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   Chapter 2 Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair

Brownie Oxford and the Ashland Affair: Brownie Bk1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 18892

Updated: 2018-03-07 14:19


Chapter 2

Three hours later I was still in the graveyard. The fear had settled now that there seemed to be no need for it, but I felt hollow and wrung out. A cool breeze kicked up letting me know that fall would soon be serious, September it seemed, had finally managed to kill the August heat. I shivered in my still dew damped dress. Flashlights were waving about the formerly abandoned cemetery like demented fireflies. It made me think of old fairy tales like the will'o-the-wisp sent to lead travelers astray.

I had found my shoe, taken the other one off and sat down barefoot and out of the way on a convenient headstone belonging to one William Frasier. I thought about asking him if he minded, as it seemed the polite thing to do, but given the current situation I decided I couldn't risk it. I hoped he understood.

The fat heads of the long grass tickled my swinging feet and legs as I tried to keep my feet off the ground in case Mr. Frasier objected. My head was throbbing and when I lifted a hand to check on it, the hand came away wet. I wiped my fingers on my torn skirt, trying not to look at the ruin my all purpose black dress had become. I had the feeling this would be its last night out.

A little later, I checked my head wound again and all of the blood seemed to have gone tacky or dried into stiff patches in my hair. Deciding that I wasn't likely to bleed to death, I watched the milling law enforcement. All of the bad guys, aka the ones who had kidnapped me, were handcuffed and seated on the ground. Mr. Salesman had complained about this as his suit was apparently quite expensive.

I decided if I was ever going to go out and do nefarious deeds, I would do so with second hand clothes from the thrift store, just in case I was unsuccessful. Not that I had anything in my closet worth as much as the value he claimed for his suit. In fact I was pretty sure the entire contents of my closet didn't amount to that much.

And the only deeds I did that might be considered nefarious were done with Swift. Usually he provided the clothes I was to wear while doing them. Surprisingly, Swift hadn't arrived with the cavalry although I was fairly certain he sent them. I scanned the crowd looking for his dirty blonde locks and long, loose-limbed stride. Nope, no Swift.

Every other law enforcement professional in the area who could manage an invitation to the party had arrived though. I saw city cops, state troopers, and at least two types of federal agents. None of them were even remotely familiar. I didn't think any of them worked with Swift. It wasn't because I didn't recognize them, I was certain there were lots of people who worked with Swift who I didn't know, a fact I was perfectly content with. Every time I met a new one, my world went a little more haywire. It was their reaction to me that clued me in. These folks didn't behave like the ones in Swift's department.

Swift's people were not overly friendly or even mildly companionable for the most part, but if they had been there, they would have checked on me. I was considered an asset, a resource, and they would want to make sure I wasn't damaged or compromised. They would order me checked out by a doctor they approved, smile false smiles that were little more than the twitching of the muscles around their mouths and offer insincere apologies for any discomfort I may have suffered. Then they would give me the standard warning about keeping anything I had seen locked inside my brain instead of sharing it with others. Usually the warning came with some vague sort of threat. No matter how nice they were pretending to be, they just couldn't help themselves when it came to the threat. They just had to add it on the end. I tried not to take it personally.

These people were ignoring me as inconsequential. There was no false concern, no warnings, and no threats. These were nice cops and I was just the innocent civilian. Now that they had the threat to my well-being contained, they could focus their attention elsewhere. Sadly, I found their disregard comforting. It had been a long time since I had been considered one of the innocent civilians.

At the moment, the various milling cops were having a polite disagreement about the current situation. I imagined it was due to jurisdiction. The handcuffed men were apparently on someone's most wanted list and they all wanted the credit for their capture. Not that they put it that way, exactly. There were however many shiny eyes and smiles and it was clear they all wanted the big present Santa left under the tree this year.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man glide out of the shadows. He looked like a praying mantis masquerading as a surfer; long legs and an easy grin mixed with a slight air of menace. Swift had arrived. The moving lights caught the blonde strands of hair and made them look like gold. I watched as he quickly surveyed the scene and I could see him dismiss the tensely polite discussion as irrelevant. He turned his steps towards me. No one else seemed to notice him as he moved through the scene like the ghost his superiors named him.

I looked up as Swift came to a stop in front of me. His prominent cheekbones left his blue eyes in shadow making his head more skull-like than usual. From where I sat, he stretched impossibly far into the night sky. The moon was behind his head and gave him a sort of glow, as though he were some sort of avenging angel. Certainly no one would call him beatific. Smiting was more his line of work and it showed.

"Are you injured?" he asked. His voice was washed of all accent and inflection. It was a statement rather than a question and I knew the accent and tone could change in a flash. It was a blank canvas that could be altered the way other people changed their clothing. He could pour emotion into his words as well as change the accent and become a man from almost anywhere who cared about almost anything. He knew it gave me the creeps, so he generally kept his tone flat with me, which I appreciated. If I couldn't trust the emotion, I'd rather not hear it.

"Head got hit against one of the stones, " I told him.

"Where?" I lifted a hand to the area of my head. He stepped behind me and I winced as his long fingers lightly touched the matted black curls around the wound.

"It's stopped bleeding, but I still want it checked out." He took his hands away. "How's the vision?"

"Fine." I didn't add that it had been a little wobbly right after, but had steadied while I waited for someone to be declared king of the crime scene. I wondered if they would plant a small victory flag on Mr. Salesman.

"What did they hit you with?" he asked.

"They didn't. I fell against a fallen headstone when I was rescued."

"Sloppy." I could see him frown and almost smiled at his disapproval. Swift liked to keep things neat. His desk looked like a catalog display. I had never seen his home, but I imagined it too, was like a catalog cut out. It was just Swift's way.

"Hey, " someone called out noticing Swift's arrival. "You there." Swift turned, realizing he was being addressed by some flavor of officialdom. I thought it might be a state policeman from the uniform.

"Stay here until I come for you." He told me emphasizing the I, before wading into the sea of red tape and delicate toes. I didn't have time to answer, but I could feel my body relax. Swift and his people often treated me as merely a tool in their kit which was often quite annoying, but I knew they took good care of their tools. I was his and I was more than ready for a little care.

It took very little time for Swift to arrange things and soon he returned. "We are leaving, " he told me. I nodded and slipped my shoes on my feet. I let out a soft hiss of pain as the shoe came in contact with the raw skin of the abraded blister on my heel.

"I thought just your head hurt." Swift snapped, his attention focused on me like a laser beam.

"Broken blister, " I told him. "These shoes weren't meant for hiking." He nodded, confident that the blister would not kill me before I could get back to the car. Swift shortened his stride for my considerably shorter legs as he led me away from the cemetery.

"How come they let you take me?" I asked, more to distract myself from my feet than because I expected an answer.

"Because you are an asset to the NCS, " he told me.

"And they just let me leave a crime scene with no problems?" My head had started to throb in time with the blister and I felt a little fuzzy, so I channeled the fear of the evening into my most sarcastic tone of voice.

Usually when I was busy being an asset to the National Clandestine Service they made certain no one else official was around, thus avoiding these sorts of issues. This was my first clash of the law titans. It was almost disappointing not to be fought over. Clearly, I wasn't as important as Mr. Salesman and his merry band of moneyed thugs.

I heard Swift chuckle. "I told them we would expect no credit for the bust, " he added.

I snorted. National Clandestine Services or NCS never officially took credit for anything, even the things they officially did. At least that was how it always seemed to me. Perhaps when no one was looking they held a party for themselves and confessed their actions to each other over sheet cake and fruit punch.

It was an a

musing image, but even in my head it sounded like fiction. I doubted they would even own up to their actions amongst themselves, even if I could see them devouring a sheet cake. They were the shadows behind the already shadowy CIA. I liked to think that somewhere there was a file so someone, somewhere, somehow knew what was going on. I had the suspicion though that the file had been gone over repeatedly with a heavy handed sharpie leaving little that was not redacted. And that the person who redacted the file would be blinded in the name of national security.

Perhaps the blinding was the annual event that caused the sheet cake and fruit punch office party.

"Is there a file cabinet with un-redacted files somewhere, just in case someone needs to check on things at a later date?" I asked.

I didn't expect an answer and was not surprised when I didn't receive one. Swift didn't even look surprised by my change of topics, as he had long since gotten used to the way I processed things. He often told new people that my train of thought had too few active stations so folks just had to jump on where they could when they complained about me.

I sighed with relief when the road came into sight, knowing the walk was almost over. When I last saw the road, it contained only three vehicles, all rental cars, one with a trunk roomy enough to fit me. I doubted that is how they phrased their request at the rental agency. I think even a bored clerk would take notice if someone requested a vehicle with a trunk large enough to carry a small woman. Now, the road contained much more variety. A few were official vehicles with seals and standard looking decals decorating them. Most were black and non-descript.

They were non-descript in a way that practically screamed federal agent, which seemed anything but clandestine to me. I supposed it would look odd for a federal officer to arrive in a yellow Prius, but the big black SUVs were not exactly subtle. A part of me wanted to slap a flame decal on the side of one just to see what would happen. Were CIA agents allowed to have an attack of the vapors or was that against company policy?

Swift led me towards the tail end of the official looking car lot and unlocked the door to a silver Ford Fusion.

"Trying not to blend, Swift? Don't you like playing with the others?" I asked, tilting my head towards the sea of standard issue vehicles. The corner of Swift's mouth turned up, but he didn't comment. He just unlocked the doors and watched as I settled myself.

"Seatbelt, " he said as he closed the door. I fastened my seatbelt as he walked around to the driver's side and slid behind the wheel. I sighed with relief as we pulled away from the road and headed back towards town. I was safe, officially.

No one was pointing a gun at me and if they did, Swift would point one right back. I shivered a little. I was chilled to the bone, but unsure if it was the fault of the night, the damp dress or reaction. I had the feeling I would be adding a new scenario to my nightmares. Trial and error had taught me that the situations that I didn't react to until they were over had a tendency to attack my subconscious. It was only in dreams that my brain seemed to realize what could have happened if Swift didn't make it on time.

I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to steady my breath. I just needed to hold everything together until the doctor checked me out and Swift sent me home to sleep. Once I was home, I could fall apart. The promise settled me a little and I felt a bit better.

"Tell me what happened, " Swift said. I realized that he had been monitoring me and had waited for me to settle before he asked the question.

"I had a date, " I began familiar with how Swift preferred his information. The routine of it felt comforting. "He met me in my building's lobby and we went outside to the street. We were walking to his car when I felt a sting in my shoulder. I blacked out." I clenched my jaw and felt my teeth fairly groan at the pressure. Someone had kidnapped me. Someone had taken me off the street while I was on a date. Warm anger pushed the cold fear away. I stopped shivering.

"Is my date okay?" I asked. "I didn't see what happened to him.

"Dave is fine, " Swift said tersely. I lifted an eyebrow. I wasn't surprised that Swift knew the name of my date, but the tone was unexpected.

"Was he involved?" I asked. He had seemed like such a nice guy. Usually my personal radar wasn't that far off. Working with Swift for so long had sharpened my paranoid edges, but I had suspected nothing duplicitous about Dave.

"Not that we are aware of at this time." Swift told me. His tone softened a little.

"Do you not like him?" I asked.

"I have not met him. Please continue."

"Okay, " I said slowly. "When we got to the road, they opened the trunk and helped me to climb out. Mr. Salesman told me I would be raising a zombie." I blinked as I thought about it, even as I saw Swift smile at my nickname of the head honcho.

"No, " I said knowing exact details were needed. Wording could be very important. I shook my head and instantly wished I hadn't as the night suddenly had a few multi-colored ribbons dancing across it. "He told the other two suits that I would be the one raising the zombie." I blinked, still trying to stop the dancing lights. "They seemed a little surprised to see me, like they were expecting someone else."

"Then we climbed the hill to the cemetery. When we got there, he ordered me to raise the zombie and I stalled as long as I could." I concluded.

"How did you stall?" he asked. The question was asked in a quiet voice and I wondered if Swift thought I had given my secrets away.

"I used zombie movie factoids to stall them. I talked about killer zombies eating people and asked what they wanted me to use as a sacrifice, " I told Swift. "They seemed concerned that there were no goats or chickens around for me to slaughter. No one wanted to fill the void."

Swift chuckled, his suspicion fading as his body shook with laughter. "That I would have liked to see."

"Well the guys with guns were having a confab with the men in suits when the law pounced, " I told him, unable to resist a small smile. "Good thing too as I was running out of zombie trivia. Pretty soon I would have been reduced to discussing the validity of virgin sacrifices."

"Did they say who they wanted you to raise?" He asked.

"No, " I told him, resisting the urge to shake my head. "But there was something strange about it. They didn't point to any one tombstone. They didn't show me who they wanted raised, they just ordered me to get to it. I think the first zombie was supposed to be a test."

"That is odd, even for you."

"I could smell freshly turned earth, as though someone had been buried recently."

"It's an old cemetery."

"I know, " I told him. "1850s and earlier, at least in the section we went through."

"But you didn't see a body?"

"No. No scent of decay either. So if they dug into the ground then the body was just a skeleton or they put someone in rather than taking them up."

"Interesting." He said. I could see Swift was turning my words over in his mind.

"The head guy, " I began.

"Mr. Salesman?" I heard the amusement in his tone and frowned.

"It's not like they were wearing name tags, " I reminded him.

"Of course, I just wanted to make sure I had the people straight."

"Anyway, he believed I could raise a zombie. Truly believed. I'm pretty sure he had seen a couple of zombies before tonight, but I doubt he had seen the process of raising them."

"Why?"

"It takes a few times to actually believe in something like that. You have to discredit hallucinations and animatronics…"

"Why do you think he hadn't seen the actual raising?" Swift clarified.

"Oh, well he was really surprised when I mentioned the sacrifice. As though he knew it could be done, but hadn't thought through the actual raising part. The others were the same way. At least no one looked as though they found his suggestion that I raise the zombie ridiculous. They could just have really good poker faces."

"Hmm, " Swift said to himself. For a while we sat in silence, the car sliding through the dark night. Whatever road we were on had no streetlights and clouds had covered the moon. The only lights were from Swift's headlights and the various gages in the car's dashboard. The instruments gave off a slightly yellow-green glow.

"Can you raise a zombie?" Swift asked softly. The question felt intimate. We were alone in the dark with no one there to hear and his voice was warm and gentle. It was just the two of us, but I knew Swift. Any answer I gave would be added to my file.

I took a deep breath, shaking a little inside. "No, I can't. You know that. You've seen what I can do." Admittedly he hadn't seen all of what I could do, but I had no desire to expand my role as an asset. The one I had was uncomfortable enough.

"True, " he said nodding. "It would have come out during testing if you could. I wonder why they thought you could?"

"I wonder how they knew about me at all, " I countered. "And if they knew someone who could raise zombies, why didn't they go back to them instead of kidnapping me?"

"Very good questions, " Swift said. "We'll have to see what we can do about answers."

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