Erin Go Kill — 1st 10 Pages

First 10 pages

PROLOGUE

       Once movie star handsome before the jaundice of viral hepatitis had taken its awful toll, the assassin had his victims lined up and bore sighted.  “Ducks on a pond,” he muttered, satisfied as all of the pieces of his murderous plan finally fell into place.   

       Moving stiffly as though it was an immensely taxing effort, he half turned toward his partner for final confirmation: a moot gesture since he had already triggered the killing mechanism deep within his psyche.  Changing course was not an option.

        Shifting into low gear, the assassin eased the clutch out as the powerful 12-cylinder limousine began moving smoothly although not quietly toward his intended prey.

        His partner—much younger, less dissipated, but a product of the same buttoned-down mold—unconsciously leaned slightly forward toward their unsuspecting victims and nodded impatiently.  “Let’s get on with it,” he said.  Trying without success to sound coldly focused, his lowered voice caught in his throat, then bounced off-key at least half an octave higher like an overly excited adolescent.

        To mask his embarrassment, the partner busied himself by jacking a 9mm hollow-point bullet into the firing chamber of his semi-automatic Makirov pistol, then mechanically lowering the hammer to the double-action setting.  “Loaded and unlocked,” he said as if completing a critical checklist.

        As he gripped the ugly but reliable weapon in both of his hands, his arms were extended downward between his knees so that the pistol’s muzzle pointed at the limousine’s floorboards between his feet.  Involuntarily, he began hyperventilating as he primed himself for his first professional kill.

        At the same time, 50 yards into the south end of Ruby Lane, the low, distinctive clatter of an idling diesel engine—the unmistakable theme song of German automotive excellence—had intruded into Oliver Gordon (“call me Gordy”) Tyler’s subconscious mind.  Although not uncommon on the streets of any major city in the world, that sound was disturbingly inappropriate in this extremely narrow, run-down alley in the low-rent warehouse district of Dublin, Ireland.  In that fleeting moment between recognition and realization, Gordy had stopped flat footed, almost in mid-stride.  Something was chillingly wrong, and he did not know what that something could be.

        Distracted from his visual search for any man-sized nooks or crannies ahead and to each side of the shadow-pocked alley, Gordy turned, puzzled, to look back over his shoulder along the multi-storied, moldering brick canyon through which he and his female companion had just walked.  As the deepening gloom of urban twilight enveloped all but the higher roof tops, Gordy was amazed to see a large, black Mercedes limousine of uncertain vintage try but fail to make a sharp, 90-degree turn into Ruby Lane from the too-narrow cross street behind them.  With a bumper-to-bumper row of ever-present mini cars parked along both sides of that cluttered street—each abandoned half in the gutter and half onto the narrow curbside walkway in typical Irish fashion—the limousine driver had yet to find the precise angle of alignment that was critical to complete his ill-conceived maneuver on the first try.

        Amazed, Gordy asked himself half out loud: “Why the heck would anyone even think of stuffing that hulking monster into a narrow alley like this?” Barely one car wide, originally designed for horses, small carts and people on foot, this still picturesque but decaying old alley was never intended for any kind of automobile; particularly a huge, luxury-sized limousine from the Bavarian autobahn.

        Momentarily amused at the latest eccentricity of the local Irish, Gordy hesitated again to watch with mounting interest as the limousine backed up until all but the brightly chromed front bumper was out of sight beyond the end of the lane, then was carefully realigned for a second, more precise attempt at squeezing tightly into the narrow breech between the two furthest warehouse buildings.

        “That silly clown’s gonna’ need a whole danged barrel full of magic K-Y Jelly to ram that big S.O.B. home,” he mused as he chuckled to himself.  Then, aloud to Bridget Mahoney, his lady companion, he said: “That joker must be daft!”  His first full day of working with the charming if somewhat reserved Ms.  Mahoney; Gordy did not want to start off on the wrong foot with even a mildly off-color remark.  That was not his style.

        Much shorter than Gordy and wearing stylishly fragile dress pumps inappropriate for walking on this uneven 18th century cobblestone alleyway, Bridget had fallen at least a half dozen steps behind Gordy’s impatient lead.  “He’s gotta’ be flippin’ crazy!”  Gordy said, the amazement in his voice filling the void of her continued silence.  Even if that lunatic did get his oversized bucket of precision bolts lined up without scuffing an undoubtedly expensive paint job, he would not have enough clearance to spare on either side to open even one door of that hulking monster to get out.  “Absolutely daft!”  Gordy scoffed.  “That clown has gotta’ be just flat flippin’ nuts!” he said emphatically.

        Suddenly, the more immediately personal aspect hit him like a truckload of bricks.  The physical shock momentarily knocked much of his breath away.  With no meaningful clearance to spare between fenders and solid brick walls, not nearly enough safe passage space remained for anyone unfortunate to be a pedestrian walking on Ruby Lane at that time.  In effect, Gordy was staring down a block-long barrel as a tight-fitting cannon ball was being breech loaded for launching right at him and Bridget.

        As they say in Texas, he had ripped his britches.  Badly out of practice by his own admission, still more of a rubbernecking tourist than an on-loan reconnaissance and recovery specialist after too many years on the shelf, Gordy knew that he and Bridget had messed up miserably.  Anyone with even a lick of street smarts would have immediately sprinted for safety at the first sight of anything so unusual, particularly a three-ton Teutonic roto-rooter being inserted at the other end of their own personal flush pipe.

        All of those years insulated from reality in the upper crust suburbs of North Dallas had dulled his reflexes.  His military “situational awareness” had been asleep at the switch.  That tardy realization was far more distressing than their initial glimpse of impending doom.

        Turning back around, frantically searching for an escape route in the other direction, Gordy quickly verified what he already knew, but did not want to admit even to himself.  Roughly 60 to 70 yards stretched between him, Bridget and the next intersecting street.  “Too far,” he shouted.  “We’ll never outrun that big sum’bitch! No way in hell!”

        Ahead of them, not a single recessed doorway, nook or man-sized cranny was visible along the unbroken line of deteriorating buildings from where they stood to the next intersection.  Over the hundreds of years that this once-respectable row of hotels and businesses had evolved into low-rent warehouses, almost all of the windows and doors at street level had been permanently sealed flush with the outer walls by brick and mortar to discourage transient riff raff as well as desperate pedestrians looking for a safe haven to avoid dangerously inappropriate autobahn traffic.

        As soon as the massive Mercedes had finally squeezed its bulk into Ruby Lane, its 12-cylinder, supercharged engine immediately revved to a menacing, deep-throated roar as outdated, wide-striped whitewall tires initially spun unintentionally, then found traction on the irregular cobblestones with an anguished squeal of shrill protest.  Simple but effective, the cannon ball from Hell was launched and on the way.

        Alerted by the sharply racket, Gordy whirled back around to look frantically over Bridget’s shoulder at the only inset doorway within running distance along the entire lane.  But that was at least 15 yards back TOWARD the rapidly accelerating limousine.  They had one chance and only one chance, but that lay in the wholly unnatural act of running toward, rather than away from onrushing Doomsday.

        “Run for that doorway.  Back there!” he bellowed at Bridget as she finally became fully aware of their potentially fatal predicament.

        Momentarily frozen where she stood, half turned toward him as if pleading mutely for help; a surprised, horrified, somewhat baffled expression disfigured her usually pretty face.  “Gorr-deee!” she shrieked before the lump in her throat cut off all audible sound.

        “Dumb damn sushi for brains,” he cursed himself as he frantically dashed toward Bridget and the inset doorway beyond her.  The accelerating limousine, having bore-sighted them in the harsh glare of a blinding spotlight mounted dead center on its massive front bumper, screamed like a scalded banshee from Hell.  Its sonic energy surged well ahead of the massive vehicle like an all-engulfing bow wave to reverberate off the ancient brick walls and cobblestones to virtually overwhelm all other physical senses and reflexes.  For a gut-wrenching second or two that seemed more like minutes, Gordy felt as if he was running in slow motion from a boogeyman in a very bad nightmare.

        She’s supposed to be the friggin’ professional,” he protested to himself, then yelled again, “Run, damn it.  Run!”  There was no way that she could have heard him over the screaming, thunderous reverberating roar of the terrifying monstrosity bearing down on them like the Horses of the Apocalypse stampeding four abreast within the narrow alley.

        Starting off-balance and wearing the worst possible shoes imaginable for running, Bridget had not reached her full stride when Gordy overtook her about five yards short of the doorway.  With his mind focused out in front of his body, fixated on the minutest details of the pocked-marked old brick and mortar framing the inset doorway beyond her—possibly the last things that he would ever see on God’s green earth—he had neither the time nor the long-lost agility to go around her.  So he ran right through her, his 240 pounds taking her 125 pounds with him to safety, barely a split second before they would have become dual radiator ornaments on several tons of onrushing death and destruction.

        Seeing that his intended victims had beaten him to the only sanctuary on the entire lane, the driver slammed hard on his brakes at the instant he passed within inches of their meager refuge.  “Shoot the bloody buggers,” he screamed.  “Blow ’em away, dammit!”

        Jammed awkwardly against Bridget’s fanny and the mildewed wall beyond, breathless and off balance within the narrow, confining doorway, Gordy’s twisting, overhand throw was more reflex than skill.  In the rush of air from the massive vehicle’s wake, it was hard enough and accurate enough to do the job at that short distance.  The impact of a full liter bottle of Old Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey shattered the limousine’s rear window with a sharp, resounding explosion not unlike a cannon shot reverberating inside a cavern’s walls.

        With that, Gordy was out of ammunition.  He had used his entire defensive arsenal.  But the assassin—the dark silhouette of his stylishly long, well-groomed head of hair clearly visible through the gaping hole where his rear window had been—hunched forward and jammed hard on the gas pedal once again to burn twin streaks of pungent, acrid rubber down the cobblestone lane.  Rear end fishtailing erratically, his fenders flashed bright balls of flare-like sparks in the gloom as he ricocheted off the ancient red bricks; first on one side and then on the other side of Ruby Lane.

        His partner, indistinguishable, ducked frantically down toward the limousine’s floorboards to avoid a second bullet, which he believed, would undoubtedly follow the first explosion.  Panicked by that unexpected turn of events, he made no attempt to shoot back through the shattered rear window.

        Even more ear piercing than the squalling mechanical cacophony from Deutschland—somewhat like the Doppler effect of a passing, high-speed train with siren blaring—a high-pitched shriek, feral in its pulsing shrillness, echoed and re-echoed throughout the brick and stone-lined canyon walls of Ruby Lane.  Over the hood of the rapidly retreating limousine, Gordy caught a fleeting glimpse of the gimpy little guy from the Ha’Penny Bridge, code name “Butch,” their only known contact in Dublin.

        As he emerged from a stack of discarded cardboard boxes as if suddenly shot out of a cannon, his deformed, stubby arms pumped wildly with no coordination whatsoever as he scrambled toward the safe haven of the cross street within easy reach of an average sprinter; but a sanctuary too far away to save anyone with his obvious disabilities.  Dragging his gimpy left leg in a crab-like sideways spurt of only a few dozen frenzied strides, the little man screamed a plaintively eerie “Noooooo!” the instant before he was overtaken and mauled unmercifully between the massive Mercedes’ under-carriage and the irregular, grinding surface of the vintage cobblestone lane.

        In a grotesque black-on-dirty-mauve silhouette against the last twilight reflections from the east-west cross street ahead, as if happening in something less than real time, Butch seemed to be kicking and flailing in one last, futile attempt to beat this monstrous mauler away from his frail body with his tiny, inadequate fists.

        It was no contest.

        Spewed out behind the fleeing vehicle like an abandoned rag doll—a mangled sack of shattered bones and shredded flesh—the little man was dead long before his battered body stopped flopping across the gore-spackled cobblestones and accumulated filth.  Even at a distance of about 40 yards, Gordy knew that there was no need to check for vital signs.

        Within seconds, the battle-scarred Mercedes disappeared around the corner of the wider cross street at the far end of Ruby Lane in a peal of squalling tires, leaving an intermittent trail of black paint scrapings back to the grotesquely crumpled body that appeared more like a pile of discarded refuse than a recently breathing human being.

        Searching the little body would be a life-threatening formality best ignored in an AIDS-infested world.  With gore splattered and smeared everywhere, and having no protective gloves or mask, Gordy chose the prudent course.  Reluctantly, he had to leave the contents of their contact’s pockets to someone far better prepared to cope with the bane of the last decades of the twentieth century.

        As the occasional vehicle passed by on the far cross street—their road lights like flashing strobes momentarily accentuating the faint glow of distant, low-voltage street lights—Gordy was amazed that no one seemed to be aware of the grizzly drama unfolding only a few dozen yards inside the darkening canyon that was Ruby Lane.  In their haste to be anywhere else at that gloomy interval between late dusk and total darkness, none hesitated for even a moment.  Nor did a couple of scurrying pedestrians who briefly appeared, then passed quickly across the maw of Ruby Lane and disappeared without so much as a sideways glance into the deepening shadows.  It was as if anyone who breached that streetwise protocol—anyone who actually looked down the dark unlit canyon—would invite something unspeakable to leap out of the darkness to attack him or her with unstoppable fury.

        “Oh God!” Gordy exclaimed in a hoarse whisper.  “What a bloody-awful mess!”  Wave after wave of staccato-like shivers wracked his body from toes to topknot, momentarily driving the critical mass of his breathing from his lungs through the swelling constriction of his clogging throat.  This “routine, no-hassle” search for an old friend—Gordy’s first mission with NSA, the National Security Agency, in more years than he cared to remember—was definitely not Admiral Wild Bill Wells’ promised all-expense-paid vacation despite reams of official assurances from the smug, bureaucratic, know-it-alls safely tucked away in their sterile cubicles deep within the belly of the beast back in suburban Washington, D.C.

        As he turned away from the bloody carnage, Gordy tried to relocate the formless shadow within the deepening dusk that was Bridget Mahoney.  Still huddled mutely in the murky darkness of her recessed sanctuary, she had yet to move an inch or make a sound since colliding head-on with the pockmarked old brick doorway.

        “You okay?” he asked, his voice seemingly reverberating back from the featureless darkness.

        No answer.  But that, he knew, was understandable.  Gordy recalled the stomach-twisting, puke-sick feeling the first time he had survived almost certain death from ambush in the putrefying jungles of Vietnam so many years before.  Sympathetically, he added, “Hang in there, kid.  Everything’s gonna’ be okay.”

        Gordy was grateful that she was not a lady lard ass, or they would both be splattered all over that tawdry alley like their unfortunate in-country contact.

        In the flickering light of a paper match from Aer Lingus’ morning flight from New York City, Gordy squatted down then leaned as close as possible to the grizzly, shattered sack of lifeless human refuse.  Trying to mentally reconstruct some of the features of that grotesquely peeled face before it was pounded through and under the massive Teutonic meat grinder, Gordy knew he would never be able to look at an animal road kill again without remembering every gut-wrenching detail of this nightmarish scene.  As his match burned itself out against his scorched fingernails, Gordy’s ruined night vision mercifully masked hideous reality:  blotted it into a black void that hovered as if self-levitated behind a swirling mass of imaginary fireflies, but left a vivid TV-like after-image burned into his memory.

        Unable to fake professional detachment any longer, Gordy initially dry retched from throat to crotch as he tried to back away too late.  Wracked by onrushing wave after wave of spasm-like nausea, he vomited what little was left of his in-flight snacks like a surrealistic painter’s palate to mix with the bloody gore already awash in the narrow sewage gutter that formed the approximate center of such ancient lanes.

        Failte chuig Eire:  “Welcome to Ireland.”                                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY

Day 1 Redux

       

 

       Until the Saturday afternoon before the bloody affair at Ruby Lane, Gordy Tyler had neither seen nor heard anything about the charming Ms. Bridget Mahoney.  Within only a few days, however, they were sharing the rigors of urban combat in the ongoing guerilla warfare still scaring both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties of British-controlled Ulster in northern Ireland.

        Many years before as a young first lieutenant, Gordy had survived uphill odds in the barren deserts of the war-torn Middle East as a deep reconnaissance “unobserved observer.”  Somehow, those sinister, violent, political machinations seemed to fade in comparison when he found himself once again in harm’s way.  Friendly, smiling faces and soft-spoken musical voices tend to lull the culturally unwary into relaxing their guard.  As Gordy had soon discovered, that could be a fatal mistake in modern Ireland.

        On that previous Saturday afternoon, right after one of his infrequent visits to Carswell Air Force Base in west Fort Worth, Texas, Gordy had sat alone at a small curbside table at the La Madeleine French Bakery and Café on Camp Bowie Boulevard.  Hungry enough to eat a fuzzy bug, he was enjoying a light lunch of their justly famous French onion soup with cheese, and complemented by a rich beef friand and a hot cup of Barry’s tea.

        With the unfamiliar “Star Time” supplement of the local Star Telegram newspaper spread over his table, he tried to juggle his soup and read the entertainment reviews at the same time.  Oblivious to the upscale surroundings on the edge of west Fort Worth’s sprawling Ridgelea Village shopping center, Gordy had not initially noticed that a cultured female voice was speaking to him until she had moved to within inches of his left shoulder and repeated her question slowly and far more distinctly than before.

        “Excuse me, sir.  Is this seat taken?”

        As Gordy’s eyes came up from the printed page, his first impression was of trim yet definitely shapely female hips tightly encased in a form-fitting, lightweight summer business suit.  An airy, reddish brown, randomly variegated pattern that whispered “hand woven by artisans,” this stylish ensemble obviously had not been bought off any plain pipe racks that he had ever seen.

        His gaze moved further upward to a cascade of reddish brown hair that tumbled out from under a color coordinated, flat-brimmed, vaquero hat that seemed to top off a disorganized gaggle of gift-wrapped packages obstructing everything from her hand-cut cameo belt buckle to her perfectly sculpted eyebrows.  As she shifted her balance to regain control of her awkward load, Gordy’s attention was pulled back to the straining material stretched over taut and undeniably shapely thighs.  Dancer or serious athlete?” he asked himself.  The unmistakable absence of any kind of foundation garment created an aura of tantalizing excitement for any recently celibate, mature male.  Gordy qualified on both counts.

        Intuitively, Gordy knew that the lady’s essentially unseen upper half would be equally memorable.

        “I’m sorry.  I musta’ been asleep at the switch,” he blurted as he tried to recall an appropriately suave opening line which, unfortunately, eluded him at that moment.  After flubbing that often-important first impression, he recovered by rearranging his plate, bowl and flatware to clear a barely adequate space on the tiny ornamental-iron tabletop.

        “Here, please.  Have a seat, ma’am.”  He gestured expansively with an awkwardly theatrical wave of his hand over the already cluttered tabletop.  “There’s always room for one more.”

        Off balance in the tight space between the table and the restaurant’s street-side wall, Gordy was embarrassed by his inane opening gambits.  Recovering, he stood up to give her a hand.  But before he could untangle his crossed legs and rise to his full six feet and three inches, she had already piled her packages onto the unused third chair between them, and maneuvered her tray sideways into the scant table space with the confident flair of an experienced waitress.

        Still standing while she fluidly sat down with no wasted motion, Gordy had not felt so incredibly inept since his college-bound daughter, Michelle, had introduced him to the mosh pit at an Alice Cooper headbangers’ concert at Dallas’ Reunion Arena several months before.  What a surprise that was!

        Pleasantly surprised as his wistful daydreams actually became reality, Gordy felt a long-forgotten flutter in his chest as his gaze came under the mesmerizing influence of the incredibly serene hazel-green eyes of a definite “keeper.”  Certainly neither a giggling teenybopper nor a severe old matron, this woman was, indeed, a very attractive lady who, if he was guessing in the right ballpark, was only a few extremely well-preserved years his junior.

        With her flawless skin, glowing tan and delicate facial features, she had the still-beautiful look of a maturing Tuesday Weld.

        Below a simple, woven gold necklace, surprisingly distinct cleavage peeked out from a fairly modest V-necked linen blouse, hinting just how blessed some women can be.  Without changing her calm, unruffled expression, something momentarily intensified deep within the windows to her soul, wordlessly accepting his unspoken homage to “la difference.”

        “I’m Gordy Tyler,” he said as he extended his right hand while trying to focus his undivided attention on her expressive face, but with only partial success.  The V-necked blouse was a formidable distraction.

        Apparently enjoying the compliment that was his predicament, she offered him her hand as well.  “Bridget.  Bridget Mahoney.  I’m pleased to be meetin’ you, Mister Tyler.”

        “Gordy.  Everyone calls me Gordy.”  He held her hand carefully, enfolding it gently as if afraid to break something so small and delicate.  “The pleasure is all mine,” he added with an awkward little tight-lipped grin.

        “The other tables; they’re all taken,” she said as justification for intruding on his privacy without an invitation.

        Glancing around the other tables, Gordy was elated to see that although all of the other tables were indeed taken, several were occupied by a single female diner.  “Whoaah!”  Gordy thought.  “Good looking honey; fan-damn-tastic bod; cute Irish accent; and she likes the cut of my jib.”  A warm wave of almost giddy anticipation washed over his too-long celibate body, leaving a once-familiar but now almost forgotten afterglow.

        “Would you be tellin’ me, young lady,” Gordy said in his best imitation of Barry Fitzgerald.  “You’re probably not a native Texan.  Are ya’ now?”

        Her giggle flowed smoothly into low, musical laughter that fostered glistening backlights in the furthest depths of her eyes.  “It’s that apparent, is it?”  She answered in a broadening Irish brogue with a touch of old-world graciousness.  “Sure, and I can see you haven’t been fooled in the least bit by my poor, pitiful attempt to blend in with the local crowd.”

        “Well, don’t ya’ be worryin’ yourself none,” he said.  “I’m a stranger here myself, ya’ see.”

        “Oh?  Is that so?”  she exclaimed.

        “You betcha’, maam!” he said.  “Just visiting; from Big D.  Dallas, that is.  And yourself?”

        “Just visiting, much like yourself.”

        “Irish or Dutch?” he asked facetiously.

        “And what would ya’ be guessin’, Mister Gordy Tyler?”

        “Hmm. I’d have to say Irish,” he said after a short pause.

        “County Clare,” she laughed at the thought that her lilting accent could ever be mistaken for guttural Dutch.  “Just above the Shannon River, you know.  Along the West Coast.”

        “The Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Hags Head,” he recalled the general area.

        “Well now.  You’ve been there, have ya’?”

        “That I have.  ’Twas my great-grandmother; from Ballyconnellee, she was.”  Gordy hoped that he did not seem to be mimicking her, but he was enjoying the rare opportunity to brush up on his brogue with a native Irish speaker, especially a very pretty one with laughing eyes among other good things.

        “Really!” she said, as something just a notch or two above the subliminal level of those placid, all-knowing eyes of hers seemed to imply that she had already known everything that he had told her.

        “Really.  I’ve been there; many, many years ago,” Gordy said.  “My wife’s family was from County Galway.”

        “Your wife,” she said, then left that sentence unfinished.  Somehow, her expression betrayed no hint of the usual tension to be expected when a good-looking woman has rather obviously arranged to boldly meet a married man whose wife would normally be expected to appear at any moment.

        “She passed away, about a year ago,” he began.

        “Ah, ya’ poor man,” she interrupted to console him.  “It’s always a pity.  A terrible shame, and more.”

        At least her sympathy sounded genuine.  To Gordy, this delightful Irish colleen seemed to be measuring him for some unknown reason.  Could she be hitting on him?  A widower for almost a year, he certainly hoped so.  Thanks to the many frightening unknowns of the ongoing AIDS scare, “Look but don’t shack up” had become a troublesome although necessary motto, particularly with regard to a couple of compassionate, doe-eyed twins at work.  Both divorcees, each had, on several occasions, offered to help Gordy make it through another long night.

        But this little lady was different.  If she really had the proverbial “big eye” for him, he knew that he would gladly take the chance.

        So they chatted while they ate; probing small talk between naturally gregarious strangers.  She was pleased with the mild “soft day.”  Very pleased indeed.

        “Lovely weather,” she said, glancing up at the cloudless blue sky.  “Is it always this grand in Texas?”

        “Usually,” he said.  “Except for summer, of course.”

        “Oh.  Isn’t this still your summer?”

        “Summer has come and gone already, little lady,” he said.  “This is our fall season.”

        She looked around as if just noticing so many people still wearing tank tops and short sleeves.  “Really!  You don’t say.”

        “Ma’am; like they say around here:  ‘If I owned both Texas and Hades, come summer, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hades’.”

        “No!” she said, as if unable to conceive such an extreme concept.

        “Oh yeah.  Try 110 degrees in the shade.”

        She looked at Gordy intently as though interrogating him with her eyes, then laughed and said:  “That’s Fahrenheit, I would hope.”

        “Of course,” he continued.  “But what these Texans don’t tell you is that all too often, there is no shade:  none at all.”

        “Be off with you!” she exclaimed with a lilting giggle.

        “Heck, would one Mick be joshing another?”

        “Mick?” she asked.

        “That’s what my Wop relatives back east call us.  Would you believe it, right to our faces, no less?” he said.  “Those Boston Yankees, they have very few manners, you know.”

        “You mean the Italians, don’t you?”

        “Such as they are,” he said, smiling as if he just remembered something too good to keep to himself.  “Actually, my great Granddaddy, Vinnie, was an Iiii-talian-American seaman out of Boston.  Cut a wide path through the beautiful little Irish coastal village of Ballyconnellee, he did.  That is, he was giving it his best shot until Grandma Aiofe took that wild, impetuous lad home and introduced him to the joys of peat-oven cooking and civilized paddy fingers.”

        They both chuckled at the quaint allusion as Gordy was congratulating himself for his decent although not quite seamless recovery from his lame opening gambit.

        But then, before he could jumpstart his newfound objective with anything resembling a modicum of style, she placed her hand over his in a warm, natural gesture, and slipped a small pocket recorder tape under it so adroitly that even he did not see the transaction until the tape was snugly covered by his outstretched palm.

        Smiling sweetly, she said,  “It was lovely meeting you, Gordy Tyler.  Lovely indeed.  But wouldn’t ya’ know, I’ve gotta’ be on my way now,” as her eyes played those coquettish little games that usually promise a lot more to come soon after.  Then, leaning slightly forward to peer deeply into his eyes, riveting his undivided attention on the windows of her sultry soul, she whispered huskily, “Pecos Pete, is it?”  Another broad smile — of approval? “Well Pecos Pete, it’s ‘Wild Bill Hickok’ who’s hoping he’ll be hearin’ from you very soon now.”

        With a fleeting wink, she added, “Be a good lad, sweets, and don’t ya’ be keepin’ him waitin’ too long.”

        As she rose from the table with the fluid agility of a gymnast, one of her packages fell onto the brick patio between them.  As he stooped to retrieve it from pure reflex, she disappeared around the corner of the building, out of his sight before he could untangle himself from his own foolish impulse purchases, as well as the strategically placed, aisle-blocking chair full of her beautifully gift-wrapped, but nevertheless empty packages.

        Had she kicked his crotch up between his shoulder blades, he could not have been more stunned.  Gordy had not heard those names for too many years.  “Pecos Pete” had been his code name back in those wild and woolly days when U.S. Marine lieutenants Oliver Gordon Tyler, Charlie Holoman and Sean O’Neill had roamed the hills and waddies of Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt masquerading as Canadian geologists while mapping possible helicopter landing zones, interlocking fields of fire, and potential hardpan lanes for armored vehicles.  That was just one more of those dangerous, esoteric games that Marines must play when prudently preparing for any contingency in that troubled corner of the world.

        Wild Bill Hickok was U.S. Navy Lieutenant-Commander William Albert Wells the Third, now Admiral Wells The Only, the Numero Uno Honcho of the super-secretive National Security Agency.  In official Washington parlance, the initials “N.S.A.” have long stood for “No Such Agency.”  You will not find it on the city’s tourist maps.

        Less than 32 hours after listening to the tape, not once but several times, Gordy was sitting on the edge of a deep leather easy chair in a comfortable Victorian drawing room in a nondescript, three-story brownstone house on the outskirts of Arlington, Virginia.  Across the antique rosewood table from him sat The Man himself, Admiral Wild Bill Wells.  To his right, the ubiquitous Bridget Mahoney quietly took page after page of detailed notes in shorthand while nodding affirmation at all of the right places.

        She was even prettier than before.  That morning, however, every button and bow were securely fastened all of the way up to her delicate but well-tanned Adam’s apple.

        To summarize nearly two hours of intense conversational give and take, one of Gordy’s old Marine Corps sidekicks and recently retired NSA spook, Sean O’Neill, had disappeared without a trace following his father’s funeral in the Republic of Ireland roughly six months earlier.  Like all former NSA field agents, he was required to check-in with the agency at regular intervals.  No exceptions were acceptable as long as the former agent was still breathing.  However, after two consecutive no-shows, not even his loving wife of 21 years seemed to know where he could be found.  At least that was her unwavering story, and she stubbornly stuck to it.

        Gordy had known Katy O’Neill for many years; almost as long as Sean O’Neill.  He also knew that she was the last person on earth who would be intimidated by some pushy, officious government clerk asking too-personal questions in a too-demanding manner; particularly in her own comfortable living room overlooking the scenic wonders of Sedona, Arizona.  Gordy smiled as he imagined the uneven contest, as well as Katy’s inevitable although genteel triumph.

        “Our best guess,” Admiral Wells proclaimed with his usual bluster, “is that O’Neill has joined the Provos; the Provisional IRA. Damned dangerous bunch, even for the damned IRA.”

        Gordy nodded ever so slightly but resisted the urge to comment. He was well aware that the little Irish expatriate had always been sympathetic to the IRA cause in the north of Ireland. They, the IRA, always were the good guys in Sean’s lexicon.  That sympathetic viewpoint was a family thing. When the flag went up on the firing line, Sean could resist almost anything but temptation.

      “Now, if O’Neill has indeed joined up with the IRA, and we’re pretty damned sure that he has done that very thing, that mixes his tactical and planning skills with the street smarts of those damned, bloodthirsty terrorists.  Should that be the case, the ongoing stalemate in Ulster could go high-order: just flat unstable.” Wells paused and glanced at Gordy, then Miss Mahoney, and back to Gordy again as if looking for any sign of concurrence, much the same as he habitually did in executive conference with his personal staff of career savvy “Yes Men.”

        Getting nothing but a neutral expression from Gordy, Wells continued.  “By himself, O’Neill could very easily upset the tit-for-tat apple cart of working-class violence in Ulster.  And that, as you well know, would not set well with—” Wells paused and then counted the factions off on his fingers “—the Brits, their whole damned army in-country, their MI-5 intelligence pukes, the RUCs, the Ulster Defense Association, all 15,000 or so of those hotheads, that smaller but no-less radical Protestant Action Force, our own good guys TDY in Ireland, the local CIA spooks, and a whole damned metric potful of lesser political and sectarian factions over there.  No, O’Neill on the loose would not set well at all.  I damned well assure you it damned sure won’t.”

        Again, Admiral Wells paused and glanced around the room as if expecting some kind of affirmative feedback. Still getting none, he paused to clear his throat somewhat self-consciously, and then continued his analyses. “There’s all kinds of agendas in that mix: agendas that stretch all of the way from the continuing preservation of the status quo in Ulster, down to one more attempt to blow Maggie Thacker’s old bloomers into a far, far better place. I tell you, it’s a bloody quagmire. And if that isn’t enough, it’s religious tribal warfare…END OF SAMPLE