March Appetizers



March Appetizers
with the
Erica Abbott
Copyright © 2014 by Erica Abbott
Bella Books, Inc.
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First Bella Books Edition 2014
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover Designer: Judith Fellows
ISBN: 978-1-59493-404-9
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The night was endless.
During the day the sunshine and doing things made it seem
as if she were living a real life. She would talk to people and they
would talk to her and she would work. The next day the sun
would rise again and she could pretend that it was supposed to
be like this all the time.
She knew she was only fooling herself, but it was all she had.
So every day she would get up and go to work and smile and
keep pretending.
But then night would fall and she was alone. The darkness
opened over her like a black umbrella at a funeral.
She had never noticed how long night could be. During the
day the hours advanced steadily, things to do, appointments to
keep. At night time seemed to stop moving, no longer marching
forward but swirling back and forth in a black and tortured
chasm. She would sit awake looking out at the night, wondering
if she would be there when the sun rose the next morning. At
night she was only herself, with the pain and the grief and the
aching abyss of her loneliness.
The night was endless.
Chapter One
It was drizzling an intermittent March rain as Alex Ryan
ran to her truck after the school meeting. Almost all the other
cars were gone from the parking lot, as she had stayed late to
answer all the questions from those who had been reluctant to
ask them during the meeting itself. As the Captain in charge of
the Detective Squad, school safety was hardly her specialty, but
she’d studied up on the initiatives enough to give a presentation
as the Colfax Police Chief’s representative.
She slid into the leather seat of her SUV and punched the
heater on low. The interior would warm quickly, a benefit of the
expensive vehicle, a gift from her partner CJ St. Clair for Alex’s
fortieth birthday. CJ, casual about money in a way only a woman
with a trust fund could be, had actually suggested replacing it
with a new one this year. Alex remembered arguing against it.
“Just because you change cars every two years doesn’t mean I
have to,” she’d told CJ.
CJ had responded, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll wait until next
year to buy you a new one if you promise not to try to talk me
out of it then.”
Erica Abbott
“CJ, sweetheart, I do not want you to keep buying me new
“It’s for my benefit, too,” CJ asserted. “I have to ride in it
half the time. And besides, I have a vested interest in keeping
you as safe as possible. If you’ll recall, when I met you, you were
driving a ten-year-old truck that had no passenger airbag and
no anti-lock brakes.”
Alex couldn’t argue with that. She did appreciate that this
sleek black model had six airbags and traction control. She
clicked her seat belt into place and pulled out of the lot. When
she had safely merged onto I-225 headed south, she used her
Bluetooth link to call CJ at their condo.
“Hi, darlin’,” CJ answered.
“You obviously got home from the party all right.”
“I left not long after you did. How did your presentation
“Fine. Fortunately, no one asked me a question I couldn’t
answer. Chief Wylie owes me big-time for this one.”
“Enough for a three-day weekend, do you think?”
“I imagine so. What did you have in mind?”
“Nothing in particular. Glenwood Springs, maybe? A
little soaking in the hot springs, a little walking around in the
mountains, a lot of sleeping in.”
“Hmm,” Alex pretended to consider. “Sounds dull. Maybe
Vivien was right. We are getting to be a boring married couple.”
“Do not start agreeing with her!” CJ exclaimed. “There’s
nothing boring about us. My other thoughts about the weekend
are too lurid to communicate in a telephone call.”
“Lurid is good,” Alex remarked, changing lanes back to the
right after passing a slow-moving pickup, the driver apparently
freaked out by the wet highway. “Say more.”
“You want me to talk dirty to you while you’re driving at
fifty-five miles an hour?” Alex heard the amusement in her voice.
“I’m considering the pros and cons,” Alex said. “I guess I can
wait twenty minutes. I just passed Parker Road, so I’ll be home
in…what the hell?”
Acquainted With The Night
Alex glared at the bright lights in her rearview mirror,
approaching fast in the left lane. “An idiot driver,” Alex said
tersely. “Going eighty, at least.”
“Alex,” CJ said warningly. “Do not try anything. I don’t care
if you’re in uniform. You’re in your own car and out of your
“Thanks for the reminder, Lieutenant. I…”
The driver reached Alex’s truck, then pulled just ahead,
still in the left lane. Alex saw the brake lights, bright as rubies
reflecting against the rain-slicked concrete.
“What the hell?” Alex muttered again. It was far too dark for
the driver to see that she was in uniform, so the sudden braking
didn’t make sense…
“Alex?” CJ asked sharply in her ear.
The driver cut over in front of her abruptly, clipping Alex’s
front bumper. Alex tried to brake and turn the wheel away
from the car at the same time, but her tires couldn’t hold the
pavement. In the next second her SUV sailed off the road, and
Alex’s world spun out of control.
Chapter Two
Many times over the past three years, CJ had consciously
paused to fix a memory of Alex in her mind’s eye, taking an
internal snapshot to freeze the image of her partner, so that
she could later take the good memories out and look at them
if she was lonely or troubled. Alex propped up on their couch,
reading, bare feet touching CJ’s calves. A sudden smile at tasting
something CJ had made for her in the kitchen. Her forehead
wrinkled in concentration when CJ entered her office unawares.
The sight of her blue eyes first thing in the morning, bringing
color to CJ’s world again.
Now CJ’s eyes were taking pictures she didn’t want to have,
memories being etched like acid on her mind. Flashing blue
and red lights on the shoulder of the highway, visible from a
mile away as she approached from the other side. The cluster
of highway patrol, sheriff’s vehicles, paramedics and a fire truck
gathered untidily on the pavement or pulled onto the grass.
She turned illegally across the median and got as close as
she could. When she ran out of her car, her mind took the worst
Acquainted With The Night
picture: Alex’s SUV lying at the bottom of the embankment,
the roof half crushed from the vehicle rolling over, the terrible
gashes in the grass, like scars.
Oh, God, a rollover. She’d been sheriff’s deputy for eight years
before joining the Internal Affairs Division of the Colfax Police
Department, and she’d seen more fatal car rollovers than she
could remember.
There were people gathered down around the vehicle,
and many more up on the shoulder. She wanted to turn and
scream at all of them to get down there and help, to get Alex
out of that goddamned car.
One of the men in uniform broke away and approached her.
CJ wanted him to come and tell her to go away so that she could
yell at him that she had to be there, that it was her life lying
trapped down there in the twisted metal and broken glass.
“CJ St. Clair,” the man said, and she recognized him, an old
acquaintance from her days at the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s
office. “What are you doing here?”
“I was on the phone with her, and I heard…I called it in.
She’s…we’re…” She couldn’t form a coherent thought, much
less a coherent sentence.
“Detective,” he said gently, using her former rank, and she
remembered his name was Bernard something, Bernie.
“She’s my partner,” she managed, then realizing he would
misunderstand, she choked out, “We’re married. Is she…”
There was no way to say the words aloud, no reality in which
she would survive hearing the wrong answer to the question she
couldn’t ask.
Bernie said, “They’re trying to get her out. She’s alive, I
I think. She didn’t know whether to fall into his arms
weeping with gratitude or pound against his chest in anger for
his uncertainty. She started down the hill.
He grabbed her arm. “Don’t.”
It gave her the excuse she wanted to scream. “Don’t you tell
me what to do!”
Erica Abbott
He took her other arm and hauled back her up, saying,
“Detective, you have to stay here and let them work. You can’t
help, you’ll just be in the way.”
She tore her arms away from him, but knew he was right
and hated him for it. “I’m sorry,” she panted. “I’m sorry, Bernie,
I just can’t…”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Stay here and think good thoughts. She
was wearing her seat belt, they said, and the airbags deployed.
It’s a big, heavy car, she could be okay.”
I’m buying her a fucking tank next time, she thought desperately.
God, please, let her be alive, please.
There was a flurry of activity at the bottom of the hill. That
has to be good. They wouldn’t be working so hard, so fast, if she were
already gone. It was a fragile thought to pin the rest of her life on.
A hundred other nightmares crowded into her. She made
her bargain with God: Let her be alive. We will deal with whatever
else there is, I swear, just give her back to me with her mind whole, and
I promise I’ll take care of the rest. Please.
For a brief moment, she could see Alex as they lifted her
onto the stretcher, her uniform dark against the white of the
backboard they had her strapped onto. No one was pulling a
sheet over her face, she must be breathing. Five people grabbed
the stretcher and hauled it up the hill as quickly and carefully as
the wet grass would allow.
CJ ran to meet them at the junction of the hill and the back
of the ambulance, and this time no one tried to stop her. They
had Alex in a neck brace, and the blood all over the left side of
her face made CJ’s heart lurch.
“Alex, darlin’, I’m here,” she said, trying to find someplace
to touch her.
To her astonishment, Alex actually opened her eyes for a
moment. Even in the harsh distortion of the flashing red lights,
CJ could see her face was gray with pain.
“Sorry,” Alex muttered. “Scared you, sorry.”
CJ couldn’t talk. One of the paramedics said, “Are you
Acquainted With The Night
CJ nodded. Tired of euphemisms, she fumbled out, “Wife.
She’s my wife.”
The paramedic blinked, then said, “We’re taking her to
Aurora Lutheran.”
CJ wanted to ask how bad it was, but knew it was a useless
question none of them could really answer. Instead she said,
“I’m coming with you.”
Alex closed her eyes again, but managed, “Please.”
They let her sit by Alex’s side. CJ kept a firm grip on her arm
all the way to the hospital, keeping Alex with her, in this world.
CJ sat in the waiting area at the emergency room. She was
attempting to send positive thoughts across the hall to Alex but
all she could think about was the drama of earlier that same
Before the rain, it had been a mild evening for March in
Denver, and people were spilling out onto the deck and the pool
area of the townhome complex where Vivien Wong lived. Music
could be heard coming from within the building.
“What is that?” Alex had asked. “I’ve heard it before, haven’t
CJ listened for a moment and said, “Chaka Khan. Through
the Fire. Sounds like Viv is going with jazz tonight.”
“At least Vivien has good taste in music.”
“And in best friends,” CJ added lightly.
Alex laughed. “You’re so modest.”
CJ smiled. “Not me. I’ve got the most beautiful woman at
the party on my arm, so I have nothing to be modest about.”
She tugged at Alex’s hand and led her into the room without
releasing her. Alex was always careful about public displays
of affection, both because she was a career police officer and
because she’d fallen in love with a woman later in life, but CJ
was comfortable and happy touching her. Vivien was out, and
the party was sure to be filled with lesbians as well as with her
business associates. Viv only gave one big party a year, and she
invited just about everyone she knew.
Erica Abbott
The room was pretty full, people clumped in predictable
groupings. By the food table, there was a crowd of both men
and women, their casual clothing failing to conceal their ties
to mortgage banking, Vivien’s job. Other groups near the bar
were more likely personal friends, women in everything from
cocktail dresses to suits, sequins to jeans.
Alex said to CJ, “Vivien actually hired bartenders this year.”
She nodded at a petite brunette and a tall blond in white shirts
and black ties, mixing drinks with practiced precision. The
wine and liquor bottles set up on the table covered with a white
tablecloth looked like the downtown Denver city skyline.
“She told me she was tired of tending bar and wanted to
“Since when did Vivien ever tend bar?” Alex asked dryly.
“Last year, I think you and I did it most of the evening.”
CJ laughed. “And that’s why I told her to hire help this time.”
Alex grinned at her. “Good thinking, sweetheart.”
A moment later CJ stiffened as she glanced across the room.
Alex turned around, her reaction to CJ’s expression both wary
and curious.
The women approached them and CJ couldn’t see any
graceful way to escape. “I was sure it was you,” one of the women
said to CJ. “It’s been a while.”
She hadn’t changed much, CJ thought. The woman’s dark
hair was cut severely short, showing off diamond earrings just
a bit too large to be in good taste at a casual cocktail party. She
wore a pantsuit that looked like linen, and attached to her elbow
was a much younger woman who was pretty in a vague way,
although she was wearing too much makeup.
“It has been a long time,” CJ replied. Her voice was calm, her
tone carefully controlled. “Viv didn’t tell me you were coming.”
The woman laughed. “She didn’t know I was showing up.
Patty brought me, didn’t you, my dear?”
Patty nodded, sliding her round blue eyes back and forth
between CJ and Alex. “Um, yeah,” Patty said. “I’m with Mountain
Title Company. Vivien and I work together sometimes.” She
offered her hand. “Patty Herron.”
Acquainted With The Night
“Alex Ryan,” Alex said, her expression still cautious.
“Are you a friend of Vivien’s, too?” Patty asked.
“Indirectly,” Alex began. “Actually, I met her through CJ.
They’re old friends and—”
The other woman interrupted, still addressing CJ. “Is this
the new girlfriend, honey?”
Alex narrowed her gaze. She wasn’t the jealous type normally
but CJ could feel Alex’s temper starting to rise.
CJ said abruptly, “Alex. This is Stephanie Morrow.” She
added for clarification, “Steph.”
CJ had only had two serious relationships before she met
Alex: Laurel, her college girlfriend, and Stephanie, the real
estate agent with whom she had lived for two years. CJ didn’t
talk much about either woman to Alex. There hadn’t been any
reason to: Steph was a minor chapter in her past. Alex was her
present and her future.
CJ watched Alex study Stephanie. She was certainly still
attractive in an edgy way, her hair molding against her head
like a black skullcap. Her makeup was perfect and underneath
her expensive clothes she had retained her well-maintained
body. She was CJ’s age, which made her seven years younger
than Alex. CJ wondered if Alex was comparing herself to this
flawlessly turned-out woman.
CJ found Alex’s hand and tangled their fingers together in
silent reassurance, silently answering Steph’s question. She felt
Alex’s tiny tug of gratitude.
Stephanie dropped her eyes to the diamond ring and
wedding band on CJ’s left hand. Her manicured eyebrows rose
and she murmured, “Well, well. Looks like you finally found
somebody to go through that ceremony you always wanted.”
CJ saw that Alex was ready to enter the conversational
conflict, but she was saved from intervening by Patty’s bright
“Oh, hey. You’re CJ St. Clair, Steph’s ex, right? Did anybody
ever tell you that you look just like that singer? You know the
one. Stephy, you know, we saw her on Ellen, remember? It’s
been a while, but you look just like her.” Her look wobbled
Erica Abbott
uncertainly between Stephanie and CJ, searching for help. “You
know. The singer,” she said again.
Steph was ignoring her, but CJ asked gently, “Are you talking
about Trisha Yearwood?”
Patty clapped her hands together happily. “Yes! You’re a
redheaded Trisha Yearwood!”
“I have heard that once or twice,” CJ said. “It’s very flattering
every time, though.”
“You sound like her too, when you talk,” Patty added,
oblivious to the currents of discomfort swirling around her
from the other three women. “She’s from the South, isn’t she?
Are you?”
“I’m from Savannah, Georgia, originally,” CJ explained
patiently, her drawl thickening for a moment. “Trisha is from
a pretty small town about two hundred miles away, I believe.”
“Well, you sound just like her,” Patty repeated.
Stephanie cut in with, “So what have you been doing with
yourself, CJ? Aside from getting out the U-Haul. Are you still
a police officer?” She shot a glance at Alex, not a friendly one.
CJ responded, “Yes, I left the sheriff’s office and I’m with
Colfax PD now. I’m in Internal Affairs, actually. Alex is a Captain
in the Department, in charge of Investigations.”
Stephanie’s lips curled a little and she said, “Oh, nepotism,
Alex had just about had enough, but again CJ stepped in and
said coolly, “Not at all. I’m in a different chain of command.”
She turned to Alex. “Would you mind getting us a drink, darlin’?
I think I could use something refreshing.”
“Of course,” Alex said, letting CJ handle whatever was going
on. “Back in a minute.”
CJ watched her walk across the room then managed a
few more minutes listening to Patty, who liked to chat about
everyone, and fending off intrusive questions from Steph.
Finally Patty said, “Steph, honey, I could use a drink too.”
Steph said, “There’s the bar.”
Patty glared at her and huffed off in the same direction
Alex had taken. CJ thought Steph would be looking for a new
girlfriend pretty quickly at this rate.
Acquainted With The Night
“You femmes keep us busy taking care of your every need,
don’t you?”
CJ replied coolly, “I wouldn’t say that at all. Actually, I find
taking care of someone I love and being taken care of equally
satisfying.” She turned to go, hoping to leave the conversation
behind, but Stephanie wasn’t through.
“You’ve really got her under control, do you?”
CJ suppressed a flare of anger. She turned very deliberately
and said, “I’m not going to take relationship advice from you,
Steph. You don’t know Alex. And you didn’t really know me at
all apparently, or you wouldn’t have suggested a ménage à trois.”
A dark red flush crept up Stephanie’s neck. “You’d be
surprised how well I understand you,” she said acidly. “Do you
still like to be fucked in the shower? You were a pain in the ass
to live with, but you did like fucking.”
CJ stared at her for a long moment, proud of herself for not
slapping the leer from Steph’s face. Then, her voice very low, CJ
said, “You always were an offensive bitch, weren’t you? I can’t
figure out why it took me so long to see that.”
The angry flush reached Stephanie’s cheeks. At that moment,
Alex returned to hand CJ her chardonnay. CJ watched Alex read
the situation and then Alex said, “Nice meeting you, Steph. I
think Patty needs you. Now.”
Steph gave her a glare, then she stalked away. Alex
murmured, “Do I need to ruin Vivien’s party by going over to
slap the bitch?”
CJ looked at her in amused shock. “Why would you do
“I don’t know what she said to you, but I can see your canine
teeth and not in your usual pretty smile.”
CJ shook her head. “You always know how to make me feel
better.” Then she looked into Alex’s stormy blue-gray eyes and
murmured, “I’m sorry for bringing her into our lives, even for
just a minute.”
Now Alex gave her the full smile that always transformed her
serious face. “Please, Red. If we have to apologize for everybody
we were with before you and I met, I’d have to do seven years of
penance for bringing Tony into the equation.”
Erica Abbott
CJ grinned, suddenly feeling much better. “You are so right,”
she said with a laugh. “Dealing with your crazy ex-husband
the district attorney on a weekly basis is much worse than my
occasional bitchy ex-girlfriend.”
Alex squeezed lime into her tonic water. “I agree.” She
glanced around and added, “Is Laurel here, by chance? I’m on
a roll and I’d love to tell off your other cheating ex while I’m
at it.”
CJ laughed again. “Sorry. She’s still in Georgia, last I heard.
And I’m not keeping track of her. Keeping track of you occupies
all my time.”
Alex decided to take advantage of the opportunity to be
affectionate in public and leaned over to kiss her, very lightly.
“And that’s the way I like it.”
Vivien Wong joined them at that moment. She was in bright
red, a tunic with a mandarin collar that emphasized her Asian
features. “Okay, knock it off,” she said tartly. “Jesus, I invite you
two to a cocktail party so you can mingle and you just stand in
the corner and neck. With each other. How boring.”
CJ hugged her hostess. “I keep telling you, Viv. It’s the
opposite of boring, believe me.”
Alex added, “And that’s not really necking. I could show you
the difference, if you’d like.”
Vivien rolled her eyes and then hugged Alex, too. “I’d like
that,” she said, suggestively. Flirting with Alex was one of her
occasional hobbies, but the unspoken rule was that she could
only do it in full view of CJ.
“I meant with CJ, not you,” Alex said with mock severity.
“Christ, you two are boring as hell!” Vivien exclaimed.
CJ laughed at her. “Not so boring,” she said. “I think Alex
was ready to throw a punch or two at one of your guests a
minute ago.”
Vivien’s eyes widened. “Which one?”
CJ gestured across the room, where Steph was having what
looked like a disagreement with Patty. “Stephanie,” CJ said.
Vivien exclaimed, “Christ on a pancake! I had no idea Patty
was bringing that cunt to my party.”
Acquainted With The Night
CJ choked on her wine. “For heaven’s sake, Viv! Just because
we broke up doesn’t make her a…” CJ hesitated over the word.
Vivien shook her head and turned to Alex. “For God’s sake,
she can’t even say it, despite the fact that she presumably spends
much of her leisure time in and around one. I hope to Christ she
at least manages some choice language for you in bed.”
CJ, suddenly angry again, demanded, “Why is everyone
suddenly so interested in the details of my sex life?”
Alex’s face turned hard. “Is that what Steph said to you? She
really is a—”
CJ interjected, “She’s not a nice person.”
Vivien threw up her hands. “I give up. I’m going to go play
hostess and flirt with the bartender.”
“Which one?” CJ eyed the two women behind the bar.
Vivien smirked before she answered, “The blond Vikinglooking one, of course. Alex, this one is all yours.”
CJ watched the slow smile cross Alex’s face.
“That’s true,” Alex murmured. “She is.”
When the time came for Alex to go, she touched CJ’s arm.
“I’m going to go change. I’ll come back and say goodbye to you
before I leave.”
“See you in a minute,” CJ said.
Alex disposed of her glass and said goodbye to her hostess.
CJ watched her walk across to Viv’s townhouse, where she’d
stashed her uniform earlier. After a couple of minutes CJ
followed, opening and closing the door to Viv’s spare bedroom
Alex turned around, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
Alex asked.
“Thought I’d help you get dressed,” she said in her best
sultry tone.
“I’ve been getting dressed all by myself for about forty
years,” Alex remarked.
“Hmm. Then maybe I came in to help you get undressed.
I’m much better at that anyway.”
Alex deliberately removed her blouse and tossed it onto the
bed. “I’d have to agree with that. But I have to go.”
Erica Abbott
CJ crossed to her, close enough to run one long finger under
Alex’s bra strap, easing down to touch the soft skin at the top of
her breast. “That’s too bad. I love the black bra.”
CJ smiled as she felt Alex’s breathing speed up.
“Sweetheart, I really can’t be late for this meeting.”
“Oh, I know,” CJ acknowledged. The finger was wandering
into the valley between Alex’s breasts. CJ saw her nipples tighten
underneath the lace and she grinned again in approval.
“CJ, honey…”
CJ dropped her hand. The look on Alex’s face was mixed
relief and disappointment. “I was just making sure,” she said.
“Making sure of what?” Alex demanded. “That I had to go
off to a meeting in front of a couple of hundred people with my
panties damp?”
CJ leaned in and murmured, “I was making sure you knew
it’s always you I want.”
Alex said, “I think all you’ve proven is how much I want
“Good,” CJ said, approvingly. “In that case, I’ll wait up for
you to get home.”
Alex ran her nose down CJ’s cheek, nuzzling her softly. “Will
you? What will you be doing?”
“Hmm. Let me think. Reading, I suppose. In bed. Naked,
of course.”
Alex gave a little groan. “I really, really have to change
“Go ahead. I’ll just watch.”
“No, you won’t. If I take off one more stitch with you in
here, we both know what will happen.”
“Umm. What was that, again?”
Alex told her in vivid terms. CJ tried to look shocked, but
only managed to feel self-satisfied.
“Well, we wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?” she
managed after another of Alex’s searing kisses.
Alex muttered, “We might.”
“Now, now. You have to go to your meeting, so I’ll just run
Acquainted With The Night
Alex groaned again. “So you really just dropped in here to
make me crazy for you?”
“Just a reminder.”
Alex pulled away a little and met her eyes. Every insecurity
CJ had ever felt over two failed relationships vanished when
Alex looked at her like this. “You don’t have to remind me,”
Alex said. “I never ever forget how much I want to be with you.
You’re the person I waited for all my life.”
CJ relaxed in her arms a little. “Not the package you
expected, though?” she teased.
Alex kissed her a final time. “You’re so much more than I ever
thought I could have. Sometimes I can’t believe how beautiful
you are. Now, please get your gorgeous self out of here, or I
really am not going to make that meeting.”
CJ went to the door, but stopped and turned back with her
hand on the knob. “Sure you trust me in the same room with
Steph?” she teased again.
“Of course,” Alex replied calmly. “You are carrying your
backup weapon, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”
CJ laughed. “Darlin’, you know I never leave home without
“Good. Then remember to always use the force appropriate
to the situation.”
“You are such a cop sometimes.”
“Go. I’ll call you on the way home, okay?”
“Okay. Be safe, darlin’.”
“Always. I have a really good reason to come home safely.”
Diane \Nood
Copyright © 2014 by Diane Wood
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
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mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in
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Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper.
First Bella Books Edition 2014
Editor: Medora MacDougall
Cover Designer: Linda Callaghan
ISBN: 978-1-59493-393-6
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Already nervous, Christine swallowed hard as she watched
Nathalie Duncan push open the wrought-iron gate and step back
into the shadows—at the same time motioning for her to lead the
way. She hesitated, trepidation causing her heart to skip a beat
and her large green eyes to widen in alarm. Her every instinct
screamed for her to leave. Yet her youthful innocence made her
want to please.
“It’s okay, Chris,” Nat murmured, looking into the vine-and
tree-covered walkway. “It’s dark, but it’s okay.”
“I don’t know, Nat,” she whispered. “This is a bit weird. Why
do we have to do this?”
“Because Mother wants to meet you,” the dark girl responded
automatically. “She’s insisting on meeting you. Please, Christine…
for me?” Desperation flowed from intense gray eyes.
Nodding reluctantly, Christine ducked to avoid overhanging
branches as a hideous shriek rent the air. Screaming, she turned
to flee, and crashed wildly into her girlfriend.
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“Shit,” mumbled Nat, hurriedly grabbing Christine’s hand.
“It’s only a cat.”
“Jesus,” Chris hissed, angrily, a shiver passing down her spine.
“Can’t we just do it another time?”
Without replying, Nat used her free hand to hammer with the
old-fashioned knocker.
“I thought you lived here. Don’t you have a key?”
“I do,” she replied with a shrug, reaching into the pocket of
her jacket. “But Mother likes me to knock first.” Pulling out a set
of keys, she undid first one lock and then a second. Pushing the
door with her elbow and stepping into the hallway, she indicated
for Christine to join her.
Peering into the dimness, Chris felt overwhelmed. Having a
lover, and a female one at that, was peculiar enough at her age
without this strange ritual that Nat was insisting on.
To their right a large wooden staircase disappeared upward,
and to the left the gloom of the corridor stretched endlessly
before them. Moving down the hall, they made their way in
single file toward another heavy wooden door. The light filtering
underneath it appeared to be the only light in the house, and it
occurred to Christine that it was strange that Nat hadn’t turned
on a hall light. Then she felt the warmth of Nat’s hand touch her
back, guiding her firmly forward.
Nathalie knocked lightly before pushing open the door. It
looked like a door that would creak on rusty hinges. Instead
it opened smoothly and silently. The light in the room was
dim, but compared to the darkness in the hallway it appeared
comforting. The room was empty except for several poodles
sitting motionless—watching—their black eyes tracking every
movement—their silence unnerving.
“Mother must be in the sunroom,” Nathalie said, glancing
around the room but making no comment about the dogs.
Suppressing a shudder, Christine looked around. The room
had an open fireplace but no fire, and it felt even colder than
outside. The furniture was old-fashioned but of good quality, and
the wallpaper appeared colorless and mottled. She couldn’t tell
whether that was because of the way the light reflected from the
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two heavily covered lampshades or whether it really was stained
and old.
Wordlessly, Nathalie guided Christine toward a door at the far
end of the room. Still the dogs didn’t move or make a sound—not
that Christine would have heard them over the frantic pounding
of her heart. Looking at Nathalie’s face, she was concerned to see
the iciness reflected back at her. Nat was every bit as scared as she
was. This realization only worried her more.
Again Nathalie knocked lightly before pushing the door open.
This room seemed even more dimly lit than the one they were
leaving, but as Christine stepped down the single step into the
room, it at least felt to her somewhat warmer.
“Hello, Mother,” greeted Nat quietly into the large room.
“I’ve brought Christine to meet you.”
Squinting into the dimness, Christine made out the figure of a
woman sitting at what appeared to be a card table. Her body was
bent over the table, and the single bar electric heater at her feet
cast an eerie red glow over her lower body.
“Welcome, my dear,” replied the woman without looking up.
“It’s so nice to have you to my home. Do come in.” The voice was
low and smooth and the welcome almost sensual as the woman
continued to look at the cards spread before her.
As Nathalie pushed her forward, Christine glanced around the
room. It was quite a narrow room, but a long one and it opened
out beyond where Nathalie’s mother sat. All the windows were
heavily curtained and every piece of furniture had something on
it—books, charts, Tarot cards, crystals, candles and still more
Originally the room would have been a parlor, where years
ago the ladies of the house entertained their guests in privacy.
Now it was being used as a living room and study. Someone
needed to replace the lightbulbs in the mock chandelier that hung
directly over the card table. Its four small bulbs made everything
in the room look dull and dingy. Swallowing a feeling of dread,
Christine took a step toward Nathalie’s mother.
Only now did the woman begin to rise from her table.
At first she thought that Nat’s mother was very old and thin,
but clearly the light had played tricks, because as she stood to
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receive the introduction, the woman before her appeared young,
slim and stunningly beautiful.
“So pleased to meet you,” the woman gushed, moving
forward. “The cards are very auspicious for today’s meeting,”
she said, indicating the spread of Tarot cards on the table beside
her. Then, taking the surprised girl into her arms, she gave her a
lingering—and very un-motherly—kiss.
The intimacy and passion of it took Christine aback, the
overwhelming attractiveness and sensuality of this woman and
the feel of her body against her own leaving her aroused and
disgusted all at once. This was her lover’s mother. This was all
“Pleased to meet you,” she mumbled, trying to pull her
eyes away from the intensity of the woman’s gaze. Could the
woman read her mind, sense her arousal? Suddenly Chris knew
that she could—and that she was enjoying it. Her emotions in
overdrive, Chris managed a glance toward Nathalie, expecting
to see embarrassment or a look of apology. All she saw was open
resentment aimed squarely at her mother. This time when she
focused back on Nat’s mother she saw triumph reflected in her
eyes. Oddly she felt flattered by the attention.
“Can we move into the lounge?” Nat inquired quietly. “It
would be more comfortable.”
“No, I think the parlor will be fine,” stated her mother, casting
an impatient look at her. “I’d have to move my dogs if we used
that room, and besides it’s too formal.”
Moving away from Christine, the woman began to walk
toward the rear of the room, showing them both to an oldfashioned living area. The back part of the room was as packed
with furniture and books as the study was, but here at least the
seats were empty—as if awaiting the arrival of guests.
“Nathalie, do make us some coffee, won’t you?” her mother
demanded, gesturing toward a rear door.
For a moment Nathalie didn’t move, her eyes flicking between
Christine and her mother, her reluctance to leave obvious.
The hesitation hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Glancing toward her daughter, her mother insisted, “Now,
Nathalie. Goodness, girl, we’ll all die of thirst waiting for you.”
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The voice was soft and gentle and at odds with the intensity of
the demand.
Panic at being left alone with this strange woman flooded
Chris, and she looked pleadingly at Nat, but her friend’s focus
was on her mother. Christine’s heart sank as Nathalie turned and
disappeared through the dark brown door.
“So, you’re Nathalie’s newest girlfriend?” the woman stated,
sitting down in a rigid-backed chair and gesturing toward the
ancient green sofa. “You’re fourteen too, I presume? I must say
that you’re not like her usual friends.”
Still embarrassed from the kiss and unsure what to say,
Christine made a production of settling herself into her seat. As
she did so, she took the opportunity to look around the room. It
was as ill-lit as the others, and although there was a small lamp on
a covered coffee table not far from them, most of the light seemed
to come from the strange-looking chandelier near the card table.
Suddenly she felt small and very much out of her depth.
“Thank you for inviting me, Mrs. Duncan,” she said timidly.
“Nathalie has spoken about you often.”
“Oh, I doubt that, my dear,” she challenged. Her eyes were
flat and lifeless. “I truly don’t think Nathalie is very fond of me.
But then that’s a mother’s lot isn’t it? Raising children, only to
have them argue or rebel at the first opportunity.”
The words held a hint of annoyance, but then she smiled,
and the tension dissolved—to be replaced by a feeling of warm
acceptance. It was as if a potent drug had just been released
into the atmosphere, heightening Christine’s awareness of her
surroundings and of the attraction and fear she felt toward her
lover’s mother. Overwhelmed by guilt and confusion, Christine
dragged her eyes away and again began looking around the room.
Every wall was covered in prints or paintings of esoteric
beings—goblins, witches, angels, leprechauns, anything
representing that other world. Nathalie had told her that her
mother was heavily involved in the occult and that she read the
fortunes of the wealthy for a living, but nothing had prepared
Christine for this house or the feelings Nat’s mother would evoke.
“Your house is very interesting, Mrs. Duncan,” she lied, desperate
to break the silence. “Nathalie told me you’re interested in the
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“Oh, not just interested, my dear,” declared the woman with
that flirtatious smile. “I live the occult and it lives through me.”
Then, pausing to adjust her long flowing skirt, she said, “But
please, call me Charlotte…and my surname is Silver. I was never
married to Nathalie’s father. He only stayed around long enough
to put his name on her birth certificate.”
Something about the way she spoke reminded Christine
of her grandparents, yet the woman couldn’t have been more
than about thirty-four, and she looked even younger. Her body
was slim and supple, and although she gave the impression of
being a “dark” woman, her coloring was actually very fair. Even
as Christine tried to evaluate what it was about Charlotte that
fascinated her so much, it occurred to her that her assessment
hadn’t gone unnoticed. The woman’s smile had become blatantly
sexual and her eyes deliciously inviting.
As Christine struggled to hide the blush spreading across her
face, Nathalie entered the room with a tray in her hands. For a
second she seemed to hesitate and Christine noted the flash of
anger in her eyes and how the smooth dark skin crinkled around
her mouth. She appeared tense and worried, but her eyes didn’t
meet those of either Christine or her mother. Instead she busied
herself playing hostess. Had she sensed the electricity between
Laying the tray on a table, Nathalie handed her mother a
black coffee and offered a plate of chocolate biscuits. Taking
one with an acknowledging nod, Charlotte watched as Nathalie
handed Christine her cup, extended the biscuits and then took a
seat beside her.
“I hope Mother hasn’t been asking too many awkward
questions while I was gone,” Nathalie said without any hint of
humor. “You know what mothers can be like.”
“Well, it isn’t every day that a mother gets to meet her
daughter’s lover, is it now, Christine?” Then addressing Nathalie,
“You are lovers, aren’t you, darling?” she asked pointedly.
“Yes, Mother, we are,” answered Nathalie quietly, glancing in
Christine’s direction. “But really that’s our business.”
“Oh, of course it is, my darling, of course it is,” she murmured.
“But you know how fascinated I am by anything perverse.”
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Stunned, Christine looked toward Nathalie, expecting her to
be embarrassed or angry.
Instead she found Nathalie smiling at her mother, as if proud
that she was doing something that had made her mother sit up
and take notice.
For just an instant, Christine could see a likeness between
mother and daughter. It wasn’t a physical thing because Nat’s
athletic darkness was in complete contrast to her mother’s
delicate fairness. It was more in the strange challenging look that
each wore and the coldness in their eyes. It sent a twinge of fear
through her, as, with a start, she realized how little she truly knew
about Nathalie Duncan.
They’d met at school a few months earlier, when Christine
had moved to Sydney’s inner city with her mother and older
sister. It wasn’t that they’d wanted to leave their large suburban
home, but when her father had died, leaving them few resources,
her mother had decided they needed a smaller, cheaper place that
was closer to her work.
It had been traumatic for them all, but more so for a fourteenyear-old already suffering the disturbance of her emerging
sexuality. For the longest time she made no effort to connect with
anyone at her new school, but eventually her looks attracted a
few. Still she was the outsider, groups and cliques having already
formed in the earlier years of high school.
Then she’d met Nathalie. She had immediately been affected
by the power of the strange dark girl with the very short hair. At
times she seemed to blend perfectly into her surroundings, but
at other times it was impossible not to notice her. In class she
answered questions only when directly asked, but she always got
them right, and when it came to tests or exams Nathalie never
failed to earn top marks. Her classmates were in awe of her—but
also envious, curious and discreetly disdainful.
The very strangeness of Nathalie attracted Christine and
made her want to know more.
Theirs was a multiethnic school, yet Nathalie didn’t seem to
fit within any of the obvious social or racial groups. Her hair was
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black and spiky, her eyes were the lightest gray and she had skin
the color of coffee latte, but her race was a complete mystery.
At first she’d appeared to Christine as confident and aloof, but
gradually it occurred to her that this was simply the way Nathalie
dealt with being different.
And Nathalie was definitely different. She never wore the latest
fashions of pretty skirts and dresses, makeup and accessories. She
looked like a boy and dressed like a boy. Jeans, shirts and namebrand running shoes were her daily school uniform, her books
and stationery thrown casually into an old army backpack.
Expecting Nathalie to be the target of taunting from her peers,
Christine was fascinated to watch how deferential everyone was
toward her—including the teachers. Behind her back there were
whispers but never raised voices. It was as if she intimidated
them—not overtly, but purely by her presence.
Nathalie paid Christine no attention at all for the first months.
It was during the third month that she first spoke directly to her.
Missing her father and feeling particularly miserable and
distracted, Christine had paid little attention during the lesson
and had managed to miss the instructions regarding that night’s
assignment. Then as the final bell rang and everyone including
the teacher exited the classroom, she’d found herself alone with
It was as if the girl knew she had a problem. “You seem so sad,”
Nathalie stated in her warm, smooth voice as Christine began
slowly packing up her books and papers.
“What do you mean?” she heard herself reply, strangely
affected by the intimacy of Nathalie speaking directly to her.
“You’ve been distracted all day and now you look puzzled.”
Gathering her thoughts and stunned at her classmate’s
insight, she shrugged. “I missed what homework we had to do
for tomorrow. Daydreaming, I guess.”
“Do you do that often?” she asked casually. It had been said
jokingly, but the look on Nathalie’s face had been comforting
and understanding, and Christine had felt herself warm to this
strange creature. Perhaps it was loneliness or perhaps it was the
way the girl looked at her, but suddenly Christine knew that she
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wanted to know Nathalie Duncan better. Wanted her to be her
friend—wanted to tell her everything.
“Sometimes I like daydreaming,” she stuttered slightly
defensively. “I don’t like being at a new school…and I miss my
dad.” Then without thinking, she added, “Not that my mother
cares. She just thinks I need to pull myself together and settle
“Well, that’s it then,” the girl replied quietly. “After all, mothers
are always right!” The tinge of bitterness that edged the girl’s
voice made Christine hesitate for a moment, but her expression
hadn’t changed, and straightaway she went on to write down the
homework the teacher had set. Handing the neatly written paper
over to her, Nathalie said, “I’ve got my mother’s car if you want a
lift home? You’ve probably missed your bus by now.”
“You can’t drive a car!” Christine laughed in surprise. “You’re
not old enough.”
With a mocking shake of her head, Nathalie replied, “I don’t
need a bit of paper to tell me that I can drive. Besides, Mother
maintains that if you can get away with something, then why not?
I drive well and I enjoy it.” Smiling slightly, Nathalie indicated
for Christine to follow.
Without hesitation she did.
“So, do you trust me, Christine?” she asked over her shoulder
as they exited the building. “To drive you home, that is,” she
Amused, Christine followed without replying. It wasn’t really
her nature to do anything remotely illicit, but she was sick of
being obedient and law-abiding, and somehow this felt right.
Together they left the school grounds, heading for a small
side street a short distance away.
“I can’t let the teachers see me driving this,” said Nathalie,
indicating a late model Mercedes. “The secret of doing things
you’re not supposed to be doing is to make sure you don’t flaunt
it,” she pointed out, unlocking the passenger door and holding it
open. “People can turn a blind eye to wrongdoing while they’re
free to pretend it isn’t happening, but if you insist on making
them acknowledge it, then they’ll feel they must act.”
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Inside the car the force of Nathalie’s personality overpowered
Christine, yet she felt comfortable, cared about and fascinated.
Without asking where she lived, Nathalie turned left and
left again, heading along the main route to Christine’s house.
Nathalie was right—she was a good driver. But why should that
surprise her? It seemed that everything Nathalie Duncan did,
she did well. It was only when she stopped the car outside their
flat that Christine thought to ask how she knew where she lived.
“Oh, I know everything,” Nathalie acknowledged with a nod.
“And what I don’t know I’ll find out.”
“What does that mean?” Christine demanded, not sure
whether to be worried or not.
“You interested me, so I followed you home one day.” It was
a statement with no hint of apology and no expectation that
anyone would be upset.
Christine was speechless but also strangely flattered.
“I like you and I want us to be friends,” Nathalie continued,
“but you need to know that most people think I’m a lesbian.
Therefore, if you become friends with me there’s a good chance
that you won’t be accepted into any of the other groups around
the school.”
Her honesty took Christine’s breath away. How could this
girl, the same age as she was, be so open about such things with
a virtual stranger? Was it that she didn’t care, or was it some sort
of defense mechanism?
“So, how do you feel about that?” Nathalie prompted,
interrupting Christine’s jumbled thoughts and emotions. “Do
you want to be with me? Do you want to be friends?”
“I…I don’t know,” stuttered Christine, confused. “I…I mean…
well, I like you. At least I think I do, but…”
Blushing madly, she asked the question that had been on her
mind since she’d first noticed Nathalie Duncan and heard the
schoolyard whispers. “Are you a lesbian?”
“I don’t know…maybe,” she replied nonchalantly. “I prefer
having sex with girls than boys and I don’t like girl’s clothes
much, but I’ll do it with both.” Pausing briefly, she asked, “Does
it matter?”
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
“I don’t know,” Christine answered honestly. “But, I don’t
think I am…lesbian that is. I’ve never…well, I’ve never actually
done it.”
“So you haven’t had sex. Is that what you’re saying?”
Looking down at her skinny knees, Christine didn’t answer.
Shrugging and indicating that it wasn’t a problem, Nathalie
said, “So what? Everyone has to start somewhere, but the first
time would be much nicer with another girl than a man—believe
Looking up, it didn’t surprise Christine to see the invitation
reflected in Nathalie’s serious gray eyes. It made her feel like a
woman. This conversation wasn’t like any other she’d had about
sex. Those had always been secret, giggling, lurid discussions about
a particular boy or boys and their anatomy, and although she’d
experienced the same curiosity as her friends, the conversations
had never made her feel like a sexual being. This conversation
was personal and was taking place with someone she hardly knew,
yet she was aware of a need building inside her that would have
to be satisfied later in her small bedroom—secretly and silently,
under the bed cover.
“I have to go,” she muttered, trying to regain control of her
burgeoning desire. “My sister will be home from university soon.”
“Then I’ll see you at school tomorrow?”
Christine was aware of Nathalie watching her as she gathered
her books and began climbing out of the car. She didn’t know if
she wanted to continue with this friendship. It was strange, it was
exciting, but she was also just a little afraid. When she failed to
respond to her question, Nathalie added, “If you don’t want to,
that’s okay too. Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.”
Without waiting for a reply Nathalie leaned over and, pulling
the door closed, headed back in the direction she’d just come.
That night, Christine slept very little. All night she was
assailed by images of Nathalie—the intensity of her personality,
the boyish attractiveness of the girl and the casualness with
which she treated her sexuality. Did she want what Nathalie was
offering? And if so, did that make her a lesbian? In the past, her
erotic fantasies had always been about boys, yet at times many of
these boys had appeared rather androgynous. It wasn’t the first
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time that Christine had been confused by her own ambivalence,
but it was the first time she’d had to actually confront it.
Their first time took place in a small flat that Nathalie said was
owned by her mother. They’d let the friendship build over those
first couple of weeks, spending every spare moment together but
never again discussing sex.
Nathalie was intense, humorous and very intelligent, and
for Christine it was such a relief to find a friend on the same
wavelength as herself. It was hard to ignore the covert glances
they received when they ate lunch together, and she felt the eyes
of her fellow students burning into her back as she left school
each afternoon with Nathalie. Yet while these things bothered
her, Christine never doubted her decision to let the friendship
take its course.
By the second week Christine had found herself lying to her
mother and sister in order to spend time with Nat. Not that it
was truly lies. She was going to a friend’s place and they were
studying together, but they both knew that it was much more
than that. They both knew that inevitably they’d become lovers.
It started with a gentle kiss over coffee, and even now she
couldn’t remember who’d instigated it. Christine had kissed
several boys and felt their hard young bodies against her own,
but nothing they’d done had made her body respond with such
desire—such unbridled passion.
Slowly and skillfully Nathalie began to undress her, each
movement and touch sending thrills of excitement to places
Christine didn’t even know existed. Moving with her to the
bedroom, Nathalie had laid her down and, stripping off her own
clothes, had stretched out beside her on the huge bed. Only then
did Christine begin to doubt.
Sensing her nervousness, Nathalie whispered, “It’s going to
be okay, Chris. I promise. You can’t stay a virgin forever and
this is the best way. Just trust me, I won’t hurt you and I know
you want it as much as me.” Pressing herself against Christine,
Nathalie kissed her lips, her neck, then down toward her tiny,
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young breasts. All the time her hands were wandering, playing a
wonderful sensuous tune on every part of her body.
The feeling of flesh against flesh combined with those kisses
made all doubt disappear, as Christine’s body’s demand for
satisfaction increased.
Moving away slightly, Nathalie whispered, “I have something
for you. Do you trust me?”
Barely able to control her need for completion, Christine
nodded her agreement.
Reaching down and pulling out a drawer beneath the bed,
Nathalie returned to their lovemaking. This time, though, instead
of resuming her stroking and touching, she pressed something
firmly between Christine’s legs—the pressure making her moan
and move to receive its hardness.
At first there was a little gentle pain, but Nathalie was touching
her and it was exciting and made her want to open herself more.
As she did so the hardness began to fill her and her movements
against it became measured and rhythmic—the feeling so much
more exciting than she’d ever experienced at her own hand.
Nathalie’s movements mirrored her own, as did her breathing
and the whimpers of enjoyment. Desperately they clung together
in an erotic dance, allowing their need to dictate the pace. Finally,
gasping and moaning at the intensity of her pleasure, Christine
felt her passion reach its pinnacle—exquisitely releasing all of
that glorious tension. Seconds later, Nathalie followed the same
route, clinging to her and groaning her satisfaction.
It had been too exciting, too satisfying to turn away from.
Doubts crept in at times, but her physical needs took over and
Christine found herself almost permanently aroused when she
was around Nat. It was like a drug—the more they had sex, the
more Christine wanted it and the more exciting Nathalie made
Of course her mother and sister asked questions. They
wanted to meet Christine’s new friend—the one she studied with
every afternoon after school. But they were busy with their own
lives and didn’t seem to notice that she never quite got round to
bringing Nathalie home.
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It wasn’t the same for Nat. Early in their affair, Nathalie told
her about her mother—that she lived in an expensive part of
town and was independently wealthy, that Nat had never known
her father and that her mother had always been happy to let
Nat do whatever she wanted—sex, drugs, underage driving. All
she demanded was that Nat bring her lovers home to meet her.
When Nathalie spoke, Christine thought she detected a sliver of
fear in the girl’s voice. She dismissed it as her imagination.
“I think your young friend needs more than coffee,” Charlotte
whispered to Nathalie, as Christine sat with a stunned look on
her face. “Please don’t be offended, Christine. What’s happening
between you and my daughter is perfectly natural and rather
lovely. I don’t mean to embarrass you. But to the rest of society
with its antiquated moral code, you would be seen as ‘perverse’
and perversity fascinates me.”
Unable to formulate any kind of sensible response, Christine
simply stared. This woman was so unlike anyone she’d ever met
before—beautiful and delicate, but with a ferocious and blatant
sexuality that took your breath away. It was hard to take offense
at her words. In fact the more she spoke, the more Christine
realized that this openness held a hidden promise, something
that at once attracted and repulsed her.
“Let’s have something stronger to drink,” mumbled Nathalie,
abruptly rising from her seat and heading toward the kitchen.
Moments later she returned with a bottle of bourbon, glasses and
an opened, half-full bottle of Coke.
Pouring the drinks, Nathalie said, “This will help us relax and
enjoy the evening.”
They discussed school and Christine’s family and the fact that
they didn’t know about her “friendship.” They spoke of boys and
men, Nathalie admitting that her first sexual experience had been
with one of her mother’s male lovers. By then the alcohol and
whatever they’d put into her drink had Christine in a blissful and
erotic haze and nothing being said shocked her.
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
Eventually they ate, but while the food tasted lovely,
Christine could not have guessed what it was she was eating.
Her concentration was firmly on the feeling of being courted,
flattered and given all the attention any normal fourteen-yearold could desire. The warmth of acceptance by this mother and
daughter combination made her feel special. She wanted that
feeling to last forever.
Christine’s mouth felt dry, her body ached and the smell of
the bedclothes was strange. Yet she didn’t want to move. Moving
was too painful. Slowly she turned her head, trying hard to peer
through the gloom of the darkened room.
She was in a huge old-fashioned bed, and she was alone. But
where was she? Vague memories flitted briefly through her brain,
but as she tried to catch them and pin them down they evaporated,
leaving behind only a disconcerting feeling of discomfort—of
sadness. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she looked around. There
was a strange musky smell that seemed familiar, yet not quite
Suddenly, realizing her nakedness, Christine rolled back onto
the bed, tears sliding silently down her face. Where was she? And
why couldn’t she remember? It was this that frightened her the
most—the sheer terror of having no memory to draw from. And
why was she so sore?
Then it hit her. The smell was sex—different from when she
and Nathalie made love, but definitely sex.
Nathalie, something about Nathalie, Nathalie’s mother’s
house? That was it. That was the last thing she remembered—
meeting Charlotte Silver.
Rising tentatively and peering through the gloom, Christine
found first her underwear, then her jeans and top. Moving slowly,
she opened the heavy wooden door, listening for the slightest
sound—nothing. The corridor stretched in both directions,
but one end seemed to advertise the possibility of a doorway
or stairwell, so treading carefully, she made her way toward it.
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Questions flooded her brain, but she pushed them aside, hoping
only to see an open door leading to the outside world, hoping that
this was all a dream and that she would wake up in a moment, safe
in the warmth and security of her own single bed.
“Sleeping Beauty awakes.” The voice was deep and rich—
and male. It came from behind her. Turning quickly, Christine
stared. Standing before her was a young man not much older
than herself. Tall and lean and startlingly handsome, he wore
only underpants, a look of familiarity on his face and a shy smile
in his eyes.
“Who are you?” she demanded with a gasp. “And where am
“Well, you really did have a good night, didn’t you,” he replied
nonchalantly. “I didn’t think I’d be that forgettable.”
Christine started moving toward the top of the stairwell. “I…I
need to go home,” she stuttered, panicked that once again her
memory was failing her and disliking the inference that this boy/
man was making about the night before.
“You were very good, you know,” stated the boy evenly. “Lots
of fun. Even Mother thought so.”
She was on the first step now and ready to leap down the rest
if he so much as made a move toward her. But he remained where
he was.
Suddenly, from the doorway beside him, another figure
emerged. She recognized Nathalie’s mother, and the recognition
made her feel somewhat calmer.
“Oh, good morning, Christine,” Charlotte murmured, pulling
her skimpy robe a little closer around herself. “How are you
feeling this morning? Give me a minute and I’ll get downstairs
and make us all some breakfast.” Reaching out to the half-naked
boy, she pulled him into the room, nodding sweetly and closing
the door behind them.
For a moment or two Christine stood staring at the door,
unable to grasp why the boy, presumably Charlotte’s son, would
be in her room without his clothes. The whole scenario was too
bizarre to contemplate. With the closing of the door, her burning
need to leave this place returned. Quickly she moved down the
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
Making her way to the front door and turning the handle, she
pulled, but the door did not move. Staring at it, she noted the two
deadlocks above the handle. Neither came with a key. Pulling
at the door in frustration, she began to cry. “Let me out,” she
begged quietly. “I want to go home. I want to go home.”
“It’s okay, Chris. It’s okay.” The voice was right beside her
ear as the warm familiar body enveloped her, crushing into her,
holding her firmly.
“Nat, thank God.” Gasping, she tried to turn around, but the
arms held her firmly.
“Ssssh,” whispered the voice. “Mother rang your mother to let
her know you were staying, so there’s no need to rush off. Mother
wouldn’t like it. Let’s have some breakfast and then I’ll take you
“What happened…last night?” she mumbled, finally able to
turn in Nathalie’s arms. “Why did I end up in that bed and where
were you?”
“Come,” she answered, attempting to pull Christine by the
arm. “Let’s go through to the kitchen.”
“No, I don’t want to.” Christine tried to shake her off. “Why
can’t I remember what happened? And why is this door locked?
And who’s the boy upstairs? You never said you had a brother.”
“Chris, please—”
“What did you do to me? I want to go home.”
“Oh, not yet surely,” interrupted another voice from the
bottom of the stairs. “That’s very discourteous and would
displease me immensely.”
Both girls stopped in their tracks to look at Charlotte.
Now fully dressed, she stood, her head to one side and arms
folded across her chest, a benign smile on her lips and ice in
her eyes. “Please, let’s at least have coffee before indulging in the
guilty histrionics consistent with your conservative background,”
she demanded, indicating for the girls to move down the passage.
Silently, they made their way back through the room with the
dogs, back past the card table and onward into a huge dining and
kitchen area at the back of the house. Taking a seat at the large
ancient table, Nathalie pulled Christine onto the seat beside her,
all the time keeping a tight grip of her hand.
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“Now, would everyone like orange juice?” asked Nathalie’s
mother, as if it were a normal family breakfast.
As Nat’s mother moved toward the cooktops, Christine turned
to Nathalie. The girl looked pale and her eyes wavered guiltily.
“What’s going on, Nat? I want to know.”
“Nothing,” she replied with a slight shrug. “You just got a
little drunk last night and Mother phoned to check with your
family if you could stay over.”
“Then why am I so sore and why weren’t you in bed with me
when I woke up?”
“I was. I got up earlier, that’s all.” It wasn’t true and they both
knew it.
“That boy…the boy I met upstairs, is he your brother?”
“George? He’s my half-brother. We had different fathers.”
“So why didn’t you tell me you had a brother, and where was
he when I met your mother yesterday?”
“He didn’t come in until later, after we all got drunk. We were
having such fun, so he joined in. You didn’t seem to mind.”
Nathalie’s eyes were as hard as flint and her stare cut Christine
to the bone, plunging her deeper into her nightmare.
“Oh, come on, Chris, don’t pretend that you didn’t enjoy it,”
she snapped. “You wanted something to spice up your life, that’s
why you wanted to be with me. I taught you to enjoy sex with a
woman, and George showed you how it could be with a man.”
“And you were very good,” muttered the young man as he
entered the room and took a seat opposite. “But I didn’t get too
greedy. I shared you with Nat and Mother, didn’t I, Nat?” Leaning
across he reached out to touch Nathalie’s face, but resentfully she
pushed his hand away.
Laughing, he said, “Nat’s just jealous. She’d have liked to keep
you all to herself, but Mother insisted we share, didn’t she, Nat?”
Staring at him in stunned silence, Christine was only vaguely
aware of Charlotte putting down a plate of egg and bacon in
front of each of them.
“George is right, of course,” Charlotte said, standing behind
him and running her hands down his neck and across his
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
shoulders. “Life is only good when everyone is having their needs
met, and you certainly seemed to be enjoying yourself last night.”
Smiling, she continued, “My daughter taught you well.”
With that, the memories returned in volume, pouring into
Christine’s brain, flooding her senses. All of them naked on the
huge bed she’d woken up in—Nathalie kissing her, touching
her, George moving against her with Charlotte offering eager
encouragement. The delicious desire and daring, the joy of
feeling needed and the wild excitement of it all. It was fun, it was
all about the moment, and she knew she wanted to experience
this handsome boy inside her. Moving toward him, she guided
him between her legs. There was the sense of Nathalie moving
away, her eyes focused on some distant point on the wall, her face
tense and miserable, but she wanted him—she wanted George.
“Oh God, oh God,” Christine spluttered as the feelings
that went with the memories began to intrude, forcing her to
recognize her own participation in last night’s events. But the
memories continued—her awareness of Nathalie’s unhappiness,
but her own desire to continue what she’d started. “You must
have drugged me,” she accused, leaping up from the table and
denying the crushing weight of her own guilt. “I’d never have
done those things except if you drugged me.”
“You only did what you wanted to do,” answered Charlotte,
still standing with her hands on George’s shoulders. “It’s
nothing to be ashamed of. Sex is all a natural part of growing up.
Experimenting teaches you how exciting it can be, and you did
come back for more—several times.”
“No, this isn’t right. You’re all mad,” she mumbled, looking
at Nathalie, who avoided her eyes. “I want to go home now. I’m
going to tell what you did to me.”
“And are you going to tell that you’ve been having sex with
my daughter for weeks? Are you going to tell that you came here
voluntarily? Drank alcohol and begged to join in the fun with
your lover? And if you do, who’s going to believe that you didn’t
want any of it?” Gasping as the words hit home, Christine ran
toward the kitchen door, closely followed by Nathalie.
“Leave me alone,” she screamed as Nat made a futile grab for
her clothing.
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“You haven’t got your shoes or your bag, Chris,” Nathalie
pleaded. “Wait until we find them and I’ll drive you home…
By now they were back in the hallway, but the front door was
still just as locked as when she left it. Bursting into tears, Chris
dropped to a crouch beside its formidable blackness. “Don’t touch
me. Let me out of here,” she screamed, slapping at Nathalie’s
hands when they reached to help her up.
“I’ll get your things,” she said quietly, heading up the stairs
toward the bedrooms. “And then I’ll get Mother to let us out.”
It was only a minute before she returned. Crouching in front
of her, Nathalie whispered, “It will be okay, Chris. You liked
George and he liked you. I was younger, but the first man who
did it to me hurt me really badly and he didn’t care. I didn’t want
it to happen to you like that.”
“You brought me here deliberately so they could use me?”
“No, they wanted you to be part of the family. And you seemed
to enjoy it.”
“Oh God, you’re sick,” she spat, standing up. “I hate what you
let me do, and I hate your fucking family.”
“Now that’s not very nice.” It was Charlotte, standing slightly
behind Nathalie and holding out a set of keys. “It’s just your
straitlaced upbringing making you believe you have something
to feel guilty about. You’ll feel much better later, when you come
to remember how much you enjoyed yourself.”
Snatching for the keys, Chris screamed, “Let me go.”
But the hard-faced woman held them tightly and, moving
closer to the angry young girl, she whispered into her face,
“Don’t ever threaten me or my family with disclosure. I have very
powerful friends and you really wouldn’t like to see me angry.”
Then, stepping back a little, she softened her demeanor and,
handing Nathalie the keys, she said, “Drive your little friend
home, and make sure she’s calmed down before you let her out
of the car.” Addressing Christine, she said, “You were very good,
and we don’t want Nathalie keeping you to herself. Anytime you
want to, feel free to visit us. Believe me, it can be a mutually
beneficial arrangement.”
Too stunned to speak, Christine watched as Nathalie unlocked
first one, then the second lock. As if sensing that she was ready
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
to bolt the moment the door swung open, Nathalie took a firm
hold of Christine’s hand. “I’ll drive you and we’ll talk,” she said
strongly, before leading her like a small child to the plush car
parked in the driveway. It was the middle of the morning, but
the huge old house and its gardens appeared almost as dark and
gloomy as they had last night.
Once in the car, Nathalie locked the doors and put the key in
the ignition, making no attempt to start the engine. “We need to
talk about this,” she said, sounding completely rational. “What
are you going to tell your family?”
Staring at her in stunned silence, Christine shook her head,
she didn’t know the answer. What was she going to tell her
mother? Without warning the tears flowed. In one debauched
night everything had changed. She wasn’t Christine Martin,
demure student, daughter of respected parents. Suddenly she was
Christine Martin—the girl who would do anything for pleasure,
including sleeping with her girlfriend’s brother and mother. And
yes, Charlotte Silver had been right, it had been pleasure, and she
had enjoyed it, and she did want more. It had been satisfying and
it had been exciting.
But, hanging above all of that, like the Sword of Damocles,
was the guilt and the fear of being found out, and those emotions
overwhelmed her. Her sobbing bordered on hysteria and nothing
Nathalie said helped. She started the car and headed out. Vaguely
Christine realized that she had no idea where Nat was taking
her—nothing looked familiar—but lost in her own misery she
didn’t even question why she wasn’t being driven home.
Arriving at Nathalie’s mother’s flat, Nathalie helped Chris
from the car.
Only when she entered the flat did Chris ask why she was there.
“I should be going home,” she mumbled rather unconvincingly.
“I’m worried about you,” Nathalie answered, putting her
arm around the girl’s shoulder and drawing her toward her. “I
thought you’d like being part of the Silver family. Mother can be
very generous when she’s pleased, and you seemed to have a lot
of fun when it was happening.”
“Oh God, Nat, what am I going to do?” Her tears flowed, as
she clung to her girlfriend, hoping she had the answers. “I did
enjoy what we did, but people will hate me if they find out.”
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“It will be okay,” Nathalie reassured her, gently touching
her tear-stained face. “Nobody will hate you, and nothing has
“Everything’s changed,” she muttered sadly. She wanted what
Charlotte Silver’s world offered—to live and be treated like an
adult. She wanted to be taken seriously. She wanted to be wanted.
Yet her mother would tell her it was wrong. Her sister would tell
her it was wrong. They’d never understand.
Her sobbing escalated.
“You’re really scaring me now,” Nat said, pulling the girl
nearer. “You’ll make yourself sick. But it will be okay, Chris. I
promise,” she whispered soothingly, as she walked her toward
the bedroom. “I’ve got something that will make you feel much
She heard Nat’s words, but their meaning eluded her—the
fear and confusion unremitting as Nat encouraged her to sit on
the bed.
And then Nat was gone, disappearing into another room—
leaving her alone with her pain and turmoil. The tension was
unbearable now, as she tried to think logically, tried to calm the
crippling thoughts that swirled and crashed inside her head.
When Nat returned, she was holding a belt and some sort of
dish with what appeared to be a hypodermic needle in it. “What’s
that?” she asked, her tears easing slightly with her girlfriend’s
return. “Is that…” She didn’t want to use the word “heroin,” it
was the ultimate taboo.
“It’s just a little something I use occasionally when I have bad
dreams or get scared,” Nat replied quietly. “It makes you forget
all the bad shit going through your head. It won’t hurt you and it
will make you relax.”
“Okay,” Chris mumbled, wanting only to feel better.
Sitting very still, she watched as Nathalie pushed up the sleeve
of her filmy white top, brushed away the damp hair from her face,
and tied off her arm with the narrow belt. She’d seen it in movies.
She knew what it meant. And for a second Chris thought about
stopping Nathalie…but only for a second.
Tapping out a vein, Nat seemed to hesitate, as if she was going
to say something, but a moment later Chris felt the prick of the
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
needle entering her vein and the rush of the sweet liquid washing
away every frightening or confusing thought. The peace was
instantaneous, and she allowed herself to slump back onto the
A short time later she was being sick, and Nat was wiping
her face. But even so, she felt so good, so totally relaxed, so
unconcerned. For the moment, she didn’t need Nathalie, she
didn’t need her mother or her sister, and she didn’t care what
anyone thought.
Releasing a satisfied sigh, Chris lay back down to enjoy the
She had no idea how long she’d been asleep when she woke
and struggled to sit up.
Nat had been lying beside her, and she rolled toward Chris.
“Are you okay?” Nat asked, the concern obvious in her voice.
“Sure. I feel…nice. But where are we?” Some of the confidence
Chris had experienced earlier was leaving her now, and she was
feeling just a little unsure.
“We’re at the apartment. I brought you here because you were
so upset. I only gave you a very small hit,” she explained, “but you
couldn’t have gone home like that or your mother would have
wanted to know what happened.”
“I can’t tell her, Nat,” she whispered, taking hold of her hand.
“She and my sister can’t ever know. They’d hate me.”
“They don’t have to know. You can have a shower here, and
once the smack wears off some more I’ll take you home. It’s not
that bad really.”
“I enjoyed it, Nat,” she admitted, the drug allowing her to
temporarily bypass the guilt. “I mean, your mother was right. I
did want to do those things with you and her and George. It was
fun and…God, it was so exciting. It was my fault.”
“It was nobody’s fault,” mumbled Nat. “Mother says wanting
sex is normal. She says that you shouldn’t have to wait until a
certain age, just because some old politician makes a law. She also
says that her pills make it all the more enjoyable.”
Slowly, very slowly, Nathalie’s words sunk in through the
delicious warmth of her hit. “What pill?” she asked. “What are
you talking about?”
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“Mother put it in our drinks. It’s only herbal, but it seems to
heighten the senses and relax us.”
“So I was drugged?”
“No. Mother says it’s a relaxant. We got drunk and relaxed.
That’s all. It hasn’t changed anything between us, and Mother
will forgive you for what you said before you left. Nobody has to
know. It was just one night.”
“Yes, you’re right,” she answered, touching Nathalie’s face.
“You don’t hate me because I let George…and your mother…
you know?”
Nathalie smiled. “Just so long as you still like me,” she
answered quietly, pulling Chris back down beside her.
“It’s you I want, Nat,” she replied, pressing herself into the
dark girl’s body and placing Nat’s hand between her legs. She was
mellow, she was carefree. How nice it would be to feel like this
all the time.
It began with a kiss and escalated to warm tender loving, Chris
reveling in the renewed enjoyment of her rising excitement and
Nathalie’s ability to satisfy her need. And yet a small part of her
wondered if Charlotte and George would really still welcome
her back after everything she’d said. And if so, how would Nat
“Mmmm…” she mumbled, dozy from the gentle lovemaking
they’d just completed.
“The stuff you gave me earlier. It makes me feel really good.
Can I have some more?”
Present Day
It was always the same—hands reaching out and pulling at
her clothing, grabbing her wrists, touching her. Nothing she
did would free her from their grasp. Then one of them would
kiss her, his expensive aftershave and whiskey breath filling her
nostrils and his harsh stubble tearing at her face. Then there was
his weight crushing her and that excruciating pain as he forced
his way into her. Then everything would freeze and she was in
a different place, the pressure in her head and chest would start
to build, so that drawing breath was difficult and painful. Her
eyes wouldn’t open, but she knew no one was holding her down.
Instead there was the smell and feel of earth crushing her and a
terrifying inability to move. Good Mother was watching her with
sadness, seeing who she’d turned into and walking away.
They always ended the same way, these nightmares—two
identical mothers, one ashamed and sad, turning her back and
disappearing through a door, the other holding her down, letting
them touch her, whispering words she couldn’t hear, but that
she knew started as cajoling and ended as threats. And still the
Diane Wood
paralysis and difficulty breathing, until gasping and sweating she
woke—tears of fear and confusion fresh on her cheeks.
Afterward there was exhaustion and intense anger. She
couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t been part of her
personality. Lately, though, they had been worse. Instead of
once or twice a week, they were becoming almost nightly events
and the breathing was more difficult, so that her lungs hurt and
her head spun. When she did wake, it would be with a painful
The clock showed two forty-five a.m., and she was exhausted,
but the anger and sadness of the nightmare remained. Nathalie
knew it was pointless trying to go back to sleep. Instead, wrapped
in her ancient toweling robe, she made her way to the kitchen
and turned on the electric kettle. Kick-starting the computer in
her study, she returned to make herself a cup of tea.
“Good God, woman, what the hell are you doing?”
“Shit, you frightened me,” she exclaimed, turning toward
the sleepy male voice in the doorway. “I forgot you’d stayed the
“Another nightmare?” he asked, tucking his T-shirt into his
baggy old track pants. “It’s time you saw someone about those,
you know.” His voice, although tired, sounded genuinely caring,
and once again Nat was saddened that she couldn’t tolerate a
relationship even with a loving, gentle man like Josh Dawson.
“Soon,” she mumbled automatically. “I’ll see a shrink soon,
but that doesn’t explain why you’re awake.”
Raising an eyebrow in her direction, the tall lean man indicated
that it definitely did explain why he was awake. “Nat, you were
growling and calling out. It sounded like you were having a major
struggle with someone—even worse than usual.”
“So what are you working on?” he asked, indicating the
computer through the open doorway. “Or aren’t I supposed to
“Just another custody case that nobody wants to handle,” she
replied vaguely. “An unemployed biracial mother with two kids
fighting a wealthy manipulative Anglo husband. And all I can do
is offer advice and write a few arguments.”
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
“Aha, then it’s probably good that you don’t sleep well. You
wouldn’t have time to do volunteer work at the Women’s Center
as well as face the challenges of working in the prosecutor’s office,”
he said with a grin, wondering if she’d pick up on his sarcasm.
She didn’t respond.
“Speaking of which,” he continued, “how is that going? I know
you didn’t give up working as a lawyer and join the police only to
be back in lower courts running minor police cases.”
“Do you really want to know about that now?” she said with a
laugh. “It’s three in the morning.”
“Good point,” he agreed with a wink, moving to lean on the
kitchen counter.
Even after all this time it was hard for him to accept that
they hadn’t been able to make it. He’d loved her, and wanted
to understand, wanted to know her better. But she’d never
given herself emotionally, and in the long run, what she’d been
offering—delicious as it was—hadn’t been enough.
“Kathy’s moving out today,” he stated, running his hands
through his dark brown, short-cropped hair. “So I’ll take my gear
with me and leave you in peace. I must admit it’s been nice having
your place to run to when things went sour…and nice to catch
“Anytime,” she answered easily. “You’ve got the key, you’re
house-trained and you’re used to someone screaming themselves
awake in the middle of the night.”
With a wave and a nod, he returned to his bedroom. His
thoughts traveled to when they were working at the same police
station five years ago. It had been love at first sight for him, but
it had taken a long time to convince her to go out with him. All
those accidental meetings and friendly cups of coffee before she’d
finally agreed to a date. Things had moved quickly from there.
She wasn’t his normal type. Not classically beautiful, nor even
particularly feminine, but she was slim and sensual, and with a
smile that disarmed and eyes that drew you like a magnet she was
not to be ignored. And her voice had a cadence and timbre to it
that reminded him of the lullabies his mother used to croon to
him. It was easy to imagine how she could persuade a crusty old
magistrate to see things her way.
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Thinking of their time together was getting him aroused. It
was the one area he believed they’d been totally compatible—
sex. Whenever he was in the mood, she’d been willing, and she
was able to satisfy him in a way exclusive to her. However, the
lovemaking had been as brilliant as the emotional side had been
poor, and eventually, after six exciting but emotionally frustrating
months, he’d moved back to his own place. They remained friends
and saw each other regularly. They spoke often on the phone and
he’d introduced his new lovers for her approval. He suspected Nat
had also had the occasional lover, but he never met any of them,
and nobody else had ever moved into Nathalie’s apartment. As a
result, she’d allowed him to use the place whenever he needed to
get away from one of his disastrous relationships. But she’d made
it very clear the offer didn’t include sex.
How he wished it did. Lying back on the bed and reaching
downward, he allowed his imagination to take him back to how
it used to be.
The police prosecutor’s office was as chaotic as usual and
Nathalie’s head was pounding, but she had a stack of cases to
review before court that simply wouldn’t go away. That meant
two more headache pills, a hot tea and an effort of will to shake
off the feeling of loss and anger from the nightmare. From
experience Nathalie knew the feeling would pass, as would the
headache, but the frequency of the nightmares was becoming a
worry. At this rate she would be too exhausted to do her job.
“Fuck! Police can be so lazy sometimes!”
The voice was loud and coarse and right behind her head.
“Oh God, Bella,” Nat moaned, putting her hands to her ears.
“It’s not even eight o’clock and someone’s already upset you?”
The woman was tall and skinny, and although only a few years
older than Nathalie, she looked ten years older. “Take a look at
some of these briefs,” she complained, throwing a pile of files
onto Nat’s desk. “A six-year-old could do better. Some of them
don’t even attempt to meet the proofs of the crime, but they
expect a successful outcome in court.”
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
“Well, when you’re commissioner you can sack them all,”
replied Nathalie, only half joking.
Bella Pittolo was ambitious and intended being the first
Italian/Australian female commissioner of police. Like Nat, Bella
was a fully qualified lawyer who’d chosen a career as a police
officer. Both had ended up on loan to the Parramatta police
prosecutor’s office, prosecuting minor offenses in lower court.
However, where Bella had a plan for her career, Nat was happy to
transfer between any squads that the hierarchy decided needed
“So they’re finally going to start transitioning out police
prosecutors and replace us with civilians,” Bella stated. “They’re
starting with our branch.” Shaking her head, she continued.
“Thank God they’ve finally realized that they can’t afford to
have experienced police tied up prosecuting minor criminals,
when we already have the Department of Public Prosecutions
set up for the more serious shit. A prosecution’s a prosecution,
for Christ sake. Anyway, we’ve got about three months. Can’t say
I’m heartbroken. I need something more high profile if I want to
move up. What about you?”
“What about me…what?” mumbled Nathalie, trying to
concentrate on the paperwork in front of her.
“Surely you must have a preference about where you want
to transfer? You’ll never get on if you let them hide you away in
some obscure little cop shop.”
“Don’t really care.”
“Strikes me,” she said dramatically, “that you don’t really care
about anything. How long has it been since you got laid?”
“Fuck off, Bella! My head hurts, I’m very tired and I don’t
want to hear how you can set me up with one of your friends.”
“Then have a drink with us after work tonight. I’m meeting
Jackie at the Castle, having a meal and then heading home. You
haven’t got anything better to do.”
“How the hell do you know?” She tried to sound indignant,
but it didn’t work.
“Just say yes, and I’ll leave you alone.”
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Smiling, Bella picked up her files and returned to her office.
She had only been in the force a short time and had already made
sergeant. For Nathalie being a police officer was something she’d
fallen into after two years of boredom in a prestigious law firm.
The money had been excellent and there had been the promise
of more to come, but it had been mind-numbing and emotionally
draining to defend people who, for the most part, she loathed.
The law degree and top marks at the police academy ensured
she was on the fast track, but her lack of ambition over the last
six years meant she’d never exploited her opportunities. Still,
among numerous other police courses on offer, she’d completed
the detective’s course and worked briefly in the local police’s
detective’s office before being rushed into police prosecutions.
Idly it occurred to her that if transfers were imminent, it might
be worth applying for a detective position in the inner western
suburbs or Sydney central. At least that would be close to home.
Court took most of the day and then they were heading to
the Castle.
Bella was hard to like—perhaps that was the very reason
they’d formed a friendship. Neither woman shared emotions or
cared what others thought of them, but in every other way they
were opposites. Bella was pale, large-boned and awkward, with
a plain, serious face, while Nat was dark, athletic and attractive.
While Bella could be aggressive and demanding, Nat seemed
able to command the same level of respect with a few simple
words or one icy look. Intellectually they were equals, and it had
taken only a short time for each to conclude that the other could
be trusted.
Jackie was sitting at a table near the back of the room and
waved as they entered. Every time she saw them, Nathalie
wondered about how Jackie and Bella had got together. They
seemed to have so little in common.
Bella never discussed her private life at work. People assumed
from her physical appearance that she was lesbian, although
they’d never mention it to her face. The only reason Nathalie
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knew about Bella’s sexuality was because Bella had made the
assumption that Nat was into women and had carried on a
conversation accordingly.
Nat had told her about Josh and left it at that, but Bella insisted
that at the very least Nathalie should open herself to the option
of bisexuality. This wasn’t a subject Nat wanted to discuss—even
with Bella, whom she now considered a friend.
Jackie was short and slim with glasses and blond, curly hair
that appeared to always be in her face. She seemed pleasant
enough, although Nathalie sometimes got the impression she
was flirting with her behind Bella’s back. The two women had
only been together a short time.
“So glad to see you again,” Jackie greeted with a smile. “I was
beginning to think you were avoiding us because of Bella’s efforts
to turn you into a dyke.” The greeting came with a hug and a kiss
that made Nathalie uncomfortable. She wasn’t a tactile person
and would prefer to shake someone’s hand rather than embrace.
“It’s good to see you too,” she responded automatically, taking
a seat opposite the two women. “How’s your new job?”
“Don’t ask,” she said with a grimace, looking toward Bella for
support. “Anyone who tells you being a waitress is easy has rocks
in their head.”
“Well, you could try staying in one job for more than a month
and you might not have to lower yourself to serving other people
meals,” argued Bella, obviously not impressed with the girl’s new
“She’s right of course,” agreed Jackie acceptingly. “But life’s
too short to stay in boring jobs that don’t fulfill the soul.”
“And being a waitress does?” snapped Bella in her usual
aggressive manner.
There was silence while Bella threw back her whiskey and
raised her hand toward the waiter for another. Again Nathalie
wondered what these two women could possibly have in
common. Yet Jackie never flinched, accepting Bella’s comments
with a giggle and a vapid smile.
They chatted for a while about mutual acquaintances, about
the job and about Nat’s social life or lack of it, and then Jackie
asked about her work with the Women’s Center.
Diane Wood
“I don’t do much,” Nathalie explained. “I can’t represent
anyone in court because with me being in the police it could
become a conflict of interest. But I can offer legal advice or
suggest lawyers who might help. Sometimes it’s just letting the
women know their options.”
“Sounds most altruistic,” muttered Bella, who had little time
for what she called “needy women.” “But isn’t that what their
own lawyer is supposed to be doing?”
“Not everyone can afford a lawyer, as you well know, Bella,”
Nathalie reminded her. “And, as you also know, sometimes it’s
just a matter of writing a letter or pointing them in the right
direction. Besides, I enjoy it.”
“And it gives you an excuse not to have a social life,” she
responded dryly, slurring her words slightly from the whiskeys
she’d poured down her throat.
“Bella, for heaven’s sake, Nathalie doesn’t look like she’s
pining for love. And I’m sure if she wants someone she’ll have
no trouble winning them. You’re not her mother.” The steely
undertone in Jackie’s voice drew Nathalie’s attention, but all she
saw was a smiling woman with a twinkle in her eye.
Forcing a smile, she replied, “Thanks, Jack. It’s time someone
told your girlfriend to get off my back about relationships. It’s
becoming an obsession.”
Shaking her head, Bella just laughed.
While Bella was ambitious, Jackie was the opposite. Any job
was a good job—for a while anyway. And her idea of a good book
was a woman’s magazine. Yet, she could be witty and funny and
something about her left Nat with the impression she was far
more intelligent and cunning than she wanted anyone to know.
And that puzzled her. Still, Jackie did put up with Bella, who,
although dismissive of her, seemed quite fond of the girl. And
together they could be good company.
At the end of the evening, Nathalie dropped the two women
back at Bella’s house and headed home.
The Fortune Teller’s Daughter
The nightmares continued the rest of the week. By Friday
evening Nathalie was exhausted, but it didn’t stop her going to
the Women’s Center.
The center consisted of an administration office, staff
common room, large recreational area and five general offices. It
provided medical and legal advice, a social worker, counseling and
information services for women in difficulty. From time to time
it also ran parenting, child health and basic money management
workshops. Most importantly it provided a safe place for women
to meet, share their experiences and support one another.
Established by Jordan MacKenzie and her partner, Danielle
Veillard—wealthy ex-prison workers—the center continued
partly through government funding, but largely because of a
yearly grant provided by this couple.
While the center had numerous community contacts and
a range of professionals who gave their time, they’d been
missing the services of a psychologist. Recently they’d received
information about a woman who might be able to help.
“We’ve decided that you should be the one to approach her,”
said Lenore Kingsley, the center’s social worker and manager,
addressing Nathalie.
“Me?” queried Nat, looking around the table at the faces of
the other three volunteers. “Why me? I don’t know her any more
than you do.”
“But you’re the most persuasive,” declared Rena, the jovial
Pacific Islander who lent her nursing skills to the center two or
three times a week. “You could convince anyone of anything or,
alternately, scare them into submitting.”
Stunned, Nat drew a deep breath. That wasn’t how she saw
herself, but it was how she thought of her mother. Was she really
that much like her?
“Who is she?” she asked reluctantly. “And what makes you
think she’d want to put in time at the center?”
“Her name’s Alexandra Messner,” replied Lenore, reading
from the notes in front of her. “She’s a clinical psychologist at the
women’s prison. A friend of mine works there as a social worker
and recommended her because she’s got an excellent reputation
Diane Wood
among the prisoners and the staff. She’s straight down the line
apparently and very good at getting her patients to acknowledge
and find ways to deal with their problems.”
“It definitely sounds like someone we could use here.” Rena
nodded amiably. “Some of these women have big problems.”
So it was decided.
By the time she finished at the center, Nathalie was exhausted
and grateful there was no work the next morning. Two glasses of
port later, she sank into her first dreamless sleep for a week.
Lea Daley
Copyright © 2014 by Lea Daley
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, without permission in
writing from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper.
First Bella Books Edition 2014
Editor: Katherine V. Forrest
Cover Designer: Linda Callaghan
ISBN: 978-1-59493-394-3
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or via any other means without the permission of the publisher
is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized
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piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is
Chapter One
Even before I was fully awake, I knew I was in a hospital. The
air had a pungent, artificial quality, and too-bright light assaulted my
eyelids. Just beyond view, I sensed a bustle of activity. I was lying flat
on my back, chilled to the bone, paralyzingly lethargic—tired beyond
Then I remembered why I was there. Reaching for my head, I
patted tentatively—no bandages, no swelling, no pain. Only my own
hair, thick and springy to the touch. Longer than I liked it. I continued
that tactile inventory, tracing all the familiar contours of my face.
Everything was just as I’d left it.
But when exactly was that? And why had nothing changed? Fear
gripped me—had I staked my life on an impossibility, only to wake
to the same mortal sentence? Was I still doomed, but now isolated
beyond all conception? Had I stripped myself of everything that
could have made my final days matter, only to live them out devoid of
meaning? I struggled to sit, but instead sank back into a strange and
drifting darkness. Cold. So cold.
Lea Daley
A face. Peering at me. Hazy and indistinct. I moaned slightly, and
it—she?—jumped back in surprise. When I reached out, a smooth
hand caught mine, returning it firmly to my side. My vision slowly
cleared, revealing Asian eyes and warm-toned skin. She (definitely
a she) spoke in soothing tones. The language was English, no doubt
about that, but subtly different. God! How long had I slept?
I tried to rise, then shrieked with fright—there was nothing to
push against! A startled giggle burst from my…nurse? observer?
companion? Glancing down, I realized I was suspended three feet
above the floor. Absurdly, the thought of that small drop was terrifying.
Adrenaline rocketed through me.
A second voice then, a woman’s, smoky and imperious. “Try a situp.”
I turned till I found the source, headed toward me to take a closer
look. She moved with a confidence all too rare in the females of my
day. A dyke if I ever saw one. Enormous brown eyes, tawny hair. And
that face! Pure sunshine! Could she be part of my cure?
“Do a sit-up, Leslie.” Under that pleasant huskiness, I heard
impatience and a hint of command.
The little nurse softened the dyke’s directive: “Your hands lack
sufficient mass to activate the field.”
Tightening my abs, I lunged upright and saw only iridescent floor
tiles below. I patted the space around me, feeling oddly primitive. The
sole support was directly beneath my ass and thighs. Too much! As
I rolled backward into a faint, that inexplicable resilience unfurled,
catching me just in time.
Alone. And grateful for the privacy. Launching myself into a seated
position, I took inventory. The oppressive lethargy had lifted, replaced
by a sense of wellbeing. I was healthy. I was whole. I knew it. My plan—
so desperate, so dangerous—had worked! I might have awakened in a
strange time and place but adaptation wasn’t even an issue. Because, if
nothing else, my people were fabled for against-all-odds survival.
Someone had dressed me in white, a weightless fabric that draped
and shimmered around my body. But when I tried to smooth a pleat,
I gasped. Though my eyes insisted I was clothed—and modestly—my
fingers found only nude flesh. To look and touch at the same time was
sheer madness. I raised my hands skyward, watching the nonexistent
sleeves of my nonexistent gown slide down, obeying every command
of gravity. I couldn’t explain the phenomenon, couldn’t change it.
Taking a deep breath, I set the problem aside for later consideration.
The room seemed warmer now. No—I was in a different space.
On one wall, a huge plane of glass. Not transparent enough to be a
window. Not reflective enough to serve as a mirror. It gave back a
murky image—my face, disturbingly ghostly. And in the dim sheen of
the glass, a beckoning quality that drew me, hinting at depths to be
After a moment of hesitation, I lifted both legs and felt the subtle
pressure supporting them dissipate. Flexing my knees, I dropped to
the floor, profoundly grateful for a smooth, organic solidity underfoot.
But apparently I’d exhausted my very limited resources. Because I was
staggering by the time I arrived at the glass. My palms, my forehead,
met the slick surface. Slid jerkily downward. That stutter and drag of
skin against glass the last thing I felt before oblivion.
Waking became predictable. Each time, I wrestled with the eerie
feeling that I’d been home only moments before—and that eons had
passed since then. More alert now, I scanned my environment. The
proportions, textures and colors were innately soothing, owing much,
I thought, to the elegant esthetic of Japanese tatami rooms. Every
element composed of natural materials, appealing precisely because of
irregularities and variations. The ugly perfection of plastic nowhere to
be seen. And I knew only obsessive attention to detail could produce
such seemingly artless beauty.
Still nothing could compete with the person lounging against the
“windowsill,” looking bored as hell. That woman with the superior
attitude who’d been present shortly after I first came to. The one I’d
instinctively recognized as a dyke.
She jerked to attention when she heard my feet hit the floor.
Stepping forward, she extended a steadying hand. The shock of her
touch ran through me like sun-warmed honey. Noting my smile, she
pulled away and snapped her fingers, arrogant as any queen.
My little nurse stepped into view, bowing deeply. “I will inform the
High Council this one has awakened.” Something glinted at her wrist
as she raised a hand. Then she walked through the wall and out of
sight, her abrupt disappearance like a special effect in a cheap holoflik.
The dyke followed, traces of some spicy perfume lingering behind.
For an instant, I could only gape. Then the deeper meaning hit me,
and I spun around. Not a single door to this room—I was trapped! The
Lea Daley
surface where my visitors had vanished was smooth and unyielding.
Still I searched frantically for a hidden catch or spring. Nada. Crazed,
driven, on the verge of hysteria, I thudded both fists over every inch of
the wall. Then I heard myself whimper.
Shouting, “I will not lose control! This will not happen to me!” I
slapped a palm on the faux window. Which cleared instantly. To reveal
a vast, rolling sandscape that was no part of Planet Earth. I flung up
one arm against the brilliance of sister suns, recoiling from their glare.
Maybe fainting can be overdone, but I really had no choice.
You can adjust to almost anything, given enough time. I learned to
stretch out wherever I chose, knowing that support would materialize
beneath me. I became blasé about people walking through walls. I even
got used to the idea that the “clothing” I wore was an illusion—one
I controlled through mysterious mental gymnastics. What I couldn’t
accept was my ignorance, my imprisonment.
I cornered Tahm’Hzu, that timid little nurse, and demanded
a hearing with her superiors. As if I had a right. And maybe I did,
because shortly thereafter, a trio of strangers appeared in my room.
Unannounced. Sublimely self-contained. Important personages,
Tahm’Hzu transmitted through reverent body language. Part of the
“High Council,” which I understood to be a governing body. And
they were known as “the Elders,” though their ages appeared to vary
significantly. The three faced me, executing a perfectly synchronized
nod. Almost, but not quite, a bow. “Mi’lana va’tir.”
“Good day,” I said, assuming that was a local salutation. Then I
nodded back. Just as deeply, but no more. “Thank you for meeting
with me.”
Not caring whether they found my direct gaze disconcerting, I
studied my guests. They were strikingly similar in appearance, slender,
with warm-toned skin and angled eyes. The youngest conveyed a
powerful impression of deference toward the others. One of whom
was called N’yal Di’loth—somehow both his name and title. Since
there was no word in English to describe their actual function, I was
encouraged to think of them as healers. They were at my disposal.
N’yal Di’loth promised they’d answer every question.
I had my list ready. It had been circulating through my mind since
day one, and I’d memorized it in order of priority. Because if this place
had methods and materials for jotting notes, none had been offered
to me. When I finally spoke, my heart was pounding, my mouth dry.
“Where am I?”
“In what you might call a transitional home.”
“No—what’s the name of this place?”
“The name will have no meaning for you. We call it Jashari.”
I swallowed hard. “What year is it?”
They looked puzzled, then bemused. “Time is not marked here in
the way you are accustomed to.”
Was that an evasion? Or were they patronizing me? “Surely you
can do the math!”
They put their heads together—three wise ones in search of an
idiom. “But what is the point?”
“What’s the point? I need to know!”
The trio gazed at me with infinite compassion. “Everyone from
your era is long dead. Every place you visited, dust. Does it matter
whether it’s 2310 Terratime, or 4258?”
How casually N’yal Di’loth tossed out those numbers, so impossible
to conceptualize! Perhaps he meant that as a metaphor. Or a joke. And
yet I felt it again—the sense I’d slept through endless passages of time.
Goddamn! I’d waited so long for these answers, but each one left me
more bewildered.
Maybe I needed another approach. My voice was shaky when I
said, “Okay. Let me tell you what I remember, then you fill in the gaps.
My name is Leslie Burke.”
They nodded confirmation.
“Back in my time, I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.”
That was acknowledged by a group bow.
“We—my culture—had just begun to use cryogenics to preserve
the terminally ill, hoping they could be cured in the future. Since
I was going to die, and pretty unpleasantly, it was worth trying.”
Remembering, I shuddered. My oncologist hadn’t believed in shielding
her patients from ugly realities.
“I wasn’t rich. Holographers rarely are—were. But the Supreme
Court had ruled that life insurance benefits could be applied to
cryosleep. Because once frozen, patients satisfied every definition
of death. That decision made the procedure accessible to ordinary
My audience appeared to concur. So far, so good. “I traveled
extensively for work, so I already had a monster insurance policy—”
Lea Daley
The Elders gasped.
“—that’s just slang for an unusually large policy. After I named
Cryocorp my beneficiary, the company took care of all the details.”
Because I was going to leave everything behind anyway—and if the
contract was a fraud, I’d never know it. Still, the terror that grips you
when you select the date you’ll die! It felt surreal, outrageous. Almost
as unimaginable as that terminal diagnosis. Every other type of cancer
had been defeated, why not mine?
The appointed day dawned clear and warm, a heartbreak of a
morning to say farewell to my life. I wanted to be absolutely lucid in
my last moments with Meredith so I tossed the regulation trankpak
aside. In the end, Mer took the meds—the only way she could endure
our parting. Was that separation any less painful than death by cancer?
Either way you looked at it though, we’d have lost one another.
And I was young! Not ready to die! If I had to become a memory for
Meredith, I wanted it to be a powerful one. I kissed her deeply, made a
stupid crack about frigidity, then held my head high as technicians led
me away. Her period of mourning might be long over, but mine was
just beginning…
When I shook off my reverie, the Elders were still there, patiently
waiting. “So I suppose that’s how I came to…Jashari? And since I feel
so good, I assume you were able to cure me?”
My youngest visitor couldn’t restrain herself. “That was simple!
Your freckles were the real problem.”
Remembering that sense of something subtly different in my
reflection, I shoved one sleeve to my elbow. How had I not registered
the change? My skin was pale as paper. And flawless. I burst into tears.
“Please don’t say you kept me on ice because I had freckles!”
All three patted me ineffectually and the young one spoke again.
“There were other factors too…”
N’yal Di’loth silenced her with a glance. “Leslie-ahn, this is
sufficient for today. We will meet again when you are stronger.” The
Elders raised their arms, bracelets gleaming, then walked through my
I was alone again—and as never before.
Chapter Two
Shortly after my meeting with the Elders, my living space was
enlarged. That day Tahm’Hzu simply fastened one of those ubiquitous
bracelets around my wrist, then gestured for me to rise. If I thought
I’d mastered invisible furniture, a smile behind cupped fingers said
Leading me to a wall, the nurse raised my arm and gave me a
firm shove. Almost before I sensed millions of molecules sliding past
billions of atoms, I was in a different room. Tahm’Hzu hadn’t joined
me and it was just as well. Because after one glance, I fell to my knees,
sobbing. I was surrounded by stacks of permaplastic crates. Like every
“cryo baby,” I’d been provided with two dozen of those containers. We
could cram whatever we liked into them—except flora, fauna, food,
chemicals or weaponry. Our contracts guaranteed the cartons would
be held for us, no matter how long we slept. “Plastic is forever,” the
cryocounselor had assured me.
I’d completely forgotten these boxes. Perhaps because looting
seemed inevitable. Or possibly because I doubted the commitment
would be honored through time. Or maybe I’d never actually expected
to be revived. Yet here they were, still labeled with my name and
computer code, an inventory attached to each lid.
Lea Daley
My final days at home were so fraught I scarcely remembered what
was in the damned things. I’d tried to take the task seriously. But how
can you know what you’ll need upon waking in the future? Finally, I’d
chosen only items with true significance—belongings that would keep
me connected to a life I’d leave with such reluctance.
Of course, Meredith was involved too. She made a brave game
of winnowing my worldly goods. Culling every closet and drawer.
Calling me “FutureDyke” all the while the cartons jammed our
sunporch, slowly filling. Now I didn’t care about inventories. I wanted
real objects in my hands.
The sealed crates, coded to my fingerprint, opened at the slightest
touch. When I lifted that first lid, waves of memory washed through
me like flashbacks from a drug trip. It was a million years since I
packed these boxes—and yesterday. This one held my most cherished
possessions: old books with genuine printed pages. Aged texts on
photography. Lesbian novels and essays. But my pocket reader was
there too, freighted with a lifetime of digitized literature. I slipped that
tiny rectangle from its sleeve. Unfolded it. Snapped it into rigidity.
The screen was light as a leaf of paper in my hands—and almost
certainly useless.
At the bottom of the crate, I found the unbearable: my photo
albums. I couldn’t open them yet. Mer’s face would be shining from
every page. And our garden, our kitchen, our cats, our friends. All long
gone. One day I’d be able to confront those images. This was not that
Brushing away tears, I unsealed another box. Clumsy fingers found
a lumpy bundle. I unrolled padding until an ancient analog camera
tumbled into my hands. It wasn’t my last instrument, or my best.
Instead, it was my first antique. A weighty SLR—the seductive friend
that had led me into an archaic world of two-dimensional photography.
I lifted the camera to my eye, cool metal against dampening flesh.
Pressed the shutter button, smiling at those faint metallic clicks and
whirs. I knew without asking there’d never again be film for this
machine. I set it down gently, with incredible regret. If nothing else, it
would make an excellent paperweight—if only I had paper!
The rest of the carton was filled with artwork and the tools of
my trade. Stacks of silver-based photographs, for which I’d developed
an unexpected audience. Hundreds of holograms, each preserved in
every possible medium. A set of portable lasers, without which the
holograms were nothing but fuzzy, indecipherable patterns. I’d need
to spend a great deal of time with this crate, figuring out what was
Next up: a box dense with sweaters, jeans, shirts, shorts. Of all the
things that might have become obsolete while I slept, clothing had
never crossed my mind. I looked down at my body—clad to the eye,
nude to the touch—and laughed. As I lifted the garments, they seemed
impossibly coarse and heavy. Here was the lesbian “uniform” of my
ancestors’ day. Lavender T-shirt. White painters pants. Rainbowstriped suspenders. I’d bought that outfit in a retro shop for the
costume party where Mer and I were destined to meet. Longing to
recapture that vanished time, I buried my face in ancient cotton.
After a long while, I folded the shirt tenderly and turned my
attention to a fourth crate. Which took my breath away. It was a
surprise from Meredith, full to bursting with the kind of toys she
collected for her kindergartners. In the classroom, they were playful
introductions to science, math and art. Here they were delightful
amusements that would forever bring Mer to mind.
Touched to tears, I sorted through the bin. Where I found spinning
tops. Changeable wire mandalas, their graceful silver loops punctuated
with tiny crystal beads. Half-a-dozen noisemakers. Jewel-toned glitter
wands. Thunder tubes, from small to large. A quartet of nesting dolls.
Old-fashioned jacks in a soft leather pouch—along with a petrified
pink rubber ball. A lacy sandalwood fan. Candy swirl marbles so
luscious they did look edible. Folding puzzle cubes with miniature
images by Monet, Cassatt, Klimt, Frankenthaler, Michaelson, each
appearing and disappearing at the turn of a wrist. And much, much
more. I plucked out a Whee-lo, set it in motion. Watched the little
disk blur as it raced the rails. Felt a familiar whirring in my bones.
But Mer’s most precious gift was nestled between neatly folded sweats
in the sixth container I opened. A small box, sheltering a MoVaDod
earpiece. Meaning “Mobile Voice-Activated Data-on-Demand.” The
once-upon-a-time universal portal for Cloud-based digital retrieval.
And beneath that box, a costly paper envelope. Which contained a
message typed in Mer’s iconic font: “Darling, if the future permits,
request the compilation called ‘Mothball Magic.’”
A low moan roared through me. Meredith was—had been—a
singer, a musician. And her message could only mean one thing. For
years I begged her to record my favorite songs so I could access them
whenever work separated us. She’d never taken me seriously—or
maybe she hadn’t taken herself seriously. “Mothball Magic” was clearly
intended to rectify that oversight, a farewell gesture that would rip me
Could the technology of this brave new world extract sound from
a twenty-first century Cloud? On Planet Earth? At that moment, I
Lea Daley
was glad I didn’t know. I couldn’t have borne to release Meredith’s
enthralling voice into this alien air. Suddenly I was very tired. I pushed
myself upright. Clasping the little box to my heart, I raised my bracelet,
walked through the wall and fell into what passed for bed on Jashari.
But I was way too wired for sleep. After much tossing and turning,
I gave up, got up, slipped back into my new room. Which was dark.
Impenetrably dark, as only a sealed environment can be. Like being
inside one of my own packing crates. And I didn’t want it any other way.
I crept across resilient tiles until outstretched fingertips struck a stack
of cartons. Wrapping both arms around a cool, impersonal container,
I embraced my past. Mourning loss beyond comprehension, wrenched
by irony. Because what good was escape from early death when all I
loved had ceased to be?
I must have slept. And someone had put me to bed in the storage
room. Now I was suspended in midair, curled on one side. Light
glowed around me, soft as dawn. Maybe it was pure imagination, but
my forehead seemed to tingle from gentle stroking, and a spicy scent
teased at my memory.
I shook off those fantasies and rose, eager to explore more
containers. Within moments though, wry laughter rippled through
me. Because everything I’d packed was dear to my heart—and nearly
all of it useless. Yet I yearned for many possessions I hadn’t thought to
include. Little things, foolish things, impossible to explain.
I missed the hard toffee candies that were scattered through every
briefcase, every knapsack back home. Prohibited, I suppose, by the
restriction on perishables. I called up their sweet, crisp shatter with
heightened appreciation. Here, food materialized three times daily
in a compartment in my lodgings. It was plentiful and satisfying.
Beautifully presented. Unrelievedly bland. Wholly lacking in contrast,
surprise and the dangerous lure of cholesterol. A single piece of fresh
fruit would taste like paradise.
I missed my family’s recipes—all our traditional dishes—though I
couldn’t imagine how I’d prepare them in my present circumstances.
I missed candlelight. Wicker baskets. My sketchbook. I longed for my
favorite bath oil. And even though my rooms were warm enough—
always, in fact, the ideal temperature—I ached for the worn flannel
robe Meredith gave me on our first Christmas together.
I wished for ordinary playing cards—the kind my greatgrandmother used for canasta. Their appearance on starched linen
always presaged fresh flowers, the finest china, special snacks and frail
old voices raised in fierce competition. I’d left Nana’s cards in my desk,
never guessing what significance they held for me.
And I had an illogical desire to rummage through my wallet. To
handle pliant lab-leather, to thumb through its contents. I wanted to
examine my long-expired pilot’s license, with its confirmation that
I was Leslie A. Burke; Female; DOB: 12-06-42; Hair: Aub.; Eyes:
Grn.; 70 ins; 130 lbs; Perm. Res.: 322 Wisteria Court; Webster
Groves, MO 63119-2461-57; UCA. I wanted to flip my lucky penny.
To flash my transacode, to purchase something. Anything.
Whatever financial assets I had on Jashari would derive from a
small percentage of my insurance policy. By legal mandate those funds
were invested on my behalf at the time of cryodeath. To ensure I’d
have some resources in the future. Which meant I might be sitting on a
decent nest egg by now—assuming those arrangements had endured.
The alternative? This little apartment could be a space-age debtor’s
“I need some answers!” I yelled into the ether.
“Please be more specific.”
The voice was low, melodious, androgynous. It seemed to emanate
from the rear of the cluttered room. My heart pounded as I scanned
the walls, the ceiling. No visible speakers anywhere.
Hastily, with trembling hands, I unstacked a dozen cartons. Found
myself face-to-face with a life-sized paper doll—or a rough equivalent.
Its “body” only a few inches thick and tinted a pale, unmodulated flesh
tone. Features minimally suggested. “Hair” a single, sculpted mass.
Gender unspecified.
“What the fuck?”
“Earth-based English, archaic,” the mannequin responded, with
only a faint movement of “lips.”
“Tell me something I don’t know!”
There was the slightest hesitation. Then: “Jashari is an artificial
asteroid in the Centauri system. By your reckoning, the year is 6195
C.E. Your assets currently total four-hundred-sixty-three billion
Standard Units, with interest accruing hourly.”
Ooo-kay! That was something I didn’t know—several somethings!
I’d have to frame further questions very precisely—and be careful
what I wished for.
“What are you?”
“I am A.I.∞, Mark 2:17.”
I laughed, perhaps hysterically. “I get the first part. I’d need to look
up the rest in the New Testament.”
Lea Daley
“The last copies were archived at the Huntington Library, LACAL,
United Continent of America, Planet Earth. However all were
destroyed during the defeat of the Christian Resistance Movement in
2233 C.E.”
My mouth dropped open. “Even the Cloud-based files?”
The mannequin spoke again, as if eager to explain: “Practitioners
of other religions vastly outnumbered followers of the mythical
Nazarene. Total eradication of the Bible, in all its forms, was an
inevitable outcome of world unification.”
Those words thundered through me. All of Christian doctrine
undone? Rendered as quaint and irrelevant as Greek mythology? I’d
never been religious, but Christianity had wielded outsized influence
on my culture. Its obliteration was more astonishing than anything
yet revealed on Jashari. The news shattered a thousand subconscious
structures. Legions of paradigms slipped and shifted, leaving me
“Are you all right?”
“I will be in a minute…It’s just hard to imagine Christianity—”
“Not that. Your left hand. Which twitches. Every twenty seconds.”
Just then my palm turned up. “It’s my light meter!”
Again, that brief pause. “Light meters were outmoded by your
“True. But I was obsessed with antique photography—I collected
mechanical cameras and equipment. A terribly extravagant hobby, of
course. Anyway, I came across an old light meter in a retro shop. It
worked perfectly, and I seemed to get better shots when I used it. So I
always carried the thing—and I guess I checked it frequently.”
“Every twenty seconds.”
“Maybe. I think I used it like a worry stone.”
There was that telltale silence again. “Let me save you the
trouble. A worry stone was an object some Earthlings used to soothe
I grinned. “Was that a real ‘hmmm,’ or are your cylinders just
“A reflective reverberation. Denoting cognitive interfacing and
cross-referencing of unfamiliar data.”
It felt terrific to have an actual conversation! Somehow I wasn’t
self-conscious with her. “This is weird! I just realized I’ve begun to
think of you as female.”
“I am here to serve. I can be whatever you wish me to be.”
“Oh, no! You could never be what I wish you to be!”
“Are you attempting to melt my matrices? I am required to meet
your needs—or self-destruct in the attempt.”
“I see it all now! Leslie Burke and her Electronic Dyke!”
“Atomic-era, Earth-based English. Slang for female homosexual.
Originally derogatory—”
“Stop! What I don’t need is for you to keep defining my own world.”
I could have sworn she looked sheepish. “Understood. And for
your information, I am a VTO—a Variable Techno-Organism. I can
become a female-identified model, if you like.”
Too ridiculous! I was laughing and crying, admitting for the first
time how very lonely I was. “Wait here,” I ordered. As if she could
follow me. After fumbling through a crate, I grabbed the lavender
T-shirt and painters pants, then dashed back to her. “This will help
the illusion.”
I dropped the top over the VTO’s flat shoulders. Wadded up other
clothing to add bulk. Draped the pants on a storage carton to suggest
she was seated there. Crooked a leg to give her a more natural look.
Finally I added the bright suspenders. “You have to keep your pants
on, woman—we hardly know one another!”
Then I blew her a kiss and went to bed.
Chapter Three
That night, in dreams of surprising peace and comfort, the
mannequin was alive, ambulatory, laughing—a friend. But when I
awoke, I was alone again, unendurably alone. I couldn’t stand to see
the VTO so still and confined in the storage room. To pass the time,
I reached for a book, one written before my birth by Lutan Serenghi.
For lesbians of my era, Serenghi was an authentic hero—a
charismatic revolutionary in the ongoing struggle against world
unification. Her unflinching support of individualism was validating,
an argument for the right to preserve our “perversity.” Not surprisingly,
she’d been on a collision course with powers whose resources vastly
exceeded her own. Not surprisingly, she’d been arrested. Tried.
Sentenced to jail time. Lots of jail time.
A few years after Serenghi’s incarceration, someone smuggled a
handwritten manuscript from her prison cell and released it into the
Cloud. A pastiche of poetry, parable, philosophy and art, it quickly
achieved cult status. The book was designed to be read in any order,
with each section amplifying the others, and was routinely likened to
the I Ching or the Tarot. Many of my contemporaries used it similarly,
as a vehicle for discerning future direction.
That contraband volume transformed Serenghi from a nameless
dissident in an obscure Asian nation to a rallying point for the global
resistance movement. A decade into her sentence, authorities reported
their prisoner missing. Was Serenghi executed one bleak night? Had
she escaped? We’d probably never know. It was like being engrossed in
a megathriller, then finding someone had deleted the ending. Except
far more consequential.
Friends bought me my copy of Serenghi’s book as a parting gift.
It was a first edition. Printed on real paper, with hard covers front
and back. So rare I couldn’t guess at the cost. Plainly they hoped
I’d find solace in those pages. But even when confronting death—
aka cryosleep—I had scant interest in spiritual texts. Only gratitude
compelled me to read Serenghi’s work from front to back. And on
close examination, that book had a peculiar power, seeming to hint at
truths just beyond my grasp.
As much as anything, I was captivated by the illustrations—delicate
watercolor paintings. Unlike ever-shifting hyperpix, those images
would never change. Still I often discovered details in them that
I’d overlooked or failed to appreciate. And I marveled at Serenghi’s
clandestine success. How had she’d acquired pens, paper, pigment,
brushes? Concealed her project from patrolling guards? Persuaded
someone to go public with her manifesto?
The back cover featured the standard voice strip, along with a
hologram of the author. Taken in midlife, the portrait captured both
Serenghi’s strength and pain. Rocking the book slightly, I savored her
apparent dimensionality. Then I ran a fingertip across the recording,
hoping to activate it. But the mechanism—whatever it was—had
suffered from the centuries. I hadn’t the slightest chance of liberating
that impassioned message. And why was I so ignorant about technology
from my own time?
Hungry for Serenghi’s voice, I tried to reconstruct the passage I’d
often played during my last days on Earth. But all I could retrieve
were fragments, questionable in their veracity. “Seek—it is an inborn
imperative. Create—there is no higher value. Nurture—every living
thing requires care. Choose—lest others choose for you. Act—it is
your moral obligation. Persevere—every cause demands commitment.
Survive—you are unique and irreplaceable.”
I’d heard those words just moments before, four thousand years
ago. And never again. Sighing, I flipped the book open. To my horror,
several pages disintegrated in a downward drift of brittle flakes. How
had I forgotten this was now a priceless artifact? I gathered up that
little pile of fiber and disposed of it. Then I picked up the book again,
turning the yellowed leaves with chastened fingers, most likely the last
living person who recalled the name of Lutan Serenghi.
Lea Daley
Hoping to apply her experience to my own predicament, I searched
for revelation. But nothing I read rocked me that day. Perhaps her
ideas hadn’t traveled well. Or possibly my haste and carelessness had
deprived me of her most brilliant insights. Because those minute scraps
of paper—tossed so thoughtlessly into the recycle chute—might have
been rich with wisdom. Or maybe I was simply too tired just now to
make use of her guidance. And why was I always so tired?
I must have drifted off, because I woke with a start. Though
everything was still as death, I felt certain a sound had broken my
sleep. I listened with focused attention, but the silence seemed only to
deepen. Rolling out of “bed,” raising my bracelet, I plunged into the
storage room.
Then I screamed.
Someone had arranged my belongings in orderly piles against the
rear wall. Someone had consolidated the empty crates into nested
towers. And—just as in my dream—the mannequin was moving
about freely. “Most sincere apologies for disturbing you. I dropped
something.” She made the requisite bow, then cocked her head at me
I was dumbstruck, one wrist elevated, bracelet warm against my
arm. The VTO was still wearing my antiquated garments, only now
the curves were all her own. I couldn’t help noticing how nicely
rounded she was, though the shirt hung loose, the pant legs were rolled
multiple times and the suspenders were backward. When I found my
voice, it sounded high and querulous. “What have you done?”
“I am organizing your possessions, sorting the items into categories.
Tomorrow I will arrange to have the bins recycled.”
“Very interesting, but hardly uppermost in my mind. What
happened to you?”
“I do not understand the question.”
“You mean, ‘This does not compute?’”
“Are you displeased?”
“How can I tell? I have no idea what’s going on!”
The VTO leaned against a wall, nibbling pensively on her lower
lip, seemingly as human as I. One fine-boned hand swept through
short dark hair, which I noticed was now styled in a fashion favored by
the dykes of my day. “I am only anticipating your desires.”
“How the fuck do you know what my desires are?”
“Well…last night you dressed me in these clothes. Then you
dreamed I was alive…”
I was shaking. With shock. With outrage. “You know what I
“Of course. How else can I meet your needs?”
“You could bloody well wait till you’re asked!”
“But you need many things that are beyond your conscious
awareness and I am here to serve.”
“Just how do you propose to know what my subconscious needs
are?” Said nastily.
“The same way…by reading your mind. I will improve over time.”
“You…can…read my mind?”
“I anticipate, therefore I am.”
“Go away! I need to be alone!”
“No. The last thing you need is to be alone—you are so frighteningly
alone you can scarcely bear it.”
“Oh, my god! Are you going to second-guess me all the time?
Don’t I have any say in this?”
“I can only override commands when that is in your best interest.”
“You’re saying you know me better than I know myself?”
“As I have access to information which is hidden from you, that is
“Terrific! Tell me, O Wise One, what do I need?”
“Just now, you could use a deep body massage.”
Startlingly strong hands came down on my shoulders and went to
work. And with my eyes closed, I was able to surrender. Her fingers
sought out every stressed fiber and frayed nerve. Without a doubt, it
was the best massage I’d ever had. It almost seemed she knew exactly
what to do. And when. And how hard. Then it hit me—she did know.
She was getting feedback from my mind as well as my body.
I leaped up. “Get out! Get out now!”
The VTO’s nod morphed into a reluctant bow. And then, without
benefit of bracelet, she walked through the wall.
Chapter Four
I sat motionless for a long time, face in my hands. Fighting to keep
my mind blank. Difficult under the best of circumstances, impossible
since waking on Jashari. And the instant the mannequin vanished, I
wanted her back. I had so many questions!
More potent than my need to know, though, was that sickening
sense of invasion, of violation. Fear, anger and insecurity roiled me. If I
could believe the VTO, I had no privacy. No way to keep thoughts to
myself. No safety in discretion or the well-timed white lie.
Worse, my hard-won individuality was eroding. With no one to
talk to, no one to love or despise, I felt hazy, blunted, insubstantial.
I’d never guessed how much I was a product of my own place and
time. Never known that my sense of self depended on others who
were forged in the same crucible. Who was I when not a soul shared
my values, my viewpoint, my culture, my world?
It didn’t help that every hallmark of ordinary life had been
swept away. Every organizing principle canceled, all responsibilities
eliminated. Each reassuring routine and ritual disrupted. And the
silence here—the terrible unremitting silence—was working against
My sharp, black howl shattered the vacant air. In a second, she was
beside me again—the mannequin, the robot—whatever she was. She
embraced me, patted me, let me sob all over that lavender T-shirt.
Finally, I pulled back. “This is stupid! I can’t believe I’m crying on a
goddamned computer.”
“Leslie,” she said, speaking my name for the first time, “I am
somewhat more than a computer.”
“Yeah, yeah. But my traumatized little lizard brain can’t comprehend
“Could you think of me as a friend? A friend who understands you
thoroughly, accepts you completely, wants only the best for you?”
“Where I come from, friendship has to be cultivated, earned. And
it’s usually not so…all-encompassing.”
“Then perhaps this is better?”
“Hardly! Because you can know me completely, but I’m probably
incapable of knowing you. There will never be balance or reciprocity…”
“This disturbs you.”
“Yeah. This disturbs me. But you’re only aware of that because you
can read my mind!”
She took my hands in hers. Gently. “What did you expect to find
in the future, Leslie?”
“Why don’t you tell me?”
“Very well. You thought everything would be fairly similar to your
own era—Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, yes? You knew you
would need time to acclimate, of course. You expected to make some
adjustments. But you figured you were tough enough to handle the
“Could you possibly be mistaken?”
“Okay. I did think the more things changed, the more they’d be
the same. Obviously I was wrong. I’ve hardly seen any of Jashari and
I’m already coming unraveled.” A tear rolled down one cheek. “I’m so
fucking confused! Now what?”
“Breathe deeply. Take your time. Allow yourself to heal—which is
a long process, as every cell in your body was affected by cryosleep.
Among other things, you still need an inordinate amount of rest.
Gather your resources. Make use of me.” She glanced around. “And
put your things away.”
“Yes, mother. Then may I have a cookie?”
“No, Leslie-ahn! They are horribly unhealthy!”
“It was only a joke.”
If a computer can look off-balance, she did. “Ah, yes. Humor was
common in your epoch…”
“Yes, thank god! Please don’t tell me it’s gone out of style.”
Lea Daley
“Humor is a coping mechanism, a vestigial trait of undeveloped
societies. It has little value today.”
“I knew I should have bought a roundtrip ticket!”
“Another joke?”
“You got it, sweetheart!” Then a thought struck me. “I don’t even
know your name. If you’re gonna hang with me, that has to change.”
“I am A.I.—”
“Too clumsy. You need a real name.”
“What would you suggest?”
“I don’t know…What do your friends call you?”
“You will be my first.”
“Jesus! Have they sent me a rookie?”
“You may think of me as a virgin.”
“Well, that has possibilities! How does ‘Mary’ sound to you?”
“A little too close to Meredith—judging by the leap in your pulse
“Right…a really dumb idea. How about Electra?”
“Careful—you will hurt my feelings. We are long past such crude
“You have feelings?”
“Without feelings, how could I respond to you empathically?”
“Shucks, I don’t know. I’m just a country bumpkin. This is all
beyond me.”
“Perhaps. But naming is not. Let us continue.”
I stood back to study the VTO. It was hard to remember how pale
and motionless she’d been at first encounter. Her skin—if skin it was—
had taken on a light coffee color with an underlying blush of peach.
Her hair was as dark as midnight skies. Her eyes tilted up slightly at
the outer corners, and regarded me with a steady amber gaze. “How
about Cammie—short for Chameleon?”
She wrinkled an adorable nose. “No—I can tell you are not overly
fond of reptiles.”
“True. Aren’t you finding this boring? You know everything I’m
going to say before I open my mouth.”
“That has its advantages.”
“I bet it does…We could give you an old-fashioned, nature-dyke
name. Something to go with your outfit…Rainbow? Moonbeam?
“You would find any of those laughable.”
“That’s also true—though ‘Sage’ has more than a little relevance,
I gather.”
“Opinionated, aren’t you?” I reflected silently, sifting possibilities.
“Yes!” she said suddenly. “I like it!”
“For heaven’s sake, woman, at least let me speak before you agree.”
But that’s how the mannequin got her name. Aimée—French, for
“friend.” Sort of.
When the VTO joined me for breakfast the next morning, I was so
startled I dropped my chopsticks. “You eat?”
Aimée opened the food compartment and drew out a second tray.
Which was a first. “Of course, Leslie-ahn.”
“There’s no ‘of course’ about it! Why would a robot need to eat?”
She picked up the porcelain teapot. “Some energy source must
power my activity. And meals are central to human social life. If I
could not partake of such significant events, I would be unable to fully
support you.”
I lifted my bowl. Sipped slowly. Tried, but failed, to think of a
snappy comeback. “I’ll just file that under ‘food for thought’ and move
on.” Poking at my breakfast entree—which was something like toasted
tofu that day—I said, “God! I’d pay good money for a cheese Danish
or a Belgian waffle!”
Aimée paused, chopsticks in midair. “Why do you say those things,
“Because they’re positively delicious!”
“No, not the foods—those words. ‘God,’ ‘Jesus,’ ‘Christ,’ ‘damn,’
‘hell’…You use them constantly, although they have no meaning on
Jashari. They do not even have meaning for you.”
“Oh…they’re just fillers, expletives. That was a commonplace
in my culture—we used them reflexively. Lots of those words were
rooted in religion. Even expressions like ‘gosh,’ or ‘darn’ or ‘heck’
were just substitutes for profanity, an attempt to placate the gods, I
suppose. Others were associated with bodily functions—pleasurable
and otherwise. Think ‘fuck’ or ‘shit,’ which you’ll also hear me say
on a regular basis. Some people tried substituting phrases like ‘Jiminy
Cricket,’ ‘Gee willikers,’ and ‘All iced up,’ which only made them seem
juvenile or countrified.”
“But what purpose do expletives serve, Leslie-ahn? What value do
they add to communication?”
I combed fingers through rumpled hair as I thought about her
question. “It’s a kind of shorthand, I suppose. A quick-and-dirty way
Lea Daley
to convey emotions like anger or frustration or distress. If you made
a mess, you could say, ‘I’ve dropped a raw egg on the floor and it’s
splattered all over everything and it will be a pain to clean up,’ or you
could just groan, ‘Goddamn!’” Smiling at the familiar complexities of
the English language, I added, “Tone and context are everything. The
same words that express contempt can also describe a sense of awe or
wonder—So ‘God!’ might mean that something’s either surpassingly
beautiful, or intolerably awful. Surely you have equivalents here?”
“There is no need, as Jasharians place a very high value on selfcontrol.”
I covered my face with both hands, shaking my head in despair
that was only partly playful. “Jesus! How in hell is someone as fucking
emotional as I am supposed to fit into this goddamned place?”
“Is that meant to be funny, Leslie-ahn?”
“Or not, my friend. But this conversation raises a new question.”
“Are there gods, Aimée—I mean Jashrine gods?”
“No, Leslie-ahn. This culture is entirely unconcerned with matters
of religion or worship.”
Which was a frame of mind I both admired and found oddly
disorienting. “Just astonishing!” I said, as I struggled to conceptualize
a wholly secular society.
“If one considers the origins of our world, that was the only
possible outcome. The founders were scientists, with a natural bias
toward the rational. And this attitude has strengthened over successive
generations. Thus the only ‘creation myth’ we require is the factual
history of Jashari’s establishment, which all here know. Such wonder
as we feel is based in respect for the technological achievements that
make our lives possible.”
“So Jasharians are entirely unfamiliar with—indifferent to—legends
and magic and miracles?”
“It is as you say.”
Blowing out a slow breath, I murmured, “I’m trying to imagine art
and literature without the machinery that drove centuries of Terran
culture—heroes and gods and prophecies…”
“Where all are one, heroes and gods are things unknown.”
“Prophecy’s still unaccounted for,” I teased.
The VTO shoved her plate aside, then rose in a way that suggested
she’d soon bolt through a wall. “There is only one,” Aimée replied
tersely. Then she vanished before I could press her for details, leaving
her food almost untouched.
What a strange, strange place this was! After breakfast I found
Serenghi’s book again and thumbed to an ironic fable about the
capriciousness of Earthly deities. Because no matter how fantastical
these tales were, I understood them far better than anything I’d
experienced on Jashari.
Whenever I truly needed the VTO, she appeared. I might as well
have named her Genie. She seemed to have displaced my shy little
nurse, which I took for good news. Apparently, Aimée was charged
with helping me adapt to Jashari. I could begin, she said, by decorating
my living quarters—after my possessions were stashed away.
“First I’d need storage space.”
“I can assist you with that.”
So the VTO taught me how to cast a laser-like grid over my walls,
then click off coordinates. Each segment I selected was instantly
transformed into a shelf or compartment of the desired dimensions.
And if I miscalculated, I could simply “drag” the laser lines to
reconfigure the design, no harm done. A form of Jashrine magic,
despite protestations to the contrary.
Next I sorted through my belongings, with Aimée a willing
audience for every reminiscence. Occasionally, she asked about an
object. Its name, its purpose, its provenance. Though she surely knew
every detail from picking my brain, answering those questions seemed
to help integrate my old life with this new beginning. Maybe that was
the point.
But the VTO was puzzled by the toys Meredith packed just for
the hell of it. “Handle that with reverence,” I said, as she picked up
an ornate bamboo tube. “It was an antique when Mer acquired it.
Handmade in Brazil before the rainforests were obliterated. Turn it
upside down and hold it to your ear.”
Aimée’s eyes went wide as crushed seashells cascaded through
a maze of slender dowels, making a sound much like falling water.
“What is the purpose?”
“It’s for fun, my all-too-solemn friend.”
“Oh.” The VTO rotated the rain stick repeatedly, listened closely,
then set it aside, plainly no wiser than before.
Next she found a kaleidoscope. “Hold that to one eye, Aimée.”
Though the shifting, shimmering patterns made her smile, she
soon plucked another mystery from the collection. “And this spring
Lea Daley
“My grandpa’s Slinky. I can’t believe Mer thought to include it.”
“Another plaything. Fiddle around with it—it’s addictive. Motion,
sound, sensation…”
But when one bubble-wrapped bundle brought me to tears, the
VTO knew better than to probe. “Miniature Christmas tree,” was all I
said as I stashed it away.
To divert me Aimée picked up a cheap plastic sphere with a tiny
bell inside. “What is this?”
“A cat toy.” Maybe Meredith had dropped it in for a laugh. Or
maybe it was a contribution from Stonewall, our oldest critter.
“You had cats?”
“Sure. An endless supply. Meredith was a cat freak.” Noting Aimée’s
startled look, I said, “That means she really, really liked cats. One old
guy was a permanent member of the household, but Mer regularly
fostered strays. We usually had at least three cats at home.”
“They actually lived with you?”
“Of course—why not?”
“It is just so…so…uncivilized! I hope I have not offended you, but
animals in a human dwelling? It is unthinkable!”
“You must have known this about me.”
“It is in what you would call my memory banks, but it is very hard
to grasp. How did you tolerate it?”
“It wasn’t a struggle, Aimée—we loved the cats! They added
another dimension to our lives. They have personalities, preferences,
they form friendships…We learned a lot from them…” A wave of
nostalgia swamped me. “I guess I can’t explain it to you…” Pulling a
photo album from a shelf, I drew an unsteady breath. “Let’s try this.”
It was the first time I’d dared look and I was glad to have company
at that moment. My hands shook as I flipped past the early pages—
unbearably dear images of childhood and youth. Finally I came to the
shot I was seeking.
There she was: Meredith McAllister, my long-lost love. Her face
radiant. Her eyes glowing. Hugging Stonewall, our aging Maine Coon.
Surrogate mother to a steady stream of feline waifs—if a neutered
male can be dignified by that title. In a strangled voice, I said, “You’re
so good at knowing what I feel, Aimée…tell me!”
Her face softened. “Tenderness. Sorrow. Pain. You feel that for the
cat, as well as for Meredith!”
“Yes. That and more.”
Aimée examined the contours of Mer’s fine face. “She was very
beautiful, was she not?”
“She was better than beautiful. She was smart and funny and kind.”
I snapped the album closed, suddenly tired beyond words. “I have to
get some sleep, Aimée.”
Eyes still closed, I reach out, but I’m alone in our bed. Mer’s already up, I
think—I must have slept through the alarm. I smile, sleepily amused, as lovers
can be by one another’s proclivities. Because that buzzer rules Meredith’s life
with uncompromising authority. The moment it sounds, she’s up. To stay in
bed longer than it takes to fling back our blankets is to violate at least one law
of nature—and possibly a lesser commandment.
I, on the other hand, am resistant, rebellious, eternally languorous.
I’ve learned to stretch and fold time, creating deep quiet in the aftermath
of Mer’s departure. That bed’s a seductive, expanding universe. I can push
the boundaries of the morning, reset the parameters of the day. Only half
conscious, I pare my priorities, eliminate unnecessary obligations, simplify the
agenda. Who needs breakfast anyway? More often than not, I roll over to take
another ten. And this morning’s no exception…
When I was completely awake, totally aware, finally convinced
Meredith couldn’t rejoin me with her customary cup of chai, I rose to
face another day on Jashari.
Alex Marcoux
AMatter of Degrees
The Royal Secret
Copyright © 2006 by Alex Marcoux
Bella Books, Inc.
P.O. Box 10543
Tallahassee, FL 32302
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, without permission in writing from the
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
First published 2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc.
First Bella Books edition 2014
Excerpts from Rule by Secrecy by Jim Marrs (2000, New York,
HarperCollins). Used by permission of author.
Egyptian ritual on page 172 from The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt:
The Esoteric Wisdom Revealed by Rosemary Clark (2000. Woodbury,
MN. Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.). Used by permission of the
publisher. All rights reserved.
Portions of the thirty-second degree lecture on pages 157-158, 188
are from The Deadly Deception by Jim Shaw and Tom McKenney (1988,
Shreveport, LA, Huntington House Publishers). Used by permission.
Portions of the master mason ritual on pages 72-74 (Chapter 12) and
Jessie’s meeting with Stonewall on pages 81-84 (Chapter 11) are from
Cover Designer: Sandy Knowles
ISBN 13: 978-159493-412-4
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or
via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and
punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and
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Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events
and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or
used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Long before the region was called Iraq—
before the ancient empires of Egypt, Greece, or Rome.
Even before the first ancient civilization of Sumer—
there was E.DIN.
It was Enki’s compassion for the slaves that altered his life, and
the lives of humankind. He wanted something more for them. Why
couldn’t a select few be given the knowledge of eternal life? Enki pondered,
as he verged upon his brother’s sanctuary.
Apart from the sporadic swish caused by sand displaced beneath
their sandals, there was silence. Pensively, Enki trekked onward with
two guards on his heels. His half-brother, Enlil, had summoned him.
Enki suspected that his activities from the previous evening had been
exposed. This, he knew, would have infuriated his younger sibling.
Considering the possibility, he understood what Enlil was capable of.
As the supreme ruler of E. DIN, Enlil had the power to relegate Enki’s
status of second-in-command.
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Deep in thought, Enki pressed on toward the palace. Since he
returned from AB.ZU, where he supervised the mining operation,
he had been outraged by Enlil’s mistreatment of the slaves. To Enki
it was simple; the slaves fulfilled their purpose. They mined the
council’s precious ore, and here in the fertile gardens of E.DIN, they
harvested their fruit. Although the slaves served the council well, they
had wretched and pitiful lives, ignorant of wisdom, pleasure, or their
fundamental essence. Treated like animals, they lived and died toiling
for Enlil and the supreme council.
When they reached the palace chamber, he waited silently, towering
over the men that had escorted him there. Enki recalled the initiation
from the previous evening, and how he had shared with the chosen
slaves about elevating their consciousness and finding true light.
“Leave us!” Enlil’s voice bellowed from the entry. As the two guards
disappeared into the palace, Enlil emerged and stood before Enki, his
powerfully built body adorned with gold trinkets.
“You have done it this time. What were you thinking?” Enlil’s anger
glared through his steel gray eyes. “You know that as long as the slaves
remain spiritually ignorant we stay in control.”
“Brother, there were—”
“Don’t call me brother.” Enlil cut him off, his voice echoing within
the chamber walls. “Your harlot mother was my father’s only weakness.
You shouldn’t have been sent here.”
Enki was familiar with Enlil’s acts of aggression toward him, but
something was different this time. “Enlil, the workers serve their
purpose. I chose a select few to teach our ways.”
“Anu would never approve.”
“Father isn’t here to discuss this.”
“Marduk would never approve.”
“My son is also not here to debate the issue,” Enki said calmly.
“When Marduk arrives, you will never see him.”
“What are you saying?”
“You’ve outdone yourself, Enki.” Enlil retreated to the entryway
where he effortlessly grabbed a staff and, with thickset arms, clashed
A Matter of Degrees
it against a golden disk. The clanging reverberated in the tiny room;
guards quickly entered and surrounded Enki.
“What is the meaning of this?” Enki asked evenly.
“You…” Enlil advanced so that the brothers were eye-to-eye. With
the exception of their muscular frames, there was little resemblance
between the men. “You are banished from E.DIN.”
A smile came to Enki’s lips. “You’re not serious.”
“Oh, but I am. Enki, you are to be exiled! I will spread the word
among the slaves that you are a mortal enemy of the supreme council.
They will learn that you are responsible for everything bad that
happens to them, and that it is your intention to spiritually enslave
“But that’s not true.” Enki’s voice rose. The guards grabbed him and
he struggled to free himself, but there were too many of them.
“People will fear you.” Enlil’s voice soared above the resistance.
“They will know that you are evil and loathe you.”
For a moment, Enki’s effort ceased. “Why are you doing this?”
“You will never be a leader, Enki. My work will rise above you, and
you will be called Abaddon, and from where I will put you—you’ll be
the keeper of the bottomless pit.” The evil in Enlil’s eyes flashed, and
his laugh would echo in Enki’s ears forever.
At first his only sense was smell. He was face down in the soggy soil,
and the terrain reeked of decaying earth. Enki tasted the foul sludge
that had coated his lips. He pulled his partially submerged face from
the dank mud, and sat upright. His head throbbed. His sandals were
nowhere to be found. The only thing he had been left with was the
robe on his back.
Rather than the plentiful gardens that he had become accustomed
to in E.DIN, Enki was surrounded by shallow water and tall grass of
swampland. It was then that he remembered Enlil’s men tossing him
into a pit. He found the bump on the back of his head, the basis of
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his headache. A quick glance behind him confirmed the wall of earth,
almost two men high, from which he had been thrown.
A hiss drew Enki’s attention to the thick reeds that stirred close
to him. Then he spotted the black water moccasin slithering within
inches. The snake’s head abruptly shot up, flashing its venomous fangs,
forked tongue, and white mouth. Hissing angrily, the snake lunged
toward his face. Skillfully, Enki seized it within a finger’s length of
his eyes. The serpent thrashed about, trying to free itself from Enki’s
grasp, but it was no match for the powerful arm. Enki stood. The
snake succumbed, and when all resistance was gone, he dropped the
snake at his feet. Slowly, it slithered into the shallow water.
Enki studied the surrounding area. On three sides the earth was
high above his head, on the fourth face there was an endless marsh.
He stepped forward, into the swamps.
The years passed. At first, his time had been consumed with his
own survival. Then one day, movement in the swamp caught Enki’s
attention. Upon closer inspection, he saw a man with darker skin than
his own. Here, Enki met a slave that had escaped from E.DIN. He
discovered that other men and women lived there, choosing freedom
in the swamps over their lives of bondage in E.DIN. These people
welcomed Enki, and he embraced them.
Against Enlil’s edicts, Enki taught the uninitiated ethics, justice, and
how to seek true light. To the chosen ones, he explained the mysteries
of life and the great secret of humankind’s creation. It was here, in
the snake-filled marshlands of Mesopotamia, that Enki formed the
Brotherhood of the Snake.
It was late. If she had been more attentive, Rachel may have noticed
the silence in the hallway outside her office door or the absence of
sunlight from her window. Perhaps even, if she weren’t so absorbed in
her work, she would have become aware of the growl in her stomach
from missing dinner. But it was the chime of the clock that drew her
attention to the time.
“My God! It’s already ten o’clock.”
Rachel looked back at the cryptic notes that were spread on top of
her desk, but her eyes bothered her. She removed her reading glasses
then rubbed the base of her skull. As her fingers massaged the deeply
rooted knots, her long dark hair fell loosely around her face. She
rotated her neck, first from front to back, and then full circles to help
relieve the headache that had plagued her that evening.
When her head turned, she caught sight of her reflection in the
window. She paused, and then looking past her silhouette, Rachel
gazed upon the glitter of the office buildings from her elevated
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location. She had always admired the view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers
from her office. She stood and stretched her arms over her head.
“I should go home,” she whispered to herself. Then her vision
returned to the notes sprawled across her desk, and she replaced the
glasses to the bridge of her nose. Rachel sat and continued her work,
as if a spell had been cast upon her.
As a field reporter for one of the more reputable television news
programs, Rachel Addison had become accustomed to the late hours
at the network office building. She had worked for Over the Edge going
on five years. Presently, she was working on a controversial project
connecting secret societies with various politicians. She continued
massaging the knots in her neck as she studied notes concerning the
Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Trilateral Commission, and
Bang! A sudden knock from the hallway outside her office door
startled her. Who’s here this late? she wondered, and the door opened
abruptly. Instinctively, Rachel sprang to her feet as Steve Mercer
barged into her office.
Rachel stared at the other field reporter, then she possessively
gathered the notes that had been spread on her desk and stuffed them
into a manila folder. “My God, Steve! You scared me,” her voice was
more hoarse than usual.
Steve closed her office door. “Good.” He moved closer to Rachel.
“Someone needs to put some sense into your head.” It was almost a
Rachel pulled the reading glasses from her face and stepped away
from her desk. “What are you talking about?”
He approached so that they were inches apart. “Drop your story on
the secret societies.”
“I will not. It’s a good story. People have a right to know.”
At six-two, Steve towered over her. “If you value your life, Rachel,
you’ll drop it and burn your work.” He spoke calmly and softly then
turned away.
“Are you threatening me?”
A Matter of Degrees
He turned back. “No. But I am warning you.” His exit was as abrupt
as his entrance.
Two weeks later, Rachel received an anonymous tip to meet
someone in Nyack about an updated list of CFR members. The CFR
is the granddaddy of modern American secret societies. Rachel arrived
at the agreed-upon meeting place, The Hudson House, but her
contact never showed. She finished her coffee, and headed back to the
Opting for a more scenic route, she chose highway 9W for her
return trip, a hilly and winding road that ran along the west side of
the Hudson River. To her left was a steep embankment with houses
perched on the incline leading down to the river. To the right, the
embankment continued its rise high above the road. When traffic
moved on this one-lane road, it was quicker than the Palisades
Parkway. Today, however, she came upon a traveler that was out for a
leisurely ride.
Rachel braked as she advanced toward the slower car, but the brakes
didn’t respond. “Shit!” She stomped the pedal, but there was no effect.
Her pulse quickened as she sped toward the other vehicle.
She honked; hoping the car in front would get moving. Instead, the
man braked. With no place to go, Rachel swerved to the left, becoming
trapped in the approaching traffic lane. There were no advancing cars.
Thank God! Her Saab darted around the slower vehicle. With eyes
glued to the road before her, she never saw the man gesture with his
Rachel had traveled this road on many occasions. She needed to
manage the next turn, then the grade shifted uphill a short distance.
Sixty-five. Seventy. The tires squealed as the vehicle veered around
the winding curve. At seventy-five miles per hour and white knuckles
clenched to the steering wheel she approached the upward incline.
Steadily, the Saab slowed. Sixty…fifty…forty…
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Rachel exhaled. With her sleeve, she wiped the perspiration from
her brow. But now what? The slope would change soon. She couldn’t
continue on the snaky river road without brakes. She spotted the
uphill driveway to a stately home on her right. At thirty miles per
hour, Rachel veered up the steep grade. The back end of her vehicle
fishtailed. She smashed a retaining wall, slamming her head against
the door window. Coasting up the driveway, she slowed to fifteen
miles per hour at its summit. Given the choice, Rachel collided with a
mature tree rather than a garage. The airbag inflated.
Her heart pounded. There was blood on the airbag. Instinctively,
she groped her forehead, the source of pain.
During the hours that passed, Rachel’s emotions had fluctuated
from fear, to disbelief, to denial, but now she was just pissed off. It was
dark, and she fumed as she approached the entrance to Steve Mercer’s
Scarsdale home. Faced with a door knocker or a fancy lit doorbell, she
hammered the door unkindly. Seconds later the foyer light came on
and a shadow appeared through the stained glass window beside the
Steve Mercer opened the door slowly. Rachel Addison stood before
him. Her silk blouse was bloodstained, and she had a discolored
bandage on her forehead. He was speechless.
“Tell me what the hell is going on, or I’m going to the authorities!”
she said.
Steve widened the door. “Come in,” he said calmly. Nonchalantly,
he glanced around the upper-middle-class neighborhood. Satisfied
with what he saw, he closed the door. “This way.” He led her into his
kitchen and pointed at a bar stool, “Take a seat.”
Stubbornly, Rachel leaned against the counter.
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Steve removed a facecloth and box of bandages from a nearby linen
closet. He drenched the cloth at the kitchen sink, and then approached
her. “What happened?”
As he attempted to remove the discolored bandage, Rachel
pulled away at his touch. “I didn’t come here for a Band-Aid,” she
complained. “What’s going on?”
“Rachel,” Steve’s voice softened, “let me help you.” He nudged the
bar stool, inviting her to sit again.
“Fine,” she took a seat. “But what the hell have I gotten myself
With a flick of his wrist, Steve removed the bandage, revealing a
long gash. “How did this happen?” He washed her forehead.
“I received an anonymous call from a man claiming to have an
updated list of CFR members. He suggested that I meet him at a
restaurant in Nyack.” Rachel faltered.
“Go on.”
“He never showed. But, while I was in the restaurant someone cut
my brake lines.” Steve finished applying a new bandage and Rachel
grabbed his hand. “What’s going on? Why did you warn me?”
His eyes met Rachel’s and she released her grip. “Before I say
anything, what is your investigation uncovering?”
“Are you familiar with the Freemasons?”
“Yes. It’s a brotherhood that has been in existence for centuries.”
“It’s a secret society that has a secret society within it.”
He smiled. “That’s not exactly what I understand.”
“Most Freemasons believe they’re involved in a fellowship where
they share camaraderie and participate in humanitarian concerns, like
the Shriners. Even in this visible society, though, they take blood oaths
to protect their occult secrets. But most Masons are unaware of an
invisible society that’s dedicated to protecting an ancient sacred secret.”
“And what is this ancient sacred secret?” Steve asked.
“Well if I knew that, it wouldn’t be secret, now, would it?”
“Where were you going with your story?”
A Matter of Degrees
“I was showing that the majority of our presidents were
Freemasons, and linking members of the Trilateral Commission and
CFR with Freemasonry.”
“There has to be something else. Most of that has been documented
“Certainly in some unread conspiracy magazines and out-of-print
books, but why hasn’t a reputable TV newsmagazine like Sixty Minutes
done it?”
“It’s not newsworthy,” Steve shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t insult my intelligence! Why did you warn me?”
“I heard that your investigation was concerning powerful
individuals.” Steve’s eyes searched Rachel’s. “I didn’t want to see you
lose your career over it.”
“How did you hear this?” When Steve’s unwavering blue eyes
wouldn’t leave Rachel’s, she pressed him further. “I’m not asking you
to reveal your source, Mercer! How’d you come by this information?”
“I’m a Freemason.”
A lump stuck in Rachel’s throat. “I see.”
“No, you don’t see.” Steve sighed and ran his fingers through his
thick brown hair. “I’ve been a Mason since right out of college. I’ve
completed the initiations of the Blue Lodge and the Scottish Rite, and
for the last two years I’ve been the Junior and Senior Warden, and in
a couple of months I’ll be the Worshipful Master of a Blue Lodge in
White Plains. In my twenty-three years of being a Mason, I have never
seen any behaviors inconsistent with ethical, fraternal, humanitarian,
educational, or patriotic concerns.”
“And yet, you heard something. You heard that I was becoming a
threat. And look what happens—my brake lines are mysteriously cut!”
“I didn’t say that,” Steve said.
“You didn’t have to. Could you explain the Freemason degrees?
Reading about it is very confusing.” When Steve didn’t respond, she
pushed for more. “Oh, come on, I’m not asking you to break some
ridiculous blood oath. I’m just asking about the structure. Please?”
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“Men start in the Blue Lodge. Here there are three degrees: an
Apprentice, a Fellowcraft, and a Master Mason. Most never proceed
beyond the Master Mason because it’s expensive and time-consuming.”
“What is beyond the Blue Lodge?”
“Two other lodges—the York Rite and Scottish Rite. The Scottish
Rite has thirty-three degrees. The York Rite graduates to the
“How do you get to the thirty-third degree?”
“By invitation only.”
“How long have you been involved in the Scottish Rite?”
“Over fifteen years.”
“And you’ve never been invited to the thirty-third degree?”
Steve shook his head. “No. And I wouldn’t. You see, although
I’m politically and socially involved in my Blue Lodge, I’m not very
involved in the Scottish Rite. I’m also not a Degree Master.”
“What’s a Degree Master?”
“For each degree in the Scottish Rite, each lodge has a Degree
Master to perform the ritual or teach it to candidates during an
Rachel looked deep into Steve’s blue eyes. “You can change all that.”
“You know the game! Play it to increase your chances of getting an
“Now, why would I do that?”
“To satisfy that nagging feeling you have in your gut.”
“You’re very presumptuous.”
“Are you denying it?”
Steve didn’t respond. He wondered if his concerns were that
“What do I have to do? Impersonate a man and become a
Freemason myself to uncover the sacred secret?”
He laughed, but when he realized that she was getting more upset,
he shook his head. “I’m sorry. It just wouldn’t work.”
“Why? Women have impersonated men for centuries, to earn what
they rightfully deserve. Take a look at Pope Joan.”
A Matter of Degrees
“Trust me, unless you have your breasts removed, you’ll never make
it through the first three initiations.” He changed the subject. “Drop
your story, at least for now.”
Rachel shook her head, clearly frustrated. “I have to get out of
here,” she said abruptly, and made her way to the door.
The following morning, Steve slipped into Rachel’s office. He shut
the door behind him and drew near her. “Are you going to drop the
“No! I’ve come this far.”
There must have been a part of him that admired her spunk as
remnants of a smile emerged, only he turned his back to hide the grin.
His gaze fell upon a collection of pictures on Rachel’s bookshelf. He
picked up a portrait of an attractive man in his mid-forties. “Who’s
this?” he asked.
Rachel smiled when she saw the picture. “That’s my father.” She
reached for another picture of her family, consisting of her father,
mother, and herself.
“Is this you?” he pointed to a freckle-faced ten-year-old.
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Where’d the freckles go? You were so cute.” Steve grinned,
intensifying his smile lines. He pointed to another picture. “Is this
your parents’ wedding picture?”
“Your father ages gracefully.”
“Yes, he did. Other than styles changing, you’d never think my
father aged a day. It’s actually spooky, but I keep hoping that I take
after my father’s genes.”
Steve’s eyes combed the picture of her parents. “You have a strong
resemblance to your father; same dark hair, blue eyes, and cleft chin.”
He returned the portrait to its shelf. “I noticed that you spoke of your
father in the past tense.”
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“You are observant,” Rachel said. She locked her desk drawer then
moved to the door. “We have a meeting in two minutes.”
Steve glanced at his watch. “I’ll see you there. I need to go back to
my office.”
Neil Samson, the executive producer of Over the Edge, arrived at the
weekly staff meeting a couple minutes late. He was pale.
It was Rachel who noticed. “Are you okay, Neil?”
He sat in a chair. “I just got a phone call from my wife…”
Steve had just entered behind Neil. “What is it?” He asked.
“Albert Robbins…”
Rachel recognized the name of the CFR member. “What about
Albert Robbins?”
“Albert was found last night…dead.”
“How?” Steve asked.
“The strangest thing. The man was poisoned in his own bed…by
a snake. A king cobra! His wife found him when she returned from a
business trip last night.”
An alarm blasted. The obnoxious noise blared throughout the
offices and hallways. “What the hell is that?” Neil demanded. “It
sounds like a fire alarm,” Steve said.
“A fire alarm? Oh my God!” Rachel whispered. She bolted to the
door, opened it, and smoke seeped into the conference room. Once
in the corridor, Rachel saw the smoke coming from her office. She
dashed through the thick smoke. At the office threshold, she witnessed
her desk engulfed in flames. Neil grabbed Rachel’s arm, stopping her
from rescuing her research on secret societies.
Seconds later, Steve brushed past them with a fire extinguisher.
It took him a couple minutes to snuff out the flames. By this time,
a crowd had gathered in the hallway. All eyes were on Rachel, who
couldn’t take her sight off the destroyed desk.
Steve emerged from the office, his clothes coated in soot. Rachel
glared at him and then turned on her heels and fled. He followed
A Matter of Degrees
silently until they were out of sight from the group. He rested his
hand on her shoulder.
Abruptly, she turned and snarled. “Get your hand off me! You can
tell your friends they won, and I never want to see you again.
Rachel thrust open a nearby restroom door. There was a small
lounge with two chairs. She sat. Her mind raced. Prick. He saw me
lock my desk. She felt like such a fool. Steve had used her. How could I
have been so stupid? Rachel moaned. I’m sorry, Daddy. I won’t give up. I
promise. For a moment, she became lost in her past.
Rachel watched her father, Charles Addison, as he studied the
chessboard and deliberated on his next move. Then he picked up his
polished-stone bishop and moved it to protect his threatened king.
Rachel was eager to move her rook into place. “Check,” the elevenyear-old said.
A smile came to Charles’s face. “Is this my last move?”
The father and daughter had been playing this game going on two
months. It had become customary for them to play five moves a day
and Rachel had her father on the run over the past week.
Charles studied the board and moved a pawn into place to sacrifice
the piece. “There. I guess our game will have to wait until I return
from my trip.”
Rachel didn’t expect the move. “Why would you sacrifice your
pawn, Daddy? You know you can just move your king to avoid my
Charles smiled. “Strategy, Rachel. Pawns are dispensable. You use
them to further the king’s purpose.”
Rachel studied the board. She was glad that was their last move,
now she had some time to reconsider her own strategy before they
played again. “When will you be back from your trip, Daddy?”
“In a few days.”
“Where are you going?”
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“DC.” He studied his daughter, and smiled. “You are a very special
young lady, you do realize that, don’t you?”
“I know I am special to you, Daddy.”
“You are special to the world, Rachel.”
“I’m sure all fathers think that way about their children, right?”
“I’m sure,” he smiled. “You know I love you, don’t you?”
“Of course, Daddy. Why are you asking?”
Charles became serious. “Chances are I won’t always be in your life,
sweetheart. I just hope you’ll always know I love you very much.”
Rachel looked into her father’s eyes. “Daddy, why are you talking
this way?”
“Like I said, it’s only natural that I will pass on before you, like your
grandfather passed on before your mother.”
“That’s years away. Don’t get me all depressed before you leave on
your trip.”
“I’m sorry, Rachel. I just never spoke about this with my parents. It’s
something that’s haunted me, over the years, wondering if they truly
loved me. Just remember, when the day comes that I pass on…I will
always love you and always be with you.” Charles kissed his daughter
tenderly on her forehead.
Rachel shook her head, trying to disconnect from her past. She
pulled the polished-granite pawn from her jacket pocket and studied
the chess piece. Discoloration revealed where her fingers had worn the
stone piece over the twenty-plus years. “I know you love me Daddy,”
she sobbed lightly. “Even after all this time, I feel like you’re still with