Only the Good Die Young by David Macfie
At seven fifteen in the morning, James Blind, the man from AUNTI, read his new-mission instructions. He’d only been home two weeks since his last visit to Damascus in Syria. That mission, was to terminate the leaders of two competing nuclear arms traders, nicknamed ‘Cats’ and ‘Dogs’
This new mission began in a more mundane fashion. The code name was a boring “Mission 305IG – 10”. IG meant information gathering, ten indicated highest priority and 305 was a reference to his three hundred and fifth mission for AUNTI.
Blind, sighed in disappointment. It sounded extremely tedious. He unpacked the ‘mission-supplies’ bag, finding only plane tickets and a reservation for the Al-Madinah City Hotel in Damascus.
Yup, tedious. The same hotel and the gangs, beheaded in his last mission, still operated out of the same places. He went back to reading the mission instructions. The gangs had reorganized under new leadership. He was to investigate and collect as much information as he could before returning to strategize an approach to terminating both entirely and permanently.
“Seems simple enough,” Blind thought, still miffed to be lumbered with such an entry level task. Even the last sentence of the document didn’t cheer him up. It just said – ‘Extreme caution recommended, high security threat expected.’
He checked the tickets – six hours to departure. Blind sniffed in annoyance – no urgency here either.
So he ate a leisurely breakfast then set off. The trip lived up to the boring nature of the mission and Blind chaffed at the feelings of disinterest permeating his mind.
Finally, at the hotel, he started to plan. It started badly – so boring, he struggled to concentrate.
“Get a grip,” he chastised himself. “You saw the warning. There’s more to this than meets the eye. Your attitude can get you killed.”
With a conscious effort he got back to work. He fully engaged his mind and listed the ways he could gather the required information.
“The extra gang security is the major issue,” he mused, now deep in thought. “There are probably watchers and listeners, all round the buildings, just waiting for someone asking too many penetrating questions. If I blunder in I’ll get caught out for sure.”
So he began with the internet and local and international news channels, which, irritatingly, he could just as easily have done at home. He found more than expected in terms of gang activity since the demise of the previous leaders. A significant upswing in visitors to Damascus combined with reported increases in traffic in and out of the two headquarters locations suggested strongly that the gangs were actively back in business. Blind moved on to the police records. Here he indulged in his favorite hobby – hacking into protected data sources. In these places he found a lot more – several killings of members of both gangs suggested a heightened level of competition. Increased police surveillance also indicated possible upswings in other criminal activities. He even found dossiers on the new leaders. He saved all the useful information on his laptop. Now he moved on to the websites of known watchers of people and organizations that bought nuclear armaments. AUNTI kept lists of these so he just searched from the top down. Again there was clear evidence of recent transactions involving “Cats and Dogs”. He saved this data too. Now he had exhausted what he could get from the comfort of his hotel room. He had to go into the field and find out how the land lay.
Early the following morning he wandered, like tourist, in the neighborhood of the Dogs’ headquarters. He circled it, had coffee across the road and searched for the watchers and listeners. He didn’t ask any questions yet, because he couldn’t be sure who was security and who wasn’t. Later he repeated this activity round the Cats’ building. In both cases he spotted a number of obvious security people and several who were much more difficult to recognize. He surreptitiously took photos of them all. He spent three whole days in his covert surveillance, saving everything on his laptop at the end of each day. Then he felt comfortable to become more overt.
He manufactured an identity card that confirmed he was a local police detective and canvassed shopkeepers and residents that had direct line of sight to the front or back of the two locations. He asked for any information pertaining to the activities of the residents of the buildings. He said he was following up on suspected criminal activity. At the end of the second day of this, he noticed he was being followed as he was returning to his hotel. He immediately realized that he’d been blown. Somebody somewhere had fed back to either the Dogs or the Cats. He began evasive movements to shake the tail, then saw a second man shadowing him but from the front – a much more difficult feat. He redoubled his efforts and managed to get clear by hiding in a dustbin. He waited for an hour before cautiously emerging, and returning to his hotel. There he parceled up all his research, including his laptop, and arranged for the hotel to courier it back to AUNTI.
Now there was no incriminating evidence, on him or in his room, to confirm that he’d been spying on the gangs. But he still had to take one more look. He slept well and began his day by buying a change of clothes to mimic a typical local outfit. When he took to the streets he looked completely different from the day before, but when he got close to the Dogs’ location he was picked up immediately by three tails. “How did they get that right?” he wondered.
He was now in serious trouble. He retreated as quickly as possible but couldn’t lose the pursuit. He ducked into a shop and hid behind a rack of clothes. The tails didn’t follow him in and he knew he was trapped. A man came to him and asked if he needed help.
“I’m playing a trick on some friends. They’re outside. Will you swap clothes with me and leave the shop so that I can finish my prank?” After the offer of a generous payment for his trouble the man agreed. Quickly the two changed clothes and the helpful man left. Blind watched and slipped out after the tails. He was in time to see them grab the protesting guy and accuse him of spying on the Dogs. They frog-marched the man to an alley, where he was tied to a pole with his back to a high wall.
“The penalty for spying on us is death,” said one of the three, offering a blindfold to the struggling victim. Facing sudden death, the man straightened up and faced his accusers.
“That will not be necessary,” he replied with the utmost dignity. He looked straight into the gun barrels as the triggers were pulled.
During the cacophony that ended the young man’s life, Blind whispered to himself, ‘only the good die young,’ before slipping, sadly and gratefully, away.