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Family Values -- Part Four


Copyright: Although the main characters in the following do bear a strong resemblance to a cute couple with whom we are all familiar, all the characters in this work of fiction are the product of my own imagination and are therefore copyright to me. For the rest of the disclaimers, please see the first part.


Chapter 21

Quinn checked her watch impatiently. At this rate, Ariel’s meeting with Edward would be over and done before she even got there.

She had caught a taxi immediately outside the police station and expected she’d make it to Edward’s office in about 20 minutes, but a collision on a downtown street corner had reduced traffic to a crawl. Quinn had been on the point of getting out several times and jogging to the first street over to see if she could catch a taxi there, but every time she decided to do it, traffic would speed up, leading her to think it would be faster to stay put.

So much for that theory, she acknowledged wryly, as her cab continued to crawl down the street in fits and starts. Up ahead she could see whirling red lights and an assortment of rescue vehicles and police cars. Making a decision, the security consultant pulled out her phone and dialed Ariel’s number. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four. "Hello. The person at 555-3953 is unavailable right now. Please leave a message at the beep." Quinn disconnected, deciding that Ariel must have turned off her phone for the meeting. Ok, she thought, go to plan B. Quickly running through her number index she found and dialed Julia, Edward’s secretary, asking her to let Ariel know that she’d been held up in traffic but would be there ASAP.

In less that five minutes, which felt like 20, Quinn’s cab finally crossed the intersection, where two vehicles – both taxis – were crumpled together. "I guess they haven’t got around to making all the cabs tamper proof," she mused, as the accident, and the acrid smell of fire retardant, slipped by. Once past the crash, traffic began to open up again and a few minutes later Quinn found herself pulling up to the building that housed McQuarry’s, Ariel’s publisher.

Julia greeted her warmly as she got off the elevator. "Quinn! How nice to see you! I gave Ariel your message. Please – go right in," she said, opening the door to Edward’s office, and standing to one side.

Quinn smiled her thanks and stepped through.

"So Ariel, I’ll send it over to Roberta so that she can go over it for you before we go any furth– Quinn! Good to see you." said Edward, breaking off what he was saying to greet the security consultant.

"Edward. It’s good to see you too," she replied smiling.

"Hi Love," grinned Ariel, from the comfortable leather couch near Edward’s desk, as the publisher pumped Quinn’s hand. "We’re just wrapping up here."

Quinn finished shaking hands and, stepping past Edward, bent and gave Ariel a quick kiss. "Sorry I couldn’t get here sooner," she murmured.

"Not to worry. I’ve been quite safe with Jamie."

Quinn looked over at the security operative perched unobtrusively in a corner of the room, on the arm of an upholstered chair. "Thanks Jamie. I appreciate it."

The woman nodded. "No problem, Quinn. Should I report back to Kris now?"

"I—" began Quinn but was interrupted by the buzz of her phone.

Holding up a finger, she said, "Thanatos."

"Quinn we may have a problem at the hotel."


"Yeah. Vanessa called. She just got off the phone with hotel security. They say that a man matching the deranged fan’s description was asking questions about the client. He left before they could detain him. She thinks another body in addition to Owen would be a good idea when they leave for the afternoon shoot, and thereafter. Is Jamie available yet or should I send John? Or go myself?"

"Ok, Kris. Jamie’s freed up now. I’ll send her over to help out."

"Alright. I’ll let Van know. Catch you later."

"Right," said Quinn as she disconnected. "Jamie, Vanessa will need some help this afternoon, so go directly to the hotel. She’ll be expecting you."

"Ok, Quinn. I’ll check in with the office later," she said, and slipped out.

"A very conscientious bodyguard, that one," observed Edward, who was standing behind his desk. "Insisted on staying in the meeting, but apologized for it. Said that she’d promised you she wouldn’t let Ariel out of her sight. And she didn’t."

"Good. That’s what I like to hear."

The publisher smiled. "I know, and I’m glad of it. Right now, however, what I’d like to hear is the popping of champagne corks. We were just about to have a celebratory lunch on the roof garden, Quinn. I hope that’s still on?" He added hopefully

Quinn looked at Ariel, realizing with a start that they hadn’t been out to eat, either in a restaurant or with friends, in ages. Not since shortly after they got back from the trip to Parsonville, and it became apparent that Scott had decided to pull out all the stops to prevent Ariel learning . . . whatever he thought she'd learn from Katie. "I think that would be an excellent idea," she replied, and was glad to see the sparkle of anticipation in the writer’s eyes. Quinn chuckled to herself, observing wryly: Edward’s company and good food! – two of Ariel’s favourite things.

"Wonderful! The caterers should have everything set up by now," said Edward as he escorted them out into the outer office. "Julia, is everything ready?" he asked his secretary.

"Yes, they’ve just left," she answered, smiling. "Are you sure you don’t want me to get one of the girls in here to pour drinks and serve?"

"We’ll be fine, Julia. Don’t worry. I’ll see you later," the elderly publisher assured her.

"Alright then, but if you change your mind there are always a few—"

"Don’t worry. We can shift for ourselves," he assured her.

"Alright, then," she said with a small frown. Switching gears, and smiling warmly she said "It was lovely to see you Ariel, and you Quinn. Do enjoy your lunch. And don’t let him," motioning to Edward, "drink too much champagne! I’ll never get any work out of him this afternoon, if you do!" she finished, jokingly.

"Begone woman!" exclaimed Edward with a grin. "If you won’t help us drink it, you’ll have to accept the consequences!"

"Ta ta," smiled Julia, and stepped into the elevator as the doors closed.

Edward watched her leave, with a fond expression on his face. Turning to Ariel and Quinn he said, "She’s worked for me for thirty years and organized hundreds of lunches for me like this, with writers she’s come to love like her own children, and I’ve never, in all that time, managed to persuade her to stay for lunch herself. Tells me it wouldn’t be right." He shook his head with a smile. ‘Anyway, as you’ll remember, Ariel, the roof garden is right through here." Edward accompanied his words with a gesture, indicating an unobtrusive door in a corner of Julia’s office.

"I do indeed. Wait ‘til you see this Quinn – it’s gorgeous!"

As the security consultant followed the other two through the doorway, she could understand why Ariel had described it as she had. The building that housed McQuarry’s had been constructed early in the last century, before the gods of architectural trends decreed that all office buildings must resemble boxes. Beginning on the 15th floor, and every few floors thereafter, some of the building’s walls were set back slightly, leaving nooks and crannies that could be exploited for recreation or entertainment. Quinn doubted, however, that any of the other tenants had bothered to create anything rivaling the floral explosion surrounding them, from the parapet lushly accented by flowing greenery, to the planters grouped around the terrace that were full to bursting with shapes and colours, to the two small trees that provided a lightly shaded space for a laden table and several comfortable chairs. For a moment, she felt as if she were back in Ariel’s garden. In fact, she realized, the place induced the same feelings of serenity and peace that she often felt while sitting in Ariel’s personal oasis away from the world.

"Isn’t this impressive?" asked Ariel. "Edward did it," she said with a hint of pride.

"I can only take some credit for the design, my dear, since I wouldn’t tackle it without Sarah’s help," he said, with a smile, referring to his wife and soulmate. "In the early years she and I would potter about at lunch time, when she worked in McQuarry’s with me, but now we just sketch what we want, chose the plants, and let the gardeners we contract with make it happen. And occasionally I water things to keep them happy," he added. "It’s really a lot like book publishing."

Quinn chuckled. "A nice analogy, Edward, but doesn’t tell quite the whole story, I think."

The publisher beamed. "Well, perhaps that is a touch simplistic, but it conveys the general idea. Now," he said, pulling out a chair for Ariel, "I love talking gardening, but not before we start in on what Julia assures me is a wonderful spread. Ariel?" he said, indicating the chair.

"I’ll open the champagne," continued the publisher after they were all seated, "while you two go ahead and uncover the dishes and find out what we’re having. I leave the menu choices up to Julia, you see." Removing the lids and other coverings revealed an array of salads, cold cuts, and breads, with a tray of pastries for dessert.

The next few minutes were occupied with filling plates and pouring glasses. Eventually, Edward raised his and said, "Before we eat, we must toast the reason why we’re here." Clearing his throat, he intoned: "To Ariel. Who speaks her mind and writes a damned entertaining story at the same time."

"Wait! Wait!" said Ariel, as the other two prepared to drink. "I can’t drink to myself but I can drink to McQuarry’s, and to Edward, it’s guiding force, for having the courage to publish an unknown writer, not so many years ago, and for allowing her to say what she wants."

"To Ariel –Edward."

"Alright! I’ll just top up everyone’s glass, and we can eat!" exclaimed Edward after the toasts. The next few minutes were fully occupied.

"But Edward, have you tried that system out yet? Don’t you think that in a really dry summer it would be inadequate?"

Quinn chuckled to herself as she leaned back in her chair, replete. Ariel and Edward had returned to the subject of gardening, arguing about the merits of self-watering systems, after ranging through everything – it seemed to Quinn – from politics to religion, with other writers, changing weather patterns, and the best way to marinate steaks for grilling, thrown in. Quinn had managed to updated them on her findings about the Parsonville killer and the driveby shooters, and Edward had insisted they drink a toast to enigmas revealed and gordian knots yet to be unraveled. Along the way, they’d managed to kill two of the three bottles of champagne originally set out to chill. Although Quinn hadn’t had anything close to a half bottle by the time they got to dessert and coffee, she had begun to feel a little fuzzy around the edges. Lack of sleep, she grumbled to herself, and decided right there that she had had enough. Her companions, on the other hand, continued to sip champagne long after lunch was done. Edward did not look any the worse for the amount that she knew he’d consumed, but Ariel, she could tell, wasn’t quite as focused as usual. Quinn privately decided that a nap for two would be the main activity undertaken that afternoon before the trip to the vet.

Her phone chose that minute to buzz. Quinn noted it was Kris’s number before she opened the connection. "Yes Kris."

"Quinn we’ve got trouble."


"Owen is on his way to the hospital and Vanessa and Jamie are about to go to police HQ, just as soon as John and I arrive to take over guarding Oliver who is insisting that she’s going to this afternoon’s shoot."

"What happened?" the security consultant said, hunching forward. In her peripheral vision she noted that Edward and Ariel had stopped talking to listen.

"Vanessa says that as they escorted Oliver through the lobby on their way to the shoot, the deranged fan suddenly burst out from behind a pillar yelling he was going to save her. He had a pistol and started firing. Vanessa got Oliver down pronto. She’s not sure what went down right then because she was concentrating on covering the client. A couple of shots went wild, but two more hit Owen, who was returning fire. Luckily he was wearing his flack jacket or it could have been a lot worse."

"Where was Jamie?"

"Van says Jamie told her she couldn’t get her gun out fast enough, and so when she saw him taking a bead on Van, decided to charge the guy."

"She what?"

"Said, the way she saw it, it was her only option. Anyway, I guess the perp’s attention really was on Van, who was supposedly holding Oliver prisoner. Van says she got her head up in time to see Jamie take him down with a flying tackle. Knocked him on his ass, but she still had to work hard to subdue him. Finally clubbed him with her cell phone."

"Ok." Quinn rubbed her forehead, trying to think. "So how is it that Oliver is going to the shoot this afternoon? Surely the police want to talk to her."

"My question, exactly, but Van says the woman can sweet talk anything alive – she’s an actor – right? Anyway, she promised the police that she would talk to them this afternoon between takes. She assured them that she wasn’t hurt and that she didn’t want to let the film crew down. Apparently they were hoping to finish with the afternoon location today. I don’t know the particulars but they’re already over budget and every little bit counts. Oliver apparently has some money invested in the film too so . . ."

"Ok. Alright. I assume the police don’t want to talk to me."

"You’d assume wrong. They want you there ASAP for the usual rigmarole."

"What!? Surely the fact that my people were shot at first, and one of them got shot shows it was a legit shoot."

"The guy handling this is apparently by-the-book. Without the paperwork, he’s ready to arrest Owen unless you, as his employer, can prove that he was justified in firing his weapon. I’ve left the Oliver contract on my desk, and Owen’s employment file is in the filing cabinet to the left of my office door. You’re to talk to a Detective Watkins."

"Damn new fangled gun laws," muttered Quinn. "Anything else?"

"Isn’t that enough?"

"Ok. If it’s gotta be done I better get at it. Keep in touch," said Quinn, as she thumbed her phone off.

"What is it?" questioned Ariel, as soon as her lover disconnected.

"There’s been an incident. The nutcase turned up at the hotel, and shots were fired. I’ve got to go see the police and there’s no one to take you back to the house so you’ll have to come with me."

"Of course," Ariel said, turning to Edward.

Before she could speak, however, he said "I understand. It was wonderful to see you both," giving Ariel a quick hug and a kiss on her cheek. Turning to Quinn, he grasped her hand and shook it.

"Sorry Edward," said Quinn. "If I had someone else available . . ."

"Not to worry, Quinn. A hazard of the profession, I would think."

"Sometimes, yeah."

The old man nodded. "About the only hazard in mine is boredom. And getting sued, of course." he added with a grin. "Still, I think I’ll stick to mine. Less fatiguing."

"Can’t argue with that," said Quinn, as she held the door for the writer.


Chapter 22

Police HQ was swarming. Quinn noted a number of those under arrest appeared to be union members from the t-shirts and caps they were wearing, but couldn’t think of any strikes or work stoppages she had heard about, so decided not to try puzzling it out. Following directions she obtained from the front desk, she and Ariel soon located Detective Watkins’ office, and found Vanessa sitting in an area for visitors nearby.

"Where’s Jamie?" asked Quinn, without preamble.

"Talking to Watkins. She’s been there about 20 minutes," said the tall red head, gesturing toward a cluster of desks about 20 feet away.

Quinn glanced in the direction Vanessa was pointing and spotted her employee seated opposite a man at a computer several feet away. "Ok," she said, leaning against the wall. "We have a few minutes. I’ve heard what you told Kris. Now tell me."

"Alright." And Vanessa gave her boss a quick rundown of what had occurred, deviating little from what Quinn already knew.

"So Owen fired back?"

"From what I could tell, yes. I was concentrating on protecting Carson."

"How much time elapsed from when the guy appeared to when Owen went down?"

The other woman frowned, then said: "Up to that point it was . . . no more than five seconds."

Quinn nodded. "Go on."

"As I said, once Owen was down, there was nobody firing back at the nutcase so the guy decided to close in. I had my gun out by then but before I could fire I saw Jamie up on all fours and taking off like she was an Olympic sprinter. She hit him and kept going. He hit the floor, her on top. He managed to keep his gun but she kept him from firing any more rounds and finally subdued him by hitting him with her cell phone."

Quinn nodded. "Why didn’t she have her gun out sooner?"

"’Cause the damn thing snagged," said a new voice, causing Quinn and Ariel to turn around.

It was Jamie, her usually impeccable French braid looking as if it was about to come loose. "Goddamn new holster. I couldn’t get my gun free and then decided I better forget it."

Quinn nodded. She could see several emotions crossing the woman’s face but self disgust predominated. Ignoring this for the moment she said only "You OK with the police?"

"Yeah. They want to talk to Van next."

Quinn redirected her gaze to Vanessa, who was still sitting down. "Go ahead." The tall red head nodded, then rose and walked across the hall. Shifting her eyes back to Jamie, who by now had ripped off the elastic that had been keeping her braid intact, Quinn said: "so you beat him into submission with your cell phone?"

A rueful expression crossed the other woman’s face. "Well, it was the only thing I had handy. Don’t carry a flashlight any more."

The corner of Quinn’s mouth quirked at the comment, acknowledging Jamie’s former career as a cop. "Cell phone still work?"

In answer, the other woman pulled it from her belt holster and flipped it open. It glowed comfortingly in response. She held it up to show Quinn, who noted that everything that should be on the display was present and accounted for. Even the digital clock showed the correct time.

Quinn nodded, and murmured: "takes a licking and keeps on ticking."


The security consultant waved her hand and replied: "Nothing. Just a comment. How about you? How do you feel?"

"Me?" the woman looked at her in genuine bewilderment. "I feel fine."

"Not shaky? You weren’t hurt in the fight? Or got shot?"

"Shot? No! The paramedics checked us all over." Jamie rubbed the bridge of her nose, then looked up again into Quinn’s crystal blue gaze. "I felt a little shaky right afterwards for a few minutes, but that’s worn off. As far as bumps and bruises, I’ll likely be a bit stiff tomorrow but there’s nothing to keep me from going back to work now."

Quinn held her eyes with her own for a few more seconds. Jamie, she knew, was the kind to minimize injury. Sometimes that was good, but sometimes it wasn’t. However, she seemed to be telling the truth. Ok. Quinn took a deep breath and made a decision. "Alright. I don’t know how long I’m going to be stuck down here, and then I want to check on Owen after that, so someone needs to take Ariel home and stay with her. I may send Vanessa over to relieve you later. It depends how it all goes. Ok?"

"Thanks, Quinn."

Turning to Ariel she murmured; "Sorry, Love. I’ll try to get home in time but Jamie may be accompanying you to the vet’s after all."

The writer laid a hand on Quinn’s wrist. "Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine."

Quinn nodded, decision implemented, then kissed Ariel quickly. Turning to Jamie she said, "Not out of your sight until you get into the house and all the doors locked. Got me? And tuck your gun inside your waistband at your back until you can do something about that holster."

"Got ya, Quinn," replied Jamie and took a step back, waiting for Ariel.

The writer smiled, a little fuzzily, Quinn noted, and then turned to leave. Quinn watched them through the double fire doors at the end of the hall, then sat down to wait.

Vanessa, as the team leader, got more of a grilling than Jamie. Eventually, however, Watkins let her go and she returned to the seated Quinn. "Your turn Quinn," then lowering her voice, she added: "This guy’s an unbelievable asshole. I hope you’ve got all the paperwork you need, otherwise it’s gonna take a while."

"Thanks for the tip," replied Quinn, adding, as she turned to cross the hall, "wait for me here."

Detective Watkins was busy making notes when Quinn arrived at his desk, so busy he didn’t look up. Quinn contemplated sitting down but, mindful of Vanessa’s comment, decided that that might slow things further. Instead, she opted to put her hands on her hips and observe the activity around her. She had just finished counting the number of handcuffed people in union t-shirts sitting in front of other desks when Watkins looked up and mumbled "Siddown, Miss, ah, Thanatos."

Miss?! What century is this guy living in? Honey, I ain’t missed nearly as much as you seem to think. Out loud, she merely replied "Detective" in acknowledgement, as she sat down on his plastic visitor’s chair.

The man had gone back to his notes, then, still without looking at her, put his hand out, and muttered "contract."

Oh, we’re gonna play it like that, are we, thought Quinn, and handed him the contract with Carson Oliver.

The man took it without comment, continuing to make notes. Finally glancing at the sheaf of papers in his hand, he exclaimed, "What is this shit?!" and glared across the desk at Quinn.

"Contract," replied the security consultant, smiling pleasantly.

"I asked you for the employment contract with Owen Andrews! I thought you were his employer."

"Actually, detective, you simply said ‘contract’ so, since you’ll want to see the contract my company has with Ms. Oliver, that’s the one I handed you," said Quinn, enjoying herself. "Here’s the employment contract of Mr. Andrews." The man glared at her, looking as if he badly wanted to say something, but after a moment of indecision settled down and started to read.

Quinn leaned back in her chair and looked around. Watkins appeared to be determined to read the contract from cover to cover, so, she reasoned, she might as well get comfortable.

The detective’s desk was part of a cluster of desks at one end of a large room, which held several such groupings. Quinn spent a moment or two wondering if they were all part of the same department or if the clusters indicated robbery, fraud, homicide and other police subdivisions. As Quinn watched, people came and went, with and without shackles. A young woman – a teenager, really – in handcuffs had just been led to a desk about 10 feet away when Watkins muttered something. Quinn turned to him politely and inquired; "I’m sorry, Detective. Were you speaking to me?"

"I said," he replied, with an edge to his voice, "the dates are wrong," and shoved the contract across the desk.

Quinn caught the document before it could slide onto the floor, and flipped to the back page. Next to her signature was the date of signing: August 19, 2050. Glancing down the page, she saw that Owen had used the shortcut method and written it 08/19/50. Quinn glanced up. "What’s wrong? " she said, genuinely puzzled.

"The dates! The dates!" Watkins sneered, as if talking to an idiot. "You signed it in August, he signed it on October 8th, which isn’t even here yet!" The detective sat back in triumph.

Quinn looked again at how Owen had dated the document. Yes, the nine was not tightly closed, but only a by-the-book bureaucrat or someone with strong anal tendencies would call that nine a zero. And then to insist that the number represented the month, and not the day? Quinn gritted her teeth, but kept her temper and plastered a pleasant expression on her face. If she lost it over this, the pinhead was capable of throwing her in jail alongside Owen. "Detective, what say we get a third opinion?" she said helpfully, and before he could react she stood up and strode to the next desk where the young woman was quietly protesting her innocence to another officer.

"Excuse me," Quinn said, and when the officer looked up, she mustered her most engaging smile and said, "Would you mind reading this out loud for me?" and pointed to the date next to Owen’s signature.

"The man looked at her, then at the document, and said "August 19th, this year. Why? What’s the problem?"

"She didn’t show you the right date! That’s the problem!" exclaimed Watkins, who by this time was right behind her.

The officer, who, Quinn saw by the name plate on his desk, was Detective Ricci, looked at the page again and said, "August 19th, and . . . August 19th. Where’s the difficulty, Dave?"

Quinn looked at Watkins, and waited. The man stood, turning a dull shade of red. Finally: "Siddown! And quit wasting my time!" he grated and gestured violently at the chair that Quinn had so recently vacated.

Quinn smiled at Detective Ricci, murmured, "thanks for clearing that up," and re-took her seat.

Bested, at least momentarily, Watkins pulled over the Oliver contract that he had previously discarded on his desk, and began to read. Quinn smiled to herself and went back to observing the world around her. By now, she could see that most of the union people had moved on, to where, she wasn’t sure. Quinn’s gaze swung idly, and eventually again brushed by the young woman at the next desk, who was still talking quietly to Detective Ricci. That officer, between typing pertinent details into his computer, seemed to be listening, and responding. Probably due as much to the blond hair and tight sleeveless top she’s wearing as the story she’s telling, thought Quinn, cynically. I’d love to see someone try that technique on ol’ bureaucracy-is-next-to-godliness here.

"Look, Ms. Johansen," she heard him say, "I understand all that, but you’ve got to tell it to a lawyer, not to me."

The teenager leaned forward and said: "Detective Ricci, I swear, I don’t know what that man told you, but we’ve done nothing wrong. He owed my boyfriend some money. And then he refused to pay! And now he claims we tried to blackmail him into paying? It’s just not fair!"

Quinn listened with one ear as she kept an eye on Watkins, who was knee deep in the Oliver contract. Judging by how slowly he was reading, she doubted she’d be out of there soon. Revenge of the Pissants! she thought to herself. Soon to be a major motion picture!

"Look Casey," said Detective Ricci, "take it up with your lawyer. If you don’t have one, the judge will appoint one for you."

"But what am I going to tell my parents!" wailed the young woman, suddenly bursting into tears. "I’ve never been in trouble with the law before!"

Poor kid, thought Quinn, ruminating that sometimes the innocent got swept up with the guilty. Before this was over she knew that the Johansen family would have to dig deep to try to prove their daughter innocent.

Detective Ricci wordlessly offered the young woman a box of facial tissues. Quinn, watching her take one and dab her eyes and nose, noted that she was one of those people who could cry without getting red in the face. Which was rare. In fact, Quinn couldn’t think of a single instance when she had seen someone that seemingly overcome whose complexion did not show the results. Which meant, the kid was putting on a show. She wondered if Detective Ricci was taken in.

The security consultant glanced at Watkins, noting that he was still plodding along with a scowl on his face, and returned her attention to the tableau at Detective Ricci’s desk.

"Look, you can call your parents when you get downstairs," he was saying, soothingly.

Yup, Quinn concluded, she’s hooked him. Nice job, Ms. Casey Johansen.

At that moment, the machinery that Quinn had relied on for over thirty years for generating useful thought, impaired though it was by lack of sleep and too much lunchtime wine, finally ground into action.

Casey . . . Johansen, she mused. Johan . . . son. Sounds like Joh . . .n . . . son. HOLY SHIT!! Her mind screamed. KC Johnson! Without conscious thought intervening, Quinn found herself at Detective Ricci’s desk, crouched down next to the kid and looking into her face, or as much as she could see since the girl was holding the kleenex to her mouth. "Katie?" she whispered.

"HEY!" A bellow from behind her. "What the Hell are you doing! Get back here!!" The heavy hand of Detective Watkins closed on her shoulder, but Quinn shrugged out of his grasp with negligent ease.

"Katie! It is you!" she said, as the girl tried to turn away, but not before Quinn saw the face she’d long hoped to see in person, not just on a poster. "Oh Sweetie you have no idea how long we’ve looked for you!"

"What’s going on—"

"I don’t know what you’re talking about! Leave me alone—"

"Katie, your Aunt Ariel has been searching for you—"

"Hey, who the Hell is Katie?"

"I’ve had just about enough out of you—"


Quinn snarled at the two detectives from a half crouch – Ricci still behind his desk, Watkins pulling his hand back as if he’d just realized he’d put it in a blast furnace. She was aware of others in the area watching the scene, and of footsteps rapidly approaching.

"Quinn? You need some help? What’s. . .Goddess!"

Quinn uncoiled to her full height and turned to Vanessa. "Vanessa," she said quietly, "meet Katie, or as she likes to be known these days, KC, Ariel’s niece."

The tall red head slowly smiled, as she looked at the teenager huddled in the chair. "Nice Going, Boss. Very nice going."

"Ok, what the Hell’s happening here? Talk fast and make sense!" The speaker was a middle-aged man with a bristling brush cut and very short temper, who had just reached the scene.

"Captain she’s a crazy woman—"

"Shut up Watkins. What’s the story Ricci?"

"Well, I was interviewing this kid we picked up and suddenly this woman seemed to recognize her. Says she’s a material witness—"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard that. You!" His eyes fixed on Quinn. "My office, now! Ricci, Watkins, stay here with the kid."


Chapter 23

"Uh huh. Uh huh. Ok. Good." Police Captain Spengler disconnected and looked across the desk at Quinn. "Walsh confirms your story," he said.

"So what happens now?" said Quinn.

"She’s been charged, and has to answer to that. You could likely get her out on bail tomorrow, or the next day. But in the meantime we have to interview her about the Parsonville thing. You really think she’s got some information?"

"We don’t know what she’s got, but she’s got something."

"Ok," he nodded. Then a thought occurred. "You done with Watkins?"

Quinn shrugged. "He was half way through the contract with our client when I came in here. As far as I know, everything’s in order."

The man picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Yeah. Bring in the contracts that Thanatos gave you," he said, and hung up again. Seconds later Watkins bustled in.

"Everything Ok with those?" said Captain Spengler.

"Absolutely not! Look at this!" Watkins said, radiating self importance as he laid the Oliver contract in front of his boss.

Spengler grunted, and read the text pointed out to him. Abruptly, he slapped the file shut, almost catching Watkins’ finger, and handed the contract across the desk to Quinn. "Here. Dave, give her the other file. And what about your findings at the scene? I assume it’s a clean shoot?"

The other man looked daggers at Quinn, but finally, under the influence of a glower from his boss, muttered, "it’s clean."

"Good. Go write it up and have it on my desk by 5:00 pm." Quinn and Spengler watched the man leave.

"Thanks for that," said Quinn.

"Little pissant was foisted on me. Anyway," he said, changing the subject, "good luck with the Johnson girl. From what you tell me, you’re going to need it."

"Yeah," said Quinn, looking through the glass wall of the captain’s office at the small group clustered around Katie Johnson. "I think you’re right."

"So Quinn," said Vanessa, as the two of them stepped to the curb to flag down a cab, "what’s next?"

"Call Ariel," said Quinn, with her telephone to her ear. "She’s going to be ecstatic! Did you find out anything from KC while you waited out there?"

"Watkins tried to keep me from talking to her so I didn’t get much," replied the tall red head, thoughtfully, "but I think she’s terrified that she’ll be sent back to Parsonville."

Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Sure it wasn’t an act?" she said, redialing Ariel’s number.

"I know what you mean," responded Vanessa, "but I got the feeling it was genuine. Of course," she added, "Scott had me pretty thoroughly fooled."

Quinn made a face. "Yeah. My thought exactly. Acting talent seems to run in the family. She was certainly putting on a good show for Ricci. And he was buying it." Quinn disconnected the number she had been dialing and said with a frown, "I’m going to try Jamie. Ariel’s not picking up. Hey you! That’s our cab!"

The man trying to cut in front of the two women found himself expertly restrained and pushed aside without ceremony. As they climbed into the vehicle, Vanessa directed it to Ariel’s house, then, noting Quinn’s deepening frown, said, "no luck?"

"No, dammit! What the Hell is going on? I’ll try the house. They shouldn’t have left for the vet yet."

That didn’t elicit any more response than the other two numbers. "Where are you!?" she muttered through gritted teeth. "I’ll try the cell again." Before she could dial, however, her phone buzzed. "Ah, good," she said, thumbing the connection open. "Thanatos."

"Quinn, it’s Maggie Rankin. Ariel gave us your number the other day. You should know, Scott’s here again."

For Quinn, who was expecting Ariel or Jamie, time stopped. As she put two and two together, the colour drained from her face. "What?" she whispered. "When?"

"He rode down the street a few minutes ago, and then we heard a motorcycle in the back lane. Jemma thinks he’s still here. We’ve already called the police. They said they’d send someone immediately."

"Good! Good. Ok." Quinn massaged her forehead, trying to think. "Stay inside, he’s dangerous. I’ll be there as quick as I can."

"Alright," said Maggie. Just before disconnecting, she added, "We’ll keep an eye open for the police."

"Thanks," murmured Quinn to dead air.

"Quinn! You’re white as a sheet! What is it?"

The security consultant’s mind whirled. No one answered at the house, where they were supposed to be, and neither of them had picked up their personal phones. Sure, Ariel might have turned her’s off when she got home, but Jamie’s should be on and receiving calls. Cursing herself for not having had the other woman test whether it really was still functioning, she made a decision.

"Quinn! Talk to me! What are you doing?!"

"What’s it look like!?" said the security consultant as she dove over the seat and swung her legs into the foot well at the driver’s seat. "Scott’s at the house!"

"Wha . . . . Oh!" responded the red head, as she processed the news and arrived at the same conclusion as her boss.

"Ow! Watch your feet!" exclaimed Quinn, ducking quickly, as Vanessa re-oriented her six foot plus frame into the front passenger seat. "Here. Take my phone and keep trying to call. Dial one of them on my phone and the other on yours. And try the house every now and then too. Now where are those controls again . . . ."

"Attention! Attention! You are interfering with the automatic operation of this vehicle. If you continue, the police will be summoned. Anyone convicted of tampering with this vehicle is liable for up to—"

The voice abruptly cut off, as Vanessa found and flipped the right switch.

"Ok," muttered Quinn, fumbling around under the steering column, and then: "There! Got it!" and she stomped down hard on the accelerator.

"Thanks, Van. I couldn’t think with that noise. GET OUT OF THE WAY!" she added at a hapless pedestrian, who had intended to cross against the light. Careening through an intersection, the taxi picked up speed as it roared down the street.

"The fastest way from here is to cut around Market Square, and up onto the Freeway," continued Quinn as she spun them around a turn that balanced the cab precariously on two wheels before it thumped back down and kept accelerating.

Vanessa, with phones to both ears, grunted, then, remembering the news she had heard that morning said: "Wait, Quinn! No! There’s an execution today. Market Square will be . . . blocked . . . off. Oh-h-h-h SH-I-I-I-T!!"

The light turned red just as the taxi reached the intersection leading to Market Square. "Too late!" growled Quinn, and they rocketed across to the sound of squealing tires as the cross traffic screeched to a halt. On the other side of the intersection, a sawhorse barrier flew into the air, no match for the speeding cab. Through the rear window Vanessa saw the cross piece, with its ‘Execution: Official Personnel Only’ sign, sail out of sight, and the two police officers guarding the entrance grabbing for their walkie-talkies. The street curved sharply to the right, and then, suddenly, dead ahead were the folding metal chairs set up for those invited to view the execution in person. Quinn swung the wheel hard over but still took out a half dozen.

"Goddamned public executions!" she howled, and then: "Hang on!" Swerving wildly, they managed to fishtail around a small group of reporters already on site, despite the execution being three hours away.

"Jesu Maria!" exclaimed Vanessa, glancing again through the rear window. "I think you got a network camera."

"Coulda been worse," grunted Quinn. "Coulda been the operator."

Weaving around the raised platform with its patriotic bunting, through an assortment of media vehicles, tires squealing and smoking, they thundered up the ramp to the Freeway, followed a few seconds later by two cop cars with sirens screaming.

"Hold tight," growled Quinn, accelerating past a Burger King-McDonald’s transport truck to merge with traffic, then moving rapidly across the highway to the outer passing lane. Far back, she could see whirling red lights and could just detect the sirens’ howl.

"Ok," she said, a moment later, pausing to skirt a slow moving RV the size of Buckingham Palace with an elderly tourist at the wheel, "I estimate we’ll get there in less than five minutes. If you can’t get through to Ariel or Jamie, get Hank Walsh for me."

"Coming right up," said Vanessa, finding his number in the index and speed dialing it. "Here, it’s ringing."

Quinn grabbed the phone and held it to her ear as she maneuvered around a car towing a trailer. "Hello Hank? Scott’s at the house. Meet us there."

"Already on my way. Maggie Rankin called me right after she talked to you. I’ll be there in less than five."

"Us too."

"Ok. Watch yourself. Somebody’s stolen a taxi and is speeding down the Freeway. They think it’s the On Foot people who’ve been tampering with cabs. There’s three black and whites in pursuit."

Quinn glanced in the rearview mirror. "Um, four."


"I said, make that four. Another one just joined in."

There was a pause. "Are you saying what I think you’re saying?"

"I don’t know. What do you think I’m saying?" she hedged, swerving around another remote controlled vehicle to put some distance between herself and the black and white posse.

"Quinn, I’m gonna kill you."

"Only after I kill Scott." Then on a serious note she added, "Hank we’ve been trying to get through to Ariel for the last 10 minutes without luck. Neither she nor her bodyguard is picking up. The house phone just rings and rings. What would you have done?"

There was a pause. "Ok. You’re still in trouble but I’ll tell the guys to make it an escort, not a pursuit."

"Thanks. I owe you big time."

"You sure do."

Quinn disconnected, tossed the phone to Vanessa who snatched it out of the air, then leaned hard on the horn. "WATCH IT BUSTER!" she yelled at a sports car, apparently manually controlled, that had tried to cut her off. The smoked side window rolled down enough to allow the driver to extend a hand with the middle finger held rigidly aloft. "IN YOUR DREAMS ASSHOLE!" she screamed.

Just then, an information sign flashed by: Willoughby Avenue, 1 mi. "Oh! We’re closer than I thought," she said. Willoughby was the exit that led to Rochester.

Vanessa, still trying to get through by phone, glanced up. "Uh huh," she agreed. "I make it two minutes tops."

"Let’s hope," said Quinn as she began moving across the lanes to the exit ramp, coming up fast on her right. In the rearview mirror she could see that the police cars had dropped back a bit and were moving that way too.

They took the exit ramp fast, and for a few seconds Quinn had a dicey time keeping all four wheels on the road. It seemed only a matter of seconds before they were at the intersection with Rochester, and she was relieved to see the light turn green just as they reached it. Quinn hung a left in front of an on-coming car, and, tires screaming, roared down the street. Her plan was to get to the lane that ran behind all the houses on Ariel’s block. Quinn didn’t know how Scott could get in the back gate – the fence was steel, lined with wood inside the backyard, and the gate was triple locked , and barred – but if that was his point of entry, then that was where she was going to start.

Another left, and then a quick right and they were in the lane. Quinn slowed marginally, to accommodate the overhanging bushes and trash cans that lined it. "There’s the cycle," said Vanessa, suddenly.

"Yeah, and look who’s at the gate," growled Quinn, who had just caught sight of a helmeted figure beyond.

The man saw the taxi almost at the same instant the women saw him. Abandoning what he was doing, he jumped on the bike, kick-started the powerful machine and roared off down the lane.

"Not this time, Buddy," muttered Quinn, who stamped on the accelerator.

The bike reached the first street, and the rider paused, then the big machine leaped ahead with a roar down the next lane. "Wonder why he didn’t head to the Freeway," mused Vanessa.

"I think our black and white buddies helped to make up his mind," said Quinn as they shot across the street and plunged into the next lane, but not before they caught sight of police cars on Rochester and Warwick, driving parallel to their path.

At the next lane the cyclist didn’t hesitate, but shot straight ahead, with Quinn in hot pursuit. "Where does he think he’s going?" mused Vanessa. "Uh oh," she added. "End of the line," as they spotted a police car coming straight toward them, and the biker.

"Yeehaw! We got him now!" exulted Quinn, then added "Shit!!" as the cyclist put on a burst of speed and flashed down an intersecting lane, just before Quinn or the police car could cut him off.

"No way, you bastard!" yelled the security consultant, narrowly avoiding a collision with the other car as they careened into the new lane. Up ahead the bike burst onto a city street and without slowing turned left toward the Freeway on ramp.

"If he gets onto the Freeway we’ve lost him,’ murmured Vanessa.

"He’s not getting onto the Freeway," said Quinn with quiet menace, as she spun the wheel and fishtailed into the turn. As they crossed the first intersection they caught a quick glimpse of one of their police shadows who had been caught out of position making a sliding turn to get back into the chase.

The end came suddenly. Up ahead, Quinn could see a car turning onto the street they were flying down. The biker saw it too and turned sharply to his right at the next intersection, thinking he would avoid it by taking the road that ran in the shadow of the Freeway. But the sharp turn, plus the speed at which he took it, caused the back wheel to slip out from under him, and bike and rider slid across the intersection, a hurtling mass of metal components, sparks and human being.

Quinn stomped on the brake and the taxi swerved to a halt. One, two, three, four, five police cars screeched up within seconds, and as each stopped, the siren died away. Quinn leaped from the cab and ran across the intersection, pulling her gun and taking aim. "Freeze!" she yelled, and heard a baritone voice echo her and add "Police!" Quinn took a quick peek; Hank Walsh was standing a few feet away, gun leveled just as uncompromisingly at the man on the ground.

Quinn was suddenly aware of how still everything was. The noise of the chase had silenced the birds and the neighbourhood’s other normal summer sounds. Then the man on the ground groaned, and cursed. Two officers moved in quickly and forced him down, roughly pulled his hands behind his back to cuff him, then began frisking him.

"Wanta bet that that’s the gun used in the McEwen Park incident?" murmured Hank Walsh, as one officer handed a pistol to another holding an evidence bag.

"No bet," said Quinn, watching the officers pull the now helmetless man to his feet. "Where’s Ariel, you sonofabitch?!" she said to him, when he was upright.

"Why? You lost her?" Scott sneered, then moved his face toward his shoulder in a fruitless effort to wipe away blood dribbling from his newly broken nose.

Pure rage overwhelmed her. "Don’t FUCK with me you—" Hands: Vanessa’s, a police officer’s, and other’s – smaller, but just as strong – restrained her, but only just.

"Quinn! Quinn!! Stop it! I’m right here!!"

Quinn shook her head. Wha--?

"It’s ok. I’m here."

"Ariel? Ariel?!"

Arms encircled her. "Yeah, Baby. It’s me. Everything’s ok. It’s ok."

"But you didn’t answer, and then Maggie said Scott was here and I thought—" Quinn gulped, trying to force the emotion back under control. "It really is you! Oh, Goddess, Ariel!" she said, and hung on as if her life depended on it.

A new voice intruded. "Quinn. I know where to find you when I need you. Go on home, get some rest and I’ll come see you in a hour or so. Ok?" A hand patted her on the shoulder.

"Yeah. Ok." Quinn gathered herself with an effort. "Thanks, Hank. I’ll see you later."

The big man nodded and stood back as Ariel steered Quinn to the car that Scott had been trying to avoid when he went down. "Come on, Love, we’ll go in Jamie’s car."

"But I don’t understand—"

"I know, but I’ll explain it when we get home. After you have some hot, sweet tea and a nap.


Chapter 24

"Mew." Quinn made an effort to open her eyes. A dark grey face gazed back. "Mew," it said again.

Quinn pulled an arm out from under the blanket with which someone had covered her, and scrubbed her face with her hand. Something warm and furry rubbed against the side of her head, and purred. Opening her eyes again, she discovered that Grise had changed his base of operations to the back of the lazyboy she was currently lying in, and was now observing her from a new angle.

"Mm. ’Lo Grise," she said and stroked his head, to the accompaniment of a gentle rumble. "Where’s Ariel?"

"Right here." Quinn heard soft footsteps, and then lips brushed her forehead. Ariel moved around to sit down on the arm of the chair, then reached out and gently pushed some strands of dark hair back from her lover’s face. "How are you feeling?" she said, gazing into Quinn’s face.

"Um. Better." Quinn stretched, which caused Grise to jump down with an injured look on his face. "Sorry Grise," she said. "I’ll warn you next time." With a flip of his tail, the cat stalked through the doorway. The humans watched him leave, then Quinn turned her attention again to Ariel. "How are you?"

"Me? I’m fine. Of course, I didn’t have the exciting afternoon you had."

"Why didn’t you answer? When I called, that is. I called your cell and the house. Nobody picked up."

Ariel winced. "I’m sorry, Love. That was my fault." At Quinn’s questioning look she continued, "Just after we got here, the vet’s office called to say they had had a cancellation, and did I want to bring Hairy in right away. We rushed over there and I forgot my phone here."

"Hmm. And I hadn’t made Jamie test hers before she left with you."

"I know, and when she found out what had happened she felt awful."

Quinn nodded, and went silent for a few seconds, then: "Well, live and learn. None of us will make that mistake again." Decision taken, she looked around. Where’s Jamie now? And what about Vanessa? Have you heard from Hank? I better get up—"

Ariel pushed her back into the chair. "Sit. Relax. I sent Jamie home just a while ago. Vanessa went to check on Owen, and called a bit later to say that they were releasing him from hospital with strict instructions to stay home for a week. He’s got three cracked ribs. Hank dropped by to say the driveby shooter gave up Scott so the original case against him is a lot stronger than it was before. Oh, and the pistol they found in Scott’s possession is a match to the one used in the McEwen Park shooting, so that’s evidence for another two charges of attempted murder. And when they caught him today he was riding the motorcycle that was supposed to have been stolen, so they’re nailing him on that too.

"Good. The bastard doesn’t deserve any better." Quinn relaxed back in her chair. "I owe Hank big time," she added

Ariel smiled. "Yeah. We both do. He’s managed to minimize the fallout from this afternoon, but there’ll still be some legal consequences."

Quinn grimaced. "I know. I just hope it doesn’t jeopardize the business. For myself, I don’t care, but the others are depending on me—"

"And that, My Sweet, is why I just got off the phone with a criminal lawyer from Roberta’s firm."


"Yeah. I figured you’d need a lawyer. Nobody disrupts preparations for an execution with impunity."

Quinn winced.

"Particularly," said Ariel, continuing with a small smile, "when most of it is caught on film by a network helicopter that happened to be over Market Square at the time.

Quinn covered her face. "Oh Goddess," she moaned.

"Anyway," continued Ariel, "I figured if I wanted a good criminal lawyer in a hurry, phone a lawyer I already knew and trusted. I did a search on him before I called him. He’s won some tough cases."

"Good, ’cause this one is sounding worse and worse."

"Actually," responded Ariel, thoughtfully, "he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to clear it up if we promise restitution for all damages, agree to a hefty fine, and accept you being banned from driving for a yet to be determined period."

Quinn eyed her. "Spread money around and it’ll all go away?"

"Isn’t that what it’s for?" said Ariel, giving Quinn a wide-eyed innocent look.


"No, Quinn. Listen to me. What you did, you did for me. I’m paying. Case closed." Then an impish look spread across her face. "Besides, I get a nifty commemorative video of the whole thing. Can’t argue with that. Right?"

Quinn exhaled. "C’mere," she said, finally, reaching out with both hands. Ariel leaned forward, and they kissed, a long deep and sweet kiss.

"Goddess, I love you," said Quinn gazing into Ariel’s eyes when they finally broke apart.

"And I love you." Ariel snuggled close. Feline feet could be heard approaching, and a few seconds later Charlotte appeared on the arm of the chair.

"Hi Charlotte," said Quinn, freeing a hand to stroke her head. "How’s Hairy?" Then turning to Ariel, she said "How is Hairy?"

"He’s fine," said Ariel, snuggling closer. "Right now he’s asleep in one of the cat beds in the kitchen. It was an abscess," she went on. "We left him at the vet’s for a few hours because they had to sedate him to lance it, But I talked to Dr. Connor and she said he was fine. Jamie went back to pick him up just before she went home. I’ve made an appointment for the boys to be neutered but that can’t happen until Hairy’s off the antibiotic he’s been prescribed."

"Just as long as they don’t have another go ’round in the meantime."

"Yeah. I’m working on that."

They settled into companionable silence. And then: "KC—" "Katie—"

Both stopped speaking, then Ariel gestured, and said: "You go first."

"Ok. Well, the reason I first tried to call you this afternoon was to say that we finally found KC."

"Yes. Vanessa told me. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Ariel quietly, and kissed her lover.

"Ariel, she’s got problems—"

"I know. Van told me that too. Will Gentry, the criminal lawyer I hired, is also taking her case. I want him to represent her on the charges laid against her and to deal with whatever she knows about Scott that had her so scared she ran away from home. And at some point in there, I’m gonna get her counselling to deal with what she’s been living with for the last several years. Yeah. She needs help and she’s gonna get all the help I can give her." Ariel looked up into Quinn’s face. "Something good has gotta come out of all of this. It just has to."

Quinn gazed into Ariel’s eyes for a few seconds, then gently kissed her lover’s forehead. "You go grrl," she whispered.

They settled back together, in silence for a while, until Ariel finally said, softly; "Hey, you hungry?"

Up to then, Quinn would have thought that hunger was the last thing on her mind, but the mere act of being asked, suddenly made her realize she was ravenous. "Truthfully? I could eat a whole steer."

The writer smiled. ‘Good thing then that I’m cooking a roast of beef. And it should be done just about now. Come on, Sport. Let’s go."

Quinn reached over and pushed the lever that returned the chair to an upright position. Surveying Ariel, who was still comfortably ensconced in her lap, she said: "Normally, standing up with you in my arms from a sitting position is a piece of cake. However, today I think you’re going to have to cut me some slack."

Ariel smiled and got gracefully to her feet. Turning, she offered her hand to Quinn, saying: "Well, ok. But just this once, you understand."

"Yes Ma’am," responded Quinn. "Now lead me to that meat. The way I feel today, you may have to fight me for your share."

Ariel poked her playfully as they walked down the hall to the kitchen. "Yeah, but the way you feel today, I’d likely win."

"Don’t bet on it," rumbled her lover.


Chapter 25

"Well, well, if it isn’t the media star."

"Don’t start with me, Kris," growled Quinn, as she closed the door. "I’m not in the mood."

"Not your usual sweet self?" responded her unrepentant second in command, with a grin. "There’s coffee if you want some," she added.

"Thanks," mumbled Quinn, dropping the contracts from the previous day on Kris’s desk then getting a cup and pouring herself a slug. Ariel had tried to get her to stay away from work today, and it had been tempting, but with one operative on sick leave, in her mind it was out of the question. And, privately, she thought that her out of sorts mood was more likely to dissipate if she got back into her regular routine. Considering that she and Ariel hoped to see KC later in the day, she figured something familiar and reassuring now would be a good thing. Quinn snorted to herself. Your daily routine is reassuring – yeah, sure, her inner voice snickered. Out loud she said "What’s up today?" and dropped into a chair, sipping the strong brew.

"Well, lessee," said Kris, "Owen, as you know by now, is on a week’s sick leave, if not longer, Vanessa’s back guarding Oliver, and I sent Jamie along too, in case the attempt on her yesterday put a bee in some other nutcase’s bonnet—"

"What about Jamie’s cell phone?" interrupted Quinn, putting her feet up and getting comfortable.

"Purchased new. And tested more times than any cell phone in the history of cell phone technology," responded Kris.

Quinn nodded. "Good. And her holster?"

"She’s a regular Quickdraw McGraw."

Quinn’s mouth quirked. "What else is happening?"

"Hmmm, what else . . . . John is currently teaching a defensive workplace strategy training class, so he’ll be tied up until noon. And," Kris rummaged in a pile on her desk, "someone has got to do the security checks we promised these people last week," she said, handing over a document. "I guess that about covers it. Oh, and the phone is ringing off the hook."

"What for?" said Quinn in genuine puzzlement.

"It’s about 50—50." As the bewilderment on Quinn’s face remained, Kris added: "Half the calls are reporters wanting to interview the famous Quinn Thanatos, and the other half are people wanting to hire the firm."

At that moment the phone rang. "See what I mean?" said Kris, as she picked it up.

Quinn sipped her coffee while listening with half an ear as Kris fielded the latest call from a reporter. She herself had seen Carson Oliver interviewed on the evening news about the hotel incident and a reporter had squeezed in a question about the car chase. Oliver’s answer made Quinn think that if she decided to give up acting she could easily enter politics. Skirting the question – "What did you think when you heard that the head of Thanatos Security had been involved in a dangerous car chase?" – Oliver replied "Thantos Security has proven to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that every member of the firm is a skilled professional willing to go above and beyond the call of duty." Quinn chuckled to herself. As far as lines went, it hadn’t been great material, but with Oliver’s looks, presence, and delivery, the effect had been electric. Likely that accounted for most of the potential client calls, she mused. At that point Kris hung up the phone.

"Where were we? Oh yeah, you’re in demand, Baby." She grinned. "Do you want to talk to reporters or should I keep putting them off?"

"I don’t want to talk to anybody. Keep doing what you’re doing."

"Ok. So, if you don’t want to talk, I take it you’re going to do the security checks and leave the potential clients to me?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Ok, well then—" The phone rang again. "More of your fans, I expect," she said as she lifted the handset.

Quinn picked up the security check document, waved at Kris, who was assuring the caller – a personal assistant for another actor – that, yes, Thanatos Security would be able to accommodate their needs, grabbed her jacket and exited.

The security consultant was barely settled in a taxi when her phone buzzed. Eyeing it suspiciously, she was relieved to see that the caller was Edward McQuarry.

"Good morning Edward."

"Quinn! Good to hear you. My, that was quite an exciting time you had yesterday."

The security consultant chuckled ruefully. "You could say that. What can I do for you today?"

"Well, it’s occurred to me that someone should be putting out a press release on your activities of the last couple of days."

"Say what?"

"Not just yet, mind you. Not until you’ve uncovered the whole picture."

"Whole picture? Edward, I’m not following you."

"Come on Quinn, you know!" he said. "The serial murderer! You tracked him down when the police were stumped. You managed to catch this young hooligan who’s been terrorizing Ariel – again despite the police. You found Ariel’s niece, and mark my words, if she doesn’t have a tale to tell my name’s not Edward McQuarry!

"Oh, Edward, I don’t know . . . "

"All I’m asking is that you think about it. If you leave it too late we’ll have to endure all the bigwigs in police departments across the country patting themselves on the back publicly, and never giving credit to the people who really deserve it."

Quinn realized she was grinning. "Now, Edward. They aren’t that bad."

"No? Can you remember one police press conference after a major bust that differs one iota from that? In fact, I believe it’s in the handbook for chiefs."

Quinn burst into laughter.

"At least think about it. It could help to convince people in high places to go easy on you for yesterday, and would certainly give your firm a higher profile. Say the word and Kelly Sanchez will start on it immediately. She agrees with me, by the way."

"Well of course she does," Quinn chuckled. "You’re her boss."

"Boss, yes. Tyrant, never."

"True. Ok, Edward, I’ll think about it, but nothing happens until I say so. Ok?"

"Ok. Good. Might even lead to a book somewhere down the road."

"Edward, you’re incorrigible."

A laugh echoed down the line. "No my dear. I’m a publisher." Then, before Quinn could respond he added: "Well, Julia’s making hand signals at me so I must go. Sarah sends her best. We were watching that footage last night and she turned to me and said that she had never realized before just how dangerous your job can be. So, from the both of us, take care."

"I will, Edward. You too."

Quinn disconnected with a smile on her face. As if on cue, the phone sounded again.

Checking the caller I.D. she opened the connection. "Hi, Hank. What’s up?"

"Just calling to update you. Both driveby clowns picked Scott out of a line up. Broken nose and all."


"There’s more. Will Gentry was here this morning to see KC and shortly after had a chat with Virginia Barris, the prosecutor."

Quinn gripped the phone. "And?"

"It appears KC can nail Scott and Jefferson Bennett."

"Yes! I knew there was a connection, " said Quinn, pumping her arm in the air. Then a thought struck her. "Um, Hank? Uh, KC has proven herself quite talented in the acting department . . ."

"Yeah, I know. That’s what she was doing for that guy, Mickey D. We’ve thought of that. She’ll be polygraphed every step of the way. Gentry has a shrink in talking to her now and the departmental shrink can hardly wait. I expect the two of them will be looking for the same things – sociopathic tendencies, among other things. The prosecutor wants to interview her as soon as possible. Anyway, the upshot is, Gentry says she’ll talk if offered a good deal. Barris is willing to deal if the info she provides is sound, so Scott isn’t going anywhere anytime soon."

"Thanks. That’s good to know. Quinn paused And Hank? While I’ve got you on the phone, thank you from both of us for yesterday. I know you pulled some strings—"

"Ah, don’t worry about it," he brushed it off. "A little excitement is good for me every now and then."

"Ok. But thanks just the same. We won’t forget it."

"Talk to you later," he said and disconnected.

As she concluded the call, Quinn looked out the window to check where she was. Still a few minutes from her destination. Usually at times like these, she caught up on the news on the info feed, but since, for the moment, she was the news, that was a non-starter. Ok, lessee. Oh! I know. Picking up her phone she checked the index then punched in a number. Two rings then: "Andrews."

"Hi Owen, it’s Quinn. How’s it going?" In the background at his end she could hear a repeat of the info feed footage of the car chase, which was being broadcast over and over on every channel. Disrupt one lousy execution and you’re suddenly a media darling.

"Hey-y-y Quinn!! Hi! I’m doing fine. I guess Vanessa told you I’d be off a few days?"

"Yeah. Take whatever time you need."

"Ah, a few days and I’ll be good as new."

"Can I get you anything?"

"No thanks. My girlfriend’s looking after me pretty good. Oh, and Carson sent me over a big basket of fruit and candy and stuff with a note she autographed! And all my friends are calling. They think it’s cool I work for you."

"Uh—" Quinn tried to think of something to say, but Owen unwittingly came to her rescue.

"Oh! Hey Quinn, my girlfriend’s calling me on the other line so I gotta run. See ya soon, Ok?"

"Ok, Owen. See ya soon," and Quinn hung up, marvelling at the resilience of youth.

Checking outside to see how close she was to her destination, she concluded: Hmm. Almost there. But maybe I can squeeze in a call to Ariel about KC first. Punching in the speed dial code, she waited only seconds before it was picked up.

"Hey, I was just thinking about you."

"Makes two of us," said Quinn, with a smile. "Anyway, I called to say Hank let me know that Gentry told the prosecutor this morning KC could nail Scott and Jefferson Bennett."

"Yes, Will and I just got off the phone. He says what KC has to say is ‘interesting.’"


"What she knows about Scott and Bennett. That kind of interesting. But he didn’t go into detail. Said we should hear it from her, maybe at the same time the prosecutor does. They’re going to meet to try to reach a deal on the charges against her."

"Would the prosecutor allow it? You, or both of us, sitting in, that is. Would KC go for that? For that matter, does she even know about you?"

"Will told her I was picking up the tab for her defence and suggested that we meet.


"She’s skittish. He gets the feeling that she thinks I’m actually an agent for Donna."

"Did she say that?"

" Not in so many words, but reading between the lines and the body language . . . .


"I know, Quinn. She’s got a lot of natural acting ability. I’ve thought of that, and after Scott, well . . .

"Uh huh."

"Anyway, she’s agreed that we can meet before she talks to the prosecutor, whose name is . . ." Quinn could hear paper being shuffled. "Virginia Barris. We could meet her at 3:00 pm. Are you free?"

"I’ll pick you up at 2:30."

"Ok, Love. See you then."

After disconnecting, Quinn took a moment or two to think about the upcoming meeting. The last time she’d seen KC, the kid had been lying her head off. The security consultant swore a fervent oath that she’d see her in hell before she’d let her get away with any lies to Ariel.


Chapter 26

The hours dragged by, but perversely, now that they were finally on their way to a meeting with the troubled teen they had been hunting for so long, Quinn wished she was still back at the warehouse complex she had been assessing for most of the day.

"She told Will that she met Mickey soon after she got to the city," Ariel was saying. "She had nothing. She was begging for money on the street. He seemed nice and gave her a place to stay. It didn’t hurt that he was good looking and paid attention to her, too."

Quinn nodded. "So she told him her life story, and became emotionally attached to him?"

"Yeah. As far as Will can determine. She glossed over some things, he says. He hopes to build her trust in him and get more details."

"I take it she was helping Mickey in his scams?"

"It would appear so. At least, she seemed to be more than just an onlooker yesterday when the police arrested her."

Quinn rubbed her bottom lip, thoughtful. "From what I heard, and putting two and two together after the fact, it sounded like an extortion racket."

"Right. She would approach a man at a bar, or whatever, get him interested, take him to a room she and Mickey D had rented, then at the critical moment, Mickey would burst in and accuse the man of trying to rape his underage sister."

"At which point the man would pay up."

"And they’d move on to new pickings."

Quinn sat back and stared out the cab’s window. Before they met KC, Ariel wanted to fill the security consultant in on everything she had learned from her conversation with Gentry that morning. From what Quinn had heard so far it was hard to put the pieces together and make them fit.

Quinn turned again to Ariel. "Did Gentry say where she and Mickey had been for the last 18 months or so?"

"Down south. They tried to put the squeeze on some mobster’s nephew—"

"Ah! That’s what happened.! Remember what that wiseguy in the bar told me? It must have been Big Augie Schmerling’s nephew."

"Yes. It fits. Anyway, apparently Mickey didn’t know about the family connection until after the fact. It didn’t go well and they had to run for it. They barely escaped with their lives. Fortunately for them, Schmerling’s connections down south weren’t good. Rival family territory or something. They only came back recently, after hearing about Big Augie’s death."

Quinn nodded. "Ok," she said, eyes focused on her hands, then looking up she glanced out and said, "Well, we’re here. No time like the present to learn more."

Once again, signing in and obtaining visitor’s badges seemed to take forever, but they were soon being escorted down a less traveled corridor than on the previous day, and suddenly found themselves in front of a thick grey metal door. The uniformed guard who had led them there, opened it, waved them through while saying "You got a half hour," then pulled the door closed behind them.

Except for a table and some chairs, the room was unfurnished. Natural light, admitted grudgingly by a narrow window high up filled with glass block, was no match for the overhead fluorescents, and any colour in the room appeared washed out. Except for the addition of a small transparent panel set at eye level, a metal door on the other side of the room was twin to the one by which they had come in. That door now opened and another uniformed guard stood back to allow entry of a girl in an orange prison jumpsuit. The door clanged shut behind her.

The teenager Quinn had first seen the day before stood just inside the room. Not even the fluorescent lighting could wash all the garish colour out of the ugly jumpsuit, which stood out like a neon sign on a drizzly afternoon.

"Hello, KC," said the writer, as she advanced slowly to the table and sat down. "I’m Ariel. Your aunt. I’d really like it if you’d come over here and sit down with me to talk."

The teenager seemed to consider that, then reluctantly walked to one of the chairs, and sat.

Ariel smiled. "Thank you," She paused. "The last time I saw you, you were called Katie. But that was a long time ago. Do you prefer KC?"

A quick duck of the head and a murmured "yeah."

"Ok." Ariel gestured in Quinn’s direction. "KC, I think you met Quinn yesterday."

The girl’s mouth quirked as the security consultant pulled out a chair and dropped into it. "Yeah. You’re the one that was making that detective crazy yesterday. Then I saw you later on the news. They said you caught Scott. Are you some kind of undercover cop?"

"No." Quinn cleared her throat, and tried again. "No. I’m in private security. Scott tried to kill your aunt and I’ve been protecting her."

"Quinn has been helping me search for you." Ariel stopped and looked at her hands, which were laid flat on the table, then lifted her gaze to the teenager across from her. "KC, had I known you had left home, I would have begun looking for you a long time ago, but I only learned it recently. Now that we’ve found you, I want to help."

The girl looked at Quinn and Ariel in quick succession. "Mr Gentry said you’re paying his bill."

"Yes, I am."

"Why?" she said, simply.

Ariel took her time answering. Finally she said, "KC, the last time I saw you, you were an energetic four-year old. Scott was seven, practically eight, and smarter than his years, and your mother and I . . . we had a falling out—"

"Because you’re a lesbian," the teenager said, and shot another glance at Quinn.

I think this kid knows we’re involved, thought the security consultant. That’s interesting.

"Yeah." Ariel exhaled. "Your mother threw me out of the house and told me never to come back. And I didn’t." Ariel leaned forward, and looked directly into the younger woman’s eyes. "And every day I’ve known you were missing, I’ve wished that I had gone against her wishes and tried to stay in touch with you, so that you would have known that there was somewhere to turn."

"So it’s guilt?"

Ariel chuckled humourlessly. "Some, yeah. But mainly, it’s because I’m cursed with an imagination, and sometimes it shows me things I’d rather not think about."

The teenager glanced from one to the other. "So the posters? That was you? Not my mother?"

Ariel nodded. "That was us. We got the photos from Jill Murray."

The teenager’s face lit up for an instant. "You talked to Jill?"

"We talked to a lot of people about you, KC, but Jill’s the one who gave us the pictures because she very much wanted us to find you," responded Ariel, quietly.

"Mickey said it was my mother. Bastard!" the girl muttered.

Hmm. Sounds like a falling out with Mickey. But I wonder if that’s only since she was arrested, thought Quinn, but remained silent, and observant.

The teenager had ducked her head, and sat staring at the table. After a few more seconds she folded her arms, and darted more glances at Ariel and Quinn. The security consultant thought that she looked as if there was something she wanted to ask, but at the same time didn’t want to know the answer.

After more than a minute of silence, she finally said: "So, you don’t have anything to do with my mother." Not quite a question. More a hopeful statement.

"No, Sweetie we don’t. I give you my word," said Ariel, quietly.

The teenager looked quickly at both again, as if trying to catch them at an unguarded moment. Privately, Quinn thought that in the history of conversation there had never been a dialogue that was more guarded; the tension in the room was almost palpable.

"Mr. Gentry thinks he’ll be able to make the charges go away if I tell the police what I know about Scott. And Jefferson Bennett." Again, not quite a question but not quite a statement either.

Ariel nodded. "That’s what he told me, too."

"What happens after that?"

"Well," Ariel leaned forward, "You’d have to testify at their trials. That won’t be for a few months—"

"No. I mean, what happens to me. Can I . . . disappear? After everything is over, that is."

Ariel glanced quickly Quinn’s way, at a loss for words. "Well, after it’s over you can do anything you want," she extemporized. "But I hope you’ll stay in touch, no matter where you decide to go."

The teenager was quiet for a moment, then said: "Whatever happens, I won’t go back to Parsonville." A statement, with an undertone of . . . desperation?

Quinn leaned forward. "KC," she said, "no one can make you go back to Parsonville if you don’t want to."

"Mickey said . . ."

There was silence, as the teenager seemed to search for words. "Go on, KC," murmured Ariel. "What did Mickey say?"

"He . . . before I turned 18 . . . he told me that if we were caught, the police would send me back there."

Quinn noted the kid’s voice sounded tight, as if she were fighting for emotional control. A surreptitious glance at the teenager’s hands, now clasped in her lap, confirmed for Quinn they were trembling. Either this kid’s for real or she ought to win an Oscar, concluded the security consultant.

"But you’re an adult now. Nobody can send you anywhere," responded Ariel, puzzled.

The teenager nodded several times, anxious to speak. "I know. I know. But Mickey said . . ." Her hands were shaking now, quite visibly. "He said that if I tried to leave him he’d sell me to my mother!"

"What?" said the writer, stunned.

"It’s true! Last Christmas, he said that I probably thought I’d be free of him once I turned 18. But . . ." she gulped, "he said he’d contacted them, and they were willing to pay money to get me back. So if I tried to leave him he’d just find me and tell my mother." Before either of the other women could speak, she continued: "The . . . the first time he got arrested when I was with him, I thought I could get away. But he found me. Just like that," she said, snapping her fingers. "I knew he could again."

Quinn noted the tension in the young woman’s shoulders, as she sat hunched on the other side of the table, staring at her hands in her lap. If this was an act, she was damn good, the security consultant concluded.

"KC. KC, listen to me," said Ariel, urgently, as the teenager kept her gaze resolutely directed at her lap. "I don’t know if he did talk with her, but we’ll find out, OK? And Quinn and I will see that no one sends or takes you anywhere against your will."

The teenager looked at both of them in turn. Quinn noted her eyes seemed a bit watery but otherwise she was in control. "So I won’t have to go back to Parsonville?" she murmured, with what appeared to be a sense of wonder.

"No. Never," responded Ariel, solemnly.

"Good," she murmured. It was almost a prayer of thanks. Then, smiling fully for the first time since entering the room, she repeated, "good!"

The expression transformed her features. Before, they had been stiff and pale. But the smile animated her face, giving it mobility and a touch of colour, and Quinn suddenly saw a resemblance to Ariel that, until then, had been missing. With a start she realized that, given a chance, KC had the potential to become a very attractive woman.

Ariel, however, was preoccupied. "KC," she said with a frown, "it was Scott who frightened you, wasn’t it?" At a nod from the girl, Ariel continued: "then why is it that returning to your mother scares you so much?"

The teenager looked at both of them disbelievingly, then fixed her eyes on Ariel. "Don’t you get it? If she can’t get at me, she can’t do anything to make me change my story about Scott. He’ll be put away! And that Jeff Bennett! And I won’t have to be afraid anymore!"

Ariel cast a quick glance at Quinn, who met her eyes with a look that spoke volumes, but when the writer turned back to KC, she said, simply, and quietly, "Ok. I understand now," and was rewarded with a heartfelt smile and an almost inaudible "Thank you."

Quinn leaned forward. "KC," she said, "what do you want to do after the trials are over?"

The smile, so newly reacquired, faltered as the girl looked at the security consultant blankly, then her eyes slid downward again. "I don’t know," she mumbled.

"You must have sometimes daydreamed about getting away from Mickey and being on your own. What did you think about?" she urged.

The teenager shot her a sideways glance, then quickly looked away. "You’ll think it’s stupid," she murmured.

"Try me," said Quinn.

The girl looked up again, then said, with a touch of defiance, "I’d go to acting school. I always wanted to act. So that’s what I’d do. I told you you’d think it was stupid," she concluded, with something approaching a glare.

"I don’t think it’s stupid at all. If you want to try it, by all means, do it. I think you might be good at it."

"You think so? Really?" the teenager said, her face once again animated, this time with pleasure.

"Yeah. Really. It sounds as if Mickey’s schemes depended on your acting ability."

The teenager looked down again. "Sometimes," she murmured, "that was the only way I could do it. Tell myself I was playing a part. That it wasn’t really me."

Ariel covered the girl’s hand with her own and gave it a quick squeeze. "It’s alright now," she murmured. "You won’t have to do that again."

Just then, the door through which KC had entered, opened, and the guard stood back respectfully as a painfully thin woman in a power suit, followed by a well-dressed bearded man walked in. "Ms. Pedersen," he said, and held out a hand. "Have you met Virginia Barris?"

Introductions quickly performed, the new arrivals claimed the remaining chairs at the table, Virginia Barris seating herself at the head, while Will Gentry, the bearded man, slid into a seat next to KC, neatly placing himself between her and the prosecutor.

"Well Mr. Gentry," said Virginia Barris with a no-nonsense air, "we have a lot of ground to cover."


Chapter 27

The sun was casting long shadows by the time the meeting was finished and Quinn and Ariel were back out on the street. KC had earned her get-out-of-jail-free card, provided she told the same story on the stand that she had just told the prosecutor. For the moment, however, she was still in custody, pending everything checking out. One thing was for sure: if it did, Jefferson Bennett’s one-way trip to the chair was assured. As far as Scott’s ultimate fate, it was as Quinn had predicted so many weeks before: he’d be lucky to escape with his life.

They’d been walking for what seemed like hours, although Quinn knew that, in reality, it was only about 45 minutes. Ariel’s only comment since they had stepped out of police HQ was "I’d like to walk for a bit." The writer had been silent and internally focused as she worked through the things she’d heard that afternoon. Now, although their route had been unplanned, they found themselves in an area well supplied with bars, bistros and ethnic restaurants. Ariel suddenly paused outside a restaurant that had expanded into an adjoining courtyard, from which delicious, spicy odors were wafting, and inquired, "Hungry?"

"Sure," said Quinn, after doing a split second risk assessment of the layout. The maitre’d speedily seated them at one of the outside tables, shaded from the late-day sun, and far enough from the street to keep Ariel incognito to the casual passerby.

Quinn waited patiently until after a waiter had taken their orders and hurried off. The writer was still deep in thought when Quinn lifted one of her hands, gently kissed it, and clasped it between hers. "Conclusions?" she murmured.

"Oh! I’m sorry, Quinn. I didn’t mean to ignore you."

The dark haired woman smiled. "I know. So," she continued after a pause, "what do you think?"

Ariel took a breath and held it, then said: "All sorts of thoughts are jumbled in my head." She fell silent for a few seconds, then clenched her jaw and spat out: "How could Donna be so stupid and self-deceiving, for starters?! And lend herself, either knowingly or unknowingly, to covering Scott’s tracks all these years? And why didn’t she realize she was ruining her daughter’s life? Not to mention putting her in unbelievable danger because KC knew that, of all the adults in her life, Donna was the last person who would believe and support her. It just makes me so angry!"

"I know," said Quinn, quietly, gently stroking Ariel’s hand, while she thought back on the story the teenager had told them.

"And she will never be brought to account for those things. A part of me wants to hire the best lawyer I can find and bring civil actions against her on every subject I can think of, with child endangerment at the top of the list . . ." Ariel paused, took a breath, then gave Quinn a small, deprecating smile, and continued, "but that wouldn’t achieve anything but keeping her in the forefront of all our minds, and frankly, forgetting her and moving on with our lives is the best revenge."

Quinn kept up the massage of Ariel’s hand. "Agreed," she murmured.

"I just . . ." she paused. "It’s just going to take a while for that part of me to calm down and agree with the logical part of me."

Quinn lifted the writer’s hand again to her lips, then smiled understandingly and said, "I know."

At that moment the waiter reappeared at their table with their drinks. Ariel lifted the double scotch she had ordered, took a gulp, and shivered as the liquor burned its way to her stomach. Quinn hoisted her dark ale, sipped, and watched her lover over the rim of the mug, and thought about the teenager’s tale, which had been simple but damning.

Although Scott did pretty much what he wanted, Donna had strict rules for KC, one of them being: "Come home right after school and do your homework. No ifs, ands or buts, young lady!" Quinn had only heard Donna say a few sentences in their brief encounter in Parsonville, but her daughter’s imitation was uncanny. Failure to abide by Donna’s rules could lead to loss of privileges, more chores, or even physical punishment.

A few young women had disappeared in and around Parsonville, but it wasn’t until discovery of the first body that the hopes of finding the others alive plummeted, and people began to realize that something evil was loose in their community.

Quinn sipped her beer, and recalled the teenager’s description of what happened the day that she, too, had disappeared. "Home by four, Katie. I’ll be calling from the church at 4:01, and if you’re not here. You’ll regret it," her mother had said, as KC had left for school that day. And so she had made sure she was home and close to the phone when her mother had called. After the brief conversation, in which Donna gave her instructions on what to prepare for dinner, KC went to her room to do her homework, since she knew her mother would check that as soon as she got home.

It was while she was in her room that she heard Scott come into the house with someone. "You wanna drink?" she heard him say, and then a voice that she knew belonged to Jefferson Bennett responded: "Gimme a beer." There was a bark of laughter from Scott. "With my bitch of a mother? Forget it. Here’s a coke," and the two of them went out to the back porch.

Quinn’s reverie was interrupted momentarily by Ariel signalling the waiter for another scotch. The writer would probably regret it later, since she didn’t drink much hard liquor, but right now Quinn knew that the last thing Ariel needed was someone cautioning her about her liquor intake. Nursing her ale, the security consultant’s mind returned to KC’s last day in Parsonville.

KC’s room looked out over the back porch. She had always been a bit wary of that, dreaming on more than one occasion of intruders getting in when she was asleep. Once young women started disappearing, she didn’t leave her window open at night, no matter how hot and muggy it was.

This afternoon, she’d opened it when she got home to allow a slight breeze to cool her room down, countering the summer heat. And so it was that she heard the rest of Scott’s conversation with Jefferson Bennett.

"So, you do her?"

"Oh yeah man, and it was sweet!"

KC froze. She avoided her brother as much as possible, and his friends. She knew Scott had been hanging around with Jeff Bennett for a while. At least, she’d seen them together from time to time around town, and at the gas station where Bennett worked part time. She’d never known Scott to bring him to the house before. No matter, KC always had and intended to stay as far away from him as possible because he creeped her out. It wasn’t anything he said, but he had a way of watching her that made her very uncomfortable. And so, KC’s first reaction to the conversation she was overhearing was to shut the window. She stood up from her desk to do so, but before she could move, she heard Bennett say: "What’s that?"

"What’s what?" her brother’s voice.

"I thought I heard something."

"Relax. I didn’t hear anything. You’re just jumpy."

KC stood very still, sweat popping out on her forehead. She realized that Bennett had heard her desk chair squeak as she got up. She knew, now, that she couldn’t sit down and she most certainly couldn’t go to the window and close it because the sound of that would draw even more attention to herself. Her only option was to stand still and hope they left soon.

Silence from the porch, and then "Yeah, maybe."

"Told you." There was silence for a few seconds, and then her brother added "So it was fun, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," Bennett’s voice again. KC could swear he was smiling.

"Don’t know about you, Jeff," said her brother, with a chuckle. "What a hobby. Someday you’re going to get caught."

"In Hicksville? No way. Cops can’t find their own asses with a flashlight, a roadmap, and satellite tracking." Young male laughter followed this statement.

"Ok, hotshot. Put your money where your mouth is. Who’s next?"

"Want to make some quick cash huh?"

"You know how it is. Easy come. Easy go."

"Yeah." Silence. KC gripped the desk in terror and willed her knees not to fold as she listened. The teenager had realized almost immediately that this was not just a conversation about some adolescent sexual encounter. "OHMYGODOHMYGOD OHMYGODOHMYGOD" her mind screamed

"So who’s next?" her brother persisted. I could get you that little red headed bimbo from the varsity cheering squad, easy. She’s got the hots for me."

"Yeah? How much?."

"Only $500.00."

"Five hundred! Man, I don’t get paid ‘til next Saturday. I don’t have that much right now!"

"Ok, so what do you have?"

"I could probably dig up $100.00."

"A hundred! You into dogs or something? I’m not going after any cunt for less than $200.00."

More silence, and then; "I need something to take the edge off."

"Not for less than $200.00."

"How about something you really don’t have to do any work for. Just get her to the right place and I’ll do the rest."

‘Oh yeah. And who would that be?" Scott replied, sarcastically.

"Your sister."

"My sister!?" Scott’s rejoinder covered KC’s sharp intake of breath as a dagger of pure terror slammed into her chest. OHGOD OHGOD OHGOD OHGOD OHGOD! reverberated in her brain, as she staggered to stay upright. She was dimly aware that one of her hands, which had been gripping the desk, was now clamped over her mouth.

"Sure. Why not?"

"Why not? Because it’ll shine some light my way, dummy! Don’t you know anything?"

"Ah, come on. Donna Johnson’s little boy? The cops’ll treat you with kid gloves."

"Hmm." There was silence. KC was aware of her heart thumping in triple time, so loudly that she almost didn’t hear the rest of what Scott said: "I’d have to look for a chance. I can’t just drag her out of the house."

"You do that. It’s an easy hundred bucks." A pause, then, a change of subject: "Hey you got the time?"

"Yeah. It’s 4:35."

"Shit, I’m overdue at the station." KC heard Bennett stand up. "Think about what I said. I’d even let you watch."

Scott snorted, but declined to answer, saying instead: "I’ll walk down the street with you. I’m going over to see Jan."

"Get your rocks off?" said Bennett’s voice receding into the distance.

"If I’m lucky."

There was a shout of laughter. "As if there was any doubt."

KC forced herself to stand still while she counted under her breath to 100. Then she counted to 100 again before she took a step. And stopped and listened. And took another step. And stopped, and listened again. What was she going to do! She needed money! She needed to get out of there! She needed money! Where was she going to get money! Stop and think! Where was she going to get money! Her savings account at the bank! Her mother wouldn’t let her have a bank card but the counter didn’t close until 5:00. If she got on her bike she could make it. Where was her bank book! The desk drawer! No! The chest of drawers! Ok, got the bank book. What was the time. 4:47!


Stop it! If you’re going to get out of this alive. Just stop it! You’ve got to act natural at the bank or someone’s sure to notice. Ok,Ok,Ok. Alright. I’m alright now. You’re just going to the bank to make a withdrawal. Your mother wants you to buy some new shoes for school. That’s all. She wants you to buy good shoes, so you’ll have to take most of the money in the account. You’re just doing what your mother told you to do. Ok. Anything else? I don’t think so. Ok. It’s show time.

Quinn watched Ariel sip the scotch. At least she’s no longer tossing it down her throat, thought the dark haired woman. Dinner had been served and eaten in silence, the only accompaniment the soft instrumental music issuing from several hidden speakers around the courtyard.

"Feel better?"

Ariel looked up and smiled slightly. "Yeah, a little. Who knew I liked scotch this much," she said, the smile becoming disparaging as she slowly swirled the amber liquid. "Virginia Barris will turn Scott. In exchange for his life, he’ll confirm everything KC said."

"I know."

"And he’ll never get out again."

"I know that too."

"And if I had a chance I’d kill him myself." Ariel smiled again. "How’s that for an anti-death penalty attitude, huh?"

Quinn looked at her lover. "I’d say it was human," she said quietly.

"Don’t you mean hypocritical?"


Ariel studied Quinn’s face. "How do you say so much saying so little?" she finally asked.

Quinn shrugged, and smiled. "I have many skills."

"Indeed you do," Ariel agreed. "And right now I’d just like you to take me home and hold me, which you’re extremely good at."

"I can do that," Quinn said getting to her feet. "Stay here. I’ll be right back." And she strode over to the bar to pay their bill.

Ariel watched the tall woman. Goddess, what did I ever do to deserve her, she thought. I have no idea what’s going to happen next but I know that whatever it is, Quinn will be there for me.

Quinn was soon on her way back. Ariel took a moment to enjoy the long legged, almost arrogant walk, the trim muscular body, the shining mane of black hair that was currently being ruffled by a small breeze, the classically beautiful face and the crystal blue eyes. The tall woman reached the table and held out a hand. "My Lady," she said.

Ariel smiled and accepted, rising gracefully to her feet. Quinn slipped an arm around her and they walked out to the street. Ariel noticed that Quinn was singing along under her breath to the music currently playing. "What’s that?" she said.

"What’s what," said Quinn, signalling a cab.

"That song."

"Oh. That?" Quinn opened the door of the taxi that pulled to the curb, helped Ariel in, followed her, and ordered the cab to 1420 Rochester.

"Yeah, that," said Ariel snuggling up. It’s beautiful."

"It’s called ‘Imagine.’"

Ariel’s eyes lost focus for a second, then she hazarded "The Beatles?"

Quinn kissed the tip of her nose. "Good guess. After the break up. John wrote it. I’ve got a copy of the original recording. I’ll look it up when we get home.

"Tomorrow, Ok?" said the writer, snuggling even closer.

Quinn smiled, as her arms encircled her lover. "Tomorrow it is," she whispered.

"Yeah, murmured the blond head, currently tucked under her chin. "Let’s just go home."

Quinn kissed the blond hair. "Yeah. Let’s."


Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people
living for today . . .

Imagine there's no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace . . .

Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world . . .

You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one.


Afterword – I have no plans to write a sequel. It took so long to write this that I’m afraid I’d be receiving an old age pension before it was done. <g> I may, however, write some short stories because, damn it, I like these people.

Since I’m not going to write a full-fledged sequel, here’s what happened:

  • KC, with lots of emotional, professional and financial help from Ariel and Quinn managed to get her life back together and eventually launched a successful acting career.
  • Once the whole story about Scott came to light, Donna Johnson’s following waned dramatically, although she maintained a core of followers who believed that it was all a lie. Donna became more bitter and hard line, convinced that Ariel was the reason for her downfall. Some of the people of Parsonville pitied her. Most just ignored her.
  • Ariel continued to write best sellers that were made into movies, making her so wealthy that she set up a foundation to handle dispensing the funds. Edward, her publisher, beamed, both with pride and at all the money her books made for McQuarry’s.
  • Thanatos Security got tons of contracts out of Quinn’s escapades, had to hire still more operatives, and finally had to move into a real office. It’s staff members still maintained their joie de vivre and managed to kick ass with spectacular results whenever called upon to do so.
  • Ariel and Quinn were spotted occasionally at celebrity functions, once Ariel was no longer under siege, but mostly they kept to themselves, enjoying their friends, furry family, home, and, most importantly, each other.

That’s all. Thanks for reading.


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