“With all due respect, no one could have anticipated this... it was chaotic the whole time I was here. Leaving was as random as every other damn thing they did.” Shaw assured his bespectacled critic. The drawing room retained a definite suggestion of the unsettling perfume that had once pervaded the entire dwelling; he had thought it dissipated until confronted by its dappled, darkly myrrh-like presence as he stood amongst the gutted packing crates of unmarked pine. “What else could I have done?” The query drew a long, glassed-over glance from his superior.
“Your regard for your own safety is... it's touching, really. It's just a shame it was a subordinate objective.”
In contrast to the dissonant exotica abandoned by her companion, Susan Christabel’s forsaken belongings were so strongly suggestive of her person that Josephine had initially battled her flickering imago in William’s suite. Her summer dresses hung in the darkness of the little anteroom and in a thick scatter across the naked mattress, her makeup and costume jewellery lying amongst them in a shiny, intimate constellation. She stepped back against the french doors, photographed the arrangement and stooped to dump the contents of the bedside rubbish bin onto the floorboards. The latex film gloving her hands caught on the wrinkled paper of the receipts she flattened out upon the lamp table, smudging the printout, and she smoothed the next one more carefully.
The bathroom, gleaming like the chamber of a glacier in the slanting afternoon, offered nothing more than towels and bathrobes that had dried upon the tiles, a half-smoked cigarette and a pair of curious silver pliers lying open in the basin beside a pair of scissors. On the marble beside them she discerned the faint glitter of some dry, almost micaceous substance, a hueless powder, as fine as talc and as cold as glass. To her knowing eye the passage of some shrewd, unfailing hand had swiftly stripped the rooms of their most informative indiscretions, clipping the chain of circumstance into arbitrary fragments like the scrambled elements of a shipwreck disgorged by the sea. A huge black Afghan coat lay on the floor beside the french doors; she hoisted its lax weight onto the mattress and removed the debris from its pockets. The smell of blood shook loose from its heavy black staple along with that of cigarette and dope smoke, dry ice, exigent sex and exhausted perfume, of places she had never been except as an intruder. Money fell from the lining and pockets like something imperfectly understood, French francs and American dollars. Josephine stowed it with her other souvenirs in an evidence bag, along with a heavy brass lighter in the shape of a carp, its surface figured with a multitude of fingerprints.
In contrast, if not in direct opposition, the suite at the far end of the hall might have belonged to anyone by the time its last habitué had quit, leaving a low black bed and a silver clothes stand to testify to the bare fact of occupation. Knowing she would find nothing, she walked between them to the window and stood in the sparse shade cast by a neighbouring branch, attracted by the sounds of conversation in the porch below. Foreshortened by her vantage, Shaw turned back toward it in the midst of his departure, his gaze upon the grass as he received an addendum to O’Connor’s uncharitable review, its flattened vowels working with his authority to cripple any rebuttal it might have deserved. He glanced up and she stepped back from the window.
O’Connor called her from the house before she could document the room. In the shade of the porch he wore his thinly-contained rage like disfiguring hose pressed to the face of a thief. She took out her camera and began to review her pictures.
“Lilian Frost didn’t run with them, but the British girl did. She’s new to this so they’ll pick a soft landing... white, Indoeuropean, nothing too challenging. She went out and bought what she needed, left all the pretty on the hanger, so they’re going off the grid. We should be hitting the informants hard for anything feeding into that pattern... money trades, safe passage deals, clueless white girl...”
“Shaw has just implied that you broke protocol and invited yourself along, the night the auxiliary sub dissected the Rutherford female.” he told her, watching her eyes find the back of Shaw’s head as the latter walked between the distant gates. "Is there something else you think he should have disclosed? I did get that feeling, looking over last night's logs." She made no reply to the conjecture. “It’s really not the overpersonalized approach you’ve developed that disturbs me, per se, though I can see how others might... recoil from that kind of investment... it’s that you’re like a cul de sac, Ms Jones. A dark little pit where information goes to die, and I can’t have you swallowing all the light during regime change.”
She spoke through a stock smile intended for the gazes studying their exchange from the vehicles parked on the road.
“I'm not here to pick up a cheque. Let me scrub in, give me access to the capture... in thirty days I’ll kick everything you need back up to you.”
His laugh scratched at her face, lasting well into his reply.
“You’re asking for participation... I can give you that. You and Shaw can both hit the bag run to wherever these subs show up first.”
“Under who?” she demanded, following him out onto the drive.
“At this point, it wouldn’t be fair to keep Trent from the kind of active authority he craves, so as far as I’m concerned, you can all head out together.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce