Special Agent

by John Davis Collins C 1999 by John F. Clennan - All rights reserved

It was a question of loyalty, friendship, and the truth.

"Did you, Special Agent Tom Watson, forbid Private Henry Keyes from stealing and reselling United States Government property?"

The short female legal officer turned from the witness and waved her hand at the tread and tank parts, which decorated the bandbox court room like macabre Christmas presents.

Watson paused. All eyes watched him. The grey-templed senior officers occupying the jury box tilted their heads and peered at him sternly. The judge swiveled his chair for a more direct gaze. The prosecutor leaned forward. His assistant stopped taking notes.

Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.

Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.

First published by Iconoclast in print and later by Inditer, Special Agent was the first in a series of short stories about a drug informant. Together with The Hero, The Paradox, Hail and Farewell, The Mark and Power Play, Special Agent is an outtake of the unpublished novel PRETEXT.

Which was the right answer? Which was the correct answer?

Watson glanced at the defendant, Henry Keyes. The accused's blank courtroom mask gave no hint of the wily teenager Watson once knew. Had Watson recruited Keyes as an informant? Or was it the other way around?

Dead center in the modest spectator gallery sat two Special Branch detectives in gray-checkered suits. Arms crossed, they gave no hint of emotion or tension. Watson didn't need a clue. He knew what CID expected. Everyone in CID thought as one.

The question hung unanswered. A more experienced defense counsel would have waited a few more breaths before breaking the spell. "Special Agent Watson, we're waiting. You do know what the truth is?"

Everybody knows what the truth is. Don't they?

Army CID demanded absolute loyalty. The chosen shucked the Army uniform, military titles and ribbons to enlist in a more austere conformity.

The courtroom waited silently. Watson imagined he could hear the creases on the prosecutor's uniform trousers creak. The prosecutor leaped up, about to make an objection, but was stilled by a hand signal from the judge.

A cop enforced the law. But the relationship between the law and the truth could be maddeningly tenuous.

"Your answer?" the defense counsel demanded, taking off her spectacles to stare Watson down.

"No, ma'am."

The prosecutor's eyes dropped. His assistant smirked. The two Special Branch detectives nodded and whispered. The judge rocked back in his chair. The jury relaxed.

As the defense counsel began to ply Watson for the story behind his answer, he saw the courtroom vanish, as if in a dream.

year before, it'd been a damp spring. That evening, like so many others, the rain had beat hard at the windows of the apartment he'd taken outside Fort Gates, the Army's largest installation. As he watched the small TV propped on his rickety kitchen table, Watson was happy not to be a cog in a tank maneuvering through all that muck and water.

A knock at the door brought him to attention. Though only 8 pm, it felt later. How could he be so tired? Too many days writing routine reports. Although the post was infested with drugs, the drug suppression team (comprised mostly of men eagerly awaiting retirement) found nothing but paperwork.

The caller stood about 5' 5" and shivered in his muddy Army poncho. Tom Watson immediately recognized his unexpected visitor as a soldier who'd already been rejected as an informant.

"Henry ... Keyes. Right?"

"Why don't you ask me in before I freeze or get washed away."

Keyes became a frequent visitor, though Watson was unsure whether he wanted him there. While Army CID never prohibited off-base friendships, command did not encourage fraternization. Dressed in dark blue suits with sunglasses and neatly combed hair, the agents saw themselves as elite sentinels of order, aloof and above the fray.

One night Keyes introduced Watson to chess. Keyes would quietly ruminate over the plastic pieces before swiftly driving Watson from the board. As Keyes dissected the agent's misplays, Watson would grumble that he understood chess about as well as he understood CID.

"But this is a beautiful game," Keyes exclaimed. "From 16 pieces on 64 squares you can make a nearly infinite number of moves." He raised his eyebrows: "Of course if you leave the men in the box you'll never know that. You don't have to stay in the box!"

Taking Watson out of the box became an adventure in comedy. One spring afternoon Keyes phoned: "Say nothing. Come down to the NCO club. We can nail the bartender."

In the club foyer, Keyes, dressed as the janitor, swept up litter. Spying Watson in his neat suit and tie, Keyes smirked. "At least put the badge away. Look, it's between paychecks. I think the bartender might risk it." The bartender looked around nervously. But he made the sale anyway. After the buyer darted to the men's room, Watson hunted down Keyes. Keyes' eyes opened wide in exasperation and disbelief: "Go on arrest him!" After that first success, Keyes began talking with the hardened cynicism of a veteran cop. "It's not always safe to be too smart," he instructed Watson before adding, "Checkmate," for the third straight time that evening. Keyes grew more chatty, yet curiously distant when the time came for hard information on the drug scene. He refused to set anyone up: "Anybody can catch a sucker. It's the dealers you want - and it takes patience." Then was born one of Keyes favorite expressions: "Policy is the substitute for intelligence."

Following the initial raids, bureaucratic tides carried off Watson's boss, and soon Watson and his charge began working with much-needed younger faces: 18 or 19 year old MP's who volunteered for plainclothes. Missions became better planned and arrests smoothly executed.

But success invited unwelcome and inefficient intrusion.

In the late fall, the Chief of Operations handed Watson a plan devised by headquarters to nail a pre-designated target. "A question of control," was how it was explained to Watson. "We use the snitch the way we want, not how he wants."

Keyes wasn't happy. "Things have changed. Before, it was an adventure, I find someone - you bust him. Now CID HQ is suddenly interested in calling the shots. Do you think it means anything more than greed for glory?" Watson couldn't say.

One drizzly Sunday afternoon in early winter, Watson watched the buy from a van a quarter mile away. But before the sale had been completed, something went wrong. A confused signal sent the CID back-up team into action prematurely. Caught unaware and confused as police vehicles suddenly sped into action, the undercover MP doing the buy accidentally stepped in front of one of the speeding cruisers and was run over.


atson looked on, horror struck.
Army CID was more than a police brotherhood with a boogie man dress code. It was a culture apart, a culture of perfection: being right - or making it right.

After the disaster, ritual required the standard condolences to the slain MP's family. Shown the letter, Watson winced in pain and embarrassment. It mentioned valor, dedication, and courage. It masked a tragic comedy of errors.

Unemotionally, the Chief of Operations set out the official line: "CID does a good job, has always done a good job, and will always do a good job. In this case, it was just poor execution of a brilliant plan by under-trained MP's. That's the explanation that fits, satisfies the Army, and protects our careers. Any other interpretation may cause unnecessary harm. Am I understood? ... Good."

Power has many faces: power for good, power for evil and for the sake of the power itself, Keyes told Watson.

The Chief of Ops dispatched Watson to a deserted trailer park. "You'll find out when you get there."

At the trailer park, out on the edge of Army camptown, Watson met Agent Flanagan, a short balding fellow with a neat goatee and an evil, menacing expression. Watson didn't need to be told: Flanagan was one of the big boys, a Special Branch Agent from CID Command in Washington. They shared a tiny kitchen table. Flanagan said he needed an "in" to crack a shrinkage problem. "Too many bits and pieces of our tanks are ending up in the hands of hostile foreign entities. We'd like to use your boy Keyes." It wasn't a request. "Ask him to find out what I'm up to. I'll take care of the rest." Flanagan smiled. It wasn't pleasant to look at.

Keyes once told Watson: "Sometimes the best decision is no decision. Watson wouldn't hand Keyes over just yet. Watson replied, "I ain't seen him. But I can have him picked up if you want."

"No. We'll wait. There's no need to break his cover."

Watson hoped Keyes had transferred or gone over the hill.

Just as Watson began to think the crisis past, the plan abandoned, Keyes appeared. After the usual chess game, Watson opened - in a different match: "I've got a new problem. You can opt out if you want. A real dirtbag has surfaced. We want to know what he's up to, what he's looking for. The plan was for Keyes to contact Flanagan at a local bar.

Afterwards, Keyes said, "I don't think its drugs."

"Well find out what, then!"

Didn't Keyes always say that patience was the key to detection?

After that first meeting with the stranger, Keyes rarely visited anymore.

And on one of their few get-togethers, Keyes uncharacteristically brooded quietly over the chessboard. Watson anxiously observed him.

To warn Keyes of a perilous situation violated orders. Yet to allow him to be set-up was a betrayal. But Keyes knew enough not to do anything illegal, didn't he?

Special Branch resolved the dilemma. Several days before the deal, SA Flanagan ordered Watson to move into the trailer. "You're needed to monitor the wire," was the explanation.

Days passed. Nothing happened. Watson felt cut off from life. Special Branch Agent Flanagan calmly read a paperback war novel. Noticing Watson's anxiety, Flanagan grinned. "Hey, you never had to sit for hours on a drug deal?"

Keyes had taught: "every life has a break point, a point which marks character and determines a person's fate."

Late one afternoon Flanagan put down his book, got up, and prepared to leave the trailer. He told Watson, "Wait an hour. Then leave ... and don't come back."

"I though you needed me to monitor the deal?"

Flanagan smirked, shook his head slowly before ducking out and slamming the door.

"Maybe you needed me out of the way," Watson said to breeze in Flanagan's wake.

The next morning the Chief of Ops informed Watson, "duty team received a message from your snitch. They logged it."

Watson took the paper and read it quickly. "Sale of Tank Part Sets. Bring Team for Bust To ..."

The chief continued, "Special Branch took down Keyes. We'll lose the log entry, if you'd prefer it that way."

Watson drew a breath. "Let it stand."

The dream evaporated. Back in the courtroom, prosecutors conferred among themselves while the defense officer reviewed her notes.

Keyes taught that pawns, in their single-minded march across the board, lacked the perspective to see the big picture.

"What action did you take with respect to the CID log entry?"

Watson glanced from Keyes to the Special Branch Detectives sitting in the gallery. A flash of anger bled into giddiness.

The defense officer noted in a shallow voice, "my client is on trial..."

Watson looked from the soft blond defense officer to Keyes' penetrating glance. Watson screwed his eyes shut to strain the tears. Keyes is not on trial, Watson laughed to himself. I am and, worse, I have no defense.

Maybe in a TV melodrama, Flanagan or maybe Keyes himself, might have roughly thrown an arm across Watson's shoulder, shrugged and commiserated: "It had to be done." But in real life, the pawn, Keyes taught, travels a path in a design he can't perceive.

"Special Agent?" The defense officer's tone hardened, "My client faces more than 10 years if convicted. I see nothing funny under these circumstances. Will you please tell us what you did respecting the log entry."

Composing himself, Watson looked to the blank-faced Keyes for direction, before answering, "Let it stand as entered."

Even though the ritual of trail would proceed for several more hours, the case was essentially over. So too was the career of Special Agent Tom Watson.

Editor's Note: The Iconoclast of Mohegan Lake, NY was the original publisher of "Special Agent".
The Iconoclast is willing to accept Canadian & U.S. authors on par.

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