Vengeance Toy rolled out of her hammock with a groan and shuffled across the threadbare carpet toward the bathroom. The mirror was a rude awakening. Much to her horror, Venny discovered she was wearing a dark lavendar fake satin blouse complemented by chartreuse bell-bottom pants festooned with whimsical yellow daisies.
To add insult to injury, she realized she was perfectly sober.
Venny had precisely two acquaintances that weren’t still on the dark side. Alice-Margrette Leander was now too busy making babies to be of much help, not that she could have contributed much more during her unfettered years. Her “style” was typically something of a hybrid between German barmaid and Klingon warrior princess. Her favorite garment was a frightening vest-like affair, constructed of parts of dead animals found only in her native Greenland, configured in a macabre approximation of medieval chain mail.
This left one remaining prospect, a rather nerdy, but unswervingly useful, young Chinese woman by the name of Lisa Tang. Venny concluded she had nothing to lose by giving the little twerp a call. Predictably, she answered on the second ring.
“Hi, Lisa. This is Vengeance Toy.”
“Venny! Is that really you?”
“No. I just thought I’d call someone up at random and tell them my name is Vengeance Toy.”
“Venny! It IS you! Where are you? How have you been?” She sounded tearful and happy.
“Same place, different day.”
“Oh. Well, I haven’t heard from you in ages. Are you in any kind of trouble?”
“Lisa! Why do you assume that just because I call you there has to be trouble?”
“Okay, Lisa. You got me there. Well, I’ll be honest. I am in a little bit of a predicament. I need to look for a job.”
“I thought you had a job.”
“I do. But I have to pretend I’m looking for a job. I could tell you, but then I’d have to...”
“I don’t even want to know. Eeesh! Why can’t any of my friends have normal lives?”
“It’s your destiny, Lisa. Now listen. I need to look like...uh...well...”
“...less like a bag lady?”
“You should be in the diplomatic corps. But yes; I think you have the picture.”
“Say no more. I think I can handle that. Whew! I thought you’d want me to do something—well—like you usually want me to do.”
“Lisa! You cut me to the quick. Would I ever put your pointy little butt in harm’s way?”
“Well, you can relax this time. Your role is strictly as a fashion consultant.”
“Well, you’re in luck. I have today off. We’ll run into town and fix you up. We’ll have you looking like a real spy instead of a bag lady spy in no time.”
“No can do. I need to stay in the house. I can’t be seen in public for a while.”
“Venny! How can we get you new clothes if we don’t, uh, go where the, uh, clothes are?!”
“You’ll figure it out, short stuff.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. Eeesh!”
“Drop by here on your way and I’ll give you a wad of unmarked bills.”
“Don’t worry about that. Consider this my gift of gratitude for not putting my ‘pointy little butt’ in harm’s way.”
“Thanks. You’re a perfect porcelain doll. If you weren’t so scrawny, I’d jump your bones.”
“A handshake will suffice, Venny. Eeesh! I’ll see you in a few hours. Don’t go away. No, on second thought...”
“I love you too, Lisa.”
With fear and trepidation, Lisa approached Venny's door, carrying a Sembrano's designer shopping bag beneath each arm. She had barely recovered from her last adventure with the woman. Fortunately, this encounter would involve no more than a fashion consultation; little else would be required of her. It was the sort of commitment Lisa felt she could handle.
Placing one bag on the porch at her feet, she pressed her ear against the door; strains of Bach emanated from within. It was a good sign that at least she was at the right place. Venny's dorm had always been the only one on campus where anything resembling classical music was to be heard.
She knocked gently, three times, then two times, then three times. She drew her hand back in horror. It was the code that Venny had taught her; she was certain that she had long ago forgotten it. She stared at her knuckles in disbelief. Somehow the three-two-three pattern had become ingrained in her hand; it certainly hadn't come from her conscious mind. It was a most disturbing discovery.
The door opened, and behold; Venny's outfit was every bit as appalling as she had described over the phone.
"You remembered! I'm really proud of you!" Venny said. "Come right in!"
"I told you I'd be here, Venny," Lisa said, lifting her shopping bags for Venny's approval.
"I meant the knock."
"Oh—that," Lisa said, suspiciously. "I didn't mean to; it just sort of came out."
"You're a natural, short stuff. It's good to see your nerdy little face again."
"It's good to see you too, Venny," Lisa ventured, cautiously. "Well, at least it will be after we get you out of those--good grief--where did you ever get those pants! They were scary enough even in the seventies, for crying out loud!"
"You weren't around in the seventies, Lisa."
"I heard stories. I never believed them until now."
"Well, if it's any consolation, I got these before I went blind."
"I'm sure they had something to do with you becoming blind in the first place!" Lisa said, shielding her eyes in mock pain.
"So, what you're saying is, my style isn't to your liking?"
"To put it tactfully, yes! What I really want to say is, your pants are enough to make a maggot gag!"
"I love you too, Lisa. So where do we start?"
"You can start by taking off those--clothes!"
"You'd say anything to see me naked, wouldn't you?"
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Right, Venny. You can keep your underwear on if you're worried. Oy Vey!"
Venny peered at Lisa suspiciously. “Oy Vey?!”
“I'm JBO,” Lisa explained. “Jewish by osmosis. It happens if you're a mathematician.”
Venny stripped to her bra and panties, right there in the living room. Lisa gazed at her critically. "Well, at least your underwear is relatively normal." Lisa dove into the first Sembrano's bag and emerged with a white, button-down blouse. "Put this on, to start with."
Venny fondled the garment for a moment. "Hey, this has real buttons and everything!"
"Yes, Venny. And you don’t use it for a napkin, either."
"Gee, Lisa. I haven't worn white since I was a--oops, sorry, I forgot you were a Baptist."
"What is that supposed to mean?!"
"I don't know; it just seemed appropriately snide." She proceeded to don the blouse, which fit perfectly. She looked pleased.
"I took a guess at your--bust line," Lisa explained, almost apologetically.
"I'm fat, Lisa. Say it. I'm fat. You won't go to hell; you're a Baptist."
"You are not fat, Venny. You're just 'matronly'."
"Matronly?" Venny said, with obvious amusement. She crossed her arms under her generous bosom and pressed it upward. "Do you think if I had my 'matrons' enhanced, I'd have a better chance at my job interview?"
"Your 'matrons' are just fine, Venny. We don't want to overwhelm the guy. He might be a Baptist, too! Eeesh!"
"Ah. Good point. So, what now?"
"A skirt would be a nice touch," Lisa said, diving into her Sembrano's bag again.
"A skirt?! You mean one of those things where both your legs come out the same hole?"
"Yes, Venny. A skirt. Professional women wear skirts."
"What if I have hairy legs?"
"That's why God invented black pantyhose. I've got you covered there, too." She dove into the bag once more, pulled out a clear plastic package of black pantyhose, and handed them to Venny.
Venny held the skirt in one hand and the package in the other. "So, what do you think, Lisa? Should I go with the skirt or the pantyhose?"
Lisa stared at her in disbelief. "Um, Venny. It's not an either/or proposition!"
"You mean I've got to wear them both?!"
"Oh, brother," Lisa sighed. "I've certainly got a project on my hands."
"That's what I said last time. You still owe me."
Lisa sighed again. "I know, I know. Actually, I didn’t have anything real exciting happening today, anyway."
"I knew that."
“H-How did you know that?” Lisa sputtered. “Were you spying on me or something?”
“You never have anything exciting happening, Lisa. Same Lisa, different day.”
“I probably shouldn't even dignify that with an answer--but. Okay. You're absolutely right. So sue me!”
“Time for that later, short stuff. So, let me get this straight. I have to wear a white shirt thing, and a skirt, and pantyhose all at the same time? Damn, being a woman sure is complicated. I liked being a spy better.”
“Venny! You're still going to be a spy. You're just not going to be a bag lady spy any more; you're going to be a classy lady spy. Same Venny, different style.”
“You're enjoying this, aren't you!”
“Just a little bit,” Lisa said, with a trace of fondness in her voice. “No more complaining. You brought me here; you have to obey me.”
“Very well,” Venny sighed.
“Do you need any help with any of those?”
“Nah. I suppose I'll have to get used to doing this myself. I guess I should alphabetize my closet or something. Blind people do that, I've heard.”
Lisa dove into a Sembrano's bag again, and brought out a navy blue blazer. “Venny, you aren't really blind any more. You don't have to do that.”
Venny turned and pointed sternly at Lisa. “Nobody's supposed to know that, Lisa. I still have to do everything like a blind lady.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot. Sorry about that. I won't tell a soul; I promise.”
“You're forgiven, Lisa. You aren't going to be anywhere around me, anyway. I just like to be careful.”
“I understand,” Lisa said, unfolding the blazer. “One final touch, and you'll be ready for Lady Esquire! Navy blue is a trust color.” She helped Venny into the jacket, buttoned the lower button, and patted her broad shoulders approvingly. “I'd hire you in a second!”
Venny glanced at her reflection in the living room mirror. “I look like a United Airlines ticket agent!”
“United Airlines is out of business, Venny,” Lisa reminded her.
“And now we both know why.”
Lisa shook her head in disbelief. “Boy! You're something else. You look perfect.”
Venny flashed a hideous smirk.
“Well, you did look perfect.” Lisa scrutinized Venny's face. “Hmm. You could probably use some lipstick or something.”
“Should I wear Navy blue lipstick? Navy blue is a trust color. You just told me that.”
“Well, I don't think even the CIA is into Gothic, Venny. Let's try out some red. You'll look patriotic--white blouse, blue blazer, red lips.”
“Oh goody!” Venny swooned. “Do I get to flap in the breeze?”
“Only after you get the job.” Lisa dove into her purse and emerged with a tube of red lipstick. She applied a dab to Venny's plump lower lip and smeared it around with her pinky. Venny pinched Lisa's cheek, and shook it.
“You ol' devil, you! Are you just going to fondle my lips, or are you gonna kiss me like you mean it?”
“I'm not that desperate yet, Venny,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes. “Now quit flapping your gums; I can't paint a moving target.”
Lisa furrowed her brow. "I don't think red is working. You need something a little more—or rather less—um—less--um...”
“Allow me,” Venny interrupted. “I believe the term we're groping for is 'whore-like.' I think I agree. I should probably avoid the whore motif thing, at least until I'm hired.”
“Right, Venny,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes again. “Tell you what. Let's forget the lipstick for now. It's a little tricky to get the tones right, especially if you're Chinese. We have very subtle tones.”
“Ahh. That's me. Subtle in every way,” Venny said, nodding in agreement. “Am I done yet?”
Lisa sighed. "Yes, you may go now. Ple-e-e-e-ase!"
Venny disappeared into the back room and re-emerged wearing her dark shades, clutching her white cane.
"How do I look, now?"
Lisa staggered backwards a step. "Um. You look fine, but I don't think you need your cane and dark glasses any more."
Venny tapped on her head with the hilt of her cane. "Well, actually, I do. I'm supposed to pass as a blind lady, remember."
"Oh yeah. Boy, this is really weird."
"Well, it's probably going to get a lot weirder. So, do you think I can pull off the blind lady gig?"
Lisa rolled her eyes again. "Gee, I think so."
"Good. I need to sit down. I think I can play an old worn out lady pretty well, too."
"Well, you have been working at it a little longer than I have, Venny," Lisa said, diplomatically.
As Venny took her seat, Lisa caught what looked like a tear leaking out beneath her shades.
"Venny? Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing major. Just a bit nervous; that's all."
Lisa felt suddenly clammy. She had never known Venny to be nervous about anything--much less to the point of tears.
"Nervous? Venny, you've never been nervous about anything!"
Venny readjusted her shades. "Well, I've never done what I'm about to do, either. I'm not getting any younger, as you've so tactfully hinted."
Lisa scrunched her mouth to the side, thoughtfully. "Well, you could just retire, or say no, or any number of things, couldn't you?"
"It's not that simple, Lisa. I owe some people."
"Venny! What could you possible owe? You spent years in a labor camp!"
"Yes. But it's the people who got me out of the labor camp that I owe."
Despite Venny's repeated assertion that she was fundamentally amoral, she did unintentionally drop a hint now and again that she had something resembling a code of ethics--as perverse as they might seem to someone on the outside.
"That's—nice—Venny. But are you really sure you can't find some different way of paying them back? Maybe a nice gift certificate or something?"
Venny shook her head slowly. "No. This is something that only I can do. Trust me."
Lisa dropped on her knees before Venny. "Can't you even tell me a little bit about what this is all about? Who would I possibly tell, anyway?"
Venny cocked her head. "Good point, Lisa. But you really don't need to know. It's my problem now. You've done your part. You can go back to whatever it is you do. I can't begin to thank you."
"Venny! I thought I was your friend! We've been through a lot together! You saved my life!"
"Yes. And now you should live it. Don't worry. This is something I need to do."
Lisa sighed. "I know, Venny. I just don't feel good about this."
"I've been in bad situations before. I'll survive."
Lisa remained undeterred. "Venny! If anyone ever did anything to you, I'd—just—just--kill them!"
"Yeah? You and what army?"
Lisa rose to her feet defiantly. "I'll have you know I can be really really cranky! They'd be sorry!"
Venny gave her a patronizing smirk. "I appreciate your concern, Lisa. But you really don't owe me anything. I'm glad I helped you get your brains back. Now put them to use and get as far away from me as possible. You'll live longer."
Lisa put her hands on her hips. "I am not leaving, Venny. I'm going to go with you!" She suddenly realized just how preposterous the suggestion sounded.
"Lisa, you don't have a clue what you'd be getting into. As a matter of fact, I'm not even sure I do!"
"Then we're even!" Lisa persisted. She leaned over and put her arms around Venny's neck, and began to sob. "Venny--I don't care what happens to me! Please--please let me help you somehow!"
Venny sighed. "Oh, very well. I'll see if there's any way Mark will let me take you along. You do realize we carry no liability insurance."
Lisa dropped to her knees again. "I don't care, Venny! I've already been dead and back. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you," she blubbered.
Venny extracted herself from Lisa's pathetic grip, stood up, and headed for the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks for a second, and then snapped her fingers. "Damn, I'm good!"
"Good at what?" Lisa queried.
Venny turned around and faced her. "Acting."
Lisa sputtered. "Wh-wh-what are you talking about, Venny?"
"Come now, Lisa. Would you have shown up if I'd just called you up and said, 'Let's be spies'?"
"You—you—you—tricked me, Venny!"
"I need you, Lisa."
"I know you do, Venny. But that's not the point!"
"Then what is the point, pray tell?"
Lisa sputtered again. "Well—um--well. I'm sure there's one some place. If I think real hard."
"Save your energy, short stuff. We have work to do."
"I'm going to kill you, Venny!" Lisa wailed.
"That's the spirit, Lisa. Welcome aboard."
Causes Eric Nichols Supports
Free Burma Rangers, Partners Ministries (Thailand), Literacy council of Alaska, Access Alaska.