The House Beautiful

Getting in and getting settled took about half an hour–more, of course, for the Dutchess of Kumquat. So Elizabeth and I sat on the couch in the living room and gave it a jaundiced and security conscious eye.

The one story house was long and sprawling with wide windows and retro early 2000’s House Beautiful ambience. The living room was bright and airy with lots of white, very pale blue, and a few contrasting creamsickle orange highlights scattered strategically around. It merged seamlessly into the dining room, with the kitchen behind a door beyond. The door to the basement stood in the dining room wall at right angles to the kitchen door and facing that room’s picture window.

Both rooms had two adjoining walls of the pale blue and two adjoining walls of white. Each color of double wall was on the opposite corners of each room. This was welcome in the bathroom or even in the bedrooms where it created an illusion of larger size, but the connected living room and dining room looked as long as a Roman forum. On the white and the blue walls were framed and glazed wood engravings of one of the more noteworthy Portland artists, printed on lush cream paper with tan window mats and enclosed in gold colored, thin metal frames.

It was a potential housekeeping nightmare in a world of casual entertaining stain makers like red wine and black coffee. Not to mention blood from those long and wide windows and a .308 rifle bullet that went through you as you casually walked to the bathroom or the bedrooms off a hall in the corner of the other side of the living room. A stain maker not quite casual, but quite possible, for a spy agency safehouse.

The furnishings were long and low with a large coffee table in front of the couch, which faced the huge living room window. The coyly elegant and simple dark wood dining table had plain, discreetly upholstered white, chairs, and a pale orange tablecloth. On two of the dining room walls were service credenzas in the same dark wood at right angles to one another, each with the same color of pale blue wall behind. These held the table services, the liquor stock for an impromptu credenza bar, and all the folded linens behind solid cabinet doors. The long cloths along the credenza tops were the creamsickle orange.

In the living room were also much smaller end tables on either side of each piece of supplemental seating and the room lighting came from five white, semi-translucent, half clam shell sconces in each room attached 2/3 up each wall and all on a master timer which would keep the room still open, luminous, and shadowless through dusk to night on the lawn outside the windows.

An Electroscreen sat in a corner facing toward the room’ center and was incongruously bordered in gunmetal grey. The chairs, tables, and couch were very simple with black metal understructure and a “look at me, I’m from a trendy Italian furniture designer” look to them, but they were surprisingly comfy. They had ample, but firm, padding; a slight backward tilt to the chair seat; and back support needing no throw pillows. The seats were thigh length, shallow enough to allow you to sit with your knees bent, and the soles of your feet flat on the pale blue carpet. This was a good thing because there was nary a throw pillow to be seen. It wasn’t a throw pillow style.

As we sat there, and just as Lady Chief joined us, the house dictapad rang. Emily answered and paged Donald through the basement doorway. He was downstairs seeing to the sleeping arrangements for our security gorilla babysitters. Her voice was the one that you use for checking out Echo Canyon, a disadvantage to a long, low sprawling house.

Up in the kitchen Donald picked up the dictapad, “Hi, Helen! Yes, they got here without trouble. They must be real spies: they met us in a hotel bar. Of course I wouldn’t expect any less of guests from GLCIS. Oh, so they were the target of that nasty Chicago bombing.” There was a long pause and a lot of talking from the other end of the call.

“Two PISS security people are still here, as is David from PISS. Would you like to speak with him? Ok. Angela and Ralph will be the first 7 day babysitters. David suspects that our joint interviews may take as much as three weeks, so you need to have ours scheduled accordingly to rotate with the Security agents. Call PISS to coordinate this. We do have a former Chief of Service with us, after all. I’m sure she’ll have a lot to say. Something more important than that?….” then a long listening pause.

“The Chief wants what? Are you sure? Oh, hello Chief. I didn’t realize you were in the loop. Why? What’s so important that David and I need to stay? Safehouse security issues?…….What’s wrong with our security?……Vehicle security issues?……GLCIS has my WHAT?!” Another long pause.

“Yes, Chief. I’ll record it and get it to the overnight transcribers. You need it for your weekly staff meeting tomorrow morning. No Chief, I won’t let my ego stand in my way. Thanks, Chief, thanks Helen. Goodbye.”

During all this, David had joined us. He sat reading a green cardboard covered report looking like he had to be letter perfect with it by tomorrow’s morning meeting. It was a very thick report. He didn’t seem to be a fast reader. He’d be up much of the night.

Emily, the safehouse keeper stuck her head through the kitchen doorway and said, with her Echo Canyon voice across the intervening dining room, “We’ll be having assorted sandwiches, a cheese plate, a fruit plate, and canapés for lunch. I also have opened two bottles of South Saskatchewan Zinfandel. Lunch won’t be served until 12:30, but I can pour each of you a glass now if you want.” We three fleeing “real spies” did, the two real paper pushers didn’t.

Lady Chief asked to have Angela and Ralph come up to listen and Donald quickly brought them from downstairs. They each brought a dining room chair. He didn’t offer them the choice of an early glass of wine.

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