The plan was perfect. At least, so it seemed, on paper. I was chosen to bring to fruition a Sting Operation for the Government of Zirconia, with the aid of the Secret Service.
I was to go, find a huge house, buy it, and insinuate myself into the community. I would work undercover, and help nab all the bad apples that passed my way… that is, members of the Five Families that went by the oldest documented surnames in Zirconia – Allard, Catteja, Faljon, Glech, and Lenponi.
How I would do so was up to me – but money was not going to be a problem, because I had the backing of the Zirconian Government. I would play it by ear.
Ironically (although I was not supposed to know this), members of these secret syndicates are proud of the fact that their Clan names date back to Angevin times.
Just for the record, The Angevins were one of the four distinct British Royal Houses, the other three being Lancaster, Plantagenet, and York. Henry II was the first Angevin King, and John the last one.
My knowledge of history is a little murky, but I seem to recall that in 1158, Pope Adrian IV (the only English Pope), is said to have issued the papal bull Laudabiliter, which ostensibly authorized Henry to invade Ireland. Henry did so, albeit 14 years later.
But I digress. Being fat and short, I qualified for the newly-minted “duff” (designated ugly fat friend) position of the members of the Ladies’ Circle. Of course, I had to work hard to earn their confidence, because the Zirconians are rather (read: very!) insular and parochial and provincial and closeminded and…
But I learned the language… and made them laugh at my attempts to pronounce the most difficult word in their language – trqidq, which means ‘flour’. And it was this which actually set my plan in action.
My cover story was that I was a rich widow, which is why I did not have to work. But of course, there is only so much window shopping you can do, and so many long walks you can take. I had to find something else with which to occupy my time – that was my story, anyway. I dropped details about how the large windfall helped me quench my Wunderlust, and I had read so much about Zirconia that I had decided to make it my forever home.
I launched a Cookie Exchange Scheme. Of course, my house was big enough that I could install ovens in the basement, which the members of the Ladies’ Circle could use if they so desired. The stingier ones appreciated the fact that they would save money if they used my electric ovens instead of their household LPG-powered ones. The lazy ones liked it that their cooking session would not have to be followed by a cleaning one, because my maids would see to it; and the chatty ones valued the excuse of a community gathering to give them an excuse to be out and about.
I was not supposed to know that some of them were wives, mistresses, sisters and daughters of the local Mafia. They took great pains to hide Family rivalries from me, because they acted as if they were one big happy family. But sometimes, a side-eye glance at another woman not of their fraternity, betrayed them.
At the time, in Zirconia there was a great to-do about the Data Protection Act. Moreover, the General Elections were coming up, and the Zirconians are rather hot-headed about politics. I always said I was apolitical, so I would not be drawn into any of their polemics about which politician was a candidate for sainthood, and which was the devil incarnate.
I took advantage of this, and I sweetly suggested that because they were all meeting at my house once a week, I had to have their details on file – if they wanted to give them to me, (‘informed consent’!) that is, just in case someone saw them enter and reported me for holding clandestine meetings of ‘more than four people’ as is the law.
I have already said I look like a duff, but actually I look like a duff-duff… you know, duff as in pudding. That, in their minds translated to ‘harmless’.
One afternoon, while bustling about, off-the-cuff, I told them to write ‘just’ their names and physical and e-mail addresses, and telephone numbers in one of those old-fashioned school exercise books.
I made the silly joke that there would not be any computer cookies, but just our usual ones… and not all of them got it. I went upstairs to look for the exercise book, albeit I knew perfectly well where it was, to leave them to discuss my request amongst themselves. I did not want to raise suspicions, if they spoke about this with ‘outsiders’.
In any case, I also had the excuse that I ordered baking-related stuff for them from abroad, and thus I could be able to inform them when it was delivered to my hub.
So, I was privy to at least some of their personal data. My bosses were delighted – and I got a raise. Not that I wanted or need it, but anyway… The details provided them with several leads.
This went on for quite a while, so that they would be lulled into a feeling of security. After a few months, someone came up with the idea that we should begin a mail-order service, because this would be fun and give them an opportunity to sell the cookies far and wide – literally.
I pretended I was an IT klutz and let a couple of them set up an eBay shop. That did not work out, so they set up a Facebook page, and it was a brilliant move.
When I thought it was feasible to do so, I told them I was going to see my aunt, who was terminally ill. This was true. I added that I would use the trip to have an extended holiday – but they could have the run of the basement, to continue production.
However, I did not want them snooping around the house, so I had air freshener cameras installed in the bedrooms, and nanny cams in my kitchen and other rooms.
When I was in Britain, I copied Zilla van den Bornused, the young lady who tricked her entire family into thinking she had had a five-week exotic vacation. Only mine was three months long!
The Secret Service helped, of course, so I didn’t have to do the Photoshop tricks myself.
I even had the digital photos printed into a physical album, to show them when I returned to Zirconia. There was I, talking to a Jain with a mountain as a backdrop; wearing a luau on a Hawaiian beach; eating Korean food from a street vendor; scuba-diving and surrounded by clown fish (there is a moral there, somewhere!); having my face painted by a clown in Ho Chi Minh Square in Saigon, and more.
All the time, of course, I was ensconced in Headquarters, and when I went out for shots that had to be taken in the open air before they were manipulated, I always wore a disguise. In the meantime, we also worked out The Sting operation that was the raison d’être for my having been sent to Zirconia.
I would tell them I didn’t get a tan because I always slathered on the sunblock, since I preferred to remain pale and interesting. I was sure this would raise a couple of laughs – and yes, it did, indeed.
The Officers kept tags on my cameras; and, sad to say, there were a couple of attempts by ‘my friends’ to go to my living quarters… I’m sure it was not because they suspected anything about my double life, but just because they were nosy.
I sent them photos on Facebook Messenger, but I asked them to keep them private. I asked them how sales were going, and they were so proud of themselves, that ‘our’ going concern was operating in the black, and they could make donations to worthy causes.
I gently suggested that we have an actual ‘event’ where we would invite dignitaries to attend to a Cookie Exchange. This, of course, was only a cookie exchange in name, because actually it would be a grand affair. There would be entertainment – a live band, a concert, and a sale. All proceeds from ticket sales would go to charity.
The trap was set. It now remained for the targets to swallow the bait.
This being Zirconia, they all knew someone who knew someone who could put up a sound stage, manage the lights, paint the backdrop, sew the costumes, print the programs, etc etc.
It sort of hurt me to see women who trusted me work so hard to get their men trapped; but all is fair in love and war.
The ruse worked out far better than I ever hoped. I asked the women to send out separate invitations to all branches of their extended family, to make it easier for me to get the Boss of Bosses to attend.
It was a long shot, but it worked. There he was, resplendent in starched white shirt with gold tips at the collar, and reeking of aftershave, trying to behave as if he was just an ordinary proud husband.
The proceedings went without a hitch. Like clockwork, when random people left the venue, some of them were followed by a Secret Service car, and arrested far away enough from the venue so that no one could pin the blame on me.
The headlines of the papers, the next morning, were the cherry on the icing on the cake.
This story previously appeared in Reedsy.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Tanja Cilia is Maltese, Mediterranean, and European - in that order. She writes in between editing and proof-reading. Read more from her at paperjacketblog – This, that, and the other (wordpress.com)