Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Part 6

Cynthia looked up as they emerged from the entrance into the front lobby of the building. A skylight let in filtered light, which her eyes followed down to see that they were standing on the top floor of a multi-level building.

She walked forward to see how far down the building went. Placing her hands on the rail that circled the opening, she was able to count four levels below.

Out of the corner of her eyes she was able to see Karl take position up next to her.

“We fought the water for nearly a year before we were able to get the foundation reinforced enough to actually build a structure like this.”

“Excuse me?” Cynthia asked, turning slightly to see him better.

“Every contractor we spoke with said that a structure like this couldn’t be built on an island. They all said that the water table was too high and that we’d never be able to keep the water from seeping into the lower levels.

We finally found one who was willing to do the job, as long as we acknowledged that there was a high probability of failure.

It took a year of playing with different reinforcement options before we found one that held back the water.”

“But even still it takes constant vigilance to maintain the foundation,” Cynthia heard Mr. Winston say behind her.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

Mr. Winston walked over and took a space next to her on the railing. “Even with all the precautions taken during construction we still get the occasional wet spot or leak. So we have crews dedicated solely to the purpose of maintaining the foundation.”

“How does that work? Surely it must disrupt whatever is going on to go into a room and check the walls.”

She noticed a slight hesitation from Mr. Winston as he tried to decide what to say. And then Karl spoke up behind her. She turned to face him, but caught the slightest glare directed at Karl from Mr. Winston as she turned.

“That floor you see below is not the bottom of this structure. There is another level below that which houses pump equipment.”

“So you pump the water out as it seeps into the lowest level?”

“Yes. But even better, is that there is an outer ring that encloses all of the levels below this one.”

She heard the slightest growl from Mr. Winston. Deciding that this might be useful information later she decided to press her luck and see how much information she would be able to get from Karl.

“But how does another wall help?” she asked, assuming the role of naïve girl for a moment.

Karl didn’t notice the act, and was more than willing to talk more about the building. “Double wall construction, sweetheart. It takes twice as much for any water to get through. Plus, since we made the separation large enough for a person to get through, we can make foundation repairs without disrupting the work going on here at all.”

Cynthia could see the pride emanating from Karl. She could tell that he had helped in the concept during building. She wanted to keep him talking about it, but Mr. Winston interrupted before she could ask for more information.

“Mr. Stone, don’t you think that we should get Cynthia settled in? It was a long flight.”

Cynthia saw Karl’s face lose the pride it had held only seconds before. In it’s place a businesslike demeanor took residence.

“You’re right.” He turned toward the front for a moment and gestured at the person who sat at the security desk. The person at the desk picked up a phone and spoke into it.

Karl then turned back to face Cynthia again.

“Sweetie, I’ve got to go with Mr. Winston for now. There’re some projects that he wants me to look at in the research department.”

“Can I come along?” she asked, not really wanting to let either man out of her sight for now.

“I’m afraid not,” Mr. Winston cut in from behind.

“Why not?” she asked, turning to face him.

“We’re only now adding you to the security system, and it takes twenty-four hours for any changes to take effect.”

“But I’d be with you two, and shouldn’t that make it safe enough for me?”

“Fraid not, sweetie,” Karl said. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “The security system is very good, and it won’t let you any father down than the first two floors below this one. But don’t worry; we wouldn’t leave you completely alone in a strange place. I’ve summoned an escort for you.” Karl looked around. “And here he comes.”

Cynthia turned to see a man walking toward her. He looked only a year or two older than she was. He was dressed in a dark blue suit, but strode like a fighter.

“Jacob? Is that you?” Karl asked.

Cynthia turned to face him, surprise getting the better of her. But she turned almost immediately back to face the new person.

“Yeah,” Jacob said, blushing slightly. “But I don’t remember who you are.”

“That’s quite alright, I wouldn’t expect you to. The last time I saw you, you were running around the place with a toy gun, and protecting everything in sight.

I think you were about three or four at the time, just before we took Cynthia here and left the island.”

Jacob’s blush deepened as Karl spoke. But it quickly disappeared as a slight cough came from Mr. Winston.

“Jacob, I want you to show Cynthia here her quarters, as well as the mess and other important areas. And Karl, I believe that it’s time for us to attend to our own business.”

Then, without another word, Mr. Winston led Karl away and toward what must have been an elevator.

Cynthia looked at Jacob, trying to glean some sort of information about him by the way he looked. But his demeanor betrayed nothing about him.

Finally she gave up. “Where to then?”

“Well I guess that we’d better start with what was suggested. Father would be very upset if I couldn’t follow at least that command.”

“Father?” she asked, curious.

Jacob grimaced as he realized what he had said, then decided that it was best to explain. “Yeah, Security Chief Winston is my father.”

Cynthia groaned inwardly, it was bad enough with one Winston looking over her. But now she had two.

They had been walking at a brisk pace around the perimeter of the building, and then suddenly, Jacob stopped.

“Your room, madam.”

“Thank you,” she replied with a hint of annoyance.

“Here is your keycard,” he said, handing over the credit card sized piece.

“Thank you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll take a shower.”

“Just call if you need to.”

“Ok,” she said going through the door. Then she stopped and turned at the last moment. “How do I call Jacob?”

“There’s a paging panel just to the side of your door. You’ll see it.”

Cynthia nodded and turned to go inside the room again.

“Oh, and by the way,” Jacob said.

Cynthia turned, looking at him.

“Call me Jake.”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Part 5

This is too much, I need to think, thought Cynthia as she closed her eyes and reclined her cream-colored leather chair. The seat back went nearly horizontal and a footrest rose smoothly under her legs. She wiggled in the chair, appreciating the luxury of the private jet. The howl of the engines was barely audible as they streaked across the sky, somewhere over Texas she reckoned. Reviewing the selections on the ipod with mild distaste, Cynthia gave a mental shrug, set it for random play and stuck it in her shirt pocket, turned up just loud enough to cover the background sounds.

Ok, she thought, I've got Dad, who isn't, but who I'm pretty sure I can trust. I've got this well-dressed goon, who I definitely can't trust, unless I'm paying him probably. I've got two likely-dead parents, one of whom is leaving me messages and toys. Maybe they can be trusted, maybe they can't, and maybe they want(ed) something I won't. Have to play that by ear. 'Mom' seems to think something on this island is dangerous and I need to escape, but Dad, er, Karl seems pretty comfortable.

Cynthia surreptitiously peeked out under half-open eyelids at Karl. He and Mr. Winston were seated in front of a small table, studying some black and white stones arranged on a thick board covered in a gridwork of black lines. Karl looked as he always did, earnest and open. He was completely at ease with Mr. Winston, they spoke quietly as they took turns slapping new stones down on the board. She watched quietly for a while, observing Mr. Winston. He had removed the expensive suit coat and hung it in the closet upon boarding the plane and now sat in a crisp white shirt and tie. Given his exceptional proportions she supposed that his entire wardrobe was custom tailored. The shirt still had sharp creases in all the right places, and was neatly buttoned at the neck. Strange, she thought, Mr. Winston seemed very smart, but also extremely military, sort of. No, not military, ex-military, with a dash of back-woods militia survivalist. She had mixed feelings about him, she realized. If she could trust him, he'd be a great asset. On the other hand, as an enemy, well, she wouldn't want to have to out-fight or out-wit him.

She closed her eyes again and went back to pondering the nature of this corporation. The documents in the portfolio suggested that the company was huge, but there was very little information about the employees. There were profiles of upper management, and details about investments and assets, but nothing about offices, no org charts, nothing.

She went on weighing what she knew against the possible unknowns, occasionally grimacing when a particularly moldy tune cycled through. Eventually the drone of the engines and the warm, comfortable leather lulled her to sleep, where she experienced confused dreams of decadent life at the top of an enormously powerful corporation, but with shady undertones that set her on edge.

The thud of the landing gear deploying jolted Cynthia awake. The ipod had shut itself off, and Mr. Winston was no longer in the cabin. Cynthia half sat up, somewhat alarmed at the increased wind noise and howl of the engines.

Karl smiled at her from one of the couches up front, "Relax, hon, we're landing. The runway is a little short, not much room on the island you know, take-off and landing can be kind of exciting. Don't worry though, our pilot is one of the best, and he does this just about every day." Noticing Cynthia's searching looks around the cabin he nodded toward the cockpit, "He's up front, he needed to radio something to the tower."

Cynthia sat her chair back upright and peered out through the small window to see what she could learn about their destination. The sun glinted off of shallow seawater below, and she could see a few very small islands poking out of the water, just slivers of beach surrounding small lumps of dense greenery. The plane sank lower and lower as she waited, but no land appeared. The sound of the engines died away almost completely. She could see the texture of the waves on the water now, rushing below at a frightening speed. Still there was no land in sight. Her apprehension upon waking started to return, although she knew it was silly. They were now scant yards above the water and the waves were lost in a blur of speed. Almost at the same instant the rear of the plane sank and a flash of beach went by below, replaced in an instant with a pale concrete surface. With a barely perceptible bump the settled and the nose came down. The engines howled back to life and the roar of thrust reversers penetrated the heavy sound insulation. Heavy decelleration sent the contents of the folder sliding down the cabin floor as she hung on to the arms of the seat, thankful for the lap belt that pressed into her stomach. Very shortly the runway rushing by outside her window slowed itself to a more stately pace, and she was able to relax.

Karl grinned at her from his side-facing seat, "If you think that was fun, just wait until we get a chance to take off!" Cynthia laughed as she started collecting the contents of the folder from the floor. The black case had slid the farthest, lodging against the door to the cockpit, which now slid open to reveal Mr. Winston, again back in his perfectly fitted suit coat. Spying the case at his feet, and already crouching to fit his great bulk through the small doorway, he deftly scooped it up and dropped it into an inside pocket. Cynthia paused for a moment, staring, the side of her thumb stinging. Doubt flashed through her mind, "How much does he know?" she wondered. Pretending not to notice the loss of the case, she continued gathering the papers.

As the three of them walked across the empty tarmac Karl inhaled deeply of the salt air and let the sun pour down onto his upturned face.

"Ah, Cynthia, its good to be back in the tropics, isn't it?" he asked, "I missed this place, it still feels like home." He pointed ahead of them to where Cynthia could just pick out the glassy, dark, low-profile forms of a number of buildings obscured by large trees. If it weren't for the neat lawns she might not have noticed them. "It's grown up a bit since I was last here, but there's the compound up ahead, looks as if Rob's had it expanded a bit too," he said, squinting at some of the buildings. "We spent a lot of time designing this place, it'll survive just about anything, even the biggest typhoon. Blow every last bit of soil off this rock, and that," he said proudly, waving his arm to encompass the entire compound, "will be the only thing left." He grinned, "And I'll bet it would still have an internet connection faster than what we had back at the university."

Karl continued telling her about the design of the buildings as the walked across the short-cropped grass. She half-listened and fingered the signal-card in her pocket, considering. Dad seemed perfectly at home here, she thought, and she wasn't quite ready to let Mr. Winston out of her sight yet. "I'll take a chance," she decided, letting the card slip back down into her pocket, "I can always activate it later." Karl went on about the building telling her of the dense multi-level concrete and steel construction and water-tight exterior.

The grass abruptly transitioned to bare, natural stone as they approached the main doors of the most prominent building. Seemingly of their own accord, two large sections of the dark glass facade of the building slide back, and a river of cool, dry air spilled out, slithering under the warm tropical atmosphere, enveloping them and sending small shivers up Cynthia's back. She looked back as they crossed the threshold into the dark, polished interior of the building. In the distance the sun, bloated and orange, sank into the sea, which was molten with the reflected brilliance. The last warming rays vanished, cut off suddenly as the doors slid silently shut, sealing out the last reaching tendrils of the golden orb with a quiet, but very solid-sounding thump.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Part 4.

Like a ghost who just came to the realization that they were dead, Cynthia floated onto the plane. She noticed the richness of it and what little she knew of corporate jets, this seemed like a very nice one.

She immediately walked to the back and took a seat in the corner and gave a quick look to Dad, letting him know she wanted to be alone. Karl took a seat near the front as Mr. Winston went to check on the pilot. She stared at the door as it closed, sealing the interior from the outside and at the same time closing the book on the first chapter of her life. She knew it would never be the same after today. She looked at the back of the seat her Dad was sitting in and tears started to well up in her eyes. "I trusted you." she thought. "I took care of you after Mom died, and all this time you've been lying to me, why?"

The plane took off and she could barely feel it. Is this the life she was going to have from now on? Swanky corporate jets, board meetings, secret companies? It all seemed a little too unreal.

So Dad wasn't Dad then. Dad was some guy named Karl and her real Dad was some guy named Rob, who also happened to be the President of some multinational company. None of this made any sense - why did her real father abandon her to Karl and Mom? Wait, not Mom, Elizabeth, so who was her real Mom?

Cynthia pulled out the envelope and emptied the contents onto the seat next to her. She looked at the black folder and opened it, the photo of her father stared back at her smugly. As she looked through the folder she started to get a sense of the vastness of this company. Holdings in several states, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, South Africa - the company really was global. And they were into everything according to the prospectus; biotech, military hardware, electronics, telecommunications even private security - that's probably where they found Mr. Winston. And to think she thought he was cute.

She put the prospectus down and picked up the other item in the envelope, a box - that's what must have made the envelope so heavy before. She rested the box on her lap. It was sleek and smooth made out of some sort of material that she didn't recognize, there didn't seem to be a latch anywhere, in fact the only distortion in the otherwise smooth surface was an oblong indentation on the side.

"What have you got there?"

She hadn't realized Dad had come over to her.

"I don't know, I just pulled it out of the envelope."

Dad crouched down so he could look her in the eye just like he had done so many times when she was growing up. She just wanted to hug him and have him take her home, but she knew those days were past.

"Cynthia, I know you're angry, and you have every right to be, but I want you to know that I love you like my own child, there's a reason for all of this and I'll explain everything as soon as I can, I just need you to be patient for just a little while longer."

She stared at him trying to see if he was placating her.

"Who's my real mother?"

This brought a look and a raised eyebrow from Mr. Winston.

"Karl, why don't you come back over here and sit down."

Karl looked at her once more, smiled and turned to go back to his seat. He looked back with that same sadness he had had on the day Mom had died.

Mr. Winston got up and crossed to a cabinet and took out a Diet Coke. He walked over and pulled the tray table up from the side of her seat and placed the can on it.

"Let's all sit quietly and enjoy the rest of our flight, shall we?"

As Mr. Winston returned to his seat, Cynthia bored holes into what she assumed was his over muscled back.

"Don't you work for me now?"

Mr. Winston almost cracked a smile she thought.

"No." was all he said.

"Asshole." she thought.

Cynthia took a swig from the Diet Coke and returned her attention to the box. She slid her thumb along the sides trying to feel for a ridge or latch or something, but only found the indentation. She pressed on it to see if there was a button or something when a sharp poke hit her thumb. She pulled her thumb back quickly and realized there was a tiny pin prick and a slight drop of blood began to form.

The box sat for a moment and then there was an almost imperceptible click and then a hiss, almost like a freshness seal from a jar of peanuts. She moved the box to the seat next to her and opened it. Inside was a strange card, kind of like a credit card, but twice the thickness. Next to it was a pen and finally a black velvet sack. She opened the sack and there was an IPod. Yes! Thank you new Dad!

She turned it on and found that there was already a song list in there. She scrolled through the list which read like Billboard’s top 100 from earlier in the year. Too bad there wasn’t any good music on this thing, but it was still cool. As she continued to scroll her thumb stopped on an older song “One Step Ahead” by the Split Enz. Well at least there was one good song. Cynthia put the earbuds in and hit play.

“Cynthia. This is your mother, Kenya Wallace.”

Cynthia’s face froze. She took a big gulp off of her Diet Coke and swallowed hard.

“If there is anyone around you, pretend that you are listening to music, it’s very important”

Cynthia looked around nervously and then started drumming her fingers and moving her head a little. Singing the song in her head helped a lot.

“I’m sorry I can’t be there to meet you, but that can’t be helped, I hope to meet you someday, but that may not even be possible, since I may also be dead.”

“If you are listening to this, that means they’ve told you that Robert is dead. He may be dead or he may have escaped, but either way they need you. They need your DNA.”

Cynthia felt her eyes widen and tried to keep moving to the beat in her head.

“Take the pen and the card out of the box. Protect these with your life. The card is a signal, when you get to the Island, snap the card in half, it will activate a signal and an extraction team will be on the way to pick you up, make sure no one sees you do this. The pen is a flash drive that contains all my files and notes, this information is crucial so do not lose it.”

Cynthia put the items in her pocket.

“Now if you are not being watched, remove the bottom from the box. Underneath you will find a small taser. It’s only got one charge, but it will take down anyone for enough time for you to get away. I know this is scary for you, but trust me when I say your life depends on it.”

She closed the box and put it and the folder back in the envelope. She put the taser away and sat back in her seat. She looked over at Karl’s seat and then over to Mr. Winston. The thoughts swirled around her head. Who do I trust? What do I do? What the hell is going on here?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Part 3

Cynthia came out of her thoughts when her da... Karl, laid a hand on her shoulder. His stance said that he wanted to get into the car. She scooted across the gray leather seat, the leather sticking to the skin that wasn't covered by her denim shorts. Mr. Winston leaned into the open door. "The jet leaves in just over an hour. We’re headed directly to the field. Is there anything that you need before we go?”

Karl shook his head, he was used to leaving with minimal supplies.

Cynthia thought about it for a moment, and shook her head as well.

“Then let’s go.” Mr. Winston then shut the car door, and walked around to the front.

The driver got out of the Lincoln and exchanged a few words with Mr. Winston. After a moment he nodded and strode toward the car that Mr. Winston had driven up in. He got in and drove off.

Mr. Winston slid into the driver’s seat, made a quick u-turn in the street and headed in the direction of the airport.

Cynthia stared out the window at the passing houses. An uneasy silence filled the back seat.

“Cynthia? Honey?” Karl asked.

“Yeah?” she asked in return, not turning to look at him.

“Please don’t be mad at me. I only did what I had to. I wanted to make sure you had a good life, a good childhood. I did what I promised Rob I would do. It doesn’t mean that I love you any less.”

“And Mom?”

“Barren…” Karl trailed off, trying to decide what to say next. “We had been trying for years to have children. And when we found out that we couldn’t she was devastated. Then Rob came to me, you were only a few months old, and asked that we take care of you. We could hardly refuse. We had helped each other out so many times before. And your mother was delighted just to have a child in the house.

At first we thought that it would be a short-term thing. And then Rob had to go into hiding for a few years. That’s when he put this plan into place. He didn’t want you to have a childhood filled with the fears and dangers of his profession. He asked me to change my name and raise you as my own.

Your mother agreed and we moved to Atlanta. We had new names, and no connections to divulge our past. Rob set up a new office here, and funneled money so that it appeared to have no ties with Stark Industries. We agreed that he would have no interaction with you. You were to know nothing of this until his death.”

Cynthia turned to look at the man she had always known as her father.

He ran his fingers through his hair, nervous. “I always knew that I would have to face this day. Sometimes I would wish that Rob live longer than me, so that I wouldn’t have to face this. So I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in your eyes.”

Karl turned to look out the window.  

Cynthia had so many questions, but she didn’t know where to begin.

“I knew that this day would come. I knew that there would be a day that you would have to take over control of Stark Industries.

In that vein I tried to prepare you. To give you the skills that you would need. I wanted you to have a grounded view of the world. I wanted you to be prepared for anything that might happen.”

“Like what?”

Karl looked toward the front of the Lincoln. He made brief eye contact with Mr. Winston. He turned back to Cynthia.

“Anything… Honey, you must understand that in order to keep your existence secret I haven’t had many dealings with the bulk of Stark Industries for many years. Even I don’t know exactly what they do now.

But before you came along it was a very dangerous place to work. We never knew what country we would be in from one day to the next, nor what kind of people we would be dealing with.”

“What did you do?”

Karl thought for a moment, and then shook his head. “Not yet, not here. There will be plenty of time for that when we reach the island.”

“Can you tell me anything?”

“I can tell you that all of those trips we took when you were a child weren’t for pleasure. Every one of those was paid for by Stark Industries, and on every one of them I was doing research for one or another of Rob’s projects.”

The car slowed as they approached a security gate.

Mr. Winston slowed, rolled down the window and flashed a badge of some kind at the guard. The guard waved them through, and they drove in the direction of the hangars.

Mr. Winston parked the car beside a hangar that a plane was just being pulled from. He opened the door for Cynthia, and lent her a hand to help her from the car.

She blinked in the bright sunshine, already accustomed to the dark interior of the Lincoln.

She watched as the plane emerged, sleek and silver, from the hangar. It paused just past the doors and a stairway was wheeled over.

Mr. Winston took Cynthia by the elbow and led her toward the plane.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Part 2

Mr. Winston turned his steely gaze toward Mr. Blalock as if asking permission. Dad, fully composed now, but somehow looking older, gave a short nod. Looking back to Cynthia Mr. Winston folded his hands together, interlacing his thick fingers, laying perfectly manicured nails between bony, thickly calloused knuckles.

"Ms. Wallace," he began.

"But," interrupted Cynthia.

Mr. Winston silenced her with a look and continued, "If you will allow me to explain, Ms. Wallace," he said, emphasizing the name, "things will become clear." Cynthia slumped into her chair, still looking defiant, but motioned for him to continue.

"This man," he said, nodding toward Dad, "Is Mr. Karl Stone, a member of the board of directors of Stark Industries International, a corporation that you, along with most of the rest of the world, have never heard of."

Cynthia looked at Dad, searching his face, yearning for a denial but knowing at the same time... Dad closed his eyes briefly as he nodded, confirming Mr. Winston's statement. She could feel the familiar burning rush of stress hormones spread up from the pit of her stomach. It was the same feeling she remembered from the first time Dad had taken her hang-gliding in Brazil when she was 10. Time seemed to stop, her stomach went weightless, and her awareness sharpened and constricted to what was immediately before her. For an eternal instant she experienced terror and uncertainty, then an intense rush of endorphin-fueled elation that burned through her brain, setting her senses on edge and expanded her awareness to... her kitchen. Mr. Winston watched her, his restless gaze missing nothing, but not understanding the flush that crept up the sides of her neck. Dad's face was impassive except for his eyes, which sparkled; he knew what an adrenalin junkie she was, he was partly responsible for creating that monster.

Mr. Winston unfolded his powerful hands and reached across the table to pick up the large envelope.

"Your father was Mr. Robert Stark, founder and, until last week, president of the organization." As he spoke he opened the seal on the envelope and slide out a thick, glossy black folder which he turned to face her and opened. A handsome face not unlike her own smiled out at her from the stack of documents on the left side of the folder. On the right was a cover letter printed on what Cynthia took to be Stark Industries letterhead.

"Cindy, hon," came Karl's voice, "I didn't think you would have to deal with this for at least another 10 years."

"Performance graphs, cash-flows, org charts, hardware assets.." she said aloud as she flipped through the pages on the right. "What am I supposed to do with all this? Whoa, what's this," she said, pausing on one page for a closer examination, "this stuff sounds like military hardware. What kind of business is this?" She looked at Mr. Winston, one platinum-pierced eyebrow raised in cautious curiosity.

Mr. Winston shifted in his chair, cracked his knuckles and looked mildly uncomfortable, "Mr. Stone, you and Mr. Stark created Stark Industries, perhaps it would be best if you explained?"

"Fair enough," Karl Stone said, as he dragged one of the dining room chairs out, pirouetting it half around before dropping into it and folding his bare arms across the back. "I met Rob in college, in my sociology class. He had some, ah, unconventional ideas about how things should be. I disagreed with him, but we had a lot of interests in common so we started spending quite a lot of time together. We ended up working together on much of our doctoral studies,"

"OH!" exclaimed Cynthia, "this is the Rob you've told me about from your early research! We've got pictures of the two of you in the forest."

He grinned and nodded, "Yep, me an' Rob and a thousand million biting insects."

"And he, he's?" she hesitated.

Again Karl nodded in confirmation, "Your father, thats right. Rob never could stay out of trouble, his schemes landed us in third-world jails a number of times." He laughed, remembering, "There was this one time in Kenya," the words died on his lips, "well, there'll be time for stories on the way. Mr. Winston, I presume you have arranged for transport and to take care of all this?" he asked, waving behind him at the house.

"Yes sir Mr. Stone," said Mr. Winston as he sprang catlike to his feet and scooped up the black folder, "I'll drive you to the local air field where a company jet is waiting. From there we'll fly directly to the island," he nodded at Cynthia, "it's about a 10 hour flight, but the jet is quite comfortable."

Having grown up with Dad, er, *Karl* she corrected herself, Cynthia was quite accustomed to dropping everything to spend weeks or months tramping around the North American Southwest or South American jungle or Peruvian mountains or whatever exotic location had captured Karl's fancy, but that was when she was a kid, with no attachments.

"But Dad," she protested, "my internship, how long with this take?"

Mr. Winston held up the black folder which was embossed in dark charcoal with the logo she had seen on the letterhead within, "Ms. Blalock," he said with a grin, "those financial statements you saw detail the holdings your father left you. You won't be needing that internship."

At the back of her mind Cynthia felt the start of a tickling she hadn't felt for many years.

"But the house, the cars?" She asked she followed Mr. Winston's lead out the back door and down the sun-dappled driveway.

"My associate will take care of it all," he assured her, as a shiny gray Lincoln pulled up to the curb. Mr. Winston opened the door and gently placed his hand on the small of her back, ostensibly encouraging her into the car.

The tickle at the back of her mind intensified and she recognized the tingle of excitement she always felt when leaving for an adventure. She realized now how much she had missed it during all those years in college. The internship suddenly seemed very mundane and far away. Across the street Mrs. Greene watch with mild curiosity, looking out over her perfect lawn as she rocked on her porch glider and stroked a large orange cat. I'll bet she was an intern once, thought Cynthia.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Part 1.

Cynthia Blalock looked out the window as she washed her hands in the kitchen sink. Across the street she could just make out Mrs. Greene edging the grass on her sidewalk through the foliage that covered her front yard. Mrs. Greene's edges were always perfect, like the equally perfect crepe myrtle's that sat perfectly landscaped in her yard. Cynthia wondered if the perfect yard was the meaning of Mrs. Greene's entire life.

Atlanta was different now. Since she had gone away to university up north, she realized how uptight and manufactured everything seemed to be here. The perfect yards were like the perfect people with their perfect cars and their perfect children with their perfect lives. All the while a volcano of dysfunction churned beneath the surface - an unspoken language that built a daily wall between people and any genuine connection.

Why couldn't she be back in Massachusetts? Dad needed her that's why. Needed her company and her smile - even if it is only for a short while. Her summer internship would be starting in a few weeks, so she felt like she owed it to him to be here. He'd been through a lot.

As she turned, she saw him, Karl Blalock, her father, napping in his leather club chair. He loved that chair. He was not one to spend money frivolously, but he said it was ok to spend money on quality. Whatever he spent on that chair - he got his money's worth. As always his feet were on the matching ottoman and a half finished book rested on his belly.

With his sandy blond hair falling away from his tanned face, he looked like a professor, that combination of frumpiness and intelligence that gave him the air of brilliance and desperation at the same time. He always tried to be original, but he was a stereotypical Anthropologist through and through.

Cynthia tousled her multi-colored hair and winced as a few strands caught in one of her four earrings. Dad never gave her any trouble about her "look" Not when she dyed her hair for the twelfth time or got her nipple pierced or got the tattoo on her back. He was a cool dad, even if he was annoying for not having that typical parental outrage. He would always tell her some bit of history or a story about some tribe that had done the exact same thing. He had even gotten her an earring that was made by a tribe in Papua New Guinea that a colleague of his had gotten while on sabbatical there.

The phone rang and snapped her out of her thoughts, dad jerked awake.

"Go back to sleep Dad, I'll get it." she said. "Hello."

"Cynthia Blalock?"

"This is she."

"Excellent, I'm calling from the law firm of Blake, Dunham and Stevens, will you be at your residence for the next 30 minutes?"

"I think so, what's this about?"

"One of my associates has a delivery for you from our firm and we wanted to make sure you were there to receive it, since you have to sign for it."

"Ok thanks, but what is it?"

"I have no idea, it's for your eyes only."

Cynthia placed the phone back in the charger in slow motion as if she couldn't put it into the cradle until she made sense of the call.

"Who was that?" Dad asked.

"Don't know - some lawyer. He said they were delivering a package."

"Hmmm...I'm not expecting anything. You said it was a law firm? Oh god!"

"What?"

"Somebody must have died. I hope it wasn't Morris Pennyworth. Maybe it was your Uncle Leon..."

"Dad..." She interjected "they said the package was for me."

Dad stood still for a moment looking like he hadn't considered the possibility.

"Oh" he said finally. "Well I guess we'll find out soon enough."

He crossed over to the entertainment center and pressed play on the CD changer. A strange blend of chants and electronic music began to play. Cynthia found it soothing and even peppy.

"What's this?"

"It's Deep Forest - I guess you'd call it a techno band that uses tribal chants - great stuff."

Dad went back to his chair and thumbed through this month's Archaeology magazine while Cynthia made a snack. Finally she heard the car pull into the driveway and watched the driver exit with an aluminum briefcase.

"That's no lawyer" said Dad, suddenly behind her.

Cynthia almost jumped, but the man drew too much attention for her to react. He wore a typical grey business suit, like he was trying to look lawyerly, but underneath he was pure tiger. She could tell he worked out - a lot. He looked like he was in his mid-thirties on the shorter end of normal with a very tanned rough face and shock white hair.

"Ms. Blalock I presume?"

"Yes" she stared at him through the glass door, he looked pretty good up close.

"May I come in?"

"What? Oh yes, I'm sorry, c'mon in."

They all made their way to the kitchen table and the man placed the briefcase in front of him. He motioned her to sit and then sat himself. He seemed completely oblivious to Dad, maybe he liked her. Finally Dad broke in.

"I hate to be rude, but who are you and what's this all about?"

The man regarded him for a moment and then turned back to Cynthia.

"My name is Mr. Winston, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but your father has passed away."

Cynthia and Dad stared at each other in amazement.

"Um, Mr. Winston, I think you've made some kind of mistake, my Dad's right here."

"I see." he said, and then opened his briefcase and pulled out a thick manilla envelope.

He handed her the envelope, it was heavy. As she turned it over, she realized it had a seal keeping it closed, and presumably allowing someone to tell if it had been opened. She flipped it back over again and read the only writing on the envelope, a name, Kenya Wallace.

"I don't understand" she asked "what is this?"

"I don't know, it's for your eyes only."

Cynthia held the envelope up to see if she could see inside, it was then she noticed her father's face turn white. He must have seen the name.

"Dad, what's wrong?" Dad just stared at the envelope transfixed.

"Ms. Blalock, this man is not your father."

She blanked and turned to Mr. Winston to ask him to repeat what he said, hoping she had misheard him somehow, but she immediately knew he wasn't joking.

"Dad, is this true?" Dad seemed to be immobilized.

She dropped the envelope down with a thud.

"Alright what the hell is going on? What do you mean he's not my dad? And what the hell is this thing? Some envelope with some strange woman's name on it? And who the hell is Kenya Wallace and what has she got to do with me? I suppose I'm supposed to just open this thing and it will tell me everything, is that it?"

Mr. Winston stared at her for a good solid minute as if he was trying to figure out what to do with her.

"No Ms. Wallace, I'm afraid this is just the beginning."

Friday, August 26, 2005

Welcome To The Community Book Project.

The purpose of the Community Book Project is to write a book. The trick is that the book will be written by a group vs. one or two people (hopefully). The book will begin with an opening section that will set the stage, and then different authors will pick up where the last on left off. Continuity is important, so you must follow the last person's lead.

You can introduce character's or take character's out, but it must fit with the evolving plot of the story. The idea would be to get everyone's creative juices flowing and produce something interesting - and if it comes out well - who knows?

The only rule other than those stated abouve is that you cannot post two times in a row - someone else MUST post after you. Also after each post someone must claim next post on a first come first serve basis - so we stay with the hot idea, but don't have two people working on the same segement at the same time.

I will post the intro and then it will be open to others.

If you would like to participate, let me know and I will add you to the authors list so you can post directly.

Stay tuned.