Disclaimers & General Information

These characters and this story originated in the deep dark recesses of my mind, and thus belong to no one but me.  Copyright © 2004 by Blayne Cooper (Advocate).    

Sexual Content/Violence/Profanity: This is work of alternative fiction containing, among other things, a romantic/sexual relationship between two adult women. The story also contains profanity and sexual violence. It is intended for mature audiences only.  If you’re under 18, please move along.

Acknowledgements: Steph, Eileen, Judith, and Medora MacD–your beta reading assistance was invaluable. Susan–your feedback helped make this a better story.

Dedication: This is for the women in my life. I love you. I hate you. I love you.

Comments/Questions/Feedback to: advocate8704@yahoo.com . I’d love to hear what you thought.



by Blayne Cooper

Chapter One


Present Day

Town & Country, Missouri


Slender hands trembled as fingers bejeweled with several rings and one thick gold band poised over the keyboard, hovering with uncertainty. She squeezed her eyes shut briefly, tears filling them as she forced down several gulps of air. With a final burst of willpower, she clicked the printer icon at the top her screen, reluctantly acknowledging that the words would be no more horrible on paper than they were on the screen.

"Honey?" a deep male voice called from outside her closed office door. "I’m leaving now."

She sniffed once, blinking back tears, and snatched the paper from her laser printer just as it hit the receptacle tray. Wiping her eyes with a Kleenex she retrieved from the holder on her desk, she slid the paper into the top drawer and answered her husband. "You can come in, Malcolm. Since when do you stand outside my office door and shout?" But this time she was glad of the privacy.

Malcolm Langtree poked his blonde head through the door and gave his wife a boyish smile. "Since I wasn’t sure whether you were in here or in the library next door and I was too lazy to check both rooms."

She chuckled and watched fondly as her husband trotted into the room, his chipper attitude and the spring in his step running counter to any claim of laziness. It had been less than six months since he’d been discharged from the hospital, and his recovery from a heart attack was all but complete. He was carrying a tennis racquet and wearing a tasteful, pale yellow Polo shirt and crisp white shorts, both of which showed off his tan. She patted his belly, which had yet to take on the softness of middle age that plagued his peers.

He set his racquet on her desk and surprised her by cupping her cheeks and looking her square in the eye, oblivious to the turmoil she’d been in only moments before. "I’m going to win today." He winked. "I just know it."

She laughed and shook her head. "Tucker always beats you, Mal. It’s your punishment for spending all that money on those ridiculously expensive lessons."

Malcolm gave her a gentle kiss on the lips before snatching up his racquet and excitedly heading for the door, his tennis shoes sinking into the plush maroon carpet. "It wasn’t a waste of money," he protested mildly. "He’s on an athletic scholarship, isn’t he?"

She nodded, deciding not to point out that their son’s tennis scholarship at Webster University would never come close to reimbursing them for the thousands of dollars they’d spent over the years on lessons and camps. Still, the look on Malcolm’s face and the pride in his voice when he talked about Tucker was payment enough. And it always would be.

"Did you remember your sunscreen and a towel?" Early September in St. Louis could still be brutally hot and humid.

Malcolm waved a dismissive hand as he stood in her doorway. "We’re playing at the club this time." He tried not to look sheepish. "I reserved an indoor court. I’ll be home by dinnertime. Now wish me luck at slaughtering our son."

"May you have no mercy," she dutifully replied, already knowing what the outcome of the match would be. Tucker had been beating Malcolm since he was in high school. Nowadays, if the match lasted more than an hour, Tucker was humoring his old man, something Malcolm had yet to catch onto, but was an example of thoughtfulness that, as a proud mother, she cherished.

"Love you," Malcolm called as he trotted down the hall, leaving her office door open, the clean scent of his aftershave going with him.

A few seconds more and she could hear the door to the formal dining room open and close. "Love you… too." The words stuck in her throat, the grief over the email rushing back full force now that Malcolm’s reassuring presence was gone. She padded to the door in her stocking feet, her shoes still resting under her desk, and locked it, laying her cheek against the cool cherry-wood surface as she thought about what to do.

The housekeeper wouldn’t disturb her for several hours, when the heavy-set black woman would come knocking and inquiring whether Mrs. Langtree wanted a cocktail before dinner. She usually did.

Why? The familiar question reared its ugly head. How could this be happening? Things weren’t supposed to end up this way.

She retrieved the printed email from the drawer and opened a long heavy-paned window that overlooked the south lawn, an expanse of towering sycamore trees, lush green grass, and manicured flowerbeds. Heedless of the air-conditioning escaping into the hot afternoon, she continued to stare sightlessly.

And as the breeze kissed her cheeks, she sorted through the pages of her memory. It was so easy to dwell on the mistakes and tears, the guilt and regret that haunted her now and had for many years. As with every story, though, there was a beginning. She couldn’t help but chuckle when she thought of theirs.

It had been golden.


November 1972

Hazelwood, Missouri

"And the Pilgrims and Indians shared a great feast in honor of the cooperation and friendship they’d shown one another. And it’s because of their ability to share and help each other that we have this great nation. And for that and our other blessings, we give thanks."

"Ha!" Jacie snorted, slouching a little in one of the small chairs that filled Mrs. Applebee’s third grade classroom. "It was the beginning of the end for the Indians. They were doomed," she said cryptically, stretching out the last word until several other children gasped. "You’re not telling everything, Mrs. Applebee."

Most of the children, half of whom were wearing feathers and war paint, the other half were dressed like Pilgrims, with tall hats and bonnets and big construction paper buckles taped to the tops of their shoes, stared at Jacie in utter disbelief. Though a few disobedient snickers could be heard from the corners of the room.

The teacher’s eyes narrowed. This was only her second week teaching at Armstrong Elementary and she’d already heard more out of this little girl than she would have liked. She didn’t participate much in class discussion, but when she did, whatever she said was bound to be provocative and, thus, disruptive. "I’m teaching you everything you need to know, Jacie Anne Priest. But if you’d rather discuss this with the principal I’m certain that he’d be more than happy to see you. Again."

Jacie sank a little lower in her seat, the prospect of the principal calling her mother making her cringe. "No, ma’am," she mumbled, not making eye contact. Mrs. Applebee gave her a satisfied nod and went to her desk to pick up a stack of handouts that included a Thanksgiving word search, tidbits of information on the Pilgrims, and a recipe for pumpkin pie that the children could make with their mothers.

When the teacher’s back was turned, a freckled girl with wavy sand-colored hair covertly reached across her desk and slid a tiny, many times folded piece of paper under Jacie’s David Cassidy three-ring notebook. Jacie cracked the note open with the same caution she would have applied to handling a stink bomb. For all she knew it could be a stink bomb. Instead, it was just an ordinary note with uneven letters that read: "Wow!" Next to the words was a carefully drawn smiley face complete with ears and hair and the name "Nina."

Jacie flashed the normally shy girl a triumphant smile, quickly shoving the note into the small pocket at the top of her brown polyester skirt and doing her best to look completely innocent when Mrs. Applebee walked by her with a raised eyebrow. Nina had been in a different second grade class last year, and so even though she lived just down the street from Jacie, somehow they’d never really gotten to know one another.

With a tiny, embarrassed smile, Nina glanced away and started fidgeting with a thick pencil.

Jacie absently lifted the lid of her desk and shoved the packet the teacher had given her inside without looking. It took several seconds for her to push aside the many other crumpled papers before the desk would close properly again.

Mrs. Applebee returned to her normal place in front of the blackboard. "Class, I want you to–" The afternoon recess bell drowned out the rest of the sentence and the children eagerly sprang to their feet, their little bodies all leaning towards the door, posed to bolt on her command. The teacher smiled. Hazelwood, Missouri, was in the throes of a deliciously late and long Indian summer. She couldn’t blame the children for wanting to soak up every moment of it. Knowing that no one would be listening now anyway, she indulgently gestured toward the door. "Enjoy recess."

"Yes!" was the collective shout, and within a matter of seconds the children had cleared the classroom and coatroom and were on the playground laughing and chasing each other in circles. A group of boys dressed like Pilgrims lined up against a group of boys dressed like Indians, ready for a rousing game of Red Rover, various revolting epithets being exchanged as they chose spots and linked arms.

As always, Jacie headed straight for the swing set. This was going to be the year that she swung clear over the top and down the other side in an enormous circle, so long as her nerve and the rusty chain didn’t fail her.

"Hey, Jacie, c’mere! Please!"

Jacie reluctantly ground to a halt, grumbling under her breath when a skinny boy who had wet his pants the first day of kindergarten and was forever labeled "Stinky" cut in front of her and stole the last open swing. She turned and pinned Gwen Hopkins with an evil glare. "What?" she demanded, her hands moving to straight hips in a move that she’d seen her mother execute a million times.

Gwen was at least two inches taller than Jacie, and she straightened to her full height, doing her best not to be intimated by Jacie’s narrowed, dark gaze. "I wanna show you something."

Jacie rolled her eyes and walked over to Gwen, who was standing alone and leaning against a cement tunnel. "This had better be good, Gwen. I’m going for the world’s record highest swing ever this winter. I need to practice."

"You said that last year."

Jacie looked dismayed. "Breaking my arm took months off my training."

Not the least bit interested in Jacie’s attempt at everlasting fame, Gwen shoved a piece of paper in front of her face, causing Jacie’s eyes to cross when she tried to read it. The paper was a dull pink and was one of the sheets that Mrs. Applebee had passed out to the class just before recess.

Jacie glanced at it briefly, wondering why Gwen was talking to her at all and not busy skipping rope with her best friend, Amy. "So? It’s a bunch a names or something from the…" she paused to sound out the word "Mayflower."

"That’s right," Gwen gushed. "That was the name of the boat the Pilgrims came over on."

An indignant expression overtook Jacie’s square-shaped face. "But the Pilgrims–"

Gwen held up an imperious hand. "You shouldn’t talk about our founding fathers that way, Jacie." "My neighbor’s son told me all about Thanksgiving. His name is Andy and he’s home from college in California and he says–"

"My mom says you can’t trust people from California. That they’re all fruits and nuts."

Jacie blinked. "Huh? What does that mean?"

Gwen shrugged one shoulder. "I dunno. Anyway, the Pilgrims were heroes, Jacie. There is an entire holiday just because of them. And we get two whole days off of school. So they couldn’t be bad, could they be?"

Jacie chewed her lip. Gwen did have a point. "But Mr. Parker’s son said they were the beginning of the end of the Indians," she tried again, giving her argument one last try.

"Maybe," Gwen allowed. Jacie was one of the smartest girls in the class. "But we still get two days vacation," she repeated, as though that said it all.

And for Jacie, it pretty much did it. She let out a discouraged breath. "Is that all you wanted to tell me? You could have told me I was wrong after recess, you know."

"Your name is on the list of people on the Mayflower."

Jacie’s eyes widened. "It is not. I wasn’t even born then, goof." She peered at the fluttering paper again, tucking behind her ear a blowing strand of long auburn hair that had escaped her ponytail. When one of her Indian feathers got in the way, she tucked it behind her ear, too.

"You weren’t born. But maybe your grandpa or somebody else in your family was on the boat. Your last name isn’t that common. Not like Smith or Hogg or something. If your family was on that boat, that would make you a real live hero, too."

Jacie wrinkled her nose. "How can I be a hero without doing anything?"

"You just can," Gwen announced with utter certainty. "See?" She pointed again and read Jacie’s surname out loud. "Priest."

"My grandpa is not a Pilgrim. He’s a shoe salesman from Macon, Georgia," Jacie said impatiently, her gaze drifting to the still full swing set. "I really need to go now, Gwen."

It was clear that she was already plotting a way to get that last swing. Everyone knew that was her favorite.

"That’s not all." Gwen’s eyes darted sideways to make sure that no one was close enough to overhear them. "I’m there, too. Half way down the page."

Jacie’s brow furrowed as she started reading the list.

But Gwen couldn’t wait that long. "I looked at the entire list. There are four of us from this class on the list. Four! All girls!" Her excitement was getting the best of her, and she looked as though she might have an accident. "Isn’t that neat?"

"I guess," Jacie said doubtfully.

"Audrey! Nina!" Gwen bellowed, startling Jacie and causing her to jump a step back. "C’mere!"

Audrey Mullins stopped dusting off her lucky hopscotch rock long enough to yell, "No way, Gwen. I’m gonna win, so I’m not moving. You come over here." Then, with the skill of a playground master, she tossed her rock, pumping her fist when it landed. Katy, Audrey’s cousin and latest hopscotch victim, had white-blonde hair and the knobbiest knees in the entire third grade. She moaned as Audrey successful navigated the hopscotch board.

Gwen huffed for a few seconds, grumpy that she was being forced to cross the playground but quickly got over it and grabbed Jacie’s sleeve, tugging her along as she made her way to Audrey.

Nina, who had been sitting on the monkey bars quietly watching the game of Red Rover, hurried over to the small group. She was equal parts terrified and thrilled that somebody might ask her to play.

"Hi, Nina. I like your sweater," Audrey said, surprised to see that the girl had given up her spot on the monkey bars. She was almost as attached to that spot as Jacie was to the last swing.

Nina smiled, showing off white teeth and a sizeable hole that had once held the last of her baby teeth. "Th-thanks, Audrey." She tugged a little at her burnt-orange, macramé sweater; her mother was taking a class.

Gwen looked around again, glad that no boys were anywhere near them. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I’ve got something to show you all. It’s super groovy, but let’s start walking back to class first. The bell is going to ring soon anyway."

The girls all sighed loudly: the best part of the day always came and went too quickly, but if they started back early they could at least be in the front of the line to get back into class and not get the drinking fountain just inside the doorway after one of the boys licked it just for spite.

The girls had just begun to pad towards the building when Gwen inserted herself between Audrey and Katy. "I’m sorry Katy, but this is private, secret business. You can’t come with us." Her voice held a note of true regret.

Katy blinked. "Why not?" "Yeah." Audrey began to bristle at the insult. "Why can’t she come?"

"Because she’s not on the list," Gwen said between clenched teeth, glaring at Jacie as though she expected her to offer some sort of moral support for her decision.

"She can come if she wants," Jacie said pointedly. "All we’re doing is walking back to class and it’s a free country."

"Wh-what list?" Nina ventured tentatively, her heart pounding at her daring. All the other girls in the class had gone to the second grade together, and even if they hung out with different groups, they knew each other well. Only she and a handful of boys had been promoted from a different class. And now, even after several months, she still felt, and was usually treated, like an outsider.

Gwen rolled her eyes and held out the paper as she explained that all of them except Katy had last names on the passenger list. "This means we’re special," she finally declared. "We might be real Pilgrims! We’re practically famous."

Jacie snorted. "I told you, I’m not a Pilgrim."

"Is your name Priest?" Gwen asked curtly. "If it is, then read it and weep. You are a Pilgrim." She turned to Katy. "Sorry, Katy. Schaub isn’t on the list. I looked twice." Katy looked as though she might cry. "But I’m cousins with Audrey and her last name is on the list. If she’s a Pilgrim, then I am, too. We’re related." With a quick hand Katy scrubbed the green war paint from her cheeks, then plucked the white feather from her hair in a showing of Pilgrim solidarity.

Gwen drew in a thoughtful breath, then tugged her purple, construction paper bonnet a little tighter on her head so it wouldn’t blow off. "I don’t think that counts, Katy. I think we should make our own club since we’re all on the list. Amy is moving to Toledo over Thanksgiving, so I’ll have lots more time to play with you all at recess because I won’t have a best friend."

"You don’t stop being best friends with someone just because you’re apart," Audrey said, frowning. She tugged her skirt a little higher on her thick waist.

"True, but I won’t be able to play with Amy ever again." Gwen turned to Nina, who was quietly watching the entire exchange with intelligent, interested eyes. "You never play with anyone, Nina. You just sit and watch." Then she addressed Jacie. "And all you do is swing, swing, swing. Even if there was a highest swinging record in The Guinness Book of World Records," which she doubted, "the people from the book are never going to come to Hazelwood, Missouri, Jacie." "If I break a world record, they’d have to," Jacie challenged hotly, kicking a rock that wasn’t really bothering anyone.

"But wouldn’t a club be way more fun than breaking a record?" Gwen glanced at the building nervously, sure the bell was about to ring any second.

"No," Jacie said flatly. "I hate Mickey Mouse Club reruns. They sing too much and act stupid." Miffed, Katy crossed her arms over her chest. "Talent Round-Up Day isn’t so bad." "C’mon, Jacie, let’s do a club," Audrey enticed, loving the idea of being in something special. "It could be fun." Then she gave Gwen a poke in the chest, causing her to drop the pink passenger list. "But only if Katy can be in it, too."

"No way, Audrey." With a scowl, Gwen pinched Audrey’s arm, earning a squeal. Then she picked up the list. "Everyone can’t be in the club or it will be too big. No boys and nobody off the list. That has to be the rule. And don’t hit or poke me again or I’m telling Mrs. Applebee."

"No fair!" Katy protested, with Jacie nodding her agreement. "I want to be in the club. I would be a good member. Maybe they just forgot my name."

"W-wait." A faint voice interrupted them and all eyes swung to Nina. The girl prayed that her stuttering would magically disappear. But, of course, it didn’t. "I th-think," she stopped and forced herself to slow down and think about every word as her mother had reminded her so many times. "I think K-Katy should be able to j-j-join." She exhaled as though she’d just run a mile and smiled. Everyone was still paying attention. "See?" She pointed to a name on the list at the very bottom. The last name wasn’t Schaub, but the first name was Katherine.

"That’s my name!" Katy crowed, nearly choking on her wad of Bazooka bubble gum. "I’m Katherine Schaub. My name is on the list."

Gwen’s mouth dropped opened. "But your last name isn’t on list. There are lots of Katherines."

Jacie and Audrey grinned. "A rule is a rule, Gwen," Audrey reminded. "Katy’s name is right there."

Gwen thrust her chin in the air. "Fine. We should take a vote then. And since it’s about Katy she can’t vote. And since Audrey is her cousin, she can’t vote. That leaves me and Jacie and Nina." "I vote that we let Katy in," Jacie said instantly, "and that we make her president."

Gwen stuck her tongue out at Jacie, but she didn’t protest. After all, the vote had been her idea. "I solved the mystery of all of us being Pilgrims, so I vote for myself to be president. And for only people with last names from the list should be in the club. Sorry, Katy." She turned to Nina. "Nina?"

Nina gulped and ran a hand through her wind-tousled hair, feeling the pressure and sheer importance of the moment. It was truly up to her now. She looked at each girl in turn, unintentionally lingering long enough so that they all began to sweat.

Jacie gave her the tiniest smile of encouragement and Nina felt her confidence pick up steam. "K-Katy is in. I vote w-with Jacie."

"Yes!" Katy and Audrey hugged and jumped up and down in each other’s embrace, Audrey’s mop of curly brown hair flopping up and down as they moved.

Just then, the bell rang and a horde of 8-year-olds began stampeding for the door.

"Can I be president after Katy?" Gwen asked loudly, accepting defeat graciously and fighting the urge to step aside and lose her space near the head of the line, despite the risk of being trampled.

"Sure," the girls said, clustering near the door.

Nina smiled. She’d never been anywhere near the front of the line before. Her smile grew. Because of her height, she’d never even seen the front of the line. It wasn’t that she was short for her age; Nina had gone to only the first few days of first grade before being promoted directly into the second grade.

Mrs. Applebee opened the door and then, waving the children in, disappeared back into the classroom.

"So what will we do in this club?" Jacie asked Gwen as they entered the coatroom, not even noticing the familiar scent of dust, must, and sweat. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be in a club at all. And no way was she going to sing or be in a talent show. No way.

Before Gwen could answer, Bucky Lee shouldered his way past Nina, elbowing her hard. "Out of the way, N-N-Nina," he mocked with a cruel laugh. Several of his friends joined in the taunt, all stuttering "N-N-Nina."

Nina grimaced, feeling a bruise bloom instantly on her ribs. She whirled around with her fists in the air, eyes blazing, but she didn’t have to say a word.

Audrey and Katy, each of whom had three older brothers, descended upon two of the teasing boys with the practiced ease of hyenas on the prowl, pushing them hard against the pegged wall and knocking several pair of old galoshes from the rack above the jackets onto their heads.

Jacie launched all of her 75 pounds at Bucky Lee, pinning him to the ground and shaking the life out of him by the collar of his shirt before the boy could even blink. He’d recently teased her about her failed world record attempt and this was the last straw. He had this coming.

Gwen stepped in front of Nina, ready to fend off any further attacks, even though she knew her mother would take a strap to her if she tore her last pair of tights. Her face turned the same shade of red as her flaming hair at the thought of having only panties to wear under her dress, but she stood her ground.

Jacie and Bucky Lee rolled around on the floor for a moment, but Jacie quickly regained control. "With teeth like that," she bared her front teeth and made a chittering sound like a beaver chewing wood, "how can you tease anyone, Bucky?" He began to squirm beneath her again, but this time her grip was solid. "Say you’re sorry, dog breath," she demanded.

"Sorry, dog breath," Bucky instantly replied, laughing hysterically at his own wit.

"You rotten–"

"What is going on here?" Mrs. Applebee walked into the coatroom to find Jacie with her fist raised high above her head, ready to pound Bucky, and Audrey using her considerable bulk to keep her prisoner from escaping as she administered a wedgie he wouldn’t forget for weeks. And Katy was industriously stuffing her chewing gum in the ear of a screeching girl who had the bad sense to join in with the boys’ mean teasing.

The coatroom went deathly silent.

Mrs. Applebee rolled her eyes and grabbed Jacie by the collar, lifting her off Bucky Lee. As she called out the names of the other fight participants, she pointed towards the door with an authoritative finger. They would all be spending the afternoon in the principal’s office.

Nina drew in a breath to protest, but Gwen turned around and clamped her hand over her new friend’s mouth. "Shhh! If you say anything then you’ll probably get in trouble, too. Mrs. Applebee is already really mad."

"B-but it’s not their fault and now they’re in t-trouble!" Confusion showed in Nina’s blue-green eyes. "Why d-did they do that? I can take care of my-myself."

"Because we’re a club, silly. C’mon." She guided Nina back through the coatroom and back to her seat, which was across the aisle from her own. "I live by Audrey," she whispered. "I can go to her house tonight after school and tell her mom that the fight wasn’t her fault. And her mom will tell Katy’s mom. Maybe then they won’t get into too much trouble."

Nina nodded, liking that plan. "I live by Ja-Jacie." She’d seen the girl walking to school but had never had the nerve to approach her. "I’ll talk to her mom, too, if you think I-I-I should."

"Of course you should! The most important part of being in a club is being best friends and sticking together." Gwen retrieved her pencil from her desk and pulled a wide-lined piece of paper from her tablet, readying herself for Mrs. Applebee’s return.

An enormous smile lit Nina’s face. She’d never had best friends. "Really?" she asked hopefully.

Gwen was filled with pride at how their club had defended one of their own. "Really."

"Wow. This is going to b-be so fun."


Present Day

Town & Country, Missouri

The chiming of the grandfather clock jerked her from the memory, and she stood up and closed the window. Moving to her desk, she lifted a photo in a burnished copper frame. It was of five girls in their earlier teens, their slim arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. Their faces were wreathed in smiles, two of them grinning wildly despite the railroad tracks that were wrapped around their teeth. It had been early summer, she recalled, and the attire was cut-off blue jeans and white muslin shirts embroidered with bright flowers and cut with an empire waist or peasant blouses made of gauzy cotton.

The mysteries of the world were still theirs to explore and their happiness and innocence showed.

Tears stung her eyes as she slid the photo from its frame, careful not to crease it. She pulled her PDA from her desk drawer and laid the photo in her scanner as she retrieved a phone number and email address. When she found them, she moved to her computer and spent a few moments composing an email before picking up the phone.

"Gramercy Investigations," a man answered. "This is Ted Gramercy speaking."

"Hello, Mr. Gramercy, this is–"

"Mrs. Langtree, I’d recognize your voice anywhere." She'd called him the day before, but had rushed off the phone when Malcolm came home unexpectedly.

She cringed, reminded once again of the distinctive, if gentle, Southern twang that she never had been quite able to lose completely and that clearly denoted a lower-class bloodline to St. Louis society.

"I’m glad you called the agency," Ted continued. "It’s my pleasure to have the opportunity to work for you. What can I do for you, ma’am?"

She rubbed her temple with one hand, feeling a headache coming on fast. "I just emailed you a photograph, Mr. Gramercy."

"I’m printing it now."

She nodded even though he couldn’t see the gesture, appreciating his efficiency.

"It’s finished printing. Nice photo."

A tiny smile tugged at the edge of her lips. "Yes. It is." She picked up the photo again and studied it, knowing he was doing the same thing. "There is a list of names in the email. They’re in the same order that the girls appear in the photograph from left to right. I’ve also included as much other information about each girl as I could. I’m afraid it’s not much."

"And what do you want me to do when I find them?"

She smiled at his use of "when" and not "if." "I don’t want you to do anything… at least not yet. Just contact me with their addresses and then I’ll give you some additional instructions." Pausing, she gently cleared her throat. "I trust that you understand your complete discretion is required, Mr. Gramercy."

"Of course. As far as anyone but you is concerned, I don’t exist. I’ll email my standard contract back to the same address and be in touch soon."

"That’s fine. I’ll overnight your retainer in cash. Good–"

"Wait! Mrs. Langtree, you only have four names listed here and there are five girls."

She ran the tip of her finger over each girl’s smiling face. "You only need to find four girls… I should say women, they’re all nearly 40 now." A pause. "The fifth girl in the photograph is me… in another life. Gwen Hopkins."

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