BY: A. Tietz






Trace thought about the evening ahead of her. The Trenton’s would be at their college obligations in an hour. She should probably watch them leave but she could not handle seeing this woman yet. She would arrive at their house around 6:30 or 7:00 and see what she could uncover. If this were productive, Trace probably wouldn’t have to go to the college.

It was an anxiety filled drive. Every possible scenario was running through her mind. Not sure about their dog, she had stopped to pick up a tasty fast acting tranquilizer. The pasture in back of the homes was about two hundred yards wide. On one side of this grassy field there was the creek that flowed behind the homes on Crosscreek Drive. Two hundred yards away, on the opposite side of the field, was a small dirt road that ran along some trees and bushy undergrowth. Beyond the trees were the fences of more homes. Trace found the access to that dirt road and parked her car behind some shrubbery. She was still dressed in her blonde bombshell attire. After parking she donned the research outfit she had brought along from her earlier visit to the hotel room. It was still early spring. 7 pm brought dusk with it and she blended into the tall grass in her jacket, jeans, running shoes, hat, tool belt, and the two guns strapped to her body. She hung the night vision heat sensor goggles around her neck and headed for the Trenton’s backyard.

Although she was silent in her craft, there was no dog in the back yard, but it could be in the house. Her research had provided her a floor plan of the Trenton’s home. She selected the window at the end of the hallway leading to the den. She tricked the alarm and was inside in moments. She took out the tranquilizer spray from her pocket. It wasn’t needed. Perhaps the dog was ill or had died; there was no dog in the house or the garage, she had checked. The alarm controls were in the garage so she took care of those quickly. She left the house dark. It was silent. She had purposely looked at no pictures on the walls yet. She couldn’t bear to confirm this was real and the lovely woman had been marked for death. She first checked the bedroom for the possibility of a slumbering person who had faked a headache to escape the agony of a snobbery filled evening. She felt know one was there, but you don’t assume, so she made sure the house was empty.

The professor’s den was the most important room, she began there. It really looked like his sanctuary. There were no feminine touches at all, it was all him, ugh. It looked like Robin must just close the door and shut her eyes to his disarrayed environs of books and papers and the whatever of male interests. It was beneficial to be given a small bag of tricks by the beer drinking computer genius she had just left. The professor had safeguards on his computer everywhere. She thought that odd. What was he hiding and from whom? It took longer than she thought but she found his information on Viet Nam. Just like Roddy had mentioned, it seemed he was investigating minor covert military operations in the Viet Nam War, specifically around 1974. It appeared the man had taken a research trip to Viet Nam with Professor Rix in 2000. Trace silently wondered if the lovely Robin was part of that trip.

There was a huge amount of information to scan. She had done this kind of scan before, although not with such personal stakes in the wings. So she must be as meticulous as possible. The name that caught her eye was Colonel Herman Price; the research seemed to be very detailed about the missions and operations of the men under his command. Price, she knew that name. He had been Crab’s commanding officer in Viet Nam. A mental click went off in her head and a warning shutter went through her mind. Crab looked up to Colonel Price, he still had meetings with the man. If Crab had learned from the Colonel then that meant that the Colonel was probably dirty, since Crab was dirty. There was more here than she had time to read. But she could tell this was no simple anti-military idealist. She took pictures for later study.

Onto the professor’s e-mail. Sure enough, he had been in touch with some of the Colonel’s commanding officers. The professor was making it look good, playing up the historic value card. He looked benign, mostly. His questions were mostly clarifying the facts. To the shrewd or guilty mind however, it might invoke more questions about his interest. It was likely one of these officers was not willing to take a chance on the professor’s fishing expedition. What was there to expose? It had to be big, she was sure it was there. She took more pictures of the information.

The name Shannon Rix caught Trace’s eye on the incoming mail list. It took a little searching and overcoming more safeguards to uncover a folder of e-mails from this perky little redhead. After reading the first few e-mails, it was clear that if Rix or Trenton had had their way, Robin had not likely gone with them to Viet Nam, unless she was into sharing the amorous affections of her husband.

Trace shook her head in disgusted. There is no accounting for taste. Robin was a knock out, by male or female standards of attraction. It was true; Trace did not personally know this woman. But she couldn’t shake the warm and welcoming feelings of the dream. Still, Trace had to acknowledge that Robin might be a royal bitch. The testosterone factor didn’t add up though. It was Trace’s experience that many, ok MOST, men are led around by the nether regions of their anatomy. So how could he have chosen Shannon Rix when there was this beautiful creature in his bedroom? Likely he felt he had conquered the nurse and needed another conquest to bolster his fragile ego. In her limited life experience, Trace had never met the faithful loving sort of man who was supposedly out there. So this rat was definitely a cheater and likely a blackmailer. It was going to be easy to rid the world of this jewel of a human being, maybe.

It was good to be rid of his den. Trace stepped into the hallway connecting the rooms. The walls held many picture frames. She had to look; she had to see this with her eyes. The woman of golden dreams was there. So beautiful in her wedding gown, her hair a little lighter red. Many poses, happily singing by a campfire, throwing a Frisbee for their golden retriever, standing with a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day from her seemingly adoring husband who was looking besotted. In one pose a woman who was probably mom on Graduation Day was hugging her. There were the normal smiling for the camera on Mother’s Day pictures and a variety of family portraits. The Professor was well represented in these pictures. Hugging his wife, clapping for her, laughing with her, posing with her. It all seemed very ordinary, indicating very happy American lives. Trace even looked at photo albums. Shannon had made it into a few snap shots. Browsing these pictures she found a very real family of parents, friends and relatives on both sides. As she looked for signs of any cover up, anything staged, things oddly out of sequence, pictures too perfect, she found nothing.

The garage was often a male domain, so she turned her attention there to see what could be found.

Nice motorbike Dougy, helping out that debt I see, playing the macho huh? God’s what your nerd body must look like on this bike, HA.

There weren’t many tools, a few big toys for the grown up boy. A leaf blower, a snowmobile, some skis, a variety of barbeque tools, fishing and camping gear. There were the toys the professor couldn’t part with, the Hot-Wheels collection, the baseball cards, the Lego set, with the helicopter still in tact. There were a lot of garden tools, one female ten-speed bike, some gardening books, empty pottery, and some broken decorations. There were lots of boxes marked D S. When Trace investigated she found books about stock investments, tax evasion, a few computer programs about tropical paradises, common military maneuvers, how to hide information on the internet.

So Dougy, hiding your selective reading?

Trace discovered a few bank deposits in an account that didn’t bare Robin’s name. It was in the strong box hidden within Douglas’ tackle box. The deposit amounts were not huge. The amounts ranged from $5000 to $50 but always twice a month. It looked like the man must be blackmailing somebody. And if it was Crab she was dead meat. Her experience was warning her that whoever got this hit job was likely a mark themselves if Crab was in the "Cover my Ass" mode. She took more pictures.

Trace checked her watch. She had time to get the lay of the house. Find any hidden creaky steps, or squeaky door hinges. She looked through a desk in a spare room. When Trace looked through the professor’s desk it had proved to be cluttery and unfruitful. This desk held bank records and personal business papers, diplomas, degrees, health insurance; it was all normal and quite organized. There was the typical credit debt, perhaps a little high by some standards. Trace wondered, if it was Robin that went on shopping sprees? She had spotted snow and sport equipment in the garage. As she scoped the house she had seen a Jacuzzi bathtub, an outdoor hot tub, three TV’s, some slightly elaborate equipment for stereo sound, and some high powered binoculars, many of these items were more common to the male in the family. She looked at the books on the shelves, the kind of food in the pantry, the leftovers in the kitchen, the clothes hanging in the closet. It was all-indicative of the day-in day-out activity of middle class working America. She would find no more here.

Her last exercise was to walk the space from window, door and sliding glass door to the bedroom, then from each to a running exit out to the fence. She mentally measured each avenue. The kill had to be accidental. It would be a robbery, maybe. She found the jewelry in the bedroom, the refrigerator, and the safe in the den. There were some Crystal etchings and some silver pieces of dining ware. She was steadily becoming more concerned about this kill. She needed time to study, to evaluate and to focus. It was time to go.

As she was leaving the bedroom her eyes came to the hope chest for the third time. There were the beginnings of a vastly different plan for Robin trickling through her mind, but she didn’t know yet. She needed more research. But if the house were to be destroyed would Robin appreciate something from the hope chest? Would there be time? Why the hell did she care? Would she even kill the woman or not? She was torn. Looking again at the chest, she couldn’t resist, and opened it up. It was filled with childhood memories, a cherished doll, a worn out fire truck toy, a baby book, a set of baby pictures; it went into the High School and College years and beyond. A poem perhaps by a friend, a best friend, a certificate of appreciation, a nursing pen. This was either the most elaborate set up of super deep cover, or the age on the photos were real. The life of Robin Trenton was normal, moderately happy, and successful. She left carefully but in a mental rush to get to her room and pour over the information she had gathered.

It had been an exhausting day so she slept, she slept fitfully, but she slept. She needed the energy for what may likely come of the job. She could be on the run very soon. When she awoke in the morning, she noted there had been no dreams. She found that surprising. After all the stimulus of the prior day, and no dreams of the beautiful woman. It was a welcome improvement that carried an odd regret.

Trace ordered room service. She had to have some caffeine. Latte mocha, a bagel and cream cheese. It would be a long day inside for Trace. Her first focus was Robin. It should have been the professor, but she had to make some peace about Robin before she was free to devote time to figuring out what type of pathetic scum this man really was. She evaluated all the Intel she had gathered thus far. Then she went to Roddy’s info spread and looked at all she could find there. Trace had always had good gut instincts. Only this time, she didn’t know if her gut instinct about Robin was able to be trusted due to so much emotional connection from those plaguing dreams. Her gut told her that Robin was the innocent. She may or may not know of the affair. The Intel pointed to some evidence that Robin may be seeking a divorce. Overall the evidence painted a picture of Robin as a dedicated nurse, a kind soul, and a beautiful woman. Trace felt that was the truth about Robin. So, what was she to do about the hit? She was stuck on that. It couldn’t be determined until she found out all the dirty little details about Professor Douglas Trenton and the Crab factor. Then she must meet the mysterious dream woman Robin.

Before she could face deliberating over Trenton, she ordered a pastrami sandwich, some ice cream and plenty of Pepsi. It was already 11:30am.

The dirt on Trenton was there she just had to digest the information. Bless the computer wiz bang. She studied all Roddy’s Intel, she searched the Internet to bear out some suspensions and in the end she had a better idea of the insidious Professor. She knew he cheated on his wife. He was lying to her about money. Trace had discovered a link of the bank deposits with Shannon Rix. Seems the redhead had the same type of account. Deposits twice a month same amounts. It was easily determined that Professor Hard-on was greedy, and much too dumb about who NOT to blackmail. By the evidence Trace suspected that he and Rix were blackmailing two separate low ranking officers in Crab’s Viet Nam Platoon. The blackmail material looked like evidence of drug and prostitute smuggling. She wasn’t surprised at all that Crab’s dirty hands were part of it. It was a cover up of a military crime. No wonder Crab ass was feeling a little heat. His underlings in crime were squirming. And military crimes meant guilty officers reaching out with all their connections and turning the furnace temperature.

The hit was about the blackmail of at least a Lieutenant and a Captain in Crab’s Platoon. But it wasn’t clear if just the low ranking officers were the blackmail victims or if it included Crab and Colonel Price. There might even be more dirty doings she hadn’t uncovered. A hit was not always a big deal. Crab could bury a hit in a drug sting. He had done it before. If Colonel Price was involved, then so too could be his high ranking officer cronies. If so, the hit was ordered from high up, with a "hands distant" policy so no links could be made. That was why she was chosen. Trace wasn’t dumb. She was expendable. She was way low on the food chain. If the hit order had come from higher up, she was in deep shit with little or no time. If it was just the Captain and the Lieutenant then she might only be watched. But she was too dangerous for Crab to have chosen her for this. It was too risky she would uncover something. She may have been marked from the beginning. Maybe she had crossed the line with the bastard when she deposited that bloody gift in his refrigerator. She may not be marked; it may not be that serious. But that just didn’t make sense so she had to play it like she was in someone’s sights. The clock was ticking ever louder.

She didn’t want to compromise Roddy, but she knew she desperately needed his help. Trace was pissed, if she disappeared it was supposed to have been on her terms. Trace was good but not this good. Military officers liked their padded offices, high paying salaries and perks, and they had so much more at their disposal to keep them in those positions they so enjoyed. She couldn’t go back to Roddy’s, that was too visual. She had to put out feelers in his web of contacts.

Trace knew one of Roddy’s harmless contacts. Jacker De Man was, in reality, a small time drug runner who loved to talk big. His real name was Jack Manning. She was amazed he was still alive. But sometimes, stupid people had luck. She had to do this quickly and innocently, but still sending a signal to Roddy to contact her at the Waterfront. Jacker was not hard to find or bait. What took the time was the disguise, getting in an out of her hotel without being spotted for who she was or that she was doing anything other than planning a hit. Trace was always pleased at how she could look like a man if she chose. It was quick and easy. But now it was mid afternoon.

Roddy was probably ready for her. He would have his network ears on. So her contact would travel through his informants and allies fairly quick. Roddy would call her cold phone tonight if she didn’t need to call him first. The contact by Jacker was safest. A call could be traced even on this cold phone if this job was ordered by a pissed off Crab or Colonel. Now she had to use the next few hours to check on Robin.

Her gut told her she would not be Robin’s assassin. If she were lucky she would be Robin’s link to the living, but would time be on her side? It had to be or she was history and so was Robin. And somehow, the death of Robin filled her with a familiar dread that came from long ago in the Filey Village. Trace shuttered. She did not understand this. She had spent years running from Filey. Now she was trying to save some dream woman and somehow this woman reminded her of that Village. The reminder wasn’t all bad, but she didn’t need this complication. Still, her gut told her saving Robin was something she HAD to do, even if she died doing it.

To the Internet yet again. She needed to check on golden retrievers put-down in the last few months. It took a little time, lots of phone calls, but she found out what she needed to know. Robin’s dog, Daisy, had been put-down two months ago due to late diagnosed lung cancer. Having researched a semblance of a daily routine in Robin’s life, Trace knew the woman should be off work today. Trace had a plan for meeting the mystifying beauty face-to-face. First she called and reserved a Rider Truck for the afternoon. Conveniently, it wasn’t far from Crosscreek Drive. Now Trace had to take a chance and call Robin.

She was already pretty wired on caffeine so she ordered a caffeine free supply of Pepsi for herself. At first she just stared at the phone. Then she paced. Then she picked up the phone to dial 4 different times and hung up before any ring.

Shit Trace you’re not asking the cutest girl in school out for a date, just call and get this done.

Finally she made the call. The answering machine came on with a cheerful yet to the point voice. Trace’s heart sunk when she heard the beep. But in her best broken-English with a Spanish accent, she began leaving a message.

Suddenly the phone was picked up, "Hold on, hold on while I turn this off. Okay, hello are you there?"

Trace had never heard Robin’s voice, and though she tried to prepare herself she couldn’t find her own voice. "Oh nuts, did you hang up?" Trace heard the inquiry.

Somehow Trace jump started herself, "No meess I here. Meess?" She let the question in her voice hang.

"Yes this is Robin Trenton can I help you?" "Oh, meess Traytone, I wisth Happys Animals Cleeneec. You fill out paper to say you hab doghouse to donate. We hab dribers in your area to pick up donate tings today. Will you be home for de donate house? Can we pick up today?"

There was a pause on the line. Trace heard Robin clearing her throat.

Damn she must have loved that dog Trace thought.

"Um, oh, well I didn’t expect…um. Well if you are in the area today you are welcome to come pick up the doghouse. What approximate time do you think you will be by?"

Trace had thought of this, she could be at Robin’s in an hour and a half, tops. "It might be 4 o’clock dhey come, maybe 4:30. You home for dhat time Meess?"

Trace held her breath but Robin said, "Yes that should be fine."

Much relieved Trace said, "We tank you meess Traytone. Its bery nice ob you to donate."

Robin replied, "You’re welcome thank you. Good Bye."

There was so much to do in so little time. She had been thinking of this plan all day. She had to meet this woman. Since making the decision not to kill Robin Trenton, Trace had a sense time was short and she needed to put a plan into action. This was real; this was for real, for keeps. No matter what the emotions, the woman had to be rescued. Trace didn’t ponder long as to why she HAD to rescue the woman but she knew it was something she HAD to do. Hopefully Trace could also stay alive. To do this she needed to arrange a meeting with Robin as soon as possible.

Still she was nervous. Not nervous about the roués, but nervous about meeting the woman of her dreams come to life, looking into those eyes and not fainting and most of all nervous about trying not to feel. Trace inwardly shuddered. Trace, the Ice Queen, the Keep it all Cool, the Don’t get too close so I don’t have to kill ya assassin she knew she was, was afraid of getting a little weak kneed at meeting a woman.

"Get a grip you wilting flower!" she exclaimed out loud to her empty room.

This is business. If you don’t treat it like business Robin gets dead, you gutted like a fish and Crab gets no more surprises with breakfast, she scolded herself silently.

Trace let out a sigh of focus. She had time enough in the commute to steady herself. She had to get at it.

Her first trick was to duck the surveillance which she was increasingly sure had been assigned to her. She hadn’t spotted a tail. But it just made the most since. Once she got to the Rider Truck pick-up place, she discovered that the right truck wasn’t there. She cursed the delay. The guy assured her only half an hour more. So she went into the restroom. She discarded her maids’ disguise and donned some faded jeans and a raggy gray T-shirt. She stuffed her hair into a worn blue denim cap. When she returned to the check out counter she was told it would be another half hour. At this rate she wouldn’t get to the house till 6:00pm or 6:30pm but the plan called for a damn truck. Trace was stuck. She had to wait.

It was in fact, 5:35pm by the time she headed toward the Trenton home. As the truck rolled down the road, her mind was ablaze with dream images of this mystifying woman. Uncomfortable with feelings, she talked to herself typically at first.

I gotta be totally controlled, make a good connection so I can win Robin’s trust. That’s essential.

But as the feelings swirled around her, surprisingly she gave herself some mercy and understanding.

Get real Trace, this is weird. You’ve dreamed of her since twelve. You’re gonna feel something. She might feel it too. Hell maybe this is some kind of destiny. Maybe you even die doing this one good thing. It’s better to go out doing some good for a change. So chill. You’re gonna feel something; just don’t let it get out of hand. There maybe some profound moment even.

Then more common sense took over her mind.

More likely you’re going to meet someone who will just want to get this over with. She lost her dog. You’re a reminder of that. You’re just the person taking the doghouse away. You’re a total stranger to her. It’s not like she’s dreamed of you. That’s your lunatic department not hers. There’s likely not gonna be a profound anything. The best bet is to be sensitive about her dog. Hopefully that will give you an opening.

As she drove toward this first contact with the woman, Trace focused on the harsh reality of what was at stake. Hopefully there would be an opportunity to offer Robin some acknowledgement of her grief, to offer some dignity to her loss. Trace realized she was counting on being able to make a good connection, so the next meeting could be successful. She reminded herself she was making a connection of recognition. That was the greatest ingredient. She needed to establish a facial recognition that would cause the woman to pause when Trace showed up in her assassin’s attire. That pause could mean time to prevent a scream or even panic. Perhaps that is the only edge today would eventually afford her. If so, she prayed to all the God’s, if they existed, that slight recognition would be enough to help Trace have a chance to save Robin’s life.

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