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Framed in Red
Murky droplets of rainwater rebounded up from the onyx asphalt onto the sleeve of his tan overcoat as he briskly walked along Park Row. It was another long day at the office, another monotonous day of filing paperwork. Michael Cotes squeezed the handle of his black briefcase upon pushing open the glass doors to the New York City FBI branch headquarters.
“Good morning, Mr. Cotes,” the bubbly secretary chirped.
“Mornin’ Sandra,” Michael replied, reaching for his identification card from his overcoat pocket. “You look beautiful today. D’you dye your hair?”
Sandra cupped her cheeks in embarrassment, “Mr. Cotes, you know’s well as I do that my hair has always been as red as ever. You flatter me too much.”
“It’s a boss way to start my work day,” Michael pressed the up button on the silver elevator to the right of the reception desk. “I’ll see you at my lunch break.”
Having a newfound pep in his step, Michael Cotes pointed his glossy black oxfords towards the interior of the elevator, sighing as he remembered the large stack of papers he still needed to sort and file. With the looming threat of Communism hanging over their heads, a typical day at the office was laden with vibrant, red stamps and blue ink smudges, not to mention the gradually increasing carcasses of aspirin bottles piling up inside the waste bin.
As one of the men positioned under the Domestic Security Division, he had the honor of filing reports of suspected reds to be moved on to further questioning. A “perfectly glamorous career,” he would tell himself every morning.
His arrival to floor six was announced by the elevator’s shrill ding, and immediately his senses were bombarded with the frantic cries of the secretaries as well as the baritone curses of his coworkers. Walking past a room housing several frustrated men, Michael opened the door to his office in confusion. Nothing has caused this much distress since the announcement of the first threat from the Soviet Union. He set his briefcase down onto the top of his cedar desk, straightened his already perfect tie, and turned back around towards the door, the small sliver of light pouring into his office casting an ominous glow on its surroundings.
Re-entering the hustle and bustle of the department floor, Michael furrowed his brows as one of his coworkers latched onto the sleeve of his suit jacket. “Michael, emergency meeting in Conference Room A right now,” The man announced summarily.
Taken aback by the sudden change of plans, Michael matched his stride with his coworker on their way to the roomful of anxious employees. The route to the conference room was laden with a thick, suffocating silence, one that caused chills to roll down Michael’s spine. The department may have been a government division, but no one was this quiet before. Something had to have happened the previous day.
The door to the conference room was left ajar, and Michael only assumed he was one of the last employees to arrive. Clearing his throat, he stopped his coworker from entering the room and whispered into his ear: “What’s going on here Lewis? I know for a fact nobody’s here to bash ears about the weather.”
Lewis slapped his back and darkly chuckled, “I wish that was the case. Let’s have the director fill you in.”
“Ah Mr. Cotes, you’re here. Now we can get started,” the department director clapped once upon seeing Michael and Lewis enter the meeting. He leaned over to his secretary and quickly murmured, “Linda close the door would you?”
Michael took a seat beside Lewis and smoothed out some creases in his work pants as the director pulled out a manila folder from his briefcase. The flesh-colored folder slid onto the tabletop, stopping a few inches from the center. One of the men sitting in front of it cautiously opened its contents, and his eyes widened at the documents inside.
The director began his speech, “I don’t know how many of you know about the situation, so I’ll clue you in. As you can see Director Wilson is not with us. Last night at around two-twenty one in the morning, police found his body in a backstreet alley dumpster with multiple stab wounds across his entire body.”
The entire room was stunned. The air inside seemed as if it had been immediately vacuumed out; Michael felt his lungs constrict with a deadly force. Several men mumbled under their breaths about the issue of the Cold War, and those few words were enough for the director to continue debriefing everyone on the subject. With a voice louder than he previously used, he authoritatively announced, “We have our suspicions a group of red are behind the murder, and we suspect they’re not done.” He pointed to a grainy photograph of Wilson’s corpse, “As the head of our communist tracking, he was an obvious target; however, the general public doesn’t know who he is. That means one of the men on this floor is the traitor.”
Shouts of anger erupted throughout the conference room. Luckily, the room prevented most of the sound from reaching the outside, so the news didn’t spread farther than the roomful of fifteen men. From the various tones one of the lower positioned employees, Edward McCauley, addressed the director, “Sir, what happens now?”
“Well, we’ve tracked down our suspect, so this room is safe. That being said, I’m trusting you to not share this information with anyone outside of this room. Our national security is on the line. You are dismissed.”
Everyone began to collect their belongings and file out the conference room door. As Michael and Lewis were passing by the director, he stopped both of them and motioned from them to step away from the doorway. “I need to speak with you two specifically,” he spoke to them once the area was cleared.
“What do you want from us, Director?” Lewis asked as he fixed his blue tie.
“We believe the reds will use their inside man to steal our files on the nuclear bombs. That is why I’m putting both of you in charge of relocating and locking them.” He waited for the two of them to nod before continuing, “This must be done as soon as possible. I’m trusting you to finish this assignment with utmost urgency.”
“We’ll be on it as soon as the floor clears,” Michael assured the higher official.
“Thank you Mr. Cotes and Mr. Prescott for giving up your time for your country,” the director thanked them as he stood up to walk with them out the door.
The rest of the work day continued as every other day had before. Michael filed away all the papers piled up on his desk with a sigh of relief. Less paperwork meant less pain medication throughout the day, and he managed to complete everything before his shift was over. As the clock counted down the seconds before his regular job would end and his secret assignment would begin, he straightened up the clutter around his office to occupy his time.
“Michael?” Lewis gently knocked on the door and let himself in a few seconds after. “I have the files. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready. I just have to put my loan papers in my briefcase. Oh nevermind, I’ll do that once we’re down there.”
Michael scooped up the manila folder and the briefcase and followed Lewis down to the call center on the second floor. No one would suspect the most useless department to house government secrets. Leading the way Lewis turned on the lights to closet inside one of the floor’s rooms. Michael took that as a cue to pull out a lone rusty key from his suit pocket, one that fit the keyhole of a set of small drawers in the corner. To free his hands, he placed his belongings on top of the drawer set before crouching down to reach the lock. Unlocking the bottom drawer, he pushed back another set of files already occupying the space and grabbed the stack of documents from Lewis’s hands. Once all the folders were neatly organized inside, he locked the drawer and stood up, smoothing out his pants and jacket.
“That was easy enough,” Michael commented.
“Sure was,” Lewis curtly replied with an unusual lilt to his voice his partner didn’t pick up on.
Walking out of the front doors, Lewis shook Michael’s hand. With an ominous glow pouring down from the moonlight, he smiled brightly. “See you tomorrow?” he asked knowing neither of them would skip the next work day.
“Bright and early.”
Lewis quickly waved before walking in the opposite direction, the echo of his footsteps fading off in the distance.
“Same diner today?” Michael asked his partner the following day as they exited the front doors of the office complex for their lunch break.
Lewis nodded, “Can’t get enough of their sandwiches and soup.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
The two walked side by side down a few blocks in calm silence before a gruff voice shouted from behind them, “Stop right there!”
“Hands up where I can see them!” A second voice announced with more authority than the previous voice.
“What the-” Michael wondered aloud, completely startled by the sudden yells.
“Michael Cotes, you are under arrest for stealing government documents. Come with us quietly,” the first voice, now known to belong to a police officer, told Michael directly.
“Officer, I can assure you I have not stolen government property. You must have the wrong man.”
“We found a folder containing calculations and formulas for nuclear weapons inside your briefcase as well as some of your personal documents hidden among the bomb files.”
“That was not me. Someone must’ve framed me!”
The second officer scoffed, “Reds, always trying to claim innocence.”
“I am not involved with the communists!” Michael gestured to Lewis, “My partner can attest to it. He was with me the entire time.”
Lewis calmly turned towards the two officers and told his perspective, “I have seen my partner switch the documents while we were locking up the files.”
“Lewis?” Michael was at a loss for words. He never expected his partner and most trusted coworker to betray him.
The first officer nodded and fixed his attention back to Michael. “Turn around,” he monotonously said, pulling out a pair of handcuffs from his pocket.
Michael slowly obliged and turned his body away from his stoic partner. No words could formulate in his mind. The shock of the situation was too great to comprehend anything. Why him? Why?
A memory flashed across his eyes, showing Lewis swiftly switching his personal documents with the bomb files. Blinking away the scene, Michael glared at Lewis, who returned a smirk after realizing his partner figured out the truth. The last image he saw was the flesh-colored corner of a manila folder peeking out from his partner’s jacket.