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Work In Progress: State of Control

(Copyright WRBJR Living Trust)

Denver, 5:30–6 pm MDT

John Curtis had slept almost straight through since arriving in the convalescent center. Nurses woke him from a drugged sleep to check his vitals, gave him fresh ice-water, another pain pill, and opened his curtains. The sun had moved off the windows though the sky was high and bright. He heard sounds of a softball game across the street and elevated his bed.

He smiled when the teams at play were female. Looking pretty good in colorful tunics and shorts, high socks, sun visors; red-and-white batting against green-and- gold, He watched a leggy blonde center-fielder chase down a long high fly ball, limbs flashing, spin and rifle her throw to hold a runner.

She was left-handed.

No one told them the Poindexter woman was left-handed.

After Gerner fingered her they’d shadowed her for two days, waiting to isolate her from other conferees with guns and badges. She appeared independent and cocky, always carrying the target backpack. Sooner or later she’d take her rental car somewhere alone, shopping or something.

She had the backpack yesterday when Gerner called from the lobby to say she was coming down. Theirs was a simple trap, well-rehearsed. Curtis had his car broadside across the lobby access when she stepped into view, backpack over her right shoulder. Her right shoulder. Didn’t mean anything then.

Curtis showed her the hunting knife and a hard grin. She reacted as expected. Shuffling back, left hand reaching behind her. He thought she was grabbing for the door knob.

Gerner stepped through, swung his sap. She flinched sideways. Went to a knee instead of dropping. Eyes wide and frightened — and fixed on Curtis. A numbing blow collapsed his leg. Everything slowed down. Then Curtis saw her pistol. Felt a hot flow in his trousers as if he’d wet himself. They knelt facing each other. Gerner grabbed at her backpack. Her purse got in the way. He staggered when the strap broke. She looked over her right shoulder and shot him in the face. He dropped on top of her.

Curtis felt a too-familiar chill. Losing too much blood, too fast. She sidled toward him, backpack dangling from her elbow, gun in both hands now, aligned with his face. He blacked out knowing a left-handed woman killed him.

But she didn’t. The hotel security guy had heard the shots, and his quick action stanched the blood and brought EMTs. A harried East Indian ER resident informed Curtis in singsong Bollywood accents the bullet nicked the femur, barely grazed the femoral artery.

The woman coldly shot him before dealing with the sap. Gunned Gerner down, and walked away. Curtis knew one woman and few men that cool under pressure — and Claudine would have done the logical thing: delivered the second kill-shot. He tried to understand why he wasn’t dead. Maybe the Pennsylvania woman lived by rules of a structured society. Shot to stop the attack, and when the attack stopped, she stopped. Claudine never lived by any rules but her own. She was going to give him a ration for being taken out so easily.

His uniformed security man leaned into the room. “A gentleman. Says he’s your attorney.”

“And I am!” Forrest Feldtman stepped in, rumpled and scholarly in summer-weight tweed jacket and gray flannel slacks. Looking more like a college professor than a lawyer — or other things he had been.

“Hi, Forrest, clear from Seattle to see little old me? How’d you get here so fast?”

“The firm has a corporate-jet time share. We moved quickly when we heard.” Behind old-fashioned granny glasses, blue eyes radiated concern. “How are you, John?”

“I’ll live. This would not have happened if we got briefed right.”

“What did happen, John? This was a simple job.” A well-remembered ice-blue blaze extinguished avuncular concern. “You’ve never screwed up before.”

“I ain’t the one screwed up.”

“John, this is a major client for our firm. We don’t want them mad at us.”

Curtis sneered. “I’m shaking in my gown here. Those companeros down south I used to dust with Sierra Match Kings for Uncle Whiskers? They were unpleasant as any Middle East sand-nigger you capped with a Beretta .22. I’m still breathing.”

“No one in Tel Aviv would know what you’re talking about, John.”

“I was deniable myself back in the day. Your major client never briefed us she was left-handed. Gerner sapped her on the right. Gave her time to draw and shoot. She singing to the cops?”

“No, John, she’s missing. More to the point, so is her laptop. We need that machine, John.”

Before Curtis could reply the door opened for a young man in a gabardine suit with a brushed-aluminum briefcase. “Well, well,” Curtis said, “Look what the cat — “

The young man put a finger to his lips. “Shh-h-h.”

“What?” Feldtman said irritably. The young man ignored him, walked to the windows. Curtis noted he took an angle to avoid being seen outside, felt a squirt of adrenaline. If the Spook was playing cagey something was up.

Spook drew the curtains, knelt, opened his briefcase. He withdrew a roll of duct tape and a large bright-pink dildo. Feldtman swore. “What the — ?” A furious scowl stopped him. Spook ripped duct-tape with practiced motions, reached under the curtains with the dildo. His hands came out empty, leaving the curtains shivering slightly. He produced a legal pad and a thick felt-tipped pen that squeaked. Showed them what he wrote.

SAFE TO TALK NOW WRITTEN BETTER.

Curtis got it instantly. “The window glass?”

Spook drew a line under WRITTEN BETTER.

Feldtman dug in his own briefcase. His elegant fountain pen slashed at his pad. He held it up: three question-marks, exclamation point.

SURVEILLANCE OFF GLASS.

“This is a privileged conversation!” Feldtman was outraged. “Attorney-client.”

Spook shrugged. FEEBS DON’T CARE.

Curtis gestured for the pad. WHY FEEBS???

Spook: KIDNAP OF COP.

What?” Feldtman scribbled: U HIRE 3RD MAN? HE GOT HER?

“No! This is silly, Spook.”

NO SPOOK HERE NOT EVEN VOICE PRINT. Spook smiled coldly, tore off used pages, laid them in his briefcase. Curtis took the pad.

OK WISEASS. FEEBS GOT HER? Spook shook his head. U SURE? Spook nodded. WHERE THEN?

Spook: UNKNOWN.

Feldtman printed: LAPTOP?

Spook underlined UNKNOWN.

Curtis looked at Feldtman. “You’re my attorney, right?” Feldtman, looking surprised, nodded. “Cause I’m a crime victim here. I need some respect.”

“Ah. Yes, agreed. The firm I hired has been onto the Westin. There were broken light bulbs in the garage.”

Spook: IMAGINE THAT. Curtis flipped him off. Feldtman ignored the byplay. “Anyone using that door was at risk. We may sue the hotel. The less hassle you receive, the more amenable we may be to a smaller settlement.”

“Well, you’re my attorney.” Curtis hoped the Spook’s dildo couldn’t mask this. “I’m open to offers.” He printed: CLEAR MY CELL/ GERNER!

Spook found his phone, popped it apart, removed bits and pieces. He handed Curtis a brand-new Nokia wrapped in its charging cord.

SUBPOENA/ LINK G. BY CALL RECORD?

Spook’s lip curled. WHAT RECORD? SIMPLE HACK.

“My stuff is at Day’s Inn. Never checked out.”

Feldtman smiled. “Who did then? A friendly ghost?” He indicated the Spook.

“Okay, then!”

Feldtman pursed his lips, printing carefully. NEED THAT LAPTOP! CALLED C. TO HELP

Curtis grinned — things were looking up. He hadn’t seen Claudine in almost two years. Hadn’t been to Rio, and she seldom visited the Northern Hemisphere. “When does ‘C’ get here?”

SOON. HITCHING RIDE PERU AF.

Banana Republic strongmen and generals never said no to Claudine. Those not besotted by her beauty — a few — were quite pleased with her as a deniable asset, removing obstacles to their success. “More efficiently than the Hindi elephant-god Ganesha,” in the memorable phrase, back in the day, of an Ecuadorian Capitán de navío with Almirante aspirations.

Trust Feldtman to lure her with word her erstwhile lover had been shot — by another pistol-packing female — and probably hinting Curtis was at death’s door. Preaching his iron Israeli code of retribution when all he really wanted was the laptop.

Claudine versus the southpaw Pennsylvanian — how would the Vegas odds-makers figure that one? He yawned widely, meds working in his system. He’d seen both of them in action, and it was too close to call. He was nodding off.

Spook: TNK SHE GOT UR CAR. LOOKING.

“Yeah. It was gone when I came to. Hotel dick used his jacket to stop me bleeding-out.”

Feldtman said, “We’ll buy him a new jacket, and a nice dinner.” Curtis lay back, surprised how suddenly drained he was. Feldtman was immediately solicitous: “Get some rest, John. Tomorrow’s another day.”

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.