It was still dark as I made my way back down to the harbor. There was a faint glow in the eastern sky; soon the city would come to life again. I hadn't slept for nearly 24 hours and the ambassador's spiked coffee made me feel as if I could stay awake for another 24. I surmised that Billy's place had been under surveillance for some time—at least since the ADR team discovered that Billy had come to Iceland. Billy's "crash pad" was located in a two block long warehouse divided into separate spaces. I quickly found #11, it was evidently a storeroom for the boating gear of one of Billy's Icelandic friends. It was about the size of a double garage, perhaps 25 feet wide and 25 feet deep. Inside was a variety of 'gear': a boat trailer, oars, an outboard motor, boxes, along with a pile of tarps which looked as if they had served as Billy's bed. In the back of room a wide board placed on top of two plastic bins created a crude desk. This held a new MacBook Air and an iPhone charging station; the phone, which I took to be Billy's, was in the cradle. The laptop was open, but the throbbing light on its front edge indicated it was in its sleep mode. Billy had his phone when he was with me earlier, he must have stopped here before he was killed. I still didn't get it. Why did he take my laptop when he had this setup? Perhaps his computer held a clue.
I touched the space bar and the device sprang to life. The desktop was covered with icons, some familiar, some obscure, some in Cyrillic script. The one which caught my eye was a simple folder titled "Evidence". I clicked it open, and began to read. The title Senator Clarkson came up with a table of contents beneath. There were numerous topics: Iranian Nuclear Materials, Kickbacks on Mideast Oil Supplies, Russian Weapon Sales, Mistresses Past and Present, "Accidental" Deaths, Sean Carroll...
This was it, this was the big project which Billy had been working on. A quick glance at some of the entries confirmed that it contained political dynamite. It was professional intelligence– evidently Billy still had his knack for digging up dirt, and he still had connections. My name was on the list. It gradually dawned on me that this was the real reason I had been sent here; it was not to persuade Billy to campaign for his father, but rather to find and destroy these reports, and possibly Billy as well. Just my knowledge that these files existed signed my death warrant—I had already died once tonight and I figured that the second time wouldn't be nearly as painless. I had a thought of sending all this information back to Mrs. Robinson in Seattle, but there was no open internet network here. That must of been why Billy had been in the habit of roaming the city, hopping from one WiFi hotspot to another, making it hard for anyone to track him. Did he want to use my laptop to make an untraceable connection? It was locked down tight, I even had to contact ADR each time I used it. Did Billy have a buyer who could unlock it? Or was he just going to sell it for some quick cash? Or was he going to load this "evidence" on my machine and return it to me?
The chime from Billy's phone jolted me back to reality. It was a text from Þora, the sister of Silu. The woman the bartender at Karamba had warned me about.
If I was going to be Billy from now on, this was the time to start. I texted back:
strung out, but OK.
Her answer arrived in a couple of seconds:
Now I was really fucked. Icelandic? From the context I figured she must have been asking where I was. I replied:
I changed into my clothes under the watchful eyes of Sally (who seemed to relish the experience), the Ambassador (who tried to maintain an air of dignity), and the guard (who merely seemed bored.) They had brought me a pair of shoes—wingtips in a size too large. As I put them on Sally quipped "You'll grow into them. They were the best we could do on such short notice." I ignored her, thankful that I had three pair of socks to fill the space. After I was dressed the Ambassador spoke:
"Once again, I regret the events which have led to this awkward situation. I hope you realize that we are aware of the sacrifice we are asking you to make. There are several extenuating circumstances which we cannot reveal to you at this time, for your own protection." The Ambassador remained aloof, but there was a glint in his eyes; I sensed resolve, ruthlessness. "Don't underestimate us," he continued, "for we are powerful and many and you are but a single man. Work with us and you will be handsomely rewarded, defy us and you will suffer grievous consequences."
"Such as?" I still couldn't wrap my head around what they were trying to do.
"Come with us, please, for a small demonstration."
We went out: into the hallway, through a security door, and then into a meeting room with an oval desk a screen on one wall. A green duffel bag was on the table. There was a man, who I took to be a technician, in a control room with a video projector.
"Mr. Johnson, please put the downlink on the big screen, without sound, thank you. Billy, and I'll call you Billy from now on, have a seat. The video you are about to see is a live stream from the FBI headquarters in Seattle. There is someone there who I believe you know..."
The room lights dimmed and images on the screen flickered, then became steady. There was a room with a mirror, a clock on the wall, and a desk with papers and photographs lying on it. A man was on one side and Molly was on the other. She had evidently been crying; the man was haranguing her. He was pointing to the photos, he picked up a paper and read from it. Molly hung her head, shaking it.
The Ambassador spoke calmly, as if he were reading from a grocery list.
"It seems that your choice of a partner was unfortunate. Before she met you, this "Molly" as you know her, had been involved with an underground terror cell. Actions of this cell included operating a bomb factory, a plot to destroy government offices, the aiding and abetting of fugitives and known terrorist operatives, the list goes on. Your "old friend" is facing many years in prison. You wouldn't like that would you, Billy? You wouldn't like to be linked with her as a "fellow-traveler" would you? And this is only the beginning."
"What can I do for Molly?"
"It is really quite simple. You will become Billy, Senator Clarkson's prodigal son returned, make some campaign appearances with dear old dad, when he takes office there will be a nice job for you in the NSA—your line of work—and you keep your nose clean and out of trouble for eight years, you'll be free to disappear again. Molly will be allowed to live her life in relative freedom… as long as you perform your role faithfully.
Do you understand me? It is really a very good deal for everyone."
"I understand. I take it that Molly will think that I have died, and that I am to have no contact with her?"
"Yes. That is, of course, a necessary condition."
"And what happens now?"
"There are still some things that Billy must do here in Reykjavík. This is the trickiest part, for we have to get you out of the country. As far as we can tell, he was here without a passport, he had a storeroom down by the harbor which he used as a 'crash pad.' We obviously couldn't break in and get his things without creating a stir, but you are the key- or should I say you have the key. You also need to be seen by some of Billy's friends so that it will appear that you, that is to say Billy, are alive and well, taking your leave, going back to The United States."
"Now. Go to the storeroom, it will be dawn soon, you need to be seen in Grandakaffi, the restaurant out on the west end of the harbor, it's Billy's usual morning hangout. Here are five thousand krónur, roughly equivalent to about forty US dollars. If some one who knew Billy talks to you, tell them you are 'strung-out', that you've been speeding for a couple of days. You won't need to act it- the coffee you drank had more than a little caffeine. After breakfast, walk around the center of town—be seen—but try to avoid any interactions which might give you away. A lot of people knew Billy, but be careful, he had some enemies. Go back to the storeroom, gather Billy's effects together and put them in this duffel. Sleep if you can. We need at least a day to arrange your transport out of the country. Here is a phone. We'll call you when it is time to leave."
"Do you accept our offer?"
"I accept your offer."
Sally picked up a phone and pressed a button.
On the screen, the man at the desk picked up his phone. The ambassador's instruction was terse:
"We've landed the big fish. Let her go."
The man at the desk hung up, picked up his papers and spoke to Molly. She looked surprised, but got up and left the room.
"It's time to go, Billy… " Sally took my hand, placing it onto the duffel bag. "... nice shoes."
"The coffee is rather strong, I'd recommend taking it with cream."
The guard had returned with a carafe of coffee on a tray with a cup, saucer and a small pitcher of cream beside a bowl containing some lumps of raw sugar. Next to the sugar bowl were two aspirin. He set the tray down on the bench beside me and left the room, locking the door behind him. I took the aspirin with a sip of the coffee. The guard was right- it was quite bitter. I loaded the coffee with enough cream and sugar to make it drinkable but it remained very dodgy. "Probably been cooking on a warmer all night." I said out loud. The rain outside had stopped, it had suddenly become very quiet, and I could hear sounds from within the embassy: doors being opened and closed, footsteps in the hall, a telephone ringing, muted voices in the distance.
By the time I finished my second cup the headache was nearly gone and I was wide awake. I made an effort to still my right foot- it was trembling, but soon both my legs were bouncing. As I began to pace I started to wonder about the caffeine content of that brew. After what seemed like an hour (but could have been less time), I heard the cylinder in the lock click and Sally and a man entered, followed by the guard with my now dry clothes.
"Sean, this is Ambassador Halston. Ambassador Halston, this is Sean Carroll, the young man who has become involved in this situation."
"I wish our meeting was under less tragic circumstances, Sean. It is most unfortunate that Senator's son has died."
"You've been contacted by the police?"
"Yes, the police, of course. This is where the situation becomes extremely complex. You see, Sean, they have ID'd the body as being yours. Of course."
"But you told them it was Billy, didn't you?"
"Sean, I'm going to tell you what's been done already, and what remains to be done. It has been decided that, in the best interests of the United States, it would be best if the Icelandic police continued to believe that the person who died in the accident was a certain Sean Carroll, data analyst employed by Applied Diffusion Research of Seattle Washington, who had been vacationing in Iceland."
"And I would become Billy? I don't care for this at all. What about my life? What if I refuse?"
"Put your clothes on Billy."
"What's going to happen?"
"You are going to realize that you have no other options."
By the time I made it down the street to the Embassy my clothes were completely soaked by the rain. I pressed the doorbell and waited. After a minute I pressed it again, this time I was answered by a groggy voice on the intercom.
"How may we be of assistance?" The voice spoke in a flat, almost weary tone, it had the inflection someone who dealt with the major and minor traumas of tourists on a regular basis.
"Gluggaveður. Gluggaveður." I hoped that I wasn't mangling the pronunciation too badly.
I waited. The narrow overhang above the door did little to stop the downpour, I was now positively soggy. I began to shiver. After five minutes a smaller door next to the main entrance opened, a uniformed guard motioned me inside. "Proceed down the hall. At the end, turn to the right. There is a room on the right with towels and a bathrobe. Change out of your wet things. Wait there."
I walked down to end of the hall and entered a large bathroom with lockers and a shower. The door closed behind me and I heard the lock click. There were high windows, barred. I got the impression that this was also used as a holding cell. I stripped and entered the shower. Even the warm water couldn't stop my shaking. I dried off and put the bathrobe on. Gradually I calmed down. I was still a little foggy from the wine and whatever it was that Billy had put into it; I was developing a massive headache. I tried to make sense of the events of the last two days. Who were those goons? Russians? The Icelandic boyfriends of Silu and Þora? Were they chasing Billy, was that the reason he ran in front of the taxi?
"Tell me what's going on Sean." It was Sally O'Donnell, who had entered the room with the guard.
"You're with the embassy?"
"Let's just say that it was no accident that I was on that flight, nor was it a coincidence that I rescued you yesterday. Think of me as your guardian angel, Sean. I know why you're here; I know about Billy. Where is he?"
"Billy is dead. Hit by a taxi down by the harbor. I think he may have been running from the same guys who were after me. I came here from there, the police were investigating the accident."
Sally's look changed. It was the first time I'd seen her frown.
"You're sure it was Billy? You're sure he's dead?"
"He's dead. But he had taken my ID- my wallet, passport, laptop, everything."
"Did anyone see you?"
"I don't think so."
I told her of the day's events: the meeting at Perlan, our walk to the graveyard, of our drinking in the apartment. I didn't mention Billy's belief that we were brothers or his 'daughter', nor did I bring up Billy's theory about the deaths of our mothers. I now had no doubts that Sally was on the Senator's payroll.
"He left this key in his jacket pocket."
"You'll have to stay here for a while, I've got to make some calls. We'll get those clothes dried for you. Hang on to that key, you might have need of it. Is there anything we can get you in the meantime?"
School starts tomorrow. All summer long the gang has been using the corner across the street as their hangout. Learning to smoke. Practicing their cursing. The boys trying to show who is the toughest. The girls are trying as well, in different ways.
Will they remember this summer, a summer spent in idleness on an anonymous street corner in a nondescript small town?
The last summer spent at the old house. In a few weeks we'd move away, and the gatherings of kids like this would become fewer and farther apart. And then these occasions would become impossible- they no longer were kids; kids who ran around half-naked and free suddenly grown up. Some were living in far away places, others still around and trying to make it on their own.
The sky is still blue, the grass remains green, but these days of tow headed toddlers cavorting in the sun are, for me at least, gone forever.