Seven Degrees of Bogus
by Ilan Herman
|part 4 of 6|
Alan woke up at nine in the morning, and dressed in shorts, a sweat shirt, and sneakers. He was in a bit of a rush because he wanted to get to the beach before the tide began to rise. Traversing the shoreline at low tide was easier and allowed for collecting shells. Also, there was a rock on the wave breaker that he liked to sit on.
He was walking toward his car when a black SUV pulled up beside him. Two tall men in dark suits and sunglasses stepped out and shoved him into the vehicle. He was sprawled on the back seat when he felt a prick on his thigh...
He woke up in a small room lit with neon. He was handcuffed to a chair and felt groggy, spaced-out, like the time he drank too much champagne at a Sunday brunch. Then he had ended up puking, but he didn’t feel like puking now. His heart beat quickly and loudly against his ribcage.
A tall man with a blonde crew cut and sunglasses walked in. He circled the shackled prisoner three times, and then asked, “Why are you in LA?”
“Am I under arrest?” Alan asked, finally concluding he’d been busted by the FBI or some other security agency.
“No,” the agent said. “We want to ask you a few questions.”
Alan felt his stomach muscles relax a tad. “I’m in LA mainly on vacation. I just finished proofing a horrendous piece of crap. A poor woman’s Stephaney Myers who herself is a charlatan at best... If only...”
“Why did you go to Carnival, the restaurant on Woodman?”
“Because they have the best hummus in the world. No one in Folsom knows how to make decent hummus. You should try it sometime... It’s...”
“You met with a man and the two of you sat in your car. Who is that man and what did you discuss?”
Alan laughed with relief. “His name is Omar. He’s their head cook. We’re thinking of maybe opening an affiliate in Sac. I think we could clean up, but Omar isn’t sure he wants to do it. His diabetes is acting up and his daughter is getting married soon.”
The agent took out folded pages from his coat pocket and held one of them up to Alan’s face. The heading read: “The Tingle” 2700 words by Alan Abalian.
“Why did you write this story?” the agent asked.
Alan felt the blood erupt in his temples. “How’d you get this? You have no right...”
“Yes we do. Why did you write this story?”
Alan swallowed hard and wished he could wipe his sweaty brow. “Why does anyone write anything? But if you really wanna know,” and then shared what an idiot he’d been not to buy Amazon stock when it hovered in the mid-thirties. “I blew the only chance I had at a nest egg for retirement, that is unless Omar goes in on the restaurant in Sac, but that’d be a lot more work... So I wrote the story out of frustration...”
“How come you’re so familiar with shipping and air routes?” the agent asked. “Did you get that info on your trip to the Middle East ten years ago?”
Alan clenched his shackled fists. “Gimme a break, man. I took a trip to see the world. I’m a writer. I love history and geography. I wanted to get away from shopping malls and TV game shows...”
“You were in Amman and Ramallah. Who did you meet with over there?”
“No one,” Alan barked, snared in a Kafkaesque web and suddenly terrified again. Then he made the decision and said, “I can clear everything up. Get in touch with Foster Brown. He’ll vouch for me.”
The agent stepped back. “You know Foster Brown?”
“My niece Hanna is married to his nephew Dylan. I went to the wedding. I’m assisting Mr. Brown with his memoirs, proofreading and editing.” Alan wondered why it took him so long to drop the name... The brain is sometimes so clogged with fear and confusion...
The agent left the room. Alan languished in the chair. He really needed to pee.
“I need to use the bathroom,” he yelled at the shut door. Another agent walked in. He took off Alan’s handcuffs and escorted him down a narrow corridor, to a bathroom, where the agent stood by and watched him pee. He was returned to the room but wasn’t handcuffed. Instead, he was offered a Pepsi and a Snickers and told to wait.
* * *
“Foster Brown speaking.”
“Good evening sir. John Grey calling from the California office. We met in Washington last year.”
“Oh yeah. How ya doing, John?”
“Thanks for asking. We’re working hard to keep the American people safe.”
“Excellent. I value your contribution, as do the American people.”
“Thank you. We have a situation we hope you can help us clear up.”
“Of course, how can I be of help?”
John Grey cleared his throat and shared the confusing tale of Alan Abalian, and concluded by saying, “He says you know him, that it’s all a big mistake. Says he’s helping write your memoirs. ”
Foster’s laugh was deep and rumbling. “Good work John, and I’m glad you called. Alan isn’t a security risk, though I can see how circumstantial evidence could suggest otherwise. I’ll need to talk to him just to make sure he’s the Alan Abalian I know, but I want to read the story first. Send me the file. I’ll call back in an hour. Make sure he’s available.”
“Will do, sir,” John Grey said, at once relieved and deflated. The former because the suspect turned out to be harmless, and the latter because the suspect turned out to be harmless.
* * *
Foster Brown was a large man with wide ears and a bulbous nose. His sky-blue eyes could spot deceit faster than a police dog could smell a hidden stash of heroin shoved up someone’s butt. His larger-than-life and gregarious nature had served him well over four decades of CIA operations all over the world.
His nickname was The Big A (A stood for American), and when he came to town, dictators and rebels alike paid attention and respect. He was there when the Shah ruled with iron fists and when the Shah fell; there when Saddam was a friend and when he became a foe; there when the Afghan Mujahedin were freedom fighters and liberators, and there when they became terrorists and enemies who wanted to deny Freedom and the American Way of Life.
Foster Brown was seventy-two but had a full head of silver hair and the stamina of men half his age. He wasn’t about to retire any time soon, and no one challenged him to do so. He was, after all, the Big A.
He opened the e-mail, clicked open the Word file, and settled into reading Alan’s story.
Copyright © 2011 by Ilan Herman