The Grim Reaper Buys a Vowel

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"Glad to be of assistance," Odval said. She had a slight accent; it was almost British, but not quite.

"Belizean?" I asked.

She laughed, and showed her teeth. "Everyone guesses something different, but no one ever guesses correctly."

Alton stroked her long hair. "I met Odval on the steppes, near Ulan Bator, late one night. I had had some...well, difficulty. She helped me then, and has done so ever since."

Odval laughed again. I liked her laugh, but when I looked over at Elizabeth, I realized I had better stop liking it so much. "Alton. Don't tell that story. We have no time."

"Mongolia?" Elizabeth said. "You're Mongolian? Where did you learn English?"

Odval touched Alton's arm. "Alton brought me to England," she said, "And I studied at Oxford for a few years."

"A few years?"


Alton's face hardened. "This really isn't the time for this, don't you think? We have some issues that require our immediate attention."

"Hold on," said Elizabeth, "It can wait thirty seconds. How many years?"

Odval frowned. "Five years. I received my degree two years ago. Why is it important."

Elizabeth ticked her finely shaped fingers off. "Alton, it seems to me that we must have still been married when you found Odval on those steppes and took such an interest in her."

Alton shifted his feet in obvious discomfort.

"Be that as it may," I said, "We've got more important things to address. There are people around the country, and maybe the world, who are laying in hospitals. Are they doomed? Are they lobotomized by this virus? What are we going to do?" Having summarized things very well, I grabbed my clothing and headed for the bathroom to dress.

By the time I was out of the shower, things had moved closer to some sort of conclusion, as far as our determining a course of action. Events were moving quickly, too quickly. The president had already appeared on television, and in the midst of his speech, between two "shout-outs," he announced that there was no cause for panic, and no reason to be afraid. "The only thing we have to fear is mindless, reactive thinking that does not coolly chose the best option from a the limited selection we have before us. To assist our brave first-responders, I am declaring immediate martial law in all cities over one-hundred thousand people, as counted in our last sentence. I have signed an executive order giving each of the appropriate cabinet secretaries full discretionary powers in all matters involving their area of control."

"The president," Alton noted, "Is an idiot. And not even a useful one."

Elizabeth had used the secondary bathroom, and she was also showered. She looked great, and I was gratified to see that she was taking Odval's attractiveness challenge seriously. I don't begin to understand these female undercurrent things, but when I'm the beneficiary, I don't complain. It was not that Elizabeth had let herself go; far from it. But her cover of working in a daycare had caused her to frump a bit. Now it was all gone, peeled away, and the stunningly beautiful super spy I had fallen in love with was back.

"You look great," I said. She did. She was wearing dark clothing that was almost form fitting, yet not giving an appearance of being tight. She had two large handguns, one strapped low on each thigh, right where she like to grab them from. Her hair was pulled back, and slicked a bit so that it would not fall in her eyes. She did look great, she knew it, and wanted Odval to notice too.

"Thanks, Jack, even if you're exaggerating. I was in hurry, and just threw on what I thought I'd need. Are we ready?"

"What's the plan?" I asked.

Alton nodded toward the television. "There's only one thing we can do. Whoever has set this plan in motion is not someone in Org. It's someone from the outside, who manipulated events for the last ten or twelve years, and now is in the place to reap the benefits."

I thought for several moments. The old synapses never really stopped worked; once you are trained to look for conspiracies, it's actually hard to stop. Even the lack of evidence of a conspiracy sometimes is evidence pointing to the existence of one.

"You're thinking President Noble?"

Alton nodded.

I bit my thumbnail. "Could be. He was in the Senate, and served on any number of powerful committees."

Odval interrupted, "Including the Sub-Committee on Pandemics, and the Senate Special Committee on Biological Warfare."

Elizabeth tied her holster tightly. "Even if he's not the one, he'll know who is. And he just declared martial law. I don't like martial law, whatsoever. A few hundred people with a mysterious illness doesn't make the case for it. He's part of the plot, somehow, or he's part of the problem."

"So what are we saying? We're going to take out the president? Elizabeth, we agreed when we retired: no more killing, not unless there was no other choice."

"Do you see one here, Jack?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I'm just not nuts about being linked with the likes of Booth and Oswald for the rest of history."

Alton was thoughtful looking. "Assassination may not be necessary, but we do have to remember there are people out there without our qualms. They tried to kill you, Jack, and they did more than try with the Hendersons."

"Oh? And, speaking of that, Alton, where were you when that was going down?"

Alton laughed. "Jack, if I wanted you dead, it would have happened years ago."

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