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The Priscillas

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Sometimes it was all more than Meghada really wanted to deal with, this whole living and working among Outlanders, and this was a prime example. Not Goniff and the guys, no, of course not. Not the Sergeant Major, even most of the villagers. At one level or another, she had embraced them, gathered them in under her wings. But the Priscillas.

Not one, but TWO Priscillas, one more unpleasant than the other, each causing far more than their share of trouble, including with the guys from Garrison's team. Both were going to require, if not a firm hand, then at least a firm resolution to keep them from causing more trouble!

 

Priscilla Number One, petite, fine-boned, and admittedly a beautiful and elegant female in objective terms, was also, in Meghada O'Donnell's opinion, a pissy, annoying, far-too-superior little shit! Some might even go so far as to call her a bitch, although there were certain objections to that determination, those who would say that term didn't really apply to her as well as some others might. But still, she kinda was.

And it wasn't that Meghada hadn't tried, really made an effort; she really had! When Rebecka Standish, the local Reverend's sister, had asked her to give Priscilla a safe place to stay for the week (maybe more), protecting her from those rough hooligans who had thought to overwhelm her 'virtue' against all objections, had Meghada given a flat out 'NO!'? No, she hadn't. Well, yes, she'd tried to offer a few other alternatives, but none of those were really viable, and she owed Rebecka a favor. So there she was, Miss Priscilla Mau, high-and-mighty sneer on her aristocratic face, ensconced in the sitting room at the Cottage like she owned the whole bloody place! Guests with that kind of an attitude were enough to make someone rethink the whole 'being a good hostess' thing; at least that was Meghada's opinion.

Meghada coped, although given to the occasional disbelieving stare at that superior and aloof female who had taken over her space. Max, in his canine wisdom, had just decided that the four room cottage had magically shrunk to three rooms - he ignored the sitting room as if it were enclosed in steel barricades, trotting from the library to the bedroom through the pocket doors in the bath, then through to the kitchen and out the back door to the garden. He was really a very self-assured little dog, and the fact that Priscilla obviously did not care for dogs, especially in the house, didn't bother him overly much. After all, dogs weren't all Priscilla seemed to disapprove of; Max probably found a great deal of comfort in that.

For example, Priscilla had taken a fervent dislike to Goniff and the other guys on the team, objected to their very entrance into the Cottage. Once they were inside, (since Meghada had no intention of allowing her guest determine who would or would not be allowed to visit those premises), she treated them all to a curled lip of disdain. Well, except for Actor, for whom she preened and posed and fluttered her eyelashes, and did everything except roll over on her back on the lush carpet, the little slut! Meghada never HAD understood the almost-universal appeal the tall Italian had where females were concerned, but here was just another example. Obviously that prized 'virtue' of Miss Mau was negotiable!

In addition to trying to manage Meghada's social calendar, the annoying guest had taken to rearranging the ornaments to better suit her more-refined tastes, browsing the bookshelves, carelessly dumping what she seemingly didn't approve of onto the floor. Music sheets ended up disappearing, only to be found later mangled and stuffed behind the cushions. Whether it was the chording or the words or the tempo she disapproved of, she declined to say, but her view was made most pointedly.

And she didn't take to negative comments on her behavior, either. She came quite close to spitting in fury when Meghada expressed her disapproval of any and all of those actions of her overly-critical guest.

In fact, Priscilla reminded Meghada far too much of Sister Therese, an equally-unpopular guest of previous note. Well, maybe not in the seeming desire to roll on her back on the carpet inviting Actor's attentions, but in pretty much every other way. (Though Meghada had a few dark suspicions in that area as well, she decided it would be unacceptably unsubtle to declare them too openly. She really WAS working on that 'subtle' thing.) Still, the resemblance was just too marked to overlook, that snooty, 'I'm better than you are' attitude, the self-righteous air of superiority, the wanting things rearranged to suit HER idea of what was appropriate.

Which, seeing Priscilla was a pedigree'd Egyptian Mau of distinguished lineage, a beautifully-marked grey tabby with an exceedingly high opinion of herself (even more than MOST cats, and that was really saying something!), probably shouldn't have come as that much of a surprise.

 

The OTHER Priscilla, Priscilla Number Two was even more unpleasant than Priscilla Number One, at least in Meghada's opinion, and much more dangerous.

Meeting the elegant and sleek woman in the shimmering silver dress had been just one more bit of forced socialization in Meghada's latest command performance in the ballrooms of London. She did more of that than she'd have liked, though less than others would have preferred. It was an uneasy compromise at best.

Early in her tenure, the O'Donnell woman had done her utmost to remove herself from such guest lists, though that had proved remarkably difficult to do. Somehow, her very unpredictability, her unsubtle take on things, her elegant attire (thanks to her sister Coura's talent with the design board and the needle), her willingness to speak her mind without hesitation seemed to mark her as that most rare of rarieties, 'An Original'.

Well, yes, she was, though probably any other Dragon of the Clan O'Donnell would have proven to be the same.

Now, sipping at a glass of utterly-vile champagne, (to her mind the only kind there was, actually) watching the regal Priscilla D'Argent, glowingly referred to by her male admirers as a 'shining silver queen' (among other equally adoring descriptions) swan through the crowd, Meghada felt her hackles rise.

{"I wonder, which came first, the name 'D'Argent' or the affectation of all that silver. I doubt it was a serendipitous collision of nature and birth! Although she calls herself 'Mrs.'; would she really go so far as to MARRY just to get that so-fitting name? Actually, she probably would from what I've seen, though it's just as likely all a convenient fiction!"}.

If she hadn't been here by specific request by Craig Garrison and Kevin Richards, if interaction with Mrs. D'Argent hadn't been required for the purpose of ascertaining whether the glittering female was really an enemy agent, she would have just turned around and left. She found the whole scene more than a little disgusting.

Frankly, in her opinion, Priscilla Number Two was far more of a slut than Priscilla Number One, (though there was another word she thought fit just as well, but using vulgar slang referring to female genitalia was something she usually refrained from doing).

Priscilla Number Two was also far more opportunistic. At least Miss Mau had the excuse of being in heat, nature's harsh demands perhaps overriding her aristocratic standoffishness and innate fastidiousness.

Priscilla D'Argent, though, while her motivation was technically still in question, Meghada was certain being 'in heat' had nothing to do with the silvery-haired woman's actions. Ever so cool, calm and collected, she was, enough that even thinking of heat, even a faint warmth, in connection with her seemed highly inappropriate. She gave more the impression of an Art Deco statuette, cold, yet somehow seductive.

Meghada watched as Priscilla carefully selected who she wanted, drew the men to her, and just as carefully discarded those who she deemed to hold little or no interest (or maybe benefit) to her aims.

{"Shining Silver Queen, my arse! Conniving, manipulative, whorish little c***!"}.

So, alright, Meghada USUALLY refrained from using such a description, but she decided this really was an exception!

She'd read the reports, knew of the men supposedly targeted by the radiant female, coaxed, conned into revealing information they never would have dreamed of giving up willingly. One of those men had reported his transgressions and promptly killed himself in abject remorse; the other two had reported the matter as well, but had seen no need to go to such extremes, seeming to feel the destruction of their career was enough punishment.

Still, even with those three telling their stories, there seemed to be more than a little reluctance to put any confidence in those reports. After all, the woman in question was currently the diamond in the shining crown of society, someone who was invited absolutely everywhere, welcomed anywhere she deigned to appear. Well, at least by the men; the women were perhaps a little more reserved in their admiration. Some women in particular.

Meghada, for example, was more inclined to snarl and hiss at that glowing description the woman was being lauded with than to join in. If it were only the usual dim bulbs, she wouldn't have been so frustrated. But it wasn't those you would have expected such gullibility from in the ordinary vein; even the three who had been conned before were supposedly highly-intelligent men, well-versed in keeping important matters to themselves. Somehow, though, none of that mattered, not where Priscilla was concerned. She saw, she watched, she tempted, and then coiled in readiness and struck without hesitatiion, taking whatever she wanted at her pleasure.

Watching her now, Meghada had to admit that at least the silver part of the adoring descriptions was accurate enough, starting with hair almost of a shade to match that elegant platinum satin dress. While the color alone was remarkable for one probably just entering her thirties, it was enhanced by a shimmer and shine more commonly seen in highly-polished jewelry. Whatever the woman had brushed through her hair to give it that metallic sparkle was a deep dark secret, known only to her and her personal maid, but it was certainly effective, especially when combined with the faint metallic sparkles that had somehow scattered themselves along her high cheekbones and along the rounded top of her decolletage.

"Stunning, isn't she?" Major Kevin Richards murmured in her ear. "I really do hope we are wrong about this. A woman as beautiful as she is, as elegant, as -"

Meghada interrupted him, really not wanting to hear the rhapsodizing yet again. It would be the third time he'd gone off like this and it really made her want to smack him a good one. After all, he was on the job, wasn't he, him and the others - investigating the glittering female for any signs of espionage activities; he wasn't supposed to be fawning and salivating like a lapdog! Oh, she supposed she should feel sorry for him, one of the many moths {"flies?"} drawn to that silvery shimmer, but frankly she was finding it rough going.

"Kevin? Are you investigating her or trying to bed her? If it's the first, you really need to focus. If it's the second, well, I'm afraid you're on your own. Especially considering all the competition."

That got her a slightly sullen look, then Richards took another appraising look around. Yes, there was rather a crowd, and not just one. There was the line of men she'd previously graced with her kind presence, gazing after her like love-sick and forlorn puppies. There was the cluster currently surrounding her, four men each obviously wishing the other three would just pack it in and disappear. And there were those eagerly awaiting her approach, nervously straightening ties or jackets, making themselves look as appealing as possible.

"There is no need to be unpleasant, Meghada. Has Garrison given you a nod yet, that he's seen anything suspicious? I really can NOT imagine it, you know, no matter how reliable the source. I mean, just look at her. Why - a woman like that, absolutely breathtaking, so refined and -"

"Oh, Kevin, for goodness sake! Give it a rest, will you? Or drift along upstairs, find the bathroom and give yourself a good dowsing with cold water til the urge subsides! Sweet Mother help us all if she decides on you tonight! We'd have you handing over the codes to get into the Palace AND giving her the key to Whitehall by the time she stops cooing in your shell-like ear!"

A huff of indignation greeted that, and Richards stalked off, hopeful of being among the next set to gather around Priscilla.

Meghada had to admit that was possibly a little harsh; Richards wasn't acting any more like an idiot than most of the other men. But still, watching that elegant sleek form glide through the admiring crowds, those dark eyes darting rapidly from place to place, she was put in mind of that rare form of the Eastern Brown Snake from Australia - one not brown like its fellows, but seemingly formed of scales of the purest, shiniest silver. A snake acknowledged to be the second most venomous in the world. Yes, that was EXACTLY what Priscilla D'Argent brought to mind, at least to her.

To her disgust, however, and the disgust of Lynn Garrison and Julie Richards, the men who fell within the mere sight of the glittering Priscilla had other descriptions that they hurried to apply. Enough to make a person gag, some of those, once the women realized the men were NOT poking fun but actually MEANT those outlandish compliments.

Actor had been thrown into lyrical swoonings, Italian mixed with French, a little Latin thrown in for good measure, and he hadn't been the only one of the team affected, though certainly the most eloquent. Of course, not everyone could be that smooth and refined in their manner of expression as the man now impersonating a titled aristocrat from a lesser-known branch of the royal family - one with considerable influence and even more intimate knowledge of any number of valuable things the lady might find attractive.

Certainly Casino's heated aside hadn't been particularly 'smooth', but HAD been typical Casino. Well, even if someone else HAD wondered if that metallic silvery hair was natural, few would have expressed their curiosity about how far that trend (natural OR assumed) continued, at least not out loud, in those particular words, and in the company of others.

The safecracker hadn't been all that thrilled with Goniff's smug, "don't know, Casino, but once I talk 'er outta them clothes, I'll let you know. Be something to see, you know, if it is; probably look something like that bit on the 'ood of a Rolls-Royce, that 'Spirit of Ecstasy', you know?"

Normally Casino would have laughed off the very idea of Goniff competing with him for the attentions of a woman - particularly the idea of him WINNING such a competition - but this was a different playing field. Goniff, sleeked down and looking rather shiny himself in his impersonation of Mayfield Browning, scion and personal representative of the Browning Manufacturing Firm, the organization responsible for the design and manufacture of that new secret weapon currently being whispered about in far too many circles, probably had as much chance as the others within the lady's view. Well, secret weapons DID have a particular allure, especially to a covert agent, or even to an independent entrepreneur.

Of course, Garrison, rather sleek and shiny himself in his dress uniform probably had a good chance of being chosen as well. After all, rumor had it he was a party to developing that new offensive front, that ever so secret and hush-hush project, and never mind how all the hush-hush projects seemed to be bandied about so carelessly!

Chief had no part in the games, in fact had refused to play a part, and in terms unusually harsh for the young man. He might not usually say much, but when he did, it wasn't normally in language quite that pronounced. Garrison wasn't the only one who'd gotten strangled on his coffee at that quiet if firm "never ****** a rattlesnake before; aint going to start now, Warden." One look in those dark smoldering eyes and no one tried to convince him otherwise.

Casino, on the other hand, either didn't agree with that description or figured the experience was worth the risks. HE was swaggering through the crowd, pulling on every gangster role he had ever seen, in the movies or in real life, to play his part. As the supposed connection to an unnamed Syndicate, one rumored to be coordinating on-the-ground links in various Italian communities, he also would have something to offer - in addition to his own handsome, roughly-charming self, of course.

Lynn Garrison sidled up to Meghada, immediately joined by Julie Richards.

"Can't we just grab her and get your brother to drop her off in Tangiers or someplace?" Lynn whispered, disgusted at all the fawning over the glittering woman on the other side of the ballroom.

"Oh, lets!" Julie nodded enthusiastically. "I swear, watching Kevin drool over that bitch, I just want to smack him across the back of his head! I don't understand it! He is usually quite resistant to such lures! Well, he would be; he watched our mother play those tricks time and time again, though with her it was more to get information on her competitors or influence one of the judges for some research prize or some such thing. And that Meredith Whatever-Her-Name-Was, the one I was afraid he was going to get engaged to when I was twelve, she was the same sort. He's gone out of his way to avoid the type ever since. He KNOWS better! Why is he being so stupid??!"

She didn't mention that the sight of Michael O'Donnell, Meghada's oldest brother and Julie's sometimes-escort, obviously succumbing to the lady's charms was even more displeasing.

"Don't tempt me; I've already given that far too much thought! Ian and Tangiers, I mean," Meghada admitted. "Still, Kevin would scold - you know he would! Although he is drifting farther and farther away from the idea of her being a covert agent as the exposure continues. I'm thinking it is pheromones. You know, like what perfume is SUPPOSEDLY capable of doing in the way of attracting the male, but far, far more intense. I admit I don't really care about the specifics all that much. I just want her to PICK one and make her move so we can catch her in the act!"

"Eewwwww!" both of the other women uttered in unison, disgust wrinkling both their noses.

Meghada snorted, "not THAT act, sillies, though I suppose it might come to that. But I was referring to the act of trying to pry information out of someone! Preferably one of our guys. We've certainly given her enough prime targets! And surely, if she's going to seduce someone, she'd choose one of them. We've made sure most of the other men here are either totally useless for her purposes or so uninteresting, or even, in a few cases, totally repellent to one of her supposedly discriminating tastes, that the odds certainly should be in our favor."

The others looked around the room and had to agree. Other than Richards, Garrison and his crew, Michael O'Donnell and a few other carefully selected individuals, everyone else in pants was supremely unprepossessing and uninteresting.

They watched, along with most of the other women, as Priscilla continued her studied conquest of the male population. Meghada figured if she were to take up a collection in support of transporting Priscilla to Tangiers, or anywhere else far, far away, she'd have no lack of female contributors.

Now it was Goniff, in his Mayfield Browning persona, who shared the lady's attentions with Kevin Richards, Craig Garrison and Actor. Soon, though, the pickpocket drifted away, sending back a wistful glance or two. That wistful look vanished as he made his way casually across the room to grab a glass of champagne and just as casually joined Meghada and the ladies.

"She purrs, you know. Don't know I've actually ever been able to say that about anything on two legs, but she really does. Sounds like that ruddy cat that's staying with you, 'Gaida, w'en she's making over Actor." Somehow he didn't sound or look nearly as enthralled as he'd seemed earlier, as enthralled as the other men still looked. Actually, he seemed just a little bit amused.

He took a careful sip, smiled a polite smile (while wishing for something a hell of a lot stronger) and offered "think maybe Actor 'as the lead 'ere too. Seems she's just a little leary of anyone in uniform, so the Lieutenant and the Major aren't so far a'ead. Though, from w'at I could see, Casino might 'ave a good chance."

Lynn teased, "I would have thought Mayfield Browning would have been tempting enough, and you aren't wearing a uniform. In fact, you are looking really rather luscious in that suit, you know."

Goniff shrugged and gave a sheepish smile. "Think I likely would 'ave stood a good chance if I'd 'ave made a good push, but every time she put 'er 'and on my arm, I kept thinking about w'at Chiefy said and it just made my skin crawl. Kept 'earing that purr turn into a 'iss, some'ow. Besides, it'll give Casino something to crow about if 'e's the one she settles on. 'E'd just better watch out for being bit; probably do some real damage, more than like."

Meghada smiled a relieved smile. No, she really hadn't relished the thought of Goniff getting overly-close to the shining female who, every time she opened her mouth to speak, the redhead could almost imagine a flickering forked tongue emerging.

Then it happened, a proudly strutting Casino carefully escorting the elegant lady in silver out of the ballroom. There were others outside who were waiting and watching, would follow just in case Casino's suggestion of that elegant suite at that fine hotel was turned away in favor of a venue more to the lady's liking. That would be a pity, of course, since that suite was now equipped with listening devices of remarkable sensitivity. Still, they'd manage somehow; Garrison had laid out any number of alternative plans.

"Probably just as well it's Casino," Lynn remarked. "I can't see Craig being all that comfortable knowing every tiny sound is being heard and recorded. And the show has to go on til she makes a play for the information, or whatever she's after, and who knows how long that will take or what will happen first."

Goniff nodded complacently, more than a little happy Priscilla hadn't been inclined toward anyone in uniform. He knew Garrison had to do his patriotic duty, as Goniff had done on a few occasions, but he really didn't like the idea, not with this woman anyway.

"Probably put 'im off 'is stroke, right enough, but don't know the major would be any more comfortable. Never discussed it, of course, but 'e seems the type. Actor, now, 'E'D probably just think of it as being on the stage, giving a dramatic performance, maybe for the King and Queen. Likely wouldn't bother 'im a bit. And Casino, 'e always says NOTHING distracts 'im from the matter at 'and; don't know it's true, but that's w'at 'e says."

Julie giggled, "you're right about Kevin, I'm quite sure, and probably about the Lieutenant as well. Michael, now . . ." and she looked at Meghada's brother in open speculation, as the man joined their group just in time to hear the last of that conversation.

"Michael is very glad he never had to find out just how well he could perform under those circumstances," she was told repressively, though there was just a hint of amusement in Michael's eyes as he said that.

Garrison had left immediately after Casino and Priscilla; he'd be in contact with the others once he knew the final destination. They'd all gather, just in case Casino ran into trouble, but Garrison had firmly rejected the idea of anyone but him handling the earphones.

He didn't enjoy the idea of listening in, but someone had to for safety's sake and to provide evidence. But giving the other guys ammunition for ragging whoever the lady chose had just seemed like a bad idea. If HE'D been the one chosen, he'd suggested Meghada do the listening, for any number of highly-personal reasons. At least with her, the aftermath would be less painful (hopefully) than with Goniff, and less embarrassing than with anyone else.

And, no matter how they teased afterwards, Garrison stuck to that, never dropping a hint of anything other than what was required for the final damning report. Something Casino was deeply grateful for, since that image Chief's comment had instilled hadn't helped his concentration any! Luckily Priscilla wasn't too keen on the pleasantries, preferred to get the serious prying of information taken care of during some mild canoodling on the couch. By the time she'd said just enough, asked, urged enough, just a little TOO much for it to have been just innocent conversation, Garrison gave the signal and the troops moved in. Yeah, the two were already between the sheets by then, but things hadn't progressed too terribly far, not enough so that Casino's lack of enthusiasm had been too noticeable, at least, not to anyone but Garrison.

Somehow, the eventual news that Priscilla D'Argent would be spending the next several years behind bars seemed fitting, at least to Meghada. Well, either there or in a glassed in unit at the zoo - whichever. Though, if it had been HER choice, it would have been that glass tank, in the zoo - in Tangiers!

Oh, well, the military seemed intent on that jail cell, however misguided. Still, after two escapes in two months, after the second re-capture, that jail cell just didn't seem as secure as before, and the authorities watched with a more cautious eye. The third escape, along with Priscilla D'Argent's subsequent, total and inexplicable disappearance had everyone on edge. Well, except for certain individuals.

"Well, I wouldn't worry overly much," Meghada had offered the concerned men over a poured drink in the Common Room. "I imagine she's curled up somewhere licking her wounds, or admiring herself in a mirror, more likely; doubt we'll see much else from her."

{"Unless we want to visit that private menagerie in Tangiers. The Dar el Makhzen has such a lovely, private and most secure facility, and that glassed-in enclosure is so fitting, furnished all in silver and pale green, lots and lots of pretty mirrors. Yes, she should be quite comfortable there, enjoying all the admiring but quite cautious glances given by the keepers. Achmed's family has experience with the rakshasa and even their more mortal ilk, though I've never been sure where Priscilla fit on that line - in any case, he knows just how dangerous she is; he'll be sure there is no chance for escape."}

 

Epilogue:

"Miss Rebecka said something about a cat?" Gil Rawlins said with some hesitation. Well, doing a favor for the lady was one thing; he certainly didn't mind, not for her, not if he could. But he was uncomfortably aware the Housing people wouldn't be in favor of him bringing in a pet.

Still, there had been that trace of mice in the storeroom. Perhaps it WAS a good idea after all. And Miss Rebecka had been upset with the owner deciding she really couldn't manage a pet after all, and leaving Rebecka holding the bag, so to speak. And what with the Reverend being allergic, it wasn't like Rebecka could keep the poor thing, and it seems the O'Donnell miss wasn't open to the idea of giving it a permanent home.

In fact, the relief on Meghada O'Donnell's face was a little troubling. He hoped the cat wasn't given to bad habits that would create a nuisance. Still, he doubted that, not from the looks of the elegant little creature. Why, if he didn't know better, he'd swear she'd smiled at him, the pretty little thing!

He carefully stretched out his hand for her to sniff at him, and he broke into a broad smile of his own as she used that dainty pink tongue to delicately taste his fingertips. That low rumbling purrrrrrr was an agreeable sound, one he thought he could quite enjoy. No, he wouldn't mind sharing his quarters with this delightful creature, not at all.

Carefully stroking the short plush coat with its spots and streaks of various elegant greys and black, he smiled down at her.

"An agreeable sort, she seems. Miss Rebecka says her name is Priscilla?"

Meghada refrained from snorting in amusement, watched as Priscilla arched forceably into his hand, making sure he realized he was SUPPOSED to STROKE her, make her feel good; that was his role in life, after all! She could almost read that determined little mind in the narrowed green eyes, that "Stupid Human! I've Chosen him! Doesn't he understand what an honor that is? What his obligations to me ARE?? I DO hope he isn't difficult to train!! Certainly he has to be better than THIS one with the red fur! I don't think SHE is CAPABLE of being trained!"

Meghada returned that final smug glare with a raised brow of warning. {"Don't try to get stroppy with me, little miss! There's still time to tell him it's all a mistake. I'LL be just as happy to dump you in a backstreet alley somewhere with the rest of the alley cats!"

Those green eyes closed briefly and then refocused on the man, the one soon to be firmly wrapped around that dainty paw. Meghada found herself now being supremely ignored, as only a queen could manage.

Meghada was pretty sure Gil Rawlins did NOT understand what was expected of him, not yet, but she had every confidence Priscilla Mau would get her point across. And better the foolish man not think that elegant little lady would be wasting her time or energy clearing that big house of vermin! SHE was a lady, Miss Priscilla, destined by birth and lineage to being waited on, hand and foot - worshipped as her ancestors had been, and rightfully so!

Meghada closed the door behind the departing duo with a sigh of relief.

"Priscilla. You know, I could really get to hate that name!"