Monday, May 30, 2011

Chapter 6 by GQ (special guest author)

I got my Ph.D. at U of T. I went to Toronto to get some perspective. Besides, no one in the U.S. was interested in my dissertation: “More than just one secret in the old clock: Female Rights and Rituals in Nancy Drew.” I’ve had some modest success since then. I came back across the Northern border and landed a job at one of those nameless liberal arts colleges that populate the very books that I wrote about. (The murder of a college coed mystery always sold well.) I tried to place my work in top-tier journals, but I just took what I could get. You know, places like Deconstruction and Detection Quarterly; Philology and Forensics Annual; and, once when I was desperate,Gumshoes and Garters Newsletter.

Though my teaching evals were pretty good, I knew I had to step up my game, or the Tenure jig would be up. Civic engagement had become all the rage, so I needed a new strategy. I liked the classroom, but I was a loner. I was neither civic nor engaged in the outside world except when I had to go out and buy cat food somewhere for my big Siberian named Ned. Other than that, I usually never spent much time out of my apartment, so I had to come up with a plan, and pronto.

One cold winter month, in the classified section of Gumshoe, I happened to see a tiny ad for an internship at an outfit called Steelskirt. Perfect, I thought; I could pose as an intern, get some shadow time, learn the real ropes of detection, and head back to campus a changed woman. I wrote “Confidential” across my mid-career sabbatical application, and started packing. I mean how hard could it be? After all, I didn’t consider myself a complete novice. Besides Ivy League campus settings, I knew that a lot of crime took place in villages. There was Cabot Cove, and St. Mary’s Mead, and lots of places where PBS filmed.

Steelskirt fell for it. Or at least that’s what I thought when they invited me to join them. For the first time in my life I was so excited about something, I ran around the outside of my apartment. Now, I’m afraid -- I’m running from them….

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chapter 5

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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chapter 4

My secret dugout loft space is five stories under a nondescript stucco ranch style house in Watsonville, California. Not real chic, but who would look for me in Watsonville? Or for Galinka, for that matter. When we need to have a secret meeting she just hops on Southwest and flies into SFO, rents a Town car (she’s partial to luxury grade Ford products, crazy girl!) and drives up the coast. Nobody at Steelskirt Beverly Hills division (her latest HQ) seems to notice. We usually meet up in Davenport for dinner and a little “downtime” at the B&B.

It was raining softly as I watched her slide into the Lincoln. I was leaning against the rail, feeling a little sad. The ocean was doing a slow roil a few yards away. Big full moon—somehow the moon on the ocean in Central California always makes me feel melancholy.

I had the room for another night. It was Tuesday, Taco night at the restaurant downstairs. I wanted to spoil myself before driving off to Chicago. Yes, drive. The Mercedes was packed; I’d be off at dawn with a bag of orange scones and a thermos of Mr. Espresso. I needed to think. A nice long drive would help.

Somehow the 1966 Mercedes SL still smells like new leather. It was Rodney’s—it’s the only thing I have that belonged to him. Oh, Rodney. If I could put time in a bottle! I’m a fast driver, of course. I talked to myself as I sped along, pretending that Rodney was beside me. I was in Omaha lickety-split, and then I was leaving Omaha because who the hell stays in Omaha?

There are no decent hotels in the middle of America unless you go way off I-80 and find some historic lodge, and I don’t go for that shit. I had to make do with something called a Hilton Garden Inn. The sheets were some plastic nylon mix and, I swear, they had Sky Vodka in the honor bar. Stuff tastes like rubbing alcohol. Worse yet—I ordered room service. Nothing special, they didn’t have caviar and they didn’t have oysters and they didn’t have anything grass fed even though there’s nothing out there but grass. Or maybe that’s hay. I said, Jesus, maybe I should order a fucking grilled cheese and they said, yes, we have those.

Minutes later a guy comes in rolling a food cart. Before I could ask for extra pickles he pulls a sawed-off out of his fucking pants! It’s an Aerosoft pistolgrip model k, I’ve used them and I know they aren’t very accurate so I dive behind what passes for a bed in that shithole room.

The Aerosoft is so named because it doesn’t make as much noise as you’d think. There’s a kind of a splutting sound and the bed is in ribbons. Good riddance, I think as I reach under for my trusty Lamassacre 50 caliber Repeato Charger. The Repeato can kill fifty people with one short pull of the trigger, but somehow I miss this guy and I hit the covered dish on his cart and a thousand little grilled cheese pieces spray his face. He’s too stunned to duck so I pull off another shot. This one hits the bag of Lays.

Chip shards fly off at incredible speeds; one hits him straight on the noggin, sending a razor sharp potato dagger deep into his brain. He goes down hard, gets up on one elbow, looks me in the eye, says, “I’m the first line of defense. Give it up. And don’t bother to order dessert. It’s not in-house.”

And then he breathes his last. I cover him with the tablecloth, to show some respect, pack my bag and high-tail it out to the Mercedes.

Somebody knew I was on my way to Chicago. Did they follow Galinka? And could I trust her?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chapter 3

I know what you’d say. That there was nothing I could’ve done. That they were out for blood. My blood. And the best way to do this was to cancel you. That Pine Fannon and his minions outnumbered us. That is was inevitable what happened.

That I should just get on with my life. Let it go.

But I can’t.... Let it go. They have to pay for what they did. Not just for my sake. No. They have to pay for taking a life. Your life. So precious. So pure. Yes, they would pay dearly for taking away the only thing that mattered to me. The only one I’ve ever loved.

That was my first mistake. Loving you. I know that. Hell, you told me to stay away. That it was too dangerous. That Fannon and his thugs were watching our every move.

But no. I was cocky. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. Believed that our love would keep us safe.


What the hell was I thinking? But that’s just it; I wasn’t thinking. At least not with my head.

Fannon knew this. Oh, he was smarter than I gave him credit for. He knew that I was vulnerable. That I was getting sloppy. Meeting you in places that invited his scrutiny. Taunting him. Daring him to try anything. The Eat Dog Cafe. The Razor Thin Ice Rink. Lake Seductive.

Flaunting our affair, our love in his face. I should’ve known that he would get nasty. Resort to methods that even I could never have imagined.

Oh, Rodney, if I could take it all back you know I would. Or hell, I at least would’ve been more careful.

But that’s neither here nor there now. It’s Vengeance I want. And I’m gonna get it. Sure, Fannon thinks I’m gone. Eliminated along with you at the bottom of the lake. That’s my ace in the hole. Take the shithead by surprise.

“Narita? You got a minute?”
“Sure, Galinka. What’s up?”
“I think you’re going to like what I’ve found. If I’m right, and I’m sure I am, then Fannon, Grisly and TA are gonna play right into our hands.”

I shook my head. Galinka. She was a gem. Of course, if she knew the real reason why I wanted Fannon's head on a platter, she might not be so quick to put herself at risk .

Then again, I have a feeling she’s more of a Romantic than she lets on. Even though she’s pretty damn deadly with a baseball bat when someone’s crossed her.

“Okay, then, let me have it.”
Nodding, Galinka pulled out her iPad, began flipping its apps in rapid efficiency. “Here it is.” She pointed to a photo of the CMCA.
“The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art?”
“Yeah, you’re gonna love this.....”

Smiling I leaned over her shoulder. Just close enough to get a whiff of her To Die For 69 Perfume.

It made me just a little dizzy. But I fought Temptation. Forced myself to focus on her goods.

And they were good. What Galinka had found would further my plan. Payback was gonna be sweet. Even if I knew that deep down, Rod, you’d be shaking your head. Telling me that it wasn’t worth the risk. That it was over.

Hell, it’s not over. It’s not gonna be over till Fannon, Grisly and TA get what’s coming to them.

Galinka turned and gave me a sly smile.
“Perfect,” I said. “You know what to do?”
She nodded. Closed up the iPad, and headed out, a subtle whiff of her To Die For 69 lingering seductively in the darkening afternoon.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chapter 2

My trusty sidekick, Galinka from Ukraine was still ensconced in Steelskirt. But here’s the deal, she worked for me too. Wait, I’m getting ahead of the story.

After hearing the grisly Grizzly details from the journalist, I couldn’t even look in the mirror. At least for a few minutes. I finally pulled it together, applied a new layer of Rouge A Levres Red Flame 69 lipstick, beefed up my spray tan, creased my bustier, zipped my waist high black boots purchased online from the only Italian fashion house, Bei Stivali, that made my size—11—in shoe couture, and looked long and hard at myself. This was a turning point. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Too much was at stake. The future of Steelskirt, its restoration from Gothic Grotesquerie to a controlled, nation-state mayhem, was in my hands.

I quickly pulled out my smart phone which I kept hidden next to my Lamassacre 50 caliber Repeato Charger in the secret, inside pocket of my left boot, and sent a text over a secure network to Galinka. There was no looking back.

She shot me a message back within seconds. I knew I could count on her. Like me, she had a heart one part gold and one part bad. Back in Ukraine, we broke up a ring of drug lords that stretched from Eastern Europe to Eastern Iowa. After an exhaustive investigation, we located their cadre on the outskirts of Zvenyhorodka, took those motherfuckers, tied them to chairs in their warehouse, threw the explosives that we had previously hidden in our hair newly formed into a “bump-it”, and blew them and their den of felonious debauchery to kingdom come.

Galinka was in. She agreed to be a double agent collecting up to the minute intelligence from Steelskirt and waylaying it to me. I knew it was dangerous. Foolhardy even. But I didn’t expect the risk, no, the opportunity to come so soon.

Pine Fannon was heading a taskforce to infiltrate the Technorati Ariatti. They were a high-tech criminal organization that dealt in stolen art. Mostly Arte Povera. They took a perverse pride in the irony of stealing “poor art” and re-selling it for millions. The fact that the pieces subverted the artistic establishment with a sexed up, fuck you stance toward, yawn, Renaissance art fit their profile perfectly. They would plan a heist months, sometimes years in advance.

Steelskirt had insiders at all the prominent museums and galleries in Europe and the US. Here’s the thing about TA: they had long since co-opted Pine and Steelskirt. I suspect he felt a hypermasculinity associated with these guys. God knows he needed it. TA took metrosexual to new heights mixing it with a little blood and guts.

Before I could get to my Brazilian wax appointment at the Salon Écriture or even feed Captain and take him for a good, long walk I was speeding out the driveway in my Mercedes. Sheets, dog, sleek Cha Cha—all would have to wait.

According to Galinka, TA and Steelskirt were planning their biggest job to date, at, of all places the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. The problem was, they didn’t care who they took down to get the goods. Innocent docents and tourists alike were going to suffer. But this was nothing. TA wasn’t just after the art. That’s what Steelskirt was playing.

No, Italy’s Special Emissary of Culture was visiting. If they could eliminate him, chaos would reign in the art world. They were going to blast their way in to the CMC, grab some Pistoletto, kill the Emissary and be damned who got in the way.

Time to kick some T and A.