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“You look like an undertaker,” says Lou, skipping a rock. He looks different without his suit and hat: older, jarred, denim and oilskin.

“Undertakers don’t wear much black, actually.” Rita’s in the silk, now, so dark it stands out against shadow. She doesn’t even have her gun.

“The Cold Man’s dead,” says Lou. “Killed by the Cold Woman?”

Rita shakes her head. “He was a man, and he broke. I unbroke him: he’s a name now, a terror, a legend. I’m merely Rita, humble agent in his affairs.”

“So I work for him now.” Lou sounds tired.

“Everyone,” says Rita, “does.”

The Cold Man

“Lou has withdrawn his protection. Did you understand that she was left to die in Chile?” The Ad Hoc purses out a smile. “She didn’t.”

The Cold Man pours a packet of sugar into his spoon and eats it.

“We’ve been asked to eliminate you, and we need a new hound. Her skills are acceptable. We’d use her to track you. I believe this is called poetic justice, yes?”

“I’ll-ll warn h-her.”

“Her ability to disappear does not approach your expertise. But we’ll forget about her,” it purrs, “if you agree. Your attributes are both unique and essential to the operation.”


His hat’s a Borsalino, silk-trimmed, just like on TV. He dons it smoothly.

“Yes,” he says. His voice is different, though: clipped, calm, professional. “It was necessary to temporarily achieve a measure of protection against agencies desperate to conceal their existence. Fame served admirably.”

She hesitates. He smiles.

“Your skills will prove invaluable, Ms. Fairfields, in completing my squad.” He gestures, and three of the most dangerous women on earth step forward. “Rita: Tina, Sandra, Mary. You see,” and there’s a ghost of a laugh there, “those who joked about Numbers One through Four were more right than they knew.”