All told, these precautions would make it all the more difficult for those spooks to track his whereabouts once he eluded his pursuers. Or at least that’s what he hoped.

The truck stop had a dark and dreary exterior not unlike the coffee, which had clearly been sitting for a while. But it was hot, and the caffeine effect was sufficiently robust to keep him awake after a restless previous evening full of his persistent nightmares and nervous anticipation over his impending journey.

After drinking two cups of the stale beverage he went to the two-stall bathroom ignoring his own embarrassment, uncharacteristically fussing with his appearance in the mirror as other men came and went.

Just when he determined his trackers were restless and the bathroom was conveniently empty, Ray opened the one cracked window and crawled out. He stuck close to the wall, carefully but unsuccessfully avoiding the splinters from the faded red wooden slats that Ray occasionally had to extricate before moving on. To his chagrin, he couldn’t avoid kicking up piles of dust with every footstep he took. He worried for a moment that he was waking everyone in the sleepy diner, but quickly realized he was listening too hard. Those who were there were probably too busy scarfing down the bad food or getting smashed off weeks-old beer. Finally, he reached the front of the restaurant about a dozen yards behind the large black vehicle.

He wasn’t surprised to discover another car, a small, pale blue Porsche convertible, with two dark-suited men waiting in the front seat. Both men appeared tall and muscular, even while seated. He didn’t miss the bulge of concealed weapons either or the tiny silver headset worn by the driver.

When he glanced over at the large black car, he also saw the driver there communicating by headset. His view passed from one car to the other, looking for evidence that the occupants of one vehicle were talking to the occupants of the other.

Sure enough they were.

As soon as one of the parties in one car stopped speaking in his cell phone, someone in the other vehicle moved his lips.

I’ve got you now, you bastards! It seemed almost too easy, but he was experienced at these games. The longer you played, they harder they got. It was time to change the rules.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he walked back inside the diner and up to the takeout counter. He ordered a few turkey sandwiches and coffee and the messiest pastries he could find, with plenty of powered sugar. Within a few minutes, Ray marched boldly over to the convertible and stuck his head right inside with a broad grin, surprising the driver.

Ray handed him the food sack. “Here,” he said. “I figured you’d appreciate this.”

The driver almost stammered out his response, “Oh… thanks, man, but what’s this for?”

“Well, as you know, I worked for the NSA myself once…” Ray paused long enough for the driver and his passenger to stare at him in wide-eyed astonishment.

“I know stakeouts are tiring. I figured you’d be hungry by now, considering you and your friends have probably been following me for hours.”

The passenger displayed his irritation. “Captain Perkins, this is no joke. I fail to see the humor in what you’re doing.”

“So do I,” Ray said. “But at least you admit who you are…”

Before he could finish his sentence, the black vehicle Ray had observed earlier rapidly pulled out of its space in the parking lot. It turned sharply onto the highway on-ramp, tires squealing, and was gone within seconds.

The driver pretended to ignore Ray and remained silent for a moment. “Think what you wish, Captain, but we have absolutely no interest in what it is you’re up to,” he reached into the sack, handing half the contents to his partner. “But I’m glad you still…appreciate the NSA enough to make this gesture,” the remark was laced with sarcasm. “We’ll be sure to charge our food bill to you from now on. Have a nice day.”

“You too, and remember, I’m a private citizen now. I have a perfect right to go about my business without being followed by trigger-happy spooks with too much powdered sugar on their hands.”

The driver looked down at his formerly black suit. Cursing softly, he glared at Ray and switched on the ignition. The car made a rapid-fire, squealing turn toward the southern on-ramp to the highway, speeding away. It took a few moments before the wide path of dust settled in its wake.

Ray jumped back into his own car and smiled. Somehow he had managed to gain the upper hand — this time. It was lucky for him that the NSA agents were still following many of the protocols he observed when he had worked there.

However, Ray was quite sure that the NSA would attempt to get back on his trail before long.

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