Drinks and Part Time Hospitality

While I was in the bar with my usual vodka martini with the French vodka made with rice, Sally appeared, clearly crosseyed from study and also glad the sun was under the yardarm. She ordered a Martini, but, declaring her independence of her Madam, had it with Bombay Sapphire Gin. She said it had more bite than the vodka, but was incredibly aromatic, since Bombay’s top of the line gin had a lot more herbs in it than just juniper berries. Another knot in her handkerchief from independent study. She offered me a taste and I found I preferred the smoothness and said so. I didn’t ask her. I’d know the next time we sat in a bar I’d see what she ordered.

I told her about my day in detail, as much detail as I’ve told you, and she was all agog. Her day wasn’t nearly that exciting. We were both dead tired, she from moving her brain too much and I from moving my body the same way. So we decided to dine at the Soho once again. The Beef Wellington and plum pudding were so good, we decided on an encore. It was a good choice. I told her we’d be checking out in the morning, and going to my Canadian friend’s. I’d treat my friend to the breakfast of her choice and have her suggest something good and local for dinner. We’d want to gad around the next day so we’d let my friend take the lead for sightseeing.

As we returned to our room, I made a detour to retrieve my package from Chicago from my strong box. Up in the room, I unwrapped both my packages for Sally. She knew what was in my clutch so she waited patiently while I worked my way through tape and bubble wrap to reveal my little snubby gun, the bullets, and the five shot loader that came with it, then put them back in the clutch and the clutch aside on the room dresser. Then Sally scooted on her chair casters closer to me for the unveiling of the Pearl Without Price. As the tissue paper came off and Kuan Yin in jade was revealed, something intangible shifted in the atmosphere of the room, as if the beauty of the statue itself suffused the walls and ceiling with more brightness.

I took my Taoist Sage at his word. I knew something about the Buddhism behind the statue, held it in my two hands, and prayed openly and aloud as an appeal and because of our “clouds and water” life, asking Kuan Yin to protect us from all danger and to particularly protect us from the killers chasing us. An astonished Sally asked to pray, too, and said much the same thing aloud , without the Chinese euphemism, that I explained to her after I set the statue carefully on the dresser top, where She would look over us in bed, and moving my clutch to an end table.

And it was bed to sleep in by the weary that called us once again.

Our check out was just as uneventful as our check in. We were traveling very light, with Sally’s Legend, extra underwear, and my jade statue in my duffle. In the electrocab we didn’t need a fancy four left turn follower temperature taking, nor that much of head-on-a-swivel since traffic was very light and all headed in the other direction. Arriving at my friend’s place and ringing the doorbell, when she answered, we invited her to breakfast. She said to come on in, and then retired to the bathroom mirror to “fix her hair”. Not that it needed that much, if any, fixing, but we ladies have to be free from worry whether it does. Then off in her electrocar, she took us not to a franchise, but a mom-and-pop establishment where all the regulars are seated close together. I had a lamb chop with my eggs, potatoes and sourdough toast. More good stuff from this side of the Great Lakes.

Rachel, my Part Time Lady friend, hadn’t seen me since her husband died. He apparently was cheering loudly, like men do, at the hockey game on television while she was in the kitchen fixing some finger food, and then all of a sudden he stopped. She thought he’d left his chair to go to the toilet. Then she came out with the food trays and found him slumped. Even a part time involvement with whoredom steels you for action in crisis. First, she didn’t scream and drop the food. She put it on the end table, searched for a pulse and couldn’t find one, pulled out her Dictapad and called for the EMD. No he was non-responsive and had no pulse, his color is starting to change, if I can pull him off his chair, I’ll start CPR. The front door will be open.

She fixed the door, gave an horrendous yank (straining her back) of his shoes and feet, and he fell thudding onto the floor. All this had probably taken about 4 minutes, she thought, and on his own he had only 10. If she could get the blood moving, he might get 5 more. So she ripped his shirt buttons open and started pumping his chest while she could feel the strain of her back pull tighter and tighter against her. She wasn’t strong enough to break his ribs, but she kept the chest moving and probably was pushing blood his brain needed and giving him more time. The sirens were in the air.

The squad arrived at about 8 minutes after his collapse, when she was starting to falter from the pain. One of the EMTS took over, he did break ribs, and two more wheeled in the 2 ft high gurney. One of these pulled the shock pads off of it and zapped Gene. The other had a stethoscope on him and said they were getting something. They hoisted him up 1, 2, 3, popped the gurney up to waist level and rolled it swiftly to the squad. As it pulled away with the siren and lights, they restarted CPR until the pads were brought over and they shocked him again. No response. More CPR. Another shock. They don’t do more than 3. No response. DOA.

She wasn’t devastated, even after the call from the hospital, that would come later. But the shock got to her and she barely had time to get to the counter to get a quick cup of hot sweet tea from the just filled pot. She got to one of the other chairs, collapsed, and started bawling. Gene didn’t pimp for her, but still loved her even though he had to look the other way and not ask about the extra cash that bought groceries, while his paycheck just covered the mortgage and bills. He was ten years older than she so she was still at the tail end of a Part Time Career when he retired. It had bought the house and they still had money for food and bills. They fit each other, and that was all that mattered, but now she had no one to fit to. She cried until she woke up in the chair in the dark.

The next day, the mortician called, Gene had no ID at the hospital so she had to come tomorrow and legally identify the body. That afternoon the police came. She had a rap sheet, 3 arrests, 1 misdemeanor conviction. And that’s almost certainly why they came, not because of Gene’s death, as they claimed. She put up with about 3 minutes of being pestered about her current lifestyle.

Then she put her foot down. Look, he’s still a John Doe until I go identify him tomorrow. So, officially, you can’t even know who his wife might be. You’ve come in here and asked absolutely no questions about him because there aren’t any yet to ask. I haven’t asked you, because I don’t care, but you’re almost certainly from the vice squad, simply nosing around because my name and record came up. Take your fishing poles out of here and send the real officers who are supposed to come here when the body is finally attached to a legal name.

Everything else went as you’d expect.

I looked at Sally and she looked at me. Neither of us had to say anything then or later. A whore is forever, peaches. I know, and I will have a “criminal character” wherever I go, even without a rap sheet, and will be pestered about it even when I reach the old folks home. Auntie, I’m all grown up and I’m tough enough.

She was.

Rachel wanted to go to the Bay, so we shopped with and for her, since there was nothing needed for our journey. But the Bay is a wonderful place. Everything is there and there’s plenty for everybody with the money to buy. Absolutely the opposite of the Zone, nothing is there (it hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s on the way) and there will never be enough of it, money or no. So, Gentleman John, come talk to Lady Madam of Elizabeth’s Secret of Scarlet Fever Lane (we’ve already arrived, we’re staying, and we make enough immediately if at the moment you ring the doorbell all the on call are busy) We’re a good buy, your government supports your entertainment, and for about 20 years I’ve been swinging this well worn strap, so WE are the best house of High Class Tarts in the Zone, and that means the best High Class Tarts in the world.

Just tip realistically, and behave yourself, or it will be YOU unwillingly getting better acquainted with the well worn strap.

Rachel’s choice for dinner was a Punjabi restaurant up a flight of stairs. The atmosphere was exotic enough with minimum effort, yellow plaster walls, red glass and candle fairy lamps at each table, four table lamps with 40 watt bulbs and dark red shades along the wall, dark red tablecloths, an intricately carved sandalwood three part screen shielding the cash register, and restrained vina music softly coming from small ceiling speakers.

We ordered an array of dishes for sharing, the tandoori chicken was up to standard but not more, the potatoes and rice had a touch of some kind of mint, a pleasant surprise, the Lamb Korma was medium and not mild as we ordered but the best taste and texture there, and the lentils were hearty and filling. The Galab Jamun, the dough ball with honey, was a little heavy but the honey had some flavor to it beyond clover, and the rose water flavored kulfi (milk heavy, sherbet texture) was near perfect.

We then returned to Rachel’s house. It was small but more scattered than Harriet’s. Much of the furniture was Thrift Store Special, the only reason for it to be in this house is that it was once in a thrift store and in very good condition, with no necessary relation to any other piece of furniture in the house. In other words, the interior of the house slipped over the line from “eclectic” to “random”.

All the things you might expect to find in a house were there but with little about any single piece of it worth describing. Except for one thing, Gene’s throne in front of the 40 year old Electroscreen. She still kept it there, but we didn’t ask if she ever sat in it. It was a vaguely 1960’s Danish modern arm chair with two flat, hard, rectangular, disconnected, and dark orange upholstery cushions, one for the seat and a longer one for the back. The cushions were backed by wide crossing bleached canvas webbing and the webbing was tilted backward about 15 deg. by the structure of the wood frame, bringing gravity to bear on the problem of keeping the cushions on the chair. Arms, legs and other structures were hand restained in dark mahogany over what was once blonde Scandinavian birch. Both arms were curved in the shape of a cantaloupe slice, concave side up, but thinner, narrowing to points on both the front and the rear. And the other structures of the chair were wood in shapes as common as water. This was the masculine throne.

The amazing thing to south of the Great Lakes eyes, is how hard and uncomfortable it was. We still surround our men at home with impossibly soft and padded reclining chairs, and have done so now for about 80 years. You seldom see it, north of the Great Lakes, in what they talk about, what they eat, or, even how they whore, but the strain of stoicism in the face of hardship is still there underneath. And it peeps out in many unexpected places as simple as a no frills arm chair and its limited comfort. As a look the other way husband, Gene’s role there, too, was a stoic one.

Rachel was dead flat lonely, with enough to live on a widow’s pension but not enough to venture forth and meet new friends. And she was no longer a Part Time Lady, age caught up with her as it does for all whores, even in easy going Toronto. She was desperate to talk to someone about something, anyone about anything. She wanted to hear a brief recap about of how we got to Toronto on the run, who we were running from and why. When we told the brief version of the story, there was awe in her eyes.

Elizabeth and Sally were living in the situation most commonly encountered in novels of international intrigue, from readable to trash, or in the adventure fiction on television. But there was a great deal of human concern in Rachels’ speech and body language. We had to reassure her that, though we were in great danger, we were prepared for it. It might not find us until we reach our destination which was Elizabeth’s whorehouse, where even danger, if it comes, will have to ring the doorbell first, like any Jane or John, and the door and doorbell were under our control. And if danger finally found us, it would not take us by surprise.

So much of the professional killing by agencies such as GLCIS and Mossad relies on the target being taken by surprise, and dead before they know what is going on. So the killers are dominated by any assassin’s tradecraft they’ve studied, which means routine actions and routine thinking. If the target isn’t taken by surprise, particularly one like Elizabeth, who is secretly armed and armored, all bets are off. Like Lady Chief and the unsuccessful sniper, beyond what they’ve trained for, they bring to the table little more that the wits, talent, and flexibility of the average man. If that.

But, in the end, being convinced of our awareness and resolution, the awe in her eyes won out. After that Rachel could release her needed monologue about her life without Gene, of places unknown to us and people not familiar to us who remained mere names. Elizabeth gave Sally the “here’s your next lesson, girl” look and then proceeded to listen like the whore she was to the Johns she listens to, looking for the opportunity to ask questions that would take the talk toward a place of fresh memories that would keep Rachel from flagging before the release she needed. And the simple thing that is so hard, to just keep paying attention to what you are clueless about because “you had to be there” and you were never there at all.

Sally watched both women sharply looking for clues how Elizabeth was doing one of the components of her job, that of listening well and talking to perfect strangers. Rachel, of course, was not a “stranger” though her narrative was that of one. So, in the end, when Rachel had exhausted her capacity for any talk, though there was still plenty more to say, Elizabeth simply got up, went over, and hugged Rachel silently, with a backward glance at Sally, who got up and did the same thing. And Rachel began to cry, the stoic mask breaking open to reveal for the first time, the depth of her heartache, even to herself. So they simply continued the contact and the closeness that says “We’re sorry, but we understand and will stick with you as long as you need to be heard.”

When she was genuinely finished, and not before then, we three all turned in to sleep.

In the morning at the Toronto Bus Station bus parking and loading dock, we found our bus. It didn’t take much, no other coaches were there. The bus was painted red, smeared over with decades of unwashable diesel fume residue, and surrounded with an almost visible aura of diesel exhaust. This must have been the absolutely last diesel bus in the fleet.

While we were standing next to the open door waiting, our driver was fiddling with colored flimsies on a clipboard, also a throwback of memories. Like a few things in our slowly contracting world, long distance driving still used paper to keep track of things because no one could ever figure out how to do the work efficiently electronically, except to electrify the coaches and trucks themselves. Except for ours, which Sally and I named Red Gertie. And so I floated idly between Iowa in 2019 when my school playground was just across a side street from the Bus Station and 2078 standing by the Toronto bus station in a little tidal pool of the past.

Sally made a prune face at the noise and smell but didn’t say anything. She was born in the electrocar era and, unlike me, had no memories of how noisy and smelly fossil fuel vehicles used to be. Used to be in the eyes of a child that I saw in my mind’s eye rather like peering the wrong way down an old fashioned pirate spy glass. I didn’t really want to get any closer. The engine wheezed darkly in idle as the two of us got on and then the driver. There was no one else. The bus grunted and shuddered into reverse as the driver turned the impressively large and almost horizontal steering wheel, hands end over end to back the bus left, then turning the opposite way to straighten the wheels right and forward onto the roads.

All memories pre Shitstorm are scalding to this old woman; the good times were, objectively, so much better than any good times now, and the bad times were also so much better than the bad times now. And everything we see or touch in this woman’s country has the same smeared over surface as the windows of our bus, smeared not with decades of diesel exhaust but with ennui, boredom, as we wait for the last of the fugitive ice on the planet to melt, the last of the Sea Level rise from it, and the continued fugitive crowding of us into the North by the slow but relentless march of uninhabitable heat behind us.

My prose goes on like our bus trip, word after word after word, mile after mile after mile of nothing.

The methane in the upper atmosphere is not going anywhere anytime soon and it was the melting ice and rising oceans that slowed the heat increase over the past 100 years. They are soon to be maxed out, and if the methane continues to keep more heat in the atmosphere than it lets drain away, then we are within sight of our own extinction. 

The Great Lakes are already a small pocket of people clustered tightly on the shore where the temperatures will rise slowest due to the “lake effect” until we are forced off the land below the 50deg N parallel of latitude on our little water covered island. When? Two generations, 40 years? three generations, 60 years? four generations, 80 years? Four sounds like a good number to me. Humanity as the cap and size 6b shoes of the once blue, fertile, and generous planet. Will it stop there? Probably not.

The only locals were along the Toronto to Hamilton to Niagara Falls (Canadian side) leg. The bus stopped on demand and let them off further along the way. There were a total of six by midday, then, on the American side, none.

The bus sauntered on it’s way past the magnificence of Niagara Falls, before mile after mile after mile of nothing through what used to be called the Southern Tier of Upstate New York, more or less on the Pennsylvania border, where there wasn’t all that much even before the Shitstorm. At the halfway point of the journey there was a station with a Bus Line owned diesel service pump where we refueled. With so little fossil fuel even around, keeping the tank topped up on Red Gertie was a really good idea.

We stopped and waited half an hour, for the next diesel bus, Blue Bonnie, equally covered in exhaust residue, heading west from Kingston to pull in. So the company (probably) still had only two such busses left on its longest backwater run. Sally got out, stretched her legs, went to the restroom, bought a candy bar and a lime soda from inside of the station, and kept reading her Legend while sitting at an outside picnic table. I did the same thing, except I bought a root beer (a taste from a rural Iowa long gone), and walked along the chain fence separating the gravel plaza from the field beyond. 

There were a number respectable trees from better days planted on either side of the road forming a tiny, fully wooded, copice surrounded by what was once farmland, and now on it’s long journey back to climax forest, if the heat didn’t interrupt it first. There was plenty of brush grass, scrub bushes, and vines of all kinds, with the first generation trees, Redbuds and Sumac, spotted intermittently among them

The second bus arrived from the east to top up fuel; the drivers switched clipboards and coaches so the one living in Toronto could get back before dinner, as could the one living in Kingston. There were more passengers on the Toronto inbound. I counted about five. On the way down, three electrocars had passed us on the opposite side of the road, and two passed on our side, one while we were waiting for the other bus, as did a couple of electrocycles with riders in green trimmed colorblock white windbreakers and red helmets with sunglass visors covering the whole face.

Then the whole process of a grumbling engine idle, smell of diesel exhaust, the protest at being revved up while the bus backed up first, and the end over end steering wheel travel happened again and we were off. The road started to get rougher for a while and our dodgy shocks and springs huffed and puffed over it, bouncing the passenger seats merrily as they went. Once the road had smoothed out a little, the rhythm of the diesel engine and the slight side to side movement of inertia of the coach when taking a curve was soporific and I spent the next quarter of the journey alternating between thinking and dozing.

Thoughts of Lady Chief lead to a hypnagogic dream of the two states of her face morphing back and forth, first with glimpses of the feral smile, then whole seconds of it, then longer and longer, until there was only the glimpses left of the Lady Chief we knew. I was frozen and terrified and running past my limit when every thing became brightly lit and feral Lady Chief dissolved leaving our Lady Chief naked in mind and curling into a fetal ball under the impact of the light…..

Then there was a voice in my head holding my attention in the state of almost awakened, where I could just barely feel the bus once again around me. “You have access, my dear. How you think is how things become. The “demons” pursuing your Lady Chief are but your mind and hers. You and I together have the strength enough to dissolve these manifestations for her. Pray to me for her. What she has done and is still doing is pushing her into a next life of torment….” I woke fully and could hear myself mumbling softly “a life of torment” and shivering as I did

Just before we entered the Catskills at the ghost town of Margaretville, I looked out the window to my right and saw the two electrocyclists stopped on the empty cross street and starting to turn behind us. They must have passed again on the left as the law demands, but I couldn’t see them. Other empty little towns appeared and vanished, some, like Woodstock, still having the faint cheer of an artist’s colony in fading exotic boutique signs in the wind and rain and neglect, and other towns with no visible names but merely wrecks.

When I was under my madam in Cicero, Johns of intelligence made up a large part of my patrons who, between orgasms 1 and 2, would talk about many things they knew. And, once, a John who started talking about the Catskills told me that, before the Shitstorm there were several Buddhist establishments, including a full fledged monastery, near Woodstock, on top of those mountains. They, like the Matriarchals to the East of them, were the only ones who didn’t panic and stayed put. Or so a friend of a friend told him. That was over thirty years ago, and as we meandered through dark green mountains, I wondered if they were still there. Or were they, too, forced out by lack of resources and into one of the dingy cities along the lake fronts that survived.

We were nearing Kingston. Lady Chief, in an idle moment in the Agent’s club, while we fleshed out the details of my travels, mentioned that the bus station there was just a stone’s throw from the footbridge to the Zone, which was once built for the fossil fuel automobile traffic of over a century ago. The bridge was still structurally sound so the Zone and GLC, back when relations were better, agreed to refound the towns of Kingston and Rhinecliff as Customs Centers, and sink enough money into them to support a small infrastructure for the lives of the Customs Officers and Police assigned there. As well as their households.

There was a larger and newer bridge for goods traffic two miles upriver from the foot bridge. The older bridge was turned over to pedestrians only, but with still maintained vehicle lanes, closed, with openable gates on both sides so there could be reasonable coordination of emergency services. There was an unwritten agreement that, if help was needed, emergency vehicles would cross over either way despite CUS/PAS regulations and Rhinebeck’s FEM/DOMS would organize the emergency newcomers on the Zone side.

We reached the little town of Kingston, nothing special, just every thing of the bare bones services like self-serve laundries. The bus finally came to a stop and I saw the bad news. Peter and the Truth Team were sitting on the rustic picnic table in front of the station. They must have been confident of their escape to make our killing so brazen.

“Sally, we’re going to have to rely on our vests and my clutch. When we get off the bus I want you to keep directly behind me as close as you can, touching my back if you can. If I start to fall, hold me long enough to get to the gun in my clutch. Remember to use both hands. The killer has the gun behind his back, the thugs each have a knife. We’re going to walk straight toward them.”

I got up, put my right hand in my clutch, palm solidly on the butt, finger on the trigger. My left held the airport dufflebag carrying one set of our underwear, my statue and spices, and Sally’s Legend. Out of the corner of my eye to my right, I saw an electrocar parked, front forward, next to a couple of electrocycles. That must be the getaway car, I thought. Do they have the engine running? I grabbed the exit bar on the left side door of the bus, still holding the duffel with two fingers. I felt Sally’s breathing on my neck. We stepped down and started walking. The table was about twenty yards away. All four men got up. It was quite clear who was the killer, who were the thugs, and who was the candy ass bureaucrat hanging behind.

The killer started walking straight toward me, hands down at his sides. Nothing excited, just a stroll. The others hung back, thugs with right hands in their front pockets, candy ass with a growing smile on his face. The distance between us lessened and I could see the pale, cloudy grey marbles of the killers’ eyes. They narrowed and his walk hesitated. I kept walking steadily, now shifting slightly to my left to cover his torso. I could feel the sweat of my palm on my gun in my clutch. I let the dufflebag fall. I needed to see his gun in his hand to claim self-defense, so I had to let him shoot me and trust the vest.

He made his move. His right hand swept back and the clumsy mouth of the silencer rose toward me in slow motion. I jerked the trigger three times and saw the silencer, pointed straight at me, jump four. The .38 rounds were LOUD! The killer looked surprised, then grimaced, bent over while grabbing his abdomen, and fell forward. I jerked the gun out and was trying to settle my other shaky hand around it when the submachine gun fire started. Five short bursts, I think.

Then I came to. The killer was lying straight in front of me. The thugs were lying both tilted slightly toward my left, and about 10 feet behind the killer, still holding knives. Blood was seeping out of them, a moderate amount out of the killer, but copiously out of the thugs. They would have reached me and slashed our throats before I could get control of the gun. In the distance, I recognized Sarah of GLCCA bending over Peter and placing a knife in his right hand. I felt Sally leaning on my back and crying.

I thought, well, Lady Chief, I guess you made your decision: no survivors, even among your own Truth Team.

“Yes, Elizabeth, that’s what we were told. It’s Violet. Now give me the gun.” She already had it out of my hand, and was deftly removing the clutch from my shoulder. The gun went back in it. I hadn’t realized that I’d been speaking aloud. Violet already had the submachine pistol back in it’s left underarm harness, the green trimmed white windbreaker over it, and her red helmet dangling from her other hip. She’d retrieved my dufflebag as well, “Now come with me for a walk, girls.” I could see the bridge, the Hudson River, and Rhinecliff of the Zone in the distance. Soon we were on it, walking over it, and heading toward it.

I saw a painted line running across the bridge. “Now cross that line and don’t you dare cross back over!” We crossed. “On that side of the line I have no power to arrest you, or even cross it.” She swung in her left hand, my clutch with the gun and the powder burned hole in it, around her head and then flung it into the river. “Unfortunately, your .38 bullets will show up in the autopsy. We were’t expecting them, but you did some damn fine crisis shooting. Your Chief may be able to deal with that, but we can’t take chances. For now, you escaped over the Hudson in the confusion. DON’T come back to GLC until your agency tells you to. Goodbye, and good luck.”

“Go well, Violet.” I said. Then we turned around and started walking toward the Zone. My hands holding the duffel with the underwear, the statue, and the Legend, Sally’s hands empty at her sides. Three men were dead, killed in innocence, criminals or not, betrayed by someone in GLCIS, now also dead, that they trusted to follow. As I said at morning breakfast in the Ritz, “a gray no man’s land of no guilt or innocence, no evil or good, merely the luck of the draw.” 

Lady Chief was now pushed a little closer to demonic madness, as in my dream. I remembered the white and green jade of Kuan Yin, the last voice in my dream, and the white and green jackets of our newest team members. I drew no conclusions but kept these things in my memory, in that order, from then until now. I kept silent. They were not only Sally’s bodies, they were my bodies because I’m forever linked by heart and Eros to a spunky little agent wannabe who was just a sckosh more grown up than she let on to her two favorite aunts.

As we exited from Cus/Pas, with me retina checked, Sally GPS chipped, retina scanned, and her passport whore visaed, we saw 5 or 6 Fem/Dom beat patrol cops. Instead of being bare headed like the ordinary ones, these women had navy blue Garrison caps, soft, brimless, seamed on top front to back, with blue piping, and secondary rank badges on each front side of them. The counterintelligence corps wore these when they wanted to distinguish themselves from the plain working cops.

Usually they didn’t, so you didn’t get to see those caps very much outside of Fem/Dom Headquarters. It was far more useful to substitute “counters”, as they were called, seamlessly into the regular patrols if special surveillance or investigation was needed. They wore a very small dark bronze lapel badge for the benefit of keeping other beat cops up to speed. That also isn’t very widely known. But I’m a Madam and Madams know things.

The largest of them came toward us. Taking her Garrison cap off wouldn’t have disguised her in the least. She looked like the rear of a navy blue beer truck in her uniform. She wasn’t as tall as the old Sec/Spy Goons, perhaps about 5′ 10″, but she was broader across the breasts and heavier in the arms. She had six full gold rank rings on each sleeve and the top one had a circle bent into it. You didn’t see that very often. Five rings was a full captain and that was the highest ranking cop most of the Zone public ever saw, and that seldom. She also had two golden oak leaves, one pinned on each side of her cap, and iron grey hair underneath it. Seeing those oak leaves was even rarer.

“Are you Elizabeth and Sally? Then please come with me.” We walked to a huge electrovan with FEM/DOM CONTROL on each side in the largest possible letters. The rear doors were open and the porta-steps were down. There were several large swivel chairs next to machines and she indicated that we should sit down. “I’ve something to show you,” she said. She took from her breast pocket a torn half of postcard. It looked almost like a business card in her large hand. I took out my half card. They matched.

She shut the back doors of the van and relieved me of my card half. “I’m a Fem/Dom Commander, but my name doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you a personal story briefly. When I was a young beat cop 20 years ago I had a wonderful love affair with an interrogator of Sec/Spy

“She always wore her uniform (of course I didn’t, I wanted my down time) and would never tell me her real name or meet me anywhere but my own apartment. She would say that SEC/SPY security was 24/7 and, especially as an interrogator, she always needed to show that the Agency came first. I called her Julie because I had to call her something. I’ve never loved anyone more. When SEC/SPY exploded my Julie simply vanished and I could never learn who she truly was or where she went.

“Because of her, I’m speaking to you confidentially and off the record. We had identified the five professional non-citizen killers behind the wave of murders that had been going down in the Zone in the last six months, and were surveiling them as they worked in the Food Court of a local building. We first spotted them when two other male workers, who were a non-citizen couple, were found dead together, slain execution style. A back check of GPS chips did the rest.

“A few days ago we started shadowing each of them, with their GPS, back and forth from the Montpellier Airport, a suspect at a time. Then they all appeared there at the same time. I made the decision to pull them in. One of my confidential sources, a very confidential one, had told me that they were killers from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. They had an arsenal of silenced pistols on their person. And you two were their target. This was unbelievably brazen, daylight and in a crowded airport, so somebody really wanted you dead and dead now.”

I interrupted, “Yeah, but he doesn’t want it any more.”

“Good. So we had them in for a little talk. I already know quite a lot about you, Elizabeth. A couple of our plain clothes have a marvelous story about your expertise with a tawse. We gave the perps a little exhibition of leather and elbow grease. They thought they were tough and didn’t think we women cops could be that much of a problem. Now they think differently. Very differently.

“They told us they were run from the very same building where they served food. We had to chat with the Matriarchs and show them that these clowns have been running amok through the Zone for the last six months taking 23 separate scalps of other visitors. So we’re busting that building in a couple of hours. There was another assassination team in Albany that we didn’t know about until we sweated the one in Montpelier, but we’ve had the building staked out and they returned to it, probably because of the Montpellier Airport bust, and are now hiding in it. The knockover is going to take a SWAT team surrounding the building with a war dance in full combat dress, and maybe even a little plastic explosive.

“Fem/Dom is on the case, and you WILL be safe in the Zone if I have any say about it. And I’ve quite a lot.”

“Thank you Commander!” I said. “I’m sure you also know, unofficially, that my house bends the rules and welcomes any of you that need a little down time, uniform or not. We’ve not had the pleasure of your company, but we’d love to. We’ll never ask your name, and, in a month or two, even Sally here can give you a very warm welcome. On the house.”

She broke her very official face into a slight smile, “I’ll keep it in mind. Would you like a ride up to Montpellier on us?”

“Absolutely! We’re both sick of busses. Traveling on busses is very, very noisy and very, very rough.”

“We gathered that,” she said dryly, “sound travels a long way across the Hudson. Welcome home.”

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