Conspiracy of Swords
(See Part 1 for Disclaimers)
Shadowriter can be reached at Shadowriter@kc.rr.com
Alex's apartment was on a side street off of DuPont Circle. The rent was outrageous for the size, but the location was perfect; Alex loved being in the middle of the 'gay ghetto' of Washington, D.C. Besides that, it was a few minutes walk to the Metro station, which took her anywhere in the city she wanted to go. A ten minute ride most mornings, and she was at work.
But the Metro was difficult to ride with suitcases, so Alex allowed her partner to drive her home. David had moved to D.C. from New York. He and Miri had both been mugged on the subway there, so both were still leery of the Metro. Miri especially had been adamant that David not use it, so David drove everywhere.
They pulled up in front of the building just as David's watch beeped one a.m. The street was fairly dark, but the lights on the building easily lit the path from the car to the door.
"You sure you don't want any help getting inside?"
"No, I'm fine. Besides, if you come inside you'll sit down and we'll start talking, and it'll be another hour before you get home. If that happened, Miri would kick my butt."
David laughed and leaned over to give her a hug.
"Get some sleep, and I'll see you at the office."
"Drive safe, David. Remember, there's a comfortable bed, and a warm companion waiting. Don't fall asleep in the car."
"And you just remember to set your alarm. If you're late, Cliff'll eat me for breakfast."
Alex pulled her suitcase from the backseat and trudged up the sidewalk. David waited until she was inside before pulling away.
She took the stairs to her second floor apartment, glancing first at the mailbox to see that it was empty. That meant Sarah had been by to pick it up, and feed the cat. She wondered if Appleby would be happy she was home, or if he would decide she'd been gone too long, and ignore her. One of the things she'd always loved about her cat was that she never knew what he would do next.
Alex unlocked the door, and was immediately set upon by a small, hairy beast that leaped off the top of the bookcase and onto her shoulders.
"Damn, Appleby, why can't you just rub my legs like a normal cat?" Reaching up, she snagged the orange and white feline off her shoulders while reaching for the lights. She hugged the cat, then dropped him to the floor. She tried not to step on him while moving her suitcase into the bedroom. After changing into a faded pair of sweats, she began to unpack. Appleby sat himself inside the case, batting at everything she picked up. When Alex finished, he was still sitting there swatting at a strap inside the suitcase.
"I guess that means you missed me, hm?"
She picked up the cat, who immediately transferred his playful attentions to her blond hair. Scratching his head, she headed out to the kitchen, intent to get him a treat. She'd been gone for so long, and yet he acknowledged her. That meant something; just what, she wasn't sure.
Alex's apartment was small. The largest room was the living room, which she had painted sky blue. The one and only lamp in the room had its shade upside down, with the light from the very bright bulb directed up and out toward the ceiling. The effect was almost, but not quite, similar to a sunny day in Chicago. Alex had paid the landlord extra for her blue walls, but this little bit of home had been well worth the money.
On the blue walls, right next to the window, was a framed poster of Frank Thomas. Alex had gotten it years ago, when the Big Hurt was just starting his professional career. He'd signed it for her on her birthday, when she and a few friends had waited outside the locker room just to congratulate the players. Later, when someone had offered her three hundred dollars for it, she'd gotten it framed and placed behind glass. This, too, represented a little bit of home, and it had gone up in every single place she'd lived, whether apartment or college dorm.
Her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University hung on one side of the door to the kitchen, and her Master's degree from Duke hung on the other. Outside of the poster, her diplomas, and a calendar, the rest of the wall space was either bare, or filled with bookshelves.
In the center of the room was a small grey couch, which nicely matched the blue sky ceiling. Most people who visited her apartment thought it was just good color coordination, but her friends knew that Alex had picked it because grey was simply the closest color to white that wouldn't show every speck of dirt. The couch faced a home entertainment center with a t.v., VCR, and a stereo. As she headed for the kitchen, Appleby in her arms, Alex detoured toward the stereo, pushing a button for music. Sarah had obviously been playing with the station, as it was tuned to classical music. Switching it back to her normal oldies rock, Alex circled the couch and entered the kitchen.
The kitchen was the smallest room in the apartment, hardly big enough for two people to stand in, much less work comfortably. It was fine for just her, though. The fridge was old, and the stove took forever to heat up, but there was adequate cabinet space if you didn't have too many dishes, and a pull out cutting board that she loved using.
Alex dropped Appleby and reached into a tiny cabinet next to the door. She used to keep the cat treats on the shelf under the cutting board, but the monster that paraded as her cat had become adept at opening the door to said shelf, so she'd moved the treats. Now, even if he could open the door to the cabinet, he couldn't squeeze himself into the small cubby hole. It was in this place that Alex hid anything she didn't want Appleby to get into; this included the mail Sarah had gathered for her. Alex gave Appleby his treat, then picked up her mail. By the time she'd closed the cabinet and turned around, Appleby was looking for more.
"No, big guy, not until tomorrow. You only get one at a time, you know that."
The look on his face never wavered. It reminded Alex of the stern way her father had always looked at her when she was in trouble. She sighed. Appleby seemed to be reminding her that she'd been gone a very long time, and he'd been very patient. After a minute, she sighed again and reached back in the cabinet.
After two more treats, Appleby seemed somewhat mollified, and Alex felt safe leaving the kitchen. She snagged an almost empty bottle of wine from the fridge and headed back into her bedroom. Appleby settled near the foot of the bed, and started washing his face with his paws. Alex gave him a fond look and a scratch on the head before climbing onto the bed herself, crackers and wine in hand.
Alex's bedroom was a study in organized chaos. Across from the door, and directly under the window, a short bookcase was crammed to overflowing. On top of the bookcase, even more books and magazines threatened to block out any light that might try to come in the window. To the left of the bookcase, there was a similarly disorganized and crowded nightstand, which was pushed up against a neatly made bed. To the right of the bookcase, a Macintosh G4 computer covered half the surface of a nearly clean desk. While her dirty clothes from her trip had been tossed into a pile at the foot of the bed, her laptop and papers had been neatly placed, with her briefcase sitting on the floor between the desk and the printer stand.
Placing the bottle on the bedside table, Alex reached to the bottom shelf of her nightstand and hit the button for her phone messages. She propped up her pillows and leaned back, closing her eyes as the long day began to catch up to her.
The first message was from her mother, reminding her that she had promised to go home for Passover in April. Alex's family was Jewish, and while they knew she no longer practiced the faith, they did expect her to join them for such important celebrations. For a long time, Alex hadn't minded, but since her father had passed away two years ago, visits home hadn't been the same.
Even though her father had never understood Alex's love of women, he had always accepted her as she was. His own childhood, which had been filled with the terror of the Holocaust, had made Aaron Reis understand how important family was. His parents had died at the hands of the Nazi's, and Aaron's uncle had taken his seven year old nephew with him when he escaped Prague. From there they had wound a criss-cross path through Europe, finally finding their way to Greece. From Greece they, and a few hundred others, immigrated to the United States. The journey through a war torn Europe had never been discussed between Aaron and his daughter. For him, it was something he never wanted to burden her with. For Alex's part, she never wanted to make him remember the horrors of that time.
After his daughter had been born, Aaron had made a deal with the Maker of the Universe, and he was quick to remind Alex of it.The agreement was that if the Creator would keep Alex safe, Aaron would work to fight discrimination in all its forms. He had been a member of many activist groups, faithfully paying dues even if it meant going without a few luxury items. His wife, Errita, had never completely understood her husband's insistence on this point; then again, her family had lived in Greece, and had escaped the worst parts of the Holocaust. They, too, had immigrated to the U.S., coming over on the same ship as Aaron's family, but their move had been more from choice, than from fear. Errita's family had settled in Chicago, not far from Aaron and his uncle. Despite the six year difference in their ages, Aaron and Errita had fallen in love, and they had married when Errita was twenty. Ten years and two miscarriages later, Alexia Edrea Reis had been born.
Errita had always thought her husband was spoiling Alex, and when she came out to them as a lesbian at fifteen, she was certain that Aaron was to blame. It had caused a split in the home that Alex regretted to this day. When Alex came home with her first broken heart, her mother had patted her and told her she'd live. It had been Aaron who held her while she cried on his shoulder.She had always been closer to her father, but her love for her mother was still very strong. It had been painful for Alex. While the two women still lived in the same house, they acted more like roommates, than mother and daughter.
Aaron died of a stroke in 1998. Alex had already been living in Washington, but she had been a steady visitor home, always making time to be with her parents. After her father died, however, the battles with her mother became more frequent. They couldn't find a way to bridge their differences, and finally, the two had just stopped trying. While Alex still loved Chicago, and her mother, it was harder and harder to get through family occasions without fights erupting over her lack of religion, her job, or her sexual orientation.
She sighed. Still, the Passover had always been a special time for her and her father, and he would want her there. She knew he'd be there, even if it was just in spirit. Alex also realized that her mother had cared enough to make the invitation. She cared too, and she'd be in Chicago in April.
The second message on the machine was from Sarah Mahoney.
"Hi, Alex. Listen, I didn't think you'd get home early enough to have a decent meal, so there's a plate of lasagna in the fridge for you. No going to bed without food." Alex smiled. She'd eaten with David on the way home from the airport, but the lasagna would make a good enough breakfast. "I should tell you that spaz cat managed to lose his collar again. He hates that bell, you know." Damn, she hadn't even noticed. "And yes, he's still jumping from the bookcase as people come in the door. Maggie had to feed him for me last week, and he pulled that surprise on her. She said she'll never go into your place without an umbrella again." Alex had to smile at that. The phrase 'it's raining cats' drifted through her mind, forcing a chuckle out of her. "Oh, yeah, before I forget. You're having dinner at our place on Thursday night. No, this is not an invitation; I know better than to give you a chance to say no. So, be there, seven o'clock. And yes, there will be four of us. Sorry, sweetheart, I know you don't like it when I try to set you up, but as the best friend, not to mention ex-girlfriend, it is my prerogative. Love you, Alexia."
The third message was a computerized voice asking if she'd thought about vinyl siding for her house.
"Damn, glad I called to pick up the messages while I was gone. I probably would have spent an hour listening to people offer me mortgages and improvements for the house I don't own."
She uncorked the bottle and drained it in a few swallows. Appleby crawled up on her chest to swat at the cork, and Alex stroked his white and orange fur. "So, you just had to go and scare Aunt Maggie, huh? You know, she's the one who gave you that catnip toy at Christmas, so you better be nice." She felt around his neck, where a slight discoloration marked the location his collar normally sat. "How do you keep pulling that off? I know you don't like the bell, but that's the only way I have of warning people when you do your bookcase leap. So I'm just gonna keep putting it back on, until you stop this raining cats stuff, okay?" Appleby swatted the cork away from her hand, his tail twitching.
"Yeah, I'm glad we had this talk, too."
Idly petting Appleby, Alex thought back to the time Sarah would be waiting for her to come home. The two had met at a neighborhood Fourth of July picnic in 1997, and had spent the rest of that summer exploring the area in and around Washington. Sarah had taken Alex to all the museums, and the historic landmarks, while Alex had taken Sarah to Baltimore for a White Sox -- Orioles game. During a weeks vacation, they decided to save the money and spend the week visiting the National Archives together. Sarah had used the time to research her family history, reading through ship manifests and immigration lists. Alex, on the other hand, spent those several days reading through boxes of material on the Kennedy assassination. The two had laughed at themselves, realizing if they didn't go there together, and leave together, they never would have crossed paths at the Archives.
Still, they had tried to ignore any romantic or sexual feelings between them, thinking themselves just good friends. It wasn't until September that they actually declared themselves a couple, and by Thanksgiving they were living together. Sarah had even organized a party for Alex when she was made a Special Agent in the beginning of December.
Their's had been a strange relationship, based more on comfort than need, and on friendship rather than passion. Alex had to admit that during those six months she had been grateful to have someone to go home to; as their first official assignment she and David had been given a serial killer case, and Alex had needed someone to listen to her rant to about the frustrations. Unfortunately, being Alex's sounding board wasn't what Sarah had needed, and after the killer had been caught, and Alex was sleeping through the night without nightmares, Sarah had told her that the relationship was over. While there had definitely been pain then, it didn't take either woman long to see that the relationship really was a friendship, and just because they were no longer sleeping together, that didn't mean they couldn't see each other. Sarah had gone to Chicago with Alex when her father died and Alex had flown to Colorado with Sarah when her little brother was injured in a ski accident. Alex had been with Sarah the night she'd met Maggie, who was now Sarah's partner. And Sarah and Maggie had taken it upon themselves, much like David and Miri, to find Alex someone to love. She appreciated the effort, knowing they had only good intentions, but some of the Thursday night dinners had become disasters, and for the last couple of months Alex had turned down their invitations to dinner. It sounded to her like Sarah had caught on to her ploy. It was no longer an invitation but a demand for her presence. With a sigh, Alex knew she'd probably show up. After all, she'd been missing Maggie's cooking immensely.
She glanced over at the clock on her desk, then groaned when she saw it was after two. She had to be at work in six hours. She'd be lucky if she got a chance to eat that lasagna in the morning.
Alex pulled the wine cork away from Appleby's claws, dropping it into the wastebasket. He immediately went to look for another plaything, and Alex gratefully slid under the covers. She turned off the light, and listened to Appleby's soft footsteps till she fell asleep.
Continues in Chapter Four
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