I absolutely loathe the term “covert operations.” It’s a one size fits none description of everything a government does which it, for one reason or other, cannot afford to claim. Assassinations, although technically prohibited as instruments of US policy due to Presidential order, are as likely to be covered by the term as are any number of more minor actions. I know only too well, to my profoundest sorrow, at times governments are required to take actions which if brought to light would be, to say the least, embarrassing in the extreme.
I stood at my Ned’s fresh grave on the morning of Friday, the second day of October, as a direct result of one of those covert operations.
In the more northerly parts of the country, this would have been a season for brightly colored leaves and crisp days. The autumn colors are almost the only thing I missed from my years as a doctoral candidate in New England. The Berkshire Mountains are breathtakingly lovely when they are dressed in their fall finery. But autumn in Massachusetts is a far cry from the weather that exists in Central Florida in early October.
The cemetery workers had been, quite obviously, uncomfortable with my staying to watch the lid be placed on the cube of a vault now holding Ned’s ashes and for the whole thing to be covered with soil. Despite the workers’ obvious discomfort, none of them actually said a word to me.
Gee, maybe, just maybe, they were smarter than they looked. Of course, that wouldn’t have been terribly difficult.
Had any of the workers said a single word to me, I believe I might have gleefully taken off their heads and handed the bloody appendages to them, both singularly and as a group.
To say I was grieving would be an understatement of purely British proportions.
Of course, I don’t know how anyone could have expected me to be in any other state of mind. I had just buried my husband’s mortal remains, or rather cremains.
Ned had been killed on Monday evening. Then, I had him cremated on Tuesday morning, while we were still out of the country. The last thing the team needed was some medical examiner nosing around in Ned’s death. Besides, Ned had wanted to be cremated.
I had been standing alone at the grave while wrapped in the mantle of my grief for just over an hour by that time.
Numbness was not at all a good sign. I wished I could feel anger, yell and scream, or even cry. Almost anything would be better than this frozen, emotionless, state of mind in which I had resided for the preceding few days. I had been functioning on automatic pilot, going through the motions, accomplishing the things which needed to be done, but all the time being progressively more distant and closed off within some imaginary bubble which prevented me from touching or being touched.
Andre, my father, had not been able to reach me, even though he had tried, really tried, to reach out to me. My friends call me “Suzi Steamroller.” But, anyone observing my dear father at work would conclude I come quite honestly of the unfortunate tendency to ride roughshod over people.
My father had demanded I return to California with him. But, that was not something I could, which I had any desire to, do. Andre was scheduled to go on tour with his band in only a few days. I didn’t want to be left to roam around Los Angeles on my own, or even in the company of a couple old friends. Nor did I want to put myself in a position where he would pressure me to join his band on tour. I really did not need his well-intentioned maneuvering. I was perfectly capable of screwing up my own life all, whatever I might have left of it, by myself, thank you very much.
Soon, I would have to leave graveside in order to go home, change, rest a while, and catch a plane to New York. From there, I would make a connection for a late night flight to London. Andre was supposed to meet me at the cemetery gate in a few minutes. I had about ten minutes until I had to leave graveside in order to walk the short distance to the cemetery entrance.
Ned and I had planned this European trip as a mixture of business trip for me and a second honeymoon. It felt strange to contemplate taking the trip without him, even though I desperately needed to get away from here. Truthfully, my business in London could have just as easily been transacted via fax machines, telephones, and wire transfers of funds. The trip now was really little more than an excuse to see Leon and Jasmine, as well as their daughter, my precious goddaughter, Kim.
For the moment, I had thought the graveside was as good of a place as any to be, better than most.
Of course, I don’t believe I was actually thinking. I wasn’t terribly aware of my surroundings. Yet, that lack of awareness ended abruptly as I felt a rough male hand close over my mouth.
“Quiet, lady. Won’t hurt’cha if yer quiet,” a young man’s voice said as I heard the sound of a switchblade open. “Gotta knife, lady. Cut’cha doncha do whatta say.”
Touching me without invitation is one way for any man to help himself into a world of hurt. Touching me with clear intent to harm is the surest way I know for any person to immediately and drastically decrease his life expectancy.
If the four long years of my marriage to Ned had taught me anything, the lesson was a bad situation could always, would always, become measurably worse. Not reacting immediately to a threat could easily render a person unable to react at all.
So, I stepped back hard and fast, hitting the boy’s instep with my heel while I used my left thumb and index finger to pinch the pressure point at the base of his thumb, and brought my right elbow back sharply into the boy’s ribs.
Normally, since—at six foot one in my stocking feet— I tower over most people, I don’t wear heels. I had broken that habit for Ned’s funeral because Ned had liked to see me in a dress and heels. Two-inch heels had brought me up to six foot three inches. It had amused my late husband to have a woman be physically, not to mention emotionally, able to look him in the eyes.
My foot on my attacker’s instep would have hurt more had the shoes possessed spiked heels, but you can’t have everything. Call it a grievous character fault if you will, but I have never acquired the so called feminine trait of being able walk comfortably in spiked heels. Still, 140 pounds of weight borne by an area of less than two square inches had to have hurt like perdition itself as it was applied to his instep. It was with a large measure of satisfaction I heard him grunt in pain as he dropped his hand from my mouth.
I pivoted around sharply on my other foot. My attacker was only a peach-fuzz faced kid, about equal to my own stocking footed six feet one inch height, sporting one of those awful “skinhead” haircuts. He probably wasn’t more than fifteen or so. The kid was just a punk who was likely looking for easy money by attacking someone in a cemetery. He was dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, and expensive running shoes—none of them any too clean. I wondered how he could afford the shoes, or if he had stolen them. He was just a punk kid.
Or maybe that was simply the impression he was trying to create. Appearances can be made to convey whatever a skilled person wants them to convey. The young man could have been nothing more than he appeared. At that point, it was anyone’s guess. Ned had friends on whom it wasn’t safe to turn one’s back, and enemies for whom dealing in death was a way of life. Either of those groups could have, for vastly different reasons, decided to take definitive action against me.
Those assessments ran through my head in the space of a fraction of a second. I had years of practice at making snap appraisals. I’d learned to trust my instincts.
Without giving the punk any time to react, I drove a hard blow into his muscular midsection. He turned white, staggered back, and then recovered way too quickly for my peace of mind. The kid was stronger and much more resilient than he appeared. I really didn’t want to know that.
He came at me with the knife in his hand and a clear intent to do murder displayed on his face.
I’ve always had a good instinct for survival. Ned used to tell me I would always land on my feet. I offered a mental prayer Ned had been correct.
Taking hold of the wrist of my attacker’s knife hand, using his own momentum against him, I pivoted, breaking his balance. The knife flew out of his hand, landing in the short grass near the new grave, as I threw him.
Unfortunately, my assailant landed on the soft, loosened, soil of Ned’s new grave.
The kid rose to his feet in a single smooth motion. He shouted “Eeeyaah” as he whirled completely around in a roundhouse kick aimed at my stomach.
I dropped to the ground, allowing his kick to go over me. The dirt and the grass stains were noticeable on the black silk suit. But, a suit is a good deal easier to replace than my life would have been.
Fortunately for me, the young man had much more enthusiasm and strength than skill. He obviously wasn’t trained for street fighting with that high dojo/competition style kicks. He was a punk kid, with some training, who was involved in a situation grossly over his head. I almost, almost but not quite, felt sorry for him.
What I did feel was an overwhelming sense of relief. It wasn’t likely either former friends or current foes would have sent a partially trained child after me.
Of course, the thought occurred to me that the punk could have been toying with me, trying to assess my strengths and weaknesses before delivering a killing blow. That wasn’t so far out of the realm of possibility.
The momentum of the swirling kick sent him around so that his back was towards me. Then he stood there for about a second, motionless, as though he couldn’t believe what just happened. Cocky brat!
I used that brief moment to rise to my feet and to kick off my black leather pumps. As he angrily spun around to face me, I executed a fast snap kick, connecting, as I intended, strongly to the young man’s stomach. Then, as he bent over from the pain, I kicked him again.
A single sharp kick to a young man’s groin isn’t fatal. It simply seems so to him, at least until he survives a few of those type of blows. His hands went from his stomach to shield his genitalia from further attack. Before he could recover, I kicked him again, this blow landing to the side of his head.
I’m certain the young man saw red, then black, before he slumped, unconscious, to the ground. If I had wanted to really hurt him, if I had gone after him methodically, I could have easily left him blind, sterile, and crippled, but very much alive; alive and regretting he had ever tried to attack me. I wasn’t certain the punk kid was worth the effort, although the temptation lingered at the edge of my mind.
I was glad the numbness had faded away, if only for the moment. It very nearly felt good to have beaten the boy senseless. The adrenaline was flowing. How much further I would have taken the beating if I had possessed more time is anyone’s guess, my own included.
However, time was not a luxury available to me. No sooner did the kid topple over than I heard a car come to a rapid stop on the roadway behind me. Two doors opened and closed during the time that it took me to turn around.
Ned’s motto had been, “Always expect the worst.”
Two uniformed officers—a middle-aged, wiry, Hispanic male and a younger, brunette, Anglo female— came rapidly towards me, hands on their weapons, but sidearms still holstered.
Who says that you can never find a cop when you need one?