*For disclaimers, see Part One *
Ghosts from the Past-Ending and Epilogue
Friday, April 9, 2004
"So you really thought that someone had actually kidnapped Jenna?" Dr. Pfaff asked. Just like before he sat on the sofa across from her, ice cream sandwich in hand. Part of his general routine, Amanda knew. Idly she wondered if any of the agents had ever accepted his offer of the sofa and the ice cream. Not that it was any of her business, of course—just general curiosity. Her eyes focused briefly on the painting above the mantle. Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth—Amanda remembered it from the art history course she'd taken at UVA—such a sad painting.
"Amanda?" Dr. Pfaff's voice brought her back to the present, reminding her that she still hadn't answered his question
"Sorry," Amanda replied hastily. "At the time, yes I did think that."
"Hmm." He took a bite of the ice cream. "You thought this even though you know that Birol's in prison?"
Spoken out loud it did actually sound ridiculous. "I didn't really think of that at the time," she confessed. "I just saw that man and I just reacted—I wasn't really in control."
"Even though you only saw him from the back."
"Yes, even then." Amanda could hear the defensiveness in her own tone. "I just knew that I needed to find my daughter and I panicked when she wasn't there."
"I see." Pfaff took another bite of his ice cream. "Have you panicked before with regards to Jenna?"
Amanda shook her head. "Not recently. I mean there were times after the kidnapping, but nothing in the past few years."
"After the kidnapping was understandable," Dr. Pfaff told her. "You realize that Jenna is much more capable of taking care of herself now."
"Believe me, I know that," Amanda replied. Lee had been teaching Jenna self-defense tactics for over a year now—there was even talk of letting her take a class at the Agency in the future. "But someone could still overpower her—drug her—it wouldn't be that difficult."
For a moment or two Dr. Pfaff just stared at her. "Sometimes the job that we do can color our view of the world," he said. "It can make us see danger even in the most innocent situations."
"Innocent situations can be turn out to be dangerous," Amanda spoke the words without even thinking. "I've seen it happen before."
"To be honest, so have I," Dr. Pfaff said. "But I don't think that Jenna's past problems are the main issue here."
Somehow she'd known that he was going to say that. "Then what is the problem?"
Dr. Pfaff finished the last of his ice cream, tossing the wrapper into the garbage. "How did you sleep last night?" he asked.
How—the abrupt change of subject took her aback for a moment. "I didn't have any nightmares," she said. "But I didn't sleep too well either."
"How do you mean?"
"Little things woke me up last night—little noises—things that don't usually bother me." As Amanda spoke her mind flashed back to last night—the sound of Jenna's door opening—her daughter's footsteps in the hallway had jerked her into a kind of half-wakefulness:
"Sweetheart?" Amanda had called out.
"I'm fine Mom—I'm just going to the bathroom."
"Okay—I love you."
"Love you too, Mom."
Beside her Lee had stirred and murmured slightly but he hadn't awoken. Amanda, on the other hand, had lain there in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling, waiting for sleep to return.
"Those things don't generally bother you?"
"No—I'm usually a pretty sound sleeper," Amanda replied. "And I've been doing the relaxation exercises before bed."
"Does that usually help?" he asked.
"It has before—just not last night." He didn't reply—instead he calmly sat there, waiting for her to continue. The silence was almost infuriating—Amanda took a deep breath, trying to put her thoughts into words. "Dr Pfaff, if this isn't about Jenna, and it's nothing to do with Birol, then what is it about? Why am I feeling this way?"
"What do you think it might be?"
"To be honest, I don't know." Amanda clasped her hands together tightly. "Lee was telling me last night how he felt that time I was shot—how he wasn't able to relax until he knew that I'd be all right. And I thought that once I confirmed Birol was part of Karbala that I'd be able to relax too."
"Now I'm not so sure," she confessed. "I mean—I knew that Birol was in jail yesterday but that didn't stop me from panicking when I thought I saw him at the supermarket."
"Any more leads on the case?"
"One—but it didn't go anywhere." Lee had checked out Steve Colgan's alibi and it had held—he was definitely at the meeting during the time of Rendell's murder. They'd tried to contact Rebecca but she hadn't answered the phone—personally Amanda thought that the woman might have witnessed the murder and simply placed her husband in the shoes of the actual killer.
Even if that was the answer, though—and even if they could contact Rebecca—there was no possible way to verify it—any of it.
'Our last lead, gone….' The thought frightened Amanda more than she cared to admit. That someone was still out there—and how close they'd come to her—to their family—for just a moment something tugged at the edges of her consciousness—but before she could get a hold of it, it was gone.
"I just want to find out what this is," she told him finally. "I want to stop feeling this way."
"I know you do—but the answer isn't something I can tell you—I think it's something you have to arrive at on your own." He stood. "I think we'll end this session here for now, Amanda—keep doing the relaxation exercises—I'll be available Tuesday if you need to talk."
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Saturday, April 10, 2004
Kohl's Department Store
"Amanda, look at this—I think this would look just perfect."
Amanda eyed the dress her mother held—a figure-hugging black dress with a white jacket. "It's very nice—but don't you think it's just a little—well—daring?"
Dotty raised her eyebrows. "Actually, I hope that it's a lot daring," she replied. "This is going to be more than just an Easter dress—I'm planning on wearing it to the VFW Spring Fling at the end of this month."
Her mother never changed—despite everything that had been happening lately Amanda found herself smiling. "It'll be just perfect, mother. What do you think about this for Jenna?" She held up a lavender floral-print dress with three-quarter inch sleeves.
"She'll like it," Dotty said. "Trust me, it's very nice."
"I certainly hope so." Jenna was so picky about her clothes these days, Amanda thought. Generally she preferred to shop for herself, but today she was at home finishing up a paper for school. The only request her daughter had made of Amanda was that the dress not be too 'frilly' or 'baby-looking'—thankfully this was neither.
"Just make sure you get the right size," Dotty told her. "Do you realize that that child of yours has grown at least seven inches in the past three years?"
Amanda was about to reply that it wasn't really that surprising—Jenna did have tall parents, after all—when a dark shape barreled into her, nearly knocking her off balance and into a nearby clothing rack. .
"Oh my dear—I'm so sorry." An elderly woman with thick glasses looked up at her "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Amanda managed to say. "I'm just fine."
"I really must get my prescription looked at," the woman said, hastily smoothing her cardigan down over her skirt. "I seem to be tripping over my own feet these days. So clumsy—are you sure you aren't hurt?"
"No—no really I'm okay—are you all right?"
The woman chuckled. "I'm a lot tougher than I look, my dear. Oh dear—would you look at what's happened to your purse—"
Her purse—looking down, Amanda could see that the contents were scattered over the carpet.
"Here—" the woman quickly knelt, displaying an agility that belied her advanced age. "Let me just help you with these things—"
"I'll help her," Dotty spoke firmly. "She's my daughter."
"Well I—" She seemed flustered now—her mouth opened and closed. "I was only trying to help."
"Yes I know," Dotty said. "And thank you—I believe this is yours. Good day."
"Thanks very much." Now red-faced, the woman snatched the crumpled garment from Dotty's hands and rose to her feet, moving quickly away.
"Mother, I think she might have been just trying to help," Amanda said as she stuffed her wallet, keys and lipstick back into her handbag. "I'm sure that it was just an accident."
"Hmm—well, it might have been." Dotty replied. "But you know you can never really tell about someone."
You can never tell—her mother was right, of course—over the years Amanda had learned that appearances meant very little—that even the most innocent looking person could have something to hide.
But surely that sweet old lady hadn't been trying to—at the thought a chill ran through her body—she shivered slightly.
"Amanda—" Dotty's voice, full of concern, brought her back to the present. "Are you all right? You looked like you were miles away."
"Sorry—just had something on my mind, that's all," Amanda told her. "Listen, why don't we get ourselves some shoes while we're here and then we can try out that new coffee shop—Caribou Coffee on Crystal Drive—I hear it's really good."
Dotty smiled. "Sounds heavenly—and I think we definitely deserve a little treat—both of us."
Amanda smiled again. "Yes, I think we definitely do."
As they walked toward the shoe department they saw her again—the elderly woman, down on her knees, apologizing to a teenage girl. She looked about Jenna's age—maybe a little younger.
"I'm so sorry, my dear—your things are just all over the place now, aren't they?"
"Seriously, it's okay," the girl was telling her. "I can pick them up."
"Oh no, you must let me help you—it's the least I can do…."
Dotty and Amanda watched in silence as the woman's fingers closed over the girl's wallet—Amanda was about ready to march over there and confront her when a nearby security guard, who'd been watching the whole exchange, strode over there.
"Just one moment, ma'am." He took the wallet out of her hands and handed it back to the teenage girl. "I'm going to have to ask you to come with me now."
"Well—I never!" The woman huffed. The security guard said nothing in reply; he led the woman, still protesting, into the back of the store.
"You see what I mean about sweet old ladies?" Dotty asked.
Sweet old ladies—the cardigan—glasses—it all clicked into place.
'The first time that Karbala had come close to my family.' That was what she had told Dr. Pfaff. At the time she'd been connecting it with Birol—only it hadn't been Birol this time. It had been someone else entirely.
And all this time she'd been missing what was directly in front of her.
"Amanda?" her mother touched her arm.
"Sorry—I guess I just blanked out for a second," Amanda said. "Let's go—the sooner we get the shoes, the sooner we can sit down and get some coffee."
"I think you just read my mind," Dotty replied.
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Tuesday, April 13, 2004
"Mrs. Murphy," Amanda shook her head. She sat in Dr. Pfaff's office, in her usual chair. "That's who it was—what was bothering me. I can't believe I missed seeing it all this time."
"Actually, it's not all that surprising," Dr. Pfaff replied. "People often miss what's right in front of them—psychologically it's quite common."
"Yeah, I guess they do." Amanda said. "But seeing that woman in the store—that sweet old lady robbing people—that's what brought it all back."
"I see," he said. "And you were putting Birol there instead of Mrs. Murphy?"
"Yes—I guess maybe the reason I did that was that part of me didn't really want to see it."
Dr. Pfaff leaned forward. "Why do you think that was, Amanda?"
Why—she struggled for the right words to explain. "She just seemed so sweet at first—she was a volunteer—it seemed like she and the Colonel were growing close to one another—it was lots of things. And part of me didn't want to accept that someone like that could be involved with an organization like Karbala."
"I get what you're saying," Dr. Pfaff replied. "But if you think about it, this is not the first time you've encountered someone who isn't quite what they seem. It's happened before, hasn't it?"
"It has," Amanda agreed. Cooking show host Lydia Welch, Margaret Brock—the list went on and on. In Mrs. Murphy she'd seen the same thing. Amanda remembered the chill that had gone through her as she'd watched the woman from the surveillance van—seeing the ice and steel that had lain beneath the supposedly warm and motherly exterior once she'd thought the drug had taken effect.
"Now we can get down to business," Mrs. Murphy had murmured, leaning over the colonel's helpless body. Her voice had changed—her demeanor—everything. As Amanda had watched the woman, she'd found herself thinking of that story by Robert Louis Stevenson she had read in Junior High—Jekyll and Hyde.
That someone could hide in plain sight like that—
"Amanda?" Dr. Pfaff prompted her.
"It's the same thing I was saying before—with Birol," Amanda said. "Part of an agent's job is dealing with the fact that things aren't always what they seem—I do know that. And I do realize that Mrs. Murphy was only interested in the colonel as a source of information." She drew in a deep breath and let it out. "But at the same time this woman came so close to us—she met my mother—she probably even saw family photos."
"That doesn't exactly make her a threat to you—there's no evidence that she ever asked the colonel questions about you or your family."
"Everyone keeps saying that, yes," Amanda replied. "And they're probably right." At least I hope so, she added silently. "Another part of it is that I don't know how I missed it. Mother saw it right from the start and I kept telling her that she was making something out of nothing—I ignored the strange smell in the teacup—if there had been a threat to us I wouldn't have seen it until it was too late."
"How would you have seen it?" Dr. Pfaff said as he crouched down by his freezer, pulling out an ice cream bar—a fudgesicle this time. "You didn't even meet the woman. I don't suppose I can offer you a—"
"No, thank you, I'm fine. I know I didn't meet her—but I should've listened to my mother—I should've trusted her instincts and I didn't."
"Mrs. West does have good instincts." Dr Pfaff unwrapped his bar, taking a bite. "As do you. That's part of what makes you an effective agent. However, that doesn't mean that every hunch is always going to be right, does it?"
"No—no it doesn't."
"For all you or Lee knew, Mrs. Murphy might have been perfectly innocent," Dr. Pfaff continued. "You followed correct procedure and waited until you had enough evidence."
"But I didn't see what the old lady in the store was doing—mother did, and I didn't want to believe her—part of me didn't want to—just like before." She paused, collecting her thoughts. "You talked in the last session about how this job can color our view of the world—I've tried not to let it take away all my trust, but sometimes something that looks innocent can be very sinister. I'm sorry—I hope I'm making sense."
Dr. Pfaff nodded. "Perfect sense," he said. "And the job that we do is bound to make us lose some of our innocence—it goes with the territory. At the same time, however, you don't want to let it make you too jaded—not to the point where you develop burnout or shadow-shock. Personally I think you've struck a good balance."
A good balance—Amanda thought—it didn't always feel that way. "What about Mrs. Murphy and Karbala?"
"Another lead may still turn up—though I wouldn't let it become an obsession." Dr. Pfaff tossed the wrapper and the stick into the nearby wastepaper basket. "Incidentally—how have you been sleeping since Saturday?"
"Better—I've been doing the relaxation exercises and I've been sleeping through the night. "
"Good," Dr Pfaff stood. "You should keep doing those. But I think you'll find that things will be easier now that you know what's behind all this. And I'm always here if you need to talk."
"Thank you," Amanda replied. "I'll remember that."
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4247 Maplewood Dr
"Here you go," Dotty handed her daughter a cup of tea. "It's nice and hot."
"Thank you, Mother." Amanda held the warm mug between her hands as she slowly sipped the hot liquid. From the kitchen she could hear the faint voices of Lee and Jenna as they prepared dinner—one of Jenna's home-ec projects. "Believe me, this hits the spot."
"Well, there's nothing like a good afternoon tea—that's what I always say," Dotty replied, taking a seat on the sofa beside Amanda. "So that's what you've been upset about all this time? Mrs. Murphy?"
Amanda nodded. "It just took me a while to realize it, that's all." She didn't mention Birol—one of the things that her mother wasn't cleared to know about.
"I see," Dotty said. "And does any of this have to do with what happened on Saturday? Don't look so surprised, Amanda—those instincts of yours did not come out of thin air, you know."
"Yes I know," Amanda admitted. "And that was part of it. Seeing that woman and what she did—it helped me to face what was really bothering me"
"That makes sense." Dotty took a sip of her tea. "Though if you ask me, the woman we saw was small potatoes when compared to Mrs. Murphy—just the thought of that woman is enough to make me shudder."
"True. Part of me wishes that I had listened to you about Mrs. Murphy from the very beginning—I feel like I kind of blew you off, and I shouldn't have done that."
"Amanda, you did not blow me off," Dotty said. "To be honest, I didn't even believe me at first. You just told me you needed more evidence, which I got."
"You definitely did," Amanda replied. "And you did a very good job, mother."
"Well of course—your espionage skills didn't come out of thin air either."
Amanda smiled. "Yes, I know that too."
"Speaking of Mrs. Murphy, have there been any more leads?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Amanda took another sip of her tea. "But believe me, we haven't stopped looking."
"It's like I said before—that woman is bound to turn up sooner or later."
"Sooner or later," Amanda repeated the words. While part of her hoped that maybe Mrs. Murphy had moved on—decided it wasn't worth the risk—the other part of her knew that would be too easy—far too easy.
Mrs. Murphy would return, she knew—the only question was where, and when. The realization made her shiver.
Amanda glanced out the window—for a moment she froze, barely daring to breathe as she saw the elderly woman walking down the block, dog on a leash. As if in slow motion the woman turned—
'It's not her—of course it isn't.' Amanda thought, relief washing over her. Lifting her hand she waved to Mrs. Gilstrap—the woman smiled and waved back.
"Amanda," Dotty placed a hand on her arm, looking into her eyes. "Listen to me now. I do know that if and when she does turn up, you and Lee will be more than a match for her. Trust me."
"I do," Amanda began. "Really. It's just that—" her train of thought was interrupted as a loud clatter came from the kitchen.
"Oops—" Jenna's voice. "Oh no—"
"Sweetheart?" Amanda called out. "What is it?"
"It's fine," came Lee's reply. "Nothing's broken—we're handling it."
"Tell me what she's making again?" Dotty asked.
"Umm—it's broiled steak with horseradish, parsley potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise sauce." Amanda quoted from the menu that Jenna had relayed to her earlier. Personally she wondered if that was a little ambitious for a first meal, but Jenna had assured her that she could handle it with no problem. "Lee's just supervising the broiler—she's not used to using it just yet."
"Sounds good," Dotty said.
At that moment Lee came in from the kitchen.
"The steak is done," he announced. "And Jenna shooed me out—she told me she could finish up the potatoes and asparagus on her own—I'm going to take her word on that."
Amanda reached up, giving her husband's hand a brief squeeze. "I'm sure she appreciated how much you helped her," she said. "How does it look?"
"Actually for a first attempt it looks pretty good." Lee replied.
Another clatter sounded from the kitchen—Dotty rose to her feet.
"I think I'll go help Jenna out." she said. "Give you two a chance to talk." Dotty left the room and Lee took a seat beside his wife.
"You okay?" asked her quietly.
Amanda drew in a deep breath. "Actually, I think I am—or at least I'm better—I will be better— now that I know what's really been bothering me." She knew that she was rambling now, but she had to get it all off her chest. "I just keep remembering what that woman did—how close she got before we finally caught her and we didn't even suspect at first—Lee, she might have—"
"She might have," Lee told her. "She might have done a lot of damage. But she—we stopped her, remember? We shut the organization down."
"For now," Amanda said. "This part of the organization. But she's still out there."
Lee took her hands in his, squeezing tightly. "If she turns up again, we'll deal with her—this time we'll be ready. Deal?"
We'll be ready—basically the same thing that her mother had said earlier. "It's a deal," she agreed.
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2500 Garfield Dr., Newport News, VA
Saturday, April 24, 2004
"That's very good, Jasmine," Mrs. Murphy congratulated the little girl as she used a spoon to scoop the last of the batter and place it on the greased cookie sheet. Outside the sky was grey and cold—thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. "Now we'll just pop these in the oven, and once they're done we can decorate them with some frosting—how does that sound?"
Jasmine smiled shyly. "Good," she said. "Can we maybe use pink icing?"
"Yes, of course we can, love," Mrs. Murphy said. Opening the oven, she popped the cookie sheet inside and set the timer. "We can even make a special cookie for everyone in your family if you like."
"That sounds nice," Jasmine replied. "'Cept we can't really make one for my daddy, 'cause he's overseas."
"Well that's all right—he can always have a cookie when he gets back, can't he? Here you go—you're lucky that I have some of this lying around." Mrs. Murphy handed the child a squeeze bottle of pink icing. "Why don't you practice drawing on the wax paper while we're waiting?"
For a moment Mrs. Murphy just watched the child—her small face a mask of concentration as she squirted zigzags and curlicues onto the wax paper.
"Tell me," she began, keeping her tone very casual. "Is your Daddy in the military?" She figured that he might be—this housing was close to Fort Eustis—the main reason that she'd chosen to live here. Most everyone in this area was employed with the government in some capacity.
A shake of the head. "Uh-huh. He's in the Army."
"Oh, of course," Mrs. Murphy said. "Do you know where they sent him?"
"Someplace with a lot of sand."
She should have known better than to ask that, She silently chided herself. One would hardly expect a child Jasmine's age to know details like that. "Do you ever get to talk with him?"
"Yeah." Jasmine carefully wrote what looked like a 'J' on the wax paper. "I talk on the phone sometimes—and sometimes he sends email."
"That must be nice to be able to talk with him like that."
"Yeah." Jasmine's tone indicated that she was fast losing interest in this train of conversation. Mrs. Murphy decided to let it go, at least for now.
"You're doing very well with that frosting," She told the child. The oven timer buzzed. Using a potholder Mrs. Murphy removed the cookies and set them on the rack to cool. From his spot on the kitchen windowsill Mr. Whiskers let out a plaintive meow.
"You'll get yours in due time, you little beggar," Mrs. Murphy told him.
"Does he want a cookie?" Jasmine asked.
"No—I don't think a cookie would be too good for old Mr. Whiskers," Mrs. Murphy replied. "Perhaps we can give him some kitty treats a little while later—but only if he behaves."
"Only if you behave," Jasmine told the cat with mock sternness. Mr. Whiskers meowed again and she giggled. At that moment the doorbell rang.
"That's probably your mother. Keep practicing with the icing," Mrs. Murphy told Jasmine. She had actually expected her until a little later, but she'd babysat enough to know that peoples' schedules were rarely set in stone. She went to the front door and unlocked it. Just as she had suspected, Mrs. Levene stood there, shaking droplets of rain from her umbrella.
"I got off earlier than I thought I would, Mrs. Maxwell," she explained breathlessly. "I hope that Jasmine behaved for you."
Mrs. Maxwell—part of her was still getting used to hearing that. "She was a perfect angel," Mrs. Murphy held the door open wider, letting the woman come in. "We were just baking cookies in the kitchen—right this way."
"You certainly have a beautiful home," Mrs. Levene said.
"Well I had a nice tidy sum, saved up." Mrs. Murphy explained. "And I do like beautiful things." She pushed open the kitchen door and Jasmine looked up from her work.
"Hi Mommy," she said. "Can I stay a little longer? I was going to put icing on the cookies."
Mrs. Levene hesitated. "Sweetheart, I'd love to," she said. "But we really do need to get home and start dinner."
"Why don't you take the cookies and the icing with you?" Mrs. Murphy suggested. "That way you can decorate them at home."
Mrs. Levene hesitated. "That's a very nice idea," she said. "But we certainly don't wish to impose—"
"No imposition at all, I assure you." Mrs. Murphy said. "Just let me find a container to put the cookies in and we'll be in business." She opened the top cupboard and found a tupperware box with a lid. "Jasmine was telling me that Mr. Levene is overseas?"
"Yes," Mrs. Levene replied. "He was sent to Afghanistan last month. We've been keeping in touch—but it's been one day at a time if you know what I mean."
"I do, believe me," Mrs. Murphy placed the now-cooled cookies into the box and sealed the lid. "Mr. Maxwell was a colonel in the Air Force—it could make life very hectic sometimes. Here you go." She handed Mrs. Levene the box. "Enjoy."
Mrs. Levene smiled. "Thank you so much."
"You're quite welcome," Mrs. Murphy said. "I'm always here to watch Jasmine—and if you'd ever like to come over for a cup of tea you're more than welcome—military people need to stick together, you know."
The woman's smile widened. "Thank you—a cup of tea would be lovely."
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"Who are you?" The heavily-accented voice on the other end of the line demanded. "And how did you get this number?"
"Well with regards to how, let's just say that I have my ways," Mrs. Murphy told him. She sat on the sofa with her feet up on the coffee table—the afghan wrapped around her legs. The television was on but the volume was set to low—some sitcom was on—Mrs Murphy watched in bemusement as a dark-haired woman on the screen ran around the apartment dressed in nothing but a towel. "As to who I am, Mr. Faisal, let's just call me Mrs. Murphy."
"Ah, the famous Mrs. Murphy," the man replied. "We did wonder what had happened to you. You do realize that you left Mr. Rendell in a somewhat unfortunate situation?"
"What happened to Rendell was unfortunate," she told him. "But my first loyalty has always been to myself—and Karbala, of course."
"You know about Karbala?"
The woman was still running around in the towel—absently Mrs. Murphy wondered if it would make more sense with the sound up. Somehow she doubted it. "I think you'll find that I know about a great deal of things—as I said I have my ways."
"Rendell said you were his best operative," Faisal said. "But obviously he underestimated you. And what exactly is it that you can do for me?"
"The same as I've done before—intelligence gathering." Mr. Whiskers strolled over, butting her legs affectionately with his head—leaning over she scratched the large ginger cat between his ears. "Only this time I would be reporting directly to you rather than through an intermediary. I would need supplies of course—and time to set up my network. But I assure you that I can and will deliver."
Silence—for a moment she thought she'd overplayed her hand—that he'd hung up on her. Finally he answered. "Whatever you need is yours—just let me know. Welcome aboard, Mrs. Murphy."
She smiled. "You won't regret it—I assure you."