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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, (firstname.lastname@example.org) September, 2000
"You about ready?"
"Not quite. Just a minute longer."
Quinn curbed her impatience and went downstairs. Kris, dressed in a dark suit the cut of which didn't quite hide the shoulder holster she was wearing, met her at the bottom.
"A few more minutes."
"Umph." She relayed the information to Vanessa and John who were waiting with the two cars at the curb.
Quinn paced, and mentally reviewed the launch again. Almost three weeks had come and gone since she and Kris had put together the security plans. She'd been over them time and time again searching for holes. As far as she could see, given the constraints imposed by Ariel, there were none, barring a suicidal attack. And she hadn't ruled that out.
Ariel was curiously calm about the whole thing. On the one hand, that was good, because Quinn had no idea what to do for her if she wasn't. On the other, it made Quinn worry that the writer was beginning to think it was all a hoax. After all, there had been no other incidents since the drive-by. The leads that she and the police had pursued had hit brick walls. The car used in the shooting attempt had been found the next day, wiped clean of fingerprints. Quinn's suspicions of Jan, Ariel's editor, had led nowhere; by hacking into McQuarry's computer system, Thanatos Security's computer expert, Joe, had found that Jan had been editing a document up to a few minutes before the attack. True, someone could have been working at her desk but Jan always locked her office when she was gone more than a few moments, so chances were, the person using her computer up to 5:10 pm had been Jan herself. Of course, she could have paid someone to do the drive-by, but to what end? Quinn had racked her brain to think of a motive and sent Kris off to look for one, without success.
Quinn watched Kris idly flip through a magazine. Shortly after her conversation at the office with her second-in-command, Quinn had decided to act on Kris's suggestion to involve the other members of Thanatos Security in guarding Ariel during the day. They were all good at their jobs and once Quinn thought it over, she had to admit it had merit: it got Kris out from under the administrative work, which Quinn knew she disliked, and it got Quinn back outside, and not cooped up in the house, day after day. Since no one had been forced to defend Ariel since then, it appeared to have been a win-win situation.
But damn it! She wished whoever this prick was would show his hand. The waiting was wearing her down, big time. Speaking of waiting, Quinn checked her watch. Five minutes had come and gone and still no sign of Ariel. Par for the course. She remembered the last book launch, a little over a year before. It had been much the same situation, although the previous year the threatening note arrived just days before the launch. Ariel had kept them waiting that day too. Mind you, when she finally put in an appearance it had been spectacular--the mid-thigh, dark green dress she wore had ensured that. Quinn remembered thinking she'd wished Ariel were less attractive since it tended to make guarding her distracting.
Quinn let her mind wander some more.
Following the lead car carrying John and Vanessa, the bulletproof limousine, rented for the occasion, pulled away from the curb. Kris and Quinn watched the traffic outside, the latter always seeming to find the writer's legs in her peripheral vision. That, of course, led her mind up avenues of fantasy she struggled to close off. She was just thinking how good it would feel to have Ariel's legs wrapped around her naked body when she became aware that the writer was speaking to her.
"I was just wondering whether you thought he'd make an attempt tonight."
"Difficult to say. If he's a complete loony, yes. If, however, he has a sense of self preservation, I'd say no, since with the amount of security we've got on this thing it would be very difficult to try something and then get away."
The writer sat back, seemingly in deep thought. Quinn took the opportunity to sneak a quick peek at her legs. Get your mind back on the job, Quinn, she sternly told herself. And while you're at it, better reassure her. "Hey, don't worry. We've handled lots of these situations."
Ariel gave her a small smile. "I have complete confidence in you. I just don't want anyone hurt on my behalf."
"Don't worry. Nobody's going to get hurt." As if you can guarantee it, Quinn. Yeah. Sure.
The rest of the ride was quiet as Ariel went over some speaking notes while Quinn and Kris watched the traffic, checking for unwanted followers. They pulled up in front of the museum at 4:55pm, and Kris got out first to survey the people on the sidewalk--not a crowd, exactly, but enough people curious about what was going on that an attacker might use them to get close enough to try his chances. Two police officers were keeping people back from the entrance to the building. John and Vanessa joined Kris as she checked the crowd once more before giving Quinn a nod, the signal for the security consultant to get out and hold the door for Ariel. Once everyone was on the sidewalk, the contingent started for the entrance, with Vanessa taking point, Quinn and Kris flanking the writer, and John bringing up the rear.
The attack came just as they were entering the building. Quinn's first indication was a shout from John, causing her to half turn. She was in time to grab the assailant's arm as he tried to go behind her and in front of John to get at the writer. Unfortunately, the arm she grabbed was not the one carrying the knife, but she didn't register the lancing pain along her ribs until the man had been subdued, with John and Vanessa's help. Vanessa quickly slapped on cuffs then knelt holding a gun to the stranger's head. Quinn felt sure that one wrong move from her prisoner and she'd pull the trigger.
"Quinn, you're bleeding!" exclaimed Ariel, who had been hustled to one side by Kris.
"Huh? Oh, it's nothing," said Quinn, trying to shrug it off.
"Yeah, nothing that a stitch or thirty won't fix, said Kris. "Your side is saturated." She looked around. One cop had just finished calling for backup and emergency medical help while the other took charge of the prisoner, who by now was protesting loudly about the treatment the perverts had subjected him to when he was simply on GAWD's mission of vengeance.
Ariel took her silk wrap, which she had brought to guard against the cool of the evening, and pressed it to Quinn's side. "EMTs are coming so just relax," she said.
"I am relaxed. Kris, you and Vanessa take Ariel inside. John will stay with me. Tell Tyrone what's happened. You're in charge of security until I can get back on the scene."
"Hey! I'm not going anywhere, other than with you to the hospital," said Ariel.
Quinn nodded at Vanessa who cheerfully muttered a "Sorry about this" then picked the writer up over her shoulder and carried her, loudly protesting, through the door. The howl of an approaching siren drowned out the epithets being hurled Quinn's way by both the writer and the assailant.
Quinn sent John off to buy her another shirt and then managed to intimidate the EMTs into applying a temporary dressing so that she could get back to the launch. Her jacket hid the worst of the blood stains on her dress pants, and their dark colour made the rest difficult to see. Ariel had glared at her for most of the event and at the conclusion has seen her dragged off by Kris and Vanessa to the Emergency Room of the closest hospital where the wound was properly stitched.
Quinn reflected that they had been incredibly lucky that McNaughton had felt he had to resort to a good old fashioned weapon to remove the evil from their midst, rather than an AK-90. But, she reflected ruefully, she still missed that shirt.
Further reflections were cut off when Ariel descended the stairway. This time she'd chosen to wear a plain black dress, again cut to mid thigh, accented with a thin gold necklace and bracelet, and small gold earrings. With her short blond hair, green eyes and golden tan, she looked spectacular. Of course, thought Quinn, what else is new. Once again the writer carried a silk wrap, although not the same one she'd had last year, which had been ruined by Quinn's blood.
"Sorry to keep everyone waiting."
Quinn walked over to her lover, rested her hands lightly on her shoulders and kissed her. "Worth the wait. You look good enough to eat," she murmured.
Ariel gave her a small smile. "That comes later."
"Um. I'll hold you to it."
"Sorry to interrupt you lovebirds," said Kris, "but we'd better leave if we're going to get there on time."
Quinn nodded. and turned to Ariel. "Ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
Quinn stifled the impulse to tell her not to worry, recalling the previous launch.
Kris radioed John and Vanessa that they were on their way so that they were ready when the three women emerged from the house. Vanessa and John got into the first vehicle and the others in the second. A moment later both pulled out into traffic. Quinn and Kris checked for followers, Ariel reviewed notes. So far, thought Quinn, it's a carbon copy of last year. Same people. Maybe even the same limo. She hoped that that was as far as it went.
Thirty minutes later found them pulling up to the door of the museum. This time there was more of a police presence outside, although in keeping with Ariel's request, it was discrete. Quinn had also seen to it that some of Tyrone's security personnel were mingling with the people watching. Although she was on edge and hyper aware of everyone around her, she detected no hostile intent from the small crowd. Getting through the museum entrance without incident was a relief, but the security consultant sternly reminded herself that the event was just beginning. A quick check of the crowd inside showed Edward making his way over to welcome Ariel.
"Ok everyone. Stay sharp and keep your eyes and ears open."
Nods greeted her reminder.
"Ariel, my dear. You look wonderful." Edward gave the writer a quick kiss on the cheek then took her arm. Nodding at Quinn he continued to address the shorter woman: "We have a place for you over here," and began to guide her through the mass of people. Quinn stuck close behind, while the others formed a cordon around the writer.
Ariel spotted Scott in the crowd and slowed the procession long enough to draw him into the circle. She greeted him with a hug and a quick kiss. "Scott! So you found the place. Great! Any trouble finding parking?"
"No problems Aunt Ariel. Glad to be here."
Ariel quickly introduced him to Edward who had heard that the writer's nephew had made contact with her. As she was completing that introduction Jan came up to greet her and Ariel turned to her happily, giving her a quick hug and exchanging a few words.
Quinn's eyes were everywhere, as were the eyes of the other security personnel. Spotting Tyrone, who was over near the tables holding the refreshments, she gave him a quick nod. They had spoken earlier in the day, reviewing the security plans. One thing Quinn had insisted upon from the start was metal detectors at all entrances. Tyrone had assured her they had discrete ones. She heard his voice now in the small radio link she wore in her ear, indicating no concealed weapons made of metal had been found. Of course, the detectors couldn't draw attention to those made of high impact plastic, nor were they any help when it came to impromptu weapons, available on the premises, such as smashed wine glasses, but at least they might eliminate some measure of threat.
Attendance was by invitation only, but that didn't mean that enemies might not be found among the guests. Ariel had made no secret of her views, and in her latest book, After Dark, had expanded upon them as a counter point to the main story, which was a steamy same sex thriller. So, Quinn, thought, if she didn't get to the ultra conservatives with her left wing views on weapons and capital punishment, she'd undoubtedly rile them with her unabashed views on sexuality. An equal opportunity shit disturber, that was her Ariel.
Edward stepped to the podium to make a few opening remarks and the crowd quieted. He quickly summed up Ariel's professional career, noted the success of her award-winning previous books, announced that a contract had already been signed to bring out After Dark in paperback as well as hard cover, and that Midnight Madness had been optioned for a movie deal.
An influential book critic followed him to the microphone and extolled the new book, as did another of McQuarry's bestselling writers.
Edward, who was acting as the master of ceremonies, returned to the microphone and said, "You've heard what others have to say about this important new work. Now, let's hear from the author, herself. It is, therefore, my very great pleasure to introduce to you Ms. Ariel Pedersen."
Quinn kept her eyes on the applauding crowd, although she was aware of Ariel in her peripheral vision. Despite being out in front of the group, the writer was still relatively safe--although the podium appeared to be etched glass, it was actually a high impact plastic, able to withstand point blank gunfire.
Ariel, Quinn knew, intended to keep her remarks brief. She thanked Edward for originally giving her the opportunity to write for a living, and for his continued support. She paid special attention to Jan, who had edited her books from the first and whose attention to detail was top notch. Finally, she concluded by thanking those gathered at the launch and invited them to help themselves to the food and drink laid out in celebration.
The audience rose to its feet and loudly applauded Ariel as she left the podium to return to her seat.
Quinn wasn't sure afterward if she consciously heard the loud crash and then reacted, or if her actions were simply visceral. All she knew was she suddenly had her gun in her hand and was scanning the room. Kris, also with gun drawn, had leaped in front of Ariel, who had been caught out in the no man's land between her seat and the podium. Vanessa and John, watching the crowd from either side of the room, were also ready for whatever was to come, as were the museum security personnel, scattered around the edge of the room.
Then she heard Tyrone's voice in her ear. "A clumsy waiter, everyone, but keep alert in case it wasn't an accident."
Quinn stepped to the side to get a clear view, past the crowd, of the refreshment tables. She could see that Tyrone and two of his people were supervising the wait staff as they cleaned up. The noise had been made by a laden silver tray, which had fallen onto the marble floor. Ok, was it a diversion? She took a quick look around but could see nothing out of the ordinary.
Edward was at the microphone by this time, reassuring the crowd and again inviting them to sample the food and wine, and promising that Ariel would be signing copies of her new book in just a few minutes. Conversation gradually picked up and by the time the small disaster was tidied away, the crowd was again relaxed and in a celebratory mood. Quinn moved back to the group that held Ariel.
"Yeah, although I either lost 10 years or gained them, I'm not sure which."
"Hang in there, Babe. It'll soon be over."
Ariel gave her a small, strained smile. "You too."
Quinn ached to take her in her arms but knew that vigilance was more necessary than comfort at that moment. She'd love just five minutes with the prick who was threatening her Ariel. In fact, she'd love to take on the whole ultra conservative faction... Quinn brought herself back to reality. She saw that Scott was talking with the writer and it seemed to have a calming effect. He'd become a frequent visitor to the house since his first memorable call. He and Ariel seemed to find plenty of things to chat about, over and above family. He'd even asked for her autograph on a copy of Midnight Madness that he'd brought with him one day. Quinn was glad that Ariel had been able to connect with the young man, and she was willing to concede that that might have helped her lover get through the last weeks before the launch.
Quinn saw Edward join the two of them and shortly after the small group began to move to the refreshment tables. Quinn and her immediate staff closed in around them again and followed along. Ariel accepted a glass of wine but declined Scott's offer to get her some food, indicating to Quinn just how really tied in knots she was. Normally the writer had a voracious appetite. Still, looks were everything here, and Ariel looked relaxed as she chatted with several of the guests.
In a few minutes, Edward moved back to the microphone to announce that Ariel would begin signing books. The writer, with Quinn and her staff still grouped loosely around her, moved to a table to one side, which was discretely draped to hide the bullet proof plastic underneath, affording Ariel some protection as she signed autographs. Quinn had wanted to add additional high impact plastic screens, but Ariel had vetoed them.
The guests began forming up and were soon moving in a steady line by the table, with Ariel saying a few words to each and writing a personal note in their copies of her book. Quinn sternly ordered her inner voice to be quiet as it noted that all they had to do was make it to the end of this and then they could go home. Don't jinx it stupid, she told herself. Several of the guests wanted to conduct a conversation with the author but she skillfully moved each one along quickly and politely.
The line was more than three quarters through when Quinn caught Vanessa's eye. As the tall red head made her way to Quinn's side, she was aware of listening to the same opening line for the 250thtime: "Oh Ms. Pedersen! It's such a pleasure to meet you."
As Quinn watched the woman in front of her enthuse over Ariel's writing, she gave Vanessa instructions to go check out the vehicles for their departure. Although both had been guarded during the launch, Quinn believed in leaving nothing to chance. Vanessa exited just as Quinn heard the woman in front of her say "And the spanking scene in Midnight Madness was so-o-o hot!" Well that's a new one, thought Quinn, as the writer thanked her for the compliment and moved her along. Most people were more restrained in their praise. If anyone did single out the sexual aspects of Ariel's writing it was usually expressed in terms more evocative of scholarly tomes than outright pleasure. Quinn grinned to herself and thought it was nice to see someone who appreciated the parts she liked.
Two more autograph seekers moved by before Vanessa suddenly materialized again at her elbow.
The security consultant quickly called John forward to take her place then stepped back to confer. "What?"
"The cops were distracted by a disturbance around the corner just before I got outside. They were gone about two minutes and when they got back someone had written "SOON" in block letters on the windshield with what looks like lipstick. They were just about to call it in when I got there. I can't tell if anything else has been done but I had them call the bomb squad."
"Good idea." Quinn glanced at Ariel. The writer didn't need this! "Tell them to put in a call for Hank Walsh too. He ought to be here as well."
Vanessa nodded and left again. Kris watched from the other side of the desk as Quinn stepped back to her place. Her second in command and John knew they'd be informed when it was necessary. Right now their job was to concentrate on keeping Ariel safe. Damn it! Why couldn't he have just left her alone, this one time!
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