I can’t believe it! They fired me!.
“Well, not fired. Retrenched,” someone said.
“The difference is?” She asked with tears, snot and sound effects.
Mr Frans was not available for comment. His elderly doberman-fierce secretary’s spectacles glazed into ice rinks. One had to be slick-sharp to get through the icey security beams extending from her glare on a good day.
Damn it to hell, she thought, as she headed for the train.
Caroline wore high heels. She mastered the art of walking like a cat on the sidewalk as if it were a six-foot wall, out of reach of the dogs, stepped to, and sometimes hummed, “Fur Elise” by Beethoven.
“Not ‘Bait hoven’! It is Bea-t-hove-n!” Her proper English mentor-friend corrected her. She smiled remembering how Joy, the Germaine Monteil Cosmetic consultant, (yes, her name was Joy) had this passionate fight about classical music with the manager of the music department about the importance of melody. Joy, a true connoisseur, became most agitated. Caroline agreed with Joy over tea in their break, but she knew nothing about the science of sound.
She was, however, still a hopeless romantic who believed in fairies, according to some, and who stepped out in fine imported fabric dresses made for models, donated by fashion factories because they were “too small for anyone else, “alive,” apparently, to a love song written in 1810 by Bea-t-hove-n.
But, that was then. She did not dance that day. Being model sized thin, wearing the finest fabrics did not matter. It was a drudging-in-boots day, through thick mud, in Siberia, with iced rain blowing from the front, cutting lines into her face, with precision, to Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ album.
“It’s going to get harder…”
She thought she would die of heartbreak. This loss was what Ayn Rand called, grey and ugly.
She no longer went on cat walks. What for? Who for, was the more appropriate question. She had been dumbfounded by love lost and then, more devastated than by divorce, she discovered, a job lost. And it wasn’t even about the money. She shrugged her twenty-something skinny shoulders.
Years later she was in the secret service, still in high heels and, according to Garp, hadn’t aged a day. Caroline became more like a busy, almost late for class, nun; her bangles rattled about as much as rosary beads, a comforting throwback from her school days. Jingling bangles comforted her as much as chocolate.
I march, she thought. That was it. No more cat walks, though her brown, curled hair still fell well below her shoulders. Her dresses were longer, a bit more flouncy, hardly secret service material, although black enough. The fabric was fine, soft and pliable, falling about her frame, which was no longer stick insect thin. Protests were sometimes put forward about her casual attire, but she was quite unaware of her impact on others.
“She’s our Mary Poppins. Let her be,” the grey-haired man, the division head, said, dismissing the drooling league, achingly like the characters in Anthem, with a sequence of numbers for names.
Alberto Bruno West had hired Caroline Brusky on a blue-sky day. She was not vaguely interested in his opinion of her experience, which was zero. She stared out of the window of his high rise office at the city. An innocent, he thought. She had walked off the street and asked if he could use her at all.
“I am without encumbrances and almost invisible already. I was thinking I could be good for something in the secret service. I need a job too, but more than that, if you know what I mean. I want to be paid fairly well – I will earn it – and I want to do something that matters. I don’t see the point in charity work. I have expensive tastes too. I have taken to food a little more of late.”
“What did you take to before?”
“Want to learn to shoot?” He asked her.
“I already learned to shoot. I need to learn to hit something,” she said.
“We can teach you that here,” he said smiling. “You do realise that if you fail at your job here, you die. Well, most of the time you die. Sometimes you get caught and tortured and then you die,” he said expecting some sort of reaction.
“Of course. Best I learn to hit something soonest then, Sir.”
He didn’t exactly know whether she would or could do the job, he just liked the look of her. Besides her direct honesty was so rare it melted his innards. He felt it go, like warm honey runs off toast down one”s fingers. She didn’t seem to change over the years. She still came to his office and stared out at the city with the same intensity seeming to fill her very being with effervescent light
Caroline had no idea she had an ally or even antagonists. Her work was small in the grand scheme of things. She felt fortunate. She really didn’t care what it demanded of her. At least she had her own office and it wasn’t glass. It was stuck in a corner out of everyone’s way. It had a small window that looked onto the building next door, into an apartment where there was a man and a woman. Mostly a woman.
She was given crazy jobs watching dangerous people, and she did it well. She was a tad older, wore wedding rings, read books in all sorts of places, some of which were dangerous places, drank gin and smoked cigarettes too much, but there wasn’t much to preserve herself for. She didn’t mind dying on the job. She didn’t know enough to be tortured for anything, so, she thought, how hard could it be?
Her latest target was a rogue who wore soft cotton shirts that ballooned at the back from the belted waist of his suit pants. He always wore a suit. He had an ample body, not fat, just sufficient. Not hard, but upright.
“His face, she said, pausing while recording, “What’s to say? Smouldering with anonymity, sexual danger and a glint of evil dabbed on high cheekbones like powder. Light flicks on and off his one time broken nose, which only adds to the mystery of his past, unknown to most, and on his lips, which always seem to be just finished or about to begin a smile. And, as if one needs more, he wears a pleasant aftershave that leaves a faint trace on the palms of those who shake his hand. I shook his hand at a wine tasting after it became apparent he left a smell on the hands he shook. It was a hot day. I wore a hat and sunglasses. I wore a beige suit.” she paused again and then added, ” I bet he refreshes his perfumed hands every now and again.”
“Target is violent, but subtle about it. Like a cat that keeps the mouse alive, enjoying its attempts to escape, even though there are deep bleeding holes in its tiny body and its light wanes. The mouse is obliged to fight for its life. The mouse, however, is not confused. The cat is trying to kill it.
“The human being, on the other hand, is somehow easily confused by his enemies. He can’t seem to stand the idea, in the face of evidence, hard evidence, that the man is likely to murder him.”
“The target makes contact with his marks (men and women) and seduces them with dinners and long meaningful (on the surface) conversations over drinks in the bar. He has cultivated and mastered the voice of what we all imagine is a good, kind man. Once they all but love him, he ignores them.
It should be noted that the target does not actually speak much. He is an able listener and mostly asks questions that require long answers. Ignoring his new mark/s only make them more interested in him. No matter how rude he may be to them, they will hear nothing bad said about him. Although these traits are for personal use and for no apparent gain, the ability to foster loyalty in spite of obvious unpleasantness benefits the target in supplying illegal weapons to various groups with nefarious ambitions.”
She concluded the initial report with her signature. “Request a meeting to discuss further.”
Alberto dictated a time and date. He smiled a little. His Mary Poppins had done her job, again, as promised, without detection. He did not ask how.
One of Caroline’s skills was to befriend a person closest to the target. It so happened that from her office she could observe this person closely from behind her desk. It did not take too long to figure out her routine and her inclinations. Once they became coffee shop friends, she discovered a rare being that the rogue could not at once figure out.
His long deliberate absences aimed at isolating her did not work. She busied herself. She believed that she could prove him wrong about joy and love, by loving him, and giving evidence for joy.
“He keeps saying, “You are just like everyone else,” Miranda told her. “I said that I had, at our first meeting, conceded that. I am quite ordinary,” she said and then sipped her hot coffee as if she had said nothing out of the ordinary. There was no opposition. Not a shred of vanity to attack. She did not realise how that kept her safe, so far.
The rogue never hides his goal or his distorted view of man. He believes that man is incapable of true love, that all fail and deserve to be punished for their lie, for pretending to love him. The victim usually protests. Miranda was no different.
“It will never be like that!”
In this she was strong. She knew she could love him forever and that she would, if he allowed her, change his mind.
“Prove it!” He demanded.
Trying to prove one loves a rogue is futile, but it successfully halts escape.
“Okay,” Miranda said before putting some medium rare fillet into her mouth and chewing with smiling eyes.
She could not have foreseen the arrival of a dashing friend from school and her hometown who happened to be a male and who happened to want to spend time with her.
“I have a boyfriend, but he is always working. He’s very busy,” she said clearing that up at once.
She could not know that the rogue had her watched and that the hugs and cheek kisses were reported back to the boss of things.
One Saturday night she accepted a dinner date with the dashing Douglas. They went to a place on the beach front, talked all night, it seemed, drank too much and walked back to her apartment in the early hours of the morning. Miranda did not give it a thought. The man had told her he would be home, probably, just before dawn. There was nothing unusual in that.
It became unusual when they arrived in the lobby. He sat on the couch, waiting for her, with a thunderous frown and thin lips.
“Hi! This is my school friend, Douglas,” Miranda said.
“I’m sure,” he said.
If Miranda didn’t get it, Douglass did.
“Well I will say goodnight then,” Douglas said. “Thanks, Miranda. It was great catching up.”
Caroline was already up to speed. She raced to her office to see them enter Miranda’s apartment and witness the accusations and defences.
He destructed her sparkle with insane accusations, at first, then as the nights rolled on, he delivered the odd crack to her face. After some months he used his fist. Miranda refused to react. She took the blows like a fellow combatant.
“What happened to your face?” Caroline asked
“Ag, a huge misunderstanding I can’t seem to straighten out. It’s nothing,” she said.
It is always “nothing” until it becomes something. One night he hit her hard enough to make her scream.
“I can’t stand it anymore,” Miranda said and began to cry in the coffee shop the next evening. Caroline hugged her. “Come home with me,” she said. “Take a little time out.”
Miranda was exhausted. She obeyed and fell asleep on Caroline’s couch very quickly. Caroline slipped out quietly. It took very little time to position herself at the window of her office.
She had learned to shoot and hit something. When he moved into her sights, his attention captured by Miranda’s briefcase left on her desk, Caroline aimed and then squeezed the trigger. The glass gave way, the bullet entered his heart, he dropped like a fly, still smelling of fine after shave lotion.
Had her heart not been filled with light, the light of the Divine, even though she would never have thought that it was, at the time, Miranda would not have begun to walk slowly and quietly back into her life.
Peace took back the building like a tree unchecked will grow in the middle of the room, through concrete foundations, because it is a tree’s natural inclination to grow up and out of darkness, emerging as a tender soft thing.
She got life. Hard time. Time.
“The debt must paid!” The antagonists bayed.
Miranda was safe. The target was terminated and she didn’t much care about doing time for that. But, just like in the movies, once the noise died down she was driven out of the prison yard in a black secret service vehicle with a new identity.
Thanks, Sir,” she said. Her long hair was short, a different colour and she wore the standard secret service trousers and jacket.
“Bruce, try not to shoot anyone from this building,” Alberto said.
“I do believe I will be working in another building from now on. Media is my brief,” she said.
“I am sure you will do fine, Bruce,” Alberto said savouring her new name.
“Will certainly do fine, Sir.”
She stared out at the buildings. Alberto saw again the effect, fleeting but intense, of light that comes of seeing great and marvellous things. He could hardly believe how she transformed herself.
“Did you always have short hair?” He asked.
“Sjoes! I’d never cut my hair, Sir?” She answered.