Elizabeth has mentioned the antagonism to her, and to all of us, that swiftly arose from the new GLCIS management. They decommissioned the Safehouse after Elizabeth bought it in cash and then three months later tried to force her to gut it of everything GLCIS had furnished it with. Elizabeth, however, had been shrewd enough to make her offer explicitly for both house and contents, with only two equally explicit exclusions. Neither she nor her attorney would budge in their negotiations with the Agency’s attorney. And her attorney quietly pointed out that in any civil suit the GLCIS representative would have to testify under oath and on the public record about the details of how the safehouse was used. Nobody really wanted that now did they? Certainly GLCIS didn’t, so they let the matter drop.
The Interim Chief of GLCIS had found the very existence of the North Chicago safehouse to be so much of a burr up his butt that he accepted Elizabeth’s offer immediately without thinking it through and, the very next day, sent a team to pick up the two items explicitly excluded from that agreement: the “two-key” security Dictalink used to to record conversations in the house and the firearm secretly under the knickknack shelf next to the front door. Elizabeth could not legally own this gun because of the 50 year old rap sheet still in the files of the Chicago Police.
The two-key system allowed the interrogators to lock and unlock access to the Dictalink jointly with the safehouse agent so that neither could use the machine nor access the data without the consent and the key of the other. Every instance of the machine being turned on for use or disabled when not needed was logged, timed, and dated in the machine itself. The machine was also solidly bolted to the concrete basement floor, so any burglar (and it would be a very good burglar) who made it past the autoset security would still have to bring their own cutting torch to detach it. This machine was the only location of coordinated exterior security, recorded secret data, and secure communication in the house, and a proprietary device of GLCIS. Possession of the gun by Elizabeth and not as an agent of GLCIS, the owner, was a serious felony.
The Interim Chief was so in a hurry to get both the Safehouse and it’s keeper off the Agency’s hands that the sales contract was run through priority GLCIS legal scrutiny immediately, and then signed, on the afternoon it arrived at GLCIS. The technicians arrived at 8:00 am the next morning with a cutting torch to remove the machine, with the GLCIS Armorer himself arriving at the same time to pick up the Glock pistol. The soon-to-be fourth Permanent Chief of GLCIS could now be assured that all of us were now only members of the Agent’s Club. And the Club itself was beginning to attract the suspicious attention of the still active GLC Prime Minister and Treasury Minister for “fiscal extravagance”. One of the changes the Ministry made to “proactively” manage GLCIS was to require an explicit, line item, report to the Ministry by the agency’s auditors of all “non-operational” expenditures, which made the Agent Club issue explicit.
Then GLCIS had it’s own mini shitstorm when the Agency Auditors made their six month report to the Treasury Department. This and the Ministry’s adverse reaction to the Agent Club, then leaked into Parliament, causing the Prime Minister a very difficult 20 minutes during the weekly questioning period. The new Chief of GLCIS had never even known that the Ministry had “reservations” about the agency expenditures and was completely blindsided. He heard about it on the evening news, as did we. There seemed to be quite a lot that we heard, second hand, taking him by surprise.
While the house was in transition, Lady Chief and I stayed together at one of the five penthouse suites of the Ritz Carelton, well above it’s non-existent 13th floor. We would visit Elizabeth regularly and stay overnight as her guests three times a week with me driving us over in my quietly discreet and elegant, Chinese luxury electrocar. We had stayed with her the night of the contract signing and toasted our coming new life as permanent roommates in Clef d’Eglise cognac and Calvados apple brandy following a cozy comfort food meatloaf dinner.
When the Armorer arrived in the morning with the technicians, he was barely civil signing our receipt and alarm bells were set off for all of us. He would have done such a task himself rather than sending a subordinate only if he had been asked to by the Interim Chief. One more definitely unfriendly hint tossed in our direction. A hint implying very strongly that we were starting to be seen as “security risks”.
From now on I won’t be able to quote our conversations in the same way Elizabeth did when we three met for the first time 30 years ago. Now they simply didn’t occur. Each of us were so much in the other’s minds that our collective spy honed and suspicion based analysis led to answers before the questions even needed to be explicitly asked. The real question was what to do about all of it. Most of the problems Lady Chief outlined in her post-Bernadette conference with the President and Prime Minister were still a possibility, including a decision by the Interim Chief to have us all killed. Every indicator started to systematically point in that direction.
There had been no revision of the standing Executive Orders for GLCIS so he was still well within his legal limits to make such a decision, a matter which we knew well. The only 2 pluses for us in our present situation was that GLCIS had already become generally risk adverse and the Interim Chief had reshuffled his top staff, pointedly shifting out all of Lady Chief’s ex-field agents and replacing them with Chicago bureaucrats who knew about “security” but never had to put their lives in trust of it. This new staff would probably increase the “dither response” to any serious GLCIS actions and likely make them telegraph their intentions while they nermed over the matter, leaving more sloppy tradecraft clues for us of the coming danger.
Nobody, in the Ministry or the agency could comprehend that the three of us were all still very alert spies, with plenty of tradecraft available to us, and with far better analytical skills than whatever was still left in the top level of the agency. One major minus for us, however, was that the changes in the Truth Teams proposed by Lady Chief had never been fully implemented, so any dangerous problems for us would still include thugs as well as both bombers and killers.
The first thing that was clear was that the three of us had to establish our roommate relationship immediately. Functionally, the safehouse was still a safehouse, needing only my purchase of another two pistols (and one other change) to return it to it’s fully secure state.
Lady Chief and I took care of the armament issue the same day that we left the Ritz. My electronically recorded gun store background check, retina photograph, and new registration was completed in the 45 minutes we spent browsing the merchandise, having purchased a new GLOCK 43, three extra magazines, and four 100 round boxes of 9mm ammunition for the house and another five shot stubby for me and my clutch. It was a Ruger LCR .38 Special whose trigger was smoother and less stiff than Elisabeth’s old Airweight making it more pleasant to live fire practice with than the Airweight or the Glock.
We then checked out of the Ritz with Lady Chief removing some items from her Ritz strongbox, but paying a full year’s worth of box rental in advance to keep it as a secondary drop, as a Ritz client of the Zone would have done, rather than the 3 months rental that the usual Chicago based traveling salesman would pay.
Both she and I had kept only a small segment of our full wardrobe (about a week’s worth) at the Ritz, with the rest in self-storage in North Chicago, three blocks from Elizabeth’s cozy house. The town was still simple enough and small enough (or in the Outfit’s pocket enough) to see no need for any law requiring valid ID for storage rental. So our storage was not quite listed under the name I normally used, Sally Bayer.
It was astonishing how many self storage facilities you could find in North Chicago. The town was a good place to be in that business for both mom-and-pop operations like we used, and for the two or three large ones informally known locally to be under the control of the Outfit itself and used (among other things) to store spare chop shop electrocar pieces, and maybe even a few bodies waiting to be dumped. Storage rental business was so good that the Boys didn’t even bother to shake down the mom-and-pops, which would have brought them merely chump change and potential bad publicity from the strongarming. Apparently lots of people in Chicago had stuff they felt very shy about owning. Or at least owning up to the fact that they owned it.
What clothes and luggage we had at the Ritz easily fit in my electrocar, and a side trip to the storage unit let us gather up the rest, leaving there that incoherent jumble of things that merely living life attaches to you. Those things we could abandon at a day’s notice, and any adversary, such as GLCIS was proving to be, would attribute far greater significance to the Storage Unit that it merited. We were settled in (and well armed) by mid-afternoon. We kept the unit, rather than Thrift Store the contents, only because multiple secret drops are an important component of an ex-spy’s “insurance policy”, even when the enemy knows where and what the drop is. All of us felt much better when the Glock and the loaded extra magazines were, once again, secretly stowed under the fake knick-knack shelf by the front door. Our safe protocol for answering the front door, that included holding the loaded pistol, was now back in place.
After all that, which normally would be enough for one day, we sat down after dinner, caught our breath, and discussed ways and means far into the night. First, since I was the only one licensed to be armed at all times, and the only one who drove, I’d take over all the shopping and always accompany the other ladies on their own trips.
Lady Chief, whose lonely life had for many years been brightened by a cooking hobby, would take over the kitchen and basement laundry, and Elizabeth would keep up mild housekeeping duties on the first floor within the limits of her 75 year old energy. We would try to avoid having all three of us travel together, leaving the house continuously occupied until such time as we wished to travel abroad.
In order to reduce Elizabeth’s and Lady Chief’s exposure even further, we had bought, with the gun, a kit with a barrel laser and electronic target screen to dry fire drill with the Glock regularly. And we bought sufficient “snap caps” or artificial Glock pistol rounds, so neither of my roommates needed to go to the live fire gun range to practice. The laser was too long to fit the barrel of my five shot snubby, but my trips to the live fire range every couple of weeks or so were no more dangerous exposure of myself than my trips to buy groceries. And in the end, as you will see later, it very much paid off.
It did cause a certain amount of gossip among the range attendants that I always brought in a couple of disposable Thrift Store handbags, usually of horrible taste and strung with DIY rope straps so I could wear them across my body, like my regular clutch. At the end of my range time I would always do several rounds of shooting through both ends of each handbag while they concealed my gun. Any newly hired attendant was always astonished when I regularly shot tight five round groups dead center in the guts of a man target from inside my purse. He hadn’t believed the other guys when they told him I could do this.
Every once in a while one of them would get the nerve up to ask me, when I turned in the rented ear covers and safety glasses and bought new ammunition, how I learned to shoot like that. So I’d tell him, “I taught myself because there are still too many men who don’t understand that “no” means no.” Then I’d ask him to drop my shot up handbags into the waste can behind the counter, and sashay out in my well tailored suit, with my come hither gait, while wearing my gun filled clutch, thus demonstrating just why I might have that problem.
Since our small and cozy little rooming arrangement had only a single small and cozy little bathroom, with also a toilet and crude shower in the basement, womanly primping and patting would have to have an approximate schedule with Elizabeth and I looking the other way at the more extravagant usage of time by the Dutchess of Kumquat.
With two bedrooms and three very intimate roommates each of us would be sleeping two together regularly as need and desire dictated. Our desire was still quite well developed, thank you, with the added incentive that the lovemaking among all three of us deepened and clarified our sense of collective thought, which was nearly the equal of the sex in pleasure, and constantly available to us.
Also before our trip to empty the storage unit of clothes, Lady Chief brought out some more of the ex-spy insurance policy she had stored at the Ritz: extra passports, three for her, three for me, and three for Elizabeth so she could reassume the name Elizabeth after the transfer of the house, but travel under another legal name.
From the point Lady Chief had heard of the outcome of our confrontation with a GLCIS Truth Team years ago, she had 9 different, but legitimate, passport identities carefully created, minus legends, one at a time about every six months or so, and with no hurry behind the behind the requests, doing herself first, me next, and Elizabeth last once she was put on the GLCIS payroll and had a passport picture taken.
These passports weren’t done by the forgers, like foreign documents, but by a special five security cleared person service at the GLC Passport Office. These special Passport Office employees created the yearly workname documentation set for all of GLCIS, and all these were valid and official GLC personal identification. No records of Lady Chief’s requests, beyond the usual proof-of-identity documentation for passport applications, were kept in the Passport Office. All individual GLCIS requests for these new identities had to pass through the Chief of Service office itself, were sent to the Passport Office, and then sent directly back to the CoS. From there, the passports, with individual requests for legends, were sent to the Records Department and legends were written by one of the shell companies.
Thus there was a firewall, controlled by the Chief of Service, between the legal workname identity document and the life story. And no records whatever of these solo identity documents Lady Chief had had created existed in either GLCIS or in the shell company because they hadn’t been sent out for legends.
This protocol had been established by Curtis, the first Chief of GLCIS, exactly for the purpose that Lady Chief had used it for; to create alternate but fully legal identities. This purpose was not an explicit privilege of the CoS, but it had been passed on as a secret from Chief to Chief, usually at the Agent’s Club at the changing of the guard. In Lady Chief’s case, however, the failure to hire a new Chief before her retirement and the obvious conflicts of interests, created by the Matriarchal Assassination, between herself and both GLCIS and the GLC government, prompted her to end the secret tradition.
The “Interim Chief” could make of it all what he would. If he ever even found out about it. He wasn’t good at that sort of thing. His relations as the Senior Intelligence Analyst with Lady Chief had rather quickly deteriorated once she announced her retirement and her recommendation of his appointment as Interim Chief should no permanent Chief be appointed by the time she left. In fact, both the SIA and the Prime Minister, who had little taste for Lady Chief anyway, were prime reasons to have a spy insurance policy at all, given that the Presidential Executive Order allowing the use of assassins still stood.
Further, the GLC Ministry has rather pointedly failed to offer Lady Chief the retirement security services that had been routinely offered to Curtis and we’re still in place for a now very old Ian, the second Chief. Without her asking, a specific memo from the President’s Chief Of Staff was sent to tell Lady Chief that the matter was “under study”. Who knows? Maybe they are studying it still.
So, besides extra real identity documents under different names for the three of us, Lady Chief had persuaded her contact at the Pacifica embassy to obtain nine separate “political asylum” visas, of indefinite duration, one for each passport. With these, we could hop on a flight to Portland on a moment’s notice and establish ourselves wherever we chose in Pacifica under whatever of these names we liked.
She also had returned us to the tradecraft of her Sec/Spy deep cover days and we constantly renewed six month open Chicago to Portland airline tickets, departure time and name left blank, for each of the three of us. Luckily we were all financially placed to afford such a luxury tradecraft. We each always carried the 3 passports in our handbags, one openly and the other two hidden in the lining with all the refugee visas. In the end, we needed it.
The next day after we moved in, I drove Elizabeth to the high end audio store to buy a replacement control center for the GLCIS 24/7 communications recording gear of the house security cameras and of the house recording microphones in each room. These had been run through the GLCIS proprietary Dictalink which had departed two days before. This new system required more digital inputs than the house audio system currently had available, so we also purchased a stand alone supplementary inputs box and digital processor and made arrangements for the boys at the Audio Store to come to install it in the next few days.
Elizabeth told me that high end audiophillia was an addictive drug, and the store workers had just too many opportunities to sample the best there is every day. After we entered the store she spoke to me aside that these were exactly the same clerks who she first met a decade ago, in their late twenties, and were still there, now slowly softening around the edges towards 40.
They still had some of the same juvenile attitude of ten years ago, at least when at work, with a little heavier beard stubble and 20 extra pounds, but around each of them there was an aura, if you will, of a wife who had a far better job than they did and never let them forget it. As well as very demanding children, mostly girls, who had plenty of opportunity to learn from mother how father’s lack of drive and ambition was a cautionary tale to any young woman with motivation and dreams.
As she told her girls this, Mom always thought about the many male subordinates she had of similar temperament that constantly thwarted her dream to have the most professional and motivated department in her company. She resented them. She resented them a lot.
The boys, now the husbands, were all happy Lotus Eaters in the store, hiding from the need to pretend to be responsible adults, with centuries of splendid recorded music on call in the best possible place to hear it. And if more worry lines were slowly being etched into their faces, this may well have been because it was difficult being married to someone constantly comparing you to her marginally acceptable male subordinates at work.
Elizabeth knew quite a lot about this, which I really didn’t learn from whoring only in the Zone, instead of in Cicero when young. Just a little bit of old fashioned listening and a touch of sympathetic flattery brought bigger than normal tips from Johns such as these, who showed up at the house more frequently than was good for them, and had wives who thought of them as stubbornly unfinished construction projects.
And wives surreptitiously slaked their own sexual needs with a vibrator from their purse during the non-power lunch hours alone, with the door closed, at the desk of that nice corner office. Or attending them through affairs of infidelity, usually with other, more senior and powerful, men at work and, occasionally, other women.
Not that hubby knew this, of course, but the one pre-teen son among several daughters named Junior, who was a chip off the old block, brought the vibrator into the kitchen one Saturday and caused a commotion by asking his mother what it was for. Junior’s worldly education was eclipsed in Mom’s mind by the compromised professional security of her purse, and he didn’t get his question answered, or the response that he expected.
That response was positively Matriarchal and left the next week for Junior to carefully evaluate every time he needed to sit down. Luckily, at the time hubby was lackadaisically straightening up the garage before the mowing of the far, far too shaggy lawn and Junior was soon in his room sniveling over the trouser belt welts on his bottom.
Returning to North Chicago, we found Lady Chief on a freshly purchased latest Dictapad version, which we hadn’t known she possessed, talking first to her broker, tidying up her now purely Pacifica based investments; then to her lawyer about the limbo state of her legal rights in the current situation of possible confrontation with GLCIS truth teams, and about updating her will.
Then Lady Chief and I both were knocked back when Elizabeth produced her newly bought Dictapad, which she had been using to make arrangements for the house if we left GLC permanently for hidden ex-pat life abroad. So I had to sheepishly show my freshly purchased Dictapad, too. I had been using it to prep my shopping trips. We all lost it. Then I said, “Maybe we should each enter the Tradecraft Queen of the Year pageant.” Our minds had so merged that we now all had the same good ideas, without realizing that there were two more iterations of them.