The Ghost of Ransom Creek

Failed Mission

“I think we should begin by reviewing what happened in London six weeks ago,” Billy said as the meeting began. “We’ve already received the official reports, but I would be particularly interested in hearing from Worth and Romano because they directly witnessed what happened.”

Lee and Amanda hadn’t found anything of interest during their search of the library, so when it was time for the meeting to begin, they left off their search and joined the others in the ballroom.

Romano said, “I think that my report speaks for itself. We don’t know how they knew that it was a set-up, but it was obvious that they knew and were ready for us.”

“I’ll still like to hear your account of the incident,” Billy said.

Romano sighed deeply and began telling his story, “We knew that wealthy American buyers interested in purchasing the goods the terrorists were smuggling were trying to work out a way of smuggling them into New York. We’d arranged for me and my partner, Christopher Bennett, to pretend to be employees of a shipping company looking to make some easy money by handling the goods for them. Some of MI6’s information sources spread word about us to the right people to help us build up a credible reputation so the smugglers would agree to meet with us. We met with their representatives twice to establish a relationship with them, and then, we set up a meeting time where we would actually be able to inspect the goods and work out a final arrangement.”

Gordon interrupted at this point to say, “We chose these two to contact the smugglers because they had both previously worked on anti-smuggling operations, although not together, and because Bennett could speak in an American accent. For authenticity’s sake, we had Romano do most of the talking.”

Romano nodded. “That’s right. We claimed that we could help the terrorists bring their goods into the U.S. and pass them along to the wealthy buyers in exchange for a cut of the profits, but we insisted that we had to be satisfied with the quality of the goods first. We planned to make the arrests once they revealed to us where the goods were hidden.”

“What was the arrangement for that final meeting with the smugglers?” Billy asked.

“The meeting took place in a warehouse on September 15th. The warehouse wasn’t where the goods themselves were stored, but the smugglers were supposed to bring us samples. If we approved of them and they approved of our offer, they were supposed to take us to where they stored the rest so that we could see more. We were supposed to go alone to the meeting, but of course, there were more agents concealed in and around the warehouse. Bennett and I entered on foot through a side door. The smugglers brought a van, supposedly with samples of their goods, through the garage doors.

“But, instead of bringing out samples of their goods to show to us, there were armed men inside the van. They jumped out and started to search us. At first, I figured they were just being extra careful, testing us to make sure that we were who and what we said we were. I knew that they wouldn’t find anything on us because neither of us was carrying any ID or weapons. We weren’t even wearing wires because it occurred us that we might be searched.”

“If you weren’t wearing a wire, how were you planning to signal if you needed help?” Lee asked.

Gordon said, “We’d worked out a system of signals in advance. Worth’s team was to keep an eye on them inside the warehouse, and we had other teams stationed outside, ready to follow the smugglers’ vehicle when it left.”

Baudin added, “It would have been enough to arrest the ones who came to the meeting, if they had brought any of the goods with them, but we were really hoping that they would lead our teams to the rest of it and possibly even to some of their top people.”

“So, what happened then?” Billy asked Romano. “After they searched you?”

“There wasn’t really an ‘after.’” Romano said. His voice shook, but his facial features were controlled. It was understandable. They all knew the difficult part was coming next.

Clearing his throat, Romano said, “There was no warning. The man who was searching me suddenly shouted at me and hit me in the side of my head. I don’t know exactly how long I was unconscious, but when I woke, Agent Worth was standing over me, and Bennett was lying dead beside me.” Romano lapsed into silence. There wasn’t really anything else to say.

Lee looked over at Victoria. She was pale but controlled. Her eyes were on the legal pad she was using to take notes. Hearing the details of her fiance’s death must be difficult. Considering the way she had fled the room at the mere mention of his name the night before, Lee half expected her to do it again, but she didn’t. She sat resolutely, taking notes.

“Thank you,” Billy said. “Would you like to tell us about what you witnessed, Worth? You were also present in the warehouse.”

Adjusting his tie, Worth said, “It was like Romano said. He and Bennett entered the warehouse through a side entrance. I led a team of four people inside exactly three minutes after they were inside. We had been concealed behind another building nearby. We were communicating with the other teams by portable radio, and Gordon reported to us that the smugglers had also just entered the warehouse. Once inside, we took up our arranged positions behind some boxes on the ground level.

“From where we were concealed, we had a clear view of Romano and Bennett, but we couldn’t hear what they were saying. We watched the smugglers get out of their van and search them. I reported what we were seeing to Gordon, who was coordinating the teams. He said that we should hold our position and not interfere yet, that the teams outside were prepared to follow the van if it left with our men.”

Gordon interrupted at this point and said, “At the time, I wasn’t certain whether they actually meant our people harm or if they were just testing them to see how they would react before leading them to the goods they had concealed elsewhere. As we’ve said, they weren’t carrying anything on them to suggest that they were law enforcement, so I didn’t think that they were in immediate danger. I thought it best not to react.”

Worth continued, “Then, suddenly, it all went wrong.”

Up until this point, Worth’s voice had been even, professional, but here it started to waver a little. Again, Lee could understand. He’d been on missions where people were killed, and no matter how long you’d been in the game or how many friends and colleagues you lost, it never stopped hurting.

Worth cleared his throat and composed himself. “The man searching Romano’s pockets suddenly shouted and hit him across the side of the head. Then, one of the others shot Chris.”

Chris, not just Bennett. Worth had lost a friend as well as a colleague on the mission.

Victoria took a handkerchief from her pocket and put it to her face. Gordon patted her shoulder and whispered something in her ear. She got up and left the room. None of the others remarked on it.

“We were prevented from firing on the people by the van because others had come up behind us. They demanded that we hand over our guns, but we opened fire. I killed one of them with a head shot, but at least some of the others were wearing bullet-proof vests. I saw them fall after they were hit and get up again. They fired back at us, and I was hit in my right arm. One of other others on my team called for help before he was also shot. Fortunately, we were able to get medical help fast enough to save him. He barely survived. The surviving smugglers retreated into their van and drove off. They managed to evade our teams as if they were expecting them, as if they knew exactly where they were going to be.”

Gordon said, “It’s obvious that someone who knew that Bennett and Romano were plants informed the smugglers.”

“Ms. Sobol,” Billy said, “you have prepared a report about the information dealers that MI6 and the CIA used in this operation, the ones who not only supplied them with information about the smuggling operation but also spread the word about Romano and Bennett’s cover story. Could the leak have been any of them?”

“No,” Annette said.

“That sounds definite.”

“It is. Not only have I researched these sources thoroughly, but the mission reports clearly speak for themselves. The leak is someone who was directly involved in planning the mission.” She delivered this news as calmly as if she were giving the weather report.

“Can you explain?” Billy asked.

“Agent Worth has already explained it. The smugglers knew where the teams were and how to evade them. But, even more significantly, they knew that Worth’s team was in the warehouse even before they fired a shot. They were expecting them to be there, and they knew exactly where they were concealed. The information dealers wouldn’t have known that. Only someone who knew the plan would know.”

Gordon said, “Forgive me, Ms. Sobol, but we’ve already investigated the people who knew the plan. There is no indication that any of them was in contact with the smugglers. Their records are clean, and our Internal Affairs department hasn’t found anything suspicious about any of them.”

“The same is true for the CIA personnel involved,” Baudin said.

“Nevertheless,” Annette said, “whoever tipped off the smugglers had to have that information.”

“Who would have known the details of the plan?” Billy asked.

There were uncomfortable looks around the table.

Baudin said, “The details of the plan were finalized in London.”

Gordon said, “My staff was involved, naturally. The members of the teams supporting Bennett and Romano. Baudin’s people.”

“I brought only a handful of staff with me to England,” Baudin said. “Romano, of course. My assistant, Georgia. There were a few others who assisted with gathering information and creating cover stories for Romano and Bennett, but they’ve also been investigated. We haven’t found anything suspicious about them.”

“There is something else,” Annette said. “I noticed that in all of your early planning sessions, Worth’s team was supposed to be stationed on the upper levels of the warehouse to act as snipers in case anything went wrong. But, all of your mission reports state that they were on the ground level.”

“That’s right,” Baudin said. “An MI6 man who scouted the area reported that there were large crates on the ground in the warehouse, and we decided that they would make better cover for the team. The upper levels would have made them too visible.”

“When was that change made?” Billy asked.

“The day before the mission, the 14th of September,” Gordon said.

“Then, whoever informed the smugglers must have known about that change as well,” Annette said.

Lee could feel the tension in the room spike. The grief at the discussion of Bennett’s death was now replaced with alert, suspicious looks.

Baudin said, “There are only a limited number of people who knew that. Worth and the other four members of his team. Romano and Bennett. Gordon and myself. Our assistants. That’s all.”

“In other words, besides the other members of Worth’s team, only those of you sitting here knew?” Annette asked.

“Yes,” Gordon admitted.

There was an uneasy silence as they all looked from one to the other. Baudin finally broke it.

“But, we’ve investigated all the members of Worth’s team,” Baudin said. “We’ve all been under investigation ourselves.”

“There is no point in planning another mission yet if the informer is just going to leak the plan like last time,” Billy said. “If we can’t pinpoint the informer, it might be better to completely start over with a different team.”

“That could set us back months!” Gordon said.

“My impression,” Annette said, “is that the leak is most likely someone here. It’s true that the members of Worth’s team knew about their own position in the warehouse, but only Worth knew about the position of the other teams.”

Worth’s eyes narrowed. “Are you accusing me?”

“Not necessarily,” Annette said. “I just think that someone here is most likely the leak.”

“We don’t know for sure that the leak is in this room,” Romano said. “It could still be someone involved in the initial planning who somehow managed to find out about the last minute change.“

“What I’d like to know is why the smugglers didn’t shoot you,” Gordon said suspiciously. “They hit you, but they shot Bennett.”

“I don’t know!” Romano said. “They knocked me out, and when I came to, Bennett was dead on the ground next to me.”

“But it was the man searching you who blew up all of a sudden,” Gordon said. “What was in your pockets?”

“Nothing! I already told you, there was nothing in my pockets! I wasn’t carrying an ID. I wasn’t even armed. My partner and I were depending on MI6 to watch our backs.”

“There might not have been anything in his pockets at all,” Annette said thoughtfully, looking at Romano. “The person who tipped off the smugglers would naturally arrange for them not to harm him.”

Romano glared at her. “Just because you weren’t included on the mission the first time doesn’t mean you have the right to throw around accusations.”

“I was called in as a consultant because your mission failed,” Annette said hotly. “I’m trying to help you determine why.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” Romano’s shout silenced everyone at the meeting.

Lee’s eyes met Romano’s across the table. Romano broke the gaze first, but not before Lee saw the look of pain in his eyes.

Romano got up and wordlessly left the room.

Billy said, “I think we should all take a break. We’ll meet back here after lunch. Actually, I’d like to talk to Baudin and Gordon first. The rest of you can join us again at two.”

Annette said, “Mr. Melrose, I’d like to be in on that discussion-“

“No,” Billy said firmly. “I want to speak to Baudin and Gordon alone.”

Lee and Amanda’s radios sounded an alert, and one of the guards reported Romano leaving the house.

“Keep an eye on him,” Lee said. “I’ll be there shortly.”

Lee and Amanda hurried off to find out what Romano was up to.

When they were out of earshot of the others, Amanda asked, “Do you think Romano is the leak?”

“I’m not sure,” Lee said, “but I didn’t like the look in his eyes. When a person says that it wasn’t his fault like that, it usually means he believes it was.”

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