s” tone was like a hard slap.

“I’m sorry, but it’s bloody irritating.”

“Apology accepted,” said “P”, frostily. “Get back here ASAP. Use the office down the hall. Between you and our brainiacs in Intelligence, you’ll narrow the field quickly. I’ll get them started.”

At his borrowed office he called Intelligence.

“It’s Blind, what have you got?”

“We decided America was most likely. The first eight locations are clean. We’re busy with Mississippi and Maine. That leaves Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa. Indiana, Illinois, Georgia and Alabama. You start at Alabama. Work up and we’ll meet in the middle?”

James rejected Rome Alabama as too small. Next, he tried Rome, Georgia. It was the nineteenth largest city in Georgia and had geographical similarity to Rome Italy – seven hills and rivers. Its economy was solid and there was good access by road and river. The clincher was the city had a bronze replica of the famous sculpture of Romulus and Remus suckling on the she-wolf, sent by Mussolini in 1929 to honor the city for naming itself after the Italian capital.

James searched for the toy company and found it downtown in east 5th avenue. He called Intelligence.

“It’s in Georgia. Find out as much as you can and get back to me by yesterday.”

“Will do.”

James reported back to “P”, who smugly said, “I told you it wouldn’t take long. Get there soonest. You’re authorized to take whatever steps are required.”

A day and a half later, James arrived at the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Hotel, on west 2nd avenue, close to his target in the new Rome. In the hotel’s Business Center, he printed the promised Intelligence information. It only listed the directors with an overview that showed a pleasing growth curve and a healthy profit. Blind was puzzled. Why would such a business get involved in the nuclear arms trade?

“I’m going to have to do this the hard way,” sighed Blind in resignation.

He left the hotel into mid-afternoon sunlight and strolled to the company premises, which looked just like all the others in the area. There was an unassuming sign with the company name just left of the lockable, gated entrance and a clear-view fence all around.

Blind walked briskly to the open double-glass doors and moved to the reception desk.

“I’m James Brand from the UK. I don’t have an appointment, but would it be possible to have a short meeting with your CEO to talk business.”

The receptionist smiled as she pressed a button on the intercom.

“Mister Ross, I have a James Brand from the UK here. He asks to meet you to discuss business.”

“I’ll be right there.” The man who came out to shake hands was well over six feet tall with the coppery complexion of a native American.

“Good afternoon, Mister Brand. I’m John Ross. Come through.”

During the next fifteen minutes, James delivered a pitch for a distributorship in London and learned there was no security at the toy company. He expressed concern, but John Ross laughed.

“There’s nothing here to steal,” he said. “Our trade secrets are in the cloud and the furniture and fittings are bottom of the range.”

Brand promised to deliver a full proposal within a week.

Back at the Business Center, he googled the directors. Each was early twenties, single and a full-blooded Cherokee native American, whose forebears were leaders of the people who’d migrated, in the 17th century, into the area that was now Rome They were active in the promotion of native American rights and critical of progress there. Blind read about the 1830 Indian Removal Act, passed when gold was discovered, to clear the area for settlement by whites.

“That could be the motive,” mused Blind.

At 1 am, he dressed in all black gear and crept, in the shadows, to the offices. He used his special tools to break in and quickly searched the single-story building. He found nothing, but he had a suspicion that all was not as it seemed.

Back in John Ross’s office he studied the floor. He found what he was looking for under the desk. He lifted the trapdoor and descended into a large basement, fitted as extra office space. A large credenza contained the arms trading records. This proof vindicated his mission. He looked up the addresses of the five directors. They lived close to each other in an up-market suburb. He placed timed incendiary devices at strategic places in the basement and on the ground floor and returned to the hotel to pick up his hire car.

He drove to the street next to John Ross’s house then walked quickly to the address. It was a single story, ranch style place with no security, so it was child’s play to break in. All in black, he was silent and invisible as he crept to the master bedroom. John Ross lay, totally relaxed, in a queen-sized bed. Blind crept closer and lightly pressed an automated syringe to the man’s carotid artery just below the carotid sinus. He pressed the trigger, and, with a tiny hiss, poison entered the artery. It was rapidly delivered to John Ross’s brain, face and neck and, in less than two seconds the man was dead. No mark was left behind.

Blind had a busy night, repeating this process four more times. He got back to the hotel an hour before dawn and went to the Business Center where he hacked into the toy and arms business bank accounts he’d found. He transferred all the money to an AUNTI account then he went to bed.

At eight in the morning, after a hearty breakfast, he checked out and drove away.