Part Three - Stable, unstable, and neutral equilibrium.
Rachel Jones lived in the penthouse of the Gates Building, which had been erected early in 2005 after the Big Wave had washed away Long Island and leveled Manhattan and most of New York City. The coast of Connecticut had been saved by the barricade of Long Island, although the coast was badly eroded. It was what made Grace's home prime beachfront realty. The Gates Building had been erected on the new coastline formed when New York went out with the tide. Rachel Jones had purchased her place while it was still being constructed and held onto it through masterful use of false identities and hidden treasures while she was locked away in York. She had been imprisoned there after being caught with, of all things, a few kilos of cocaine she had been driving through Connecticut for her long-since-fled boyfriend Fred. Luckily for her, the authorities did not know anything about her true crimes, like hacking into financial databases and helping herself to a few loans under assumed identities, primarily that of Bill Gates.
Doc had met her in the only place she could have over the past ten years: York penitentiary. Despite a propensity not to socialize with anyone, for she trusted no one, Doc had approached the chatty, curly-headed new fish one rainy afternoon in the mess hall, taking a seat across from the woman. Doc asked for the ketchup to conceal the greenish tinge to the beefy-looking object on her tray. Rachel had observed the tall, silent woman on several occasions throughout the first two weeks. A few of the friendlier women had answered her questions when she inquired about people, one of whom was Doc. She never would have believed the woman was only nineteen. She carried herself like a woman of thirty or older, knowledge etched deeply into the furrows of her brow. But she had the most incredible soft blue eyes that dazzled when she looked at you, which was not often.
Later that same day Rachel approached Doc while most of the population were either walking around the gravel track or playing basketball. Doc had chosen the track because lately fights had been breaking out on the court more often than usual from the heat.
Rachel fell into step next to Doc. "I hear you like to read," Rachel opened.
"I hear you deal coke."
"You hear wrong."
"My ears are good, my eyes are bad."
"The coke wasn't mine. It was a friend's," she explained.
"Sounds like you got fucked, then."
"I'll be out in three at the most," she said nonchalantly. "It'll give me time to appreciate what I had."
Doc stopped and for the first time in years smiled, although only a little grin. She began walking again. "If you don't deal dope, what do you do?"
"I'm a pirate of the cyberseas."
Doc smiled again. She pictured the woman in a childhood image, with a patch over her eye, red balloon pants, a striped shirt, and a red bandanna tied on her head, as she swung from a sail rope. "A hacker, huh?"
Now computers, that caught Doc's interest. She wanted to learn about programming, having read about some of the newer computer languages in a recent copy of Time magazine. "Do you know anything about TBD?"
"TBD is a dinosaur, dear. We're into IDNO."
Doc's blue eyes gleamed with youthful interest.
"I created the language." Then the buzzer sounded, and the inmates began to head for their afternoon work. "I'll be in quiet hall during free-time tonight," Rachel said, as the crowd enveloped them.
Rachel taught Doc as much as she could about computers and programming. They sat together every night for several months. During the visits together, Rachel tried not to notice the bruises Doc sported on her face and hands. She knew that Doc had been fighting off Melanie Gundy and her pals on a regular basis lately. She was never sure how successful Doc was, but the kid kept coming back for lessons night after night, no matter what happened. Her intelligence was as astounding as her desire to learn, and the hacker's heart ached with the knowledge that the young murderer was racking up the years with each new body she sent to the morgue during the brutal struggles for her own dignity over the years. Doc would never get out at this pace, even if she lived to be a hundred years old.
Then one night Doc did not show up at quiet hall. When Rachel inquired before lights-out, she was told that Doc had been severely injured during an attack by Melanie Gundy and her evil sister, Ruel. She had been found unconscious on the floor of the shower room with six stab wounds and a broken jaw. They had Life-Starred her to Yale. No one expected her to return. Melanie Gundy's neck had been broken, and her sister had drowned in the toilet.
Sixteen months later Doc re-emerged at dinner mess, a lot thinner, pale, and as quiet as ever. While the crowd murmured in disbelief, the tall, raven-crowned woman sought out the seat next to Rachel and asked for the ketchup to cover the blue tinge to her turkey. "Are you going to be in quiet hall tonight?" she asked softly.
"Yes," Rachel answered, tears filling her eyes. She wanted to throw her arms around her and hug her.
"Good. So will I," Doc stated and offered no more.
Of course, Doc did not relate this story to her new companion. All she told her was that Rachel Jones had helped her publish her work on the World Wide Web, set her up with her internet accounts, and taught her about computers, which was all true but not the whole story. But most importantly, Doc relayed that Rachel would likely help her hack into the DNA database of the FBI and erase her records from the files.
They phoned the hacker from the corner of New Park Avenue by the building entrance. Doc figured that she would be home. It was a Sunday, and she was probably watching the Jets and eating Doritos.
The doorman escorted them to the express elevator, tipping his hat as Dr. Wilson thanked him. Doc chewed her bottom lip as they zipped to the two-hundred-fortieth floor. As the door flung open, Doc looked into the waiting smile of her teacher.
"As I live and sneeze, I never thought I would see your lovely face again," Rachel said, blowing out a stream of cigarette smoke.
Grace was surprised to see a woman shorter than herself, a little heavier, with long, reddish-blonde, curly hair, wearing the ugliest brown plaid bathrobe and carrying a huge glass mug of clear liquid in one hand and a stubby cigarette in the other.
Doc stepped out onto the shag-carpeted landing, nervousness radiating from every pore.
"Come on in," Rachel instructed, leading the way into her living room. The football game, covered by three separate camera crews, was playing on three large-screen televisions. The Jets were losing, as usual. Rachel sat on the suede sofa, tucking her bare feet under herself.
"See what I meant about television?" Doc said to Grace.
The hacker flipped down the sound on two of the televisions. "Sit, you two. There aren't any formalities here."
Grace sat on the other end of the couch. Rachel leaned toward her and offered her hand. "Rachel Jones."
"Grace Wilson," the doctor replied, taking her hand.
"Sit down, Doc, you're giving me the willies."
I'm making her nervous? Doc thought, and found a place in a tall, wing-backed chair.
"I never thought I would see you again," Rachel commented, placing her mug down and snuffing out her cigarette in a crystal ashtray.
"You know me and trouble." Doc wiped her damp palms on her pants.
Rachel touched her fingers to her lips and stared at the tall woman thoughtfully, then at the young blonde woman. "So what's going on?" she asked, suddenly serious.
"I need your help."
"Uh-huh." She lit another cigarette. "Well, I figured that much, but with what? New hardware? Software?"
Doc paused, unsure of how to ask her to commit a crime. "I need you to hack for me."
Rachel's brown eyes grew wide. "Are you shittin' me?" She looked over at the younger woman cautiously.
"You can trust her, Rach. I do." Doc bit the inside of her cheeks with her molars, nervously waiting for Rachel to accept Grace. Finally, Rachel sighed and rolled her eyes.
"And it's kind of a rush request."
Rachel laughed and walked over to her computer, her flannel robe and tie trailing unevenly across the floor. "Who are we hacking?"
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Rachel froze a moment, then continued on to her machine. She clapped her hands twice, and the thing surged to power with the ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead tune.
Dana looked at Grace with a raised eyebrow. Then she walked over to join the hacker, who was giving the computer voice commands to start up several programs and plug-ins. Rachel acknowledged her with a tired expression.
"What have you gotten yourself into this time, Doc?"
"The wrong place at the wrong time, I swear." They both looked back at the young doctor, who wanted to join them but was not sure if she should. Rachel waved her over. She came quickly, the excitement and fear of committing a crime giving her the jitters.
"Right person, I hope."
Dana looked at Rachel, confused. Rachel looked away, shaking her head. "I hope someday you'll understand," she said, "and get some," she mumbled to herself. "So, any specific damage to be done, or would you like to crash the whole damned Federal Net?"
"I want to remove something."
Rachel made a big show of yawning and stretching. Then she waited, silently, for instructions. She turned to the tall woman. "You need to be, oh, just a little bit more specific, okay?" she said in a sickly-sweet voice.
Doc stifled a half-smile.
Rachel suddenly looked at her funny.
"What?" Doc was becoming irritated.
"I never saw you almost-smile before is all."
"Humph," Doc replied.
"That's more the Doc I know. Now, what database are we altering?"
"The Genetic Catalogue."
Rachel spoke into her mouthpiece, running programs that would let her first access the Federal Domain, then piggy-back in on a user that was logging onto the FBI's subdomain. They had to wait twenty minutes before a user logged on. "Are we removing your chromosome map?" Rachel asked while they waited.
"Yes," Doc replied quietly. Grace gently touched her arm instinctively. The stroke did not go unnoticed by the hacker.
"I can think of two approaches. One, I insert a virus which will destroy the whole database, although they probably have a backup copy, or two, we wipe out the specific file or part of the file. But they will have that on backup too."
"Would you load a backup if you didn't know anything had been altered or removed?" Grace asked.
"No, but I would have to make sure that no trace evidence existed of the file. I would have to see how the information is organized, cross-referenced, and then coded to do that."
"Are we talking a couple of hours, or days?"
"Hours. I have a program that will track all the cross-references and the patterns of the coding. We'll have to figure out what the patterns refer to specifically."
"And if they've already identified the sample?" Grace asked.
"And we wipe it out now, they'll probably come back a few times, notice the record is gone, find the appropriate backup, and then start a huge investigation into how the data was lost," Rachel explained.
"Check and see if my record has been updated or accessed. There must be a history."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, back off, will ya?" Rachel said, shooing them away. "Go..." she searched for something lewd to say, "...eat something." Okay, that could be considered lewd.
Dana and Grace were sitting in a small Italian restaurant on the east side. Grace was munching on butter-drenched garlic bread from a red plastic basket.
"Your friend Rachel is nice."
Dana was spinning the Parmesan cheese shaker on the table while they waited for their food. She laughed to herself, not taking her eyes off the shaker. "She's been good to me."
"She seems to know you pretty well."
"No, she doesn't," Dana said curtly.
"I wonder why," Grace said just as acidulously.
Dana was tapping her black shoes on the floor.
"You seem nervous," Grace said, stuffing a piece of bread in her mouth. It melted, causing her to moan with pleasure. Dana raised her eyebrows unconsciously and smiled.
"Here, try this," Grace said, holding a piece out for her. Dana reached out, took the bread, and tasted it. She smiled at her acquaintance.
"What?" Dana asked her staring partner.
"Nothing. I never saw you almost-smile is all," she said, mimicking Rachel's Midwestern twang, badly. Dana smiled again.
"So, how come you don't have an accent?" Dana asked, helping herself to more bread.
"Oh, I cud if'n I wanted one, but I dunt," she said softly. "I worked a long time at getting rid of it," she said without moving her jaw, creating a clipped Yankee accent.
"I thought you were proud of your roots."
"I am, but people tend to treat a Southern woman differently up here."
"You're saying we're snobs?"
"But you're pretending to be one of us?"
"Did I say being a snob was bad?"
"I don't think it's any better than being a beautiful Southern belle. You should be proud of your roots, what's-his-name? James Wilson, the statesman. He must be on your father's side."
"Actually, both sides. I am from Kentucky, you know." She smiled. "My parents are very, very, very distant cousins. Kind of like the Roosevelts."
"What's so funny?"
"Have you ever wondered why the Roosevelts were so funny-looking? Well, there's your answer."
Grace's eyes narrowed.
"By the way, how many toes do you have?"
Grace became flustered. "Huh? Why...ten, of course."
"Just checking for the Founder Effect."
"Kiss my ass, you...big...mouth...fathead!" Grace could barely spit the words out, she was so furious.
Ooops, I think I hit a raw nerve, Dana thought to herself. "I'm only kidding." She tried to sound soothing but it came out patronizing.
"It's not funny," she said angrily.
Dana sat back and scratched her neck nervously. She was new at this conversation thing and obviously she lacked charm.
They ate in silence, Grace reeling over Dana's words.
Dana thought back to her early adolescence. She and the local boys would spend the day at the wharf fishing and trying to top the others' insults. It was obviously not something you did as an adult, she thought to herself as she split a meatball with her fork. The nervousness had crept back into their booth and sat clinging to Dana for the rest of the meal. Dana drank a few glasses of red wine to try to relax, but it did not help. When the two looked at each other, it was only for a second. After eating her food, Grace left for the ladies' room. Dana sat twirling her nearly empty wine glass in her hand and wondering if Grace would return.
When the waiter brought the check, Grace reached for it, but Dana was quicker and slid it to her side. "Mine," she said commandingly. She paid the bill in cash and left a tip of exactly fifteen percent. When they reached the Jeep, all Dana could think about was that once the DNA record was deleted, they should split from each other.
The Jeep shook as the two climbed in and slammed the doors. Grace reached to turn the engine over, then stopped and looked at her companion.
"You know, Beth used to do that all the time."
"Do what?" She did not want to hear about Beth.
"Try to make me feel bad about myself and put me down."
Dana looked at her friend, her mouth slightly agape. "I wasn't trying to hurt you, Grace. I was only teasing. You're the one who made the crack about being from Kentucky."
"Yeah, well, I was born with six toes on my right foot, and I'm still sensitive about it."
Dana leaned forward to look at the foot.
"Hey, it's gone now."
Dana sat upright. "What happened to it?"
"I had my brother chop it off with his Cub Scout ax when I was six."
Dana looked around, fighting the temptation to laugh. "I'm not Beth, Grace, and if I had known that I was really hurting you, I wouldn't have said anything. I have no intention of trying to belittle you, and knowing I did that makes me feel even more inferior, not superior."
"Even more inferior?" Grace asked as she slipped her glasses on her face.
"You and I aren't exactly of the same social class."
"We're Americans--there is no social class."
"Yes, there is."
Grace opened her mouth to argue, but Dana stopped her. "You are an educated, kind-hearted doctor, from a strong Southern family dedicated to education and community service. I'm a dead-immigrant-fisherman's daughter, with no mother, no family history, a non-educated, ex-con, murdering loner whose only excuse for being with you right now has to do with the fact that I'm trying to avoid becoming a suspect in a brutal murder case. Hell, we wouldn't have even met if you hadn't tried to stop a brawl, my being a main participant in it. And that, my dear, is why you are high-class and I am pond scum. Now, let's go and see if Rachel has managed to save my worthless hide."
Grace was shocked by Dana's self-appraisal and refused to move. "Do you really think that about yourself?"
When Dana looked at her, the pale blue eyes seemed distant and dark. "Just drive," she said coldly. Yeah, she believed that about herself.
"How's it going, Rach?" Dana yelled as they re-entered the penthouse.
Rachel made a big display of yawning as she lay stretched across the couch.
"I was done an hour ago." Dana sat across from her on the cocktail table. Grace stood behind a chair, using it for support.
"Sew buttons on tissue paper. What the hell do you think I mean?"
"Oh, right. I couldn't remove your mapping because they had several cross-referencing ID numbers, and removing either from the file would create serial gaps unless I renumbered them manually, and I couldn't possibly renumber the entire catalog of thirteen million records, twice."
Dana blew out a defeated sigh.
"Has her file been accessed recently?" Grace asked.
"Last access for query by identification number was August 23, 2016. So nothing within the past month."
"They haven't had the sample that long," Grace relayed.
"So what I did was switch the data from your map with someone else's."
Dana shook her head. "I don't want somebody else to be blamed."
"Not even Ruel Gundy?"
"She's dead, Rach. And the Feds aren't stupid."
"Yes, they are," Rachel said flippantly. "They haven't caught me yet, and I'm living across from the Federal Building."
Dana walked away from her, her problem suddenly magnified exponentially. She tried to think of all the possible courses of action that the authorities would follow when they discovered that Ruel's DNA was the DNA on the bloody gray T-shirt. "They're going to see that the files were altered."
"No, they won't. I can control the alteration date," Rachel said smartly. "Besides, how do you know Gundy is really dead?" she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
"I know," Dana stated coldly. Grace caught her eyes for a moment, but the pale blue ones looked away in guilt. "Switch them back."
"No!" Rachel said defiantly. Doc glared at her, gritting her teeth, working her jaw, and clenching her fists. The color drained from Rachel's face.
"Can you think of another solution, Dana?" Grace asked from behind the chair.
Dana did not answer and continued her intimidation of the hacker.
"Then I don't see how letting a dead woman's DNA stand for yours is a problem."
Dana finally turned to the doctor. "No? What if someone finds Ruel Gundy's DNA in an unsolved case and it's linked to me? Or here's one: what if I'm picked up and identified by my DNA as Ruel Gundy, serial child-torturer?
"But you know what? That's not going to happen. What's more likely to go down is as soon as they think a dead woman has murdered another woman, they'll verify the data by using the backups. Then they'll know for sure that the database has been tampered with. I'll be charged with murder and the federal offense of tampering with their computer."
"There won't be a backup," Rachel muttered.
Dana spun to look at her.
"I put a virus in the loading program. Unless they're smart enough to use an entirely separate network to run the application on, they'll end up with corrupted files of pure nonsense."
Dana rubbed her temples and began to pace. "Great! Now you have the Feds believing that a dead woman, my DNA though, is running around killing people on the eastern coast of the United States. But, no, they're not going to believe that, not until they exhume the body of Ruel Gundy from York Cemetery. Then they'll run more DNA tests and find out that that's not Ruel Gundy's DNA. Whose is it? they'll ask. They'll interview the York prison officials and cons, who will testify that Dana Papadopolis was the convict who killed Ruel Gundy, her sister, and a prison guard. And they'll have a lead on who switched the DNA in the database that crashes whenever they try to access archived files. It'll be two months later, the real killer will still be out there, and I'll be the prime suspect." Worked up into a tizzy, she turned back to Rachel. "Bright move, genius."
"I'll switch it back," Rachel said, clamoring over to the computer. With a clap-clap, her machine was up and running.
Doc paced the room, chewing on her lip as they waited.
"Shit!" she heard Rachel say. "The program is being queried."
Doc ran over to the work station. "Have they hit anything?"
"No, still searching."
"Put a bug in it, crash the search, time it out."
"We don't know if it's a related query."
"I can't take the chance. Time it out so they'll come back later. We need time."
When Rachel did not move quickly enough, Doc grabbed the keyboard and pressed a series of buttons to override the voice commands. She began to type furiously. "Come on, come on, you stupid fucking machine."
Grace looked on in shock at the scene. The hacker was so angry she was turning purple.
"Who the fuck do you think you are, Doc, coming in here and taking over my controls?"
"Shut up," Doc said with a note of finality. She watched as the query tracking stalled and then timed out in error.
"There was no time-out on that program."
"There is now," Doc said wryly. "How did you cover the alteration date?" She pinned Rachel with her eyes over the small frames of her spectacles.
Rachel refused to reveal her secret.
"Come on, work with me. I have an idea, but only you can make it work."
Rachel still bristled, but Dana's sudden charm was working.
"They're querying again."
"I slowed their search rate by three trillion seconds. They'll time out in ten seconds," Dana said, looking to Rachel to acquiesce. "Please."
"What do you want to do?" she said, taking the keyboard back from Doc. Sure enough, the query timed out again.
Doc climbed up off her knees, away from the computer table that the keyboard rested on while she worked. "I want to alter the DNA map."
"Alter the map?" Grace asked, finally feeling it was safe to assert herself. "You have to understand the chromosomes to do that."
"Yeah." Rachel and Doc both responded at the same time, knowingly.
"Is there anything you two don't know how to do?"
"I can think of something Doc doesn't know," Rachel said, wiggling her eyebrows.
Doc looked at her in surprise.
"What's that?" Grace asked.
Rachel smirked. "Never, ever take a hacker's controls from her without asking."
"I know that," Doc muttered. "It won't happen again, I promise."
That seemed to placate Rachel. "So what chromosome would we like to mutate today?" she asked as she cracked her knuckles.
"We should probably change three or four."
"Nothing too obvious, Rach."
Doc actually laughed.
Doc nodded and looked at Grace. "I've always wanted twelve toes."
Grace covered her mouth with her hand while she laughed. "Give her an overbite too."
"Hey!" Dana said, returning from a bookshelf with a huge, green, hardbound textbook. "This is the Merck Gene Index Manual. It was published in 2002, depicting where each gene resides in the 23 pairs of human chromosomes and what each attribute looks like chemically. Specifically, the length and order of the nucleic acids in codon form, and the order of the codons in the chain. I figured we could use this to decipher the numeric program that stores my sequences."
Grace had never used the Merck Index but had heard of it. It had been used in more important purposes such as describing the genes for genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis or Huntington's Disease. That was why Dana had originally discovered the book, to find out how she could use nano technology to repair the mutated DNA and cure the diseases on the genetic level. The book held so many possibilities, unpursued possibilities.
"Okay, kids, we know the attributes. Now let's find the right chromes and swap a few nucleotides, shall we." She opened to the index and looked up skeletal structure to find the appropriate chromosomes in which those genes resided. Meanwhile, the techs on the other end had given up trying to query.
The three women spent the next three hours deciphering how the chromosomes were coded in the application's numerical language. This was primarily Rachel's job. She succeeded by matching the language to the output. She chose a section of code and translated it using the application's own retrieval system to view it as the texts would eventually be translated into a video image on the fourth tier. That way she could derive the characters that stood for bonds and the different nucleotides, and the codes for numbering the chromosomes. When she had her Rosetta Stone, she opened up Doc's file. One by one, they located the chromosomes they wanted to manipulate.
"So this is the real you?" Grace whispered and nudged her arm.
Dana smiled at her. "Stop there, Rach! Take that code out and replace it with the code for two guanine, guanine, cytosine. Take that whole line out!" Dana kept Rachel busy cutting and pasting code. "Good. Now you can delete this whole section." She pointed to the screen. "Put a stop right there." They worked that way for several more hours, altering Dana's genetic makeup.
"No, take that out," Dana said after Grace instructed her on a chromosome she was recoding.
"Because you just gave me three buttocks. You two need to be a little more careful with the Copy command."
"Oh, wow," Rachel said, looking at the code.
"Yeah," Dana chuckled, "a few too many thyamines in there."
Dana was growing tired as they reached the last chromosome they wanted to alter. She and Grace argued about swapping a cytosine with an adenine. Dana agreed after Grace used the text to point out her erroneous choice.
"Looks like you picked a smart one," Rachel said. And brave too, she thought.
They altered all the genes that affected the number of toes, and buck teeth, and, oh, yeah, potential breast size, which actually amounted to several genes for each attribute, to make it appear human, in case someone with genetics knowledge ever looked at it closely. Rachel saved the file and covered the alteration date with the original input date.
"This reminds me of 'Weird Science,'" Rachel said, taking a swig of clear liquid.
Grace giggled. "I loved that movie."
"Me too," Rachel said, laughing.
"What's that?" Dana asked.
"'Well, it ain't no whale's dick, honey,'" she said and began to laugh with Grace.
Doc watched the two passing movie quotes and laughing hysterically. She had never seen the movie and would have felt left out if the two had not looked so ridiculous as they rolled around the living room, contorted with laughter.
"Rachel, do you mind if I remove the time-out program?"
"I'll do it," Rachel said, rolling to her feet and trying to stop laughing while she wiped tears from her eyes.
Grace was still giggling.
"What did you call it?"
"I swear, you have no imagination," Rachel said. She found the electronic file and removed it, trying to leave no electronic footprints. "I guess I should take out the backup virus?"
"No, leave that in for now, just in case they try to load it after today's problems querying."
"They should know it's the query software and not the database."
"You're assuming they know the difference. Leave it in."
Grace and Rachel decided to spend the evening drinking the clear liquid house beverage and watching "Weird Science," which they had digitally downloaded from the great satellite movie store in the heavens to the television's computer.
Dana was thumbing through the Merck Index for mistakes they might have made, trying not to notice the two women becoming drunker as they sipped and giggled. They were close together on the couch, and Grace was doing that touchy-feely thing Doc had noticed that night at Sully's when she went to hear the blues band. This time, though, she did not find herself admiring the easiness that Grace had with others, especially the older woman. She tried to concentrate on the book in front of her but could not keep her attention from the two women. Some feeling was swelling inside of her that she did not recognize. She looked up from the mapping of a defective gene that caused the disease Cystic Fibrosis when she finally realized that the laughing noises had ceased. She gasped at the scene. Rachel had her hand wrapped in Grace's long hair, and they were staring into each other's eyes. She watched as Rachel slowly leaned in and kissed Grace on the lips. And then she began to eat her face--that's what it looked like to Doc.
Doc stood abruptly, suddenly overwhelmed with embarrassment and anger all at once. She must have made a racket, although she could not tell; her head was thumping with the pounding of blood through her veins. Both women broke from the embrace and stared at her.
"Jumpin' Jack Flash, Doc, what's the matter?" Rachel asked, a little woozy from the moonshine.
"I'm going to get some fresh air," she said, her palms sweating.
Rachel approached Doc, her robe halfway down her back. "Is this okay with you?" she asked quietly.
"Sure. Why wouldn't it be?" she answered curtly.
"Because you look upset." She surveyed Doc's strong features. She spoke quietly so that Grace could not hear her, but, being drunk, she was too loud. "I figured, you know, you weren't interested in relationships."
Doc was growing warmer. Grace looked on in astonishment as the dark-haired woman blushed.
"I had no idea you liked women," Doc said. "You never showed any interest in York."
"Yeah, like I would want any of those women," Rachel said. She shivered in disgust. "You were the only good-looking one in the bunch, and you weren't exactly approachable."
Doc's face took on its customary hard lines. "Don't say another word."
"I can understand if being around us makes you uncomfortable," Grace said.
Doc's blue eyes were dull. "I'll give you two some privacy," she said, grabbing her sweatshirt from the couch and bustling to the elevator. Rachel and Grace looked at each other in surprise at the fluster. "Come on, you fucking elevator," Dana cursed as she waited for the doors to open. Grace and Rachel followed her. "Come on!" she screamed as the doors hissed and moaned while they opened.
After Dana had disappeared, Rachel turned to Grace and smiled widely. "Doc likes you."
Grace nodded back, astonished by the discovery.
Rachel took her hand and led her back to the kitchen. She let go once they were inside. "Let's make some popcorn and then watch Monty Python, shall we?" Grace nodded but looked back toward the elevator.
Rachel poured kernels into the air popper. "Do you know what's funny about this whole situation?"
"What?" Grace melted a stick of butter in the microwave.
"Doc has no idea what she's feeling. I could see it in her face. She was so jealous because I was kissing you and she wanted to."
"You talk about her as if she were a kid."
"Gracie, I don't think Doc's ever been with anyone, by choice."
"She had some really bad stuff happen to her in York. For years, from what I could tell when I was there. That kind of experience doesn't disappear once you're released. She keeps her distance physically and emotionally."
"She mentioned that she had intimacy issues."
"Issues? She has an encyclopedia." Rachel took a moment to formulate the next unselfish statement. "If she's interested in you and you are in her, I don't want to get in between you. Well, I would consider it, if you asked," she added naughtily.
"You like her that much?" Grace asked.
"Yeah, I do. Even though she could crush my windpipe with her pinky finger."
"You know her a lot better than I. How should I approach her?"
"Never from behind. Seriously, I have no idea. If you want to fall in love with her, you're on your own. That's uncharted territory."
"She's really smart."
"Kind of honorable."
"In a completely criminal sort of way."
"Are we talking about the same person?"
"And really, really beautiful."
Rachel smiled. "I bet she went to G'Williker's for a drink."
"Two blocks north," Rachel said, grabbing the bowl of popcorn and dousing it in butter.
"How do you know she went there?"
"It's the only bar she knows within walking distance."
"Do you think I should...."
"Go? Yes, I do." Rachel walked over to the couch with her bowl of popcorn, snatched up the remote, and began to channel-surf. Grace grabbed her car keys and her fleece coat and boarded the elevator long before Rachel had settled on the Cartoon Network.
Grace had to look around the seedy bar twice before she located the lone, dark figure in the far corner. Her feet cracked the peanut shells on the floor as she walked to the table, the knot she called a stomach tightening with each step. Dana had watched her the whole way and knew she was there long before Grace saw her.
"Are you still angry?"
"Angry?" Dana asked. "I was never angry."
Maybe Rachel was wrong. "Did we weird you out up there?"
"No. I've seen it before." Dana was staring at the clear golden brew in her Pilsner glass, a nice white froth clinging to the sides.
Grace sighed. Here goes, straight forward is the best way, never from behind. "Have you ever...uh...."
Dana's head snapped up at the attempted question. Her eyes dropped again. "No, not really."
Grace slipped into the seat across from her. "Would you like to?"
"I'm not comfortable being close to people, Grace," she mumbled, unable to look up.
"I would really like to help you with that, if you let me, if you want me. Rachel seems to think you do."
"Rachel?" Dana laughed. "Rachel thinks she knows how I feel?"
"And what do you know about your feelings?"
"I don't have feelings."
"Yes, you do. Look at me!" She waited until Dana did. "I think you like me and you were jealous that Rachel kissed me because you want to do it yourself."
"My, you are full of yourself, Dr. Wilson." She finished her beer in one long swallow.
"Tell me to my face that you aren't attracted to me."
Dana looked into her gentle, sweet face, the light making her green eyes a dark, hungry hazel. She opened her mouth to speak, then snapped it shut.
"Let's go home, where we can talk about this," Grace recommended, extending her hand to the speechless woman. After a moment's hesitation, Dana allowed herself to be led out of the bar by the hand, unconscious of the eyes that followed.
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