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The Best of 2013

The Afternoon Circle Jerk Society
by Amanda Earl

Beating the Gothic Out of Her
by Amanda Earl

Real Irish
by Amanda Earl

Mercy and the Man. . .
by Amanda Earl

The Revenant
by Amanda Earl

The Vessel
by Amanda Earl

The Too Beautiful Boy
by Arthur Chappell

The Accidental Fetish
by Corvidae

Never For Punishment
by Daddy X

Like a Brother
by Big Ed Magusson

Old Dogs
by Big Ed Magusson

Goodbye Roger
by Huck Pilgrim

He Sends His Regrets
by Huck Pilgrim

A Small Favor
by Huck Pilgrim

Ava's Honey
by john e

LOX
by john e

Eclipse Sex
by Oxartes

Adam and Eve on a Raft
by Robert Buckley

Dead Man's Switch
by Robert Buckley

Does Immortality come with a Pension?
by Robert Buckley

Embraceable Ewe
by Robert Buckley

A Fragile Desire
by Robert Buckley

Surviving Winter
by Robert Buckley

You're the Only One
by Robert Buckley

Dissolve
by Sybil Rush

Bing Cherry Silk
by Valentine Bonnaire

Colony, Collapsed
by Valentine Bonnaire

Have a Nice Day
by Valentine Bonnaire

l'heure bleue
by Valentine Bonnaire

Once Upon A Time . . .
by Valentine Bonnaire

Red Suede
by Valentine Bonnaire

Yellow, like the daffodils
by Valentine Bonnaire

Novelette

Invisible Lines
by Raziel Moore



Archives

By Alan
Curtain
Other News


By Alice Gray
Slick 50
The Fourth Veda
Stolen Hour


By Amanda Earl
Daddy Complex
The Graffiti Artist
Sex With An Old Woman
The Vampire Responds


By Ann Regentin
What Never Dies
Newborn
Remembering
Surrender


By Big Ed Magusson
The Fix
Methadone


By Brady Sutton
Girls for Leash
The Peculiar Case of...


by C. Sanchez-Garcia
An Early Winter Train
The Doll
The Lady and The Unicorn
Riding the Dog
Fidelis


By Cervo
An Evening At...
Readiness Is All
Chinchilla Lace
Fridays At The Benoit
Cruising On A Sea...
Bitsy Takes a Test
Touring Persephone
Are You Kidding?
Quigley’s Harvest
Mr. Merridawn's Hum
Angels’ Spawn


By Cherry Black
Mrs. Priestly
Face Down
Just A Simple Black Dress


By Chris Bridges
Second-hand
Fast-forwarding
The Whitechapel...
Passing Notes


By Daddy X
Nikki Didn't Like It
Overscratch
A Woman in My Position


By Dominic Santi
Drillers
Kiss of Peace


By G. E. Russell
Judgement Day
Nebulous
First Love, Last Romance
Snow White
This Desolate Eden
The Glass Cage
You Like It Like That...


By Helen E. H. Madden
When The Angels Fall
Husbands and Wives
The Fifth Horseman
The Monster Beneath...
Neighbor of the Beast
Over the Rainbow
Going Viral
Virtual Love


By Helena Settimana
Balance
Highway 69
Amadou
The Space Between


By J.T. Benjamin
The Question
Thornburg Sex Survey
Alternating Weekend
Secret Lives and Lusts
What are Friends For
Olivia's Ulterior Motive
Advice From Miss Millicent
The Baby Doll
The Journals of Chastity
Use Me
Zachary's Perfect Date


By Jill
Kidnapped
Sheila Discusses ...
It's About Sex
A House On Fire?
Maureen and Sheila...


By john e
I Wish My Dick...
johnny's jackoff journal
Saturday Morning


By Julius
In Praise of Pussy
Tight, Tighter, Tightest
You Rang Madam?
The Newcomer


By Juniper Maclay
Lunch Break
The Scientist
Public Transportation


By Keziah Hill
Laying Down the Law
Strawberry Flavoured Joy
The Second Coming
Angel
Dutch Masters


By L.A. Smith
Missionary Position
Both Hands


By Lara Nickles
Almost
Hero


By Lilie Berlin
Naughty Little Girl
Color Less Ordinary


By Mike Kimera
Kneading
Soft Option
At the Adult Bookstore
Postcard
Playing With Barney
Deserving Ruth
Till Death Do Us Part
Happy Anniversary
Mating Calls
It May Not be Art...
Living With It...
The Last Taboo
Hand-Jobs
Fucking Ugly
Paying For It
Sex with Owen
Ask Alice
The Sisters
Bar Snack

The Mission
by Robert Buckley © 2005



I'm trying not to give anything away to the detective, but I'm afraid I may have already. He's nice, though, not like most cops—and cute too, in a kind of farm boy sort of way. His sandy blonde hair keeps falling down over his gray eyes when he writes into his notebook. I try to make out what he's writing, but he catches me and smiles.

He's a Pennsylvania cop. What he's doing here in upstate New York I don't know, but I can guess.

"Terry?" he says. "It's okay if I call you 'Terry'?"

I nod.

"Terry, I need you to tell me everything ... from the very beginning. I have plenty of time, and you have a really nice voice." He smiles again, putting on the aw shucks charm.

The very beginning? I suppose it really all began when they took my mom away.

I was 12 when they said she couldn't hack reality anymore. I didn't know what schizophrenia meant then, it was just another way of saying she went crazy and couldn't take care of me. I really missed my mom. Maybe she was crazy, but she was good to me and made me feel safe. We used to read a lot, and talk about the books we'd read, and when I was real little she used to tell me wonderful stories—not your usual fairy tales. Mom's stories were always about noble monsters. The wolf wasn't big and bad, he was the hero.

I never knew my father, but Mom used to say it wasn't his fault that he had to leave us. She never explained beyond that, but I could tell she really loved him.

We were alone with no close relatives to speak of, so I ended up in foster care. Some families were okay, some weren't so okay. I was 16 when the daughter of my foster parents talked me into shoplifting. It's not that I'm a thief or anything; I just did it to fit in.

Of course, we got caught, but she told everyone that I tricked her into it. She sure was smooth; she made me hold everything, so I was the only one who was actually caught with stolen goods. It was over $200, so it was a felony. And since I was the foster kid, of course everyone believed her.

I ended up in the Austin Institute for Girls. I know, it sounds like a finishing school, but it's just an old fashioned juvenile reformatory—a jail. It was run for the state by a private foundation.

I suppose I should have been scared there. Some of those girls had hurt people. But most were like me, held for petty crimes with no family to care. Nobody really bothered me, though. I made a good friend. Sharon and I watched out for each other. She used to tell me I had some kind of look that kept people from messing with me. Maybe so.

When it got lonely Sharon and I would cuddle together at night and talk. It was nice to be able to share a lonely night with someone.

We promised to look each other up when we got out on our own. She was a year older than me and was released on her eighteenth birthday. I never heard from her again. It made my last year at Austin nearly unbearable, but Miss Gilchrist, my counselor, helped me a lot.

I was 18 and not due to be released until my twentieth birthday, but then a committee chose me for a prerelease program sponsored by the O.T. Stoller Foundation. Otto Stoller was some kind of retail genius who owned a chain of department stores. He was very big on "reclaiming damaged youth" according to the trustees of Austin. Each year they would nominate a girl who would board with and work for the Stollers. The idea was she'd learn business skills and be 'socialized,' whatever that meant.

Mr. Stoller did the selections himself, after going over our records and a photograph sent to him by the committee.

I remember being packed and ready to leave for this little town along the Mohawk River that was practically owned by the Stollers. Miss Gilchrist came to my room. She hugged me and said, "Be careful, Terry."

I thought it was a funny thing to say. After all, I was getting out of Austin. I thought she'd be happy for me.

They put me in an institute van and I was driven to the town of Sentry. I'd tried to read as much about the place as I could. It started out as a frontier post in the early 1700s, then it prospered for a brief time in the 1800s when the river and the canals that connected it to other rivers became what the books called "highways of trade." Industry took root in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the town I arrived in was sleepy and forgotten—just a place where people slept while they worked someplace else.

Still, it was headquarters for Stoller's retail empire. He worked out of his mansion that sat like a gothic castle on a bluff above the Mohawk. That's where I'd be living and working for at least six months. The view of the river and the Adirondacks beyond was just one of the most scary-beautiful sights. It took my breath away, and for that brief moment I was glad to be there instead of Austin.

Then something like an iron rod poked me in the shoulder. I think I winced and said "Ow!" before I turned and looked up into the face of a woman about six feet tall. She was broad-shouldered and mannish, with a heavy square face and dirty blonde hair tied into a bun that was so tight I thought any second it would pop like a party favor.

"Theresa Donovan?" She said my name like it gave her a bad taste in her mouth.

"Yes."

"I am Hilda Gretna, Mr. Stoller's personal assistant. Come with me, he wishes to meet you right away. Hurry, gather your things."

She turned on one heel, like some Nazi in an old movie. I fumbled with my bag and hurried after her. We stepped across a broad porch shaded by a portico, and then through polished dark-wood doors. The lobby was all dark, polished wood that gleamed, but the place was cavernous and made you feel small as a mouse. A reception desk was set back several steps from the door.

"You will work there," the woman said and pointed. "Now, come. Leave your things here."

I followed her through another alcove off the main hall and into an office. A man sat behind a desk reading papers that hid his face. But I could see his mostly bald head with a sparse fringe of white hair. The skin of his scalp was splotchy with orange-purple spots. Then he lowered the papers to his desk and revealed his face. I caught my breath.

His face was pasty and sunken like a skull and his nose looked like a lump of raw dough stuck on his face. His mouth opened into what I supposed was a smile, but it was limp, and his teeth were yellow and gray. A shiver ran up my back, and I swear he noticed.

He dismissed Hilda with a flick of his hand. She bowed curtly and left us alone.

"Miss Donovan, your photograph does not do you justice. You are rather taller than I thought. Well?"

"Excuse me?"

"How tall are you, girl? Come now, I was told you were an exceptionally intelligent girl."

"I—I'm about five feet, six inches."

"Your hair looks darker in the photo too. Did you dye it?"

"No sir, it's always been reddish brown."

"Hmm." His eyes traveled down to my toes and back up, and I felt like I'd been licked by a hairy tongue.

"You are not allowed to wear slacks here, Miss Donovan. Skirts only, an inch or two above the knee. And a blouse, two buttons undone. I'll not have you dressed like a starched nun."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, I am going to ask you some questions. It'll be best if you just answer quickly; don't think about them. I don't like my time wasted."

"Yes, sir."

"You were sent to Austin because you are a thief ..."

"But ..."

"Do not interrupt!"

I shuddered, but said nothing.

"You stole. You stole because you lack discipline and guidance. You will be afforded both here, Miss Donovan, and you will be educated as to your proper place in society, the proper role for your gender in society."

I didn't really understand what he was talking about, but I didn't like it. My stomach went queasy.

"Are you a virgin?"

"Excuse me?"

"Damn!"

I jumped.

"Don't waste my time, Miss Donovan, you are on probation. Answer my question—I won't repeat it."

"Uh, well—no, not exactly."

His face twisted and it looked like he was about to shout at me again. "I did it once," I added.

"Once? With whom?"

"A boy—he lived next door to one of the foster families. He was nice to me and I didn't have any friends, so I ... I ..."

"Let him fuck you because he was ... nice." He said it in such an ugly way, I could feel tears stinging my eyelids, but I held them back.

"Have you ever had sexual contact with another female? Answer quickly!"

"I—I mean ... My friend, Sharon, she—she used to have nightmares, and we'd cuddle afterward. Sometimes we touched each other, but it was just to comfort ..."

"Yes, incarcerate young women and they reduce themselves to opportunistic lesbianism—lack of discipline."

I was shaking then. I couldn't help myself, and I prayed he didn't notice, but I think he did. He enjoyed it. His lips separated into a limp grin again. It made me want to puke.

"You have a birthmark," he said, lifting a paper from his desk.

"Yes."

"Let's see ... blue? A blue birthmark? In the shape of a half-circle, it says here."

"Yes. More like a half disc."

"Show it to me."

"I—I can't. I'd have to ..."

"What?"

"Well, it's right above my tailbone."

"So? Show it to me!"

"But, Mr. ..."

"Girl, I can send you right back to Austin this minute. I assure you, when I reject a girl after she's already been selected it goes very badly for her when she is returned to custody. Show me the mark, and do not waste my time again."

The tears were spilling over my lids, I was so angry I wanted to rip out his throat. But I was scared, too. I had no idea what would happen to me if I was sent back to Austin. I turned my back to him and unbuttoned my slacks, then I slid the zipper down. I hooked my thumbs in my panties and pushed them and my slacks down."

"I can't see with your jacket in the way."

I straightened and let my jacket slip off my shoulders, then lowered my trousers again. The cool air raised goose bumps over my hips and behind, but my face was burning with shame and embarrassment.

"Fascinating," he hissed between his teeth. "It's solid blue."

"Yes," I sniffed. "May I pull my pants back up, please?"

"Hmm, you have very lovely skin, Miss Donovan."

"Please?"

"Oh, all right, but modesty will not be a virtue where you are concerned, girl. Ten young women such as you have gone through my program, and all have gone on to careers in my business. Well—there have been a few disappointments. But I'll not waste time discussing them. The others accepted my guidance and learned."

I was zipping my slacks when he slapped his desk with the palm of his hand. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

"Miss Donovan, I am going to lay a simple fact of life out to you. It will be your first lesson in accommodating yourself to this world. I am a powerful man. I enjoy power, I relish power. People do my bidding; they indulge my every whim, as they should. It is the natural order of things. You are entirely in my control, you are here to please me and satisfy my needs."

"I'm not sure I understand Mr. ..."

"That boy who fucked you, did you suck his cock?"

"What?"

"Come on, dammit! It's a simple question. Did you suck his cock?"

"Please, Mr. Stoller ..."

"You will answer me immediately when I ask you a question."

I really thought I was going to throw up. "I didn't."

"No? Are you lying?"

"No. I just held it and ... I just ... rubbed him."

"Well, my girl, you will suck cock—my cock, and you will lie on your back and spread your legs and I will fuck you, because that is a fact of your existence, as it is for every female who walks the earth. A woman's lot in life is to be used as a receptacle for a man's come, his lust. A powerful man, that is, not the class of cuckolds who bow and scrape every day for their bread."

"I—I will not stay here."

"Miss Donovan, you stupid cunt, if you refuse I will make it very difficult for you when you are sent back to Austin."

"Then I'll run away."

"And you'll be caught. It's already been tried. The bitch was caught, but she wasn't returned to Austin. No, she remains in a women's penitentiary because she left with stolen goods. Just like you will, you thieving little whore."

My head was reeling and tears were flowing over my cheeks. "No! I would never ..."

"Perhaps not, but that is what I will tell the authorities. And they will believe me, and they won't believe you. I guarantee that no one will question Otto Stoller."

I felt dizzy, like I would faint, but I was determined not to give this troll the satisfaction.

"Why? Why are you doing this to me?"

"Because I can—it amuses me—and I like fucking young cunt."

His words stung like a slap in the face.

"Now," he said. "I will give you one night to consider your situation. If you are as bright as they told me, you will see your only option will be to comply. In return for the surrender of your body and your will, after six months time you will be paroled and I will send you to work, with a good salary and benefits. In short, a career in the Stoler empire will be yours. I have at least one store in every state. You may even choose the one. But, it must be understood, for this you are my personal whore for the time you reside here. I will take great pleasure in the violation of your cunt, your mouth, and your pretty pert ass—and you will learn to accept that you were born to be a whore."

His voice was unreal, like I was hearing his words as a tinny echo down a long corridor. He pushed a button on his desk and a second later Hilda stepped in.

"See to her," he ordered.

I followed the woman into the hall. My face must have been scarlet. She turned and sneered at me. "Another trollop."

I followed her up a winding stairway and then down another corridor that was so quiet it scared me. Then Hilda showed me into my room. It was nice, with a king-sized bed, all soft and plush. But when she left, all I could do is throw myself on it and cry.

*               *               *


I calmed myself as best I could and tried to work out what I was going to do. I was scared when they sent me to Austin because I didn't know what would happen to me. Now I was petrified at staying at Stoller's because I knew just what was going to happen to me. I was supposed to allow myself to be raped by this hideous man.

For my first few weeks at Austin I convinced myself that I could cope with whatever the place could throw at me. But this was something else. I got to thinking about the girls who had come through there before me. They must have put up with it. Maybe they thought the payoff was worth it; maybe they thought it would only be for six months and they could bear it. How did they do it? How did they let that ugly man use their bodies? Did they just switch something off in their brains?

There was a rap on my door, and then Hilda stuck in her face.

"Change. Skirt and blouse, no more pants. If you don't have a skirt and blouse I will get some for you. No stockings."

"I have a skirt and blouse."

Hilda's face twisted into a smirk. "You girls, with your pretty pussies, you have no idea how lucky you are. Little sluts. I will return in ten minutes."

I wondered what her malfunction was. Was she jealous because her boss didn't want to screw her? What a sight that would make, a troll humping a cow.

I was ready when she came back and ordered me to follow her. She always walked about three steps ahead of me. As we approached the stairway a small, plump woman stepped out of a room and approached us.

"Mrs. Stoller," Hilda said. "This is Mr. Stoller's new girl."

The way she said it—sarcastic-like—surprised me. Then I looked into the woman's face. She nodded, but then she lowered her eyes and pressed her lips together. She didn't say a word as she walked past us. Hilda turned then, and I could read her face. She was smirking.

I followed her into the lobby and she told me to sit at the desk. There was a manual inside a plastic binder.

"You must read this. You will be given business courses while you are here, but this explains Mr. Stoller's program. It includes a diagram of the house and outlines your duties. Today you will work as a receptionist. Mr. Stoller is expecting very important visitors today. Your performance is being graded constantly, lapses will be punished."

I sat and thumbed through the manual. There were a lot of quotes by Stoller. Hilda introduced some of the other staff to me. A butler named Jerome appeared to be quite elderly. He smiled at least, and there was something in his eye that told me he understood and sympathized with my predicament. Agnes was the cook, but she seemed concerned only with running her kitchen. No friend there.

It was early afternoon. Before she left me alone in the lobby, Hilda reached over and undid a button on my blouse, just enough to show where my cleavage started—not that I was all that big. I wondered if she wanted to rape me too.

About an hour went by as I pretended to read the manual, but all the time I was trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. Then I heard the sound of a car pulling up in front of the house. Jerome hobbled to the door and stepped outside, and then I heard muffled voices.

The door opened and Jerome walked through and held it, gesturing to whoever came after him to enter the lobby.

God, he was tall; broad shoulders and a deep chest that tapered to a trim waist, sleek and muscular all at once. A hat with its brim turned down shaded his face, but from where I sat he was the most scary-beautiful man I'd ever seen. He wore a dark suede jacket and black trousers and he moved—I dunno—like a beautiful animal.

When he approached me I held my breath. Then, with his thumb he lifted the brim of his hat. His eyes were deep dark pools, but with a gleam that, coupled with a crooked smile, made me think he was in on some kind of private joke. I had no idea how old he could be, but his hair was dark brown except for a brush of silver at his temples.

"Good afternoon, dear," he said. There was something in his voice, a lilt, a faint accent.

"Yes?"

"The name's Murphy—Connor Murphy."

"Connor?" I said like I was chewing cotton balls. My mouth was so dry, but all of a sudden I realized I was all squishy between my thighs.

"Murphy," he said and grinned. "And you'd be?"

"Uh—uh—Theresa ..."

"Theresa!"

I jumped.

"I've always been in love with that name—it suits you well, darlin'. Now, would you please tell Mr. Stoller that I and Miss Prideaux have arrived?"

"Miss Prideaux?"

Then I saw her. Of course, a gorgeous man like this couldn't be single, there must be a woman. And, oh my gosh, what a woman.

She didn't just walk. I don't how what you'd call it, but the way she moved, it was like the atmosphere just opened around her. She was all hip and shoulder rolls, but not tacky, not even like a model, but maybe—regal. Her hair was long and black and fell over her shoulders like a shiny shawl. She wore a blood red blouse, and a long black leather skirt that was soft as butter and caressed every curve. A slit, just off center showed off a long pale leg.

But her eyes—they were the most scary-beautiful blue eyes, ice blue, like a light was shining behind them. And they fixed right on me. The hairs on my neck stood up and a shiver ran up my spine. Connor leaned over and whispered, "Someone's cast a shadow over your lover's grave."

"Huh?"

"Nothing, dear, just an ancient saying." He inhaled then and I could feel the tug of his breath on my hair.

He turned to the woman. "Claire, this is Theresa."

She stepped toward me, then she sniffed the air around me. I wondered if I should have used a stronger deodorant.

"Theresa," she said in a flat, cool voice, lightly accented. "You're a bit moist."

I felt the blood simmer in my cheeks. She eyed me up and down, then cast a sidelong glance at Connor.

Gosh, she isn't jealous of me—is she? I almost laughed at the thought. How could a woman like her think of me as any sort of competition? But I couldn't shake the feeling.

"Theresa?" Connor said.

"Oh—yes?"

"Would you please tell Mr. Stoller we're here now?"

"Huh? Oh, yes, of course. I'm sorry."

"Not to worry."

I picked up the phone and dialed Stoller's office. I wasn't prepared to hear his voice, I flashed back to the awful things he said to me that morning. I shivered again. But then Connor put his hand on my arm and winked.

"It's okay," he said. It was the strangest thing, he couldn't have known what was in my mind, but in that instant I wasn't afraid of anything.

"Please follow me, Mr. Murphy ..."

"Connor," he said. "And Claire."

I smiled like a little girl who got patted on the head by a favorite uncle. I led them to Stoller's office.

I knocked and then showed them inside. Stoller rose and stepped around his desk. He held his hand out to Connor, who held it a split second and let it go.

"Mr. Murphy, thank you for coming, and Miss ..."

Stoller was as dumbstruck as I was at Claire. Finally he held out his hand and took hers. "An immense pleasure to meet you, Miss Prideaux. Your reputation does indeed precede you, but I had no idea ..."

"Yes?" she said in that cool flat tone.

"Well, I rather expected a severe, studious woman."

Claire just let his words hang in the air. Awkwardly, he stepped back toward his desk and sat, gesturing to Connor and Claire to be seated too.

I turned to leave, when he said. "Miss Donovan, come back in five minutes and show Mr. Murphy and Miss Prideaux to their rooms."

"Yes, sir."

I stepped outside and went back to the lobby. I couldn't think of anything except Connor and Claire. Who were these wonderful, scary-beautiful people? What could they possibly have to do with that horrible ogre?

*               *               *


Jerome had already taken Connor and Claire's luggage to their rooms and showed me where they were before I returned to Stoller's office. I knocked and stepped inside as quietly as I could. Connor looked at me and smiled, but Stoller didn't even acknowledge my presence.

"Very well, then," he was saying, "This evening after dinner, I will show them to you. I can't impress upon you enough how I need to have this validation completed in a timely matter."

"Not to worry, Mr. Stoller," Connor said and stood.

Claire stood too and Stoller rushed around his desk to take her hand again. He acted like some junior high school kid with a crush on his teacher. I might as well have been on the moon, and that was fine with me.

Claire turned and fixed me with those scary-beautiful eyes. "I will require assistance," she said to Stoller. "Is this young woman available? I'm afraid I might take up much of her time."

Stoller's head snapped toward me. He glared, then that yellow-gray grin reappeared. "Of course, Miss Prideaux," he said. "Use her as you see fit, and please report any shortcomings to me."

"I'm sure she'll be fine."

"See them to their rooms," Stoller ordered.

I nodded, and Claire and Conner followed behind me.

We had ascended the stairway and entered yet another long corridor when Connor said, "Theresa, I gather Mr. Stoller is a difficult man to work for, a bit fastidious."

I wanted to say he was a skanky lecher. "I just started today. I don't really know him that well."

"Oh, I think he's easy to read," Connor said.

I left them and returned to my room. Dinner was to be at 7 o'clock. Hilda barged into my room just as I was coming out of the shower. She didn't even bother to knock.

She tossed some clothing on my bed. "Wear these."

I looked at the clothes, a white blouse and a blue-green plaid skirt with shoulder straps, like a 10-year-old girl at a nun's school might wear. There was also a pair of white tights and shiny black buckle shoes.

"I can't wear these," I protested.

"Tramp! You wear what you are told to wear. Tonight you wear your uniform. Dress now."

"In front of you?"

She answered with another smirk. Something red and hot was building behind my eyes. I could see myself ripping that smirk right off her cow face. But I began to dress.

I burned with embarrassment when I looked in the mirror. The skirt was way too short, more than half-way up my thigh, but otherwise I looked like the perfect parochial schoolgirl.

"Please," I pleaded. "I can't go to dinner like this."

"Now," is all she said, and held the door open. I stepped through and started toward the dinning room, my head down.

When I arrived Mr. Stoller and Connor and Claire were already there. My face burned with shame. I slid quickly into my seat and couldn't look anyone in the eye. Then Hilda took a napkin from the table and stuffed it into my blouse like a bib. It took all my control not to burst into tears.

"Good evening, Theresa," Connor said. His voice was low and soothing, but I couldn't look at him. "That's a different look for you."

I looked up then. He winked. Then he and Claire took their own napkins and stuffed them into their collars. I shot a glance at Stoller and saw the fury in his eyes. But he said nothing.

Dinner conversation was mostly Stoller talking about himself, and how he'd grown his retail chain after wresting the business from his own brother, who died soon after. Connor and Claire nodded politely, but I knew they were bored to death.

"Is Mrs. Stoller not joining us?" Conner asked, I think to get Stoller off the subject of himself.

"My wife dines alone. We prefer it that way. You see, Mr. Murphy, my decision to marry her was a business decision, a pact, if you will, between her father and me. It involved some capital that I needed, and in exchange, his daughter was guaranteed a life that is stable and financially secure. There is no need for her to participate in my business, private or otherwise."

"I'm sure she is very happy," Claire said.

"And now," Stoller said, "I am curious. Might I ask you both how you manage to remain so elusive."

"Elusive?" Connor said, and wiped his lips with the napkin.

"You are both highly recommended, yet you have no fixed address, not even an email address. Professor Stearns made contact with you on my behalf. How can you do that? How do people know how to contact you?"

"Mr. Stoller, we travel a lot. We prefer that life to maintaining a fixed address. We tried that and soon discovered it was not for us. As you say, we rely on our reputations to bring us work. Those who need to reach us, know how to reach us."

"Damned odd way to do business," Stoller said. "Well, no matter, you're here now. Let me show you the treasures."

Everyone stood but me. Claire said, "Coming, Theresa?"

I nodded and jumped up, following several steps behind them. We walked along another long corridor. The house was a maze of them. Then at one point Stoller produced one of those old skeleton keys and slipped it into a door. He gestured to follow him and stepped inside.

I stepped after them and I think my chin dropped to my knees. The room was as big as a church, all carved wood and gold trim. Track lights hung from the ceiling and shone on enormous paintings. In the center of the room was a table with a model of a building on our side of the river, opposite the town.

Stoller made a great sweep with his hand. "Here they are—the lost Rembrandts. They have all been authenticated through painstaking scientific analysis. Nevertheless, there are some who feel I lack provenance to show that these were painted by the Dutch master. And that is how your name came to me, Miss Prideaux. My experts assure me if you are convinced then that will be the final seal of authenticity. Incredible that a woman—such a young woman—could possess such authority."

"You confuse youth with looking young, Mr. Stoller," Claire said, as she strolled along the walls, eying each painting. There were eight of them. Stoller's eyes moved with the sway of her hips. His mouth hung open and the tip of his gray tongue lolled over his lower lip.

He had to shake himself to break the spell. "Mr. Murphy, I have been invited to exhibit these masterpieces at museums around the world. But I said to hell with that—they're mine. People can come to me to see what is mine. And that's why I've planned a museum dedicated solely to these lost treasures. There is the architect's model. Your task is a bit more prosaic, but nonetheless essential. The land I want to build on needs to be certified, it cannot have historical or cultural value. Frankly, I doubt anything ever happened there, other than some Indian stopping to piss into the Mohawk, but the town insists."

"I'm surprised, Mr. Stoller. You are the first citizen of Sentry; I can't believe any obstacle to what you want would be put in your path."

"Yes, a sign of the times that I intend to deal with. But for now there is an alderman who has been a thorn in my side. It is he who created this annoyance. I expect you to remove that obstacle quickly."

"I'll see what I can do, of course. But, I'm curious, how did you happen to come into possession of the paintings?"

"I know what you're thinking. And don't think I haven't half-expected some smarmy Jew to claim they are Nazi loot. But these works were not known, even before the war. How did I acquire them? I have my ways and means, sir."

He nodded, then, "Quickly—you must do your work quickly."

He looked at me, and then at Claire as if he were comparing us. No wonder he made a face. Claire put her hand on my shoulder, "Then we'll get to work right away."

He turned and left without another word.

Connor's crooked smile widened. "What do you think?"

Claire rolled her eyes and laughed.

"I—I'm not sure what you want me to do," I said.

"You can get out of those ridiculous clothes," Claire said. "Don't you have any jeans?"

"Yes, but they won't let me wear pants."

She put her hands on my hips as if to take my measurements. "I have something. Come with me."

*               *               *


I went with Claire to her room where she tossed about a half dozen skirts and tops on her bed.

"So, they won't let you wear trousers—only skirts?"

"Yes."

"Here." She handed me a black leather skirt, soft as butter, and a dark blue silk blouse. "Try these."

I couldn't wait to get out of the school girl uniform, but when I dressed and looked at myself in the mirror I couldn't believe I was looking at the same girl. I'd never thought of myself as even pretty, much less beautiful, but it was like the clothes transformed me. Beautiful?—I was scary beautiful.

"You wear them well," Claire said. She had changed into a denim mini. I didn't mean to, but I found myself comparing us. Her legs were lean and as smoothly sculpted as any of those beautiful old statues of Greek goddesses.

A depressing thought brought me back down to earth. "I can't—I mean, I can't wear these. They're too—sexy."

"That's a problem?"

"You don't understand. Stoller—I don't want to encourage him."

"Stoller is a swine. You shouldn't be afraid of a swine."

"But—you see—I was in a reform school, he can send me back, he can ..."

"He thinks he has power. It's an illusion, or in his case, a delusion. He's a fool."

I was terrified of the man, and here was Claire dismissing him like some high school creep. I wished I had her confidence.

"Claire, where are you from? Your voice ... there's an accent ..."

"Britanny"

"France?"

"Britanny," she repeated.

"Hmm, how long have you been with Connor?"

I don't know where that question came from; I almost apologized for asking, when Claire bore into me with those scary-beautiful eyes of hers.

"Do you want him?" she asked, just as flat and matter-of-fact as anything.

"I—I ..."

She stepped toward me and put her hands on my hips, and then she began to sniff me, my neck, my hair, even my boobs. Did I stink, or something?

"One day," she said. "I might have to fight you for him—but not today, you're not ready."

She turned and curled her finger for me to follow. Fight her? Was she kidding?

I followed her back to the great room. Jerome had brought two step ladders and had just set them up beside one of the paintings as we entered. He bowed and smiled.

I looked around for Connor. "Where's ..."

"Gone to look at Stoller's land," Claire said.

"But, it's ten o'clock at night."

"He sees things clearer in the dark."

She climbed the step ladder, and gestured for me to climb mine. She examined the painting and her face brightened with a wide grin. Then she threw her head back and laughed like she had before.

"What? What's so funny?"

"Look. Pay close attention to the swirls of paint there." She pointed near the upper right corner. "Follow them with your finger as if you were writing, what do they spell?"

I did as she said. I couldn't make anything out, then I tried it a couple more times. Then it came to me, as if it flashed before my eyes Alois.

"What does it mean?"

"Stoller is an idiot."

We worked through the night. Claire taught me a lot about art and how to analyze a painting. Dawn was breaking when Stoller burst into the room.

"Well, then, how is it progressing?" He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Claire and me standing atop our stepladders. Only his eyes moved, first up my legs, then up Claire's.

"I will have an answer for you soon," Claire said and continued working.

I swear the man was shaking. He looked like he needed to run into the boy's room, or something. "Miss Donovan, you were to see me in my office this morning—your decision."

"I'm afraid I've kept Theresa up all night, Mr. Stoller. Perhaps you could grant her a day off. She's been very helpful."

Stoller looked like a dog who had a bone yanked out of his jaws. "Very well, then." he sputtered. "You say you'll make an end to this?"

"Yes," Claire replied with a flick of her hand. "Soon."

After he left Claire said I should go to bed, but as I turned to leave Hilda stomped into the room.

"Come, you have work!"

Before I could answer Claire stepped between us. "She has been given the day off."

"I am in charge of this..."

"She has been placed in my charge, M'selle Vache."

"My name is Miss Gretna!"

"Of course, Miss Vache Laide."

Hilda's face twisted and she raised her finger to Claire, but then her face went all pasty and her chin trembled. Without another word she turned the fled from the room.

Claire turned and shrugged.

"What did you do to her?"

She shook her head. "Bed for you—go."

I was so tired; when I got to my room I just shed my clothes and climbed under the covers naked. I'd never slept in the nude before, but I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. That night I dreamt of dark forests and castles and sleek animals running through the shadows.

*               *               *


Something was drawing me from sleep, as if I were being hurtled at incredible speed from a warm wonderful place I didn't want to leave. My body tensed, every hair stood. I sat up with my eyes wide open. Stoller stood at the foot of my bed. I shrieked.

His sickening smile and sunken cheeks nearly made me retch. "Lovely," he said, as if he drooled the word. "Lovely little pink nipples."

I gasped and pulled the bedclothes up to cover my breasts.

"So, you sleep in the raw?"

"I ... no, I was just so tired ..."

"Yes, up all night with your new friend. Tell me about Miss Prideaux."

"But, there isn't anything to tell."

"You talked—women talk. What did she tell you? Where is she from? Where is Murphy from?"

"She said she was from Brittany."

"France?"

"Brittany."

His faced turned even sourer, if that was possible. "What else?"

"Nothing, really."

"And Murphy?"

"Nothing. He went to see your land, he was gone all night."

"He went to see the land in the middle of the night?"

I shrugged.

"Did she seduce you?"

"What?"

"You're lying in bed, bare. It's late in the afternoon. Perhaps you and Miss Prideaux ..."

"No!"

"You will tell me everything you find out about them, do you understand?"

I nodded, but vowed to myself I'd never tell him anything. He stared at me then and his hand fell to his crotch. He looked like he could rape me with his eyes. Finally he turned and left, but Hilda came in right after him.

"Pretty bitch! Your day is coming. You like to eat cunt, eh?"

That red hot spot burning in my forehead finally burst. I was on my feet in a second, naked, nothing more than our breaths between us. Somewhere deep inside me the words boiled up, but when they came out of my mouth they were cold as stones.

"Get out—or I will hurt you so bad your ancestors will bleed."

Hilda made little squeaky sounds, and then she was gone. My body relaxed and I was all alone.

"Holy shit, where did that come from?"

*               *               *


It was around 3 in the afternoon and I didn't know what to do with myself. I dressed in a T-shirt and shorts—they weren't exactly pants, after all—and went downstairs. The house was as quiet as a graveyard, but then I heard Connor and Jerome talking out on the porch. I went outside and Connor turned and smiled at me.

"Sleeping beauty has awakened, I see."

I could feel my cheeks flare and a bunch of butterflies flutter around my stomach. "Hi."

"Care to accompany me? I need to make one last inspection of Mr. Stoller's building site."

"Okay. Um, what about Claire?"

"Claire is gone where the woodbine twines."

"Huh?"

"She's still sleeping."

"Oh."

He held out his arm and I took it, then he escorted me to his car and held the door for me. We started down the long driveway that hugged the bluff and then onto the two-lane state highway that followed the bends of the river.

"So," I said. "Are you some kind of land expert?"

"Historian—every acre of this planet has a story to tell, so long as a living soul has stood upon it."

"Hmm, I never thought about it that way. Um, how long have you and Claire been together—I mean, if you don't mind my asking?"

He chuckled. "A brief time—and maybe forever."

"Okay—it's none of my business."

He laughed. "You can know someone a short time, but feel like you've known them all your life. Or you can be with someone for a long time, and never truly know them at all. Anyway, if you live long enough, you encounter the same souls."

"I'd be happy just to encounter my mom again."

"Where is she?"

"I don't know; I don't even know if she's still alive. She just disappeared into the system."

"And your father?"

"I never really knew him. He left us when I was little."

"He left you a gift, and soon, Pandora, you'll open it."

"Huh?"

He pulled off the road at the edge of some woods. Before I could say another thing he bolted from the car and strode into the trees. I hurried to catch up to him.

He must have walked about fifty yards, then he stopped and just looked into the tree tops. He stood still for a second or two, then he began to sniff the air and pace off in one direction, then back.

"Here," he said.

"Here what?"

"A soul leaves something behind—a bit of residual energy, especially in places where great sacrifices are made." He knelt and put his hand flat on the ground.

"You know this place," I said.

He smiled that crooked smile of his. "Time to go back."

*               *               *


When we got back Jerome greeted us at the door. The look on his face told me something was wrong.

"Miss Donovan, if you would please, go straight to your room. Miss Gretna will be by later to speak to you."

"I guess I'll see you at dinner," Connor said.

"Okay."

I went to my room and decided to shower. I stayed under the water for a long time, trying to figure out what Connor was telling me back in the woods. He and Claire were two of the most wonderful, but frustrating people I'd ever met. What was all this talking in riddles?

Finally, I stepped out of the stall and wrapped a big fluffy towel around myself. There was something on my bed, a piece of gauzy fabric. I picked it up and found it was some kind of weird babydoll nightie. Were they kidding?

I tossed it back on the bed and opened the drawers to my dresser. All my clothes were gone. I tugged open all the other drawers, then I flung open my closet—nothing. Even the clothes I had left on the floor when I went to take my shower were gone.

There was a hard rap at the door, and then it opened. I pulled the towel tighter around myself. Jerome entered, his eyes cast down. He was carrying a tray of food. Hilda followed him in and watched while he set up the tray. He did his best to not look at me, then he went out without a word.

"You eat in your room tonight," Hilda said.

"What have you done with my clothes?"

"You will wear the clothes you're given from now on. There, you have a nightgown," she said, pointing at the bed.

"Nightgown? That thing would barely cover me. Why can't I come to dinner?"

She didn't answer me. She just stood glaring at me for a few seconds, and then she left. I guess I was being punished.

I just picked at the food. Around 9 o'clock my frustration had just about boiled over. I picked up that ridiculous babydoll and slipped it over me. I was right, it barely covered my crotch and bum cheeks, and it was so sheer you could see right though it. Then I got the sickening suspicion that this was how Stoller expected to find me that night. It was the icing on his cake—and I was the cake.

I slipped out my door and along the corridor, praying all the way that no one would see me. I made it to the top of the staircase to the lobby. From across the hall I could hear Stoller's voice echo through the open door of the dining room.

"You see, Mr. Murphy, I don't allow unions in my stores. No one dictates to me how I should run my business. That bitch in Oklahoma found that out the hard way. And you know how I scuttled that organization attempt? Not by negotiating with that woman—why would I lower myself? No, I got to her through her husband, and the husbands of all those women who'd signed union cards. I explained it was their jobs on the line too, even the ones who didn't work for me—that's how much influence I wield in the places I do business. They were so scared; they would have offered their wives' cunts as well as their acquiescence."

"Incredibly ruthless," Connor said.

"And why not? What is power if it's not used? I wield it in business, sir, but it is most satisfying when I use it to cuckold another man."

I didn't hear a response, but then Stoller started again. "I am not what the world would call an attractive man. I never was, and never will be. So be it. But, sir, I have fucked more than my share of pretty ass. Better than the sex, it's the knowledge that I possess her body. Ah, to plunder a woman, to hear her whimper as you invade her core ..."

"It's one thing to plunder a vulnerable woman," Claire interrupted.

"Ah, Miss Prideaux, don't think I don't admire your keen intelligence, and your formidable spirit. To break a spirited woman, such as yourself, that would be most satisfying. What say you, Mr. Murphy?"

I was expecting Connor to slug him, or something. "I think, Mr. Stoller, sometimes a man's reach exceeds his grasp, and that's when he's in danger of losing his arm."

There was silence, then Stoller laughed. "Well, I've enjoyed our conversation. Will you have news for me soon?"

"Tomorrow," Connor said.

"I need one more night," Claire added. "Could you ask Jerome to bring a tape player to the room tonight? I like to listen to music when I work."

"Certainly, Miss Prideaux."

I turned and headed back to my room. There was no lock on my door, though I suppose it wouldn't have kept Stoller out if he was bent on visiting me that night. All I could think about was what he said about plundering women, like they weren't even persons, just something for him to stab with his filthy dick.

I sat up on my bed and waited. I wasn't just going to lie there and let him have me. I decided I was going to fight, no matter what the consequences.

*               *               *


I must have nodded off. I checked the clock by my bed. It was almost 230 in the morning. I got up, crept over to the door and opened it a crack. I couldn't hear a thing. Then I slipped into the corridor and made my way downstairs. The house was mostly dark and the hall lighting dimmed, but I found my way along toward the room with the paintings. As I approached I heard music, violins and I think a harpsichord.

I sneaked up to the door and peeked in. Connor held Claire's hand as she twirled in an elegant, old-fashioned dance—a minuet maybe. Connor bowed and dipped, then they twirled together. Wow, they could really dance, but then I wondered, who dances like that anymore? Finally the music stopped and they ended with Connor bowing deeply, and Claire in a curtsy with her fingers across her eyes.

Then another song started. I recognized it too. It was a song my mom used to love, and dance to around our home. Claire stepped back and began to prance in place to the beat.

Oo my little pretty one, pretty one When you gonna give me some time, Sharona?

Connor stalked her like an animal about to pounce. God, he looked sexy.

Oo you make my motor run, my motor run Gun it coming off of the line, Sharona

They started to gyrate around each other. The way Claire's hips moved, and the way Connor slid behind her and closed his arms around her waist—so perfectly synchronized. I couldn't keep my eyes off them.

Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind I always get it up with a touch of the younger kind

Then something weird began to happen. It was like the air around them began to shimmer, like a cloud of tiny blue fireflies.

Connor was holding Claire's hand as she twirled, and then she leaned back into his arms. She took hold of his hands and rubbed them over her breasts and down her belly.

My cheeks and ears were burning up. I slid against the wall and sat on the floor, bringing my hands to my crotch without giving it a thought. I cupped my slick vulva and just let a sigh fly out of my throat. I turned to take another peek into the room. I couldn't see them.

Where did they go? The room was still pulsing with this weird blue light, when I noticed shadows moving along the wall. A shimmery blue mist swirled around them. I closed my eyes just for a second to rub them. When I opened them again Connor and Claire were there, still dancing—but when did they get naked?

I think I drooled as I counted every muscle in his body contract and relax from light to shadow. And Claire, she was so lean and beautiful, she moved like her feet didn't even touch the ground.

The song ended and another started. I recognized this one too; it was another of my mom's favorites. Claire slipped into Connor's arms and they started a slow dance.

It was just my imagination ... running away with me ...

I couldn't help it, I was fingering my pussy, staring and wondering what it felt like to dance that close, naked. I wanted to slip right between them. Tears were starting to spill over my eyes because I wanted it so much.

Then they turned, so Claire's back was toward me. Connor slid his hands down to her bum cheeks, and then I saw it. I rubbed my eyes again, and stared. Right above Claire's tailbone, a blue half-disc.

I gasped and they stopped. I got up and ran down the hall. When I got to my room I climbed under the covers and pulled them over my head.

*               *               *


I took a long time to fall asleep, and when I did the dreams I had were so strange. I dreamt about Connor and Claire too—about them making love, her legs clenched around his hips as he drove himself into her, and her nails clawing at his shoulders as his teeth clamped onto her neck, their muscles rippling with each thrust, like two wonderful animals trying to devour each other.

Then something yanked me out of my sleep again. I bolted up and found Hilda standing by the door. She didn't make any attempt to come near me.

"Mr. Stoller wants to see you—now."

"My clothes."

"He says, 'now!'"

"Bring me my clothes or I'm not going anywhere."

Hilda was wringing her hands, keeping her back against the door. "You see him as you are, you little ..."

"Get out, or bring me my clothes."

She turned and slammed the door behind her.

After about ten minutes of waiting I got out of bed and went into the shower. I took my time. After, I wrapped a large towel around myself and stepped back into my bedroom just as Stoller burst through the door. I froze on the spot.

"Tell me what you know about her—tell me!"

"I don't know any more than I did two nights ago. You made sure I couldn't leave my room last night," I said, and nodded at the flimsy nightie.

Stoller snatched it off my bed and ripped it to shreds. "Damn, you insolent cunt!"

My instinct was to take a step back, but I stood my ground.

"I should ..." His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted. Then he began to pace and pound a fist into his other hand.

"I'll have that bitch! I'll have her on all fours and I'll take her right in front of him. I will have her. There's never been a cunt I couldn't take."

Claire? Was he that obsessed with her? It was good news for me, I guess, but I nearly blurted Good luck, shithead.

He stopped pacing and glared at me. "And you ... you like cunt so much? I'll arrange to have you put in a place where cunt will be on the menu every day of your life—yours."

He stomped out of my room.

*               *               *


The day passed without anyone bringing me any clothes. No one brought me dinner either. I was going nuts in that room, and hungry too. Night came and dragged on. Finally, I couldn't stand it any longer. I wrapped myself in a towel and crept into the hall. It was dimly lit as I made my way along the corridor. The house was so quiet, my breathing sounded like a bellows to me.

I was on the balcony above Stoller's office when I noticed his reedy voice. It sounded like he was talking to someone over the phone.

"Yes, is that all? ... But, what interest does the Pennsylvania State Police have in them? ... Damn it all! All it says is to contact Detective Sgt. Larson with any information. ... Then, dammit, what the hell do I pay you for? ... Well, they must be wanted for something." Then I heard him slam down the phone.

Soft footfalls traced their way to Stoller's office. There was a soft knock, and I heard Jerome say, "Sir, Mr. Murphy and Miss Prideaux will see you now, in the gallery room."

"They will, will they? All right, Jerome, you may retire now."

"Yes, sir, Goodnight, sir."

I heard Stoller gather papers then his office door shut and his footfalls echoed across the lobby.

I hurried down the stairs as quietly as I could, my heart thumping so loudly I thought anyone in the house could hear it. I followed Stoller toward the gallery. The door was open and I could hear him talking with Connor and Claire.

"You have something for me? Well?"

Claire replied first. "I'm afraid, Mr. Stoller, that you have been swindled."

"What? What are you saying?"

"I think my English is quite precise, sir. Your paintings are worthless, except as curiosities, they are certainly not Rembrandts."

I could just imagine the steam erupting out of Stoller's ears.

"Ridiculous! They have been authenticated by ..."

"Experts ... yes, so you've told me. But, the fact is, these were painted by a very talented man. He was well known through the 1890s among other artists for producing so-called 'lost' masterpieces. He was very good at it as you can see. He created lovely Titians. I can show you his signature disguised in the swirls Alois."

"How is it you know so much about a forger ..."

"Not a forger, Mr. Stoller. He was an artist in his own right. He just enjoyed inhabiting other artists' skins, imitating their styles."

"What a lot of ... And, I ask again, how you know so much about this unknown genius-imposter."

"I knew him."

"Eh?"

"I modeled for him... just for fun."

"You ... you're daft. Didn't you just say he was known in the 1890s?"

"Yes, a wonderful young man. I enjoyed his company."

"What? What sort of game are you playing?"

"I also have some bad news, Mr. Stoller," Connor said. "But in light of what Claire has told you, I suppose it's all moot at this point."

"What? What's that?"

"The land on which you intended to build your museum, you couldn't have built on it anyway."

"And why not, damn you?"

"New York State law forbids desecration of cemeteries, especially military cemeteries."

It sounded like Stoller was having trouble taking in air. Then he sputtered, "What nonsense is this? What cemetery?"

"Seventeen hundred and seventy-seven. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne took his army down Champlain and captured Ticonderoga. One didn't have to be a learned tactician to see was he was about, splitting New England off from the other colonies. It was assumed Howe would move north to join him. He didn't—poor fellow never received his orders. But the Continental Army couldn't know that.

"General Gates stood between Burgoyne and Albany; he would have been crushed between the two British forces. Washington sought to coordinate a counter offensive against Howe if necessary, but unfortunately Generals Gates and Washington didn't get along. Gates ignored his missives. Washington sought to contact someone in Gate's command on the sly. A major on the staff of General Knox was sent with eight rangers to make contact with General Arnold. Unfortunately, the party was detected and ambushed by Tory militia and a party of Mohawks."

"What?" Stoller stammered. "What does this have to do ..."

"No quarter was given. The rangers were slaughtered, but their officer escaped. Then he stalked the Tories, and over the following three nights he made them pay for their lack of gallantry. The Mohawks understood what they were up against. They left tributes in the forest, made their apologies. They were allowed to go home, never to participate in the white man's war again. The officer returned to bury his men—on what is now your land, Mr. Stoller. He made a vow that one day their sacrifice would be recalled—it was his mission, as it were."

"Murphy, what kind of damned nonsense ... "

"All true, and verifiable, documents were left behind, stored in archives through the decades so they would survive and come to light—at the opportune time."

"If it's true then you've known it all along—how?"

"A report to General Knox is in the New York State archives ... with my signature."

There was nothing, just silence for a long time. Then Stoller sounded like he was gargling phlegm up out of his throat. "You must think I'm an idiot. I tell you what you are—con artists, flim-flammers, and damned sorry ones at that. You expect me to believe such claptrap?"

"Nevertheless, Mr. Stoller, the documentation is available and will be cited in my report to the state."

"Bastard! You and your cunt won't get away with this. Remember what I said about power, Murphy? Information is power, potent leverage. And that's what I have, you charlatan. You and this bitch are wanted by the state police in Pennsylvania. I can have you detained."

"Hmm, Claire?" Connor said, as if he were making his mind up what to have for breakfast. "Do you suppose that nice Sgt. Larson wants to invite us to a soiree, perhaps?"

"Oh, do you suppose?"

"Stop this, both of you! You're wanted, that's all that matters. I have you by the short-hairs, but I have a proposal. You, bitch, will authenticate these paintings as Rembrandts, and you, Murphy, will certify the land as clear for development. But first, you will stand there and watch while your woman gets on her knees, begs my pardon, and sucks my cock."

What a bastard. I wanted to run in there and pound his prune-face.

"Strip, you bitch, and crawl over here and take me in your mouth!"

"Mr. Stoller," Connor said, as calm as you please. "I don't think you appreciate what you are asking."

"I'm asking nothing, I am demanding—in your mouth, cunt!"

"Really, Mr. Stoller, you truly don't want to find yourself in Claire's mouth ..."

"Yes, I do," and then he cackled, "such a lovely mouth."

Then Claire said, "All the better to ..."

I started to peek past the door, but a bright blue flash, like a thousand camera lights going off at once, blinded me.

And then—oh, God—there was the scream, a scream that just seemed to jangle my backbone and went on so long I clapped my hands to my ears. It was so horrible it made me sick to my stomach. I collapsed onto my knees and shook all over. It sounded like all the fear a human being could imagine came out in that scream. When it stopped my ears continued to ring, then there was stillness. And I couldn't understand why the whole house hadn't come running.

I got to my feet, but I was shaking so much I could barely walk. I wanted to run away as fast as I could, but something else made me walk toward the door. I crept into the room. The towel I held to my breast was moist; I had broken out in a cold sweat.

First I saw Connor, just standing, looking toward the center of the room. A shiver ran up my back as I turned to follow his line of sight. Stoller lay backward over the table that had held the model of his museum, but now it lay scattered on the floor. His scrawny, pale legs dangled over the edge; his pants crumpled down around his ankles. I couldn't see his face, but standing over him ... I had never seen a wolf, not in real life, but there was this sleek, muscular animal, its black fur shiny and luxuriant. It turned its head to look at me and its eyes ... its scary-beautiful blue eyes shone like they were lit from behind.

Connor's voice was deep and calm. "Theresa? What did you see?"

"I—I—oh, my God, Connor? Who ... what are you?"

He walked toward me slowly and reached out his hand. I thought I should run, run screaming from the room. But then he laid his hand on my bare shoulder and I stopped shaking.

"Just two souls making our way through time."

The animal jumped off the table.

My voice cracked, "Mr. Stoller—did you?"

"No—no, of course not. Look for yourself, there isn't a mark on him. I'm afraid poor Mr. Stoller's heart just stopped."

I stepped over to the table, but I looked away instantly. Stoller's face was twisted into a horrific mask.

"At the point of death, all that you have done during your life catches up to you. Mr. Stoller had much to account for, more than most."

The wolf kept its distance but eyed me steadily.

Connor turned me toward the door. "By the way, dear, why are you wrapped in a towel?"

"Huh?" What did it matter? It seemed like such a silly question under the circumstances, but somehow it calmed me even more.

"They took away my clothes," I said, as if making small talk.

"Hmm. Well, now I want you to run along. Go right to Mrs. Stoller's room, and tell her about her husband."

"But, Hilda ..."

"Never mind her. Now, there you go," he said, and gently swatted my behind. "Don't look back—straight to Mrs. Stoller—there's a good girl."

I hurried into the corridor. There was another brilliant flash of blue. I disobeyed Connor just a moment, and turned in time to see him step out of the room with Claire, his jacket around her shoulders. Otherwise she was naked.

I made my way upstairs beyond the balcony to Mrs. Stoller's room, knocked and went inside.

*               *               *


I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I'd told Mrs. Stoller, she hugged me and told me to wait in her room. She was nice, kind of like you'd expect someone's grandmother to be. Later she came back and walked me to my room. "It'll be all right, dear," she said.

The local cops were still milling about the place in the morning, but the medical examiner had determined Stoller died of a heart attack. The undertaker came and took him away.

Connor and Claire came to my room. I couldn't help but gaze at those wondrous eyes of hers, even as she laid out an entire wardrobe on my bed.

"Wear them well," she said.

"I'm afraid our work here is done. Mrs. Stoller has our reports," Connor said. "She seems like a fine lady."

"You're going?"

"I'm afraid we must, I came to make good on a promise, now that's done. But we'll always be near."

"Huh?"

"Remember what I told you in the woods, Pandora." He winked, then bent down and kissed me.

Then Claire hugged me, kissed my cheek and whispered, "Sister."

And then they were gone, like they had dissolved out of existence.

*               *               *


Mrs. Stoller was so nice to me in the days that followed. She asked if I would like to stay to live with her. She said she'd help me find my mom, if she was still alive, so that she could live with us too. She also arranged to have me officially released from Austin, and my record wiped clean.

Just this week, a detective hired by Agnes—Mrs. Stoller—found where my mom was and we were leaving that weekend to see her.

I don't know what happened to Hilda. She just disappeared off the face of the earth, not that anyone missed her.

But just now I was wrapping up my story for Sgt. Nils Larson of the Pennsylvania State Police.

"Is that all, Terry?" he asked. "Mr. Murphy and Miss Prideaux just left? They didn't say where they were going?"

"Yup, 'fraid so."

"Hmm—they're ... very special, aren't they?"

I didn't say anything. He stood and slid his notebook into his jacket pocket. Then something came over me—I dunno—I just felt sort of ... frisky.

I walked over to him and planted a kiss right on his lips, and let my tongue play with his. I just wanted a taste.

Funny, I actually heard his blood rush through his veins and the heat rise from his chest. Then I just stepped back and grinned.

God, was he turned on, and maybe ... just a little scared?

 _______
© 2005 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio:  Who is Robert Buckley? Read his bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.


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