‘Is he actually proposing a kill order? That we should become involved in an assassination?’ The intelligence researcher’s eyes widened. Karina had kept her face neutral throughout the encounter with the intelligence officer but now she was with her friend, Akila, she rubbed a hand across her short hair and creased her face in a grimace that made her look forty.
Akila focussed on the wall as if it had the answer. ‘His exact words were: “It would be better for everyone if someone arranged a timely death for the vice president.”’ She turned back to Karina. Akila had a stare that was so intense that Karina forgot that Akila was unusually short.
Karina tilted her head. ‘The people in that room have the contacts to arrange an assassination. It’s overseas, but it’s still illegal.’
‘Perhaps he was joking,’ Akila said. ‘I know I sound like a cautious intelligence analyst, but he was careful to prefix his statement with “I can see why some people think …”.’
‘Those are just words to cover himself. He was talking about what an awful man the vice president is. He’s right, but this is not the way to treat the bad people of the world.’
Akila’s mouth twisted. ‘I’ve always dreamt of the day when I could refuse an order. This could be it: an illegal conspiracy.’
‘He’s not a fool. He’ll provide an alternative explanation. We can’t refuse to help him based on a gut feeling. We can’t even escalate – our reputations would be in tatters.’
‘But we can watch him like hawks. We can gather evidence.’
In the days that followed there was no more mention of the vice president. A stack of other cases swallowed their attention. ‘Perhaps he realised his mistake,’ Karina commented.
The weather shifted. It was damper and colder, and the darkness came earlier.
And without warning a meeting invite arrived in their diaries with the vice-president’s name on the title, and the words: Mission research for an executive action – secret. ‘An executive action?’ Akila asked Karina. There had been no warning.
‘This is too much. I will not be dragged into something illegal,’ Karina declared. ‘I have a friend who would lend us unobtrusive recording equipment.’
‘You want to record a top secret meeting? Nobody would ever trust us again.’
The meeting room was in the visitors wing of the building, which meant they would have to endure the security checks to get back to their desks. The room had a line of frosted windows above head height, and walls covered by bright yellow glass on which people could write. There were no audio-visuals and just a simple telephone.
The major from the special forces was obvious from the moment Karina and Akila entered. There were also two people from the foreign affairs ministry, a civilian scientist and the intelligence officer who had instigated it.
‘This meeting is classified, Top Secret,’ he said. ‘Information will be highly restricted, even from your line managers.’
Gagged! Karina pretended to write on an imaginary piece of paper.
He must have caught the movement because he stared at her. ‘Authority for this executive action has been signed off at the highest level of government.’
Which did not necessarily make it legal, Karina noted, remembering the times she’d seen lawyers advising ministers that they could be prosecuted. And even if legal, it did not make it moral. She noticed Akila’s facial muscles had tightened.
‘The reason I asked for you two to be involved was because you’re outspoken about morality. This is pay-back time.’
Karina’s and Akila’s faces did not shift their expression.
‘Our mission is to disrupt an attempted coup d’état that involves one of our own nationals. The instigators plan is to kill the vice-president, expose the incapacity of the president, and force regime change. The vice-president is awful by all accounts, he probably deserves to die, but as a principle we have a duty to stop it.’ He looked around the table. ‘Any dissenting voices?’