My wife is sleeping with who?
I’d just settled down to my morning coffee and an extreme Sudoku when my phone rang. I always do one of the puzzles before work to limber up my mind, and I’d gotten so accustomed to the exercise that I did it even on the days when I wasn’t working.
I guess you could say that solving puzzles is my profession. The group I’m in gets suspicious computer code from various sources and we have to figure out what it does, where it came from and how to counteract it. That kind of work suits me fine. I’m a bit of a nerd and I like solving puzzles. If someone wants to pay me to do it, so much the better.
Anyway, the display on my cellphone told me it was my boss calling. I uttered a curse when I saw that. The last thing I wanted was a call from the office over the Christmas break. But when the boss calls, I answer.
He was all business – no “Hello, how are you,” no Christmas or New Year’s wishes. All he said was, “I need you in the office right now, Thomas!”
“For real?” I whined. “It’s the day after Christmas!”
“It’s a matter of national security, Thomas, so you need to get moving.”
I shook my head in disgust and hastily scribbled a note to Ginny to let her know where I was in case she came home and found the house empty. She’d gone over to be with one of her girlfriends who was going through a bad break-up. I thought that was a lot to ask of her, especially during the holidays, but that was Ginny: always looking out for her friends. It was one of the qualities that endeared her to me.
After I’d written the note and gotten on my heavy coat, I piled into my car and headed out toward the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. “What can be so damned important at this time of year?” I wondered, but when the boss said “national security” you really couldn’t question it. And he probably wasn’t exaggerating for effect, or at least I didn’t think he was. You see, we work for the NSA, the National Security Agency, and we deal with national security issues all the time.
As I headed toward Fort Meade, where the NSA is headquartered, I wondered if my boss’s “emergency” had anything to do with the project I’d been working on. Three or four weeks ago he’d sent me a doozy of a puzzle to solve: a lengthy piece of code that didn’t seem to do anything. It appeared to be a worm, a nasty form of virus that infects computers and makes them do things you don’t want them doing. But this code turned up its nose at everything we plugged it into, so we hadn’t a clue what it was supposed to do if it did find its target.
I love puzzles like that. I love matching wits with some hacker who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. He’d fooled us so far, I had to admit, but I felt like we were closing in on him, and soon we’d crack the code.
When I got checked in through security they told me to go straight to my boss’s office, something I rarely did. When I got there, I found him talking in low tones to his director. This was definitely outside the norm.
Ben, my manager, was clearly uneasy about something. He hemmed and hawed for a little while, then looked at his director and shrugged. Turning back to me, he said, “Thomas, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to spit it out. Your wife is having an affair.”
I had had no clue why he had called me in. This announcement was about the last thing in the world I could have imagined, and it felt like a knife stabbing me in the chest. “No!” I yelled, jumping to my feet. “That’s a lie! How can you say such a terrible thing?”
He had pulled back from his desk when I jumped up, but after he realized that I wasn’t going to assault him he settled back in his chair and looked over to his director for help. The director stood up and began to pace around behind Ben. “Thomas, I know this comes as a shock, but it happens all the time. You’ve got to face it like a man.”
“No I don’t,” I said angrily, “because it isn’t true. You’re wrong, you’ve made a mistake.”
The two of them looked at each other and then the director shrugged his shoulders. “We didn’t want to get into the gory details, but I guess there’s no other way to convince you.” He gave a signal to Ben, who began calling up a file on his computer.