The sky was no longer black by the time Sean‘s flight approached the Icelandic coastline. Beneath the scudding clouds below the jet, a solitary light shone from a house perched on a rocky jetty. Sean wondered what type of person could live here at “the end of the world” in such apparent isolation. But the world was different now, certainly different from what it was like twenty years ago when there was no real internet. It was different from the way it was ten years ago when the web was just starting to gain momentum. The house Sean saw below him was probably as connected as he was at home: with internet service, satellite TV, and all the modern amenities. Billy and Sean had been at the forefront of that internet revolution. But while Sean was looking for secret passages and back doors that hid ‘secrets’, Billy spent his time looking for his next big score. Sean’s thrill was in sussing out a system’s weak points while Billy reveled in trapping ‘suckers.’
Sean had last seen Billy in 2010, at their five-year CMU reunion. Billy had been drinking pretty heavily before the dinner. Later, when Sean finally did get together with him, Billy was even more in the bag. He seemed reluctant to talk about what he’d been doing. The reunion was held during the height of the Wikileaks controversy; when Sean mentioned it to him Billy quickly changed the subject. Until then, Sean didn’t think that Billy was much into politics. Billy had always kept his political views to himself, possibly to due to the strained relationship he had with his father. More importantly, he didn’t seem to be very happy. As he looked out the window at the rugged landscape peeking between the clouds, Sean wondered if Billy been in Iceland during that time after college. Iceland had been a center for Wikileaks activity then it had quieted down since Julian Assange had been placed under house arrest in the UK. If Billy was still involved with Assange it might explain why he had dropped out of sight. Strangely, Assange had recently been given a show on Russian TV. Sean found it hard to imagine Billy being involved with the Russians.
“Sean—seriously, if you need a break from your ‘Scandinavian Studies’ call me, leave me a message. I’ll be at the Hotel Borg. There’s no harm in having a drink or two,” said Sally, who was now awake and had evidently been talking. Sean hadn’t been paying attention until she spoke his name.
“Okay, Ms. O’Donnell, I’ll see how things go, I’m sure we'll meet again—it’s a small island!" said Sean, smiling pleasantly. The plane was beginning its final descent through swirling clouds of mist. All he could see outside the window was the flashing light on the tip of the wing. Suddenly the clouds were behind them. The mossy lava fields below quickly gave way to the tarmac. The plane touched down and fifteen minutes later Sean was walking into the Leifur Eiríksson Air Terminal.
When Sean got to the customs gate the agent asked him where he would be staying. Sean told him that he would be staying in an apartment on Garðastræti and the official smiled and said, “Say hello to the Russians.” Sean was starting to feel jet lag, and this comment only made him feel more disoriented. The agent handed Sean his passport and then he was in. The terminal was nice, modern and bigger than Sean had imagined it. He bought some Spanish wine—a good reserva—most impressive for duty-free. In the ground terminal bought his ticket for the Flybus and boarded it for the trip into town. It was still somewhat dark when the bus left the terminal but the sky was already starting to glow over Highway 41 as it snaked its way through the lava fields. The lights of Rekjavík and the surrounding communities danced along the distant shoreline. As he went past an enormous aluminum plant, Sean turned his thoughts toward the mission at hand.
Somewhere in that tangle of lights was his quarry, Billy Clarkson, the errant son of a politician, a United States Senator who could well become the next president. Billy had evidently traveled this road many times. Why had he come back here? Was it love or was it money? Perhaps it was that the power trip games that Billy enjoyed playing were more satisfying here.
The passenger in the seat next to Sean was an American who had boarded the bus at the last possible minute. Sean had to think before answering. The man looked to be, in Sean’s initial impression, a bit of an ‘odd duck’—possibly an academic. Sean sensed that his ‘Scandinavian Studies’ reply would only bring more questions, questions he wouldn’t be able to answer.
“I don’t know exactly why,” said Sean, “I’ve heard that the scenery is pretty fantastic. The music scene is supposed to be good in Reykjavík.” Sean, slightly jet-lagged at this point, was grasping for anything.
“Oh, you’ll find all that here, on a smaller scale than in a larger country, perhaps, but the Iceland will offer the receptive traveler the chance to reap immense rewards.” The man had a strange gleam in his eye, a gleam that wasn’t only the reflections from the lights along the highway.
“What would you recommend?” said Sean, attempting to turn the spotlight away from himself.
“Check out the National Theater,” said the peculiar stranger, “Do a walkabout around the city. Check out the nightlife on the weekends—but be aware that it doesn’t start to really heat up until after midnight. But I think that the number one best thing to do is go to the municipal swimming pools and go sit the hot pots. When you’re there listen—don't speak—unless you are spoken to. You’ll find the real people there. If you’re wearing nothing but a Speedo you’ll be able to learn a lot when sitting in a hot-pot with four or five nearly naked Icelanders.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember that,” said Sean, whose head was starting to spin from that mental image. And it didn’t help matters any that he was starting to get very hungry. “I’m Sean. What is your reason for coming to Iceland, Mr… ?”
“Harold Shallbetter, professor of political studies. I’m here concerning some newly discovered manuscripts. They have the potential to cause quite a stir. There is some controversy about their provenance.”
Sean was glad that he decided not to mention his ‘Scandinavian Studies’ cover story.
As the bus neared the city the sky began to get quite bright. Looking out the bus window, Sean could see into the cars which were driving past him, several feet below the shuttle’s window. The morning commuters: some with coffee, some with sleepy children, all nice-looking people, ready for their daily life. Sean knew that Billy wouldn’t be found here among the ‘normal’ folk.
The reality Billy lived in had a completely different set of parameters.
Sean found his apartment after getting off the bus and taking a few wrong turns. It was an older part of town on a quiet street near the pond that was in the center of the city. The place was neat—if a bit sterile—in the usual Ikean way. In addition to the Wi-Fi, it even had a proper ethernet connection. Sean was pleased that he could plug in and not have to broadcast his activities to the whole neighborhood—especially when he saw that the Russian embassy was just across the street. Sean now understood the remark by the customs official.
“Well, if I am going to play the spy, Mrs. Robinson certainly picked the right neighborhood,” Sean thought. He logged into the network and opened his email:
MollyBee23 @SeattleBestMail.netMrs. Robinson had left a half-dozen messages (didn’t that woman ever sleep?), mostly GPS coordinates that Sean could check out. The most intriguing message contained a link to a photo-hosting site:
May 2 (2 hours ago)
Hi, remember me? The bed is too lonely already. Mom's cat came downstairs for a while, but left when I wouldn't share my Chinese. Hope your flight was OK, and I'm sorry if you were hurt by what I said the other night. It's only a week or so, right?
I found the "Open only in case of emergency" letter you left. I didn't open it, it's nice of you to leave me a lifesaver.
It's nearly 1 A.M. Time for bed.
May 2 (1 hour ago)
Sean: We've found Silu's pictures. Billy is in some of the pictures from 2004. But he's also in the new albums, starting about two-weeks ago, about the time he went missing:
Get some sleep, Billy is a nite-owl anyway.
Sean let Molly and Mrs. Robinson know that he had arrived safely and then went to bed.