For one awful, drawn-out, smoke-filled moment, Angie missed the Griffith.
She shook her head and opened a window, picking up a newspaper to wave the smoke out.
"Oh, dear," Peggy said. Angie turned, to find her roommate in the kitchen doorway, coat still on and purse in her hand. "Again?"
"Again," Angie said, grimly.
See, the thing is, Angie was a New Yorker born and bred, and like many New Yorkers, she didn't cook. Why would she? There was a diner or automat or cafeteria on every street corner, and they got their food at wholesale prices, a lot cheaper than an ordinary Joe (or Jane) could get it at the market. And so it wasn't any cheaper to make it yourself than it was to eat out, so why go to the trouble of cooking? Except Stark's place was in a neighborhood too nice for diners and automats; they had restaurants with white tablecloths and high prices and maitre d's who looked down their nose at accents like Angie's, and most of the people living here had their own cooks and maids anyway.
Peggy was staring at the … thing … in the oven. "Well, it has stopped smoking," she pointed out. "That's good, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Angie had to concede. "If we burned the place down, I dunno where we'd go. Stark probably wouldn't let us have another apartment."
"Do you suppose any of it is edible?" Peggy asked.
"I suppose that depends on what you call 'edible,'" Angie pointed out.
"Again," Angie said with a sigh.
Peggy walked into the office the next morning, bagel in hand, and stopped dead. The one good thing about being overlooked most of the time was that, well, you were overlooked. It just figured that the one day she walked in a few minutes late, still eating her breakfast, was the day they paid attention to her.
"Carter, a heads-up would have been nice," Agent Murdock growled.
"Heads-up for what?" Peggy asked, puzzled.
"Heads-up that our least favorite lady is moonlighting for the Ladies' Home Journal," Sousa said, holding up a copy of a magazine and tapping a tiny picture of the LEVIATHAN operative who'd briefly called herself Dottie Underwood. "Murdock spotted this in his wife's copy."
"I don't often read the Ladies' Home Journal," Peggy said, although if it had any cooking advice, she might start. Necessity and all that. "I prefer Redbook, or Mademoiselle."
"What?" Murdock said.
Peggy raised an eyebrow at him. "There are quite a number of ladies' magazines, you know," she said. "Nobody reads all of them. Or do you read all the men's magazines in circulation?" Not waiting for his response, she took the issue in question from Sousa's hand, examining it. Yes, it was Dottie, or whatever her real name was, but she was a brunette now, calling herself Judy Johnson. Her makeup subtly changed the look of her bone structure—Peggy should ask her for tips. If she wasn't a spy used to seeing through disguises, she might have missed who it was. The article was a special piece on transitioning from war work to full-time homemaker, full of platitudes about supporting one's husband. "Is she a regular writer for them, now?"
"No," Thompson said. He stood in the doorway of his office. "Just the occasional piece. My office."
Peggy came as she was bid, Sousa and Murdock following behind her.
"I've said it before, we need more female agents and analysts," Peggy said as the door closed behind them. The best defense was a good offense, after all. "If the Russians have a whole school full of girls, as well-trained in infiltration as Dottie is, we need something to match. We can't count on Murdock spotting something in his wife's magazines, I couldn't possibly keep up with all the women's magazines in this country even if I did nothing else full-time, and most male agents aren't going to be able to pick up the nuances to spot them."
"We can talk about that later," Thompson said. "You're going in undercover."
Peggy raised her eyebrows. Normally, she enjoyed undercover work, but under the circumstances … "Do remember, she knows very well what I look like."
"Yeah, but you're good at disguises," Sousa said. "You ran rings around all of us, and we've spent a lot more time around you than Dottie did."
"I highly doubt you'd spent as much time studying me as Dottie did," Peggy pointed out. "Nor did you ever see my face in disguise."
"Underwood doesn't have a desk at the office since she's not a regular," Thompson said. "They call her when they want a piece from her, and she mails it in. I'm sure you can avoid her. But we need to find out more about her, and we need to find out what she's doing with the Ladies' Home Journal. Are they passing coded messages through her articles? Some kind of subliminal conditioning? We don't know. You find out for us."
"All right, what's my cover?" Peggy asked.
"You're Helen Bolt, the new cooking writer." Thompson handed her a file.
"But I know nothing about cooking," Peggy said. Her and Angie's life would be far more pleasant, at the moment, if that were not the case.
"What?" Sousa said.
"I thought all women knew how to cook?" Murdock said.
"Not upper-middle-class Englishwomen," Peggy said. "We had a cook, my mother and I didn't do it ourselves."
The men shuffled and glanced at one another. "Well, you've got a week to learn, Carter," Thompson said. "That's when your predecessor retires to get married."
"Look at it this way," Sousa said. "You don't actually have to cook, you just have to be able to fake knowing about it. I'm sure you can get someone to ghost-write the actual articles for you."
"Right," Peggy said. "I think I know who to call."
Peggy stared at Jarvis. Jarvis stared back. Angie watched the two of them and used her teacup to hide her smile. (She didn't want to be noticed—Peggy was many things, but chatty about her work wasn't one of them. Angie was surprised to be told even this much, that Peggy was going undercover and needed to learn to cook or at least write about cooking. Angie liked it, but she wasn't about to jinx things or make Peggy rethink it.)
"I don't know what to say, Miss Carter," Jarvis said.
"Say you'll help, of course," Peggy said.
"With what, cooking lessons or writing the articles?" Angie put in. "'Cause I'd vote for the lessons, myself." Hey, she'd tasted his omelettes! And they needed to learn, anyway.
"Of course I can teach you the basics of how to cook," Jarvis said. "I could teach both of you, if you were interested. But that won't be enough to write the articles, and I'm afraid that writing is not quite my forte. Anna is a brilliant writer, but she mostly cooks Hungarian and Jewish dishes, and English is not her most fluent language."
"My English is quite good."
The three of them turned to see a brunette woman standing in the doorway of the sitting room, taking off her hat. It was Angie's first look at Anna Jarvis, though she thought Peggy might have met her once. Mrs. Jarvis was fairly ordinary-looking, though she seemed a bit tired. Angie empathized with the way she was shifting on her feet. After a long day at the diner, she longed to take off her heels and relax.
"Of course it is, darling, but nobody would mistake you for a native speaker," Jarvis said. "You remember Miss Carter? This is her friend Miss Martinelli."
"Ah, yes, Mister Stark's spy," Mrs. Jarvis said. Really, her accent wasn't bad. Snooty types probably preferred it to Angie's own way of speaking. "Another mission? Is that why you ask about my English? Does Mister Stark have need of my sneaking skills this time?"
"Oh! No!" Peggy shook her head. "No, we shouldn't need either of you as a spy. We were discussing something related to my work, yes, but only tangentially."
"Ah." Mrs. Jarvis left to put away her hat and coat, and Jarvis scowled at Peggy.
When Mrs. Jarvis returned, Jarvis turned to her. "How was the shop today, my dear?"
Mrs. Jarvis shrugged. "The same as yesterday. Young Mister Spencer is a baromarcú faszfej, who knows a lot less about men's fashion than he thinks he does. And about selling things. I am the best at sales in the store, I have a better eye for what cut and fabric suits a man, but do they listen to me? No! I am a foreigner and a Jew and a woman, so what do I know." She rolled her eyes. "But this I do not wish to bring into my home and think of when I am here with my darling Edwin and his guests."
"No, believe me, honey, Peggy and I understand what you're going through," Angie said. She waved a hand. "I could tell you stories of the automat that could curl your hair. My boss isn't half bad, but some of the customers! And Peggy's boss is a real jerk who takes credit for her work."
"At least he is predictable about it, and respects my competence," Peggy said.
"That is a blessing. Are you two staying for dinner?" Mrs. Jarvis asked.
Peggy glanced at Jarvis. "I don't know. I was hoping to speak with your husband for a bit more, but that can wait."
"It would be no trouble to have you both for dinner," Mrs. Jarvis said. "Or do you need me to go away so that you can speak of secret things? Loose lips sink ships, I know."
"That's very kind of you to offer, but it won't be necessary," Peggy said. "You see, Angie and I are now roommates, and in a part of the city where there are few reasonably-priced restaurants. Unfortunately, neither of us knows how to cook, so we have come here to throw ourselves upon your husband's mercy and ask for lessons."
"Neither of you cook?" Mrs. Jarvis looked at them with wide eyes.
"Hey, I'm a New Yorker, born and bred," Angie said. "Nobody in my family cooks, we just go down to Mama Bianchi's on the corner or Katz' Deli down the street.. And English here grew up with a cook."
"Well!" Mrs. Jarvis said. "I'm sure that between us, Edwin and I can help you learn what you need."
"Right," Jarvis said. "Well, no time like the present. It's time to start dinner. We can start by taking the chicken out of the refrigerator. I suppose neither of you know how to cut one up?"
"That green makes you look sallow," Angie said. She'd walked in to the bathroom to put up her hair for the night, and been confronted with an eyeful of hideous cotton blouse. It startled her so much she almost lost count of the brushstrokes.
Peggy glanced up from the mirror to look at her. "I know," she said, "although it shouldn't be as bad once I dye my hair." She put down the ugly blouse she'd been holding up. "I could use your help with that, actually, and then I wouldn't mind a second opinion on my clothing choices. I'm looking for just the right blend of sweet, mousy, and provincial to keep me safely in the background."
"Even with different hair, that's a terrible color on you that'll draw the eye," Angie said. "Where'd you get it?" She reached the hundredth stroke and put her hairbrush down, reaching for the hairpins. With practiced fingers, she began twisting her hair up into curls and pinning them into place.
"The costume department at work," Peggy said. "But the pickings are slim, and the man who runs it—well. He's not bad at dressing the male agents for espionage, exactly, he just has no idea the importance of the right shoes and socks to sell an image. And the less said about his ability to come up with a disguise for a woman, the better. I'll probably have to do some shopping of my own, if this is any indication." She rolled her eyes at the bag sitting on the counter.
"Hey, maybe they should hire somebody with theater experience," Angie said. "Somebody who knows about character and fashion and how to fool your audience."
"Oh, he was very good during the war," Peggy said. "Tell him you want to turn a G.I. into a French peasant, he can do it with things you find laying around an army camp, and the illusion would be almost perfect if the G.I. didn't open his mouth."
"But you're not turning G.I.s into French peasants anymore," Angie pointed out.
"I know," Peggy said with a sigh. "I sympathize with wanting to reward his years of loyal service risking his life in a war zone. I just don't see why that means—well, we have very few female agents going undercover, and he's good with the male agents." She folded up the hideous blouse and put it back in the bag. "Will you help me dye my hair? I can do it myself, but it's awkward."
"Sure, no problem, just let me finish." Angie pinned the last curl into place and reached for a scarf to protect the set overnight. That done, she turned to the chemicals sitting out on the counter. "Sure you don't want to just wear a wig?" she asked. "It seems such a shame to turn your beautiful brown hair into dirty dishwater nothing."
"Wigs are better for short-term work or when you're going to be changing back and forth," Peggy said, stripping down to her slip and wrapping an old, ratty towel around her shoulders. "Dye is safer for a long-term job—no chance of it snagging or coming askew somehow."
"You're the expert," Angie said with a shrug. She grabbed a pair of rubber gloves out of the drawer and pulled them on. "So, if you do shop for your own clothes, do they reimburse you?"
"Yes," Peggy said. "This is one of those rare cases where their disdain for women actually helps—they'll grumble about the expense and about how vain women are, but when you get right down to it they're proud of their ignorance, and won't care to challenge me on it."
"You realize, the mousy wallflower you want to be seen as would never wear all-new store-bought clothes, right?" Angie said.
"Oh yes," Peggy said. "And alas, I have no time to sew a dress or knit a sweater, though if I did there are some very good tricks for making new clothes look worn. But I do know some very good thrift stores around New York where second-hand clothes can be found that would suit our Helen. Though I do think she would splurge on a new dress, for her first day at work in such a glamorous new job."
"Oh, definitely," Angie said. "And then pair it with the wrong shoes, probably. Tilt your head back so I can get started."
"You must be Miss Bolt," the secretary said.
Peggy smiled. "I am," she said softly, careful with her vowels. She hadn't been called on to do an American accent often, but she'd spent enough time working with Americans to have picked up some skills. Vowels were important, and 'r's even more so. It was good to have someone to practice with; Angie was brutally honest, in trade for help with putting on an English accent. "Is Mister Harrier in?" She clutched her handbag in front of her midsection, aiming for an air of timidity.
"He is," the secretary said, looking 'Miss Bolt's' mousy form up and down with an air of disapproval. She pointed. "Just through there. Knock, and go right in."
"Thank you so much," Peggy said effusively, with just the right touch of obliviousness to the secretary's disapproval.
A gentle rap on the indicated door was met with a grunt, which Peggy took to be an invitation to enter. "Mister Harrier?" she said.
"That's me, honey," Harrier said, giving her a dismissive glance before turning back to the page he was reading. He was a non-descript man in a well-tailored suit. The pictures of his war service on the wall behind his desk clashed with the bright colors and cheery soft-focus of the framed magazine covers on the other three walls. The photographs showed her research to be correct: a man who had been posted to a series of cushy billets far from the possibility of any action, and who had spent his time in uniform largely making personal allies. He'd seen most of his service in the United States. In the corner was a picture of Harrier and Jack Thompson, arms around one another. Thompson had a wall of photographs just like it, though it was smaller as Thompson had actually spent most of the war in active combat.
"I'm Miss Bolt. Your new cookery writer? Jack—Mister Thompson—said you were expecting me."
At this, Harrier gave her a longer look. "You're not what I expected when Jack called me up this morning asking for a favor for a lady-friend."
Helen Bolt was several grades less glamorous than Thompson's usual taste in women, it was true. But the glasses and hair and clothing would, hopefully, make it at least a little harder for 'Dottie' to spot her. "Oh!" she said, widening her eyes. "Mister Thompson and I have never—" she blushed, and lowered her eyes. "My Henry was one of Mister Thompson's men when he died," she said, "and he asked him to make sure I was taken care of. He's been so good to me."
"Ah." Harrier shook his head. "You've got some writing experience?"
"Yes!" Peggy said. "I spent the war writing articles for the war department on the importance of rationing and keeping up morale on the home front and so-on. I must say, I'm so very excited to be joining the staff of the Ladies' Home Journal."
Harrier grunted. "Great. Swell. You'll find Tillie's desk out with the other girls, I'm sure she's got notes what she was working on, Mabel will get you settled in. If you've got any questions or ideas for what you'd like to do with the column I've got two minutes before the editorial meeting, so shoot."
"Well!" Peggy said. "I know—so many girls like me, we spent the last few years in the war effort and are only now going back to homemaking. Living in a boarding house isn't a very good way to keep one's skills sharp. I was wondering if we might do a series of refresher articles on basic cooking techniques? How to cut up a chicken, for example, or what to do with a whole one. The other thing is, what with the war and rationing and working outside the home and the Depression before that … well, most people haven't been doing much entertaining in a long time. Perhaps a few features on entertaining—how to put together a menu for a formal dinner, what sorts of hors d'oeuvres to serve, what kinds of wines go with what courses, that sort of thing."
Harrier eyed her. "You know how to do that fancy stuff?"
"Oh, yes," Peggy assured him. She could plan a meal fit for the King. She just couldn't cook it.
"Huh," Harrier said. "Well, I'll think about it. Maybe for next month. For now, just see what Tillie left you."
"Of course Mister Harrier," Peggy said as he turned back to the papers in front of him.
Tillie's desk was easy to find. Although several of the desks out in the neat grid were unoccupied, Tillie's was the only one organized in neat stacks and still showing signs of the cleaning lady's efforts. But Helen Bolt being slightly nearsighted, unobservant, and too timid to ask for directions gave Peggy an excellent opportunity to case the place.
Everything was fairly ordinary for an office, though there were rather more women than the offices she was used to. Desks, chairs, piles of paper everywhere. Pictures of loved ones—none notable that Peggy could spot. If Dottie was after a connection to someone influential through someone working here, Harrier would be the obvious target.
One thing Dottie had never been was obvious.
"Can I help you?"
Peggy took care to startle slightly—but not too much—at the other woman's interruption. The other woman was a few years older than Peggy but more fashionably dressed, with immaculate hair and makeup that would not have been out of place on Rita Hayworth. "Oh! Yes! I'm afraid I'm new—Helen Bolt—Mister Harrier told me to find Tillie's desk—are you Mabel?"
"Uhuh." She managed to look down her nose at Peggy while staying seated at her desk. "I'm Mildred Atwater. Mabel's the one in the green dress whose seams aren't straight. And Tillie's desk is in the next row, so beat it, you're in my light."
"Oh! I'm so sorry," Peggy said, moving. Atwater grunted a response while turning back to her typewriter. How she typed so fast with fingernails that long, Peggy could not fathom.
She scurried over to the next row and turned to the woman in the green dress with the crooked stockings. Careless, or did she live alone?
"Are you Mabel?" Peggy asked her.
"That I am, who wants to know?" Mabel straightened up from the photographs she was studying, and Peggy found herself looking up several inches.
"I'm Helen Bolt." Peggy stuck out her hand.
"Mabel Jones," the other woman said. "You're the one taking over from Tillie, right? Food and cuisine?"
"Yes," Peggy said.
"And I suppose he wants me to show you around, eh?"
"Oh, yes, if you could, that would be lovely."
"Right," Mabel said briskly. "This is the bullpen, where most of us work. When we work from the office, that is—a lot of the regular writers don't, just turn in their articles by the deadline. The deadlines are pretty hard around here—don't think you can cry and get out of 'em, they'll pull an article from an old issue and fire you, it's cheaper than a printing delay, and Harrier's proud of running what he calls a tight ship." She gestured to the other side of the room, where slightly smaller (and neater-kept) desks were all occupied, unlike the desks around Peggy. "Over there is copyediting. They proofread and check for facts. Everything has to go through them. And it doesn’t matter how many pies you bring in to bribe them, they won't cover for you if you miss your deadlines."
"Did someone really try that?" Peggy asked.
"Oh yeah. Several someones. During the war it was makeup, and once it was imported caviar." Mabel shook her head. "That one might've worked, if Georgina hadn't been such a jerk. She treated everyone like dirt, and then tried to cozy up when she needed help."
One of the copyeditors looked up at them, from across the room, and met Peggy's eyes. They were large and brown, dark, and full of an emotion Peggy couldn't quite decipher. It was disconcerting. The woman could have stepped out of one of the magazine's fashion plates, every hair correct in her victory rolls, suit with creases so sharp you could cut with them.
"Excuse me," Peggy said, "but why is that woman in red staring at me?"
"Oh, that's Nora," Mabel said. "Don't mind her, she's just sore you got the job. It ain't personal and she won't take it out on you. Dunno why she's upset, though, she has to know Harrier was stringing her on—no way he'd give a writing job to a Negress, even one as light as she is, no matter how good she is. She's lucky she got a job as a copygirl."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Peggy said. "I didn't mean to—"
"Not your fault," Mabel said with a shrug. "Harrier's an ass who likes to dangle unreachable carrots in front of people 'cause he thinks it's funny and he thinks it makes 'em work harder. Don't believe him if he starts cozying up to you, either, though," Mabel's eyes swept over Peggy with a dismissive glance, "with you he may not bother."
"What do you mean?" Peggy said, eyes wide. That at least was the relief of playing dowdy; not only was she dismissed by men and women both (and thus freer to work), but men were far less likely to try and press their unwanted attentions on her.
"Never mind," Mabel said. She went on, explaining the pattern of work—assignments, deadlines, the research department, how to turn assignments in—and the structure of the office—who to avoid, who held the real power, and where to get supplies like paper and typing ribbon. It was thorough, informative, and quick. Peggy absorbed all of it, though 'Helen' wouldn't have been able to. At the end, Mabel left her back at her new desk to sort through Tillie's papers and get settled.
Peggy started reading the files Tillie had left for her with half her mind while listening to the ebb and flow of the office around her. It was all terribly ordinary. What on Earth could a LEVIATHAN operative want with this place?
When some of the girls went out for drinks after work, 'Helen' was not invited. It was a lost opportunity to pump them for information, but Peggy could always do that later. Time alone in the office to snoop was also good, at this point. Alas, it revealed nothing more interesting than predictions as to next year's fashions.
Mildly frustrated, Peggy headed out, stopping to do some shopping on the way. Jarvis had requested that she select ingredients for his next lesson "so that he could gauge the state of her eye for produce." Besides, one of the great defects of male spies was that they could seldom manage to remain inconspicuous within stores as they shadowed a target who was shopping. Apparently browsing was a skill known only to women. And it would never do to let any snooper see mousy Helen Bolt heading to Howard Stark's mansion. Safe in the knowledge that she was unremarked, Peggy headed out of the city.
After being on her feet all day wiping down tables and dealing with customers, the last thing Angie wanted to do was haul her ass over to the East River for a cooking lesson. But the glass of excellent wine Jarvis handed her as she shed her coat and her shoes made up for it a bit. They chatted, a little, as they waited for Peggy; it was awkward, since Angie didn't really know much about Jarvis besides "Peggy's friend" and "guy who can make Howard Stark give away his swank apartment." Still, once they got on the subject of theater it wasn't so bad; Jarvis loved the classics, and Angie wanted to act in them, so they were both interested.
At a rap on the kitchen door, Jarvis sprang into action. "Miss Carter! Lovely to see you," he said as he opened it for her. "I'm afraid Anna won't be joining us this evening. May I take this?" He appropriated the grocery bag Peggy held in her arms.
"Please do," Peggy said.
"So, how was it?" Angie said, eyeing her friend's vastly different hair and clothing. Although she'd helped design the look, she hadn't been around when Peggy put it all together and set out this morning. Angie was the one who had contributed that sweater, a Christmas gift from her Great Aunt Bertha a few years back. It had just the perfect touch of "clueless about current fashion, but making an effort."
"Frustrating," Peggy said. "Thompson is so convinced that this is the way to … achieve our goals, but I'm not so sure. There was no hint of anything out of the ordinary, and our target may never even have been in to that office in the first place!" She shook her head. "We still know nothing, this is all a giant fishing operation. If you'll excuse me, I need to call in and report before we can get started with our lesson."
"Of course," Jarvis said. "There's a phone in the sitting room."
"You didn't even get her address? Carter, you're better than that!"
Peggy gritted her teeth at Thompson's obtuseness. "A newly hired writer has a great deal of excuse to snoop around the office, if she gets caught—or, at least, it won't suggest anything more terrible than being a bit of a nosy parker. That same newly hired writer snooping around the payroll files—well. That's a horse of a different color. I can do it, of course, and I probably wouldn't get caught, but do you want to take the risk? When it would be so much easier just to send in any new agent? I can tell them exactly what to look for, or you can send them in blind as a test—it's hardly Fort Knox."
A heavy sigh came down the line. "I suppose you're right. Damn. Well, it'll be a decent test, I suppose."
"If they can't do it, send them to the FBI," Peggy suggested.
"If we don't get something soon, the FBI may send someone in to case the place on general principles," Thompson said. "They're making noise."
"Wait, how did they find out about this case in the first place?" Peggy rubbed her temple, leaning back in the armchair. If there was a turf war going on, a little extra comfort wouldn't go amiss. It was one of Thompson's few good points that he could be counted on to be on her side in any turf wars; but that was counterbalanced by the fact that he was also quite likely to count protecting his turf as more important than the overall mission.
"I don't know, it's not like I told them," Thompson said. "Look, the quicker we get results the better we look."
Peggy rolled her eyes. "Please do remember that this sort of background information gathering takes time, when there is not a specific piece of information to look for. And new hires in an office are always the subject of curiosity, at least initially, which does limit my flexibility. It would almost be better if you'd sent me in as one of the cleaning staff—a mop is as good as a cloak of invisibility."
"I'll keep it in mind for next time," Thompson said grouchily.
"Or you could tell me what the mission objective is before coming up with my cover, and let me have some input," Peggy said. "Trust me, I know a lot more about where and how women can pass unnoticed than you do."
"Yeah, yeah," Thompson said. "Keep me posted. I have faith in you, Carter, you can do it."
But the next several days were much the same. Peggy went to work as 'Helen' and learned nothing about what Dottie might want from the Ladies' Home Journal, came back, met Angie and Jarvis and Mrs. Jarvis for a cooking lesson, and went home.
"Quite frankly, I don't think there is anything to learn there," Peggy said Friday evening, staring up at the ceiling.
"That's frustrating," Angie said, continuing to give Peggy a head rub. Peggy'd given her a foot massage to die for earlier that evening, and now she was returning the favor. "What made you think there was something there in the first place?"
After a few minutes, Peggy sighed. "This, of course, goes no further than this room. Highly classified, etc. A very dangerous female enemy agent, who danced rings around us the last time we spotted her, wrote an article for a magazine. I am now working at that magazine trying to find out why. Initial theories included subliminal messages in the article or passing covert messages to other operatives, but I've been over both issue she's written in from top to bottom and can't find anything, and neither can the whole cryptography department. We also speculated that she might be trying to get close to someone in the office—perhaps they have useful connections—but for that to be the case she'd have to come to the office, and as far as I can tell from talking with the other women, she hasn't been by even once. From my boss's correspondence with her, she might have no plans to write anything more. And we think she met him in person at least once, but we're not sure—it might all have been handled through correspondence. We have no idea why she wrote the article, but at this rate we may never."
"Sounds rough," Angie said.
"It's probably worth stationing an agent at the magazine for a while in case I'm wrong, but it's terribly boring and I hate that it has to be me. The war was different—I was never in this sort of long-term background information-gathering role. It was all shorter, time-critical missions. I never had this sort of … boredom. Not while on a mission, anyway."
"I get bored at work all the time," Angie pointed out, somewhat unsympathetically. She got where Peggy was going, but really? Most people were bored at work a lot of the time. Angie wasn't wearing out her shoe leather at the automat because she liked it, after all.
"Yes, but if you tune out and think about something else, the worst that could happen is that you mix somebody's order up," Peggy said. "You can be running lines in your head, or listening to the radio, or anything at all. I have to be perfectly focused, both to stay in character and to keep from missing any vital clue. Except there don't seem to be any clues to be had."
Angie hummed. It actually sounded fun to her, getting to pretend all day, and a darn sight more interesting than working in an office for real. "So, what if it's not about the magazine at all?"
"How do you mean?"
"What if she was just trying to build up credentials or something?" Angie pointed out. "Like, as an expert or something. So that when she gets to her real target, she can talk about it as an expert on the subject who's written about it for a magazine. Or even just 'hey, I'm a real person and not a spy, look, I've got a history, would a spy have written for a women's magazine?'"
Peggy twisted and looked up at her. "That's absolutely brilliant, Angie! I wish we had you at the office."
"It seems pretty obvious to me," Angie said.
"Yes, well, the problem is that when you are speculating with very few facts, it is quite easy to latch on to one or two, build a theory around them, and then become so entranced with them that it's hard to see any other option. Operational hazard of intelligence work."
"And in this case, it was the magazine that had you hypnotized," Angie said. Good old-fashioned common sense, that's what it was. If it wasn't the thing you thought, maybe you should consider other options. "You know, English, it's the kind of thing that I would expect out of those baboons you call coworkers, having met them—"
"Having bamboozled them completely like the stellar actress you are, you mean," Peggy put in.
"Thank you," Angie said with a nod. "But really, I expected better of you."
"I know," Peggy said with a face. "I should have thought of it myself. My only excuse is that this is a terrible cover—ideally, you want something so easy you can do it while keeping your mind on your real job. But I'm neither a writer nor a cook, and this job is requiring me to be both!"
"Thank God for Jarvis," Angie pointed out. The quality of food around here had gone up dramatically. Nothing burned once this week!
Peggy sighed. "I shall have to point this out to Thompson tomorrow, see if we can get some alternate plans worked up for next week. If the article itself is a side part of her cover, what's she really up to, and how do we find out?"
"That I can't help you with, sorry," Angie said. "Unless you want to tell me more about her, maybe?" she let her voice trail off, inviting an answer.
"Sorry," Peggy said. "You know too much already."
"Carter, that's a very interesting theory." The tone was one she'd heard many times before. Not often since the affair with Stark and Steve's blood, but it occasionally crept in even with those few men who should know better. It was a soothing, don't-worry-about-it sort of tone, as if she were a nervous schoolgirl. "I'm sure if it's something like that, Jones and Phillips will figure it out. Now that we've gotten her address, they'll be leading the team shadowing her, and they're the best we've got. They're down in Philadelphia today getting things set up." Thompson leaned back cockily in his chair. He'd made himself very at home in Dooley's office, and it did not endear him to her in the slightest.
Peggy stared at him. "They're very good in all-male environments. How are they at shadowing a lady through a lingerie store?"
Thompson blinked a few times, as if he had to force himself to look her in the eye. "If she goes into … one of those stores, I'm sure they will be the innovative and competent officers they have been so far."
Peggy stared at him, unimpressed. "Oh, honestly, Thompson, I know you've seen lingerie both on and off women before. But if you can't even say it, how are they supposed to react when confronted with it? This is why we need more female agents. I can't follow her, she knows me. But there are all sorts of places women go that men stick out like a sore thumb; even the best male agent couldn't help but be inconspicuous."
"They could pretend to be buying a present for their wives, or something," Daniel pointed out.
"Very true, quite plausible," Peggy said. "Still conspicuous as hell. And very easy to shake."
"It's all theoretical, anyway," Thompson said. "We'll figure out what she's doing at the magazine—either you will or the cryptographers will, one or the other, and we'll keep tabs on her, and reel in whoever her contacts are, and that will be that." The phone on his desk rang, and he picked it up. "Thompson."
Peggy watched, arms crossed, as Thompson listened to whoever it was.
"What? You're sure?" He sat up straighter. "Right. Keep me posted."
"Well?" Peggy said.
Thompson narrowed his eyes at her. "Strange as it may seem to you, Agent Carter, you are not entitled to know every bit of business that goes on at the SSR, and there are currently a lot of cases going on that are in no way any of your damn business. Need to know didn't end with the war, lady."
"Yeah, but only one of those cases has us all in here on a Saturday," Daniel pointed out.
"For you, maybe," Thompson said. "I've got other irons in the fire."
"That didn't sound like good news," Daniel said. "If she's in the wind, we need to know."
Thompson scowled at him. "Underwood hasn't been back to that apartment in at least a month. The day her check came may have been the last time she was there."
"We need to figure out what her target is, what that article helped her get closer to," Peggy said.
"I'm sure her next article will help with that," Thompson said. "And you'll be in place to spot it."
"If she were going to keep writing for the magazine, surely she would have stayed in the same place," Peggy pointed out. "Changing contact information is conspicuous. Particularly for someone writing the praises of hearth and home. No, she's got what she wanted out of it, and has moved on."
"What could possibly have been so important in two magazine article that it would be worth the trouble of getting it in and the danger of her picture in print?" Daniel shook his head. "No, it's got to be something long-term. My guess is they're setting up communications channels for long-term moles."
"Personal ads in national papers are far easier and less conspicuous," Peggy pointed out. "Not to mention, they don't require one's photograph to be printed for all the world to see." She thought for a bit. "I can get into the circulation department, easily enough—it's not guarded, and the girls there tend to take long lunches. With a list of subscribers for Philadelphia, we can cross-check it against notable people, and from there figure out if she's been able to leverage her article into contact with any of them, or speaking engagements or something of that nature. For that matter, we should be watching the Philadelphia papers for events she might be attending, things about homemaking and the like."
"Philadelphia's a big city and Ladies' Home Journal is a popular magazine," Sousa pointed out. "Just going through the list would take a lot of man-hours. Then there's the amount of surveillance we'd need to check them all out—we could do it, but it's pretty brute-force."
"Particularly for something that's just your woman's intuition," Thompson said. "No offense, Carter, but you're the only one who's come up with this. The analysts are pretty sure she's got something going around the Journal, so that's where you're staying. I know you like fieldwork and that office is pretty boring, but it's the place that's got the best shot of finding her again. She's been there once—she'll be back."
"I don't think she has been there, even once. She's striking enough the girls working there would have remembered her, and they don't. She could have arranged it all via letter. And whether or not I'm right, I wouldn't be doing any other type of fieldwork on this case anyway," Peggy pointed out. "Dottie knows what I look like, you couldn't send me out into the field anywhere she might possibly see me, no matter what disguise I wear." Thompson was right that she was bored and frustrated, of course, but it wasn't why she was doing this. "Jones and Phillips are already in Philadelphia. Let me give them a list of targets to check out for connections, I can have it for them Monday evening."
Thompson shook his head. "We don't have the budget for the number of man-hours that would take."
"Alright, then let's come up with a list of events in Philadelphia she might be targeting, given the cover she's adopted," Peggy said. "How about that?"
"I wish I could, Carter," Thompson said.
"You're kidding, right?" Daniel said. "We have a known foreign espionage agent and assassin, who ran rings around us not four months ago, and you're putting this on the back burner?"
Thompson scratched the side of his head, looking tired. "Look, you both know what they're trying to do to us. Now the war's over, they're consolidating and rearranging the whole shebang. Allied intelligence agencies are working together less closely. American foreign intelligence is going to the OSS—"
"They're calling it the Central Intelligence Agency now, I believe," Peggy said.
"—and counter-intelligence is going to the FBI," Thompson said. "We've got two strikes against us. The first is that we're multi-national, and without ol' Adolf and the Red Skull, there's less pressure for our respective nations to work together on sensitive issues like this. The second is that we focus on the weird stuff, and with HYDRA gone, they don't think we need a specialty agency any more. We are, I have been told, 'duplicating resources that could more usefully be spent elsewhere.'"
"Are they trying to shut us down?" Daniel said.
"Yeah," Thompson said grimly. "I don't think they'll succeed, but they've already cut our budget and the vultures are circling. This is exactly the sort of thing I'm being pressured to turn over. There's no connection to anything weird, anything that would definitely be our bailiwick."
"Except the target herself, who was working with Leviathan, and probably still is," Daniel pointed out.
"Official word is that with Ivchenko gone, Leviathan is out of commission," Thompson said. "They're betting he was the head, or at least the greatest threat. Therefore, the agent known as Dottie Underwood is either a free agent or has been subsumed into the larger Russky intelligence world. She's working in the USA, therefore she is properly the target of the FBI."
"You do realize how absolutely absurd the very idea is?" Peggy said. "First, Leviathan was far bigger than one man; even if he was the head of it, which we have no indication he was, I guarantee you there would have been enough people left for someone to take over. That facility where we found Ivchenko was large, and had seen decades of use, with dozens of girls at least and probably a great many other operatives. They wouldn't crumble for the lack of one man, even their head."
"Cut off one head, two more grow in its place," Daniel said. "They're not HYDRA, but same principle."
Thompson shrugged. "HYDRA is crumbling without Schmidt. They're betting that Leviathan will do the same without Ivchenko."
"HYDRA's crumbling because the SSR is doing damn good work here and in Europe to take down every last one of the bastards," Daniel said. "And because they don't have the Third Reich to back them up. Last I heard, the USSR was doing pretty damn good."
"Besides, you don't send the head of an organization—no matter how special their talents are—out into the field on a mission like that," Peggy pointed out. "Would Hoover or Hillenkoetter be sent on a mission to infiltrate the Soviets? No? Why would the Soviets do it?"
"Preaching to the choir, here, Carter," Thompson said. "I'm not the one pushing this crap! I'm just the one having to shovel it out so we can get the real work done. And frankly, we can't fight every battle, and this may be the bone to throw them. If we had eyes on her, it would be different. But we don't. The FBI wants to do the legwork of trying to find her again? Fine. They can do it. It'll free up our resources for things only we can do."
Peggy threw up her hands. "They may find her, but what then? You don't honestly believe the FBI, of all people, can be subtle enough to trail her and not be noticed?" It was bad enough when it was SSR agents, but at least some of her fellows could handle such an assignment. The FBI had all the discretion of a herd of buffalo. "And if they try to bring her in, what then? You know she'll destroy any team sent to bring her in—they're sure to underestimate her."
"They already do," Thompson said. "They're giving us shit for letting her slip through our fingers, say that's why we shouldn't let you be an agent, if it means we got beaten by a girl."
Daniel snorted. "Right. Peggy's the only reason we even got close to getting Underwood, and they're blaming her for the escape."
"Two birds with one stone," Thompson said. "They get their asses kicked by her, we'll look better."
"And she'll get away," Peggy said. "Leaving us right back where we started, with all our work down the drain. She won't make the same mistake twice. We may never find her again. You're honestly prioritizing this agency's reputation over its mission?" She shouldn't be surprised, she thought with disgust; it was very like him.
"That's the way the game is played, Carter." Thompson shrugged. "If we get shut down, our mission goes bye-bye, too." He tapped his finger on his desk while Peggy and Daniel traded disgusted looks. "Right. Legwork of tracking her down is going to the FBI. You're staying undercover for a while longer, see if anything turns up. Oh, and you can follow up any leads you come across. Just keep me posted." He flipped the Underwood file closed and pulled another one off the stack in his inbox.
Peggy and Daniel took the hint and left his office. "Unbelievable," Daniel said.
"Sadly not," Peggy said. "It's very like him." With the bullpen mostly empty on the weekend, she didn't feel the need to preserve respect for the chain of command. "He's an opportunistic self-promoter, and that has been obvious since the first day he walked in to this office. It doesn't usually get in the way of doing his job, but …"
"…But with his promotion, in this case he can disguise it as protecting the larger mission." Sousa shook his head. "Dooley wouldn't have done it."
"Nor Phillips," Peggy said. "But at least he hasn't pulled me, and he's given me orders to follow up leads, which gives me official protection if I get to her before the FBI can."
"Better than nothing," Daniel said. "Need any help?"
"If you can go through some of the Philadelphia area papers looking for events she might attend, given her cover as someone interested in the role of women now that the war is over, that would be fabulous," Peggy said. "We don't have the people to tail all the prominent subscribers in the Philly area, though I'll get you the list as soon as I can—see if you can spot anyone likely. Or even if you can get the papers and drop them by my apartment each day for me to go through after I'm done with the Journal, that would be a help, too."
Daniel shook his head. "Nah, I can do it. I'm on surveillance this week—that shipping company that Stark noticed nosing around the Arctic last time he was out looking for Captain America's crash site. They've got some pretty shady connections, and we can't tell if they're independents hoping to scavenge the wreck and sell to the highest bidder, or a HYDRA cell looking for Schmidt. But I'll be less conspicuous sitting in the diner across the street with a paper than just sitting there drinking coffee all day."
"Thank you," Peggy said.
"What do we do if we find something?" Daniel asked. "I'm pretty conspicuous, she knows you, and Thompson won't give us an agent for reconnaissance unless we know she's there for sure."
"Hopefully, exterior surveillance of who enters and exits such an event would be all we need to identify her contacts," Peggy said. "That's all we need to do—if we get eyes on her, Thompson should be willing to take the case back. If we can't spot her and need to send someone in …"
That was the issue, wasn't it? Peggy thought for a moment. "I hate involving civilians, but I may know someone who can help."
"That Jarvis guy who works for Stark?"
Peggy laughed. "No. Jarvis is a dear, but I am afraid espionage is not his forte. He's good at support, but not infiltration, and she definitely knows him from her time seducing Stark. I have a friend who's an actress—you met her at the Griffith."
"The one who cried all over Thompson?" Daniel thought for a second. "She wasn't bad, at that. And we know she can think on her feet. You think Underwood would recognize her?"
"If she goes in as herself, yes," Peggy said. "In disguise, in the background? She's less likely to recognize her than me. All she needs to do is hang around the fringe until she can see if Dottie's there, then duck out, and we can send for reinforcements."
The phone rang. Peggy looked at Jarvis and Mrs. Jarvis, who stared back at her. All three of them had hands covered in ground beef.
"I'll get it," said Angie, whose hands were clean. She went into the sitting room to grab the phone. "Jarvis residence, Miss Martinelli speaking." A pause. "Uhuh. Yeah, I'll tell her." Another pause. "Peggy, it's someone from work for you."
"Oh, dear," Peggy said. She washed her hands quickly, and grabbed a towel to wipe them on as she went to answer it. Angie took the towel and handed her the receiver.
It was Sousa. "You'll never guess what event is taking place in Philadelphia this very Thursday." He sounded gleeful.
"Tell me," Peggy said.
"I got this from a friend who was in the OSS. The newly-formed CIA has a bee in its bonnet over the Soviets, and so they're promoting all-American values. I don't know, maybe Dottie Underwood scared them. Maybe it's those stories of female Russian fighter pilots. But they've decided that it's vital to American strategic interests and our rivalry with the Soviets that women be properly women. They are, apparently, arranging for conferences throughout the United States promoting motherhood and apple pie—literally. And there's one in Philly on Thursday."
Peggy laughed. Not at the idea of the government disapproving of her and women like her. "So in their paranoia they're having her speak? How ironic! But such an event would be perfect; it would allow her a non-threatening way to make contact with American agents. If they asked her—"
"They wouldn't be thinking of her as a potential mole, but rather a potential asset. She could get herself hired on as an agent of the US government. I don't know if she'll be there, I only know who the top-billed speaker is. But given the subject of her articles, and the topic of the conference, it's a good bet. Will your friend be willing to help?"
"Probably," Peggy said. She'd wait until they were back home to ask, though; the Jarvises were trustworthy, but those who knew nothing couldn't let it slip even by accident.
Angie stared at Peggy. Peggy had voluntarily told her something of her job, and needed her help! Now there was something you didn't see every day. "Of course I'll help! I've never played a wallflower before, but that's what you want, right? Somebody nobody notices. In and out, quick and easy. Who am I looking for?"
"It's very dangerous," Peggy said, holding her hands and looking straight in her eye. "She is a trained killer who can and has taken out an entire squad of soldiers with her bare hands. She has no remorse, no conscience. She knows what you look like. If she notices you, she may well kill you. I'll be outside, but I may not be able to get to you in time."
"What is she, a comic book villain?" Angie asked. A whole squad of soldiers, really? Peggy was sure laying it on thick. Didn't matter how good a fighter, no woman could possibly take out a whole group of men, without the aid of a machine gun or something. Men were just too much stronger.
"Very nearly," Peggy answered. "But if you know how to fight, and are willing to fight dirty and take damage yourself, it's quite possible. I could take her on—I have. But you've never had to fight, and no, tussling with your brothers doesn't count."
"Are you trying to talk me out of this?" Angie stared at her. "English, that makes no sense. If you don't want me to do it, why'd you ask in the first place?"
"I want you to make the decision with a clear knowledge of the consequences," Peggy said, looking conflicted. "You'll only be in more danger if you don't know the score."
"All right," Angie said. "You've done your job, I know it's really dangerous and I can't let her notice me. On the other hand, you need my help because your boss is, shockingly, still a dick. I want to help. Who is it and how does she know me?"
Peggy sighed. "She met you while she was following me. It's … well, we don't know her real name. Her current alias is Judy Johnson, but when you knew her, she was calling herself Dottie Underwood."
Angie frowned. The name seemed vaguely familiar. "Dottie. Like, from the Griffith Dottie? The ballerina? Blonde, really cheerful, pretty naïve?"
"That's the one," Peggy said. "She's now a matronly brunette named Judy Johnson advocating that women working outside the home, except in time of war, is a sign of the downfall of civilization. I never suspected her until it was too late, and people died because of it. She's an excellent actress. You'll have to be a better one." She looked away. "I shouldn't be doing this. It's so dangerous. But I can't go through channels on this one, and you're the only person I trust in this country who might be able to do it."
This was really tearing Peggy up. Peggy was one smart cookie, and she knew her stuff. If she thought it was too dangerous, it probably was. "Does Dottie know Edwin?"
"I'm afraid so," Peggy said. "Before she was Dottie, she was Stark's mistress Ida Emke. And Stark uses Jarvis to break up with women for him."
"Right," Angie said. "But would she know Anna? I mean, Edwin usually keeps Anna pretty separate from his work with Stark, right?"
"I … have no idea," Peggy said. "I've only met her a handful of times."
"If all she needs to do is figure out if Dottie's there, it doesn't matter how good an actress she is, right?" Angie pressed. "Dottie won't spot her because Dottie doesn't know her. All she's got to do is stand along the wall and watch what's going on. You have a picture of Dottie, right? Or Judy, or whatever she's calling herself now? So she knows who to look for?"
"Yes, of course," Peggy said. "We have her picture from the Journal, which is how we spotted her in the first place, and also a few paintings of her that I had Maisie from the Griffith do—I wanted portraits of her with different styles of hair and makeup and such, to show the male agents, because some of them find it hard to recognize women who change their hair and makeup."
"Don't I know it," Angie said. "I dyed my hair blonde, once, when I was nineteen—my boyfriend didn't recognize me when I walked into the bar to meet him. Didn't stop him from hitting on me, though—when he asked what my name was, after we'd been canoodling for a bit, I threw a glass of water in his face and stormed out." It was funny now, but at the time she'd been hurt and furious—and embarrassed that she hadn't realized he didn't recognize her before they kissed.
Peggy laughed, as she was supposed to. "You know what the funniest thing about it was, though? It wasn't my fellow agents. No, it was Maisie's reaction. She did it for the money, but I'm fairly sure she thinks I'm stepping out with Dottie behind your back."
Angie snickered herself. "She would! Lots of wishful thinking, that girl. A very active fantasy life. Mind you, sometimes that has its advantages …"
Peggy raised an eyebrow. "Anything I should know?"
Angie smirked at her. "Maybe later, English. So, you going to ask Anna to do it?"
"I think I shall have to," Peggy said. "Mister Jarvis will not be happy."
"Absolutely not, Miss Carter," Jarvis said. "I'm not putting my wife in danger."
"You can speak for her in all things, then?" Peggy said. "You make her decisions? And it's fine for you to do the very dangerous work of tracking down an international ring of spies, thieves, and murderers, but it's not fine for her to do the fairly safe work of standing in a well-lit hall surrounded by patriotic Americans watching who comes in and out? With people watching her back?"
"I worked with you to clear Mister Stark's name because we owe him, both, a debt that can never be repaid," Jarvis said. "Anna survived when most of her family did not, and we both have a very good life now because of his generosity. Putting my life on the line to save the man to whom I owe everything good in my life is one thing. Putting either of our lives on the line because the SSR's current New York chief is an arse is quite another matter."
"Stark would …"
"Of course Mister Stark would do it, if he could," Jarvis said. "He's got a taste for adventure, and he enjoys playing games like that. But he didn't hire me to be his spymaster, he hired me to be his butler. If he wants someone to find Miss Emke, or Underwood, or Johnson, or whatever the hell she's calling herself now, he can hire one to do so as he is no longer a wanted fugitive. Or he can do it himself. But either way—"
He broke off, staring crossly at Angie, as she snickered.
"Sorry, sorry," Angie said. "I just got a picture of Stark in drag, trying to talk about the virtues of the American housewife."
"That does sound funny. What brought it out?"
Peggy twisted to see that Mrs. Jarvis had come in behind them while they were arguing. "Ah! Mrs. Jarvis, you were just the one we were here to see, actually. We have a bit of a proposal for you, that I do hope you'll consider. We've had a lead on one of the key people involved in Stark's trouble last spring, the woman who seduced him for information on his vault and later killed several people to get Stark in position to be brainwashed by her associate. It's not much of a lead, but we know she's working under a different alias, and we think she's in Philadelphia, advocating for women to get out of the workforce and back in the home, possibly as a way to ingratiate herself to her next target. There's an event promoting women-as-homemakers this Thursday night—speeches, mostly, probably terribly boring. We've no proof that she'll be there, but it's the only lead we've got. Unfortunately, my boss thinks it's too slim a lead to go on, and she knows me, Angie, and your husband. Of the people I trust that she doesn't know by sight, that leaves … you."
"It's much too dangerous," Jarvis said. "She's vicious, and a killer without remorse."
"I've sold suits to vicious, remorseless killers," Anna said, putting away her coat and gloves. "Most of them are not rabid animals who kill on a whim. And I think she could not be a good spy if she did so, don't you think? As long as they don't notice you, you're … well, not safe, but not in danger, either. What would you need me to do?"
"Sit in the back and see if she shows, see who she talks to, report back," Peggy said. "We don't have the people to tail her, unless I can talk someone from the office into helping, but if we can confirm she was there, it gives us options. If you happen to see who she arrives with and leaves with, that would be excellent, but the first step is confirming she'll be there."
"A room full of people, most of who are ordinary citizens?" Mrs. Jarvis asked. "Where she would, what's the phrase, 'blow her cover' if she did any violence? Simple enough." She turned to her husband. "I can take Thursday off from the shop, and you can get it off from Mister Stark, and you can take me to the Philadelphia Museum of Art during the day and I'll see if she's at the event that night. If she is, she doesn't know me and can't hurt me in a room full of people. If she isn't, the worst that can happen is I'll spend an evening bored by self-important people."
"Anna—" Jarvis said.
"Yes, Edwin?" she replied, raising an eyebrow. "Honestly, love, do you see much chance of danger to me?"
"Any chance is too much!" Jarvis said.
Mrs. Jarvis shrugged. "The world is a dangerous place. Crossing the street here in New York, now, that is dangerous. This is a small danger that could make the world safer. It's worth the risk, although it doesn't say anything good about your agency—or your boss—that you must turn to amateurs to help."
"I know," Peggy said.
"So you'll do it?" Angie said.
"Thank you," Peggy said.
"You owe me, big time."
Angie rolled her eyes as the agent driving the car—Murdock, was it?—complained for the hundredth time. It was only a couple hours from New York to Philly, but with him in the car, it seemed far longer.
"Wasn't it just last week you were complaining about your wife's pork chops, how they were always dry and tough as shoe leather?" Sousa said from the back seat, where he and Peggy were sitting. "And isn't Thursday pork chop night for you? Instead, you'll get a decent meal at a restaurant and an iron-clad excuse for missing the pork chops. You should be thanking us."
"Yeah, but if I were at home, I'd have my feet up already, with the radio on, maybe a beer—can't drink on duty—and after those pork chops, well, we both want kids and it is such fun trying."
"We do owe you," Peggy said, "and thank you for the sacrifice of your evening. On the other hand, you don't want the FBI taking over our case any more than we do."
"Fucking Thompson," Murdock said. He glanced over at Angie, sitting beside him. "Beg your pardon, ma'am. Sorry about the language."
"Hey, I grew up with brothers who swore like sailors," Angie said. "Don't mind me."
"If Thompson were doing his job, we wouldn't have to bring two civilian girls in to do an agent's job—no offense, Carter—"
"None taken," Peggy said. "I don't like involving civilians any more than you do."
"Dooley would never have let it come to this."
At that, a heavy silence fell over the car. Angie kept her mouth shut out of respect for the dead, but it seemed to her that their last chief had let exactly this happen. Who was it had saved the day last time? Peggy. And who'd been backing her up? Jarvis, Stark, and, oh yeah, Angie herself. Civilians all, one of them a woman.
Angie, in a blonde wig and glasses, was stationed in a corner of the diner just across the street from a side entrance to the hall the event was in. She was seated next to the window, but the blinds gave her some protection from being spotted. She could see out, but it was hard to see in. She had a newspaper to read while she ate her dinner and nursed her coffee, along with a piece of paper and a pencil to write down anything she noticed. There was a radio in her purse, smaller than any one she'd ever seen, but she was only supposed to use it in case of emergency, because it was too conspicuous.
Peggy, Sousa, and Murdock were around somewhere, watching other exits, all in disguise. Jarvis was waiting in the car with the radio.
It was a fairly anti-climactic night, all things told. Angie didn't see anyone she recognized; only a handful of people went in or out, and she dutifully wrote down their descriptions and the time. There were a few quiet clicks from the radio, the code signaling that Dottie was there, and later the one saying which exit she was headed to. (Not the one Angie was watching.) Peggy had told her to stay in the diner where she was probably safe (public well-lit), but she didn't have any reason to leave until Peggy came by to collect her several hours later.
Angie was surprised. The car Peggy led her to wasn't the one they'd driven down in. It was nicer—maybe one of Stark's? no government agency could afford a Chrysler—and Jarvis was at the wheel. Sousa was in the front passenger seat, Anna was in the back, but no Murdock.
"We missing somebody?" Angie asked.
"Murdock's tailing Dottie," Peggy said as she slid in next to Anna. Angie joined her and closed the car door. If they were driving together all the way back to New York, they'd be awful cozy. "We've called it in—the case is back in the hands of the SSR, since we're the ones who spotted her and the CIA was her target, and Murdock will be here until the surveillance squad arrives."
"And that's it, huh?" Angie said. "Just … surveillance?" In the movies, there would have been a big fight, with dramatic lines and possibly the spy dying.
"If we took her in now, we might never find out who her contacts are," Sousa explained. "How does she get her instructions? Is she in contact with any other agents? Is she running a mole? This way, they follow her every move and tap her phone and read her mail, and maybe six months from now, when we've gotten everything we can, we arrest her."
"Or perhaps we let her stay, make her think she's undetected, and feed her the information we want her to have," Peggy said. "There are so many possibilities, if you know who the spy is and they don't know you know."
This was why Angie was an actor, she thought to herself. The stage was much more exciting than real life.
"A good night's work," Sousa said.
"For you, perhaps," Anna said. "I was terribly bored, when I wasn't angry. Those people—they have no idea what is good for a woman or her husband!"
"They never do," Peggy said. She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. Angie did the same. It was already eleven, and it was a two hour drive back to the city. And she was on an early shift at the automat. Morning was going to come awfully early.
Still being undercover at the Journal, Peggy was unable to get in to the SSR office until Saturday afternoon. She stuck her head into Thompson's office to find him packing.
"What's all this?" she asked.
"I'm being promoted to assistant chief in the DC office," Thompson said, chucking things in a box. "Since I work so well with the CIA." He smirked, as well he should. They'd caught the CIA with their pants down, and there was nothing the CIA could do but say thank you and work with them to mousetrap the spy they'd found.
"Who's replacing you?" Peggy said, concerned. Would she have to prove herself all over again to some newcomer? She couldn't see anybody in the office having the seniority to take over from Thompson.
"Don't know. I wouldn't worry too much, though, you and Sousa and Murdock are all getting commendations out of this, I saw to that. And you can start wrapping things up at the Journal and getting back to real SSR work—with Judy Johnson in pocket, we don't need you there any more." He didn't even look at her as he said it, too concerned with taking the pictures off his wall and wrapping them carefully.
"I see," Peggy said. In other words, yes, it would be yet another member of the old boys' club who'd pass her by, treat her as a secretary, and assume she'd gotten here by sleeping with Steve. Or possibly Howard Stark, now that she was publicly connected with him, too. She felt like swearing. Thompson was an ass and a snake, but at least he valued her competence. And she knew his breaking points and weaknesses, and could work around him. A new boss—it was back to square one.
Well, she'd beaten them at their own game before, she could do it again.
It's only that it was so terribly demoralizing to have to start over so many times. But Peggy could do it.
"Well!" she said briskly. "I suppose I should let you pack. I'm sure we shall see each other from time to time—DC isn't that far away, after all."
At that, he did look up at her. "See you around, Carter," Thompson said. "Knock 'em dead."
"I always do."
"Man, that stinks," Angie said. "All that work—all that time learning to cook, and being bored out of your skull at that magazine, and doing your boss's job for him, and what do you get? A nice piece of paper and a kiss on the ass. You didn't even get to put Dottie in prison."
"That was never the goal, at least not yet," Peggy pointed out. "Now we've got her in our sights, we've got the advantage. Imprisoning or killing her would be a poor second choice to tracing her contacts and seeing if we can spot other Leviathan agents."
"I suppose," Angie said doubtfully. She shook her head. "Doesn't it ever seem like a bit of a waste of time?"
"A little, sometimes," Peggy admitted as she opened the oven door and took out the casserole. It steamed fragrantly, and she inhaled deeply. Angie smiled at the blissful look on Peggy's face. "But in this case, no matter how much it felt like wasted time and chasing our own tail, there was one great benefit in addition to finding Dottie."
"And that is?" Angie said as she took down plates and silverware and brought them over to the kitchen table.
"We won't starve, any more," Peggy said, lifting up her dish.
"Guess you're right, at that," Angie said as they sat down together at the table.