These characters and their setting are the property of J. Rowling and her associates and affiliates.
Author's note: So sorry for the long delay! And so sorry if this chapter is not up to snuff. I just can't agonize over it anymore.
Chapter 15: A Missing Link
Snape gazed at the glowing screen of the computer and tapped another key. He scribbled something quickly into his notebook and tapped the key again.
He was on a weekend fact finding expedition at the public library in Leeds. Since it had dawned on him that those responsible for his condition might be keeping an eye on him (and would not take kindly to him regaining his memories,) he had decided that any serious research would have to be done where he wasn't likely be monitored. Internet connections could always be traced. Therefore, it wouldn't be wise to use his own recently acquired computer, or even that of the school, to look up material that might possibly be sensitive. The best course of action would be to go someplace anonymous.
Though he would have much preferred using the London Library for his mechanical sleuthing, he had reasoned that Leeds would be better. Snape had false memories of attending the Leeds Metropolitan University, so it made perfect sense for him to go there. Traveling to Leeds would make it look as if he was still under thrall to those false memories. And no one would know who he was if he was on a library computer using the library's Internet connection...
What he was primarily interested in was a time period- that of three years ago- the time he had begun his present employment, and the same time that Miss Smith had coincidentally been found unconscious by the side of a road. It intrigued him. According to Emma, she had been found only a month or so before he arrived at his current job. Though it wasn't an exact correlation, the times were still uncannily close. Why should they both have that time frame in common? What were the odds? Snape wanted to see if there was anything interesting about the year in question. After an extensive search he did find something singular. What it was, however, was certainly not encouraging.
Three years ago there had been a hotbed of political unrest and a frightening rash of terrorist activity. People had disappeared, bridges had collapsed, houses had been torched, and weird activity of all kinds had been reported. But the oddest thing was that no mention was made, in any source, of a specific political organization. No known terrorist group claimed responsibility, and nowhere was there mention of the usual perpetrators: the IRA, the Taliban, or even Al-Qaeda. All Snape could find, no matter how carefully he searched, were a few scattered references to a fugitive named Sirius Black who had escaped from a prison four years previous.
Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. None of what he read made sense. If bridges were collapsing and public landmarks being exploded, surely the government would issue some strong statements or declare war on the culprit involved. In past instances, Northern Ireland had usually been the suspect, but in this case the IRA was oddly quiet and the British government made no accusations and took no retaliation. Snape just couldn't understand it. Activity of this magnitude should lead to finger pointing, bombastic rhetoric, or massive troop deployment. Yet nothing had seemed to have been done. And then, suddenly, the whole thing had just stopped. Instituting a computer search for the name "Sirius Black" he came up with a picture.
The face of the supposed terrorist was crazed. His hair was matted and his clothing disreputable, but as Snape stared at the gaunt, haunted, wild eyed visage, his gut contracted in absolute horror.
He knew this man. He was positive of it. The face in the picture was very familiar and that familiarity was in no way superficial. Not only did Snape feel that he had seen this face before, he felt he had known him personally... and hated him. This was an enemy. A deadly nemesis. So might the face of Moriarty have looked to Sherlock Holmes. So might Dracula have appeared to Van Helsing...
The pictured face filled Snape with righteous anger, buried fear, and a deep and furious loathing. But why? How had he known this Sirius Black? How close had the acquaintance been? Since the hatred Snape felt was incredibly strong, the connection must been very personal. It had to have been- especially since he still hated the man without even knowing the reason why!
Had the man, Black, hurt or even killed someone Snape had cared for? Had Snape, himself, been one if his victims? Ghost images of the bullies he had remembered before floated to the forefront of his mind. Had he known this man as a boy, or did the supposed terrorist just remind him of bullies in general? HOW had Snape known him? Were they really once enemies? He just had to remember!
After considering the face intently for a few moments, Snape suddenly felt very positive that the connection was an extremely old one. Though the pictured visage was wasted and haggard, Snape could see in his mind exactly how the man would have looked in his handsome youth. He also had the uncanny notion that the man was dead even though he could find no report anywhere that he had died or that the search for him had ever been ended.
So how did Snape know he was dead? Had he also possibly killed him as he had possibly killed the Old Man? Was he a criminal? Was this proof? How many people had he actually killed?
Shivers ran through him and Snape felt almost dizzy as waves of panic took over his body. He felt his face flush, his heart race, and he didn't seem to be able to catch his breath. Could he really be a murderer? And if he was, what was he doing here trying to dredge it all up? Might it actually be better if he didn't? If those mysterious powers had tried to wipe out his memory, couldn't it be possible that they had a reason? Why was it that he felt he'd have no peace at all until he finally uncovered the answers? Why couldn't he just let it go?
White knuckled hands gripping the edge of his chair, Snape closed his eyes and and concentrated on calming himself. He tried frantically to still his thoughts and blank his wild, raging emotions. Oddly (and this really surprised him,) he found it wasn't all that hard to do. Within minutes of his efforts his heart rate slowed to normal parameters, the flushed feeling ebbed from his face, and his racing thoughts fell into orderly patterns. The change was near instantaneous, and it was almost effortless as well- which was another inexplicable mystery. Snape had the bizarre feeling that he had done this exercise countless times before. And why in the world should that be?
What was even stranger was that the mental exercise seemed to clarify and intensify some of his "flashback" memories, bringing them more readily to the surface, but in an emotionally bearable way. In a somewhat detached frame of mind, Snape saw again the image of a handsome, laughing young man accompanied by a messy haired bespectacled youth, and he knew this was an image from his past just as he knew he was seeing Sirius Black as a boy- that he had known him when he also had been young, that he and the other youth had been the bullies who had once made his life hell...
But this was even more bizarre. How coincidental was it that he should have known the only documented member of a deadly terrorist cell and then to have been conveniently brainwashed and reprogrammed at about the same time that the same terrorist cell was wreaking its worst damage right before it disappeared all together? What could be the connection? Were the terrorist masterminds the ones who had brainwashed him, or was it the Authorities? And how did he know, inexplicably, that the supposed mastermind was dead?
Snape cast about carefully in his meditative state willing memories to swim up to the surface. He saw a young Black jeering at him and pointing at him with a stick. (Was he going to poke him with it?) He saw a grown Black glance at him nastily as he officiated in a wedding that made Snape almost nauseous. (The bride was a heart stoppingly beautiful red-head. Was that why Ramsbottom struck him so horribly? Could she be reminding him of a tragic lost love?) Lastly, he saw an image of an older, clean but haggard Black pointing yet another stick at him (what was with these sticks anyway?) while being anxiously restrained by a black haired boy with glasses. (Ah, that's who Southby looks like...) No images of a dead or dying Sirius Black came to him. Snape was immeasurably grateful.
So it was possible that he hadn't killed this one time enemy- even though he still felt enough hatred to know that he could have. But where were the answers to all these mysteries? Why had Snape been brainwashed and callously dumped in the back of beyond? Had he once been part of that terrorist cell? Was THAT the source of all those gruesome images plaguing his nightmares? But if he actually had been a terrorist, why brainwash him instead of incarcerate him?
Unless he really had been a spy...
Well, Snape felt that "spy" was probably pushing it, but it did occur to him that he could have been an informant- someone who had blown the whistle on a group of terrorists and had put himself in danger because of it. That would possibly explain the horrific images and the crushing sense of sickening guilt. It could also explain his current placement. He had heard of Witness Protection Programs that hid criminal informants. Such individuals were given freedom from persecution in exchange for information. They were also hidden to keep them safe.
Coincidentally, these informants received mundane, humdrum sorts of identities- just like the one that had been given to him! They weren't allowed exciting, glamorous, or intellectually challenging careers. Protected witnesses had to be kept carefully out of the limelight in every possible way. They had to live in boringly safe obscurity for the rest of their miserable lives. Beyond the fact that Snape couldn't imagine himself ever being the type to get involved in terrorism, his situation seemed to fit this scenario perfectly. It really did appear as though he had stumbled upon the answer.
Except why brainwash him?
THAT was what still didn't make any sense. If he was indeed an informant, wouldn't the knowledge that had saved him still always be useful? Brainwashing would defeat the purpose. And HOW had they managed to plant in his mind such realistic (for a while) and documented fake memories?
Though he had researched with particular diligence, Snape had never found any reference ANYWHERE that described a technique or a process that could do what had definitely been done to him. As far as current science knew, it was impossible. So HOW had it been done? Was there some sort of metaphysical power involved, some paranormal type of ability? Bad novels and even worse movies were continually made about secret government paranormal projects- and they nearly always focused on some sort of sinister conspiracy. Had he, Snape, been the victim of one of these? Or had he once, perhaps, been a perpetrator?
Here Snape paused and wondered. Along with the host of weird and horrible memories, "feelings," and impressions was the continual idea that he should be able to do things that he KNEW were impossible. There were countless times he felt he should be able to light rooms without flicking the switch, open doors without touching the knobs, or make objects fly to him without having to get up and cross the room to get them. In so many of these occasions, the strange ideas were automatic, and always there had followed a moment of confused frustration. It often felt as if the normal way, the inconvenient way, was really the wrong way. As if he was far more used to something else.
Of course these ideas were insane, and Snape always pushed such speculation as far away from his conscious attention as possible. He didn't want to be insane. He was terrified of insanity. The last thing Snape wanted, as a rational man of science, was to lose his powers of sober, deductive reasoning.
But what if there really was such a thing as the paranormal? All the very odd things that he KNEW had happened in his life suggested that there were some occurrences that transcended the ordinary. His own situation appeared to be EVIDENCE. So why was such a thing so inconceivable?
Strangely enough, Snape found it difficult to even contemplate the paranormal. His mind shied away whenever the idea presented itself. It was almost as if an aversion to the concept had been planted in him along with his bland, fake memories. His mind said, "Don't go there, Snape. That way lies danger!" whenever he was tempted to think of it. It was as though he knew, deep in his subconscious, that investigating the idea would only bring him trouble.
And it actually went far deeper than that. Buried within him, even beneath his aversion to the paranormal, was the overwhelming notion, an incredible "gut" feeling, that he had once known a secret- a wonderful and terrible secret. A secret that had to be kept at all costs.
Now that he was formally acknowledging this, Snape couldn't help but consider the idea, touching it gingerly with his mind like a tongue probing a sore tooth. Yes, it did seem that there had once been a precious secret, something that had once been his- something shiveringly wonderful like having the key to Ali Babba's cave, the map to Shang-gri-la, or the ticket to all the riches and power he could want. Once he had known a secret that made him think he was special.
Yet he also knew that this secret had a dark side. A hideous side. He knew that there was a dimension to it so horrible that it eclipsed all its wonder and glory. Like the discovery that the beautiful fairy tale princess was really a hideous hag... Or the dream of being able to fly turning into a nightmare of spinning out of control in a crippling a fear of heights... Deep inside, he had the terrible knowledge that the wonder and glory wouldn't just get one killed- it could also get one damned.
What incredible secret could this have been? Could there really be such a thing as... magic?
Snape wondered now if there were paranormal powers that had once been available to him. Had he once been a part of a paranormal study? Could he have been a test subject as well as a whistle-blower? Such a combination was odd, to be sure, but oddness now seemed to be normal for him. His whole existence was paradoxical- tediously boring, frustratingly mundane, yet secretly, inexplicably incredible. So far Snape hadn't come up with a better explanation.
Still, there had to be something more that he hadn't yet thought of. Something terrible. If Snape was a whistle-blower to a terrorist operation and a participant in a paranormal government project, how did those two things correlate? Was it the government authorities that had been involved in the paranormal? Or had it been a secret terrorist cell, headed up by the insane Sirius Black, that had found a heinous new form of psychic weaponry almost along the lines of magic?
What if it had it been both?
Snape wondered what his role could have been. He was a scientist, a man with a passion for research and experimentation. Given the validity of the scenario, it was possible that he could have been part of a research team investigating the development of paranormal forces. Even now, completely in the dark as he was, and in spite of his aversion, the idea excited and intrigued him.
But surely he would never have worked for an avowed terrorist group- and certainly not one headed by a man he desperately, morbidly hated! That didn't make any sense. Unless the government AND the terrorists were developing ideas along the same lines...
And again, as Snape practiced his calming exercises, images came to him- images of battles and skirmishes, where green flashes dueled with red ones and bodies just dropped to the ground. Could those things have actually happened? Such was the stuff of ridiculous sci-fi serials, bad comic books, and unrealistically hyped up movies. Yet they did say truth was stranger than fiction.
Who was to say the British government didn't have some sort of ultra secret psychic defense force? The Americans, after all, supposedly, had "Star Wars!" And as for the terrorists... Well, if one side has a weapon, there were always enough security leaks for another side to possess it as well. Logic told him that it had to be the government that had brainwashed him and then buried him deep in the boonies. Any group run by Black would simply have killed him. Only the Authorities would have had a reason to hide him. He had to be some sort of government victim.
Which was why he was treating the subject of the paranormal with extreme kid gloves. He had no idea what he had been involved in. If the government had a "Ministry of the Paranormal" there had to be plenty of other people involved- people who knew about him, what he had done, and where he was living now. It would be incredibly dangerous to let these people know he was remembering his former life. For all he knew there was somebody watching him even now.
Snape did NOT want those involved to know he was regaining his memories. Instinct told him that, besides being hidden, he was also being punished. Why else would he have been given such a soul destroying job? Though part of him was itching to try out the possibility of personal telekinesis, he didn't do it. He didn't dare. Such abilities might be detectable. And if he had such powers and they were detectable, his punishment might become immeasurably worse. Snape had to keep doing his research in secret. He had to learn as much as he could without tripping any alarms.
But it made sense that someone would have been sent, at least occasionally, to monitor him, and Snape made a careful mental list of every person he came in contact with. Who among them could be watching him? Could it be Hanscomb? The janitor? Perhaps his landlord?
Of course, on surface examination, the likelihood of these candidates being the guilty party was ridiculous. None of the village residents fit the part of a possible undercover operative. Nobody, as far as he knew, even had strong ties outside the community. Most of the nearby families had been here for generations, and they all displayed the simple normalcy of undereducated, satisfied peasantry.
So who was the plant? Which one of the local yokels was passing information for pay? How would he ever be able to tell? And if there were such a person, how much could they have possibly seen?
A cold feeling passed over him, and for a moment Snape wondered if Miss Smith had been planted as one of his "watchers." There were too many uncanny coincidences. She had come from "outside" when almost nobody else ever did, she had a memory loss dating to about the same period that his "incarceration" began, and she had shown up at about the same time his real memories were starting to emerge in earnest. Was it really a coincidence, or was there something sinister for him here?
Snape carefully used his newfound meditative skills to reach a state of calmness. He forced himself to examine the problem dispassionately, and at the conclusion of a few minutes of measured, rational thought, he came to the conclusion that she probably wasn't his "watcher" because it was simply far too unlikely. Poor Miss Smith was just too obvious.
The most valuable characteristic of a first class mole was that no one would ever suspect them of being one. An undercover spy had to be innocuous. They needed to blend completely into the woodwork, or insinuate themselves into a community so well that people dropped their guards and spilled secrets. Any organization capable of brainwashing a dangerous informant and weaving them new, fake, "memories" would certainly use equal sophistication in placing spies to watch him. It would make no sense to employ a person who went out of their way to get his notice and made all effort to interact with him. Which Miss Smith certainly did.
Besides, there was an innocence in Miss Smith that really didn't seem false to him. Her entire being was young, open, and genuine. He doubted anyone that young could fake it so convincingly. And besides that, she was miserable- truly distressed and unhappy. Her misery resonated with him deep at gut level. His soul believed she was not making up her story. It just felt right to him.
Still... He couldn't help a flash of paranoid fear. He had allowed her to get so close to him, to see all his books concerning memory. He had let her watch him day in and day out. Supposing she was a plant and had seen a change in his demeanor or in his actions? How odd was it that she should be assigned to be HIS secretary out of all the teachers of the school?
Suddenly, he felt an urgent compulsion to research her background, to do a little digging. He just HAD to try to find out for sure. At the very least he could find out if the dates she gave him for her injury and her stay in the nursing home were true. He also reasoned that if they were true then she might be a victim of the same organization that he was. And that would change the picture entirely. Then it was possible that anything he found out about her background might also be of help to him....
Snape dragged up a memory of where she had said she had come from, a place called Shady Acres Nursing Home, and did a computer search. He typed the name tremulously, under a sick sense of dread. This was how he had felt while searching fruitlessly for his childhood address. It had been horrifying to discover that it didn't exist, that it had never existed, that his early memories were lies. He had realized then that he was living a nightmare- and that he might never, ever wake up from it.
The screen flashed as Alta Vista presented a list, and Snape felt an elated spark of surprised triumph. Yes! A matched entry. So the place really DID exist! He breathed a cleansing sigh of relief as a little of his tension ebbed. There was also a telephone listing and the name of the proprietor. The phone number was something he could use.
Back in the room he had rented for the weekend, Snape prepared to make the call. As far as he could tell, he thought it would be safe. He had rented the place under an alias. And he'd used cash. It wasn't likely that anyone had followed him here with the express purpose of monitoring his calls. Leeds was a large, metropolitan area—easy to get lost in, and he hadn't told anyone he was coming.
Besides, how likely was it that someone would take the time to follow him everywhere he went, every time? Despite the monstrousness of what had been done to him, Snape had a strong feeling that he wasn't actually important. That he was "small potatoes." The fact that he had been dumped in the middle of nowhere seemed proof that his brainwashers didn't think he was dangerous. Oh, he'd be monitored, but probably not too very closely. It was probably safe enough to make a telephone call from a motel in Leeds. Well, either way, he was going to do it.
Of course Snape still didn't feel comfortable making phone calls and the bizarreness of that made him pause a moment. Why didn't he like using a telephone? Why did it seem so strange to him? Was it the idea of talking to someone whose face he couldn't see? Or was it the actual apparatus involved?
The rational, scientific part of Snape saw the telephone as a marvelous device. With it, one could communicate with just about anyone worldwide- all with a simple push of a button. It was the odd part of Snape, the hidden part, which viewed the device as somehow alien- as though he had once been used to communicate in a different way.
But what way? A metaphysical way? Some sort of psychic way? Snape shook his head. Even here he couldn't help a flare of confusion. Though usually his "gut" told him that the natural way, the normal way, was the lesser, inconvenient way, HERE, however, that just wasn't so. Even here, his "gut," though protesting against the use of the telephone as being somehow "wrong," agreed with his brain that it really was the best way to communicate.
And that somehow spoke volumes to Snape of the incredible oddness of whatever situation he had been forced to "forget." Taking a deep breath and steeling himself, he punched the appropriate numbers for the nursing home line. The connection on the other end was ringing.
"Shady Acres. Front desk." The voice on the other end was female.
Snape cleared his throat. "I am calling to inquire concerning a Miss Emma Smith who was a patient at your facility a few months ago."
"Emma?" The voice seemed to brighten. "Oh yes. She was here. I remember her."
"I need to know what you can tell me about her stay there."
"And who may I ask is calling? Is this in regard to the missing person's inquiry?" The voice sounded hopeful.
"Ah... no." And here Snape had to think quickly, though the answer that presented itself was ironically simple. "This is Mr. Frank Hanscomb, headmaster of the school at which she is currently employed. I am conducting a routine background check. We need to confirm a little bit about her history. Necessary paperwork, you understand."
"Oh! Oh yes, of course." The female voice sounded disappointed, but it was still briskly helpful. "Can you hold the line for a bit? I'll pull her file and see what I can find for you."
There was a long couple moments where Snape found himself listening to some insipid, nondescript, instrumental music designed to bore listeners to death. Then the voice returned to the line.
"Let's see now," and Snape heard the faint sound of pages turning. "I can tell you the dates in which she was with us. She was transferred to us from hospital on June 17 of 1998, suffering from apparent brain damage from an injury sustained on May 2nd, or 3rd of 1998. She was moved to one of the convalescent wards September 20th 2000, and discharged from the facility October 25th 2001. That is about all I can tell you. I didn't actually work with her. Would you like me to transfer you to someone in charge of the ward she was in?"
"Yes, please." Snape rejoiced inwardly at his good luck while keeping his voice carefully polite and disinterested. He waited a few minutes while the music played again. After an answering "click," a younger, cheerier voice picked up.
"Hello, sir. Is this about our Emma?"
Snape answered "Yes," but his reply was nearly drowned by an explosion of voices in the background.
"What about Emma?"
"Is that her on the phone?"
"How is she? Can I speak to her?"
"Oh, me too!"
"EMMA,! HOW ARE YOU, LUV? WE MISS YOU!" Came one querulous bellow from what sounded like a half deaf octogenarian.
"Oh, excuse me," the young voice said slightly exasperated before going on in a more muffled tone, "Hush everybody! Be quiet! It's not Emma. It's her BOSS! Come on, now. Pipe down. Emma's not on the phone. You can't talk to her! You need to be quiet so I can talk."
"But can you find out how's she doing?"
"It's been two weeks since her last letter!"
"Has she remembered anything?"
"Will she come visit us?"
"Please! I said I need some quiet!" The voice sounded more than a little peeved. "I can't find out anything unless I can actually TALK to the man! Now give me some space. Hush now."
After a few more exhortations for the elderly inmates to 'hush' and some pat, patronizing phrases apparently designed to make that happen, the young voice returned to the phone line.
"So sorry about that, sir. Most of us still remember Emma fondly. She was a bit of a pet here."
Snape actually found himself smiling- if sporting an ironic smirk could be said to be smiling. "I understand completely. She's made herself a bit of a pet at our school as well."
"Has she? Well that sounds encouraging! Is she getting on then?"
"I would say so. She's helpful, enthusiastic, the children like her, and I do believe she's trying to revolutionize the science and math departments. My science instructor," and here he paused, trying to imagine what the real Frank Hanscomb would possibly say, "ah, doesn't know what hit him."
The voice laughed. "That sounds like Emma! So what can I tell you about her stay with us?"
Happily, at this point, Snape had the information he'd wanted. This situation just couldn't be false or contrived. What secret organization, no matter HOW incredibly good, would have an army of outspoken old people on hand to shout corroborating evidence just on the off chance he would call? Logic told him that at least this nursing home had to be real. Emma's stay in it had to be real as well. Snape posed some general, routine questions that a headmaster would likely ask and made the interview professionally short..
Later, as he lay on his rented bed staring pensively at the ceiling, Snape considered Emma's odd memory problem critically. He wondered if it wasn't similar in some ways to Visual Neglect. In VN, the brain of a person with normally good vision simply didn't see certain objects beyond a constrained field of view- everything left of center, for instance. He had even read or this handicap extending to a subject's conceptual space. There had been patients who had not been able to understand the abstract concept of a number line without blanking out the portions of it that they wouldn't have been able to see had it actually been visual.
Could Emma be suffering from a form of "memory neglect?" She had been in an accident- an accident so bad that it had resulted in her being confined to a vegetative state for two years. There could still be some brain damage left her as the result of that. It was also possible that, like the prolonged coma, it could also be temporary.
But what part of the brain controlled only personal memories? As far as he had researched, there had been no definitive study that had isolated one specific part as being solely responsible for it. Memory tended to be interrelated. Yet Emma could remember specific facts about places she surely must have been to, without one glimmer of personal recollection that would have accounted for such knowledge. If this was from a physical trauma, it was one that had been administered with keen, surgical precision.
Which made him wonder if it had been administered.
But if so, why, how, and by whom?
What reason could anyone have of inflicting such devastating damage upon a normal, healthy, and very intelligent young woman? What purpose could it have served? Could she have been a test subject, an experiment? And if that was so, why abandon her afterwards to be found and possibly rehabilitated? Wouldn't the perpetrators of such a heinous act want to cover their tracks?
The big question was whether the same forces that had stolen his memories were also responsible for the loss of hers. Like his, her situation was uncanny. Yet, why didn't she have fake memories? Unless she had somehow escaped or been broken out before she could be either reprogrammed or killed... Or perhaps the perpetrators were very certain that she would never recover and that was why she had been left for dead, or for life in an institution.
Had Miss Smith fooled them all? Was her partial recovery completely unplanned? Was she expected to be forever vegetative? Or had she been expected to be euthanised...
Snape suddenly wondered if there would be repercussions for the girl from just getting out of the nursing home alive, let alone possibly regaining her memories. Was somebody watching her as well? Would they know what he was doing trying to find her identity? Ice cold shivers cascaded across his skin. There might be more danger here than he had originally thought.
Which made it ironically beneficial that he had greed to start Miss Smith's silly Science Club. They had a cover. In order to research the girl's possible origins (with the hope of finding her some family, and him some answers) they were going to be spending considerable time together- time that could arouse suspicion.
But now all that together time would simply look like scholarly preparation for club activities... that they would make VERY sure were sophisticated enough to have warranted the time spent. It was perfect. No red herrings, no serious suspicion, and perhaps a little more science drummed (or conned) into student heads. What more could he possibly want?
Hmm. Perhaps he really had once been a spy.