137 Q Street
by sarAdora ~~~~~~~~~~
Alex watched the agent as he dumped a bunch of tools in a wheelbarrow in front of the woman he called Labeau. They had purchased yard clothes for her - several pairs of jeans, some T-shirts, sweatshirts and working boots. They fit her like a glove and he knew he wasn't the only male in the house that noticed. He also noticed that she picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow like she'd been doing it for years.
Hmm, Alex mused. Could have sworn Labeau's background was privileged. What does she know about wheelbarrows?
Apparently, she knew a lot. The agent gestured to the work that needed to be done and though he explained her chores, his back was to her as he walked around the grounds. If she were truly deaf, she wouldn't have known what he was saying. It's hard to read someone's lips when they're not looking at you.
Neysa took a good look at what needed to be done. She was a professional and knew she had to walk the terrain and get an overview, size up the challenge and assess the task before starting. She also had to plan. Once the area was clean, it would have to be planted. She made pictures in her head, visualizing possibilities, imagining the beauty that the land could cultivate. The agent thought she was woolgathering and unwilling to get her hands dirty and he pushed her toward the wheelbarrow. She glared at him just as his cell phone rang.
"Leave her alone, Agent Thomas. Let her get her bearings, work at her own pace. Back off." Morris ordered.
"Yes, sir," he replied, grumbling when he ended the call.
It was another forty-five minutes before Neysa unloaded the wheelbarrow, raking a large weeded area, the long prongs of the rake picking up a few rocks and a lot of pebbles. When the wheelbarrow was full, she pushed it back to the deck and dumped the heavy contents below the deck flooring. The agent yelled at her, telling her to pick it all up and dump it in the woods.
Neysa ignored him and went back to work.
"I said, pick it up!" the agent yelled, shoving her in the shoulder.
"Leave her alone!" the order was said softly but firmly.
Neysa recognized the man's voice, desperate to turn around and confront him, but willed herself to act as if she hadn't heard him. It took several more loads of rocks and pebbles before the area was clean enough for pulling weeds. She pulled them, on her knees, her hands in heavy gloves, careful to leave native grasses that would make good ground cover where it was or uprooted to be replanted elsewhere.
After four and a half long and hard hours on her knees, they brought her in for the night. When she had showered and was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner, she spotted a pad and pencil on the kitchen counter and took it before anyone could stop her. Instead of taking it away from her, they let her have it, wondering what she would write. Previously, she had refused to communicate with them in that manner. "Heavy weight garbage bags," she wrote. "For the weeds. So they don't grow back somewhere else. Electric or gas edger to sharpen the perimeter of the beds. Shovel."
It was only later when she was in bed that it dawned on her that they knew she could write. Sometimes, I'm dumber than I realize, she groaned. She was tired and ached in places she forgot she had. But it was a good tired and a good ache and she slept well, looking forward to the next day.
Morris read her list and the items she requested were in the wheelbarrow the next morning - except the shovel. He had added a pair of protective glasses as well. Again and again, he reviewed the personal belongings they had taken away from her, seeking some clue that would confirm they had the right woman. Her I.D. said she was Neysa Zirniklis, an alias if he ever saw one. She had a little over $200 in cash in her wallet; an American Express credit card, Visa, and driver's license. Personal information card listed her birthday, blood type, no known allergies and her insurance information. The insurance card listed her social security number. Strangely, she had a number of business cards all dealing with landscaping, yard excavation and rock quarries as well as a lifetime membership to the National Zoo.
Her carry-on luggage contained clothes - some slacks, sweaters, two pair of shoes, a light jacket, rain cap, white cotton bras and panties. Sensible underwear, he noted, certain Amanda Labeau would have frilly, lacy, sexy lingerie. He opened the large sketchpad at the bottom of the duffel and knew she was an artist. Did she sketch these trees and bushes? Is this a hobby of hers?
Doesn't fit the profile, his conscience muttered.
Nothing fits the profile, these days, he thought with disgust.
Alex got that sick feeling again - wondering if they had the right person in custody.
A thorough FBI check had reviewed all this information and no one was surprised when it all panned out. A good felon covers all the bases. The closest they got to learning more about her was her former apartment building in New York City. She had just vacated it before her trip to the DC area and no one knew her well. She was always "out of town."
Probably robbing banks.
Something about her personal information bothered Alex and he couldn't put his finger on it. He knew it would come to him eventually, but impatient, he wanted to know what it was. He thought about assigning Special Agent Milner to profile her. He had faith that the brilliant agent would be more successful than they had been to date.
I'll give her another week outdoors and see if she talks. If she doesn't ... I'll sic the profiler on her. Maybe he'll aggravate the crap out of her and she'll talk just to shut him up.
Milner took his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves. The weather had cooled off but it was hot in the sun. For two days he sat on the ground watching the Labeau woman perform miracles in what had been a barren and ugly landscape. She had just finished edging a large expanse into an attractive octagonal shape. She wiped her brow and then got on her hands and knees and pulled ragweed, dandelions and rye grass away from the edges.
"Take a break, Neysa," he said softly. Oh, she's good, he thought, almost missing the miniscule widening of her eyes as he called her name. Very good.
"You can tell me about it," he continued softly. "If it's a case of mistaken identity, we need to rectify the matter - let you get on with your life. Talk to me."
Neysa smiled at the handsome man. She thought his hazel eyes were very expressive and he had that funny disheveled look that bespoke of his eccentricity. She knew all about eccentrics. She was one herself, a loner with people and very comfortable with plants and animals.
Milner smiled back. This was progress - slow - but progress nevertheless.
"Are you going to talk to me?" he asked, tentatively stretching his hand along the ground toward her, not unlike approaching a large dog you don't know - one with big teeth.
Neysa watched his hand come closer. She was tempted to talk to him. She had never been afraid of the police in Latvia; she had no reason to be afraid of him, except... it was his kind that had taken her into custody. She leaned forward, reaching for his hand and yanked him. Milner ended up face down on the newly cleared ground. She moved away from him and watched for his reaction.
Morris watched, too, from the back deck, one hand holding binoculars, a cell phone in the other. He chuckled when he saw Milner fall over; she had bested another agent. He wondered what the spooky agent was saying to her as he rose and dusted himself off. He didn't look unhappy - just frustrated that he hadn't been successful.
"You want some iced tea?" Milner asked. Neysa licked her lips.
They never let her drink anything when she was working and she was always thirsty. He pulled out his cell phone and asked for a pitcher and two glasses. "I don't care what your farkin' orders are," he said quietly into the phone, turning his back on her. "I want the iced tea now. Do I have to come and get it myself?"
Morris nodded to the agent. "Give him the tea, lots of ice."
She drank two tall glasses so rapidly he thought she might hurl, but she kept it down and he gave her another refill. "You're good at this landscaping stuff, aren't you?" he asked matter-of-factly.
Neysa watched him talk as she sipped the tea, removing an ice cube and rubbing it over her heated face and neck. The ball cap they gave her to wear was frayed and soaking wet from perspiration. She kept using it to wipe her neck.
Milner noticed and made a mental note to tell his boss she should have a bucket of water and some washcloths so she could cool down. If they keep working her at this pace, she isn't going to last too many more days. He tried to communicate with her one more time. "I know you can hear me, Neysa," he whispered, as if there were others listening. "Why don't you just whisper to me? No one will hear you, but me."
She smiled at him. Eccentric and naive and maybe, a little stupid, she thought. She pulled out her pad and wrote, handing it to him.
"What kind of work do I do?" he asked, happy she had chosen to communicate with him.
"I'm a profiler," he admitted.
"You're a jackass," she wrote back and ignoring him, went back to work.
Alex laughed when he told her what she had written. "Pegged you fast, Agent Milner. Any hope you're going to get her to talk?"
"Not in the near future, but I'm willing to come back," he told his boss.
"I'll let you know," Alex said, thanking him for trying and dismissing him.