Slippery Slope


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Slippery Slope: A Grady PI Story

My name is H.W. Grady. I’ve been a soldier, a cop and now I’m a PI. I live in the ATL and ITP. For those from somewhere else, that’s Atlanta inside the perimeter. That means pretty much in the city itself.

I grew up in the mountains before choosing the Army over jail and got my juvie record expunged. The law enforcement itch came when I was using my GI benefits to go to college. I managed a degree in criminal justice and could have gone far if I hadn’t had a falling out with a supervisor on the Atlanta PD.

A little while back, I was on my way to talk to a U.S. Congressman with a problem he wanted handled outside of channels. My first thought was a lover wanted a payoff, but you never know.

The Congressman lived in the far northern burbs of Atlanta. The city itself is composed of only about 750k people, but if you factor in Greater Atlanta with its multitude of smaller cities and towns, the area population swells to over 5.5 mil.

The traffic was thinning out from its frenzied peak and drive was pleasant in the late fall sunlight peaking through the many trees that still had their leaves. It was a mild year that seemed more like early September than late October.

The Congressman comes from old money and resided in a wealthy area that had been largely farmland twenty years before. Now it was composed of mini-mansions that started at over a mil and pushed property taxes up to the point where only the wealthy could afford to live there. It was form of segregation not based on race, religion or national origin. Instead it segregates on the basis of who can afford the freight – whether it is a Fortune 500 CEO, professional ball player or successful rapper.

I pulled up to the Tudor-style guardhouse that crouched in the entrance to the community where the Congressman resided. The rent-a-cop wore uniform cargo pants bloused at his boot tops and a shirt with emulates. His badge was shined to a high luster and he looked more a SWAT team member than some SWAT teams I had seen.

My last year’s Benz and tailored suit were sufficient to put the guard somewhat at ease. After a minimum of profiling and flexing of overdeveloped pecs, he called and I was admitted. He gave me directions including “clicks” instead of miles or blocks.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in favor of physical fitness and discipline. I practice Tae Kwon Do and am still a novice at Aikido, but I practice for health and flexibility – not show.  I am a fit 170 at 5’10”. 

Thanks more to my GPS than the guard’s directions, I soon found myself at the Congressman’s house. I parked in the circular drive and approached the front door. I looked for a bell and found none. The opening of the door by a man in a suit solved the problem. The man was in his mid-thirties as I was. He was close to my 5’10” but rail-thin.

The smell of stale cigarette smoke and nicotine stained fingers helped to explain his slight build.  He clutched a day planner and his whole manner screamed personal assistant. He gave an off an air of hyperactivity and reminded of a bird hopping about in search of its next crumb. He was probably good at his job. That meant he wouldn’t like me wasting his boss’s time.

On cue he said, “I am the Congressman’s personal assistant. The Congressman is on a tight schedule. How long will your interview take?”

I sized him up once more before answering.

“It will take as long as it takes. The Congressman called me. If he doesn’t have time to give me what I need to do my job, then I’m out of here.”

I think that option would have suited the assistant and maybe me just fine, but we were interrupted by a deep voice trained to make its presence felt.

“Harold. Why don’t you see if Marilyn can serve us some coffee on the patio.”

Still clutching his day planner, Harold disappeared after giving me a disapproving look.

The Congressman introduced himself and said, “Finding the correct personnel has been much of the key to my political success. Harold is efficient at his job though he can lack social skills. Come, it is too beautiful a day to spend it all indoors.”

The Congressman guided me to the patio – taking time to comment on artwork and other items that decorated the house. I noticed that he carried a small document case that had been with him when he appeared.

Once seated at a wrought iron table in the shade of an umbrella, we sipped coffee. I had to admit it was better than the diner stuff I often consumed.

The Congressman took a few minutes to broach the purpose of my visit.

“As I previously mentioned, I pride myself on choosing the correct man or woman for the right job. It has served me well in business and politics.”

I waited. I knew he would get to it soon.

“However, when I do choose unwisely, it is on a significant scale.”

The Congressman told me of a staffer who came highly recommended and seemed to have impeccable credentials. As is often the case, it was only in hindsight that they vetted her thoroughly enough to find that most of her record had been doctored if not downright falsified.  As he talked, he slid a folder to me that had detailed the case.

It appeared that the woman, Afra Sein, was an expert on Mid-East affairs and culture. She was of mixed ancestry – Western European and Middle Eastern. The Congressman felt this gave her unusual insight and perspective.

Her resume was impressive – maybe a little too impressive to be working as a Congressional staffer at a fraction of what she could make in business or at numerous “think tanks”.

“Gathering intelligence is fine and good, but without smart professionals with vision, the info is useless.”

The Congressman’s seat on the House Intelligence Committee gave him access to sensitive material. That meant Ms. Sein had access as well.

The Congressman interrupted my perusal of the file with a question gave me a chill despite the warmth of the day.

“When you served in the Armed Forces, did you ever kill to protect your country?”

He got no response. It wasn’t the kind of question a fellow soldier would have asked – at least not one worthy of the title. He apparently took my silence for an affirmative answer because he continued.

“I thought so. It is the duty and privilege of those serving the country to stop those enemies of our great nation.”

“I am not a hired killer,” I replied coldly.

“This young woman has taken advantage of her position to abscond with sensitive and classified documents. She has disappeared. She won’t respond to email, texts or calls. Her apartment appears abandoned. Their retrieval is imperative. I am told that you are a man I can trust to complete an assignment with the least amount of exposure for your client.”

“If she has federal documents, why not use the FBI?

“The documents are sensitive. Their exposure at a criminal trial could be – eh – embarrassing.”

“So I retrieve the documents and what do you want done with her?”

“Bring her back to pay for her crime – or not.”

“To the best of my knowledge, she has not even been charged with a crime, much convicted. So my restraining her and transporting her against her will would be kidnapping. Will you stand behind me in such a case?” I asked, knowing the answer but wanting to force the man into a response.

“I cannot do so, but I will give you a number of someone who can take care of things for me.”

“No dice. That still makes me a party to kidnapping.”

“Very well. I will think of something. Retrieve the documents and your part will be concluded,” he said with a sigh. “Here is your fee. One week in advance.”

The Congressman retrieved a stack of banded bills from the case. It appeared to be correct, so he had researched me. I told him outright that I didn’t like working for him and that the fee would be double. I thought he would refuse and the matter would be closed. Instead, he doubled the stack of bills. It was a tidy sum. I should have passed. I took the money and the file. He did object about either.

I went back to my office to review the file. It is in a trendy section of town chosen by my affluent girl friend, Angeline. Maybe that was what got me a top-drawer client like the Congressman.

When I first moved in, the windows were made not to open. After a threat of my own remodeling, Angeline had them redone so that I could let the afternoon breeze in to air out the rooms.

My receptionist Maria told me that I had no important messages. I have long ago given up trying to get her to pass them on and let me decide. I seem to have life ruled by women who know what is best for me.

I reviewed the file. Sein’s emergency notification was a sister in Atlanta. I entered the sister’s name in an Internet search program. It showed the ATL address and a second address in the Florida Keys. I did the same with the elusive Ms. Sein. The same Florida address popped up for her. So the sisters might jointly own property.

Another Internet search revealed a management company that specialized in overseeing property in the Keys with absentee owners. I called the agent and identified myself as a friend of Sein that was searching for such a service. As we chatted, the agent mentioned that she had received a call letting her know that the Sein would be down for a few days.

I told the agent I was planning a visit soon and would contact her upon my arrival. Apparently the prospect of a new client overcame whatever guilt that woman might feel at discussing another client with a stranger.

Things began to make sense to me. Sein had sensitive documents that could be potentially damaging to the U.S. government. It would be advantageous to get them out of the country. Relying on email or the U.S. mail might be risky given the heightened security in the age of terrorism.

Another Internet program gave a satellite view of the house complete with boat dock.

I called my landlady who assured me that she would keep and care for my two Great Danes. I booked a flight to Miami and a car rental at the airport.

I peeled some bills from the Congressman’s fee for walking around money and locked the remainder in my office safe. I grabbed an overnight bag and headed to Hartsfield-Jackson airport. 

The flight was short and uneventful. The car was waiting as promised. I drove the nondescript sedan to Sein’s address on the single highway that connects Miami to Key West.

A chain blocked my way on her driveway. She had taken time to refasten and padlock the chain, but fresh tire tracks were evident in the sand and seashell drive.

A neighboring vacant lot nearby with a No Trespassing sign and low tropical plants made the sedan nearly invisible from the highway.

Kakis, sneakers and tee shirt had replaced my suit – less conspicuous in a vacation Mecca. A loose fitting outer shirt covered my tee and served to conceal the shoulder holster that carried my .45.

I made my way to Sein’s property through the underbrush. - no point in making myself too obvious by walking up the drive. The house appeared after a few hundred yards. A woman inside passed the window periodically. Funny how someone on the run can make so little effort to remain concealed.

I got into a good position just as she walked out on to the dock with an overnight bag and small brief case. Apparently my timing was perfect.

I freed the .45 and quietly crossed to the dock. Her back was to me as she scanned the horizon – maybe for her ride out of the country. I was almost upon her when she dropped the bag and turned. In her hand was small automatic – a 9 or .380.

“The Congressman was faster than I anticipated,” she said.

Her auto didn’t waiver even though I know the barrel of my .45 looked like a cannon.

“Are you willing to kill me to get these back?” she asked indicating the brief case.

“Are you willing to kill to keep them?”

“So we have a stalemate.”

“Not really. You fire. I fire. We both lose.”

“What if I told you that these are NSA surveillance files of powerful ally leaders obtained with the express purpose of blackmailing them into supporting the U.S. in reckless actions?”

“Dramatic, but not provable without my reading them.”

“No time for that.”

That’s when I heard the ever so slight rustling of the underbrush behind me.

“I must be leaving,” she said, but had no time for more.

The shot was so quiet that it must have been a subsonic round. A tiny hole appeared almost perfectly centered on her forehead. A subsonic round rarely has the energy to exit – passing repeatedly through the brain. It took a few seconds for this and gradually the light left her eyes. She slumped to the ground like a marionette with no puppet master. Death is never pretty.

I halfway expected a shot to take me next, but that wasn’t the case. A nondescript man in nondescript clothes walked past me with a small nondescript bag. After checking Sein for a pulse, he pocketed her gun. He pulled a roll of plastic from the bag and spread it out. Sein’s body was quickly wrapped in the material. He set his neat package of death out of his way. He poured a liquid over the few drops of blood and rinsed it away with a cup of ocean water. So much for DNA.

He set her briefcase in front of me. Without a word, he scooped his bag, her bag and her body up. He walked easily over the rocky shore. I walked out and saw him reach a small boat. It was large enough for an equipment box that was able to hold Sein and her bag.

The boat pulled away under the power of a small outboard. In minutes it was no more than a speck. I could have stopped him. He could have shot me. Neither had happened.

I met the Congressman the next day. He took the case without looking inside. He set $10,000 on the patio table. Neither of us spoke. I took the money and left.