Chapter 18.5

Rachel watched Dunning and Kruger leave, Kruger shot her a mischievous wink as he went out and closed the door, and she steeled herself before turning to face Agent Smith. When she did, though, he wasn’t staring at her in his unnerving way as she had expected, but had moved closer to and was looking out of the window. This was odd, but it gave her confidence so she moved in closer to where he was standing, so that she too could see what he was looking at out the window.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Smith said, almost wistfully.

“Yes. Very,” Rachel replied, barely able to conceal her surprise that she wasn’t currently being grilled, intimidated, harassed or belittled.

“Is this your first time in Salt Lake City?”

“Yes.”

“Impossible to not be impressed, isn’t it.” The view from the window included the downtown area, Temple Square and the mountains beyond.

“Definitely.”

“I’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent in this city.” Smith’s voice trailed off in a way that seemed out-of-place. It was as if he knew that he would never see the city again or that something was going to change.

“But, enough of that,” he said, suddenly businesslike, “have you been having fun playing cat and mouse with Dunning and Kruger?”

The question was abrupt, much more Smith’s usual style. Rachel dropped her eyes and blushed.

“Well,” but she got no further.

“Don’t worry about it. They need to be kept on their toes.”

Rachel looked up, surprised, and made eye contact with Smith, something that she had been dreading.

“That’s really nothing to do with why I am here.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I actually came here because I have another assignment that I think you would be perfect for. Time sensitive. Interested?”

“Well,” Rachel was horrified. No, she didn’t want to be anywhere else but Salt Lake City right now. She had a plan to avoid registering for World Monetary Union so that she could escape to the Christian refugee camp in Southern Utah. ”What about the mission here? I thought that this was a high priority.”

“Sure, but baby sitting a computer could be done by any of several people I can bring in. It is your unique talents that I am in need of.” He gave her a knowing look. He attempted a kind smile.

Rachel frowned, “Really? Which unique talents?” she was confused now.

“Nevermind.” Smith seemed slightly frustrated that an attempt at innuendo has been completely missed, and he looked at Rachel sternly, “I’m offering you a chance to leave this assignment now, and take on one that is a higher priority.”

“But,” Rachel was completely out maneuvered and didn’t have a response. Smith turned back to his contemplation of the view out the window.

“You know, there are some who are convinced that you only requested this assignment because you are a Christian and you are planning join the refugees in Southern Utah.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she snorted, but was thankful that Smith hadn’t been looking at her when she said it.

“Ridiculous? Why do you say that? There have been several high-profile people defect to join that band of outcasts.” He turned to Rachel and raised his eyebrows. “There are even a few who suspect that our President may be about to.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“I’m always serious, Ms. Robbins.”

“True.”

“So. Back to my question. If you aren’t planning to defect to Southern Utah, and there is no other compelling reason for you to stay in Salt Lake City, why don’t you accept the opportunity I’m offering you?”

Rachel couldn’t answer. She was gutted and floundering for a way to respond.

“Unless there is a reason compelling you to stay here?” He said wryly, even though Rachel was hiding the fact that she was gasping for air and didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. She smiled weakly, just trying to breathe.

“Carlton Feathers?”

A large burst of air escaped her at last, which could have seemed like an explosive sigh. “Carlton?” she asked, completely confused.

“I know that this is none of my business, but are you romantically involved with Carlton?”

Rachel’s eyes widened in horror at the thought, and she squeaked slightly before turning quickly away and blushing red to the roots of her hair. Not only was the thought of a romantic relationship with Carlton utterly repugnant, but is was the last thing she had thought of in her decision to come to Salt Lake City.

“I’m sorry,” Smith droned on behind her, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

Yet Smith had just given her the excuse she needed to give a plausible reason for staying in Salt Lake City. If she could keep a straight face and avoid wincing when she said it, she could admit to being in love with Carlton and get Smith off her back. She took a deep breath and turned to face Smith.

Smith’s expression was a shock to her. Gone was the placid, self assuredness that always disarmed her. It was replaced by an expectantly pleading look. It reminded Rachel of a puppy that wanted a home. For the first time in the entire history of her interaction with Agent Smith, Rachel realized that he had a crush on her.

So now was the real danger. Evidently Smith had come to Salt Lake City in anticipation of something big happening, as if World Monetary Union wasn’t big enough, to offer her a special assignment that may in fact be of a personal and possibly intimate nature, and Rachel’s only means of avoiding that outcome was to pretend to be in a relationship with Carlton. It was like the ninth grade all over again. To refuse Smith now was certainly the end of her career in the Clandestine Services. To have to act out a relationship with Carlton was her worst nightmare. Then she remembered: she only had to make it to Friday.

“I’m in love with Carlton!” she blurted out, with a confusing wince. Then she smiled apologetically. Her eye twitched.

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