I drove my ’66 Mercedes until I could no longer hold the steering wheel. I could just feel my Hello Kitty Pink nail polish buckling in the harsh, flat sun of the Midwest. I opted for an alternate course through Kansas, then Oklahoma, then back north through Missouri to ward off any of Mr. Potato Chips accomplices. En route, I reserved a room at the Amalfi Hotel Chicago under my alias. I can’t even tell you what it is. Top secret, highest level, no clearance, unclassified. I know eventually it’ll come out. Everything does. Even Galinka.
All I could think about was a cold shower. I could still feel bits of cheese whiz stuck to my hair. Nothing could be worse. I already missed Captain and my ranch but I had work to do. Who was that bellicose creep anyway? Disguised as room service—oldest trick in the book, but still. Was it someone who underestimated my superior physical acumen and my Steelskirt ultra stealth weapons espionage full throttle camouflage evasive procedure psychological warfare training? Where did he get the Areosoft pistogrip model k? What the Areosoft forgoes in accuracy it makes up for in might. They’re hard to come by even in the underground market.
You had to know people. Had SKRUGG tipped off Grisly who tipped off Steelskirt who tipped off TA and they were already on my tail? Was Mr. Potato Chip a seasoned quadruple agent previously trained by the now defunct Joppa squad? Upon further speculation, he did have all the markings: top of the line gun, savvy (if not ill-fated) use of the most ordinary of ploys—room service subterfuge—to deflect my attention. And where was that nefarious Fannon in all this? Had he finally discovered the truth of my “disappearance?”
I entered my room and let out a sigh of relief. Three-hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, fully stocked bar with Khortytsa Classic, the best Ukranian vodka. Galinka. That’s why we worked together so well. The give and take. Cat and mouse. Sometimes she was one step ahead of me. I smiled but with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. What did that faux room service goon mean when he said, “Don’t bother to order dessert. It’s not in-house.” I brushed it off. Time to regroup.
I didn’t want to tip off my pursuers (well, at least not these pursuers), so I didn’t head to the museum first thing. Instead, I engaged in advanced action prevarication: I went to see the Oprah show! I thought it was the perfect foil, plus it’s her last season. No one would look for me there. She was interviewing women “who lost their lovers in steamy implausible circumstances.” The coincidence was too much. Maybe it wasn’t coincidence. Maybe Rodney was trying to tell me something from the great beyond! Am I losing my mind? I’m just missing him, I reassured myself, feeling the stick of guilt in the humid Chicago air.
I know I was going at least 100 mph when we crashed, the car smashing into the lake like an errant rocket from some distant star. Rodney shot loose from the car, me struggling with the door, holding my breath longer than humanly possible because of my underwater, sans scuba equipment, breathing expertise. There he was, struggling to stay afloat, his arms waving madly. I knew I could get to him, if only….but the car was still going down at a vicious velocity, the resulting tumult held Rodney in its grip. It was like some kind of insane, centrifugal force that slammed his body around and around. The water was claiming him. I could see it but no matter how hard I tried, the power of the crash-induced current was too great. His eyes, large and pleading, the gaze slightly askew from his desperate attempts at gulping air, looked straight into mine. His face was like white marble as he went under for the last time. He looked statuesque, peaceful. Dead.
God, where did I put that spaghetti strap, sweat wicking, leopard spotted silk halter-top? It was too hot to think. But to follow Galinka’s plan I had to be sharp, always on my toes. I grabbed my iPad, smartphone, Lamassacre and headed out.
After watching Oprah and the dizzying experience of televised emotional catharsis, I was worn out. Rodney would’ve laughed if he could’ve seen me in the audience, waiting for some meaningful popular culture tidbit to guide me through this shattering grief. Laughed in a good way. Amused with me. Loving every inch of me. I didn’t know who I was without him. Sure, I was the best assassin in the world, but what did it mean if I couldn’t atone for, avenge his death? Why did I survive? My only choice was to pretend I had died that day too. That was my macabre wild card. If Fannon and his sinister coterie were the ones following me that meant my cover was blown. I stopped to get a double cappuccino, straight up, none of that soy shit they drink back in Santa Cruz. The first key to our strategy: co-opt the Emissary.
Galinka stood in the shower letting the cool water wash over her. It felt so good. Narita must be in Chicago by now, she thought, enjoying that vodka. She felt dirty inside and out. What would Rodney think if he knew what she was up to? She had liked Rod. Liked and hated him. Of course, Narita would never have fallen for a “Bill” or a “Steve.” No, it was an onomatopoeic kind of guy that stole her heart. His name sounded like him. Looked like him. Hard and on— his constant state of being as if he ran on batteries—or Viagra. He was handsome in a rakish way. Had swept Narita right off her god damned Italian boots. Galinka had had to take it like a woman. It stung. Her only solace: she had always been good at playing both sides. Making herself indispensable and irresistible. Now, without Rod in the picture, she didn’t know where she stood. Still, Galinka would do anything for Narita. She shivered at what she had set in motion. It was brazen, probably selfish, and risked everything. She had to balance the need to somehow keep Narita’s trust and help her avenge Rod’s untimely death with her own ardent desire and the imperative of bringing down Steelskirt and TA. Would her Byzantine machinations work?
She stepped out of the bath, pulled her long, curly hair into a towel, slowly and thoughtfully dried her body. Feet, calves, thighs, between her delicious legs….she had to stop there. Thinking of Narita, the danger ahead, aroused her. But she was alone and she didn’t feel like flying solo. She quickly pulled on her no nonsense but chic Vaneli suede pumps and her aubergine Chambray skirt with the scoop neck, sleeveless, striped, cropped, surplice, teal blouse. She applied some make-up in a dashed, casual way. She was not as adept at this as Narita. But she knew she looked good au naturel.
If she didn’t hurry, she would be late for her meeting with Joe Diamond. And no one kept Joe waiting, not even Galinka.