Tag Archives: PaperClip

The White Lady – 4.1

This is part of a work in progress, to read previous and future chapters and chaptorettes see other  postings of ‘The White Lady’  in this category

gblast

~4.1~

Black boots. Concrete chunks. A smashed computer monitor.

My eyes were burning when I opened them but once I was able to focus, that’s what I saw.

Quick inventory: fingers and toes wiggling—check, although restricted and wrists hurting; ears functional—marginally—overriding ringing a distraction; eyes—already ticked off, in working order; voice—“What the fuck’s going on?”—check.

“What do you think?” asked a disembodied voice I quickly recognized as Geier’s. “You barge in here with a gun, threaten me and make demands …I don’t care how good an agent you are—or were as ze case may be—and how much Ms. Reshenyova …”

“Yeah, what about the White Lady, Hendrik? What does she say about you guys trying to blow me up and handcuffing me in the middle of her sanctioned operation?”

The black boots weren’t Geier’s, as one of them reared back and kicked me in the ribs. I saw pointed brown shoes come into my frame of reference, heard Geier say, “Now, now, Krebs, Mr. Smith is in no position to fight, leave him be.” Kreb’s boots reluctantly retreated. Then to me Geier said, “Ze White Lady, as you call her, has said nothing. She is unreachable.”

“Unreachable?” I gasped out.

“Dark.”

“So she’s a Black Lady now?” I wasn’t sure I had articulated the comment properly through the pain and lack of air, but I must have, because this time Geier himself kicked me. Hard, too. Fickle or what?

“Disrespect to Ms. Reshenyova will not be tolerated, Smith!” He fairly hissed as I rolled over and back a couple of times, gulping to catch my breath. The concrete dust and debris on the floor wasn’t helping; neither were the handcuffs that bit into my hand and wrist when I rolled onto them. I had seen something I wanted though and had to make a big show of distracting my captors.

It was a paperclip, tucked under a shard of computer, almost hidden, but visible from my prone point of view. The irony didn’t escape me as I grabbed it during one of my exaggerated rolls. I would laugh later … maybe.

“Just call your girlfriend, Geier,” I said, the sound of my own voice muffled by the roar in my ears, “and we’ll straighten this out. I’m under her orders.”

She told you to point a Glock at my head?” He said. From his tone I could imagine his expression—feigned disgust and incredulity—eyebrows creeping up, mouth and eyes round.

“Well no, not exactly … but she didn’t tell me not to, either.”

“Enough, pick him up Krebs, we go to ze basement.”

Ze basement.

I didn’t know what that meant but it sounded bad. Krebs yanked on one elbow, picking me up in the most painful way possible for a restrained person. I could feel the skin break and metal slice into the flesh of my wrists. I breathed through the pain and obstructed our progress by dragging my feet, trying to distract Krebs from what I was doing with my hands: working frantically on the paperclip, straightening one arm of it , trying to insert it into the keyhole of the left cuff.

“C’mon, dickface, you’re just making it worse for yoursel–”

Got it!

I dropped down, unhinged the one cuff, which was now a curved weapon, slung my arm around and up towards Krebs face. Caught him in the cheek like a fish with a hook, and wrenched hard on it so his cheek split from cheekbone to his mouth,exposing his teeth. Blood gouted. Krebs screamed. I   swiveled on my ass and clenched my legs tightly together like a steel bar, which effectively cut Krebs off at the ankles and felled him like a tree. His weapon landed near my hand, so naturally I picked it up and leveled it at Geier, who had been backing away towards the shattered door, with his hand to his mouth. Two other minions were bringing their arms to bear on me.

“Hold on boys, unless you want your boss to be Swiss cheese. Never a good thing for a German!” I snarled. They all stopped and looked at Geier.

“Do as ze bastard says. Put your guns down.” Geier’s hands were up without being told. His pals followed suit.

“Now,” I said, “I’m going to tell you that everything I have done here today was authorized by the White … Ms. Reshenyova. You don’t have to believe me, but there it is. So I am leaving now, and if you value your lives do not follow me. And you … ” I pointed at Geier “ … will issue a stand-down signal on the alert you have undoubtedly already broadcast. Now!”

Geier nodded, turned and scurried back into the control room. I motioned for the security personnel to pick up Krebs, who was moaning and clasping his shredded cheek flap to his face, and then we all followed Geier.

The regular staffers were huddled in a corner of the Hub to my right when we arrived. Geier, somewhat more composed, sat at his desk with his hands folded in front of him.

“I have rescinded ze alert, Smith. But nothing prevents me from re-issuing it ze minute you walk out ze door.”

I was about to reason with him as best I could when a new voice came from the entrance way.

This prevents it.”

As I turned to see who the intruder was, a burst of gunfire spat bullets through the plate glass windows, destroying communications equipment, computers, desks and ripping through Geier’s body, knocking him backwards onto the floor and spraying an arc of blood along the wrecked wall of terminals and telecom systems panels. The shots continued to my right and took out the frightened worker bees one by one, dropping them like rag dolls in a puppet horror show. Krebs and his fellow security guards were scrambling out into the hall heading back towards the dark room where I had first met them. In slow motion I saw a grenade sailing through the air in their general direction as they passed the outside windows. The blast blew all three of them out the windows into open sky and down twenty stories.

“C’mon Smith. We gotta go.”

I stared at Briscoe, the idiot limo driver. He laughed at my expression. “Hah! You didn’t really think the White Lady would hire a raw recruit courier as her personal driver, did you?”

I swore under my breath. I had indeed underestimated him—and the White Lady—in just that way.

Mistake.

I could not make one again if I was to survive and accomplish my mission. Other questions raced through my   brain, but they would have to wait.

“OK, let’s go.” I said.

On the elevator ride down, I could have sworn Briscoe’s chest was puffed out twice its normal size. He wore an inane grin; one I had seen on the faces of many other ruthless killers, some of whom had later gone amok and needed to be put down.

Underestimated, indeed.

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The White Lady – 3.4

~3.4~

network

Coded messages. Encrypted emails. Scrambled signals.

Stock in trade for CCS and especially the Paper Clip Division. The Hub of Chimera made our network possible. Made our organization efficient.

Made the White Lady vulnerable.

I had been wondering about this flashkill—how had it been possible? For the killer or killers to hit all of our operatives—almost all of our operatives—they had to have known where the agents were at various times.

WL insisted on control—a remnant from the KGB no doubt. Each operative checked in at a preordained date and time using prearranged codes and a designated medium. If they didn’t, the controller on shift at Chimera activated a locator chip using an encrypted satellite burst which reached everywhere on the globe. The operatives supposedly didn’t know where on their body the chip had been implanted. Theoretically, no one working for the White Lady could hide.

Unless you have someone who is willing to help you find the chip and remove it.

I had been AWOL for a while before the White Lady had paper-clipped me. I didn’t know how she had found me. Hadn’t asked her, either. And if I did ask she wouldn’t tell me, anyway. In reality, none of us could hide … not forever, at least.

But, in reality, her organization’s strength was also her weakness. Whoever had done this must have had access to our codes. Access to the transmission control room in the Hub.

Access to everyone.

That’s why I was standing in the very same transmission control room in the Hub, on the twentieth floor of the Chimera building, with my imitation Glock pointed at the face of the Communications Head, Hendrik Geier.

“Three things, Geier,” I said, “One: the name of the controller who activated the last implant burst. Two: the encryption and meeting code for Lilith de Zwart. Three: five minutes in a secure room with a dark sat line—encrypted and text-capable.”

Hendrik Geier did not like me. That was okay; I didn’t like him either. I was not alone in this; his disdain for anything not German oozed from every pore, every glance and every inflection. Except for the White Lady … he adored her. They went way back together, so because of that he was currently not a suspect, just a means to an end. He also wasn’t French, so he got bonus points for that.

“Is ze gun necessary, Jeremiah?”

That he knew my name-of-the-day didn’t surprise me. Assigning day-names was the purview of two people only: the White Lady and Goran Nemec, the Vice-President of Communications for Critically Clear Solutions. It was the title on his business card, but he was simply another confidante—meaning thug—from her days in the Legion. To be efficient—and the White Lady was nothing if not charmingly efficient—Nemec’s job was to inform those who needed to know the day-name of any operative within seconds of its assignment. Assuming Nemec was still alive, the Communication Head, Hendrik Geier certainly qualified in the category of need-to-know.

“You know, Hendrik, the gun gives me the illusion of power. The chimera of control, if you will … and it gives me confidence you’ll divulge the real traitor’s name to me.”

Geier shrugged. “If you must …” He pulled a pen from his shirt pocket and wrote on a piece of paper. Took a set of keys and a swipe card from a lock-box behind the desk where he was sitting. Threw all three items over the desk onto the rubber mat in front of me. Placed his hands on the desk and stared at me with cold blue eyes. “Zis man is not here, Jeremiah. He has not reported back since ze day he sent ze burst … for obvious reasons, as we now know. We thought at first he had been one of ze targets … ”

Other Chimera staffers had noticed my incursion and were milling about in the outer office with concerned looks. Perhaps they thought I was firing Geier … literally.

Interrupting Geier, I waved my free hand in their direction. “Intercom them and let everyone know you’ll handle this—not to worry.”

Stone-faced, Geier did as instructed while I warily retrieved the paper, keys and card without lowering my weapon. The workers didn’t disperse but they didn’t storm the room, either. I saw one pick up a desk phone.

“Good boy, Hendrik, now point me in the direction of the room that fits this key.”

“Down ze hall to your left … third door.” He waved vaguely with his right hand, his voice monotone as if directing me to the toilet.

I knew he would alert the White Lady the second I left the room. He would press the lock-down switch and every available security person left in the building would respond with whatever force necessary—at least until she told them to stand down. If my timing was right, by then I would have sent the messages I needed and could surrender peacefully, then carry on with my preparations once Claire gave the hands-off order.

At least I now had my first clue to the culprits.

It’s a start.

Lowering my weapon, I saluted Geier, sprinted out of his office past the alarmed but docile staffers and down the hall to the secure room. Fumbled briefly with the swipe card and keys. Entered the room and locked the door behind me. Grabbed the sat phone from the charger on the wall and punched in Lili’s encryption and meeting code. My jaw clenched hard as I waited.

A stream of numbers ran across the display screen and coalesced into GPS coordinates: N 50 50′ 20.534″ E 4 22′ 23.977″, and then the words ‘Meeting set 1400 July 16 – Europe’.

I stared at the screen display. Tiny winged insects danced the Meringue in my stomach. Of course, Lili could not know who had sent the request, only that it was from a Paper-Clip operative via the Hub, but … she was alive! Had to be, in order to receive the code and accept the meeting.

Or …

Someone who was alive had answered on the other end.

Two PM, three days away. I punched the coordinates into one of the computers on a bank of terminals along the wall. Got back maps and websites for Espace Léopold, Brussels, Belgium.

Okay, I had to hop a continent. Do-able if everything went according to plan. Made sense, too: centre of the city, train station, mall, and large open spaces, mid-day when the area should be full of people. I was fairly certain ‘Europe’ referred not to the continent but to the statue of the same name outside the Paul-Henri Spaak building, where the European parliament held their sessions.

It’s where I had first kissed Lili.

It has to be her!

Then I looked at the name Geier had written down for me. The traitor’s name. The guy who’d sent all those agents—my colleagues, my friends—to their deaths.

Bruno De Zwart.

Lili’s husband.

I had maybe two minutes left to use the dark sat line. Dark in Paper-Clip lingo meant inaccessible to everyone and everything, including the Hub; it was akin to yelling while inside a black box in a rubber room encased in concrete.

How could I know if Geier truly would give me a dark line? I couldn’t, but it was the best I could manage given my situation. The White Lady had given me an assignment with no background or direction—no intelligence. I had to figure things out for myself as I went along. That part didn’t bother me much; I liked working alone. I would need help eventually and teams were at times necessary in my line of work, but complications often occurred with other people on board.

Lili

And now, Bruno.

I grimaced and punched in Geier’s desk number.

The cold clipped voice answered without inflection or salutation—“Ze line is WLPC-66X2.”—then disconnected.

I punched in the access numbers and then dialed the telephone number of a workroom in a tiny yellow cottage on East 63rd Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. I knew my father never answered the phone in that room, or anywhere else for that matter. He preferred to listen to messages and decide whose call he would deign to return. His quirk was fine by me in this instance. I didn’t need to talk to him directly. Didn’t want to, either. Not now.

The voice message came on. A creaky rasp: “You have reached the home of Josef and Joshanka. Leave a message, if you please.” Hearing his harsh voice with its Old World inflections, I smelled ancient paper and pipe tobacco mixed with a hint of coffee and schnapps.

I took a calming breath and spoke. “Kanal sólyom. Remember 1956. Pass to the Jack of Scissors. Wait for 1976 or next transmission. Skrptkey.”

If anyone is listening, I doubt they’d figure that out anytime soon.

I knew my father would. He had once been a professor of mathematics in Vienna and now taught Cryptography and Mathematical Theory at the University of BC.

Plus, he lived the references.

My five minutes were up. I could hear scurrying feet, bangs and thumps and shouted orders outside the door. Then the lights went out and a percussive ‘WHUMP! shuddered the room. The desk hit my forehead and then the floor came up to greet me.

My last thought, before the rest of the world tunneled into blackness, was of Lili.

The White Lady – 3.3 (revised)

This is part of a work in progress, to read previous and future chapters and chaptorettes see other  postings of ‘The White Lady’  in this category

756989_orig

~3.3~

Briscoe had suddenly turned into a chatty New York cab driver.

“So, Mr. Smith, a little bird told me you went AWOL for quite a while.” This was after I told him where I wanted to go next: the communication centre of CCS, which the world knew as Chimera TeleSystems.

A little white ladybird, no doubt.

“You should know; you picked me up with the … with Reshenyova.”

“Yeah, but I do that a lot—or at least I did before … well, you know, when there were people left to pick up. None of them was deserters—pickups were just for personal debriefings. So … what’s your story?”

“Briscoe, how long have you been with CCS?”

He laughed as if he had expected the evasion. “I was hired as a courier—covert and overt—three years ago. Ms. Reshenyova noticed me and here I am. Your turn. What’s your plan, at least?”

“If she picked you as you say, then you must be well versed in confidentiality, especially when it comes to the Paper Clip division.” The operatives own term for their unit, which officially didn’t exist. The paper clip motif kept popping up with the White Lady so often that we had adapted it, I think to her displeasure, but there it was. Some things you can’t control. The title sounded nice and innocuous. Tiny and harmless.

Jab … Jab.

“Sure, sure … but, Smith you know I’m gonna be on the fast track to … to that division … now, right? Ms. Reshenyova’s gotta promote from within to get the ball rolling … if she’s got good material to work with, that is and …” Briscoe flashed a smile in the rearview mirror. “… I’m very good material.”

He had a point. The White Lady probably would power boost Briscoe up the ladder now, whereas before she might have given him another few years seasoning. He looked strong enough; personally, I would be concerned about his maturity, mental and emotional strength.

But hey! You fucked up. And not only with Lili …

My turn to try some of that mental strength. Had to concentrate on the job at hand. Step-by-step was my way to get things done. Stop thinking about things I couldn’t control.

It would take up much of the two hours I had given Dr. Mireille just for us to get to the communication centre and back; it was completely across the city and over two bridges. Here was my chance to make a friend … find and keep an ally. Never know when you’ll need people, after all.

“Briscoe, just shut the fuck up and drive.”

His bright grin turned to a sneer, but Briscoe did as ordered.

In my mind, I did answer him. My story was simple—one we’ve all heard before. Boy born of refugee parents. Boy fights with family. Boy chooses to leave home to see the world. Boy becomes a beggar, not a chooser. Boy recruited by shadowy organization led by enigmatic pale person. Boy meets beautiful girl recruit. Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. Boy and girl go on missions together. Girl in danger. Boy saves girl, compromises operation. Girl reassigned by pale leader. Boy never sees girl again. Boy chooses to run away from organization. Boy finds paper clip in empty apartment. Boy returns to organization to find everyone boy knew dead except pale leader who orders boy to kill unknown rival killer group and revenge girl’s death. They all died happily ever after.

The end.

I settled back into the leather seat. Nodded off.

Woke up when the car jolted to a stop.

“We’re here. Here’s my fucking card, Smith. Let yourself in.” Briscoe threw the swipe card in my general direction.

Immature. Mentally, emotionally weak. Been there.

I retrieved the card from the floor. Hopped out of the car. Swiped myself into the glass and steel Chimera building. Headed for the main hub, 20 stories up.

The White Lady -2 (Revised)

(2nd Installment Revised July 11, 2014)

bodies

(The Menil Collection, in Houston, Texas
‘A row of shrouded bodies.’)

~2~

Visualize a warehouse the size of two football fields. Now imagine it is temperature controlled to 30 degrees below a witch’s tit. Then, picture it populated with thousands of shrouded mounds lying in a hundred straight rows.

The White Lady floated between them like a ghoul in a cemetery—too easy an image to conjure given the setting, I know—every now and then lifting a sheet to gaze at the frozen pale blue-tinged face beneath. The hollow whup-whup of the giant circulating fans high above us reminded me of wolves howling in the wilderness.

I had never seen Claire sad. Never thought she could be sad. Wasn’t sure she was actually sad at this moment, but I chose to believe if the White Lady could be sad, then this might be what that would look like.

I followed without looking at the faces. I didn’t want to see them. I had shared coffee with some of these faces. We had dodged bullets together. Lain under satin sheets together. Many I hadn’t known at all. One I had known in particular.

Here they were, all dead just the same.

“When did this happen?” I asked as we adjourned to an outer office after the White Lady’s inspection. Also climate controlled, but in the more acceptable keeping-things-alive way. Claire took an overstuffed executive chair behind a mahogany desk leaving me with the rickety metal job. She toyed with a paper clip on the desk blotter.

“It started just two months ago. One by one they began going off grid—just like you did, which is why I didn’t worry at first—then they started turning back up. Turned up floating down a river, dumped in an alley, tossed off a building. The numbers increased: two by two, four by four, eight by eight … you get the picture.” I couldn’t read her expression beneath the turned-down white lashed eyelids. I got the sense she was marshaling her strength.

If the White Lady was this worried …

“But … were they murdered, then? How? Who did it?”

Claire raised her eyes to meet mine. Icy blue stare.

“Someone murdered them all; of that, I am certain, Jeremiah. Exactly how that someone did it, I don’t know for certain … yet. Aside from the indecencies visited upon their corpses as the natural result of being left dead somewhere …” she waved her white gloved arm, pushing the world away. “ … out there for a time, there were no marks upon them.”

“Poison, then? Plague, maybe? Too much red meat?” I immediately regretted that last, as the White Lady’s brows arched higher than I thought possible and she slowly straightened the paper clip. Started jabbing the pointy end into the blotter cushion. And smiled. With brilliant white teeth.

“I understand … humour can be a release when one is unsettled.” Jab … jab. “For this and other reasons I will let your remark pass, Jeremiah.” Jab … jab. “Know this, however. Much as you may believe I am cold and uncaring, that I thought of these people as underlings, minions, foot soldiers, I was close to many of them, and cared about all of them … they were … my … family.” Jab—jab. “Now they are gone. Now I must start over. And I am positive that whoever killed my family does not actually want me to have a new one. Therefore … ” Jab—jab. “ … it is down to you to be the investigator, the enforcer, the avenger while I and the administration staff I have left take care of recruitment and training. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

Only too well.

“You want me to find out who did this to you—to us—how they did it and then … teach them a lesson, Ma’am.”

The White Lady narrowed her pale eyes, arose from her chair, leaned over the desk until her ethereal face was mere inches from mine. Held the point of the paper clip to my left eyeball. “You will have our armoury—all of our assets—at your disposal but make no mistake; you will be on your own, Jeremiah. A circumstance out of my control … but … I can still find you should you let me down.” Her deep voice strangled and caught.

I dared not move. I found her face strangely beautiful at that second, even if she was threatening my vision.

She recovered instantly, but did not change position. I could almost feel the jab … jab … in my iris.

She hissed, “No lessons, Mr. Smith, when you find whoever did this, I want you to fucking kill them. Fucking. Kill. Them. All! However … ” The White Lady smiled—whitely—and sat back down. “You may kill them slowly. And please take pictures—proof of death—if you are able. Yes, I would like that.”

With that she shooed me away. Things to do. People to meet.

Bodies to cremate.

I had started for the door when she added, “Oh … Jeremiah?” I stopped without turning around.

She wasn’t there. ”

I turned around. From the short distance away, her ashen face seemed to float disembodied above the desk.

“The bodies. Lili—that was her name, yes?—wasn’t among them.”

I clenched my jaw. Nodded my acknowledgement. Exited the warehouse.

The limo driver picked me up. Next stop: the armoury.

My left knee tremor returned as I sat in the car.

The White Lady – 1 (revised)

This story originally started in answer to an exercise. Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge was to choose a random cocktail from a list of 20 cocktails and use that as the title of a 1500 word story. I chose The White Lady. I think I now have a direction for the story and may even be able to tie it into another one I am writing concurrently, so hopefully a series of books will come from it. In order to present the latest chapters here, I have had to revise the previous chapters already posted. Instead of editing, I am choosing to put them in as a new post. Chapters 2 and 3 to follow likewise

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome!

prettyghosts_darkshadows

The White Lady

(Revised July 10 2014)

 

Oh no, I thought.

First clue that something was up was the blue and red flashes of light making the block into a strobe light show at a rave. Second was my neighbours gathered around the foyer of my apartment building.

The sick feeling in my stomach that everyone gets when confronted by a scene such as this had already taken hold, but I did not really expect whatever had happened there to pertain to me personally. I led a dull, boring life after all; no one knew who I was or what I did.

I had taken great pains to make it that way.

Those neighbours with whom I did have a nodding acquaintance turned their faces in my direction—eyes wide, brows furrowed but otherwise carefully devoid of expression—and began shifting their feet, uncomfortable at my sudden arrival.

Oh no.

A police officer met me in the foyer.

“Excuse me sir, are you … David Smith, of apartment 312?” The cop, polite and professional, checked his notebook, face and tone of voice as bland as tapioca, as neutral as the Swiss. His nametag said “Jones”.

Appropriate, I thought, Smith and Jones.

I nodded.

“Well, sorry to say sir, your apartment has been robbed. I wonder if you could come with me and have a look, answer some questions?”

I nodded.

Was that all? Just a robbery?

I followed him to the elevator, experiencing an odd combination of claustrophobia and the feeling of falling into a wide chasm. My ears began to ring, and I became increasingly light-headed as we ascended. It was my gut calling me with an instinct.

“Are you all right, sir?” Constable Jones asked; his tone worried.

I nodded again.

“This won’t take long, I promise.”

Jones led me to my undamaged door. Another cop was standing guard. He opened my door for me. Taking in the state of my home, I understood why Jones could promise a short process.

There was nothing there.

Literally, there was nothing—not a stick of furniture, not an appliance, not a phone, not a book, not even a roll of toilet paper—left in my apartment.

“Looks like they took everything,” offered the guard cop.

Captain Obvious.

I nodded.

“Oh, hey,” said Jones, “with the small exception of that.” He pointed to the middle of the living room floor, where there had once been an expensive hand-woven Persian rug. Instead, there stood a small yellow cone, with the number ‘1’ black-lettered on it. Beside the yellow cone was something tiny, glinting silver in the light—now shining in unfettered by curtains—from the streetlamp.

I moved closer to the object.

“Please don’t touch it, Mr. Smith.” Jones said hastily. “We’re waiting for the Ident unit to come in. It’s the only visible clue we have right now.”

I wasn’t going to touch it. I just needed to see what it was. I drew a little closer, and stopped.

Oh no.

I stared at it.

It was a plain silver paper clip.

But not just a paperclip.

They had found me.

It was a message from the White Lady.

I had been so careful. Followed all the protocols. Kept a low profile.

Smith is as low as it gets, for Christ sake!

But … when the White Lady wants you back, she finds you.

And you go back.

Well, where else could I go? They had stripped me bare here. My bank account would be similarly stripped, if I had the time left to check. The White Lady can do that.

“Sir?” Constable Jones.

Here comes the tedium.

“Yes,” I said without looking at him.

“There is no sign of forced entry, um … have you given anyone your apartment key?”

“Just the landlord … I imagine you already talked to Mr. Cartwright?”

“He’s the one who called us when he saw your apartment door ajar.”

Sure he did. I bet he was hoping for a chance to snoop around. Too bad for him.

“Nice of him to call you.”

“Not in time, unfortunately for you, Mr. Smith. Whoever they were, they certainly were neat, weren’t they?”

Now I did look at Jones. He suspects me.

I nodded. “Yes … it appears I’ve been hit by ‘The Clean Floor Gang’. Look, I don’t know what you’re inferring, but I have nothing to do with this. I don’t even have content insurance, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

A hint of a smile twitched at Jones lips. “At this juncture I am not thinking anything, Mr. Smith, I am simply the preliminary investigator. My job is to gather facts and take statements, collect evidence, yada yada—you’ve seen the movies—you know the drill.”

Oh, I knew the drill, alright … too bad he doesn’t. Not really.

“Of course, Officer. Gather and take, collect and yada to your heart’s content.” I threw up my hands and started for the door.

Jones ignored my tone and grabbed my shoulder before I could get away. “Do you have any idea who would do this? Anyone you know hold a grudge?”

Absolutely do.

“No.” I said.

“OK, well … seeing as how you are pretty light on furniture here, have you got any family or friends in town, someone who can take care of you—put you up?

“You offering? Never mind. Yes, of course I do.”

I didn’t—have any family or friends, that is—but I was very certain someone would be taking care of me.

“What is with the paper clip? It’s a joke, right? This is some kind of stag or university prank or something …” Jones trailed off, I must have let something slip in my expression when he jumped back to the paper clip.

Damn, I’m rusty. I’ve got to get away from here.

“Let me know if you find out. Thanks.” I said, and headed for the door again. This time he let me go.

The paper clip was a symbol, of course. God knows why the White Lady chose it. I had once thought it had something to do with holding loose bits of things together. Things that would normally fly away wherever the wind pushed them. I honestly didn’t know for sure; it could have meant we were all just a small part of her organization, as trivial as a paper clip.

For one second I debated whether to actually go back.

Couldn’t I just vanish again, sink into the underbelly of some city somewhere? Maybe crash at my crazy parent’s place or my cop-brother’s apartment … NO … only the White Lady and one other person in our organization knew my real name, knew who and where my real family was. That was two too many people. Telling the White Lady had been part of the deal; telling Lili had been … different. My choice. My mistake.

Besides, I hadn’t exactly left the family or my brother on the best of terms, either.

Would I ever be able to leave if I went back to the White Lady again? I wasn’t sure why she’d let me go in the first place. It wasn’t her style. Against the regs. But they were her regs, so WL could break them, if anyone could.

I’ll probably have to see … Lili, too. Maybe even work with her again.

After that one second was up I had to admit that my latest period of freedom had only been an illusion kept alive solely at the whim of the White Lady, just as I was. Just as we all were.

I followed my training. I headed into a random convenience store, bought a burner phone with my last twenty bucks, sent the validation text—Rock Clip. Scissor Clip—ground the phone under my heel and walked to the nearest pick-up point.

Sat down on a nearby stoop to watch the city life. Twiddled my thumbs. Scratched my ass.

Precisely twenty minutes later by the digital readout on the rolling banner of a bank across the street, a long black limousine rolled to a stop in front of me. Passenger-side rear door opened. A white-gloved finger appeared and beckoned to me. I got in, somewhat shocked and more than a little concerned.

Why on Earth is the White Lady herself picking me up?

I examined her examining me as we sat across from each other.

No one called her the White Lady to her face, although she obviously courted the moniker by always wearing white. Clothes and accessories—fashionable, expensive white clothes and accessories—all white. Today she topped it off with a scarf-and-skull-cap combination headpiece, just as a silent movie star might have worn. Her skin—alabaster, naturally—looked like it would be cold to the touch, like a statue. She had penciled in thin, black high-arched eyebrows above her translucent blue eyes, creating a fixed expression of mild amusement.

I had only seen the White Lady a few times before this; in strategy meetings—the strategy being how best to eliminate one threat or another—and each time I had come away with mixed impressions of Antarctic icebergs, prairie blizzards, and the dark side of the moon.

“Good afternoon, Mr. … Smith, is it … currently?” Her voice was low, deep and rich with pear-shaped tones. In another life, she could have been in radio.

“Smith, yes Ma’am.”

“I will call you Jeremiah, you may call me Claire … for now. Suits?”

“Sure.”

Of course, she’d choose Claire.

“May I assume from your expression that you are already suspecting that this is not the usual pick-up protocol. That there must be an element of something … oooh … beyond the pale involved?” She gave a little shiver as if thrilled by the prospect.

“Frankly, Claire, I haven’t a clue. I know you don’t do your own dirty work, so …”

I shrugged.

She bared her teeth.

“Jeremiah, I find myself at the most distressing point of calling on an individual in whom I can’t really trust anymore. Namely … you. You left us. Left me. No warning. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. In short, you are a bad boy, in my books.”

My left knee began to tremble. I couldn’t help it.

“So send me to my room.”

The smile did not waiver.

“Yes. I would like to. Send you. To your room. Very much. Unfortunately, as I said, I need you. And you alone must accomplish the task I am setting you. Think of it as an opportunity to prove yourself to me … once more.”

“What? Why? You have hundreds of little boys and girls ready and eager to do your bidding. Why me?”

“It is simple. As simple as silk.” The White Lady drew a linen finger along the glass of her side window as she continued to stare and smile. “Everyone else … is dead.”

Oh no.

The White Lady

Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge this week was to choose a random cocktail from a list of 20 cocktails and use that as the title of a 1500 word story. I chose White Lady.

 

Oh no, I thought.

First clue that something was up was the blue and red flashes of light that made the block into a strobe light show at a rave. Second was my neighbours gathered around the foyer of my apartment building.

The sick feeling in my stomach that everyone gets when confronted by a scene such as this had already taken hold, but I still did not really expect whatever had happened to pertain to me personally. I led a dull, boring life after all; no one knew who I was or what I did. I had taken great pains to make it that way.

Those neighbours with whom I had a nodding acquaintance turned their faces in my direction—eyes wide, brows furrowed but otherwise carefully devoid of expression—and began shifting their feet, uncomfortable at my sudden arrival.

Oh no.

A police officer met me in the foyer.

“Excuse me sir, are you  … David Smith, of apartment 312?” The cop, polite and professional, checked his notebook, face and tone of voice as bland as tapioca, as neutral as the Swiss. His nametag said “Jones”.

Appropriate, I thought, Smith and Jones.

I nodded.

“Well, sorry to say sir, your apartment has been robbed. I wonder if you could come with me and have a look, answer some questions?”

I nodded.

Was that all? Just a robbery?

I followed him to the elevator, experiencing an odd combination of claustrophobia and the feeling of falling into a wide chasm. My ears began to ring, and I became increasingly light-headed as we ascended.

“Are you all right, sir?” Constable Jones asked; his tone worried.

I nodded again.

“This won’t take long, I promise.”

Jones led me to my undamaged door. Another cop was standing guard. He opened my door for me. Taking in the state of my home, I understood why Jones could promise that this wasn’t going to take long.

There was nothing there.

Literally, there was nothing—not a stick of furniture, not an appliance, not a phone, not a book, not even a roll of toilet paper—left in my apartment.

“Looks like they took everything,” offered the guard cop.

Captain Obvious.

I nodded.

“Oh, hey,” said Jones, “with the small exception of that.” He pointed to the middle of the living room floor, where there had once been an expensive hand-woven Persian rug. Instead there stood a small yellow cone, with the number ‘1’ black-lettered on it. Beside the yellow cone was something tiny, glinting silver in the light—now shining in unfettered by curtains—from the streetlamp.

I moved closer to the object.

“Please don’t touch it, Mr. Smith.” Jones said hastily. “We’re waiting for the Ident unit to come in. It’s the only visible clue we have right now.”

I wasn’t going to touch it. I just needed to see what it was. I drew a little closer, and stopped.

Oh no.

I stared at it.

It was a plain silver paper clip.

But not just a paperclip.

They had found me.

It was a message from the White Lady.

I had been so careful. Followed all the protocols. Kept a low profile.

Smith is as low as it gets, for Christ sake!

But … when the White Lady wants you back, she finds you.

And you go back.

Well, where else could I go? They had stripped me bare. My bank account would be similarly stripped, if I could take the time to check. The White Lady can do that.

“Sir?” Constable Jones.

Here comes the tedium.

“Yes,” I said without looking at him.

“There is no sign of forced entry, um … have you given anyone your apartment key?”

“Just the landlord … I imagine you already talked to Mr. Cartwright?”

“He’s the one who called us when he saw your apartment door ajar.”

Sure he did. I bet he was hoping for a chance to snoop around. Too bad for him.

“Nice of him to call you.”

“Not in time, unfortunately for you, Mr. Smith. Whoever they were, they certainly were neat, weren’t they?”

Now I did look at Jones. He suspects me.

I nodded. “Yes … it appears I’ve been hit by ‘The Clean Floor Gang’. Look, I don’t know what you’re inferring, but I have nothing to do with this. I don’t even have content insurance, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

A hint of a smile twitched at Jones lips. “At this juncture I am not thinking anything, Mr. Smith, I am simply the preliminary investigator. My job is to gather facts and take statements, collect evidence, yada yada—you’ve seen the movies—you know the drill.”

Oh, I knew the drill, alright … too bad he doesn’t. Not really.

“Of course, Officer, gather and take, collect and yada to your hearts content.” I threw up my hands and started for the door.

Jones ignored my tone and grabbed my shoulder before I could get away. “Do you have any idea who would do this? Anyone you know hold a grudge?”

“No.”

“OK, well … seeing as how you are pretty bare here, have you got any family or friends in town, someone who can take care of you—put you up?

“You offering? Never mind. Yes.”

I didn’t—have any family or friends, that is—but I was very certain someone would be taking care of me.

“What is with the paper clip? It’s a joke, right? This is some kind of stag prank or something …” Jones trailed off, I must have let my expression slip when he jumped back to the paper clip.

Damn, I’m rusty. I’ve got to get away from here.

“Let me know if you find out.” I said, and tried for the door again. This time he let me go.

The paper clip was a symbol, of course. God knows why the White Lady chose it. I had once thought it had something to do with holding loose bits of things together. Things that would normally fly away wherever the wind pushed them. I honestly didn’t know for sure; it could have meant we were all just a small part of her organization, as trivial as a paper clip.

For one second I debated whether to actually go back. Couldn’t I just vanish again, sink into the underbelly of some city somewhere? Would I ever fly free again if I went back? After that second was up I had to admit that my latest period of freedom had only been an illusion, kept alive solely at the whim of the White Lady, just as I was. Just as we all were.

I followed my training. I headed into a random convenience store, bought a burner phone with my last twenty bucks, sent the validation text—Rock Clip. Scissor Clip—ground the phone under my heel and walked to the nearest pick-up point.

Sat down on a nearby stoop to watch the city life. Twiddled my thumbs. Scratched my ass.

Precisely twenty minutes later by the digital readout on the rolling banner of a bank across the street, a long black limousine rolled to a stop in front of me. Passenger side rear door opened. A white-gloved finger appeared and beckoned to me. I got in, somewhat shocked and more than a little concerned.

I had not expected it would be the White Lady herself picking me up.

I examined her examining me as we sat across from each other.

No one called her the White Lady to her face, although she obviously courted the moniker by always wearing white. Clothes and accessories—fashionable, expensive white clothes and accessories—all white. Today she topped it off with a scarf-and-skull-cap combination headpiece, as a silent movie star might have worn. Her skin—alabaster, naturally—looked like it would be cold to the touch, like a statue. She had penciled in thin, black high-arched eyebrows above her translucent blue eyes, creating a fixed expression of mild amusement.

I had only seen her a few times before this; in strategy meetings—the strategy being how best to eliminate one threat or another—and each time I had come away with mixed impressions of Antarctic icebergs, prairie blizzards, and the dark side of the moon.

“Good afternoon, Mr. … aah … Smith, is it currently?” Her voice was low—deep and rich with pear-shaped tones. In another life, she could have been in radio.

“Smith, yes Ma’am.”

“I will call you Jeremiah, you may call me Claire … for now. Suits?”

“Sure.”

“May I assume from your expression that you are already suspecting that this is not the usual protocol. That there must be an element of something … oooh … beyond the pale?” She gave a little shiver as if thrilled by the prospect.

“Frankly, Claire, I haven’t a clue. I know you don’t do your own dirty work, so …”

I shrugged.

She bared her teeth.

“Jeremiah, I find myself at a most distressing point of calling on an individual whom I don’t really trust. Namely … you. You left us. Left me. No warning. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. In short, you are a bad boy.”

My left knee began to tremble. I couldn’t help it.

“So send me to my room.”

The smile did not waiver.

“Yes. I would like to. Very much. Unfortunately, as I said, I need you. And you alone must accomplish the task I am setting you.”

“Why? You’ve got hundreds of little boys ready and eager to do your bidding. Why me?”

“It is simple. As simple as silk. Everyone else … is dead.”

Oh no.