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©02 The Media Desk
I had never had a pedicure before. It was something I had always thought I could live without, I considered it something women, not men, had done, and would have laughed in your face if you suggested it was something I needed to do to get married.
And all things considered. I still feel that way. This little oriental woman did my hands and feet, and given the chance to have it done again, I'll pass. But Conga insisted, and considering the man looks like a building, I didn't argue. While the woman filed my toenails, 2nd Grace supervised another total stranger trimming my hair and sideburns, Conga talked about his marriage.
His wife seems to be a saint. She lets him go off and run around the country on short notice. He told about how she would get to pestering him after a couple of weeks about when he was going off on an assignment again because she wanted to get the rugs shampooed and he was in the way.
"Did you leave her home this time?" 2nd Grace asked him.
He waved his thick hands in front of his chest. "Oh No! She wouldn't pass up this chance to see me in a tuxedo."
Light dawned on me. "You're going to be up front with me?"
He smiled. "Of course. Although you forgot to ask anybody. You needed a best man and three groomsmen. And as always, we took your back on it."
My brow furrowed and I was thinking hard.
"Allied Forces is going to be your best man." He said, I nodded. "Then there will be me, Darkstar, and Centre. He volunteered himself."
I shrugged. "OK. Good choices. Who's the bridesmaids?"
As soon as the words were out of my mouth 2nd Grace shrieked and ran out the door.
"She's one of them." Conga said smiling. "The others... well. You'll just have to be surprised."
The woman was done with my feet. My toes shined. The nails had never looked so good. I decided it would be a shame to put them in socks and shoes. But I wasn't going to go barefoot.
"I was just assaulted in the elevator!" Allied Forces said walking in. "Hey dude!" He high fived Conga. He was dressed in a very nice tux. He didn't look like he had just driven like a bat out of Hell to the coast. "2nd Grace yanked me out of the elevator and shouted something about getting you in your suit."
"She was in a bit of a hurry." Conga smiled, then with a practiced eye he evaluated the young man. "I see two, where's your deep backup?"
Allied Forces extended his arms and hiked up his jacket sleeves. "One!" He said, his left hand whipped under his jacket and came out full of pistol. "Two!" His other hand dove into his belt and came out with a shiny revolver. "Three!" He dropped to the couch, made a rather uncomfortable move and was pointing a derringer at the TV in the blink of an eye.
"Very impressive." Conga said.
"How about you? You can't be packing in those shorts."
Conga walked across the room. He stretched one way, then the other, then up. Then he spun around and when he turned around he had a sawed off double-barreled shotgun in his beefy grip.
To this day I do not know where he had concealed it.
"I need to get ready." The heavyset man said. He broke the breech on the gun and put it on the table. Then he went to one of the bedrooms.
"You too." Allied forces said to me. He pointed the derringer at the other bedroom of the suite.
I put my hands up and walked that way.
I had showered before I got what amounted to a makeover, so now I just washed up and put some cologne on that I knew Keia liked. Facing the tux for the first time gave me a knot in my stomach. But I put it on anyway.
I was only half dressed when Conga came in. I couldn't believe the man. As big as he was, his arms were bigger around than my legs, and his shoulders looked like he was wearing football pads, he looked good in the tux. "I'm impressed."
"You should be." He said, then he ruined the image by tugging at his double shoulder holster.
Allied Forces laughed out loud as he helped me with my collar. "The guy at the tailor about had a stroke trying to figure out his sizes."
"Yeah, but I've always wanted one of these."
"Don't gain any more weight or it will never fit again."
I shook my head. "Wait a minute. You're talking like these things are ours."
They both nodded. "These ain't rentals." Allied Forces said admiring my tie.
I knew better than to argue.
I was finally up to their standards.
"We've got less than an hour." Centre said from the living area. "Is everybody ready?"
"All but Darkstar. Where is he?" I said leading the other two out.
"He's already over there. He wanted to yell at the bartender about something." Centre looked me over. "Very good. I think she will take you."
"You saw her?" I asked.
"Yes indeed. She is absolutely gorgeous. Now we have to spirit you out of here so she can come down." The man smiled.
I have met some men that looked distinguished in my time. I've seen some men that look the part of the cultured wise man of a fine family. And some that carried all that and radiated superior taste and style. Centre, in his well tailored tuxedo fit the bill of all of the above. I turned to Allied Forces, "When I grow up, I wanna look like him."
Conga laughed. "Nah. He can't belch and get away with it."
We laughed together. Then they lead me out and down the service elevator. We got some stares as we walked out of the hotel and down the street toward the convention center.
The marquee outside read, "Welcome: Bishop's Sectarian Apologists."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"Absolutely nothing. But I like it." Centre said.
I shrugged. My boss and a couple of the guys I worked with at the computer center had been invited. If they saw the sign, they might keep going, thinking they were in the wrong place. Which might be just as well. If they were here, I'd have a lot of explaining to do.
The convention center was jumping. I didn't know how many people to expect. And I couldn't tell how many were there. But it was a good-sized crowd. One of the bands was playing some classic rock. The bar was swarming. There was even a buffet of finger foods and snacks. Which reminded me I hadn't had anything to eat since just after we got to town that morning and I was starving. I said something to that affect.
"No problem." Conga smiled. He took my arm and pulled me into the crowd while shouting over the band. "Coming Through! Make a Hole! Get to Steppin'!" And so on.
People got out of the way, some involuntarily as he pushed through.
I got a plate of everything from egg rolls to cucumber sandwiches and found an unoccupied table to sit at. But somebody pounding on my back telling me how happy they were for me interrupted every other bite.
My day job boss came by, told me in one long fast sentence how great a time he was having and how good I looked and how one of my friends ran into a woman he knew and vanished and how could I afford all this on what he was paying me. I smiled and nodded. He was a social animal and this was... well, very social.
I also found out a lot about Keia.
"She is all the time telling me how much she admires you and all the things you do." A large woman I had gotten information from once in awhile told me. "The poor girl didn't know it, but she's been in love with you for a long time."
I nodded and chewed. I felt the same way. "What was your name again?"
She grinned. "Oh you know me as Catsey." She got up and walked away.
Somebody else was telling me how great a girl Keia was.
"I think she's the only one in the whole outfit that uses their real name and control hasn't made them change it."
That was something else I hadn't considered.
It seemed everybody thought most highly of her. She wasn't the shy retiring girl I was familiar with inside the organization. She had a reputation for excellent and timely work, and for doing anything required to get the assignment done. She was also reported to be spontaneous and friendly, offering everything from good advice to recipes to anybody that wanted or needed it.
My conclusion was; she was even more special than I had thought.
A sudden blast of organ music let me know my time was up.
For the processional one of the agents had set up a keyboard. She had plugged it into the amps used by the rock group, and the regular speaker system of the center, and her own speakers sitting along one wall. The combined audio assault overwhelmed everything in the room.
I got up and went to find out where to stand. Centre lined us up in the front and motioned for the organist to continue. The people in the room wandered into chairs, or stood around and watched as they saw fit. The keyboardist began playing in earnest.
All attention turned to the back of the room.
The first one through the door was an agent named Appolla. Then came HopeStar, the language specialist Keia worked with a lot on research. The bridesmaid's dresses were all the same style, but a different color. The effect was striking.
Thunder was next. She was heartbreakingly beautiful in her dress.
I think I remember noticing each of the guys next to me walking to the middle of the front to meet the women and then go stand someplace. At least in the video they did so.
2nd Grace was the matron of honor. She had done the training Keia had needed and they had remained very close. She took Allied Forces' arm and they moved off to one side. Leaving me alone up front.
Most of my life over the last few years, I was aware of the bulk and weight of at least one firearm on my person, I forced myself to notice emergency exits, who came and went, cover and concealment. But right now, when Keia stepped through that door, I wasn't even aware of my own breathing.
As a kid I was told that all brides were beautiful, even the ugly ones.
Right then, Keia was the most beautiful woman on earth. Never mind the fact that I finally admitted to myself that I really loved her and wanted more than anything else to marry her. It might be a clich, to say she looked like a princess. So be it. She did.
I guess I did so. Things happened in such a blur after that I had to watch the tape to make sure I had said yes and kissed her. The next clear memory I had after she started down the aisle was Centre lifting his glass and leading a cheer after Allied Forces said something as a toast.
I looked around. Fortunately, seated next to Keia, I was all but invisible.
There was this warm flutter on my cheek. She had kissed me. "I love you Huntie."
Halfway through the reception we were pushed outside. Sometime that day it had started getting dark. We were herded into a limo and driven off to more cheering.
I heard the party went through until all three bands were exhausted and the lady agent was playing the keyboard to the stragglers.
The limmo dropped us off at the Cape May Ferry. An hour later we were in my car in New Jersey on our way to Atlantic City for our honeymoon.
This was the one thing about the entire affair Keia had been totally in the dark about.
I had made one phone call to a casino I liked and told them what I wanted, then gave them my credit card number and told them to fix it.
An ocean view top floor mega suite with all the amenities. The hot tub was the size of a swimming pool. As soon as we checked in, the pampering began. A guy had followed us into the elevator playing a Spanish guitar, room service brought the entire kitchen and half the bar to our room. A housekeeper shooed me out of the bedroom and helped Keia with her dress.
I looked over the now fully stocked bar and mini kitchen.
A guy was just closing the cabinet.
"Will there be anything else now, sir?"
"I don't think so. It all looks fine."
"If you want sir, we can have security store your sidearm in their armory." He said with a straight, very professional face.
I instinctively felt for the holster riding under my arm. Dad's .38 sat comfortably there. I became aware of the .454 in its band inside the back of my pants pressing against my spine. I knew the .32 was in my overnight case ready to party at need. "No, I have a lock box in my suitcase, but I'll think about it."
"Very good sir."
He left. I made drinks and looked over the seafood buffet the waiter had set up on the sideboard. As I sampled some shrimp stir-fry the housekeeper closed the bedroom door behind her and carried Keia's wedding dress out of the room. She told me she would have it cleaned and boxed and billed to the room.
"Fine. Thank you."
"Have a good evening sir." She stopped and looked at me. "If I may sir, you should change before you eat. Then you may call and I'll pick up your tuxedo and have it cleaned as well."
"Yes. Thank you. I'll do that."
I walked over and held the door for the lady, then locked it behind her.
"Huntie." A soft voice called to me. The sound of it melted my soul.
"Huntie. Come here."
Suffice it to say the buffet got a little cool before we got to it.
The rest of the honeymoon was nearly idyllic.
There was no gunplay. No excessive stupidity. Nothing more annoying than a waiter that got our dinner mixed up with somebody that kept kosher.
Keia won a couple hundred dollars playing the slots. I lost that much at poker.
We watched a couple of live stage shows and a movie on the giant TV in our room. We swam in the pool, walked the beach, and met a minor movie star.
What more could you ask of a honeymoon?
Then it was over, and we were on our way back home.
And it was different when we got there. It wasn't My house any more, if it had ever been, it was now Our house. Our home.
At work that Monday, I got a substantial ribbing from my co-workers.
But I smiled and downplayed it and got on with my life.
There was even an envelope there. From the Bishop. The note was simple enough, but its meaning gave me a migraine.
"Excellent party. Had a wonderful time. Thank you."
In the envelope were the papers that made my wife a legal US citizen.
The Bishop had been there. All I had to do was sort him out from the two hundred others that were there, half of which I didn't know from Adam.
Work closed in and I got on with that as well.
Which was fine until about a week later.
I got a big yellow envelope.
In Houston, Texas.
On the disc, after the mission briefing, was a note from Keia.
"It's OK for you to go Huntie. I know you will not be happy to stay home all the time, so you go on the mission, and be happy and I be happy." I read out loud.
So even though now that I was the happiest married man ever made.
I was still, theHunter.
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