I’m in the middle of editing The Darkest Hour which is a good thing to do but sometimes I need a little “fun” writing time to break it up. Whenever this happens I turn back to my favorite character, Liz. If you’ve read this blog before, you will also recognize the narrator, Ethan, and his partner James. You can read more about these characters on the Elizabeth DiMaggio page of this blog. I hope you enjoy. 

Ethan had known James’s identity for some time. Actually, “known” isn’t the right word. Suspected would be better. It was wrong, but he’d used his clearance and looked up her profile and memorized everything in it. But it hadn’t listed her real identity, so he’d…gone above his clearance.

The fact that her identity had been missing even in the most secret places in the agency was its own clue. He, for example, had no reason to hide his true identity. He was in the habit of using a fake name, simply because that’s what one did in the industry. James always called him Ethan, so that’s the one he preferred, but he could just as easily have gone by Jeremy, which was his given name. No one would have care and he had no one from “real life” that would be hurt. Most agents had a little more to protect than he did, so it wasn’t surprising when James’s identity was hidden under a few clearance levels. What was surprising was that her identity didn’t seem to exist anywhere. No one in the agency knew who she was.

She was good with computers, but erasing that kind of information from the agency database was the kind of thing only the top hackers in the world could do. So why did James need that level of protection?

Rather than satisfying his curiosity about his partner, the lack of information had peaked Ethan’s interest. So, he crossed the line. He was the one who had told her not to let anyone know about her real life. He was the one who refused to listen when she tried to give him clues. But now he used those clues to track her down the old-fashioned way.

It took a long time. He memorized her transformations. What was the same about the new wife, orphaned teenager, and Russian call girl? She had used all these covers and more during their missions. They were all her, but even Ethan had a hard time picking out what didn’t change in her appearance. Hair color and eye color could be anything. Even the shape of her face appeared different each time, as she manipulated it with hair styles and make-up. There were only two things that were always the same. Her nose and her height. She manipulated her height with shoes and posture. The teenage girl persona slouched and always wore flats, while the Russian had heels so tall he didn’t know how it was possible to walk. But he could quickly adjust his memories of their missions to arrive at the correct height.

Ethan watched her movements before and after missions. When did she arrive and what flights landed at approximately that time? Where did she go when the mission was over? For awhile Ethan tried to make sense of her sleep patterns, hoping that by documenting her jet lag he’d come up with an original time zone. It didn’t work. She had energy when she needed it and conserved it when she didn’t.

James had also told him once, that her mother died when she was fourteen. While it was the most concrete clue he had, it was less useful than it sounded. He didn’t actually know how old she was. The first real clue came when he watched her drive away from the airport in Los Angeles instead of getting on a plane.

So here were the clues.

  1. Mother died anywhere from four to fourteen years ago
  2. Hometown: LA, or within a couple hundred miles of LA
  3. Height: approximately 5’7
  4. Nose: um, Ethan wasn’t sure how to quantify her nose. Perfect was the only word that came to mind
  5. Identity: protected beyond any reasonable level. Why?

The first time he followed her, she lost him so quickly, he began to doubt his own abilities. She had driven off in a BMW with California license plates registered to a (surprise) false name. And the car had disappeared into thin air. She had known she was being followed.

The next time she was more careful. So was he. Still, he lost visual just a few minutes, and was only ninety percent sure that the girl who slipped into the building and the one that drove out of the underground parking six minutes later were the same. This time she drove a Mercedes that screamed wealth, a choice he found puzzling, until he saw who exited the vehicle after it parked in a reserved spot at the Universal Movie Studios.

Elizabeth Ann DiMaggio.

Ethan had been so shocked to see a movie star step out of the car, he hadn’t even bothered to follow further. He had gone straight to the airport, gotten on the first flight to Chicago. After recovering from the shock, Ethan hadn’t had to hack into anything to solve the puzzle. He hadn’t needed to call in favors, blackmail a single person, or use even one enhanced interrogation technique. All he’d needed to do was open his computer.

Elizabeth Ann DiMaggio

  1. Movie star, musician and former first lady Kathrine DiMaggio had died of a brain tumor, leaving her husband and two children—Elizabeth age 14 and Nathan age 11—behind.
  2. Elizabeth DiMaggio Lived with her father and brother in a suburb about an hour northwest of Los Angeles.
  3. Elizabeth DiMaggio was 5’7. And a half. Or a quarter, depending on the website. It was a documented fact, apparently.
  4. For the nose, Ethan studied a series of photographs. There were so many to choose from he’d been overwhelmed at first. Too much information was not usually a problem he ran into. And the nose was…perfect. It was James’s nose.
  5. Finally, the identity: Of course a movie star like Liz DiMaggio who was also a spy would need her identity highly protected. Not just a movie star. The daughter of a former United States President. A member of a family considered to be an American Institution. And with her father’s contacts, there would be someone who could help her erase dangerous information in the agency’s database.

Chills ran down Ethan’s back when he realized just how important his partner’s identity was. If an enemy found out who she was not only would she be in danger, but her family would be as well. Threats to former presidents were not taken lightly. James’s real identity was the biggest national secret he had ever known, and he had known a lot of highly classified information.

That is, if James was really her. There had been that few minutes where he lost a visual when the woman he’d known was James disappeared inside. He could have been following the wrong girl. It would be just like James to get him on the trail of a movie star while slipping away unnoticed. She’d find that hilarious.

But her nose was the same.

Why would a rich-president’s daughter-movie star be in the CIA? One picture later, he could think of a few reasons. Elizabeth next to her family’s security. The secret service. She would have had men to train her living in her home 24 hours a day. Those same men would have contacts. Her father may still be involved in national security. And she’d had more than one threat against her so she would have motive to learn the trade.

97%. That is how sure Ethan was that James and Elizabeth DiMaggio were the same person. But 3% feels very big when you are alone in your apartment with nothing else to think about. He wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t just blurt it out in the middle of a mission. Can you imagine?

“Hey. I already pulled the pin, so don’t drop that grenade. By the way, I saw you on TV at the golden globes. I loved the dress.”

And what if he was wrong?

Ethan sat on the knowledge for a while, but he just had to know. The only way to do that was to confront her in her real life and watch her reaction. It was risky. If anyone else found out, she would be compromised. Her whole family would be compromised. If she didn’t trust him, there was a very real possibility that she would take him out. Or worse, she might refuse to work with him again. James was his partner and Ethan could not have another one.

He found a venue: The Oscars. DiMaggio was up for Best Supporting Actress so Ethan knew she would  show up.

A cover: It was child’s play to get a press pass and he went and bought a camera at the local Best Buy.

An exit plan: For him and for her, if the need should arise. He had two Glocks stuffed under his jacket. One for him and one for her, plus a few extra rounds. Two blocks away a rental car waited and he knew once James got behind the wheel, no one would be able to find them.

The mission: Let Elizabeth DiMaggio see him. And then he’d know for certain if she was James.

And that is how on a hot California evening, Ethan found himself smashed between overly excited photographers next to a red carpet, carrying a camera he didn’t know how to use. (Agency cameras were tiny and very easy to operate, since lighting and angles were not as important as staying alive and undetected.)

He watched DiMaggio travel toward him, as he fought to keep his position in the fray. She laughed and smiled and waved as she floated closer and closer. She was distracted. Or…not distracted, just not focused completely on the chaos surrounding them. She waved and looked at the people around her, answering some of their questions, laughed at a few of their jokes, but also scanned the surroundings. Looking for a threat, he realized. Just like an agent. Just like James.

Her eyes passed right over Ethan once. Twice. Ethan’s heart beat in his ears. He willed her to see him. He wanted it to be her. And then her eyes crossed a third time and she stopped. Dead in her tracks. Every muscle in her body stretched to its maximum potential energy. The sweet starlet smile froze. Her eyes narrowed. James was standing before him. If he made one wrong move…

Ethan held her gaze. He knew 100%. Three seconds. That’s how long James was visible under the movie star façade. No one around him noticed.

James’s lip moved. Up. A fraction of a centimeter. It was a smile Ethan had seen before. “Touché,” she seemed to be saying. She gave him a nearly imperceptible nod. And then she was moving on. Smiling. Waving. Floating.

Ethan let the other reporters push around him, closing the gap between them. She trusted him. He slipped away. No one knew her. She had been famous before she was even born. There had been a camera in her face every time she had stepped outside her. You could read her biography online in condensed, standard, and extended lengths, but as Ethan disappeared, he realized, no one knew her at all.

Except him.


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3 Responses to Facade

  1. Beth Wangler says:

    I love this. I’ve been waiting for this for my whole life. I just want more James/Elizabeth and Ethan/Jeremy ❤

    (I just realized that their real/fake initials are opposite. What that intentional? Because I love it.)

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