Complete Match

The Black Knight Squash Fiction League Match #3

The Loose Strings versus The Racketeers

The Novel


By Pierre Bastien

There are two reasons to go to a reunion. One is to reunite with people and places from your past. The other is to meet someone new—or at least someone that feels new—in familiar surroundings. So far, Ollie’s experience had been the former.

He started off this particular reunion by getting a sub at Juliet’s, a local restaurant that still served the same mix of pizza slices and submarine sandwiches he remembered from 15 years ago. He walked up to the counter and placed his order: large chicken finger sub, with mayo, lettuce and hot peppers. 

He must’ve placed that order at least a hundred times. Even though he hadn’t been here in years, the instructions still tumbled out of his mouth crisply. 

Ollie could picture the sub in his mind’s eye: the bread, white, with a crusty crust, about 6 inches long, plus or minus. The mayonnaise, coating the inside of the bread. The deeply fried chicken, probably not organic, resting on the mayo. Then the lettuce, shredded, with salt and ground pepper on top. Finally, the hot peppers, finely chopped up, mixed with vinegar or something (he wasn’t sure), and formed into a nice spicy mush, resting on the lettuce. Each bite was simultaneously warm, crisply refreshing, and oh god the mayo. As you ate the thing, the mayo would gradually get pushed further and further into the tail end of the bread, until at last you were left with a delicious final bite: the hardish, pointy end-piece of the sub, which would ordinarily be a rather disappointing finish, were it not for the huge cache of creamy mayo hidden within.

Ollie looked around the place as the cashier took down his order. Behind the counter hung a large menu board, the kind where you can rearrange the letters. Ollie wasn’t convinced they’d rearranged the menu even once in 15 years. The board’s white background had yellowed considerably. Or maybe the board had always been yellow, and he’d just never noticed it. 

One of the menu items was scallops over linguine. Who the hell would order scallops from a place like this? he wondered to himself. 

After collecting his change from the cashier, Ollie sat down at one of the dozen Formica booths to wait for his sub. 


An hour later, Ollie walked briskly across campus, squash bag slung over his shoulder. He started to work up a sweat. May in New Hampshire seemed entirely pleasant—unlike the winters, which were cold and harsh. He thought back to his days as a student, wrapped up tightly in a thick coat as he shuttled between his dorm, the classrooms, the dining hall, the gym.

He made his way into the gymnasium, feeling warmed by the familiar cold, gray cement. He passed the weight room, the pool, and wall after wall of pictures of athletic teams past. He was in some of those pictures, somewhere, with long hair.

Finally, Ollie set sights on the squash courts. They were beautiful, well-lit international courts, glass-backed, with ample spectator seating. They had been built less than five years ago, replacing an impressive but now obsolete set of hardball courts. 

The courts were, for the most part, empty. Classes had ended for the year, he guessed.

On one of the courts, a slim brunette was practicing her forehands. Her hair was up in a ponytail that swayed back and forth against her white shirt as she slotted drive after drive. Not bad, he thought. Her swing wasn’t the smoothest—it had a funny hitch in the shoulder—but what she lacked in technique she seemed to be making up for through dedicated practice.

Ollie found himself hoping she was his age. She didn’t look like a student—that was a good start. 

Just then one of her drives caught the nick, and the ball rolled to the middle of the back wall, causing the brunette to whip around suddenly. She caught Ollie gawking at her. He looked back over his left shoulder, as if there might be someone behind him, but nope—he was the only person within a country mile.

A vague sense of dread filled Ollie as he realized that he would now need to turn his head awkwardly back around to face the girl. “Uhhhh,” he stammered, as he started to twist his neck back her way.

Except, when his eyes met her face, she was smiling at him. He wasn’t sure why she was smiling, but he smiled back.

“Ollie?” she asked.

A second wave of dread poured down his back. He did not recognize her. Or, wait—


Ollie slowly blinked himself awake. It was probably time to get up. The light slanted in through the windows in that angled way fall light falls. He grabbed his iPhone off the side table and checked Facebook, which helped his brain engage.

Under the covers, he moved his foot through the sheets until it connected with Hayden’s calf. She budged a little, but she was still asleep.

Ollie looked over her way, admiring her brown hair tumbling down her back and onto the white pillow that was lodged between them. He stopped to appreciate his lucky break of meeting her at the squash courts that past spring. 

They were high school classmates. It had taken him a second to recognize her. Since graduation, she had blossomed, in a way. Not that she was unattractive before, but somehow, she had come into her own. That’s why it took him a second to realize who she was. 

“Is that as tight as you can hit it?” he had asked her then. Ollie chuckled at the memory of his quick burst of sass. 

Most of their other classmates were already married, and most had kids. Ollie and Hayden were glued to each other the rest of the reunion. It was comfortable. To top it off, they both lived in New York City. There was a sense of inevitability that they’d get together.

And here they were.

Ollie got out of bed and went to the bathroom to pee. 

This morning they were off to see the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney. They both liked getting a little culture in on Saturday mornings, before the day got away from them. 

Ollie heard what sounded like an alarm going off. He listened for it, but the sound stopped. He started brushing his teeth. 

Just as he was working his way around his lower back left molars, he heard the alarm again. Maybe it’s Hayden’s alarm, he thought. Weird that she would set one on Saturday; it wasn’t needed. Let her sleep, he thought.

Ollie walked over to Hayden’s side of the bed and picked up her phone to turn off the alarm. Except, her alarm wasn’t going off. 

He couldn’t help but see two text messages that had come in:

“We nail him today.”

“Right after the museum.”


by David Smith

I have always been slow to wake.   I revel in that fog of consciousness that leaves me warm and fuzzy.   Unlike those thriller novels where the assorted action characters are instantly awake at the slightest click, creak, or change in ambient sound, I have never been able to do that.   Yes, a smarter person would have chosen a different path in her life. 

For a lot of reasons. 

If I was a character in a novel, I would have heard the text messages arrive.  I would have seen Ollie checking my phone.  I might not be in my current mess.  Sadly, I just had a vague sense that I had missed something. I sat up and saw Ollie walking toward the bathroom where the light was already on.  

Really, my life was simpler and safer when I was working at “gentlemen’s clubs.”  Not that there were ever any gentlemen in those grip and grope palaces.   But, noooo…I had to step further out onto the ledge.  You see, I was quite popular at New York’s high-priced clubs but the income, while good, couldn’t compare to what I made now.  And my current lifestyle was not bad.   As Charlene sang, “I’ve been to Nice and the Isle of Greece…”  You know the rest.  Truth be told, the rush that I feel from the action, the danger, was better than sex.    

I grabbed my phone and saw that the screen was lit up as if it had just been used.  Had Ollie been looking at my phone? I checked my messages and froze when I saw the messages from Jean-Luc.   Not that the content was unexpected.  It had just been a matter of time.   It was a disaster if Ollie had seen the messages from Jean-Luc.  Yet, it was impossible to be sure.   Was I being paranoid?  

I rolled through my limited options.   Go ahead as planned or call it off?   If I changed the plans now, how would Jean-Luc react?  

“Ollie, what time did you want to head up to the Whitney?” I called across the loft.

"Why don’t we leave about 11:30?  We can walk and grab lunch somewhere before the museum.”

Ollie’s Meatpacking District loft was very trendy, but the open floor plan did not provide privacy.  I needed a place to myself to think.  

Clothing options were limited.   I kept nothing of my own at Ollie’s apartment.   I slipped out of bed and grabbed yesterday’s running clothes from the floor.   I didn’t bother to smell them…it wouldn’t be pleasant.   I looked great in the compression shorts, though.  Just don’t get close to me.     

I poked my head into the bathroom.  “Sounds good.  I am going to run a few errands and clean up at my place.  Meet you back here before 11:30.”  I dashed before Ollie could react.  

I jogged along 14th toward my place in the Flatiron District.   I loved my small apartment across the street from Eataly.   The upscale food emporium reminded me of Harrods Food Hall.  I had spent a lot of time there last year when I lived in London.  

I ducked in Eataly’s side door on my way to the Lavazza counter.   I had just picked up my espresso and croissant and was looking for a quiet place to sit when I saw a face that I knew well, my squash coach at East Side.   

“Hi, Hank!  How are you doing?”

“Hey, Hayden.   It’s good to see you.”   Hank’s smile made me forget my crisis momentarily.   Yes, I have always had a thing for my older squash coaches. Don’t judge me. 

“I haven’t seen you at the club lately.”   

“I know, Hank.  I need to get back and work with you.  I love the “new” East Side.  You’ve done a great job with the place.  I’ll call and get some time booked with you.”

“Great.   I saw a couple of tournaments that would be perfect for you.  Come in, we’ll talk about them.  You have too much talent—you’ve got to use it, Hayden."

“Oh, Hank.   It would require a lot of work to get ready.  I’ll come see you.” I gave Hank a long, simmering smile before I turned and walked slowly to the door, letting Hank get a good long look at my compression shorts.   Best invention ever.   

I found a table under the trees in Madison Square Park and claimed it.   A sip of coffee and bite of croissant and I closed my eyes to consider my next move.  

Should I walk away now?  It was probably safer to see this through than to piss off Jean-Luc.  And there was a lot of money on the table.   Enough that I would be able to disappear for a good long time if necessary.   

You see, I have never been known for making the right decisions.  

How did I get into this mess?   I had been introduced to Jean-Luc by a former client.  That’s how my business worked.  I had been warned that these boys from Quebec were not to be messed with.  

Using my usual cover, I had entered a squash tournament in Montreal.  After my second round match, I took the late afternoon commuter train west from Montreal to the suburb of Beaconsfield.    The train station was near a dilapidated golf course with a number of good trails through the woods.   I avoided the dogs and their owners who had turned the old golf course into a dog park, and headed for the woods.   I wandered the trail through the trees until I was approached by a tall, lean man who was casually well-dressed.    In his mid-40s, I couldn’t help notice that he was fit and quite good looking.   

We wandered through the trees and the wild reeds that grew along the trails.    No one could see us as we walked and talked.   A half hour later, I had agreed to his plan, though I had a feeling that I had no other choice.  He walked away along the trail to the north and I went in the other direction back to the train station and the next train to Montreal.   

Now, after four months of work, at a crucial part of the plan, I had screwed up and left my phone on.  Fuck!

By this time, my coffee was cold and I needed to get going.    I stared at my phone, swallowed hard and composed a message to Jean-Luc.

“We’ve got problems.  He may have seen your texts.”

I walked out of the park toward my apartment and waited for my world to implode.   My anxiety grew with every step.  I forced myself to keep my cool.   Why was Jean-Luc not responding?   

Back in my apartment, I stripped and hopped in the shower.  Soap, rinse, towel, quick.  I didn’t really have time to enjoy the warm water.   I was still dripping when I heard my phone deliver a new message.  To me and my anxiety, the tone sounded ominous.  

“NO changes.  Get him there.”

I guess I had known that already.   It was showtime.  It was Hayden time.   I dressed wisely:  sheer, silk, and small, highlighted with La Perla for fun.  Even if Ollie was suspicious, I was confident that I could manipulate him.

I had luck finding a cab quickly and got back to the loft right on time at 11:30.    As I entered the loft, I called Ollie’s name.  

“Ollie, I’m ready.   Let’s go.    Ollie?”

It was then that I realized I really had screwed up.  


Trouble for Academics
by Al Tommervik

As soon as Ollie was sure Hayden had left, he removed the lid on the toilet tank and extracted a plastic bag he had taped there. He removed the cell phone inside as he carried the package to his desk, where he attached a charger to the phone.

That done, he slumped into his Aeron desk chair and broke into a cold sweat. Who would have thought that an associate professor in physics at Cooper Union would end up the target of some surreptitious attack? Hell, he had thought they were in the clear after six months.

When they had first discussed the idea of rescuing Dr. Marpue Karwah, it had seemed so right. Whisking a theoretical physicist out of Liberia to protect her from the ebola epidemic was the humane thing to do.

Why would anybody care? The scientific community scoffed at Dr. Karwah’s speculations on low energy nuclear reactions, called cold fusion in the popular press. No one took her seriously. An African theoretical physicist? Humbug! And a woman? No way! She couldn’t get published in reputable journals and she couldn’t get adequate equipment in Liberia to test her hypotheses.

However, her self-published treatises on the internet had caught the imagination of a young set of physicists in Manhattan and they had set out to bring her to New York. She lacked official sponsorship, so with the ebola epidemic growing in severity in Liberia, she was refused admittance to the United States.

It was Jock who suggested that they spirit her out of the country. He had some connections to an underground student hackers group and thought they could be of assistance.

The kids were fantastic! With their help, the physicists got Dr. Karwah out of Liberia and into France. A few weeks later, they moved her from France to Canada. And then Ollie had gone to Canada and brought her into the United States.

Someone had said it could be dangerous, but Ollie and Jock had scoffed at that idea. What could be the problem? Even if they were caught, it would only be a slap on the wrist. Academics acting up, not terrorists threatening mayhem. Good grief! Even so, they had set up a backdoor means of communication if anything went wrong. And now Ollie was waiting for the cell to charge so he could activate the warning system.

His thoughts turned to Hayden, both angrily and wistfully. She had sure played him for a sucker! And he had thought maybe she was The One. Ollie’s shyness had prevented him from getting close to a woman. And then came Hayden, a ray of sunshine and a total joy. He wished that that things had played out differently. Maybe there was some rational explanation that didn’t damn her.

Now he concentrated on what he had to do next. He was on a year’s sabbatical from Cooper Union. He’d arranged that so he could assist Dr. Karwah in her attempts to build experimental devices that would support her theses on cold fusion.

So he could run for it. Thinking along those lines, he grabbed his spare squash carry-all and started stuffing necessary items into it. He would be leaving his loft for at least one day.

Finally, the cell phone was ready! He sent the text: “Our plan is compromised. Meet at the agreed place at 1600 hours.” Ollie stared at the text and grimaced. The best they could do for encryption was to use Greenwich Mean Time in their texts. They were some kind of big-time covert operators. NOT!

He grabbed his laptop, typed a quick note, and sent it to the printer. After checking to make sure the file printed correctly, he shut down the computer and added it to the stash in his squash bag.

He changed to cargo pants and a plaid long-sleeved flannel shirt. Pockets and warmth were what was called for right now. His iPhone had charged during the night so he grabbed it and the charger. The iPhone went into his shirt pocket and the charger into his squash bag.

His contingency phone buzzed. A text from Genevieve. “Moving Dr. Karwah by 1800 hours. Stay safe.” Still no word from the others. Maybe they had become so complacent after six months that they had treated their phones like he had treated his -- stuck in a safe place where the battery would run down.

Ollie wandered the loft, examining each item. Take it or leave it? If leave it, remember it and its placement so he would know if it was taken or moved. Soon his pile of take-its was too big to fit in his spare squash bag. Empty the other bag? No way! Wherever he was headed, he was going to be playing.

The cell rang, startling Ollie. Nobody was supposed to have this number. He answered, but didn’t say anything.

“Ollie, it’s Jock. What the hell’s going on? Are you sure you’re not overreacting to something?”

A pissed Ollie shouted, “You dumb shit. Nobody’s supposed to call on this phone. And no I’m not overreacting. Someone or someones are planning to quote-unquote nail me this afternoon. Why are we even having this discussion? It should wait until the whole group can hear at the meeting.”

“That’s the thing. We are the meeting. Waggoner is in the Far East and Hespeth is in Houston. Thank god, Genevieve is available and is acting. Give me more details about being nailed.”

Ollie explained. It was painful, admitting that the love of his life, or at least the love of this summer, was in the process of betraying him. The messages Hayden had received and that he had seen were sent as group messages. So he assumed that more than two people were involved. The sender’s ID was blocked.

Jock was dumbfounded. “Good shit ... after six months? There wasn’t even a fuss in Liberia when she disappeared. Did you tell anyone that you snuck Dr. Karwah into the country?”

“Of course not. I can’t figure out who would care either. It’s not like she was a world-famous scientist.”

Jock was silent for what seemed like an eternity. “Well, you need to make yourself scarce while we formulate a plan. Here’s what you should do.” Jock went on at length about the steps Ollie needed to take immediately. Then he abruptly hung up.

Ollie looked forlornly at his contingency phone. Jock had told him to destroy it, but it was his only secure link to the other conspirators. Well, Jock had set up a rendezvous for tomorrow morning. They could work out new communication protocols then.

So he set the phone on the floor and stomped on it. It was more durable than he thought and he eventually took a hammer to it, pounding it into pieces small enough to flush down the toilet.

He went to the printer and took the printout. Then he wheeled his desk chair out into the middle of the loft. He scotch-taped the note to the back of the chair.


He shouldered his two squash bags and left.


The Chosen One
by Tammy Mehmed

“Get in the car, and don’t be stupid,” spoke the man in the black trench coat with sunglasses, as he nodded to the parked black Audi.  The man had immediately slipped behind Ollie as he walked out of the loft building.  As directed, Ollie slipped into the back seat of the car and next to an unfamiliar man.  The car drove forward, and the man in the trench disappeared into thin air … last seen walking down the street.


“Fuck!  What have I done?”  I realize I am so screwed.  There sitting before me is a stupid chair with a typed note from Ollie. 

I reach into my trench coat pocket and pull out my ringing cell.  I’m hoping to see Ollie’s name on the screen, but it is Jean-Luc.  “Hayden, we have him.  We picked him up as he was leaving his place.  It’s over … it’s all taken care of.  But you, ma chèrie, need a debriefing.  Walk out the door and go to your right down the street.  I’ll pick you up at the next block.”

“Okay, I understand.  I’m on my way.”  I have to admit I am trembling now.  I’m in over my head and now I am worried what Jean-Luc and his team are going to do with me -- do to me.  Sigh.

I head out the door and walk down the street.  As I get to the end of the block, I see a parked black Audi A8 with tinted windows.  I continue to walk, crossing the street toward the car, when the rear window rolls down and I see Jean-Luc’s face in the back seat.  He doesn’t have to say a word.  I walk toward the car and the door opens.  I carefully peer inside to scope my surroundings.  There is just a driver and Jean-Luc.  I get in, but I’m not sure what to expect.

“There is much to discuss, Hayden,” says Jean-Luc.  The car starts to move forward cautiously, negotiating Saturday traffic.  I am very nervous, but Jean-Luc is so calm.  “The matter with Ollie is taken care of,” he continues. 

I interrupt.  “I am so sorry Jean-Luc.  I know I made a horrible mistake.  I left my phone on and out in the open and I guess he was just too comfortable with our relationship or maybe he was already suspicious that we were on to him before he saw the text – at least I assume he saw the text?”  I am talking very fast now because I am so nervous.  I need to settle down, so I take a deep breath.

Jean Luc uses the opportunity to start up again, “You’ll be briefed on this back at our office.  Hayden, the people that I work for would like to fine tune your skills.  You have raw talent for this kind of work.  Funny, you remind me of your father.” 

I suddenly have a very puzzled look on my face.  “You knew my father?” I ask.  Jean-Luc doesn’t miss a beat and continues talking, “You’ve been working freelance out there on your own, which is very dangerous work for someone who isn’t formally trained.  We’d like you to work for us.”

I am wondering if my jaw is dropping.  It sure feels like it. This is all so much now.  But Jean-Luc’s face hasn’t changed expression and he’s not giving me time to get my thoughts together to even speak.

“This was a trial run for us,” Jean-Luc continues.  “And it wasn’t until the end that you lost control.  It was enough for us to see your potential.  Proper training will fix your sloppiness.  It was all very real, don’t get me wrong, but we wanted to get a feel for what you have to offer so we started you with a simple job.  Well, how would you feel about working covert ops for the CIA?”

I feel a sudden rush come over my body.  This is exactly what I have wanted.  There is something so familiar about Jean-Luc.  I have only known him for four months as he has directed me on this mission, yet, I feel so connected to him.  “Jean-Luc, I’m intrigued and interested, and I have so many questions – but I definitely must hear more.  Please tell me about my father.”


Hayden’s father, Jack Vaughn, was Jean-Luc’s mentor at the Agency.  Jack had talked to Jean-Luc about how he had been preparing his daughter since she was a baby.  Part of her training actually included experiments that the Agency was working on in child development and part of her training came from what Jack thought important.  As a child, Hayden was trained in traditional Chinese martial arts, ballet, squash and soccer.  It was all part of Jack’s plan to make her a physically well-rounded athlete who had excellent hand-eye coordination, balance, endurance, mental stamina and poise.  He encouraged her to join the squash team in high school and she excelled.  It almost came too easy for her.  She was a naturally strategic player, unlike her teenage peers. 

Hayden had no idea that all the puzzles and games she played with her dad, both 3D and on paper, were part of developing her analytical and problem-solving abilities.  Unfortunately, her parents' sudden death in a car accident when she was in college caused her to veer off track.  She managed to graduate, but began to flounder after graduation and got mixed up in the gentlemen clubs without her father’s guidance.  Squash was the one thing that kept her head together – so she spent a fair amount of time at the East Side Club during those days.

Jean-Luc hated watching her in this lifestyle and had to get her out of that scene.  Unbeknownst to Hayden, he had been keeping a watchful eye on her activities.  Eventually he came up with some busy work projects to get her out of the club scene so she could get her feet wet in role playing and covert missions.  Jean-Luc was very clever the way he had them presented to her by Club clients.  It was far from being a government operative, but she was getting paid well and she loved it.  Hayden started fancying herself as a modern “Mata Hari”. 


The Audi pulled up to an abandoned warehouse not far from Ollie’s place.  The driver used his phone to open a large door, and the car slid into a dark room which contained the car perfectly.  The warehouse door came down, and then a lift raised the car up one floor to a garage area which housed multiple other similar black A8s.  They walked into the building through a series of secured doors requiring fingerprint and retinal scanners, while Jean-Luc kept his hand on Hayden’s shoulder.  Whether it was to show her comfort, or to insure she didn’t run, she enjoyed the feeling of security it brought her.  They made their way to an internal conference room with tinted glass walls from floor to ceiling on one side.  Jean-Luc had her sit there and wait alone while he excused himself.  Within moments, a middle-aged, professionally-dressed woman appeared with a tray of fresh coffee with all the fixings.  The woman merely said “Good afternoon Miss Vaughn.”

Jean-Luc reappeared about 15 minutes later.  The first words out of his mouth were, “Ma chèrie, we’ve decided it’s time you know what your father did for a living.”


A Little Bonding
by Margot Comstock

Ollie Fox was not pleased. With no idea what was going on, except that Hayden was in on it, he was angry and uncomfortable. He glanced around. The driver looked ordinary, rather small, perhaps. The man next to Ollie was about Ollie’s size, in good shape but not unusually so. They hadn’t taken his squash bags away; of that he was very glad.

At least it was New York; he could recognize pretty much where they were. They’d left the Meat Packing District where he lived; they’d headed uptown and west.

He spoke to the man beside him.

“Excuse me, can you tell me what’s going on?”

The man turned to Ollie. He didn’t smile, but his response wasn’t unfriendly. On the other hand, he wasn’t forthcoming either; Ollie thought, probably really doesn’t know.

“No, I can’t,” the man said. “Somebody wants you and that’s where we’re taking you.”

“You don’t know who that is?”


The man looked about 40, bald, and, Ollie thought, was attempting to appear completely disinterested.

“Gonna be a long trip?” Ollie asked.

The man scowled. “Just long enough,” was all he said.

They took Broadway north, passing Soho and now Chelsea.

After a while, Ollie said, “Okay if I get a book out of my bag? I’d like to read.”

The man looked at him quizzically. “In this circumstance you want to read?” he asked. “You crazy?”

“Mebbe. No problem, eh?”

“Yeah, problem. Forget it.”

Startling Ollie, the driver, who’d seemed to be paying no attention, piped up. “Get the book out, Gus. Nobody’s gonna care if he reads a damn book on the way.”

“Shut up, Kirk, and drive!”

So these two don’t much like each other, Ollie noted. After a minute, he pointed at the bag with the squash gear and said quietly, “Book’s in that one. Sure would appreciate it. Kinda nervous here….”

The man called Gus, though looking irritated, got up and examined the bag, slowly unzipped it. Ollie had thrown the book in the bag as an afterthought, right on top, and the man took it, hesitating to check out the plethora of squash paraphernalia….then handed the book to Ollie. It was escape fiction, Ollie knew; too bad it wasn’t a handbook on escape. Still, he settled down with the old book from a series he’d just begun to read. Live and Let Die. It wasn’t a big heavy tome, more’s the pity, he thought. Nope, this book isn’t gonna take either of these characters out of my way.

This was not a good situation. Ollie grew tenser, scared really. They’d reached Times Square, passing 42nd Street. Movies on the right, legit theaters on the left. How he loved this city—but no time to enjoy that now!

All right, he said to himself. Time to think. What is this about. I don’t think it’s about Dr. Karwah. Hayden’s involved; she knows about Dr. Karwah, what little I’ve told her, which isn’t very much. But Hayden IS involved with this—she knew about someone, these folks, wanting me for something, something bad! What? WHAT!

He couldn't just sit here and let it, whatever it was, happen. He had to do something. Ok, start simple and easy.

“Do you know where we’re going?” he asked his backseat mate.

No response.

“C’mon, Gus. I didn’t ask WHERE, just if you knew…”

Gus was mum, but the driver wasn’t.

“This is where you're going,” the driver said, and he turned sharply onto 43nd Street going west, turned south on 9th Avenue. After a few dilapidated blocks, he pulled into an alley and stopped in front of an old door with oddly vanishing writing on it. At the side of the door was an unlit light with a large round bulb that was partially broken.

An old theater, Ollie thought. He could see the Little Shubert nearby, now empty…. Looking around, Ollie saw three Audis parked along the alley. Just yards beyond the door, Ollie noted a large metal garage door.

The driver got out of the car. He came around to the side Ollie was on and opened the door.

“Okay, get out.”

Ollie grabbed his two squash bags, one with each hand, and, moving fast, got half out.

“You can’t take them!” the driver barked. Ollie swung the frontmost bag at the driver, knocking him down. He felt a tug on the other bag and yanked. It was heavier and he had to yank hard and several times, but he knew how to handle the long, heavy, strangely shaped squash bag, Thanks, Black Knight, he murmured. Finally he went from a strong yank to a sudden push, and Gus lost his balance. The driver was beginning to get up; Ollie walloped him again. Then he got the bag open enough to extract his gun; he aimed at Gus.

“Keys,” he said to Kirk. Kirk was a good enough driver, but he didn’t sign on for this. He handed over the keys.

“You,” Ollie said to Kirk. “What’s this all about?” Kirk said nothing. “Gus?” Gus looked sullen.

“Okay. I’m outta here. I’ll dump this car, so your bosses won’t find me. Just remember, I could’ve shot you but I didn’t.”

Ollie climbed into the Audi, pushed the ignition, and burnt rubber out of there, took 8th Avenue north toward—where? Where was safe?

East Side Squash.

A couple of blocks from East Side, he pulled into a construction zone near a Key Food and parked. He took a t-shirt out of one of his bags and wiped down the car. Then, bags in tow, he headed on foot for East Side, where he expected to find safety and good will.


In the theater, Jean-Luc spoke.

“They’re taking too long. Steve, take a look out the stage door. I don’t want to call; those two goons are likely to give away too much in the process of answering me.”

Hayden was sitting on the stage, facing the seats. She looked like a person trying to look cool when really very nervous. There were several other men in the theater.

Before Steve got to the door, someone pounded on it. Steve looked at Jean-Luc, who got out a gun and nodded. Steve opened the door slowly.

“Jeez, let us in!” Gus said, walking right over to Jean-Luc and sitting a couple of seats to his right. Kirk came in slowly, closed the door and stood by it.

Jean-Luc was furious. “What the hell did you do? Where is he? Goddam it, spit it out—now!”

“He’s no patsy, Jean,” Kirk said. “Cool as a cucumber. Polite. Cooperative. Actually got out a book to read on the way.”

“So,” said Jean-Luc, “you two left him in the car to finish his reading? What? What?”

“He’s in great shape, fast. When I opened the door to get him out to come in here, he grabbed his bags and hit me with one—dang thing musta been full of steel—I went down and somehow he got Gus with the other bag. He had a gun in one of the bags and he took the keys and drove off in the Audi. That’s when we knocked.”

Hayden hoped no one noticed the hint of a smile that crossed her lips and quickly disappeared.


Racket Therapy

by A.J. Kohlhepp

Get it together, I tell myself. Don’t show them what you are feeling right now…. I reach casually into the pocket of my pullover and pull out my phone. Nothing (yet) from Ollie.

“Anything from Ollie,” inquires Jean-Luc in a cool voice.

“No,” I blurt. “Just a text from the head pro at East Side.”

One of the operatives – the one who looks as if he ended up on the wrong end of a Cameron Pilley forehand -- steps forward to impart some information to his boss.

“East Side?”

“Yeah, the club where I train.”

Jean-Luc nods knowingly. No doubt he is aware of my father’s encouragement of my squash habit.

“And what news from ‘head pro’,” inquires Jean-Luc, bleding patience and patronization seamlessly.

“Nothing important -- an open slot this afternoon.”

“A lesson?”

“4 to 5 is wide open,” I read off of the screen, then direct it toward Jean-Luc in case he should desire visual confirmation of the least relevant factoid of a very strange day.

The other operative, this one bearing no marks of physical trauma except for the residual shuddering gasps that might come after a particularly grueling rallies against Nicol David, checks his phone and steps forward to confer with Jean-Luc.

“Excellent,” Jean-Luc murmurs to his henchman. Turning to me, he states, “I think perhaps you should take him up on it, Hayden.”

“Excuse me ?,” I expectorate. “I don’t see how squash is going to help right now.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” laughs Jean-Luc. “A little racket therapy never hurts… .”


A couple of hours later, having picked up my squash bag, guzzled two large lattes from Lavazza, and checked my phone three or four hundred times, I walk in the front door of East Side Squash.

“A little racket therapy” keeps ricocheting about in my head. How could Jean-Luc know that phrase?

“Hayden,” says Selena, the Sole Cycle sadist from behind the desk. “Haven’t seen you for a while,” she adds with a menacing grin. “Fancy a spin?”

“Um, no thanks. Just here for a little racket therapy.”

Selena raises an aggressively pruned eyebrow.

“A lesson with Hank,” I explain. “He had a cancellation.”

“Of course,” she smiles. “Need a towel?”

“Please,” I smile, and catch the plush towel she flings my way, nothing like the course cotton rags we tried to dry ourselves off with at St Exodus.

A quick change in the locker room and I head for the glass-walled show court. When I get there, I notice that the lights above the court are on, while those surrounding it have been dimmed. Unusual for a Saturday afternoon -- but maybe the mood lighting will help me focus.

Dropping my bag and pulling out my crimson Stiletto eye guards and Ion X-Force Cornett, I step through the open door.

There on the “T”, moving casually through a familiar series of strokes and steps, is a familiar physique. But not the one that I expect.

“Hayden,” he says warmly as he turns around. “I was wondering how long it would take you.”

“Ollie,” I stammer in disbelief. “How did – what about – “

Ollie chuckles, then pounds the black rubber sphere onto the boards. “You ready?”

More than he could ever know… . We hit in silence for a few minutes, relishing this pregnant pause that English call the “knock up.”

“Up or down,” I ask Ollie, about to spin my racket, hardly able to tell one from the other. The serve doesn’t matter much when we play, as I need to ratchet down my game a notch to keep him from losing hope.

“Down,” calls a remorseless voice from the dark void off the court, “but apparently not out.”

Onto the court steps none other than Jean-Luc, in a black Fila jumpsuit, flanked by his two associates in their standard issue suits and shades.

“Gentlemen,” he orders calmly. “Please escort the professor to the gallery. There is a certain matter I need to work out with Miss Vaughn.”

Ollie seems to be considering something foolhardy, but I will take my chances on the court.

“It’s okay, Ollie,” I reassure him. “You just be careful with these two.”


Eschewing the contemporary fad for 11-point scoring, we agree upon the traditional 15-point game from the hardball era.

Hardball indeed. The stakes for our single game are simple. If I win, Ollie walks; if I lose, then I have to make sure Ollie never walks (or sees the light of day) again.

“I am certain that your father would approve of this configuration,” observes Jean-Luc with a great deal of confidence. “Jack always enjoyed a structured risk.”

Jean-Luc is an aggressive ball-striker, but his shots get looser as the game draws on. And I am finding my rhythm now, playing my way into the match and thinking more about placement than points.

At 7-all, Jean-Luc is starting to perspire visibly, his dark clothes taking on a deepening sheen. He begins pausing between points to wipe his racquet hand on the glass.

Ollie sits nervously between them, elbows on knees and hands clasped together in front of his mouth. Every so often he will take them apart to clap or cheer.

As we hit 11 points each, Jean-Luc’s breathing has become ragged. It is clear that he is struggling under the physical duress of this contest.

On we play, Jean-Luc lashing out for reverses and hunting nicks, while I keep stretching him with soft drops and firm drives. Irving Johns, the poet laureate of St. Exodus, has said that you should never write about what you love, but I can imagine trying to capture this feeling in prose.

We are dead even, point by point. Jean-Luc has a game ball at 14-13, but I pull him back to 14-all with a delicate drop that he frames off of the forehand side, just clipping the tin.

“Set one,” he pronounces boldly, pride and athleticism masking extreme cardio-pulmonary distress. Good, I think…. Let’s end this now.

With a firm serve into his body, I put Jean-Luc on the defensive. He volleys aggressively, looking to end it with a nick, but the ball kicks out on my forehand side. Racket up and ready, I wait an extra split second before I trickle a boast toward the front left.

Jean-Luc pushes hard to the front and attempts the shot we are all trained to look for: the straight drop. I have seen this sequence so many times that I am practically on top of him as he makes his desperate play.

His drop is well angled but high, lacking finesse. I am onto it quickly and strike cleanly through the ball, driving it toward the backhand corner, where it caroms softly into the back wall, six inches up, then drops gently to the floor.

Jean-Luc, having extended himself in a frantic last effort, lies on the floor, angled awkwardly into the back corner. He does not move. Gasping for air and understanding myself, I place two fingers across his left wrist. No pulse. It’s over.

In my periphery, I can sense that Ollie has risen, as have the book-ends. A closer motion draws my eyes.

Stepping onto the court is a ghost.

“No need to play that last ball,” observes my father dryly. “He never cleared. It was a stroke all the way.”

Chapter Seven

by Pierre Bastien

Ollie stood motionless, observing. He was outside the squash court, a few paces beyond the glass back wall.

Ollie’s two minders, Gus and Kirk, stood on either side of him, a little too close.

They all stared at Hayden, who was on court, kneeling next to Jean-Luc. He looked lifeless, slumped in the corner, legs sprawled awkwardly.

Hayden had two fingers on Jean-Luc’s wrist, presumably to check for a pulse. Was he dead? He sure looked it.

Ollie was hoping for some sort of status report from Hayden. But whatever she had discovered about the poor bastard’s health, she wasn’t sharing; instead she was frozen, staring at the guy who had just made his dramatic entrance.

Jack – that was the guy’s name.

You see, Ollie had fled to the East Side facility. Instinctively, he had gone straight down to the men’s locker room.

There was a guy, who would turn out to be named Jack, leaning nonchalantly against a bank of lockers, bathed in fluorescent light, examining his fingernails. He looked about 60, very lean, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He was dressed in black shoes, gray trousers with a black belt, and a black sweater – one of those military-style ones, with patches on the shoulders and elbow.

Ollie stopped when he saw the guy.

Hi Ollie,” the guy had said, tilting his head up to catch Ollie’s eye. “I’m Jack.”

Ollie was taken aback, but just a little. On this particular day, surprises were the norm. Ollie considered running, but he decided to play along.

Hey Jack,” said Ollie. “Do we know each other?”

We do now,” Jack said. “Soooooo,” he continued, staring down at his fingernails again, “you should come with me if you want to live.”

What?” blurted Ollie.

Just kidding,” said Jack. “Sort of. Come along, and I’ll tell you how you’re involved in all this.”

A guy with a six-pack and leg tattoos emerged from the showers wearing a too-small towel and some Adidas shower shoes. He walked past Jack and Ollie and stopped at a nearby vanity mirror to squeeze out some body lotion.

I’m not sure I want to know how I’m involved in all this,” replied Ollie, nervously shifting his squash bags around.

Come on,” said Jack. “We need to get set up before Hayden arrives.”

Hayden?” Ollie asked, but Jack was already moving toward the exit.

Ollie paused and glanced over at Mr. Six-Pack, who was starting to put lotion on one of his legs.

Jack walked out of the locker room, and Ollie hustled to catch up.

Jack was bounding up the stairs, Ollie trying to keep pace with him.

So,” gasped Ollie, “how is Hayden involved?”

We’ll get to that,” said Jack, as they reached the top floor, dashed past an exercise room filled with treadmills and a few sweaty patrons, and ducked into the squash area. Ollie could hear the thwack-thwack of a squash game in progress.

Suit up,” directed Jack, waving Ollie towards a changing area tucked beside the courts.

You mean get in my squash gear?” asked Ollie.

Non-marking shoes and everything,” Jack replied casually, looking down at his fingernails.

Ollie ducked into the changing area, putting his bags down on the handy benches. He pulled out his squash kit and threw it on quickly.

As Ollie emerged, Jack tossed him a fresh Dunlop double yellow dot ball.

Brand new,” said Jack. “Now listen, we only have a minute. I want you to get on this court here and warm the ball up. A few visitors will be along shortly. They’ll be familiar to you. Now, here’s the thing. Whatever you do, don’t run. Just play along. Got it?”

Got it,” said Ollie.

As bizarre as this all seemed, Ollie trusted Jack. Whatever situation was developing here, Jack seemed to be on top of things. Plus, he wanted to find out the truth about Hayden. Jack hopefully would fill him in when the time came.

OK,” said Jack. “I’m going to disappear for a bit. Remember: stay cool. Just play along.”

Jack walked into the changing area and then disappeared out a back door.

Ollie hopped onto the court and began warming up. Who was going to meet him here?

A few minutes later, when Hayden showed up, he was hardly surprised.

Then Hayden and Jean-Luc had started their game, the winner supposedly deciding Ollie’s fate.

Now here he was, standing between Gus and Kirk, watching Hayden look for a pulse while staring at Jack.

The next word out of Hayden’s mouth cleared up some of the confusion.

Dad,” she almost whispered, as a smile broke out across her face.

Hayden finally stood up and embraced Jack in a huge bear hug.

Hey, kid,” said Jack, kissing Hayden on the top her head.

Good to see you again, Dad,” Hayden replied. “Sorry that didn’t go quite as planned.”

We’ll get ‘em another way,” said Jack.

Uh,” ventured Ollie, “what’s going on here?”

Jack explained, “Hayden and I have been trying to trap Jean-Luc for over a year. We finally get everything lined up” – Jack broke out into a grin here – “and Hayden goes and kills the guy on game point, before we can learn anything from him.”

Hey,” said Hayden, “how could I know he was about to have a heart attack?”

Right,” said Jack. “Anyway, Ollie, I promised to tell you how you fit into all this. Well, Jean-Luc used to be my protégé at the CIA. Over the years he became increasingly unreliable, even a loose cannon. Eventually he left the agency and went out on his own. He got mixed up with a gang in Quebec.”

What does that have to do with me?” asked Ollie.

Oh, they’re very interested in some research you’ve been doing,” replied Jack.

Ollie didn’t say anything. Could they know about his work with Dr. Karwah?

And no,” said Jack, “it’s got nothing to do with that cold fusion nonsense.”

Oh,” said Ollie, sheepishly. “What then?”

It’s what you were working on before that – your research on oil pipelines. You know the Keystone XL pipeline, the one that’s going to carry the tar sands oil?” asked Jack. “Well, these Quebec guys are trying to sabotage the project if and when it gets built. And they are pretty sure you can help them.”

Ollie looked at Hayden. He asked her, “And what’s your deal in all this?”

My job was to protect you,” she replied, “while giving Jean-Luc the impression I was working for him. In fact all this time I’ve been secretly in touch with my dad, trying to bring down Jean-Luc.”

So it was just a job then,” said Ollie.

It started that way,” said Hayden, her eyes cast downward. “But it got more complicated as time went on.”

Listen,” interrupted Jack. “We need to get out of here. We don’t have much time before Jean-Luc’s associates start coming after us.”

Jack moved toward the door, with Hayden and Ollie trailing behind, still wearing their squash clothes.

Gus and Kirk stayed behind, presumably to deal with the body.

Chapter Eight

You Know What You Need To Do
by Tammy Mehmed

As the three of them exited the East Side Club, Jack waved his hand for his driver to approach.  A black Mercedes SUV pulled up to the curb at 86th Street.  Ollie and Hayden quickly crawled into the back seat, while Jack slid into the passenger seat.  They ran out of there quickly, but both Ollie and Hayden had picked up their squash bags with their gear and change of clothes.

Ollie’s heart was pounding.  “Thank you Hayden, for winning the game.  Does this really mean I get to walk away?” 

“Honestly, Dad, how did that happen?  Jean-Luc was in such good shape – it just doesn’t make any sense that he would drop dead,” rambled Hayden.  “The bet was that Ollie gets to walk if I win.  Do you think his Quebec group is going to honor that bet or do they even know?”

“Well, I don’t think we can take any chances with that group.  They’ll be suspicious about the entire arrangement – and who knows if he had approval for that.  But he clearly had a heart attack.  His boys were right there and saw him go down,” said Jack.  “I just wanted a little insurance so I had Gus put a little something in his coffee this afternoon to guarantee your win.  Not that I was ever doubting your skills, honey.  And I certainly wasn’t planning on him literally dropping dead.” 

Ollie kept at the questioning, “What – so Gus is working for you too?  But hey, so am I okay?  What about the ‘we nail him’ text?  Didn’t that mean they wanted to kill me?”  

Just then, Hayden’s cell phone rang.  It was Hank, the pro at East Side.  “Hank!” she exclaimed. 

Hank’s voice sounded uncertain, “Hayden – are you okay?  Some older guy with gray hair approached me this afternoon and told me you wouldn’t be needing your lesson but still wanted the court time and paid me cash for the last minute change.  It was all rather odd, so I wanted to make sure you were alright.” 

“Sorry for the change in plans, Hank.  Maybe I can explain one day, but I can’t talk now.  Thanks for understanding – see you around coach.”  And Hayden hung up the phone staring out the car window.  It had begun raining and the rhythmic sound of the wipers had a calming effect on her.

Ollie continued to be confused and was getting impatient.  “Hayden, so, what about that text?  Jack is your dad, right?  I thought your parents died in a car accident.  God I am so confused – seriously all this over my oil sands research?”

“I’m sorry Ollie, I know there is so much to explain.  Yes, Jack is my dad and I thought he died in that car accident too.  My mom really did die, but as you can see, my dad survived.  The CIA decided to keep him underground and fake his death because of the mission he was working.  The bad guys think they killed him.  So while dad was underground, they were devising a plan to trap Jean-Luc.  My dad thought they could eventually bring me into their plan since Jean-Luc started using me for some of his dirty work.  Just over a year ago my dad finally contacted me to recruit me for the Agency– you can imagine how shocked I was to see my dead father.  He knew everything I had been doing because the Agency had been following Jean-Luc after he went rogue.  In the beginning, I didn’t even know I was working for Jean-Luc and only came to meet him with this project.”

“Holy shit, so you’re essentially a double agent then,” blurted Ollie.

Hayden smiled and winked at Ollie, leaned back into the seat, and looked out the window again.

“So Hayden, what about that text?  Didn’t that mean they wanted to kill me?” repeated Ollie.

“Well not literally.  They were going to use an ether gag so you would go easily, but we never got to that part, and, well, all the teams had to change plans.  They really did want your expertise on the Canadian oil sands for the Keystone XL pipeline.  I’m not sure what they were going to do with you after they got what they wanted though.  Those covert Quebec groups play dirty since they are competing with the local mafia and Hells Angels.  It was your freedom guarantee I was playing for.”

“Well, I’m set up to meet with my colleagues tomorrow morning.  In my paranoia this morning, I set off the warning system after you left.  I don’t have any way to contact them now to tell them it’s not about Dr. Karwah.  I just need to get back into the city by 10 a.m. so I can meet them at The Ground Zero Memorial.”


The car dropped my dad off at his concealed Agency office in Manhattan.  I got out of the car and kissed him on the cheek.  He whispered to me, “I’m sorry honey, but it’s time now.  You know what you need to do.”  I slipped into the back seat and slithered closer to Ollie, touching his hand and looking into his eyes.  The SUV continued through town over the George Washington Bridge, heading north on I-87 toward Westchester County.  Our bodies were completely exhausted from the day’s activities, but I couldn’t let my guard down.  Stay focused girl.  We bantered back and forth about our days at St. Exodus Prep and how thankful we were for the squash coaches we had.  It kept my mind off the inevitable.

I had been briefed about the Safe House we used in quiet Tarrytown near the Sleepy Hollow border.  Enough tourist traffic in the neighborhood so Safe House users could look like vacation renters.  As we pulled up to the long driveway, I could see it was a quaint little ranch style home on a heavily wooded acre lot.  In my head, I had been going through the floor plan I had been shown remembering the rooms and where to find the hidden weapons closet.

As our driver pulled up to the garage door, he used a remote opener and there in the garage was a Ford Escape, black of course, with tinted windows.  The driver handed me the keys and the security code and then we grabbed our bags and headed toward the door through the garage.

I was thankful for the refrigerator filled with all the necessities.  Ollie found wine in the wet bar and promptly opened a bottle of David Bruce Pinot.  “Cheers,” he said, “mission accomplished, right?”  I smiled at him and said “Yes, well done.  We make quite a team.  To us.”  I took a sip, but Ollie drank the entire glass in less than 5 minutes.  I took his hand and walked him toward the bathroom where we undressed to get into the large Jacuzzi tub.  I turned on the hot water to steam up the bathroom for warmth and then guided him to the sitting chair next to the tub and began massaging his neck.  He was relaxed from the wine and the warmth and was enjoying the deep massage. 

And with a quick twist, I heard the snap and watched his naked body slump in the chair.  I leaned over and kissed his head - ‘Sorry sweetie, I wish it didn’t have to end this way.’

Chapter Nine

I ain’t got no body
by Al Tommervik

Hayden grabbed her squash gear and left through the door to the garage, triggering the keypad that controlled the garage door as she exited. Climbing into the Ford Escape, she backed out carefully and stopped. She studied the street in both directions. What she didn’t need was any surveillance. 

If there had been a black Mercedes SUV or a black Audi on the street, she would have pulled back into the garage and gone hunting for the weapons cache in the house. As it was, if there was surveillance, at least they weren’t so obvious in their choice of vehicles.

Jean-Luc had seemed to have eyes everywhere and her dad seemed equally well informed. So Hayden devised a circuitous route back into the city to evade anyone watching the obvious routes back into Manhattan.

Hayden crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge into New Jersey. Construction on a replacement bridge was ongoing and Hayden thought it would be a miracle if the old bridge held up until the new bridge was ready.

She proceeded to the Garden State Parkway and joined it going south. The Garden State seemed to have toll booths every few miles and Hayden felt she had a good chance to catch sight of anyone following her. The Escape was not equipped with an E-Z Pass transponder, so she had to stop and manually pay at each booth. That gave her a good shot at detecting any follower.

She was aiming to cross back over to Manhattan through the Lincoln Tunnel, but thought better of it. Instead, she took Route 4 and planned to cross the Hudson on the George Washington Bridge.

Route 4 gave her another chance to check for a follower. She hated the road under normal circumstances, convinced as she was that a sadistic traffic engineer with a deep-seated hatred of all things New Jersey had designed it.

She had picked up a light blue Plymouth that had gotten on the Garden State when she had, and it also opted for Route 4. Now on extreme alert, Hayden dodged through traffic as best she could to determine if the Plymouth represented a threat. But it turned off in Teaneck, much to her relief.

After crossing the Hudson, she turned south on the Henry Hudson Parkway. It was crowded, as usual, and the drivers were crazy, as usual. There was a new, lower speed limit for traffic in New York City, but the drivers on the Henry Hudson seemed all to be practicing for either Le Mans or Talladega.

The road became the West Side Highway and, nearing the Lincoln Tunnel, she left it  and made her way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal parking structure.

Once she parked, the enormity of events hit her and she broke down sobbing. What a mess! Jean-Luc was dead, but he was a bad guy, or so her father said. But Jean-Luc claimed to be CIA, had offered to sponsor her application there, and had promised her big money to help in reeling in Ollie. Still, in the end he had played her for Ollie’s freedom.

Her dad, Jack, claimed to be CIA. But now she had serious doubts about that. He had contributed to the death of Jean-Luc and ordered her to kill Ollie. The CIA did many strange things, but they weren’t in the habit of knocking off professors of physics. Maybe imprisoned in Guantanamo or renditioned to some hell-hole in Kazakstan, but outright murder didn’t seem right.

She had been so glad to learn he dad was alive, she had never questioned his story about the CIA participating in his faux demise. Now she had second thoughts. Among them: If he had survived, why hadn’t her mother? What had happened? Did he kill her, too? The more she thought about it, the madder she got.

She regretted listening to her dad. Jack always had a good rationale for what needed to be done. But she wished she had kept an open and critical mind. Now, here she was in a car of mysterious provenance after murdering Ollie and contributing to the death of Jean Luc.

Her world was topsy-turvy. Jean-Luc and Ollie were dead and Jack, who was supposed to be dead, was alive.

As she sat there, commiserating with herself, she realized that the worst part was that Ollie was dead. Ollie ... the only man who had ever loved her just for herself. He hadn’t treated her as a sex object or as a tool of covert enterprises. He never asked her for anything, just giving her the respect that other men had denied her.

Who could she call? Gus? He worked for Jean-Luc, or Jack, or both, or neither! Kirk? Who knew where he stood in all of this. And she damn well wasn’t going to be calling her dad right now.

She had nobody.


The worst of her emotional reaction having passed, Hayden headed toward Times Square and the Starbucks there, needing a caffeine pick-me-up. She eschewed the Starbucks on the concourse level of the Port Authority because she wanted to get some distance from the car.

Her phone was going crazy with texts, emails, and voice messages every few seconds. Jack, Gus, Kirk, and Steve were all desperate to reach her. After some thought, she decided to talk to Steve. Jean-Luc had promised her a big payoff when she delivered Ollie and maybe Steve could facilitate that. She found one of his missed calls and punched it to call back.

“Hayden. What the hell’s happening? Jean-Luc’s dead and you and Ollie disappeared with some old guy who’s supposed to be dead. We need you and Ollie here now.”

“There’s a slight problem with that. Ollie’s dead.” Hayden pushed the phone away from her face as a new bout of tears fell.

“Hayden? Hayden? Answer me. Are you still there?”

“Yeah. Things are just strange. Listen. Jean-Luc promised me a big bonus when I delivered Ollie. I delivered him and it’s not my fault you guys lost him. I want my bonus.”

“Not so fast, Hayden. Weird stuff is happening. Good guys are dead and a dead guy’s alive. Who knows from dead or alive? I need to see a body.”

“OK, pick me up at the Starbucks in Times Square and we’ll head to Tarrytown so you can see for yourself.”


The black Audi pulled into the driveway in Tarrytown and Hayden, Steve and two of his cohorts climbed out of the car. Hayden punched in the access code on the keypad and the garage door opened.

Steve sent his men into the house to survey the scene.

Minutes passed. Hayden couldn’t understand the delay. Ollie was right there in a chair next to the jacuzzi.

The men emerged from the house. One of them walked to Hayden and took her arm. The other man whispered in Steve’s ear.

Steve turned to Hayden. “What are you trying to pull? Ollie’s not in the house. All hell’s about to break loose. My people react poorly to disappointment. And dead or alive, right now I ain’t got no body.”

Chapter 10

Body of Work 

by David Smith

While the “boys” were in the house, I had time to toss this crazy day around in my mind. Was it really just a few hours ago that I woke up in Ollie’s bed on the verge of betraying him. Betraying him was such a benign way to say that I had screwed him, helped kidnapped him, subsequently rescued him, only to kill him all in the course of a few hours. Now, that’s a day’s work.

My earlier meltdown was out of character. Don’t really know what could have caused that! It was just a typical murder-my-lover-in-the-nude type of day. Truthfully, he really sucked as a lover, but that shouldn’t get you killed. Otherwise, I would have racked up quite a body count by now.

What the Hell?

I was stunned to see Steve’s buddies come out of the safe house. They were not supposed to come out.

When Steve told me that Ollie’s body was gone, I was further staggered.

“What do you mean the body is gone? That is just stupid,” I said mustering as much bravado as I could. For the life of me—well, that may be an unfortunate choice of words—I had no idea what happened to the body. Dad must have changed the plan.

“Let me show you,” I said quickly, as I bolted from the car and headed for the house. Safe house, indeed. It couldn’t keep a dead body safe.

As I pushed open the door, I made as much noise as I could hoping that Dad or his team were still in the building--as was the original plan. While slightly skeptical that they were still there, I had to trust Dad.

I charged through the house with the grace of an overweight squash player making as much noise as reasonable. I continued to hold out hope that Dudley-Do-Right would rescue Nell, but if not, this Nell would have to get to the weapons closet. I worked over in my mind how best to get to the pantry where the weapons were hidden.

Despite knowing what they had said, I was still stunned when I got to the bathroom. Clearly there was no body, but as I took in the scene, I could appreciate that whoever had cleaned up had done so quickly. My David Bruce Pinot, or what was left of it, was still on the counter next to the tub. Not being one to waste a good Pinot, I walked over and drained the glass.

Pointedly, I held the glass out to Steve. “This is my glass of wine! I left it here after Ollie sort of passed away.”

“Cute. Then where is his glass?”

“He left it in the kitchen where he drank it.” With that, I charged out of the bathroom and down the hall to the kitchen, praying that the wine, the glass, or Dudley would be there.

Empty. No wine. No glass. Sadly, no Dudley to rescue me either. Hayden, you are in deep shit. I blustered around the kitchen acting as if this whole thing was preposterous, and in the process, worked my way over toward the pantry.

I was just a step away from the weapons cache when Steve pulled his own gun and shouted for me to “Stop!”

I have never been great at taking orders, so I paused for half-a-beat, mentally said screw it, and ripped open the door to the pantry, and pulled it shut behind me. Just as I reached the weapons and grabbed myself a Glock, I heard an explosion behind me and saw a flash of light under the door. After a very short pause, gunfire erupted. I noticed with a certain degree of self-interest that none of the bullets were focused on the pantry.

Shooting gave way to shouting, and the resulting cacophony of voices gave me hope that the worst was over. I may have great legs, but at the moment they were quite wobbly. My Glock and I eased toward the pantry door.

A first glance showed bodies down and pools of blood ruining the shine on the hardwood floors. The two bodies closest to the pantry were Steve’s buddies. Gathering my courage, I eased further out into the kitchen and saw my father with his gun trained steadily on Steve, who was kneeling on the floor holding a bloody shoulder. He wouldn’t be playing squash any time soon. But then neither would his buddies.

“Dad? Can you explain what is going on?” I asked with no little amount of attitude. I had been a teenager once, so Dad was used to it.

“Yes, Hayden, I can explain. Let me get this cleaned up first.”

“Dad! Now!” Ok, in some ways I never stopped being a teenager.

Dad got one of his men to keep an eye, and a gun, on Steve, and instructed another to get one of the company doctors over to Tarrytown right away. Dad then nudged me out of the room and onto the screened-in porch at the back of the house.

“There was a slight change in plans.”

“You don’t say! What the hell happened?”

“Well, Hayden, half of the team that was supposed to be here before you arrived was in an accident on the Cross Bronx. I didn’t think we had enough men to assure that we could take out those two, keep Steve alive, and most importantly protect you. We decided to make sure we could draw them all into the house before we made our move. We decided to make them hunt for the body. There wasn’t a safe way to update you since you were with them. You did great by the way.”

“So where is Ollie?”


“Ok. Are you going to show him to Steve so that he knows that he is dead?”

“Yes, let’s do that now. And hopefully, he will lead us to his boss, the person who was controlling Jean-Luc. We need to find that person.”

Dad and I led Steve carefully down the stairs to the basement. There, propped up in the corner was Ollie. I fought down the bile that gorged up into my throat. Ollie was definitely dead. Cold. Blue. The odd angle of his legs indicated that he was still in rigor. Yup, no doubt about it. I did a good job of killing him. Really, he wasn’t that bad of a lover.


An hour north of Montreal, the middle-aged blonde walked slowly through the Disney-like village of Mont Tremblant. The cool mountain air always helped her to think and clear her mind. The loss of Jean-Luc was especially difficult for her—professionally and personally. She did not believe that he had a heart attack. She suspected that Jack had something to do with it. She also suspected that Jack was the reason the rest of her team had not made contact in hours.

She paused at a little walk up shop, picked up an order of poutine, and sat at the base of the ski slopes. As she ate the purely Quebecoise concoction of pomme frites, soft cheese, and gravy, she watched the hikers making their way down the hill in the darkening twilight.

Settling on a difficult decision, she reached for her phone and dialed a long forgotten number. The distant ring ended with a crisp voice mail message. She hesitated, and then plunged forward. She had no choice.


Chapter 11

Too Many Bodies
by Margot Comstock

“Hayden," wrote Hayden’s mother Ted--a name chosen as soon as she was independent enough to abandon her given name of Edmonia, which she abhorred—“Hayden, this is Ted.

“Yes, I too survived the accident--actually there was no accident; your father trashed the car to make us free of, well, of the past. It’s worked, for more than a decade.

“I’m appalled at what has happened, at what your father has brought about. He’s a fool—a brilliant fool in his way--but terrible, and so unwise.” 

Ted took a sip of crisp white Canadian wine, gazed through the window at the stark, gnarly winter trees and the glistening snow of Quebec. She had chosen a small skiing town, an easy distance from Quebec and Toronto, for a few days of pure peace and renewal. The town turned out to be a perfect choice, for unexpected reasons. 

Ted was a scientist, a realist; if she were to worship (a concept she disliked) anything, it would be this planet. And science, but, most of all, Earth. This little town was full of churches of various denominations, churchgoers, and Mennonites. Good grief, Mennonite. In short, things she eschewed. 

Yet in her short visit, she’d met a Sikh who lived in an old Baptist Church building and a Mennonite who was one of the Sikh’s best friends. And she liked them, thoroughly enjoyed their company. Ted felt more peace than ever before in her rather difficult life.

If only she could stay here, safe, away from the past. And yet she was attempting to reconnect with her child. Her “black seed”? She thought not, really.

“Hayden, I was with Jean-Luc for several years; he was childish and brash but talented and charming. I grieve his death, but I won’t miss him.”

And she had plans that would take her far away from Canada, fairly new plans that would change her life once again. This time, so much for the better. Except for Ted’s new partner, Hayden would be the first to know.

“Not long ago, I met an amazing woman, a scientist from Liberia, who was being brought through Quebec on the way to the United States, a trip arranged by a group of courageous, caring scientists surreptitiously led by Jean-Luc. I was to host her while she was in Canada. She stayed with me in Quebec for only two weeks, but that was enough for me to understand that I had been denying myself all my life. The woman, Marpuh Karwah, had no such confusion; she had known herself well all her life.

“Have you ever met a stranger, someone you know will remain a stranger--perhaps a waitress at a lunch counter you stop in on a trip, or someone you happen to sit next to on a plane or bus--and realize this person, whom most likely you’ll never see again, is a soul mate—someone with whom you would, under different circumstances, be close and forever friends? And it’s clear that that stranger feels the same way. The two of you even acknowledge it. It’s an infrequent lovely event, one you never fully forget….

“That was the case with Dr. Karwah and me. Except that we had more time, and the time was a gift that is changing my life.

“In the two short weeks before her rescuer—your lover Ollie—arrived, Mar and I fell in love. Deeply, thoroughly, and joyfully.

“I’ll be returning to the States to be with her. Since you’re there, I thought you might like to know these things. Yes, it was the fine man you knew who was bravely instrumental in helping Mar, Dr. Yarweh.

“I know neither your motives nor your thoughts, Hayden, but your actions have been questionable.

“If you care to be in touch—and I do long to see my daughter—you now know how to reach me.

“Your mother,

The mixture of emotions, the roller coaster of events, that threatened to drown Hayden when she finally had a chance to check her phone for mail, was excruciating. An orphan for so many years, suddenly finding her father and now her mother not dead but alive and well, was strangely devastating. Why? Why did they abandon her? Were they ever in that accident? Was there an accident? 

Hayden felt more alone than she had felt in the years after losing them. And now she had lost Ollie. She had killed Ollie. Just because her father told her to. Deep remorse for her action leading to loathing for Jack filled her. What a mess! Who was Jack anyway? Was he, had Jean-Luc been, CIA? At this point, Hayden thought they had not. Well, maybe that was a reason to see her mother; Ted might know. She decided to call her mother and ask about the unlikely CIA members.

Suddenly she was struck with a desperate despondence. The only good person in her life had been Ollie. She was sick. She drank cold water that settled her stomach. Still devastated, she began counting her errors, until one brought up a name that gave her a tiny glimmer of hope: Hank, her wise and wonderful squash coach. She’d call Hank, after she rang her mother.

When she called Ted, the phone in Quebec was picked up, but there was silence. And then a terrifying sound: Hayden thought it was a gunshot. 

The line went dead.

Chapter 12

Exit Strategy

by A.J. Kohlhepp

I stared at my phone in disbelief. Was she really alive, and was that really her voice, and did she really have the hots for the elusive Liberian scientist? And what about the gunshot?

All of a sudden, the half bath in the safe house felt a bit cramped.

You okay, kiddo,” called my dad.

Fine, Dad,” I replied as breezily as I could. “You know about women and bathrooms.”

Pocketing my phone, I flushed the unused toilet, ran some water in the sink, and dried my hands hastily on a Laura Ashley hand towel that was probably the height of homemaker fashion when this house was set up during the Cold War.

Living as a bachelor – I mean widower – all these years, I kind of forget,” he laughed, seated comfortably in an armchair near the gas fireplace. Somehow the gunplay on the other side of the house had not impacted the den. I guess that “the company” was pretty good at integrating bullet-proof firewalls into structures meant to shelter their inhabitants.

Do you miss mom as much as I do,” I probed, hoping to confirm the electronic tidings I had just received.

Once we made the decision –“

Decision,” I interjected.

The decision to take her off life support – after the accident,” he continued. “I found it easier just to move ahead with life, rather than wading about in death.”

Funny, I reflected. You don’t seem to have any troubling wading in, or bringing about, the deaths of others. And you didn’t even contact your living daughter until it became professionally expedient… .

I think I need a drink,” I exclaimed. “I wonder where that pinot – “

Already cleaned up,” he said breezily. “But there’s a bottle of single malt in the Audi. Why don’t you grab it and we can toast your professional success?” Dad beamed in the direction of the basement door, with Ollie’s body a staircase below.

Was he joking? Was he so coarsened by years of “professional success” that a fresh corpse a flight of stairs away was stimulus for libation rather than revulsion?

Great idea,” I brightened, playing along as best I could. The “safe” house in Tarrytown was feeling about as secure as a bad boast at the Tournament of Champions.

Keys,” I inquired, flashing back to an inquiry I had deployed frequently while on break from St. Exodus.

My dad flipped them to me with the good-natured warning he had offered every time I had taken his car as a teen: “Don’t use up all the gas having fun.”

Don’t worry dad. Not much chance of that,” I laughed, feeling sicker by the minute. “Hey, can I borrow your lighter?”

This was a guess, but it turned out to be a good one. My dad cocked an eyebrow as he reached into his breast pocket, taking out the monogramed Alfred Dunhill he still carried to ignite contraband cigars on special occasions.

Didn’t know you smoked, kiddo,” a hint of paternal concern creeping into his voice.

Holidays, funerals, you know the drill. Never close to a tournament,” I assured him. “I’m a pack-a-year girl. And that pack is in a kitchen drawer – just in case.”

Keys in one hand and lighter in the other, I headed toward the garage. “Hurry back now, Hayden,” he called behind me. “We have lots of catching up to do.”

Striding into the kitchen, I slowed a bit to negotiate the wreckage. The place looked like the set of “Mr & Mrs Smith” just before the hottest scene. But my very own Brad Pitt lay dead in the basement. And I had too much meat on my bones to squeeze into any of Angelina Jolie’s haute couture.

A drawer next to the stove offered a neatly-folded assortment of tea towels. Laura Ashley again. Somebody ought to burn this place down and start over.

I walked past Steve, still under the watchful eye of Jack’s henchman. Noticing their gaze directed at the tea towel, I brought it up to my eyes and was surprised when it came away wet. A faint smile and a half-hearted shrug were enough to get them to turn away as I opened the door to the garage, then shut it firmly behind me.

The black Audi was safely stowed where we had parked it. Pressing twice on the appropriate button, I heard the reassuring ker-tweet. I popped the trunk, pulled out my Black Knight racket bag, and looked around for a little liquid to get the party started. Nothing.

Opening the passenger door and sliding into the seat, I checked the glove compartment. And there it was: 70 cl of Springbank 12 Year Old 100 Proof. Old enough to be the best and strong enough to burn.

I reached past the steering wheel and hit the fuel cover release, uncapping the scotch with my other hand. Leaning out of the car door, I took a swig of the Springbank and poured a healthy helping onto the towel. Two steps had me positioned by the fuel door which, opened, allowed access to the tank.

You find it, Hayden,” inquired my dad, barely audible from the other end of the house. I wondered whether it was me, or the Springbank, or the lighter he was worried about. Dad always did enjoy a good drink and smoke after work.

Mission accomplished,” I replied, pushing the tea towel as far into the fuel tank as I could get it. One more splash of scotch to prime the pump. I grabbed my gear and, about to cast the Springbank aside, thought better and stowed it in my bag.

Lighter out, towel on fire, and I was out the back door into the yard. Good thing it was getting dark. Jogging now, I reached Franklin Street as I hear the Audi rocked by cataclysms of flame. A funeral pyre for Ollie, perhaps, or a fiery end for Jack Vaughn and his crew.

Three minutes later, I was boarding a Metro-North train southbound for Manhattan.

Hood up and sunglasses on, I took out my phone and redialed the number Ted had called from. Straight to an automated response. “The voice mail for this number has never been set up.”

GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU, TEDDY BOY, I typed into my phone.

Now what? Needing space and time, I made a snap decision: to return to the place where I had first picked up squash and, a decade later, Ollie. The two best things in my increasingly grim life.

After a hasty descent into the bowels of Grand Central – no time to stop and peek at the ToC practice sessions -- and a short hop on the Blue line, I was in the Port Authority. And my timing continued to be lucky, as Greyhound #428 was boarding. Northeast to New England, with stops in Hartford, Litchfield, Pittsfield, Williamstown, Bennington and Concord. We Exies used to call it the Transcendental Special, though whether that had more to do with psychotropic recreation or literary heritage is hard to say.


If mom was really alive, she would understand and enjoy “exit strategy” -- our code name for St. Exodus. She too had lost and found herself, a generation earlier, amidst the Georgian brick quadrangles and pastoral enclosures of the “finest preparatory school in New England.” The best place I could think of for a midwinter reunion between a mother long dead and a daughter on the run.

Chapter 13

Back To School
by Pierre Bastien

Hayden stared out the window of the #428 Greyhound bus, en route to Concord. 

The lush reds and oranges of fall had by now given way to the grays of winter. Hayden stared at the bare branches of trees as they whipped past. She tried to keep her mind off the last few days, instead preferring to watch the landscape as it flew by, or count cars on the highway. 

Hayden couldn’t help the thoughts creeping into her consciousness. There was that gunshot when she tried to call her mom. Was Ted still alive? Hayden thought so, felt it in her bones, but couldn’t be sure.

Hayden also thought of that explosion at the safe house in Tarrytown—did her Dad survive? He was at the other end of the house when the car blew up. He was probably alive, but she couldn’t be sure. 

Funny, thought Hayden, both my parents could be either alive or dead. Life was simpler back when they were both definitely dead. 

Her parents had died during her junior year of high school. She had gotten used to being on her own. Now all these parental figures were reappearing in her life. Hayden admitted to herself that she’d been too trusting of them. For all her self-proclaimed self-sufficiency, she really had a weak spot for an older figure taking an interest in her.

First it was her father’s old protégé, Jean-Luc, who had contacted her out of the blue, and helped her strike out on a new, exciting path. She’d always liked Jean-Luc, but was probably too eager to be taken under his wing, and should have questioned his motives. 

And then there was Jack. He swooped back into Hayden’s life so quickly. She should have stopped to think things over. Instead, she was quick to follow his lead, and look where that led: Ollie was dead.  

Enough, thought Hayden. Opening her bag, she pulled out the bottle of single malt she’d brought from the safe house, uncorked it, and took a quick swig. She let her thoughts float in and out, but mostly she stared out the window as the sun began to set. Exhaustion set in, and she dozed off, head resting against the bus window.

In time, the Greyhound pulled off the highway and started winding its way through the local streets of Concord. Hayden awoke as the bus pulled into the familiar, drab station, with the word GREYHOUND printed in caps on the sign above the entrance. 

The passengers disembarked and waited for their suitcases to be unloaded from the belly of the bus. Hayden, who had only a small bag with her, went straight to the taxi stand and was soon on her way.

The cab snaked through town, and Hayden took in the familiar sights. They drove past Juliet's, a local greasy spoon. People always raved about their chicken finger subs, but Hayden found them repulsive.

The cab continued on past the campus. Hayden took in the familiar architecture, brick and concrete everywhere, looking rather pale in the winter dusk.

They finally reached their destination, the St. Exodus Inn, a charming boutique hotel just down the road from campus. This was Ted’s favorite place to stay whenever she visited. If she had gotten Hayden’s messages, this is where she would be.

Hayden paid the cab driver and walked in to the hotel’s reception area. She asked for Ted Vaughn. Sure enough, there was a Ted Vaughn here. The receptionist dialed the room, spoke with someone, then told Hayden she could go right up to room 202.

Hayden made her way there and knocked on the door. Would it really be her mother? When the door opened, it was Ted, smiling at her.

Hayden, relieved, bear-hugged her mother, and went in.

“I got your messages,” said Ted. “Sharp thinking, as always!”

“It’s good to see you, Mom. We have a lot to catch up on.”

“That we do,” replied Ted. She brewed a pot of tea while Hayden looked out the window at the cold winter landscape.

“So,” began Hayden, as they sat down with mugs of warm tea, “you said you were traveling with Dr. Karwah. Is she here?”

“We are traveling together, but she’s down the hall in another room. We booked two rooms, knowing you’d be coming.”

“Thanks Mom,” smiled Hayden, relieved that her mother had taken care of the room for her. 

“Mom, a couple days ago, I tried to call you in Quebec. Someone picked up, but then I heard a gunshot, and the line went dead. Is everything okay?”

Ted looked puzzled. “I haven’t been at the Quebec house in weeks, sweetie.” Hayden returned the look of puzzlement.

“Mom,” sputtered Hayden, “how are you and Dad both alive? What about the car accident? They said you were both dead. I went to your funerals.”

Ted began to tell the story.

“When you were about 12 years old…I had an affair with Jean-Luc. I think I mentioned this to you in my letter. Jack knew about the relationship. And the weird thing is he never seemed all that upset about it. You know how your father takes everything in stride. 

“Jean-Luc left the agency around that time. He just wasn’t able to come to work anymore with Jack as his boss. Even though Jack seemed oddly undisturbed, Jean-Luc couldn’t bear it, so he left. He ended up freelancing. He fell in with some bad guys. Let’s be honest—they’re gangsters. But Jean-Luc was happy enough.

“A few years later, Jack started wanting more adventure and action. He wanted to get back in the field, and get out from behind a desk. The agency wouldn’t hear it though. So Jack starts saying he wants to drop out and go work for Jean-Luc. I couldn’t believe it, but he was serious.

“So we came up with a plan. Jack faked the car accident. He set everything up so that he could make a clean break from the agency and join Jean-Luc in secret. And I also left my life, the one I’d built with Jack. I left to be with Jean-Luc again. 

“By that time, you were a junior at St. Exodus. You were so capable and confident. We felt you were old enough to take care of yourself. And I didn’t want to see you dragged into the criminal world we were entering. I didn’t think it matched your personality. I thought you’d be happier on your own.

Hayden, who had been listening passively, suddenly snapped. “On my OWN? Jack is most definitely BACK in my life, and in fact, he just had me kill Ollie! And Jean-Luc, well he was back in my life too, but now he’s DEAD!”

“I know, honey,” replied Ted. “The thing is they both wanted you back in their lives. Jack had trained you since you were a baby. And Jean-Luc…” she trailed off.

“Jean-Luc WHAT?” hissed Hayden.

“He cared about you more than you may realize,” said Ted. “You see, the thing is, when you were 12, that wasn’t the first time I was together with Jean-Luc…”

Hayden stood up, knocking her chair backward. Every hair on her skin stood on end, and she stared wide-eyed at her mother, who peered down into her teacup.

Just then, the lights in the room cut out. As Hayden tried to get her bearings, she heard a woman in the hallway scream at the top of her lungs.

Chapter 14

Oh, Bloody Hell!
by David Smith

The screaming drew my immediate attention.   Of course, screaming in the middle of a quiet New England Inn will do that.  

But even before this happened, I was ready to bolt.  I need to get away from this woman who claimed to be my mother and I need to think and drink.  Something did not seem right, and I was not thinking clearly.   There is no way Jean-Luc was my father.    I was not sure what was wrong, but something definitely was not right. My mental alarm was doing a full-tilt boogey.  Too much that did not make sense, including that matter-of-fact greeting by a woman who is supposedly seeing her daughter after years of separation.  

Ted---I am not going to call her Mom, yet---rushed to the door of the room.   Cautiously, she peered into the hall and moved out as it appeared to be clear.   She moved quickly to Room 209, and with gun drawn, tried the door.  It opened, and what she saw froze her where she stood.  

“Oh, no, Mar…”  Ted’s words caught in her throat as her hands covered her face.     

I eased down the hall behind her and saw a woman, who I guess was the mystery doc from Liberia.   She was standing in the middle of the room, dressed only in a white, oversized, man’s shirt.   She would have looked pretty hot for a woman of her age but for the blood that covered her face, hands, and the formerly all-white shirt.    Now, I’m not squeamish (perhaps you will remember Ollie and the neck thing), but the sight of this woman will put me off my feed for a while.  

Now, I think we have established that I have a higher than average intelligence.   That is probably why I put Liberian doctor together with blood gushing from her nose pretty quickly and backed away from the room.    Ted also must have recognized the obvious Ebola signs as she was frozen in place. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Focused as she was on her bloody lover, she didn’t notice as I ran down the hall, grabbed my things from Room 202, and scurried out of the inn.   

I spotted the rare Concord cab and managed to get the driver’s attention.  I gave him instructions to take me to Horse Corners, a quaint village about 9 miles out of Concord.  Ok, to say it is a village is generous.  It is a basically a bar by the side of the road among a number of farms.    As we pulled up, I took the driver’s card so that I had a way back. 

Big Belly’s Bar looked like it did when I was in prep school at St. Exodus.  Not sure it had been cleaned since then.   The smell of grease from the deep fryer assaulted my senses as I entered.   When I was at St. Exodus, the aforementioned Big Belly supplied the beer for squash team parties---all at a healthy mark-up.   Such was the benefit of having an affluent prep school nearby.   

I took the booth in the dark, back corner and ordered a scotch.   I hate to mix my alcohol.  The swill they served was certainly not as good as what I had in my bag, but BYO in a bar is frowned upon.  And you don’t want Big Belly frowning upon you. 

The “atmosphere” and the drink were just what I needed to sort through this mess.  Some things just didn’t make sense. Walk through it with me.

The woman I met in Room 202 did look like my mom, but it had been years since I had seen her.   This lady’s hair wasn’t blonde like my mom’s, more of a raven black, and clearly a dye job.   It was also shorter and had a bit more style.  The roots looked good, so Ted had spent time in a salon just recently.   She was thinner, but death will do that to you.   Stupidly, I hadn’t really questioned that she was my mom.  

What was it she said in the room?   “By that time, you were a junior at St. Exodus…”   That’s bullshit.   My mom and dad were allegedly killed when I was in college, not when I was in prep school.   How could she get that so wrong?  She had the date of her own death wrong by several years?  No way. 

And then it hit me.  Or maybe the scotch hit me.   I had originally received a call from Mom on voice mail, and then almost immediately, received an email from her.  Neither message made reference to the other.   Why would she do that?  It’s almost as if they came from two different people.    

I grabbed my phone and pulled up the email that Ted had sent me.  As I read through her profession of love for the Liberian, I realized that she did not even know her name.   At one point she called her Karwah and later wrote Yarweh.   This is the woman that she was in love with after two weeks?  You’d think she would get her name right before she hopped into bed with her.   Ok, maybe I am not the one to judge that point---but certainly she could have sorted out the name after.   

Was that Mom in the room, or not? If not, where was my mother? 

Whoever it was at the inn would not be leaving soon.   The CDC was about to lock her and her friend down tight.   Chris Christie was probably already building a tent for them.   That should provide me with some space.  Instinct was telling me “Quebec.”   I had to get to her house and try to find some answers.   Well, first I had to find the house.   

I pondered my travel options and decided it was ok to leave a trail.  I have no idea who was alive back in Tarrytown, but I had to assume that Jack had made it out and was looking for me. 

A short while later I was on the regional train to Boston.  I caught an early evening flight to Montreal,   using a credit card for the first time.  I could almost hear the alarm bells going off in Langley.   They would know where I was and where I was going in an instant.   But they were reacting to me, so I figure I had a good head start.  

I picked up a rental car at Trudeau and set the GPS for the 80 mile trip to Mt. Tremblant.    A quick stop in the vacation town of Ste. Sauveur for dinner and I was back on the dark road through the mountains.  

It made sense that my mom would settle there.   When I was little, she loved when we vacationed at Mt. Tremblant.   During my stripper phase, I actually worked one summer at the Faucon Bleu.  Good vacation, but the clientele at the Faucon Bleu were somewhat hands-on.     

As I pulled off the highway at the Mt. Tremblant exit, I peered through the dark at the brightly lit Faucon Bleu.  I wonder if Marc-Andre still ran the place.   M-A certainly helped me improve my French that summer.   

With a Marc-Andre inspired grin, I settled in for the drive down the winding two lane road to the resort. My memories were interrupted by the headlights in my rear view mirror.   Weaponless, I had to fight the rising panic as I saw the car accelerate and quickly close the distance to my rental.

Chapter 15

Lessons Learned
by Al Tommervik

Hayden realized that her compact rental had no chance to outrun the onrushing vehicle, so she maintained her speed and considered her very limited options as the car loomed larger in her rearview mirror.

The car swung into the oncoming traffic lane and pulled alongside. It hesitated for a moment and then sped on. It was a black Audi, like the model Jean-Luc and his friends favored, with tinted windows, so Hayden had not been able to see who was in the car.

She heaved a huge sigh of relief as the car’s taillights faded to a small dot in the distance. Apparently, it wasn’t someone looking for her.

As she rounded the last curve before reaching the Faucon Bleu, she saw the Audi had pulled into the resort’s parking lot and her heart skipped a beat.

Lounging against the hood of the car in silhouette was a figure in that oh-so-familiar slouch. Ollie?!

Hayden slowed the car as she blinked rapidly several times to clear her vision. OK, there must be more than one person who adopted that posture when relaxed. She was imagining things ... probably still on edge from thinking the Audi had been after her. Ollie was dead by her hand and probably cremated after she blew up the Tarrytown safe house.

Still, she wasn’t ready for close contact with anyone who reminded her of Ollie. So she changed her plans. Driving past the Faucon Bleu, she headed for Le Grand Manitou ski resort. It would be packed with the usual winter habitues. She could get lost in the crowd while she sorted things out.

As she drove, her mind raced ahead. Jean-Luc had wanted Ollie alive and Jack had wanted him dead. What did Ollie have or know that was precious to Jean-Luc and threatening to Jack? She should have paid more attention to what Ollie was doing when she was cozying up to him. Well, better late than never. She damn sure was going to find out why an anonymous associate professor of physics at Cooper Union was so valuable to Jean-Luc and so dangerous to Jack.

That line of thinking brought her to Jean-Luc and Jack. She had been so grateful when Jean-Luc gave her missions that broke her out of the malaise that she experienced as a scantily-dressed ornament at gentlemen’s clubs. She never questioned his plausible explanations for why he had hunted her down.

Likewise, she was so happy to think that her father was alive that she never questioned his explanations of what had happened and why he hadn’t gotten in touch with her until recently.

She should have asked both of them for their bona fides. Well, bona fides was too civilized. She should have have demanded to know “Who the fuck are you? Where have you been for the last dozen years and why are you here now?” That was a lesson learned the hard way.

If Jack had survived the Tarrytown blast, he had a lot to answer for.

Then there was the fiasco at St. Exodus. Was that Ted really her mother? And was that black woman really Dr. Karwah? If the black woman was really Dr. Karwah, the whole ebola scene had been staged. Ebola symptoms show up within 21 days of exposure and Dr. Karwah had been in the U.S. for four months. There’s no way she had contracted ebola.

But the woman sheathed in her own blood might have been a victim of ebola. And the look of horror on Ted’s face indicated that the episode had been real. The question of whether the woman calling herself Ted was Hayden’s mother might be answered if Hayden could gain access to Ted’s home here in Mont Tremblant.


Hayden drove into the Manitou parking lot and hid her compact car in a space surrounded by huge SUVs.

It was cold! The first thing she needed to do was to visit the outfitter’s store and get some warmer duds.

Nothing was inexpensive at the outfitters and she needed a complete outfit, which put a huge dent in the available credit on her Visa card. She wished she had demanded some front money from Jean-Luc. Just one more lesson learned.

She repaired to the women’s lavatory, where she washed up and donned her new clothes. Needing a decent meal, she headed for the restaurant, eschewing the food court. But her attention was drawn to a swirl of activity outside, where several black Audis had pulled up and disgorged a dozen or so men.

First the Audi at the Faucon Bleu and now the Audis here. That was too much of a coincidence for Hayden. She dodged into the casino, found a side exit to the hotel proper and promptly exited the building.

Circling around to the front, she stealthily made her way toward the Audis. Two men were standing next to them, smoking and chatting.

“This shouldn’t take long,” said the man closest to Hayden. “She hasn’t checked into the hotel and the facility isn’t that large. Her GPS indicates that she’s still here, so we should have her soon.”

GPS? Damn, her cell phone was giving her away! Another lesson learned.

The man continued, “We’ve got a unit at the house in case she eludes us here. That’s got to be where she’s going.”

OK, Hayden urged telepathically, let me know where the house is.

But the conversation was cut short when one of the men who had been searching inside the complex came out.

“She’s a clever one. We can’t find her, even though we know she’s here. Keep a close watch on the parking lot in case she tries to make a run for her car.”

Her exit strategy narrowed to one option, Hayden began hiking down the hill, still ignorant of Ted’s address. The best she could do was assume that her mother had settled near the Centre Collegial de Mont Tremblant. Ted hated commuting, so she always tried to land within walking or biking distance of work and the college seemed to be the most likely reason for her to live here.


Hayden walked the residential roads around the college, hoping to spot the lookout car, which would tell her which house belonged to Ted. On the Rue Coupal, she struck paydirt. A black Audi was parked across from a row of modest single-story bungalows.

Hayden crept around in the shadows to get as close to the car as possible without being seen, hoping to learn which of the houses was the one under surveillance.

Just then, the passenger door opened and a man exited. He looked back into the car. “I’m going to check the back of the house. They still haven’t found her at the Manitou and she’s turned off her cell phone. Remember, Steve wants her alive and well.”

STEVE!!? He was in Jack’s custody ... or else he prematurely met his Maker at Jack’s hand or in the Tarrytown blast.

What a life! Her dead father inveigled her into murder. Her dead mother left messages on her cell phone. Her dead victim’s silhouette appeared at the Faucon Bleu. And now Steve, who should be dead, is directing the manhunt for her.

Hayden sighed. You’d think the dead would have the courtesy to stay dead.

Chapter 16

Sacre Bleu 
by Tammy Mehmed
The car explosion in the Tarrytown safe house had created such an earthshaking boom that it probably woke the ghosts in the neighboring Sleepy Hollow cemetery.  Jack Vaughn had been calmly waiting for his daughter to bring back the single malt scotch while sitting in a wingback leather chair at the other side of the house when the explosion occurred.  Not knowing what caused the blast, but realizing it was in the general direction of where Hayden had gone, Jack ran from the den and out the sliding glass door.  He could see the garage was now on fire and it was spreading.  Running toward the front drive, he could not see Hayden anywhere.  Because of the location, he started to assume she had started the fire.  The questions started blurting out like voices in his head:  ‘I just don’t understand.  What is she up to?  Where did she go? Did she encounter a problem with Steve and his minder?  I didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.  This wasn’t in our plans.’  With the size of the blast, Jack knew the local authorities would be there any minute, and he needed to be long gone.  He quickly ran around the outside of the house looking for her and just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Steve run from the house and into the woods, all the while holding his shoulder.  After all, Steve no longer had a car.  Seeing Steve alone, Jack realized he must have lost a man in the commotion of the blast.  The carnage left in the house would now include Steve’s two cohorts, Jack’s colleague minding Steve and Ollie in the basement. 

Jack got into his Mercedes SUV that was parked discretely down the street.  He could already hear the sirens coming across town.  He sent a text message to his colleague who had left to retrieve the company doctor and wrote “cancel doc order, new plan, details shortly.”  Jack started the SUV and proceeded down the street, through downtown Tarrytown toward the on ramp.  In the rear view mirror he watched the fire trucks scream passed.


Steve ran into the woods behind the house.  His shoulder was bleeding from Jack’s gunshot and throbbing with pain.  He thanked God he had the wherewithal to grab a few of those charming Laura Ashley towels.  He gently placed them under his coat and around his shoulder.  ‘What the hell just happened?  One minute, little Miss Hayden walks by us, the next thing there is an explosion from the garage and fireball- like meteors are shooting through the air,’ thought Steve.  With the darkness of the evening, he shouldn’t be spotted in the woods right away.  He didn’t know how long he would have to wait for help and worried about the bite of fall air.  Feeling weak from the blood loss, he hoped the bullet grazed his shoulder.  Unfortunately, it felt like it went right through.  

The local authorities, he was sure, would start snooping around the premises once they got control of the fire.  He kept walking along the wooded area and found a grouping of trees and low bushes that still had leaves on them which provided him with some protection and camouflage.  He took out his cell phone and dialed the Special Ops Extraction Line.  

“This is agent 108 and I need extraction and medical assistance.”  The voice on the other end responded, “Agent 108, please indicate your passcode.”  Steven calmly said “Jester on the Moon”.  “Thank you Agent 108; extraction process has been initiated and your location is being tracked.  Someone will be there in about 20 minutes.”  Steve sighed as he heard the firetrucks approach and the sirens fizzle out.  He was getting cold and tired and the pain in his shoulder was making him light headed.  They couldn’t get to him fast enough, he thought.  Steve knew he needed to stay awake and present, so he decided to scan the news on his cell phone.  Looking for local alerts on the house fire would pass the time until help arrived.  He put his phone on mute so no sounds could be heard.  He kept an eye on the direction of the house to watch for any changes and impatiently waited for help.  He had many things to report to his superior – 1) that Ollie was definitely terminated, 2) that two of his men appeared to be dead as well and 3) that somebody, quite possibly Hayden, seemed to have blown up the safe house.


MT, short for Madame Ted, as she was known to her Quebec operatives, had been leading the covert arm of the Quebec Intelligence Group (“QIG”) for several years.  With Jean-Luc, her most senior operative now dead, she counted on Steve and was anxiously awaiting information. She had no idea that while she had been enjoying her poutine at the base of the mountain all hell had broken loose in Tarrytown.  Though it was evening, she feared she was going to have a great deal of work ahead of her, so she headed to her office in Montreal.  

After the hour plus drive she pulled into her private parking space in the base of the Tour de la Banque Nationale, where QIG held their offices.  With no name on their suite and a private elevator to their office, MT felt safe at any hour.  Plus, there was almost always someone in their gadget and electronics lab.  Just as she settled in at her desk and opened her email, she received an instant message that Steve had activated the extraction process.  At least she now had an idea that things did not go down well.  She suspected Jack was most definitely behind this mess.  Once Steve was picked and driven to the local medical safe house, she would be able to speak with him directly. 

As she stared out her 29th floor window at the beautiful lights of the city and Square Victoria, she worried about Hayden and thought to herself, ‘Have I missed her return call?  I’m sure she’s confused, maybe she needs more time.’   Just then a call came through to her office line: 

“MT, please excuse the late call, but this is Jules from tech calling and your cell phone doesn’t seem to be responding.  We are investigating that right now and it seems as though your phone has been hijacked so you don’t receive anything.”  

MT responded, “Thank you, for confirming something is wrong.  I was waiting for a call and was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t received it.”  

Jules continued, “I wanted you to know that we are also seeing correspondence on your daughter’s cell phone with someone seeming to impersonate you saying they are ‘Ted’.  It appears Hayden also tried to send you a text message which reads ‘Pursuing exit strategy now. See you soon.’ "

“Sacre bleu,” blurted MT.  “Can you get a read on her location?”

“I’m sorry Madame, but we are guessing whomever has taken control of your phone, has also blocked her GPS.  We’re working on clearing on this and will let you know as soon as it is completed.”

Chapter 17

Meanwhile….And Then….
by Margot Comstock
“I’m going to check the back of the house,” the man from the Audi had said, “They haven't found her at the Manitou and she’s turned off her cell phone…”

Damn straight!, Hayden said to herself, with silent emphasis.

“Steve wants her alive and well,” the man had added.

Yeah, right, Hayden thought; I’ll begin to believe that when any single bit of this nightmare makes sense.

She silently drifted back to the bit of woods and shrubs well behind the house, crouched way down, and watched. It didn’t take long. The man made a try at the back door, failed to find it open and, giving a bit of attention to the windows, made his way toward the front, street, and Audi and out of Hayden’s sight.

She didn’t move. She listened, though, carefully, hoping to hear the Audi engine start up. No luck.

They’re keeping watch. Now what. Any chance I could make it in through one of the back windows? Dumb idea….

Silently she slithered back farther into the small woods. Her mother (if mother she be…) isn’t there.

How about the college? Might Ted be there? Er, does she even really work there? Does she even teach at all?

Hayden made her way through the woods and, well behind the cottage, back up and across the street and into the small business part of town. She found a rent-a-wreck place and chose an ancient Bug the salesperson promised was in decent shape. She drove to an electronics store and bought a cheap, prepaid, throwaway cell phone. Got all I need, she thought. As if!

She gazed at the cottage from her car, well hidden, while she thought about what to do. The cottage seemed a reasonable size for one or two people and it was appealing: Cobalt blue clapboard with white trim around the windows and roof and on the corners, healthy lawn; plant pots waiting for spring on the generous front porch. If only life were normal enough to make something like this possible….

Nah. I love my city, my apartment. Wonder if I’ll ever see it again…Oh shut up! I will!

She started her car and thankfully hadn’t begun to move when she saw the Audi drive by. The side windows were dark but not the windshield; it revealed two people in the front seat.

Were there any more? Had they left someone at the house?

Being in constant danger and experiencing what felt like endless loss seemed to make Hayden brave. Or reckless. She decided to try to enter the house.

She moved the car, but not far; just enough that no one would wonder at it being so long in one place. (I’m definitely getting weird that I even think of such a thing.) She parked on the other side of the cottage and on the next street and walked to the house.

She went to the porch and tried the front door. Not surprisingly, it was locked. She knocked lightly. (It was after all a pretty small cottage.) Nothing. So she walked around to the back. The back door was also locked, but a basement window was not. It evidently had not been opened in years, so it took a bit of work persuading it to open without making noise. But it finally did open, and Hayden, being once more very grateful for squash and being slender, slipped into what she hoped was actually Ted’s house.

She wandered from room to room, and in what seemed to be a retreat attached to the master bedroom there was a baby grand piano. On its top was an array of photographs. There in one prominent spot were several pictures of a woman and a child at various ages. Hayden’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her little self, with her mother. My mother! The photos were of the real Ted. The one Hayden remembered—and a near double for the one Hayden had almost accepted as her mother during this bizarre world into which she’d been plunged in recent months. She had liked that woman; but this was the real thing.

But wait. Could…. Well, she’d have to wait and see who it was that came home tonight.

Meanwhile she had something to take care of. She sought and found an extra key for the front door. She put it  in her pocket, closed up the cottage, and went to her car.


After a foray into the Yellow Pages, Hayden drove well and speedily as possible in the fast lane to the nearest seemingly excellent squash courts. She parked, locked her car (as if anyone would want to steal it), and entered the world of squash.

It looked fine. There were a slew of courts (good for Montreal). This was a membership club, but it was nicely open to strangers passing through. Hayden signed up, even using her real name—yup, they required evidence (Hayden wasn’t sure why every place, everybody needed so much private info just to play a game), rented gear, proceeded to the locker room, and upon emerging found a line—well, a reasonable handful—of people ready to play squash with her.

Much of the horror and stress of the last few days, weeks, years—oh alright, only a couple of days!—melted away. Those days had been so intense that Hayden couldn't remember ever feeling so loose and whole before. She played and played, won and won.

She felt magnificent!

She freshened up, had a beer or two or three with some of her new conquests, said copious thanks and good wishes, and left.

She was becoming quite enamored of her new old car when she got back in it and set off for Mont Tremblant and Ted’s house. She was so relaxed that she didn’t even care whether this Ted was her mother or not, or if anyone was.

Her high was pretty well gone by the time she parked a little way from the house on Coupal Street, yet the sense of well-being remained. At least for the moment.

Lights were on in the cottage. A lot of lights. Hmmm. Feeling good didn’t mean she couldn’t be cautious. Hayden traced her steps to her car, transferred her gun from glove box to handbag.

She returned to the house, knocked on the front door. No response. Now on full alert, she put the gun in her pocket, inserted the house key and opened the door.

Chapter 18

Let, Please

by A.J. Kohlhepp

Stay loose, I told myself while turning the key. React and respond. Echoes of my old coaches in my head.

What I saw through the open doorway froze me, despite my preparation, like a freakish frame-job crosscourt nick when you are perfectly positioned on the T. This could not be happening.

Sitting in the small, well-lit living room, semi-automatic in his lap and single malt in his hand, to judge by the color of the beverage and his predilection for cocktails, was none other than Jack Vaughn. He inhabited a comfortably faded armchair as if he had already passed some time there. Facing him, and looking considerably less at ease upon a floral printed loveseat, was the woman claiming to be my mother. This tableau, which might bring joy or wonder in other circumstances, invoked little more than disbelief at this juncture.

That was quite a stunt you pulled in Tarrytown,” offered my dad with clear amusement in his voice. “Steve’s boys are still trying to clean the site before the arson investigators can draw any conclusions.”

Arson?!” interjected Ted, or the woman who claimed this name.

Yes,” responded Jack, moving his eyes from me in the doorframe to her in the living room. “Hayden made a fiery exit from the scene of her latest crime.”

Latest crime,” I blurted. “That was Jean-Luc’s call – or maybe it was yours – or for all I know Dr. Karwah ordered the hit from her Ebola lab in West Africa!”

Increasingly aware of the cold Quebecois night on my backside, I took a purposeful step into the cottage. At the same time, I slipped my hand into my coat pocket, wherein I grasped the rigid plastic grip of the Hi-Point C-9, which the clerk at Pulse Electronique had been kind enough to sell me out behind the store.

Jack, noticing the direction of my hand and sensing the intention of the gesture, slid his right onto his weapon as well. “No need to do anything rash, my dear,” he said cheerfully. “Ted and I are just chatting. Why don’t you come join us?”

I looked from him to Ted, who had yet to budge. She shrugged noncommittally.

Shutting the door behind me, I walked slowly into the room and thought about taking a seat next to her, choosing instead the armchair that matched Jack’s. As I fell into the chair, I shoved my free hand into my other coat pocket, encountering the squash ball I had played with at Club Atwater. The small black orb was good and cold by now, having accompanied me in the aged Volkswagen whose heater seemed to do little more than dissuade ice sheets from forming inside the windshield.

My new throw-away phone, also purchased at Pulse Electronique, was also in my pocket. It was an old-school flip model of the sort that was popular when I was at St Exodus. Like many school kids at the start of the twenty-first century, I had enjoyed the novelty of clandestine communications in the classroom. At St. E’s, rather than exchanging random teen-text greetings, we had swapped esoteric Haikus beneath the traditional surfaces of the Harkness tables. Recalling those days of competitive texting, I half-consciously flipped open the phone and ran my thumb over the familiar configuration.

You must have plenty to catch up on,” I said, gazing from one parent to another. If in fact they were my parents.

Actually,” replied Jack, “We see each other fairly frequently. Work-related issues, mainly.” I reversed the order of my gaze, panning from Jack back to Ted, who responded with another shrug.

Is that true,” I blurted toward Ted – mom – the woman who had only just --

Yes, Hayden,” she said quietly. “That car crash made it official, but our marriage had really ended years before.“

Your mother had begun to explore other options long before we agreed to the structural reassignment,” offered Jack in the most reasonable tones, looking intently at Ted now, then swinging his gaze my way.

What about me,” I protested. “Do you have any idea –“

We knew it would be hard for you, sweetheart,” said Ted in the calming tones she had always used with me after devastating losses. “But we thought it best – “

It was time to make the call, Hayden,” explained Jack. “You had come of age, and the company needed a decision.”

What kind of decision?” And which company was he referring to? It was getting hard to keep the back stories straight in this twisted little narrative.

We never wanted this life for you, Hayden,” said Ted. “Actually, it was me who drew the line. Your father thought you were a natural.”

She’s right about that, kiddo,” he laughed. “You had the requisite skill set, and in spades: adventurous spirit, competitive outlook, superior strength and speed. The things that made you great at squash -- ”

I must say, Jack,” observed Ted. “You always did find ways to invoke squash at the most bizarre moments.”

Squash is a metaphor for life,” he replied, pausing for a sip from his highball glass. “Of course, life is also a metaphor for squash, if you really think about it.” Ted rolled her eyes. She had heard dad wax philosophical about the world’s greatest indoor racquet sport many a time. Ironically enough, she was the real player of the two, having reached the upper echelons of the junior circuit before playing at St. Exodus and Princeton. Jack had simply picked up the game as an adult and, the deeper I got into squash, poured himself into the theoretical and historical aspects of the game.

And so squash…” I mused, drawing connections that had eluded me till now. The endless court sprints and star drills, the pre-match inquisitions into my opponents’ traits and tactics, the obsessive memorization of faces and facts of every player on the men’s and women’s pro tours: all of this undertaken, under the watchful eye of Jack Vaughn, in preparation to become an operative?!

Water under the proverbial bridge,” he said calmly. “You remember what your coach used to say, right? You can’t replay a point that’s over.”

Right,” I added heavily. “Learn from it and move on.”

I slumped back in my chair, probably looking to them like the quarrelsome teen they had last glimpsed in their household in suburban Maryland, hands still deep in my pockets. With my left I flipped open my phone and began typing a text message; with my right I slipped off the safety on my pistol.

Message done, I clicked the key to choose a recipient. Fortunately, I had entered only two numbers in my new phone as I waited for the cashier to ring me up: Ollie’s, typed in with guilty sentimentality, and Ted’s, entered with skeptical longing. Of the two possible recipients, one was clearly dead and the other was quite possibly fake. Even if she was the real Ted, there was that whole weird business about her phone. Oh well, sometimes you need to take a shot, I mused, hitting send and waiting.

Ted’s phone emitted a plaintive tone from her handbag. She looked at Jack before reaching that way. He nodded consent as he took another deep draught from his glass. Her eyes dropped toward the device as she brought her phone into view. There on the screen stood two simple words:

Let, please.”

She looked up at me quickly, signaling comprehension or, at the very least, compliance. As she did so, I moved my hand from cell phone to squash ball and, with casual precision, tossed it in the air. The ball arced toward Jack, heading for a dying bounce against the fireplace grate. Before it could land, Jack reached up casually and caught it with his right hand, his left still cradling the highland elixir.

Ted dove toward Jack’s lap, snatching the Glock and returning to the loveseat, just as I pulled out the C-9 and leveled it at the patriarch.

"Well," he observed, downing the last of the whiskey and setting the glass on the end table. "I didn't see that coming."

Chapter 19

Who’s In Charge Here?
by Al Tommervik

Ted casually aimed the pistol at Jack. “We’ve met often, but this is the first time that you’ve come carrying arms. I think you owe me an explanation ... and it better be good.”

Jack shrugged. With a smile, he said, “Ah, jeez, Ted. We’re all family here. Put the gun away.”

“That wasn’t the song you were singing when you barged in here,” Ted said through gritted teeth. “Then it was ‘Hayden will figure out to come here and I need her. As long as her answers are right, everything’ll be fine.’ So what were you planning if you didn’t like her answers?”

Hayden watched the exchange with a mixture of awe and familiarity. Jack was just like he’d always been ... with an easy-going attitude of supreme self-confidence. Ted was still doing her thing, bringing Jack back to reality. They’d been “dead” for over a decade and nothing had changed.

Hayden was interested in Ted’s explanation, but a different question was nagging at her. “Mom, was that you at the St. Exodus Inn?”

Ted frowned as her concentration on Jack was interrupted. “I haven’t been there since you were in school. What makes you ask that?”

Hayden started on the explanation and Ted abruptly stopped her. “There’s obviously too much I don’t know, so start over and give me all the details so I can put this in some kind of context.”

Hayden began with the approach to Ollie and took the story forward. At times where the story included Jean-Luc, Ted nodded as if Hayden’s version matched her understanding. When the story reached the happenings at the Inn, Hayden said, “And this women claimed that she’d had an affair with Jean-Luc and that he was really my father.”

At that, Ted chuckled. “Nope. That bastard sitting in the easy chair is your father.” She turned to Jack. “So what was your part in that nonsense at St. Exodus?”

Jack held up his hands, palms out. “Hey, I was just working the deal. We needed Hayden on our side and after she tried to blow me up, we knew we had to try something else. So when she tried to email you, we intercepted it and set up the sting.”

“You sonovabitch!” Hayden screamed. “You messed with my cell phone?”

“Hey, it wasn’t like international intrigue. You don’t want anybody messing with your cell, keep it on your person. We found it on the bed stand, on the kitchen table and on the dashboard of your car. It was like you’d broadcast a message, ‘Hey, here’s my cell. Have fun.’ We loaded it with covert software three different times.”

“Anyway,” Jack continued, “we thought if the faux Ted disparaged me she could form a bond with Hayden.” Turning to Hayden, he said, “We were surprised when you actually got attached to that nebbish Ollie. But we thought you might act out that attachment by coming to the rescue of a women Ollie helped -- Dr. Karwah. instead, you ran like hell.”

Jack started to rise out of the chair. “C’mon, Hayden. We can finish this business up in no time.”

Ted motioned with the pistol for Jack to sit back down. “We’ve got lots more to discuss here and you seem to have forgotten who has the pistol.”

“Ahh,” Jack smirked, “you wouldn’t shoot me after all these years. It would be really awkward explaining how you’d gunned down a dead man.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Ted snapped. “Since you’re already dead. nobody will miss you.”

“Good point.” Jack sat down.

“Mom?” Hayden asked. “How did you get away with staging your own deaths?”

Ted snorted. “Actually, we didn’t, thanks to that cocky prick Jack. It was a good plan. We’d obtained two bodies that were the right size, sex, and age. We staged the car accident and scattered belongs with our DNA and blood on them and then set the car on fire. The corpses were unidentifiable, but the items pointed to the bodies being us.

“We read about our deaths and clipped our obits from various papers. Then Jack got cocky. ‘Let’s go to Vancouver. Nobody knows us there. We can start our separate lives there.’

“Well, we were in Vancouver for less than a week when a voice behind us announced, ‘I never believed in the zombie apocalypse until now.’ It was Jean-Luc, who had worked with us many times before. We thought he was buried in a desk job in Quebec, but there he was, spotting us on a street in Vancouver.

“Quebec Intelligence wanted me to work for them. They offered us a chance to ‘stay dead’ and I felt I had little choice.” Ted scowled at Jack. “If we’d just left the country, we’d never have been found.”

“So,” Hayden asked, “Jean-Luc and Steve worked for Quebec Intelligence?”

“Jean-Luc did for a time, then he went free-lance. Steve has always ...”

“I can answer that,” said a voice from the kitchen door. Standing there was Steve, with his left arm trussed up in a sling and his right hand holding a deadly Sig Sauer. Nodding to Hayden, he continued, “I have assisted Jean-Luc on many operations, as I was doing on this one.”

He turned to Ted. “Madame Ted, I must ask you to drop that pistol. At this point, you should know that Jean-Luc and I had arranged for a wealthier client for this operation. We no longer were representing your interests. But I do appreciate the airlift from the U.S. I have no wish to harm you. Please place the pistol gently on the floor.”

He turned to Jack. “I have a great desire to hurt you, but business is pressing. We’ll meet another day. Come, Hayden, we should go.”

Hayden pulled her gun from her jacket pocket and pointed it at Steve. “I don’t think I’m going anywhere with anybody right now.” She motioned to Ted. “Pick that gun back up. I’m leaving.”

Jack pulled his left hand from his coat pocket to show another pistol. “I’m going with you. It’s getting crowded in here.”

Steve, who hadn’t lowered his pistol, sneered. “No one is going anywhere. I have men surrounding this place. Theoretically, they are Ted’s men, but tonight, they’re mine.”

Jack chortled. “What a freakin’ dumb-ass amateur. Do you think you’re the only one who thought to bring some men along? By now, your men are neutralized.”

At that, sounds of gunfire erupted from outside and the lights in the house went out.


Bleu, Too
by David Smith

“Ah, Tabarnac!”

Swearing in Quebecoise just seemed appropriate. 

Thankfully, someone had lit a fire in the fireplace to ward off the Canadian cold.  Though the lights were now out, the glow from the dying embers cast a soft glow around the cabin, enough to allow me to move.  I launched from my chair into a front shoulder roll, putting Jack’s chair between myself and the other guns in the room.  Too damn many guns.  Note to self:  cancel NRA membership.

Dad threw his scotch at my mother as a distraction and stepped in quickly to grab her.  He pulled her in to his body as a shield.  In the confusion, Steve had disappeared from view, most likely backing out the way that he had come in through the kitchen door.

“Let her go, Dad!” 

That had no effect as Dad started backing toward the front door with a gun pressed to my mom’s head.   I leveled my gun at Dad and tried again.

“Dad, let her go.  Now.”  The sneer on my Dad’s face told me he had no intention of letting her go.  

Remember what Dad said about me:  requisite skill set for squash…competitive…speed…metaphor for life, metaphor for squash.  He left off deadly shot-making.

I fired.  The bullet caught Jack in the side of his neck.  The look on his face was momentary, but fully captured his shock that I had taken the risky shot.  That I had shot him. 

He crumpled at my mother’s feet, where he laid with the blood and life draining out of him. 

How’s that for a fucking metaphor for squash!

As I refocused on finding Steve, I realized that the shooting outside had subsided.  In shock, Mom was still standing in Jack’s blood, fully in view.

“Mom, get down!”  She took two steps and nimbly dove toward me behind the chair.

Mom grabbed my arm and nodded with her head toward a door near the fireplace.  Apparently, she wanted us to go in that direction.  Not knowing exactly where Steve was, I decided to forego retrieving Jack’s weapon which was lying under his body, and Mom’s which had fallen to the floor when Jack grabbed her. 

The sound of feet could be heard running toward the front door.  As mom made a dash for the door, I laid down some fire in the direction of the kitchen door.  With no return fire, we made it to the door.   

Once through the door, Mom locked it behind us.  I could see that the door was steel-plated.  Clever Mom had an escape route.  Through the dark we descended the stairs quickly, coming to another, smaller service door.  Mom eased it open and edged her way out the door into the cold Tremblant night.

We paused in the lee of the building, scarcely breathing, and scanned the area.  Seeing no movement save the rustling pines, Mom nudged me forward toward an unseen path.  She led the way which she seemed to know well.  Good thing.  I would have killed myself in the dark. 

Five minutes down the path we came to an apartment complex.  Ted went straight for the parking lot and after she clicked a remote starter, I saw a car engine come to life, the exhaust visible in the night air.   Mom had the car in motion before I had my door closed.  

I twisted in my seat, keeping an eye out for someone following us.  Whoever had survived the cabin shootout would be looking for us.  After several quick turns on the mountain village streets, we were quickly heading into the countryside.  The winding mountain roads provided us with some degree of obscurity. 

“Mom, where are we going?”

Mom shook her head as she focused on the road.  “Distance,” she said.  “We need distance from these guys so we can stop and figure out what this is all about.  And we need to find out who survived that fiasco back there.”

“I know a place we can stay.  We can probably get a car, as well.”

I guided Mom past Lac Ouimet and through Saint-Jovite.  Two minutes later, after assuring that the Audi was no longer in the parking lot, we parked at the Faucon Blue. 

I directed Mom to the back of the building, away from the glare of the flashing neon “Danseuses Nues.”  We slipped in the unmarked dancer’s entrance.  

There, at his table inside the back door where I expected him, was my old boss, Marc-Andre.  The bar was about half full and through the haze I saw a pouty brunette with smoky eyes on the main stage, moving with particular vigor to the loud gangsta rap blaring in the club.  A quick scan of the crowd indicated that she had everyone’s attention.  No one seemed to be looking for Mom and me. 

It was embarrassing taking Mom into a strip club where I was well known.  “Don’t judge me, Mom.” 

She took a step back and nodded.  “No problem.  This is your turf.”

I shook out my hair and walked quickly to Marc-Andre’s table and slid in next to him.  “Hey, M-A.  Am I ever glad to see you here!”

“What the f….What the hell are you doing here?” he said as a range of emotions rolled through his rugged, attractive face.  You see, I had broken his heart when I took off the last time and it seemed that he was not over it.   

“M-A, I don’t have a lot of time to explain.  I need help.  I need a car, and a place to stay tonight.  And I need to be out of here in about 5 minutes.  Do you still have the place in Saint-Sauveur?”

“J'MEN CALICE!!!” Marc-Andre swore vehemently.

I notice several of the dancers look over at him and I put my hand on his thigh, got his attention, and calmed him.

“Look, I know that you are pissed at me, but I need your help.  I’m in danger.  Please help me,” I begged.  

He looked at me for what seemed an eternity.  Finally, he nodded. 

“You can use the place in Saint-Sauveur.  Just for tonight.  Let me get you a car.” 

He walked over to a short, disproportionate red-headed dancer and whispered to her.  Her smile looked like she had just won Loto-Quebec.  She left and returned a minute later with the keys to an old Ford Focus.  

“Here is the car.”  Marc-Andre said returning to his table.  “Parked out back.  I don’t suppose you will be returning it?”

“I’ll text you where you can pick it up, ok?”

His answer was a resigned stare.  “Chantal’s a good kid.  She will be at my place until I get her car back, so I want it back tomorrow.”

I put my hand on his chest, kissed him softly on the cheek, and told him not to hurt himself with Chantal tonight. 

Mom and I quickly found Chantal’s car.  “Well, if it starts, no one would ever think that we are trying to escape in this!” I commented.  

Within minutes we were on the highway and forty minutes later we pulled up in front of a rustic A-frame log cabin. 

As we entered the cabin, my phone rang.  The number was blocked.   I answered.

“Hayden, they’ve got…,” Marc-Andre was cut off as Steve took the phone.  

“You’ve one hour to get back to the club or we start with Chantal.”



There’s Always a Bigger Fish
by Pierre Bastien

Hayden digested the news: Marc-Andre was in trouble. So was Chantal. Hayden had asked Marc-Andre for help, and he had generously obliged. Now he was in trouble, and it was her fault. What if he got hurt, or died, because of a simple favor he’d done her? Hayden buried herself in layers of guilt and confusion, feeling the pressure stack up from her abdomen, rising to her heart, her shoulders, and up to her neck, threatening to suffocate her.

She remembered, suddenly, how to calm herself. She drew a long, deep, slow breath, and then exhaled completely. She’d done this before on the squash court, before critical points. It was her way of gaining a mental edge, taking control of her body in a moment of uncertainty and fear. She was pleased to find the technique worked here.

Ted looked on, nervously at first, but then increasingly with pride as she saw her daughter taking command of her own body.

Outside the A-frame log cabin, the last dashes of light began to disappear into night.

Hayden took a few deep breaths, and then finally spoke up. “What now, Mom?”

Ted took out her phone and punched a number. She put the phone up tight to her right ear, and plugged her other ear using her left index finger, as if to drown out noise from the room, even though the only sound was wind pushing faintly against the windows.

Hayden listened as Ted issued instructions to her team. She was calmly dispatching them to Marc-Andre’s house to “clean up” the situation. Hayden marveled at her mother’s grace.

Ted hung up. Hayden stared at her.

“Is Marc-Andre going to be alright?” asked Hayden.

“Yes,” replied Ted. “Everything will be taken care of.”

“But,” said Hayden, “Steve had quite a gang backing him up. What about them?”

“There’s always a bigger fish,” replied Ted.

Hayden thought about it. “Wait, did you just drop a quote from Star Wars?”

Ted dropped her head in mock disgrace. “Yes,” she mumbled into her chest. “Meesa sorry.” Then Ted looked up, grinning.

“Wait,” said Hayden, “I need the details.”

“Don’t worry,” said Ted, “I’ll tell you. But first, let’s make some tea.”

“I think I need something stronger,” replied Hayden. She scanned the room, quickly laying eyes on the liquor cabinet. “Bingo,” she said.

“When did you become such a booze hound?” asked Ted. “During your gentlemen’s club days?”

“Princeton,” said Hayden, delighted, as she pulled a bottle of Knob Creek out of the cabinet.

Ted shrugged. “I’ll have one too.”

Hayden poured two glasses, neat, and plunked them down on a small wooden table near the liquor cabinet.

Mother and daughter sat, clinked glasses wordlessly, and took swigs.

As Hayden gulped down her mouthful of whiskey, she felt it warming her, inside-out. Instinctively, she felt like Marc-Andre was going to be okay. She trusted her mother on that point.

Hayden thought back to the firefight with her father. She felt strangely unsentimental about taking him out.

“Mom,” started Hayden. “Why did Dad put a gun to your head?”

“He is—was—an impulsive man.”

For the first time, Hayden began to appreciate fully the permanence of her action. “Mom,” said Hayden, “I know this might sound weird, but I almost feel like he wanted me to take the shot.”

“Honestly, Hayden, I wouldn’t put it past him. He was a strange duck.”

Hayden could sense her mom wasn’t telling her everything. “I thought you guys were on the same job here,” said Hayden finally.

“We were, but he screwed things up.”

“How so?” asked Hayden.

Ted blurted: “He wasn’t supposed to kill Ollie!”

After a long pause, Hayden asked, “Why did he make me do it then?”

Ted took a swig of her whiskey. “It just wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Hayden shook her head. “What do you mean?”

“It’s all about a particular oil pipeline, you see. Our mandate was to keep the pipeline project moving forward. Ollie had done some research that would damage the pipeline’s prospects. We couldn’t let that information come to light. But we weren’t trying to kill Ollie. We just wanted access to his research.”

“So,” pressed Hayden, “why did dad have me kill him?”

“Well,” said Ted, “either he didn’t like the two of you together, or he just wanted to see if you’d do it. Or maybe both.”

Hayden was stunned, but she kept turning the puzzle in her mind. “And Jean-Luc,” she said, “was working for other side. He wanted Ollie’s research to be published, to damage the pipeline project.”

“Exactly,” said Ted. “That’s why Jean-Luc recruited you to keep Ollie safe.”

Hayden sat in thought for a minute, and then asked, “What is going to happen at Marc-Andre’s house? Who’s the bigger fish?”

“Well,” Ted began, “when it comes to oil pipelines, there’s always a bigger fish.”

“What did you do, call in the Koch Brothers?”

“Yes,” replied Ted.

Hayden waited for her mother’s wry smile to wrinkle the corner of her mouth, but it never did.

Just then, a text message came in for Ted. It said Steve had been captured. No casualties.

“Mom,” asked Hayden, “how’d you get to be such a boss?”

“Just followed my nose,” replied Ted.

“Following my nose just seems to land me in trouble,” said Hayden.

“You got that from your father,” said Ted with a smirk.

Hayden found herself smiling. “What else did I get from him?” asked Hayden.

As the question floated out of Hayden’s mouth, she started to get misty-eyed.

“That killer instinct,” said Ted after a minute.

Hayden gulped her drink, fighting back tears. In her mind, she replayed shooting Jack in the neck.


Here, Kitty-Kitty
By Tammy Mehmed

It is so nice being here with just mom – I don’t want to share her right now.  I have missed her so much.  I realize now how amazing she is.  Of course my family of murderers is no Cleaver family – but I’d like to think we only kill the bad guys. 

“Mom, who’s cleaning up your house?  I think we left some carnage behind.”

Ted calmly answered, “Oh, we did leave quite a mess didn’t we.  I sent the team a message to clean the place, inside and out.  They are there now making sure it’s cleaned up by sunrise, honey.  Not to mention, checking the security system and the cameras so I can safely return home tomorrow.”

Of course, she has it all handled already.  “Mom, I’m exhausted.  It’s been quite a ride the last few days.  I can’t keep my eyes open and this whiskey has taken the edge off.  Do you mind if I just crash here on the sofa – I want to stay near you.”

“Of course, dear.  I just have some more correspondence to finish up and then I’ll hit the lights.  We’ll talk some more tomorrow.  I hope you can get some rest, dear.”  And as I wrapped myself in a blanket and leaned on a sofa pillow, mom kept working on her phone, not skipping a beat.   I decided to keep using my burner phone, just in case, and sent a text to Marc-Andre, “I can’t even tell U how sorry I am.  I hear U R OK.  Can I C U tomorrow?  I O U - Meow.”  Moments later a return message, “See you at the club tomorrow a.m., Petit Chaton.”


Mom’s ride to the office, a black Lincoln Towncar, pulled up to the cabin just as we finished our coffee and breakfast.  M-A had a nicely stocked fridge.  I was so hungry this morning and my mother actually made me pancakes and sausage.  She needed an early start back to Montreal and hoped the aroma would wake me.  And it did.  Of course, my mom hadn’t made me breakfast since I last saw her prior to the ‘accident’ when I was at Princeton.  I feel like she has been more of a mother to me in the last 24 hours, than the last five years she was alive. 

“Hayden, I know you need to get that car back to your friends.  Have you coordinated that?”

“Yes, mom.  I’m going to meet Marc-Andre back at the club.  Then he’ll give me a lift back to the Manitou parking lot where my original rental car is parked. Oh here are the keys to the trashy little Bug I bought at Rent-A-Wreck.  It’s right down the street from your house.  I’ll meet you at your office later this afternoon before I head to the airport.  Thanks for taking care of my flight back to JFK at 6 tonight.”

With that, my mother, hugged me and kissed each cheek, “À tout à l'heure!”


As I drove back up the mountain to Faucon Bleu later in the morning, I knew I would have to pay up with Marc-Andre.  He did me a favor and I nearly got him and Chantal killed.  As I approached the club parking lot, I could feel a tinge of excitement.  Yesterday, was not how I wanted to see M-A for a reunion.  When I decided to leave Faucon Bleu, I was his favorite dancer and he had become my family.  So typical of the industry, he took care of his girls.  And with both my parents “dead” at the time, he became my family. 

I parked Chantal’s car next to his very alluring Jaguar convertible.  He had a thing for cats.  Not real, mind you, just the get-ups.  He loved leopard print.  He thoughtfully unlocked the dancers’ entrance so I could slip in.  I found my way to the costume rack.  As I pushed through the rack, so many memories, the blood leaped through my veins, remembering those days.  Ah, there it is.  The kitty costume that M-A loves so much.  Leopard print mini dress with halter top and fingerless glovelets, and of course the leopard kitty ears. I went through the lingerie drawers and found a sheer black set to slip underneath.  He knew I had arrived, because, as if on cue, he turned on my favorite dance piece from ‘Enigma’.   I found the kitten heels, and slinked onto the stage and up to the pole.   There he was sitting at his table with two glasses of champagne in front of him.  Sigh. 

As the rhythmic chanting of Sadeness played, off came the gloves, which I artfully used to help me maneuver the pole.  Marc-Andre loved the costume and the dance in all this.  He wanted the performance to lead his imagination as to what was underneath the kitty.  As the song ended, I made my way off the stage and sauntered over to him.  He pulled his chair away from the table and I sat across his lap.  I kissed each cheek hello. 

“Thank you, Bebe.  I have missed you.  I understand if you cannot tell me what is going on, but I do hope you are safe now,” he whispered.

“Oh M-A, my life is so confusing right now.  My time here with you was so much simpler.  But I didn’t know who I was – I was so confused back then.  I floundered when my parents died.  I made good money and you always kept me safe and treated me with respect.  So many things have changed in my life in the last six months, and I am no longer that lost little kitten.

“I’m so happy to hear this.”  And with that, he handed me a glass of champagne, the bottle of Cristal sitting in a bucket on the table.  “Here is to you and your new life, my Bebe.”

We toasted and both gulped down our glass of bubbly.  He gently put his arm under the crook of my knees, which were bent over his lap, and he slowly stood.  I quickly wrapped my arms around his neck for balance, and he carried me over to his private office.  He had the girls he slept with, but I was such a money maker, I became taboo for him.  He did not want to ruin the business I brought in, so he kept me at bay.  The sexual tension was always hot between us, which probably made me a more motivated dancer.  When I was on stage, my dance was for him.  And now, there were no limitations.  As he carried me through the threshold of his office door, I said to him “I’m sorry for the trouble I caused yesterday.  I know it was a nightmare, so I hope now I can be your daydream.”


After sorting out the cars and saying good bye to mom, I headed to Montreal’s Trudeau airport.  On board the Air Canada flight to JFK, I stared out the window, sad to leave mom and Marc-Andre behind.  But New York is where I belong and being able to work for mom at their New York office thrilled me.  After I walked off the plane at JFK, I noticed two suits following me.  They quickly flanked either side of me, “Miss Vaughn,” one started, “we’d like to take you down to our office for some questioning about a friend of yours ... Oliver Fox.” 

Chapter 23

International Airspace

by Pierre Bastien

The passengers of Air Canada flight 8906 disembarked at JFK airport. As Hayden walked out of the dimly lit gangplank and entered the terminal, her eyes adjusted to the glare. Hayden quickly spotted two men in the waiting area amongst the plastic seats, wearing identical gray suits, white shirts, and red ties. One was tallish and fair-skinned, and the other was shortish and brown-skinned; both were staring at her.

Hayden walked on, doubting she would get far. Sure enough, they sidled up to her immediately.

“Miss Vaughn,” said the tallish one, “we’d like to take you down to our office for some questioning about a friend of yours ... Oliver Fox.”

Hayden quipped, “I’ve never been a fan of going to the office.”

The tallish one flashed a badge. “We’re CIA ma’am. I’m agent Nick Phillips. This is agent Dick Phillippousis. We need you to come with us.”

Phillippousis opened a notebook and made a note with a yellow pencil.

“How far are we going?” asked Hayden.

“Not far,” replied Phillips. “Just to a room here in the airport.”

“If you’re CIA,” pressed Hayden, “why are you working in the US? I thought this was the FBI’s domain.”

The agents looked at each other sideways.

“It’s international airspace, ma’am,” replied Phillips.

“Airspace?” asked Hayden.

“Airspace,” responded Phillips. Phillipoussis made a note in his notebook.

Hayden looked around the terminal. A thin older man wearing an airport-branded jumpsuit pushed a janitor’s cart towards a blue recycling bin and prepared to empty it.

Hmm, thought Hayden. Good to see they are recycling.

There were people milling every which way in the terminal. It would be easy for her to run; she doubted the agents could catch her, or that they would risk a hail of gun spray in a crowded airport. Still, she decided to go along with them. No sense risking a confrontation today.

She followed the agents around a corner and through a nondescript door marked RESTRICTED ACCESS.

The room reeked of coffee. Hayden saw a cheap folding table and a few chairs. On another small table sat a coffee pot. Next to it was a bag of coffee grounds, a box of coffee filters, and a few mugs.

“Would you like some coffee?” asked Agent Phillips. “It’s pretty good,” he added cheerfully.

“Sure,” Hayden said.

Phillippousis poured a mug for Hayden and handed it to her.

“Thanks,” said Hayden to Phillippousis. “So, are you related to the tennis player?”

“No,” he replied, stone-faced. “It’s spelled differently. Besides, I play squash.”

“Then shouldn’t you be the one named Nick?” joked Hayden.

Phillippousis looked at Hayden and made a note in his book.

Hayden tasted the coffee. It was god-awful: weak and burned. She tried to suppress a little cough, and faked a smile at Phillippousis. He waved her over to the plastic table, inviting her to sit down.

“So,” began Phillips, as they all sat around the table. “We understand you are close with Ollie Fox?” He looked at Hayden.

“Yes,” replied Hayden. Hayden started feeling flush. What did they know about Ollie’s death? Were they about to nail her for it? How could they have pieced it together this quickly? She remembered her training: just answer their questions, and say nothing more.

Phillips continued to ask her questions, while Phillippousis took notes.

“We understand you’ve been living with him in New York City?”

“I was,” replied Hayden somewhat truthfully, “but we’re no longer together.”

“When is the last time you spoke to him?”

“About three days ago, right before I left for Quebec.” Also true.

“What did you speak about?”

“We discussed our break-up.” Hayden’s shoulders tightened. She tried not to think about snapping Ollie’s neck in the hot tub. “Listen,” said Hayden. “I need to get going. Am I being detained here?”

Phillips paused to sip his coffee, and then looked up at Hayden. “Let me tell you straight, Miss Vaughn. Oliver Fox is a person of interest for us. He’s a very interesting person for us. We would like to know about his whereabouts. We haven’t heard from him in a few days. If he makes contact with you, I want you to call this number. It’s a matter of national security.”

Phillips slid his business card across the table to Hayden.

A wave of relief washed over Hayden: they must not know Ollie’s dead!

“OK,” replied Hayden, taking the business card. She suppressed the urge to tell them this wasn’t her first time supposedly being recruited by the CIA. “I’ll let you know if I hear from him.”

Phillippousis made a final note in his notebook.

“Now,” said Hayden, standing up, “I need to get back into domestic airspace.”

Hayden looked each agent in the eye, and then walked out of the room. She squinted, once again adjusting to the glare of the terminal. The hallway was a mashup of kiosks and travelling families and business types going this way and that.

Hayden got her bearings and headed for the baggage claim. She funneled towards the exit, swimming in a sea of other travelers. She felt a sense of relief as she passed the security checkpoint.

That wasn’t so bad, thought Hayden. I’m not sure if I’m ready for this, but I’m more ready than those CIA chumps.

Hayden walked out of the airport, feeling the crisp, wet winter air of New York City on her face. She made her way to the queue for cabs. For once, there was no line. The dispatcher waved down a yellow cab, Hayden got in, and in no time, she was on her way.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Back To Main