For Disclaimers see Ch 1
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A Chance Encounter, part 2
* * *
All in all Kylie spent nearly two hours in the hospital getting stitched up. When the doctor finally finished, she had twenty-seven stitches in her leg, three bulky bandages, a pair of crutches, powerful pain killer and antibiotic prescriptions and strict orders to stay off her leg for at least three days. During the entire process, her sister was good enough to hold her hand and generally pester the doctor and every nurse in sight about her. It slowly drove Kylie insane.
When it was all said and done, she sat in Molly’s car, listening to her sister sing quietly to herself, feeling her leg begin throbbing as the anesthetic wore off. She was counting to herself slowly, waiting for the moment when Molly would bring up the accident. So far, she was setting a personal best.
When Kylie hit thirty-two, Molly turned the radio down and turned her attention to her younger sister. “Are you ok?”
Kylie sighed. “I’m fine, just banged up and feeling kind of stupid.” This was probably the tenth time Molly had asked her that question since showing up at the hospital. It was getting tiresome.
“Well at least you had the sense to wear your helmet.” The statement was mumbled but still audible.
Kylie snapped. “Dammit Molly!” The words infuriated her. She’d been dealing with Molly and Connor being over protective of her the past fifteen years and for the most part she usually let it slide right off her back. But this was enough, it was more than enough.
This time it was Molly who lost her temper. “Come on Kylie, give me a break here. I’m doing the best I can.” Her sister sighed, her grip tightening on the steering wheel until her knuckles whitened.
Kylie took a deep breath feeling all her anger just suddenly leave her. “I know, I know. You’re all trying so damn hard but this has got to stop. I’m not gonna break!” She understood why they were as smothering as they were; they couldn’t help it. If she had nearly lost them the way she had nearly been lost herself, she’d probably be a bit nuts about them too. And truth be told, they had improved, a lot.
None of them was calling her every day anymore and not one of them even expected phone calls from her on a daily basis. But an accident like the one she just went through would startle anyone and she knew they only had her best interests at heart.
Molly reached out and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry, sometimes I can’t help myself.” Her eyes were shiny with unshed tears.
Kylie squeezed back, feeling a touch of guilt at the tears. “I know and I do love you for it. It’s just…” she trailed off, unsure of whether she could explain just how she was feeling.
Molly as always seemed to read her mind. “You’re feeling a bit smothered.”
Kylie nodded. “Yeah, a bit. Do you baby the kids this much?”
Her sister laughed. “Oh no, not that bunch of hellions. They don’t need it and if I did, well can you imagine? Remember what mom and dad used to say when we got hurt?”
Kylie nodded, laughing. “Are ya bleeding? Any bones broken? Good walk it off!” She impersonated their father’s gruff voice rather well, laughing harder at the end.
Molly laughed too. “That worked great until the first time Connor said yes to both.”
“Hey that was not my fault, I told him that damned branch wasn’t strong enough to hold him up.” She crossed her arms over her chest, seeming to sulk in the passenger seat.
Molly shook her head. “Yeah but then you dared him to climb the damn tree. You knew he couldn’t resist a dare from his baby sister.”
Despite herself, Kylie chuckled fondly at the memory of her older brother hanging from the broken branch of the half dead elm tree. “Yeah well no one told him to climb that damn branch, besides it taught him one thing at least.”
Her sister snorted loudly. “Don’t take a dare from you!” They laughed together for a few moments. Then fell silent in the car. Finally Molly looked at her a strange gleam in her eye. “Can I get you something before I take you home?”
Despite having eaten earlier, Kylie felt her junk food tooth come roaring to life. “Would you mind swinging by a drive-thru? I only had a light dinner and after today I could use something with grease in it.”
Molly chuckled. “The usual?” Kylie nodded and Molly quickly changed lanes. “Then home and bed with that leg propped up understand?” She shook her finger at Kylie in warning.
“Yes mom.” She stuck her tongue out at sister the moment she turned back to the road.
* * *
A short time later, Kylie was settled in her living room, her leg propped up on a large pillow and a veritable fast food feast spread out on her coffee table. She was channel-surfing trying to find something to watch and not having much luck with that. Annoyed that she couldn’t find something to watch, she pulled herself up from the sofa and hopped over to her DVD collection.
“What do you think bud? Want to watch a horror movie with me?” Loki gave her a quizzical look. She sighed. “Maybe you’re right, it’s probably not a good idea with these damn painkillers the doctor gave me.” She snagged another one of her favorites and turned to face him again holding out her choice. “How bout Clerks II then? Sound good?” He gave a feline shrug before licking his paw. Kylie laughed even as she hobbled over to the DVD player. “I know Randall’s an ass but he’s a softie inside.” She grabbed the remote before flopping back down onto the couch.
Loki waited patiently for her to settle herself before climbing back into her lap. She watched him knead the blanket in her lap before turning and settling down. She smiled at him before reaching out to scratch his face and ears as he began purring loudly. She turned her attention to the movie as it began playing.
She tried to stay awake for the whole thing, she really did. But a combination of adrenaline overdose and painkillers had her nodding off only twenty minutes into the movie. And from nearly the moment she drifted off, she began to dream; something she did frequently.
She was standing on a rocky cliff, overlooking the sea, listening to the roar of the waves far, far below her. She had no idea where she was; she had visited many places along both the east and west coasts of the US but this shoreline was totally foreign to her. Despite that, there was something so utterly peaceful about the place, that she found herself simply relaxing and enjoying the sounds and smells of the ocean.
The sun was warm on her skin and face as she faced the ocean and felt a fine mist of water spray reach her even as far above the surging waves as she was. She took a deep breath of the salt-laden air, listening to the sounds and calls of the birds around her. She watched in delight as several albatrosses dove and glided gracefully in the updrafts created as water met land. Their aerobatic antics made her smile.
She stood there for several moments, relishing in the sights and sounds around her, when she felt something begin building down deep inside herself. A sense of anticipation and impatience began growing from the depths of her soul. It was deep rooted and intense, even a bit frightening. She had never felt herself filled with such eagerness or anxiety and she couldn’t explain it.
She was waiting for something to happen, someone to find her, that much was immediately clear. She could feel it in the depths of her heart. The sense that she was waiting for someone to come to her; a gentle tugging inside herself that told her someone was rushing to her even as she waited. Confused, but not knowing what else to do, she took a deep breath and resolved to wait and discover just what or who she was waiting for.
The moment she made that decision the dream began to unravel and fade. Despite the strangeness of it all, she found herself suddenly desperate to stay inside this vivid world her mind had created. And she struggled to grab a hold of it, to somehow keep herself there. But the more she fought it, the more she struggled to hold onto it, the faster it faded; slipping through her hands like grains of sand. Until suddenly, she snapped awake to find herself lying on the sofa, surrounded by the remnants of her junk food frenzy. Puzzled and on the verge of tears at losing her hold on the dream world, she lay there staring at her ceiling trying to control her suddenly ragged emotions.
She took several deep breaths, pushing her grief aside as the urge to weep began fading and the real world intruded on her once more. It had been a long time since she’d dreamt so vividly and even longer since the last time she could recall having a dream that caused her to cry when she woke up. She sat up rubbing her face gently, wondering just what the doctor had given her at the hospital to cause the damn thing in the first place.
She looked at the clock and groaned. It was almost 4 am. She only had a few hours before she had to be up and off to work. She was amazed she had managed to sleep on the couch as long as she did. With difficulty she pulled herself to her feet and using her crutches, dragged herself off to bed. She managed to get herself comfortable in the large soft bed and, feeling her kitty settle himself against her back, purring softly, fell immediately back to sleep. And this time, her dreams were normal and easily forgotten.
* * *
After leaving Kylie to her sister’s care in the hospital, Luce felt a bit restless and found herself wandering around downtown, heading in the general direction of her condo. A couple of blocks from home, she spotted a local barbeque joint she often frequented and on impulse, pulled over. And while she waited for her order of sauce drowned ribs, she pondered the events of the past couple of hours.
She was a bit surprised at her own actions truth be told. Not at stopping to help a stranger; that was something she did quite frequently. Flat tires, broken belts, minor fender benders and bike accidents like what Kylie had been through were common place things for her. But she could not recall getting so deeply involved before.
Her offer to take Kylie to the hospital had been genuine and freely given. She knew for a fact that there was no way the young woman would have made it on her own. And she would have likely been forced to wait a while before anyone came to get her. Luce just didn’t see the sense of letting her sit there and bleed on the sidewalk.
So she offered to take her to the hospital and then into the building when it became clear that Kylie wouldn’t be able to walk inside on her own. But staying with her had never occurred to Luce. Not until the wavering frightened request had been delivered from a deathly pale, wide-eyed face. The terror in her eyes touched a chord inside Luce and she found herself unable to simply say no.
She was afraid that it might be beyond awkward, to sit there with a stranger in that waiting room with nothing to talk about to distract them from the fact that one of them was injured. But she was pleasantly surprised to find that they did in fact have something in common and the time passed quickly enough.
Then Kylie’s older sister had walked in and her reaction to the news that Luce had not only brought the younger woman in but sat with her as well had been both puzzling and humorous. Molly’s arrival had meant that Luce’s presence was no longer needed. Yet Luce had felt a great deal of reluctance to simply leave. And she found herself actually looking forward to taking Kylie up on her offer for lunch in the near future.
Her ribs arrived and Luce tipped the cook before jumping back into her car, fully intending to simply head home. As she started the car, she noticed something gleaming brightly from the cushions of the passenger seat and reached over to dig it out. She pulled out a bright red MP3 player and for a moment wondered where in the world it had come from.
Then she realized that it probably belonged to Kylie and that she most likely dropped it in the confusion of the night before. She touched it to turn it on and began browsing through it to make sure it was in fact Kylie’s. She scanned through it looking for personal info and found herself browsing through the music as well.
She was surprised to discover that Kylie had a great fondness for Pink. Luce smiled at that; the blonde singer was one of her favorites as well. After a few moments, unable to locate any personal info in the device, Luce shut it off and stashed it in her pocket. She decided to run it over to Kylie’s main store tomorrow and find out if it did in fact belong to her.
Luce made her way home and enjoyed a late dinner of ribs, slaw and fries while watching a movie on cable. Then around midnight, she decided to head to bed; she had an early day after all. And she wanted to be at her best when she went storming into the boardroom to bust some heads.
She drifted off quickly, nearly the moment her head hit the pillow. And the moment she drifted off, she dreamt, something she rarely ever did. The dream was strange, and extremely vivid. It sucked her in, wrapping her in layers of fantasy until her mind no longer remembered that it was dreaming.
She was in a hurry; she could feel the impulse to move and move quickly building deep within her body. The warm energy spread throughout her body like fire, making her twitchy and tightening her muscles. She shifted her shoulders, feeling her leather armor creak quietly even as the brass armor and weapons covering that leather clinked softly. Her horse wasn’t ready yet and she was getting even more impatient with every passing second. It was far past time to be off.
Then, a bit of calm in her inner storm as a young boy lead a pale horse to stand in front of her. Without thinking about it or even hesitating, she leapt into the saddle, automatically shifting the weapons into place with long honed skill and ease. She grabbed the reins and turned the animal with a sure firm jerk of leather before setting her heels to horse and galloping out of the village at breakneck speed.
She felt a thrill of anticipation surge through her as the animal leapt across the Earth under her. And she resisted the urge to let out a satisfying war cry as she bounded out through the gates and across the plains, heading south towards the coast. There was something waiting for her there, she could feel it in the pit of her stomach. And somehow she had to find it before it disappeared.
The idea that she might not make it in time filled her with a black wave of panic so intense, it nearly closed her throat in fear. She had to make it; she would make it. Somehow, someway she would be in time and find whatever it was that awaited her there. Letting her head fall back as the wind whipped through her hair, she let out a piercing, ululating cry and the dream snapped as she jerked awake.
Luce sat up, her heart pounding loudly in her ears as she looked around herself in a panic. It took a moment but slowly her heart calmed down as the intensity of the dream began fading and her mind was once more her own. She reached up to touch her face, rubbing her hands over it gently, wondering at the panic the dream evoked.
She couldn’t understand any of it; nothing in the dream, either what she felt or what she did made any sense. And now, even though she was awake, there was still a shadow of panic in her and it bothered her. She was not a person prone to panic and when something drove her to it or worse, made her afraid, it more often than not made her very, very angry.
She glanced over at the bedside clock which read 4 a.m. Disgusted at both the dream and herself, she lay back down and giving her pillows a rough beating, she closed her eyes and went back to sleep. This time it was dreamless.
* * *
Kylie woke up a few minutes before the alarm feeling out of sorts and cranky. Between the dream and her painkillers, her mind was foggy and a bit slow. Even a shower, which became a bit of an endurance trial in keeping her foot off the floor, didn’t clear out all of the cobwebs completely. It wasn’t until her first cup of hot coffee mixed heavily with hazelnut crème that the haze finally, completely lifted.
She was on her second cup when the phone rang. She picked it up without even checking the caller I.D. She had a pretty good idea who would be on the other end. “Hey.”
Molly’s cheerful voice came over the phone. “Morning hon. How are you feeling? Do you need a ride in today?” Of all the siblings, Molly was the one and only morning person among them. Sometimes Kylie found her early morning chipper attitude to be a bit disturbing.
Kylie took another sip of coffee before answering. “Yeah, that might be a good idea; I don’t think I should drive until I know what these painkillers are going to do.” There was a crash in the background, followed by some cursing and she could almost see her older sister rolling her eyes in annoyance.
There was a soft sigh from the other end. “I can be there in 20 minutes. Is that long enough?”
“Yeah I’ve had my shower already.”
This time Kylie rolled her eyes at the long standing question. “Yes that too.” Her reputation for being quite crabby before her first cup of coffee was a long standing family legend.
Molly chuckled even as there was sudden sharp shout in the background. “Ok, see you in a few.” She simply hung up the phone without saying goodbye.
Kylie stood there looking at her phone in amusement before slugging back the rest of her coffee and hobbling off to get dressed.
* * *
Molly showed up promptly at her door in twenty minutes, hopping out to help Kylie down the stairs and into the car. In the backseat her nephew Gabriel was strapped firmly in his car seat.
Kylie gave him a big smile. “Hey buddy, how you doing?” There was an answering giggle followed by a string of babbling that made absolutely no sense to anyone but either his mom or other toddlers but it was still music to Kylie’s ears.
“How you feeling?” Molly asked once they got Kylie settled.
Kylie groaned as her leg began throbbing. “Like I got gnawed on by a gator.”
Her sister pulled out into traffic, her attention divided between the road and Kylie as she struggled to get comfortable. “You don’t have to go in today if you don’t feel up to it you know. They have these nifty inventions called the phone and e-mail that’ll let you work from home if you so choose.”
Kylie shook her head ruefully. “I can’t Mol; this move is turning into a nightmare and I’m going to have a fight with the landlord on my hands this morning, I can feel it. Besides I need to be at the store for a meeting with the other managers so we can pin down some troubles we’re having with theft. I need to be there.”
Molly shrugged and turned her full attention to the road. Kylie knew she was biting her tongue given their argument the night before. She also knew that if she didn’t say anything her lip was likely to be bloody by the time she got them to the store.
“I promise to stay off of it and keep it propped up and to take my pain meds whenever I need them. You don’t really think I’ll be behind the counter today did you?”
Molly chuckled. “Not bloody likely; not with Marie working today. She’d shoot us both if you even attempted that.”
“Yeah I know; so I’m just going to go in. That way I can head any major problems off at the pass. I promise I’ll stay off my feet.” She reached out to touch Molly’s arm gently. Molly didn’t say anything but simply nodded. The moment was abruptly ruined when Gabriel pegged Kylie between the eyes with his stuffed elephant.
They both burst out laughing as Gabriel started laughing like a loon in the backseat. Kylie picked up the toy and handed it back to her nephew. “He’s getting better at that. Connor been teaching him again?”
“Yeah; he seems to think Gabriel will make a good baseball pitcher when he gets old enough.”
Kylie groaned. “The man is obsessed and delusional if he thinks he can save the Tigers.”
Molly laughed. “He can’t help it; all the Rogers men are stubborn and hard headed.”
Kylie snorted loudly. “Not to mention deluded and strangely insane.”
Molly sighed loudly. “But we won’t hold that against them.”
Kylie couldn’t help but giggle at the exasperated tone from her sister.
About ten minutes later, Molly dropped Kylie off at the front door so she wouldn’t have any difficulty getting into the building. Somehow she managed to keep Molly from getting out of the car to help her into the damn store. And before her sister drove off, she promised Kylie that one of their brothers would be there to pick her up when she was ready; as she would be downtown in a deposition all day.
Kylie thanked her sister, blew her nephew a kiss and, bracing herself hobbled into the store. She didn’t get far before Marie looked up and gave an inarticulate shout, drawing all eyes in Kylie’s direction.
Marie hurried over and took Kylie’s things in her hand as Kylie negotiated her way to the counter and her office in the back. “Oh my Lord, Kylie what happened?”
Kylie bit back the smart retort on her tongue, her throbbing leg making her cranky as she wobbled along on her temporary metal and rubber limbs. “Well I sort of had an accident last night.”
Marie laughed a bit at her boss’s ability to deliver a sarcastic reply in such a somber tone. “I couldn’t tell. What the devil did you do?”
Kylie continued to the office door followed closely by all her employees. “Nothing special; I just hit a damn rock with my bike and went flying. God I feel so stupid.” She went into the office as the others crowded around her door.
Marie set her purse on the desk. “That must have hurt.”
Kylie shrugged. “I don’t remember actually.” She lowered herself into her chair and then motioned for the pillow Marie was still holding. “I do however remember spending 2 hours in the hospital getting stitches.” She laid the pillow on the desk and then lifted her leg onto it. As soon as she was settled, she gave a heavy sigh and felt the throbbing slowly begin to ease.
Brian stood in the doorway holding the cordless phone. “Do you want me to call someone else in to cover us behind the counter today?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I think Luke was looking for some extra hours. There’s no way I can stand up today.”
Marie seemed offended by the very idea of it. “Oh good God no; who brought you in any way?”
Kylie reached over and powered up her laptop. “Molly was kind enough to drop me off on her way through town.”
“Is someone picking you up?” Brian reappeared with a fresh cup of coffee and set it down on her desk.
Kylie nodded. “I think so; I think she mentioned either Keith or Connor coming to get me.”
“Well if we call in Luke, we won’t really need you to be here. You should be home with that damn leg up.” Marie gave her shoulder a soft slap to take the sting out of her words.
Kylie gave a soft groan as her inbox loaded up and she saw several priority messages from both her landlord at the new site and her contractor. “I know, I know but I’ve got a full plate today with this damn move for us and now it looks like the landlord sent me a rather scathing email this morning about how he’s not going to be held responsible for the plumbing repairs. Not to mention that I’m having a meeting with the other managers because of some theft issues. I just couldn’t let this slide today.”
“Why don’t you handle everything from the house? You could have done a conference call from there.”
Kylie sighed even as she began opening e-mails. “Cause I’m a bit of a masochist. Besides the pain meds are making me a little loopy and I really don’t want to be alone today.” Her thoughts drifted back to the strange dream from the night before.
Marie nodded. “Well if you’re sure.”
Kylie waved around her and at the large bag at her feet. “Yeah, I brought everything I should need today. I’ll be fine.”
“Call us if you need something.” She gave Kylie’s hand a squeeze and then left her in peace.
Behind her, Kylie stared at her computer screen wishing the doctor had been forced to give her something strong enough to keep her home. Despite her words to the contrary, she wasn’t exactly sure just how much bull she could wade through today.
* * *
Luce meanwhile was across town parking her car in the company lot and putting on her game face in preparation for crashing the meeting in the board room. She took one final look in the visor mirror to be sure she was satisfied with the look she went for that morning before snagging her briefcase and heading to the elevator.
She had awoken bright and early that morning but in a rather dark mood, the dream still sitting on the edge of her mind, haunting her. The very idea that a mere dream would bother her that much set her on edge and she knew she’d have no problem faking a foul temper when she went into the office.
Her boot heels clicked loudly in the parking garage and she was glad that she had gone for the power look this morning; choosing a simple black power suit that accentuated her tall slender frame to wear with her boots. She’d kept her jewelry and make-up simple as well, deciding instead to let her commanding personality grab the attention of those around her.
She rode the elevator to the top floor in silence, several people getting on and off on lower floors; no one greeted her. She wasn’t sure if was because they had no idea who she was or they did recognize her and simply didn’t care to speak with her. Sometimes being anonymous was a great help to her in an investigation. When the doors opened on the right floor, she stepped out and directly up to the receptionist’s desk.
The woman looked up at her approach and gave her a warm smile. “Luce, we weren’t expecting ya here today. Jerry told us ya’ll were headed outta town for three weeks.”
Of all the people on the executive staff, Colleen had always been one of her favorites. She was about the same age as Luce herself and ran the floor with a firm hand. She kept the other secretaries under tight control and prided herself on how smooth the top floor ran. Luce had always thought her organizational talents wasted on simple administrative duties; but the woman was happy where she was and made no bones about staying.
Luce returned the warm greeting, enjoying the woman’s rich southern accent. “Hey Colleen. Yeah I was supposed to be but he buzzed me last night and said you guys were having some issues here with inventory numbers. He practically begged me to come down and take a look.”
The other woman laughed a bit. “Ah can imagine he would have had ta at that. Can’t say as Ah’d’ve given up my vacation for him, but then again Ah’m not you.”
Luce leaned closer, her voice dropping to a conspiring whisper. “Between you and me, he’s going to owe me one hell of a favor for this.”
Colleen laughed. “He should fer this.” She gave Luce a sharp appraising look as the humor faded. “Honey, yer fried; any idiot can see that. What he really owes ya is at least a month off; especially after that last fiasco on the oil rig. At least he managed to keep them from pressing charges.”
Luce nearly groaned aloud at the reminder of that fiasco. “I should have been the one pressing charges; bunch neanderthals on that thing.” And in her mind, it never would have become such a problem if some of the men had been smart enough to keep their hands to themselves. Her actions were self defense pure and simple. Even Jerry thought that. But a couple of them took offense at her ability to keep them in their places and so had urged their boss to threaten her. Luckily it had all been a bluff. She pushed the annoyance aside. “All I can say is never again; he wants someone to go out on an oil rig he can send Carl or Jack.” She took the sign in sheet from Colleen hoping the woman would let her change the subject.
Recognizing the statement for what it was, Colleen did indeed change the subject. “So what ya here for?”
Luce signed her name with a florish, setting the pen down. “I came to crash the meeting. Everyone in there yet?” She nodded at the closed double doors just off to the right.
The admin nodded. “Yeah they just started about five minutes ago. Should be a perfect time to surprise that lot.” She took back the sign in sheet and noted the time for the guest log.
Luce picked up briefcase and headed towards the double doors of the conference room. “Thanks Colleen.”
“No problem honey. Ya feel like lunch, just let me know.”
Luce hesitated just outside the door. “I will.” She spoke out of respect but knew that with Kylie’s MP3 player stashed in her pocket, she would likely have other plans for lunch. Giving herself another second to square her jaw and let her foul mood ride to the forefront, she pushed the door open and stepped in to the large conference room where the department head meeting was being held.
She walked with quick sure steps towards the head of the table, noting to herself when the others noticed her. “Good morning gentlemen and lady.”
The older gentleman at the head of the table looked startled by her abrupt appearance and stood as she approached. “Luce, Jerry didn’t tell me you were coming; if he had I might have rescheduled our meeting to accommodate you.”
Luce gave him a wan smile as she set her briefcase on the table and let her apparent temper begin the intimidation process. “I’m sure you would have.” She had no doubt whatsoever that if they had been warned, someone would have most certainly battened down the hatches and started destroying any and all evidence possible.
Despite the loss of her much needed vacation, she felt a bit of a thrill at the prospect of hunting down just what was going on in the office. She liked coming in like this; without warning. It surprised people, keeping them off balance and often caused them to begin making mistakes. It sometimes took the thrill out of finding them the hard way, but this time, she wanted it all over as soon as possible.
One of the heads gave her a hostile look as she waved the other man out of his seat and took his place. “This is a closed meeting.” He stood up, trying to intimidate her.
Luce gave him a wolfish smile filing the hostility away for future reference. “Not for me its not.” Then the smile was gone and she was all business. “Sit down.” Her sharp command was obeyed before the man even had time to think about it and she turned her attention to the other heads sitting around the room. “I hope you’re all in good moods because I’m not. One of you has cost me a much needed vacation and I’m going to find out just who that is. And when I do, you better hope you had a very good reason for it.”
The older man who had given up his seat spoke quietly behind her where he stood. “Luce…”
She didn’t even look back at him when she cut him off. “Cut the shit Don, we both know why I’m here.” She looked around the table at each person sitting there, measuring, weighing their reactions to her and her actions. “So here’s how it’s going to go down, I ask you questions, you give me answers. And believe me, I will be talking to each everyone of you in person. You’ll also be giving me complete access to everything, and I mean everything. I want to see how every single penny is being spent here; I want sales reports, expense sheets, medical claims forms; if you’ve spent or earned money for any reason in the past six months I want the proof of it. I even want the I.O.U.s from petty cash if you have them. And I also want every inventory sheet for the past six months.” She watched their eyes widen as she spoke and almost let herself smile as she imagined each of them suddenly becoming engulfed in pure, unadulterated terror. Then she dropped her last demand giving them all a tyrannical smile as she did so. “And I want it by the end of the week.”
There was dead silence around the table as they all absorbed that information. Then Don spoke up from behind her. “Luce you’re asking us to give you numbers on every department and access to all our reports in only two days. That’s just not possible.”
This time Luce did turn her chair to face the other man. “Don, I don’t care if you have to spend the next forty-eight hours performing satanic rituals to get a hold of those reports, I want them in two days. Or you’ll be telling Jerry exactly why you aren’t keeping at least six months of records here in case of surprise audits.” She turned to face the other supervisors as they sat there stunned. “As for the rest of you, I have a simple piece of advice: come clean now. Whatever you’re doing isn’t worth the risk, because I will find out what you’ve been up to. And you will be arrested and prosecuted. It’s simply a matter of time. But if you come clean about it before I figure it out, I’ll only fire you.”
She stood as they all remained silent around her, still stunned by both her appearance and her demands. “Any questions?” Nearly everyone shook their heads. She began walking towards the doors once more. “Then I suggest you all get to work. Don, I’ll be back in two days.” She let the door shut on a completely silent roome, letting a pleased smile unfurl on her face as she simply waved at Colleen and made a beeline for the elevators.
As the doors closed, Luce realized that it was just past 8:30 in the morning and her day was suddenly free. Seeing as how she now had some time to kill before lunch and also found herself desperately wanting a tall coffee and some couch time with a violent bloody video game, she decided that her next destination aught to fulfill both needs. And there was only one place she could think of that would do just that.
Thirty minutes later, a tall steaming latte from her favorite coffee shop near at hand and her hands wrapped around a large plastic machine gun replica, Luce felt herself beginning to unwind as she blew apart rabid aliens and searched for more ammo. She blew a particularly nasty, multi-tentacled alien away, all the while picturing Jerry’s face on the monster and felt a huge weight just suddenly let go of her.
This was what she needed; just a chance to unwind and let go of the stress and anger of the meeting. As much as she enjoyed her job and the challenge of it, sometimes she really hated being looked on as the company’s megabitch. The reputation was well deserved and not far off the mark and over the years, she’d done nothing to either change her image or stop the spread of the rumors that circulated around her.
But sometimes, like now, when she was alone and there was no one there to reassure her that this was not who she was or what she was truly about, she wondered at the wisdom of that decision. And she often wondered if perhaps maybe there might be a different way to do things.
The game paused as she finished the level and it began loading the next one. In the sudden silence, her phone shrilled loudly, startling her. She reached for it, checking the caller ID and giving a soft curse as she snapped the phone open.
“Luce Donovan.” She reached for her coffee as the game abruptly ended when her character was suddenly and viciously decapitated.
“Hey Luce. How’d it go?” Jerry’s sure voice came out of the speaker.
Luce wandered away from the game sighing softly. “About like I expected. They all seemed a bit shell shocked by me. Did you know they aren’t keeping current records there?”
“Yeah, I suspected.”
“So now I have to wade through six months of B.S. reports to get to whatever it is you’re having me look for. Do I need to be looking at a specific department or are all of them under suspicion?”
Jerry chuckled over the phone. “You sure you’d like to know? Maybe I just wanted to toss you a bone or something to keep you on your toes.”
Luce felt the first real flash of irritation hit her at the mere idea. “I know you didn’t just make me cancel my vacation simply to give me a challenge and brighten up my dreary life.” She didn’t bother to hide her annoyance at him.
This time Jerry did laugh. “No, no I didn’t. The truth is I’m not really sure you should focus on any one department. Whoever’s doing this is smart enough to keep it off the radar for some time. We only discovered the discrepancies by accident a couple of days ago. So it’s likely that whoever’s responsible has probably laid down a false trail to point to another department or supervisor. Sorry to make you wade through the shit.”
She shrugged. “I’m used to it.” She finished her coffee and tossed the empty cup into the nearest trash bin. Then she remembered exactly why she was asked to stay. “How’s Carl’s wife?”
“Good, they had a little girl last night and they’re both fine.”
She nodded again, pleased that at least someone’s luck seemed to be turning. “Glad to hear it; send them my best would you?”
“No problem. Call me when you know more.” Then he was gone as he just abruptly ended the call.
Luce closed her phone and looked at it, noticing that only an hour had passed since she left the downtown office. At this rate, she’d be forced to spend another fifty dollars in quarters playing her video game to pass the time. She sighed and left the arcade deciding that maybe she’d go walk around the mall window shopping before going to track down Kylie.
She managed to kill about two hours more simply walking through the mall, both window shopping and buying here and there before giving up and heading downtown to Kylie’s store. The place was crowded with people and Luce could see that the clerks were very busy. She looked around, figuring that Kylie, if she had in fact come in, would most likely be in a back office somewhere.
She stood in line waiting for one of the clerks to be free. She gave one of them a warm smile. The woman’s nametag said Marie. “Hi, I’m looking for Kylie Rogers.”
The older woman, smiled back. “May I ask why?”
“My name is Luce Donovan. I uh gave her a hand last night when she went flying off her bike and she left her MP3 player in my car last night when I took her to the hospital.” She fumbled it out of her pocket, showing it to Marie. “I was hoping I could get it back to her.”
Marie nodded. “Hang on a second, she’s in the back office. I’ll tell her you’re here.” She headed off, sticking her head in the doorway of Kylie’s office. “Kylie there’s a Luce Donovan here to see you.”
Kylie looked up in surprise. “Luce is here?”
The older woman nodded. “Yeah she said she’s the one that gave you a hand last night.”
Kylie sighed. “Yeah she pulled my ass off the road and took me to the ER when I couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I told her to come down to the store and ask for me so I could buy her lunch to repay her.”
“You want me to send her back then?”
“Yeah, thanks Marie.”
Marie made her way back to the counter and gave the tall woman a slight nod of her head, pointing to the office. “She’s right in the back there. She says to come on back.”
“Thank you.” She walked towards the office, pausing in the doorway as she watched Kylie adjust the pillows her leg was propped up on. “You’re looking a little beat up this morning.” She stepped into the office and took over the task when she noticed Kylie struggling with it.
Kylie leaned back, letting the other woman help her get comfortable again. “Getting slammed into the pavement will do that to you. How are you Luce?” She waved the other woman to an empty chair.
Luce sat down, setting the MP3 player on the desk. “Good. I uh, found your MP3 player in my car last night and thought you might like it back.”
Kylie took it. “Yeah, I would, thank you.” She turned it on from habit and began looking through it.
Luce leaned back into the chair trying to get a bit more comfortable. “Umm, I looked through it, hoping to find some contact info so I could call you to be sure you’d be here, but there didn’t seem to be any.” She chuckled a bit. “You have quite the eclectic taste in music.”
Kylie laughed. “Just like my books it seems.”
“Yeah, I was bit surprised by a couple of artists but, well I guess given our discussion on books last night, I shouldn’t be too surprised.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think I was being tweaked.”
Luce gave her a soft smile. “A bit.” They both started chuckling.
The phone rang loudly, cutting through their shared laughter. Kylie shot her an apologetic look before picking it up. “Kylie Rogers.”
Her landlord’s voice came through, the sound of it obnoxiously loud in her ear. “Kylie, I’m glad I caught you.”
She reached up to touch her forehead wishing she could have skipped this particular call all together. “Hello Mr. Hatcher.”
“Did you get my email this morning?”
She nodded. “Why yes I did get your email.”
“I was hoping that you would have called me before now about it.” His tone of voice left no doubt that he was annoyed at having been put off.
“Yes, I’d planned on calling you this afternoon to discuss it with you.” She resisted the urge to start banging the receiver against the desk. Despite the innocent beginning of the call, she knew that it wouldn’t stay that way and she also knew that the exchange would very likely give her a headache.
“Miss Rogers, despite rumors to the contrary, my time is valuable. I had hoped we could clear this matter between us by now. Perhaps you can begin by telling me exactly when I ever made you think I was an idiot.” His voice remained pleasant but there was still a biting edge to it.
“I have never thought you were an idiot but you are the landlord here. You admitted to doing the work yourself; that makes you responsible.” She could feel her blood pressure slowly climbing the longer she talked to him.
He scoffed loudly over the line. “I hardly think I’m the reason the plumbing needs to be replaced. For all I know, the contractor is lying to you about how bad it is to make a buck.”
Kylie bit back the sharp retort that leapt to mind as she decided to keep her relationship with her contractor to herself. “Look, the repairs have to be done. I can’t move into the location until they are. Which means that I can’t start making money. And in the long run that means you can’t make money either because I don’t intend to pay the rent until the repairs are done.” Her temper flared as she snapped back at him.
Again he scoffed over the line, some of his snobbish attitude leaking out even over the phone. “I don’t think we need to take things quite this far Ms Rogers; you’re remodeling, you should expect some problems in an older building. Besides, you can simply write off the cost as a simple business expense.” He spoke to her soothingly, placating her as if she were a wayward child.
The tone of voice made the rest of her temper fray. “No, we have a contract which makes you responsible.”
“Are you threatening to sue me?”
She chuckled angrily at his still calm voice. “No, I don’t think we need to take this to court. I think we can resolve this between us before it gets that far.” She suddenly remembered that she wasn’t alone in her office and gave a soft sigh. “Hold on a moment would you?” She put him on hold without making sure he could even protest and then turned her attention to Luce. “This might take a while.”
“Do you have a copy of the lease?” Surprised Kylie could only nod. “Could I see it? I happen to handle this kind of thing every day.”
Kylie opened a drawer and dug through it until she found the lease she’d signed only a few months before. She handed it over and watched as the dark haired woman scanned it quickly. She watched as a wolfish smile crossed the other woman’s face before she gestured for the phone. Kylie wordlessly handed it over wondering just what it was that Luce was up to.
“Hello, yes, who am I speaking with?” Her tone was pleasant but all business.
“Well John, I’m Luce, Kylie’s attorney.” Again the tone was pleasant and nonthreatening but all business.
There was a long pause from the other end. “I thought she wasn’t plan on suing me.”
Luce began to placate him, to keep him from panicking and saying something stupid, or even worse hanging up the phone. “No, no she doesn’t plan on suing you, yet. She just wants to protect her interests.” Luce held the lease in front of her, to be sure she didn’t miss anything. “Now look John, according to the lease you are responsible for these repairs.”
Since she seemed to be speaking his language once more, John threw out the same argument he had before. “As I told Ms Rogers, she is in the middle of a remodel on a rather old building; she should expect some problems.”
Luce nodded. “Yes I know she’s remodeling and should expect some problems. But this isn’t simply a problem, this is misrepresentation.”
This seemed to throw him again and he could only stammer. “How do you figure that?”
The wolfish grin appeared on her face again. “Well John, according to her lease you promised her a functioning building, in writing I might add. Being without plumbing is violating basic health codes. The building isn’t functional.”
John tried another tactic. “When she signed the lease for the building, it was perfectly functional; it is not my responsibility to see that it remains so if she plans on drastically changing the interior of the building. I will not be paying for these repairs.” This time his voice was a bit angry. She was cracking through his composure.
Luce decided she really didn’t like him and it was time to stop stringing him along and just go for the kill. The wolfish grin disappeared as she shifted her voice from pleasant to hard. “Look John, we could sit here all day long and argue about this, but I’ll tell you what I’d rather do. I’d rather come down to your office and shove my foot up your ass to get you moving. But we both know that I wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from your god damned head. And I’d really hate to make a mistake and attempt the maneuver twice.
“Now at this point you don’t have to do a damn thing to get the repairs done. She’s taken care of that for you with her contractor. All you have to do is pay up. And I strongly suggest you do that John because if I have to come down there, I might just be tempted to figure out the difference between your head and your ass. And if I have to do that, it isn’t going to be pretty. My next step after that will be to file suite and wrap this up in court so long, your grandchildren’s grandchildren will be inheriting the escrow account for the past years rent. Do I make myself clear on this?”
There was a long pause from the other end. “Crystal.” His reply was short and severely annoyed.
Luce smiled again, her voice pleasant once more. “Good then we can do business. Have a nice day John.” She hung up the phone and looked at Kylie sitting there stunned. “All taken care of.”
Kylie laughed. “Wow. I must say, I’m impressed. It usually takes me almost a half hour before I can talk him into anything. And today, I just didn’t have it in me. Thanks.”
“Looks like I owe you again.”
Luce waved off the praise. “Oh don’t look at it that way; besides, it was kind of fun.”
She persisted. “Be that as it may, I’d like to buy you lunch if you’ll let me.”
“Well I won’t argue with that; but why don’t you pick the place.”
“How does pizza sound? I know a really good place and they’ll even deliver for us.” She reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a menu, handing it to the other woman.
“Sounds good to me. What do you like on it?”
“Well just about anything but anchovies; sorry I don’t see the need to ruin a perfectly good pizza with fish.” Kylie picked up a notepad and pen to jot down what they both wanted.
Luce laughed as she scanned the menu. “Let me tell you about how they like their pizza in Japan some time.”
Kylie looked at her in disbelief. “You can’t be serious.”
She nodded. “Oh yeah, sushi, sashimi and fish roe as far as the eye can see.”
Kylie shuddered. “Gross, tell me that’s not true.”
The tall woman laughed. “I have no idea but wouldn’t it be rather disturbing if it was?”
A somewhat disgusted look passed over Kylie’s face before she lifted herself up from the desk. She waved Luce aside as she hobbled to the door. “I’m fine, I just want to tell the guys we’re ordering in for lunch and I’m buying.” She poked her head through the doorway and called out. “Marie, lunch is on me today and we’re ordering Georgio’s. Take everybody’s order and bring it back to me would you?”
There was a faint “sure thing.” And then Kylie hobbled back to the desk and sat back down.
Luce helped her get settled again as they began discussing their pizza toppings. “So what’s your poison then?”
“Isn’t that my line since I’m buying?” Kylie winced as she shifted her leg a bit.
Luce shrugged. “All meat, all veggie, meat and veggie?”
She shrugged. “I’m a bit of a carnivore myself; but I don’t mind a bit of fungus, so long as it’ not fresh.”
Luce looked confused. “There’s such a thing as fresh fungus?”
Kylie laughed. “Well yeah, fresh as opposed to canned. I hate it when they don’t sauté the mushrooms first. Not much flavor in fresh mushrooms. Sautéing kind of brings it out.”
The tall woman did not look convinced as she began scanning the menu once more. “I’ll take your word for it.”
She took the hint. “No mushrooms then?”
Luce gave a short nod. “Please. How do you feel about olives?”
“Black or green?”
Again she looked very confused. “Does it matter?”
Kylie gave her a look as if she were completely out of her mind. “Of course it does; the choice of olives needs to compliment the meat you pick. You eat black olives with pepperoni or bacon while green olives go great with sausage or even grilled chicken. But you never want to mix black olive meats with green olive meats; it can get kind of nasty.
“Did you learn all this at the community college?”
“I took a correspondence course.” Kylie shot back.
“Let me guess was it called ‘Pizza Olive Etiquette’ by any chance?”
“How’d you know?”
“Cause I almost took that one too but I picked ‘Beer and Cheeses of the World’ instead.”
“Damn, I almost took that one too.” They both looked at each other and started laughing. They were still laughing when Marie popped into the office with the staff’s orders.
To be continued
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