THE BLUE SIDE OF INFINITY
Bonita Springs, Florida
Rena Helmsworth liked to watch.
She sat at one end of the leather-padded horseshoe bar, hunched over a margarita, checking out the happy hour crowd. Rena liked to imagine detailed bios of strangers based on their mannerisms and overheard clips of conversation. And here in Boomers—a bustling South Florida watering hole—she always found a diverse parade of humanity.
A young woman took the stool next to her. “Hello, fellow lonely heart,” Rena heard her say.
Too late for escape, she thought. Rena turned to look at the woman. Young, maybe late twenties. Crow-black hair, a short conservative cut that looped around delicate ears. Slight Asian cast to the almond eyes, not pronounced enough to be full Chinese, but perhaps a drop or two of Taiwanese blood in the mix. Translucent pale skin, like fine bone china. Understated peach lipstick. No jewelry, expensive European designer-cut pantsuit.
“I’m not lonely,” Rena said in a bored tone, trying to discourage further conversation. She turned back to her margarita.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the woman said over the Jimmy Buffett music.
Rena pointed to her salt-rimed glass. “I’ve already got one.”
The woman signaled for the bartender with a haughty wave, ordered a Diet Coke. She snapped her purse open, pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. The air became a menthol haze. “Smoke?”
Rena’s irritation grew. “Do you mind?” she said, fanning the air with her hand to emphasize her point.
“No, I don’t mind at all,” the woman said before sucking the smoke deep into her lungs and exhaling a small cloud.
Rena looked at the pack of cigarettes on the bar. Foreign. Dunhill Internationals. A British brand.
The woman studied her with an intensity that made her nervous.
Rena kept her eyes on her glass. “So, is there something you need from me?”
“I’m just trying to strike up a friendly conversation. Where’s the foul?”
Rena detected a trace of an accent, but couldn’t place it. Distinctly American, but there was a European inflection. A little guttural. German maybe?
“It’s good to finally meet you, Rena,” the woman said. “Rena Helmsworth isn’t it?”
Rena couldn’t believe anyone around here could possibly know her. She had been living in Bonita Springs for just three weeks, had only begun her new job here two weeks ago.
Rena squirmed, looked back at her. “Have we, um . . . have we met? Do you work at Warfield Systems?”
“No, Rena. I work for a much larger organization.”
“How do you know my name?”
The woman blew another noxious cloud of smoke across the bar. “Your name is just a miniscule piece of what I know about you.”
“Is that right?” Rena had a queasy feeling in her stomach.
The bartender brought the woman her Diet Coke. She squeezed the strip of lemon into it, took a drink, looked at Rena. “Yes, that’s right.”
“What if I don’t believe you? What if I told you I don’t give a shit?”
“Your choice,” she said, pausing to light another cigarette. “But I’m going to tell you what I know and you can agree or disagree. I don’t really care either way.”
“So why bother then?” Rena said, looking down at her drink, wishing this bothersome woman would disappear.
“Because you need to know what I know in order for us to establish our relationship.”
“We don’t have a relationship.”
The woman smiled. “Oh, but we will, Rena. We definitely will.”
Rena stared at her, a troubling intensity radiating from the woman’s dazzling eyes. After a long unsettling moment, Rena looked away.
“You’re an only child, born in Middletown, Ohio,” the woman began. “You have spent a number of years overseas due to your parents working in a covert branch of the government. You’re thirty-nine. You have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and an MBA, specializing in International Business. You are a crackerjack programmer, though you prefer writing documentation over code. You have worked the past ten years as a technical writing consultant. You started work at Warfield Systems a few weeks ago in a greatly classified position that required the highest security clearance. What else?” the woman said, thinking, smoking. “Your mother died when you were ten. Something suspicious about her death, I understand. Something possibly to do with your father’s profession. Do you want me to tell you what I know about your father, Rena?”
Rena sat rigid as a statue, stunned. All this off the top of the woman’s head. All of it accurate.
“Your father is career CIA. He has spent a good part of his time handling diplomatic issues in Europe and the Middle East. Quentin Helmsworth’s last known residence is Zurich, but this is probably news to you since the two of you have been estranged for years. Your family regards your father as kind of a rogue black sheep, and they have basically ostracized him.”
Rena felt like she had been slapped in the face. “Who the hell are you?”
The woman stubbed her cigarette in the ashtray, took a sip of her Diet Coke. “They call me Blue.”
“Blue? Blue what?”
“What the hell kind of name is Blue Infinity?”
“It’s just a label. My stage name, if you will.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Rena said.
“No more ridiculous than some of the code names your father has used over the years. Names like Zookeeper or Crescent Moon.”
Those code names ripped through Rena like a lethal Midwestern twister. She hadn’t heard them in years. This woman definitely operated in the twilight underworld of international intelligence. And she was good.
Blue said, “Cat got your tongue, Rena?”
“No, ah . . . no. Exactly what is it you want with me?”
“Oh, darling, we’ve got big plans for you. We’ve been scoping you for quite some time.”
“Yes. Me and the organization I represent.”
“And who might that be?”
Blue reached down and pulled a magazine out of her purse. Rena noticed it was the latest edition of Rolling Stone.
“You ever read Rolling Stone? Blue asked.
“I used to,” she said. “Back in my youth.”
“Isn’t that cute,” Blue said, giving her a crooked smile. “Back in your youth. Like you’re some old dried-up biddy now.”
“I urge you to read this issue,” Blue said, sliding the magazine closer to Rena.
“Why? What could be so important in Rolling Stone?”
“For starters, there’s quite a bit of information about your new employer.”
“In Rolling Stone?”
Blue produced a malevolent grin that chilled Rena. “In a roundabout way, yes.”
“And what if I’m not interested?”
“Surely you’re interested in living to celebrate your fortieth birthday, Rena.”
“What? Are you threat—?”
“I suggest you read the article and take it to heart.”
Rena’s anger overtook her shock. “Look, Blue, or whatever your real name is. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing with this bullshit, but—”
“Oh, it’s far from bullshit, honey.” Blue brought her voice down to a whisper. “Let’s get something straight, sister. We own you. When you signed on with Warfield Systems, you became our puppet. We pull the strings and you dance. Are you a good dancer, Rena?”
This Blue character who had stormed so suddenly into Rena’s life operated with confident control. She was articulate and calm. Everything about her personal appearance was meticulous and neat. Professional.
Rena spoke, trying to keep the shakiness she felt out of her voice. “Who is this we you keep referring to?”
“Our organization.” Blue pointed to the magazine. “It’s all in this issue. Everything. Warfield Systems . . . our organization. Why you will follow our demands if you value your life.”
Rena looked down at the cover of the Rolling Stone, seeing the dour expressions of three thug-looking rappers staring back, all silver chains and gold teeth and street-posturing machismo. It only increased her anger, and she lashed out at Blue. “Listen, bitch! Nobody threatens me. Nobody. You got that?”
Blue shook her head in mild amusement, took a sip of her drink. “Have you ever thought about how you got that job at Warfield so easily? How you just breezed through the interview process and gained security clearance without a hitch? Warfield Systems received more than two-hundred résumés for that position. Didn’t you wonder why, after being out of work for five months, suddenly this government contract lands right in your lap?”
Rena had thought about it, in fact. “I don’t know,” she said, “I just thought maybe Warfield waived some of the security checks because of my father’s position. All of us Helmsworths have been thoroughly screened and vetted over the years.”
Blue snorted. “You are so naïve.”
Rena did her best to keep her runaway emotions in check. “Naïve is the last word I’d use to describe me,” she said, hoping she sounded more confident than she felt.
Blue stubbed out her cigarette and threw the pack of Dunhills in her purse. “Talking exhausts me.” She slapped a five-dollar bill on the bar and stood, threw the strap of her purse across her shoulder. “Everything you need to know is in the magazine. Happy reading, Rena. I’ll be in touch.”
“Wait—” Rena shouted over the music. But Blue was a blur. The mysterious woman vanished from Boomers as quickly as she had appeared.
“Can I get you another margarita?”
She looked up to see the bartender standing in front of her. “No. I think I need something stronger. How about a double Scotch on the rocks?”
Rena glanced at the magazine. She took a deep breath. Opened it. Saw a compact disc tucked in the fold. The bar lights reflected a prismatic rainbow off the shiny CD. The label contained a single symbol, printed in blood-red ink. Rena recognized the icon as the universal sign for infinity . . . the figure 8 laid on its side.
Something very ominous and threatening about that symbol. It stared at her like the evil eyes of some wicked creature from another world.
The bartender placed her drink in front of her, took away her empty margarita glass.
“Thanks, Brett” she said, pulling her drink closer to her. “That woman who was just in here? The one sitting next to me?”
“Have you seen her in here before?”
Brett shook his head. “Can’t say that I have. I assumed you two were good friends the way you were schmoozing.”
Schmoozing? Rena wouldn’t describe it that way.
As Brett shuffled off to the other end of the bar, she stared at the disc, hypnotized by it. Hopefully there would be something incriminating on it so she could call the authorities, something identifying Blue Infinity and her mysterious organization.
Unless it was all some kind of grand hoax.
Was her father, Quentin, behind this? It had his eccentric personality stamped all over it.
Rena closed the magazine and slugged back the Scotch in two long swallows, feeling the numbing burn in her throat. She grabbed her purse and hurriedly threw several bills on the bar, tucked the magazine under her arm, and left Boomers in a huff.
On the way to her car, she glanced over her shoulder every other step.