We knew that they were on to several of our people, but unfortunately we weren't sure which ones. Pulling them out before we were certain would needlessly disrupt important sources of information.
We had a pretty good guess who would be given the hit jobs; a nasty brute we'd codenamed TUNER (piano wire was known to be his "instrument" of choice).
Luckily we managed to bug his phone, and intercepted what was obviously a coded message, a monotonous synthesized voice reading off a list of paired words. Many of the words were our own code names for our people!
MUTED AARDVARK; LONG ALARM; MAGICIANS UNCLE; TRIM EEL; ABLE DINOSAUR; DESPERATE RABBIT; ETHICAL SALMON; SLIM ICE; NATURAL DRAGON; ROUND ORIOLE; PROUD BOBCAT; OPEN XIPHOID; THOROUGH HYENA; RESPONSIBLE EGRET; ELEVATED STOP
What, did they think we were idiots? Our informant MALAMUTE was targeted. We rushed him out of the city to safety.
Late that same evening we got word that a double agent, code name ORIOLE, had fallen to his death out of his fourth-floor apartment on Bunderstraße. Had we misinterpreted the message?! Or simply missed another?
Next day, a similar call came through for TUNER. Same featureless machine voice, and strangely, the exact same set of word pairs, but in a different order.
NATURAL DRAGON; TRIM EEL; OPEN XIPHOID; MUTED AARDVARK; SLIM ICE; RESPONSIBLE EGRET; THOROUGH HYENA; LONG ALARM; ABLE DINOSAUR; MAGICIANS UNCLE; DESPERATE RABBIT; ROUND ORIOLE; PROUD BOBCAT; ETHICAL SALMON; ELEVATED STOP
With so little time to work before we expected TUNER to strike, our analysts were stumped. All we could think to do was put guards on the highest-value targets that had been named.
In the morning, we learned that HYENA had been attacked by a vicious dog outside her house. She never made it to the hospital. She hadn't been on our watch list. We were losing this skirmish, badly.
The afternoon brought another phone message like the first two. We dug in, but without much hope.
SLIM ICE; MAGICIANS UNCLE; THOROUGH HYENA; TRIM EEL; OPEN XIPHOID; LONG ALARM; ELEVATED STOP; ETHICAL SALMON; MUTED AARDVARK; PROUD BOBCAT; DESPERATE RABBIT; ROUND ORIOLE; ABLE DINOSAUR; NATURAL DRAGON; RESPONSIBLE EGRET
One of the analysts -- just a kid really, named Brad --
seemed to be reciting the lists to himself and counting on the fingers of one hand. He
jumped up suddenly and exclaimed, "They're after EEL tonight! No, wait..." He looked over his notes and added, "The indicator repeats in this one. Two of ours, then: BOBCAT as well. We've got to get them both out of the city!"
It was the best we had to go on. We rushed men to each of their locations. We were too late for EEL; he had "accidentally" dropped a radio into the bathtub with him. But we interrupted TUNER just as he was about to throw BOBCAT down a flight of stairs; our men gave chase but lost him. BOBCAT was whisked away to be debriefed. Hopefully TUNER assumed that we had just gotten lucky, but we'd have to wait for the next message to find out.
What did Brad see that we had missed in the first two phone calls? How did he know who the next targets were?