Wicked Target [Chapter 2]
A Sam Wick Thriller
Thank you for reading the earlier chapters. The response has been overwhelming and I’m glad to share the next chapter of Wicked Target.
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24 hours later
8:30 a.m., Fort Meade, Maryland, National Security Agency
"Your change," the coffee vendor said to William Helms, the Director of the NSA.
Helms nodded as he put the coins in his coat's pocket. Grabbing his morning cup of coffee and bagel with cream cheese, he walked towards the only empty table in the cafeteria.
This was not his usual routine in the morning, but today he wanted a change of scenery, and that's why he was in the NSA's cafeteria instead of having the coffee in his office.
Helms had always been a recluse, and even in the agency where he was the ultimate authority, only a handful of people could recognize him by face.
He never gave any interviews, nor did he appear in any public database. Even the NSA website didn't carry his photo in his profile. Any and all public appearances were handled by his second in command – NSA deputy director Paul S. Lyon who oversaw that all the orders must be conveyed and executed as per the requirement.
This didn't mean that Helms wasn't aware of what was happening in and around the NSA. His goal to keep the NSA on top of the international information net consistently kept him up late at night. His information network was unmatched. That was his power and also his curse. For any new administration, Helms was someone without whom they could not live with but at the same time couldn't trust him either. Helms was suspected of having a file on every important man within the DC power corridors, but no one ever found any evidence to back it, but that didn't deter them from giving that file a scary name – Scaffold Files.
Helms was aware of these rumors about the Scaffold Files too, but he had never confronted them. The best way to give any rumor credibility was by addressing it. And Helms was smart enough to avoid falling into the trap.
As he took his seat, a girl and a boy looking for an empty table for their breakfast approached the same table. The reason was it being the only table with empty chairs available.
"Anyone seated here?" The girl asked. Helms raised his head to see her. It took him a few seconds to realize that the girl was talking about the seat. He nodded his head.
"Thanks," She said while occupying the seat. The boy followed her. Helms watched them getting seated from the corner of his eyes as he sipped his coffee and pretended to look at his Blackberry.
"This coffee is shit." The boy said as soon as he took the first sip.
Helms raised his eyebrows at the comment. He didn't know what the boy was drinking because he found his cup passable.
"Come on, Jake, it's not that bad too. And the world runs on caffeine and adrenaline, so taste rarely matters." the girl said light-heartedly, eliciting a laugh from Jake.
"You did get my text message, right?" he asked, his left eyebrow raised quizzically.
"You mean the message you sent me at 3 a.m.? Yeah, I saw it. That's why I'm here twenty minutes early."
"Alisha, It's happening," he said. "It's finally happening."
"Dragon fire?" she asked, turning her face to look at Jake's expression.
"Yeah," Jake answered, looking at Helms from the corner of his eye. Dragon fire was a code name that only a select few in the agency were familiar with, and they all belonged to a single team. For anyone else, it was something that could be from the Game of Thrones.
Helms had noted the code, but he didn't reveal anything with his face. Kept sipping his coffee and checking his Blackberry.
"We tracked the coded message at one pm. It took me two hours to analyze, but now I'm stuck at one specific point. Need your help with that."
"Should we take it to…." Alisha asked.
"No… not yet. Remember last time what happened?"
"How can I forget? Worst day of my life." She seemed anxious remembering the day. "Your decryption is correct?"
"Hundred percent. I've double-checked the code."
"I can do it by tomorrow morning," Alisha said.
"That will be too late." Jake sounded worried.
"I have other work… that is a priority. You know how he would react if he…" Alisha seemed anxious to take the name of whoever she was afraid of.
Maybe it was because of Helms. They didn't know who he was, and word traveled fast, even in the NSA.
"Fine… but try to send it by two p.m. He would land between three and four."
"Can't promise anything but will try," Alisha said and finished her coffee. Jake was not going to drink his, anyways. They both got up to leave.
"Alisha…" Helms spoke the name he had heard.
"Yes…" Alisha looked surprised at the voice. She wasn't expecting Helms to speak up.
"Please sit… You too, Jake." Helms said in a soft voice, but it couldn't mask his authoritative tone.
"We are getting late," Jake spoke in response.
"I'll take care of that." Helms, this time put his hand on the chair's backrest and pulled it to signal that he wasn't going to budge. Alisha looked at Jake and then sat. She didn't know who the man was, so she felt it was better to learn more before doing anything drastic. Jake, too had the same opinion. The cafeteria was almost empty as people had moved to their desks to start work. The three of them were now the only ones there, without any chance of anyone overhearing them.
"Dragon fire. Tell me about the message." Helms was looking at Jake.
"Sir… that's confidential."
"That's why I'm asking," Helms said politely.
"Who are you?" Alisha had to ask. The man looked supremely confident.
"William Helms?" Alisha looked confused at first. Jake had no idea who Helms was. "You are the director?" She asked.
"Director? Of what?" Jake murmured to Alisha as if Helms couldn't hear him.
"NSA," Alisha replied in the same tone as if Helms couldn't hear her whisper either.
Helms ignored Jake's wide-open mouth and Alisha's nervousness. "The message." He wanted to get to the meat of the conversation fast.
"Yes, sir." This time Jake spoke, still recovering from the shock.
"What did you find?"
"Wang Jun!" Helms knew who Wang Jun was but didn't expect his name cropping up in this conversation.
"China had sent a team to get him."
"You mean to abduct him?"
"Yes. Hundred percent. Double checked." Jake was sure.
Wang Jun was a Chinese businessman who became a US citizen two years ago. He owned the world's most advanced health care start-up firm. Jun's partner and his family, who were in China, had gone missing a few days ago after one of his public speeches where he criticized the Chinese government. America had no say in his partner's case. Still, Jun's abduction would have severe repercussions for the health-tech space, but more importantly, it would have huge implications on the US's reputation across the globe. Despite being born and bred in China, Jun was technically a US citizen. And no one could kidnap a US citizen and get away with it, that's what Helms believed.
"When is it happening?"
"They already did, sir."
"They are en route to Hong Kong." Hong Kong was Chinese territory, and that meant the US had little or no control over it.
"What do you need her for?" Helms was asking about Alisha.
"For some number crunching and to understand why they are going to Hong Kong," Jake said.
"You sure they are heading for Hong Kong and not anywhere else?"
"They are on a Hong Kong Airlines flight, and it will land in Hong Kong between three and four in the afternoon." New York to Hong Kong flight duration was approximately sixteen hours, and if they had started at around 12 midnight, then Jake was right about the landing time. That left them with around six hours.
"Come with me," Helms said, getting up.
Jake and Alisha didn't ask any questions this time. They knew that their tyrant boss wouldn't mind them coming late to their desks.
"You need anything from your desk?"
"No, sir," Alisha spoke. Jake just nodded.
"Good," Helms said absentmindedly. He was typing something on the phone. Jake and Alisha waited patiently behind him, even though the elevator was empty and ready to go. Helms finally pressed the send button before getting in the elevator.
"Where are we going, Sir?" Jake asked the question he wanted to ask since the time they left the cafeteria.
"My office," Helms said nonchalantly.
"Ohh, I'm Jake." Jake didn't know what to say next.
"Oh, okay, good… good. She is Alisha." Jake was overwhelmed. Alisha glared at him with fiery eyes.
What was he doing? Helms already knew their names.
"Good to meet you both," Helms responded.
"Thank you, sir," Jake said and finally went on to silent mode.
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"Come on, Jake, it's not that bad too. (Delete the word too).
"No, sir," Alisha spoke. Jake just nodded. (Nodding generally means ‘yes’. So does Jake need something from his desk?)
Loved the story so far.