Cass Elkins stepped off the private jet and wrinkled her nose at the unmistakable odor of a city. The smell of too many people crammed together like cattle. More like sheep actually, cattle had more spirit. She hoped that she wouldn't have to be here long. Too much time in a place as populated as D.C. tended to fray her nerves, resulting in attitude that made her normal, less than accommodating personality seem rather pleasant in comparison. Not that she cared, but anybody unfortunate enough to bother her would.
The sun was dimmer than she was used to, but it was bright enough to make the man standing on the tarmac squint and shade his eyes with his hand. Cass figured him right off for a government employee. He was wearing one of those nondescript suits with a bland tie, dress shoes, and no hat. Cass always found it strange how people would rather burn their face and shade their eyes than wear a decent hat. Go figure.
When they were making the arrangements for Cass to travel to Washington, Alan Dobbs had recommended that she wear a suit in order to better blend in the city. She had taken his advice and wore her best black suit. His definition of suit and her definition turned out to be a bit different. Cass owned a nice, black leather suit coat. She wore it to church, funerals, weddings and other functions that called for formal attire. She had a fine, dark gray, button-up shirt which she wore with the top couple of buttons undone so that her necklace could be seen. She had made the necklace herself, for she rarely if ever found any bought jewelry that she liked. Most of it was flowers or hearts or something else she didn't care for. Around her neck was a plain black leather cord with a beautifully expanded, silver colored, .44 caliber, hollow-point bullet hung on it. She had recovered the bullet from the ground after she had blown a large diamondback rattlesnake in two with her Eagle. It was one of a kind.
She appreciated Dobbs sentiment that she should try to fit-in in Washington, but she knew that no matter what she wore she would stand out. Her purposeful stride and confident look marked her as much as the black hat, boots, and dark blue jeans that she wore.
As she approached the man, Cass could see the subtle bulge under his right shoulder. Cass may have been annoyed that she was going un-heeled, but she was far from helpless. She had been told to leave her guns at home since handgun possession by private citizens in D.C. was frowned upon if not outright outlawed. No wonder they had such a high murder rate. The only people that bothered to abide by the wishes of the government were law-abiding citizens. The criminals don't have any problem breaking the law to murder someone. Why should they pay attention to any other laws?
“Looking for me, mister?” asked Cass.
The man looked around questioningly for a moment before replying, “I'm not sure. Are you C. Elkins?”
“I reckon so. Didn't see anybody else get off the plane. I thought ya'll were expecting me.”
“Yes. I was just expecting someone, ah, older and more, um, never mind. I'm Justin Wallace and I was instructed to drive you to your hotel.”
Cass laughed mildly and said, “I understand. You weren't expecting a girl. I'm a bit disappointed, but I can't say I'm surprised. I'm used to it. I wouldn’t expect one either.”
Wallace didn't know how to respond so he just pointed to a dark sedan with government plates that was parked nearby and said, “This way.”
The drive from the airstrip to the hotel was relatively uneventful. Cass spent most of the trip looking out the windows at the landmarks. She had been around a fair bit, but this was her first time in D.C. She might not go out of her way to find populated areas, but she always found big cities interesting-- for a short time.
They arrived at the hotel. She checked in and started for her room. Wallace offered to escort her upstairs. “You should be relatively secure here, but D.C. is a dangerous place, especially for a nice young lady by herself.”
Cass just looked at him and grinned. He was obviously in the dark about her. Either that or he didn't believe she was competent. “I appreciate your concern, Mr. Wallace, but I can take care of myself. If some unsuspecting lowlife mistakes me for a nice young girl, that is to say, a likely victim, he'll find out that even though I may be young and I might be a girl, I ain't all that nice.”
“Miss Elkins, I still don't think it would be wise for you to wander around by yourself.”
Cass didn't appreciate anyone telling her what to do. “So, you’re gonna protect me then? What makes you think you can do better? Are you referring to the gun under your coat? What is it, a Glock, a Sig? A forty-five, a nine mill?” asked Cass as she stepped closer to Wallace until she stood within arm’s reach in front of him. He was beginning to annoy her. Usually she would have let it pass, being an even-tempered person, but today she had a reason to get a reaction out of him. She wanted to know more about the whole situation and sometimes the most efficient way to gain info about something was to force a reaction. Most people showed their true stripes when pushed. Besides, it had been a long flight and she was spoiling for a confrontation. She innocently asked Wallace, “Tell me, are you considered to be a well-trained and competent agent?”
Wallace looked indignant and he quickly answered, “Of course I'm competent. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't. And I'll have you know that I carry a Glock 19.”
“I see. Then how come you just let me kill you?”
“What are you talking about?” cried the obviously confused Wallace.
“I've been standing close enough to you to kill you half a dozen different ways since we started talking.”
“I let you approach because you are not an enemy or an unknown,” said Wallace defensively.
“That was stupid. You don't know me. I might not be who a say I am. You obviously didn't have a description of me back at the airstrip. You wouldn't have been so surprised. I gotta say, so far you guys ain't impressing me very much.”
“I am still better armed. I have a gun and you don't.”
Cass laughed incredulously, “You want me to prove it? Fine. Go for your gun and see if you can get it out before I can get you.”
“I don't know,” said Wallace, “We're in public.”
Cass was beginning to enjoy herself. She continued to goad Wallace. “Come on. Don't worry about anybody seeing. There's no civilians here except me. Come on. You afraid of a girl? Tell you what, if you're fast enough, I'll take your advice. If I win, you quit telling me what I can and can't do. Deal?”
“Okay, you asked for it. Ready?”
“Whenever you are. You go first.”
They stood facing each other. Cass stood calmly with her arms at her sides, waiting for Wallace to make his move. “I'm waiting,” she drawled.
Suddenly, Wallace tensed and his right arm pulled his jacket back to expose his Glock while his left hand reached for the gun. At least that was what he tried to do. Even though his right arm moved first, as soon as he moved, Cass grabbed his left arm with her right. She had noted earlier that he was left-handed and so she knew which hand to be concerned with. Meanwhile, her left hand hardened into an arc and accelerated quickly towards Wallace's exposed throat, stopping only a thousandth of an inch from his neck.
She stood there for a moment. Wallace stood frozen. Staring into his eyes, she could see the fear. That was good. Somebody once told her that the difference between fear and respect was small enough that one was a good substitute for the other. He nervously eyed the hand which had stopped a fraction of an inch from crushing his throat.
He croaked, “You win.”
Still grinning maliciously, Cass released him.
He took a step back and straightened his disheveled suit. “You were just lucky,” he stated with fake bravado, more to himself than anybody. He didn't want to admit that it had shaken him. She had moved so quickly, without hesitation, and smiled the whole time. He had been in serious situations before, but something he had seen in her blue eyes unsettled him.
“Just keep telling yourself that, if it makes you feel better, bub. Now get along, I've got bigger fish to fry.”
Cass turned around to see a short wiry man with close-cropped, graying hair, dressed in a nondescript suit, step out of the shadows and begin clapping slowly. About time.
“Not bad. Not bad. You're even better in person, Miss Elkins. I can also see why Mr. Dobbs thought you a bit blunt. Do you test everyone you meet this way?”
Cass laughed, “Only when I've got an audience.”
“You knew I was here? I'm impressed. I must be losing my touch.”
“I don't know about that, mister. I thought you were pretty good. But I've always been good at knowing when somebody was around. Comes from living in the boonies I guess. I notice people.”
“Curious,” said the mysterious man. “Let's go some place more private and we'll discuss the matter of you working for us. Are you hungry?”
“Always,” said Cass.
“Excellent. We'll have dinner. Wallace will pick you up in an hour.”
Cass watched critically as the man casually walked out of the room. His outward appearance had been regular in every way, but to her eye, his walk gave him away. Confident, relaxed, balanced, smooth, a predator amongst the unsuspecting prey. A man to be feared by most and respected by those like him.
Cass wasn't afraid.