All airports are the same. Hong Kong, Newark, Tel Aviv. The sterile smell of disinfectant quashes the myriad germs of impatient travelers. Gate change announcements smother conversations. I glance at my copy of Car & Driver.
The teenager wearing a Ramones T-shirt slumped in the hard-plastic seat across from me sips a fruit smoothie, nodding his head inside his earplugs. He’s already spilled half his drink on the worn carpet below him. I smell strawberry and watermelon, and a riot of other sticky tastes. I glance at my watch.
There she is, striding down the concourse. A trophy wife at 24, Justine was divorced with two kids and a very generous settlement nine years later. She married right back into the Master Class within a year. Justine buys a latte at the Starbucks kiosk and remains aloof from the crowd as she casually leans against the wall reading the latest Vogue. She won’t know I‘m here. But she probably suspects that someone is watching. I could list the designer clothes she wears from this distance, down to the Jimmy Choo shoes. Justine rolls her magazine and saunters down the concourse, with a toss of her amber hair.
My job is to follow her, and report. This won’t be a snatch-n-grab takedown. Justine is carefully leaving a trail so that no one will pursue her husband. A Potemkin target, befuddling detectives so that the big money can escape its obligations.
I am not fooled.
Justine flew commercial from Atlanta to Philadelphia, where she was once a Main Line debutante. But she wouldn’t be spending much time in the Keystone state. I predict a Lear jet jump to the Bahamas, perhaps a day on a private yacht, then a chartered plane from Nassau to the newly purchased compound in the Seychelles. Her husband will take a route with more twists and turns, mimicking the way he manages his business affairs. Justine’s husband is big money. But, no matter how rich you are, you always owe someone.
No one is the richest of them all. Not for long, at least.
I work for repo men, basically. That’s why I lurk in private lounges tracking millionaire’s wives around the globe. I have three Master’s Degrees, and a resume that includes counterintelligence work during the last Iraq War. But my records have been cleansed from the world’s data files. I am whoever the immaculately faked credentials I carry today say I am. Anonymous, I trail Justine, working through the thin crowd of passengers. I look like the guy you never notice; next in line at the grocery store, or in a minivan waiting for the red light to turn. I’m not too tall or too fat or too good-looking. I don’t stick out in a crowd and never have. Perhaps that’s the main talent I bring to this job.
A disembodied announcement overhead orders American Airways passengers on Flight 714 to a terminal gate on the other side of the airport. The pale woman in front of me groans and I move behind a pair of chunky tourists as she stalks off, handbag swaying. Justine strides along about 30 feet ahead of me. She pauses before a nondescript hallway, sips from the latte again, and then turns left down the dimly lit corridor. Time for me to make a call.
“Hello, David,” Markos says before the first ring is finished.
“She’s going to the private jetway gate. I say Bahamas.” I’m still walking slowly, passing the sports bar on Concourse D. On multiple TVs, Cleveland is shutting out the Astros. “Check private, corporate and military flight plans for the next six hours from Philadelphia within a six-thousand-mile flight radius.”
A ten-second pause. “Subject narrowed to three possible destinations. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dakar, North Africa. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”
“Oh, come on.”
“My, you are quick today. As you assumed, Nassau is the subject’s third possible destination.” Markos’s voice was as clear in my ear as if we were alone in a recording studio. The guys who designed our satellite comm system had either worked for the NSA, or al-Qaeda.
“My next move?”
“Follow the subject to her transportation hub. Your traveling credentials will be in place within … 38 seconds. You two will not be alone on any of the three potential flights. I know I don’t have to tell you to blend in with the scenery.” Markos paused, static free over the thousands of miles. “It’s been a busy day for air traffic control here.”
“Why? Is the balloon going up?” I joked. But Markos never gave many hints as to what Operations was working on. The less we in the field knew, the better he liked it.