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U of P Undercover  

HER alias is “Constance” but she’s anything but constant. She survives firearms training with a semi-automatic handgun but is barely able to manage not shooting herself—or her partner—me. Aware of her inconstant temper (ment) I try to avoid bringing her up to speed, but am ordered to do so. I prefigure the headline: “Man shot (one round less than the clip capacity) times by madwoman” figuring her first double-action round would go high and wide: BANG-oops. BANG! BANG!! BANG!!! Etc.

If I’m going to die I’ll die happy. She’s a Grace Kelly-esque tall slender blue-eyed ice-blonde. Valerie Plame isn’t our only good looking blonde spy. And they’re both smart too. The choice a man has in this situation is to die for a woman, over a woman, or by a woman. That’s a constant. She wants to go undercover; I want to go under-covers.

We get our chance: a suspected embezzlement case at the University of Pennsylvania. They need a discreet private investigation and turn it over to our organization. After developing a few leads into what seems to be a group of co-conspirators we target a young couple living in a rambling old Victorian-style house with a veranda-like porch in west Philadelphia that’s been subdivided into several apartments. One of them is vacant and we rent it and move in.

We pose as a couple—thank-you lord and there’ll be a little something extra in the collection plate Sunday morning. She’s given a cover assignment working as a receptionist in the Ombudsman’s office. I’m to fake a shoulder injury and hang out at the house. I have my left arm in a sling that allows me to hide a small camera to snap photos of people coming and going. Not original but effective.

One of the main principles of undercover work is constancy. Develop consistent stories habits and routines—then don’t change them. Soon enough you’ll fade into the background and be able to go about your business unsuspected and unchallenged. Above all don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself. And pray you don’t get inquisitive—or worse—overly friendly neighbors.

There are complications: a social-worky-type couple living across the hall from us. The distaff side is always at the door and in our place, which means we have to keep surveillance materials hidden. Good tradecraft in any circumstance but this is Constance’s first undercover assignment and of course there’s no such thing as perfection in any human endeavor.

Our first slip-up is smoking. I’m supposed to be spending a lot of time out on the front porch surveilling, “healing” my bum shoulder, and smoking my cigars. The cover story is that my ever-loving spouse won’t let me smoke in our apartment, so I’m banished outdoors. Fine. So far.

But dear Constance picks the worst possible moment to decide to quit smoking herself. The time to work on changing bad habits is NOT when you’re undercover. The stress of being covert is enough.  In fact a few bad habits can help you in certain situations.

She falls off the wagon and lights-up inside the apartment. I walk into the hallway from the porch with our neighbor gal and immediately smell cigarette smoke. Her husband abstains as does she. So I open the door to our apartment and blue haze billows out. The whole stakeout is now on the line due to inconstancy! So I stalk in and in totally fake outrage pull her over my knees and spank her bottom. Try that again sister! Please… After that incident she tells our neighbors that if they ever catch her smoking to notify me immediately—and I will take appropriate measures!

But she didn’t shoot me.

The case develops apace and in a few weeks we’re ready to wrap-up the undercover phase of the investigation, pack-up, and fade away into the night.  Then a snag. The city District Attorney is now involved and we have to stay in-place a little while longer. Not that I’m complaining. But Constance is getting bored and I’m getting on her nerves. I’m one of those guys who’s housebroken but not domesticated.

Our neighbor lady is yet again in our place and Constance and I are having a real-life fuss-fuss cat-spat about something-or-other-totally-not-important. I decide to “go macho” sweep her up into my arms and, as the English say, “interfere with her person” just to impress our neighbor with my affection and esteem for my, at least for the moment, partner.

I manage to maneuver her onto her back onto the sofa and proceed to molest her. She feigns interest in my attentions. Then the phone rings. She so offhandedly leans over to pick-up the receiver—that she totally spoils the mood and my nefarious intentions.

Blown cover.

But she didn’t shoot me.

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