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Honor Amongst Thebes

Excerpts from Chapter 1:

When There's Only Money Between Us.

Today I saw an apparition. It was my grandfather. He knew my destination and warned me against it. I only continued because I was obligated. Usually I take into account such omens but his spirit quickly became unrecognizable so I stepped off to visit one of my greatest adversaries and best of friends.

Peace or war, laughter or tears? High stakes poker pushing past all fears.

We've been knowing each other for at least twenty years. This is strictly a business call but I didn't want to lose a week trying to catch up with this guy so I went to the neighborhood that we used to share and hung around for a couple of days until I ran into him.

I was trying to get a sample of a metal alloy for one of my clients. They wanted to reverse engineer it and it was being held in a vault in Cairo. My associate had contacts in the Egyptian consulate. I just wanted to use his inside man but I know he loves money so he'd do his best to keep himself in the middle.

When I found him he started asking me a lot of questions about what I was doing. Saying that he didn't want to get into anything illegal and that his contact was a good girl and he wouldn't feel right if he got her into trouble. Basically implying that I would need to come up with a figure that would make him feel better about being left in the dark about the details. I could tell he took it personal, but I really didn't give a shit. He knows we hate each other in the most competitive way and we only had money between us.

When I told Lou I needed to get in contact with his friend at the consulate he gave me the strangest look and quickly denied any knowledge of it. I knew, that he knew, that I knew about her, so I stepped a little closer, looked him in the eye and patted the spot where he usually keeps his gun. He didn't have it. He put his finger across his lips to shush me and looked down at his chest. "I'll give you a call about that later." His voice was casual. I just gave him a pound and walked away disappointed. Disappointed that he had turned snitch. But, to who? For what? Did he have anything on me? I guess I'll have to hang out with my best friend for a couple days until I find out who he's snitching on. I wondered if there was any way he could get me tangled up in it? I retraced all my dealings with him trying to find a connection and I couldn't find one. I hadn't done anything major with him, but if he got in a jam could I be implicated?

There are clues everywhere! It was no secret, I understood that he wanted in on the deal but I really needed the money. There was seven grand waiting for me in a safe at that lawyer's office and I had already been given five thousand to cover expenses for the week. Although I didn't say it, as I sat across his mahogany desk, I figured I would have this whole thing wrapped up in seven to ten days. A thousand dollars a day plus five grand in expenses, I just don't get work like this every day. For the first time in a while I would be able to slow down and get some R&R. I was already figuring out how I would spend it.

He called me about four in the morning and told me he had gotten caught in a drug deal by some dirty cops and they offered him a chance to stay out of jail and get rid of some of his competition. All he had to do was help them build cases against his rivals and move a little of their confiscated product. He also said that he had been working that deal for about six or seven years so I had nothing to worry about.

I took that last part with a grain of salt and asked about his friend at the embassy. He said that he wasn't going out with her anymore because she always wanted to go to all these expensive far off places and wouldn't give him any. We laughed and he said she still worked there but he hadn't talked to her in a couple of weeks. Then he asked what did I want her for?

I told him the truth, that I had been hired to find some type of space age metal for a group of scientists. It was located in Egypt and I just wanted her to make some calls for me, that type of thing. There was an uncomfortable pause. He knew I didn't speak the language, but he still wasn't satisfied that I was telling the truth. "Look, it's strictly business. If she can help me out there's a hundred dollars in it for you." I could hear him smiling over the phone, the greedy bastard.

I had been doing freelance work of all types since I dropped out of college. Sometimes when I'm really in a bad spot I can hear my mother telling me to stay at the university and get my degree. I told her that I was being suffocated learning ways and means without any way to integrate them into the real world. I really just wanted out of the safe college bubble.

By the time I turned Twenty-seven I had been all over the world. I hadn't been shot, seriously stabbed or incarcerated. Although a lot of people think I'm barely out of my teens I'm a seasoned veteran with more brushes with death than I can recount. Shit, I've been left for dead on at least three separate occasions. I've paid a heavy price for this emotional roller coaster. I'm feeling pretty good, it's been almost three years since I begged God to strike me down for my transgressions. A lot of times when people ask me if I believe in God I tell them it's the only thing I still believe in.

I wasn't having many money problems but I could use some new things. For all my experiences I didn't have much to show for it. Just a few cars and houses in the northeast and a sanctuary out west in the mountains. No real cash to speak of. Although I made money it seemed to go just as fast as it came. Right about now I get excited when I have a thousand dollars in my pocket after all my bills are paid. All the dirty work I've done for the Secret Service and the NSA and they turn around and put the ATF on my ass. But that's a different story. Anyway I guess it's not hard to tell I'm a little bitter

Three hours before the World Trade Center was attacked I personally informed a white house official and I would give her initials but it wouldn't help anything. She told me she would have some one get back to me. Yeah, okay, you'll have some one get back to me. Of course no one got back to me and the towers fell. At least the building could have been evacuated. I would have been better off calling in a bomb threat. I must not be a credible source. All I want to do now is get a small sample of this metal and get paid. I have all but completely given up on the happy ending and justice for all. My only problem now is I can't afford to play cops and robbers while Lou gets in contact with the woman from the consulate. "Come on God, I just need this to work out for me."

Anyway, I have to stop finger pointing. I've done enough dirt to last a lifetime. Things like principles and such are not areas I feel comfortable championing. Things are never as simple as they seem and from the right perspective just about anything can be justified.

Lou came through with a direct line to Ms. Price. When he called me back I could tell he still smelled money. I was able to avoid giving him anything else just long enough for him to tell me he had already given her a call and she was expecting to hear from me.

Wars between kings. Swords swinging Ca-cling clinging. Something must be at odds with life.

I called her and invited her to discuss business over an early supper at B. Smiths. I wanted her to know that I was serious about what I needed done and that I expected a certain level of proficiency. When she arrived a little early it was a good sign. She was about five foot six inches tall and one hundred twenty pounds. She had golden brown skin and was quite beautiful. I hope she has a brain. I have to admit she stirred something in me.

Business and pleasure can they mix? Business seven to five, pleasure six p.m. to six. It's only for romantics.

Her business suit was a creamy pale pink and as she got closer I observed her neck line which was complimented by a single thin strand of gold brought to bare by a clear pear cut zirconium. I could tell it was cubic zirconium because of the way it sparkled muted reds and greens. Her neckline was uniquely feminine and taught. She must have been in her early twenties. As the waiter escorted her to the table she shifted her note pad from her right hand to her left to shake my hand. When she spoke her voice was smooth and confident. I found it quite reassuring. "Hello, Mr. Aanru. My name is Laura Price."

"Please, have a seat." The waiter taking his cue, positioned himself to help her scoot toward the tables edge. She didn't seem like the type that would date Lou. I know she's the type he likes but she possessed sincere sophistication, the type that's bred. I cut to the chase and asked her if she thought she could follow my instructions? She was caught a little off guard by my frankness. She responded that she didn't see any reason why she couldn't. Since I didn't have much time for an employee employer power struggle. I glanced over her resume' so I wouldn't seem rude and began to explain what I needed done.

When I finished, she said it would be no problem and I asked her about her fee. She seemed a little apprehensive about what to charge me and even stopped eating her chicken Alfredo to think about it. I knew that she could do the job so I spoke first. "How does five hundred sound for the whole ten days?" She said, "What if it takes less than ten days?" I said, " I don't care if it takes you two hours I'll still pay you five hundred." And she smiled. I told her that because of my time constraints I needed to know that she would make it a priority. She said that she understood and that she would get started as soon as she got back to her office. Just to be on the safe side I went over all the information that I had given her one more time and made sure the addresses and phone numbers I had given her were correct. As soon as she finished eating I paid the check and gratuity and walked her to her car.

Okay, I had someone working the Cairo angle. So I decided to get a line on some other business. I was trying to locate a voluptuous woman for a photo shoot and decided to stop by a local strip club to see what I could see. I wound up blowing off twenty dollars on drinks and tips, which is not bad for a five set casting call. No need to get their phone numbers, I knew where to find them.

I wasn't ready to go back to my apartment yet so I stopped by another spot and there were a couple familiar faces on the stage. I wondered if they even remembered me after seeing all these men every day. One of them discreetly acknowledged me and continued. You've got to love professionalism. A guy sitting at the table with me waved over one of the women with a small stack of bills. She sat with him and smiled at me. I didn't know who was worse, her for doing it or me for watching. She looked at me again and her smile said she was in control of the situation. I smiled back and said, "Never mind me."

Hollerin' about how she's always pissed at me. Are you missin' me? It ain't no mystery I know your history. I'm playin' the game while she's playin' me. Saying we're a team and goin' against me.
This might be something. I could recollect from the taste in the air that one of these whores was in danger and she was going to try make me out to be her pimp. Even though she knows I'm against it. I don't know how else to put it, but I'm not getting caught up in that shit. I refuse to entertain the idea of pimpin' pussy. I can't let it happen like that.

She ain't gotta stop, But she won't get me shot. She ain't the only one who can twist a plot.

While I was there I was also looking for a low life white-boy truck driver who delivered my last shipment of DVD players twelve units short. He knew that I had caught him and decided to forego the violence. We agreed that he would pay me full market price for them. So far I had only gotten $250 and I'm starting to feel used. It's about time I do something about it. His cellular phone was disconnected. As if that would stop me from finding him.

Liquored spirits? At one time I wouldn't hear of it. Now I'm up to my neck in sin and sippin' it.

I know he got paid for them so I might have to ask him a little harder. He better hope he finds me first. When I was young my uncles gave me a few rules about collecting money. Put your feelings aside and do what ever you have to do to collect the money. If it takes time put the money aside until you have the full amount in hand. At the same time don't go broke chasing a debtor. It's harder to keep my motivation with five thousand dollars than it is when I only have twelve dollars, but I'm making the adjustment nicely. Next stop the Excalibur.

I know he has to be there. I guess I'll drop in on him and see if he has any of my money left. As soon as I walked through the front door I saw him with a bottle of champagne and my money in his hand. I walked up to him and before I could get the threats out of my mouth he smiled. "I hope that smile means I you got my money?" "I got you. I got you. You must have gotten my message?" "Naw, I didn't get any message."

"It doesn't matter." Reaching in his pocket. "I got your "g" plus another $1150 if you can get me twelve more same make same model." I took the $2250 out of his hand and got on the phone to my supplier in Korea to arrange for delivery. "I'll have them for you in five business days. You know where to pick them up." We shook hands on the deal.

As the girls danced he finally confessed to stealing them. "I know I shouldn't have stolen them but there was a whole trailer full of 'em. I didn't think you would miss them. But once I started selling them it all worked out. You got your money, I got my money. No harm no foul?" I couldn't hate a drunk that just tripled my investment. There is a God. On my way home I stopped at the night deposit. I might actually get some sleep tonight.

I tried to go to sleep but Ms. Price had captured my thoughts. Unfortunately I've found that love is a poor investment and the depreciation can kill you. Although I usually regret it sometimes I do it for the experience. Not the romance or the fun or the sex but the way I have to redefine so much of myself to when it's over. I regret the compromises, like changing my schedule to spend more time with her. Altering my long-term goals so that she will always have a place in my life. Talk of marriage, children and a family life all sound great until reality sets in. Bills have to get paid. Children have to be fed, clothed and attended to. And the relationship has to withstand all those changes. I honestly don't know if I will ever intentionally bring a child into this world. Most of the time I hate this place. Religious turmoil, pending economic crisis, aids, drugs, rape, murder, poor educational values and that's just my short list.

I couldn't say for sure that those are the real reasons. It could be that deep down inside I just hate kids. They're too demanding, they make too much noise and they never have any respect for the rights of their parents. What can I say it's a coin toss? Most couples can't even agree on what to get on a pizza. These kids don't stand a chance. I guess there isn't much left for a realist except lust, condoms and an occasional infatuation. I might go for the trifecta with Ms. Price after our business is complete. As far as life goes it's rare to find an individual who understands the inner turmoil between right and wrong, truth and lies.

I took on the alias of Seket Aanru back when I was living much more dangerously than I am now. I was running with a crew of about twenty pure thugs that had a penchant for violence. We were young and probably too stupid to know we could make a living of it. The BGF, Black Gorilla Family, was just one of many local drug and enforcement gangs terrorizing the District in the early eighties. It was my acceptance of personal responsibility which led me to accept what the NSA calls "objectives". Which basically means make it happen the best way you can.

I would usually be contacted at home or in a public place and given an objective to review. It was always my decision to accept or not, and that always depended on the risk and the fee.

Around the time I was offered my first objective, I had just gotten out of high school and was into my second or third semester of college. Recruiters from a lot of corporations were their offering jobs and internships. An average looking, dark skinned man, who had to be in his early sixties tapped me on the shoulder and addressed me as Mr. Aanru. Since that isn't my real name it gave me quite a shock. In my hesitation he handed me a business card and said, "I'm sure we could find something to keep you challenged at the NSA." He simply smiled and asked me to call him.

The next day I called him. It seemed like a good lead and I was very curious to find out how he knew my street name. Once we got through the formalities he told me that he wasn't offering me a job or even an application for a job. He said he was offering me the field of all possibilities. I asked him what he meant. He said all I can offer is a place in a brotherhood. I tried to question him further but he deftly stifled me and told me I would be contacted as soon as something became available.

I was under the impression that he was gay or something and threw his number in the trash. I was broke, trying to finish school, holding a bullshit job and I didn't want to play any sex games with an old man.

About six months later I still didn't have the type of career job I was looking for and was making my ends meet as a freelance photographer. That's when I got the message. A voice simply said, "This is the field of all possibilities." and a phone number. I knew who it was from and I immediately called back, but I got an answering machine so I hung up. The next morning there was an unmarked manila folder in my mailbox. It contained an electronic passkey and a set of typed instructions. The sheet of paper read," Use the key to enter room 2132 of the Harrington Hotel." and a password. There was no one else to contact and no additional information. I got scared. I went to the kitchen and got the Windex and a pair of plastic gloves from under the sink. Then wiped my prints off the pass key and put it in my jacket pocket. I got my gun out of my lock box and to quiet my mind I took it apart and cleaned it, oiled it and put it back together. Then I emptied the clip and wiped off the shell casings. I didn't have any idea what to expect and ejected shells hold prints.

I didn't even know if this guy was who he said he was. He could be some homosexual stalker or something. All I knew was, if I went to that hotel room and everything wasn't on the up and up he was a dead man.

My heart didn't start beating until I got off the elevator. As I walked passed people in the hall I wondered if they could see me heart beating through my chest. I casually walked to the door and used the passkey. The door opened and I walked in. No one was there. There was only a laptop computer, a stack of folders and a cellular phone. My fear started to subside so I turned on the computer and looked through the stack of folders. I could tell it was a windows based operating system. It only had one icon on the screen so I clicked on it. It opened up with a NSA emblem and split down the middle to reveal the elderly gentlemen. He spoke steadily and concisely. Mostly about the things I should do to build my cover. He explained that it would be an ongoing process and that the folders possessed information on the various professions I had an aptitude for. He told me I had thirteen days to make contact with woman in upstate New York and retrieve two microchips. I figured it was their way of having something done with out it being directly tied to them. The whole thing took ten hours and I made $1200.

It wasn't anything cloak and dagger but the experience left me feeling ignorant. I didn't even know what the hell the chips were for or how valuable they were. All I knew was it had to be worth a lot more than $1200 dollars. Since that was my cut.

My third or fourth assignment was as a cleaner. I was sent to a location to clean after the primary team. I was told to look for anything that might have been missed or left out of place. I wasn't told what had happened or what to look for. I wasn't even told I was being set up.

On the next assignment I figured out that they were trying to build a pattern of placing me at crime scenes. As usual I received and envelope with an objective, location, ID badge, a basic floor plan and what they call a window of opportunity.

I read the objective. I was supposed to go to the IRS building between 3:30 and 4:45pm and add an amendment to the tax filing of a mid-western congressman. It had something to do with campaign contributions. I didn't know if it was a fix to avoid some fees or a fracture to ruin his credibility. I found out later that it was neither.

On the day of the objective I dressed in slacks, a sport coat, some nice business like shoes and went to the IRS building. I took a deep breath and walked in the door, passed through the metal detectors and signed in under the name on the ID badge. The guard was barely paying attention so I scribbled something that wouldn't pass for legible and headed toward the location on the floor plan. When I got there the whole floor was bustling with activity. People were walking, talking, pushing carts, and delivering mail. When I got about ten yards from my target the fire alarm went off. People started gathering their things and heading towards the exits. For first time the idea of a double cross entered my mind. I fought it, I needed the two grand but the tinted bubbles in the ceiling screamed don't do it. And I didn't. This looked like way more than two grand worth of trouble.

The next day, in the newspaper, it was reported that the IRS had shut down it's computer system because of a security breach. Some security algorithms had been stolen the previous day. They had no way to know if any other files were tampered with but they were investigating. It also said that they had two employees in custody. A wave of sickness came over me. I leaned over the trashcan and vomited, an all too familiar side effect of an extreme shift in gravity. I wanted out. I wanted the whole thing to be over.

I tried to calm myself. What is the crime? I didn't do anything and that's clear if they happened to review the security tapes, which I was sure they would. I had already disposed of the ID badge and related paraphernalia so they would have a weak case at best. I just hoped I wouldn't have to explain any of it. My only comfort was I was working with the good guys for a change.

The next day I received an envelope. There was twenty-five hundred dollars in it. Five hundred more than promised and a post it note that simply read, "We reward intelligence."

That's when I knew they sent me to take a fall. Who would believe my story? They knew I didn't do what they asked and they still paid me. I was in for life. I understood what he meant when he said a "brotherhood". I was just a blind pawn. That's when my life changed and I cried for the first time since I was sixteen. I was between rocks and hard places and guess what? There are no good guys. Just people with power and people without. At the time I was without, so I had to play along.

Three and a half weeks later I received another envelope. I was terrified to open it. So far I had completed objectives based on trust. I trusted them to watch over me like a brother. I didn't trust them anymore. After staring at it for two hours I finally opened it, and as it turns out, this is how I've been making my living for, damn--ten years.

Now that you're up to speed let's get back to the present. So far, Ms. Price had only found out that the alloy does exist. She couldn't get a hold of anyone who could tell her how to acquire a sample. If I don't get some results in the next two days I'm going to go to Cairo. Booking a flight two days in advance, I know this is going to cost me dearly.

Reluctantly I called the airline and booked a round trip flight. That's $3200 dollars not including hotel and transportation. I counted it out on the table, folded it up and put it in my pocket. Seventeen hundred dollars is what I had left. I spread it out on the table and looked at it. This is not looking good, I need a way to make this money stretch.

Ms. Price had to get the five hundred I promised her. I folded it up and put it in my wallet. I've got twelve hundred left for expenses. My Cairo budget is three hundred a day. How am I going to work this out?

I had a rush of thoughts and picked up the phone to call Ms. Price. When she picked up I explained my situation and reminded her of my deadline. She said she was making progress but she still had to do her job. I guess she could hear it in my voice that I really didn't want to have to go to Cairo. She reassured me that she would try to get some definite answers and asked me not to call her in the middle of the night. I apologized and told her I would call her in the morning.

When I hung up I had to laugh because I hadn't even noticed the time. I knew I wouldn't be getting much sleep until I found out if I was going to Cairo. I sat for about five minutes thinking about the eighteen-hour flight and three transfers. The funky open air markets, camels, shitty traffic and terrible food. I tried to think of something positive. I would be able to see the pyramids again. I still had a chance to get the seven grand and I love olive skinned women. It might not be so bad as long as I don't catch some strange disease.

I rolled a blunt and poured an ice cold glass of milk. Speaking of women I picked up the phone and called Melony. A sugar brown conservative bred freak. If her appellate court judge for a father knew the sodomy laws we were about to break he'd probably have a seizure. Then again probably not, you know the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

She arrived at my door at about 1:20 in the morning with a bottle of pink chardonnay, a quarter ounce of high grade hydroponic, two Garcia Vega cigars and the body of a sex goddess. If anyone could get my mind off my situation it would be Melony for sure. If I ever get my life together I might have to marry this woman.

As she walked in she smiled. "I knew you would call me sooner or later." I laughed, "Come on? You know I've just been busy. I don't say that when you disappear to Vale or Cancun or where ever it is you go." She laughed. "I don't even ask you who you were with. And don't try to tell me you were with your girlfriends." Giving me her best mysterious naughty girl smile. "Aren't you starting to sound jealous?" "Who me?" "Yes you! Is there anyone else here?" I changed the subject. "What is this?" Picking the wine up off of the table and pretending to struggle with the name, "Chateau La Row, La Ran? That's my best French I'm sorry." She quickly took the opportunity to correct me, "It's Chateau la Reaux." Perfectly rolling her "r"s. "A hundred fifty a bottle" and handed me a corkscrew. "Do you have any champagne glasses in here?" as she looked through my cabinets. "I don't know? I don't smoke weed in champagne glasses." She found the glasses, sat down and poured us both a drink.

I didn't move I just looked at the wine and looked at her. "You know I don't want that." She smiled and said, "What do you want then?" She uncrossed her legs and leaned a little closer to me. "Can you describe it to me?" I gave her a devilish half smile

Preview Chapter 2. Are You In The Game Yet?