“Yes, well, hello,” Forbes said.
“I’m Mary Laughtry.”
“Names? We’re exchanging names already?”
“I guess we are.”
“Then I suppose you’re expecting I give you mine? Sort of even out the playing field, as it were?”
“You know, you could always make up a name, I mean for the time being. That would do nicely, too.” She turned, eyes glazed with interest.
“The time being?” he said, and gently guided her along a quiet passage far from the gaggle of impatient wedding guests.
“Well, let’s say, for argument’s sake you were a spy and you were attending this lovely wedding in this quaint 17th century church as a ploy to keep an eye on an evil agent you had been tracking, and when I say tracking, I mean you and your government—your government’s most top secret agency that is—so top secret that few have ever heard of them,” she suggested.
“And I would, of course, need a name for that charade, to credibly celebrate this wonderful occasion?”
“See, exactly,” she added, “Then when you left you could go back to your other made up name, whichever one the spy agency gave you when you were recruited and they erased all evidence you ever existed from every data base in the world.”
She was very pretty, Forbes had to admit. He hadn’t expected anyone this attractive to be quite so clever. “Can they really do that?”
“Why yes, I should think so,” she said, leading him to a secluded stone chamber far from the organ that was announcing the arrival of the bride, “With everything at stake, the future of western civilization and all and with the compression formulas I’ve been reading about especially in London’s Times expose last year revealing what went on out at Gladstone Park from 2012 to 2013, and what’s been going on since the hacking debacle of 2015.”
And smart too. “Yes, a name. A good solid name that people would trust.”
“And, more importantly, quickly accepted by those you were tracking, or spying on, or following, or whatever it was that you types do.”
“Yes, of course. Apologies. My mistake. I didn’t mean to minimize your spying skills which I’m sure are quite impressive. I mean the importance of your spying, and what might be at stake for all of mankind if you fail at, well, whatever it was you were doing. It was quite thoughtless of me, really.”
“What about Lionel Ritchie?”
“That’s my name.”
“You’re Lionel Ritchie?
“I’ll even offer you a handshake to prove it’s legitimate.”
“Well that certainly addresses all the doubts I’ve been having up to this point,” she said taking his hand in hers. There was a casual strength about him. A quiet, seductive confidence she expected, though it quickly caught her off guard.
“Lovely affair, don’t you think?”
“And what’s your exact connection to the bride or groom if you don’t mind my asking, Mr. Ritchie?”
“No, no connection at all, I’m afraid. I’m the English Muffin Critic for The London Times and I was vacationing in this part of Coventry when I heard this was going on.”
“Actually, more Warwickshire than Coventry.”
“As you say.”
“So you just walked in?”
“Well, my hotel is just down the street. I mean, a free brunch and cocktails and all. Couldn’t hardly pass that up.”
“And the tux? You are wearing a tuxedo, you know? And a very beautifully tailored tux it is.”
“Oh, this old thing? I always travel with a tux. Very reassuring. Always be prepared, and all that,” he said, still considering Remsen’s odd, last minute request.
“That’s the motto of the Boy Scouts of America. Were you ever an American Boy Scout Mr. Forbes? No lying now.”
Forbes hadn’t taken his eyes from the leggy brunette since he spotted her at the champagne bar as soon as he entered the church. “Are you implying it would have been okay to lie before now, but not now, now?”
“So, it’s a coincidence you’re here? I mean Lionel Ritchie being a spy for an agency that no one knows exists and all the while under the guise as the country’s most celebrated English Muffin Critic for The London Times? Really? That’s the best you’ve got?”
“Well, I might be exaggerating here and there. But, just a tad.”
“I’m thinking maybe a few tads?”
“Guess I’ve made a bit of a mess of it,” Forbes finally admitted.
“Here. Take a sip of champagne, I’ve already had two too many, and we’ll get at the root of your diabolical scheme to corner the market in English Muffin futures.”
“Lord, have I been that obvious?”
“And Lionel Ritchie? Seriously? You expect me to believe you are the celebrated black American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer?”
“You saw through that one too?”
“Actually, not at first.”
“Oh, good—then I’m getting better at this?”
“Something your section chief will be delighted to learn, I’m sure.”
“My editor, you mean?’
“No,” she said, sliding a Beretta 92 Fusion from her handbag. “I mean Sir David Remsen, Section Chief of StoneCold, the national secret service agency embedded deep in MI1.”
“And, the English Muffin Critic thing?”
“Not so much either. Because you see,” she said while holding her pistol with one hand and pulling back the jacket of his tux and slipping out his Glock 9mm with the other. ”My cousin, my actually, completely fucking imbecilic cousin who can’t put two coherent sentences together is, for real, the English Muffin Critic for The London Times.”
“No silencer there. Someone’s bound to hear the shot, especially in this stone wall chamber with two very large vaulted openings facing the street.”
“It’s really a beautiful church and quite a shame to mess up your elegant tux from Hiding Roosevelt & Clyde, I believe?”
“Blyton Huxley, their most senior fitter.”
“Yes. Couldn’t quite put my finger on which of their tailors it must have been to have stitched you such a fine suit,” she said gesturing with the muzzle of the Beretta at a small wooden bench in the corner.
Forbes sat down, casually crossed his legs and relaxed. Harney was late. Was it a coincidence, or a trap? Obviously the girl wasn’t quite as innocent as he had first hoped. “Huxley’s been my tailor since my days at Cambridge.”
“And,” she said reaching over and grabbing his very polished shoe and quickly, with the slightest twist, slipping it from his foot, “there it is,” removing her hand and the vial of serum from the darkest recesses of the secret chamber in the toe-well of his shoe.
“You could have just asked for it?”
“And missed the charming madness of our conversation, Mr. Forbes? I think not.”
“So there is no convincing you that I’m Lionel Ritchie?”
“Not right now, with my car outside and my need to get this priceless chemical concoction into my client’s hands.”
“And your client being?”
“You know, and not to be ungracious, but I really don’t see how that information can help you right now.”
“So, no last minute request from the condemned? A last minute reprieve from the Governor?”
“That only happens in terrible American gangster movies from the 1930s and I can assure you, this is for real, as is the fact that your Mr. Harney will be delayed getting here. Engine trouble I believe it was,” she said backing away from him as the late morning sun pouring through the vaulted stone openings lit up her ivory cocktail dress.
Forbes stood, extended his hand as he had done before, “Then, it’s been a pleasure Miss Laughtry.”
“No, no more handshakes Mr. Forbes. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course,” he agreed, as the projectile exploded from the muzzle of the Barrett .50 caliber M107 and traveled the 1240 meters from the roof of the Crown Royale Hotel through the open window in the blink of the agent’s eye. The impact blew her 140 pound frame sideways across the room. The Beretta and the insulated vial of serum Forbes had expected to deliver to Kevin Harney fell to the stone floor.
The massive .50 caliber sniper bullet cut through her body and embedded itself in the stone wall where she fell. She looked up in surprise, but only briefly, as the gaping wounds in her sides released a torrent of red.
“I guess Mr. Harney fixed his engine faster than you might have preferred.”
Forbes studied the Beretta for a moment, marveled at its balance, switched on the safety, tucked it under his belt, replaced the Glock in his holster, and examined the vial before slipping into his pocket. There was a stain at the top of the pocket on the left side of his jacket. It wasn’t there when he put on the tux. He tried to brush it away.
Annoyed, he tried more vigorously a second time as the 7.62mm round from the Dragunov sniper rifle positioned a few blocks away traced a different trajectory and sliced through his throat. As he spun around from the impact, the second bullet ripped the padding from the right shoulder of Hiding Roosevelt & Clyde’s finest.
Forbes was already imagining Blyton Huxley’s grave distress at what had become of his efforts, and the real possibility that Hiding Roosevelt & Clyde’s management might prefer not to accommodate his future sartorial needs as he fell at her side.
Both were long dead when agents from both countries raced into the little church as the lovely bride and groom finished exchanging vows, and confirming their ‘I do’s.’
Arthur Davis is a management consultant specializing in corporate planning and reorganization and has been quoted in The New York Times, Crain’s New York Business and interviewed on New York TV News Channel 1. He has taught at The New School University, advised Senator John McCain's investigating committee on boxing reform, appeared as an expert witness on best practices in 1999 before State Senator Roy Goodman's New York State Commission on Corruption in Boxing and advised the Department of Homeland Security, National Protection and Programs Directorate. Since 2012 over sixty stories have been published in forty magazines including "Conversation in Black," which was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize.