Snake’s Heads or Rat’s Tails
Chapter 20 Shiva’s – Messenger
Snake’s Heads or Rat’s Tails
Shiva’s Messenger stood on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River, as it snaked through a green city setting on it’s slithering path to the Columbia. He had performed his “Hello, Alex Benson” ritual at his father’s mini-storage unit in nearby Idaho. His rental car was over his shoulder at the curbside wearing license plates that weren’t issued by the agent. Alex’s body was serene but his brain worked.
“I wonder who President Larry Weeds is coming here to see.” The inquiring minds of media wanted to know that as well but the answer wasn’t forthcoming. The White House told that he was visiting Spokane and information regarding his lodgings was also forthcoming but the reason was only listed as a scheduled meeting. “Why tell a little about a trip and then withhold the juicy bits. That’s like dangling a celebrity in front of a slavering pack of paparazzi.”
“Is this an unguarded lamb in security I imagine or a sly tiger trap poised to rip open when stepped on?” The president obviously had this slightly clandestine trip arranged but then decided to bait the assassin. In putting the itinerary into the open as a lure, without the mention of this would be a black hole in Larry’s agenda. The travel time alone spanned a return trip across the continent. Alex’s thoughts went back to a dollop of confusion that was recently dished into mind by his brain’s houseguest.
[A white sahib has a badshah but also elephants and beaters.]
Alex recalled his home educational work as supplemented by the Internet. The imperial British masters in India were the white sahibs and one sport they engaged in was tiger hunting. A badshah was a very high ranked personage as a prince but deferring to the colonial overlords. The badshah commanded the elephants to ride and the beaters to drive and contain the tigers.
“Was that just interesting trivia or valuable insight?” Shiva’s Messenger weighed his knowledge against the current question and it fit. For Sahib Weeds to get his game in the open, Badshah Taylor had to have an adequate supply of drummers and pachyderms. All, or at least most resources would be on the east coast pounding and trumpeting through the urban jungle there. Since the hunt came up unplanned, Sahib slips away for his previously scheduled quiet tea.
“Larry doesn’t expect to share his crumpets with more than just his mysterious fellow sahib.” Hauling in a badshah and his retinue wasn’t logistically sound. The president would be bringing his usual security and it might be beefed up but was that enough to catch Shiva’s tiger?
Alex now focused his eyes back on the vista. He drew out his city map and found the president’s hotel. Then, he plotted several avenues where a presidential entourage was likely to pass. As he drove away, Alex constructed a three-dimensional area model in his mind with shimmering webs of his plan running through it. “I only need him to travel by once and slow at the corner.”
From a non-descript hotel room, Alex regularly scanned the street with field glasses. He monitored the people and the traffic patterns. Some of the things he was watching for might not take place until the wee hours in the morning. He dozed often to conserve his energy and took regular walks to rebuild his stamina. The messenger paced himself for a round-the-clock vigil.
On one of these strolls he passed a homeless man seated in a small, grassed area. Spokane is large but not a mega-city. Alex actually recalled this same man walking up the bluff he had stood on. He only noticed because the man was wearing a heavy coat. It had seemed too big to suit the mild Pacific weather and it was definitely overdressed for climbing a hill. Alex had driven away before the hiker reached the summit but this time he fumbled in pocket for loose change.
They may be invisible to most people, but each has a story. His compassion for the plight of destitute people had grown stronger since meeting Audrey. The tribulations behind this man’s life on the streets weren’t apparent. He was probably in his mid to late forties and showed no obvious signs of substance abuse. If it weren’t for his clothes and unkempt grooming, Alex could have taken him for a healthy office worker. The man didn’t beckon for money so Alex didn’t intrude on his solitude.
“My living expenses are so minimal, I’m actually earning more by panhandling than I’m spending.” Carl Eckert watched also. He’d spotted this location and two other potential ones, after his nasty climb. He planned to wander between and watch the three places. “I will when my legs aren’t sore. I’m not built for mountaineering.”
Hamster Man watched but the physical layout of the area didn’t interest him as much as the older men did. Whenever he saw one obviously above the age of 60, Eckert approached for spare change. Carl searched their faces and especially the eyes for the ones he had memorized. He glanced up and saw the young man’s hand actively mining in his trouser pockets.
“Go give your cash to a crack-head.” The homeless man had developed a habit of regularly talking but muttering. From more than an arm’s swing distance, it was incomprehensible. Truthfully, people often saw him continuing a conversation alone, thought him crazy and gave him money without his actively panhandling. “Can’t you tell from by the belly that Hamster Man would just buy a sandwich with it anyways?”
Carl watched the young man pass and followed him with his gaze. For lack of other gainful pass-times, the unemployed man had taken up a mental game of guessing the occupation or current doings of the people he watched. Older folk were easy to judge. As one matures further into their business, they begin to look more like it: a butcher generally looks like one even without a blood-smeared apron. Eckert couldn’t connect this young guy with any specific job, as he seemed directionless.
“The primary pursuit at that age is trying to impress the girls.” Carl then banished him from mind. He wished he could chase the stiffness from his legs so easily. “I’ll try one round of my new beat to stretch out the old pins and see if I can’t find a fresh newspaper.”
There was a disquieting piece in the last one he read. According to the article, the White House was considering canceling the Spokane junket. Eckert hoped that was a smoke screen in hopes of dodging bad press and quelling questions regarding the purpose.
“He almost seems to be doing exactly what I’m doing—simply observing.” About four hours later, Carl saw the same boy emerging from the lobby of a mid-range hotel. No one else was up to anything interesting, so he watched from his inconspicuous location. The young man walked apparently aimlessly for several minutes. He stopped to examine one of the flower boxes that lined the street. The lad was mildly intriguing but Eckert was scouting for someone much closer to geriatric.
Hamster Man had an amusing thought and chuckled. A hand in his pants pocket found a cupped palm full of coinage. If the youth is doing what Carl was, he should learn the apprenticeship.
“If I see him again, I’ll give him a handful of spare change.“
“You’re going to be a minor threat soon and I have to neutralize you.” As he examined the street décor, Shiva’s Messenger spied the homeless man again and noticed the relocation since the last sighting. His set-up would start soon and a vagrant haunting the area could make it more difficult. A snippet of his father’s advice came to mind. ‘A way to remove a potential witness is to give some money, let them think of where to spend it.’ The young assassin walked methodically around the corner and then the accelerated to circle the block.
“It’s your lucky day.” With a fifty-dollar bill in hand, Alex came up stealthily behind the man and jolted him.
Startled, Carl wheeled rapidly around and his fistful of coins scattered like a farmer hand-sewing a crop wheat seeds.
Acting on reflex, Alex grabbed to catch the scattering coins but there were just to many of them. All he managed to do was to drop his own banknote. The fifty fluttered down towards the shiny coins dancing and bouncing on the cement sidewalk.
“Sorry.” Both men spoke together and also in unison, stooped quickly to collect the wide assortment of cash. Their heads solidly and painfully collided. The resulting ‘ouch’ was also sung as a duet.
Alex Benson straightened and rubbed at his injured forehead.
Hamster Man’s both hands were already massaging his noggin as he unbent, so his palms were as if playing peek-a-boo. The quip forming in his mind screeched to an abrupt halt, as he moved away his hands. Carl Eckert was looking into the eyes he’d been seeking and as his vision took in the whole face, it was nearly exact with the photo as well. The shadowy dog-faced man from the grassy knoll hadn’t matured a day in over 40 years and in fact he reverse aged. The man should be over 70, but he looked like only twenty.
“Let’s go only one—.” Alex was proposing a solution to avoid another cracking of their cranial billiard balls. The man’s expression went suddenly extreme but it was unreadable. “Are you hurt?”
“Colonel Vassily Orestovich Antenenko?” A name long frozen in history was as an avalanche from a lofty pitch of Carl’s voice.
“How do you know that name?” The cascade of syllables had swept Alex Benson to oblivion and John Fitzgerald stood frantically blinking. His head swirled both mentally and physically in seeking the tiger trap that must be springing. I was captured so completely unawares but who could’ve expected this unlikely badshah?
“You’re so young after all of these years?”
“Are you alone?” Where was the rest of the ambush? Beaters and elephants weren’t charging from the foliage.
“Vassily,” Carl grabbed an arm imploringly, “we have to talk.”
John hustled the homeless man to his hotel room without a further word. Inside, they stood and simply looked at each other. Both had trouble deciding what to say first.
“I’m Colonel Vassily Antenenko’s son.”
“Ah!” Carl paused, nodding sagely and he spoke as if to himself. “That explains why it’s ‘Shiva’s Messenger’ instead of ‘Shiva’ and why the apparent half century disparity from the photo.”
“How do you know my father’s name?” John stressed the word, hinting for his inclusion in the dialogue.
“I’ve spent too much time inside of my own head lately. Folks don’t engage cast-offs in conversations much, so we spend the time talking to ourselves or rambling.” Taking the time to answer all of John’s questions and more, Carl spilt the whole Hamster Man saga in one long monologue.
Transfixed, John listened to how the fingerprints triggered the file, about the vaporous Oval Office and how the ex-CIA vagabond had found him in Spokane when all the king’s cavalry were whipping their mounts in all the wrong directions.
“My game ended in a head butt.” Carl rubbed his forehead as if the words brought a memory of the shock. He smiled knowingly to finish his soliloquy.
“Mr. Hamster Man, your story is amazing.” John felt an instant kinship with the homeless man. Yes, all indigents have stories but few this good. “Your windbreaker really turned away a fatal shot.”
“Carl ‘Hamster Man’ Eckert at your service.” Realizing that he hadn’t mentioned any other but his self-assigned nickname, Carl bowed respectfully, complete with a hand sweep. He then burst into spontaneous and heartfelt laughter. His mirth was so infectious that the boy couldn’t help but chortle as robustly with him. The situation was somewhat comical but Eckert’s real ecstasy was unburdening the tensions that had threatened from the first ominous crackling of dry old paper, in the CIA archives.
Interspersed between gusts of questions, John chronicled the abridged version of his journey to this seemingly fated meeting.
“Hi again, Alex Benson.” After sending Carl to fetch his gear from a bus terminal locker, the assassin resumed the persona that had been staggered out of existence at the mention of his father’s name. On a knock, Alex readmitted his new companion and accepted a return of his rental car’s keys.
“I’ve never seen what he looked like when he was younger.” The son read through the file on his father’s mission. On finishing, he studied the photo.
“Your uncanny family resemblance explains my confusion.” His observation was based on the visual but Carl believed it ran deeper. The offspring carried the many other shared characteristics of the parent. Perhaps, even distilled to a more potent brew.
“Pick any page.” Setting his palm flat on the papers, Alex swiveled his wrist to fan them out like a poker hand. “It would make headlines for a year! Why didn’t you simply go to a newspaper?”
“I thought about that but decided against it.” Eckert recalled his revelation on the media. “The public might not take it well in the raw form and especially not from an unconfirmed source. Many would question the authenticity so it couldn’t completely resolve Kennedy’s murder. Meanwhile, Mr. Larry Weeds would still know that I could connect him with the file. Leaking the story wouldn’t protect me. It would just fit me out with a super-sized bull’s eye jacket.”
“Even as is, you’re lucky to be free and still alive.” Alex smiled at a mental picture of Carl standing atop the bluff wearing his heavy overcoat but with a florescent target. “Surely they’ve circulated your photo and fingerprints.”
“I planted evidence to suggest that I might have committed suicide.” Carl smirked at his potentially cannibalistic demise.
“So why did you come looking for me or rather for my father?”
“If you were killed or captured in Akron, I would’ve received the file but I’m not sure what I could’ve done. Probably, I would’ve sent it up the chain of command, only to die mysteriously later. Escaping after making a huge statement, you changed everything. I could go to the Oval Office and expect Larry would be compelled to release the material as I hoped. He’d be badly burned but lighting a bomb’s gunpowder to have it flare is less fatal than having it detonate and you were the fuse that he couldn’t clip off.”
“That’s understandable but it still doesn’t answer my question.”
“When I left the White House my martini was shaken but not stirred.” Carl grinned at how James Bond’s favorite drink fit the use so well. “I could surmise that the Kennedy controversy would now be ended and my own demise under odd circumstances was averted. I took your deliberately signing Akron with your thumbprint as a clear indication that you also had this file. The grim reaper waiting at my home was a strongly worded memo stating the president believed differently and so had decided not to fizzle the ordinance. My option was to only pray you had the information or deliver it to you in person and since I wasn’t gainfully employed otherwise—here I am.”
“The president was right. I didn’t have it but my father hinted that a lost one might exist.” Alex pondered briefly. The Shiva file was of doubtlessly high impact but it didn’t mesh with his current scenario. “What could I do with it that you weren’t able to?”
“Ah.” The homeless man smiled expansively. “I thought you would come to that query. At my first glimpse, I knew this had to be come from the top. Just now you’re the highest alternate pinnacle to the president’s peak. Having the real Dallas assassin delivering the goodies in person, renders the reliability issue as moot.”
“Hello, I’m the dog-faced man’s puppy-snouted son. See what I’ve been paper trained on!” Alex laughed off the non-feasibility of immediate action but added the course to his growing list of items requiring further mental analysis. He closed the file. “I’m not able to add this to my Spokane agenda but where does this put you and I?”
“I’m in need of employment,” in his rags the applicant grinned sheepishly, “but I abandoned my previous position without giving proper notice, so I don’t expect a favorable reference.”
“Hmmm,” Alex scratched his chin thoughtfully, “you’re so highly motivated, that I might not even have to pay you. That makes you the perfect employee. I do have the one opening but it’s specialized and requires previous farting in the Oval Office experience.”
“An attitude like that doesn’t make you the optimum employer but I’ll still take the position. It can’t help but be much more exciting than my last job. I hope the subsistence allowance is better than my current.” Carl added, “I imagine there’s a short-list of White House flatulence experts for headhunters to draw from.”
“Unfortunately, you may not get any on the job training this time out. The current news is that Spokane could end up cancelled.”
“I guarantee the Spokane junket will go ahead.” Carl offered insight gained from his many free hours of speculation. “If it were to be scrubbed it would’ve been, instead of just wiggling hints. Talk of cancellation is only to throw the hounds off the scent of why the trip was set. I’m certain that Weeds will meet with the ultra-rich head of Wall Soft Systems. Doubtlessly, the chatting will be in regards to possible campaign contributions. Even fear of assassination won’t keep Larry Weeds from attending that one as arranged.”
Alex Benson smiled widely. His reunion with both Cindy and Jessica had been the last thing that he ever would have planned. Shiva’s Messenger and Hamster Man wouldn’t have quite literally bumped into one another either.
Contrary to Eckert’s deductions, thoughts of the president’s possible vulnerability here occurred after Alex was already on his route. He initially chose Spokane only for its handy location from Creston after Sam’s advice to establish misdirection. Unlike the CIA game player’s attempts to think like an assassin, Shiva’s Messenger was one and professional killers go in for the shots. Alex would’ve found an opening even in the tougher spots. Unless a subtle other mysterious force was giving nudges, Carl Eckert just hit it lucky.
So did I. Now Alex had a dedicated assistant from one amazing irony. He also had a file that could turn out useful, though he didn’t yet know how. A scheming policeman’s gunshots on the outskirts of Akron were as beneficial as the one that the sniper gave Judith Forrester. My posthumous thank you, Officer J.D. Tippet.
On the night before, a light standard decoration several blocks away inexplicably disappeared. City crews blamed vandalism and simply scheduled it for replacement. Had they still thought Larry Weeds was actually visiting, the incident may have merited notice. Alex Benson had already rented a long-term storage unit that was swiftly transformed into a workshop.
“Why didn’t you just kill him when you had the chance?” While working on a banner together, Carl couldn’t resist the query.
“If I told you that,” Alex dropped his pitch and adopted an air of the macabre, “I would be forced to kill you afterwards.”
“Ayeeee!” Carl badly blotched the letter he was painting. “A lot of people can get away with saying that sort of thing in jest. I’m afraid that you’re definitely not one of them.”
“Are you completely sure I was kidding?” It was nice to have some friendly banter while the props were being prepared.
“Just forget that I asked.” His new employer was nothing like Carl could ever have envisioned. It was difficult to imagine that someone so affable could look at a man through a scope and then pull the trigger. Therein lay Shiva’s Messenger’s latent danger. He would have a cheerful and innocent smile on his face at dinner, right up to the second that the intended victim had a fork embedded in his skull. The deceased would never have seen it coming.
Carl watched his employer getting a new section of paper roll to replace the ruined one and wondered if Alex could switch off his deadliness just as fast as he forgot a damaged sign. Would he casually turn from that victim, now face down in mashed potatoes, and thank the hostess for the lovely meal, before he sauntered out?
The featured assassin in Eckert’s fanciful tracking game was a man so cold that the aura around him froze blood in nearby veins. Alex didn’t exude any violence at all. Despite the implied threats in fun, Carl felt no danger to himself. Quite the reverse—he had never felt safer. The boy proved his capabilities in Akron and just his presence made a presidential death decree seem inconsequential.
“Hmmm,” Alex was studying the activation mechanisms.
“What’s the matter?” Carl peered over his shoulder.
“Just trying to figure out how to operate this from a distance. I don’t intend to expose myself this time by shooting at it.”
“Use the servo units from a radio control airplane model.” Carl had filed several reports where field agents used that exact method.
“You’re brilliant!” Alex took only a nanosecond to see the merit in his partner’s proposal. The tiny electric motors that moved the rudder and elevators would be ideal.
Carl departed for a hobby shop to pick up a couple kits for his nephew’s birthday present, while Alex returned for a brief stop at his mini-storage unit in Idaho for some other special necessities.
The 747 jumbo aircraft was named Air Force One whenever a President was aboard and it bore that designation today in a flight to Washington State. Larry Weeds relaxed in a seat and mused at the strange circumstances causing him to actually hope for an attempt on his life. The president recalled his last chat with Nick Taylor.
“The Shiva Task Force is following evidence ropes that skinny down to spider strand ends wafting in the breeze.” The chief of staff had said.
“They’re only looking for a young man that had been in Akron.” Weeds pointed out the flaw in the Task Force’s data. “Fingerprints on the bullet belonged to the Dallas Shiva and he would be old.”
“If you can suggest how to communicate our facts to the FBI without disclosing knowledge of the file then give it to me but I can’t think of one.” Nick had first shut the door for finality, the opened it a crack. “I offered them my thoughts that an accomplice was indicted. Why else would the casing with the print be a mismatch? The man on the roof could’ve just thumbed a spent one. Instead, he carried the special one with him. I specifically mentioned the co-conspirator could be any age and even much older.”
“The FBI looking for two is alright,” Weed’s felt comfort, “even though we know it’s only the one.”
“Unless the Dallas operative found the fountain of youth, then he is working with a protégé.” Nick witnessed a renewed panic as the president felt his peril redoubled. “That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s better. Where could the gifted assassin of the file find one so qualified and deadly as he was? Catching the lesser apprentice during his next attempt is our rainbow’s golden pot.”
“Then I can methodically defuse the Shiva file by the controlled dissemination to close the whole Dallas episode!” Larry Weeds had smiled at that. His friend’s description of an assassination scheme with the positive slant made it seem desirable and gold was exactly what this Pacific Northwest trip was about. Weeds anticipated a profitable meeting both for his campaign fund and to enrich the quality of his post-political life
“We have to catch him first.” Taylor had stated the obvious. “The speeches and photo ops here have honed our defenses. “We got the several copycats that tried and it was easy as straight fly balls.”
“My buddy Nick is my perfect companion for tiger hunting.” Back in Air Force One, Larry blessed the fortunate day when he chanced upon the one man that he could trust implicitly. Who could’ve anticipated such a random occurrence? His old friend also wouldn’t be where he was without having ridden the coattails of his lifelong chum. Larry could comfortably rely on loyalty of necessity. “I just have to make enough noise to draw the cat from the jungle.”
The analogy was spoken to comfort him but the effect was the exact opposite. Tigers had teeth, claws and were man-eaters.
“You’re all spiffy for a date with a lady lawyer.” Eldon Browning regretted the statement on its utterance. He had remarked on the uncharacteristic and decidedly feminine appearance of his partner. He tried to cover his non-liberal quip. “Should I have broken off some comb tines in my curly mop?”
“I’m not even a switch-hitter so put your notebook away. I even enjoy looking like a girl again after I finish my shifts.” Beth Withers chuckled as she read his mind. After flying to the closest airport, the FBI team had taken rooms where Beth had carefully fretted over her appearance. She explained the motive behind her visual change.
“A bartender in Windsor said his name was Yuri. In Winnipeg he was Garcia and Roger with each persona having a different look and feel. In Akron it was Allen Powers and Wright.” Agent Withers didn’t include her burgeoning new belief that his apparent behavioral patterns would be different than the Allen she knew, if discussed with Judith. “The assassin is a chameleon but he takes that lizard a further step. His colors change and so does his technique for catching flies with his tongue.”
“There’s a better chance of finding him through that,” Eldon nodded his approval, “than we do in measuring the gaps in between his double-taps.”
“Darcy Leach spent business moments with him and I got some good details from her. Jessica Ellis spent intimate days with him.” Again the young agent failed to mention a critical fact. Beth too had enjoyed quality time with him but as yet, only her Task Force boss was privileged with that knowledge. “I want what’s in her head and I’m dressed to see if I can cajole what happened in her boudoir.
“I’d love to be a fly on the wall and you can even tick off closet voyeur on your Eldon’s foibles check sheet.” The male agent soon found the small town’s only lawyer’s office. “Can I at least fit you out with a wire in case you suddenly require a big burly backup?”
“What brings the Secret Service to Creston, pretending to be the FBI.” Jessica Ellis leapfrogged over the small talk phase as she ushered the agent into her office. She had carefully watched the news and so knew Beth by sight.
“It’s hard to remain non-descript with your picture smiling from magazine stands.” Beth hoped a rendition of her standard platitude could warm the decidedly frosty temperature. “My transfer to the FBI is a rewarding career move.”
“I see you also enjoy being a plainclothes unit now,” the young lawyer smiled sweetly, “and not wearing those frumpy bags.”
“That’s a plus.” Agent Withers burned from the barb disguised in veil of a very thin complement. The women were both still standing near the door as the exchange had occurred immediately. Beth’s eyes swept a decidedly masculine interior. The agent’s pan of the room finished with her eyes on the more comfortable furniture. “You have lovely rich wooden décor in here. May we sit?”
“It’s more suited to a mortuary and that’s the last place I saw the previous tenant.” Jessica noted where her guest’s eyes fell and she moved to sit behind her desk instead. “I have a designer booked to gut it. You didn’t say why Creston interests the FBI.”
“Your previous employer’s murderer wasn’t apprehended and we believe he may be operating in the U.S.” Beth took a strait backed chair as it was positioned opposing the desk. It wasn’t as conducive to the bubbly female sharing session she planned but neither was the interview starting off promising in that way either.
“The police have my statements.” Jessica could easily fathom precisely why the agent was here. She opted for a strategy—tell the truth and most importantly nothing but the already known truth. Her sideline goal would be cautiously prizing as much information as she could out of the info seeker. “Since trans-border police services enjoy a French-neck and tell relationship, you’ve likely read them.”
“Those were general details. I’m more interested in an account of your impressions.” Agent Beth Withers had fussed over her hair, make-up and clothes. She had done as well as possible, given the limited resources in her traveling kit. Still, she felt like a bag lady as compared with the stunning Jessica, dressed to the nines—or even elevens. Even if I spent my next five paychecks on my wardrobe and an extreme makeover, I couldn’t match her. The young agent was also a very attractive woman but just now she was somewhat demoralized and overly self-critical. “Intangibles don’t transcribe well onto paper so I came in person.”
“Then ask away.” The lawyer noted the agent’s eyes moving and a subtle shift in her expression. That’s a point for me. Human males can intimidate others of their gender with physical strength, size and prowess. Females of the species are similarly able to exert dominance on other women with their apparent desirability to males. Jessica had worked even harder than her opponent to achieve an overwhelming superiority and it worked. “But intangibles that don’t fit into words can’t be made into verbal sentences either.”
“What was he like?” Beth took a rather deep breath and held it briefly. The agent visually compared chest size with her rival but she didn’t stack up to the lawyer there either. I carry a gun though.
“I had a great time.” Without giving specifics and with some prompting, Jessica finished her recounting. Like a travelogue, it had been long on scenery but shot on the succulent flavors. “Finally, he stood me up in a Calgary restaurant. I returned to Creston to learn of the murders.”
“Did he take you to the bull riding and steer wrestling?” On her mentioning Calgary, Beth’s mind flashed to the famous stampede and she had to suppress a rush of envy.
“That’s a July event. Romero and I were there in the fall.” Jessica had to remind herself to use the name she previously knew John as.
“Oh, I didn’t know that.” Slightly disappointed, the agent also felt slightly abashed. While Canadians she’d met often showed a deep knowledge of what occurred South of the 49th parallel, the reciprocal awareness was much less. Beth didn’t even realize the rodeo was only a seasonal thing and she was usually passionate about that kind of sports event. She had noted though, that the hotels she stayed at carried as many American channels as Canadian and in fact more.
Agent Withers had questioned Jessica for over two hours. With the answers precisely tuned to questions, Ms. Ellis was infuriating in leaving no dangling threads for Beth to cling to and follow. Each further query was like starting an entirely new line.
“I’m afraid this is taking more time than I expected. I hope that you’re able to accommodate me.” I have all the time I need Miss Jessica Ellis and I’ll wring it out one tidbit at a time if needs be. Beth shifted in a chair that grew increasingly more uncomfortable.
“Since I intend to bill the FBI for my time, take all of it that you wish.” Squirm on that, government agent girl.
“You can’t charge for this! It’s a federal investigation!”
“We are in Canada, Agent Withers. What is the United States government to me but a foreign client?”
“Fine!” Her voice betrayed that it was anything but fine. The agent read the lawyer’s seemingly calm face as looking smug on a good knowledge that reconciling this claim expense was going to be a pain. Canadians can also be exasperating—when using the info gained from snooping over the fence.
“Then shall we make ourselves more comfortable?” Jessica indicated a hand to the other furniture. Her butt could use a break from the plush recliner, so the agent’s bottom must be brutalized. “I could have my staff bring us coffee.”
“I’m okay.” Beth moved to the sofa but would feel somewhat guilty wasting the taxpayer’s money on refreshments at a lawyer’s hourly rates. As Jessica walked to join her, the agent’s mind took a different stroll. Agent Withers could see what he saw in her, such a face and body would lure any man. What she didn’t understand was what drew her to him? Allen had a simplistic openness but with a wide knowledge base, as a classically educated Homer Simpson. Maybe the lawyer wanted a man to lead by a nose ring to serve the same function as a bull. Allen’s personality couldn’t make a thrilling mental playmate for this obviously sharp-witted girl.
Being each so very different, almost as hockey players are to figure skaters, how could she and Jessica possibly find the same guy stimulating? The alternative could be that he was a chameleon in the bedchamber as well. That would merit Beth’s further interrogation and she mined deeper into that seam of ore.
“You haven’t mentioned the nature of offences that brought the FBI to Canada,” Jessica casually asked after another half hour and then she dropped the hammer, “but unless Romero is an interstate gigolo, your persistent probing towards my sexual experiences with him seems more of personal curiosity than of professional interest.”
“My Bureau is paying for your information,” Agent Withers shot back but her eyes widened like blue pools set amid the flowering poppy fields of her cheeks, “it’s our business what we do with it.”
Jessica stared at the blushing girl and all the various swallows flew to nest under her barn’s roof. Agent Withers knew John and probably even intimately! The young lawyer was uncertain if she should be angry or break out laughing at the unlikely pairing. Was a Secret Service girl in a horizontal body guarding position with an assassin? Why else would a new agent be the lead investigator over the well-seasoned one in the outer office? The particular case she was obviously working on fit, as had her ploys at digging for personal details. Does she think John shot her purposely?
As a curious cat after sniffing too closely at a mousetrap, Beth tried swatting back with an ineffective paw. Her attempted next few sharp questions were blunted by lingering embarrassment.
“We have to go!” Suddenly, Eldon Browning burst into the office. “Shots have been fired in Spokane! Shiva’s Messenger has probably struck at the president again.”
The lawyer and the FBI agent stood simultaneously and for a shortened moment, stared at each other. The only things these two women had in common were a man, gender, language and now, a concern about what was happening just south of the border. Even the cause of disquiet though, was another factor in how the two were so different.
“Mail me the bill.” Beth departed at a hurried pace but took one glance back from the door. If crafty Cleopatra didn’t know I’ve been with Marc Anthony, she does now and I had my asp handed to me.
As is often the case, the interviewed had learned as much as the interrogator. There was Cindy, herself, Darcy a tiny bit, obviously Judith Forrester and now Beth as well. Physical intimacy was likely, Jessica knew his draw there but it really didn’t matter. He got close enough to do his mischief on Beth. She saw the emerged pattern.
“John simply can’t resist testing sharp women’s edges.” The lawyer recalled Romero’s intentional taunts with news of her status and pay raise. He impertinently sticks out his tongue just to see how we’ll react but Agent Withers got her dosage differently. “Beth had a schoolgirl’s crush on the cute boy in the desk behind. She swooned as he skipped away giggling, then found her ponytail in his inkwell.”