John H was not having an easy time of it down at Headquarters; had re-discovered that things are not as laid back in Washington as they are in New Mexico.
Nobody but nobody wanted the buck to stop with them. This new project had to be pushed higher and higher up the ladder.
I returned to the Holiday Inn, room 303.
John H had been joined by Bob G, the slight, boyish U.S. Attorney, and Jim S, John H’s boss, a Supervisory Special Agent in Albuquerque.
Jim S had rugged features and a Wyatt Earp mustache. "Dammit," said Jim S in a resonant broadcaster's voice. "I didn't bring any blue-jeans. When I come to DC I expect to suck-up big-time."
We all laughed.
I sat at the small round table; Jim S, at a table next to the window. Bob G sat on one bed; John H sprawled on the other, folio in hand.
John H looked me square in the eye. "Did you ever use the name Michael Dunsmore?"
The question took me by surprise. "Yes," I replied.
"Michael Dunsmore was the alias I used to infiltrate a neo-Nazi organization called Liberty Lobby. I exposed them in a couple magazine articles." I chuckled. "They sued one magazine, owned by Jack Anderson, for libel. In a petition to the Supreme Court, they referred to me as the mysterious Robert Eringer and questioned whether or not I really exist."
The men nodded, poker-faced, pre-occupied with their experience earlier at headquarters.
"Things are moving slower than we hoped," said John H. "It looks like a decision will take at least a week. Headquarters wants you to write a letter that explains your understanding of what this is all about."
I shrugged. "Easy."
"Good. They'd like it to have three parts, starting with your relationship between the parties involved."
"The Players," I said.
"Exactly. Part Two is what you need."
"The Deal," I said.
"Right. Three, an assurance of what you will do and not do if we proceed."
"Uh, I'm not clear on that," I said.
"I'd do whatever we agree needs to be done."
Bob G addressed this point. "We have to make sure you're not thinking of any kind of drastic action on your own that might embarrass the Justice Department."
"You mean like if I killed Howard?" I said, tongue-in-cheek.
The three men exchanged glances, lightening a tad to my levity.
"You could state that you would not break any laws," said Bob G.
"Okay," I said. "But we're talking about operating outside the United States, and it'll get real gray real fast out there. Wouldn't it be better if I write that I won't break any U.S. laws?"
Yes, the trio agreed, that would be better.
"Where will this memo go?" I asked.
"The weekend?" I said. "I can write this in ten minutes."
They were astonished.
They were astonished.
This was not how bureaucracy operated.
Bob G had a question for me: "What's your motivation for doing this?"
"Look," I said, “it has never been my burning desire to catch Ed Howard. Until two weeks ago, the only thing I knew about Howard was what I'd read in the press years ago. But the minute I heard about this book proposal, I immediately tweaked to its sting potential. I think I'm pretty good at sting-undercover. This situation poses an inviting challenge."
"Would you be willing to tape-record Howard?" asked John H.
"I don’t like to rely on gadgets," I said. "I have a very good memory."
"Yeah, but if Howard incriminates himself on tape," said John H, "Bob could use that in court."
"So you're not concerned about carrying a mini-cassette recorder into Russia?"
I shrugged. "Why? Millions of businessmen carry mini-cassette recorders for note-taking on the move."
"What if it's discovered?"
"You mean if it's in my jacket pocket running? So what? It got switched on by accident."
Bob G, again: "Isn't National Press worried about breaking the law by publishing classified information?"
"I don't think they've given it much thought," I said.
"No? It's a serious issue."
"Right now," I said, "National Press is focused on signing this book. It's just too early to deal with the legality of publishing classified information."
"What do you think they'll do?" asked John H.
"Joel Joseph is a lawyer and he loves fighting constitutional issues, especially those involving freedom of speech," I said. "He might relish a challenge like this and argue it all the way to the Supreme Court. And I'll tell you this: They'd absolutely love the publicity. That's what sells books."
Bob G and John H looked at each other. Even if they chose not to proceed with a sting, they still had a situation on their hands.
The Albuquerque contingent flew home next afternoon, leaving Headquarters to fret about the risks, their favorite pastime, I would soon learn.