Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Agent Ellie, Part One

Agent Ellie, Part One

I'll catch you up with what's happening at the office in another post. This has been another unbelievably crazy day, and I'll type in as much as I can. I'm in this dingy hotel room trying to cool off and figure stuff out.

After work I just needed to unwind a bit. I get in my car and drive around San Francisco, just taking in the sights. It's a real pretty city at night, with all the buildings and bridges lit up. The hills provide great views when it's not too foggy. I decide to conduct a little tour of Ellie and my favorite spots, mostly hole-in-the-wall places no one has ever heard of.

There's the little Mexican spot we like, and a few blocks away there's our Korean BBQ. I swing around and head towards her favorite spot of all, the little basement Chinese place. I think maybe I should drop in and just have the dumplings one more time. I think better against it. The memory might be too painful.

As I pass the place, I notice a woman with a dark ponytail walking in, and by god if it isn't Ellie. I almost wreck the car as I crane my neck around to get a good look. She dressed all in black, and accompanied by a couple of Asian-looking men. I search for a garage and park my car off the street.

I probably sit in my car for 10-15 minutes, just breathing and debating whether to follow her in. Finally I can't take it, I have to know the truth. I arm my car alarm and walk down to the street. I arrive at the door of the place. There are no markings to indicate that this is a restaurant. There's a nice place upstairs, very touristy and well known. I put my hand on the knob and pull the door open. A waft of savory cooking fumes press up against me. My stomach rumbles a bit.

I don't see anyone in the hall so I walk down to the room where I've eaten with Ellie. There are a few Asian men sitting around the table, and a couple of empty dishes. They immediately stop their conversation and stare at me. I don't see Ellie anywhere.

"I'm looking for Ellie," I tell them. They don't look pleased. "Ellie? Dark hair, dark clothes? She came in about ten minutes ago?"

They start conversing in Chinese.

"No Ellie here," says one. "You go now. We closed."

"Elena? Galistina? Come on guys." I notice a door in the back. I figure she must be in here somewhere.

As soon as I grab the knob, a couple of them throw me against the wall and shove a knife at my throat. A particularly large and mean looking guy with tattoos and scars gets right in my face. "I say we closed. You get out or I start cutting."

I nod. I guess I'm feeling stupid or desperate, because once they let me go, I pretend to head out, and then make a mad dash for the inner door. Needless to say the whole crew jumps me at once. I feel like a running back getting swarmed.

The room fills with shouts in commands in Chinese. It's a woman's voice, one I recognize. It's Ellie, yelling at the men. Apparently she had only been in the bathroom. I'm pretty stupid sometimes.

"Alex, what the hell are you doing here? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

I pick myself up off the floor and dust myself off. "No, I'm trying to get some goddamn dinner."

Ellie glares at me with those dark eyes. I think I see lightning in them. "Alex, you shouldn't have come here. I told you to stay away from me."

"Well I need to talk to you. It's important."

"We've said everything there is to say," she counters.

"No, we haven't. People have been saying things, about you. I want to know the truth. After 8 months together, I deserve the truth."

Ellie looks a little concerned now. "What are you talking about? What is it you think you know, Alex?"

I look around the room. All the eyes are on us. "I can't talk here. Is there somewhere private we can go?"

Ellie studies me for a moment. "Alex, you know...Things would go better if you walk away right now."

"Whatever's going on, I'm up past my neck already. I'm not leaving here without some answers."

Ellie sighs. "Fine. Hungry? I'll have some stuff sent up." She leans over to the window, and orders some food in a soft Chinese voice. She then turns to the men and gives them some kind of instructions. They nod and grunt their assent.

Ellie leads me through a door and up some narrow steps to a small room above the main restaurant. I notice a couple of her items, and suddenly realize that this is her room. She only has a mattress now leaning against a wall, a couple racks for her clothes, and a tiny table and chair for her laptop. There's no where else to sit, so we just flop onto the threadbare carpet.

"Oh, Alex," she says quietly, "I wish you hadn't come here. It's putting both of us in a lot of danger."

I look at her, sitting across from me, her back up against the wall, her chin on her knees. She's so beautiful it takes my breath away. I smell her delicate perfume, and I sense that she's not truly mad at me.

"Ellie, I don't know how to begin. This is really hard for me, too. There's a lot of stuff going on at work. I mean really bad stuff. I've gotten really deeply involved. People are out there, trying to control the world. There have been killings, and I've seen some of them myself."

Ellie is listening to me attentively for once. I don't think she's paid this much attention to me in a long time. I continue.

"Your name has come up. It's been suggested that, and get this, someone is claiming that you're Chinese of all things. I mean, it's ridiculous. You're some secret Chinese assassin." I smile at her, hoping to share a laugh, hoping it's not true, but Ellie's looking at the ground, wrapping her arms around her knees.

"Tell me it's not true, Ellie. Ellie? Please tell me this is someone's idea of a joke and you're not a killer."

She rubs her face with a hand. "Alex. I never meant for any of this to happen. It wasn't supposed to go down like this."

I jump to my feet. "Shit! It's true! I don't believe it!"

Ellie rises as well. "Will you keep your voice down? You never know who's listening."

I start pacing around the room, agitated. "You're an agent? How? Why? I don't get it. You're as American as you can get. Did you sell out? What the hell?"

"If you calm down, I'll tell you everything," she hisses, glaring at me.


"Yes. Everything. Now sit down and me quiet. If the men downstairs knew that you know my secret, they'd gut you in a second. I'll gut you myself if you don't keep everything I say to yourself. And don't think I won't do it."

The look she gives me chills me to the bone. I quickly sit down. Ellie slides down the far wall, and begins telling me this story:

My name is Elena Galistina, but that's just a name I created when I came to America about a year ago. I can't reveal my real name. That person no longer exists.

I was born in China in 1981, the daughter of Russian diplomats. My first year or two were spent in China, and then my parents started traveling to other parts of Europe and Asia as Russia began opening itself to the new world. I speak 8 languages, four fluently including Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and English.

Around the time of my eight birthday, my parents had returned to China, and became embroiled in a nasty scandal. They've been under house arrest ever since. Since I had no where to go, the State decided to take care of me, and guided me into their intelligence training schools. They granted me full citizenship. I had shown great intelligence, already speaking several languages, as well as athletic ability and good looks.

My childhood, as far as I remember it, has been filled with non stop training and drills. I learned the art of infiltration, of subterfuge, of penetration into the enemy's hideout. I didn't look Chinese, so they could place me in situations when an Asian face would stand out. Around the age of 12 I started my assignments, mostly posing as the daughter of some highly placed official. I started just by stealing documents, taking pictures, and doing whatever a kid could get away with.

By the age of 14 things had stepped up a notch. I because an expert thief, stealing documents and computers from behind any kind of security system. I could look so innocent, no one would suspect.

Around 16, things took a dark turn. I had been assigned to acquire some papers from a man's desk. He caught me red-handed, knew exactly what I had come for. Maybe he had laid a trap. He told me he was about to rape me and then kill me. When he got within a foot of me, I rammed a letter opener through his neck. As he lay gasping on his knees, I jumped on his back and pulled on the blade until he died. I grabbed the documents and fled, never looking back.

That incident changed everything. From then on my training and assignments became black. I learned just about every way there is to kill a man. I never had any remorse for any of my victims. I just took the assignment, and completed it, never asking questions.

As the years went on, I found each killing to get harder. I started looking deeper into the files. I had been brainwashed into believing these were all enemies of the Chinese State, but then I began seeing the families left behind, the chaos in their lives, and I just couldn't do it anymore. They threatened my parents, they threatened me, but I refused. None of them dared cross me, because a couple of my victims have been party members. They knew I could kill any one of them. So they relented, and handed me this assignment.

I wanted freedom. I wanted to live a life where I didn't have to watch my own shadow. Corporate espionage, just reporting on internal workings of major companies, without any blood or guilt, it seemed like a dream position. They could keep an eye on me, I would keep China in the game, everyone would be happy.

At first I just figured I would seduce some executives, and then blackmail them into revealing secrets. It kind of worked at first, but then I realized that they could blow my cover, and what I needed was a more long-term stream of information. I started dating software engineers, but I just couldn't stand to be around them.

When I met you Alex, I wasn't really looking for someone. Part of what I've done here is to build a network of friends. You don't understand, I've never had friends my whole life. This is the first time in my life that I can just hang with people. At first I just thought you were cute, someone to be friends with. Heck, you weren't even working at the time, so you couldn't help my assignment much.

Well, one thing led to another, and I used my contacts to get you into Infinitae. I would simply read your email and bug your office, and hopefully that would be enough. But of course they always want more, so I started using your login to scan for documents. I hate to say this, but you weren't a great source of information.

That's about it. That's my sad story.

I chew on this for a while, then start laughing.

"You, a killer. Right. How many? How many people have you killed."

"A few," she says. "Alex, that's all behind me now."

"How many? Five?"

"It's not important. I don't remember."

"How many?"

She looks around uncomfortably. "Thirty-five, I think. Some never were confirmed so the number could be higher."

I can barely speak.

"Most of these people were terrorists or criminals."

"Have you killed any Americans?"

"Not yet."

I'm not sure if that's a veiled threat. It all seems so unreal. I still can't get myself to believe it.

"Wait, wait. So when's the last time you killed someone?"

Her eyes didn't waver. "A few months before I came over here."

"What did he do? How did you do it?"

Ellie sighed. "He was a banker in Hong Kong. He funneled money to some Islamic terrorist group. All I did was sabotage his car, to make it look like an accident."

"That's it?"

"Yeah, well, the stupid car plowed through a group of kids waiting for a bus. It was a dumb idea. He survived, three kids didn't. I waited 'til he got home and then shot him using a high-powered rifle from 800 meters away. By the way, those kids aren't part of the 35. They are just collateral damage."

"And that's when you stopped?"

Ellie nodded. She seemed so serious. I don't know if I felt like the world's biggest fool for listening to this, or for not knowing all this. My girlfriend, China's best assassin. She can kill someone by looking at them.

"If any of this is true, and I'm trying to keep an open mind here, Ellie, then I don't understand what happened. You claim to be some kind of agent, but you hang around the house most of the time and sleep. You go on drinking binges. You just don't fit the part."

"Alex, I was up half the night doing my work. Sometimes I slipped a little something into your tea to make sure you'd stay asleep. I became an expert at tiptoeing around. Do you really think I need to pee three times a night? That's just me getting in and out bed. Then as soon as you left the house, I'd catch up on my sleep."

"So if you're this big-time assassin, don't have have a lot of money? You work a couple hours a week at a gym and at the mall. This place is the best you could come up with?"

"Yeah, I have a lot of money stashed away. Frankly I need it to try to free my parents, and to bring them back to Russia where they can live out their lives. Part of what I'm doing is an agreement I've made to free them. As far as working, that's where I meet a lot of clients."

"Clients? What are you talking about?"

"A lot of high-powered executives do the boot-camp workouts. It makes them feel strong. A lot of female executives love the cosmetic counter. I try to be a friend and confidant to them."

I start quivering. "Wait. Clients? Do you mean--"

Ellie's face turns red. "Yes. Some of what I do involves getting close to people. I was getting a lot of pressure to broaden the scope of my efforts."

"While we were dating? You slept with guys for information?"

Ellie sighs. "Almost. People will tell me just about anything to get me in the sack. But I could knock them out before anything happened. Listen, Alex. My life isn't easy. I don't have a free ride here. Anything I can learn helps the cause."

"What cause? China? You're the largest country in the world! I don't know why you need all this stuff."

"We're just trying to even the playing field. We don't want to be dominated by American brands and American companies. We're tired of our best talent leaving to work at your companies. China has some of the brightest people on Earth, we just want to give them a chance. Besides, the information I retrieve is all strategic. It's much harder to steal Infinitae's entire code base for instance. But if we know which products they are planning, we can try to produce our own first, and try to get an edge."

I start thinking back on our relationship. This Ellie is either completely nuts, or she's been this way all along. "What happened the other night, when you got sick? What was that about?"

Ellie swallows hard. "That was a bad day. My superiors had decided that you weren't a great source on information, and they wanted me to move on. I declined. But I knew deep in my heart, all of this had to end. I wanted to stay with you, but I knew I had a dream that would never materialize. So I started drinking, got hot, took off my clothes, put some back on, then I guess I passed out."

"So we go thru that weekend, and then you break up with me anyways. What happened?"

Ellie gets up and walks to her desk. "This came." She hands me an envelope. Inside I find a printed note saying, "Stay away from Alex. I know who you are." I also find a picture of us together, then a picture of Ellie taken somewhere in China. "I knew my cover had been blown. I'm sorry about the whole scene at the hospital, but I needed to make it public. I knew there was nothing going on with that girl, but I needed some witnesses to verify that I had left you. I didn't have a choice. If I'm outed, then you're the next target."

When she mentioned Carrie, I averted my eyes for just a split second, but Ellie caught it. "There's nothing between you guys, is there? Oh god, Alex..."

"It was a mistake, and it just happened a couple days after you left me. Please don't kill me."

But I don't see anger in her eyes, just sadness. "I did this Alex. I drove you away. Dammit. Do you like her?"

"No! It was just a momentary lapse. Ellie, I missed you so much, I just went crazy with loneliness."

Ellie walks over and holds my hands. "You know we can't be together Alex. You may never understand how much all of this hurts, to have a taste of a normal life. Everything we've been through is something I can't have. My life is not my own. I'll never be a mother, or a wife, or anything."

Her hands are cold. I lift her chin up, and peer into her troubled eyes. I have no idea where the next line comes from. "Ellie, if you're ever allowed to be a wife, or a mother, and you escape whatever it is that's holding you down, then I hope you consider me."

She exhales sharply. She wraps her arms around me and I hold her tight. I feel her body shudder as she suppresses her emotions. Tears flow down her face, and onto my jacket. When I'm with her everything feels so right. Many times in our relationship she's held me tight and just cried, and for the first time I have a glimpse of where that might be coming from. I know I can't trust her, I don't believe half of what she's told me, but all I know is that I care for her, and deep down she cares for me. It's become clearer than it's ever been.

"God, I've been a terrible girlfriend," she sobs. "And you've put up with all of it. You're my only friend, Alex."

I separate ourselves so I can look her in the eye. "Listen, Ellie. I don't know what to believe about you. I don't know what to believe about anything anymore. All I know is that the past is the past, and you don't have to live in it. I've moved beyond my past, so can you. You can have the life that you want. And if you want me in it, I'm willing to take the slings and arrows right along side you. I know I've screwed up my life a lot in the past, but when you look at my family and what they've accomplished, you'll see that us Rosses aren't afraid of any challenge."

"But, Alex, I'm a foreign agent. You can't be with me. You'll be labeled a traitor. I can't renounce myself, or seek asylum. I'm one of the most wanted people in the world. I figured that my time here in America would end abruptly. I live my life knowing that death is just around the corner. I think I knew deep in my heart that our relationship would have to end, so in the last weeks I've been drawing away from you. The alternative would be far worse, to coerce you into providing me with Infintae's secrets. I just couldn't bring myself to do it, not even subtly. I just want you to be happy, and I think you were."

"Yeah. You know you were driving me crazy, but I think inside I was happy. Every time I came home to you my day would instantly brighten. You have so much energy and life when you're not dead tired. And now I understand that too. I just can't facing life without you, Ellie. I just need you in my life."

Ellie hugs me again. "And I can't see myself without you anymore. I've been hiding in this room going crazy. I've had to fight myself to stop from seeing you, to spy on you just to feel close again. I guess that's a good thing otherwise your friend might be dead now."

"Don't worry about her, it's all over now. I'll probably have to leave Infinitae because of it. Things are a little too awkward."

"God I've ruined your life," she mumbles. "This is why I stopped killing. I keep making people suffer."

I hold her tight. I lean down, and we kiss, slowly and first, and then passionately. Her lips feel great against mine, her body feels right.

I hear some shouting in the building, then the pop of gunfire.

"Shit! They're on to us," yells Ellie. She dives under the mattress and pulls out a gun. A real gun. She opens the door a crack and yells down the stairs in Chinese, and hears a reply, followed by a scream. She closes the door. "Fire escape. Hurry Alex!"

I pull open the window and look out. I don't see anyone out there. Just as I turn around to help Ellie, the door to her room explodes into splinters. One piece knocks away Ellie's gun.

Two black-clad men charge into the room. In moments Ellie springs at them. She knocks away their guns, but one of them throws her against a wall like a beanbag. He tries to smash her skull but she ducks and rams her fingers into his windpipe. As he gags, the other man tries to grab her but she tumbles away as quick as a cat. I spot a gun near me but I'm frozen with fear and fascination.

They're both now facing each other like sumo wrestlers, looking for an opening. The man eyes the gun on the floor. Ellie half-smiles at him, daring him to reach for it. She gives him an opening and he goes for it. Like lightning, she jumps on his back and digs her nails into his eyes. I've never seen anything like it. He screams and drops the gun, trying to remove the wraith from his back. His partner is regaining his feet, holding his throat.

Ellie wraps her arms around her man's neck, pressing on his carotids
until he falls to the floor unconscious. The gagging man jumps her, but she falls and entangles her legs in his. As he falls, she jumps on his back while maintaining her grip on his legs, grabbing an arm and jerking it back. With her free arm she can reach one of the guns on the floor. While the man struggles to free himself, instead of shooting him, she bashes him in the back of the brain, again and again.

On her face I see something horrible. It's somewhere between a grimace and a grin. I know then that she's killed before, and that she will again. In moments the man is dead, and she turns to his companion who is awakening. Let me just say that the method she uses to kill him is gruesome, and I can't find the words to write about it.

She jumps up next to me on the fire escape, blood dripping from her face and hands. "Thirty-fucking-seven kills," she says, wiping her mouth on her shirt and her hands on her pants. "We need to get the fuck out of her, Alex. You still with me? We don't have much time."

I just do as I'm told at this point. We got to my car, and find a motel that takes cash and no questions.

Sounds like Ellie's coming out of the shower. I gotta put this away because once I'm washed up we'll have to move.

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