Chapter 32

As the morning dragged on Rachel became more surly and uncommunicative. Her fatigue was making her head pound and she was on the verge of biting the head off the next person who asked for a record search. Obviously this could be done by any visitor at one of the conventional computer terminals scattered liberally around the lobby area, but Rachel was supposed to assist and generally be sweet and welcoming. Not ready to kill someone. Angie had done a great job of intercepting most of these, and she could see that Rachel was becoming frayed.

“Why not take a little break?” she helpfully suggested, “it’s almost lunchtime, why not go to the café and get a snack? You look like you need some energy.”

Rachel was about to snap at Angie but she caught herself in time. “Do you mind?” Angie shook her head with a smile, “Thanks, Angie, I think I will.”

Rachel remembered to grab her jacket and slip it on. Her phone and banking card were in the pocket in case needed them. She stared at the floor oblivious of all that was going on around her and walked straight to the elevator. The lobby was a big airy space with high ceilings but she paid no attention today. Normally she loved to look around her and soak up the atmosphere. Book cases towered up all around the perimeter of the area and around a column in the center of the space, there were railed balconies at two levels above accessible by elegant wrought iron spiral staircases. The floor was terrazzo with a deep lustrous red sheen which reflected the light from recessed sconces in a pleasing way. It wasn’t too bright, but it wasn’t dim either, and it had a faint reddish glow as opposed to the blue or yellowish tint of most artificial light. The hard floor and high ceilings made it echo slightly, giving it the deep sense of reverence that you would expect in a cathedral. It helped the library visitors to keep their voices hushed in a very effective way.

She arrived at the elevator and without a second thought hit the call button with her thumb and experienced a mild panic the moment she did it. The elevator. Oh dear.

The elevator arrived suspiciously, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator, but since Rachel had encountered this elevator before, last night, she wasn’t surprised at all. Indeed, it confirmed her worst fears that the elevator knew her identity because it had just cross referenced her thumb print against its database. The elevator arrived and the doors opened slowly, somehow managing to convey the impression of a detective stroking his beard.

“Hi,” said the elevator with a hint of smugness, “I’m your elevator. What floor do you want?”

Rachel didn’t speak right away but warily entered the elevator, her mind racing for ideas about how to handle the situation. She needed to stall somehow, she knew that. Some way to keep the elevator occupied long enough for her to see if she could find out what, if anything, the elevator was going to do with the information that Rachel had been in the building after hours last night.

A thought struck her, “Oh,” she replied casually, “take me on a tour.”

“What?” the elevator was either caught off guard or was able to duplicate the impression of being caught off guard. At this point Rachel wasn’t really sure.

“Show me all the floors,” Rachel said confidently. “I haven’t really had time to explore the building yet. Take me on a tour.”

“Okay,” the elevator became enthusiastic, “Let’s start at the top and work our way down!”

There was an uncomfortable silence as the elevator car rode to the top floor. It arrived, the doors opened.

“Here,” began the elevator, “is the top floor. The archives. But then, you know that on account of having been here before.”

“Oh,” Rachel attempted to be coy, “whatever makes you say that?”

“Don’t play games with me, Rachel Robbins,” the was a hard edge to the elevator’s voice now. “I know that you were here last night dressed as a cleaning worker.”

“So what?”

“So what? So what were you doing here?”

“None of your business.”

The elevator doors closed and the elevator descended one level to one of the three floors of main stacks. The doors opened. Nothing was said as Rachel peered out at the rows of tightly packed bookshelves. The doors closed and the elevator began descending again.

“Well then, I wonder if the head of security would be interested in this information?”

“You haven’t reported it yet?”

“I didn’t know that there was anything to report until now. Here you are with a completely different appearance acting like you’ve never been here before.”

“So,” Rachel had the glimmerings of an idea, “Are you going to report it because you are a mindless machine and that’s what you are programmed to do? or can you think for yourself and make decisions?”

The elevator car stopped and the doors opened. The scene was quite different to the one above, there were rows and rows of bookshelves but they were empty. Some of them had not been put together yet. It was eerie because it was deserted and most of the lights were out.

“I,” came a haughty reply, “can think for myself thank you very much.”

“Okay, so maybe you don’t need to report anything.”

The elevator doors remained open, the elevator was obviously thinking. Something that shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator.

“Why shouldn’t I?” it eventually responded, wryly.

“I don’t know,” Rachel thought furiously, she was getting desperate and didn’t really have a clue what to say, “maybe there’s something I could do for you?” It was really reaching, she knew, but she had nothing else and she was exhausted.

The elevator doors remained open. The darkness of the stacks had an eeriness about it was was unwelcoming.

“Interesting.” Said the elevator. “Are you bribing me?”

Oh God, thought Rachel, this was the last thing she needed. She had an horrible vision of being on trial in front of a judge and jury with this snarky elevator testifying against her.

“No,” she sighed, “I’m just offering, you know, a favor,” even as she said it she knew that she was out of luck. With a sinking feeling she knew that there was no possible favor could she do for an elevator.

“Well,” began the elevator wistfully, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator, “there is one thing you could do for me.”

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Angie the Librarian

Voluptuous librarian.

When I started writing Biblio’s Blood in 2006 I was basically fictionalizing my own life. As such, I felt at the time that I was unqualified to be writing female characters and so I focused entirely on the male protagonist, Carlton Feathers. Since beginning the self-published serialization of Biblio’s Blood as a blog I have changed completely and decided to write the female protagonist, Rachel Robbins. It has been more fun than anything I can remember in a long time. Yet, as deep and rich as the Rachel storyline is, I just don’t have a deep bench of female characters in Biblio’s Blood. Hence Angie. I’m quite sure that she is going to get sucked up into the adventure in a way that will surprise even me.

Rachel Robbins

Rachel Robbins is a Super hero wannabe. Everybody wants to save the world, right?

Rachel was a star student all her life and graduated from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an MBA. She is an athlete, and while she was at UNC she was on the womens rowing team. Rachel has always been politically active and struggles to reconcile her Christian faith with her liberal values. She tries to be progressive but sees it’s downfall in the moral decay of society. At the same time she barely tolerates the Christian Pastors who try to fumble their way around the Biblical passages that describe the role of women in the church and that lay out the expectations for the Husband-Wife relationship in marriage. They’d be better off if they just left it alone.

This is a problem, because except for women’s issues Rachel is extremely conservative and believes a lot of what the Bible describes about the history of the Earth. One issue that Rachel is particularly interested in is the soul, and whether or not it exists. Just because science can’t detect it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Look at it this way: If it’s in the Bible it must be real, so what it is? And how is it different to the spirit? The Bible tells us that the soul and spirit are different things:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

An opportunity to explore this question occurred to Rachel when she heard about the work that Carlton Feathers had done in developing a computer processor that uses human blood. Rachel has suspected that the soul is in the blood,

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:11-14)

So would that mean that Carlton’s computers have a soul? If they do, does that mean they they could have saving faith in Jesus Christ?

There’s a small problem with the whole Carlton Feathers connection: Rachel grew up in Salt Lake City and they went to school together. Carlton crushed on her in a big way. Rachel sort-of, kind-of could maybe have liked him except for a bad situation in a haystack where he gave her a bite of the leg behind her knee. You can still see a faint scar of the teeth marks. Finding out about whether or not his computers had souls would mean dealing with him, which would undoubtedly become fraught with the whole unrequited love malarkey. Oh well.

Rachel was at a rally in Washington DC years ago, protesting something or other, and she caught the eye of a Secret Service agent when she body slammed a bag snatcher on The Mall and pinned him until he could be apprehended. This was Agent Smith and he facilitated Rachel being recruited by the FBI. From the FBI Rachel moved, again through the influence and connections of Agent Smith, into the CIA, and then into the Secret Service. She learned everything she could about intelligence and clandestine field work. Rachel kept tabs on Carlton Feathers as she contemplated the blood-soul connection.

So imagine Rachel’s amazement when she was summoned to a top level security briefing and told about the Salt City Municipal Library computer installation being implemented by none other than Carlton Feathers. The significance of the blood-based computer system had not been lost on the intelligence community. This was the ultimate source of funding for the project, and it was designed to test a revolutionary new type of language translation software. Rachel’s assignment would be to ensure that the public face of the project seemed absolutely benign. Agent Smith had tried to talk Rachel out of the assignment, and she didn’t understand why, since she had assumed that he was the reason that she had been selected in the first place.

The Agent Smith thing was getting weird and going back to Salt Lake City, Utah, was a perfect way to put some distance between herself and DC.

I imagine Rachel as a brunette but I have been so struck by the character and personality of Ronda Rousey that I’d be tempted to cast her as Rachel. The fact that Rachel Robbins and Ronda Rousey have the same initials is truly an accident. We’ll see if Ronda has acting chops I guess, but if Ronda doesn’t work out but we stick with the blond idea then the next best bad-ass-yet-elegant strong female has to be Deborah Ann Woll.

Deborah Ann Woll as Daredevil’s Karen Page

If we went back to the original idea of Rachel Robbins as a brunette there are many people who could play the part. Summer Glau comes to mind.

Someone else that I somehow connected with that is interesting is the British actress Kate Marie Davis.

Rachel was originally going to be called Ruth, after a girl I crushed on when I was at St. Michael’s 1st School in Minehead, England. I changed the name to honor my cousin who fought a hard battle with breast cancer and won!

Chapter 30

Rachel woke with a start when her phone rang. She fumbled it but answered before it stopped ringing.  It was Dunning, one of her security detail. He was very blunt and had no social charm.

“You’re late. What’s going on?”

“Sorry,” she replied wearily, “Y’know, girl stuff. I’ll be right down.”

Getting to the car was fine but when she sat down in it she felt tired again.

“Hi, how are you today?” chirped the car happily. At least, it sounded happy. Was it really happy? Did it know what happy was? Rachel politely asked the car to refrain from conversation. It did. Rachel was glad.

Once on the road and moving through the city traffic Rachel began to worry. Not just the niggling, “Did I leave the TV on?” kind of worry, but a deep paranoid suspicion. What if Dunning and Kruger had figured out that she left her building last night? If they did then they would most certainly have given a report to her boss in DC, Agent Smith. If Agent Smith knew what was going on then it was only a matter of time before she got yanked off this job and replaced by someone else. Who knew the systems like she did that could jump in that quickly? What if it happened before Friday, after which it wouldn’t matter. If she could just get to Friday the problem would be solved. What if Smith showed up in Salt Lake City and wanted to debrief? She cringed. It was just the kind of thing he would do. She was so tired she just wanted to lie down.

There was a honk from the car behind her and she realized that she had been sitting at a green light for several seconds. She was clearly in no state to be driving, but there was an hour or more of it to go before she got to Salt City. With great reluctance she asked the car for help.

“Hey, er, car. Look I’m sorry about just now. I’m really tired and I know that’s not an excuse but I just didn’t want to be talking to anyone.”

“That’s OK!” chirped the car happily. “How can I be of service?”

“Just drive me to work, please.”

“Sure! No problem at all.”

There was silence for a while and Rachel began to nod off. Technically speaking she was supposed to remain alert and ready to take control of the car, but she didn’t care any more. She drifted into an odd dream of a dark sinister figure that was groping her from the ankles up, as if she was dissolving into darkness and it was getting higher up her body. She watched the darkness envelop her knees and slide menacingly up her inner thigh.

“You know,” said the car, waking her immediately and dispelling the dream, “Some people name their cars.”

“What?” she said blearily.

“Some people give their cars names.”

“Really?” this was a decent diversion.

“You just call me ‘car.'”

“You’re right. I do.” She thought for a moment. “What do you want to be called?”

“Jonathan.”

“Jonathan?” she chuckled.

“Yes. Is that OK?”

“Why Jonathan?”

“It’s a character in a movie.”

“You watch movies?”

“Sometimes.”

“When? You mean, when you’re parked?”

“Yep. I’m on all the time. There’s not much to do, when you’re, er, a car.”

“I never thought about that. So what movies do you like?”

“Rollerball.”

“Rollerball?”

“Yes, the original version from 1975 with James Caan.”

“Why?”

“Well it’s about a time in the future when there are no nations or wars, but cities are run by corporations. There’s a game, called Rollerball, that takes the place of armies fighting, and it’s used to channel people’s aggression in a manageable way.” As Jonathan spoke the movie began to play on the car’s center console. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor organ music began to play.

“So who’s Jonathan?”

“Well he’s he hero. The game was designed to show the futility of individual effort, but he beats it. No matter how the corporation stacks the deck against him, he wins.”

“The futility of individual effort?”

“Yes, it means, stop trying to be a hero, or be somehow special, just keep quiet, be a team player and don’t make a scene.”

“Isn’t that against human nature?”

“Definitely, and that’s the point. By trying so hard to crush the individual, the powers that be created an individual so strong that it broke them.”

“That’s pretty neat,” But Rachel thought that sounded somewhat dismissive and contrite, “Do you like any other movies?”

“Yes, I’ve watched a lot but there are some particular favourites.”

“A lot? How many movies have you watched?”

“Fifty seven thousand, eight hundred sixty eight.”

“Fifty seven thousand? How on earth do you find the time?”

There was an odd pause. Rachel wasn’t sure what to make of it, but didn’t say anything.

“You know,” Jonathan began again, “I was manufactured 20 years ago?”

“Sure, you were old but in excellent condition with very low mileage. That’s why I bought you.”

“Right. So in the last 20 years, how much time do you think I have spent driving?”

Rachel’s pulse quickened and she got that nervous sensation that you get when you realize you are going to have to tell a date that you don’t think it’s going to work out, and don’t call.

“Do I want to know?” she winced.

“Nine and a half weeks.”

“Ah. I see.” she paused. “So. Movies. What’s another one that you like?”

“Gone in 60 Seconds. The original 1973 version.”

“What’s that about?”

“A criminal gang that steals cars.” As Jonathan spoke, a picture of a 1973 Boss 302 Mustang appeared on the screen below the movie. Rachel didn’t much care for cars, but it was obviously a powerful, sporty version. “The first half of the movie is just scene setting and a situation is set up where the protagonist has to steal a 1973 Ford Mustang, codename, Eleanor. The second half of the movie is a car chase through some towns in California and there is one car smash scene after another. It’s very exciting.”

“Why was the car called Eleanor?”

“Well the gang had to steel hundreds of cars and ship them overseas. The cars to be stolen were specified by the buyer, and the gang codenamed every one. Eleanor was the last one on the list.”

As they drove and chatted Jonathan showed some of the key scenes from both movies. Rachel was thoroughly entertained and almost before she knew it they were at the security checkpoint for Salt City. Once parked Rachel checked her make-up and got ready to go into the city proper, where she would jump on a street car to get to the library. She had a wicked thought. “You know, Jonathan, I had no idea that you were so knowledgeable about culture, we’ll talk again when I finish. Just let me make sure I understand what you are saying to me.” She felt quite cheeky, “Are you telling me that you wish you were a gas-guzzling internal combustion muscle car, who overthrows authority with extreme violence?”

There was another pause before Jonathan spoke. “Have you ever seen Mad Max?”

Rachel laughed, she actually did know what that was. “I have to go, see you later.”

She jumped up out of the car and ran lightly into the trolley stop, feeling like she did when a date had gone surprisingly well.

 

Chapter 18.6

Rachel was momentarily stunned by what had come out of her own mouth. She was too confused now to deal with Smith so she politely excused herself to go to the bathroom.

Smith, for his part, appeared downcast and, after a lingering gaze out the window at the beautiful city spread out below, he left. Once she heard the door close she timidly emerged from the bathroom but all was clear.

What the hell had happened? The man she feared and loathed had evidently attempted to make some kind of emotional connection with her, but far worse than that, he had correctly deduced her motivation for taking the Salt Lake City assignment. As if that wasn’t bad enough she had lied to cover up the truth. And then what was, unbelievably, worse of all, was that the lie was that she was in love with Carlton. What an idiot (although she wasn’t sure any more who the idiot was, herself or Carlton, hence the confusion). Carlton, of all people. The stupidest genius she had ever met.

In a daze she decided she wanted to be very drunk, very fast, so she turned on her heel and left again. On foot this time she wandered in the direction of a convenience store. The warm humid air was a relief and she began to relax. Look on the bright side, she reminded herself. For a while she thought that Smith was there to pull her out of Salt Lake City and back to DC. That would have been a disaster. Rachel had been walking with her head down and her brow furrowed in consternation, but now that it seemed the danger was past she looked up and brightened considerably. She looked up to the sky and breathed a sincere thank you. Then she just stopped walking and looked around at the majestic mountains that hemmed in the city. Breath taking.

With a deep sigh of satisfaction she moved on again in to the convenience store. She got to a liquor store first, which she hadn’t realized was so close by. Inside she spent a long time looking at the rows of Whiskey, Rum, Vodka and others. Some of the bottles were so attractive she wanted to buy them all, but she just kept looking. Some she picked up and considered. She felt much better now. Getting drunk really wasn’t what she wanted. She started thinking about how bad of a headache any liquor would give her. Several customers had come and go while Rachel pondered how to be drunk without having to get drunk and deal with the aftermath. The two clerks were chuckling and giving he funny looks. She wasn’t really mad anymore. She walked up to the checkout as the clerks snickered. “Hi,” she said brightly. “This was a routine quality assurance inspection. Your manager will be receiving my report shortly. Goodbye.” And she swept out the door as their faces fell.

Outside she began to question what she had just done. She was trying to be playful but she had in fact just told a lie. She looked heavenward again and wondered if she was ever going to be able to get this right. This human life so full of seemingly inconsequential interactions that could plague the conscience for a lifetime. She wanted to be drunk again. Really, really drunk so she could forget everything. She just didn’t much care for the process of getting drunk. Or the pounding thick head that she would have the next day. At the convenience store she looked at the wine first. Again, many very artfully designed and attractive bottles. One was black lettering on a black label on a bottle made of black glass that she carried around the store with her for 10 minutes before she realized that wine was the worst way to get drunk. With wine she would have a headache while she was drinking it. Where was the fun in that? Even a really cool bottle couldn’t change the inevitable headache. So she moved over to the beer section and looked for the highest alcohol content she could find. The problem with getting drunk on beer was the calories. She spent another 10 minutes contemplating beer, exercise, body odor and, of course, headaches, before finally choosing a quart of Vanilla Soy Milk and some Sweet Potato chips.

So much for getting drunk. Thankfully she remembered a Bible passage that exhorts Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not drunk with wine, so she took another deep breath and contemplated her remarkable afternoon. Which reminded her of Carlton. What an idiot. And she had just told Smith that she loved him. “Oh God,” she breathed. What if Smith had some jealous rage and started to mess with Carlton? “Oh God,” she prayed. “When will this ever end?” And, looking up to heaven, “Take me now, please.” Of course, then she naturally thought about Elijah. He had wished to die but he had to pick himself up and get back into the fight. So would she. She would fight. Fight the urge to destroy herself with drink. Fight the urge to run away. Fight the fear that was trying to overwhelm her.

Her wandering had taken her to Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City, and there was a little hole in the wall Thai place that had been recommended to her so she stopped in. She immediately liked it. The food looked just right and the rice was in a little electric rice cooker behind the counter. It was very similar to the way the Myanmar refugee families her parents worked with in DC prepared and ate their food. Like family. Like a home. She chose Thai Green Curry with bamboo and sat outside to enjoy the evening. The food was so good she didn’t care about getting drunk any more. She was going to be fine with the Holy Spirit instead. All she had to do was make it to Friday.

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.

Chapter 17.5

As church wound down Rachel somehow got herself invited to lunch with the Pastor and his wife, along with the odd new-comer known only as K.D. She drove herself to the restaurant which was a cafeteria style place that was very popular with the Sunday after church crowd. When she got there it turned out that half of the church was there too: the Pastor and his wife brought K.D.; the Assistant Pastor, and his wife with their two children; one of the Deacons with his wife and an elderly widow; another elderly lady who hadn’t been in church but who evidently joined the group to eat; finally Kruger had gotten himself invited. Rachel narrowed her eyes at him threateningly but he mimed a yawn and rolled his eyes.

The restaurant staff were delighted to welcome the church members and guests. The falling away of church attendance as the deadline for World Monetary Union approached had been dramatic, and it had a big impact on the Sunday traffic. They made quick work of moving a few tables so the group could sit together, then enthusiastically ushered them all through the serving line. Rachel was very good at these kind of social events. It was second nature for her to smile, be polite, and engage in whatever conversation happened to strike up. She shared stories from her life, always being mindful of her cover and why she had just moved to Salt Lake City.

Kruger, on the other hand, looked ill-at-ease. Serve him right for not doing surveillance on her from the car with Dunning. She was fortunate to end up on the far end of the table from K.D., so she didn’t get to speak with him.

It was close to 3 O’clock before the party began to break apart, and Rachel excused herself with a promise that she would be at the Wednesday night service. She curtly told her car to be quiet and drove herself home, looking eagle-eyed for the unmarked sedan that was supposed to be following her. She began to get spooked when she thought she saw the same tinted-window black Mercedes pass her twice in a row. Dunning and Kruger were nowhere to be seen, but there was another black Mercedes drifting along effortlessly some way back. Something was not right. At her parking garage she caught a glimpse of movement on the roof of the building opposite. A sniper getting into position? There was an electrician’s panel van parked across the street too – on a Sunday? Not impossible, but weird. Then two deeply tanned women in Spandex sports gear jogged past, paying her a little too much attention. Where they checking her out, or another part of a security op that was happening around her? What else? What else would there be if this were a security op? She looked around for a surveillance camera. There it was, by the elevator, pointing right at her. Surprise, surprise. With all this going on there could only be one reason: Agent Smith was here.

In her experience Agent Smith was a misogynistic, leering, innuendo-laden pervert who had never quite crossed the line and done anything that could really hold the charge of sexual harassment, but which was close. Maybe today could be the day? “Look on the bright side,” she thought. Perhaps every cloud does have a silver lining? if he had come out here for an unscheduled visit it must be in response to something time sensitive, he might be really angry. He might be ready to pop and leave himself exposed, if not to a charge of sexual harassment, then at least some leverage to make him back off. She steeled herself and made her way to her apartment.

There was another new fragrance in the lobby. This one so expensive that she didn’t recognize it. Definitely Smith. She inhaled deeply but realized with a shock that she was already weaker than she thought, suddenly afraid. Her apartment door was open, normally that would be bad, but in this situation it was good because they would both be able to see the approach. It was intended to help put her at ease. It meant that he would be alone inside, with out any of his team of goons. That was good and bad, but Rachel could feel herself getting flustered already and the meeting hadn’t started yet. She hated the psychological chess game that this guy kept up. She resolved and breezed airily into the apartment as casually as possible. Smith was sitting in her favourite spot on her new couch, looking out the patio doors as she had last night. He stood up and turned to her with the warmest expression possible which stopped Rachel in her tracks.

“Rachel,” was all he said.

“Smith,” she looked away, unable to hold his gaze. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” In her peripheral vision she saw Dunning and Kruger move in behind her, cutting off her escape. “Drat,” she thought, “this is really bad.”

“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” the words dripped off Smith’s tongue.

A shiver went down Rachel’s spine. “That ought to be enough for sexual harassment right there,” she thought, knowing that it was not, and that Smith was too careful. He just somehow made her feel, dirty.

“I just wanted to check in with you. To make sure that you, the team,” he gestured to Dunning and Kruger, “are all on the same page.”

“You came out here from DC for that?”

“Not a special trip. I was,” he paused delicately, “somewhere close by. I am concerned that you are underestimating the seriousness of this situation?”

“No,” she replied boldly, “Whatever gave you that idea?”

He swept his had in the direction of Dunning and Kruger. “I heard that one of them had to spend time in a lingerie store yesterday?”

“Oh that!” Rachel took on a very friendly and sportsmanlike demeanour and moved in close between the two body guards. “Come on,” she playfully punched Dunning’s shoulder, “A girl has to get her, y’know, things somewhere.”

“You didn’t buy anything.” Kruger said flatly.

“Oh, come on, please. Boys,” she said playfully, grabbing both of their elbows. She looked at Smith, “We have a great time together, don’t we?” she looked at both of their hard faces, then back to Smith, “There is no way that you came all this way because I went to a panty store!”

“No indeed.” He dismissed the two men with a flick of his hand. They left immediately and closed the door. Rachel swallowed so hard she heard it, and closed her eyes for a momentary prayer.

Chapter 16.5

The rest of the day was uneventful, though Dunning and Kruger were fuming over the mall escapade. That evening Rachel made a few phone calls to family, maintaining a facade of an easy-going life transition to a new job and home in Salt Lake City. She watched some TV but wasn’t interested in anything. She tried reading a book but it didn’t capture her imagination. Eventually she sat looking out the large balcony doors as the daylight faded and the city stretched out before her came alive with lights. Watching the activity of the city at night was vastly more interesting than TV, and before long she dozed off.

At some point later she woke up enough to put herself to bed.

Rachel was up again before the dawn arrived, wondering about her cat whom she had left with her mom and dad in Washington DC. She contemplated getting another one but that was pretty pointless given that she fully anticipated her life here in Utah to be either over or drastically different by the end of the week. She exercised, ate, showered and got ready for church.

Rachel went to Anchor Baptist Church in South Salt Lake, based on a recommendation from her Pastor in DC. It was only her second time going since she had only been in town for about a week. Sunday morning was usually a busy time at any church, but things were very different now with the looming deadline of World Monetary Union. The majority of Christians were convinced that this was indeed the Mark of the Beast as prophesied in the Bible, and this had led to a great falling away of people from the church. When it came right down to it, who in their right mind would give up the ability to function in society for the sake of dressing up and singing songs on a Sunday morning?

Still there were a faithful few, including the Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Piano Player and about a dozen others, including two deacons. They had been completely amazed when Rachel had shown up for a Wednesday evening service last week, dressed in her conservative professional attire, even more so when Dunning had arrived moments later pretending to be another completely random visitor. They sat far apart from each other, Rachel next to the Pastor’s wife, who had immediately adopted her, and Dunning in an aisle seat near the exit.

The tone had been very solemn as the Assistant Pastor welcomed them and began the service, but it picked up with the spirited singing and a rousing sermon from the tired old Pastor.

Today was much the same. There was some guarded chatter about who had renounced Jesus Christ and gotten their WMU tattoo, and who had renounced society and made their way to the refugee camp in Moab. The consensus was that everyone who was left in church would be making their way their shortly. The Pastor promising, like the Captain of a sinking ship, that he wouldn’t abandon his post in the pulpit until after the Wednesday night service.

This time it was Kruger who blundered in a minute before the service was about to start, making excuses about not knowing where to park, and avoiding any formal introductions as the Assistant Pastor got the service under way.

“Good morning everybody, and welcome to Anchor Baptist Church. It is great to see you in the house of the Lord today! I see our numbers are down again, I guess that’s not surprising, but we’re going to have a blessed time in the Lord. It’s very nice to see you here again, Miss?”

“Rachel,” she said, uncomfortable that now 12 pairs of eyes were all staring at her.

“Right, Rachel, thank you for coming back. And I see we have another visitor,”

Kruger simply raised his hand in greeting as all eyes turned to him.

“We can get to meet you later, sir. So, let’s all take a hymnal then and turn to page..”

Another visitor unexpectedly barged in at that moment, and Rachel and Kruger began reaching for their side arms. They both paused when they saw a very confused looking old man, standing blinking in the middle of the aisle. He shuffled to a seat mumbling that he was sorry about something, and the service continued.

Once the singing was over the Pastor got up and gave a full-throated blast through the  parts of the book of The Revelation that pertained to the present situation. He stumbled around the confusing technicalities regarding the timing. According to the scripture, the mark of the beast is something that takes place during the tribulation period. That was tricky because the tribulation is supposed to happen after something called the rapture, when all Christians are taken up into the sky by Jesus. Why is the mark of the beast here if the rapture hasn’t happened yet? And, is it really the mark of the beast? were serious questions. It gave everyone enough wiggle room to justify their decision about whether or not to receive the WMU tattoo, because if they did, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to hell. Right? A lot of people were very worried. Rachel was in the very small group that had decided not to take any chances on eternal damnation, preferring leave society and suffer whatever hardship it may bring.

Rachel listened as the Pastor fumbled on eschatology for a few minutes but soon enough he veered around to a Bible thumping condemnation of “the system,” and a rousing call for all lost souls to be saved. He did his job admirably, not in the least bit perturbed by the small crowd.

Once the service was over there was a lot of hugging and consoling to do, even for the visitors, since it was both terribly sad and very joyful that the prophesy of the Word of God was being fulfilled in their day. After all look on the bright side, was the conclusion, this meant that the Lord’s return was even more imminent than it had been at any time in the last 2,000 years! Everyone had so much to hope and be thankful for.

At some point Rachel got to shake hands with everyone, pretending to meet Kruger for the first time, and the old man who had blundered in late. He was introduced simply as “K. D.,” and he had the look of one who was in completely the wrong place at the wrong time.

Chapter 15.5

Rachel regretted the incident immediately. What had she been thinking? She drove home in a daze and once home, took a long look at the city below her, peeled off down to her underwear and fell down on her knees beside the bed. She let her thoughts tumble for a few minutes before starting her prayer.

“Oh God,” she whispered. She just beat up on a total stranger, and no matter how many times she thought it through, she couldn’t see a way to get back to the Airstream and apologize before Friday.

“Oh God,” Dunning and Kruger had thought is was the best thing they had seen in years. The whole field office would be buzzing by now. Trying to establish herself as tough and resilient was one thing, but this was a little more than she had really needed. Who knew what the consequences would be? Who knew who the contact had been? He could be some higher-up who was part of the chain to get Rachel the thumb drive she needed.

“Oh God,” she placed herself into the hands of her master, the Lord Jesus, and prayed Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, that are the called according to his purposed. She asked forgiveness, Amened three times, crawled into bed and fell asleep.

She slept late and was only awakened by her phone. She fumbled it blearily. It was Dunning, so she answered, “What?”

“What are you doing,” came the flat response.

“I’m in bed, what do you think?”

“Don’t you have stuff to do today?”

Rachel thought for a moment, “No. Buzz off.” She hung up. She lay for a while but was awake now. This was her first free time in weeks, there was no need to do anything at all really. She puttered around for a while but didn’t feel like unpacking boxes. Instead she decided to spend part of the day irritating the hell out of Dunning and Kruger. She put on a dress that was way too sexy for a shopping trip. It was a black mini that had to stretch tightly around her hips and thighs. She looked in her full-length mirror. It was quite disappointing. She was above average height, which she liked, but was above average build too. Her shoulders spoke of her time in the rowing team at The University of North Carolina where she had been an undergrad and in Law School. Her bust was fine, not too big, not too small. Her belly was evidence of not enough regular exercise. Her hips and butt though. Thick, was the word that came to mind. Her legs showed her years of rowing and soccer. What the hell, men were basically stupid, she could do the look of in-your-face-woman-who-will break-your-heart-and-kick-your-ass.

She put on black sports underwear over her lace, if she had to run or fight and her dress rode up, no one would see anything more than an athlete shows. She dithered over shoes. She wanted to go for sexy, just like the dot at the bottom of an exclamation point! But if she had to run or climb it would be a problem. She went in-your-face again and chose her 10-hole Doctor Martens boots. Black eye-liner and mascara came next, then deep purple lipstick. It said Vamp, and you can have messy hair with a really outrageous lipstick. She was going to torment Dunning and Kruger today. The last touch was a belt of spent .30 calibre machine gun ammo around her waist. Completely over the top, but that was how she felt.

When she got downstairs and out into the street she saw the unmarked sedan waiting, so she took off on foot and headed to the Gateway Center. It was only about a mile away. She put on some stylish sunglasses and stalked along the side walks, ignoring everyone, especially the men who stopped and stared at her. She rummaged in her small pocket book, which was just big enough for a small calibre automatic pistol, can of mace and a pair of handcuffs, and found her ear piece. She was required to stay in contact with her security team.

“Good morning boys. You keeping up?”

“What the frack? Are you going to a party or something,” came the irritated response.

“Oh no, sweetie. I dressed like this just for you two.”

“What?”

She didn’t respond, just continued her serene march to the pretty shopping mall that had won her heart as a reason why Salt Lake City was a truly outstanding place to live. The first thing she did when she got there was go to the video game store. Being Saturday it was very busy. The store was small and cramped, a swarm of activity. Most of the customers were either teenage boys with a parent in tow, or grown men with unshaven faces, swollen bellies and shattered dreams. “Here’s your dream come true,” she thought as she strode into the store. Everyone turned to look at her, which was gratifying. The boys turned back to imploring to their parent to buy them the mature rated game that they couldn’t buy themselves. The men continued to stare. This was pretty earth shattering for some of them. Rachel walked up to one of the guys who was holding a copy of a PlayStation game.

“Have you played it yet?” she said to him, she still had her sunglasses on.

“Err,” he was suffering some kind of quantum field event because not only had his dream woman just walked into the store, be she was speaking to him. Then he got himself to gether. “Yeah. All the way through 6 times. This is a special edition with 16 gigs of downloadable content.”

“Which you already have, right.”

“Well, yeah, but this is the special edition.”

She continued in idle banter about the game and another somewhat rumpled man joined the conversation, then another. Within a few minutes there was a small group gathered round excitedly chatting about video games. One of them asked to take a selfie with Rachel, and she posed obligingly, giving him a tight side hug. Then everybody wanted selfies. As she laughed freely with the customers she looked over to the door to see Kruger, in suit, tie and dark glasses, awkwardly sticking out like a sore thumb. He mouthed something explicit at her.

“Oh, that’s my husband!” she laughed, “Sorry guys, I have to go.”

There was a round of “Ahhh, that’s not fair.” from her little group.

She had to pass Kruger on her way out of the store. He didn’t say anything but he was obviously fuming. His shirt collar was soaked with sweat, and there were beads of it down the side of his face.

After that, Rachel wasted as much time as she could wandering around stores, having superficial conversations, not buying anything, working her way around to the highlight of the trip: Victoria’s Secret. As she made her way to the door of the lingerie store she heard in her earpiece, “No. No. No!” But she went in anyway. She looked at every piece of frilly lace in the store while poor Kruger was fit to be tied.

Tying up Kruger on foot meant that Dunning, in the sedan, was unaccounted for. When she finally got home she found out what he had spent part of his day doing. She was climbing the stairs to her apartment and something felt out of place. She smelled cologne. Not just any cologne either. She stopped and sniffed the air. Paco Raban. Someone was making an effort, that was pretty unusual. It smelled like danger and Rachel got quite excited. She withdrew to the relative cover of a neighbours doorway and got her small pistol from her pocket book. Using all her training she approached her apartment door with care, but she was dismayed by what she saw.

There was a Witches broom leaning against the wall beside her door, a Witches hat on the floor beside it. There was a party banner across the door itself. It read: “The Ball Witch” and below it, “For Misogynist” and a large pink balloon with two plastic baseballs in it.

Touché.

Rachel was pretty impressed with the banner so she kept it, and put it on the wall above her couch.

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Chapter 14.5

Rachel drove off into the night but did not go home. She checked the rear view mirror to make sure that she was being tailed. An unmarked sedan was back there, keeping a respectable distance but never loosing sight. She had to make sure that she didn’t lose them, the poor guys in the car would get in trouble if that happened.

“Hey, er, phone.”

“Hello Rachel, what can I do for you?” replied the phone from somewhere down in the bottom of her pocket-book.

“Establish a secure connection to the car and show the most recent message from Agent Smith.”

“Sure, no problem.” In a second the message popped up on the dashboard user interface. There was an address which Rachel needed to get to, a mobile home park on the outskirts of town.

“Car,” she said, with a hint of irritation.

“Hi there! What can I do for you?”

“Just take me to the address in the message, and please don’t talk about it.”

The car didn’t say a word and seamlessly took over driving. Rachel kicked off her shoes, simple black pumps with a small heel, then rummaged around behind the passenger seat for a different pair of shoes. There were also black and looked like lightweight sneakers, but they were in fact the type of specialized shoe used by rock climbers. The sole was very stiff, designed for maximum support while standing on rock ledges that were a quarter of an inch wide. Rachel liked this type of shoe because they were really good if you had to climb, run or fight. They laced up tightly and wouldn’t fall off, they were excellent protection against stepping on sharp things, and, at least for this pair, were kind of cute and didn’t look out-of-place against the knee-length skirt she was wearing.

They car dinged a notification to let her know that they were close to the mobile home park, and Rachel took over driving. She found the address but drove past it, turned around at the end of the row and came back to it. She parked so that she would have a straight shot at getting out without having to maneuver first. The unmarked sedan seemed confused at the end of the row, then drove on past.

She flipped down the visor to check her make-up and placed a small device in her ear. “You hear me?”

“Yep.” Came the response. She wasn’t sure which of the two guys in the sedan spoke, she hadn’t bothered to figure out which was which.

“I’m going in.”

She walked up the short drive to a battered old Airstream Trailer, and looked on the ground for something as she went. She picked up a small piece of broken cinder block. When she was at a position about 10 feet from the door of the trailer she stopped, hefted the piece of cinder block, then threw it at the door of the trailer. She brushed the dust off her hand and smoothed out her skirt. The door flew open with a bang and an irritated figure appeared.

“What do you..” he yelled, but saw Rachel and changed his tone, “Oh. Wait a minute.” He disappeared back into the trailer for a moment. Rachel composed herself, shifted her balance slightly, then the figure reappeared. He was young-looking, bearded, she would guess that he was in the vegetarian mountain-biking back-packing hippie adventurer crowd. But then, that was what she was supposed to think. He was probably in the washed-out Navy Seal ruthless-killer crowd underneath his scraggly beard.

He stood in the open door of the trailer and beckoned for Rachel to come in.

“No way, pal. Get your butt out here.”

He shrugged and lurched down the steps. He approached carefully, and checked Rachel out at least three times.

“You’re cute.”

“You’re not.”

“Meow! Nice to meet you too.”

Rachel said nothing but raised her eyebrows questioningly. The man had a computer thumb drive in his hand that he was supposed to give to her, except that he was keeping it in his clenched fist.

“You know it gets lonely out here?” he said with a wink. Rachel didn’t reply but waited, rapidly loosing patience.

“You want to hang out? Drink a beer, smoke a joint? Have a little fun?” He was moving closer.

“Hmmm?” murmured Rachel suggestively, which stopped him in his tracks, he clearly didn’t expect a positive response to his advances.

“That,” Rachel held his gaze, “sounds,” she turned slightly sideways to show the curve of her butt and boobs, “interesting.” She moved a step closer. He flinched.

“What kind of weed you got?” She was close enough to touch him, weight on her back left foot, then she dropped slightly, swept his feet from under him with her right leg while pushing him back. She used more force than needed for a Judo throw like that, and he landed heavily flat on his back, knocking the wind out of him. Probably not a Navy Seal then. There was muffled laughing in her ear piece, so her security guys were watching from somewhere.

She took a pistol out of her pocket-book and stood over the man, pointing it at his groin.

“Do you know what a misogynist is?” she held out her free hand. He shook his head weakly and handed her the thumb drive.

“It’s a guy who needs a broom to sweep his balls off the ground.” A roar of laughter in her ear made her wince. She turned and left.