BY: A. Tietz





It had come with the pizza. The profile this time was of a college professor of American War History. He was middle aged, had a wife, no kids. West Chester University was his employer. No extreme rush so she had plenty of time to do research. A college professor though? That was the strange part. Knocking off agents, drug lords, bad witnesses, protected criminals, sometimes CEO’s, that was fine. But an ordinary college professor? That wasn’t usually the kind of case Trace took.

She knew Philadelphia, Pennsylvania well enough to get around. And it was Spring time. Not too cold, not too hot. It was one of her favorite seasons. She booked a room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel down by the Waterfront. It was a forty-five minute drive to the University. She had rented a car at "Wrecks for Rent". This one was in decent shape, not too conspicuous, hopefully ordinary. She packed her best college kid clothes in a backpack, hopped in her 1989 faded blue Oldsmobile Cutless, and headed out for some research. Along the way, she changed into her college attire.

Like most campuses, parking was a nightmare. But she parked and headed into the college. Trace had prepared for this reconnaissance mission before ever landing at the Philly International Airport. Now on campus, she carried a photography book in her backpack. She strolled along in her faded jeans, West Chester University T-Shirt, ball cap and ponytail, with a camera strapped around her neck. She snapped some close ups of students sprawled out on the lawn, some studying, some socializing. After taking a few pictures of some flowers she stopped to make notes in a binder. Her main focus was the Humanities Building. Taking pictures of the lay out of the campus, specifically the entrances, exits, and windows. This was research for the night maneuvers she would have to do to get the Intel she needed on Professor Douglas Trenton. But to any on-lookers, she appeared to be a plain looking college student on a photography assignment from class, taking a variety of pictures. Granted she was a 33 year old doing her best to look 22 and ordinary, but it seemed to be playing well. She had to dodge only a few college testosterone types.

She stowed her camera, took out the photography book and appeared to be reading while eating an apple. After a good interval, she packed the book away and looking at her watch headed toward the business offices of the college. She was interested in checking out the comings and goings of security staff. When she was done with those observations it was late afternoon, almost early evening so she headed out toward the Humanities Building again. She had done some research on the Internet. Crab had provided a layout of the building and the professor’s office.

It was 6:00pm on a spring afternoon but it seemed a little dark in the hallway where many professors had offices. She walked along making mental notes, Professor Slate - Poli Sci - office closed, Dr. Corrigan - Social Geography — Professor at her desk, and finally Professor Shannon Rix who shared offices with Professor Trenton. Most offices were closed up, since the busy part of the day’s classes was coming to a close. She knew Professor Trenton was in a late afternoon/evening class in another part of the building. She was delighted to see his office open but vacant. Trace wasn’t certain of Professor Rix’s schedule so she made a slow pass by Trenton’s office peering in as inconspicuously as possible. It looked pretty accessible. Trace caught some movement out of the corner of her eye. As she looked down the hall, a tall perky redhead was headed directly her way. The woman was young, dressed professionally, and although she wasn’t ugly, she would not normally turn Trace’s gaze. Somehow she didn’t look like a student. She had an overload of papers in her grasp. Trace casually passed her by heading toward an office opposite of Professor Trenton’s and pretended to look at some posted grades. She went unnoticed by the paper-laden woman, but what did not escape Trace’s attention is that she went into Professor Trenton and Rix’s office. Hello Professor Shannon Rix.

She found an open but empty classroom. She stepped in unnoticed and made a phone call to the campus police. She was a hysterically distressed girlfriend of an irate student who was failing Professor Slate’s class in Political Science. He was raving about a corrupt government system, the corrupt teaching promoting the corrupt government, and promised to make the staff regret their policies. She had heard him and his friend, the electrical engineering major, talking about how to make a bomb. And this afternoon she saw him leaving with a strange package. She was afraid for Professor Slate and sure her boyfriend would use the bomb. So she had gone by Professor Slate’s office and sure enough a package was sitting by the door. She was too scared, so she ran and used her cell phone to call. But she would not identify herself, she was afraid of her boyfriend. Abruptly she hung up.

With some of the toys at her disposal, her cell would not be traced. Now she waited to see what kind of security response there would be. Just keeping the bases covered. She knew she could probably get into the building fine, get what she needed and get out without trouble, but she never took it for granted. She timed them, smiling to herself about their "less than stellar" performance. Then, with her days mission accomplished, she headed for her car and a leisurely drive by the professor’s home.

The house was dark. But that didn’t mean the house was empty of inhabitants. It had a gated fence, but for esthetic value, not security. According to Crab the neighborhood was well-established, very upper middle class. The properties here were well spaced out. Behind the homes on Crosscreek Drive, there was a small creek and a large overgrown pasture. Supposedly, there was a dog. She wasn’t about to rely on this Intel from Crab. So she parked on the street and strolled to where it came to a dead end. Beyond the wooden T that marked the dead end with reflectors, was the access to the pasture. This seemed the best approach, so she quietly disappeared into the tall pasture grass. She found the creek easily enough which quickly began to parallel the road the homes were on. It didn’t take too long to find the professor’s fence, and in her search there had been no barking dogs, no back yard barbeques or playing children. Her approach went completely unnoticed.

This was just her preliminary excursion to the home. The backyard had a pool but nothing was well lit. No dog it seemed, though she noticed the doghouse. Trace blended in well with the surrounding darkness in her black t-shirt and jeans, her third outfit for the day. With ease and silence Trace jumped the fence. Still no dog, but that was no surprise. There was no water dish, no toys, no sign of dog hair or paw prints. Why the doghouse, she wondered. It was time to get a little closer to the house. There was a light on inside the house. But it was in the interior, not near any exits or windows. She saw the Jensen Alarm sign in the window. Yeah this professor is really deceptive, ooooh so dangerous, she laughed sarcastically to herself and shook her head, he’s advertising the damn system. It was such an ordinary alarm system Trace barely recognized the name. It would be child’s play for her to get by that. She looked at the windows on the side of the house. The electric beams were on. At least he’s got the worthless thing turned on. She snapped a few pictures. Time to make a little noise. There was a blue colored tin storage shed on the lawn. She made small noises against it and waited, Nothing. Okay something with a little more punch. She kicked the doghouse firmly, making a noticeable loud noise, then crouched near the fence in the shadows, ready for flight. No one stirred, it was silent. She cursed herself for not bringing any tools. She could try the garage but she had checked the garage window and found the alarm beams turned on there as well. This was only the first trip though. The next visit she would be prepared and they would not be home.

As she casually strolled back to her car, she was aware of everything. She wanted to get a feel for the neighborhood, the comings and goings of the residents. So far, it was all quite normal. A few people seemed to be returning from the grocery store. One resident had a traditional mailbox by the street and was checking the daily delivery. But no one seemed to take notice of her. The only traffic was the Cable Company Van that parked a few homes away from the Trenton’s. She had seen it in her rearview mirror when she parked her car. It was moving toward her now. Before it reached her it made a U-turn and drove off. Many homes were dark. A few were lit with a happy family glow. But she noticed no phones ringing, no barking dogs, no joggers, no children running about playing with their furry friends Rover or Fluffy. The neighborhood was mostly quiet. It had been a good first round of research. She was satisfied to get back to Philly. Tomorrow she would check out the wife.

Her hotel suite did not come with a small home down payment price, but it was comfortable. The sitting area was nicely decorated in a rich warm cream color, accented by the colors of fall with a splash of burgundy and gold. The rest of the suite had a desk, a refrigerator, a walk in closet, a sunken bathtub with Jacuzzi, and a lovely bedroom with a beautiful view of the Waterfront.

Lounging on the couch after a long bath, she felt comfortable in her complimentary terrycloth robe. She thought about the first Intel mission this evening as she sipped her wine. The odd element, not mentioned in Crab’s Intel file, was a young redhead. She needed to research Professor Rix’s schedule. She found what she needed easily enough by a class schedule on the Internet. She would look for more detail later. For now, Trace was more interested in researching the primary targets.

She looked at the file on Professor Trenton spread out in front of her. The file had details about the man’s schedule. He was being painted as an anti-capitalist/anti-military idealist. He was an active but lowkey supporter of radical ideals of government change. He didn’t have communist connections. But some of his ideas smacked of old school communism. He was also reported to have been hassling some pentagon officials about military waste and operations regarding Cuba and Viet Nam. The biggest black mark on his record seemed to be an association with a known North Vietnamese high-ranking military official. A picture of him had been in the package but not one of his wife. That was odd. Crab had said this was a double kill job. The file said Robin Trenton was a pediatrics nurse at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. She had graduated from Texas A&M. Now 30, married for 5 years, no kids, no family in the area. So what was her history? Why no picture Crab. You’re hiding something from me, you S.O.B.? Too many pieces missing. She didn’t like the feel of that. Maybe this wasn’t routine. Or maybe it was so routine Crab got sloppy again and forgot the photo. The hit could even be a cover for the real hit if the mark was Nurse Robin. It was not likely but a possibility. Crab was a crafty bastard. She needed more Intel. Pieces were definitely missing. And Trace was beginning to have the gut feeling that this was definitely NOT routine. She could probably learn a lot from their home. She decided she needed to get into the professor’s computer, at home not the college. Maybe the college later. Since there was crappy Intel she cautioned herself to tread lightly with this one. The game had just gotten a little more risky. Still, tomorrow night would be soon enough for hunting, now it was time for bed.

This time the golden haired beauty had on a pretty flowery sundress, with a straw hat. She seemed to be out for a stroll, barefoot, walking on top of a grass covered seaside bluff sprinkled with wildflowers. It looked much like the cliffs in her hometown Filey. Trace followed her cautiously at a quiet distance. Suddenly the woman stopped, she turned abruptly and looked right at Trace. Her face wasn’t calm this time, no smile, no welcoming, no joy. Trace was perplexed and approached slowly. Looking terrified, the woman shouted for her to stop. Trace realized the woman was scared of her. The hurt seized her heart, it hurt way too much. The woman was backing toward the edge of the bluff. Trace stopped her own progress and cautioned the woman to be careful. Just as she did the woman began to slip and fall over the edge. Trace lurched forward to catch the frightened woman and as she reached out for her hand the woman withdrew it with a sad and hurt expression. Trace gripped only air, screaming NOOOOOOO!! She woke up to the sound of her own terror. She was shaking. She touched her cheek, it was wet. Tears? This same woman, she had been so warm and guiding, so welcoming of Trace before. Now this, this time she had been terrified of Trace, Why? Why did it even matter, it was just a dream. But why the hell was she STILL having them. Damn these dreams. They just don’t let up. Trace was still shaking, telling herself not to grieve; it was just a stupid dream. She got up unsteadily. She was an assassin. She had a job to do. No time for mental lapses. What if someone was, even now, in her room? She turned on the lights in her suite. But she coldly reminded herself she would have already been dead had that been the intent of an intruder. Dead you idiot. You dream loving insane idiot. Snap out of this Trace or your new address will be the morgue. Your job is kill or be killed remember. She scolded herself, wiping her tears away with anger. She got a vodka tonic from the refrigerator before returning to bed. The rest of the night was fitful. But Trace had no mental lapses and no dreams. She barely slept. She had to get rid of these fucking dreams!

The morning found Trace tired and sad. She mentally whipped herself and told herself to get a grip and get this job done. She had work to do, Damn it. She couldn’t be distracted. She did some exercises to focus, and took a cold shower. She was so angry; she could have used some good target practice or a hard hitting round of kickboxing to let off some steam. Instead, she focused on gathering more Intel. It was time to go visit a sick kid and get a look at Robin Trenton. She marched toward her day with resolve.

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania was not far from the hotel. It was Professor Trenton’s Mrs. who did the commuting. Today Trace was a blonde with hazel eyes behind eyeglasses, sporting a fresh preppy look in a country-blue spring dress. Trace had great vision; the glasses were just plain glass with small gold rims, all part of the cover. Nurse Robin was not to be seen though. She was at a conference for the day or so Trace had learned posing as a cousin of a sickly relative. Trace suspected the wife’s job place was not that important, she just wanted a visual. Failing that, Trace was onto another project. Considering the missing pieces, Trace had decided to play this a little colder, a little more calculating than just any job. That meant it was time to make contact with some silent friends.

Trace had contacts in different locations. These were her own people, not connected to the agency, but still good contacts to have. Crab had had her followed a few times. She knew Crab thought he had all the goods on his agents. But still he was sloppy. Comes from being too comfortable in your cockiness, she mused. So during the tails, she had led them to the false contacts or the ones that knew very little about her. There was a real contact in Philly who Trace had not connected with in a while. In case Trace ever drew the short straw and knew she was gonna be hit, she had plans to disappear. One plan was the Rockies wilderness. One plan was a totally different identity. Its not easy to fake out the CIA, but you can disappear for a while and at least buy some time.

The man in Philly was a good contact; he was someone Trace had discovered by necessity. In her many jobs, there had been one that went weird. Instead of hitting the target she saved the target because it was a 15-year-old kid who had hacked into the wrong computer. Crab knew she hated doing kids. Fortunately, this had been nothing more to Crab than routine. He wasn’t testing her with the kid. Thus far she had been able to out smart the Bastard Crab at every test. It was a great advantage to be his agent; he was too lazy to be extremely thorough. He was able to satisfy the higher-ups and cover his fuck ups well enough to stay out of scrutiny. That was his greatest asset; he knew how to cover his ass. Trace made sure she did her damnedest to be just as good at keeping her ass safe. She also suspected he had the right friends and the right dirt on the right friends. But he was still sloppy enough to trick. She knew many of Crab’s weaknesses. She needed to see if she could exploit his cockiness. So she had faked the kid’s death with a little help.

After she scared the living shit out of the kid, she needed to make him a new life. In her efforts, she found Roddy, alive and well. He had been rolled over by the agency. Trace knew Crab had ordered Roddy’s hit. She wasn’t the agent to carry that assignment but she knew about it. It paid to know all you could know, especially in the world relating to Harry Crabtree. Roddy was supposed to be dead. He thought he had blown his cover when it came to meeting up with Trace. Since her cause was saving the kid, Roddy had been willing to listen, instead of shoot first. Sometimes you get lucky.

It was lucky for Trace she found him and lucky for Roddy that it was Trace that did the finding. She wasn’t interested in reporting him or killing him. He had escaped Crab and that truly pleased Trace. Old Crab was dangerous, but too cockie and not unbeatable. Roddy now helped people disappear. And he was good at it. That was just the kind of skill that interested Trace.

Trace had some time on her hands. She had done some investigating and found out that the Trenton’s would be at a mandatory college function for college staff that evening. The kind of social evening that demanded the staff to bring the spouse. She could use the evening to slip into the house and check out the Trenton’s home and the professor’s computer. But evening was far away. Plenty of time to hook up with the ex-agent. She wanted to cover all options on this one. This hit just didn’t add up. It didn’t feel routine, it felt dirty, perhaps a set up. She didn’t want to disappear yet, but she had to cover the bases, so needed to pay Roddy a visit.

Of course, Roddy’s real name was Jeffrey Becker. Now he was Roderick Hoffman, Roddy to his friends, computer nerd. Trace was always amazed at his computer skills. He built computers out of his apartment down by the Waterfront. It used to be a dry goods warehouse. His skills in the personal computer business was successful enough to fund his hobby of helping the desperate vanish. Roddy knew what it was like to be hunted. He got a kick out of cheating the hunters. It was a challenge, and Roddy loved a challenge. His place was in an old run down part of the docks, not too far from a park and a railway freight train stop. It was moderately busy during the day but dark and almost quiet by his place at night. Quiet when the trains weren’t busy. The warehouse was a vast area that Roddy made good use of. It gave him all the space he needed to operate his home built computer front while being able to build his little network of players to facilitate the disappearing business. His connections were loose. Not too many strings. He needed to remain under the radarscope. Too many eyes watching for it to be a big operation. That is why he was so good at helping people disappear. Not too many players at the same time and not often the same players.

His computer business gave him some intriguing contacts. His beer carousing gave him some good, bad and ugly connections, which came in handy. He had worked long and hard over the years to build his rep as the beer guzzling, freaky-smart, easygoing computer nerd. Those loyal to him always surprised Trace. There was the wealthy woman whose daughter’s reputation was saved by this odd computer man. Mad Mary was the crafty homeless woman that somehow always had the right information without the baggage of scrutiny by the police department. She got lots of toys from her man Roddo. Then there was the elderly British gentleman who regularly got drunk but managed a great Import-Export business. He was amazed that Roderick had put all the information from his shoebox filing system into a computer. Trace had only met Mad Mary. That had been an intriguing evening and Roddy now swore Mad Mary had a crush on Trace. The others she had just briefly heard of during Roddy’s efforts to help the 15 year old become someone new somewhere else.

The research she had done on Roddy was mostly hands on experience. But Trace had done enough research to be fairly convinced that Roddy wasn’t connected to any unsavories, like the Mob, or Drug Cartel, or a hidden arm the Secret Service. She wasn’t 100% about his being legit; because that is was Roddy’s area of expertise. He was good at laying a fake trail, that was his business. In her line of work, Trace had to go on instinct some of the time. Her gut told her Roddy was one of the Good Guys.

Trace had stopped off at her hotel to pick up a few new clothes before heading out for Roddy’s house. You had to cover your ass all the time in this gig or someone would cover it for you, usually with a lot of dirt. The very short pair of cut off jeans, web-netted clingy pink tank top, and heeled sandals was the ensemble she had quickly changed into at a local Gas Station. She couldn’t be seen coming and going from the hotel room in so many different outfits. Too noticeable for her well-being. The glasses were replaced with some chrome reflective fashionable sunglasses. The blonde hair was still in place, she added a little make up and had the head turning blonde look well in place before she knocked on his door. She lucked out; he was home.

"Roddy, you’ve been drinking too much beer my friend. In a foot race a gramma could beat you."

Roddy laughed holding his slight potbelly, "Don’t be so sure my blue eyed beauty. I can still get your back."

She looked at her friend appraisingly. He was not as tall as she, about 5’9", around 45 years old, with a slightly paunch stomach, dull straight brown hair and a red beard. With a calculating stare she looked into those murky gray eyes and saw the familiar shrewdness she knew.

"I confess, I don’t relish the thought that I may need that cover someday, but I hope for my sake its true Roddy. I am fond of my back," Trace teased the cyber space genius. He smiled back with a confident air; "You’ve said you like my talent. I could never let an admirer down, you know."

Trace looked dubious, "Well my case may or may not be sour Roddy. I hope you don’t see me back after today’s visit."

"What’s the name black beauty, I’ll give it a go," he said in his friendliest Down-Under brogue.

His file had said he was from Australia. Like her, accents were tools of their trade. She spoke with an American accent most of the time herself. She was still standing with her back to the front door looking around, senses on alert. It was a little dark in this warehouse turned living/business address. Most of the light came from outside filtered through the dirty windows that were located high up near the ceiling. He was well lit, seated in the middle of his technological playground of computers, faxes, sound and video equipment, scanners, you name it, he had it. Trace liked Roddy, but trust was something extended only tentatively. So she kept herself on alert with a wary posture. She hadn’t seen him in quite a while, things could change, people could change, money talks.

"Come on Trace, we aren’t at war. Do you want a beer?" he offered cheerfully.

To his great advantage he was disarming with his non-chalant demeanor. "Pass on the beer thanks," she still hadn’t moved.

"So you came to see me cause you wanted decorating secrets, is that it?" he grinned with a dubious expression.

"Yeah Roddy, what are you going for here, the Rats Are Welcome look," she smiled reluctantly.

"Depends on the rat." That got a barely discernable chuckle out of her.

"Have you been rat killing lately my friend?" he inquired lightly. "This world’s got infested ya know. Glad we got exterminators like you around girl," he winked at her.

"Doesn’t matter where you go Roddy, the rats are fat and seem to just get fatter" she mused aloud.

"Well that comes from all the government food that gets handed to em, ya know. Why work hard in the rat trade when you got a whole countries’ government doing your work for ya, eh?" Roddy chugged a gulp of his Miller Lite.

"Now Roddy don’t go political on me bud. I hate that shit." She was starting to ease up a bit. This was the same guy she knew. So she tried a question, "What do you do if your rat doesn’t smell like a rat Roddy?"

"I put him through my cyber built rat trap here and take a better whiff," he patted his computer monitor. "It’s a hell of a sniffer don’t ya know."

"Yeah I know, no cyber fingerprints, you are probably the best, but still," she let her doubt hang in the air.

"Well if you’re not here for some Intel or the decorating, is it cause you miss me?" he grinned broadly with mockery plainly displayed on his bearded face.

"I’m nothing if not cautious Roddy."

"We’re both still alive aren’t we girl. And hell, paranoia got us here right," he looked at her through is eyebrows with a knowing smirk on his face.

This case could mean her life, she might need to disappear or she was just being paranoid, alive and paranoid. "I don’t have to tell you that Crab stinks it up so bad sometimes I can’t smell the other rats," her voice held the right touch of disgust.

"Ah the stinking asswipe Crabby boy. Why haven’t you killed him yet girl? You know I can make you disappear. Come on, do it for all us well-respected rats of the world Trace. Give us all a bit more sleep."

She had to chuckle at that. She moved more toward the space that seemed to serve as his living room. "So far they don’t smell Roddy. I haven’t done much Intel yet myself though."

"Well the offer stands you know that. It’s a lot better playing on my own team Trace. My own hours, hell I get to drink on the job. And working on these babies is like play. The bonus is I can even feel like I am helping sometimes." He smiled at his worn looking, yet beautiful visitor. He picked up his fine pointed tweezers and returned to building another cyber machine. Roddy was modest. He rescued more than played. He was good at it and she might just be needing his talent. Her mind was working. She thought she had just wanted to touch bases.

"Someday, maybe I can disappear. I want it on my own terms though. No offense my friend."

"Just stay out of his crosshairs Trace. And hell, it takes a lot more than that to offend me," he chuckled.

She knew she could use his help. If she had done more research before she got here maybe she would know she needed his help. But then, maybe she would know she was just being stupid. At the very least she could take this opportunity to watch him work. "You do have a lot of toys buddy."

"Yeah, its pretty sweet. They’re entertaining but if they piss you off you can blow them up with no blood. Never really liked the blood, ya know."

He was right; he had only done a few hits, that wasn’t his specialty. He had been an analyst more than an operative. But he still knew the business. She made her decision, "It’s a Professor Douglas Trenton of West Chester University and his wife Robin. He teaches American War history. She’s a nurse."

Roddy’s eyes gleamed with the thrill of the hunt and his nimble fingers began to fly over his keyboard as he sat at his desk surrounded by his technological fortress. Like a kid in a toy store, she thought.

"You know me Trace, not much of a host. If you’re thirsty help yourself, you know the way to my spacious kitchen."

Roddy was truly a bachelor. She passed through a living room space adorn with discarded socks, an empty pizza carton, and a plethora of empty beer cans. Roddy had built partitions to separate living spaces out of his mass amounts of computer equipment. The kitchen was worse than the sock infested living room. She retrieved a Pepsi, washing the can before popping it open. She visited the restroom out of pure necessity and was pleased to find that in her various travels and escapades she had seen worse.

When she arrived back to Roddy’s techno corner, he had only the ordinary to report. "The only thing I see worth anyone’s time is his involvement in researching minor covert operations in the Viet Nam War. Looks like he has visited Viet Nam. It will take some digging and analysis to determine if this is dirty somehow."

Trace frowned, "Okay, anything about Cuba or anti-military protests. Crab’s file says he is some anti-military lowkey activist. It also says he’s got some association with North Vietnamese military officials. See what you can dig up on that."

"Right then, I’m on it."

Trace was looking over his shoulder periodically but mostly checking out Roddy’s assortment of high-tech equipment.

"Well seems he’s been in contact with some at the pentagon. Nothing about Cuba or communism. His visit was to South Viet Nam. Looks like his research has something to do with come covert operations at the end of the War. I don’t immediately get a link with any North Vietnamese military. But it’s a lot of shit; you’ll have to dig. It’ll take lots of evaluation my girl. Sorry but you got homework. Looks like lots of Pepsi drinking in your future," he laughed, as his printer was busy spitting out sheets of information.

She took a big gulp from her Pepsi can, "It’s likely him. But there is little enough about the wife. Crafty Crab might want to bury the hit on the woman with making the professor seem dirty. I doubt it, but something about doesn’t feel right. Could you check on the wife Roddy?"

As he milked the information highway he looked at his monitor with an expectant expression when he said, "Let’s find out if our little nurse has secrets."

Trace rolled her eyes and went back to looking through the most current of techno toys.

Roddy was casually chatting as he did his research, "Kinda boring, you know a Texas kid, brother jailed for brawling in a bar, she came to the city of Philly, got active on campus. Looks like some government health causes, went into nursing school, graduated a few years back, got into nursing at H.U.P. Nothing weird at the hospital so far, age 30. Whadoyaknow, she likes cowboy movies. Okay she’s active enough to play a little softball, seems to like flowers, yhatta, yhatta, WHOO-A BABY! Oh sorry Trace, but like yourself, she’s a beauty."

Trace arched an eyebrow and grinned at the stereotypical response of the ordinary male to the feminine side of the human gene pool. "So nothing huh? Well let me see what she looks like anyway. Crab didn’t provide a picture and that bugs me." She left her shopping of the techno gadgets and walked to where she could see the monitor.

Trace was used to shock, to life and death situations, to the heart pounding pressure of running for your life, but she almost fainted. The woman staring out of Roddy’s computer screen was the woman in her dreams. It was her, the beautiful face, the warm inviting yet graceful smile, those green sea foam colored eyes. The only difference was the hair color. The woman on his monitor was more of a dark brown redhead. Still it was her. She knew that face, those eyes. The woman of her dreams had just stepped into the world of cold cruel reality. And Trace felt light headed, a little out of touch with her own reality. In fact, she couldn’t breathe. Trace swayed, she felt slightly sick.

Roddy looked at the stunned woman with a worried expression, "Trace what the hell, here sit down girl." He led her to her chair. "Trace talk to me, what is it? An agent, an enemy, or a ghost? God you look like shit."

She was only vaguely aware of someone standing over her. The room seemed to fade and all she could see was the terrified face of the woman in her dream just last night. She came to herself because she was going to be sick. She needed to empty her belly. She ran to the bathroom and puked. There had to be some mistake. This was weird. This was the dream. This was not reality, she knew reality. This felt weird. This felt. Yes that was the weird scary part, this had feelings with it. She didn’t know this woman, did she? Was it a set up? A test? Was she someone Trace had blocked out from the past?

"Trace, calm down. Are we in danger here," he looked around warily. "Talk to me Trace, I’m getting a bad feeling in my gut. What the hell is it?"

Trace was so out of it, she was stunned and Roddy wasn’t helping, "Shit…. Shit!!!!! NO, Just wait damn it!! Just give me a fucking minute Roddy."

Trace took a long, deep, and ragged breath. She had to focus. Still dazed, her mind was spinning. What webs had been weaved? Was it a trap? Of course it was a trap. "Okay, get back to that computer and do what you do, give me everything, and I mean every fucking thing. Look for a cover up, look deep Roddy, don’t leave out anything even the mundane, the routine. And no I think we are safe, I think."

Roddy was edgy, "Trace, come on, are you sure, I mean I have never seen you like this? You’re ice Trace. You are the last one I would pick to have a melt down."

"Roddy, you don’t see a gun in my hand do you? I’m not looking for an exit. I need info, and YOU are the info genius, now do your thing man. I wouldn’t keep my ass here if I thought someone was looking to make me another hole." There was a little relief in Roddy’s eyes and he made a dash for his cyber arsenal.

She picked up the color picture Roddy had printed. She was looking at her dreams, this couldn’t be real. But it was horribly real. No matter what Roddy found, it would be bad. Maybe worst of all was if he found nothing, just the average or ordinary. No cover up, no hidden identities, no ghosts she had forgotten, nor people possibly erased from her memories. What if this nurse, this dream was just a mark? Just one more on the hit parade of her pathetic life. She’d have to kill the woman. Her gut clinched. Her heart dropped. She felt sick again. No, she had to get a grip. She found a chair, emptied the clutter and sat down heavily. Had Crab set this up? This could NOT be a coincidence. This was a real person, yet someone she had dreamed of so often, even at age twelve. Was that it? Was she a port in the stormy nightmare of a bloody night so long ago? Was she a counselor at school? No, she was not even as old as Trace. Roddy had said 30. But looks can be changed. Trace of all people knew that. Was she a childhood friend? Did Trace play with her? Was she in the neighborhood, or the village?

"Roddy, is there any British connection at all? Look at my files, look in my childhood, was there any connection to Filey or Bridlington?"

"I’ll look Trace."

That’s where she was from. Filey, a small fishing village in East Riding Yorkshire County, England. She had been whisked away to the resort town of Bridlington at twelve. She would go back to England for herself someday. Now, it seemed, maybe sooner than later.

She sat for several hours. Roddy asked questions, typed frantically, printed tons of Intel and shot out tidbits of info to her along the way. There was definitely something to analyze about the professor and Viet Nam. Some drugs and prostitution scandal possibly. Robin Trenton loved gardening, animals, and music. She was a bit of an amateur writer, had no bad family connections, no criminal history, no significant gaps in personal history. She took an ancient histories class in the fall semester. There were no financial irregularities. Roddy found some credit debt, nothing outrageous. There was nothing, nothing was connected. No cover up. No link to Trace, no link to the criminal. The professor’s wife seemed to be in the middle of an ordinary American life. Although her husband definitely needed closer inspection. At her direction, Roddy had exhausted the vast resources he had for information. He printed both their life histories. On paper, Robin Trenton at least, seemed legit. Professor Trenton was probably another story. And it seemed there might be a lot about the professor Crab had not disclosed. That did not sit well in Trace’s mind. But still she could not believe the woman had not connection to her or her past. It had to be. This dream woman just kept getting more and more out of the ordinary of reality.

The hit was probably the husband. She couldn’t be just a nurse, married to a college professor, with a mortgage. But what if she was? Why the hell had Trace dreamed about the woman? And dreamed of her since she was twelve. There had to be something. They had to be missing something. She had to think. There was no deadline on this one. The jobs she usually took often had deadlines. For this one she supposedly had time. If the Crab bastard was covering, and Trace felt he was, then she didn’t have a lot of time. But she still needed to move cautiously or she could be fried on this job. Still it was a must that she find out if this ordinary woman was truly just a beautiful woman from Texas and if the professor was the real hit. She had lots of work to do. The Intel Roddy printed had to be combed and scrutinized again and again. There had to be something.

She was brought back from thought by a helpful but insistent voice, "Trace, you’re a friend. I owe you for not killing me. But you still haven’t told me how you recognize her. You look at her like she’s a ghost or not real."

Trace shook her head; damn what was she to say. He’d think she was crazy. "You’re a good guy Roddy. You’ve really been great to help me. But you would never believe me bud. Its sooo, sooo, bizarre. If she is just who you found her to be, then this is the kind of bizarre not created by government cover ups, or crime, or political maneuvering. I have never been too spiritual man, but shit this makes you wonder."

"Oh, like I am supposed to just take that. Like that’s all I can tell you friend. Thanks good-bye. TRACE you ARE NOT gonna do that to me!!!!!! Is my ass hangin out on this one? You say I’m not in danger but you can freak out like that and then just say Ah don’t worry its just bizarre. Screw that! You know I think highly of you Trace. I know you cover your ass lady. I’m trusting you so far for this, that you’re not hanging me out to dry. So okay, you’re one of the best. But you are not made of the indestructible Ms. Ice Queen. I know agents like you. An island. Most of them are dead now Trace. Eventually you got to trust someone!"

Trace got up and began to pace. She yanked off her blonde bombshell wig with frustration. Damn it’s hot! She ran her fingers through the long black locks she had never cut off after the Rockies. Her face was creased, she continued to pace.

"Okay Trace, you look lost. You never look lost. Come on give it up. I am not the enemy. So it’s weird, so it’s spiritual. Try me lady, I may be a geek but I do happen to like the ordinary human and the occasional extraordinary agent."

Trace needed a drink. "Have you got anything besides beer? I need a damn drink and you need a beer."

He smiled, "So do I get the goods if you get the booze."

Trace looked at him with weary eyes.

"And by the goods you know I mean the story right Trace?"

She flashed him a, get the booze or I might go for my gun, look. He just grinned and hastened to say, "So, Long Island Ice Tea or just some straight scotch?"

"I need the straight shot Roddy, this is no time to try being a gentleman!"

He gave her a look of mock distain, "Me? A Gentleman? Never!" He winked and walked over to a cabinet in the living room. "On the rocks girl?" Trace shook her head numbly.

After draining half the glass she sighed heavily. She couldn’t just say thanks good-bye. She might need his skills and quick. She might be needing a new identity NOW. Trace hated needing help. He was right though. She needed his help, needed to trust someone. Even Ice Queen’s get a little watery in the heat. Damn it I hate this. She looked pissed, "Roddy if you so much as chuckle at any of this, at one syllable, I swear I’ll carve off that beer belly you’re cultivating."

Roddy was an ex-agent; he knew real threats from hot-air emotional proclamations. Still, he half believed the woman. She looked so murderous. "I Swear on the Queen love."

She heard that from him once before and thus far he had been good to the promise. She nodded and let out a heavy sigh. She took another belt of scotch and sat down with a tired and desperate expression.

She looked up at the expectant man now seated at his desk. "Okay bud on the Queen this has really happened. I have dreamed about this woman since I was twelve, even before I think. But for sure I remember it at twelve in Filey."

Trace got up and stretched her back. She looked at the ceiling. Her eyes looked as though she was a million miles away lost in memory. There was a slight frown of puzzlement on her face.

"She has always appeared to me as comforting in the dreams. At first in the dream, she seemed to be a little girl like me." Trace stopped and shook her head as though shaking out the cobwebs in her mind.

"I didn’t dream of her so often or with such profound feeling until about 9 months ago after a job I did in Paris. In the last nine months she has appeared almost exactly like that picture on your computer. Always that age, that look, those eyes, that face. Last night I had another dream and she was scared, no terrified of me. She fell off a fucking cliff and wouldn’t take my hand to help her. I have always felt that I had never seen or met her. I’ve told myself she is just a figment of my imagination. You called it, I am an Ice Queen, I go it alone. So I have tried to convince myself this is the way my subconscious has of comforting me. Now this, it makes me think she was part of my past somehow. But you found nothing." She stopped to see his eyes riveted to her with all of his attention except the peripheral sensors always on alert in an assassin or agent.

"So nine months ago what happened, anything unusual?"

"I have racked my brain on this Roddy and nothing. The job in Paris was nothing spectacular. A family on holiday from the states. But the couple had two kids, a boy and a girl. I left them orphaned. Asshole Crabtree conveniently neglected to give me the Intel about the kids. I’ve got a feeling you know more about me than I am comfortable with, so you probably know I don’t do kids. I sent Crab and his wife a little bloody souvenir package from that one. He got the message."

Roddy smiled a little self-consciously, "Well, you are right, I know a hell of a lot about all my contacts, but you know its survival. And I always knew you were an assassin with a heart. Pretty dangerous in your line my girl!"

"A heart? Shit, don’t insult me; it got ripped out long ago man. But I’ve got standards. I am good at what I do. I did my time with the crappy shit. I did too many kids, any is too many. I won’t ever again."

He didn’t doubt it. "So what do you think it was, maybe the kid thing about the job that brought on the first dream?"

"Roddy I know you are trying to help, but the reasons for the dreams I suspect are personal, that is all I will say. Until now, I thought it totally some subconscious guilty thing. I was getting so fucking tired of not understanding about this whole dream thing I momentarily thought about seeing a shrink."

Roddy’s face was a painful grimace, "Good God this has got you in a funk, a bloody Psychobabble white coat?! They may be good for the average human, but hell on us. I am preaching to the choir I know."

She shook her head bewildered, "How the hell can this woman be real Roddy? She must be someone from my past, that HAS to be it. Maybe this woman looks like a picture in my mums albums, referred to as my Auntie Helen or something and I just don’t remember. Hell maybe I really had an Auntie someone that is the identical twin of this woman and I can not bring it to conscious memory."

There was silence a moment while both were in thought. Roddy offered, "Your greatest fear is that it’s Crab right, or worse, from higher up? She’s a plant or a bad mark and as soon as you do the hit, you are marked for it yourself?"

"No Roddy. My greatest fear is personal. If it’s true, I am maybe on the run in the park looking for Mad Mary with a hot one in tow, needing a black whole."

Roddy shot the lady of ice a suspicious and curious look, but said the right thing, "I know you’re gonna do a lot of leg work on this one girl. I can start thinking of a profile for her if you want."

She smiled a genuine smile at the man, "Thanks my friend. And don’t forget a new ID for me. If I am lucky, I won’t bite it on this one. And Roddy, you’re a good one not to think I’m whacked."

He grinned at her mischievously and said, "Ah hell, you’re bright, but you’re not bloody sharp enough to be whacked love. For insanity, you got to be a genius or an emotional land field."

Trace winced internally, "Right, you’re the whacked genius among us."

Roddy had a good laugh, and Trace a chuckle. "Okay, girl, I think you’re over the shock. I got my ways as you know. So if you need help, I’ll work it out." Trace looked at the time. It was already 5:30 pm.

Roddy said, "I know you’ve got to run. I hate to say it but I hope I don’t see you soon, or do I? I will need to know if this goes down bad girl. Damn, don’t let it go bad! Just say it, and you don’t have to go solo Trace, you know that." He looked hesitantly at her then added, "You know I had to offer."

She smiled wearily, "Give me a cold phone Rod. I hate this. We have got to play it cool till I understand the real shit here. If I don’t have to I won’t be calling. I’ll need to sift though all the Intel and go from there. I’ll be in touch if need be."

"No, I need to know how it plays. I have got my finger in the pie now, you know that. I need to cover my ass too. But don’t worry, I will run silent unless you call for back up. It’s your game till the call girl. I’m hoping next time I see ya won’t be in the near future, and you bring me a good-looking available woman just cause you remembered I loaned you a phone once. I really like blondes but damn, I am a geek so I’m not picky."

Trace had to chuckle, "Here’s hoping you get your wish and I see ya in the distant future. Give me time and I might just find the right one to meet your particular taste Rod old boy."

Trace thought a moment. Her disguise precaution was turning into a wise move. Covering that ass!!! Damn it’s a never-ending chore, she mused to herself. She rose with a mischievous look on her face; she raised an eyebrow, looked into the man’s eyes with her favorite playful pose and said, "You know handsome, we need to cover our collective asses, especially if this is a set up. I may have a tail. This visit needs to have a friendly casual sex kinda look. So, do you walk me out to my car lover and say goodbye with a big wet kiss or shall I shout something nasty to you before I hop in my Rent a Wreck."

The geek in the man showed up quite clearly in the pale, puppy dumb look on his face. "I, uh…., well I….., ah that’s up to you, I mean whatever you think is best, I guess. I mean……., um I, ah I….well, I know you don’t really like, you ah…."

He looked miserably lost. She rescued him by saying, "Yes I am sure you know that I pitch only to the all women’s league dear man, still I pick the wet kiss. Only, leave your stale beer here as we take our stroll okay?"


He just put down the can, nodded uncomfortably and haltingly followed her to the door.

As they crossed the threshold of the door, she pinched his butt playfully and kissed his cheek then walked ahead of him with her best hip action. She could have bet the farm his mouth was hanging open. She turned and guided his hand around her waist. They walked to the car glued at the hips. Before opening the door she turned in his grasp, ran her hands through his hair and pulled him in for a convincing lip lock.

As they parted she chimed for any possible listening ears, "Don’t wait so long to call next time goofy. After this "afternoon delight" I don’t think you’ll want to lose my number. I’m good for what ails you and you know it." Then with a wink she turned, let him get the door for her and blew him a kiss as she drove away, leaving him gapping at the receding Oldsmobile.

End of Chapter Two.

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