Gwen and Susan at the waterfront.
Gwen Hmong was proud of her long brown hair, brushing it repeatedly until there was a certain shine to it. She was also proud of her lithe body, so small and yet so firm. An ex-gymnast, she was a beautiful petite woman and she knew it. Now in her forties she did not look a day over 30. She was called by many names by those who knew her; difficult, stubborn, lovely. By those who disliked her, she was called the bitch with a bite and she was lethal. She had killed when necessary to protect the secret and that was why she was the head Guardian, the apex of a secret organization bent on protecting this secret.
That secret organization had no name and no headquarters. Orders came from the head guardian who also knew who the members where. Most of the members lived in South America where the secret was located but the exact location of the secret was known only to the head guardian and to her select group of women known collectively as the Nine. Only females could be members and that simplified things greatly. The price they had to pay was sterility and they all paid that price gladly as the result was everlasting life, or very close to it. The aging process in these women had slowed down to such an extent that they really did not age anymore.
That organization had eyes on certain people, especially anyone who knew or was a member of the Hiram Bingham expedition of the early 1900’s. And especially anyone close to Stephen Pierce, the uncle of Jake Pierce. Obviously that meant that John P. Stevens, the attorney to Stephen Pierce had to be under constant surveillance. He could know or might know some details about the secret and its location and it made sense to keep a watch on him. In New Stanton, the job of keeping an eye on the attorney and the Pierce family was mainly the work of Susan Drake.
Susan Drake’s official job was working in the municipal offices of the city using computers all day long and thus, she able to look into the Pierce family history as well as the attorney. She knew everything about them; where they lived, how much they made etc. But Susan Drake was not one of the Nine and she did not know about the secret. It was intimated to her that if she served well, she might be compensated with something that was well worth the wait. But never was the secret explicitly explained to her. In fact, the chances of her being admitted to the Nine were slim to non-existent. The club was closed to new members, but that too was not explicitly said. The organization needed women like Susan, women who did the dirty work. But these women were expendable. It was a pyramidal organization, with those at the bottom supporting those at the top. As in all pyramids, those at the bottom did not know that they were to toil to support those at the top, with no expectation of rejoining them. Hope was the only thing offered to them and that was their payment.
On that fateful day when Stephen Pierce was buried, she was there at the funeral, dressed as one of the mourners; all in black, a black scarf over her head and black sunglasses. She looked around and saw Pierce arrive late. She knew him well from her files; a lazy bum who only cared about money and fast motorcycles. She discounted him as a threat. But then, she saw the attorney Stevens talking to Pierce and giving him his card. Then she knew that the game was on and that there was going to be an attempt to discover the secret, even if in an indirect way.
Rapidly she went to her car and followed Stevens back to his office waiting for Pierce to arrive. With her camera she took a few pictures to document the meeting. That would be useful as people might not believe that a good for nothing like Pierce would get involved in all this. Money is a strong motivator, especially when you yourself have very little of it or none like Pierce.
As soon as the meeting was over she rushed back to work sending her report to Gwen. The pictures confirming all this would come later and now she had to wait for further instructions. The members of this secret organization rarely met, and for the head guardian to meet another member this would have been unprecedented and dangerous as well. And yet it happened. Gwen wrote back and requested a meeting.
The meeting took place later in the evening in a park of the city that was well known, James Park, situated near the waterfront. It was 19:30 and the sun was still shining. Gwen was sitting on a park bench looking at pleasure boats passing by and wearing a white shirt with a cap. With her ponytail gently blowing in the wind she looked more like a tennis player than the head of anything. But she was not here to play ball. Finally, she saw Susan Drake arrive; it was 19:38, and she was late. They recognized each other by the descriptions that each had of them, but more importantly by the handshake; the handshake had to finish with the hand resting on the heart area.
“You are late.” said Gwen. “You know how I told you to be on time, did I not warn you?
Susan put her head down, looked at her feet and nodded. “Yes, I know, and I am sorry, but I got caught in the traffic.” That was a lie and she knew that it would not pass that easily. Gwen was excellent at uncovering lies.
“Well, tell me more about all this. Did Pierce get something from the attorney?”
“Yes, he did have a small bundle in his hand and a small leather bag with him. I suspect that he received money. I followed him and he went straight to buy groceries and that included beer. He paid cash with was inside the leather bag.” Gwen stayed pensive for a while. It was clear that a possible threat was in the making even if Pierce was an unlikely one.
“From now on, make sure that someone will follow Pierce day and night. Ask John and Stewart to do the job.”
John Drake and Stewart Acton were members of the guardians, but only by being associated with women inside the group. In this case, John was Susan Drake’s husband while Stewart Acton was her brother. It was a tight unit with Susan directing the show.
“Of course.” replied Susan, “I will instruct both of them to keep a watchful eye and I will monitor him through other means. Anything else?”
“No, that will be all. “replied Gwen, adjusting her sunglasses and getting up. She was about to turn away when she said, “And Susan, next time, be on time. I won’t be so accommodating if it happens again.”
“Yes of course.” sheepishly answered Susan, lowering her eyes to the gaze of her head guardian.