If you are new to the SDS Challenge, a little background.
Three writers will each write one story a month going down the list of deadly sins. The stories can be anywhere from 666 words to 6,666 words in length, although those numbers are not set in stone. If ambitious, the writers will provide accompanying graphics. These stories will not be anonymous because some writers may want to use the same characters for each story and write a series — or book — encompassing all seven sins. Finally, interpretation of the titular sin is up to the writer. Meaning, each ‘sin’ can take multiple forms. The second set of stories cover the sin of Gluttony. This is my offering.
Disclaimer: The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories will likely span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.
Copyright 2021 — E. J. D’Alise
(2,010 words – approx. reading time: about 8 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Federal Agents from multiple agencies, working with local law enforcement, conducted an early morning raid on a house in suburban Philadelphia, capturing the No. 3 on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. This marks the fourth top ten most wanted captured in the last three months, the most …”
Director Travis muted the sound and sat back on his chair, pleased cooperation between the various intelligence agencies had such positive results, but it gnawed on him that these four were caught so quickly after years of successfully hiding, sometimes right under the noses of people intent on finding them. One here in the US, one was snatched in a clandestine operation in Turkey, one in a similar op in Tunisia, and the first of the four, in the Netherlands.
Calling up the details of the details of the case, he settled back to read about one of the most successful quarters in the agency’s history as far as capturing or otherwise eliminating serious terrorist threats. Oddly, the report was redacted, even for him. While the details of the operation were all there, the specifics on how they found these top terrorists were missing. In each case, the agencies received a tip, but the source was redacted. It looked like a short name, but other than that, no other information.
Director Travis picked up the phone.
“Brian; Travis,” he said when the other party answered. “What? Yeah, I’m fine. How are you and Emma doing?”
He listened for an impatient and uninterested minute while Director Brian went on about how good he and Emma were doing. His own divorce was still fresh on his mind and he thought Brian’s sharing of his marital bliss was a touch gauche.
“Yeah, I’m handling it fine,” he eventually said. “Settling in my new digs and looking to get a dog for company.” It was meant as a joke, but it sounded sad even to his ears.
“Listen, Brian,” he continued, “I’m trying to get more information on the source of the tips we’ve been getting. I got a report, but it’s redacted . . . Yours too? Hmm . . . What? Yeah, I might call the Secretary about . . . Yeah, I’ll let you know what I find.”
Director Travis ended the call and sat there, conflicted. The Secretary of State was not someone he enjoyed talking to even when necessary, but even less when he was asking for information as opposed to the other way around. He opted, instead, on calling the other agencies, but, an hour later, he was still as much in the dark as before.
Of course, it could be one of those directors was lying to him. It was the nature of this competitive business to keep things close to one’s vest. But Director Travis didn’t think so. He could hear it in their voices. These were all men with pride; pride in what they did, but also pride in their positions of power. Not being privy to important information likely rankled them as much as it rankled him.
He buzzed for his aide. Stephen had joined the agency right out of the military and had shown a skill-set suitable to what Director Travis was about to ask him.
“Stephen,” Travis said, “I need some information, but it has to be got discretely. I’ll back you up if I have to, but I’d rather I didn’t have to. Understand?”
Stephen smiled. The intelligence community was like a great big sandbox for anyone who enjoyed digging in the sand and using it to build castles. Digging for information is what he enjoyed most, and he was good at putting people at ease, gathering whatever grain of information they let slip, and, once enough was accumulated, assemble it into something solid.
“You know me, Director; discreet is my first, middle, and last name,” he replied, forgetting for a moment the director was not fond of bravado or levity. “What information are you looking for?”
~ 0 ~
It took a few months, but Stephen was very good at his task. From clerks, to field offices, to accounting, to disbursement, and even connecting with a friend on the Secretary’s staff, he put together enough to report to Director Travis . . . but also not enough to make the Director happy.
“Yes sir,” Stephen answered. “It’s a company, incorporated in the Cayman Islands four years ago. Unfortunately, because of Cayman’s policy, there’s not much information beyond the name.”
“So, we don’t know who’s behind it?” Travis asked.
“No sir, nor how many,” Stephen replied. “Cayman law allows single ownership and single directors, and they can be the same person. It could be one or multiple individuals.”
“So, they are the entity receiving payments for the tips?”
“Yes sir. Fifteen point seven million this year alone.”
Director Travis mulled things over.
“That’s tax-free money, so they don’t have to report it. Do they have any income in the US?” Travis asked.
“That’s the thing, Director … MEHBO is not showing up as doing business here or anywhere I’ve been able to check. My guess? Providing tips is all they do, and they don’t have to report anything. Plus, we can’t even start an investigation because nothing they’re doing is illegal.”
Director Travis was becoming annoyed.
“Hmm… thank you, Stephen. That is all … and, good job.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
After Stephen left, Director Travis acted on his annoyance and made a few calls and called in a few favors. Then, satisfied, sat back and smiled.
~ 0 ~
The ‘by invitation only’ party was a who’s who of the top Intelligence figures. Hosted by the Secretary of State, it was an opportunity for face-to-face meetings, informal sharing of information and opinions, and meant to foster a greater spirit of cooperation and coordination between the various agencies and departments within said agencies. It was also meant to be a time to relax and enjoy an evening without the pressure of the job.
It wasn’t much fun for Director Travis. At first, when the Attorney General motioned him over to join to where he was standing with the Secretary of State, Director Travis was pleased with the inclusion into what looked to be a high-level discussion, but that quickly changed.
“Director Travis, thanks for joining us.”
“My pleasure, Madam Secretary.”
“Travis, you flagged a company as possibly linked to terrorist activities. The Attorney General here noticed the warning to the Cayman Banks and the request for the account information,” the Secretary of State said, launching into her speech without acknowledging the pleasantries.
“I’ve since rescinded the notice,” the AG picked up, “but what bothers me more was that you used the classification to access the tax returns of the company. Without a court order, I might add, and something I also blocked.”
“What we want to know, Travis,” the Secretary continued, “is what evidence do you have for doing so?”
Travis recovered quickly and scrambled to salvage something from this disaster. Who knew his end-run around the regulations would hit the radar of his boss and the Secretary!
“Ah … well, I became concerned when I couldn’t find out anything about the company. I mean, don’t you find it suspicious that it has provided us with information that has eluded our best sources and intelligence analysts? I considered the possibility they are a front for a terrorist organization, and that’s why they know so much.” Travis felt pleased with his impromptu explanation, thin as it was. “I was trying to protect the process and make sure we weren’t being played.”
Both the Secretary and the AG looked at him in silence, probably considering just how much bullshit they had just heard, but they seemed willing to let it slide … for now.
“The Secretary and I know the source,” the AG said, “and the reason it’s so well protected is that the information comes to us through unique investigative methodology we’d rather not share so that we can keep it effective for as long as we can.”
“Need to know, only, Travis,” the Secretary said. “Stop investigating and drawing attention to it, and lose whatever information you gathered on MEHBO.”
With that, the Secretary and AG turned and headed off across the room, their conversation slowly blending into the general din of the room. He caught mention of the number five and number seven names on the terrorist most wanted list and assumed they too would soon fall with the information provided by MEHBO.
Director Travis stood there, knowing that he had dodged a huge bullet. What he had done was technically illegal. Actually, no ‘technically’ about it. He should have been charged and prosecuted, and may yet be asked to provide a letter of resignation claiming he wanted to ‘spend more time with his family’ … which he no longer had.
“If they prosecute you, they would have to reveal the charges,” a female voice said.
As Travis turned to the young woman who had appeared at his side, she continued, “Plus, I told them it was your nature to be curious, and that it’s a good thing in our business.”
Travis struggled to place the woman who obviously knew him. They looked at each other for a few moments, and then she smiled, turned, and walked away. Travis followed her progress toward the exit and watched her leave the room.
Confused, off-balance, it was a few hours later, in the quiet of his empty condo, with a drink in his hand that the fog cleared and he realized the identity of the woman; he then knew what MEHBO stood for. He smiled and sipped his drink.
~ 0 ~
Five Years Earlier . . .
“Let me get this straight,” Director Travis asked. “You want to form a department dedicated to tracking high-value targets by their favorite foods?”
“Yes, sir,” Clarissa replied. “Most targets are in hiding, but people hate giving up on things they like, and some will go to great lengths to get what their favorite foods. And,” she added, concentrating on not focusing on the Director’s substantial girth, “it’s not just food, although that is usually the number one item people miss. At heart, modern humans are basically gluttons.”
Director Travis looked at the young woman before picking up her file. He read about her impressive analytical work, her attention to details, and her ability to connect various pieces of data to suss out valuable intelligence from what looked like disparate information. As a new analyst, she had shown herself most capable, but still . . . food tracking seemed farfetched.
Looking up, he saw the enthusiasm reflected on her face and briefly wondered when he last felt as enthused and excited about anything he did. He wished he could help her keep her enthusiasm alive, if only for a while, but he had his own career to think about.
“I’m trying to picture me arguing for the commitment of a SEAL team, millions in hard assets, and all based on information about an order of Twinkies, or whatnot,” Travis said. “I’m sorry, Ms. Lewis, but in these days of global distribution, I’m not sure the movement of food items constitutes enough proof of anything. I mean, Amazon distributes stuff all over the world, and most food and drink giants have large markets even in countries we embargo.” Even as he spoke, he saw the shine dim in Clarissa’s eyes. He hated to do it, but ultimately it was best for both him and her.
Except it wasn’t.
Word leaked of her proposal and within a day, she was hearing snide comments and derisive nicknames, the worst being Miss Easy-Half-Bake Oven. Clarissa was smart enough to realize that, going forward, she would never be taken seriously, and, within a few days, handed in her two-week notice.
Here are the links to the other two stories:
Punishment for Glutton <<link
Writer: Perry Broxson
Word count: 7,610 words – approx. reading time: about 29 minutes based on 265 WPM
The G.O.A.T. <<link
Writer: R. G. Broxson
Word count: 5,682 words – approx. reading time: about 22 minutes based on 265 WPM
If you’ve read all the stories and care to cast a vote, here’s the link to the Poll:
The SDS Challenge — Gluttony Voting <<link
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