When I reached Cathy’s room I poked my head in and announced, “It will be supper soon, you two, so no starting a new story when you finish that one.”
Cathy pouted then smiled accepting my statement, after all Mommies know best. James smiled and nodded his head, “about a half hour?”
“About that, maybe forty five. Be certain she washes up before coming down.”
He nodded in agreement then continued to read. Cathy was following the story with interest, despite having had it read to her so many times before, interrupting once in a while to ask about words and their meanings. I picked the hydrogen peroxide up from where I had left it and put it away in the bathroom then went back to the kitchen.
Once again I’d been preparing supper for an Army, things were a little easier this time since some items simply needed to be reheated rather than made up from scratch. The mashed potatoes and vegetables were left overs to which I added half again more after cooking them, the sweet potatoes were freshly prepared as were the two new roasts, the soup was onion leek which had ‘cured’ all day, while the salad was comprised of shredded carrots and a little cabbage mixed together and added to lettuce and some lightly cooked fresh peas, and kidney beans. Any left overs from the two previous roasts had been consumed during the day along with about half of the luncheon meats. I discovered I hadn’t purchased enough bread. I would need to pick up six more loaves tomorrow.
Since my house was apparently going to be the base of operations this week I thought I’d have most of the staff brought over from the safe house so I didn’t wind up trying to prepare the meals for everyone as well as playing Mommy and convention model. As if. James and I would need to have a bit of a conference as to exactly what it was he was expecting me to do for the convention. I needed to plan how I was to dress for each day as well as carry my Identification and at least one weapon. Then too, his two vice presidents would be arriving tonight and more than half of this force would be divided off to provide protection for them. That would help my food budget as well.
I was thinking about Cathy but since she wasn’t in school yet I thought I’d try to convince James to allow her to stay here during the week. That would give us the opportunity to be together more often so she wouldn’t be alone with only the Nanny for company at some home isolated from her Father for a week.
Supper was just about ready when this small bolt of lightning came flying into the kitchen, “Mommy, Mommy look what I did.” as she waved a piece of paper in the air while running across the kitchen toward me.
“Don’t run in the house,” slowed her approach minutely.
“Cathy, if you run and fall you could be badly hurt. There are a lot of things in a house that could cause you serious injury if you crash into them. I don’t want to need to take you to the doctor or the hospital. The kitchen is especially a bad place to run. Now, what is it you have there?”
“I’m sorry Mommy. I won’t run anymore.” Then the excitement began to build again, “Look what I did ... ” waving the piece of paper again.
I managed to get her to calm down a bit so we could look at the paper. It was a drawing done in ball point. There were three stick people and a four legged something with a house and sky and what I suppose was a driveway in the background.
“Oh, now that’s good ... Who are the people?” as if I couldn’t guess.
“This is Daddy, and this is me, and that’s you,” was proudly stated.
I surmised this was probably the case since the person in the middle was smaller than the other two.
“Well now, I would have known the middle one was you because she is just about your height. Who is that?” I ask as I pointed to the four legged thing. If her Christmas list was anything to go by then she will probably tell me it’s a dog.
“That’s my horsey.”
“You have a horse?” I asked in astonishment partially because I was pretty certain they lived in an area which didn’t have horse properties. There wasn’t room enough nor were there riding trails so far as I knew.
“I see ... Maybe you’ll have a doggy before you have a horsey?”
She stopped long enough to consider that, “Maybe it’s a doggy and then later there’ll be a horsey?”
“Maybe. The way it is drawn it must be a big doggy.”
She looked at her picture and smiled, “a great big doggy,” she agreed,
“Maybe she’s a Great Dame.”
“You mean, a Great Dane?”
She nodded her head.
“That’s a good picture. Are your hands washed, it’s time for supper?”
The smile dropped from her face and she started to run out of the kitchen.
“Cathy! Walk! A minute or two won’t hurt.”
She slowed her pace down from that of a lightning bolt to simply that of a speeding train as she continued out through the dining room then up the stairs to go wash her hands, leaving her conceptual drawing in the kitchen. I walked over to the refrigerator, pulled off one of the ornamental magnets before I placed the paper against the fridge then used the magnet to hold it there. My first drawing composed by and presented to me by my little artist. I needed to remember to stop while in town to obtain some gold stars. I would put a gold star on the corner of the paper and let her discover it later.
Cathy and James came down to supper together. Everything was on the table and George had finished briefing everyone earlier as to who was going where and with whom. George would initially go with the ten who were covering the two vice-presidents who would be staying at yet other safe house while the remaining three agents would stay here with James, Cathy, the nanny and myself. Once the VPs were situated then George would be moving around and overseeing everyone. James and his vice-presidents had been separated so that if a calamity befell him, it was unlikely to also include the other two. Two of the agents staying here tonight would be going to the Convention Center tomorrow morning as would four of those from the VP detail. That would put James and myself driving in to the Center together along with two agents.
Those of us still at the house began eating supper. Since I hadn’t planned for so few people, there would be massive amounts of left-overs. During supper we discussed a lot of things including exactly what I would be doing both tomorrow and for the rest of the week. At least the whole time wouldn’t be spent as eye candy. Part of the time I got to play secretary using a computer keyboard. Lucky me.
Mental note: Have some business suits altered so I could carry at least one automatic and some spare ammunition as well as money, IDs, and everything else under the sun that I could possibly get into a skirt suit without making either it or me look like a staging area for World War Three.
I raised the issue of Cathy and my idea of allowing her to remain here during the week so she would have a family atmosphere for that long at least. Cathy was all for it, so James gave in and said okay. I was beginning to notice that even at an age a bit shy of four, Cathy was already learning how to hold her father around her little finger. I was beginning to wonder if she would yield to her ‘mommy’.
Once supper was completed, James and Cathy went out to the family room while lucky me tackled the chore of doing the clean up. Fifteen minutes later the left overs were in the fridge. Another fifteen and the dishes were rinsed and in the washer. Finally I wiped down the dining room and the kitchen then started the dishwasher and went off hunting for the children. I finally tracked them down discovering the one reading to the other so I sat down on the piano bench to listen, having remained carefully and quietly behind them. James continued to simply read rather than making a production of it like the Nanny and agents did earlier, but Cathy seemed mesmerized anyway. She obviously had favorite stories and this was likely one of them.
I listened to the story and their interplay as Cathy tried to read the words and brought up the occasional question. Out of boredom I turned to the piano. There was a small pile of sheet music there which I began to look through with no particular purpose. There was one selection which I hadn’t yet tried playing. It was new to me even though the sheet music said it had been around for a goodly number of years. It was quite a catchy musical number and looked to be a bit more complicated than I usually happened to play. I don’t know what prompted me to purchase it but I had. As I hadn’t heard it anywhere yet I probably couldn’t do it justice since most of my playing was a mimic of what I had heard rather more than it was reading the sheet music. If I’d heard it before then I could read the sheet music and follow along with what I had previously heard, give or take.
I put it up to read it through a couple of times as Cathy’s story was beginning to wrap up. The sheet music managed to intrigue me enough that when the story ended I began to softly play just the right hand of the piece, that was complicated enough in some places. James and Cathy turned to listen as slowly I begin to play closer and closer to the proper tempo gradually beginning to understand the piece. Finally I began to add the left hand to the mix which allowed the piece to begin to take on the body it was meant to have. Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ began to pour out of my soul and through the piano, taking on a life of it’s own.
“That was pretty, Mommy.”
“Yes, baby, it was. I wish I could do it justice but we’ll just need to wait until I can find it recorded somewhere. If you want to listen for minute or two, I’ll play another piece.”
From memory I began to play “Moonlight Sonata,” followed by the “Pink Panther” and then a poor attempt at “Baby Elephant Walk” which doesn’t do well with only a piano as the source. By the time I was about a third of the way into the Pink Panther most of the agents who were remaining here with us had found their way into the room. The Nanny did as well only a few moments later. Having a large audience didn’t do a thing for this girl’s nerves but fortunately they were behind me so I didn’t know they were there until I finished “Baby Elephant Walk.” That meant I didn’t have the opportunity to become nervous until I finished my first three attempts at playing and was about to turn around. I spun around and blushed red at the sudden applause.
Now Cathy was asking for some of her favorites like where the mice sang “Cinderelly,” or the dwarves sang “Hi Ho,” and a few others she vaguely remembered from the movies she had seen. These greatly tasked my ability to recall the tunes much less play them but Cathy seemed to be happy. I played a few more of the oldies like “Camptown Ladies,” “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” then “Moon River*” and “Girl from Ipanema” before I began receiving requests from the men who were listening. After another dozen songs or so I was thoroughly worn out. I don’t know how professional pianists could play for hours on end. It’s really tiring, not to mention nerve wracking.
Cathy, by now, had been fast asleep for some time curled up against James so I used this as an excuse to stop playing so we could carry her up to prepare her for bed.
“Those were pretty, Mommy. Some day I’ll play and be all femoose.”
“Famous, and you would need to practice a lot, every day in fact, to do that. It’s been a while since I’ve played. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it, but it was difficult. I should do it every day. I was only six when first I played.”
Taking her upstairs, we managed to get her changed, her face and teeth cleaned and prayers said, all in about half an hour despite her help. She lay down and was out almost as soon as her head hit the pillow. I hoped that meant it would be an easy night. I shut off her light and closed the door down to a three inch crack then turned on the landing lights. Don’t you dare make the same joke James did about airplanes demolishing the house. They are the lights for the landing outside the upstairs rooms. I turned them on so there would be some spill light entering her room. After listening for a minute to be certain she was really asleep, I went back downstairs moderately unwillingly as I could use some sleep myself and getting to bed early sounded rather enticing. I made myself a promise to go to bed before 10:00 so I could gather a good night’s sleep before the circus began tomorrow.
We managed to talk for several hours so I obviously did not make my 10:00 Pm self-inflicted curfew. The conversation was productive however and I came away from it feeling much better about the potential relationship which was beginning to build between James and myself. Specifically how he saw me and where we might go in our relationship. He escorted me upstairs to the door of my room and there he gave me a slight kiss, allowing me to retreat into my room without the potential unpleasantries of trying to prevent him from sleeping in my room. I gave him a smile as I closed my door then waited to hear him go down the landing to his own room. After I went through my rituals and collapsed into bed my mind allowed me to sleep but it kept working for what must have been all night. Some time during the night I awakened to a howl and the sounds of Cathy screaming for “Mommy”.
Grabbing my 9mm I rushed down to her room to find her standing on her bed but with no other problems. An agent found his way into the room having been alerted by the agent on duty who was manning the electronic surveillance equipment. He was also prepared for bear but neither of us found one despite searching under the bed, in the corners, and in the closet. No boogie men either, but try to convince Cathy of that. I told the agent he could go back to his room then I took Cathy to mine so if she awakened again there would be someone close to keep her company. Neither James nor the Nanny awakened to the hubbub which, after I gave it a little consideration, really wasn’t all that loud, after all. I guess part of being a Mommy is listening for your child while you’re sleeping. Cathy settled into my bed and cuddled close then drifted off to sleep with me following closely behind. Several more times during the night I came partially awake feeling her move around on the bed. Each time she checked to find Mommy beside her so no traumatic events occurred. Mommy’s always keep their babies safe.
The next morning, I was up just before the alarm which allowed Cathy to continue sleeping while I went off to the shower and do my morning preparations. I was just finishing dressing when I realised my little faker was laying there playing possum watching me finish my makeup.
“Good Morning. Did you sleep better after I brought you in here?”
“I slept nice, Mommy.” I could have told her that ... She really didn’t awaken me any more during the night.
“We need to get you ready for breakfast and your Nanny will probably wonder where you are by now. Come on, baby. Let’s put on your robe and we’ll go down and have a little cereal and maybe an egg and some bacon before she comes to get you dressed. After breakfast Daddy and I need to go to work but we’ll be back and then maybe we will all go out for dinner. Would you like that?”
“I get to go too?” she asked almost in amazement.
“If we go out, yes, you do.”
She smiled one of those rising sun smiles and nodded her head so vigorously it left me as dizzy as it should have left her. I held out my hand, she reached up to take it then we walked to her room to get her robe before going down for breakfast.
I should have remembered. We still had three agents here and I needed to prepare breakfast for everyone. My cache of eggs turned out to be pretty low and much of the breakfast makings were gone. I needed to contact George to arrange for more food to be purchased and brought to the house while we were at the Convention. I also needed to have one of the cooks brought over here from the safe house James would have been in since I wouldn’t have the time to do everything. We could move our part of the operation over to that safe house but Cathy would be staying here for Christmas and I preferred to have her returning to a house with which she was familiar so she would feel at home while she was here. The trauma of being at a new house is best handled only once.
Somehow we managed to have breakfast then I rushed up to prepare for my part in the day’s activities, while the Nanny took Cathy under her wing. Of course James and the boys were basically ready to go while I had no time to prepare so I was the one holding up the parade. Thankfully Cathy decided she wanted a story before we left so that occupied a portion of James’ time. I gave the assignment of contacting George and arranging for the food and the transfer of someone from the safe house to this one to the agent who was remaining at this property today. I came down prepared for the day about forty minutes after going upstairs (my personal best) and we went out to the car. I would have taken mine but George’s instructions overruled me since he said I was a part of the principal’s entourage for the week so we would be going in the armored limo which was sitting out in the snow in front of my house.
It was about that point in time when it dawned on me that I hadn’t set any heaters in motion nor any wind generators. I gave my excuses and took a few minutes to go to the garage to start the thawing of all four generators
once I discovered the batteries were down to nearly 20% for the house and 30% for the peripheral devices. After that I clicked on half of the driveway and sidewalk heaters so if it snowed we might still be able to get back into the house. Showing the newbie, who would be staying here with the Nanny and Cathy, the breaker panel and the method of controlling the wind generators into the battery banks so he could check it all again and set it in motion around three o’clock if it needed to be reset. That should leave the driveway and sidewalks clear for our return as well as put a further charge into the batteries.
“If the batteries are below 30% on the peripheral panel then don’t turn on the heaters for the driveway and sidewalk, but check an hour later to see if the charge has come up. Worst case we walk through the snow to get back into the house.”
The newbie took extensive notes and then we left him, Cathy and Nora and the rest of us were off to see the Wizard. My concerns as we drove off about leaving someone who hadn’t a clue in charge of the battery systems and generators having been effectively neutralized.
“Don’t worry about the wiz kid, Lynn. He’ll get it right.”
“The wiz Kid?”
“Yeah, the newbie has a degree in electronics. He probably has built systems more complicated than yours.”
I hoped so. What’s the difference between Electrical Engineering and Electronics? Are they the same thing? I was afraid to ask.
We made good time to the Convention Center where we received our badges and papers after registering as venders and security personnel. James tried to register me as one of his entourage but the convention people already had my name down as L. J. Stevens (security consultant) so in a manner of speaking they recognised me. That meant they required me and all my people to check through, however unwillingly, as security consultants attached to James’ party.
His VP’s had not yet checked in so he gave the registrars a head’s up to the fact that there would be more security personnel arriving with them as well. The Convention people required us as security people to pay for the privilege of entering the inner sanctum, which was not all that unexpected since it happened nearly every time we accompanied people here. We should get a discount or frequent attendee benefits or something. The agents paid using their company bank cards, received their badges with the red stripes, at least that’s something we get that no one else has, and we were in.
I didn’t know if the red stripes on my agents badges were so people would know we were armed or so terrorists would know to shoot us first. With all of our pull with the city we still weren’t able to convince them that those stupid badges marked our agents instead of allowing them to remain unobtrusive and in the background unless needed. I even had one idiot explain to me that the red stripes would let the police know not to shoot my agents if an emergency occurred.
I argued unsuccessfully that “all the bad guys would need to do is take out my agents and wear the badges themselves then the police wouldn’t shoot them while they had a field day shooting the police.”
Once we were walking into the inner convention floor I queried my guys,
“Why do governmental agencies always seem to put imbeciles in charge of things? I have a theory about it. Learn what things a person is good at and make the note in their file to never put them in charge of those things.”
“Calm down Lynn. Calm down. It’s just a computer convention, nothing is going to happen. Well, nothing like terrorists. Corporate raiders maybe, or software thieves, maybe some pickpockets; but not terrorists.”
James led us to their booth location while consulting the Convention map. James’ company had four connected spaces at one end of a row which gave them two spaces on parallel aisles plus the end cap as their customer contact space. Their entire four spaces were basically open to each other as well as to the aisles where the foot traffic passed by. This gave their display area an enticing appearance. There were four employees present there when we arrived and after James spent a little time with them he returned to give me a short tutorial in the use of one of the systems.
He brought one of his employees with him to help explain things and after ten minutes James was off talking with the VPs who had just arrived while the employee spent another twenty minutes explaining the operation of the particular portion of the system which I would be using. He took the time to explain just what it all really meant in English so I could understand, since computer speak and I had never made even a nodding acquaintance.
I was thankful for his explanation because if he had used only computerese I would have been totally lost. As it was I barely understood what he was saying. I wondered if there was any hope for people like me who didn’t know a thing about computers. About the only thing I understood was there is this funny typewriter which I could use and there were others here and there in the area on which people could type. At other locations there were printers on which the computers could type their answers and there were nearly a dozen miniature printer thingys ... What did he call them? Oh, yeah ... EP-101s. I’m supposed to remember that?
Anyway the little printers used small paper and printed about twenty or so characters across the sheet before starting their next line of text or numbers. The stuff that came out of the computer onto those sheets didn’t mean a thing to me but the computer types who wandered in and out of the display area would all go agog at it. I hoped Phillip and Grace didn’t spend much time here. I could just see them putting in for one of these systems. James said it “only” cost about $110,000. That was a certain way to blow a sizable chunk of my monthly operating budget in one quick and easy blow. James would make back most everything they had paid for our services in one simple purchase.
By the end of the first day, James was happy with the way things were going and they had made some sales which included service contacts. I gave a few business cards out to prospective clients who were looking for security people to accompany them to conventions in Europe. I explained that we were in the process of being certified there and hoped to have it completed within four to six months. Two of them seemed happy with that prospect while several others took the cards but were in need of something much more immediate. I called over one of my agents, asking him to check with Jerry for a recommendation. A few minutes later we passed the information to the businessmen and they promised to keep our card even though we might not be the one’s providing their people’s European security this year.
Our day was finally over allowing us to return home while the VPs would finish the last three hours of the day. Tomorrow we would again take the morning but the VPs would start later to finish the day. The four employees were split two and two to provide cover for the morning and the evening shifts.
James was happy with how things had gone for me, both with the prospective security clients and with my demonstrations. Somehow I found it difficult to think I had contributed much since I basically didn’t know what I was doing much less talking about. I felt a bit like one of those talking heads on the TV who would dispense the news by reading it. The inflection in their voices showing they didn’t have a clue about what it meant. They were just parroting it out for public consumption.
We arrived home about seven and I was bushed. Cathy of course remembered that I said we might go out which to her meant we absolutely and without equivocation would be doing so. I just wanted to go curl up and sleep.
“She’s been talking about it all day. She is so excited to be going out with Mommy and Daddy,” the Nanny said in an aside to us.
James and I gave each other a look and then looked at Cathy who was all smiles.
“Pizza?” I tentatively placed into the conversation.
James gave a weak smile as Cathy began to chant, “Peet-sa, Peet-sa, Peet-sa.”
* Note from Renae Dumas: Andy Williams, who made famous the signature song “Moon River” and the owner of the Moon River Theater died on September 25th, 2012 at the age of 84. His legacy continues but he will be sorely missed.
L. J. STEVENS, Vol. One
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story evolves.
Chapter image public domain.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
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