Marshmallow Pies create a security crisis at the U.S. Embassy
He rummaged through a pile of papers on the corner of his desk. Maybe the file would be there, preferably on a flash drive he could transfer onto his computer. Nope. He rubbed his arms and realized he was quite chilly. Harman stepped away from the desk and checked the screen on the thermostat. Only 62 degrees. He tapped the screen to turn room temperature up to 72.
He stepped out of his cold office into the warmer lobby and sat behind Denise's desk. He looked at the items on the desk top but didn't want to lift anything, open any drawers, or turn on the computer. He didn't want to displace anything that Denise might have put in a specific place for a specific reason. "Drats.”
Harman picked up a fat manila folder overstuffed with papers. He placed the folder in his lap and spun the desk chair around to face the map of the world on the wall. He flipped through the documents. Most of them were invoices for routine business around the embassy. Oil changes for the ancient Isuzu Trooper, mowing the lawn, window washing. They were all stamped “PAID” and signed by Denise or Lt. Ballencek.
“Hmm. What’s this?” He wondered aloud as he held a sheet of paper and looked more closely. It was a grant request from the city of Dennado to the central government of Oslea and forwarded to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Dennado was requesting funds to update its 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center.
He felt a presence in the room and spun the chair around, spilling the papers onto the floor. Matteo Taft stood in front of the desk. The white briefcase matched his white business suit. “Good morning, Mr. Taft. A pleasure to see you again.”
The Prime Minister’s Chief Of Staff nodded his head.
“I’ve been hoping to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Pierce.”
Taft nodded his head again, “Yes. You have.”
Harman leaned an elbow on the desk and held his chin in a hand. “May I ask how you entered the secure Embassy compound?”
“Yes. You may,” Taft responded.
The Ambassador waited for an explanation but none was forthcoming. “How did you enter the secure Embassy compound?”
“I came through the fence gate at the back of the compound.”
Harman leaned back in the chair in surprise, “We have an unlocked gate behind the Embassy?”
Taft nodded, “Yes.”
“I’ll have to talk to Lt. Ballencek about that.”
“Yes. Probably a good idea, Mr. Ambassador,” Taft agreed. He stood quietly in front of the desk.
Harman waited for several uncomfortable moments before addressing the Chief Of Staff of Prime Minister Lucero Pierce. “How can I help you, Mr. Taft?”
Taft raised his white briefcase, “Do you like marshmallow pies?”
Harman raised his eyebrow. “I do.”
The man in white placed the briefcase on the desk and opened it. He pulled out two cellophane-wrapped marshmallow pies. “Oslea makes very good marshmallow pies.” He handed one to Harman.
The Ambassador accepted the gift politely and placed it on the desk. “Thank you.”
Taft opened up the pie he still held and lifted it in salute. “I assure you, Mr. Harman. Very good.” He took a bite.
He realized Taft wanted to share the enjoyment of a marshmallow pie. He didn’t want to insult the government executive, so he unwrapped the pie on the desk and took a bite of his own. “It is very good, Mr. Taft. This one has a hint of butterscotch.”
“It’s one of our signature flavors.” Taft munched on another bite.
The Embassy Security Officer walked past the door. Harman called out to him, “Lt. Ballencek!”
Ballencek poked his head in the doorway, “Yes, sir? Oh! Marshmallow pies! Awesome!” He walked into the room and snatched a pie out of the briefcase. Taft leaned away from Ballencek who had entered his personal space. “I like these. Especially the Key Lime.” Ballencek took a big bite of the marshmallow pie.
“Good to know that,” Harman said. “About that gate behind the Embassy.”
“Yes, sir. What about it?”
Harman folded his arms across his chest. “Isn’t that a security risk?”
Ballencek looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully as he chewed on the pie. “I don’t think so. Not too many people know about it.”
“Mr. Taft knows about it. Anyone else you can recollect?” Harman asked.
“Let me think…” the Security Office placed tapped his forefinger on his lip as he gathered his mental notes. “There’s Vinod Ramesh, and Gerald Crawford, and Shin, and Bouchard, and…”
“Wait wait wait!” Harman held up his hands to stop Ballencek. “ ‘Shin’ and ‘Bouchard’? Who are they?”
“Well, Shin is with the Chinese Embassy and Bouchard is with the Canadian.” Ballencek took another bite of the marshmallow pie. “I think they’re spies.”
“And this doesn’t concern you?” The Ambassador was incredulous.
The Security Officer shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know why. We play canasta every week. The guys from Suriname and Norway are usually there, too.. But we don't play with the guy from the Russian Embassy anymore. He was cheating."
Harman shook his head. “We may have to revisit this canasta thing very soon, Lieutenant.”
“If you’d like, Boss.”
“Yes, I would like. Could you at least put a lock on the gate for now?”
Ballencek nodded his head, “Will do.”
He yanked his gun from the holster around his waist. “Shhh. Quiet!” He whispered urgently. The Security Officer pointed the pistol up and held it with both hands. He pressed his back against the wall and slid down. Ballencek peered around the door frame toward the rear of the Embassy.
Harman ducked using the desk for cover. He waved to the Prime Minister to join him. Taft crouched behind the desk, sneaking a look above the flat surface.
Still low to the ground, Ballencek waddled into the hallway and cautiously made his way toward the kitchen. The other two men followed silently. When they arrived at the kitchen door, Ballencek turned and placed a finger to his lips, reminding them to be quiet.
The Security Officer placed his hand on the door and took three deep breaths. In one fluid motion, he pushed the door open, stood up, and pointed the gun at the figure standing next to the counter. “Don’t Move!” He commanded.
The woman froze for a moment. Her eyes darted between the three men. She dropped the item in her hand and bolted out the back door. Ballencek chased her to the door but didn’t exit himself. He watched as she ran across the yard and through the gate.
“I guess that’s the last we’ll see of her today,” Ballencek advised as he shoved the pistol into its holster.
The U.S. Ambassador and the Oslea Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff entered the room. “Who is that?” Harman asked.
Ballencek walked to the counter to examine the dropped item. “That’s Bernicia.”
“And who is that?”
“She’s a spy.” Ballencek said matter-of-factly.
“Another spy.” Harman said flatly.
“Yes, sir. I think.” He picked up the item to look closer at it. “Looks like she was making a sandwich.” He handed the item to Harman.
“What is this?”
“Provolone,” Ballencek said suspiciously. “The cheese stands alone…”