It was only a matter of time before Duane and the army bumped into each other, so in accordance with ACC firewall protocol, the core group ordered me to contain the damage. With prejudice, if necessary. I thought long and hard about how best to accomplish this. We could hardly strong-arm Uncle Duane at that point, and we sure couldn’t stop the army. Seeing no alternative, with or without prejudice, I called my go-to team together and broke the bad news. M was off the team, permanently. She should never have involved the kid. I told them that at the conclusion of the meeting, I would be escorting M and daughter to a safe house, where a relocation specialist would pick them up. M was to have cosmetic surgery and, just as important, a voice change. The ACC would cover all costs, including a monthly stipend. And a cash bonus when the bastard was captured or killed. But there would be no further contact between her and any of us, ever. B took it the worst, but the whole team was troubled. M said she knew she had screwed up royal but didn’t want to put her daughter through a life on the run and asked if she could leave her with Granny. I said that was probably not such a hot idea, since the kid could ID us all. Besides, if she left her kid she would be miserable, and the kid would be miserable. In the end, my reasoning prevailed, and M and the team made their last farewells. M’s parting words were “I’m gonna watch the news every night, and when we win, I’m going to raise a glass to all of you. God bless and good-bye.”
I drove M to pick up the kid, then to their place to pack, and then on to the first leg of their brave new life.
During the next two years, work on Project Phone Home proceeded smoothly. There were no further signs of the army or anyone else on our tail. Meanwhile, the ACC developed several backup plans for locating bin Laden, and my go-tos were engaged in implementing them.
Seed day. We made final prep for handing off the GM ragweed to an expat in time for spring sowing in the lush valleys of northwest Pakistan. Six hundred hermetically sealed bags, 50 pounds each, of washed seed. I had sent C to the greenhouses to guarantee a pollen-free shipment. Some deluded soul over there, possibly Prof. Mellow high on dandelions, had plastered the shipping pallets with ”Clinton in ‘08” stickers.
Our immediate task was to double-bag the shipment in USAID-imprinted gunnysacks and transship it to a dummy agri-coöp in Peshawar as high-yield rye seed, which it resembled. Taking no chances, I had linemen rig up an industrial HEPA-filtered ventilation hood in the warehouse for us to work under. And I made my crew wear full hazmat gear. It was heavy work, and despite the January night and unheated warehouse, we fogged up our face masks with the effort.
We finished at dawn, and after cleaning up and disposing of used filters, I sent the crew home. B and G waited with me for the freight company to pick up the seeds and a final pallet of phones, and then we went to an IHOP for breakfast.