This arti­cle is part 14 of 17 in the series The D.C. Reunion

“Mikel, why don’t we quit lying to each other?”

“Huh?”

“I’m not gullible enough to believe that our meet­ing at the air­port was pure cir­cum­stance.  I know quite well that you’re here to watch me and to pos­si­bly kill me if I attempt to det­o­nate the EMP device.  Although that cock-and-bull sto­ry about being a secu­ri­ty con­sul­tant was pret­ty good, and you’re cer­tain­ly qual­i­fied to do that kind of work. 

“I know I’ve been fol­lowed ever since I left England, although I feel sure I gave the MI‑6 guys a run for their mon­ey by going through Bermuda instead of com­ing through Canada.

“So how about we just be hon­est with one anoth­er and get all this cloak-and-dag­ger crap behind us so we can enjoy the city while we’re on some­body else’s nickel?”

Panghurst was so upfront about things, there did­n’t seem to be much use in deny­ing what was appar­ent­ly so obvious.

“Wow, Armin.  This is quite a sur­prise.  I real­ly thought we had you fooled but we should have known that some­one with your expe­ri­ence would see through this lit­tle cha­rade.  You’re right about it all.  I expect we’re being watched right now, either by some­one else here in the restau­rant or some­one try­ing des­per­ate­ly to see us through the restau­rant win­dows since you asked to be seat­ed away from them.”  I had to smirk a bit at that point, visu­al­iz­ing some agent try­ing to find a van­tage point on the street to watch us while not being so obvious.

“Truth is,” I con­tin­ued, “that I real­ly had­n’t fig­ured out how I was either going to stop you det­o­nat­ing the device or find out from you where it’s locat­ed.  I’ve been play­ing this whole thing by ear ever since you got here.”

“No need, Mikel.  I’ll let you in on a lit­tle secret.  The whole thing’s a hoax!”

“C’mon, Armin.  You don’t real­ly expect me to believe that, do you?”

“Honest injun, as you Americans like to say.  Oh, there was a device, but it’s not here.  Never has been.  Never will be.”

“Now I think you’ve revert­ed to lying, Armin.”

“Not a bit of it, ol’ boy.  Here’s what happened.

“You’ve prob­a­bly been told that Milikan and I both have grudges with our gov­ern­ments.  This is true.  And Milikan did set out to build this EMP device you’ve heard so much about, but it did­n’t work.  Well, it did work, in a way.  Milikan man­aged to cre­ate a device that would fit into a suit­case.  And it only weighed about fifty-five pounds.  And it DID pro­duce an EMP effect.  But only to a radius of about fif­teen feet.  And it need­ed a con­stant sup­ply of pow­er to be able to do that.  So, it nev­er had the capa­bil­i­ty to take down a huge net­work, much less one with a five-mile radius.”

“Then how did the intel­li­gence ser­vices pick up on this overblown sto­ry of its capa­bil­i­ties?” I asked.

“Milikan and I put out the sto­ry through clan­des­tine sources where we knew it would even­tu­al­ly leak back to the high­er ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment.  And it worked.  Everybody start­ed going berserk.  ‘Freaking out,’ as you would say.”

“But to what end?  Why make up a fab­ri­ca­tion like that with­out a purpose?”

“Oh, we had a pur­pose, all right.  Frankly, our orig­i­nal intent was to do what the device was pur­port­ed to do.  The Brits and Russians are def­i­nite­ly on our shit list and we would have loved to bring them to their respec­tive knees.  But, when we found out that the device would­n’t work, we came upon the idea of pre­tend­ing that it did.”

“Why?”

“Because we knew that, even if we could­n’t cre­ate the hav­oc we intend­ed, we could still make the gov­ern­ments and their intel­li­gence ser­vices look stu­pid and incom­pe­tent by hav­ing them chase us around the world look­ing for some­thing that did­n’t exist.  And they did — and it’s cost them a huge bun­dle doing so.  We’ll win in the end any­way because Milikan’s exper­i­ments did cre­ate some­thing, some­thing that many gov­ern­ments will be try­ing to acquire, and they’re going to have to pay through the nose to get it.  So Milikan will get rich any­way… and I’ll get a piece of it, enough to live in com­fort for the rest of my life.”

“But why would the gov­ern­ment — any gov­ern­ment — want some­thing that did­n’t work?”

“Don’t you see, Mikel?  It did work!  At least on a small scale.  And with enough mon­ey and per­son­nel, it’s pos­si­ble that some­one can get it to work the way it was intend­ed.  Imagine how much lever­age a gov­ern­ment would have with a weapon like that.  Something capa­ble of par­a­lyz­ing a coun­try or gov­ern­ment for a sus­pend­ed peri­od of time, with no phys­i­cal prop­er­ty dam­age, no deaths or injuries, just a mas­sive shut­down of every­thing electronic.

“And we’ll not only have our revenge by becom­ing rich.  We’re also going to release all this data to Wikileaks so the whole world will know how two guys man­aged to dupe the most pow­er­ful gov­ern­ments on the planet.”

“No gov­ern­ment would be like­ly to pay you for some­thing like that after you’ve shamed them the way you describe.”

“Oh, we won’t spill it all until after we’re paid.  And the infor­ma­tion has already been placed in a way that it will be revealed regard­less of what hap­pens to us.  So, we’ve got a bit of insur­ance as well.”

“Well, it seems you’ve got the whole thing planned out pret­ty well.  If I can believe all this.  But if it is all true, why did you both­er to come all the way to Washington?  You could have just leaked all this and bar­gained with­out going this far.”

“I want­ed a vaca­tion.  And Milikan was will­ing to pay for it.  And stretch­ing out the whole caper sim­ply sucked in more intel­li­gence resources and made them expend more mon­ey try­ing to stop it.

“Call it ego or hubris or what­ev­er, but we just want­ed to see every­body sweat it out a bit longer.  And it worked beautifully.”

“I guess it did.  I can tell you that the locals have real­ly been beside them­selves for a while.”

“That’s good to know.”

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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