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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 chapter
by Helen Smith, September, 2000
Quinn paused at the door of Ariel's office. Normally she didn't disturb the author when she was working, but this wasn't a normal day. The smaller woman looked up from her monitor as Quinn knocked quietly and entered.
"Hi. You writing?"
"Only answering fan mail. I figured I'd get that out of the way, at least, and try writing later. Did you talk to Hank?"
"Yeah. He's coming by in an hour. He'll want to see you. In the meantime, I think we better go over your schedule for the next few days."
"Why? I'm not changing anything."
"No Quinn! I refuse to creep around afraid of my own shadow." The smaller woman leaped to her feet and started to pace. "I realize that makes it difficult for you, and I'm really sorry. But I won't compromise on this."
"Ariel, appearing in public is risky, no matter how well I have you guarded."
"I understand that. I also understand that I could curtail my activities for days, weeks, months, even. No. I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees."
Quinn pinched the bridge of her nose. Ok, this battle was lost but she could still win the war. She'd just have to lengthen the campaign a bit.
"Ok. When you start paraphrasing Spanish revolutionaries I know when to quit."
Ariel looked at her, startled. "Spanish revolutionaries?"
"Yeah. The dying on your feet bit. Dolores Ibárruri, also known as 'La Pasionaria.'"
Ariel stared at her for a few seconds. "You continually amaze me."
"Ah, shucks ma'am," said Quinn, "T'weren't nothin'. She was a strong woman. And you know me and my interest in strong women."
Ariel laughed, then hugged Quinn tightly. "Thanks. I needed that."
"Hey, if that bit of trivia got me a hug, what does knowing all the words from 'The Bubblegum Song' get me?
"Quinn..." the honey blonde said warningly.
"Chewy, chewy, chewy, chewy, chewy, chewy..."
"...chewy Baby!" Quinn punctuated the line with a light kiss on the end of Ariel's nose, and a hug of her own. "Ok. I can take a hint. You don't need to draw me a diagram. I'll let you know when Hank gets here. Ok?"
"Ok." A pause. "I love you."
"I know, Babe. I love you too." It took only a millisecond for Quinn to consider and reject the emotional blackmail route. She wasn't going to guilt Ariel into doing what she asked, even if would make it easier to keep her safe. She'd just have to deal with this situation by situation. Yeah.
"Have a seat, Hank. Ariel will be down in a minute."
The big man grunted non-committally and sank into a chair.
"Here's a copy of the note."
"Hmm. Not much of a talker. I checked on McNaughton, to see if he was on the loose, or had been, and he's not. But then again, you knew that, didn't you. They said mine was the second inquiry they'd had that day."
"Umm. He's the first person that crossed my mind." Quinn sat down on the couch across from the chair occupied by the detective. Willy McNaughton, the smooth-faced religious fanatic who had threatened and then tried to attack Ariel the previous year, was in jail for 40 years, minimum. And good riddance, thought Quinn.
"I suppose he might have persuaded some misguided shit to mail this for him," the detective continued, "but this just doesn't look like his style. He wouldn't have missed the opportunity to throw in a few sentences from Leviticus."
"I agree. The emphasis looks different. This guy isn't objecting to the sex, he's objecting to her stand on guns and hard line legislation."
Hank looked across at Quinn. "Still doesn't mean it isn't a religious fanatic behind it. The gun lobby and the holding-the-line-on-crime guys have got a lot of support from the evangelicals, like Ephraim Mather. He might think this is a holy mission or something. Wipe out everyone who disagrees with what he knows is right."
Before Quinn could respond, she heard footsteps behind her as Ariel entered. The detective leaped to his feet and stuck out his hand. "Ms. Pedersen. Nice to see you again. I wish it was under better circumstances."
"Thank you Detective. So do I." Ariel shook hands then found herself a seat next to Quinn, who noted that Hank waited for Ariel to seat herself before he sat down again. The man was definitely from the old school, she thought.
"Quinn and I were just discussing this note you received. You picked it up at your publisher's, she tells me. Any idea when they got it?
"None at all. They send on mail when some has accumulated. I think I answered another batch earlier this month but I'm not sure of the day, if that helps, at all."
"Have you had any altercation with anyone recently? At a reading, or something? In the grocery store? With one of your neighbours? Anything at all?"
"None that I can remember."
"That's what she keeps me around for," rumbled Quinn.
Walsh ignored the interruption and asked "What about at your publisher's? Problems with anyone?
"No. Not at all. They're like family."
"Speaking of family..."
Quinn was a bit startled at Ariel's short answer, but she knew that her family was a painful subject for the writer, so put it down to that.
The detective's eyes flickered from one woman to the other, but he made no comment. "Well, I guess that does it for the moment, then," he said as he rose to his feet. "I'll go make some inquiries at your publisher's."
"Which you'll share with me," interjected Quinn.
"In exchange for a copy of the analysis of the note and the envelope it came in," Walsh shot back.
"Deal. I'll see you out."
Quinn returned in a few minutes to find Ariel still seated on the couch.
"Hey. You still here?"
"Yeah. Quinn ..." Ariel paused.
"What is it Love?" When Ariel made no move to continue, the dark-haired woman sat down next to her and took her hand in both her own. "Hey, you can tell me. What's wrong? Aside from the obvious, that is."
"Detective Walsh asked about my family ..."
"Yeah. That's standard operating procedure." Quinn wondered where this was leading. Ariel had had no contact with her family in years.
"Well, I didn't tell you, but I got an e-mail a few days ago. It was from my nephew, Scott. Out of the blue. He said ... Well, why don't you come up to my office and read it."
"Dear Aunt Ariel," the message began. "I know you and my mom haven't spoken in years, and I know why." Quinn could feel an atavistic muscle reflex beginning, but she consciously clamped down on it. "I didn't understand at the time, but I know now that it was mom's fault." Oh. Maybe this kid was ok after all. "Anyway, I'm going to be moving to your neck of the woods soon 'cause I've been accepted for grad school there, and I hoped I could maybe drop by? I'd understand if you didn't want to. Mom treated you pretty badly, but I hoped you'd be interested in re-establishing contact with at least one member of the Johnson family. We're not all pig headed. Anyway, I hope to hear from you. Thanks for reading this far. Love, Scott." Quinn checked the headers. The message had been forwarded from McQuarry's.
"I thought about it a couple of days," Ariel was saying. "Then I wrote him back."
"And you said?"
"Call me when you get into town and we'd talk."
Quinn thought about that, then nodded. At least she hadn't invited him over right off the bat.
"I just couldn't tell Detective Walsh that. I didn't want him all over Scott just because he happened to get in touch a few days before." Ariel paused. Quinn waited. The smaller woman got up and began to pace.
"I never told you about my family," she said finally. Quinn made a supportive noise.
"I have one sister. At least, I assume the present tense is correct. I haven't spoken with her since I was 17. Donna was 12 years older than I. Our parents were killed in a plane crash when I was 14 and so I went to live with Donna and her husband, Blake. They had two children, Scott, who was the older, and Katie. Donna and Blake were pillars of the community. If something needed organizing or if children had to be driven somewhere or if the morals of the community needed shoring up, Donna and Blake were right in the thick of it."
Quinn could see a muscle jumping in Ariel's jaw. "Oh, and they were upstanding members of their church too. You bet. Every Sunday, we went to GAWD's house." Coming from Ariel's mouth, the word sounded even more alien than usual. "It was as if he was taking attendance, or something--you needed a perfect record to get into 'The Kingdom.'" Quinn winced to hear the unaccustomed sarcasm, but Ariel didn't notice. "My parents had been church goers but their god was nothing like Donna and Blake's. Mom and Dad's god was loving, and forgiving. Donna and Blake's was vindictive and dictatorial. One wrong move and you were doomed to Hellfire for all eternity. Amen Brother! So ..." Ariel stopped, leaned against her desk and looked down at her feet. Then she straightened her shoulders and looked at Quinn. "So when she found me kissing my best friend one afternoon she had to take steps quickly to root this evil out of her house. I was on the street with a suitcase and $40 in no time flat, and was told never to darken her door again."
Quinn made a move to enfold Ariel in her arms but the smaller woman put up a hand. "No Quinn, I'll never get this out if I stop now."
"Ok." Quinn leaned back against the wall. "What did you do?"
"I didn't know what to do. I sat in a park a mile or so away 'til it was almost dusk. High school would be over in a month. I had a really good average and had already got a scholarship to go on. I just had to make it from then until September. No big deal. So why was I crying? Anyway, I don't know what I would have done if Ms. Jameson hadn't seen me there."
"Yeah. My English teacher. I didn't even know she lived around there. Anyway, she was out with her little boy walking their dog. She saw there was something wrong right away so she had Tim go play with Rusty while she talked to me. It only took one kind word and it all came pouring out. Anyway, she made me come home with them, and I stayed with her and her son until September." Ariel looked at Quinn again.
"Thank god for teachers. Can I hold you yet?"
Ariel gave a small cry and rushed into Quinn's arms. The crying jag was brief but intense. Quinn occupied herself thinking of several things she'd like to do to Donna Johnson, should she ever be so lucky as to be in a position to do them. She'd just settled on staking her naked out in the hot sun and skinning her with a dull knife when Ariel pulled back.
"I'm getting you all wet," she sniffed.
"Ah, you get me wet all the time so don't worry about it," responded Quinn.
Ariel giggled. "yeah, but some times are more enjoyable than others."
"True. But yuh take the good with the not so good. And take it from me, the good is sensational."
Ariel, sniffed again and grinned up at Quinn. "You sweet talker, you."
"Hey, I work on it all the time. Lessee, if Ariel says
this, I'll say that. You think when I leave here I go to work? Ha. I'm just
parked around the corner practicing sparkling
Ariel giggled, hugged her lover, then sobered. "The best day of my life was the day you came into it," she said.
"Likewise, Babe. Likewise," responded Quinn and hugged her harder.
"One, two ..." The buzz of the phone made the security consultant pause in her workout and grab for it. "Thanatos."
"Hi Boss, got something for you."
Quinn snatched up a towel and mopped her face, then reached over to a nearby table and snagged a bottle of water. "Go ahead," she said, as she drained half the bottle and poured the rest over her head. After Ariel had calmed, Quinn had gone downstairs to Ariel's state-of-the-art basement gym. She had to work some energy off or she was going to go crazy. There was no action she could take until some info began to come back, and realistically, maybe not even then. She'd been here for more than an hour and the physical activity was finally starting to take the edge off.
"Ok. I checked all the stuff you told me. The only thing that came up was an insurance policy on Ariel, and it's a biggie."
"Yeah? Who's the beneficiary?" Quinn had known of no insurance policies on her lover but it didn't stop her from including that as something to look for when she's sent Joe out on the hunt. If someone held a policy, that someone might want Ariel dead, and what better way to cover it than with a crazy threat.
"What? For how much?"
"Two million five."
"That's not all. They lost an appeal on a libel suit the other day, and I understand the company might be hurting after they pay up."
Quinn was lost in thought. Edward? Nah. But what if ...? Nah. Could he?
"Quinn, you still there?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah, I'm still here. Ok Joe. Thanks for this. I've got one other line of inquiry for you. Got a pen and paper? I want you to check out a Scott Johnson, parents' names are Donna and Blake. Sister is Katie ..."
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