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Tangled Web: A Short Story, Part 1

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Potomac River and the 14th Street Bridges.

Potomac River and the 14th Street Bridges.

Link to the Other Parts of This Story

To read the other three parts of this story, go to my profile page.

Tangled Web

Barry slipped out the door into the grey and black night tinged yellow with the light of gas lamps. Leaving Carla in her apartment, crying, was the hardest thing he had ever done. He hadn't wanted to hurt her, to break her heart, but it was only going to get more difficult—more dangerous—the longer he waited.

He parked the Jeep and made his way down the street to the river where he leaned over the rail, looking down at the water that moved like life drifting past in an unstoppable journey into eternity. It was the lost feeling he had experienced before he had met Carla. She had been the haven for his wandering soul.

So why was he letting the current carry him away from the woman who had at the very least set him on a path of purpose and at the most had saved him from taking his own life? Barry had been at a low time emotionally when they met. His periodic bouts with depression didn't seem to have a tangible cause. But Carla had stuck with him, had seen him through the dark time.

He climbed the bridge tower until his fear of heights overwhelmed him. Hadn't he overcome this? He had moved beyond thoughts of an absolute escape. But here he was, looking down hundreds of feet to the surface of the river.

He dangled his feet and legs over the edge. No, he hadn't come here to end his life but to figure out how to keep on living. He had broken up with Carla to make sure she didn't get caught up in the life and death existence into which he had suddenly been thrust. If he didn't see her anymore, they might leave her alone.


Barry went over every detail of the last few weeks. He had been working in Senator Thomas Eagleton's office as an aide. Alexei Orlov, a Russian businessman with a nasty looking scar that ran from his chin to his ear spent an entire morning in the Senator's office. He had left just before lunch. At about 2:30 pm, Barry had entered Eagleton's office and found the Senator lying face down on his computer keyboard. Barry checked for a pulse and called an ambulance.

After all the activity, Barry had returned to his boss's office to make sure everything was secure. He sat down to log off the computer. The screen came out of sleep mode and was filled with an email to the Senator. He shouldn't have read it. He should have closed it and gone on with his life. But he had read it. Then he printed it—another mistake.

The phone rang at 3:00 AM on the morning after the Senator's heart attack. Based on the content of the email, Barry had already suspected the Russians, probably an agent in the Foreign Intelligence Service. The accent confirmed his suspicion. The caller explained that they had known the instant the Senator opened their message and that it coincided with the time of his heart attack as reported on the news programs. The Russians also knew that Eagleton had not closed the email before he lost consciousness.

The Russian had asked if he had seen the email. Barry's denial was far too quick. Had he printed the email after he read it? Barry countered with a second denial. The email, according to the caller, had been printed shortly after the Senator's heart attack. The long silence that followed told the Russian what he needed to know.

The caller wanted to meet Barry and destroy the document. Barry knew nothing of the world of spying and secret agents, but he didn't think the plan was in his best interest. Barry immediately moved to a place where he felt no one would find him. But the fact was, the information he had read and printed would drive those who were involved to take extreme measures.


Barry's thoughts returned to Carla and her safety. He climbed down from the tower and ran along the pedestrian lane toward the parking lot at the base of the bridge. He had his keys out by the time he reached his Jeep. A few minutes later, he pulled up to an intersection in a residential neighborhood. Carla's house was three blocks ahead on the left. A white van stopped at a stop sign across from Barry. The vehicles passed each other at the center of the intersection. Barry looked to his left.

The driver of the van had a scar that ran along his jawline from ear to chin and sent Barry's mind spinning back a few weeks. It was Alexei Orlov, the Russian businessman who had been in Senator Eagleton's office. That's when it struck him. It was Orlov who had called him in the middle of the night.

But why was he in this neighborhood? Barry parked along the curb In front of Carla's house and got out of his vehicle. He ran to the front door and knocked. He knocked again and again. The door was unlocked. He pushed it inward and called her name. Barry searched every room. Her car was in the garage. Her light jacket was still on the hook near the back door where she had left it after their walk.

He recalled the white van driven by Alexei Orlov. The Russian had been unsuccessful in finding him, so he had taken Carla. They must have struggled because the vase into which she had put the bouquet Barry brought her lay shattered on the floor and the flowers were strewn about. He returned to his hotel room and slept fitfully for a few hours.

Weapons of Mass Destruction: Chemical

The next morning he sat at the round table next to the window. Carla had been kidnapped, he had no doubt. His second concern was for his boss, Senator Eagleton, and the email he had read on the computer screen.

His mind was a maze. He explored ways of dealing with Carla's disappearance and then got distracted by his boss's apparent act of treason. He chose to focus on Senator Eagleton hoping that he would find Carla in the process.

Barry picked up the three pages of the printed email that outlined an intricate plan for a small shipment of rare chemical weapons from Russia to be delivered to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The chemicals were nerve agents that were to be passed along in a briefcase. Senator Eagleton was to meet with a North Korean delegation in Washington in two weeks. The Koreans would pass the nerve gas on to Eagleton with a large amount of money. The Senator was then to plant the nerve gas in the office of the Secretary of Defense, General Robert Lake. Along with the weapons would be the details of a plan by the U.S. government that involved personnel at the highest levels. According to this written plan, the nerve agents were to be used to assassinate The Syrian Chief of State, the Syrian Head of State and the Syrian Council of Ministers. The final step of this operation was for Eagleton to send anonymous letters to the White House and to the media that referred to the location of the nerve gas. The goal of this operation was to plant in the minds of world leaders and the world population that the United States was among the rogue states that utilized such weapons and therefore could not be trusted. There would be a call for the United States of America to endure economic sanctions and trade restrictions while being monitored for compliance with the will of the world community.

Barry had no idea which way to turn. Carla was a prisoner of the Russians. Senator Eagleton was a traitor against his country, and Barry was caught in the middle, a congressional aide, a nobody who was privy to a secret that was so sensitive, so far beyond his ability to comprehend, so dangerous for anyone involved, it was likely to get him killed.

Barry returned to his original plan. He would go to the hospital to see if the Senator was able to talk. If he was, Barry would tell the man that his choice to turn on his own country had caused an innocent woman to be kidnapped by men who probably wouldn't think twice about slitting her throat. Then he would see if the man had a conscience at all.

© 2019 Chris Mills

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