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(by an4@anon.lelnet.com, 15 November 1997)


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an4@anon.lelnet.com


   Amy sat in the rental with the windows down and the sun roof open, so that
her cigarette wouldn't fill the car with smoke.
   Not that she minded, even though snow was drifting into the car.
   But the only rental she could get was what had been designated a non-smoking
car, a new thing this particular agency was trying. The rental agent had
frowned as she'd told her about the policy, and said that as long as she
didn't smoke with the windows up, everything should be fine.
   The snow was typical New England. Folds of white danced every where beyond
five yards past the car.
   The air's crisp and cool quality made for perfect smoking weather. Each
inhale was a thing of beauty to Amy, who was nevertheless remaining very
vigilant. Not that there was anything to see. The truth was, her objective
was inside Crowley Public High School in Calculus class.
   Fifteen minutes went by. Amy finished the cigarette and the cold coffee
she'd bought two hours ago. It had been barely passable warm and was simply
rocket fuel now, but she drank it anyway.
   And then something did happen. She glanced in the rearview and saw a trench
coated figuring emerging from the soup behind her car.
   He walked with the air of a man afraid to be seen. He was late thirties,
dark skinned, wearing a grizzled mustache and tight beard of recent growth,
salt and pepper. He was sweating even through the snow and his head moved
proactively as though he was searching from some ancient, nameless evil. Amy
watched him, fascinated.
   When he stopped just shy of the car, he seemed to relax fractionally.
   "Get out of the car, Agent Pondress."
   That put Amy on her guard immediately. The only thing less likely than
someone walking out of the snow directly towards her car was someone doing
that and knowing who she was.
   "There's something I want you to see, Pondress."
   Amy shook her head. Here she was, two hundred miles from her new boyfriend-
if you could call three months new- sitting in a rental- out the field where
she never expected to be, without a partner. It was too much at much. Much
too much.
   "Get out of the car."
   The man's voice carried an insistence which was not to be denied. She got
out of the car slowly, careful to display her service piece, a late model
handgun similar to the ones she was used to seeing on television rather than
attached to her hip.
   The man didn't say a word. Instead, he reached under the wheel well and
extracted a small piece of metal half the size of a box of cigarettes. It had
a single red light flashing off the top.
   "Do you know what this is, Pondress ?"
   "I think so."
   "Every action you take is being carefully observed. Success in your current
assignment is imperative."
   Amy drew deeply on her cigarette, and then let it fall to the snow covered
pavement. She stubbed it out carefully with her sneakered foot.
   "What do you mean ?'
   "If you can't discern that, you're not as intelligent as I hoped."
   "Do you know who requested me on this case ?"
   "Yes."
   He didn't offer the information.
   "Who are you ?"
   "The only friend you have. As it is, I'm exposing myself to great risk by
being here. So I'll make this brief."
   He reached inside his trench coat and Amy's hand strayed to the handgun.
   But he produced nothing more than a manilla envelope. It had been sealed
shut then torn open at the top, and scribbled on in red pen along the very
top on the back. He handed the envelope over without comment.
   "When I need to, I'll contact you. If I were you, I'd be very careful, Agent
Pondress. There are reasons why you weren't assigned a partner."
   "How do I contact you ?"
   "You don't. Understand this one thing- you're my tool, not the other way
around. I won't allow you to expose me."
   "Give me a name, at least."
   "You don't need that information, Agent Pondress."
   He turned around and stalked back off into the snow without further comment.
Amy watched until long after the white folds had swallowed Mr. X.

   Amy knew why she'd been sent here. Or at least, she'd read the file.
   Lies.
   Or at least something was a lie.
   Supposedly, she was here because the AFT had turned a case which had been
referred to the by the FBI back over to the bureau. Everyone knew who Monica
Poe was. After all, she'd been on CNN, more than once. In fact, she was a
little media darling, the teenage representative of America's lost freedoms.	
   Amy liked her. A lot.
   Yet she'd been sent here to arrest her, to arrest whoever it was that was
selling her cigarettes. Marlboro Lights 100s from Virginia. Interstate crime,
if you stretched it the right way. The law was funny that way.
   But the envelope the mystery man had given her sketched a different- and
much more sinister scenario.
   One which made her glad she was past the tender age of twenty-one.
   It was unbelievable, what was in this envelope. A plan- a programme- which
would use this innocent young woman against her own cause. The attention she
had attracted was not all positive. Not at all. There were people, people in
high places, who were aghast at how this uppity little smoker could have not
only beaten what they avowed to be common sense, but the law which said it
was wrong for her to be a smoker.
   Who the fuck thought Amy would want to be involved in this ?
   She looked at her watch. Calculus class was over. The school day was over,
which meant that Monica would be walking out of school and across the street
to the convenience store where she regularly bought her cigarettes. Amy would
be there. She would arrest the twenty year old part time college student who
sold her the cigarettes and the girl herself.
   
   Monica lit her last cigarette. She was walking off the steps, not the least
bit worried that someone would confront her for smoking on school grounds.
That old rule had been suspended for the duration.
   It was a weird day. It was cold and snowing, but Monica felt odd, almost
hot. Mom said that meant something bad would happen, but that was just some
old wives tale Grandma had attached to her hot flashes.
   Still, Monica wondered. She wasn't a believer in premonitions, but something
odd was in the air.	
   She drew on her cigarette and tried to relax. Calculus class had been so
boring. When she'd started smoking, she'd been worried that she was going to
need a cigarette all the time. That it would be like an addiction. But it
wasn't. Instead, she merely found herself looking forward to having a
cigarette. It was more of a desire than a craving, which was actually quite
pleasant.
   She walked across the road with the ever-increasing sense that something of
import was occurring. She checked twice just before crossing and her eyes
were peeled on every car in the parking lot.
   But there was no danger there. She walked slowly, enjoying her cigarette,
savouring each inhale.
   There was nothing out of the ordinary as she walked into the store. Well,
almost nothing out of the ordinary. The woman standing at the magazine rack
studying Playgirl was obviously an out-of-towner. She was standing there in
her long grayish trench coat, perhaps a reporter- that would be her fault.
   Monica let it pass. She'd discussed enough of this with reporters to last a
lifetime.
   She strolled up to the counter and smiled at Rebecca, who didn't smile back.
   That was not ordinary. Were her clothes to burst into flames, she would
smile about it.
   "Can I have a box of Marlboro Lights 100s ?"
   "ID ?"
   Ah, Monica understood. Rebecca was having a little bit of fun with her.
   "Sure. Canadian Passport acceptable ?"
   "I can't let you buy any tobacco products without ID, Monica."
   Rebecca then did something truly odd. Bizarre, in fact. She began making
faces and pitching her head toward the reporter in the back. It was a wild
neck up dance that would have put even Merton Hanks to shame.
   "I understand, Rebecca. Sorry. Didn't mean to put in an uncomfortable spot.
See you at the party tonight ?"
   "Yeah. Tell your sister I said hi."
   Monica walked out of the store disappointed.
   And scared.
   Rebecca looked at the woman, the woman who'd so carelessly displayed her FBI
identification hanging from her belt.
   "Are you going to buy that magazine or just handle it ?"
   Amy walked up to the counter and asked for two boxes of Marlboro Lights
100s. She threw down a ten and walked out without waiting for her change. She
quickly slipped outside and scanned the parking lot. Monica was halfway
across already, her head swiveling furtively from side to side. But she did
not turn her head.
   Breaking into a run, Amy caught up to Monica just before she was going to
cross the road.
   "Monica Poe ?"	
   The girl turned to face Amy, and for the first time she understood that
television cameras did her no justice. She was pretty in a way that was
hardly adolescent. That she could grow to be a spokesperson, yes-
   Amy produced her credentials.
   "Please come with me."
   "My parents told me never to go anywhere with strangers-" she quipped.
   "Please, Ms. Poe."
   "Am I under arrest ?"
   "No. Not at this time. Come with me."
   She did as she was asked and as soon as they were in Amy's rental the FBI
agent took Monica's backpack and opened it.
   "It looks like you didn't need to buy a pack of cigarettes after all."
   "Do you mind if-"
   "It's a rental. Roll down the windows."
   Monica smiled. "Maybe that explains why the seat is wet. Had the sunroof
open ?"
   "Yes," Amy admitted, lighting her own cigarette as Monica did the same.
   "I'll take you home."
   "I imagine you know where I live ?"
   "Yes, I do. I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes-"
   Monica drew deeply on her cigarette. "You really came here to arrest me for
buying a pack of cigarettes ?"
   "I never said that. I'm not at liberty to discuss-"
   "That is so  cool. You were going to arrest me."
   Sighing heavily, Amy tried to think of the best way to approach this. Monica
wasn't your average teenager. She had identified herself so strongly with
this cause that she was probably willing to- would look forward to- another
nail being stuck in the invisible cross which already bound her to this
issue. She had no idea. Mrs. Peabody might not have been clever enough to use
her, but the federal government was more resourceful than one bitter woman. 
   "Why don't you buy your cigarettes by the carton ? Or have your mother buy
them for you ?"
   Monica thought about that. Both mom and Ariel had suggested that cartons
would be cheaper and more convenient, but the truth was she enjoyed walking
into the store every day and buying a fresh pack. 
   "I like the way the act identifies me as a smoker."
   "You may be one of the most easily identifiable smokers in America, Monica."
   "Haven't you ever experienced a rush just buying a pack of cigarettes ?"
   Thinking back to the airport, Amy had to admit the allure of that. The truth
was she still bought her cigarettes a pack at a time, for precisely the same
reason. Some days she bought two packs, but almost never a whole carton. But
it wasn't the same. The danger was gone now. But she thought back to when she
was seventeen and buying on the sly. Monica had a good point.
   "It's not a good idea right now. There are people who- people who want an
example."
   "Then I think they should have sent a non-smoker to arrest me, you know ?"
   "I don't know why I was chosen, Monica. But this isn't a fight you want to
start, because you can't finish it. None of us can. That's the whole point of
this."
   "You're saying I don't want to be a martyr."
   "I'm saying that they will never allow that to happen. These are very clever
people, Monica. They'll bury you in some kind of smoker's Hanger 57 and
you'll never be heard from again."
   "I'm not afraid."
   Amy smiled. "If you were afraid I never would have been sent here. That's
the whole point. Well, we're here. Take care of yourself- and oh- here's my
card. My cell phone number is on there."
   Monica took the card, thanked Amy for the ride, and headed off towards her
house.
   
   As soon as Amy opened the door to her motel room, she was sure that she was
not alone. The sun had set and it was dark in the sparse room, but there was
a presence which was undeniable.
   "I'm disappointed, Agent Pondress."
   "Maybe if you'd told me why I was sent here-"
   The body which belonged to the gravelly, ominous voice emerged from the shado
ws.
   "I'm not here to explain myself to you. And I won't come to you again on
this matter."
   "I don't want to arrest that girl."
   'You weren't sent here to satisfy your personal wishes, Agent Pondress."
   "I need to know more."
   "There isn't any more to know. A lot of trouble was went to in arranging
this scenario. If you can't see your way clear to do your job, you can be
replaced."
   "My job stinks."
   "That's not for you to decide, agent. I admire your lack of trust, but it is
sadly misplaced."
   He walked past her without another word, leaving her to stand in the dark
and ponder what it was she was really here in Crowley to do.

   It was an hard drive to Pederson Flats, two hours in increasingly heavy
snow, and Amy spent the whole time wondering at the marvels of the friends
one could make over the internet.
   She arrived at the MacLeod residence around eight-thirty. The house looked
dark except for one light in an upstairs bedroom.
    Walking up to the front door, she was struck by how desolate an area this
was. There were no street lights this far off the main road and the only
thing one could hear was the sharp gust of the wind through the pines
surrounding the old tudor style- mansion was almost the right world.
   At least she could be relatively sure that she had not been followed. Not
here.
   There was no doorbell. Amy lifted the old tarnished brass knocker and
clacked it against the metal knob twice. The sound didn't travel through the
thick oak door in a way she could hear.
   It was almost half a minute before the door swung inward, the hinges
creaking slightly.
   The girl who answered the door looked just like her picture on the internet.
She was smoking a Virginia Slims 120, just lit.
   "Agent Pondress ?"
   "Tess MacLeod ?"
   "Yep, that's me. Come on in."
   Amy stepped inside the house, glad to finally have a real roof over her
head. She had a feeling that she would be sleeping here tonight, if Tess's
parents allowed it. Hardly standard procedure, but even if Amy hadn't needed
the information the girl had, she needed to get of Crowley, what with being
stalked by that strange man with his gravelly demagogic pronouncements and
his bullying ways.
   "You planning on staying over tonight, Agent-"
   "It's Amy. I feel like as well as we know each other, you can skip the
formalities. Unless you'd like me to call you Ms. MacLeod. And I'd love to
stay over if your parents don't mind."
   Tess laughed.
   "My parents picked the perfect time to go to Sandals. St. Lucia. They not
only won't mind, they'll never know. You want a beer ?"
   "I- you are fifteen, right ?"
   "Yes. I know, I'm not legal. I didn't think you'd mind."
   "I don't. I'd love a beer."
   Tess took a deep drag on the long cigarette and began walking towards the
kitchen. Amy paused to light a cigarette- the driving had gotten so bad in
the last half hour that she'd had to give over smoking in the car as it was
making it impossible to see or concentrate. Once the cigarette was lit, she
followed Tess down a dark hallway towards the back of the house.
   "I'm not a vampire, by the way," Tess said jokingly. "It's just a given that
the power will go out soon so I try to keep everything off. Otherwise all the
lights come on at four in the morning and I have to get up- real pain. But
don't worry. I have the computer on a UPS."
   "How did you-" Amy looked for the right words as Tess flipped on the kitchen
light.
   "How did a fifteen year old girl get involved in cracking low-security
government computers and running an underground teenage smoking support group
over the internet ?"
   There was something decidedly elegant about the way the teenager smoked her
long cigarette. She inhaled and then held the cigarette between her lips as
she pulled two beers out of the crisper. When she spoke, the cigarette barely
moved.
   "Obviously, I smoke." She handed one of the beers to Amy and popped the cap
off the other one with an opener which she handed to Amy. She then drew on
the cigarette before removing it from her mouth and tapping the ash in an
ashtray on the kitchen table. She had the perfect form, extending her index
finger over the barrel of the cigarette and delivering two brief, feminine
taps.
   "The rest is just common sense. At the rate things are going- I just turned
fifteen and I think in a year, maybe two, my parents won't be able to let me
smoke in public. It's a very selfish preoccupation, to be honest."
   "Do you really think it's going that fast ?" Amy thought about the manilla
envelope and realised she didn't really need to ask that question if Tess
knew half what she did.
   "Yeah, I do. And I don't think you would have hauled your ass up here if you
didn't agree, right ?"
   Just then the power went out and the light was from the tips of the two
women's cigarettes. Both flared as they inhaled together.
   "Fuck. Let's go upstairs. All I have is a twenty-one inch monitor, and it
draws power like a pig. Did you bring your Powerbook ?"
   "Yeah. The appleshare is set up, just like you asked."
   "Great."
   Tess hit the light switch on the way out and Amy followed the glow of her
shrinking cigarette, a firefly that danced and bobbed up the stairs. Halfway
up what seemed like an hundred steps, Tess paused to inhale and in the glow
of the light from her cigarette her face was framed in a way which made it
look nothing short of gorgeous. Brown curls framed her face in the eerie
glow, giving her a magic look like some dark, wonderful faire.
   Eventually they found the upstairs landing.
   "If you don't mind me saying so- you'll think this is weird- we don't even
know each other-"
   Tess turned to look at Amy and drew on the cigarette again, enveloping her
in orange light.
   "You're a very attractive smoker."
   "Well, that's what my mom always says. She used to pester me terribly to
just take a puff or two on her cigarettes. She started taking pictures when I
was twelve, although I didn't really start smoking until I was fourteen. But
I was thinking the same thing about you."
   "That's what my boyfriend says, but he's just being nice."
   "I wish I had a boyfriend who got horny when I smoked."
   Amy laughed, feeling very much at ease with this girl.
   "Do you ever watch yourself smoke ?"
   "You too ? Sometimes I even- well, you know."
   "At your age, that's probably better than the alternatives."
   "You don't think that makes me weird ?"
   "No. I've done it more times than I can remember."
   Tess smiled. "I'm glad you came. I thought that with you being an FBI
agent-"
   "I'd be some stiff priss, right ?"
   The girl starting walking towards her room. "The truth is, I was more than
half tempted to believe you were coming here to arrest me for hacking the
Tomlinson Server until I read up on you."
   "You cracked the Tomlinson Server ?"
   "Three times last month," Tess said, walking into the bedroom. She found an
ashtray and stubbed out her cigarette. "But someone caught on that the user
ID I was using belonged to a dead man. That always sucks."
   "You said you read up on me ?"
   "Yeah. Let me transfer this information to your Powerbook."
   Amy fired it up and handed it over to the girl, who took the printer cable
from the back of her Colour Stylewriter and plugged it into the port on the
Powerbook. She set it down next to her monitor and thirty seconds later she
was transferring files from her 9600 to the smaller portable.
   "That'll take a few minutes. It's over a gig of data."
   The girl lit another cigarette.
   The long cigarettes were unique, even compelling, Amy tried to think,
decided she'd never seen anyone smoke a 120 before. But watching Tess place
that long cigarette between her lips and gently make love to it, well, it was
sight which was worth the two hour drive in and of itself.
   "What's that design on your desktop ?"
   The usual MacOS 8 platinum look had been replaced with a Kaleidoscope design
which was probably Tess's own work. A life size pack of Virginia Slims 120s
sat in the middle of the large screen. A single unlit cigarette rested next
to the pack. The multicoloured Apple in the upper left-hand corner had been
replaced by a very small burning all white cigarette. The hard drive icon was
a thumbnail sized picture of Sarah Michelle Geller, cigarette in hand, from I
Know What You Did Last Summer.
   The trash can was a clean ashtray with a cigarette resting on it.
   "You like that ? I had a friend in Alaska make that for me, except for the
pack in the centre. I scanned that myself."
   "It's very original."
   "Inspiration for those low moments when I think I've been caught. It'll
happen sooner or later. Some man in a trench coat will knock on the door and
tell my parents I'm being taken away. Of course, I back everything up to a 9
gig hard drive in the garage."
   "How can you afford all this ?"
   Tess laughed. "I can't. My dad works for the phone company and my mother
writes detective novels. She makes the better money, but he gets more time
off, and he brings home the coolest stuff."
   Just then Amy's cell phone chirped.
   "Pondress."
   "Where have you been, agent ? I tried to call your hotel room three times-"
   "I was out, sir."
   "Well, you consider getting in. I understand that you weren't able to make
the arrest today. You have another forty eight hours. If you can't do the
job, then I'll get somebody up there who can. Am I making myself clear ?"
   "Yes, I understand. Is that all, sir ?"
   "How soon will you be back at your room ?"
   "I'm not sure. Would you like me to call you back on a land line ?"
   "Yes, Agent. As soon as possible."
   The line went dead.
   Amy looked at Tess. "I have no idea was that was about. None at all."
   "If you need a secure line, you've come to the right place." Tess pulled out
a flashlight and shined it on the elaborate phone/modem bank to the right of
the monitor. There was caller ID and caller ID blocking and caller ID
blocking decoding, a scrambler/descrambler and any number of things Amy
didn't recognise.
   "Your dad gave you all this ?"
   "Of course."
   "And you use it ?"
   "To talk to people like you on the phone," Tess said with a smile.
   "And I bet the call will be free, won't it ?"
   "Of course."
   Amy dialed the main pbx number and asked to be referred to Director Arose.
   "Sir ?"
   "Where are you, Agent Pondress ?"
   "A private place. Look sir, whatever it is you have to say, I can assure
that this is as private a line as there is."
   "I called to warn you, Pondress. There are people who want to make sure
that- well, the easiest way for me to say this is to tell you that you are in
significant danger. If you don't do exactly what your assignment calls for,
well, there could be a more terminal solution to the situation. Is that clear
enough for you ?"
   "I may have information about that, sir. Names. Events. Money."
   "Keep that to yourself. You need to understand the list of people you can
trust regarding this matter is very short. Is that clear ?"
   "Are you on that list ?"
   "Yes, I am. But that's between you and me. I have people I have to answer
to."
   "Who called you and asked that I be placed on this assignment, sir ?"
   "I can't divulge that. I'm not really sure that I even know."
   "Thank you."
   "I won't call you again, Pondress. Either carry out your assignment or tell
me you can't so I can get someone in there before people get hurt."
   "I understand."
   Arose hung up.
   "Thanks, Tess."
   The girl drew deeply on her cigarette, making the tip flare. She spoke
through the exhale.
   "He sounds like an hard ass."
   "He is. But it's for my own good."
   Amy paused, considered lighting a cigarette, then had an idea. Before she
could verbalise it, Tess handed her pack and her lighter.
   "Go ahead and try one. I'll take a picture for posterity."
   Tess plugged a lamp into the UPS as Amy lit one of the long, slender
cigarettes and then grabbed her Sony Digital Mavica camera.
   The taste wasn't exactly right but it was pleasant enough. As she inhaled
she turned her head and caught a glimpse of herself in Tess's full length
mirror. The long cigarette did something for her and she thought that she'd
have to stop on the way home and pick up a pack for use in the privacy of her
own bedroom. She imagined that she knew someone who would get quite horny
watching her smoke these.
   She then posed for Tess, doing a series of inhales, exhales, and holds. 
   Tess then transferred the images to her computer and started a second file
transfer,
   It was done before the cigarette was half finished.
   "It's too bad that you have a day job. You'd make a wonderful model. I can
see you in the Book of Days calendar now. August maybe, at the beach."
   "With this skin ? Five minutes in the sun and I need burn therapy."
   "I'm the same way. I like to dress up as a vampire on hallow'een because I
don't need any makeup." Tess drained her beer, saw that Amy's was also empty,
and went to get two more, leaving Amy to look at the pictures that the girl
had taken. They were actually quite marvelous. The colour composition was a
bit iffy, but certainly not bad for a digital camera. With a few minor
corrections-
   "I'm going to have to shut all this down. And I have to warm you. It's going
to get fucking cold in the house. The heater has an electric starter, so-"
   "No power, no heat."
   "Exactly. Which means that the best thing for you and I to do-"
   "I don't know, Tess. You being a teenager and all that-"
   "No one is ever going to find out," she said as she killed the power to her
system. "I thought you were cool for an adult-"
   "I am, but-"
   "It'll be like a girl scout camping trip. I'll forget you're in your
twenties and you forget I'm not."
   "Do we have to tell ghost stories ?"
   "Fuck, no. We'll get drunk, smoke, and talk about boys and men, and-"
   "Why they all are both at the same time ?" Amy asked, giggling.
   "Exactly."

   Monica sat at her desk. It was another late night. She'd just finished
another journal entry and she was sitting back and thinking.
   About Mrs. Peabody. Had she made a phone call ?
   Of course she had. Why else would there be an FBI agent waiting to arrest
her at her favourite place to buy cigarettes ?
   There could be a dozen other answers to that question, but this one was the
one she liked best. It had a certain irresistible symmetry to it. Who else
would have done it ? What other enemies did she have at her tender age ?
   Of course, Amy had made it sound as though Peabody were the least of her
problems.
   She lit a cigarette. Inhaled. Thought about what it felt like to smoke. The
gentle feeling of smoke entering her lungs. The mild, lightheaded high. The
cool calm of a long stream of white smoke as it trailed from her mouth. It
felt great and she knew it was something pleasant to watch as well. She liked
catching the sight of herself in the long mirror behind her door.
   She liked the way men looked at her when she was driving. She always held
the cigarette with her right hand, high on the steering wheel where everyone
could see it. She caught smiles from other women, waves of hands holding
equally long cigarettes. It was a community, especially here in Crowley.
   Monica wondered if Amy knew about the law they'd passed in Crowley. It had
been done very quietly, so quietly that even after all the national attention
Crowley had gained, it hadn't made the news wires.
   It would probably never hold up in a federal court, but the truth was that
there was nothing illegal about her buying cigarettes. She was fifteen, after
all, the new legal age.
   Ironic.
   The same basic coda of civilisation, the hallmark of western society, was at
once that which would protect and destroy her.
   She inhaled deeply. As much as she enjoyed smoking, that wasn't all there
was to it. The truth was that she was proud of what she'd become, not so much
because it was a political statement, but because it was more than that.
   It was possible to look out a snowy winter on a late fall night and see the
future. Suddenly Monica understood that with a clarity which was both
terrific in the worst sense and terribly beautiful. As she spread the smoke
from her lungs into her room, watching it crash against that very same
window, she understood more than she wanted to.
   In the morning she would call the FBI agent, ask her to meet her. To arrest
her.
   The woman would resist, perhaps.
   You didn't, after all, put a pack of Marlboro Lights 100s in the backpack of
an under-age girl you disliked.
   But in the end she would come to understand. She would have to understand.
   Not that it would change anything if she did not.
   Monica tapped ash from her cigarette, inhaled again, and smiled.

   She said I was an attractive smoker.
   Tess let the words roll around in her mind.
   An attractive smoker. It wasn't quite the same as hearing it from the lips
of Ken Harrigan, but then again, Ken wouldn't have known Tess was alive if
his senior feet tripped over her unconscious body in the school's main
hallway.
   Amy was sleeping. Tess was sure of that.
   They were not quite touching, but Tess could hear Amy's regular, rhythmic
breathing. Sleep breathing.
   It wasn't something she planned on, but Tess couldn't help herself. Amy had
really been taken by those long cigarettes. And why not ? She was beautiful
with a Virginia Slims 120 in her hand, even more beautiful when she brought
the cigarette to her lips. And Tess had the pictures to prove it, the sort of
pictures that would be an huge hit on the internet, not that she would do
that.
   Instead, she let here hand drift down to her stomach. Drifted her fingers
across the tight flatness. Tickled her belly button.
   That was a start, but not the final destination.
   Tess felt devoutly sexual at this moment.
   The panties she was wearing were on the verge on rag status, the elastic
loose from too many washings. It provided no barrier.
   She was already fighting the urge to quiver as her finger drifted through
unshaven hair. Under no circumstance was she going to wake Amy, who sounded
as though she understood but might well not.
   Having her in the bed was what had put Tess over the edge. Amy was simply
beautiful, the sort of smoker Tess had become sure she would one day become.
Strong, confident, the sort of woman who could carry the cause simply by
lighting up.
   Tess worked herself slowly, patiently. The inability to move as she
progressed make the sensation that much more intense. She made thrusts and
short round twirls. The index finger of her free hand went to her mouth and
she slowly moved it in and out, using her tongue sensually to stroke it.
   Maybe I do have an oral fixation, she thought to herself.
   It took a while, but not nearly as long as Tess would have liked. When she
was finished enjoying the after effects, she reached over to the night stand.
As her hand closed around her cigarettes, there was the sound of a lighter
flaring on the other side of the bed.
   Tess looked over and saw Amy drawing deeply on a Marlboro Lights 100.
   "You were right about the cold. First it was chilly, then it was cold, and
now it's downright frigid."
   "Did you just-" Tess asked as she lit her cigarette.
   "Yeah. I couldn't get the thought of how sexy the two of us look smoking
those long cigarettes."
   "I guess we can keep this to ourselves-"
   "I'm not ashamed," Amy said, drawing deeply on her cigarette. "But I usually
don't smoke in bed-"
   "Unless you boyfriend asks, right ?"
   "Yeah, but that is different. Could you slide over a little ? I'm still
freezing."
   The two women smoked their cigarettes and then allowed themselves the simple
pleasure of enjoying one another warmth's.

   Monica slipped into her robe. She would have preferred to stay under the
covers, but she had agreed to her mom's decree- that there was one place in
the world which she was not  allowed to smoke, and if that was it, then she
could shiver a little.
   As she inhaled for the first time today, she admitted that a little chill
was worth it.
   There was a knock at the door and she said "Come in."
   "It's only seven," her mom said. "I thought you'd still be in bed."
   "I would be, but I wanted a cigarette."
   "Like mother, like daughter. Do you want to talk about yesterday any more ?"
   "I think-"
   Monica had seen it so clearly last night, but that vision was fading now, as
though it had been a dream state.
   "I think that the best thing to do is to stay the course, Mom. I know that
you don't like the idea, but what are my choices ?"
   "Well, your choices are to keep things the way they are or take a big risk."
   "I want to take that risk. Someone has to, and most of the people who could
don't have an entire town standing behind them like I do, Mom."
   "Well then," she said quietly. "Make your call. But I do hope you're going
to at least take a shower first."
   Monica inhaled and smiled. "Of course, Mom. I'll even break with tradition
and put on clean underwear. I'm just glad I started smoking before I got
arrested. It will give me something to do- and I hear cigarettes are very
valuable on the inside."
   Her mother tousled her hair.
   "You won't be in jail long, and try to remember that. You won't even be
found guilty of anything."
   "Amy doesn't know that."
   "You really like her, don't you ?"
   "Yeah, as much as you can like someone who is ready to slap handcuffs on
you."
   "I'm proud of you, honey."
   Monica inhaled again and then hugged her mother spontaneously.
   It was a good way to hide the fear.

   Amy picked up the cell phone with a certain sense of hesitation.
   It would be the girl. She would be calling to ask her to arrest her. It was
what she wanted.
   "Pondress."
   "Ms. Pondress. I'm calling to let you know that Monica Poe is going to the
Gas 'n Guzzle to buy cigarettes. I'd thought you'd want to know."
   "Who is this ?"
   "A friend of Monica's. You better hurry. She'll be there in ten minutes."
   The line went dead.
   Damn. She'd been spending all morning- she'd only been able to sleep until
about four-thirty, when thoughts of what had been transferred to her
Powerbook had overwhelmed the chemical need to sleep- reading files.
   Of course, another hour, or two, or seventy-two, wouldn't be enough to
digest it all. Weeks would be more like it. 
   Still-
   The truth was simply that she didn't want to arrest this girl.
   The cell phone rang again.
   "Pondress."
   "You'd better get moving, Pondress. I want a full report as soon as you've
secured the prisoner."
   "She's a fifteen year old girl, Director."
   "She's your prisoner."
   "Yes sir."

   There was no point going in and pretending to peruse Playgirl. All the
players knew one another without a scorecard.
   She got out of the rental, lit a cigarette, and walked into the convenience
store.
   There was Monica, cigarettes in one hand, and a fiver in the other.
   Amy walked over to Monica, smiled wanly, and said "Monica Poe, I'm placing
you under arrest."
   Monica smiled. "Can I get my change first ? Allowances don't go as far as
they used to."
   The girl behind the counter, wearing a name tag which identified her as
Krysten, asked if she was going ton be arrested as well.
   "Do you want to be arrested ?" Amy asked caustically.
   "I'd rather you did. My replacement is in the stock room."
   "You'll be charged with a federal crime-"
   Krysten held out her hands. "Cuff me."
   "You don't know what you're doing-"
   "I want you to arrest me," Krysten insisted.
   "All right. I hope you have a good lawyer."
   Monica laughed.
   "Don't worry. We all do."
   "We ?"
   "You'll see-"
   Amy inhaled deeply. She imagined she would.
   
   She did, as soon as they pulled up to the police station. There were at
least an hundred people waiting outside in groups of three and four, parents
and their teenagers, at least fifty girls and half as many boys. Ever last
one of them were smoking cigarettes. Stubby Marlboro Reds and Camel Lights
100, Virginia Slims and Parliaments.
   It would have been a videographer's heaven.
   They all hushed as the three women got out of the car.
   All except one woman. She grabbed her daughter's hand and rushed over to
Amy.
   "Arrest me, first, Agent Pondress. My Pamela is just thirteen and I've been
buying her cigarettes for a year now."
   To illustrate, young Pamela held up her pack of Saratogas and inhaled deeply
on a freshly lit cigarette.
   Amy passed her by without a word and then ushered the two girls inside.
   Wade Green was waiting at the main desk, holding a slip of paper in her
hand.
   "Agent Pondress ? Before you process these two-"
   The door opened and two women and a man walked in. All three were carrying
cartons of Marlboro Lights 100s.
   "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something ?" Wade bellowed. She looked
at the officer behind the desk. "Go lock that door and get these three out of
the way-"
   "Not until we've done what we've came to do," one of the women said. She
walked up to Amy. "Lilian Hide. I own the Country Store down on Route 11 and
I've personally sold this young girl here cigarettes at least half a dozen
times."
   Amy frowned. She'd been worried this was going to turn into a circus and the
only things missing were rampaging elephants and men driving nails up their
noses with hammers.
   "Well, since I didn't observe that-"
   Lilian handed Monica the carton and the other two followed suit.
   "You're going to have to arrest all three of us. We've already called our
lawyer, so if you could make this quick-"
   Wade stepped in front of the three shop owners. 
   "Nobody is going to be arresting anyone and there aren't going to be any
fucking lawyers," Wade said. "That is, if I can ever get a word in edgewise."
   "I'm afraid I'm going to have to charge all these people," Amy said, and the
looked at Monica. "As well as confiscate those cigarettes as evidence."
   "Not so fast."
   Rather than trying to explain, she handed the piece of paper to Monica.
   "Statute 3111-b, Crowley Public Safety Code."
   No person shall sell, give, or otherwise deliver tobacco products to any
person under the age of fifteen.
   "What the hell is this ?"
   "A new law we passed in Crowley about three weeks ago. As you can see, the
suggestion here is that no laws have been broken. So maybe you should just go
back to wherever it is you came from and find some other small town to
harass. I've faxed a copy of that to your office director-"
   As if on cue, Amy's cell phone bleeped.
   "Pondress."
   "I understand there's been some complications, Agent."
   "Yes sir."
   "You're to leave Crowley immediately. It looks like this is a case for the
state and federal courts to hash out."
   Amy closed the call and tried not to laugh. Twelve hours ago she was
convinced that she was in the middle of some sort of massive conspiracy, and
just like that, it all came flying apart.
   "You're all free to go, for the time being. The FBI retains the right to
charge you at a later date, but as of this moment, no charges are being
filed." Amy turned to look at Monica. "I want to apologise for any
difficulties I may have caused." She then turned to the shop keepers. "In the
future, local laws or no, you'd be advised to be less forward about your
sales policies. Am I making myself clear ?"
   Three nods were her only answer.
   Monica walked up to Amy.
   She handed over one of the cartons. "I want you to have these. After all,
it's not illegal for me to give them to you, is it ?"
   The two women hugged briefly. "No, not at all. It was a pleasure meeting
you."
   "We'll see each other again, don't worry."
   Wondering if that was true, Amy headed for the door. In a way, she was
disappointed. Monica had some sort of plan, and now she'd never know what it
was. Still, it would be interesting to see if Crowley's little law held up to
state and federal lawyers. Very interesting.
   As she cleared the door, thinking that it was going to be a long trip home,
she saw something chilling.
   Half an dozen dark late model sedans swinging into the crowded parking lot
of the store. The scene was nothing short of surreal.
   Four men jumped out of each car, all of them making way for an attractive
young woman of indeterminable age who looked nothing short of pissed. Amy
knew instinctively that the right thing to do was block the doorway, although
she wasn't sure way.
   "Get out of my way, Agent Pondress."
   "And you are ?"
   The woman cleared her throat. "I said, get out of my way."
   "There's been no crime committed her. And until I see some ID, as the agent
in charge here, I'll have to ask you to leave."
   "You don't know who I am, do you ?"
   "No."
   "I'll give you two choices. Get the fuck out of my way or I'll collar you
for obstruction of a federal investigation-"
   Amy didn't needed to think twice.

   The office had such an odd smell. Arose smoked very expensive third world
cigars, but never in his office. The place was antiseptic, sterile. There
were no ashtrays.
   "Sit down, Agent Pondress."
   "Sir-"
   "Don't speak. Just listen."
   Amy saw her Powerbook sitting on the desk. She had little hope the
information she'd acquired was still on it.
   "I'm up to my ass my ass in questions right now and frankly, I don't enjoy
covering for an agent who's on her first field assignment."
   "Sir-"
   "No. I don't want any explanations. If you explain it to me, then I have to
explain it to the people I answer to. I have half the agency breathing down
my neck for the name of your source."
   "I thought I'd done a pretty fair job encrypting the information I was
given, sir."
   "You did. It took three agents eighteen hours to crack the encryption scheme
and they still couldn't find half what you had. So they wiped your hard drive
clean. Next time, use a little more discretion. As it is, I'll have to spend
the better part of the day convincing our section chief that you shouldn't be
suspended indefinitely."
   "Who was that who showeed up-"
   "I don't have an answer to that question, Agent Pondress."
   "Why didn't they arrest the girl after they took me into custody ?"
   "They knew they had no grounds. You just happened to be in the way and you
were conveniently available for punishment. But in the future, save the
heroics."
   "I still want to know why I was sent there. Whoever put this on your desk
must have known how it would work out."
   "I don't know who put this on my desk or why. My lead on that disappeared
ten hours ago, and any name I gave you would be meaningless anyway. All I
know is that if you want to keep your job, and you want to keep working in
the field, you need to change the way you do things. You went through all
that agency training for a reason."
   "Protocol didn't seem like the way to handle it, sir."
   Arose signed. He reached into his desk, found an heavy crystal ashtray, and
placed it between them. He then pulled out a long cigar and lit it slowly,
obviously enjoying himself.
   Without asking, Amy lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and spread the smoke
throughout the office, hoping the smell would brighten the place up a bit.
   "There are more assignments like this one out there. I don't want to say
anything more than that right now, but I do want you to understand that you
weren't chosen at random. I don't know if the people who wanted you in
Crowley are pleased with the way you handled the situation or not, and I
doubt that I'll be told. But I want you to go home, take a few days off, and
think about how you could have handled things differently. Next time I won't
be factoring in that it was your first field assignment."
   "Sir-"
   "Am I making myself clear, Agent Pondress ?"
   "Yes sir," Amy said, blowing smoke across the desk.
   "Good. You're dismissed."
   As Amy stood up, Arose did the strangest thing. He'd already turned his
attention to some paperwork on his desk, but he paused long enough to look up
and favour her with an half-imagined smile.
   "Is there anything else, Pondress ?"
   "No, sir."
   But Amy had a feeling there would be, sooner or later.
   She hoped it was sooner.


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