Like any other predator, Kendra lies in wait. Her prey is not there, but he will be, sooner or later. She need merely have patience. Only her prey matters to her — her prey and her own objectives. Others may interfere, but they will not distract her from her purpose. In the meantime, she can research, she can survey, she can plan. She has done this before; she can do it again. Not for her the slow processes of civilization. She prefers the direct approach. It is much faster, much more certain. It suits her better.
She sees what directly matters to her, although she is not the most observant. Others do not matter. Anyone who gets in the way of her efforts will be dealt with, but in no particular fashion, merely in some way, whatever convenient way, as to ensure that their interference is unsuccessful. Her own desires matter. Other people’s … don’t. Other people … don’t. She alone has true existence, in her own mind.
She is directed. She is determined. She will have to see where she can achieve her objective, some place where her prey can be found. If not now, then some later time. How? That will have to wait for where. And when. She will plan.
She does not hate. Hatred is for those who care. Hatred is for those who are weak, and who care out of their weakness. She is strong. She despises those who are weak. Her prey cares. Her prey is weak. When the time is right, she will seize the moment. Then her prey will no longer be a problem. And she can move on. She can do this. She has done this before. She can do it again. She will do it again. Soon.
One year ago:
The remains of an early pizza supper lay on plates precariously set on end tables. The two ever-hopeful dogs, Sasha and Bruno, lay where they could watch for any hand that might offer bits of crust. Amy was getting into the trip she and Alec had just returned from. “I suppose you’re now really wondering just what in the hell we were doing in Golondrino.”
Calmly, suppressing her intense curiosity with long practice, Becky responded, “Well, yes, the question had occurred to me.”
Amy pulled a package from her suitcase and handed it to Becky. “This is for everything you do, have done for us, and, I hope, will continue to do.”
Underneath the wrapping paper was a box that Becky recognized. She gasped. “Amy, you shouldn’t have!” Opening the box, Becky found one of the most elegant and incredible necklaces she had ever seen. She loved it on sight and, coming from that store, knew it had to have been impossibly expensive. After a lengthy pause, she gently closed the box and looked up. “All right, Amy, give. What bank did you rob? What is the ‘special news’ you have for me? And generally speaking, what in the hell is going on?”
“Well, first,” Amy said, holding up her left hand, “as you’ve probably figured out by now, Alec and I got married. I’m sorry we did it without you, but it was a Las Vegas quickie because he wasn’t going to take any chances about losing me again. Talked me right into it, the old smoothie. We’ll do it again, a little more formally, when the rings they” — she gestured at the box — “are doing for us arrive, and you and they” — her glance included Bruno and Sasha — “will be included. Included, hell. You three will be it. Beyond that” — she dug in her suitcase again — “look at this.”
Amy handed over an envelope. The announcement inside simply read, ‘The Republic of Golondrino is pleased to announce the retirement of Chief Executive Officer Raymond Escarton Fields …’ Becky read the last out loud, the volume and pitch of her voice both rising. “His designated successor, A.M. Youngston???”
She looked at Amy, who simply sat there silent. Then at Alec, who was nodding slowly. She was all but speechless. “Oh, my God.”
I first began keeping sort of a journal, in novel form, at Becky’s suggestion, almost a year and a half ago. Becky — Dr. Rebecca Swan — is my best friend, fourth cousin and a psychologist. Journaling is her answer to almost everything (chili is mine) and I finally gave in, although I’ve never told her. I’ve been keeping it up sporadically ever since, but I really should try to do it more religiously. I still have problems putting my innermost thoughts down on a computer screen, but at least if I do it in novel form, I can sort of pretend that it’s not really me. It worked for me when I started, but then I pretty much let it go for a while. I need to try again, so once more, here goes. And if I can’t do it this time — Becky, I’ll get even with you. Somehow. I promise.
Becky has a new boyfriend. Alec and I haven’t met him yet, but according to Becky, he’s a psychiatrist from Phoenix that she met at some psychological conference. A nice fellow, fairly good-looking, she tells me, even if he’s not as well-built as Alec. I was going to have the Family look into him, because as I said, she’s my best friend and has been for all our lives, but as soon as his name came up in her Family surveillance file, a link to his file came up as well. He was Family, too, and neither of them knew about the other. This could be … interesting. I noted in passing from his photographs that her description of him was fairly accurate. Hair a bit darker brown than Alec’s, about the same height, but judging from his pictures, not as muscular or good looking. Not bad, overall, as these things go. Not to my taste, but that’s not my problem. Anyway, I’m prejudiced where Alec’s concerned.
I was sitting in my office at the time, waiting to see what sort of case came in the door next, killing some time. Marketing is something I certainly can do, but it’s not something I really enjoy doing. The excuse to take a day off was appealing. I have to admit that I’d never really gone over Becky’s file in any depth before, mostly because I already knew pretty much everything in it and in fact knew her far better than the surveillance office did. We’ve been best friends ever since we were able to walk, maybe before. Well, before she could, anyway. She’s a couple of years younger than I am.
There’s a tease for at least a hint of background. She really is my very best friend — well, other than my other very best friend, my husband, Alec Trevethen. She and I are quite opposite. She’s several inches taller than I, and at least on weekdays when she’s working, she’s very elegant, always immaculately coiffed, made up and dressed to the nines. She can be quite the fashion queen, in addition to being a makeup queen.
As I’ve said on other occasions, she knows the difference between ecru and taupe. I know beige when I see it. We’re both in jeans and t-shirts when we’re just hanging out, of course, but that’s different. I’m in jeans and t-shirts virtually all the time, trying to be ready to fade into the woodwork. Well, adobe or stucco around here, I guess. Tucson isn’t all that big on woodwork. She’s built like the proverbial brick — well, she’s still got an incredible figure, even now that we’re in our mid-thirties. I — have a figure. Barely.
That’s fine with both of us, we’re not competing. Anyway, we were raised so close that we pretty much had four parents together, rather than each of us only having our own two. My parents held me back so that I only started school a year before her, but she took all the classes she could possibly manage and we graduated from high school at the same time. We then roomed together all through college before splitting up for grad school and her psych internship. Really the very best of friends, much closer than mere sisters or even most twins.
I doubted that she’d mentioned me to him. For sure, if she had and she’d done as I’d asked her to, she’d mentioned me as Amy Trevethen, not as either A.M. Youngston, which, being Family, he’d recognize immediately as the Family CEO, or as Alannah Meav Youngston, which he might conceivably figure out. If he had figured it out, he’d likely already have given himself away to her trained observation. That’s if she even remembered ‘Alannah Meav.’ I generally try not to (but Alannah was my beloved grandmother’s name, which is why I keep it). She’d certainly never brought him around here. Of course, given the tiny mid-town house Alec and I live in at the moment, seeing it might have kept him from believing who I am anyway.
The house is on the one hand very well-placed, because it’s directly behind my office, and on the other, it’s now pretty temporary for us. We’re in the process of acquiring some serious property out on the west edge of town, overlooking Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park West, to build our dream house. But that’s taking time, and we can certainly manage where we are while we get exactly what we want.
I’ve lived here for years, and before Alec and I got married about a year ago and he moved in with me, he lived just a couple of doors down and his office was next door to mine. Anyway, the dogs are used to it. It’s just the four of us right now, and while Becky’s certainly spent more than her share of time here, she hasn’t been around quite as much lately. Understandable. Another point is that if Alec and I have children — it’s still an open question — they really should wait until we’re in the new house. Better not be too much longer, my biological clock is ticking.
It’s not much of a surprise, as these things go, that she hadn’t mentioned me to him. Other than as her very best friend, outside of the Family, I’m just another woman. Understand that the Family is very private. You could even call it secretive. Oh, hell, it is secretive. Very. As a Family member, you do not speak of it to outsiders.
You may open up about it to your spouse, if you choose (some members don’t), and there’s certainly no way to enforce the secrecy if you choose to shout it from the rooftops. If you did, though, I’d be quite upset with you, and you do not want me to be upset with you, since I’m currently the big boss of the Family. Well, no, that isn’t the official title. Officially the title is CEO, or in some circles, Director. But every so often, I just like being the ‘big boss’ of something.
Anyway, at last count, there are eleven thousand, four hundred and twenty-nine living Family members. We’re currently seeing an uptick in the number of families with multiple children; we used to have more single children. That’s good for the Family, I think. Being the CEO gives me access to these numbers, of course.
Of those, seven thousand, give or take, are currently in relationships. Forty-eight of those are gay relationships, and nine of those are between two Family members. Seven of those nine are between two Family members where neither of them knows the other is Family. Of the heterosexual relationships, ninety-seven involve two (or more) Family members. All but four are not less than tenth cousins; this isn’t an incestuous sort of thing. The heterosexual relationships are mostly pairs, but there are a couple of triads — three with two women and one man, one the other way around. Of the other ninety-three, twenty-three of those don’t know that each other is Family. The triads all know, and all four of them have at least two Family members. One is all Family. Now you have more facts than you probably ever cared to know. However, there’s more (isn’t there always?).
Let me explain the Family briefly. We’re a very old and very wealthy Family, far older and wealthier than any family you can probably name, such as the Rockefellers or Astors, or even the Rothschilds. We actually date back to a boy who grew up in the London slums in the late 1400'’s, apprenticed himself to a merchant and learned -- very well — how to make his fortune. He originally conceived of the concept of the Family and set it all in motion.
The Family was organized as a corporation through the efforts of his oldest son (it’s one of the oldest corporations in existence), and it’s headquartered in a teeny-tiny country in Europe that’s so small that you won’t find it on a map. The Family pays for all of its members’ education, and completing educational levels, getting professional licenses and certifications and earning positive income, other than Family dividends, earns you more shares or fractional shares, beyond the ones you’re given at birth (this ability to differentially reward members for success seems to have been the primary reason for organizing the Family as a corporation instead of, say, a trust).
I do mean all education. I just had one request come across my desk last week for a Family member who wanted to get an educational course paid for, and the request struck somebody as so unusual it was booted up to me for my approval. The member is 87 years old, and the course he was trying to take was a nude photography class at his local art center. He’d been a dentist until he retired. I just chuckled; his file showed that he’d been cutting quite a swath through the ladies until about five years ago, although he’d been slowing down for about a decade. Not a fidelity issue, as he’d been a life-long bachelor. I told my secretary to send the request back downstairs and tell them to pay it. Nude photography!
Back to what I was saying. Doing better than average, like graduating with honors or making more income, gets you a greater number of additional shares.
The Family is headed by a board of directors and one Chief Executive Officer, or CEO. At the moment, that’s me. I’ve been CEO for just over a year now, having taken over from a fellow who decided to retire after about fifteen years at the helm. As I said, my full legal name is Alannah Meav Youngston, although as the CEO, as well as for most of my life, I officially go by A.M. Youngston, and there is no public notice within the Family of me, the CEO, as female, at least not so far.
In addition to my duties as CEO, I’m also a private investigator here in Tucson. I’m known as Amy to my friends, and I took that name from my initials about the time I started kindergarten because I didn’t want to be called Alannah or Meav. Nowadays, though, if anyone calls the office and gets me, unless I already know who they are, I’m Amy Trevethen (Alec and I were married days before I assumed the office of CEO, and we just celebrated our anniversary about a month ago), and A.M. Youngston is not available. No, I can’t take a message for you, because I handle all incoming cases. What is your issue, sir (or ma’am)? If it’s needed, and it usually is on the rare occasion that they ask for me by name, then yes, I’m Family, too. Go ahead, please.
So as I said, Becky had a new boyfriend. Going back to his file, it didn’t have a lot in it. Presumably he hadn’t been of all that much interest to the surveillance office. No surprise, as most Family surveillance of members is sort of hit-and-miss and generally not horribly detailed beyond whether one’s spouse knows of the Family, unless special attention is requested, usually from my office.
Anyway, he’d gone to a very expensive and very well-respected private New England boarding school (Boston Latin), then Princeton undergraduate, Johns Hopkins for medical school, Mass General for his internship and residency, then a fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health. Well, since all tuition and fees are paid by the Family, there was certainly no reason to scrimp anywhere along there, and clearly he hadn’t.
Excellent grades (of course), very good evaluations, and all that sort of thing. A rising star, in other words. Until — the record wasn’t completely clear on this point — he apparently wrote a couple of articles that caused a major stir and then it developed that his data never quite existed.
Well, no, not necessarily. Apparently the surveillance department had felt this needed a closer look, because the level of detail stepped up somewhat. There seemed to be a bit of a dispute there. A few people claimed that the data had been fabricated. He produced his original notes and data, but the problem was that nobody else could replicate his results.
The final consensus, apparently, was that he had rushed to publish with aberrant data when he should have gathered more, repeated his research and would then have found that he couldn’t duplicate his results. In general, it was chalked up to ‘youthful enthusiasm,’ but it threatened to kill his academic career. So rather than fighting any more, Robert J. Frankton suddenly relocated to Phoenix and opened a private practice as R. Jon Frankton.
Interesting, to say the least. He’s about two years older than I am, so he’s got almost four years on Becky. No biggie; with us in our mid-30’s now, what’s another couple of years?
He and his current wife had met about three years ago and dated for pretty much a year before they were married. Hm. A divorce after two years of marriage? Would this mean trouble ahead for Becky? As far as I could tell from his file, he’d apparently not had any involvement with anyone for close to two years when he and his wife first got together, so he was probably easy pickings for her if she were on the prowl. Let’s table that for later.
The upside, for me, was that Becky wasn’t casting these wistful looks at Alec and me when she thought I wasn’t looking. Not that I was worried about her there. I’ve known for some time that she was sort of interested in him. She’d let it slip — well, I don’t think her mother would have noticed, and certainly nobody else would have. But as I’ve said, we’re awfully close. It was a couple of months before Alec and I got married, when I was still holding him at arm’s length physically. When I called her on it was one of the only times I’d seen her blush since college, if not before. But she’d never do anything about it.
Besides, dammit, she deserved to have a really good relationship with someone. If he was as good a guy as she believed, then I was thrilled for her. If he clearly was not, then it would probably fall to me to try to derail it, which I didn’t look forward to, not one bit. There wasn’t any need to come to a decision right now. I’ll worry about it if it becomes necessary.
I had just closed his file when the phone rang. I was getting ready to go through my routine when I recognized the name the caller gave on my machine. It was an attorney up in Scottsdale whom I’d completed a job for at the specific request of his client, a Family member, also about a year ago (it was quite a busy time). For him, when I picked up the phone, I answered as Amy Trevethen, and since he seemed just a tad nonplused, I told him I’d gotten married since I dropped off my card and the pictures I’d taken for his client (he himself isn’t Family).
He had a job I could do for him here in Tucson, could he send me a copy of the file? I had no reason to avoid a trip up there, and one or two things I could certainly get if I were in Phoenix, so I told him I’d be willing to come to Scottsdale to see him and pick up the relevant file, if that would work for him? We settled on a time for the very next day. Good enough; he had struck me as a decent attorney and a potential additional source of work, so it was nice to see that happening. I didn’t have anything on my plate for tomorrow, and there really were a couple of items I needed to pick up there, so why not?
Boy, it never rains but it pours. This was one of those times when I knew far too much and didn’t dare say a word about what I knew, much less how I knew it. This attorney is a very good divorce lawyer. As I found out while sitting in his office, in this particular case, it seems that his client’s to-be ex-husband was, putting it delicately, fooling around, and had, so far as his client could determine, a woman on the side.
Well, yeah, he did and I knew it, all too well. The problem was that this woman, this client of his, was Kendra Frankton, the wife of Becky’s new boyfriend, and the ‘woman on the side’ just happened to be my very best friend. Of course, since virtually all of my information on this was strictly Family-related and, as largely the product of Family surveillance, it was all quite confidential even within the Family. Outsiders and even other Family members were absolutely not privy to it.
I mean, Becky had told me all about him, but only by his first name. Well, his middle name, but that’s what he goes by these days. The only reason I knew his full name at all was because of their Family surveillance files. Therein lay my dilemma. I couldn’t say a word to this attorney about it. I couldn’t sit there and turn down the case, because — since he hadn’t given me Becky’s name (I don’t think he had it yet), just some oblique references — I figured that I had no way I could explain to say how I knew who he was talking about.
Add to that the fact that as the subject of an investigation, I couldn’t breathe a word to Becky about it, either. Well, I suppose I could have, but since I’d never actually met the man in question, I felt more comfortable doing it this way. ‘Comfortable’ is a relative concept here, of course.
This is not a pleasant position to be in, as it were, between a rock and a hard place, and having to derail her new relationship, which was starting to look more and more necessary to me, didn’t exactly make it any more pleasant to consider. Driving home from Phoenix was not the most enjoyable time I’ve ever spent in the car. I was also regretting not having Alec along to talk to about it on the way home, but he’d stayed back in Tucson with the dogs for the day because he had work to do. I needed to bounce this information off him as soon as possible.
It got worse the very next day. Alec and I had talked some about the situation that night, and we were discussing the problem further in my office — he usually uses the study in our house as his office, since he no longer practices law, except for me and the Family as his sole client — when the phone rang once again. We both listened as the machine picked up. “Ms. Trevethen? This is Family member Jon Frankton. I’m a psychiatrist in Scottsdale, and I have need of your services. The Family business office told me to ask for you rather than Mr. Youngston; I hope that is correct. When may I come to see you?”
Oh, shit. I picked up the phone. “Dr. Frankton? This is Amy Trevethen. Before you go any further, I need to warn you that if this is in connection with obtaining a divorce from your wife, I’m currently unable to take your case.” I’d tell him I had a conflict of interest if he needed me to, but I hoped he’d figure that out without being told explicitly.
It seemed to rock him back for a moment. I could almost hear the wheels turning as he considered various reasons why I might not be able to take it. I didn’t think he’d like any of the alternatives he came up with. Oh, hell, I didn’t, either, really. I mean, if Becky was as crazy about him as she seemed to be, then we were likely to wind up getting to know him a lot better in the not-too-distant future anyway, and this wasn’t a good way to begin the acquaintance. Downright lousy, in fact.
Frankly, given a choice, I’d far rather be working for him than his wife, but her attorney got to me first. Presuming I’d choose to be working for either one of them, given Becky’s involvement in the situation. We exchanged a few pleasantries — ‘Yes, A.M. Youngston is the same A.M. Youngston who is the Family CEO. No, A.M. Youngston is not available and does not return calls. Yes, emails and letters will always get replies. Thank you very much, doctor. I’m really very sorry I couldn’t be more help to you at this time, doctor.’ That sort of thing — and then he hung up. Reluctantly.
I simply looked at Alec. “So now what do I do?”
Okay, so Becky had found this fabulous fellow and she was crazy about him. Totally crazy, in my untutored opinion. He certainly seemed like a nice enough fellow over the phone, judging by the one brief conversation. Either he had charmed his way out of a really bad situation that he’d gotten himself into, and having spoken to him even briefly I thought I could see how he might have done that, or he really had just made a ‘youthful error.’ I don’t know which, and it really isn’t my issue anyway.
From the things Becky had told us and me (sometimes all three of us socialized, often just she and I did, the way we used to before Alec and I got married), he was separated from his wife, amicably, during the pending divorce and they had each other’s blessing to lead their own lives. Apparently that wasn’t an accurate statement of affairs — whups, poor word choice. Let’s make that ‘less than the truth.’ A lot ‘less than the truth,’ in fact, if she was trying to get enough information to name Becky in the divorce or else use Becky and her involvement with Dr. Frankton to help her force a better settlement for herself.
Alec looked at me for a long minute. Finally he said, “Shall I answer now, or would you like some coffee first?” We’re both serious coffee addicts, unfortunately. Well, maybe not ‘unfortunately,’ but we definitely are addicts. At least it’s legal. The Family is broadly invested in coffee, now, too, thanks to me, so it’s to our benefit that way, as well.
“Oh, hell, I can use a walk, and I’ll bet the dogs could, too. Let’s go to the coffee shop.” The four of us — me, Alec and the two dogs — had heavily patronized one particular nearby coffee shop during the run-up to my assuming the CEO position last year, and we still often visit it when we want a break. I clucked to the dogs and they both came for their leads.
Luckily it was between terms at U of A, so we didn’t have to fight for a spot. When we were settled in at one of our favorite patio tables with coffee for us and part of a stale bagel to split between the dogs, Alec began to address the issue. “It’s really very simple. First, you call the attorney in Scottsdale back and tell him that on doing some preliminary investigation, you will have to decline the case as you have a serious conflict of interest.”
I had my mouth open, but he held up his hand to stop me from interrupting. “You can’t investigate your best friend and her boyfriend. You know that, if you stop to think about it without getting your emotions all tangled up in the process. Be the CEO here for a minute and try looking at it that way. That’s also a conflict that any attorney worth his salt would understand, and you tell me this fellow is pretty good. At the same time, you couldn’t possibly do this investigation without saying anything to Becky about it, and if you were trying to do it, you’d have to keep it from her. She’s much too good a friend to both of us for you to do that.
“If it turns out to be necessary, then take the time to spell it out for him. You don’t have to volunteer the information, but by all means tell him if he asks. Make that when he asks, because he will. No, on second thought, do volunteer it. He probably won’t like it, but you really should let him know that the ‘other woman’ in question has turned out to be your best friend. He’ll not only understand, but in the long run he’ll be a lot happier with you off the case. And if you handle it that way, he’ll be more likely to keep you in mind the next time he’s got work for you down here. Giving it a day or two makes it look as though you really didn’t know who she was when you were in his office, but you’ve just found it out.” He stopped for some of his coffee. Sasha stood up and put her head in his lap, hoping for another piece of the bagel. She wouldn’t get it until she was lying down again, but she could certainly have some attention and she got that.
“Then what do I tell her?” I asked. “She’s been my best friend for longer than I can remember.”
He nodded. “I know. What you should tell her is to find someone else. As far as we can tell from what’s going on, he’s already lied to her, big time, telling her that he and his wife were separated and so forth. Even if just from that, my own take on him is that he’s bad news, at least until he’s finalized his divorce. She, of course, will do what she damn well pleases. I’ve only known one more stubborn woman, and I married her.” He smiled at me as he said it, and I grinned back at him. He was right about that. “Aren’t the two of you on for dinner tomorrow?”
Becky and I have been getting together once a week, just the two of us, for drinks and usually, dinner, ever since she moved out of the house, now the office, on Speedway, where she and I had lived when we were both relatively new in town. She moved out at the same time that I bought the place on Helen Street, which was about six months before Alec came to town, hoping to renew our acquaintance. Sometimes now it’s the three of us, but less often. Becky and I try very hard to keep our private times together. “Yeah, we are. Margaritas and Mexican food.”
“Good. Let her know that we’ll bring dinner Friday, by the way. I may grill a steak. Anyway, you tell her about the investigation that’s going on. You’ll have to tell her that you were approached and then turned it down, as well as why. I’d suggest you not tell her about Dr. Frankton’s call, but that’s up to you. You also better be sure to spell out for her what she has to do if she’s not going to give him the boot. Make that ‘since she’s not going to.’ You know the drill. Nothing of import over the phone, no compromising emails, nothing near a cell phone whether it’s in use or not, all shades drawn, no physical contact in public — everything.”
I was nodding. I ought to know; I’d been doing investigations like that for years, and I knew exactly how to frustrate me. None of which guaranteed that she’d do all of it, or even any of it, and it didn’t take much of a slip to obviate every precaution that had been taken up to that point. I felt sort of sick about it, to tell the truth.
I still felt pretty bad about it the next evening. Usually when it’s Mexican food, Becky and I will nibble chips until the meal arrives — not gobble them, but we’ll pretty well finish the basket and the salsa bowl between us as we talk. This evening she spent most of her time just waving her second chip around, while she raved on about this fellow. A few things, ones she leaned over the table to tell me without anyone overhearing, were things that I wouldn’t have told her about Alec and me. If I hadn’t had my background, they would have made me blush. Not now, as she and I were almost equally immune to that (professional training for her).
I mean, I’m not quite completely immune, but it definitely takes a lot more than some almost-explicit sexual accounts to do it for me. Daddy used to write pornography as well as the science fiction he’s known for. He published the porn under pen names, for obvious reasons, and when I began editing his science fiction for him when I was thirteen or fourteen, about a year or so after Mom died, I was awfully curious about the things he’d written but didn’t show me (what I used to call his ‘writing trance’ was too unmistakable for him to hide what he’d been doing).
Being a snoop by nature, I dug around in his computer when he was out until I found it and read it — all of it. So I’m way used to hearing about that sort of thing, and generally in a much more salacious and explicit fashion than Becky was giving me. Overloaded, in fact. Different story. Finally she ran down. “Becky, can I give you some sisterly advice?” Becky’s actually my fourth cousin, but we’ve always been together, either inseparable during the day while we lived with our parents or as roommates in college and then here. I’ve said that before, haven’t I? Oh, well, I repeat myself. We’re closer than most of the sisters I’ve known, lots closer. We’ve been known to claim that we are sisters; we’d always back each other up on that claim, if asked.
“Of course you can. Would you and Alec like to meet Jon?” Oooh, this wasn’t going to go over well at all.
“Becky, let him go.” She looked shocked. “Becky, if nothing else, he’s lied to you. A very big lie. He and his wife are apparently not separated and they most definitely are not okay with each other leading their own lives. They’re getting a divorce, and you are going to be named as ‘the other woman’ just as soon as she, well, her attorney, finds out who you are and gets some proof.” Her eyes got as big as saucers.
She was speechless, which left a void I filled. “Here’s how I know this. I just went up to Scottsdale two days ago because I got a call from an attorney about an investigation he needed to have done. You remember Jim Briteman from last year?” She nodded dumbly. “His attorney remembered me when he needed some work done in Tucson. I couldn’t turn it down then because he didn’t know who the ‘other woman’ was, and you’ve never given me Jon’s last name, although once I saw the file I realized it had to be you. I’ve got to call him tomorrow and back out of the case due to a conflict — tomorrow, so I can reasonably claim that I didn’t know who you were from the beginning. I’ve lost two cases on this ‘boyfriend’ of yours.” Oops, that was just a bit more than I should have allowed to slip out, and she noticed immediately.
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, two cases? What’s the other one?”
Mentally I sighed. This was already not going well. Not going well at all. Well, when you’ve already put your foot into your mouth, it does you no favors to let it sit there. Or to start chewing, for that matter. “The first case was Mrs. Frankton’s investigation of her husband and his other woman, i.e. you. The second — I got a call today from Dr. Frankton himself, trying to get me to investigate his wife.”
Becky seemed stunned. It didn’t last. “Why you? Where did he get your name from? I’ve never mentioned Amy Youngston to him at all. The few times your name has come up at all, it’s always been with Alec and both of you are simply the Trevethens, friends of mine. Good friends. And why would he be calling an investigator in Tucson when he lives in Scottsdale?”
“Yeah, I know. Well, I figured as much. No, he called today and asked for me, Amy Trevethen, by name. He also referred to ‘Mr.’ Youngston, so he clearly doesn’t really know who I am.”
I could see the wheels turning. Damn it! I hadn’t wanted to get into this, but of course I’d opened my big fat mouth. Idiot me. “Wait a minute. Where did he get your name from? Why would he be asking for you by name?”
I gave her one of my patented sour looks. “Confidential? CEO confidential?” This was the little private routine I’d begun to use when I needed to refer to things that she and/or Alec only had access to because of me, whenever I wanted their advice or input on a Family matter and whatever I told them had to be kept utterly private. Both of them were experienced secret keepers from their professions, well-versed in keeping matters confidential. She knew exactly what I was talking about.
Becky hesitated for a moment before nodding. She didn’t really look thrilled, but she also knew that when I decided to do things this way, they had to be done my way or not at all. Like Alec suggested, I can out-stubborn her. Barely. “Okay. CEO confidential.”
“He got my name from the Family business office. Becky, he’s Family. His wife doesn’t know about the Family, but he is.”
My, what interesting emotions played across her face in those moments before she put her professional visage on and shut it all down. I could only imagine that her mind was working a mile a minute. Then she got a bit of a smile that spread until it kind of took over her entire face. “Oh, that’s wonderful. He’s Family! He and I …” I held up my hand to stop her.
“Nah ah. How are you going to tell him? CEO confidential, remember? He’s just another outsider to you now, and you’re not married to him. You can’t tell him that you are, and for sure you can’t tell him that you know he is, too. And he’s been lying to you, Becky.” I hated to have to keep driving this one home, but it seemed necessary.
Working against me, she hadn’t realized that there’d been several times when I’d seen the wistful looks she gave Alec and me when we weren’t supposed to be noticing. I had a pretty good idea of how badly she wanted to have a really good relationship with someone. Probably better than she did, at least consciously. If she let him go, we’d be going right back to that, and it would hurt her badly. Of course, in all likelihood, so would continuing a relationship with him, if it played out. Some choice.
The evening kind of went downhill from there. We’re much too close as friends to let something as minor as a mere man come between us, but I now disapproved of her new guy a lot more than I had before, and it was pretty clear to her. And this without so much as meeting him. She was also going to do exactly as she pleased, and that showed, too. I tried stressing how she had to act to frustrate the inevitable investigation that somebody would be doing, but while I know she heard me — she’d gotten some small degree of exposure last year, during the … run-up … to my becoming the CEO, I had some serious doubts that she would really exercise the discipline necessary to do it.
Keeping a good investigator from getting the information on you and your habits is not easy to do consistently and successfully; you have to be paying attention to what you’re doing every moment and stay in the proper mindset all the time. Oh, well, I’d let Alec work on her Friday. Tomorrow is another day.
Friday we loaded up the car with cooler and dogs to head for her place. Becky’s home is up in the Catalina foothills, a fairly upscale part of Tucson, and the dogs love it there. She keeps them for us when we travel, like for board meetings. The midtown area where Alec and I live at the moment is, let’s be kind, not ‘fairly upscale.’ It’s largely made up of students and the economically disadvantaged; I’d liked it because I had the office, I didn’t give a shit about the neighborhood and the house couldn’t have been more convenient for me without being inside the office.
Bruno, the Belgian Malinois — think of an elegant, long-legged, very fine-boned version of a German Shepherd, tan body and black mask — hopped into the car quite quickly. Sasha, the long-coat Akita — think medium-sized brown and white bear — took her time as she gathered herself and finally hopped in. It’s not quite as amusing a sight as usual, since she’s been sheared for the summer. Long-coats carry a lot of hair, and since she spends a certain amount of time lying around in the yard — her choice — it makes warm weather easier on her. After all, this is Arizona.
There’s a corner of Becky’s pool that’s shaded at this hour, and Sasha, as always, made a beeline for the exact spot. She hooked her forefeet over the edge of the pool and lay down, toes in the water, watching the water surface and occasionally drinking from the world’s largest water dish. Why she won’t jump in is simply beyond me. Bruno’s attitude is more like, ‘Mom, if I get in, you’ll put shampoo on me and call it a bath.’ I wouldn’t, not really, but he keeps his distance, even if we’re in the water. Perhaps especially then.
After we had the dinner things arranged in Becky’s fridge, Alec announced that he was up for a swim before drinks, and who was going to join him?
I gave him a half-smile. “You just like looking at Becky naked.” She and I have been swimming nude since we were in our early teens, and Alec joined us after he and I were married. Neither Alec nor I even own suits, and Becky’s still got pretty much the same Playboy-model figure she had when we were in college.
In fact, somebody claiming to be from the magazine tried to recruit her when we were sophomores in college. Becky thanked him for the compliment, told him no, and then she and I just shared a major laugh over it when he was gone. He might even have been for real. I suppose I could be jealous, if I were so inclined, but I’m not; she’s no threat to me and I love them both. Pity she hadn’t found somebody more like Alec. Or at least single, like he had been.
He laughed. “Should I deny it? You were the one who taught me to appreciate beauty whenever the opportunity arose.” I had my mouth open, but he motioned me to hold it. “And as much as I appreciate her appearance, which I certainly do, seeing her always makes me think of the real greatest treasure in my life, which is you.”
Becky snorted. “Now he’s got you, Amy. Alec, you’re good. Awfully good. I’m up.” With that, she pulled her t-shirt over her head and began to unhook her bra. Not to be outdone, Alec and I were ready just about the same time.
Becky was about to be the first into the water when I finally noticed her back. “What is that?”
She looked over her shoulder. “You like it? It’s my new tattoo.” I suppose it was quite nice, as these things go — one of those lower back designs, fairly broad, good-sized and centered on a large red, blue and yellow butterfly. Becky loves butterflies, although this — was a surprise. That’s putting it mildly.
I shook my head. “After all of the discussions you and I have had over tattoos, piercings and the like, you are absolutely the last person I ever expected to do that. Other than me, that is.”
She shrugged. “Jon likes tattoos. Anyway, this is just ink and paint. It’s good for maybe a week, if I leave it alone. I’m having it redone twice a week right now just to keep it looking fresh. I didn’t feel like going all the way. Not yet, anyway.”
Well, that was a relief. I mean, yes, it’s her body. But she’d never expressed any interest in such a thing before, and we’d both been rather critical of those who did get piercings and tattoos in our discussions. But — ‘Jon likes tattoos’? ‘Not yet, anyway’? I didn’t like the sound of those. “Uh, Becky, have you thought about what I said the other night?” Bruno rolled his eyes in my direction. Did I sound to him like I was upset? Sasha was busy watching the floor jets in the pool stir up the bottom water and generally ignoring us.
A while later, when we were setting up dinner, the doorbell rang. Not exactly the most common occurrence out here, but not unheard of either. I was still cutting up things for the salad, and Becky was setting the table. Alec got the door. When he came back in, I asked him who it had been. “No idea. Some tall blonde. Said she apparently had the wrong house, apologized and left.”
Over dinner, Alec and I both tried to warn Becky off him. Not the tattoo, well, body paint; that was harmless enough, I guess. Even a real tattoo probably wouldn’t have been all that serious an issue in the greater scheme of things. But this Frankton fellow was something else. We both tried to get it through her head that if he’d lie to her and involve her in his divorce while reassuring her that everything was just peachy, then he was bad news for her, even if he was Family. Regardless of whether he really believed what he’d told her, being with him before his divorce was final would still potentially leave her in some very bad straits indeed.
I never did tell her about his earlier problems; I figured that wasn’t my place. Now that he was in private practice, it probably didn’t matter, at least not on the same scale. Unless it indicated a fundamental honesty issue, but without more recent evidence, that question could wait.
Didn’t work anyway. She wasn’t having any of it. I have to admit that as long as I’ve known her, and that was since long before we both decided boys were icky (a phase which didn’t last all that long for either of us), I’d never seen her like this. It was almost as though he had some sort of Svengali-like hold over her, although nothing in his file suggested what it might be. I could only presume that she was really crazy about him.
Finally we tried to emphasize what she had to do to frustrate an investigator — mostly my efforts — and what her vulnerabilities were in terms of the divorce proceedings, both personally and professionally. Especially professionally. That was mostly Alec. I’m not sure how much of it got through.
Damn it, I know she’s a big girl now and she’s not really my kid sister, but I need and depend on her for advice in Family matters, and, at the very least, this makes me question her judgment at some level. I can’t afford that. The Family can’t afford it, either. Besides, no matter how old we get, I don’t think I’ll ever quite shake the feeling that she is my kid sister and I have to look out for her.
I believe it was three days later — might have been four; I wasn’t keeping track. I was sitting in the kitchen at breakfast, working on a bowl of chili (it still drives Alec crazy that I eat chili for breakfast, but he was in the study with his toast, catching up on world and local news), with my second cup of coffee, watching a financial program on the TV.
Suddenly Alec rushed in, grabbed the remote off the table and changed to one of the local channels. My first reaction was a flash of anger. I’d been watching the program closely and actually getting something from it, which is important when you’ve got the sole responsibility for the investing of a huge fortune.
Then I really looked at the picture on the screen and my anger evaporated in an instant. I knew that house; it was Becky’s. The voice on the screen was talking about the doctor’s body being found in the house, and I had a flash of terror. Had something happened to her? Then they shifted to a picture of Becky in the back seat of a sheriff’s car, apparently either trying to hide her face or else crying. Maybe both. Oh, shit!
No matter what was going on, this was definitely going to be lots worse than simply being named as the ‘other woman’ in a divorce case. Alec watched me long enough to see that I understood what I was seeing, then he said, “I’ve got to change. I’d rather be dressed a bit better when I get to the holding facility.”
Numbly I nodded. “Me, too. Well, hell, I’m just going as her sister, I can stay like this.” I was in my usual jeans and t-shirt. So was he; we’re normally very casual. Not a lot of call for more, these days.
Alec looked at me as he was leaving the kitchen. “Lose the gun.” I hated to admit it, but that was probably good advice. As an investigator, I sometimes wind up in … difficult situations. I go armed all the time as a matter of course. I carry a pistol and several knives concealed about my person. My usual gun, the one I had on now, is a little Kahr PM40 in .40 S&W caliber, which rides in a shoulder holster under my left arm. I wear the gun all day, every day under virtually any and all circumstances. I hardly notice I’ve got it on any more. At times I’ve been very grateful that I had it.
But going to the jail was a different circumstance. They wouldn’t let the gun in, so it was either leave it here, leave it in the car, or let the police log it in and hold it for when I left. None of which I liked, but leaving it here at least kept the issue as low-key as possible. I pulled the t-shirt up to my neck so I could get the holster off. It felt more than just a bit strange to be without it, but I’d keep the knives. The blades were short, if very sharp and well-designed, and either the deputies wouldn’t notice them or they might not care that much if they did. Besides, those they could hold if they had to.
By the time I’d let the dogs out back for a quick spin (‘quick’ is a concept which is not normally in Sasha’s vocabulary, but she seemed to understand the urgency today) and they’d come in again, Alec was back in a suit and ready to go. I grabbed the fanny pack I usually wore in lieu of a purse and we were out the door almost before I could catch my breath.
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