The Dutchess of Kumquat

Sally’s glass was still half full when I returned and, wonder of wonders, mine was even still cold! I asked her if she liked it. She said it was quite nice. Better than a Margharita? She stuck her tongue out at me and said Yes. Then she looked at me narrowly and asked, “Where’s your clutch?”

I replied, “Aw, you noticed! Did we learn to do that in Spy School?”

“Lady, it’s been ‘comehithering’ at me all day while I’ve been following you.”

Now it was my turn to stick my tongue out, “That’s a cheeky and insubordinate way to talk to your Madam!”

“In for a penny, in for a pound. She’s going to beat my ass off anyway, so why not?”

Then she looked down at the table, “I’m scared, Elizabeth, I’m scared. I know we can’t take that gun on the plane tomorrow, but now not having it scares me just as much as your having it did when I first saw it.”

I said, “Honey, I’m scared, too. For all I’ve done, I’ve never been chased by professional killers before. We both need to cry on the shoulders of Lady Chief.”

“Now that we got a look at the killer in her, thinking about having Peter shot, she scares me as much as anyone. Only you don’t scare me.”

I didn’t have much to say to that. After flogging Jill whore and Jane madam, even I scared me.

Sally continued, still distressed, “I dreamed last night that I went into my bathroom, turned on the light and Lady Chief’s killer face was staring back at me from the mirror. I woke up in a cold sweat. I already have an answer to your question the other morning: No, you can’t be a decent human being when you’re a spy. But I’m already a spy!

“I’ve no body count yet, but if Lady Chief, our doubles, our babysitters, or you but not I are killed, that will be the first of my bodies to always carry with me. I don’t think she’s directly ordered that many killed, though I’m sure at least one, or she wouldn’t occasionally have that face, but she and you both made clear that my bodies will include all the ‘collateral damage’ of my spying. That frightens me almost as much as being given my own ‘moment of truth’ either by Mossad’s killers or by those of GLCIS.”

At that point our waitress said the bar had a call for Elizabeth. I went and picked it up. “Hello?”

“Will you two stop getting soused down there and come up to shower and change so we can eat!” Lady Chief, only 2/3 annoyed, but still annoyed. I settled up both tab and tip at the bar.

“We are being paged, peaches, and if we don’t wear our goodie two shoes and look sorry, we might get OUR butts beaten off!”

Lady Chief was buoyant, “Elizabeth, your suggestion to show the Mossad refugee Peter’s picture has hit the jackpot! He produced names and dates and content of the meetings. He said that Peter even had the recklessness to use his GLICIS workname! We checked and dated his expense records. He had the gall to have GLICIS both pay for the flights and his per diem! We now have no need to interrogate him whatever.” She looked up and away from us, then she said softly and slowly, “It’s just shame there’s a truth team involved…”

I shivered and, in my mind’s eye I saw Peter’s corpse on an autopsy table. She’s made her decision to have him killed, I thought, and maybe her own Truth Team, too. More bodies from the job to carry for the rest of her life. I looked at Sally. I could see she had realized the same thing, but both of us kept silent.

“Let’s clean up, ladies,” Lady Chief said, “You two and your Martinis have made us a little late.”

The routine with the Babysitters was the same, blue car in front, taxi behind. I warned Lady Chief about the Hawaiian shirts, but I could still see her give a little shudder. The guys though, were still happy as clams, and smiled at us as they passed our location then parked. They looked just like novelty salt and pepper shakers. They were probably both happily married men. Some men who are still look at and like well dressed women of any age with no self-consciousness, never even considering themselves anything but already spoken for.

At the entrance to the Club skyscraper, the hula twins were a little more discreet than Violet and Sarah. They were actually in long pants, tan chinos, with badges on belt fobs and service automatics casually but carefully on their belts. They just must have had the loud shirts for the “not police” profile, not understanding that both wearing the same style was also a signal of “police”. No submachine pistols, however. They held both doors for us and even came in with us until we were on the elevator.

Upstairs, our doubles were already there. We each evaluated the others. GLCCA seemed to be one of those services where the women were noticeably brighter than the men. GLCIS not so much. The latter is a far more satisfying place to work. And the women who work there look far more satisfied.

My double and I immediately had a little cop-and-Madam eye to eye with each other. My looks have aged reasonably well; I don’t dye my hair though I care for it and my skin, my weight has always been in control; and my tailoring is the best that Chicago has to offer. My double was more careworn and dissatisfied with life, a little too comfortable in a swivel chair with the hip expansion that brings, and did have a decent clothes eye to pick the best that a middle level salary and the department stores of Cleveland could do for her, but she was a skinflint about hair care and it showed: substance too dry and her self applied, out of the box, hair color too bulletproof.

And, of course, Lady Chief, at the pinnacle of professional achievement, never looked like anything less than the Dutchess of Kumquat, and even disheveled (we’d seen a lot of this over the past five days) still looked like a disheveled Dutchess of Kumquat. She wasn’t disheveled this evening.

Sally and Double Sally both had the under 30 freshness that shines in any simple clothing, but Sally understood that nobody really shines in bargain basement, “business attire” and had the sense never to wear any. Double Sally not so much.

Our guests clearly both thought they were tougher than I was, AND thought they were tougher than they were. Maybe they were right. Double Sally was more subdued (she was with The Boss, after all) but quite quickly picked up that, despite discrepancies in Seniority, Age, Experience, and Profession, the three of us were clearly a team. My double figured that out, too, but was not nearly so approving of it, or me.

Over dinner Lady Chief, with input from both of us, outlined the basic situation, a mole of Mossad’s in GLCIS. She told them that there was at least one Mossad killer in the city who had taken a rifle shot at Lady Chief already, that we’d found the rifle, and that there was probably a team of as many as five with silenced pistols and five extra magazines for each killer.

“Mossad assassin tradecraft is obsessively over engineered, and silenced 9mms with subsonic ammunition for close killing is their standard handwriting.”

At this point Double Sally had to be told the meaning of all that intelligence agency jargon. Double me had a frown that was almost a scowl. Like Lady Chief said, as a spy catching agency, GLCCA was not quite up to speed, though they were pretty good cops. They also clearly had a home brewed “know you place” culture, with the drawbacks of the Matriarchals minus their advantages.

Sally spoke and Double Me’s scowl deepened, “They know that their mole is blown and that our return to the Matriarchal Zone is highly likely to disrupt all they are doing over there. The Midway flight is the only specific place and time they have located for us, and they will be trying to kill you at all costs. Do you have your vests?” They nodded.

“And will you be armed?” I contributed. Desk workers above a certain rank were discouraged from carrying, so she hadn’t brought any guns, only Double Sally was armed. “Bad idea. It’s your choice, but I’m sure Lady Chief can have something brought to you from the GLICIS arsenal tomorrow morning, if you ask. Correct?”

“We at least can talk about how up to par your shooting skills are,” thus Lady Chief.

She resumed, “Mossad’s tactics favor using choke points. Such as doorways. In homes or apartments they often use ‘delivery man’ ruses. In an open area they will favor any hard door you must pass through, shooting on the outside for faster escape, or indoor choke points like the security pass through. They also like to shoot from concealment and bullet resistant cover whenever possible. Therefore the place of greatest danger for you is the Airport Building Entrance. There are lots of places for concealment and cover such as permanent concrete waste containers. I’ve advised your Chief that the best way to avoid a firefight is low profile concealment of your officers that identifies the killers before they have shown their guns and makes the bust then.

“Once their guns are out they will shoot and keep shooting. From behind cover, experience has shown that they have sufficient tactical training to escape apprehension by doing so, even against larger security forces. Basically, if they start shooting, you’ll have to kill them. Since they’re foreign intelligence assassins, this is a Major Security Danger and the legal rules of engagement are far less restrictive even than ordinary SWAT team apprehensions. Keep that in mind. Any questions?”

“Thank you very much for the briefing. I’m sure our officers are able to have things well in hand.” Double me, dismissively.

Lady Chief smiled, “Then let’s enjoy the main courses of our dinner.”

One thing my profession hasn’t given me is time to learn about the fancier foods, even though I enjoy them when I have them. I make sure my girls cook well. We have 16 in the House, of whom 4 are on call daily to service the Johns, so there are 6 day shifts of two cooks, two dishwashers who also do laundry, and two housekeepers each, plus a day off for every girl. A good deal of Sally’s training, both as whore and madam, will be large scale home economics.

But the girls cling to comfort food in a life that doesn’t have many comforts, so our standby is the old, old standard, Joy of Cooking, now almost 150 years old. I’ve not mentioned it, but a majority of the Madam’s time is taken up in marketing and meal planning rather than tanning backsides, and a majority of the girls’ time is cooking or cleaning. I insist on it. It makes everybody happier: girls, Johns, and Madam. Clear, strict, rules and home comforts are what keep both they and me out of the Punishment Room.

Lady Chief attempted to open some conversation about the dishes on the table. Sally and I both had many questions and ideas. Our guests were rather silent and morose, though they did seem to enjoy the meal. I think Double Sally would have been more participatory had she not been under the eye of The Boss. I also suspect there was very little straight talk in their shop. You can manage with that when little but promotion is on the line. In GLCIS, it’s lives on the line, as Peter might find out since Lady Chief decided that interrogating him would not be fruitful and Mossad will decide that he is no longer useful.

With coffee, Lady Chief spoke, “My team have confidential matters to discuss, so we’ll be adjourning to the Library. The Entertainment Room is to your left. Feel free to have the run of it. We’ll inform you when you need to leave with me.” She never used that word before about us, and I wondered if she wasn’t twisting the tail of Double me a little.

In our chairs with our coffee, Sally returned to the Calvados, “I don’t know if I’ll stick to this in the long run, but it’s the most to my taste right now.”

“That’s also a good part of being straight with yourself, learning from those who do know what you don’t know, then having confidence now in what you do know. I think it’s the same in tradecraft isn’t it Lady Chief?”

“Of course, and you have to be ready to say to your mentors and your superiors, ‘I have a problem with that. Let’s discuss it further.’ That openness is what started to slip away in my staff meetings. I gave that a lot of thought today, and it struck me that, with the exception of my gadfly, none of my staff have ever been field agents. I think that’s where I took the wrong turn.

“When I was on Ian’s staff, it was precisely the opposite. I should have used that standard from the first, rather than relying on recommendations, particularly Peter’s three recommendations, who I’ll be reinterrogating tomorrow. A lot of winnowing will be needed and I’ll need to start developing an ex-agent pool.”

Sally replied, “Given what I know now, I suggest you look at the instructor of the Tradecraft class in Agent Training. I mentioned him before. Of all there, I think he’s been by far the straightest talker both to us and to himself. For obvious reasons, he’s the most unsettling teacher and his the most unsettling class for all of us. Even me. I now know I’ve been making mountains out of molehills since I met a couple of new friends.”

Lady Chief was very sincere, “Thanks Sally, hanging around Elizabeth, you may now know more about being straight than anybody else in our shop who’s not already in Deep Cover. Elizabeth has a hell of a lot more to be straight about than even most agents, and, if you become one, you’ll be piling the agent issues on top of hers.”

Sally replied, “I know. Kind of fun actually. Or it least it will be until I have a body around my neck. I’m kind of worried that our guests will be my first two. They really don’t seem to be taking it, or us, very seriously.”

“I think you’re right, but that’s their problem. We can hope, at least, that they have burial insurance, as well as hope that they don’t need it. My opposite number in GLCCA is the same way. I don’t think I convinced him that taking on Mossad killers is more than an ordinary SWAT team operation, or even that anything would happen at all. It actually makes me yearn for Fem/Dom. Those cops would at least listen to someone else who had more information than they did, and not just when they extracted it with a strapping.”

I added, “I’m highly relieved that it’s our doubles going in with the Green Meanies backing them up.”

“But there’s something else I’d like to discuss. Are you serious, Lady Chief, about hiring me to run a safehouse?”

“Serious as a tumor and sober as a judge, Elizabeth,” Lady Chief replied.

I snorted, “I haven’t heard that in decades! Did you grow up in Iowa? You don’t have to answer that. We all know you sprung out of the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus on a scallop shell. Your legend says so.

“But I’m going to need some financial help to do it.”

Lady Chief looked at me intently and with a touch of sadness, “Elizabeth you’re one of us now. GLCIS would take care of you even if you came to us destitute.”

“No not that kind of help. I’ll be retiring quite well off, thank you. About 2/3’s of my net worth is invested carefully over here in GLC. But the other third is the home equity in my whorehouse building. Zone economy being what it is and not likely to change any time soon, there is little to no chance that I can liquidate that asset. Elizabeth’s Secret itself is basically a franchise granted to me by the Zone and can be transferred to Sally seamlessly when the time comes, but I’d planned to stay and collect rent from that franchise for the use of the building, which is wholly and privately owned by me.

“What I would need is what they call a Reverse Mortgage, where the value of the home can be transferred in regular payments to my Zone account as my living expenses and then can be transferred to a GLC account when I move there and close the Zone account out. I would sign the title for the home to whomever owned the mortgage. Arranged that way, I would need no more than a week, maybe even less, to close my affairs, and up until then, I can continue to live there on the Lane until I decide to move as part of the agreement, and from that point forward, the whorehouse franchise would pay rent to the owner of the mortgage, even if that rent were only nominal.

“Then if Sally returned from deep cover to GLC, the Zone Government would reassign the franchise to whomever it deemed fit, even if Sally had to simply disappear and go on the run. The only problem is that GLCIS can’t do this directly, nor can any of it’s former employees and have Fem/Dom trace it down. Some arrangement has to be made under the table by the Agency to make this happen.”

“I don’t think that would be a serious problem, Elizabeth,” Lady Chief said, “All it would take would be a couple of shell companies, one principal and one holding. We spread out the purchase and maintenance of equipment such as electrocars among several shell companies, which we control through three holding companies wholly run from Randolph Street. None of the GLCIS people appear in any capacity except as the CEO in the holding companies, and this they do under separate, legendless names from their GLICIS workname.”

I decided, “On that basis then, I’ll consider it. With a new GLC name I’ll have to strip away any prior contact with the life, particularly the friend or two that still remain, and of, course Zoltan the tailor. And I would need to hire household help under my workname and use them for all tasks that would have a good possibility of my accidentally running into whores or Madams from Chicago who remember me or who will be able to spot me as an old whore. It will be a limited, virtually friendless, life except for yourself.”

Lady Chief had that sadness, “I know, Elizabeth, so is mine. But that’s one of the reasons we have this club, so that people like you and Ian and “Curtis”, the first Chief of of GLCIS (as well as myself at my retirement) can develop new friendships with former and present agents, without need for an outside social venue.”

“Then let’s leave it here for now.”

Sally then took the floor, “Let me point out that neither of you tough as nails women have had the gumption to mention that we are saying “goodbye” tonight to each other for years. Even Elizabeth and I are doing this though we will live in the same house together. Nor have you been able to say what I’ve said that you love the two of us both. Please do. I’m grown up enough, you should be too.”

I thought for a moment and then I said, “There’s a part of me, from the Shitstorm, that never grew up and that I’ve walled away from others. It occurs to me that she has been talking tonight, with typical Iowa caution, what destroyed us when the USA fell apart, except for it’s major cities. I’ve just told her to go take a walk. I love you both dearly, whether it’s you who will become a different person or Lady Chief who hides whatever person she is. I love you and will under any and all names you use and will cherish this week together until I die.”

Lady Chief said, “I’ve twice loved this much only to unwillingly lose both lovers to the work of spying. This sweet week has shown me unequivocally how loveless I am and how painful that is. Spying is, once again, going to keep us apart, maybe forever. I love you and I love the love you have given to me. And if I lose you, at least it’s in a service that all three of us share, and we are all willing to separate for the sake of this work. I hope you both come back, I hope we all finally have a happy ending together eating dinner in this club. But as we all know, the chance of this is one in three.” Her voice broke and then came back in the full contralto that she professionally conceals. “I just love you, that’s all…” The tears came from her, and, for once, she didn’t try to hide them as all three of us hugged one another.

Sally and I returned to our chairs and we all wiped our eyes. Then Sally looked up with a wicked grin, “There are couple of loose ends we should tie up. Neither you have ever gotten around to strapping my butt off, and I need to be shown the basics of how a whore goes both ways. Which of you is going to do it? Do you think the club would mind if we did it here?”

“You’re baiting the tiger, girl! It’s not just your butt that’s in danger, Elizabeth and I both know how to strap you from head to heels. So I wouldn’t push your luck!”

“She’s right. And you’re going to be within reach of the strap of one of us for a long, long time!” I threatened.

We stood up as one all knowing that it was time. Lady Chief said, “Before we part, Elizabeth, take this half of postcard. If someone in the Zone approaches with the other half, they will have important information.”

My clutch was in the mail, my luggage turned over to Double Sally and Double Me, so I tucked the card into my bra. When I looked up they were both staring at me, and then they lost it into contralto and mezzo soprano laughter. I blanked for a moment, then got the joke, “Yes, we whores still do it. Sally will learn to do it, too, or she’ll get a strapping!”

I hugged Lady Chief and then Sally. She then stepped up to Lady Chief, pinned her arms against her side, and planted a big, open kiss on Lady Chief’s lips. Lady Chief’s eyes opened wide, then she relaxed and met the kiss lips to lips, tongue to tongue. For a long, long sensuous time they relaxed into one another. Then, as the kiss ended, Sally kept hold of Lady Chief and looked at me, “You two! When will you get it that I’m ALL grown up!”

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