Beating on the Wrong Drum
Chapter 13 – Shiva’s Messenger
Beating on the Wrong Drum
“Did you think I’d forget about my disciplinary threat?” Judith sat in the back seat of her own car. Budget money for a driver and limo was earmarked elsewhere.
“I don’t want to go unless I can wear a chauffeur’s cap.” Allen didn’t really want to go at all. At the last minute, Judith included him in the obligatory session with the Secret Services liaison officer.
“You’ve tried a handful excuses to weasel out of this already and that one was by far the lamest. Now drive on James.”
The unwilling participant shifted the lever into gear. He knew the route as well as he did the running trail at his woodland home. The congresswoman’s assistant had been to the proposed presidential speech venue innumerable times already and had every inch of that site fixed in his mind too.
“I’ll wait in the car.” Allen parked on the far side of the square from the building where he now held a part-time maintenance job. It would be imprudent for him to be glimpsed by a co-worker.
“You’re sulking like a five-year old brat.” She admonished but in good humor. ‘If your mother were here, she’d warm the back of your trousers but good.”
“Okay.” Powers resigned himself to the seeming inevitability. He focused on the one slender positive of netting a covert peek at his principal adversary, the Secret Service. That could be constructive but not so much so as to be worth the risk.
The politician and her aid were expecting the stereotypical non-descript man in a black suit and dark sunglasses. Instead, a woman in her mid-twenties approached. She wore the customary eyewear and her deep charcoal suit was tailored to subdue her trim figure.
“I’m Beth Withers.” After the introduction, the agent wasted no time in pleasantries. She began explaining the pertinent protocols.
Young but very competent, Agent Withers had finished first in her class in everything since kindergarten. In the current climate it had been an uphill trek to this position in charge of the advance team tasked with security pre-arrangements for the president’s visit. The president was one of the good ole boys and his current opinion was that every female should be someone’s little woman. Still, this president wasn’t known for holding fixed attitudes indefinitely.
As they walked, Allen strained at suppressing a fervent desire to watch every direction at once. This was a situation where an undue display of spatial mindfulness might seem suspicious. He fixed his eyes instead on the agent. That was also quite a lovely view. From her short hairstyle that was textured with gel to achieve a windblown effect, to a pair of square-toed black shoes that added an inch of height, the agent seemed as a brown-paper package that would yield wondrous surprises as unwrapped.
“The security screening area will be just there.” Beth indicated. “You won’t be required to pass through it.” The young woman spun suddenly to describe for the congresswoman where her entry point would be. She caught the eyes of the handsome aide on her again. Her female body felt a twinge of the standard estrogen/testosterone resonance but she wasn’t seeking. Still, a tempting smile flashed of its own accord before she continued in her detached manner.
So far in day number 6 of her mission, Beth had gone through her checklist without any major problems. The police chief offered her the minimum number of men but at least it wasn’t less, so all bases were still covered. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a shiver down her spine when standing at the place where the open-air stage would be erected. The president would be at his most vulnerable and all threads of her fastidious efforts converged like to the eye of a spider’s web on this very spot. It’s all in your head, she told herself. Or was it the fabled female intuition? Fourteen days to P-day, she performed her countdown litany to break her inner tension.
Judith Forrester casually nodded her acceptance the various established elements and inserted the appropriate banal utterances to indicate she was still following along with the narrative. Instead, her mind was largely tracking elsewhere. She noticed both young people taking discreet notice of each other. With her practiced eye and in this common situation, the cleverly disguised driving stimuli of her obscure young aide might even be discernable.
She observed the absence of a ring on Beth’s finger. Then she caught that one fleeting turbulence that contrasted the agent’s otherwise unimpassioned demeanor. Could Judith perceive that as loneliness or perhaps a similar factor? The agent had been looking at the young man when that conflicting emotional event occurred. The congresswoman smiled inwardly. The incubator of her intellect took that seed of potential insight and began to germinate a promising scheme.
As an unconscious indicator of the focused assiduousness that Agent Withers brought to her work, her hand tested the locked state of a knob as they strolled by it. The exit door in question was from Allen’s building and he entertained an ironically amusing thought. I have the master key to open that for her but it’s in the pocket of the other Allen’s overalls.
The supervisor’s ring had inexplicably turned up missing during a night shift. The security breach was unremarkable as the keys were found and returned after the absence of only several hours. The lapsed time involved Allen’s slipping out and driving home to duplicate the prize. He already had a key cutting machine at hand. Locksmiths generally require some explanations and will often seek a confirmation before they duplicate a key marked as a master.
“In the unlikely event of an unforeseen occurrence, I’ve set up an exit and an alternative.” Beth continued her security spiel but her curiosity was drawn to the congresswoman. On first impression, Agent Withers liked Judith Forrester and her foreknowledge of the woman’s political reputation was similarly favorable. Now though, the agent was disconcerted at the sly smirks she was observing.
Though a university had conferred a degree in political science, Judith planned on conducting a little experiment in sexual chemistry. First she had to decant the two test subjects into a suitable beaker. A quiet table at a restaurant might provide a nice environment for the human compounds to interact and hopefully combine.
“Goodness me! Just look at the time.” Judith broke off the tour prematurely by consulting her watch in an apparent panic. “I’m sorry, Agent Withers but I’m going to have to ask you to go over the balance of the details with Mr. Powers. Don’t worry, I trust him completely to give me the gist your presentation. Why don’t you two meet over dinner tonight to finish this briefing?”
“I’m fairly busy with my duties,” Beth resisted with a side glance to see Allen’s reaction.
“I must insist. This material is crucial to me but I’m not certain when or even if I can reschedule.” Judith physically urged her driver towards the car while the agent scurried behind. She continued her ploy as they reached the curb. “I just realized, you have some extra time right now that was allotted for my use. You can simply redeploy those hours to tonight instead.” Judith posed an excuse and it was even a marginally valid one though the crafty woman had contrived it. “Busy people have to eat. Do you have another pressing engagement for tonight?”
“Well, no but—.” Beth watched the color drain from his face.
“It’s settled then.” Judith didn’t allow her to finish her refusal but went on to quickly supply them with a place and time to meet.
“Come along now, Allen.” Having achieved her objective, the meddlesome woman terminated further discussion. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to break some speed limits.”
“I didn’t know anything else was scheduled.” Allen’s thoughts swirled in a muddled spiral around a sinkhole.
“There’s no appointment, stupid.” Judith laughed out loud. “You obviously wanted to invite her out and she was dying for you to ask but since you were procrastinating, I took the initiative for you.”
“I didn’t say yes, you did that for me.” The downside to keeping his true thoughts hidden from his boss was having her misconstrue his intentions. Allen considered the prospect of an evening meal with the lovely Secret Service agent. His coffee with Jessica was an insignificant gamble compared with the highly explosive, deadly poisonous and radioactive danger that just standing an arm’s reach from Beth Withers was.
“So your refusing now would reflect badly on me.” She cinched in her trickery by one more grommet. “You can talk business for a few minutes to satisfy the pretense. Then you kids should just relax and enjoy each other’s company.”
“I have a pulsating headache and my stomach is upset.” This was the truth too but it stemmed his fear of a spike-embedded pitfall on his path.
“Then take a Midol.” Judith laughed at his latest excuse, which described the symptoms of PMS. “Now drop me off at the office and you can get spruced up for dinner. You might want to get a trim.”
“Women!” The females of the species were doomed to be the bane and occasionally the blessing of Allen’s existence. Maybe they represented the same duality for all men but for the messenger the stakes here were deadly high. He wasn’t certain if he was more furious with Judith or frightened of Beth. “My spending intimate time with a Secret Services girl is like a fireman kissing an arsonist!”
Allen viewed himself in his bathroom mirror. He had passed at least four barbershops but defiantly drove on in protest. If a way existed to make his form less appealing, he would have done so. “I should paint on chicken pox and pretend to be contagious.”
That wouldn’t work and every pretext that he could think of wasn’t plausible either. “What if I pretend to be gay?” His father’s advice was now working against him. ‘Never lie if it’s one destined to fail.’ “I’m shy? I’m sick? I’m a jerk?” He stumbled on a delicious idea. “Yes, I am an idiot.” With a cunning smile, the self-satisfied reluctant suitor snatched up the daily newspaper.
“Uh, hi.” Allen stammered slightly as he collected his escort at the appointed time. Gone was the dark unisex ensemble of a Secret Service agent. That look had been replaced by one of cream cheese baiting a rattrap. She wore a mid-length dress with green silk clinging in the curves and flowing over flares. The earlier brown-paper was now as a Christmas present with a shining ribbon but still with the enticing treasures lingering within. Don’t you even think about what’s inside and in fact, it’s much better not to look at all!
As they started to drive, Allen began their conversation by following Judith’s orders about sticking to business for the first few minutes. Before they arrived at the planned restaurant, he initiated his newly hatched strategy by blurting out the truth. “You know my boss ditched out intentionally to set this up.”
“Yes, I figured that much,” the girl had surmised from the smug looks and the sudden ploy, “but it wasn’t worth calling her on it.”
“Well, brainless me then. I was the only one out of the loop.” He chuckled at his own naivety. He was adept at lying but perhaps that impaired his seeing though them. “I jumped into the car planning how to dodge traffic to get us somewhere fast. Judith had to come straight out and tell me.”
“Yes, we women can be devious and perhaps it takes one to know one.” Beth treated him to a warm smile as she provided the other possibility to his missing Judith’s subterfuge.
“Well, I hope you feel like a burger because I sure do.” Allen wheeled into a fast food franchise. This should do it. First, the blunt admission of his fundamental stupidity and then the horrendously poor choice in restaurants should have her firmly convinced that coloring her hair would be much more enjoyable.
After standing at the counter to get their cuisine, which was possibly processed dumpster tailings, they got their condiments and chose a table with plastic chairs. The space had the ambiance of a factory’s assembly line where efficiency experts plotted the average bites per minute as a factor in determining how many tables were needed. The décor was carefully designed to become annoying and the seats uncomfortable after only a brief period. The buzz phrase is ‘high turnover inventory’: it turns what used to be called ‘food’ into ‘gross volume’ intended pad out the bottom line and eater’s bottoms.
“I love this place.” Beth smiled genuinely between bites. “The chicken sandwiches are awesome.” The agent wasn’t simply saying this to be accommodating. She often did go to this particular franchise and it was always a treat.
It was refreshing to find a man that didn’t seek to impress her at some stuffed-shirt place. Beth had expected a congresswoman’s aide to drag her into some lame fancy restaurant where using correct cutlery was ludicrously significant. Tiny portions would be flourished on plates as large as serving platters. She would’ve pretended to enjoy an entrée that she could neither identify nor even pronounce. This date was turning out to be a pleasant surprise.
“Mmmm.” Allen munched his burger and feigned finding it succulent because he had chosen the place. Doubtlessly, the dangerous Beth Withers would be bolting after supper but he still had an ace up his sleeve, just in case.
“Judith mentioned you’re in life insurance.” Beth conversed while savoring her meal. “That must be interesting.”
“I just take bets on whether people will be dead sooner rather than later. You get to shoot people while you’re leaping in front of bullets.” Was describing his job in the worst possible illustration and demonstrating ignorance of hers a way out of a woman’s heart?
“That’s hilarious.” Beth crushed his spirit with a hearty laugh. She even placed her hand on his forearm in appreciation while her residual giggle trailed off. “I’ve never even had to pull out my gun once since I began carrying it. I mostly do logistics and paperwork. However, your line is exactly the way I’m going to describe my duties from now on.” She hadn’t been anticipating this at all. He was a real guy and with a sense of humor. It was stimulating.
“Don’t you vault into harms way?” Why isn’t this working?
“Well, in theory we would but in practice we don’t have to if we do our other jobs well enough.” She leaned closer to share a dirty little secret. “I didn’t vote for the president in office and I hope I don’t have to use my body to shield him from gunfire.”
“I’ll sell you some life insurance just in case?” Allen interjected a pushy sales pitch and tried to sound serious. Beth quashed his ploy by finding it humorous. I’m trying for strikeouts and keep hitting home runs by accident!
The reluctant suitor watched Beth poke the last morsel into her mouth and slowly chew. Her auburn hair was in styled disarray and it framed a heart shaped face. Now without the sunglasses, he saw her eyes as the color of tropical seawater over a coral reef and they were set off by the green of her silken dress. The only blemish in the perfection of her face was a glob of mayo on her lower lip.
“You have a goober.” Allen announced with a grin. I trust this will be deemed rude or at the very least, too forward. The young man reached across with a paper napkin and he dabbed away the offending lump of condiment.
“Thank you.” The agent smiled mysteriously. With eyes fixed on his, Beth slowly extended her pink tongue and with it, she slowly licked the full circle of her mouth. Now, the glitter of her moistened lips matched the sparkles in her eyes.
That was moderately erotic! Allen took several deep breaths. The drum of pulse beat a cadence that he definitely didn’t want his body marching to. Now she’s asked for it. Prepare for the ultimate date killer. He had found this surefire looser in the newspaper.
“I’m having a wonderful time.” Beth took his arm and gave it an appreciative squeeze as they walked to the car. “Have you any idea of where we could go now?”
“Yes I do.” He stretched the words out. “But it’s a surprise.”
“You’re such a tease. Do I have to close my eyes?”
“Nope, we’re almost there now. I chose the restaurant because it was close by.” They pulled into the Akron Speedway and Beth shrieked in delight.
“Go-karts?” The federal agent asked incredulously.
“We’re not here to ride them.” Allen callously threw a bucket of ice water to dash her slender hopes. “There’s a World Go-Kart Association race tonight and I thought we could watch it.”
“Oooh! Let’s go!” Spontaneously, she leaned over and excitedly kissed his cheek. “Hurry! Its already started and we’re missing some.” Beth took his hand and almost danced ahead. She dragged him along while he dejectedly plodded behind. “My brother use to race go-karts and I haven’t seen them in years.”
For the next three interminable hours, Allen watched race after race of kids as young as ten skidding around a dirt track while Beth explained the intricacies. In between, she hugged his arm and often pecked at his cheek.
“You’re really enjoying this.” Whether applied to her being so entirely unpredictable or elated by the event, Allen was woefully certain that they both could fit.
“You’re such a lady killer.” The young woman breathed lustily into his ear as the mini vehicles buzzed like wheeled chainsaws around the irregular oval track.
Not yet, but that’s fast becoming a tantalizing notion.
“Aren’t you forgetting something rather important?” Agent Beth Withers stood on the apron of her hotel’s main entry where her date had walked her from his car. He had taken two paces away before her voice halted his steps. By the time he turned back around, the young woman had folded her arms, cocked her head slightly and was slowly tapping her toe. “You haven’t kissed me goodnight yet.”
“I was worried you were going to pull out your gun and shoot me if I did.” He turned and trudged back to her.
“You’re safe right now. I don’t have it with me.” An abundant passion in her lips overwhelmed the seeming resistance in his. She even misinterpreted this, along with his jest of pretending to walk away as a form of humorous reverse psychology, that was working splendidly for him. “If you come upstairs though, I’ll show it to you.”
Allen took stock of his current options and he didn’t need many of his fingers to count them on. He was blind-sided by a personality he didn’t understand and his every tactic to foul the entanglement had proved detrimental. His gambits had all been blasted out of the air like a flung skeet. As the hotel room door closed and the clothing flurry began, a major complication was about to be consummated.
Beth awoke first. She took her shower, dressed and put on her holster: then she giggled wickedly. I promised to show off my gun.
“Allen.” The Secret Service agent whispered into his ear while holding her snub-nosed .38 bare inches from his peacefully sleeping face. She cocked the unloaded weapon. The unmistakable sound instantly banished all slumber. Allen’s eyes snapped open and focused on the muzzle. Shock of recognition convulsed his body into a seated position and his hands jerked up defensively. The girl shrieked in delight and rolled onto the bed laughing at the panicked expression on his face.
“How is it that a woman of your caliber is still single?” Allen vaguely found some humor after his heart rate returned from critical.
“Take as much time as you want getting up because I’m going now.” Looking like an angelic agent again, she pushed him back onto the bed. “Let’s have dinner again tonight? Maybe we can find a monster truck rally.” That wasn’t a joke: Beth loved those events.
“How about professional wrestling?”
“That would earn a special treat.” The Secret Service agent blew the assassin a kiss and skipped from the room.
Allen closed his eyes briefly and considered dozing off again. But there was no possible way. He was still far too pumped with adrenaline from that gun episode for sleep to be even remotely possible. How am I going to dig my way back out of this hole?
He began searching the room for his haphazardly scattered attire. The night had been catastrophically fantastic! One sock was draped over a black day timer notebook. Beside the book was the reload for her revolver. She had forgotten them in haste. The temptation of peeking in the diary was overpowering. He thumbed through a few pages then heard shuffling outside the door. Then a key fumbled at the lock. Allen snapped the cover shut and replaced his sock before Beth burst back in.
“I forgot my day timer. I was already at my car before I thought of it.” That was just the first of many small incidents of forgetfulness and inattention she could expect today. The afterglow from a long night of intense passion, especially following an extended period of abstinence, can linger on well into the following day. The Secret Service agent deliberately traced her eyes to survey his nude frame. “Are you dressing casual today?”
“I thought you were a chambermaid and wanted to be ready.”
Beth snatched up her book and turned to leave but Allen tried to offer the bullet set as well. She declined. The chance of her having to draw her gun to take even a single shot was remote and the odds of ever needing her extra clip were miniscule. She often left the spares behind and today was no exception.
“I’ll make sure I only shoot six guys or less today.” The agent punctuated by aiming ticklish finger stabs at his naked body to show precisely where her bullets would hit. The first five were mortal in the chest but the last one went badly awry and struck much lower. Then Beth turned with a giggle and this time her departure was final.
Shiva’s Messenger stared for a long moment at the door as his mind encompassed his dilemma. Oxford’s biggest dictionary didn’t have enough adjectives to accurately describe how hazardous it was. Yet at the same time the vocabulary shortfall also applied to the thrill he experienced in his young adversary. He and Beth likely personified the epitome of the phrase—opposites attract.
He turned back to the business of dressing and spurned those thoughts in favor of recalling his glimpse of her day timer. The brief snooping time precluded reading very much but one blurb stood out as important. Beth had written in bold letters, Police Chief Weiss—Major Asshole—absolutely the minimum for auxiliary support.
Allen soon found he was afflicted by a lovemaking hangover closely akin to Beth’s. He finally arrived at the constituency office and tried to sneak in unobtrusively but bumped into the water cooler to loudly announce his tardiness. After the tumbled bottle and the wet carpet debacle, his further attempts to appear as if nothing were out of the ordinary also failed. The story of his night was written boldly in his perpetual silly grin and underscored by uncharacteristic inattentiveness. Judith smirked hugely at him every time she caught an inadvertent glance. Finally, when he could no longer stand her knowing expressions, the young assistant went to her office.
“Ok, you win.” He capitulated with an exasperated sigh. “Now stop taunting me with your eyes.”
“Not until you tell me everything.” Judith patted the sofa adjacent to her spot in the padded chair. A Siamese cat wouldn’t seem as self-satisfied if sitting beside an empty birdcage.
“I was stoned on Midol and took Beth to a fast food restaurant for trash-burgers.” Allen dropped onto the couch and landed nearly hard enough to bounce on the cushion. “Then, I dragged her off to watch a kiddy-car race. The night was a disaster and she finally resorted to pulling her gun on me.”
“Your condition today offers a somewhat different story.” Judith teasingly slapped his shoulder and her hand stayed there. “For instance, why are you wearing this ancient relic?” She tugged at a loose thread on his bulky homemade sweater.
“My mother knitted it for me and today would’ve been her birthday.” Allen hoped Judith would now feel guilty over her scoffing it. Without thinking, or more accurately with his thoughts dwelling on something else entirely, he’d worn a huge comfortable sweater. His other persona found in a flea market for use in the chilly ambulance garage. It was quite out of character for the Allen who always dressed in shirt and tie.
Judith stared him in the eye and hers were full of twinkles. She was tempted to capture vengeance for all the wordplays that he’d shot at her because now Allen was vulnerable. Instead, she lifted her eyebrows and let a look say it all: that was even worse.
Shiva’s messenger laughed and accepted her visual rebuke as coming from a good friend. He had to realize there would be times when he was not quite at his finest form. He wondered briefly why in the morning after Jessica, he’d still functioned normally. For one thing, she wasn’t holding a .38 muzzle at my nose with the one hand while the keys to Leavenworth clattered ominously in her other.
Allen was mournfully and blissfully aware of the fact that he would have to break it off with Beth very soon. Detachment from his two bosses, Judith and Brian, was also necessary. It would be difficult. His telling Bain that he was an orphan precluded all the convenient family related excuses. Beth being a Secret Service agent with almost unlimited access to government information could make any shoddy pretext useless. Suddenly, he was inspired.
“I could tell Beth I’m going off to join the Pro Rodeo Circuit and she would buy it.” Allen was probably not even exaggerating: she would just want tickets. The Secret Service agent didn’t equate him to having anything to do with her work and he had already told her boatloads of crap without jingling her lie detectors. He and Beth really knew from the outset that theirs was only a short-term fling.
“Judith and Bain are the crux.” Shiva’s messenger consulted a mental file of his dad’s gems of wisdom for an answer. ‘The solution always has to be large enough to fit the problem.’ “That could also work in reverse. I don’t need a big excuse when a tiny one will do.”
He only needed one week. After P-day, as Beth called the presidential visit, it would be safe for her to investigate. Allen Powers would be gone and everyone could backtrack the persona as it evaporated like the morning dew. Allen Wright would also have disappeared by then and a lot of people were going to be thoroughly examining the hollow paper shell of his life.
“Judith,” the young volunteer stuck his head into her office to see if she was busy, “can I see you for a minute?”
“Certainly, come in.”
“This probably comes at a bad time, but I need a week off.”
“Is there a problem?”
“Not one of mine.” He smiled wryly. “I have to help out a friend that got his girlfriend pregnant.” He heaved a sigh of acquiescence. “Tammy’s a bit of a drama queen and wants a fast wedding so if anyone counts back the months she can claim a premature delivery. Scott needs me to be the best man for him in Las Vegas.”
“We’ll be fine here.” Judith wondered briefly on the chances of the marriage surviving even one year. Statistically, the odds weren’t favorable.
“I won’t hear your talk in person but I’ll catch you on TV.” He gestured his eyes at her notepad. “Have you finished it yet?
“No,” Judith had emptied several wastebaskets full of her false starts. “I need a really good speech writer but I can’t afford one.”
“Do you want to know what I really think?” Her slightly cocked head answered yes, so he continued. “You’re appearing last and we aren’t sure if anyone will still be listening when your turn comes. Why knock yourself out writing something that people might not even hear? You know the background material so just wing it and talk from your heart.”
“I’d feel naked without a prepared text.” Judith shuddered just thinking about standing empty handed before that big-ticket crowd.
“Well, if you won’t try my suggestion then by all means take your own and do it in the nude. Your visibility would skyrocket.”
“I’ll think about it and I may even do it just to surprise you.” She still couldn’t envision stepping up to the podium devoid of notes.
“Naked? That’ll be an appearance to get some ratings. I’ll definitely have the TV and the VCR on in Vegas.”
“No! I won’t do it naked!” Mortified by the thought, she also knew he had misunderstood intentionally to evoke that response. He did that incessantly. “I meant that I might rip up my drafts after all. Nothing I’ve penned yet is really worth keeping and using.”
“Instead of fixating on your address at the end, concentrate on where the attention will be and shine in that spotlight. Don’t be fiddling with notes when the camera pans. Watch where the lenses are and light them up with a smile.”
“While I’m nude?”
“Yes.” His voice dropped two octaves. “That’s even better.”
Her young aide left the office. Do I dare to be unprepared? She was speaking dead last. Who would still be listening anyway? On a sudden brave impulse, the politician threw her notes into the bin. This option was definitely preferable over an oration in the buff.
Whether stripped of text or textiles really wouldn’t make any difference. Either way, Congresswoman Judith Forester’s limelight début was destined to generate an extraordinary impression.