“Damn it, Paul,” I said with raised voice. “That report says top secret on it for a reason. Put it in the safe. If Colonel Washington walks in and sees that, you know who’s going to get fired? Me.”
It was 5:30 pm, early January, 2016. Paul Robinson, a man in his mid-forties—tall, around six foot four, strong and barrel-chested, with a square head, pale face and dark circles under his eyes—and I were alone in our office, a decent sized room roughly three times larger than my eleven hundred-square-foot apartment, well-lit, with six cubicles and no windows.
“It’s only been there a couple minutes, Jax,” Paul said.
“It shouldn’t be there at all, especially face up in plain sight,” I scorned. “Next time it happens will be the last.” My cell started vibrating as Paul walked toward the safe with the papers, grumbling.
“Hey, babe,” I said. “What’s up?...Ah shit. Sorry. I’ll be there in thirty. Paul, I have to go. Think about where you’re working and what’s at stake.” Paul sighed as I walked out.
Later that night, after dinner at Outback Steakhouse on 16th Street, my girlfriend Janet––a stunning twenty-nine-year-old woman, around five foot seven, with blonde hair impeccably fixed, deep blue eyes and a curvy, beautiful body accentuated by her slinky black dress––sat across from me at a table in a bar she suggested, a place I’d otherwise never go. It was a dimly lit, smoky little hole in the wall with tacky neon beer ads scattered across the walls, a jukebox and some pool tables. It was called The Stumble Inn, which was a mile or so down the road from where we ate. A couple of rough-and-tumble looking guys were knocking the balls around one of the pool tables with fury, but like two blind men in a whorehouse, nothing was going in the holes. Pathetic, I thought.
I could feel my cell phone vibrating in my pocket again. I removed it and saw it was my grandpa, Sebastian, with whom I’d been very close since I was a child, especially after the night he told me the story––the one that’s haunted my dreams ever since. I was nine years old. Although at the time I didn’t fully comprehend the gravity of what he was telling me, it was the first time I was exposed to the concept of a world where inexplicably horrible things happen.
“Be back in a minute,” I said, got up and walked outside. It was bitterly cold in the desert that night. After the small talk, my grandpa, who I wasn’t quite sure was still all there because some of the things he told me, quite frankly, seemed far-fetched and even paranoid, although he was always lucid and articulate, finally got to his motive for calling. I listened with skepticism before replying. “Okay, grandpa, I’ll get you what you need. Talk to you soon. Love you.” I hung up, walked back inside and sat down across from Janet.
“Is everything okay, Jax?” she said.
“Yeah.” Then I noticed a man walk in. As he approached our table, I put my menu over my face. “What the hell’s he doin’ here?” I said quietly.
“Who?” Janet said.
“That asshole, Paul. He doesn’t drink. He’s Mormon. Where’s he sitting?”
“Three tables from us.”
“Is he with someone?”
“Man or woman?”
“It’s a man, but his back is to us.”
“I have to use the restroom real quick,” I said before I got up and walked toward the bathroom, which was behind Paul and to the right. As I approached, I heard the unknown man speaking in a Middle Eastern accent. He was in mid-sentence.
“…a lot of money in it for you, Paul, more than you’ll ever make at that dead-end job,” the man said. “I know your wife needs a kidney transplant and I can guarantee she gets it. We’ll pay all her medical…”
I entered the bathroom, stood there for a few seconds and walked out. I went back and sat across from Janet, reached in my pocket and pulled out a device.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It was in our mailbox this morning. I was headed to work so I brought it with me. It supposedly allows you to hear conversations clearly even in noisy places from up to thirty feet. Have you seen that hokey commercial where the guy’s working out in the gym and…”
“Yeah. It’s sooo stupid. That’s the gadget? Please don’t tell me you ordered that.”
“No. It’s a gag Christmas gift from a friend. It’s an inside joke. I’ll explain later. I just heard something crazy.” I put the device in my ear.
“Is it working?” Janet said.
“I don’t know yet…Damn, it’s actually working. I can hear everything.”
“Ah, crap,” Paul said. “I know what this is. I learned about this at work. This is un freakin’ believable.”
“What are you talking about?” the unknown man said.
“You’re a foreign national, you knew where I work, you slowly and subtly befriended me, and then the sales pitch. This conversation’s over. Have a nice life, whatever the hell your real name is.” Paul got up, put his coat on and started to walk away Janet told me.
“Paul, think about your wife,” the unknown man said. “Do you really want to leave her life to chance? This money will save her, I promise…and it’ll make you wealthy.” Paul stopped and stood there for what seemed like twenty to thirty seconds.
During that time I started thinking. I was just at our annual Christmas party and Paul and his wife were there. She didn’t look even remotely sick. My gut was telling me Paul was conning this guy. My dad always told me, “You can’t play a player.” Paul was a loathsome son of a bitch, but he was smart. He had to have known what was going on before now. We were constantly warned at work about this sort of recruitment and exactly how it happens. He turned, walked back to the table and sat. I wasn’t surprised.
“Do you realize if I get caught talking to you, I’ll be fired and thrown in prison for treason?” he said. “Then both my wife and I will be serving life sentences.”
“I understand the risk, but I’m an ally to your country,” the unknown man said. “I’m an Israeli operative. I have concrete evidence that Hamas has already made contact with several people you work with, including your boss.”
“What the hell?” I said quietly. “He’s lying. I’ve never talked to anybody about the work I do.”
“Jax is selling secrets to Hamas?” Paul said, seemingly stunned.
“Yes,” the unknown man said. “He’s been doing it for almost a year. As we speak, Hamas is acquiring the technology they need to create another Holocaust.” Goliath, I thought, which was the only weapon system capable of causing that kind of destruction. But that was impossible. We were testing it at the proving ground and it was top secret. Myself and only the engineer testing the weapon, the weapon’s manufacturer, the test crew and, of course, the U.S. government knew it was being tested. I wasn’t supposed to know but the engineer, Josh Granderson, was a close friend of mine, and one night when we were hammered at my apartment and Janet was at the grocery store he mentioned the name. I inquired about it and he bragged he was the engineer testing the most sophisticated piece of weaponry ever produced and even gave me the premise, but he said if I told anyone he’d have to kill me. Then he laughed. But it was true. If even the knowledge that we were testing this weapon fell into the wrong hands it could have devastating, world-altering consequences.
Josh told me the next day he had a blackout and didn’t remember anything after his fifth shot of vodka, which was minutes before he told me about Goliath. He asked me what happened the night before and I said nothing about Goliath. If anyone knew he told me, he’d be immediately fired and imprisoned for the rest of his life. There was no way this operative or anyone else could gain access to this technology unless the manufacturer, Raytheon, was leaking the design plans, which was a ridiculous notion. And the security around this project and the measures that were in place to maintain its anonymity made it impossible to access this information. It would be tantamount to breaking into Fort Knox. So I knew immediately the man was lying to get Paul to take the bait.
“It’s dire to the state of Israel that we know what they have and how close they are to being able to use it,” the mystery man continued. “If you refuse to help me, will you be able to sleep at night knowing you could have prevented millions of Jews from being annihilated?”
“I don’t even know what it is you need or if I can access it,” Paul said.
“I was told you were the man to talk to.” What? I thought. This whole thing was insane.
“Are you talking about Goliath?” Paul whispered. What the hell? I wondered. I could’ve sworn he said Goliath, but that wasn’t possible.
“What?” the unknown man said.
“Goliath,” Paul whispered a little louder. “Are you talking about Goliath?” Oh my God, I thought. I heard it clearly that time. How the hell did Paul know about it? It must’ve been Josh’s loose lips, or something else was happening to which I wasn’t privy.
“Oh, yes, Goliath,” the unknown man said. It was apparent by his reaction he had no clue what Paul was talking about. I’m sure Paul knew this too. This man was likely just fishing for anything he could get his hands on. Unless the information had been leaked. Impossible, I thought again. Raytheon would never betray this country.
“How do I know you’re not working for Hamas?” Paul said. I was thinking false flag as well and that it was Hamas trying to get whatever intel they could to kill as many Jews as possible. But another Holocaust? Give me a break, although the recent uprising and bloodshed over there was a bit unsettling.
“Here are my credentials,” the unknown man said as he took his wallet out and showed Paul what he needed to see. “You have to trust me. You can’t afford not to. I can save your wife’s life.”
“Obviously, you’re just using me for your own political agenda so cut the BS about this being a mutual benefit,” Paul said. “Open your jacket.”
“I said open your jacket. Then unbutton your shirt. I want to see if you’re wearing a wire. If you don’t do it now I’m walking and you’ll never see me again.”
“Okay, I understand.” He unbuttoned his shirt and there was no wire. “I’m telling you the truth. I’m trying to save my country, and I desperately need your help.” Paul hesitated.
“Okay, I’ll give you what you need under the condition that our conversations are in a private place where there’s no chance what I tell you is heard by anyone,” he said. “No more of this meeting in bars. It’s too risky.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “He’s about to commit treason.”
“What are you going to do about it?” Janet said.
“I don’t know.”
“Okay, how do you want to do this?” the unknown man said.
“When we meet, it’s going to be at a remote location of my choosing,” Paul said. “We’re going to leave our cars and talk outside. I don’t trust you. For all I know, you’re working for YPG or you’re CIA and your car will be bugged. I’m going to ask you to unbutton your shirt again and make sure you aren’t wired. You’ll tell me what you need and I’ll contact you when I get the information. It might take a few days. Then we’ll meet. The same rules will apply each time. Those are my terms. If you don’t like them, you’re not getting a thing from me.”
“Okay, I agree to your terms. Like I said, my only purpose is to save my country from extinction, Paul. It’s also in your country’s best interest to stop Hamas because America is also in grave danger. You’ll be doing a service to your country.” This was such obvious bullshit that only an idiot would fall for it, and, again, Paul was no idiot.
“Yeah, and thank you for blackmailing me into risking my career and life,” he said. “Let’s talk about the money. I want half up front. Otherwise, I’m not giving you squat.”
“That can be arranged,” the unknown man said.
“What kind of money are we talking about?”
“A quarter million dollars. This will cover your wife’s medical expenses and ensure her a spot at the top of the donor wait list. It’ll also cover your service to the state of Israel.”
“I’ll do it for a half million, not a penny less, all cash.” The unknown man hesitated.
“Okay, that can be arranged,” he said finally.
“So when we meet again, you’ll have a quarter million dollars cash or I’m walking.”
“Yes. Thank you, Paul, from myself and my country.” Paul got up and walked out. The unknown man remained in his seat for a couple minutes before heading to the restroom. He walked out a short time later. I only saw him from behind. He was around five foot nine, thin, with wavy black hair, wearing khaki pants and a sport jacket.
“I’m gonna hire a PI and crucify this bastard,” I said excitedly while removing the surprisingly handy device from my ear.
“That’s crazy, Jax,” Janet said. “You’ll be jeopardizing your career. You should report it to your security at work.”
“You’re right. That’s exactly what I should do and typically what I would do. My entire adult life, I’ve done everything in my power to avoid risk, always playing it safe so I’d never have to feel the way I did that day again.”
“Are you ever going to tell me what you did?”
“I don’t like to talk about it.”
“How bad was it?” Janet said.
“Pretty bad, but it’s not like I killed someone or anything. Just drop it.”
“All right. Fine.” She had a sour look on her face.
“My point is, the net result of my unwillingness to do anything that exposes me to danger has been a life pretty much void of any kind of real excitement or significance,” I said. “I feel the adrenaline surging through my body, and I like it. It’s time I do something that makes me feel alive and relevant.”
“I don’t make you feel alive and relevant?”
“No, you do, absolutely. But I just realized after twenty-five years living life without taking chances isn’t really living at all. I can’t remember the last time I felt this kind of rush.”
“If you need a rush, go sky diving or bungee jumping or something. We’re talking about treason here. You’d be risking your job and your life.”
“I’ll be extremely careful.”
I took everything Janet said with a grain of salt, as she was a crazy nympho, or so I thought. We made an odd couple. I was mister levelheaded––the non-spontaneous, ultra-conservative, workaholic type quickly moving up the ladder at work. Janet was the complete opposite. I was also a gym rat. As soon as I punched the clock at shift’s end, I made a beeline to 4th Avenue Gym on 22nd Street across from the Post Office and pumped iron for about two hours. I admit it; I’m about as predictable as the sun rising every morning. Work and the gym made up about seventy-five percent of my life, sex and sleep the rest.
However, what nobody knew about me was that over the past few years, I’d come to believe in things I once considered the whimsy of the idiot. I’m talking about destiny, divine intervention, and that everything, good or bad, happens for a reason. I’d also come to believe that good and evil were tangible things, not just abstract labels we apply to people and the things they do. I considered myself an enigma. I was smart but could be extraordinarily stupid. I was a flake but extremely driven. I was serious and uptight (I could open a jar of pickles with my butt cheeks) but could make you laugh so hard your sides would ache.
I didn’t have much of a social life. Besides working out, I watched sports; hung out with my buddies occasionally (we played Texas Hold’em or watched football usually); indulged in fantasy football; and Janet and I spent a lot of time watching TV, Netflix movies and in the sack. I had the good fortune of hooking up with a bona fide sex addict. I should probably mention that sarcasm was the only thing preventing me from throwing myself in front of a train; it gave me great pleasure. It wasn’t long before I realized all sex all the time was overrated. We were going on our third month together and she was wearing me out.
Since our relationship was pretty much all about sex, there wasn’t much in the way of conversation, and neither of us particularly liked small talk, so sitting there together without a buzz on was always kind of awkward for me. Nothing was awkward for Janet, however. She was giving my crotch a work over with her foot.
“Take it easy,” I said. “Let’s get out of here. We need to get home so I can find a PI.”
“I can’t help myself. You look so hot. Your pecs are driving me crazy. Have another drink. How was your day?”
“It sucked. The four people who work for me, including Paul, are as useless as an electrician in Amish country. I’m going to be working fifty to sixty hours a week until I retire.”
“Aren’t you worried about getting burnt out? Why don’t you fire them and get a staff that’s willing to actually do some work?”
“They’re my meal ticket. Not only does their obvious mediocrity make me look like a superstar, but all that overtime bought that sweet little ride.” We both turned and looked out the window at the shiny, yellow, classic ’75 Jaguar XKE parked right outside. That’s my baby, I thought. “I’ve been kicking around the idea of firing Paul for some time, but it looks like he’s taking care of that dirty work for me. Even without him, there’s still enough incompetence in that office to keep the OT flowing.” Janet continued to work on my crotch; she had it down to a science. Just think about baseball, I told myself. “Okay, I’ve had enough,” I said. “I need to be able to drive us home. I’m not paying for another taxi.”
“Fine,” she said. I could tell she was annoyed, but I couldn’t care less. I paid the bill, we got up and headed toward the exit, where I opened the door and stared at Janet’s glutes as she walked out.
“Would you open the door for me if you didn’t like my ass so much?”
“What? I’m deeply offended. I’m just being a gentleman.”
“Right,” she said. What did she expect? I thought. It was as if her caboose was sculpted from fine granite by Donatello. It was even colder now as we made our way across the parking lot. Winters were always cold there, but it was particularly cold.
“Damn, it’s freezing,” I said.
“I’ll warm you up later,” Janet said. I walked around to the passenger-side door and opened it for her, again admiring her back side before she got in.
“You’re staring at it again, aren’t you?”
“Get over yourself,” I said.
I walked around the back of the car to the driver’s side, opened the door, got in behind the wheel and started the engine, the purr of which was like sweet music to me. I cranked up the heat as I pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward my apartment, which was approximately two miles away. In Yuma, everything was in close proximity. We headed down 16th Street west toward Pacific Avenue. The light turned yellow and I gunned it, turning left onto Pacific. Ironically, my favorite song, “Yellow,” by Coldplay, was playing on my CD. I don’t know why I liked it so much. The lyrics don’t make any sense. But the first time I heard it I was hypnotized. I turned up the volume until everything in the car was vibrating.
“You sure you aren’t gay?” Janet shouted.
“If I am, I’m disguising it pretty well by banging a female sex addict,” I hollered back, to which she responded, “Touché.”
We headed up Pacific and I made a right on 24th Street, drove down about a half mile or so, turned left onto 8th Street and then made another left at 26th Street before making a right into the El Encanto Apartments parking lot. We got out of the car and it seemed even colder.
“It’s gotta be in the thirties right now,” I said, my teeth chattering. I put my arm around Janet.
“I know,” she said. “Let’s go steam the place up.”
“Sounds good to me.” This time I meant it. I was buzzed and our two warm bodies entangled sounded really good at the moment. We walked up the stairs to the second floor and I was fumbling with my keys as Janet was grabbing my crotch. “But we’re only going for about an hour, two at the most,” I said. “I need to find a PI.”
“Fine, whatever,” she said. “Hurry up.”
“I’m trying.” I finally found the right key, opened the door and we went in, her first as usual. Regardless of my intent, it was the act that mattered, I rationalized. We walked into the living room of my one-bedroom apartment, which was occupied by my fold-out couch and a forty-six-inch, flat-screen Plasma TV. The living room was considerably bigger than the bedroom so I made it my bedroom. There was no dining room table so we just ate on the couch. I decided to use the bedroom for guests. I lived by myself, initially, but then I met Janet a couple months later, things escalated and she moved in. She thought it was odd I was sleeping in my living room, but I didn’t care. It was my man cave, and that’s the way I liked it.
I pulled the bed out and we made love for almost two hours. I was thinking about the conversation in the bar the whole time and couldn’t wait for the sex to end. When it did, I jumped out of bed and grabbed the Yellow Pages from the drawer next to the oven in the kitchen, which was adjacent to the living room. I started looking for PIs and circled a few before I got tired and came back to bed, propped my pillows up behind me and leaned back and started watching SportsCenter while Janet thumbed through the latest edition of Playgirl.
“You ready for more?” she said.
“Sure, what the hell.”
“You really know how to work the dirty talk.”
We had sex for a couple more hours even though my mind again was occupied with the night’s events. I was only there physically, so I couldn’t tell you if it was any good or not, for me at least, but she seemed satisfied. That’s all that really mattered. After she caught her breath she lit a cigarette. I was so tired I rolled over, but I didn’t fall asleep immediately. A couple minutes passed and I heard Janet get out of bed. I heard her punching in numbers on her cell phone. Phone sex, I thought. That’s another thing. She was racking up quite a bill; her phone was on my plan. I don’t know what they were teaching her in that class, but it wasn’t working, or she just wasn’t going. I dozed off soon after.