The Endgame – A Memoir

Waiting in Ambush

It’s like having a tiger walking free in a crowd, 
and instead of a few people jumping on it, 
or anyone getting together to trap it, 
they all just pretend it’s not there as their ‘survival response’ 
and it slowly eats its way through the whole crowd, 
including them.

Sometime after that, I officially went to a university in California of my own volition, with my non-paid work hours settling mostly into nights and the occasional random trip. Between university, work, life obligations, and the forced unpaid work, I was getting roughly two to three hours of sleep per night for years. It was not easy. Everything I did took extreme effort, but I put the effort in, even if it was sometimes at a snail’s pace. 

The only major interference in my education came when I was applying to graduate schools. I found myself railroaded back into the specialty I had been sent to countless lectures on at Yale, and I ended up attending graduate school for it. I probably could have fought a little harder and chosen another path, but I didn’t have enough of a fight in me in those years. I was too exhausted. 

I rose to the top of the class in my departments. My only struggles were in mathematics (which I eventually caught up in enough to have a level of competency) and ethics. After a lifetime of growing up on the inside of counterintelligence, I never could entirely understand ethics from the traditional perspective, although I did try. Among my straight As, those ethics courses always gave my grade point average a slight ding. I had to settle for a 3.9 instead of a 4.0.

Image Source: Personal file, University Transcript

Not that an A- is bad. It’s just not quite perfection, and I always aimed for perfection. 

The worst part about those years was the money that would show up randomly. I know, you’re thinking that shouldn’t be the worst part. It was. Free money isn’t free, and it also wasn’t mine to spend. It would come in various forms, from an array of government and NGO-subsidized offices that weren’t permitted to give those amounts according to their own rules and the rules of their funders, and that I generally wasn’t eligible to receive from. But the occasional random unsolicited check would show up anyway. I’d call the issuing offices to make sure the checks weren’t an error that I would have to repay or that would land me in jail if I cashed them. Invariably, after some confusion and searching through their databases, the workers in the offices would admit they had no idea how the funds had ended up with me, but that they appeared authorized and it would be okay to deposit them into my bank, so I did. 

I was very tight on funds in those years, barely covering my main expenses, and I needed dental work. So, at first, I accepted the extra payments as amazing luck that would allow me to get a few fillings. I would quickly learn that would only cause me to end up in debt. After a while, when the payments arrived out of nowhere, I would feel a sense of dread instead of financial relief. By then, I had learned it meant I was about to be sent on a job, no matter how exhausted I was, and the additional amount in my account only indicated how much money it would take to fill up the gas tank of my car to get there and back. The larger the check, the longer my hours of driving would be.

The trips were sporadic and unpleasant but mostly uneventful. I was primarily moving protected war criminals around my region of the country, from safehouse to safehouse when they felt unsafe, had problems with their location, or believed that their cover had been blown. There was, however, one that I will never forget. He was up in the Cascade Range, on a tiny side road off a mountain road. I must have driven right by it at least five times before I found the turnoff. By the time I reached there, later than anticipated, he was in full panic mode and had set the back portion of his house on fire to “hide the evidence.”

I’d note at this point that I generally received the payments a week in advance, meaning we were likely the ones to intentionally plan and trigger that panic that made him feel like he needed to ask us for help in relocating.

I arrived in time to see flames slowly licking their way down the hallway that connected what appeared to be an otherwise-detached back building with the living room of the front building. I watched him calmly closing the door to that hall, as he stood in his living room with several men he had called to rescue him when I was delayed. As I stood there in that room, wondering how long it would be before we had to run to escape the fire, I watched him stand calmly and assertively, making decisions and giving orders. I got the distinct feeling that this wasn’t the first house he had burnt down while standing in it. 

He also looked familiar to me. I still wonder if he was the man I had met years ago with the skin lampshade in his East Coast home. There’s no way to know for certain. He’d had more than a decade to age by then, but how he held himself definitely reminded me of that man. 

Quickly enough, we all exited that building with our orders, piled into our vehicles, and drove away. Did I mention that my kids were in the car during all of this? No one had given me a chance to find them childcare before drugging me and shoving me behind the steering wheel with badly written directions to that man’s safehouse. Did I forget to mention that I gave birth sometime in the middle of all of the chaos of life? Let’s take a little detour in the past and dive into a few moments of the years I haven’t mentioned, to see how that first happened:

Next: Recollections: Training