Copyright © 2013 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
The secretary had been the one to break it to her then, too.
He hadn’t even had the decency to handle it himself. Her eyes burned and her chest started to heave of its own volition. Then John’s voice came again.
“He left you a message, though. I guess he didn’t want to disturb your getting introduced to everyone. Do you want me to read
the message[MH1] ? It’s short.”
`Develop system for banking network, not defense.’ Does that make any sense to you? Oh, he left all the project docs and his itinerary with me. We can go over them tomorrow.”
Maybe he cared after all. Maybe Mel was wrong.
had been Cliff’s personal assistant , and knew far more about the business than anyone else there. In the first several weeks, she leaned on him heavily for just about everything, except jelling the team , which, sure
enough, she seemed to be a natural at
“Finally.” She had written him several times, trying to keep her tone as impersonal as possible. “Did he answer all my questions?”
“Ah, no. Actually, he probably hasn’t gotten your letters yet.”
“Didn’t he answer any of them, then?” Vickie tapped her foot impatiently. “I didn’t think overseas mail was that slow.”
“Not usually. But you saw his itinerary. I’d imagine the letters just missed him and now have to follow him around the world.”
“Oh, come on, John. He was supposed to be in
for five days last week. Any mail would have caught up to him there.” She pulled out Cliff’s letter and started to read it. “Dear Vickie: I just remembered you need to follow up with Ray about the compiler designs before the end of the month, Greece dah‑dah, dah‑dah[MH4] …John, this letter’s dated only two days ago! Overseas mail delivery’s not slow at all. What’s going on here?”
John grinned and shrugged his shoulders slightly. “Sometimes Cliff doesn’t like to be interrupted.”
“Now Vickie. Maybe you should contact Ray about the compilers before you forget
digress[MH6] , John.” She paced the room, tapping the note angrily with her hand. [MH7] “The least he could do is answer those [MH8] questions. Doesn’t he even care what’s going on in his own company? I thought this project was important. I thought…” ‘I thought I was important, at least to do the job. Boy, was I wrong. ’
“Now, Vickie,” John
could recognize [MH9] the placating tone of voice, designed to calm hysterical mothers and overheated project heads. She gritted her teeth. The next thing he would do was call Cliff and let him know he’d chosen the wrong person to run this project. Shoving the anger deep inside, she put on her best corporate face. “You’re right John . I’m running this show , after all. I don’t really need Cliff to make my decisions. Now, let’s see what else came in this morning’s mail.”
The phone rang late that night. He answered it in one ring. “Hello?” His voice was private, muted.
“It’s me. Send the second shipment.”
“All right.” A pause.
“Maybe. I think she suspects something.”
There was a soft curse from the other end of the line. It echoed eerily on the weak connection. Then the other man spoke again. “It can’t be helped. Do what you can to throw her off.”
“I’ll take care of it when I get back.”
He hung up quietly, and sat back in his chair, thoughtful. Throw her off. Hmmm. Won’t be as easy as it might look.
Then he got up and went home.
After another week
of no more communications from Cliff, Vickie started to worry. Did he even remember she was here? Since she didn’t want to be obvious about her interest , and to be honest, she wasn’t even sure if her interest was business or personal , she asked John to go out to dinner with her, there to pump him as casually as possible.
“So, how long have you worked with Cliff?” she asked him in a suitably casual tone.
John laughed, and winked gently at her. “I thought that might be it.”
‘I’m busted.’ “What are you talking about? I just invited you to dinner to celebrate one month of good business, and to thank you for your help. No other reason.”
“C’mon, Vickie, I’ve worked closely with you for almost seven weeks now. I worked for Cliff for seven years before that. I know how attractive he can be to women. In fact, that’s one of my unofficial jobs, to
side‑track women’s affections before they can interfere with business. You’re different, though. I’m not sure anything can side‑track you.”
, not fooled at all. “Yeah, sure[MH10] . Well, I met Cliff in during that crisis in the islands ten years ago England . [MH11] I was a U.S. soldier on duty in , and they pulled me as Chief of Staff to the British naval commander. I was a great administrative assistant even then.” London
His grin faded and he became more thoughtful. “Cliff had dual citizenship. His dad, before he died, had been in the
U.S. armed forces, stationed in . His mom, or mum as he called her, was a blue‑blooded English lady. Only daughter of a baron, I think. England
“At any rate, Cliff was an electronics wunderkind
even then. He invented the bugging device the Brits used to spy on the islands’ invaders and undermine their invasion without a single drop of blood being shed.”
gasped. “I remember reading about that. It was a marvel of the time, far ahead of anything Britain had, or the for that matter. [MH12] You mean Cliff United States made that?”
“You bet. But here’s the part you didn’t read about. Cliff’s design was sound but the thing was constructed in too much of a hurry. Not by Cliff, by the way. Well the device was installed in the invader’s camp, but then crapped out.
“Cliff, who has always had a sense of responsibility the size of a Big Ten marching band, felt he had to personally get the thing working[MH13] .”
Vickie’s eyes went wide.
“You mean he went to the islands to fix it?”
“Well, maybe he was the only one who could. But never mind that he was as scrawny as a bean‑pole then, or that he had never done anything more active than lifting a physics text. He spent the next two weeks working out and learning self‑defense techniques and training with the best undercover agents in , and darned if he didn’t pull it off. Earned himself a KBE for that. That’s Knight of the England British Empire.”
[MH2]This actually is cutting showing for telling. But a sigh can mean many things and I wanted the reader to experience that weight lifting where the spine lifts and decompresses.
[MH3]This name comes without explanation and could be a month. Changed to something that's obviously a name. Might consider adding some description before this of who Belva is in the future (short meet when Vickie does her initial tour).
[MH10]The dreaded POV blunder. John's grin is something Vickie can see. John's "not fooled at all" is only something John can experience.
[MH11]A note to myself. I need to update this reference or make up a conflict for the final cut. Either will involve research.