Crazy Magnet, Part 3

See Part 2 here:

I have a 10:30 meeting at a coffee shop in Dupont Circle, of all places, with some hotshot SME the Department of Homeland Security wants to hire. Her name’s Jeanne Dark, and I have been warned not to pronounce it “Gene.” She’s French, by birth, and apparently sensitive about how ignorant we Americans are. I felt like a fool on the Metro mumbling “Zhahn” to myself. Fortunately, most folks probably figured I was talking into my phone. I finally settled on calling her Ms. Dark. It’s just safer to keep the client happy. Dark is not really the client here, the Gov is; Dark is the job. But if she complains too much, I don’t get paid. The subject is never supposed to know she’s being profiled.

I don’t know much about this woman, to be honest. I know she’s passed the highest Top Secret clearance – with Special Compartmentalized Information: TS-SCI in Gov-speak – strictly need-to-know stuff. I know Dark’s a naturalized U.S. citizen, and I know she’s physically impaired after being struck by a car when she was a kid. Beyond that, all they have disclosed is that she is being considered for some work, which I’m not cleared to know, involving people above my pay grade. My uneducated guess, given the DHS agency doing the hiring, is covert ops in the Intel sector – probably involving offshore financing. For them to bring me in means one thing: they are targeting her for a very risky operation – one which requires a steady hand, so to speak – and they need to know if she’s stable.

How do I know it’s risky, you ask? One, because they are hiring me. My specialty is identifying emotionally unstable people, especially those who pass muster on the psychological profile. I do have quite a background in psychology, but mostly it’s that damned crazy magnet. If they brought me in, that means she’s been through their psych team, but they are still nervous about her. That kind of caution spells trouble. Lucky for me, trouble means my mortgage gets paid next month.

The second reason I know it’s risky is, as I mentioned, Dark is French. My contacts tell me her birth name is D’arc, and both her parents still reside in France. TS-SCI is a pretty high clearance to give someone whose close family members hold citizenships of a foreign nation, even a friendly one. (If you consider the French to be friendly, that is.) For them to approve her, there must be some pretty big deal brewing.

It is more than a bit unusual to hold a meeting on a TS-SCI job in a non-secure facility, but the Gov wanted the meeting off premises. Meeting here is my suggestion, even though I’m generally allergic to chain coffee shops. We aren’t going to discuss any restricted information – I’m not cleared for it yet anyway. This particular Starbucks is busy pretty much any time of day, and though well behaved, there is a crowd. The idea is to see how Dark handles a stressful interview in an uncontrolled environment. Plus, once the Gov rep leaves, it will be her and me. If she’s nuts, I’ll be able to tell by how she responds to me.

At 10:47, in comes the client. At first, all I see is my DHS contact, Kevin Hardesty. He’s a perpetually late, squat little man, about five foot eight, and nearly as wide, with an extra roll of neck fat that always seems to be leaking over his constricted collar. Today he’s wearing a black suit and shirt, birdshit-white tie (with yellow egg stain), and brown Oxfords in need of a good polish, followed by throwing them the hell in the trash. His natty-ratty attire tells me Dark is a high roller as SMEs go, since Hardesty never wears a suit coat unless he’s with someone he needs to impress. He’d impress people most by sending one of his direct reports in his place. The man is an idiot, but he’s my COTR – that’s the Contracting Officer’s Technical Rep, the guy in charge of saying I did my job. (You can call him a KOH-tar, if you’re keeping score.)

Hardesty is frowning as he walks in the coffee shop. He gives me a brief nod of his snow-capped, scarlet-faced head, and heads straight over to order a jumbo extra latte mocha yuppiccino with sprinkles. Black sugar water is what it is. He’ll most likely throw in his third Danish of the morning. Me? I’m drinking decaf, black, in whatever the hell they call a twelve-ounce cup. My breakfast was bacon, with knives.

As Hardesty zooms through the shop – he’s pretty nimble for a guy his size – I see this bronze beauty come in. She’s roughly five foot six, brown hair that’s blond on the ends, with the blond hair swept forward and framing her face. She’s got a perma-tan, it appears, like she lives in a tanning salon, or maybe on some French Riviera beach. It’s early June, and the weather’s still nice in D.C., if a bit overcast, so she’s wearing a loose-fitting white top and green capris. Not exactly business attire, but not casual either. Stylish. As she works her way through the crowd, I finally get a good look at her face. It’s pretty, what I can see of it. I reckon she’s about thirty, thirty-one, with a triangular face, high cheek bones, nice lips in some brick red color, and huge sunglasses that look like pilots’ shades, except they are tinted brown or gold. She’s slender, only about an ounce or two above skinny, to be honest.

Then I see the cane; Ms. Sunglasses is Dark. She’s not limping, not really, but you can tell the cane is bearing some of the weight of her right hip. It is an ebony cane with a brass handle in the shape of a goose. My first instinct is to rush over to help her, under the guise of introducing myself, as she’s walking so slowly it’s almost painful to watch. Something tells me to hold back, though. This is a business meeting, and implying that your new client is helpless is a good way not to get paid. Besides, there is something about her demeanor … like she’s creeping along on purpose.

I stand, thinking maybe it’s me she’s looking for. I’m not too hard to miss, standing. I go about six-four, and I’m kind of built like a linebacker on steroids (like there’s another kind). She looks right at me, nods, and then keeps walking in her deliberate, let’s scan the whole room sort of way. After about sixty seconds, she makes it from the front door to my table.

“Hello,” she says, “I am Jeanne Dark.” Her voice is soft, with a distinct, but muted French accent. If this weren’t business, I’d be wondering how that accent sounds in between moans.

Damn. I guess I just wondered anyway.