Cyndi Rogowsky parked the Rent-A-Wreck two blocks away from 214 Buckskin Road. Mom and Pop shops hugged the sidewalk along the way beckoning tourists with pitiful western wares and Indian pottery. She stopped often, peering at reflections in the grimy windows to see if she was being followed.
214, she discovered, was a mud-plastered hut backed against a weather-faded barn in the middle of an unkempt lot. An early frost had nipped the tall weeds surrounding it. Beneath their sagging stalks discarded whiskey bottles and Styrofoam trash cluttered the ground. A dirt path, littered with pecan hulls, twisted like a snake’s track from the sidewalk to the storefront. Tacked above the door was a crudely lettered sign.
Bent Toe Joe, Proprietor
Unbelievable, she thought. Is Joe crazy?
From inside the hut a caterwauling started, as if someone was mourning the dead. The wailing rose to a shrill pitch as a slender, buckskin-clad young man burst forth carrying a hatchet and a Fujitsu laptop computer. Wheeling to face the building, the eagle feather in his pigtail flew outward. Holding the laptop against a totem pole beside the door, he swung the hatchet and staked the computer to the post.
“Joe, are you crazy?” Cyndi whispered, “Get inside. We’ve got to talk.”
“Ugh. What you doing here, Little Princes?” Before she could answer he pointed to the laptop. “Catchy advertisement, huh?”
Cyndi brushed past him into the interior darkness and waited for her eyes to adjust. As Joe followed her inside she went to a window and observed the street.
“Cut the Kemo Sabe bull, Joe. You’re a Harvard grad. What’s the meaning of this? You’re supposed to set up deep undercover.”
“The best place to hide is in the open. You can’t get close to this place without me knowing it.”
“Even so – Search Injun?”
Joe drew aside a colorful native blanket hanging on the back wall. Punching a code into the electronic lock, the tumblers tripped and he pushed open a steel door. He motioned for her to enter with a sweep of his hand.
“I couldn’t resist, Cyndi. As far as the public knows, I do computer searches to find relatives and government aid grants. The appearance of this place doesn’t stimulate much business. That’s by design. In here is where I’m going to earn my government nickel and get my student loans cancelled.”
Cyndi looked around the steel-paneled room hidden within the barn. Banks of computers and electronic gear were poised to seek out and record sounds and documents. “It looks like you’re good to go.” Fiddling with her jacket sleeve, Cyndi removed a Trek ThumbDrive from a hidden pocket beneath a cuff.
“Instructions and codes for your assigned projects and are in here. Keep us informed. Keeping our country safe depends on bright guys like you that can find terrorists around the world and lead us to them.”
Joe went to a desk and retrieved a folder. He handed Cyndi a picture of a distinguished looking elderly man.
“And this is?” Cyndi asked.
Joe jerked his head right, caught his flying pigtail, and removed the Eagle feather. “He’s the man that just married your grandmother in Serbia.”
“My grandmother? I heard she…” Anger began to percolate at Joe’s audacity. “You leave my family …”
“I had to make sure you are legit. I’m satisfied but trouble may be heading your way.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Your grandmother’s new husband isn’t what he appears to be.”
“He’s a well regarded retired pastor of a Serbian Orthodox Church. But read my report in the folder. Last week number twenty-six on your Watch List transferred dinars into his bank account equal to about $10,000 U.S. You can bet it wasn’t a charitable donation. Could they be trying to get to you through your family?”
Cyndi swallowed hard, feeling a knot tightening in her stomach. “What led you to him?”
“A news article on Dogpile triggered my curiosity. I kept digging.”
“That’s a search engine, right?”
“One of over three hundred I use.”
“Joe, I owe you, but don’t expect any favors.” Cyndi stuck out her hand and squeezed his fingers. “Don’t get discouraged if the world never knows what we do. Keeping our country safe is reward enough.”
“Ugh. Me better put on war paint. Just don’t expect me to work Sundays. This Indian sings tenor in a church choir.”
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