Never Said a Word

An unusual place for meeting, he thought as he scanned the ballroom for signs of his contact. Somewhere in the gaiety of this midnight costume ball was Lorene Jenkins, an Agency operative who was to pass an instruction packet to him. Lorene was an efficient agent, though the last time he had spoken with her they had quarreled bitterly. He couldn’t even remember about what.

Dressed in a tuxedo and wearing a domino mask, he mingled easily with the guests, looking for Lorene with a practiced nonchalance.

As he was completing his first circuit of the ballroom, he became aware that he was being observed. Across the room stood a curvaceous woman in a colorful sequined costume. An elaborate mask covered her entire face—it looked like painted porcelain adorned with a mane of feathers. She stood very still, watching him. He moved toward her unobtrusively. When he was near enough, he turned his identification ring to catch the light from above. The light caught the polished metal of the ring and reflected onto the woman’s expressionless mask. She glanced down at the ring, nodded, then held out her arms to him. Understanding, he took her slender form in his arms and began to dance with her.

They danced silently for a few moments, then he smiled and remarked quietly, “I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to you. I expected to see you by the front door. Did you have trouble?”

She said nothing, but glanced over her shoulder cautiously before shaking her head.

Thinking that she must have reconnoitered the ballroom before he arrived, he said, “Good. You can pass me the packet as soon as we’re covered. Is there a place in the room that will do?”

She looked over his shoulder, then off to the side, then nodded assent. With subtle guidance, she began to steer them over toward a shadowed corner. He was a little concerned about her continued silence. He hoped that a grudge over a stupid argument wouldn’t make this more difficult than it had to be. They maneuvered into the shadows, but continued to dance. He was growing a trifle irritated. The mission was time-sensitive.

“You did bring it, didn’t you?” he asked.

No answer. This was damned silly.

“Lorene, did you…?”

His gaze had strayed over her shoulder and across the room. There he saw…Lorene Jenkins…obviously semi-conscious and being “helped” from the room by a pair of women dressed as mimes. Surprise got the better of him, and delayed his reactions just enough.

“Wh…?” he began, his eyes returning to the stranger in his arms. “Who the hell are…?”

The silent woman slowly wagged a reproachful finger at him, and then tilted her head back as if looking at something on the ceiling. With a sudden, quiet hiss, pink gas jetted from the nostrils of the woman’s porcelain mask and into his face.

The fragrance was cloying and overpowering. She lowered her face to meet his gaze once more. He blinked dumbly through the rapidly thinning pink haze at the woman hidden by the inscrutable mask, and he felt an inescapable lethargy grip his entire being.

As his vision swam before him, he managed to stammer uselessly, “S…sleeeeeping ga…”

He was cut off as another brief jet of the pink gas hissed almost impatiently from the nostrils of the mask, filling the narrow space between their bodies and floating up into his sleepy face. He tried in vain to push away from his assailant, but he was now far too weakened. In fact, he felt her arm tighten about his waist, pulling him more tightly against her gorgeous form…maintaining control of him as consciousness was deserting him.

His head nodded and his eyes were beyond half-mast. His could feel his body, but only distantly. He was done for. Feeling defeat close in on him as surely as he felt darkness pressing in, he murmured, “…please…donnn’t…”

Instead of acquiescence to his plea, his answer was a quiet, sustained hisssssssssssss as the pink sleeping gas began to flow in a gentle prolonged stream from the nostrils of the mask. The gas floated in front of his face, filling his senses utterly and easing him into a now-welcome slumber. His head fell forward onto the woman’s shoulder, and he could barely feel her fingers stroking the back of his head. Even as he was delivered into a dreamless oblivion, he could hear the steady hisssssssssss continue unbated.

She never said a word.