Piñata of the Inquisition
Chapter 19 – Shiva’s Messenger
Piñata of the Inquisition
John woke up gradually, still strapped to the kitchen table. When he had blinked his eyes for the first time, his lips were dry. A gentle hand had held his face and poured some water into his mouth. Most had spilled down his chin. The events of the past few days slowly came back to him. On a zigzag course, always going west but with jogs north and south, he’d outdistanced any pursuit and closed in on the national boundary. His dash across the border was purposely timed for a peak period at a busy crossing. Canadian customs should be an unnecessary formality and often is. Who would want to smuggle out of the U.S.?
Sunlight was streaming into the kitchen window as he opened his eyes. Even before his pupils adjusted, a figure like an ethereal angel bathed in a halo of radiance approached, to moisten his lips again. His eyes focused and the seraph was Jessica. He had felt the presence of her voice but had thought it was part of a dream.
With a woman he loved on either side propped under his arms for support, he walked at their urging to a bed. He tried to speak but his voice wouldn’t answer the call.
“You need more sleep.” Cindy’s fingers stilled his lip’s efforts as she offered her prescription.
On one of the few lucid times in his early recovery, he’d asked for the name John instead of Roger or Romero. They in turn, had filled in the gaps of how they came to both be here together so unexpectedly. Now in the day following his surgery, Jessica helped him to eat some hearty soup but he ate as slowly as possible because he could see the girls were on the edges of their seats. There is a tempest of questions looming on the near horizon and I can’t see any shelter for the answers.
“What is your official name?” Cindy waited until a last mouthful went down then gave the eggshell a rap with the heel of a spoon.
“I don’t have anything official.” John’s thoughts raced. Father, please insert advice here. I’d even accept a cryptic Shiva gem. The internal pleas were barely past his brain’s lips when he realized the hitcher had advance paid his passage with a coin. Bhairava and his atonement bowl.
In Hindu lore, Shiva has another manifestation called Bhairava and while in that form, he beheaded his father Brama. The young John had mercy killed his as well. The guilt crazed Bhairava held his father’s skull and it transformed into a begging bowl. Atonement was finally found in the holy city of Benares but there was a lesson for the now and here. Absolution couldn’t be given until asked for.
How much baggage have I been packing from my dad’s death? Retrospectively, he could see the amount required a trailer hitch on his bumper. He was afraid to let people get too close. It wasn’t just to protect his mission, as he rationalized it to his consciousness, he was avoiding his own possible hurt. Existing in a space wasn’t living a life but contact with souls was. I have to check some luggage with a porter. I can answer their questions. Cindy and Jessica deserved no less than the truth. His habitual inclinations however, would still make it as sparingly as practical.
“I was born in a cabin in the far north.” Just that first sentence seemed to lighten his burden. “My father intentionally didn’t register my birth. There are no records of me anywhere in the bureaucracy. No one has my fingerprints or a sample of my DNA. That’s why I can’t ever go to a hospital. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a real name is the one my father called me by, John Fitzgerald.”
“Why would he do that?” Jessica took her turn at working a butter knife into the piggybank. It seemed to her that the worst kind of identity theft would be not providing an initial one.
“That’s a story that started long before I was even born.” John winced, as she nailed a critical inquiry. “My father committed an act on behalf of his governments. In return, they betrayed him. He escaped and swore to get his revenge. I’m his weapon.”
“You don’t have to do your father’s bidding.” Cindy bristled. If that were his motivation on her behalf, she would rescind tentative faith in him. “You’re a man of your own free will.”
“I made him a solemn vow and that was my choice.” Shaken at the way her voice had changed suddenly, John suspected he knew why. “Vengeance and weapon were the wrong words. They don’t suit his intent. Rather, I’m to be his tool to make amends and I will hold true to my oath.”
“What is your overall quest?” Jessica found a tasty trove and used a mallet on his walnut.
“That’s really the crux, isn’t it?” John took a cavernous breath. Two sets of eyes were each double-tapping his forehead. “I’m going to kill a man.”
“You’ve already killed many.” The lawyer was quick to point out. “Here in Creston, then Winnipeg, Windsor and Akron.”
“Why do you think I did those?” His brow furrowed on the admission of knowledge they shouldn’t have. Do I talk in my sleep?
“They had your personality etched in like a vandal’s signature in concrete.” The young woman explained. “My friend, Darcy Leach also confirmed that a Roger Connors was there in the periphery.”
“Do the police know what you do?” His trail had apparently not been very well concealed. Bound to make errors occasionally, his last line of defense was that there was a point where all trails would ultimately disappear. Even John’s real identity wasn’t factual.
“Neither of us said anything and locally, the RCMP couldn’t tell headquarters from hindquarters without both hands and a flashlight.” The scofflaw lawyer giggled. “Still, if we could figure it out, maybe others else can too but no one has asked us pertinent questions.”
“Thank you.” Cindy and Jessica may be subtle supporters,
“You’re welcome.” Jessica glanced over at her pensive cohort then returned the spotlight of inquisition back to her witness. “You evaded my crux question. Doctor Cindy may have sworn an oath, to do no harm but I haven’t. I’m not above poking a fingernail into your painful wounds. Now, what remains to be accomplished?”
“I’m to kill another president.” On second thought, one of them is a vindictive backer. John thought Shakespeare had stated it best. ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ He might even be forced into knit sweaters with all the wool pulled over a certain ewe’s eyes.
“Then why didn’t you?” Jessica and the whole world knew that the golden ring had been right there for his trigger finger.
“The time wasn’t right.” John balked. Sins contemplated in the future had no place in the confessional today. His mind skipped to a paraphrasing of Judith’s dis-inspiring sermon. The vice-president is worse. Were he not absorbed in counting antler points on the other trophies, the season in Akron would’ve closed before opening. In fact, the man-hunter now wondered if he even had the appropriate quarry tag for the game specified on his license?
“The most earth-shattering thing my dad ever asked me to do,” Jessica grinned at her recollection because she hadn’t obeyed the order, “was to dump an older boyfriend when I was in grade 8.”
John just smiled. This isn’t turning out so badly. All Jessica really got him to do was to confirm some things she already knew.
“Your father was the real assassin in Dallas.” Cindy reared back and took an overhand swing at the coconut with her biggest sledgehammer. She’d been quietly adding up the numerous telling references. His real name, a betrayal by governments and another president were the biggest ones that sent her mind tumbling to the conclusion. There was probably only one spectacular justification big enough for a father to place such a colossal duty on his son.
“Yes, he was.” The thunderous reverberation of his whispered admission even stirred the dust motes in a shaft of afternoon sunlight. With the tissue piñata shattered wide open, it spilled more succulent candies than either sweet tooth could savor all at once.
“I’m starting to yearn for those halcyon days when nobody knew who you were.” Nelly joked to her boss as she set papers on the desk. “Now, I need someone manning the phones just to deliver a list of all the calls we’ve had to turn down.”
Judith’s career couldn’t be going better. Her popularity took a huge jump in the polls due to her elevated visibility. It was almost certain now that she would be the senior representative for her district, replacing the slain Thomas Albertson. Some of the causes and interest camps that she did support were starting to notice her as a contender. Coinage was finally starting to replace the cobwebs in her campaign fund.
“I work both of us too hard.” Judith Forrester found the excuse she’d been looking for to take a break. “Sit and talk with me.”
“How’s the chest injury?” The congresswoman’s oldest and most trusted aide inquired as she moved to the sofa.
“I barely even notice it.” Judith’s hand absentmindedly touching the spot seemed to contradict. Allen’s parting gift to elevate her visibility, it had also been to set up his escape plan. He had even driven her to the hospital. “It’s funny, I’m eager to see it as a scar.
“Old bullet wounds aren’t generally the character badges that a respectable lady cares to display.” Nelly chuckled at the small irony.
“It’ll be a memento like a treasured charm on a bracelet.” The years of friendship allowed Judith to talk with Nelly, as she could never do in public. Her relationship with Allen wasn’t even off limits. “We both know his excellent reasons for shooting my shoulder. What is unfathomable is why Allen didn’t kill the president. Pundits have generally settled on a speculation, that the Messenger posted warning shots. The last especially, was intended to be a boot in the pants for attention. If aimed as a wake-up call then Larry’s finger is wedged firmly on the snooze button.”
“Oh, you’re in one of those moods.” Nelly sighed in pretended exasperation. She enjoyed these periodic sessions as much as Judith needed them to assist her thinking. “Let me zoom out and get the coffee.”
“How would I function without you?” The woman watched her aide hurry out. Nelly’s return was so quick that if the carpet were linoleum and her shoes were socks, the woman would’ve skidded into the wall trying to navigate the sharp corner. “Where were we?”
“Was it about the president’s wife holding true to the conjugal bed,” Nelly urged, “and the first bullet being unfaithful.”
“Maybe he’s trying to offset the embarrassment of the assassin’s deeming him insignificant.” Judith took up at a point between where she had been and Nelly’s incorrigibility was. “He’s displaying more bravado than usual.”
“At the cost of the taxpayer’s nickel.” Nelly noted Weeds had quickly put through an appropriation to increase his protection. “The number of POTUS detail agents should be now enough to form the roof of a superdome over him.”
“I don’t feel like talking about him.” The politician smiled “Let the chief of staff mind the president’s business.”
“It’s been quite a week.” Nelly sipped her beverage. “Like a media earthquake with the epicenter in Akron. Then the aftershocks kept coming piecemeal as particulars emerged.”
“If I wasn’t riding so high on the shockwave of the initial event, the news slipping out that Allen Powers worked for me, might have jostled me into a sinkhole. Now even the rumbling innuendo of my possible collusion may add support from disenchanted voters.”
“Reaction to media exposures makes political science more like alchemy.” Nelly couldn’t remember where or even if she heard this before but it did seem to fit.
“Some seem to think its thaumaturgy.” Judith chuckled at a theory she heard espoused by a supposedly shrewd analyst. “The one asinine commentator suggested the close call was an attempt to affect a change in the administrative policy. A terrorist can’t be seen to have any sway.
“Too true,” the aide agreed, “and Weeds would especially allow a city block to be leveled instead of changing the color of his socks.”
“There goes one more cause discounted and I’m still no closer to why Allen didn’t when he could’ve, would’ve and should’ve”
“How can anyone know what moves an assassin?” Nelly had a brief vision of the young man she really liked. “Especially when we had no way of knowing that he was one.”
“That’s it!” Judith perked up so abruptly that her cup nearly spilled. “I couldn’t, because his goal was so farfetched that my mind didn’t stretch to it. Factoring in what’s now known may make my results accurate.”
“Run with it girl!” Nelly sat back to listen and watch. Her job was now to nudge only if her boss sputtered.
“Why did he come to me in the first place? The one obvious benefit was to gain familiarity with the forthcoming event.” Judith tended to think best in the mouth over the mind. “He could’ve gotten that information working generally, without courting me specifically.”
“Why indeed?” The aide watched the thoughtful puzzling for a pause: then she stoked the fire.
“He wanted my expertise to condone his actions.” Judith then recalled their discussion about the speaker’s list. “His shots chose some of my least favorite politicians and almost in order of ranking.”
“It’s too bad the V.P. wasn’t there.”
“That’s the key to the enigma.” Judith’s nodded affirmatively. Suddenly, all the shots made sense. “It was my fault Allen didn’t kill the president after all his planning on doing just that. I couldn’t understand his sly motivations but I monkey-wrenched them. Larry Weeds may not need the extra security while the VP is alive.”
“Please don’t hint to the Secret Service that they should tighten up coverage on Lon Clarke.” The aide humorously dissuaded.
“It wasn’t shyness when I set up the date with Beth. He was petrified!” Judith didn’t respond to the quip because she hadn’t heard it. The gas was turned up on her inspirational burners and she forgot Nelly was there. “I had made a self-promise to comprehend lewd offer. Today is that day!”
“He only told lies when they were necessary.” The woman took some instances to recall and the pattern fit. With vision fully given to her mind’s eye, Judith could’ve been staring at Nelly and not seen her. In fact, she almost was. “The rest of the time he was honest about—everything! I couldn’t envision someone with no ulterior design but he had everything he wanted from me already. Why offer so unreservedly, with nothing to gain?”
“His was simply a beautiful, whole-hearted complement.” The normally slightly staid woman’s face lit up like a teenaged girl after a first backseat kiss. “His offer was genuine but he knew I wouldn’t accept it. Then in that brief pause of contemplation, an illusionary sexual affair was consummated. He puffed the imaginary cigarette and both were mental realities unsullied by physicality.”
“I’m jealous.” The aide reminded her boss that she was there.
“Nelly?” The congresswoman then suddenly realized that she was not alone and her cheeks flushed. This material was potentially more explosive and exposing than any shared before.
“I know you won’t ask me to confirm my confidentiality but in this instance you really should. Judith, whatever you say around me in private will always stay only in my head.” Nelly laughed. “Right now though, it’s blistering my libido too. I wouldn’t have said no.”
“It’s just not fair.” Judith’s color returned to normal. “I finally found the decoder ring but the enigma machine has disappeared. I would love to be able to crack open that assassin’s skull and spoon out thoughts like a 4-minute yoke.”
“Humans are amazing creatures.” John considered his recent relationship with the two especially astounding women. Cindy was now a respected medical doctor again. She firmly believed in the sanctity of life and had taken a Hippocratic oath to that effect. I’m an assassin that has and will kill again. Jessica was a barrister, committed to the rule of law as mandated by the political system. I’m a denizen of the world but a citizen of no country, so only my father’s code applies to me. Each woman knew exactly what he was. They should share no common ground but here they were sharing a period of tranquil home life.
Initially John had been treated as the invalid that he was. Cindy and Jessica had taken it upon themselves to nurse him back to health. They had taken turns calling in sick to stay with him chatting, watching TV, tending and fetching while he had been confined to the bed or the couch. Jessica had moved into the spare bedroom with him. In the evenings, the three of them enjoyed quiet domestication and discussions together where the one topic of what he was planning next was the only firm taboo.
“I had a horrifying day at the Hospital.” The three were seated casually around the television but none were particularly watching. Cindy recounted of a young child in her care that had passed away. There was no fault. It was just a sad occurrence in life.
“Oh no!” Jessica bewailed and tears welled up in empathy.
“Nothing could’ve prevented it.” John spoke flatly and phrased his remark so Cindy could take it as a comment or question as she wished. He wasn’t quite sure how he was expected to react. Perhaps his grief wasn’t sufficient to the occasion but he didn’t feign more than he felt.
“I think that’s what was the most troubling about the episode.” Cindy stared at the young assassin. In his disclosure, John had told them about mercy killing his own father.
Jessica had been shocked and Cindy mortified. A short debate with no winner had ensued but the doctor had the unusual sensation that she and the young lawyer felt more grief at the passing of man they never met, than John did and it was the dad he loved dearly. His seeming lack of regard for human life perhaps enabled his work but it was something she couldn’t condone. Cindy knew she had to arrive at a decision about him soon.
“What was?” Jessica chirped up. Cindy’s statement was yet unresolved and the lawyer couldn’t read what, if anything, was passing between them in the look.
“The mother’s grief.” The doctor continued both an elaboration and her evaluation of the young man. “She was intensely sorrowful of course but not as grief stricken as I would’ve been.”
“I trust she wasn’t as dispassionate about death as Mr. Heart-breaking Life-taker here.” Jessica now believed she understood the look and tried to make light to preserve a sense of unity.
“Certainly nothing so drastic as that.” Cindy smiled and then she grew serious again. “Yet I’m wondering if her philosophy could lean further towards his, than it does towards mine and why.”
“He is present and not just an anatomically correct mannequin. He can be spoken to rather than about.” John then asked. “Was she Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Islamic or possibly even Parsi?”
“I didn’t inquire. What difference could it be? A child’s death is the most devastating possible loss, in any faith.”
“Faith wouldn’t change anything as each adheres to an afterlife concept but religion would.” John had spent one vacation of living in India with his father for three months. “Perhaps her doctrines teach the Parable of the Mustard Seed.”
“I’ve never heard of it.” Jessica didn’t attend church either.
“It’s a recounting of Buddha’s wisdom.” John told it full but the story’s kernel was of a woman coming to terms with her child’s death when she finds that all families have suffered losses. The ending was a poignant line. “The living are few but the dead are many.”
“You’ve just told me that story and now I know it.” Cindy gave it thought in a pause. “The intensity of my grief won’t change from it.”
“I don’t suggest it would but a cultural predisposition is much more powerful than an individual’s. You grow up believing and the people close to you do as well. It’s engrained in your social being. Dogma forms the heritage that molds people. Faith is only comfort.”
“So which of those is yours?” The girl impishly inquired of his list. “My grandmother would wear out her rosary beads if she knew I was doing bedroom time with a non-catholic.”
“None.” Though his answer was for Jessica, it impacted more profoundly on Cindy. Her forehead crinkled slightly as if tasting tart lemonade. The doctor then went quiet for some time and the talk casually ranged to other topics.
“By planning his attack to employ a government weapon,” yet another expert was taking a stab at vivisecting for the television audience, “Shiva’s Messenger intends to suggest that controlling the purchase of firearms, is ineffectual in curbing gun crimes.”
“Yes, I’m so happy that my subtle message in support of the second amendment has finally been discovered. Not having to tote in a sniper rifle was only a slight side-benefit. I’m disappointed that no one has deduced the font style I used lettering my banner, was really to profess my favorite brand of cola.”
“It’s your own fault.” Jessica chuckled at the decidedly over-extended story. “You were the one that chose a rare moment in history when absolutely nothing else newsworthy was due to occur.”
“I’m starting to think these specialists don’t get paid for their services. Whichever singular-interest group the pundit is touting for, likely has to pay for a chance to play spin-the-event.”
“Some of the analysis has been succinct and many of the questions are valid.” The lawyer enjoyed automatically advocating the opposing side to John’s positions, if only to rouse debates.
“Can you cite an example to support that claim?” Unwittingly, John had just cracked open the vault housing the forbidden fruit.
“What is Shiva’s Messenger going to do next? They keep asking that important question and only one person in the world really knows the answer.” Jessica hung out the comment to dangle on a filament. Quoting a query wasn’t technically breaking the rule.
“Maybe he just doesn’t know yet.” John hadn’t made any post-Akron plans because he assumed that he would be either dead or his pledge to his father would be fulfilled. Not pulling that trigger had given him a lot to mull over. “The excessive coverage on that brain-sucking box may have confused him with disjointed blips of options.”
“It seems to me that when he simply moved on his own instincts, then his soul was his guide.” After being largely reticent since the earlier exchange, Cindy looked at the mystified expression on John’s face. The final segments of her mental model snapped together like a kinder surprise toy.
In her first meeting with the young lawyer, Cindy had expressed her uncertainty of feelings. An ambivalent hue painted her thoughts, since her realization that the men in Creston were killed for her. The doctor had followed Jessica’s moral lead because she didn’t have her own. Now Cindy Smart saw a pure color and it was verdant.
John’s blunt answer none to the religion question initially caused her disquiet because she presumed, as many wrongly do, that culture bestows ethics. His having none lent permission for amorality as suited his whim. The trouble was, that didn’t jive with the noble qualities Cindy had observed in him. His flip answer was ‘none’ but a better-suited reply was ‘mine’. Finally, her teeter-totter moved fully.
John was like a single ball on an empty pool table. His life’s structure began with a stroke of his father’s values. Rebounds off the rails were at predictable angles so he was alone but not chaotic. Cultural rules of conduct really only bent a ball’s roll from its true path. Was any ethnic group’s societal urging, or his none, actually right or wrong? That wasn’t up to Cindy to judge. He was true to himself. I didn’t ask for the murders. His culture required him to act. I can accept his diversity. Doctor Smart finally forgave herself.
“Maybe, the commentators aren’t speaking in the language his mind uses to process concepts.” The doctor stroked John’s hand to supportively flavor her words “When we watch television in Canada it’s with an awareness that we’re viewing foreign programming.”
“Let’s play scrabble.” John’s head cocked over slightly as he thought about her statement. Cindy is right. “I’m tired of TV.”
“So what is it that you’re planning to do?” Jessica couldn’t resist shattering the charcoal zone. It wasn’t fair. She had shinnied up the tree to shake the hive loose but Cindy somehow got the honey.
John ignored her question with a sly smile and because hers was such a flagrant violation of the unwritten compact, she had no option but to drop it. They started the board game that all three loved and played viciously with street-fight rules. Between his turns, the recovering assassin thought about plans. Rather than seeking, he cleansed his mind to allow notions uniquely his to drift in.
“Shiva’s Messenger will do something that nobody expects.” Near the end of the game, that Cindy was winning, John finally answered Jessica’s question.
“And that is—?” The curious Jessica prompted hopefully.
“Would I tell you and spoil all of your deductive fun?”
Jessica quipped of an absence of other happenings but there are always stories to follow. Akron was huge and so attention didn’t swing, it could only dilute. An item of business news gained airplay with a ringside look at a raging proxy fight between two of America’s largest corporations, Wall Soft Systems and bin Omani Holdings.
John’s complaint of the intense scrutiny beam stemmed from an overwhelming effect it exerted but that was a phenomenon of a differing sort. McLuhan’s ‘The media is the message’ was the clue. He believed newscasts tried to make news happen, instead of just bringing the public’s awareness to the events. The assassin had been allowing the coverage to manipulate his future actions.
The hypotenuse Cindy succinctly voiced, joined the couple’s right angle lines of thought, to form a triangle. The networks are foreign programming. Certainly they are to Canadians but also somewhat to alien to Americans as well. News attempted to bend the viewers to fit what the media wanted. The live action feeds from Akron had faded but the audience molding and the event shaping continued. Now aware of this trend, John could employ it to his own benefit.
The press showed President Weeds waffling as usual between stances on issues but he remained defiant about the assassination attempt. The man had even ceased acknowledging that others were killed and appropriated the event as a personal attack. John had a vision of Larry Weeds standing as a schoolyard bully with fists raised and saying, ‘Oh yah, well, come here and prove it!’
That impression was even supported by the news material. One should think that after an assassination attempt, information of the president’s schedule would be closely guarded. Instead, his White House staff made no efforts to hide his proposed movements and agenda previews were even pushed into the public eye. The president was almost begging Shiva’s Messenger to strike again.
Cindy’s rural acreage lacked Internet services and he obviously couldn’t use the local library so his researching options were limited. Those weren’t needed. Television and newspapers the girls brought home, had already provided his strategy. Larry Weeds was asking for a slugfest and John could provide a confrontation. He wheedled Jessica into buying several cheap cell phones and calling cards.
“Sam? Do you know who this is calling?” John dialed his forger friend in Toronto.
“Yes I do, young son of my very good friend.”
“I need some more of your fine work.” John went to the point. Sam should purchase his own ‘throwaway’ cell before the customer would go into specifics details. They arranged to speak only once on the connection between the two anonymous phones. “The work I need is extensive and it has to be shipped to me when completed.”
“The kitties are away, so the mouse will play.” After the call was finished, he glanced around slyly. The girls had both attended work today, as he no longer needed constant nursing. John overstepped his freedom to back his Lexus out of the barn, for a day trip to Calgary. Since a trip by car would take six hours each way, the traveler went to the Cranbrook airport instead. An exchange of cash chartered a small plane and pilot as an airborne limo for a day.
Sam Levi learned of the difficult passport requirements over his phone call from Alberta. One had to gain John access beyond the European Union. The other ID set needed made him a tax paying Ukrainian, able to hold a steady job. The documentation was a challenge but it was feasible. The complexity of the task wasn’t what gave the forger his cause for a very long pause. Sam was engrossed in recalling another long ago mission in the former Soviet Union that nearly ended in disaster.
“Sam? Are you still there?” John took the silent air in his ear as a possible lost satellite signal.
“Yes, I’m still here.” Sam compared the current situation to a promise that he had made to the boy’s father. His friend couldn’t have envisioned how things would turn out and breaking the letter of his oath might in fact be keeping the spirit. The old man took a deep breath before purposefully using the name. “John, when you used the title that I won’t say on this unsecured line, I began to worry. You threw open a door that’s been shut for a very long time. Your father would be pleased but I know it’s not what he expected. If you had completed your task in that city, the name would’ve been a brilliant capstone on it. You didn’t finish and I trust you had good reasons but using that word has added complications to what you’re doing. You have exposed yourself to certain people.”
“You know my name and what I’m doing!” John’s long stunned look had nearly transmitted through the phone as a video clip.
“I know that and most of the rest as well but I also made a promise to your father and I won’t say more than I must. You’ll see why when I do tell you and your oath’s fulfillment unseals my lips.”
“I understand.” John implicitly trusted his father’s reasons.
“Dangerous players are now involved, who may anticipate your going to Ukraine because your father once did.” The counterfeiter continued. “Don’t go there unless you can find a way to indicate you are doing something else. I don’t need to teach you misdirection. Your trainer could hoodwink his shoes into misinterpreting where his feet were.”
“I’m perhaps experiencing the justification in non-disclosure: my mind is already reeling in possibilities just from hints.” The young man confessed. “For right now though, how much am I sending you for the work and when can it be ready?”
The counterfeiter in Toronto gave him both answers.
“Wow!” It was a large sum but John could expect the quality work to be well worth it. “My dear old Sam must need a golden-age home complete with fixtures for hot and cold running nurses.”
“You just stay productive and keep on sending money.” The old man snickered. “The vices I fritter it away on are of my concern.”
After setting up an account at a mailbox rental agency, the young man had his passport photo taken. Finally, he went to his Calgary mini-storage unit.
“I wasn’t sure I’d see you again.” He spoke to the rental car he’d left in storage. As pony express rider wounded a holdup, Shiva’s Messenger had left this car here like it was an exhausted horse at a stage. He’d taken his Lexus on from here.
“My brother is building a dune-buggy and my part is to supply the engine and transmission.” After a cleaning and having removed indications of its being a rental unit, John had driven the car to a backstreet mechanic shop. “Take the major components out for me and I’ll be back to pick them up for the better chassis we have.”
“Where were you?” Cindy and Jessica spoke sternly in unison as he returned to Creston in the very late evening. They even held similar stances with hands on hips.
“Calgary.” His guilty eyes looked down. Are those toes tapping in cadence, spelling out ‘no more day paroles’ in Morse code?
“Each of these Canadian cases, have similarities.” FBI Agent Eldon Browning handed two folders to his new supervisor but held the third in reserve. The man was at least half again his recently elevated sub-team head’s age and he had 22 years at the Bureau. Given her service time of only several days, his seniority was about a million times greater. “The shooter used a .22 caliber and the kill shots were expertly placed.”
“You only gave me two.” Beth Withers eyed the other file and hoped this wasn’t indicative of an upcoming personality clash. The brutally obvious mismatch in age, gender, years of experience and even body mass nearly screamed. She had cringed when Bob Water’s introduced her new assistant.
“This one is especially delectable.” Browning wiggled the file as if teasing a flank of sirloin at Doberman Pinscher’s nose. “Perp takes out six armed men in one room, three more in an adjoining and strolls out like he just popped in for a lap dance. Boom, boom, boom, it’s the same thing at the next three peeler bars. Nineteen stiffs and this guy is finished up his quota in time to knock off early from the old bump and grind.”
“You sound impressed.” Beth took the other file.
“This guy’s cool as the flip side of my pillow.” The much older agent chuckled and his moderate paunch jiggled hard enough to foam the beer it was doubtlessly made of.
“We’ll see where that all happened after completing the liaison notifications the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.” The young female agent hoped his reference to a pillow wasn’t implying any hidden double meaning or that Eldon’s highly casual manner didn’t head towards a condescending attitude. Bob Waters put Beth in charge and she would exercise that authority if needs be.
“CSIS.” He corrected with a word that sounded like ‘see sis’. FBI agents often worked with their Canadian counterpart but the Secret Service wouldn’t have many dealings with them. “I know a few and can grease the paperwork through quicker than you can.”
“Do it then.” The female agent returned to her desk muttering under her breath. Their working relationship wasn’t off to an overly promising start. “Physiologically, I’m sure Eldon can actually pee further me as well but I’ll still win any pissing contests with him.”
“Hey buddy.” President Weeds was on the stuffed sofa when his chief of staff entered, as usual without knocking.
“The police found something that might interest you.” Nick held a small shopping bag. “Maintenance people at an abattoir made a discovery that has some grizzly implications.”
“What’s that?” The president was actually inquiring what the word ‘abattoir’ meant but he soon figured it out through the context.
“These clothes belonged to Carl Early.” Taylor drew out a suit the distraught CIA man was wearing on the day he disappeared. “These and a wallet containing his ID turned up at a slaughterhouse. They were hidden near the catwalk over an industrial meat grinder.”
“Are you suggesting,” Weeds swallowed hard, “the Records Chief committed suicide, by making himself into hamburger?” Larry shuddered at his mental picture of the naked bureaucrat swan diving into a cauldron of flesh chunks. The disturbing vision was complete with a flatulent vapor trail behind as if a jet powered plunge.
“Not the way I would have done it.” Nick was glad he hadn’t had any ground beef in the last week. “Yet it does tend to explain his complete disappearance.”
“Oooo.” Weeds nearly swooned with the sudden nausea that accompanied his recollection of eating several burgers and a nice meatloaf delivered from the White House kitchen.
“It isn’t conclusive proof. If that CIA puke started feeling queasy about his safety, he might’ve thrown up a smoke screen.” Nick tossed a few word cues into a clever sounding remark. They wouldn’t be as tasty as the emerging fruits of his subtle plot. “Still, I’m going to stick with chicken, fish or vegetarianism for awhile.”
The chief of staff played on his friend’s sensibilities that he knew so well. Larry Weeds had taken a severe double blow to his fragile psyche, from the brush with death and with the assassin’s deliberate snub. Nick then planted a notion that Shiva’s Messenger wanted the president to sever dealings with the Stryker Group. Taylor had even gone so far as to deep throat that message out to the press and had gotten it some good airplay. Manipulating both sides, Nick told Bernard Stryker what was on the president’s mind. The scheme had no downside for him and a huge possible payoff.
“Excuse me a minute Nick, I need to use the washroom.”
“I’ll wait.” It’s probably too late anyways, if you’re going to try to self-induce vomiting. The train of Nick’s thoughts returned to cruising speed. If the Akron killer was caught and the CIA file used, then Taylor would continue to be the president’s greatest asset. However, in demonstrating his willingness to cooperate fully with the ultra-powerful industrialist, Nick had slightly distanced himself from the president. If his friend fell to an assassin’s bullet, it wouldn’t necessarily spell the end of Nick Taylor’s advancement. Bernard Stryker was supremely pleased, because goading the Messenger into making an ill-considered strike, Weeds was willing to be blatant in granting concessions.
There is one big juicy peach ripening on a hidden branch. If Larry’s mental state deteriorated to where it became a threat to the huge investment in him, then the same remedy employed in 1963 could be applied. Taylor would ensure he was in a position to be propelled upwards in the power void to follow. Influencing Larry Weeds had never been a problem for Nick Taylor. In fact, I’ve most likely just inspired Larry into an episode of bulimia.
Beth Withers began legwork in Windsor after enduring a trip that found her seatmate actively flirting with a mature flight attendant. She might’ve been a stewardess back when that wasn’t considered a politically incorrect term. Her gushing over-friendliness with Eldon made Beth’s mind’s eye see ‘coffee, tea or me’ on her name badge.
“The four bars have since reopened under new management.”
“I suppose,” Eldon slightly drew the word out as in pondering, “waiting until show time isn’t in the offing.”
“Let’s do the first one now and see how it goes.” Did that almost cross the line? Agent Withers internally quailed at the prospect of Eldon Browning being in a position to visually compare her clothed female body with the attributes of nude ones.
“You weren’t in charge here at the time of the shootings?” Beth interviewed the manager at Alley Katz bar. “I read he was killed.”
“I was a bartender. The new owner hired and promoted me.”
Beth asked a few more questions while her partner snooped at the physical premises.
“Were you able to overhear any of that conversation?” Beth asked about a set of unusual circumstances that shortly preceded the killings. They involved a young man with close-cropped hair.
“Only a few Russian words.”
“Did the unknown man speak the language very well?”
“No clue. He wasn’t consulting a phrase book or speaking in tiny phrases but I don’t speak Russian. In fact, it could’ve been a Polish, Ukrainian or another Slavic language for all I know.”
“You worked here quite awhile.” Beth tried a different angle. “Surely you picked up a few words. Did you catch any you knew?”
“I just poured drinks and collected my pay.” He told the rest at once to avoid any painful process of piecemeal. “I didn’t want to know the owner or his cronies. When they weren’t molesting the girls, they kept in their clique. If they ever catch the shooter, the Windsor Beautification Society should deliver a bronzed toilet to his cell in honor of service to the community done in a flush.”
“What’s really changed though?” Agent Withers cast her eyes about the room. It was gaudy in the word’s shabbiest definition. She could imagine the club later bedecked with listless dancers
“That’s just paint and carpeting.” The manager caught her scan but applied his liquor server’s license to analyze her thoughts. “I expect you might think it’s no better for the girls here but it is. All the clubs have cleaned up some because they don’t dare being next.”
“It didn’t stop there either.” The man continued. “According to gossip, a substantial amount of cash was somehow involved. Subsequent to the killings, a loan shark suspected a local biker gang of stealing money from one of the slain and of being his killer.”
“This wasn’t in the police reports.” Beth frantically wrote.
“When the police were tagging, bagging and interviewing, nobody knew. All who might’ve seen cash were no longer alive to report it. Afterwards, well,” he paused and shrugged, “folk from this section of town don’t go into police stations unless dragged in. The murders in the bar triggered a small gang war but those deaths would likely be in different police file. Recently, the financier and several of his loan recovery managers died in an explosion at a downtown office so that might be over now.”
“This has been really helpful.” Beth smiled as her pen scratched.
“If you pluck the rotten carrots and the good ones grow fatter.” The manager concluded. “That’s worth at least a golden crapper.”
“These were still murders.”
“I personally knew five of those killed and for those it wasn’t murder. Exterminating vermin without a license would fit better.”
“Thanks for your time.” Beth concluded a short while later.
“May I say something off the record?”
Beth cocked her head as if eager and closed her notebook. If what he offered were important, she could jot it down later.
“Instead of taking one in the leg for him,” the man had obviously recognized who the female agent was, “you should’ve yelled ‘olé’ and flipped your jacket like a matador’s cape.”
“I was doing my job.” That had caught Beth Withers unaware.
“But you’re not at it anymore.” The ex-bartender had been in the trade long enough to qualify for an honorary degree in psychology. “That suggests your doing the job wasn’t appreciated.”
“I chatted with that ballerina,” Eldon’s head cock indicated a girl ascending the stage in a schoolgirl costume, “but she didn’t work at any of the crime scene clubs.”
“We should split up to cover more ground.” Beth noted that the dancer’s build was quite similar to her own and she felt revulsion at a thought of Eldon’s eyes juxtaposing the two females.
“Should we meet for a cocktail later and compare?”
“I’ll be too tired.” Beth lied. It was as if he had read her mind.
“You’ll love this.” Browning met with Withers in the morning to begin their next day of work. She had declined his earlier offer of breakfast, citing on the phone that she had room service already. “Your blue-eyed handsome killer had a French tongue.”
“Why should I love that?” Beth bristled and stared daggers.
“You seemed happy yesterday that he had a Russian one.” Eldon innocently smiled.
“The bartender’s information about the gang war checks out so I’ll presume that the money must be accurate as well.” The young FBI agent spoke to herself as she sat at in a borrowed police office. “Speaking with the Alley Katz manager was the only pleasant part of this whole journey.”
“There’s really no more to be found here.” Beth looked up from the thick dossier of the incident. It wasn’t any more helpful than the shortened version she had looked through in Washington.
The attractive agent leaned back in the high-backed swivel chair and stretched. Her hands clasped above her head, Beth yawned and the chair turned clockwise lazily. Three sets of eyes were fixed on her from the water-cooler. Eldon stood with two officers. All were grinning. Browning’s mouth moved and his two listeners laughed. Beth’s face burned and she snapped her chair away. I’ll see him in a disciplinary hearing. The young woman tried to hold her mind from speculating what Eldon had said about her.
“We’re headed to Winnipeg this afternoon.” Beth announced curtly on the drive back to the hotel. She’d made reservations after the leering moment that both embarrassed her and flared her anger.
“You’re not chatting up the flight personnel this time?” Agent Beth at least tried to restrain sarcasm from her voice in commenting on Eldon’s last fully appropriate interaction with the very pretty airline attendant.
“Nah.” The man turned and his grin at Beth was lascivious. He patted his heart. “I’ve already got everything I want on a plane.”
“That’s quite enough!” Withers glared and shook her finger.
“No, it’s not nearly enough.” Eldon’s face turned serious. “I’d prefer if this is off the record.”
“Let’s start out and see if I can keep it off my notes.”
“I was eager for this trip as a chance to get to know you but it’s turning into a punishment detail.”
“What do mean?” Her expression went from fury to confusion.
“Are you this surly with everyone or have I done something in particular to put a bitter frosting on your cookies?”
“What,” Beth thought back to the worst incident, “did you say to those police officers to make them laugh?”
“It’s a bit embarrassing.” Eldon tried a tiny smile. “We were talking about your performance in Akron when you stretched. I said she’s great in a gunfight but too damn skinny for me to hide behind.”
“No, it was funny.” She tried a slightly bigger smile than his. “What did you mean by your having something in an aircraft”
“Did you think I wanted to jump your bones?” Eldon couldn’t resist the humor in this. “I’m sorry to break your heart but I prefer women I can talk with about stuff that interests my generation.” He reached into his breast pocket and took out a napkin with a phone number written on it. “Besides, I might even be already taken.”
“I suspect I’ve had my horns out too far and you managed to snag on one.” The young agent confessed.
“The guys and I all know that you got shafted for being a hero. The Secret Service is under the president’s eye every day but you’re in the FBI now and we treat our female agents with respect.”
“It won’t be a punishment detail anymore.” Beth promised
“Does this mean we can actually take breakfast together,” Browning paused, “after waking up in separate rooms?”
Dr. Smart carefully examined John’s nicely healing wounds. She had pulled out the stitches several nights earlier. There was no sign of infection and that was amazing, especially given the operating table on which the emergency surgery had been performed. She poked him several times looking for signs of extreme pain and took his temperature.
“Well, you look fine,” Cindy admitted after her examination, “and from the randy noises coming out of the spare bedroom last night, I have to assume your vitality has returned as well. You do know that some people actually believe that the night is a time for sleeping.” She good-naturedly wagged a warning finger at both.
“Regardless of what you do with your life,” Cindy’s admonishing turned into some motherly advice, “you still must enjoy it also. If you don’t, then what’s the point? You don’t require constant medical supervision anymore, so those are the final doctors orders. You are released from my care—but you keep taking those antibiotics.”
“Jessica—” John began but her hand muffled his mouth.
“I know what you’re about to say but I want to speak first.” In the bed, she pulled her face back to a more comfortable distance. “Last time you snuck away without any explanation but I soon understood why. This time, Cindy and I know more and we’re still on your side. I know nothing between us can be normal but you should remember what Cindy told you. Enjoy your life. I’d like to be part of that. We can find the time if we try.”
“It could be dangerous.” He also knew how much he missed her. Jessica was worth taking some risks. “I might also meet my death in a quiet place and you would never know for sure.”
“All of life has perils. It’s the rewards from having met the hazard that makes it all worthwhile.” She closed the gap between them to nose-touching range again. “Besides, what I’ve seen from you so far, I’m not too worried about your disappearing forever.”
It was the last night and neither was overly concerned if Cindy had to cover her ears with a pillow.
“I should’ve tried this homeless game before.” Despite the obvious difficulties of facing cold or inclement weather, the life Carl endured was not without minor joys. There was a freedom of being completely anonymous and utterly unnoticed. It was quite relaxing, as he had no schedules to keep or deadlines to meet. Overall, there was a thrill of being a field agent and using his wits.
Just now, Eckert sat watching the television news in a medium sized hotel’s lobby. If Hamster Man timed his dart into the doorway when the desk clerk turned away he could go unnoticed in a chair sheltered by a large plant pot for hours before being evicted. Carl had liked the name of Hamster Man from the moment it first crossed his mind as he contemplated his arranged suicide. Now, he employed it often. The title was more fun than the boring ‘I’ or ‘me’.
“Maybe Weeds should wear a sandwich board, painted with a red target and stroll Pennsylvania Avenue.” Speculating experts were guessing the president’s overt bravado may be a challenge to Shiva but Carl was certain. The ex-CIA man knew the contents of the same file and could envision the president or especially his Chief of Staff, trying to draw the messenger into a hasty strike. “If I were a world-class assassin, would I be lured when I knew the vast weight of all the president’s resources were marshaled against me?”
“How would I know? I’m not one.” Carl Eckert had been trying to place his anticipation with the Shiva operative but was having little success. “I should abandon that losing tactic.”
“The White House may even be trying the same with well-funded assassin’s think tanks.” Carl’s imaginative mind envisioned a drama where a number of government assassins each tried to forecast Shiva’s actions by predicting what they would do. “All would arrive at the same point and with so many assassins in convention the real one would be as just an identical bee in the overcrowded hive.”
“That’s humorous but instead, I should ponder what I would do if I were me. Carl Eckert is the solitary resource that the president has none of, to my plenty.” The homeless man chuckled then reconsidered. “Why not? It’s not like I’m pressed for time to waste.”
He reached into a pocket and took out a newspaper clipping. The White House was unguarded about the president’s itinerary. In fact, they were advertising the schedule that included quite a few appearances around the national capital region. There was also a brief junket to the northwest corner of the contiguous states.
“I’m not an assassin but I’m big on games so I want to nail the president with a bright yellow paintball. Preferably, I want to live and escape. No, I definitely want to survive and to get away cleanly.” Carl viewed the almost memorized list again and mentally ticked off the places where he wouldn’t attempt it. The list waned down. He’d already played this list often as a pretending assassin to the same zero result. Eckert heaved a sigh.
“It’s a good thing I have a nice career in panhandling. I seem to bite at being either an assassin or a paintball warrior. If I were really me, I wouldn’t be within a thousand miles of any of these. Instead, I’d be in Spokane where there aren’t any public venues so it’s the last place to expect me. I couldn’t shoot him, so I may have to drop a bag of yellow flour onto his car from an overpass. But that is just Carl because he doesn’t want to serve time in Leavenworth.”
“Shiva also wishes to evade capture.” Carl Eckert considered the content of his frustrated rambling. “Why wouldn’t he do it in Spokane? Even if I share nothing else in common with Shiva’s Messenger, we both have caution as a strong motivator”
“I’m also still me,” Carl stretched the thought further, “so I don’t want to throw a marker beanie. I just hope to find the man from Dallas with his arm cocked back, preparing to pitch his shot. Spokane is a statistically better location for that as well.” If the assassin was going to try to hit the president in the Washington D.C. area, then Carl had too many potential venues to watch at once. If Shiva had a plan for elsewhere, then there was only one choice and that was Spokane. “Spinning it that way, I have a 50/50 shot of being where he’s reconnoitering or setting up.”
“I can panhandle in Washington State just as well as I could in Washington D.C.” A handful of crumpled bills bought a room in a downtown flop hotel. A few more dollars at a thrift shop elevated his appearance from destitute up to unemployed. After a shower, shave and a night on a mattress, Carl Eckert packed his homeless rags into his cheap suitcase and bought an Amtrak ticket.
“The perp in Windsor was a man of probable Slavic extraction with blue eyes and light brown hair.” Eldon recounted after their discussion with a car salesman. “This one is described as definitely Latino with dark hair, eyes and skin tone. Both are of approximate height, weight, build and age, as are a percentage of males in the planetary population.”
“The first mentioned descriptors are transformable with hair dye, contact lenses and a tanning bed.” Beth wasn’t ready to give up quite yet.
“The last group can be spoofed with elevator shoes, crash diet, a gym and a damn good Hollywood make-up artist.” Browning could play that game too.
“Our next chat is with the late owner’s widow.” Beth grinned at the partner she had a rocky start with and joked. “Try to remember the phone number already in your pocket.”
“I thought we agreed to be friends.” Eldon shot her a look that showed he appreciated the humor in it. Sarcastically speaking, the next witness was quite the prize.
“I’ve seen more realistic theatrics in an Ed Wood movie.” Eldon commented under his breath as Mrs. Frost took a powder room break after her description of the killer.
“If labels in his designer clothing can be traced,” Beth quipped on the over dramatized description heavily leaning towards fashion, “then his jeweler’s records can give a positive ID”
“True,” Eldon chuckled even as the sentence formed in his mind, “but the mug shot matched half of the demons in purgatory so we have to tack posters up all over hell.”
“You had just mentioned a racketeer.” Beth reminded of where they had left off before the urgent bladder mission. Unfortunately, she still had the mirthful aftereffects of her partner’s clever remark.
“It’s not funny.” Arlene Frost became indignant. “The man is involved with all the major mafia families in Canada, America and in Sardinia.” She heavily stressed the nation in her short list.
“Tell us about the circumstances.” Beth suspected the woman wished to impress global law-enforcement significance but Sicily was the original home to La Cosa Nostra
The killer’s portrayal matched fifty percent of the underworld’s denizens and the loan shark now comprised the remainder. Beth’s only valuable information from the chilling spiel was a sideline fact. The murderer had taken a large amount of cash from here also.
“I can identify him and will testify but I need to get into the FBI witness protection program as quickly as possible.” Mrs. Frost was such a selfless civic-minded person, willing to uproot her life to bring a felon to justice—then disappear with her inheritance intact. “One lawyer is already using pressure tactics—and she’s in collusion.”
“You’re more likely to find RCMP or CSIS sanctuary.” Beth jotted down the names of the two dastardly Mafiosi in question.
The pair of FBI agent’s then found the supposed loan shark. Though he confessed to lending money to Andrew Frost, he was offered that it was only in the interests of friendship. His angry tone of voice with four-letter expletives suggested otherwise. In a short sentence, he managed to insert five derivatives of the ‘F-word’ in an assortment of verb, adjective and noun positions. He couldn’t vent his frustrations by breaking the debtor’s kneecaps, so deluged it into his speech.
On that particular phrasing, Beth glanced over at her partner. Eldon was scrutinizing her in a manner that would’ve been offensive just the one day earlier. Now though, she just took a mental note and concluded the interview.
“Confess what you’re looking for?” Beth was friendly yet stern. His close examinations had been one reason for her initial reaction and now she wanted the root cause.
“None of the guys knows you from Adam, or in your case Eve.” Agent Browning certainly didn’t wish a return to her surliness and spilled his unofficial assignment. “I’m on sexual harassment reccon duty. In there, I was gauging your reaction to the intense vulgarity. The troops don’t want to accidentally jackboot on your sensibilities.”
“Different circumstances change them.” Agent Withers would deem a bawdy quip by Eldon as fine but the same one in Windsor would’ve been completely unacceptable.
“I’m not planning a detailed study, just jotting some handy-dandy reference markers.
“Pull out your notepad.” Beth quoted George Carlin’s line that listed ‘the seven words you can’t say on television’. Those covered the gamut. “I can also use those in some situational applications to redden the ears under a construction helmet.”
Eldon Browning licked an imaginary pen’s nib in his right hand and scribed a notation in his other palm then looked up and grinned. “I’ll send a photocopy so you’ll stop offending my tender feelings.”
“I’ve never spoken with a real FBI type.” Darcy Leach tried to decide why Beth looked familiar. Since the agent had caught her on the way out to lunch, the lawyer had invited her along. The two were now conversing over deli sandwiches in the building’s foyer.
“Until recently I was a Secret Service Agent.” Beth had elected this duty too suddenly to call ahead. Eldon was examining forensics but new to criminology, Agent Withers had pulled up short. The task was probably beyond the level of her squeamishness.
“That’s where I’ve seen you before!” Darcy nodded as her recollection also explained the noticeable limp. “You took that bullet meant for the president.”
“I did get shot,” Beth downplayed it for her likable acquaintance “but learning where the bullet would’ve hit, makes me wish my foot was heading there instead of my leg.” The American had found it odd that Canadians recognized her. At first, she thought it only in Windsor, as it was so close to the U.S. Now far from the border, Beth’s notoriety had traveled along. “Anyways, I’m with the Bureau now. I became a minor celebrity and then my secret was out.”
“If it’s any small consolation,” Darcy lightly touched the Agent’s knee in a reassuring gesture, “I think the president’s last minute ditching out on awarding your medal in person, was just shabby.”
“I was relieved when he begged off.” Beth divulged the secret detail and this new friend was now the first to know it. Why did I feel so comfortable in telling her that? The FBI agent was also bemused on the young woman’s casual knowledge of what was such a minor detail, in a nation foreign to her own. “But let’s talk of the murders.”
“I’m not your expert on that. I only served a search warrant on behalf of a client.” Darcy filled in with the details of public record. “The way it’s turning out, I should’ve taken the brief on pro bono.”
“You didn’t?” Beth found this surprising. From just her brief stop in the offices upstairs, she could see it was upscale. Those didn’t come with a frugal price tag in any country. “How would a penniless person, as you’ve described her, have the funds to obtain representation from such a prestigious partnership?”
“Her benefactor posted a retainer.”
“I’m mildly intrigued by this sponsor. Please tell me more?” The FBI agent sampled her spoon as gently as possible into this unexpected lunchtime desert but she was hungry to devour it all.
“His name was Roger Connors.” Darcy was honest but for an inexplicable reason she felt a twinge of guilt in talking about him. He hadn’t asked to remain anonymous and his name was recorded in billing records—but nice as Beth was, she was still the FBI.
Darcy Leach had been caught unguarded by having lunch with a woman with whom she shared such good rapport. Now her mind backtracked. Why was the FBI, for that matter, why was the girl shot at Akron specifically looking at a Canadian incident? The possible conspiratorial undertones were far too many to explore just now. Then, Darcy remembered her discarded notion of connectivity between her case and the murders. Jessica expressed her interest too. The Winnipeg lawyer decided to clam-up.
“Oh my goodness!” Darcy ingeniously thought of an alternative track of sending the topic into girl talk. She fanned her cheek and swerved onto the scenic detour. “He was just such a hunk.”
“Do tell.” Beth followed along as the chitchat sidetracked over some shoulders and through a chest, in an off route viewing of a hot young guy. The meandering trail was headed to precisely what she wanted to know. A familiar face formed on the description but a new backdrop was emerging. How could Agent Withers maintain her proper animosity? The snake seems as charming as the flute.