His Best Armagnac

When we withdrew to the Library, Sally had another surprise for us both. Lady Chief and I ordered our preferred tipples, and then Sally asked the Wine Steward to bring her his best Armanac and the bottle for her to look at! Both Lady Chief and I sat up and took notice.

I spoke first, “What HAVE you been doing and where did THAT come from, girl!?”

Sally then said, “I’ve actually read a lot from curiosity about different wines and liqueurs. But I’ve never considered them as something I’d ever drink. Even among fellow students here, a macho taste for Single Malt Scotch is about as exotic as they get. I did try it, but it’s not quite for me. So I defaulted back to my bar choices from back home with the girls, like Margharitas for the salt, and other sweet cocktails for the sugar. And next time, Elizabeth, I WILL order a vodka martini, too, and you’ll need to get used to my being able to read your face far more easily than a few days ago.”

I could feel myself blushing. As a madam she’ll do just fine.

“But you’ve been quizzing me about changes in my attitude, and just now having heard that Lady Chief has literally dodged a bullet, and maybe I won’t even get a chance to dodge the next one, it occurred to me that I’ve been dining at this wonderful club being too shy to take advantage of it. It’s time that I start finding out what I will like. I’m pretty sure that if I don’t start here, the biggest such opportunity I’ve ever had, with my two new, and now only, friends, five years from now I’ll want to kick myself for it.”

At this point the wine steward returned with Sally’s drink and the bottle, left them, and left himself with that smooth and secret withdrawal that you only see from the best of those “in service”. Sally sipped her drink, smiled, took a larger sip, then put it down. “Less robust than your’s Elizabeth, with milder aroma, and very, very smooth on the tongue and palate compared to either of yours.” Then, she took a quick glance at the label and pulled out a ballpoint pen to write on her palm.

“And, for once, I want to be straight with both of you. I said ‘only friends’ because I know perfectly well that whether it’s where I grew up or where I once did a little training and now can’t go back, except for you two, right now, I’m utterly alone. I’m headed to a foreign “posting” even if it’s an irregular one I’ve not yet been trained for. My old friends have been given a fairy tale about where I am and what I’m doing; I’ve vanished, like the spook I will be, from my fellow students of last week; and I won’t have a final security blanket of another set to replace them in a deep cover class. My parents, who I won’t see again and maybe forever, will soon have no more than two halves of a postcard, and if I die tomorrow, they will never know my grave, even if it happens to be in GLC, because it’s too insecure for them to know it, at least for a very long time. All that will remain is my workname in a file and a medal in a box on the mantelpiece of my childhood home. That, and your memories of me.

“When I’ve not been there, you’ve been celebrating together my rapid growing up. You may not have known, but I’ve known from our first day together that you have been doing that. You also may not have known that I came to you just a skosch more grown up than I’ve been letting on. Or maybe you do know that, but if you didn’t, you do now. There’s nothing for me left to hide from you: you are my only friends and I’ve come to love you unreservedly. And from now forward, I’ll have no real friends, except for the both of you. I will never get to write you a love letter about it, so now is my only time to get it all said, friend to friend, lover to lover.”

Dead silence even from me.

Then the tears came for both Lady Chief and I, and it was Sally’s turn to stand up and do the hugging.

The next day was an early, early day for Lady Chief and I, with more French Go Juice and her Dictapad already ringing. The technicians installing the duplicate secure communications were early birds, too. First, GLCCA had found the snipers nest on top of a building a block south of Randolph and Third. More worryingly, the spent cartridge had been found there and both cartridge and bullet traced to a Remington bolt action rifle in the GLCIS stores. When checked, the rifle was missing as well as it’s Sniperscope.

The last signout was fully one month before and the workname signature of the assassin that normally used the rifle had been badly forged. That assassin, “Bob”, denied knowing anything about it and, unusually for one of the killers, became very annoyed that someone had taken “his” favorite weapon in the small arsenal (less than 25 guns) held by GLCIS. The interrogators worked on him but, after a polygraph test were satisfied he wasn’t the thief.

The date of the signature was immediately before one of Peter’s trips and Peter did have late night key access to the Arsenal. Since Peter was still in the Zone, as confirmed by briefcase GPS, one day longer than expected, the inference would be that, the month before, he had passed the rifle on to a Mossad contact in GLC just before his earlier trip. But this inference was shaky enough that Lady Chief decided to stay in the hotel a couple more days. Sally and I, however, had to keep up the profile of our careless and easy vacation. Besides, today was my appointment at the tailors’. Lady Chief would just have to do bespoke on her own.

While Sally and I were showering and dressing, the most important call came. GLCCA had been having trouble finding stunt doubles that matched our age, height, weight, build, and hair color. They’d found one women agent and one woman supervisor in Cleveland that would do, with a red/auburn rinse on “Sally’s” natural blond. We’d meet them at the club tonight.

Then came two pieces of very disturbing news just before we were ready to leave. One of the Truth Teams was gone. Summoned by a secure and cleared request from Peter to meet them on the GLC side of the Kingston, GLC/Zone bridge over the Hudson, only 30 miles north of the now eternally uninhabited Biohazard Zone. The supervisor of the thugs and assassins hadn’t been at Lady Chief’s meeting because he wasn’t that level of management. He saw no reason not to comply, even though the request was on very short notice and unplanned. In addition, Peter’s GPS had finally gone silent on the Zone side of the Hudson.

After a check of the weapons store, it appeared that the team had taken two military belt knives; a .22 target automatic with a stubby, threaded barrel; a silencer to thread onto it; a behind the back holster; two extra magazines; and 100 rounds of .22 rimfire ammunition. Lady Chief told us that this was the standard load out for a face-to-face hit: the killer carried the gun and the two thugs each carried a fighting knife to back him up.

As a final note, by searching the area near the sniper’s location, GLCCA had discovered the rifle in a nearby dumpster, so, after we left, Lady Chief decided to return to Randolph Street and put the bureaucratic wheels in motion for GLCCA to apprehend Peter and the Truth Team members and put the GLCIS interrogators on notice to be ready for them.

Apparently, Lady Chief’s staff had kept silent about Peter. If I had had that request from her, with that same feral smile, I’d have, too. Once, back in Cicero, I’d serviced one of “The Outfit”. My madam paid the Chicago organized crime hoodlums for protection and bribe giving in Cicero, so his was on the house, and he didn’t tip. I’d never been so “up close and personal” with anyone more frightening in my life. So much so that I still remember every detail of the entertainment. He was a fan of rear entry and sincopating knee bends. That feral look of Lady Chief’s was almost as scary and was also almost hypnotizing. This helped me understand Henry’s courage at instantly falling in love with Micha, his black widow spider. I sometimes wonder today if Henry’s sentence had been commuted, and they both became long term lovers, whether she would have killed him in the end, anyway. From one Black Widow to another, more merciful, one.

As we sat with our second cup of coffee and Lady Chief’s fourth, I turned over the matter in my mind, “Mossad and Peter must have come to the conclusion that he’s blown to us, and the rifle shot at Lady Chief was a last attempt to save the plan for Mossad to take over GLICIS. Since no exterior commotion occurred whatever, such as an EMS, following the shot, Mossad must know it didn’t succeed. I can’t see Peter summoning his own Truth Team unless that was part of a larger plan to cut off our escape. This would imply that one Mossad team must be at the Montpellier Airport and Peter with the Truth Team are backing them up. At this point their objective must be to keep us away from Fem/Dom at all costs, no matter how much china gets broken.

I followed up, “If they don’t, and Fem/Dom rolls us up, they will almost certainly get permission to run Mossad out of town for their wholesale Zone killing spree. Even the densest of the Matriarchs would understand that they can’t have a foreign intelligence agency killing any number of whomever they please in the Zone. And it might get so out of hand that all newly made Israeli Matriarchals will be deported and their door to Zone citizenship slammed shut for good.

And I added, “Though they wouldn’t have attacked any member of GLCIS, there is no reason for the Truth Team not to obey Peter and kill Sally and I. Peter is covering exactly the alternative I had been planning, a ground entry into the Zone which probably is the Kingston Bridge rather than the Albany one, if the bus is coming from Chicago, or any other city on the south side of Lake Michigan or Lake Erie. Mossad’s headquarters is up and running, right?”

Lady Chief, “Yes, Elizabeth, as far as we know.”

“So they could also have a team on the Zone side of the Albany crossing without breaking the bank?”

“Yes.”

“And we know that at least one Mossad killer is probably still running around loose in Chicago, so they still may try a hit at Midway on our doubles. Peter and the Truth Team would then be covering the least likely entry and they would have only the one gun while any of the Mossad teams will be far more well armed.”

“I see no problems with that, Elizabeth, Mossad is pedantically addicted to overkill when trying to find a victim without a known location. So all that makes good sense. And we need to keep up the preparations at Midway,” Lady Chief, crisp as a Matriarcal Zone first yearly frost in late December.

I added, “Yes, and under the circumstances GLCCA should be put on notice to be ready for a REAL firefight if something pops there, including having a plan of how to deal with the press if things get out of hand.”

I continued, “The weakest link in their net will be Kingston on the ground, so I should still proceed as planned. We can’t do too much about the Zone/Albany side of the bridge, so we should send a GLCCA team to Kingston two days from now, no earlier, to have them find and apprehend Peter and Company, if they can.”

Sally, with her new game face on, put in, “What about O’Hare and Toronto? Do we need babysitting there?”

I said to Sally, “We will leave tomorrow, when or after Lady Chief and the doubles go on their last excursion.” I handed Lady Chief a paper with my old friend’s address on it. “Try to get Violet and Sarah, our last night’s baby sitters, to follow our taxi from this address to O’Hare and keep us company while we wait for our flight. It’s nearly 9, so we need to pick up our new GLCCA team. We’ll see you this evening, Lady Chief.”

On the curb in front of the Ritz, a far more discreet but still vivid blue electrocar drove by us with another badge flash and a pair of large men in awful red and chocolate rayon Hawaiian shirts! I prayed sincerely that they weren’t wearing shorts. My appointment at Zoltan’s was at 10, so we headed there first. Traffic was light, and we were early, so we sat on a public bench, baby sitters in sight, surrounded by pigeons, with a cool late August wind whipping in from the Northeast over Lake Michigan. That meant a Low pressure circulation somewhere in Upper Wisconsin, near Green Bay, and a few rocky and choppy days ahead on Lake Superior. “I miss this a lot.”

Sally looked startled, “You must be kidding. That wind is freezing out here.”

“Yes, but when I was your age, a seasoned whore, and still found life an unexpected adventure, albeit a criminal one (I’d just finished my first jail stint under a far different name), even a chilly August wind was sweet and free. I don’t miss the cold, I don’t miss the horrible city I had to streetwalk in before I found a good house to work for and a well connected Madam to get me another name. I miss being young, just like any old woman. A false temporary driver’s license could always be had for lots of money here, and she told me it was a gift from her and now I had to cut the mustard in the bedroom. After a driver’s test, accompanied by my Madam, I had a real license and turned that into a real passport of a Chicago born girl. I’ve never looked back.”

I noticed, half a block from Zoltan’s, a pizza parlor with all the markers of good and neighborhood on it. I filed it away.

Sally said, “We settled O’Hare, but what about Toronto?”

I elaborated, “We could fly anywhere from Milwaukee to Rochester and still do this. Peter won’t be in any place to find out which even if he eludes capture, and Mossad will have to start over to locate which city we went to, so we should have at least 48 hours before they do and, after that, if we have to stay, I’ve another old friend I think would hide us. Just the first of about 2 dozen phone calls I’ll have to make. It’s almost 10, so let’s go look at fabric.”

The receptionist greeted us cheerily and asked about “our other friend”. I said, “She couldn’t come to make an appointment today. She’s been having some issues with her staff.” I didn’t exactly see or hear anything, but I’m perfectly sure Sally, a step behind me and to my right, was having a horrible time keeping a straight face.

“She’s so elegant! I’m sure Zoltan would LOVE to dress her!”

Zoltan himself stepped into the waiting area, “Come in Elizabeth! It’s so nice to see you again! And bring in your young friend, I’m sure she’s eager to see.” He is a very florid Hungarian with the genuine old world manners that are parodied in Dracula movies. Small, like Henry Peterson, with wire glasses, a bald pate with a natural grey tonsure around it, and the precise fingers all good tailors have. He took the tape from around his shoulders and began the tailor’s measuring drill. At the end of it he reported that everything was the same except my hips were 1/2 inch wider. To look at him, as he told me this, you would have thought he was the mortician for my best friend who also had killed my friend accidentally!

“Age, Zoltan, age!”

“Unfortunately so, Elizabeth! And this young lady, you are taking her under your wing, no? Yes, you are, and she needs business clothes just like yourself. Now Elizabeth, we’ve been friends a long time and you have never brought a young lady here. She must be someone special to you. So I will measure and tailor her a suit for free with your choice of fabric.” He turned to Sally, “Step over here, my dear.”

This time Zoltan worked far more slowly, making each measurement twice and writing the result down carefully in pencil in a little leather covered notebook. Once or twice he took a third measurement after writing it down, just to be sure. Any woman would recognize those locations. They are the places where off-the-rack clothes, no matter how expensive, never quite fit you, no matter what your body type, because one side of your body measures ever so slightly different than the opposite side.

I’m perfectly sure Zoltan knows what my profession is, because after all these years of making business wear for myself and the girls of my house, he has never made a single remark about it one way or another. Like Henry, I suspect his own needs have been met for years by high class outcalls, or the very cozy and discreet top drawer houses in Cicero. When you’re a Madam you learn to recognize the good manners of Gentleman John and he the courteous welcome of Lady Madam. So he knew Sally was to be my trainee.

The measuring done, he led us to his pattern books. “What do you think, Elizabeth? Some darted suppression in the jacket waist and a snug, but not tight, pencil skirt? Such as here (pointing), and here; perhaps even a light touch of padding in the shoulders, and twin cuts on the back of the jacket…Young lady, turn around and walk straight away from us! Thank you! Yes twin cuts as here (pointing again) closer to each other than the line of each hip?”

“Zoltan, after so many years you understand my needs perfectly. But since this is a first bespoke suit and she won’t quite know how to wear clothes that genuinely fit, keep the detailing plain so I will be able to see better to coach her.”

“Agreed, Elizabeth. And lighter above, darker below?”

“Yes, but only a very subtle difference. And let’s start with solid variations of Oxford Gray.”

“And does she have some pretty red shoes to wear with it?”

“She will, Zoltan, she will.”

Zoltan then turned us over to his niece Irma for the tour of the new bolts of fabric. Swatches are simply not large enough to give you a complete feel of the hand of the fabric, so I like to come every so often to play with bolts of the same swatches Zoltan sends me. I did a brief tour for Sally of types, colors, and country sources for the various fabrics. At a certain point she looked straight at me, “Is there anything you DON’T know Elizabeth?”

“Plenty, Sally, but everything I need to know I make sure I know well.”

By then it was 1 pm and we left Zoltan’s. Irma gave me two file cards with measurements, one for each of us, and told me, as usual, pin and chalk any alterations and mail the suit back. Then we went to the pizza parlor and ordered a small deep dish for eating then and a medium for take away. They still don’t do deep dish right anywhere but this city. I had root beer, Sally had cherry cola.

We walked out the door with the hot cardboard box and directly toward the bright blue car. Our babysitters gave us the widest of grins. “Sausage and procuitto ham with 3 cheeses, gentlemen. Courtesy of GLCIS. Enjoy!” l shoved it through the driver’s side window. We went back to the bench and only then did I call for an electrocab, our babysitters would have time to enjoy twenty minutes of so of fresh, hot deep dish.

Sally, on point, “Yes, Elizabeth, I got the message, I even got the part about waiting to call the cab.” Actually it was 30 minutes, so I headed us back to the Ritz and, since it was still only 3:30 we stopped in the Mezzanine Bar, ordered two Grey Goose martinis and relaxed a little. I stated, “I’ll have to step away again to do some more magic, but I won’t be gone nearly as long as last time.”

Around the corner was a small, neighborhood shipping center. I bought some bubble wrap and cellophane tape, borrowed a scissors, then went to the unisex restroom, locked the door, sat on the toilet, and called the Delta Soho Hotel in Toronto. After making reservations for two tomorrow for two days, I asked to reserve a box in the strong room to receive a valuable package for me when it arrived.

That finished, I flushed, washed, and dried. Then I folded down the baby changing station, took out the loaded revolver and it’s spring loader, wrapped and taped each in bubble wrap, put the items back in my clutch along with it’s chain, filled in around them with the remaining bubble wrap and taped the clutch shut.

Out in the open, I returned the scissors, asked the clerk to pack the clutch for shipment, and filled out an address form for my own name c/o Delta Soho Hotel. The clerk asked if I wanted to add a return address. I told him no, it didn’t exist any longer. He just nodded and dropped the finished package in the back.

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