Gut Instinct: A Taskforce Story
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Jennifer continued on, locking herself into a stall and listening. She heard more whispers, then the rustle of the women standing. She saw a shadow pass by her stall, moving farther into the locker room toward the sauna. She waited a beat, then exited, moving swiftly to their last known location.
Since they were in towels, it stood to reason they’d changed right in this row of lockers. The lockers themselves had keys that stayed in the doors until used, each with a little accordion wristband. If the door was locked, the key could be removed. When the door was unlocked, the key stayed in the door until the next user came along.
Jennifer studied the bank and saw that five of the lockers were without keys. She went to her own locker two rows over, broke out her lockpick kit, and returned. Hanging on the inside of locker three’s door she found the cross. She dug through the woman’s belongings until she located a wallet. She laid out anything that looked like official identification, including credit cards, and photographed them with her smartphone. She didn’t waste time with the woman’s purse, not wanting to be discovered. She packed everything up as she’d found it and relocked the door.
She still had one task left: the photo of the woman. She went back to her locker, intent on rigging a small button-cam in her blouse, then waiting at the juice bar until the woman left. She picked up her clothes, then thought about the sauna. What if she could glean more information besides the nickel task of taking a picture?
You’re not in danger of compromise. After the picture, you’re out of here.
She put the clothes back, stripped, and put on her towel. She walked to the sauna and opened the door, the steam and heat hitting her immediately. She heard rustling; then her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she saw the two women sitting very close together.
She smiled and sat down, her intuition pinging. She said, “Hi. Is it okay if I come in?”
The woman who had been wearing the cross spoke in accented English. “Yes. Of course.”
Jennifer sat, and the wife inched away from the woman, leaning in the opposite direction. And Jennifer knew this wasn’t about terrorism.
They sat for another five minutes; then Jennifer said, “Sorry, but this is a little bit hot for me. I guess it’s something you need to get used to.”
She stood, and the woman with the cross smiled. Jennifer left and rapidly changed, then spent the remainder of the time waiting at the juice bar. Finally, she saw the wife leave, followed by the woman, now wearing the cross again. She turned on the digital recorder in her purse and tracked them both as they left the facility.
Jennifer crossed her arms, clearly pissed, and said, “Pike, I’m telling you they’re tracking the wrong target.”
“Not our call. Just give ’em what they want and we can go on home.”
“What do you mean it’s not our call? What do we get paid for? Robot surveillance reports like a red-light camera? Or our judgment?”
I exhaled, getting to the point she didn’t want to hear. “Jennifer, everything you described is consistent with someone attempting clandestine information sharing. If you ask me, you proved the woman with the cross is the contact.”
“So you don’t believe me.”
“Believe what? You won’t say your damn theory. All I know is you found the wife doing something suspicious with another woman in the locker room, which is exactly what Johnny thought you’d find.”
She glanced out the window, saying nothing, letting me drive.
We were headed back to the Raffles hotel to turn our — I mean Jennifer’s — information over to Johnny and hopefully would be flying home today. But something told me that Jennifer wouldn’t let whatever was in her head go. When she got on target, she was like a dog with a bone. Well, more like a wolverine with a rabbit, or whatever wolverines ate.
I said, “So? What’s the big secret?”
“Pike, I saw them together and they weren’t acting like terrorist contacts. They were… intimate. They acted like close friends.”
I kicked that thought around, trying to see where she was going. “So you think they’re just friends? That’s your big intuition? How does that not also make them terrorists? Do me a favor. Don’t tell Johnny your theory when we get to his room. It’ll just make us both look stupid.”
I pulled into the parking lot of the Raffles hotel and shut off the engine. “Why would a destitute Moro woman be friends with some rich Filipino, and only meet in an upscale gym? And why were they sneaking around? You’re not making any sense.”
She said, “Pike, I don’t know how to convince Johnny, but I’m serious. My instinct tells me this isn’t the right track. They need to refocus on Bayani. Find a new thread.”
“Your instinct. Really. Because they acted like friends.”
She rubbed her face, glanced out the window, then turned and looked me in the eye. “Because they’re lovers. That’s why they’re acting the way they are.”
If I’d been drinking a bottle of water I would have spewed it all over the car. Before I could say anything, she started talking in rapid sentences. “Pike, the woman wore a cross. She’s Catholic. Why would she have anything to do with a MILF terrorist attack? And they were intimate. I mean really close. I got that vibe as soon as I saw them together. They were acting secretive because there’s no way a Muslim woman could express something like that. She’d probably get her head cut off. Somehow those two found each other, and they’re worried about anyone else knowing.”
I said, “Did you see them kiss or something? Anything besides your gut?”
“No. I didn’t need to. The big secret here isn’t terrorism. It’s the wife wanting to stay in the closet.”
“So you have no proof?”
“Pike, I know. I don’t need a sex tape.”
I said nothing, considering her evidence. The biggest point in her favor was the cross the woman wore. That, and I’d learned to trust Jennifer’s instincts. She was rarely wrong, whether she was reading me or someone else. I don’t know how many times she’d seen through whatever subterfuge I’d tried to put up.
She said, “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“It doesn’t matter if I do. It’s whether Johnny will.”
* * *
Johnny looked at the products Jennifer provided and said, “Excellent. Better than excellent. Smart thinking on the credit cards. We’ll be able to run this to ground in no time.”
He looked at the photos of the woman with the cross Jennifer had pulled off the video and whistled, “Yeah, she’s a MILF all right. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a terrorist that hot.”
He started giving orders to the team, getting reach-back with the Taskforce intel analysts to run to ground who the supposed end guy was. Jennifer looked at me with a question. I just shrugged.
Johnny said, “It took you less than two days to get it done. You were slated for four, so why don’t you two take a couple to see the sights.” He waved a hand around his suite. “If I could, I’d give you a room here, but cover is a bitch.”
He smiled, clearly happy with the progression of the mission. I saw Jennifer’s expression and knew that wasn’t going to last.
She said, “Johnny, I have to tell you something else.”
She looked at me, and I shrugged again, saying Go ahead with my expression.
“I think you’re on to the wrong scent. Yes, they were being secretive, but it’s not because of terrorism.”
He said, “Go on.” And she laid it out. I saw Johnny’s face go from incredulous to aggravated. Eventually, he rolled his eyes and held up his hand.
He turned to his team and began issuing orders again. Jennifer said, “Why enough? I was the one on the inside. The ‘man on the ground’ you guys always talk about listening to, and I’m telling you it’s the wrong target. You go mucking around on this thread and you’re liable to burn the entire operation. Worst case, you waste so much time trying to find evidence that isn’t there that you miss the connection. Miss preventing a terrorist attack.”
I saw his face grow dark. “Jennifer, don’t tell me my fucking job. I didn’t pull you over here because of your woman’s intuition. I pulled you because you’re a split-tail, period. I’ve got plenty of operators here for advice. Operators that have actually hunted terrorists for a while.”
She looked like she’d been slapped. She turned without a word and left the room. I said, “Hey, that was a little harsh.”
He said, “Fuck harsh. She’s acting like she’s an operator. I get she has some technical skills, but she needs to learn her place, and it ain’t telling a team leader his job — or any other operator, for that matter.”
“So she’s good enough to carry your water but not worth listening to? You saw her execute in Indonesia. Saw her use her judgment to succeed. She’s just as smart as anyone in this room. Smarter on some things. Like this. What about the cross in the picture? Why would a Catholic be working with a Moro terrorist organization?”
“So she’s wearing a cross. So what. I’m not going to shift focus based on your chick’s gut instinct.”
That comment made me jerk to my feet. I raised my voice, causing the rest of the team to stop what they were doing. “You fuck, she’s not ‘my chick.’ She’s a damn team member, just like anyone else in this room, and her gut instinct has saved my life on more than one occasion.”