Lady Chief looked worried, troubled, and despairing. If Sally was blown, she could NOT go back to either regular or deep training. Since I was blown, sooner or later I was walking into a bullet. “So what’s this great plan you have, Elizabeth.”
“First, when we leave the club late and in the dark tomorrow or the next day or the day after, depending on when we’re ready with everything else, you will leave with the GLCCA doubles and return to the Ritz. Afterward WE will go to the apartment of a good friend of mine. Our luggage will still be at the Ritz and our doubles can choose from among our clothes. My ticket to Montpellier will also be there.
“The doubles will do our last vacation day, and Double Sally will see Double Me to the airport. The only place I’ll be definitely located on Peter’s itinerary will be at my Midway flight to Montpellier. If any shit is going down that is the likely place. GLCCA can add some armed huskies at the Airport, arrange for the Doubles to go through armed as well as those following the Doubles, and some extra can even be on the plane. If there is no problem, when they reach Montpellier they can turn around and come back to O’Hare, not Midway.
“Sally and I will be flying to Toronto out of O’Hare: we probably have about 48 clear hours for me to make phone calls and try to get Sally in on a “whore visa” and then we’ll take surface transportation to the Zone border. She’ll also have the option then to apply for Female citizenship, if we don’t have a “whore visa”, or she wants to on her own. Ex/Pat and Cus/Pas will take it from there.”
I gave her a reassuring tidbit. “You will, potentially, have a long term deep cover once she jumps through the citizenship hoops. Then you can bring her back for deep training. If we do have a whore visa and she comes with me, I will install both of us in Elizabeth’s Secret as Madam and whore and begin her training in the brothel, then as an unofficial Madam until she can go back to deep training. When she returns, I will see her installed as the new Madam of the house and start my retirement.
“She will need a totally new name, legend, and passport when she flies out of Chicago, and under that name and legend she will become citizen or whore. Don’t retire the old name and legend until you do the following: inform the regular trainers that she is bound for deep training and don’t say anything to the deep trainers about her at all. Make the old name an “eyes only” file with the real story so she can reconnect with you in a couple of years. Does that sound sensible?”
“Ok, Elizabeth, but know this, I will have a workname, legend, and new safehouse to run waiting for you when you retire, and if you dig in your heels over there in the Zone, I will personally come and drag you across the damn borderline and put you there. Clear?”
“Yes, Lady Chief,” I said.
Lady Chief was up early and so was I. I knew Sally would need at least a couple of hours more sleep after the roller coaster of spy stress yesterday: all the way from learning that her chances of surviving deep cover were 1 in 3, to learning that her agency was being murdered out from under her, to being left alone in a bar having no notion of what to do if no one came back, to figuring out that Peter had already blown our cover to Mossad, finally to discovering that one of her favorite aunts had turned into a Pistol Packing Mama!
Welcome to the exciting world of espionage, dear! Just keep your adrenals topped up and ready to kick in instantly.
Once up, breakfasted, dressed, and sitting with a second cup of coffee, I handed her a package, she opened it, and there was a Kevlar vest of her size. “They were delivered early this morning. I’m wearing mine. Put yours on under your blouse. They will stop most any pistol bullet targeted for your torso. It’s important to look at yourself in the mirror and smooth your silhouette, so you don’t telegraph that you’re wearing a vest and cause some Nimrod to take aim at your head first. A vest won’t stop rifle rounds, so we’ll just have to take our chances with that.”
When she returned the vest wasn’t printing. I asked her, “Can you see any trace of mine?”
“Good. Have you had any pistol training?” I took both the revolver and loader from my clutch.
“Yes, but not with one like yours. Not revolvers.”
“I bought one so that, if need be, I can shoot from inside my clutch without the gun showing. You can’t do that safely and reliably with automatics. Revolvers load and unload differently and carry far fewer bullets. This is a spring loader for this gun. You can see it only holds five shots. Let me show you how to load and unload. Come sit with me on the bed.”
I popped the cylinder, turned the gun barrel up and tapped the axle with my palm. Five bullets dropped on the bedspread. Then I pointed the barrel down, slipped the bullets held by the loader into the cylinder and then turned the knob on the loader’s rear. The new shells dropped into place and I closed the gun and put it on the bedspread I then picked the shells up from the bedspread and worked them back into the loader. “Now you try it.”
It took her about five tries to get a smooth and seamless full reload. Then I said to her, “Empty the gun. Now hold it as you’ve been trained to shoot pistols.” She had difficulty getting both hands settled. “The gunbutt is a different shape than you’re used to. Hold out gun and hands in front of me.” I shifted her hands into a solid, two handed, revolver grip. I had her put the gun down on the bed, then had her repeatedly pick it up and grip it. Once again it took about five tries to get one clean, smooth,and firmly held grip.
“Pop the cylinder to check that it’s empty. It’s a little clumsier than clearing an automatic. Close the cylinder, put the gun back down on the bed, pick it up with a two handed grip, aim at the closet and put your finger on the trigger….
“That’s right, hold the finger beside the trigger as you bring the gun up, and don’t put it on the trigger until the gun is pointed correctly, and ready to shoot. You’ve been taught well. This gun will have a very stiff trigger, so you have to hold it solidly and pull the trigger forcefully. Dry fire at the closet now.
I prompted, “Pull the next one with a little more force and try to hold the barrel steady. They don’t point as naturally as an automatic so you have to pay a little more attention. Now, pull harder. Good. That’s a lot steadier. Repeat picking the gun up and dry firing at the closet.” This time it only took her three tries to get a smooth sequence.
“Now put the gun down, reload it, refill the loader, and hand both back to me. Good, they already taught you where to point the barrel. Beyond this you’ll have to rely on the muscle memory from your prior training.
I added, “When we’re walking stay just a little behind me to my right. If you see my hand drop into the clutch bag, move to the left and directly behind me. Stand up and try this now. Once again. And once more.” All three of her shifts were clean. “Always watch for my hand. I may not have time to speak if we run into trouble. Any questions?”
“How did you learn all this, Elizabeth?”
“In this country, my profession is a crime and I am a criminal. As such, I’ve had to learn where to obtain a gun illegally, and my own Chicago madam taught me these things to fend off aggressive pimps. I’ve had to fire, as they say, “in anger” only once.
“But you must now keep in mind that you are with a criminal who has just committed a major crime–possessing an unregistered gun. That’s why I told you not to tell Lady Chief. I want the opportunity to shoot back if I have to. Criminals do. And even Lady Chief doesn’t fully understand that I walk like one kind of known Chicago criminal, a whore. Even at my age. And even a mildly attentive cop will know it and probably peg me as a Madam as well.
“So why do I take this risk? Because we are truly in danger, and a trip to jail, bad as it is, is still more fun than a trip to the morgue. Any other questions?” She shook her head.
I continued, “If we are stopped and I’m shaken down, you are just as surprised as the police officer is that I’m carrying heat in my handbag. Don’t tell it any other way no matter what happens. It’s almost 9 and we have to be standing in front of the building at exactly 9.”
Downstairs, we waited and I kept my eyes strictly on the street. “We will have a GLCCA baby sitter. They have badges. They will drive a distinct car, one they wouldn’t use for shadowing. It will pass by us and the person in the passenger seat will flash a badge. Wherever we go, we will know where it is. Here it comes and…oh, good grief!…it’s light acid green! There’s the badge. It’s two women. Very slick. They don’t look like cops and any problem maker will underestimate them.”
I turned to itinerary, “Today our destination is the Art Institute. They have the best small collection on this side of the world of important late 19th and 20th Century paintings. You’ll recognize many old friends from your undergraduate Art History classes. When we’re tired, we can sit in the coffee shop and you can bend my ear a little about how you feel.”
Once in the taxi, our babysitters pulled right in behind us. This was a great help. I wouldn’t need to be rubbernecking for tails and making the cabbie suspicious. They would do that. And since GLCCA are actually a non-uniformed national police with arrest powers and concealed weapons (GLCIS isn’t a police force and neither agents nor bureaucrats are supposed to carry arms, except for the Truth Team killer) if there is trouble with a persistent tail, or anything else, they can pop out their portable red light and put on their siren, stop the taxi, and put us into their vehicle.
There was no trouble and we entered the museum of the Art Institute. Turning a corner, Sally ran smack into the first piece that left her stunned.
“Oh my God! It’s the Cezanne split plate still life!” She stood transfixed for a full two minutes or more. And came off of it looking like she had seen a vision. The rest of the morning until about 1 pm, all I heard were her hoarse loud whispers, “Oh my god, it’s this painting!….oh my god it’s that painting!….there’s a Corot I’ve never seen!” At 1pm she was like a wrung out dishrag from the over stimulation. We went to the coffee shop.
I opened, “You were starting to tell me what you thought of us. Why don’t you continue.”
Sally responded, “Well, mainly, the both you of scare the life out of me, with all your talk of killing and being killed. And of being beaten. In my classes these things were mentioned, and even the story of Henry Peterson was told to us. He must have been amazing, thinking up that tradecraft escape that baffled everybody. And when they told us that he died from a broken neck by the woman who fell in love with him, even though he knew that she was an espionage serial killer, it made my skin crawl a little. And to meet someone who knew her professionally, and knew she was that killer…!
She went on, “But our instructor was a medium cover agent who, by luck, got an assignment in Pacifica to build a local agent network with money. He was blown and his network was rolled up, but he got out with an extra change of names and passports, a bald cut of his hair, wearing sunglasses, and shaving his mustache.
“He also wore a gaudy banded straw brimmed hat when he bought the ticket, teased the ticket seller so she’d remember him and then immediately ditched the hat in the first available restroom trash can, and went through the airport security hatless and without wearing the sunglasses.
“He then made sure to sit far enough away from his departure door that he could watch the heavy crowds in that area over top of a face concealing magazine with the sunglasses back on. Once he was on the plane it was a non-stop directly to Chicago.
“How much this tradecraft would have held up if the Pacifica Security hadn’t been two hours behind him, he couldn’t say, and he told us so honestly.
“The most he was facing, if caught, was only a maximum 15 year prison term, nobody was chasing him to kill him, and he probably would have been traded for an equivalent GLC spy capture after a year or two.
Sally summed up, “Although he could tell us real things about real experiences, nothing he had to say was anything like these high stakes we’ve been playing for here, with people killed in their beds, treacherous spies in high places, and REAL, life transforming, cover demanding the toughest of minds for the rest of your life, whether you survive the deep cover or not.
“I’ve seen, up close and personal, that kind of toughness in both of you. It awes me, it frightens me, and it makes me feel like a five year old standing with two larger than life statues of Greek Goddesses. But I’m proud that the Chief chose me to do this, I do have a spy love affair with you both, and I think I’m far tougher now than I was a week ago, even though I’ve got a long way to go.
“You are, personally and professionally, good beyond hope as teachers and models for a spying career. And the strongest, clearest, most honest women I’ve ever met. I’m also proud that both of you trust me enough not to pee my pants at being told “your survival chances are one in three” or at being shown surreptitiously that you are walking around with a loaded gun.
“I’m terrified of the pain of having you beat me. The notion of “too sore to sit for two weeks” is at once too abstract and too frighteningly unknown. But now I trust you to “strap my butt off” in a way that will get me through the terrible pain, the first time and every other time it has to happen, like a first time parachute jump with the instructor tagging along. You won’t have to coddle me, I promise you. I’ll put all the courage I have into this, and I think, because of both of you, I’ve already discerned far more courage in me than I would have dreamed the day I gave up my name and left it behind.
The vigor of her tone slipped a little, “I don’t think I’m afraid of becoming a whore, but I’m edgy of my initial responses to “having sex with strangers for pay.” Will it deaden my capacity to enjoy sex or push sex for love out of my life for good? Will it contaminate and compromise my self-worth, or shame me if I ever see my parents again, or even if I see my fellow spies again who weren’t asked to walk down such a path? This all is the end of the paved road and the beginning of the unknown wilderness.”
I was so pleased! “Wonderful. You’ve started talking straight to yourself. Now keep it up. Lady Chief and I aren’t goddesses. In fact, we’re just like you right now. Life has forced us to talk plain and straight and tough. To ourselves and to each other. It’s never easy. It’s far easier to deceive yourself.
“As a madam, a whore, and a criminal, my actions are on a much shorter feedback loop than Lady Chief’s so my self-deception is rather like stepping on a tines-up garden rake in the grass. The reactions come clear and fast and hard. And you can easily break your nose, or worse. It teaches you to keep looking where you’re walking.
“The fandango of straight talk between the two of us two days ago, showed Lady Chief how much she’d been deceiving herself for what has really been quite a long time, being lulled to sleep by a man who’s smooth and persistent and indirect. ‘Oh, I see Chief, you’re probably right there, but let’s look at it from this angle, blah, blah, blah.’ He never talks straight until he’s ready to stab you in the back, and even then, he doesn’t talk straight to you, he talks straight to whoever you answer to. After he’s caused the shit to hit the fan.
“Now the question is, how long can she keep secret from him that he’s been blown to us. She has no smoking gun on him linking him to Mossad, until she has that it is even odds that if she puts him on leave or fires him, no amount of surveillance will keep him from being a danger.
I stressed this point, “He’s not just a bureaucrat, he’s a field agent–for Mossad. And if he’s flushed, he’ll exercise all his tradecraft from Mossad. I don’t think he is a killer, but he has contact with a whole spy agency full of killers and killing is clearly the default setting over there. They are willing to TRY to kill anybody if they have half a chance to do it, even Lady Chief herself. The riskiest part of what we are doing is when we leave the Agent’s Club in the night. All three of us are together and out in the open. And even with doubles, Lady Chief herself is still exposed.”
Then my Dictapad rang. It was Lady Chief.
“Where are you?”
“At the Art Institute Coffee Shop.”
“Come back to the Ritz as fast as you can.”
“Why? What’s up?”
“Somebody took a shot at me at my desk! It missed me by inches, I think because my building’s window glass is so old. And there’s even more important stuff to tell you once you get here.”
So we stepped lively out to the door. I saw the green car on the opposite side of the street but no taxis in sight. I waved at them to come to us 3 times. They had to go around the block to do so. They pulled up and the woman passenger pulled down the window.
“We have to get back to the Ritz, now! It’s an emergency and we can’t wait for taxis.”
“The door’s unlocked, jump in. Hello, I’m Violet and this is Sarah. We’ll get you there.”
I looked at the two small submachine pistols hooked to the middle of the dash, “That’s some arsenal you have there.”
Sarah chimed in, “We’re normally an arrest team, but our labeled jackets are off for the profile on this job. We back the regular teams up half a block away in case some perp gets loose. Today we’re supposed to look like we’re not cops. Our service pistols are in the smalls of our backs. We were given the only electrocar GLCCA has distinct enough to be absolutely sure you could see us. Our green paint job also doesn’t print “police”.
I was impressed, “Have you got any other tricks up your sleeve?”
Sarah again, driving intently, “Yeah. Sometimes we’re a pair of sisters on civilian electrocycles. It’s harder to carry the ordinance under our jackets–they have to dangle from our strong side armpits.” as she pointed at the submachine pistols, “But for a natural profile the cycles are even better. And our advantage as a team on cycles is that Violet here is left handed, which significantly expands our field of fire when together.
“You gonna babysit us tonight?”
“Yeah, we’re 15 on, 15 off.”
Traffic was low and they drove the usual 10 miles per hour faster than posted that the police do, so we were at the Ritz already. We went through the usual spin cycle up to the 13th floor.
Lady Chief was in my room with the door open. She looked a little shaken. Like somebody had shot a rifle at her and the bullet had missed by inches.
“So what are you going to do?” I asked.
“For the moment, I’m going to stay here, until we know who’s behind this shooter. My suspicion, of course is, Mossad trying to make things a little easier for Peter to replace me. It’s completely out of their handwriting, which may be part of why the bullet missed, an amateur marksman who is one of their normal killers.
“GLCCA is already looking for the location of where the shots came from. Maybe whoever fired it made another mistake. The bullet was jacketed, and when it came out of the wall, it wasn’t distorted at all. We have access to the GLC combined police files computer of microphotos of bullets from guns with either a criminal history or officially owned by an agency and can compare them.
“I have four of our security people here. One guarding each emergency stairs (which we can’t block for safety). One subbing for the AI on the elevator, with a list of who can come up. And one in the lobby keeping an eye on the outer strong room door. If a killer tries the elevator, he’ll be trapped.
“We don’t normally arm them but, now they are armed with small submachine guns under their sports jackets as well as sidearms. I’m also ordering secure communications equipment to be installed here permanently. It never occurred to any of us to use this as an in-house safehouse, but THAT is a good idea.”
I put my finger in the air to stop her speaking, “Just make sure that someone brings fast food from outside. You don’t want to encourage poisoning. If you add two more of them watching the bottoms of the emergency stairs, you can trap somebody, too.”
She replied, “I thought of that. But that would completely strip headquarters from any security. I can’t do that.”
I pushed a little, “Maybe you could replace some of them with the armed cops from GLCCA and pick up some stair watchers.”
“I DIDNT think of THAT and it’s right under my goddamn nose! I’m more rattled than I think I am…”
She wasn’t crying but the look on her face told me to hug her, which I did. She steadied up. I glanced to my right and Sally still was exactly where I told her to be, with a very mature look of concern on her face, instead of the panic of the past. She’ll be tough enough and smart enough, I thought.
“May I hug you too, Lady Chief?” Even better. She now is learning that, at least for the moment, she’s one of us and not just a juvenile employee. I noted that she picked up my nickname for her boss.
The hug concluded, I spoke up. “I’m sorry to interrupt again, but I thought of something that you might want to do ASAP. Has your Mossad refugee ever seen Peter in the flesh? If not, why don’t you show him Peter’s picture?”
She popped right back into crisp mode, “You’re right! Let me step away for a Dictapad call.” She went into the hall.
I said to Sally, “The rifle isn’t Mossad’s handwriting, but it sure could be Peter’s, coming as he does from GLICIS.”
“Yes, I thought of that, too. It’s very frightening.” She didn’t look all that frightened, particularly compared to how she started with us days ago.
“You’re getting up to speed, girl! Maybe I should teach you about firearms more often.” I smiled.
Her comeback was slow and serious, “No, it’s what you said about being a criminal, as well as all those wonderful paintings. Something happened to me, and I could feel it grow as we rode here in that awful green car. I’m going to be a GLC criminal, too. And as I looked at those paintings, I thought, These are the best there is, a wonderful collection.
I’m a spy. That’s my job, no matter how dangerous, for me or others, even others I don’t know. And I should strive to be my best. My job wants me to become a whore and be taught how to be the best, a high class tart, by one of the women I’ve come to love, especially when she is being realistic and tough as nails. I know she is going to give me an absolutely flaming behind sooner or later, and to be my best I’ll have to try, during that horrible 20 minutes, and the painful days after, to remember that it was and is an act of love.’”
She looked me directly in the eye an with her chin lifted, “I’ll try to do that, Elizabeth, no matter what.” That was about to start ME crying, so my only way to conceal that was to give her a hug.
At that moment Lady Chief came back in with the largest of smiles. I guessed she had good news. “GLCCA will not only pinch hit for half of my security crew, down in the lobby, but also something even more important that that.
“The GPS data GLCCA collected shows that Peter spent 6 hours (!!!!) straight in the Gravesend building, and no time at all at Fem/Dom Headquarters or any of the crime scenes despite my asking him explicitly to do that. So I now can put him on leave, seize him for interrogation, and no matter how that comes out, I can fire him as a security risk! At the moment, he is back in his hotel room in Montpelier, too.”
Her expression shifted to another smile that we never had seen, a grim little smile that narrowed her eyes, “And maybe have something more done to him.” She held the feral expression a little longer, then morphed back into the Lady Chief we knew. “Maybe we should conclude the hug fest?”
At that moment Sally and I still had our arms around one another. She turned red and I could feel my blush rising. Then we let each other go and simultaneously broke into laughter.
I turned trying to suppress my laughter, “Yes, Lady Chief, we both think that’s a very good idea.”
She concluded, “I also made the call for the communications equipment, and had a photo of Peter deviled after for use at the safehouse. It’s getting late, so let’s shower and change.”
Our green meanie baby sitters were there, and parked pointed in the right direction, a little beyond where we were waiting for the taxi. That made sense. It was far more likely that any foolishness would be in front of us rather than behind us, making us drive into and through the ambush rather than speeding away from it. I could see Violet in the Shotgun seat with her ordinance up and eyes scanning everywhere. I had to suppress an impulse to open my clutch and put my hand on my revolver butt.
At the club we stopped and they stopped ahead of us, jumping out immediately with their submachine guns and standing by the door of the curbside of the taxi. The driver had his head down managing the fare for Lady Chief. When he looked up and saw the girls with guns it looked like he was about to shit his pants. One of the girls reached over the hood and flashed her badge at him. He immediately relaxed. This was familiar, this was routine, except for the fact that the fares got out willingly and weren’t immediately handcuffed. The femmecops escorted them to the door, waited until the fares got on the elevator, then went back to their own spectacularly ugly green electrocar and drove off, leaving the cabbie with a good story for supper time on Sunday.
I don’t really remember the food at our dinner. I’m sure it was excellent but I was too wired by the situation. I asked Lady Chief if she’d found anything smelly in Peter’s e-mail. But he had been too careful. It was always “the issues I’d mentioned last week.” Or “when we get together I’ll fill in the picture” and so on. But Lady Chief had the dates and recipients to take into the one-on-one meetings and her interrogation skills weren’t rusty in the least.
If she felt any resistance as she pressured with the dates, she asked if the subordinate had kept an entry in the logbook mandated by GLCIS policy. Then she’d ask them to retrieve it; she’d thumb through it; and then said she’d “retain it for further study” for “our next meeting”, which she hadn’t mentioned before, and observe the reaction. With that little ruse, it was easy to tell the ones that Peter had convinced even if they wouldn’t come clean about what he was saying. There were about 3 of them.
The open ones told tales of Peter asking if the recipient saw any “health issues” with the Chief, or openly asking if there was any thing that they were dissatisfied with at GLCIS or with the Chief. Since both Peter and the chief outranked all the others, the less said by the staff member to either of them the better to avoid getting in between the two. Or at least most felt that way. Which is why the meetings started being so flat and uneventful. As well as being more and more dominated by Peter.
If she saw that openness about what Peter had asked or told them, she gave an abbreviated briefing of the problem and told them at the end that there was strong enough evidence that Peter was a Mossad mole for her to order his interrogation when he returned.
She also said that the less said by the water cooler the better. And she said it with a certain smile they all knew that meant “don’t cut your own throat”. That smile she had acquired after her Sec/Spy days, by remembering the few times Micha Haaretz had buttonholed her on the side about some issue in that agency.
In the group meeting, she expanded that briefing but not by that much. She mentioned the suspicion in his handling of the agents who had been killed and casually said that they would see a great many e-mails restricted to the Chief’s eyes only as evidence in the investigation, including, undoubtedly, some that they had written but the system would no longer let them see. And watched the three who resisted her trying to keep from peeing their pants, and that everybody else was at least a little nervous, wanting to get back to their own log books to see if everything in them was kosher.
She repeated to everybody the remark about the water cooler. With the same smile.
After being told all that, I thankedh my lucky stars that, when I first met her, I hadn’t mentioned a thing about Henry Peterson’s cosmetic box on my credenza. I couldn’t be sure, but I suspected that the little episode where her face turned feral thinking about what else might be done to Peter was the smile she learned from Micha.