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A Word, If We Might

Shortly after the first rays of the cold November morning sun penetrated the tiniest gaps in the pall of industry that enveloped Wheatsone, Eloise caught a glimpse of an approaching form on her walk and started to the window to discover the identity of the visitor. Before she got there, the door jarred and then burst open.

Reaching for her pistol, she stopped as her eyes accepted the shape of Major Sole standing before her with arms quickly folded in annoyance. He gruffly kicked the door closed and spat, “You will want to have that door repaired. Consider your safety.”

There was for some time a taut silence. This was what she had dreaded since her decision the previous week had taken control of her life. She stood frozen, knowing that the consequences of that decision had made their way to Sole and now back to her. She managed to still the uncharacteristic trembling, yet the tiny tear would not be contained. It was the sight of it cascading down her cheek that pressed him into opening the gates for what would have to come.

“It wasn’t the precisely-aimed surprisingly effective small calibre, nor the shrewd timing, nor the very careful attempts to advertise so clearly to the remainder of the group that it was no robbery. It wasn’t the urchin who would tell no one about the non-existent thief, showing only the tiniest crack when asked by myself in private about the presence before the encounter of a woman’s figure, in any possible disguise.”

Eloise tried to speak without finding any words but he immediately halted the effort and carried on. “I haven’t come here, Agent Winchester to berate you, nor to criticize your methods nor motivation. I have come to exchange apologies with you.”

Her mouth fell open as she struggled to form a request for clarification. Without hesitation he continued, “You might feel compelled to offer regret at having turned my career on its end without properly warning me. Other lives may have been imperiled, you see. I, in turn, must apologize for having utterly misread what you may claim was a warning. My mind must have devolved into mud to have missed your indication that just another weekly drop with not one word out of routine was somehow meant to convey to me that we were Going Dark.”

He paused to move closer to her  and again assumed a tense stance to resume, “In any event, there is little doubt in my mind that the corpulent corpse from the railyard hit bore your signature, though I’ve not seen a single example to compare him to. The very choice of target made the assassin’s identity readily apparent.”

She finally managed to find a breath to power her voice as he finally stopped for one himself.
Unable to pour out the real reasons, she desperately reached for a stock explanation. “Major it was time. The race had run and we placed where we would. It was simply time.”

Her lack of candour untied the twine securing the lid on a fresh jar of vitriol and he again erupted, “It was time? Oh, I see. The world was newly wonderful and no one would again suffer? There were no further monstrosities set upon the meek? The bloody war has ended, how lovely for us all! How might I have missed that memorandum? I must scold my messenger,” he continued, pausing to stare directly into her eyes before barking caustically, “It’s quite impossible to get good help these days.”

Arising out of the recently released soul of Eloise came the outpouring that illustrated the circumstance with more sincerity than had been intimated yet. “We never were in the war, Major. There is no war. It’s one thing to monitor, record and report; it is quite another to witness. I can no longer stomach my own participation in the act of studying futility, handcuffed by helplessness, while Mephistopheles rampages with impunity.”

He stood frozen as she persisted, softening her tone into earnest pleading for him to accept her reasons for leaving The Group and severing their connection to the Overseer.

”We trained together. Together we prepared for cold, heartless observation of tragedy. I trained others for the same crime. What was chosen for us as a career isn’t human, Richard. I now know from experience that it’s worse than pulling the trigger. One day last week I corrected an inequity with shocking brutality in an act of desperation—a clawing last attempt at my own freedom and single-handed execution of a traitor. A juvenile murder victim and a small part of the security of the city were avenged at the cost of my carefully guarded probity. I may never know whether it was truly worth it, but it has regardless transpired with finality. Twice now, I have rejected the career that fate pasted to the front page of my dossier. No one will instruct me in decisions regarding my working life, any more than they might in what to think or in how to feel.”

She studied him for a moment as he silently absorbed a flow of emotion equal to all he had ever seen from her in the years since their adolescence at the Academy.

“Major, I did it for my health. There wasn’t a choice. I simply could not continue; I was physically unable.”

All at once activity in the room ceased. Even breathing again seemed to discontinue.

Finally after both had regained their wits, he uttered the real explanation: “The wall.”

She nodded and concurred very softly, “The wall.” Much like many euphemisms common in the trade, The Wall was one necessarily never analyzed in any further depth than the utterance and minimal comprehension of the words. There was a limit to how far a conscience could be stretched, and it was unhealthy to dwell on such cold destiny as would befall one who could take no more, when more must be taken.

“Eloise, I honestly had no conception that you were in such danger. Honestly, we all drink, but…”

She stopped him with a touch of her finger to his lips. “It was the symptom, not the cause.”

He nodded and stated with a slight grin, “Your stature as an exceptional spook is restored. You had me hogtied.”

The shared laughter brought needed relief to the brittle tension and allowed both to shrug and relax.

His suddenly soft tone and the gentle ease of the calm in the room helped confirm to Eloise that throwing the switch hadn’t been concession to madness, but release from it. Whether it had been premature or long overdue, it had happened and for the better.

“Eloise, we have known something of each other for a majority of our years. But I had never really known you at all until just now. While I’ve never said anything like this for many reasons over these years, I can now say openly that I am very pleased to be your friend,” he announced, pausing to allow the sentiment to soften her uneasiness.

As she looked up at him with a touch of smile he continued more seriously: “I find myself unemployed. I know who I will approach, and if accepted will remain here—at work—in a related field. If you haven’t yet begun to pack, my deduction must be that you have found means to stay as well.”

Her smile settled somewhat as she allowed, “I have been given a hint about the offer of a position with a local firm. Very interesting work, and with likely much less responsibility; yet I foresee a very rewarding experience there. I do hope that this tantalizing rumour has some verity. It came from a source that I trust,” she concluded with a trace of blush.

His manner stiffened to vocational composure as he nodded. “I can only think of one which might offer you that, and I say good show—if it should come to be. If retained by the agency I might approach, our paths may cross professionally. If that happens, I shall afford every concession that ethics will allow to..”

“Robert, all will be fine. What we have always known about each other has always ensured that when it comes to decision between what is expedient and what is right, there is only one choice. I have reason, I think, to be hopeful that the expected offer of employ would see me working with someone with that very commitment. If I am correct about the opportunity, no conflict could ever exceed those bounds in any concerned. Besides, I had crossed over already into overt operations. The mask is off. You know I will do whatever is needed within my control to stabilize any cover that might protect you, with none of my own to fret over.”

Nodding at her and smiling warmly he responded, “I had anticipated just that, but the confirmation is very reassuring. Thank you, my friend.” Raising his hand to adjust his hat, Sole turned halfway toward the door and paused to look at her. “I have many grounds for being pleased this morning. I am glad we were able to have a word. My mood has transposed comprehensively. Please enjoy the morning, Miss Winchester. And see someone about this blasted door.”

Eloise chuckled to him, “Enjoy your morning as well, Major. Do take care.”

She walked over and examined the door frame after he had closed the door behind himself and saw no damage from the intrusion. She was relieved that the Major was such an ingress professional, but it gave her pause. She hoped that she would never have occasion to miss his skills.

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