Lady Chief had walked out of their shared North Chicago home on a blustery, late October afternoon, with the sun behind clouds threatening rain. The wind is from the North Northeast cold, biting, and from over Lake Michigan. Short, tentative, sprinkles are falling as the icy wind swirls. Later in the evening it might turn to sleet. Elizabeth is napping, Sally is shopping. Lady Chief isn’t supposed to be out. Her own tradecraft tells her it’s too dangerous and she can feel the thoughts from top floor offices of GLCIS and from the Parliamentary Ministry: anger, resentment, envy, and fear. The same thoughts that all of them could feel and that had kept them from sojourning at the Agent’s Club in the evening for months now. Why on earth didn’t I put on a jacket? she thinks, shivering.
As she turns around to go back she’s suddenly in Montpellier, in the Zone, on an unfamiliar street, or, maybe, on one she once visited in sunny noon as a teen. Some echo of that remained. She won’t let herself go there, won’t relive the sore and public welts after being bent over an electrocar hood and thoroughly strapped, jeans and panties down, for everyone on the block to see, by two FemDom beat cops. She couldn’t remember what she had said or done, it didn’t matter what she’d said or done, the answer was always the same–a mortifyingly public tawsing. “Take them down, honey, you’re in need of one of our Love Pats!” No, she won’t let herself go there. No. No. No.
The weather is still blustery. In front of her is a two story, well and recently tuck pointed, brick house, with the deep red bricks so uncommon in this city. The lights of both floors of the house are starting to shine brighter than the stormy dusk. On the porch are pumpkins flickering, carved with toothy grins, and each candled within. Two kitschy, MaitryKraft store corn shocks are trussed up to either side of the door posts, and a carefully elegant Rowan tree branch, covered in it’s ruddy berries is hooked above the door. Rowan keeps the evil spirits of All Hallows’ Eve away….
So which is it? Which Halloween? Which Paganism? Lady Chief thought. Was it the cute but shabby pentagram, quartz crystal, and tarot addled, neo-paganism of my mother in the months before she dragged me here? Before we came to this female halfway house that the inmates call a country? Or is it the canny, genuine, and whispered Witchcraft, herb, and poison lore of the Underground Scots Clan Matriarchals? Her best friend in school, Ellie MacDonald, had a mother who was that kind of witch. Then Rowan Tree Branch shouts at Lady Chief from a far distance in the sky, “Stay out, stay out, you cold blooded killer! Stay out!” Stay out? Lady Chief thinks, of course not! There is the front door slightly opened and light is shining through. Without my jacket I’m chilled to the bone.
As she pushes through the door and closes it behind her, Lady Chief turns back and is stopped in her tracks. In front of her on the floor are a woman’s dead body, lying face up, an automatic pistol with a silencer, an immense pile of scattered flowers, and three HAPPY BIRTHDAY helium balloons floating overhead and just under the high ceiling. As Lady Chief comes closer, she sees, to her horror, first, the pool of blood and brains under the back of the woman’s head; then the slack open jaw, with fixed, half open eyes; and, finally, the scorched hole in the crushed right cheek.
It’s Helen Thoroughgood, or what’s left of her, Chief of what had been Sec/Spy…..But she’d been killed years ago. By Mossad! I saw the autopsy photographs! Then, Lady Chief remembered where she’d seen the outside of this house. It was in a picture that came with her legend when she went into Deep Cover. Ian, then Senior Intelligence Analyst under Chief of Service Curtis, said he had obtained a safe house for her escape before she entered her cover in the Zone. When she got there, she could never locate it, even though she had an address for it, and a half postcard to exchange if she ever had to use it.
Just another one of his lies, she thought at the time. What did Ian ever do but lie? There never was such a safehouse. The address she was given was a vacant lot, and she now was trapped into spying in the Zone! Here and now she looked down at herself and was still elegantly dressed as Lady Chief, aged a little under 60, former Chief of GLCIS; former defacto gang boss dealing out beatings and death to the insubordinate and the treasonous; lesbian roommate of two loving and nurturing retired whores in a house in North Chicago. What had happened? How had she taken a wrong turn and ended up here?
Suddenly the eyelids on the body started to blink. The freezing fear in her heart made her stand stock still. The eyes were alive, but nothing else, and as those eyes locked with her widening ones, Lady Chief heard Helen Thoroughgood’s voice in her head while the corpse remained perfectly silent and still.
“It’s you! How can it be you?! How old you look! It must be only a couple of hours since I looked down that horrible pistol barrel. I’m still lying here undisturbed, waiting to be discovered. But here you are, wearing a mask of middle age, like I did a couple of hours ago when I opened that door! It MUST be only a couple of hours I’ve been lying here! How can you be so old?”
The voice paused and then continued, “You were a Sec/Spy interrogator well known for your cool ruthlessness, and I never knew your name. Did you ever have a name? Do you now? Oh, my God! YOU were GLCIS Deep Cover, weren’t you!? Aren’t you? And we never knew. But you never knew that I was in Deep Cover, too, I was the real Zone traitor, taking orders from that reckless bastard, Ian…..It can’t have been more than a few hours and you can’t be that old! I can’t be trapped here in this fetid piece of rotting meat!” The eyes started to shed slow tears of despair, some draining into her shattered and powder burned cheek. Lady Chief found this even more hair raising than before. The corpse was silent for a few moments, then resumed.
“You were like me, one of Ian’s lovers, weren’t you? You were his doxy, doing anything you could to help your spying “career”. Until you went into Deep Cover; a professional “opportunity”, you thought, on your way to the top. It was actually Ian’s tidy way of disposing of you for the sake of his reputation. Just like me! You made it out, I didn’t. Mossad killed me! Here, in this GLCIS safehouse…..” The wailing voice faded into silence and the eyes once again became fixed.
There was a sharp knocking on the door behind her. Lady Chief hadn’t locked it, and it started to open, hinges faintly creaking. Then there he was, Ian himself, impossibly old, white haired, and fumbling. He spoke, whining, “Why have you come here?!!! Why have you both come here?!!! This is MY bad conscience dreaming.” Both? she thought. Me and this corpse? She felt a soft touch on the forearm and suddenly Elizabeth was at her side.
“We know all about it Ian,” Elizabeth stated matter-of-factly, “Helen’s dead body just gave us the last piece of the puzzle. She was betrayed to Mossad by you when she went on the run. You made a choice of which of your lady loves in Deep Cover that you would set up for Mossad to kill. You wanted young Lady Chief instead of older Helen, at least until you found some newer and even younger mistress.
“As the Chief of GLCIS you couldn’t deal with the crisis created if both your back door lovers returned at once. So Mossad killed her here, in what was actually a GLCIS safehouse, and not one of Sec/Spy’s, managed at arm’s length by your spy Helen. You gave Mossad the address after you ordered Helen to use it to hide. By that time Lady Chief had already returned to GLCIS, and to your bed. Until, that is, you put her on your staff. Then she blackmailed you into retiring and helping her become Chief of GLCIS. After that, she no longer needed you.”
“Do I lie Lady Chief?”
“No Elizabeth, you don’t. Another incidental evil crime before my service as Chief and my spree of casual killing. Like all of it, it’s now beyond remorse.” Ian stood, mouth open, in speechless awe. Then he fell to the floor with a loud crash. At that moment Lady Chief finally noticed the awful smell, and when she and Elizabeth turned around, Helen’s body was already beginning to bloat into a horrible caricature of the living spy. Lady Chief screamed and wailed in utter despair. Then Elizabeth bear hugged her, first in the dream and then in the safehouse bed.